Scott Reed, creator of such indie titles as The Last Odyssey and High Strangeness has been chewing on his latest mini-series, The Overman since long before he started inking for Marvel. After years of playing with the story it has hit the shelves as one of Image’s latest books and promises the end of the world. Reviews Editor Matthew McLean got a chance to catch up with the latest goings on with his Image project. Editor’s Note: Overman #3 hits stores this Wednesday, February 6.
Matthew McLean: While the first issue of Overman is intriguing, it’s a bit of an odd job. It begins with a character named Nathan Fisher breaking into a rural Pennsylvania cabin and uses that as a jumping point to an lunar asylum. On top of all this, the byline for the book promises an ‘end to the future’. What’s this all about and how are you going to tie all this together?
Scott Reed: Well, I can’t really talk about how it eventually ties together, but there is a unity to all of it that should be clear at the end. The basic premise is about a hired killer named Nathan Fisher, who is sort of a low-level grunt that works for this massive, and evil corporation called Omakon. Nathan stumbles upon a secret, a clue to unraveling a plot that could destroy mankind. Somehow, the choices he makes at the beginning of the story will determine the fate of Earth, and beyond. The thought behind the byline ‘A Final Vision Of The Future’ and ‘The End Of The Future’ alludes to the notion that The Overman is really the last science fiction story ever. It contains some familiar science fiction motifs, but with a lot of new, strange things that hopefully compels readers to delve into it, and get absorbed by the foreboding vibe we’ve tried to invoke. Shane and I have joked that The Overman is our attempt to kill the sci-fi genre, as though this story encompasses everything in the genre, and then destroys it. Visually, it’s pretty shocking. There is an enigmatic quality to the story. I think it works as an action story, and can function on a deeper, symbolic level. In other words, it’s re-readable. That’s the hope, anyway, that people will want to re-explore the story again and again, and find new things in it.
MM: In the first issue readers are introduced to Dmitri Leonov, the leader of a future revolution in Russia. Not only is Dmitri comatose when readers first meet him, but he barely seems human. What is Dmitri? Is he human or something beyond that?
SR: Dmitri Leonov was once human, a leader of a Russian Revolution that went horribly wrong. Readers should know by now that Leonov wore an experimental technology called the Demolator armor, which was created by Omakon. The armor basically ruined his humanity, transforming him into the monster we see in the opening chapter. Humans weren’t meant to wear the armor for prolonged periods, and he’s been wearing it for 20 years. So it’s become joined to him, merging with his body. It’s really not clear yet how much of his human thought processes are left. I think Shane has done wonders to invoke some semblance of humanity behind his eyes, in the way he moves and just a glimmer of expression on his face. We find out more about Leonov, who he was and what his motives are later on.
MM: Overman is one of the possible literal translations of ubermensch, the concept of superman from Nietzsche’s philosophy. Does this play into Dmitri in anyway?
SR: When I began writing The Overman, years ago, I was influenced by Nietzsche’s basic idea that ‘Man is something that shall be overcome’, the loss of God and humanity rising above it all somehow. To me, it spoke of an ultimate evolution, not spiritually, but physically. So it wasn’t really about a change in spiritualism or a world view, but of a physical metamorphosis. I never intended to carry forward Nietzche’s philosophies into the story, at least not at a conscious level. But reading through it now, I can see some of that coming through the story, maybe. Much of The Overman is subjective, I hope. Readers can interpret this in a number of ways. Dmitri is linked to this concept in the same way as the other characters.
Adding to that, there was a great temptation to include some Nietzsche quotes in the books, but later on I decided against it. I found so many other quotes that illustrated this concept better, that I thought it would be too predictable to reference Nietzche directly. But he’s in there, lurking…just like Leonov’s humanity.
MM: Your web site makes several references to the Atomic Clock. Assuming that’s not a giant, radioactive time piece, what is the Atomic Clock?
SR: That’s something I can’t talk about here in any detail. All I can say is that the Atomic Clock is an elusive force, not really a character in the traditional way. Its behavior is sort of God-like, in a biblical sense. What I mean by that is we watch it intervening in human affairs, influencing and motivating Nathan and some of the other characters to action. In the novel, he doesn’t really take physical shape at all, but Shane suggested that we needed to actually see him in the comic. He can’t just be floating mist or word balloons out of nowhere. I was never comfortable with the idea of showing the Atomic Clock, because I felt like humans wouldn’t be able to recognize him or be intelligent enough to even know what they are looking at. But I also conceded that the concept was impossible to convey without some sort of visual. Shane came up with a design that combined a simple approach, but it’s also creepy and stylish. It evokes dread and the unknown, and a bit of insanity.
MM: Speaking of insanity, one of the characters introduced in the first issue is Arnold Reitch, a completely depraved and brilliant character that heads a corporation called Omakon. How did this character, as extreme as he is, evolve for you?
