Sopping with blood yet often subtle with its violence, the Dark Horse miniseries "The Cleaners" wraps up next month with issue #4. Written by Mark Wheaton and illustrated by Rahsan Ekdal, the book follows a crime scene and biohazard clean up crew led by former detective Robert Bellarmine as they seek to uncover the truth about a series of abductions and the gory scenes left behind. Following up on a discussion about the series' launch, CBR News caught up with Wheaton to discuss developments in "The Cleaners" and what might be next for Bellarmine and company.
In a previous interview with CBR, Wheaton indicated that "Cleaners" would set up a world in which everything seems normal until the supernatural is suddenly introduced. The first hints of this cropped up in the second issue, and by the conclusion of issue #3 readers could have little doubt that the series' mystery extended beyond the bounds of the usual multiple homicide. Bellarmine discovers that the recent kidnappings--and exceedingly gory crime scenes--are the doing of one or more "Harvesters," once-ordinary humans who prolong their lives by ingesting the meat and flesh of children. Though Bellarmine has a chance to kill the Harvester toward the end of the third issue, he does not, and its young captive is "turned," as well.Â
"The fourth issue wraps up some things, certainly, but the comic really isn't Robert-Bellarmine-Saves-The-World," Wheaton told CBR of the series' resolution. "He can do what he can to try and stop what's happening in this particular case, but he's not a superhero and his reach isn't all that global.Â To that, however, as long as he's still alive, I think it's pretty open-ended. "
Throughout "The Cleaners," a lot is going on beneath the surface with each of the characters, and Bellarmine especially seems to play things close to the vest as he draws conclusions from clues which are only revealed through his actions. Wheaton said he experimented a bit in this series with how much of the procedural and science-based hints to reveal as they cropped up, and how much to leave to the action. "It's meant to be a balance and I think that I was still figuring out that balance while scripting across the first four issues. All I want the reader to feel is that Bellarmine may or may not be slightly ahead of them in what he's figured out, but that doesn't mean he's any better equipped to deal with it."
To ensure accuracy in portraying the highly specialized work of a clean-up crew, a considerable amount of research went into "The Cleaners." One might wonder, though, if in the course of his research Wheaton discovered a new possible plot point, or whether the stubborn facts compelled him to alter his plans for the story. "For me, the research was done before the scripting and I always knew how and where it would end," the writer told CBR. "While the science is definitely important to me, so was the geography of Los Angeles, so I'd picked out where the house was (Sun Valley-area) and then the conclusion (Mt. Lowe, east of Pasadena in the Angeles National Forest) long before the book started and was able to send photos of each to Rahsan as we went along, so nothing changed.Â Looking back, there are many things I'd change in the storytelling that I think I could've done better, but recognizing those changes didn't come until seeing it on the page."
Given this attention to detail and Bellarmine's supernatural-as-science perspective, readers might also be curious about the science supporting the idea of Harvesters and other vampiric characters. "It comes from a number of different places, but primarily the idea that you can extend life if you can find a way to prevent senescence, the simple and - in humans - gradual breakdown of cells that happens to all living organisms," Wheaton explained. "There are precursor cells in the body (a term that runs hand in hand with stem cells) that die out long before a human reaches adulthood, generally, that develop into the different kinds of red and white blood cells beginning in a person's embryonic stage.Â If you can harvest these cells from somebody else - or, better yet, manufacture these hemangioblasts artificially the way they're artificially manufacturing high molecular weight plasma expanders to treat blood loss - the potential to extend life is nuts.Â You could constantly incorporate and replace broken cells with new ones and the natural aging of your cells could be slowed down exponentially, which I believe may well happen in the generations that follow us - the next big leap forward in life expectancy, which will carry a whole brace of population-size problems along with it.Â Right now, this research is still in its relative infancy, though the discovery of this kind of thing was made a century ago - implementation is a different matter."
Relating this to "The Cleaners" in particular, Wheaton said, "Taking that, if, say, you were a 'harvester' and your body could accept any kind of blood type - a mutation of the liver - then the long, drawn-out process of trying to collect these sorts of stem cells wouldn't be relegated to a need to type and you could go ahead and suck fresh, packed, rich blood out of any youngster that passed by on the street and, taking the idea of hemangioblasts into account, extend your life quite a bit. " Â
With the first "Cleaners" miniseries wrapping up, Wheaton is looking forward to collaborating with Ekdal on further comics. "Beyond 'Cleaners,' Rahsan and I are working to co-create another, more epic horror adventure that we're hoping to show to publishers soon that we're really excited about," Wheaton confirmed. "It takes place on another continent, centuries ago and is again, about the collision of science and what's believed to be the impossible, but is pretty far-removed from 'Cleaners.' Â Also, another L.A.-based artist - Tony Fleecs - and I are collaborating on a short story for Jason Rodriguez's ongoing 'Postcards' series and, at the same time, are working to co-create another Los Angeles crime book that we've explored all over the city location-/character-hunting that despite its locale and genre, couldn't be more far removed from the 'Cleaners'-verse."
The writer also said that more "Cleaners" stories will be coming up, as well. "Rahsan and I have been actively mapping two further 'Cleaners' stories and though I don't want to give away the 'threat' of either, the direction we've been going in both involve the line between life and after-life, but also - perhaps coincidentally - issues of genetics," Wheaton said. "Los Angeles geography plays a major role in both as well, though instead of the San Fernando Valley, one of the stories takes place primarily downtown and the other takes place, at least in a few scenes, at the Port of Long Beach.Â I think we were figuring it out on the 'Absent Bodies' a little bit and if we get to do the next story, it'll be - as we kind of call it amongst ourselves - our 'Wrath of Khan.'"