Image Comics' "The Emissary" is one of the more interesting comics to hit the stands in recent memory. Created by comics veteran Jim Valentino, scripted by Christopher Long and illustrated by Juan Ferreyra, the story explores the concept of a realistic, post-9/11 world encountering its first super-powered being and how that world reacts to him. While this concept in and of itself may be somewhat familiar to some readers, what's not is "Emissary's" startlingly original twist on the idea: this super-being, the first the world has ever seen, happens to be a black man.
In the first issue, we see this man calling himself the Emissary float over Times Square and announce to the planet that he's come to lead the world to enlightenment. Subsequent events included rioting, mobilization of military forces, religious uproar, and governmental investigation. Joining the Emissary on his quest is FBI agent Tara Bright, who at the end of issue #4 began a romantic affair with the mysterious figure.
CBR News spoke with writer Christopher Long about "The Emissary, politics, race and why now is the best time to jump into this ambitious twelve issue series.
Chris, how did you become involved with this project and how does the collaboration with Jim Valentino work?
Joshua Fialkov, of "Elk's Run" fame, suggested my name to Kristen Simon, Shadowline's editor, and [to] Jim Valentino as a candidate to take over the writing chores on the series starting with issue four.
Jim is very active in the plotting of the series. Since we both live in Southern California (for the time being, anyway), we've gotten together and spent hours plotting the direction of the series. It's been a real learning experience working with Jim.
Now, the purpose of the book seems to be to examine under a microscope the world's reaction to the appearance of a superpowered being in a post 9/11 world, and not to tell a superhero or good vs. evil story, per sé. Is that accurate?
I'd say that is a very accurate statement. If this is a "good vs. evil" story, I'd say that it examines the good and evil that is represented in society as a whole (I actually explore this in issue five, as I attempt to give various facets of society a voice, and how I think they'd react to Emissary).
The world of "The Emissary" is quite bleak and cynical. People crowd the streets with homemade signs. Rioting, looting. The government sends a fighter plane after him. An Emissary toy began development two hours after his appearance in Times Square. Do you think you guys are stacking the deck a little?
In terms of this series depicting the world as "bleak and cynical," I think it is spot on! We currently live in a world where politicians feel it's more important to grandstand about a woman lying in a vegetative state in Florida than deal with important issues facing their constituents. We see people get worked into a frenzy over seeing a boob during the Super Bowl, but turn a blind eye to the genocide in Darfur. Two days after September 11, 2001, I bought a T-shirt that had a picture of Osama bin Laden that said: "Wanted: Dead or Dead!"
So, to answer your question about whether or not we're "stacking the deck a little," I'd have to say "no." In my opinion, the world is an irrational place, so it's not too hard to envision that a being like Emissary appearing would have people going out of their freakin' minds.
The subject of race seemed to be conspicuously absent from the early issues, but you've addressed it in your first story, issue #4, notably with Agent Bright's husband. Do you think the world's reaction to the Emissary would be different if he were white?
Absolutely! I've talked with friends of mine who are Evangelical Christians, and they get rather upset when I suggest that there is no way in hell Jesus was Caucasian. He was born in the Middle East 2000 years ago! That doesn't make any sense to me! But my friends have paintings of Jesus hanging on their walls that depict him giving Snow White a run for her money. I think people just get these ideas stuck in their heads, and that's that. If a messiah were to appear from the sky tomorrow, how would the Bible Belt feel about taking marching orders from a black man (or woman)? I think there would be some major issues with that.
And this was one of the major issues Jim wanted to address with this series, so I jumped in with both feet (I delve further into this in issue five).
"The Emissary" fans are very supportive of this book on the various boards. What's the response been like since you came onboard?
Um … about as supportive as Christian Conservatives are of homosexuals. Hah … I kid (kind of). What I've read of the negative comments, it seems like the fans of the first three issues are upset over the last scene in issue four [in which the Emissary and the married Agent Bright begin their romantic relationship]. But the problem facing us with issue four was that we had to change the momentum of the series and steer it in another direction. There were things I wouldn't have put in issue four, but the momentum from the previous three issues dictated that I address them, or risk the danger of just completely ignoring the series up to that point.
The title is structured as 12 issues with three acts of four issues each. Issue #5 begins Act II, and is being talked about as a great place for new readers to jump on. How would you characterize the difference between Act I and II?
Act I, Emissary is learning about humanity. In Act II, he's reacting to what he's learned.
Issue five, the beginning of Act II, really delves into how the world is reacting to Emissary -- and there are some major differences in opinion. This issue, in my opinion, is a perfect spot for readers who haven't read the series thus far to pick it up.
Of course, the Emissary's origin is the title's big mystery. You have dropped some hints, though. The Emissary doesn't understand a lot of common phrases, like "heart attack," asking, "why would your heart attack you?" He's definitely not from around here. Also, he's called the Emissary, and an emissary is an agent of an authority greater than themselves. Obviously, the Emissary is acting on direction from someone else... right?
If I answered that, Jim and Kristen would have me killed. But I can say that I'd written two issues before I knew the whole story about Emissary. Jim casually told me, like I knew it already, and I said, "Oh, man, I didn't know that!"
Very cool, Chris. Thanks for talking with us today.