In the opening issue of their new creator-owned Image Comics series, writer Rick Remender and artist Jerome Opeña transported readers to the world of Zhal, a fantastic place where magic wielders known as Mosaks are able to influence and manipulate the spirit world in order to achieve a variety of wondrous things. Mosaks are also the cornerstone of Zhal's society and technology so what happens when a Machiavellian schemer seizes ultimate power by manipulating the Mosaks? Do noble people have a moral imperative not to bend their knee to such a ruler? And how do you raise and protect your family in such a chaotic, dangerous world?
In “Seven to Eternity” #1 Remender and Opena introduced Adam Osidis, a man wrestling with these very questions. They saw his father, one of the last remaining independent Mosaks, struck down leaving Adam with a difficult choice: protect his family and surrender to Zhal's ruler or continue a seemingly futile struggle. We spoke with Remender about Adam's dilemma, building the world of Zhal, and the planet's ruler, a being the Osidis clan defiantly dubbed the “Mud King.”
CBR: Rick, the center piece to “Seven to Eternity” is Zhal, the world you and Jerome built for the book. You and Matteo Scalera routinely build strange worlds in another one of your creator owned books, “Black Science,” but have you ever built a world as intricate and large as Zhal in you previous work?
Rick Remender: There's a rookie move that people make where they build massive worlds like this and they just dump it on you. It's like “Then the 17th storm came! And the 15th wizard rose!”
So one thing I wanted to be able to do was to put on my dungeon master cap and have some fun with that stuff so there was an inherent sense of logic to this place. Magic is very tricky and I didn't want it to be like, “I call forth the Ice Lords!” So we came up with a very simple idea, which is that the wall between the spirit realm and the physical realm is much thinner in this world and some people can call on spirits to help them. So each one of the characters who are Mosak have the ability to call on spirits for different kinds of abilities. There are very few of them.
Then the rest of it is pure fantasy in that this is world populated by different kinds of species, critters, creatures, ghoulies and goblins. At that point, it's sort of digging into the Jodorowski “Incal” of it all; bathing yourself in pure imagination and having fun. So I'd come up with ideas and call Jerome. We'd bounce things around, and he would do designs.
All of that stuff is fun, but the core of our story is boiled down to this one family, and the dilemma they are faced with.
I noticed a lot of the technology on Zhal, even simple things like bows and arrows, are tied to living things, as well as the arcane communion with spirits you talked about. That suggests that Mosaks are the most valuable people on Zhal because they control the way to make weapons and all of the innovations that make organized large scale societies possible.
Yeah, there is no science fiction stuff on this world. There aren't any ray guns or special technology. Everything that exists that is supernatural comes from the Mosaks who can commune, draw power from, and summon spirits. They're very rare, and they're much rarer now than they were before our friend, the Mud King, came along, manipulated them all, and turned them against one another.
So they are still out there, but they're very rare, which helps the story. Otherwise, you have a whole bunch of people casting spells and flying around and it just becomes nonsense.
Right, it's interesting to look at the Mosaks from an anthropological perspective and see how they impacted this society's ways of making buildings and tools.
Yes, there are major cities and we get into that a little more. I try not to delve too much into history. I pepper it here and there. I've written all of that stuff. So it's easy to sprinkle in, but I'm not just going to dump it in on people.
There are Mosak temples. They were the wardens and architects of this world, and they were extraordinarily gifted. So they were capable of performing great feats. Then of course one of them, the Mud King, used their power to seize control and turn people against each other. He spread fear and paranoia throughout the land.
While we're on the topic of technology, Adam's rifle and its bullets, or “nails,” were referenced a couple times in Issue #1. It seems like you're setting up the rifle and its ammo to be a very important weapon/artifact.
It is. I had written a bunch of captions for issue #1 that described what the rifle and the nails did, and then I cut them. Because you'll see what they do when they do it. [Laughs] That's the joy of writing these things far out. When you get to doing final dialogue, you can see holes in your thinking, and this first issue was a good example of me cutting way back on explaining stuff. When I finally finished it and hacked away all of the non-essential stuff I realized that's kind of the fun of it. Not everything has to be explained.
