Jonathan Hickman is already familiar to readers of Comic Book Resources, not just as the creator of the hugely acclaimed "The Nightly News" and "Pax Romana," but also as a runner-up in the first ever COMIC BOOK IDOL competition hosted here on CBR. Now the Eisner-nominated writer-artist-designer is continuing his emerging career by teaming with illustrator Ryan Bodenheim for a philosophic look at superheroes in a catastrophic time. Hickman and Bodenheim spoke with CBR News about their new miniseries from Image Comics, "A Red Mass for Mars," and what makes it different from so many other superhero stories.
In "A Red Mass For Mars," Hickman and Bodenheim present an apocalyptic superhero tale. "It's an end-of-the-world superhero story that's about how our idea of utopia has changed over time. What do we really believe is a perfect society?" Hickman told CBR News.
Bodenheim added, "It's about the last days of earth and a last ditch effort to stop its destruction by the remaining heroes and villains of the planet who really don't stand a chance on their own. The one man who could stop it, Mars, has not been seen in years and he could care less about what happens to the earth for many reasons."
Hickman calls Mars, the central character of miniseries, a Superman archetype. "Instead of his morality being grounded in modernity, it's based on medieval times," said the writer.
"Mars is the last remaining member of an ancient civilization," Bodenheim said. "That may sound familiar to most comic readers, but Mars is no boy scout. He came down to earth in the Dark Ages and had a very brutal adolescence. He wants what I think everyone wants at some point in their life, to be happy and have a little peace and quiet. Things don't always turn out quite like we would hope though."
Superheroes as social commentary have been a mainstay in comics ever since "Watchmen" in 1985. What makes "A Red Mass for Mars" different? "I don't think Jonathan is capable of writing anything that rehashes what others have done before," Bodenheim said. "The one thing about this story that I think stands out from other books is the fact that it's so condensed, it is very concentrated without sacrificing storytelling. Jonathan manages to tell a story and then take it down paths that you would not expect. We might not be re-inventing the wheel with this story but we may be adding some nice shiny rims."
Hickman's fresh take may come from being disconnected from comics for a time. The writer explained, "I only started reading comics three years ago after not reading for nine years. I've missed a lot -- I'm still playing catch up. We may be rehashing old territory; maybe not, regardless, I'm pretty proud of it."
Hickman gained a lot of attention for his visual style in his first project, "The Nightly News," but chose to employ another artist for this project. "I've got lots of books I want to do -- lots of stories to tell," he said. "There's no way I can do everything myself. At first, I thought I would struggle with writing for other people, but it's actually extremely liberating. Plus, I would never write, 'draw fifty space ships coming at us' for myself. I have no such reservations writing that for someone else."
Bodenheim was first attracted to the idea of working with Hickman based on his artistic ability. "Jonathan had been a part of the first COMIC BOOK IDOL contest and I remembered loving his colors on some 'Iron Man' pages he turned in for the contest. I answered an ad that Jonathan posted looking for an artist just so I could get him to color my work, I had no idea how great of a writer he was at the time, I still hadn't read 'Nightly News' until I was half way through issue #1 of 'Red Mass.'"
Bodenheim is a self-taught artist who in his words put together his own version of art school. "This consisted of going to cons and getting as much advice on my work as I could by every artist that I looked up to," he said. "I would work on everything they said I needed to work on and then I would return and they would give me a brand new laundry list of stuff to work on. My first comic work was on 'Wolverine' after winning the Marvel Talent Search in 2001, I did a couple issues of 'Black Panther' after that and then I took a long break from comics to just draw for myself for a while. One week after I decided I wanted to work in comics again I was discussing 'Red Mass' with Hickman, so I consider myself very fortunate right now."
Bodenheim also spoke about his approach to working on a project conceived and written by a fellow artist. "The only style choice I really made on this book was that I wanted to keep a very clean open line style," he said. "We knew we wanted to work straight from pencil but not have the look of working straight from pencil. Hickman did a killer job on the colors! I was very impressed that, not only do they look pretty, but they serve as wonderful way to control mood. Hickman is an artist/writer so he knows how to write for other artist. He keeps it very loose so that I don't feel constricted. Every page is so much fun because of how he sets them up for me. I think because of the approach that has been taken in making this comic it is not only a blast to read but keeps you thinking and will have you wanting to re-read the story. There were a few crucial pages that we had to have just right, but other than Hickman left the cage un-locked."
One thing that "A Red Mass for Mars" is not is a trail balloon for future stories. Said Hickman, "I never close the door on things like this, but 'Red Mass' has a pretty dramatic ending. Not much wiggle room there."
"It's four Issues and that will be all," added Bodenheim. "We will not be returning to this story to muck it up with a sub-par sequel. We say all that needs to be said in these issues."
With such a finite tale, why not present the story as an original graphic novel? "Economics," answered Hickman. "Right now, it simply doesn't make a lot of sense to do something in that format if it's published by Image. I would like to do one though - something long format."
"I don't think we really marketed this book towards any one specific group of readers," said Bodenheim of the possible target audience. "I'll be happy if just one kid out there picks up this book and enjoys it... and then has 9,999,999 of his closest friends do the same."
Hickman offered a more specific demographic. "Supermodels and single moms, busted Texas polygamists and, as always, my dad."
"A Red Mass for Mars" #1 is available now from Image Comics.
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