SAN DIEGO, DAY ONE: Palmiotti and Gray embark on 'The Twilight Experiment'

[The Twilight Experiment]Those guys behind "21 Down" and "The Resistance" are certainly not out of ideas yet. Thursday evening at Comic-Con International in San Diego it was announced that writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti will be joined by Juan Santacruz in 2004 on a new six-issue series for Wildstorm called "The Twilight Experiment." CBR News caught up with Gray and Palmiotti during the convention to learn a bit more about the series.

"'The Twilight Experiment is a colossal superhero story, it's big, it's fun, it's big-fun," Justin Gray told CBR News. "There are capes and costumes, flying people, epic battles, alien civilizations, hologram decks, super string theory, quantum physics, a multiverse…and that's just issue 1…hell we put it all out there and it has been a blast to work on. Somewhere beneath all of this hyper reality is a story about family and the difficulty in living up to your parents expectations. "

"The great thing about this project is that we get to create a whole new universe of characters with superpowers and even bigger problems for them to deal with," Palmiotti added when talking with CBR. "It's our version of what superheroes are supposed to be like if they were created during more innocent times. There really is a lot of exploration into what makes superhero comics so appealing to the readers in this. I think we hit on all the things that make this a fun genre to be involved in."

Gray was happy to provide us with a bit more of the back story and some notes on the characters found within "The Twilight Experiment."

"Without giving a great deal away, because there's so much fun stuff happening and mystery to be uncovered, we're looking at two central characters whose lives are interconnected by a battle between the world's most powerful superheroes in Denver," said Gray. "One is Michael Bright, the son of the legendary heroine Serenity who died defending the earth against The Righteous, a man she once fought side by side with. Michael has been living on an orbital space station since his birth, cut off from humanity and raised by a sentient computer program. As a result of the battle between Serenity and The Righteous, ten year old Rene Doyle watched as her sister was crushed under falling debris, now, years later she's a paramedic working in NYC. Michael and Rene are drawn together by fate and soon find they have to save the world."

"I second that…boy I feel useless," joked Pamiotti.

"Michael Bright was born with a variation of Xeroderma Pigmentosum, a rare genetic defect in ultraviolet radiation induced DNA repair mechanisms; characterized by severe sensitivity to all sources of UV radiation (especially sunlight)," continued Gray. "The disease was a side effect of his mother's solar generated powers. It also made it impossible for his mother to be in the same room with him. As an infant Michael was placed onboard the space station far from her enemies and placed in a suitable environment until he turns eighteen at which point he can travel to Earth. Aside from sterilized visits from his mother via hologram, Michael's only interaction comes from the station's artificial intelligence named ABE (Artificial Biological Environment). ABE functions as our young hero's surrogate father, protector and information system.

"In the years following his mother's death, Michael used the station to monitor Earth and learn from it, he could still observe things from a distance, changes in politics, social habits, wars, and so on…but he longs to be with people and experience life."

"The thing that makes Michael an interesting character is that it's his lack of contact that makes us take another look at all the things we all take for granted each and every busy day of our lives," continued Palmiotti. "I remember coming home after my father died around 12 years ago and getting stuck in the passenger side of a car, looking out the window and watching the grass gently sway from a gentle wind that was coming off the ocean. I remember the aroma, the coolness of the breeze and I started thinking about how my father, now that he was gone, would never experience this effortless pleasure ever again. This of all things upset me…this every minute occurrence that no one really notices or appreciates till its too late. What can I say; it was an emotional time for me.

"When writing about Michael, I tried to get some of what I felt, some first time observations, into the story. I think a character that is in tune with his surroundings like Michael has a better chance of dealing with what ever is thrown at him. These are a few of the ideas we are trying to bring to the book as well."

The project had its beginnings a while back while Gray and Palmiotti were working on another series for Wildstorm.

"This project started while we were doing 'The Resistance' and we all got together and asked Juan what he would be interested in doing next," said Palmiotti. "He grew up in Spain reading superhero comics and he had wanted to give it a shot. At the time he was being offered X-Men work and such, but he chose to create his own characters instead, which buys him total freedom and keeps his work and look all his own. Justin had most of the ideas on this series to start out with and we all built on them as each issue grew.

