Dr. Will Brooker is no stranger to this site. He and his creator-owned comic My So-Called Secret Identity have been featured multiple times either within the context of an interview or a review. Dr. Brooker has most recently organized a Kickstarter campaign for My So-Called Secret Identity volume 1, which will collect issues one to five. And so I figured there was no better time to get the latest on MSCSI, his plans for the Kickstarter and more!
Nick Ford: Hello, Dr. Brooker. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your creator-owned comic, My So-Called Secret Identity?
Will Brooker: Hi, Nick. Thank you for inviting me to talk about this. My So-Called Secret Identity, or MSCSI, is a feminist superhero comic, online at www.mysocalledsecretidentity.com and https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mscsi/my-so-called-secret-identity. I write it, and it’s drawn and painted by Suze Shore and Sarah Zaidan, but there’s a very broad creative team of contributors — guest artists, beta-readers, advisers and consultants, character designers, web managers and social media administrators — most of whom are, like the primary artists, female. The original idea, which I’m happy to say we’ve managed to carry through, was to try a different way both of writing and drawing women in superhero comics, and of making superhero comics. We have tried to change not just the representation, but the production. So the ratio of men to women involved is very different from the mainstream superhero industry, and we try to work in a collective, collaborative way.
In story terms, MSCSI is essentially about Catherine Abigail Daniels, a young woman who lives in Gloria City, in the early to mid 1990s. Gloria is a city with superheroes, but they are not quite like any superheroes we’ve seen before. For a start, we don’t know if they actually have any powers, or whether it’s all stunts, hydraulics, controlled explosions and dry ice. They also don’t fight crime: most of their activities are based around promoting their own lines of fragrance, their albums or their political campaigns. So they carry out staged fights, and the routines seem very much pre-arranged. Even the ‘villains’ seem to be just playing a game, going through the motions of being challenged and caught. However, normal people are increasingly getting caught up in this larger-than-life theatrical posturing, and there’s a lot of collateral damage.
Catherine, or Cat, or Cathy, or Kitty — she starts off so unsure of herself, she doesn’t even know what name she prefers — is a very intelligent PhD student who’s gone through her whole life being told to hide that intelligence. Whenever she speaks up or stands up, she’s told to shut up and sit down. And in the first issue, she reaches breaking point. She decides that if she’s not listened to as Catherine Abigail Daniels, she’s going to join this superhero drama, get a costume, mask and logo, and start having her say. She becomes ‘Cat’, and her involvement changes things in Gloria City as suddenly someone isn’t playing the game — she’s getting inside it and changing it, dismantling and sabotaging it.
Ford: That’s an interesting point about Cat being unsure about her name. Re-reading it recently I noticed that but didn’t put two and two together! Great stuff all around.
So you have a Kickstarter up and I’d love for the readership to know a bit about it and what plans you have for it. What should people expect from this Kickstarter? What goals are you hoping to meet and what goodies do you think will come along with it?
Brooker: The Kickstarter launched June 15, and we have a great deal planned for it. MSCSI has always aimed at being a professional-looking project. We developed a video with L.A. actress Caroline Sharp as Cat, had contributions from me in London and Sarah in Boston, plus the voices of diverse MSCSI fans delivering one of our key slogans, “smart is a superpower.” The video is edited by Beccatoria, who put together the music promos currently on our website, so we’ll have Caroline’s voiceover as Cat — and I think she’s really nailed it — over animated glimpses of the comic book.
What we’re funding here is firstly issue 5 of the comic, which concludes this arc and the first volume of Cat’s story, and secondly a collected, print edition of issues 1-5. So the funding is going to cover artists’ fees, printing costs, distribution and various other associated expenses.
For me, what’s key here is that we are not really asking people to make donations. As such, it’s different from our original approach, where we asked people to fund us through the website, based on the first issue — and, very generously, they did so.
What we’re doing this time is more like pre-orders. The bottom tier is very simply ‘five for five’, £5 for Issue 5. That will give you digital access to the final part of the story. I know that’s a little more than you would pay to DC, but it’s not that much more, and we are in a very different situation to them.
So that’s the straightforward deal. If you want to spend a little more, things open up further and we begin to release some bonus material I’m genuinely very excited about. I have lined up a range of guest artists, from up-and-coming talent to much bigger names, all of whom are providing their own interpretation of Cat and the supporting cast.
