Following the attacks on 9/11, a young horror writer named Alan Ripley finds himself working in a government think tank founded to defend the U.S. from worst case terrorist scenarios dreamed up by creative artists like Alan. But years after his participation, the doomsday scenarios Alan imagined start coming true. Someone is using Alan's ideas as actual terrorist plans, and it's up to him to discover these persons and stop them before the "Unthinkable" happens.
This is the premise of "Unthinkable," a new BOOM! Studios miniseries written and created by rising star Mark Sable ("Two-Face: Year One" and "Hazed") with covers by Paul Azaceta ("Punisher: Noir") and Kristian Donaldson ("DMZ") and interior art by Julian Totino Tedesco ("The Remnant").
Earlier this week, BOOM! Studios Editor-in-Chief Mark Waid made some news with the announcement of what's believed to be the first comic book series that ties into an altered reality game. ARGs tell stories through narrative elements that are distributed across various multimedia platforms. These game variables are carefully concealed from players until appropriate moments determined by the game designers. Most notably, the creators of "Lost" and "The Dark Knight" and Nine Inch Nails' "Year Zero" album used ARGs to enhance the fanboy experience tenfold, introducing back-story and other elements that tie directly into the mythologies of their respective final products.
Readers have until Sunday, March 8 to sign up for the "Unthinkable" ARG, with "missions" beginning on Monday, March 9 and running through the end of the month. Check it out right here: http://www.wolfpackpmc.com/
With so much going on and happening so quickly, CBR News checked in with Mark Sable for the skinny on everything "Unthinkable."
CBR: What inspired "Unthinkable," the comic book and the game?
Mark Sable: The idea for "Unthinkable" came the second I read about the real life government initiative that inspired "Unthinkable." After 9/11, there was this feeling that the attacks were "something out of a Tom Clancy novel." The Department of Defense took that idea seriously, and created at least one "think tank," gathering some of America's most darkly imaginative minds. Thriller writers were asked to come up with worst case terror scenarios. The idea being, if we could imagine these nightmare plots first, we could devise defenses against them before the terrorists plotted them, let alone let them carry it out.
Tell us about the story of "Unthinkable."
"Unthinkable" puts fictional character Alan Ripley, a young thriller writer, into one of those real life post 9/11 think thanks. But years after his participation, the doomsday scenarios he imagined start coming true. It's clear that someone is using his ideas as a blueprint for terror, and it's up to him to find out who is behind the attacks and stop the "Unthinkable" from becoming reality.
It's not just the fate of the world that's at stake for Ripley. These are his ideas, and whether or not he intended them to be used that way, he feels morally responsible for what he's unleashed.
What do you love about your leading man Alan Ripley?
His square jaw, his chiseled abs, the way he looks coming out of the water in a Speedo.
Seriously? I love that he's spent his life writing about action heroes and doesn't have the remotest clue what it takes to be one. I think readers might see him as a shot at the creators of shows like "24," who seem to think that the solution to every problem is torture, that cougars are a clear and present danger and that you can make it through an entire day without going to the bathroom. And there is some truth in that.
But really, if I'm taking a shot of anybody, it's me. I write heroic fiction, but trust me, you don't want to be anywhere near me when I'm driving a car, let alone at a gun range.
Who would play him? Not Kiefer Sutherland. I think someone with more gravitas, yes, I know, Kiefer's favorite word, than the guy who plays Chuck. But not as hard edged as Daniel Craig. Mark Millar would be great at answering this question in such a way that an A-list actor's agent would be calling about this the next day.
I actually do have someone I'd love to play the role, Jon Simm, who played the lead in the English version of "Life on Mars" and "State of Play" and The Master in the new "Doctor Who." He can do anything.
Who are the other major players in the series?
I don't want to say too much about the other think tank members since part of the game is figuring out what they are. I can say, didn't limit them to writers, so they come from a variety of backgrounds. Besides the think tank members, there's an FBI agent who thinks that Ripley is actually behind the attacks and becomes his "Javert," pursuing across the ends of the earth. There are lots of characters who remind Ripley the hard way that he's not the hero he thinks he is, yet. And of course, there's a terror mastermind, one with a motivation I don't think we've seen before.
And how does the game tie-in to the story?
There's a fictitious organization called The Wolfpack PMC (Private Military Contractor) that plays a rather prominent role in the story. Players are "recruited" by The Wolfpack to help hunt down some of the supporting characters in the book, namely Ripley's fellow think tank members.
Without spoiling anything, this is eventually going to put them in as questionable moral position as Ripley. It's a game of skill, but it's also one where the players are going to have to make a choice with actual story consequences.
Will you be playing along with the game, as well?
Yes, but not as a good guy.
Tell us about the development of the "Unthinkable" ARG.