There's sort of a joy of taking a journey in this strange world where things just exist and they are. I'll explain the X, Y and Z of them eventually, but they don't need to be all explained. It's almost more fun if somethings stay a little more mystical. Adam's gun and the nails are definitely a big piece of what he's got going for him. He doesn't have a whole lot of them though.
Let's talk a little more about your cast, starting with Adam who we first meet in the form of a journal entry in the opening pages of “Seven to Eternity” #1. What inspired you to use Adam's journal? How important will it be to the series going forward?
Quite important. I know where the series ends. So in a way I've already written this whole story, and it made sense to me to have the story told from Adam's perspective at some point in the future. You don't know where or when that is and you don't know where he's at when he's writing these entries.
That enables me to convey information in a completely different fashion from what I've done before. I've never done past tense. I've never had the bits of caption that we get told from somebody's perspective in the future. That really excited me because I'm always looking for something new to challenge myself with. And it has proven to be really fantastic in that he has a deeper insight about the story we're watching because he's in a position in the future reflecting on it. I really enjoyed writing from that perspective.
It became clear during Adam's trek across Zhal that he was sick, perhaps terminally so. Does he have something similar to tuberculosis?
Yes, something akin to that. I cooked up what that was and how the disease worked. I even had it defined in the issue -- and then I realized I could cut it because, essentially, it's a terminal illness. He is very sick, and yes it might be similar to tuberculosis, but it could be of a more parasitic variety.
Adam's illness is part of his motivation, but what ultimately sets the story into motion, as we first learn from his journal, is his father's inability to compromise. That struck me, because sometimes it's noble not to compromise, but an inability to do that isn't necessarily a good thing.
Right; on one end, there's the Ayn Randian, Objectivist version of not compromising, [Laughs], and there's the honorable, “I see something evil happening here and refuse to bend to it” on the other end. There's a fine line between those two things, but I think a person who is strident in their belief that what they are standing against is evil and continues to stand up to it when no one else is standing with them is taking on a true test to their ideology and ethics.
That's Zebadiah Osidis, Adam's father. He's the last Mosak who was standing against the Mud King and eventually had to just flee the whole mess because it was unsolvable. He never bent his knee though to what he saw as a growing and prevalent evil amongst his colleagues.
Is “Seven to Eternity” a morally black and white story? Or will you be delving into some gray areas as the series moves forward?
The joy of what we put together here is that it asks a lot of questions and you don't know what you would do in these situations. There's not a lot of great answers for the characters. That's life.
There's no decision that Adam is going to be faced with that's a very easy one for anyone to make. In fact, many of them are damned if you do, damned if you don't. Obviously, the stakes here are what makes it interesting for him. So the choices that he's presented with take him down some interesting roads.
I don't want to get too much into that, but what I think we've got here is an interesting statement on ethics, ideology, and the idea of compromise.
A lot of what Adam does will be driven by how it impacts his family, an interesting bunch of characters that we got to meet briefly in issue #1. Will we get chances to spend some more time with them and see things from their perspectives in upcoming issues?
Yes. The first story here takes 12 issues, so everybody we set up in issue #1 plays a role, even people and things you saw that might not have seemed important. That's the joy of having the entire story written before I started issue #1 -- I know what happens in issue #12. So as I'm breaking things down and moving through the story, I can set things up and seed little ideas that later grow into other ideas.
That's always a treat. As a reader, I always want to see that intention. I want to see that this isn't just someone hacking out a story and stitching it together every month.
There's so many ideas that we set up here in issue #1. Everything you saw, and all the characters will continue to play a role moving forward. Plus, issue #2 introduces the rest of the cast that we'll be spending time with.
It's interesting that Adam's family plays a large role here. It feels like in all of your creator-owned work that I've read, going back to “Fear Agent,” family always plays a large role.
