There isn’t a person alive today that doesn’t know about the benevolent alien that came to our planet after theirs was destroyed and grew up to be a legendary superhero and a universal symbol for hope. Although what if a tragedy so bad fell upon the infallible hero that he decided to turn his back on us? That exact question is answered in Legendary Comics’ latest original graphic novel titled ‘The Rise and Fall of Axiom’ from Eisner Award-winning writer Mark Waid and critically acclaimed artist Ed Benes.
Available at your local comic shop right now, ‘Axiom’ tells the tale of two visitors from another world with extraordinary powers that usher in an era of peace, prosperity, and complacency on Earth. But an unfortunate series of tragic events turns humanity’s savior into an oppressor and left the human race helpless to do stop him. During this struggle, a young U.S. Defense Department analyst named Kyle rallies a team of the most qualified people together to take on the fallen hero for the sake of mankind’s survival.
This original superhero epic from the comic book division of the company that brought us movies like ‘Superman Returns’, ‘Watchmen’, ‘Inception’, ‘Pacific Rim’, and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy delves into some of the darker areas of the superhero mythology. But Waid wasn’t phased by venturing into those areas. Known for his work on ‘Kingdom Come’, ‘Daredevil’, ‘Superman: Birthright’, ‘All-New All-Different Avengers’, the recently relaunched ‘Archie’, and more, the veteran comic book writer was excited to explore a different side of superheroes that mainstream comics don’t explore very often and he told us all about it in a recent interview shortly after the book’s release.
The excitement really began with the inception (no pun intended) of ‘Axiom’. Waid joined forces with Thomas Tull, the founder and CEO of Legendary Entertainment, to really hash out the story over the course of a few sessions in the executive’s office. Waid describes Tull as having a “good story sensibility”, so that really made the experience that much more surreal since the head honcho of a corporation rarely gets their hands dirty with the creative types.
From there, our conversation got a little heavy. When asked about whether he drew inspiration for ‘Axiom’ from some of the most upstanding heroes that he’s worked with such as Captain America, Phil Coulson, and Superman, Waid shared that they were only part of the equation.
Mark Waid: The much darker answer is that I didn’t take as much from them as I took from… If you look at superhero comics from a certain angle and a certain perspective, from a slightly more cynical and adult perspective, as wonderful they are and as much as I treasure them, some ideas that are rooted in superhero comics are not always the healthiest ideas. One of the standard-bearer ideas of a superhero comic is that it’s okay to keep your identity secret and not tell your friends or loved ones your biggest secrets. That sounds good in the pages of a comic book, but it sounds a little odd when it comes to grown ups interacting with each other.
Or this idea that as a superhero you’re supposed to put your own healthy self interest last on your list of priorities. If you’re Superman or Captain Marvel, yeah that makes sense because those are heroes very much written for adolescents. As an adult, I find myself constantly wrestling with this idea of “How selfish am I allowed to be in my life where I’m still able to function without being a selfish human being?” or “How much of my own healthy self-interest can I put my energy towards so that I can help other people when they need help?” That’s not a question that superheroes get to ask very often, but it’s the type of question that we get to address in a book like this.
ScienceFiction.com: Was tackling those questions some of the most appealing points in taking on a project like this?
MW: Yeah absolutely. That’s part of the when when you venture out of the standard Marvel and DC universes. You really get to play around with the tropes and the standard ideas of superheroes. With this one, we were able to flip things on their ear quite comfortably. It’s not a world of superheroes. It’s one guy. One widower, if you will. Even worse. He has issues that are magnified not only because of who he is, but also because of who we are. When all is said and done in ‘Axiom’, you can make a case that we’re as culpable for what happened as he is because the natural reaction in this world and the ‘Axiom’ world to a god coming around and looking out for us is that we abuse the privilege. Suddenly scientists are building stuff that they really shouldn’t be building. People are taking risks that they really shouldn’t be taking. We’re in a nanny state. He’ll fix everything and that’s too much to put on any being. I don’t care if they come from another planet or not.
SF: What is it about modern audiences that attract them to the story of the hero falling?
MW: That is a good question. I think that sadly we live in a very cynical time and I’m not sure that we haven’t earned that cynicism. The pendulum swung more heavily towards optimism after 9/11. We had ordinary people looking to each other for heroism and we really raised the bar in that sense. There were a lot of stories of heroism that arose from 9/11 and other acts of domestic terrorism. But sadly as pendulums do, it swung back in the last few years because of fifteen years of fear and living under a cloud of domestic and international terrorism, fear has become the norm for us. I think that’s why we’ve become more attracted to a slightly more cynical point of view of the world.
With that said, that’s kind of where I was coming from with this story. This story to me is about my own frustrations with fear and my own frustrations with how we as a society have accepted fear as part of our daily lives. Kyle is the personification of what I’d like us to do, which is face our fears head on and not be ruled by fear anymore. To me, he’s the real hero of the book.
With a story so deeply routed in fear and cynicism, it’s easy to forget that the same writer is currently working on ‘Champions’, an upcoming series from Marvel Comics following the events of ‘Civil War II’ that sees Ms. Marvel, Nova, and Ultimate Spider-Man leave the Avengers in favor of starting a team with Teen Cyclops, Viv Vision, and the Totally Awesome Hulk in order to change the public perception of superheroes and the world. Said gets to explore the other side of the ‘Axiom’ coin with this book, while still keeping his adult perspectives somewhat at bay by writing a number of much younger characters on a regular basis.
MW: [The Champions are] the heroes who want to make change in the world, but they’re doing it in a more measured, calculated, less egotistical, less angry way. They’re not generating fear. In fact, they’re embracing the fear that the Marvel Universe has towards superheroes now that ‘Civil War II’ is over. They’re basically coming to us to say that it’s okay and that they want to re-earn our trust, rather than Axiom’s point of view of “Screw it. I know best. I’ve had enough of you people and you’re doing it my way.” The Champions are the opposite of that. They are more “How can we help?”
SF: In writing such young characters like the Champions or Archie and the Riverdale gang, do you think that working on books like these are keeping you young?
MW: I would hope so. I think so. It’s funny because every once in a while I’ll get a criticism that says they don’t sound like young people. “Waid doesn’t know how to write kids.” But all those reviewers and critics were older than me! (laughs) So I tend to take them with a grain of salt. There are certain things about being a kid or a young adult that are universal no matter how old you are. There’s the emotions surrounding them and the ideas of first challenges or triumphs. Everything when you’re that age is grand opera. Everything is huge. All your emotions. Everything that happens to you. Just being able to dive back into that on a regular basis and remember what that’s like, I guess that does keep me young in that sense.
Finally, we discussed the possibility of more stories from this universe or even the possibility of a big screen adaptation somewhere down the line courtesy of Legendary’s acclaimed film division. Though a movie wasn’t in the plans initially, the comic itself may see some expansion if the general public demands it. And after reading ‘Axiom’, it’ll be easy to find the words to ask for more.
MW: It’s certainly possible. It really depends on how well this is received and what the reaction is to it. If you like what you see and you want to see more, there’s room for more. Just let us know. Send us feedback because we’re all ears.
For more information of Mark Waid and Ed Benes’ ‘The Rise and Fall of Axiom’, head to your local comic shop or Legendary Comics’ official website.