Invest more, and the extras keep on coming, including an Urbanite t-shirt which Sarah Zaidan is currently designing and producing with ultra-realistic attention to detail.
We have workshopped the tiers, the budgets, and the rewards as a group, and we’re involving a lot of people, from interns to small businesses and up-and-coming artists. So, in every way, I am very pleased with the way we’re approaching this Kickstarter. I think we are genuinely doing it the MSCSI way.
Ford: That all sounds pretty awesome, Will!
Not to stir up trouble but I am curious about your take on Julian’s campaign (that got successfully funded!) for Martian Comics. Specifically his approach to rewards and their significance when it comes to these sorts of things.
Brooker: I read Julian’s interview about his campaign with great interest, and I took a lot of it on board. Our project is not quite the same, but Julian’s argument about ‘swag’ — that people don’t genuinely want all the assorted merchandise, and that the production and distribution is very time-consuming and expensive for the creative team, who should be focusing on creating — seemed very convincing.
As such, I suppose the MSCSI Kickstarter might be the first non-Martian Lit project to adopt, and adapt, the methods and approach that Julian proposes. We pitching this more as a system of pre-order than donations and rewards: you pay £5, you get issue 5. You pay a little more, you’re buying a book. You pay a little more, you’re buying the deluxe edition book. I’m aware that people are investing partly because they want to support us – which we greatly appreciate – and that there are cheaper books out there from mainstream publishers, but I don’t think the MSCSI Kickstarter is about making a donation in blind faith, from the goodness of your heart, and hoping you get something back in the end. We have already produced 4 issues and a print edition of the first two episodes. People know we are able to deliver what we promise, and I think they know we will deliver.
At the higher levels, yes ,there are bonus rewards, but we’ve tried to keep them as very limited-issue, artisanal, unique items — original sketches, signed copies and the like — rather than mass-produced swag.
We are only making a very few Urbanite t-shirts, and the design, which is absolutely unique, a fantastic, photoreal logo created by Sarah over a period of days, will not be available for anyone to download full-size, so the t-shirts are genuinely very limited.
We are making Cat t-shirts available through an online store, as soon as those arrangements are confirmed — all profits go to the three women who contributed to the design. As a side-note, I should point out that no money from MSCSI has ever gone into my own wallet, and that’s the plan for the future, too. I want to fund and support small businesses and creators, rather than take any profit myself. I have effectively lost money on MSCSI, by commissioning art, websites, videos, photoshoots and designs. Obviously, it’s paid me back hugely in terms of the reward of having a successful project that means something to a lot of people, but technically it costs me.
I’ve promoted and I hope helped out Martian Comics by boosting their signal and declaring my faith in Julian’s ideas, and I’ve been talking to Julian about whether Sequart can help to boost us, too. There will be no financial agreement, just an association and partnership between people who share a goal and are happy to lend a hand. I’m really glad that MSCSI largely operates through friendly agreements, good faith, and collaboration, rather than contracts and business deals. It’s a model inspired by the predominantly-female fan communities (or what I’ve learned about them, anyway) –gift economy is the key term I’ve encountered — and it’s one of the most inspiring aspects of being involved in MSCSI, for me.
Ford: That mention of gift economy is interesting. Does that simplify these dealings any? Or does it add more complexity to it? I am curious what this particular model has done for you organizationally in terms of benefits and drawbacks.
Brooker: I wouldn’t say we are adopting that model wholesale, but I think I could say I am inspired and influenced by it. Gift economy, as I understand it, is about trading favors and exchanging skills, rather than relying on the more conventional model of contracts and payment. This kind of approach within female-centered fandom contrasts with the way corporations have attempted to monetize and standardize, and often, I would suggest, exploit, fan practice.
With MSCSI, I hope we have avoided any kind of creative exploitation. Everyone who has contributed to the project — guest artists, consultants, beta-readers — is credited as part of Team Cat, which might not sound like a big deal but it’s not always the way things have happened in comics, where even co-creators like Bill Finger have been consistently left off the credits. We boost the signal on Kickstarters for similar projects, like, Strong Female Protagonist, and they help us out in return. Musicians have offered us their tracks for free, because they get something out of being featured on our website, with a link to their homepage. Most of the people we commission — video producers, actors, designers, artists — get paid for their work (at the rate they suggest), but we’re also very glad to promote their portfolios and websites, and in turn, they tend to promote us. To give an obvious example, we don’t have any financial or business agreement with Geeked magazine. We are just on the same page as them. We support them and we consider them partners, but it’s a very informal arrangement. We just like them and like what they’re doing. So, I feel strongly that creators should get paid for their work, but I enjoy the fact that we don’t tend to have any contracts at all. I like it that we have managed to do this based on trust and shared goals.
