EXCLUSIVE: Abnett & Lanning Evolve "The Hypernaturals"

The writing duo of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning -- collectively known as DnA -- are no strangers to far-reaching space epics, having written one of the most memorable tales of the 31st century in DC Comics' "Legion Lost" and building out Marvel's cosmic heroes in series including "Nova" and "Guardians of the Galaxy." Now, the pair prepare to launch a creator-owned odyssey at BOOM! Studios, beginning with "The Hypernaturals" Free Comic Book Day issue and continuing into issue #1 in July.

Very little has been revealed about the series to date, but Abnett and Lanning spoke exclusively with Comic Book Resources about the universe of "Hypernaturals," the joys of world-building and a few of the characters responsible for solving the greatest catastrophe the galaxy has ever faced.

CBR News: Dan and Andy, you're going back to space for this series, a place you're pretty well known for basing stories in. What does the status of the universe look like as the series begins? How is civilization organized, what does technology look like and, of course, where do the Hypernaturals come in?

Dan Abnett: I think the answer to all of those questions is the reason we said yes to doing this with BOOM! They had really enjoyed the cosmic stuff we'd done at both DC and Marvel and said, can you come and do something like that for us, except that you get to invent it all from scratch? You get to build your own universe to suit your story.

Andy Lanning: Within the terms of what is now considered a creator-owned title, this is probably Dan and my first creator-owned superhero book. We did some stuff with Epic back in the day, but this is our first foray into the creator-owned superhero stuff.

Abnett: So Andy and I created the world of the Quantinuum, which I suppose is most easily explained as a post-singularity human culture -- that is to say, a human culture that is almost limitless in its ability. It is spread out across the stars, it's very positive and successful. It's a "Star Trek: Next Generation"-level of technology. All your daily needs are taken care of as if by magic, because it's run by a Quantinuum computer, an AI that has achieved singularity and has allowed mankind to advance that way. It's an undisclosed length of time in the future -- once this happens, technology moves forward so fast that it could be only 50 years in our future. The technological leap forward was enormous.

Lanning: And within that world frame, human civilization has colonized the universe, so we have pockets all over on different planets and sort of satellite asteroid space stations. There aren't any aliens, but we do have all sorts of exotic forms of humanity out there. Humankind has adapted and mutated and been genetically modified to suit the environments that they find themselves in. So from this advanced gene pool, every now and then you have what we call a "hyper," a super-powered person is created or mutated or pops up on the radar, and they get to try out for the Hypernaturals, which is the universal, cosmic superhero police force/peacekeeping team.

Abnett: Yes, they are the first line of defense and first line of justice and security in the Quantinuum. They are quite public. The members of the team are incredibly high profile, they're sort of the most famous men and women in the entire Quantinuum. As we will reveal in the Free Comic Book Day issue, they have limited terms of service. They basically book up for one or two or three tours, and each one lasts five years. So the team profile is constantly changing and has done for the hundred or so years the team has been in existence. There are some supremely extraordinary beings who have served the human culture as one of its champions.

A few of the things you mention, such as the tryouts, remind me of another series you worked on for a while, "Legion of Super Heroes." I'd be curious to hear whether the Hypernaturals function at all like the Legion, with various squads and substitutes, and so forth?

Abnett: Not so dramatically as that. There are sort of reservists and applicants and people who are trying to get on for the next tour of duty. That actually evolved after we developed the team and thought about how you make it work. The more we thought about it, the more we thought there were resonances for that sort of thing, like in "Legion," but also to TV talent shows which, ironically, are now spawning superhero version comics of their own. It's weird that that very nature of things is written into the DNA of team setups like this. There are retired members, there are people who want to serve. But at any one time, there is simply The Team.

