It's never easy to watch a parent's physical and mental health deteriorate before your very eyes, but it's even harder when that parent insists on maintaining his role as the world's greatest superhero.
Such is the dilemma in the pages of "Stealth," the third and latest entry into writer Robert Kirkman and artist Marc Silvestri's ongoing takeover of Top Cow's "Pilot Season" event. Written by Kirkman, designed by Silvestri and illustrated by Sheldon Mitchell, "Stealth" tells the story of Todd Carey, a young man whose life is falling apart all around him: he's recovering from a bitter divorce, his daughter is flunking out of college and his father has been diagnosed with Alzehimer's disease. But in the midst of all these concurrent dilemmas comes a well-known masked vigilante called Stealth - a vigilante that just so happens to be Todd's ailing father.
"[Todd's] life is a wreck right now," Kirkman told CBR of the concept. "His father, who has a pretty bad case of Alzheimer's disease, decides to move in with him so his son can take care of him. Once they move in together, he quickly learns that his father has been a superhero named Stealth for the better part of his life. He had been something of an absentee dad, so they have a complicated relationship, but now he learns that his dad has been out saving the world this whole time - that's part of the reason that everything is so bad between them. On top of that, his father is still going out and trying to fight crime, but because of the Alzheimer's, he's doing so to disastrous results. It's kind of an added burden on the son."
As Kirkman points out, Stealth isn't much use to the public without sharp mental faculties - in fact, the hero could easily become a terrible threat to society. "He's about as aware as any Alzheimer's patient in his condition would be, which is to say, not very," said the writer. "Most of the time, he doesn't really know what's going on. He doesn't really know that his son is his son, and he's also leaping from buildings and trying to fight crime at the same time - as you can imagine, he doesn't really realize what he's doing most of the time, so that's kind of dangerous."
Stealth is able to accomplish his superheroic feats thanks to his super powered suit, "an apparatus that comes from parts unknown," according to Kirkman. The writer said that the origins of the suit are a major plot point for "Stealth," but this was a facet of the story that he formulated after seeing co-creator Marc Silvestri's character designs.
"Stealth was interesting in that I didn't even know what the guy's powers were - I left that open," said Kirkman of the story's origin. "I had all of the personal interaction and how the family structure was and the Alzheimer's thing - all of that stuff. I thought Stealth was a cool name, and that kind of dictates what the guy looks like, but he could have been a shape-changer, a speedster, or some other type of superhero. It's not that I didn't care [what his powers were], but I try and keep things as loose as possible when I come up with concepts. I like bringing in an artist to put a visual spin on things, and that also leads to different changes in the concept based on what they do. The suit that Marc designed that this guy wears - where that comes from and how he got that and what his origin is - all came from the way that Marc designed the suit. It wasn't anything that I had in mind before he came into the picture, but it's a huge plot point for the story, as you'll see at the end of the issue. That all came from the way Marc drew that guy."
"Boy, did he make me work," Silvestri laughed, recalling the development of Stealth's design. "'What if Spider-Man was old and senile?' That was how Robert first proposed the idea of 'Stealth' to me. To get all thoughts of Spider-Man out of my head, I started with the idea of a tech-based character. I'm also known for doing characters that have an organic look. Lately, I've been intrigued by the idea of technology that looks mechanical while organic at the same time, which I thoroughly played around with here. The retractable wings have that look to them. Ultimately, the suit had to look like it's what gives Stealth his physical power, not some mutant abilities."
Helping out on the visual side of "Stealth" is interior artist Sheldon Mitchell, who said he was attracted to the title based on the premise of an ailing old man bonding with his son set to a superhero backdrop. "After listening to the concept and reading the script, I knew I had a good story on my hands and that it would be fun to draw, and I also found the interaction between the father and son to be quite compelling and wanted to take on the challenge of conveying that on paper," said Mitchell.
One of the challenges "Stealth" presented was striking the title character's visual balance between super-powered individual and physically degenerating old man. "That was definitely something I heavily considered," said Silvestri. "He had to look cool and badass when he's Stealth, yet retain credibility that there was an old, senile man in the suit. The tech hero thing fit because his powers weren't really manifested within -Â they were coming from the suit. At the same time, the suit had to look like there's a very fit man beneath the skin. How much of that fitness is molded Kevlar? Hmm, good question!"
An elderly character such as Stealth isn't exactly uncharted territory for Kirkman, who has penned similar crime-fighters in "Brit" and "Destroyer MAX," but the writer said there are some major differences between this new old man and the others. "One of the things I've done with Destroyer and Brit is that it's an old guy, but it's kind of a cheat because the guy has been in relatively peak physical condition, or maybe diminished physical condition from his super powered peak, but still in pretty good shape as far as humans go," he explained. "This is probably the first time I've dealt with someone who is elderly and is actually suffering from the kind of things that elderly people do suffer from. I think this is a more realistic portrayal of an old man - even though he has a hell of a six pack!"
If "Stealth" wins the "Pilot Season" competition, fans can look forward to learning more about the origin of Stealth's suit and powers. For Mitchell's part, the artist said he would be most excited "to flesh out a more comprehensive world where readers can fully immerse themselves inside it." He added: "Come on, CBR readers -Â you know you want to see a senile vigilante zipping into action! Think of all the shenanigans he could get himself into!"
"Robert does superhero stuff really well," Silvestri assessed of the possibility of further "Stealth" installments. "He plays to the aspects that fans love about the genre while constantly twisting those expectations. You look at 'Invincible' - a book that's always going in directions you weren't expecting. I also really want to see how the old man and young man thing plays out in 'Stealth.' Robert is very creative, and I'm curious to see how he'd get himself out of that particular painted corner!"
"Pilot Season: Stealth," co-created by Robert Kirkman and Marc Silvestri and illustrated by Sheldon Mitchell, arrives in stores on April 28, 2010. Stay tuned to CBR for more from Kirkman and Silvestri on their final two "Pilot Season" installments!