EXCLUSIVE: Waid Reveals Origins and Pits "Incorruptible" Against "Irredeemable"

In the superhero universe veteran writer Mark Waid created for BOOM! Studios, the world's greatest superhero and his arch-nemesis have essentially switched roles. In the pages of "Irredeemable" the Superman-like Plutonian is now a mass-murderer on a global scale, torturing his former friends and allies for his own sick pleasure. In "Incorruptible" Max Damage, who in the past wouldn't think twice about murdering even small children to accomplish his goals, has established himself as protector of the city he once terrorized and the last vanguard against the Plutonian's atrocities. Through the course of their ongoing series thus far, the two have largely kept their distance with Max Damage now beneath Plutonian's notice and working to establish his new life, all while plotting his rival's downfall. But everything changes in December as a four-part crossover begins in "Irredeemable" #32 and continues in "Incorruptible" #25 before wrapping up in the January issues of each series.

"Irredeemable" has shown readers the dire implications of a hero gone bad, as the Plutonian razed his former home of Star City, hunted his adversaries -- and some mere naysayers -- to the point of extinction, and sunk the island of Singapore, just for starters. In addition to scenes of outright destruction, Waid has shown a willingness to go very, very dark in the series, with memorable scenes illustrating two deaths of a child sidekick, another revealing the twisted sexuality of a man who cannot feel, and still another turning "Cheerio" into an ominous pronouncement.

Meanwhile, in "Incorruptible," Max Damage has cast aside his villainous past, taking an absolute view of morality that began with him burning his ill-gotten fortunes and breaking off a sexual relationship with his underage sidekick, Jailbait. He believes the world needs a hero to step up to the plate, and none of the established heroes are up to the job; the problem being, all Max knows about being a hero is that it's the opposite of what he does as a villain. With the public slow to trust a man who has committed a number of atrocities, Max struggles to stay on the path of righteousness, and every ally he meets is an unlikely one -- Detective Armadale of the broken Coalville police force; a second sidekick in the recently-orphaned Head Case; the Plutonian's ex-girlfriend Alana Patel; and yet a third sidekick, former villainess Safe Word, now going by the nom de guerre Hate Crime (because she hates crime).

With these two worlds colliding at last, CBR News spoke with Mark Waid about the "Irredeemable"/"Incorruptible" crossover, how each series has built toward this moment, and where Max Damage and the Plutonian go from here.

While the crossover has been inevitable since Waid launched "Incorruptible," the second of his original super hero series for BOOM! and an opposite number to "Irredeemable," the writer said it was essential to build up Max Damage's new life before pitting the two super-powered titans against each other. "I really wanted to have Max at a state where he had pretty much comfortably carved out his new life, as champion of Coalville and as the only hero on earth who seems to be able to keep Plutonian at arm's length," the writer told CBR News. "It was important to establish that first and reestablish their relationship. I realized, to my stunned surprise, going into this crossover that as much play as I'd given Plutonian in 'Incorruptible' over the years, I never really had Max show up even in flashbacks in 'Irredeemable,' which shocked me. So I really wanted to think about what that crossover was going to be, especially for people who are reading 'Irredeemable' and not 'Incorruptible,' and how we can introduce that stuff."

Given that Max has struggled to discover what it means to be a hero while Plutonian has had no trouble at all launching his career as a pychopath, Waid revealed the "Incorruptible" star is at a "huge disadvantage." "It's much harder to do the right thing than the wrong thing, obviously." Max possesses a certain firmness of mind the Plutonian lacks, though, which led him to strike a devil's bargain in "Incorruptible" #23 that bought him some time to prepare for their eventual confrontation.

"It's a temporary fix at best. It's kind of doomed to failure because Plutonian is full-bore insane," Waid said of the deal, the details of which have not been revealed yet. "It's hard to rationally deal with somebody who doesn't even know what he really wants deep down inside. Plutonian doesn't, at heart, know what he wants. But that said, Max is a very practical man and Max, now that he sees how their lives intertwine, realizes that he knows more about Plutonian's motivations and more about his own personal weaknesses than anybody else alive, and that gives him an advantage."

As Waid has hinted at on convention panels and shown briefly in the pages of "Incorruptible," Max Damage's power set comes with a potentially devastating drawback -- he becomes stronger and more invulnerable the longer he stays awake, but Max is not immune to the effects of sleep deprivation. To put himself on a par with the Plutonian, Max must stay awake long enough to impair his mental acuity; to defeat him, perhaps, he'd have to stay awake longer, but at that point he may no longer be sharp enough to accomplish the task against such a skilled adversary. In the past Max has never quite managed to balance the benefits of his power against its debilitating effects. "He can certainly try, and he can do it as best he possibly can, but it's constantly juggling that sleep deprivation versus staying stronger," Waid said. If Max could get his hands on something that could take care of both problems at once, that might be a way for him to go."