It pleases me that MSCSI, even as it gets bigger and more ambitious, still seems to operate on terms that have more in common with (predominantly female) fandom than with (predominantly male-dominated) mainstream industry practices. I think it’s positive that we seem to be working in a different way in terms of our production practices, as well as in terms of story, character and visual representation.
Ford: Sounds like an interesting model for sure. I hope others will be able to learn from your experiences and perhaps adopt this within a wide array of things.
Moving on to the comic itself, upon re-reading I noticed some ideas and themes that both puzzled and intrigued me.
For instance, I found the fact that Cat talks very possessively about Gloria City. Interesting. Batman often does the same thing (see for example Snyder’s Court of Owls series). Was this a conscious move on your part? And what differences do you think Cat and Bruce see about this possessive “my” in relation to the city they inhabit?
Brooker: On one level, MSCSI is about playing with the conventions of superhero comics, so there are a lot of scenes and lines of dialog that echo the cliches of the Batman mythos in particular.
But on another level, MSCSI is its own thing, its own story with its own consistent characters and world, and, in that sense, Cat is saying it differently to Bruce.
Bruce Wayne ‘owns’ Gotham in several ways. He’s old money, the last of a family that goes back centuries in the city. He could afford to buy most if not all of the property and businesses that make up Gotham. He has a long-term investment in it as a Wayne, and he manages a number of major foundations, projects, and organisations.
As Batman, he feels he owns it in that he has a responsibility to it (or so he thinks). He feels it’s his duty to patrol it and keep it safe from crime. Literally, he can roam around Gotham very easily and effectively, via its roofs and its streets, so he has physical possession of it in that respect; and we know his surveillance networks enable him to see the details of the city and its lives, even from deep in his cave. It’s sometimes said that the police are the biggest gang in town, but Batman is the biggest and most dangerous individual and organisation in Gotham.
Cat is a very different person, in a very different position. She feels she knows Gloria City intimately, but more as a friend and companion than as a battlefield or a playground. For most of her life, she feels it’s kept her company. She knows it like a favorite song or a book. She doesn’t feel she owns it, or runs it.
Ford: I am curious, where did the tagline, “I’m really really goddamn smart” come from? Or maybe more generally speaking this “smart as a superpower” idea?
Brooker: “Smart is a superpower,” as a slogan, was (I’m pretty sure) coined by our social media manager at the time, Riven Alyx Buckley. So we have her to thank for that great tagline and hashtag.
“I’m really goddamn smart” is of course a line from the comic — the ‘hero shot’ of Issue 1, with Cat looking up at the reader from her library desk. I felt when I was writing the script, way back before MSCSI was anything more than a tiny personal project, that this would be a key panel. It’s the equivalent, in story and character terms, of Flash declaring he’s the fastest man alive, or Batman perched on a rooftop growling that this city will always belong to him. It’s a statement of self.
It’s important that our equivalent of this scene is not a man posing dramatically as he shows off his physical or metahuman powers, but a woman sitting down, looking up from a book and saying it quite quietly but confidently, inside her head. It is key to MSCSI that we’re suggesting there are various forms of “power” and ability, and celebrating qualities that maybe aren’t foregrounded so often in superhero comics.
I don’t see this moment as boastful or arrogant. It is, I’d say, one of the first times Cat has even said those words in her head, even to herself. It’s a powerful assertion, and one that I don’t think women are often encouraged to make out loud, but she’s reached this point after years of frustration and what you could call, without being too dramatic, oppression. Various incidents in this issue, large and small, have built on all the other incidents she’s experienced before, and taken her to the moment where she finally snaps. And her snapping, in this case, is quite a small moment where she finally says to herself, and by extension to us, ‘I was lying – I am good at something. I do have a power. I am really intelligent.’
Ford: That is really beautiful, Will. Thanks for sharing that. I never thought about that scene within that context. That is really awesome.
