One of Shadowline's longest running series, writer/artist Jimmie Robinson's "Bomb Queen" will soon pass twenty issues with the fifth volume of the acclaimed politically-charged, scantily dressed, anarchic supervillain black comedy. To mark the occasion, Robinson and Shadowline publisher Jim Valentino sat down with CBR News to take a look back at what came before and what will happen to New Port City's self appointed mayor, Bomb Queen, now that "Bomb Queen V" #1, the first issue of her latest six-issue Image Comics miniseries, is on sale now.
How the fictional city of New Port became the "city of crime" was revealed in the first Bomb Queen story, "Woman of Mass Destruction," in which the titular character was part of a group of supervillains called The Four Queens. When all the superheroes were either run out of New Port City or killed, the Queens turned on each other. With Bomb Queen the only one to emerge from the battle, she took control of the local government. Her first act in office was to establish a No Heroes law, making it illegal for superheroes to step foot in the city, making New Port a magnet for criminals across America.
Bomb Queen's rule over the city and her cavalier attitude towards crime has, by her standards, caused New Port to "flourish" standards of human trashiness that Las Vegas could never hope to match. Money laundering and prostitution are rampant, combined with local internet and public access television airing unrated content sometimes featuring the Queen herself in pornographic films. All of these things resulted in an overflowing of petty criminals and super ne'er-do-wells into the city, promoting Bomb Queen to get creative with population control, like tasking the local Neo-Nazi chapter with holding a job fair.
"With each story arc I expected to be burned at the stake," creator Jimmie Robinson told CBR News. "I assumed the numbers would drop. Instead we saw the opposite. I tried to make the character completely reprehensible, but readers liked it all the more. She kills babies and people laugh. Which is good, since it is a dead black satire. It simply means that Bomb Queen has found her audience. I never intended this for mass consumption so I never watered it down, and since the series has made it so long I've been able to build an entire universe with a wide cast of characters."
Politicians known only as the Agency have sought to unseat Bomb Queen by varying means of attack, including then introduction of deadly love interests, assaults on the city, and even cloning the Bomb Queen, as seen in "Bomb Queen IV." A fight with this clone, known as the Bomb Teen, resulted the Queen's gaining of healing powers. However, the same episode came with some sacrifices: the Queen's mystical cat, Ashe, who has saved the Queen's skin on many occasions, was killed and revealed to be a demon who could manipulate rage in its sphere of influence, essentially being responsible for the horrible things that happen in New Port City.
Just before she died, Bomb Teen revealed that Bomb Queen was created by the Agency to do precisely what she has done: create a city where all the criminals can go as a form of voluntary concentration camp.
A Hellspawn -- courtesy of Todd McFarlane -- challenged the Queen and successfully killed Robinson's character, banishing her to Ashe's demon realm. Though Bomb Queen eventually emerged victorious, gaining supernatural powers, she was enraged over what Bomb Teen had told her about the Agency and declared war on the "Image Comics Universe," firing Weapons of Mass Destruction at New York City, Chicago, Tower City and Baltimore.
On sale now is the first issue of "Bomb Queen V," titled "The Divine Comedy." The story pits the Queen against her direct ideological opposite, the benevolent peace keeper of the squeaky clean Littleville, the White Knight. Robinson said this volume has a two-pronged goal. "One is to play on reader's expectations of the 'good guy' as seen in classic comics," he said. "Unlike 'heroes' in the past stories that ran in shades of grey, here we have the ultimate hero for the Queen. Someone who is just as good as she is bad. He won't snap in the midst of her city because he only sees the positive. Granted he can be pushed to a limit and into action, but his decisions are righteous and for the good of society. But the old line that one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist can be applied here. But my job as a writer is to go beyond that. There will be some serious twists and turns in this story."
Robinson is planning on expanding the characters by spending more time in dealing with the city as a whole. "The city's character supports Bomb Queen," he said. "In most superhero books, the city is just window dressing. We read about masked heroes and they seem to just romp through the town like a movie set. As if the people are just cardboard cutouts. After all, what can the citizens in a 'normal' city do that's so different anyway? But in 'Bomb Queen,' the citizens are active and providing a character unlike other titles.
"And it's not that they're all crazy and doing silly stuff. But also that seemingly normal looking people are just walking through it. For me, personally, the worst criminal is the silent one that does nothing. When society allows and advocates injustice then you've reached a new level of infrastructure that begs exploration. Kids walking around with weapons in Bomb Queen's city, laughing as they watch someone being killed, or passing a rape in progress like yet another panhandler are the trouble centers I play in. It's just what we do everyday - but put the extreme to make a point."
Robinson said while previous stories dealt with outside forces imposing their will on New Port City, "Bomb Queen V" would focus on the city's infrastructure. "We examine just how Bomb Queen contains an isolated city full of degenerates that range from white-collar criminals to genocidal serial killers. We see the sacrifices she makes when the economy goes bad in a city of crime. The kind of budget cuts the Queen makes --metaphorically and literally."
Of his psychopathic protagonist, Robinson said, "This is not the typical villain. She's not misunderstood, blackmailed, had a rough life, changed sides from hero-to-villain, not an anti-hero, not a sympathetic villain, blah, blah, blah. She's pure 100% evil and wrong. Nobody expects that of The Joker, so when I developed the Queen I didn't work that into her, either."
