SDCC '13 | Golden Age meets grim'n'gritty in 'Captain Ultimate'

There's a new hero in town, one straight out of the Golden Age ... wait, what? Captain Ultimate by Joey Esposito, Benjamin Bailey, Boykoesh and Ed Ryzowski debuts on comiXology today as one of five new titles from Monkeybrain Comics. The all-ages superhero title centers on a young boy and his admiration for a Golden Age hero, Captain Ultimate, who disappeared some years before -- but makes his triumphant return just in time to save a city from a giant monster.

I spoke with Esposito and Bailey about the new comic, which they'll discuss tonight at the Monkeybrain panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego (8 p.m. in Room 28DE)

JK Parkin: I know you guys both work together at IGN -- is that where the two of you met, or did you know each other before then?

Ben: We basically met at IGN. We’d never met before Joey hired me, just interacted on Twitter and stuff like that.

Joey: Yeah, and I was in need of a freelancer a couple of years back and Ben had written this great piece about the Punisher, so I hired him. Then we bonded over ice cream and music in San Diego and we became for real friends. Now we text each other fart jokes every day.

Ben: Literally every day.

JK: Where did the idea for Captain Ultimate come from, and how did the two of you come to work on it together?

Ben: Joey was talking on Twitter about wanting to revamp a public-domain hero and I chimed in and said I wanted to help. After digging through public-domain characters for a while -- and realizing it’s difficult to find a good one -- I suggested we just make our own Golden Age hero and pretend he’s always been around. That’s kinda where it started and things snowballed from there.

Joey: We started exchanging e-mails and ideas about a really simple concept that Ben had that related to what I was rambling about. Eventually we actually worked out the details and wrote the first issue, then we brought Boy on board. The whole thing came about really quickly, actually, and working with these guys is easy as pie. It’s really a case of the team just clicking and being on the same page with a lot of the things we want to explore.

JK: The comic pulls inspiration, it seems, from the nobler heroes of the past. In general, what creators and comics do you consider your inspiration for Captain Ultimate and the kind of story you're telling?

Ben: There is definitely an emphasis on the past. On a time when heroes were good because being good was the right thing to do. We draw a lot from Golden Age material. I have two young kids myself, so they inspire what we write a lot. They are our test subjects, if my 5-year-old digs an idea then we run with it.

As far as creators, I think Mark Waid is a guy who has been putting a lot fun back into comics. His Rocketeer stuff and recent Daredevil run. Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos’ graphic novel Cow Boy is a great, inspiring all-ages work. Jeff Smith’s Bone. Archie’s current Mega Man series. Just stuff that focuses on having fun.

Joey: Yeah, The Rocketeer in general is something that comes up a lot when we’re just riffing. The whole idea of that character and how he’s presented as a Golden Age hero is immensely inspiring, and I think we’re trying to incorporate a lot of that into this book, just in terms of accessibility.

But something that I’ve always got in mind when we’re working on this book is less the classic characters themselves and more how I connect with them as a reader and fan, what they mean to me and how they inspire me. The relationship and adoration between our main character Milo and Captain Ultimate, for example, I recognize as the sort of relationship I have with Superman. Of course, Milo’s relationship plays out in a more literal fashion. In general, though, I think part of what we’re trying to do is celebrate why heroes are important to us, a lot of which stems from the first adventures we read with those characters.

JK: At the same time, you seem to have fun poking fun at the more "grim and gritty" comics out there with the Super Revenging Society. From both a conceptual and a design standpoint, did you have anyone specific in mind when you created them?

Joey: Even though we poke fun at that stuff, I think it’s done in a loving way. We’re both fans of the dark and tortured heroes, but it’s almost like we’ve gone too far in that direction in terms of mainstream comics. Where once comics struggled to shake the “comics are for kids” stigma, we sort of overshot it a bit and arrived at “kids don’t read comics” instead. So with the Super Revenging Society, we wanted to poke a hole in that in our own way.

I think you can probably see the influences pretty readily, and we talked about that with Boy quite a bit. I think in the end he nailed it, as he is prone to do. The archetypes should be easily recognizable without aping any specific hero. We didn’t want Grim Avenger to look like an Iron Man analogue, for example, but it should be obvious that he’s the tech-based hero of the team. As we develop those characters a bit and get to explore their Fortress of Attitude, hopefully they’ll come into their own.

Ben: Rude Justice is basically the superhero version of Poochie.

Joey: But with rad Capoeria skills.

JK: The first issue seems pretty straightforward on the surface -- an origin story. I like the simple, refreshing nature of it, that it's something I could give to my kid when he's old enough to read ... but being an experienced reader I know there may be more to it than what we see in the first installment. Overall what is the tone you're going for here?

Ben: Captain Ultimate is an all-ages story, no doubt. I hesitate to say it’s a book for kids, because we like to think that everyone can enjoy it, but we definitely conceived as a book kids could read, both in style and content. Tonally, we hope it comes across like the comic version of a Pixar movie. There’s something for everybody and a big emphasis on fun with -- I think -- some heart.

Joey: Thanks for saying so. That’s exactly the idea, we want it to be accessible for kids and adults alike. I think all of the best “kids” media appreciates that parents often read/watch along with their kids, so there should be something for everyone, whether that’s jokes, themes, or whatever. But this first issue is a pretty good indication of the tone of the series, though judging by what we’ve written so far -- we just finished issue #4 -- things get quite a bit kookier. So while there are larger ideas and bigger narrative threads at play, I would expect the tone to remain consistent. “Fun” is the key word.

JK: What else can we expect from future installments?

Joey: I mentioned bigger narrative threads earlier, and while those certainly play a role in what we’ve got planned, it’s important to us to keep every issue stand-alone. That’s not to say we’ll never do a two-parter or something, but in general, we want to keep the spirit of something like The Rocketeer alive here, where as long as you know the basics, any issue should be grab-and-go. But more immediately, I would expect new allies, pro wrestling, and an evil punk rock band.

Ben: The cast of characters gets really big really fast. The story is a big one too, with lots of crazy threads and arcs. Expect the unexpected! Is that The X-Files tagline?

JK: And finally, when can I get a replica of Captain Ultimate's belt? It puts the Cena "spinner" replica to shame.

Joey: Oh man, I agree with you. I hate that thing. I used to work for an online retailer that specialized in wrestling toys and anytime someone ordered a spinner belt I just got sad. But yeah, honestly, depending on how the book does we do have really fun ideas in terms of merch like that. An Ultimate Belt replica is a great idea, I hope you don’t mind if we steal it. We’ll send you a freebie as compensation!

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