For Gray, the story came out of a want to tell stories that contained super-heroes where it showed the affect super-heroes have in the real world.

"There are a few things that really poured out of the idea and made this an exciting book to work on," said Gray. "There's something that always bugged me about iconic superheroes, something about the idea of not holding the human race responsible for their actions when month after month they continue to fuck up the planet and each other. I wanted to see some real world problems get solved in true superhero fashion, not just stopping a human war, but ending war, period. Another bit of inspiration comes from the isolation of childhood, the difficulty in living up to what your parents expect of you and having to grow up much sooner than anyone should have to. Putting Michael on a space station, removing him from the world and other people for 18 years means everything that we take for granted is new to him. It's really interesting to sit back and put yourself in a frame of mind that forces you to reexamine your world.

For continuity fans, it should be noted that this series takes place outside the Wildstorm universe, an edict that came down from on high.

"The exalted grand poobah of the WSU, Jim Lee, wanted us to work outside the Wildstorm universe and at first I think we were a little disappointed because of our work with '21Down' and wanting to tie some of the elements of both books together," revealed Gray. "But that quickly changed when we realized what Jim knew all along…we could do anything we wanted to the world without stepping on anyone's toes. We had the freedom to push the series in any direction the story wanted to go. The series is set in the real world with a few exceptions, so all the major cities and countries of the world are there…but not for long.

"The other great thing about this project is that we actually got a lot of input from Jim lee, even to the point that he helped Juan design some of the characters in the series," continued Palmiotti. "Jim is great like that, a real team player all the way with all his books and I guess that's why we keep coming back for more. Wildstorm is giving us opportunities that we would never have with another publisher and always making sure we are involved with an interest in the ownership of the characters as well. Something he has always done with all the new characters created for Wildstorm. There is nothing epic in that thinking, its just business as usual for these guys.

Looking at the story descriptions above, one could conclude that "The Twilight Experiment" is an answer to the great DC iconic characters. There's definitely a bit of that, and more.

"With 'The Twilight Experiment' we are taking a shot at the classic themes of superhero comics and adding a bit of a personal twist to them," explained Palmiotti. "Really, most of the classic superhero legends almost always boil down to a family configuration, and with this book, everyone and everything is somewhat connected in a way. The fruit is not falling too far from the tree.

"If you wanted to draw a parallel between Batman, Superman and 'The Twilight Experiment' you could say that The Righteous is Batman's worst fear and paranoia come true, the nightmare he's waiting for, you know the one where Superman finally loses his shit and takes over the world," continued Gray. "I'm not talking about setting up some robots as a police force, I'm talking about doing what ever it takes to bring humanity under control for it's own good. Michael is the complete opposite of that idea. He's eighteen, he's just joined the human race and he has superpowers. To him superpowers are cool as hell, he loves having them even though all he wants is to catch up with the world and be a teenager."

Art for the series is being handled by Spanish arts Juan Santacruz, whom Gray and Palmiotti are very familiar with having worked together on "The Resistance" together.

"He's doing an amazing job on this book," said Gray, "playing up all the intense visual demands we placed on him and taking them to new heights. He's doing the pencils and inks for the book, taking his time and delivering some of the best work I've seen from him, which is saying a lot since we already feel he's brilliant.

"Juan is now officially our 'go to' guy when we want to try something that hasn't been tried before," continued Palmiotti, "and with 'The Twilight Experiment,' like 'The Resistance,' he again is creating designs and characters that have never been seen in comics before. His work has a wonderful quality about it that reminds me personally of mike golden, an artist that I am also a big fan of. This is the break out series for Juan for sure and I think it shows on each and every page, especially now that he has taken on the job as inker as well.

And for those who get hooked on the series once it comes out, Gray and Palmiotti are prepared to take it beyond those initial first six-issues provided the interest is there.

"We have a prequel and a sequel all ready to go," said Palmiotti, "but it's the audience that decides if this will ever happen. Experiences like 'The Resistance' and '21Down' teach us something new each and every day."

Gray continued Palmiotti's thought. "I hope the fans embrace 'The Twilight Experiment,' for no other reason than it's really fun working on this book. If the demand is there don't worry, we have it all worked out."

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