Frank J. Barbiere and artist Victor Santos are creating an unusual “Black Market.” In July, BOOM! Studios will release the pair’s creator-owned series, which, despite its title, doesn’t focus on characters dealing in Cuban cigars or bootleg Blu-rays. Instead, the illegal contraband at the center of the comic’s concept is superhero corpses.
“Black Market” stars Ray Willis, a brilliant man stuck in a funeral home preparing corpses for wakes until his estranged brother Denny reappears in his life. A criminal, Denny has a plan to cure all disease, but he needs his brother’s help. That might sound like a good project in theory, but it comes with a few problems. First, Denny’s not the most morally straightforward person in the world. Second, and more importantly, the cure happens to rest in the very genetic makeup of superheroes — known as Supers — who literally float above humanity.
Barbiere, who also writes “Blackout,” “The White Suits” and “Five Ghosts,” spoke with CBR News exclusively about building the world of “Black Market,” the book’s sibling dynamic and the benefits of working on multiple creator-owned titles housed at different publishers.
CBR News: In the pages of “Black Market” you’re exploring a superhero universe of your own creation. How does this one compare to and differ from the standard universe?
Frank J. Barbiere: When I was first getting back into comics, “Powers” was the book that really had me excited. I started following [writer Brian Michael] Bendis — he had just been announced on “Ultimate Spider-Man” at the time — and found him to be very insightful. One thing that he said that really stuck with me is that he never wanted to tackle superheroes until he had something new to say, something specific to him.
With “Black Market,” I feel like I’ve finally found my own statement to make. We’re looking at superheroes here as the ultimate 1%. They’ve replaced the normal “heroes” of this universe and hover over humanity in a league of their own. Clearly I drew a lot of influence from the great superhero universes of comics, such as “Watchmen,” “Rising Stars” and “Powers,” universes where we have an interesting interplay between superheroes and normal folks. With “Black Market,” I feel like I’m finally ready to add to the conversation in my own way, to explore how the normal man is affected by super beings who are seemingly “untouchable.” Â
What was it like, working with Victor to build the “Black Market” universe from the ground up?Â
Creating new stories and worlds is my favorite thing in comics. I’ve been really lucky to have the opportunity to do a lot of creator-owned work in my short time in the industry, and “Black Market” is no exception. We’ve really worked hard, along with my wonderful editors at BOOM!, to create an interesting world that isn’t just a rehash of other stories. We really have something to say about how superheroes affect the way we are, and in doing so, we’re hopefully telling an exciting story with some fun moral consequence.
What can you tell us about Ray Willis? He sounds like a pretty intelligent guy, so why is he spending his days working in a funeral parlor?
Ray is a man who has worked his whole life to rise above his working-class upbringing. He grew up in the Boston slums, focused and dedicated, and managed to rise above it all. However, we find him at a point where that’s all been taken away from him. Ray has made some mistakes, and in doing so jeopardized the life he had built.Â Our story is very much about what he is willing to do — and who he blames — for what’s happened to him.
Everything changes for Ray when his brother Denny appears. What can you tell us about Denny’s story — or as much of it as you want to tell at this point?
Denny is Ray’s brother who serves as his foil. While Ray worked hard in school to succeed, Denny became a street criminal and fell in with the “wrong crowd.” Ray and Denny are brought back together in the first issue of “Black Market” after an event that caused a huge rift between them and had very serious repercussions for both of their lives. Denny is a really interesting character, as we’ll see his motivations, dreams and his redemption follow Ray’s. Let’s just say they’re not going to end up in the same place.
What kind of dynamic is there between Ray and Denny? Does Ray trust his brother’s motives for wanting to experiment on or with superheroes?
Clearly, there is a crazy tension between the two as there was an event in the recent past that destroyed their already rocky relationship. In a sense, Denny is trying to redeem himself to Ray. He feels responsible for ruining his life and wants to help. That help comes out of a selfish place, however, as Denny certainly has his own motivations. Both of our characters — whether they are consciously aware of it — have a deep resentment of the Supers, and those feelings come heavily into play when they decide to hunt down heroes under the cover of “the greater good.”
What does the superhero community think of the idea that the panacea lives inside their bodies?Â And how does the title “Black Market” play into all this?Â
The title “Black Market” is really a great fit as we are exploring the social rift of class between superheroes — who, as I mentioned, are the ultimate 1% — and normal humans. The Supers aren’t aware of the cure running through their DNA, and quite frankly, if they were, they wouldn’t care. They’ve got a very definitive purpose and origin in our universe, and ultimately, curing human ailments doesn’t interest them. “Black Market” also refers to the specific black market in the underbelly of our world, a commerce system set-up to traffic superhero DNA and organs in hopes of restoring people from deadly diseases and other ailments.
How did you hook up with artist Victor Santos?
We searched far and wide for an artist who could bring a really great feel to the book, and Victor just absolutely floored us with his sample pages. Â I’m a huge fan of Victor. His work on “Polar,” “The Mice Templar,” “Furious” and “Filthy Rich” is top notch; he’s a master of interesting and unique layouts. I think his style is a real addition to the book as he’s made it his own and clearly given the book a unique “voice.” Â I’ve been very fortunate in my artistic collaborators, and Victor is no exception. He’s really taking it to the next level and I can’t wait for people to see the work he’s doing.
You’ve done work at Image, Dark Horse and BOOM! What made BOOM! the right place to set “Black Market” up with?
BOOM! has really been making an awesome push for creator-owned and I’m very excited to be working with them. They have an amazing editorial department who are really my collaborators on the book, and working with them has made such a better project than me trying to do it on my own. When we began discussing “Black Market,” it began as a simple sentence and we grew the narrative from there. This is a project that we’ve developed from the ground up, and I think that’s the true strength of BOOM! — they find ideas they’re passionate about and help bring them to life.
What are some of the benefits of doing creator-owned work at different companies? Have there been any downsides?
No downsides whatsoever. Every publisher is different, and I have a wonderful relationship with them all. I personally have so many ideas and creator-owned projects that it’s a relief to have multiple homes for them. “Five Ghosts” is going to continue for the considerable future, and I have some other projects brewing, but I am really honored to have the opportunity to work at multiple publishers. At the end of the day, I’m interested in growing my own brand, and to have so many places putting out my work is a god send.
“Black Market” #1 from Frank J. Barbiere, Victor Santos and BOOM! Studios opens for business on July 16.
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