Though the fight between Max and the Plutonian is a big draw of the crossover, Waid said he is "weary of giving people the wrong impression." "It's not just a four-issue slugfest between the two characters. We've actually already seen Max and the Plutonian mix it up a little bit in current issues of 'Incorruptible.' While this certainly culminates in a showdown, it's much more about the origins of these characters," Waid told CBR. "If you've been reading either book, this is required reading, because this is 'where does the Plutonian really come from,' 'who are his parents,' 'what are his powers?' Same with Max. What as a child drove him in this direction? Why is he so adamant about taking out the Plutonian? What are the secrets there?

"Really, what I worked hard to do was construct a crossover by which 'Incorruptible' and 'Irredeemable' read separately, but if you read them together you get a much, much bigger picture of the world," Waid continued. "You see events from both men's point of view, you see conflicts from both men's point of view, and then, as I say, it culminates in something big."

Both characters' origins will be revealed in the course of the crossover, and "Max figures into Plutonian's origin a lot more than either man realizes," Waid said. "Not something hokey like they're brothers or anything like that, but in terms of the ways their lives have intersected without either realizing it for the last few decades, in terms of making each other who they are. In 'Irredeemable,' finally, you're seeing the full origin of the Plutonian unveiled and how Max factors into that. In 'Incorruptible,' likewise, on a parallel track, you're seeing what Max's origin is and the details of that and how young Plutonian as a child inadvertently factored into some of those decisions."

Readers will also see how the relationship between the Plutonian and Max Damage has evolved over time, and why the two men's fates are inextricably linked. "It started as just a typical hero/villain adversarial relationship, but what Plutonian realizes -- again, without giving away too much of the story -- as he deals with adult Max, is that he dealt with young Max as a boy without either of them realizing it," Waid revealed. "A lot of the antagonism they had back then really helps define who they are today. It wasn't anything as convenient as 'they knew each other as boys' or were friends as boys, it's not that. I'm talking about fairly quick random encounters, but the way their fate is intertwined, you really come away from this story with a whole new view on who these two men are and why they do what they do."

Despite the connections between the two series, "Irredeemable" and "Incorruptible" are tonally quite different, with the Plutonian's series essentially a superhero book in which the heroes lose badly in every issue, while Max Damage is more of a street-level hero whose series has recently taken on some Western tropes as he establishes himself as the law in a lawless town. Waid said he reconciles the series for the crossover by "concentrating on the men behind the actions." "It's hard to juggle the scope, particularly if I'm dealing with forty-foot tall extraterrestrials in 'Irredeemable' and street crime in 'Incorruptible.' But as you knit those worlds together, how you manage to combine those tones is you look at what Plutonian wants and how Max is trying to accomplish what he wants, and how the two of them in some perverse ways can actually work together to get what they want. There are some choices that Max has to make and some moral compromises Max is tempted to make in order to try to move Plutonian toward a greater good."

"Irredeemable" has also become something of a team book, with the Plutonian's former allies in the super-team the Paradigm receiving equal attention -- and one of their members, Survivor, growing to rival Plutonian in megalomania. However, the Paradigm and other members of the supporting cast will be on the sidelines for the crossover. "Oddly enough, because I really wanted to concentrate on both of the leads, the supporting cast doesn't really show up in the crossover at all," Waid said. "So much of the crossover is given to flashback material that fleshes out who these characters are and gives you some new revelations."

Waid praised both series' artists for delivering the goods month after month. "The two artists are still amazing. Marcio Takara on 'Incorruptible' just continues to show new range of emotions for the characters and his storytelling is brilliant. And Diego Barretto, who took the reigns from Peter Krause [on 'Irredeemable'] is just a joy to work with, because the characters are so expressive and there's so much energy in the book," he said. "I'm thrilled to have both these guys aboard. I can't imagine doing this without them."

With the crossover marking a major turning point in "Irredeemable" and seeing the culmination of two years' worth of stories in "Incorruptible," CBR asked Waid what comes next for the two ongoing series. "I know this sounds like generic comic book puffery but I don't know any other way to say it, is that at the end of the throwdown at least one of these men walks away from it radically, radically different than he is now," Waid said. "I mean, radically, game-changingly different. And that will not necessarily make the world a better place."

The crossover begins December 7 with "Irredeemable" #32.

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