I wish I could claim credit for the game, but the idea for the ARG was BOOM! editor Ian Brill's. And while I wrote all the content, almost as much as the series itself, it was designed and implemented by Ian's brilliant colleague Dafna Pleban and BOOM! Marketing Director Chip Mosher.
At first, I just saw the ARG as a clever way to attract readers and to challenge myself as a writer. Then I saw it as a way to give the reader free bonus material, which is costly to print, and I think is more fun to discover or earn. But as I got further into it, I realized it was perfect thematically for this book.
"Unthinkable" is a story about what happens when you create something that evolves into something more dangerous than you intended. It's frightening how easy it is to create false identities and conspiracies on the internet. I've never felt characters come more alive than this. What's great about an ARG is that I don't have to keep that experience to myself as writer. Through interactivity I can give players a chance to, as Grant Morrison would say, put on a fiction suit and play in the universe that's part fiction and part reality.
What do we need to know about the Wolfpack? Can one assume they not only play a role in game, but in the series too?
Their motto is The Strength of the Wolf is The Pack. If you do what they ask, they will protect you. If you defy them, let's just say that if you're not a predator, you're prey.
That and although there are some superficial similarities to an organization like Blackwater, it's not meant to be a hatchet-job on PMCs. This is not a political thriller in the traditional sense, where I'm making a left or right wing statement. People of all political stripes should be able to enjoy this book.
What can you say about the team of artists BOOM! has assembled? And what about working with Mark Waid and the rest of the editorial team at BOOM!?
I can say that they are truly a dream team, and Managing Editor Matt Gagnon deserves all the credit for assembling them. He's to comics what Theo Epstein is to baseball. Paul Azaceta, who illustrated "Grounded," my first published work, is on covers with Nick Filardi coloring him. "Supermarket" and "DMZ" artist Kristian Donaldson did an amazing variant cover for the first issue.
Julian Tedesco, who is doing the interiors, is going to blow people away. He's pulled off some of the most difficult pages I've ever asked anyone to draw, and taken what to most artists would be "boring" pages and made them compelling without any input from me. I am trying to savor each page he sends me because I know that he's going to get scooped up by the big two like Paul.
I can't say enough good things about Mark Waid, his talent or his generosity. He's hands down the best editor I've ever worked with, and hasn't just made "Unthinkable" a better story, he's made me a better writer. In a short time, he's become a mentor, and I'm proud to say, a friend.
"Unthinkable" is designed as a five-issue miniseries. If sales warrant it, do you have more stories to tell in this universe?
I have more stories even if sales don't warrant it. In all seriousness, it's a complete story with a beginning, a middle and an end. I feel strongly about giving readers that. But writing the ARG, delving deep into the back-story of the supporting characters, I realized that there's enough depth here for an epic, whether that was a mini, an ongoing or a novel.
Would you love to participate in one of these real-life think tanks? Or maybe you have?
Absolutely, I would. It's funny because I know people in the intelligence community, and I think we're jealous of each other's jobs. They think that it's fun to write Batman, and it is, but I'd love to gather intelligence that our political leaders could then distort for nefarious purposes. I kid. Our intelligence services have gotten a really bad, and frankly, undeserved rap over the past few years.
I'm fascinated by military history, espionage and terror, and I'd consider it an honor to serve my country even in a small way. At the risk of sounding self-important, after coming up with countless terror scenarios, some of them scarily feasible, I feel like our government should know what I've been thinking. And they wouldn't have to waterboard me to ask.
Plus, I've worked in mainstream and never leaked to LYING IN THE GUTTERS, so clearly I can keep a secret.
I believe Brad Meltzer participated in one of these think tanks. Did you get a chance to talk to him about his experiences?
I'd heard that Brad Meltzer was involved in something of this nature while I was well into writing "Unthinkable." While I'm a huge fan of his work, I felt like I might be shooting myself in the foot if I asked him and he said, "Funny, I've been writing a novel about the same thing." How could I continue after that?
Despite doing copious amounts of research, replicating Brad or anyone else's experience was not my goal. I wanted to create a version of the think tank that would provide the most entertainment value. That said, now that it's close to being done, I'd love to compare notes with him.
What else are you working on?
I've got an animated series in development at Cartoon Network called "Polarity," I've slowly started to pitch my next round of creator-owned work, and I have some pitches into Marvel, where I've always dreamed of working.
But right now, "Unthinkable," both the book and the ARG are at the center of my life. There's that expression live every day like it's your last, and I'm treating it like it's the last chance I'll ever get to write. I'm putting my heart, soul and national security clearance on the line for it.
Readers have until Sunday, March 8 to sign up for the "Unthinkable" ARG, with "missions" beginning on Monday, March 9 and running through the end of the month. "Unthinkable" #1 goes on sale in May from BOOM! Studios.