Suit Up: Keith Champagne talks "Armor X"

So you've worked on two of the most beloved superhero teams ever- the JSA and Legion of Superheroes, you're the self proclaimed "sexiest man in comics" in addition to being the self proclaimed "toughest man in comics" and you've got a new addition to your family.

So what do you do next? Disney World of course. Or you could launch your own superhero comic.

In March, fans will see writer/inker Keith "The Champ" Champagne launch a creator owned superhero series through Image Comics entitled "Armor X" and he sat down with CBR News to give fans the 411.

"'Armor X' is the story of Carson Deeds, a maladjusted teenager, a real emotional powderkeg who is on the verge of blowing up--with horrible consequences for his high school class," Champagne explained to CBR News. "As fate would have it, just when he hits his breaking point, he discovers a suit of powerful high tech armor that gives him the power to live out every revenge fantasy he's ever had.

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"Or maybe it's the armor that discovers him.

"The series springs from an idea I had about Peter Parker and how he was created in a time where, after a day spent being picked on and bullied at school, he'd go home to a warm glass of milk and a night of peeking into his microscope.

"In today's society, too many times it seems that kids like that are prone to show up at their schools with a shotgun. And from that concept-- Peter Parker in the trenchcoat mafia--the series organically grew into what it is today."

There's a diverse cast of the characters in the book, as one might expect from a high school environment, and Champagne says each character, powered or non-powered, will play a big role in the series. "Well, first of all, we've got the aforementioned Carson Deeds. He lives with his grandfather, Dodger Deeds, a retired professional wrestler from the 50's and 60's who is my tribute to the late Freddie Blassie. Carson's father, Roger Deeds, has been in and out of his life for various reasons and is about to surface again at precisely the wrong time.

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"Carson doesn't really have any friends. His closest peer is a blind girl named Whitney whom he tutors. He might very well have feelings for her and she might very well realize that and not be above using him to help her get through some of her tougher classes. There's also a kid named Rico in his school who is the exact opposite of Carson: popular, easy going, well adjusted and who, for reasons of his own sort of keeps an eye out for Carson when he can.

"Of course, Carson hates him most of all.

"Rounding out the immediate cast is a police detective named Melissa Hill. He (yes, HE) pops up in the second issue and gets drawn into Carson's world pretty quickly. Like most guys saddled with a female name, he has his own set of problems and, when we get underneath his surface, a mysterious agenda of his own.

"Last, but not least, is the armor itself. More on that in a bit."

The first issue of the series showcases a delicate balance between real life drama and superheroics, something that seems difficult and something Champagne isn't sure there's a "secret" to achieving. "The easy answer is that by rooting the fantastic in some semblance of real life, it's easier to swallow. But really, is there any such thing as 'real life drama' in comic books? I'm just trying to extrapolate something comparable to real life drama to make Carson and his actions, well, not sympathetic, but understandable.

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"By that, I mean that while I don't necessarily think that Carson is the most likeable character in the history of comics--he's really more of a villain than a hero--I want someone to read the book and possibly understand some of the decisions he makes when he discovers the suit.

"Because he makes some really bad decisions. But if you or I had been pissed on since the day we were born, would we behave any better? This is a kid who starts so far down the ladder that he's either got nowhere to go but up, or the rest of the way down to Hell."

The inclusion of a power suit in any superhero comic draws comparison to classic heroes such as "Iron Man," more contemporary heroes such as "X-O Manowar" and even the recent image series "Tech Jacket," but Champagne says that there are inherent differences. "Well, like I said somewhere else, this suit of armor gets hungry. The armor in this book is played much more along the lines of the one ring in 'Lord of the Rings' than it is to the suits of armor in Iron Man or XO. I've never heard of 'Tech Jacket'--no offense--so I can't compare it to that.

"Without giving too much away, the armor in this book has its own motivations, its own personality, its own needs and wishes. And it will do whatever it takes to achieve its goals. In Carson, the armor may have found just the Gollum it needs.