"Bomb Queen V" begins with Littleville's White Knight coming to New Port City to discuss with Bomb Queen a series of grizzly murders in his town, where there is typically no crime -- including jay walking. The White Knight, Robinson said, will have a significant toll on the Queen and her city. "Everyone loves a winner, even serial killers have someone they might love, family, friends," Robinson remarked. "So a knight in shining armor in a city of crime is something people can gravitate around. We see this all the time. You look at [Barack] Obama and the guy is shaft of light in the darkness. Doesn't matter that he's still a politician, a lawyer, and talking rhetoric that can never be fulfilled - all the things people normally hate - but he represents a new direction and people respond to that. Even the criminals of society. Bomb Queen will have a rough time if her city decides to tilt away from supporting her. She is only as powerful as her reign and only considered a Queen / ruler' if the people allow it."
Robinson calls his creation a "mash-up" of influences from his hometown of San Francisco and the many things going on in his life both politically and culturally. He originally thought about self-publishing his work. "When the black & white boom/bust was in full effect," he said, "you couldn't swing a cat by the tail without hitting some alternative comics. Likewise, the birth of Image Comics came into the market soon. At that time, from my point of view, it seemed like creators were making waves on both sides of the spectrum. From the corporate level across to the zines. So diversity has always been a staple for me."
"Bomb Queen" was inspired by of the various books Robinson was reading growing up in San Francisco, including "Rom Spaceknight," "Dazzler," "G.I. Joe," and George Perez's "Teen Titans." Robinson also drew from zines such as "Spin=Zero," and Lucien Pond and Jenna Reed's "When my Brother was God," which was a basic slice of life about students in art school. "One character in particular was called Laney and she was a class-A piece of work," Robinson said. "Mean, smart, biting, sharp tongued. She stole the heart of the book and I liked how she was written. When it came to Bomb Queen, I needed a personality like Laney's. Someone on top of it all. Not just a villain who did bad things - but a villain who naturally walked that way through life."
While developing the character, Robinson said he had to "work backwards" and learn a different language. Explained the cartoonist, "I had to reverse some classic storytelling structure. This gets me in trouble sometimes but it also keeps this title fresh. When I first created the concept and took it around to friends and peers I was given the 'character development' sermon. In short, that a story isn't good unless someone evolves, learns a lesson, or just the basics of the good guys winning. 'Bomb Queen' is little of that."
One of the most intriguing facets that Robinson built into "Bomb Queen" is a series of studies by Philip Zimbardo called "the Lucifer Effect," which proposes that no matter how good people think they are, or what values they hold, they also hold the potential for pure unadulterated evil, as individuals and also when society gives them permission to do so. "In this story arc, we see both sides of the coin, Bomb Queen's city of crime and the opposite in Littleville's city of divine," Robinson said. "I'm not writing a thesis here, 'Bomb Queen' is no Shakespeare, so this is all in fun, but at the same time I'm making a point about extremism and the effects it has on society."
Throughout his near 20-issue run at Shadowline, Robinson declares the series-of-miniseries format the perfect way of telling the Bomb Queen story. "I like Shadowline's miniseries format because I can guarantee the reader a full story, complete with surprise endings, much like a TV season of your favorite show, or a DVD box set," he said. "That's the beauty of creator-owned properties, anything can happen and nobody is safe.
"My relationship with Shadowline and the book has evolved over time," Robinson continued. "Starting out, we were careful not to go too far. We agreed to pull back on a few gags. But nowadays the title is all over the place. Now I get complaints when there's not enough killing and crazy background mayhem. But remember, Shadowline is home of Jim Valentino, who brought you [Garth Ennis and Amanda Conner's ultra-adult] 'The Pro.' He's no choirboy. Between Valentino and my editor, Kris Simon, you couldn't ask for better. They understand this is a creator-owned gig, they don't blow wind up my skirt. I'm comfortable talking turkey with them. Crunching numbers, promotion, spinning ideas, collaborating, working production and more. They are hands-on when they're needed and they let it ride when the creator is on the mark."
Jim Valentino, the man behind Shadowline, has worked with Robinson on his many series and has never had a hard time saying yes to anything Robinson has proposed to him. "Jimmie is one of those rare and wonderful creators that needs very little help," Valentino told CBR News. "He's easy to get along with, he hits his deadlines, he's communicative and fun, he's a great promoter and he knows what he's doing in terms of art and writing. The way we work with him is that he tells us briefly what he wants to do, we laugh and say 'go ahead' and then remain available for him to bounce ideas off of, and of course, keep him on track with spelling and grammar checks."
Jimmie Robinson has plans for "Bomb Queen" to continue into 2009 and probably beyond. "I'd like the entire series to say we had fun," Robinson said. "It is a satire and black comedy. I know it doesn't fit all tastes, and some think it's more nihilistic than satire, or not even good satire. Splitting the critics is good. That means discussion and I'm all for that. But also that it set out to be different in a way that explored territory through a new language - not simply adding a new layer of paint, but stepping over the line at the same time. I'm very passionate about that. Doesn't matter if it's my work with all-ages, romance, Image's 'Bomb Queen' or Marvel's 'Wolverine.' I believe in diversity and I believe we as a community can support it, online, offline, and in other media. It's a great time to be a comics reader and I'm glad to be part of it."
"Bomb Queen V" #1 is on sale now, with issue #2 hitting stands June 18. "Bomb Queen" volumes I through IV are available in trade paperback from Shadowline and Image Comics.
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