Humans are so tribal. I've read a number of books on the topic, and I've very fascinated by it. Our tribal instincts and familial connections are so important to who we are. They affect us in such a deep and profound way.
It's Shakespearean. That's where you get the most story. Jack Kirby said, “When in doubt -- family.” There's all these deep connections that we can all universally understand and connect with when it comes to family.
I'm fascinated by different kinds of dysfunction too, or in terms of what Adam is going to face, taking function and putting it up against incredible dilemmas where you reveal character with your choices.
You've also introduced the series' major villain, the God of Whispers, AKA the Mud King. What inspired the character?
In developing the Mud King early versions of him were sort of a Conan style warlord who hacked his way through a field of battle and dominated. He was this classic fantasy villain, and I spent weeks and weeks trying to dissect what's more terrifying than that to me. I realized that, to me, the more terrifying person isn't the one that's challenging me and letting me know their intent. I'm more afraid of the person who's out to get me and is manipulating things behind the scenes. They're spreading lies and slandering me, or they're out to get me and I'm not aware of it.
That's where the God of Whispers came from, and the Osidis clan hate him so much they coined the term, “The Mud King.” That's the slanderous term that people use for him, but in issue #2 you'll see just how terrifying he is, how smart he is, and how much worse it is to have somebody work against you behind the scenes than it is to have a person who is just going to walk up to your face and throw a punch.
You can tell from Jerome Opeña's design of the Mud King, and all his other work on issue #1, that he's having the time of his life working on this book.
This is something we've wanted to do forever. We've been working together for 10 years and somehow this is the first time we've launched our own book together. Obviously, he kept “Fear Agent” alive by drawing 12-14 issues of that series. “Fear Agent” wouldn't have made it past issue #3 if it weren't for Jerome. He came in and did pencil work on issue #4.
So he was integral in keeping that book alive, but ultimately “Fear Agent” was something that, at its core, was grown by Tony Moore and I. Now, here's something that Jerome and I grew and it's clear how much value, craft, and love is put into the work when the writer and artist share ownership and the colorist is invested and also participating in the project and the property. Everybody has a piece and is being asked to collaborate, and we all have fun together. So the end result is a beautiful work of art that speaks to all of our sensibilities, and it represents who we are and what we want to make.
This isn't a job. This is passion, and I think that's what you get when you let Jerome off the leash and let him create something that is his.
You mentioned this first major story of “Seven to Eternity” that you and Jerome are doing is 12 issues. Will it be presented like your other creator-owned books where you get four to five issues and then there's a few months break in between? Or are you going 12 monthly issues straight through?
[Laughs] God, no! Jerome is spending, like, four days on a page, and Matt Hollingsworth spends who knows how many hours painting them. We want to make something that stands the test of time.
I don't know if anybody gives a shit anymore about the craft of the art and the love we put into these things, but we do. And when this is said and done, we want it to be everyone's best work. When we put out that giant, oversize hardcover, we want it to be something like “Fear Agent” or “Deadly Class” -- something that we can be incredibly proud of.
So we'll definitely take a little time between arcs, like we always do. It won't be much, though. I don't see more than a three month gap between the arcs.
We have ideas for like 20-30 issues. I know the first story is 12, and I've learned to be flexible with my plans. I originally intended to do about 60 issues of “Black Science.” Chances are we'll do around 40, though. As you're working you see places where things might get a little slow, and you decide to cut them.
So in terms for how long this could go? I know right now we're doing these 12 issues. We have ideas for more stories, and ideas for spinoffs. It's the same for “Tokyo Ghost.” I have the next 10 issues of that locked into my head. It all comes down to a lot of details and whether or not when we get to that point we're still excited to do those stories.
Any final teases you can leave us with about what's coming up in this first arc of “Seven to Eternity?”
A lot of happiness and everyone gets what they want. [Laughs] No, issue #2 is where you really start to see the mischief of the Mud King. You get to see how smart he is and you get to see Adam try and do some clever things that we set up in the first issue and didn't reveal. Issue #2 also reveals another Mosak that I'm very excited about.