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DF Interview: Mike Carey unfolds dangers of Suicide Risk
By Byron Brewer
Super-powered people are inexplicably rising from the streets, everywhere! The problem: Too many villains, not enough heroes. Embattled beat cop Leo Winters is one of those struggling to make a difference. Struggling …
Suicide Risk by award-winning author Mike Carey (X-Men, The Unwritten) and fan-favorite artist Elena Casagrande (Hulk, Hack/Slash) has been a high octane, mind-bending ride.
Recently Dynamic Forces spoke with Carey to get the latest 411 about the BOOM! Studios ongoing.
Dynamic Forces: Mike, just to go back a little bit, explain the concept of Suicide Risk and the circumstances of your chief protagonist, poor beat cop-now-quasi-superhero Leo Winters.
Mike Carey: Leo’s world has seen its first wave of superhero activations, and it’s weirdly skewed in a lot of different ways. Most of the supers who are emerging are in a very narrow geographical area – the South West of the USA, with a big cluster in Southern and Central California. Moreover, very few of them turn out to be heroes in any sense of the word. Mostly they either start out evil or turn evil after a brief flirtation with superheroics. So the good guys are heavily outnumbered and it’s getting worse all the time.
Leo just wants to redress that balance. He sets out to obtain superpowers when his partner is permanently crippled in the course of responding to a bank raid. He finds out what the mechanism is and it seems to be very straightforward. But of course it isn’t. He gets the powers then finds out that they come bundled with a lot of other things, including memories of a life he never lived. There’s something going on here behind the superpower activations – a mystery that Leo has to solve to keep his life and his family from falling apart as he literally starts to turn into a different person.
DF: Leo’s world has seen a lot of death, especially of heroes and police officers. And yet it is not a particularly depressing read, at least to me, despite its title. (Ever read Steve Gerber’s Man-Thing or Omega the Unknown? De-PRESS-ing!) How does a writer with such a subject maintain at least a modicum of optimism?
Mike Carey: Well it depends on your vector as well as the territory you’re traveling through. We’ve done a lot to show Leo’s family as a strong and mutually supportive one. His wife loves him. His kids love him. And even though the decisions he takes have horrific consequences for them too, they keep faith with him.
A literary critic – can’t remember who – made this point about Shakespeare’s tragedies, and why we don’t want to cut our wrists after watching them. He said (paraphrasing as best I can) that pessimism doesn’t consist in seeing evil injure good. Pessimism goes further and denies the possibility of good. It sees total depravity and no grace. In that sense, I don’t think Suicide Risk is pessimistic at all. There are a lot of decent and well-meaning characters who we meet in the course of the story, and they’re mostly still in there pitching.
I won’t deny, though, that the story goes to some very dark places. Issue 5, where we introduced Ada Robins, is a bleak counterpoint to Leo’s situation. Ada dismantles her family with quite a lot of enthusiasm, surrendering at once to the temptations that Leo struggles against.
In a way this is a horror story about lost or stolen identities. And speaking personally, that’s one of my worst nightmares.
DF: It was around about issue #s 9-12, I believe, when the last vestiges of hope seemed to fully be lost to Leo. This is where he returns home, or tries. Was there any point where you as the writer feared for your protagonist’s own sanity?
Mike Carey: That’s a very pertinent question, because by this point there are two different people inside Leo’s head and they disagree violently about pretty much everything he’s doing. It seems like we’ve got a textbook definition of a certain kind of insanity right there. And we can’t even talk about the “real” Leo versus the interloper, because it seems likely that Leo’s other self, Requiem, came first!
Then the conflict is settled by Dr. Maybe – hopefully in a way that readers didn’t see coming – and the situation does seem completely beyond salvaging, like you say. But the story isn’t over yet. In fact, Leo’s desperate plight is the catalyst for some very important changes in another character, his daughter Tracey, who has a massively important role going forward. All four members of the Winters family are in this fight, and there are a lot of twists and turns still to come.
DF: In issue #17, we come to know who Requiem is and how he came to be Leo Winters. We finally have some positive emotion, and here comes the F.A.U.L.T. Line. Any hints at their identity?
Mike Carey: Well, I don’t want to undercut what’s coming up in the book, but I guess it’s clear now that the superheroes – and villains – in our world are all cuckoos, implanted here by the authorities of another universe who were looking for a permanent solution to their own problems. The F.A.U.L.T. Line program was an elegant way around the absence of a death penalty. As in: when is an execution not an execution? When the guy you executed is still – kind of, by some definitions – alive.
We get glimpses of this in the issues around Leo’s homecoming. But we’re going back to the Battle of Altarstone in an upcoming issue and the whole sequence of events will be shown much more clearly there – from the point of view of Brion Haff, a foot soldier in Requiem’s army.
DF: You have often stated that issue #25 is your designated ending point for this series. Why?
Mike Carey: We plotted it out, and that was how the beats fell! 24 would have been a more satisfying number in some ways, because that’s exactly two years’ worth of issues, but we’ve been working to a sort of rhythm of three-part arcs interleaved with one-offs and that was working really well in terms of pacing the key reveals. When I worked everything out, 25 issues just seemed like the optimal number.
The distinction that matters, though, is the one between finite series and series that are completely open-ended. I’m totally sold on the former. I like the sensation of knowing where I’m going and what my end point is.
DF: Can you tell us just a hint of what we shall be experiencing as this series reaches its conclusion?
Mike Carey: All-out war between two worlds, with the scale building from issue to issue until what’s at stake is the physical integrity and survival of Earth. The issue of the “true” identities of Leo and Tracey Winters resolved as far as it ever can be. Tracey’s status as divine handmaiden and her relationship with the double-headed goddess also resolved. A confrontation between Requiem and Minus-I, and between Requiem and the Men of Gold. Leo’s final choice between his two wives, Sunita and Aisa. And a cast of thousands!
DF: Haha, whew! Okay … How has it been working with Elena Casagrande? Why has she been the right artist for this esoteric and complex comic?
Mike Carey: Elena is seven different kinds of awesome. I love her action scenes, her character designs, her handling of the emotional beats. It’s been a huge pleasure working with her on the series, and I seriously can’t imagine the book without her.
As soon as the art came through for issue one, I knew the story was in good hands. I’m thinking particularly of the introduction of the main characters in the opening fight scene and then the scene with Leo and Suni in the bedroom. Elena nailed both of those very different scenes. And that set the standard for what was to come.
DF: So, Mike, after Suicide Risk as a book ends, is that the end of Leo Winters’ saga as well? Any ideas for more of his involving adventures? Maybe a prequel?
Mike Carey: It’s certainly wide open for another installment, and I wouldn’t hesitate to wade in again. Leo’s story will be finished, I think, and there won’t be any temptation to go back to it – but there are other stories in this world that we brush across the edges of, and lots of characters we could conceivably follow further. I like the sisters, Aisa and Diva. I also like Instant Access, who’s had almost no screen time at all. And I’d love to tell some Tracey stories. In the book’s second year she’s become my favorite character to write.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Mike Carey for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Suicide Risk #18 hits stores October 1st!
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