Murder, Xenophobia & Sci-Fi Action Collide in Spurrier's "The Spire"

After creating a multi-armed primate with a predilection for firearms, writer Si Spurrier and artist Jeff Stokely want to introduce you to a strange new world called "The Spire." The "Six-Gun Gorilla" team returns to BOOM! Studios for a sprawling murder mystery set against a sci-fi background.

The eight-issue series, which launches July 1, chronicles a murder investigation on the title location, a massive structure in the middle of nowhere that plays home to humans and non-humans alike -- or as they're referred to in the story, the unsculpted and the sculpted.

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The hero of the story, Shå, is the head of City Watch, The Spire's police force. She's put the to test as a serial killer starts slicing and dicing around the same time that the new Baroness is set to ascend the throne. With the whole Spire against her, Shå must fight through adversity and out-and-out disrespect because of her Medusi heritage while trying to keep those same oppressors safe.

CBR News: This story focuses on a character named Shå. It sounds like she's basically the head of security for a lot of people who discriminate against her because of who she is. What keeps her devoted to the job?

Si Spurrier: That's... kind of a big question. By way of some background, it's worth saying that the Spire is home to dozens of races which -- arguably -- are not completely human. They're called the "sculpted," and they seem to be the descendants of people whose base humanity has been altered, hybridized with animals or stranger biologies. I say "seem" because this isn't the sort of comic book where we're going to slavishly guide you through one thousand years of history nor explain the hows and whys of the current situation. You've got the sculpted and the unsculpted -- that is, people who look just like you and me -- living side-by-side. The only instruction is: deal with it.

I guess the big thing to say is that this isn't some pantomime version of a xenophobic scenario. "Muties out!" and all that. No, generally speaking the Spire prides itself on its progressive and inclusive culture. There are nomadic religious groups who live out in the wilderness beyond its walls who are far more hardline in their zero-tolerance approach to non-humans -- as they'd call them -- than anyone inside the city.

But, as we know, living in the armpit of hypocrisy which the Western world often becomes, it's one thing for a society to claim to be egalitarian and color-blind and free from all prejudice; it's quite another for its people to actually live, think and act like that. And that's what's going on in the Spire. Simmering tensions and decades of pent-up casual racism, rather than outright xenophobia. People call the sculpted "skews" without even thinking about it, for instance, then act surprised when reminded that it might be offensive.

And, as we shall see, there are always people who take things too far.

Anyway: Shå is a little unusual in that she comes from a particular sculpted bloodline which can pass as fully human. She has access to some really amazing visual skills -- I'm not spoiling what they are, but they're awesome -- but until she actively uses them there's not much sign she's anything special. So, unlike most of the sculpted, she can just about live her life without constantly being made to feel like an outsider. To complicate matters further Shå is alienated from her own people -- in fact she can't remember anything about them -- so she feels no particular loyalty there. As a walking, talking blank canvas, treading a very lonely tightrope at all times, it's perhaps not so unsurprising that she's thrown in her lot, and all her skills and efforts, with the city which gave her sanctuary.

Shå has to find a serial killer as the new Baroness is being sworn in. What, if anything, can you reveal about this killer?

Not much, sorry! There's a really nasty bit of violence during episode one which gets the ball rolling.

One thing you have to understand about the way the city works is that it's a sort of visual analogue for the class system. It's this vast conical labyrinth of metal and rock, rising out of the desert, with the titular spire at its tip. The higher-up you are -- that is, the closer you get to the "steeple-keep" at the top, where the bureaucrats and ruling family live -- the more affluent you're likely to be. The closer you live to the bottom, the more dangerous and deprived your life will be.

As a rule of thumb there aren't many sculpted living near the top of the heap, which tells you something about their true place in society. On the other hand this sort of stuff is often just a matter of perspective. There are those who consider the bottom of the heap to be a sort of paradise.

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The first murders to reach Shå's attention occur really low down in the city: one of the lowliest tiers, where violence is common and murders don't draw much attention. These ones would probably get short shrift too, if not for one of the victims being tenuously connected to the royal family. When news of the crime reaches the ears of the new Baroness, Shå has to dance between the raindrops of prejudice, bureaucracy and an emerging conspiracy, whilst all along the killer's attacks increase in scale and brutality.