SR: I originally wrote Reitch as a kind of an elderly Sid Vicious character, an aged punk rocker with incredible wealth and power. He did evolve quite a bit, but he’s been basically a depraved sicko from the very beginning, and then he was portrayed later with a somewhat effeminate quality, like an old trannie, just gross and scary. But I think he comes across in the comic as nearly psychotic. He has no moral barometer, he exists above natural laws of Man, and there is a hint of the supernatural about him. He’s impossibly old. I’m not sure I ever specified his exact age, but he really just shouldn’t be alive at all. He’s nearly undead, like Keith Richards.
MM: Oddly, his associate Martha seems even more unsettling, in a American Gothic grandma sort of way.
SR: Yeah, she’s just scary, and I think somehow even more dangerous than Reitch. In fact, Reitch even suggests this to his henchman in the first issue, so we get a sense that they are partners and she’s protective of him.
MM: So while it’s evident what makes Reitch creepy, Martha has a completely different, if equally unsettling, vibe. What makes her so dangerous and feared?
SR: Well, this is again something I can’t go into detail about because we find out what she’s capable of later in the story. She’s dangerous, I’ll leave it at that. On the other hand, she’s probably also a great cook.
MM: Truly, a deadly combination. To move on to something you might be able to talk more about, The Overman story is set
in 2135. The differences between our time and the time of the story are as subtle and as big as the differences between 2007 and 1870. While there are things readers will recognize there are things that are completely alien. How did you craft the future setting of this book? Did you have any inspirations for it?
SR: There are few science fiction books or films out there that stand up over the test of time. One of my favorite books is Dune, and I think it works so well because it’s nearly removed from anything we can relate to. There is a certain antiquity to the technology in Dune, there’s something alien about it all. It’s advanced but never fully described, and that’s okay. Star Wars was also a great example, a film that I think will never really look dated because the technology and fashion is closer to fantasy than science or popular trends. This was the approach we took. There are no computers or references to the Internet in The Overman, for example. That would be too easy, right? We thought that if we distanced ourselves from all of that stuff, the closer we’d get to a convincing looking future of 2135.
MM: The first issue of The Overman, though, has a learning machine that might be considered the biological analog to a computer. In some ways there are things readers will recognize, such as dress ties and firearms, then there are things that are completely alien. How did you decide what to include and what to exclude?
SR: The learning machines, called servol-conn units, are essentially plot devices, they serve a purpose throughout the story, so they had to be included for that reason. I didn’t set out with any strict guideline, other than what I mentioned before. Shane brought a specific and deeply researched style to the architecture and fashion, and I had a fairly hands-off approach to that part of it. The story is set in our world, so there should be plenty of things that are still recognizable. A good way to predict the future is to examine the past, and calculate how much things might change, and how much will be recognizable to us. Computers are radically different now than they were 40 years ago, so take that fact and guess what they might be like in a hundred years. We’ve had firearms for hundreds of years, and I don’t see any reason why that would change in the future, regardless of how they are built or what powers them. How long have ties been around, anyway? I should google that.
MM: I’m sure that depends on who you ask. You mention on your site that the story of The Overman is shocking, but not contrived for shock value. What do you see as the difference between these?
SR: That’s a tough question, because only the reader can answer that. If the reader feels it’s all contrived, then it doesn’t really matter what I say about it. You have to let the work stand or fall on its own. I hope The Overman continues to generate a strong positive reaction, and that it gives readers something they didn’t expect, but will want to experience. My primary motivation is to tell the kind of stories I enjoy, but also the kind of stories that aren’t being told anywhere else. If something in the story shocks people in a positive way, in a way that provokes thought or just entertains at a gut level, that’s great, but I don’t think you can really force that onto readers. The best stories write themselves. With The Overman, once the ball started to roll, the characters really took charge of the whole thing, and I just scrambled to keep up.
MM: On The Overman web site, you speak of the artist, Shane White, as if he were the only artist who could have done this book. Why is that?
SR: A couple of reasons. One, he has extraordinary talent, and is able to add a great level of complexity and symbolism, while keeping the over-all style simple and easy to follow. The second reason is that he’s been with the story from the very beginning, back when we were college roommates, eons ago. It’s my good fortune that he happened to turn into a great illustrator, and remained enthusiastic about The Overman as we went through its various incarnations over the years. He’s believed in the concept, and the story, and that’s really the key thing in working as a true collaborator. You have to share the same excitement for the story, and want to put your unique stamp on it.
MM: While you’ve been in comics for awhile, you’ve also got quite a bit of experience working in web comics. Where do you want to end up ultimately? Why?
SR: My New Years resolution is to focus more on writing, and get my commission jobs finished up. I have a new story brewing, that I hope can find a suitable publisher sometime in 2008. Webcomics…I don’t think I’m going back to creating and self-publishing webcomics in the same way I’ve approached it before, but I imagine I’ll always have my hand in it, just because I enjoy the webcomic format so much. Beyond 2008, I don’t really think that far ahead, although I do have plans for a sequel to The Overman someday.
If you liked this interview, be sure to check out more of the author’s work at http://madbastard.hypersites.com