Lanning: Also, we're quite deliberately taking what we enjoyed about the Legion, what we enjoyed about working on the Marvel cosmic, the elements within those that we had great fun playing with while we were allowed to play with those characters. This is our chance to do our version of that. There will be similarities to all sorts of existing paradigms and genre stuff, it's kind of like a mixed grab bag. We didn't want to limit ourselves by going, "oh no, we can't do that, it's too much like 'Legion.'" It's more a question of, what are the traditional elements that people will get and enjoy seeing a different take on, and a chance for us to explore that familiar territory but take it in a different direction that you wouldn't necessarily be allowed to, or continuity would hamstring you from developing, if you were working on something like the "Legion" or the "Guardians [of the Galaxy]" stuff we'd done before.

Abnett: I think that's it, the freedom is the key thing. It's a classically structured cosmic superhero tale, but without the constraints of an established continuity that will, as Andy said, hamstring us from doing certain things. There are some quite radically shocking things we are intending to do, because they're things we couldn't do before.

Getting into the story itself, we know from the Free Comic Book Day promo text that the current group of Hypernaturals has vanished. What can you tell us about who's left -- what's their angle, and why do they choose to take up (or re-take up) the mantle of universal protectors?

Abnett: These are the events we see both in the Free Comic Book Day and in the first issue. There are occasionally casualties, because it's a very high profile, high risk job. But there is very rarely a traumatic loss or loss of life or anything like that. The current team, which has just debuted, is the Centenary Team, the hundredth-year team, or the 21st line up. They're making a big PR deal out of it, and on their first mission they disappear. This is a staggeringly huge loss. There's been nothing like it before. And as we said before, there's no reservists, there's no backup. There's sort of the backroom boys, the administrators and team coach as it were, they've got to investigate with nobody to do that. That's why they start to look at people who may once have served. They're going to break the constitution by saying, actually, we need you to come back for this emergency session and maybe to accelerate the advancements of people who were just beginning to put their names forward to appear on the next team. And all the while, there's this whole mystery of what has happened. We don't necessarily know they're dead, but what has happened to the high-profile team that went out on that emergency call?

Lanning: I think particularly with that team, what makes it terrifying is that we've set up a conceit within our universe that teleportation is called "tripping," where you can travel vast spans of the galaxy instantaneously, but the trip network actually works on the idea that in order to teleport, your body is destroyed and then reformed at the other end. The Quantinuum AI is what enables them to do that because it holds everybody's genetic patterns in a sort of databank and is able to reform people. What happens with these people is their patterns get destroyed, degraded, lost, and this is such a rare event it's almost unique, it's almost never happened before -- if it has happened before, it's been covered up. And the team can't be restored. Normally, if something happened, people would go back to a save point, like you would on a computer, and they're able to reform somebody. With this team, they're not able to do that. And for one member of our team called Thinkwell, who's sort of the super science guy, that poses a great problem, because he doesn't know what happened and for him that is a massive deal, because he knows everything.

Aside from Thinkwell, what can you tell us about any of the other Hypernaturals at the center of your story?

Abnett: There are several characters in the story, whether or not they will be active on the team or people who are just involved in the story we'd like to keep as part of the surprise of how the story develops. Our attention does focus on several people who have been [Hypernaturals]. Andy mentioned Thinkwell, genius intellect guy who served on the team for all three tours. He's now retired and a professor at Cambridge, doing incredible work there. So he's called in as a consultant, at the very least, to try to find out what's going on. One of the ladies, one of the most famous members of the team a few tours back, is now essentially the chief administrator, the public face of the organization. She's a strong character, and she, in her costumed identity, was called Bewilder, and could accelerate her metabolism to move faster than you could see. So she's not a traditional super-speedster, it's super speed in a slightly unusual way.

There's also a longstanding tradition of cloned soldiers, who actually predate the Quantinuum. Each one is called Clone and then the number. The most famous was Clone 45, who just recently stopped serving. His young replacement, Clone 46, is one of the members of the team who has disappeared. They have a slightly empathic relationship because they're all part of the same clone sequence. He sort of gets drawn in in a "what's happened to my nephew"-type way. We also have some newbies and younger characters floating around and, though we don't want to talk about them at this stage because it's part of the surprise, some really cool villains. That's one of the things we really want to play around with, because the opportunity to fabricate proper cosmic villains is an extremely exciting thing to do.