While she's investigating these murders, will Shå also have to deal with the new Baroness taking charge? What is their relationship like?

Frosty. Very frosty. This is all stuff I can't say much about, but you can clearly see in episode one that Shå's going to have her work cut out winning favor. Baroness Tavi is a guarded, humorless woman whose views on ethnic diversity -- whilst not being outright racist -- are likely to make Shå's life very difficult. The murder of an old friend of the royal family, as mentioned above, sours Tavi's view of the City Watch which Shå supposedly commands. So instantly there are questions of capability and fitness to go alongside more troublesome race-related issues. The upshot is that Shå's going to have to get to the bottom of these killings as quickly as possible, or face some deeply unpleasant repercussions.

And that's before you even get to the downright complicated relationships Shå has with other members of the extended royal family...

The Spire sounds like the kind of location that takes on a life of its own. What was the process like for developing this place from both a writing and artistic point of view?

I mentioned the utopian collaborative aspect above, with loads of back-and-forth going on. That's particularly true of the world-building aspects of the whole thing.

I have this bugbear about genre books in which world is inseparably bound to the story being told within it. Like, realities which only function because of this-or-that macguffin (which becomes the quest-item at the heart of the tale), or worlds where the only stories you can tell are the ones which threaten to destroy the entire thing. Big, epic stuff built upon really stupid contrivances, y'know?

My view is that the best fictional worlds -- like the real one -- have a sense of wonder and mystery which extends beyond the beholder's understanding -- and that's okay. You don't need maps and indices and made-up histories to get a feel for an exotic world. And yet -- more importantly -- these worlds should nonetheless feel functional. They don't feel as though they'll simply stop existing, or stop being interesting, the moment the story's over.

So with "The Spire" Jeff and I put a lot of thought and time into creating this world (which by the way I maintain is one of the most seductive, fascinating and weird worlds you'll ever encounter). But then? We pushed it into the background and focused on building a remarkable, funny, moving and powerful story to take place inside it. Yes there's stuff in the story which can only happen because it's set in an invented reality, but that's not to say that the story is "about" the world, nor that the world is "about" the story.

Think of it in "Bladerunner" terms: this amazing labyrinthine world which the viewer desperately wants to explore, but the story told within it is nonetheless intimate, harrowing and very human. That's what we're shooting for in "The Spire." Given the downright astonishing praise we've had from our heroes in the comicky world -- Brian K. Vaughan, Gail Simone, Kieron Gillen, Jeff Lemire, Brian Wood, Rick Remender, Ivan Brandon, etc etc etc, they all said humbling and heartburst-pride-inducing things about episode one -- given that, I think we're on the right tracks.

The two of you worked together previously on "Six-Gun Gorilla." What made "The Spire" the natural next installment in your collaborative relationship?

You mean, why did I want to make sure I had one of the best young artists in comics working on the apocalyptic-fantasy fever dream cop-mystery splendorgasm comic book idea which I love above all others, which by the way he was born to drawn?  

Well, gee... Sorry, sorry, I incarnated sarcastic this life. The real answer is that getting "The Spire" launched was the despicably calculating process of trying to work out what sort of project I could dangle so that Jeff wouldn't be able to resist. Seduction is often a good analogue for collaborating in comics, though I suppose you could just as easily see it in the light of a fisherman baiting his hook.

As it happened I recently unearthed an old idea, which ten-years-ago-Me tried to turn into a screenplay. It needed a lot of work -- back-to-basics type stuff, with whole new plots constructed and characters rebuilt -- but underneath it all I recognized a recipe which could've been tailor-made to make both Jeff and me glow. In essence: one part "Mad Max," one part "Bladerunner," one part "Dark Crystal," one part nutfuck insanity.

Twenty-year-old-Si was kind of a dick, but he did me a solid by leaving that little scrap in a "misc." file and stepping away from it. I repaid him by throwing away 80% of the world he'd described -- sorry, kiddo -- turning his narrative on its arse, and inviting Jeff to come help me fill the gaps.

Moral of the story: never throw any ideas away, but never assume they're as good as you thought they were when you first had 'em.

"The Spire" #1 from Si Spurrier, Jeff Stokely and BOOM! Studios lands in stores on July 1.

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