"Also, is the X in the title the letter X or the roman numeral for ten? Are there more suits out there? Who's to say, really?"

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Launching a new superhero book in today's market is a risky venture but Champagne isn't doing this for capital gain- he's doing this for much more personal reasons. "I don't follow the trends of the market all that closely. This book is being launched now because it's an attempt to broaden my career further into the writing arena more than it is an attempt to capitalize on or buck current market conditions.

"As for what makes it unique? Let's face it: it's all basically been said or done in comics, movies, novels, TV etc. by now. There's no such thing as a truly original idea anymore. Even this book was rooted in an attempt to graft modern sensibilities on an older character type, combined with the idea that suits of armor are cool. The only thing that can make it unique is my personal perspective on the characters and themes contained in the book and Andy Smith's abilities as an artist and storyteller. I feel comfortable saying that we're putting together something that feels different from any other book out there."

The series will also be addressing some serious issues, from bullying to sex to the subjective definition of justice. It is darker material than one might expect from a new superhero book, but Champagne makes no apologies for "Armor X." "This book gets pretty dark. It gets pretty edgy. Carson uses the suit in ways that couldn't be called socially acceptable. He breaks a lot of laws, he crosses a lot of lines. He's got a long, long journey ahead of him if he's going to become a hero and, truth to tell, he's much more likely going down the other path.

"Rather than purposefully push the book in darker and grittier directions, the story evolves organically from the direction that the characters grow in. There aren't going to be a lot of sunshine and puppies in this book, true, at least not at first and maybe not ever...but it's not a deliberate attempt to capitalize on the new 'gritty' boom in comics."

Champagne says he has long-term plans for all these characters, though the format of the series is dependant on sales. "'Armor X' was originally planned as three separate 4-issue mini-series, a twelve-issue story told in three chapters. There's a good chance we're now going to roll right into an issue #5 and keep going with it after the first story arc is over. There's a good buzz building about the series and nothing is set in stone, scheduling wise. As always, it all depends on if the sales justify the book continuing...but I'd surprised if there wasn't more 'Armor X' in the future, in one form or another."

As mentioned earlier, penciller Andy Smith will be illustrating the book and Champagne explains that he recruited the artist through, uh, "appropriate" means. "I blackmailed Andy to get him to draw the book. There are some incriminating pictures of him from back in his Kubert School days that...

"Actually, it was just a case of approaching Andy at the right time with the right project. He's a really talented, versatile artist and best of all, he's not afraid to think about what he's doing. Andy doesn't draw on autopilot, he's constantly trying to find better ways to tell the story, ways to improve on his last batch of pages. It's been a real education watching him bring my scripts to life.

"Not to mention, he's a hella nice guy. It's always a bonus working with someone who conducts himself as a professional, through and through. That's been my experience with Andy. I wouldn't want to do this book with anyone else, not that I could because we both own it. And after over a decade in the business, that feels pretty good."

Fans of "The Champ" can also check out his work on a few other projects. "Well, I'm currently hip deep in inking the 'JSA/JSA' crossover for DC and have a couple of more writing gigs lined up after this. I also wrote a comic based on the 'Sly Cooper' Playstation 2 game that should be out soon. I'm also in training to destroy Arthur Lender [a CBR contributing writer who spilt cereal over Champagne on a flight]. That milk-spilling pencil neck geek will pay. He knows why [laughs]."

If you're not sure about "Armor X" or want another reason to order the book, Champagne has some parting words for you. "Because in my heart of hearts, I feel like this is a quality book that deserves a chance to find its audience. I'm biased, though. Because Andy has busted his ass to draw a great comic. Because it's different from anything else you might find out there right now. Because I want them to. 'Armor X' is listed in the January Previews under the Image comics banner and ships in early March. It's produced by ATP Studios and is being published by Image."

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