All right. You get to debut the series with a Free Comic Book Day issue, and then the series launches in July. You've talked a bit about the setup for the series, but what can you tell us about the FCBD issue itself?

Abnett: We came into this early and produced this material specifically for the Free Comic Book Day issue. It's like the pre-credit sequence, it gets you up to speed. If you don't get a chance to read it, then issue #1 won't be mystifying to you; but if you do get to read it, it sets up an awful lot of color and interesting situations that we then run with from issue #1 onwards. I have to say, as far as a Free Comic Book Day issue goes, it's bloody good value for money. There's the best part of twenty-plus-odd pages that's created specifically for this issue. It's sort of the ticking clock, introducing many of our characters in the run-up to that fateful event issue #1 starts with.

Lanning: The other very cool thing with the Free Comic Book Day issue and what we're going to be doing in the regular series as well, is we're going to be doing sort of backup material -- text pieces, insight into the world-building that we've been doing, so that you get support material to the issue that hopefully fleshes out the world of the Hypernaturals and the world of the Quantinuum with things like fake magazine articles and adverts, and insights into the thing we've created called the Q-Link, which is an up-to-date link with the Quantinuum which gives everybody up-to-date news stories, weather, travel reports, everything. There's a lot of extra stuff that you're going to get with the issues and, like Dan said, especially with the Free Comic Book Day issue, talk about value for money -- it's free!

Abnett: [Laughs] It was a joke when I said it, but yes, it's such good value for money, it's free!

Is this your first Free Comic Book Day issue that you've done?

Abnett: I think this is our first one proper. I think some of our material has occasionally appeared in Free Comic Book Day issues, but this is the first time we actually created content for a Free Comic Book Day comic. And I have to say, I'm so pleased we got this opportunity. BOOM! is obviously very supportive, they're very excited about this project and have put an awful lot of effort and attending to it. They obviously believe in it being a great comic. And I think it was quite a big decision to commit their Free Comic Book Day resource to this, and to then generate material for it. I think and I hope it will really pay off, it's a great opportunity to get it in front of people and it's really worthwhile -- it's not just a couple reprint pages but a proper prologue.

Let's talk a little about your artists for the series. You've got Tom Derenick and Brad Walker for the FCBD issue, then Brad Walker and Andres Guinaldo for the ongoing. What do their styles bring to the stories you're telling?

Lanning: We were very, very lucky and very, very pleased to get Brad because obviously we have a very long relationship with him from the "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Heroes for Hire." There was a lot of arm-bending, a lot of negotiation, a lot of photos we took of him in compromising positions that enabled us to rope him in on this. Especially as he's got quite a lot of work at the moment doing Superman stuff, but he's got a fantastic style for character creation and the world-building side of stuff. So Brad has come on board to help us create this book and has really created the look of all the characters and the world. We initially were just getting him on board to do the design stuff, but we were eventually able to inveigle him to draw the issue, too.

To help Brad to be able to do that, we also have Andres on board, and we're going to be creating sections of the story specifically designed to be different scenes, flashbacks and stuff, so that the look is cohesive because he's telling another part of the story. Andres' actual style is very reminiscent of Brad's anyway, they sit very well together. Mark Irwin will be inking the whole book so he'll be bringing that all together with a nice overall feel.

And Tom doing the Free Comic Book Day issue was an added treat because he's got such a classic superhero style, and hopefully we'll be able to get him back for some fill in issues down the line. We've also got some fantastic cover artists, from Trevor Hairsine to Tim Green, and Phil Noto -- we're blessed at the moment, as far as art goes. It's making Dan and I have to raise our game on the writing side.

"Hypernaturals" brings cosmic value for money on Free Comic Book Day, May 5.

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