My Own Worst Enemy: Hardison talks "The Helm"

What if you had a magical superpower and it hated your guts? That question is what writer/director Jim Hardison pitched to the folks at Dark Horse Comics, who were sufficiently intrigued to hire Hardison to pen the four issue miniseries "The Helm," illustrated by Bart Sears and set for release in July. CBR News sat down with Hardison to talk about the writer's first foray into comics.

"The Helm" tells the story of Matthew Blurdy, a "down-on-his-luck schlub" who unexpectedly finds himself endowed with magical powers. "Matthew finds the Helm, a powerful ancient artifact which recognizes him as the Valhalladrim-the 'chosen one,' the once-in-a-generation defender of goodness and light," Hardison told CBR News. "Only problem is that he's a down-on-his-luck schlub, and the Helm doesn't think he's actually worthy of the honor. The series follows Mathew through escalating encounters with evil, complicated by his antagonistic relationship with the Helm, his own considerable inadequacies, a romance that kicks in at issue #2 and some haziness on the part of the Helm about its own background."

Hardison classifies Blurdy as a "classic Dungeons and Dragons nerd" (a term Hardison uses with great reverence, having once been one himself), who is much more invested in his fantasy life than he is in his real one. "He's got a lot of high ideals and fantasies of making a difference, but the world seems biased against him ever achieving much," Hardison said. "Consequently he tends to think of himself as a guy who got cheated by being born into the wrong time, imagining that if he'd been born a few hundred years earlier he would have been a king or a warrior or something."

The 29-year-old, out of shape Blurdy still lives in his mother's basement, and ekes out a meager living working a minimum wage job. "He also has a fair level of moral flexibility," Hardison added. "All of which make him generally unsuitable for the standard superhero job description."

The Helm itself is an ancient Norse artifact that has been passed down from generation to generation. "It has no control over who exactly will be designated the next Valhalladrim, but up until Mathew, they've all been cut from the same heroic cloth: big, muscle-bound, Conan-style warrior-types who are impeccably brave, virtuous and noble," Hardison said. "The question in the story is not where the Helm comes from, but how it got where Mathew finds it, and what happened to the last Valhalladrim." The writer said that those questions and more will be answered by the end of issue #4.

The idea for "The Helm" grew out of Hardison's desire to tell a superhero story in which the hero's greatest conflict came not from without but from within. "For me, that's what makes the difference between a predictable, two-dimensional character and one with some real depth and emotional resonance," Hardison said. "Every character battles external forces, and we pretty much know how that kind of battle is likely to end. The place where you really start to get an engaging character is when the main conflict is happening inside his head and it's a conflict between two equally positive but opposing impulses."

Comfort versus personal freedom, love versus self-interest, these are the kinds of internal conflicts that Hardison believes make for compelling stories. As such, the writer set about identifying the most basic internal conflict a superhero could have. "What is the defining characteristic of every superhero?" Hardison said. "Well, they're super in some way. So, what if the 'super' part was actually in conflict with the character?"

Hardison realizes Matthew Blurdy isn't the first hero to contend with this kind of inner turmoil, citing Bruce Banner and his green-skinned alter ego as similarly conflicted. "Banner's power is more of a curse than a blessing," the writer said. In Banner's case, the good doctor has spent years trying to excise himself from the curse that is the Hulk, and it was this dynamic that Hardison wanted to turn on its head in the pages of "The Helm." He mused, "What if the superpower didn't want or like the hero and couldn't control him?" And thus, the Helm was born, a decidedly conscious ancient artifact that has no say in the selection of its chosen wielders.

Hardison, whose credits include Lions Gate's "Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy" and the PBS Children's Series "SeeMore's Playhouse," admitted that "The Helm" was his first foray into comic books. "The experience of writing 'The Helm' has been a pleasure," Hardison said. "It's been a blast seeing my words come to life as a comic book. My editor at Dark Horse, Dave Land, started me off with some notes that basically constituted a crash course on how to write for comics and how writing for comics is different than writing for other media. I've gained a lot of respect for the skill and discipline required as well as the unique potential that the [comics] form has. I've still got an awful lot to learn, but the whole process has been very fun and refreshing."

For "The Helm," Hardison had envisioned "'Conan-style' illustration as an ironic commentary about Mathew," and his editor was quick to suggest Bart Sears ("The Scream"). "Dave showed me some of Bart's work and I was really impressed," Hardison said. And as fate would have it, "The Helm" was right up Sears' alley. "Since I'm new to comics, I wasn't really familiar with Bart and had no idea that it was a big deal having him on the book, I just loved his work. After he signed on, I Googled him and started to more fully appreciate how lucky I was."

"The Helm" #1 hits stands on July 16 from Dark Horse.

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