Your conception of superheroes being more of theater and a platform for people to do grandiose things that look real but actually aren’t is intruiging.
Have you seen any other notable comics take on these sorts of metaphors and engage with them like you have? What influenced you to take on this idea?
Brooker: Ironically, I just read a (very generous, thoughtful) review at G33kPron that discussed this idea in relation to Neil Gaiman – with no specific example – and Garth Ennis’ The Boys.
I think the reviewer’s points are excellent, but I haven’t read The Boys beyond one issue (The Pro) and while I’ve read loads of Neil Gaiman since the late 80s, I’m not sure what exactly he’s referring to here.
However, I think that does indicate that my idea here isn’t entirely new or original, even if I imagined I might have thought of it myself. I’ve been reading superhero comics for so long that MSCSI is more an engagement with them, an approach to them, than a departure. On one level, it’s like a discussion with the genre.
Whether it’s fresh or not though, the idea behind MSCSI is that these ‘superheroes’ aren’t heroic and aren’t necessarily super, either: that is, they may not have anything approaching metahuman or even Batman-level powers. We’ve not yet established whether any of them — Urbanite, Kyla Flyte, Major, Sekmet, Doll’s Eyes, Misper — are in any way enhanced human beings. Misper, obviously, is athletic and a reasonable street fighter, but Urbanite only ever seems to hover a few metres in the air and flash his neon lights, like a monster truck on hydraulics or pulleys.
As far as we know, Kyla Flyte and Connie are on the same “superhuman” level as Beyonce and Britney Spears — great costumes, a stunt team, theatrical spectacle, stage presence.
There is a backstory, which has already been hinted at in the Issue 3 newspaper spread, about the “Illinois Serum,” which we understand is a branded product that might have some genuinely enhancing effect — and we learn that Carnival makes much of his business out of drugs called Trans and Meta, which Kit and Kay also know something about (hinted at further in the deleted scenes) — but it is being kept deliberately very vague for now.
There are clues in issues 1-4 and the deleted scenes, and there is a history and an established “truth” behind it, but so far it all exists in my notes and script for Volume 2 issue 1.
Where it came from was perhaps partly an article I wrote for this book, What is A Superhero? where I explored the idea that the closest we get to superheroes — or costumed heroes, anyway — in our own society is pop stars.
Coupled with my love-hate relationship with Batman, which at that point (Autumn 2011) was going through a disillusioned stage, my theories of the time (from Hunting the Dark Knight) about Batman, Joker and the other villains as engaged in a kind of egotistic, symbolic game, rather than a genuine process of ‘fighting crime’, and the fact that we experience MSCSI through Cat, a literally down-to-earth character: this all led to the portrayal, in MSCSI, of superheroes as larger-than-life but not necessarily especially admirable.
They’re rich, they’re showy, they lead exciting lives — or seem to — but they operate in their own world of fellow costumed celebrities, and they don’t really care if the spectacle of their regular street fights and stand-offs affects normal people. They mainly hang out with each other. Their interest is mainly in retaining the status quo. They have more in common with their “enemies” than they do with people who aren’t part of their costumed class.
Cat’s entry into that system severely disrupts it. In fact, it threatens to change a routine that’s been in place for decades — and neither the heroes, the villains or the anti-heroes seem to appreciate that.
Ford: So what does that make Cat then? Some sort of anti-anti-hero? Or maybe something outside the hero-villain, anti-hero-anti-villain dichotomies or spectrum entirely?
Brooker: Yes. The last thing. She is a subversive element entering the system and threatening to bring it all down.
Ford: That’s awesome to me because some of my favorite characters are those who are the rebels or lost ones. And within that group of characters the ones who decide that it isn’t them who needs fixing but the world around them are even more beloved by me.
Good examples of this are Scarlet from Brian Michael Bendis’ Scarlet, Lonnie Machin (AKA Anarky) from Batman and Spider Jerusalem from Transmetrpolitan.
Getting back to the comic though. On page seven, issue three, the newspaper is quoting Urbanite as saying that he brought bombs and then The Carnival brought bombs and eventually this will lead to nuclear arms. This reminds me of the theme of escalation in the Dark Knight trilogy. And since obviously Urbanite is at least a little bit of an homage to Batman I thought that the reference could be intentional. Is it and did that theme inspire you at all when writing this?
Brooker: The idea that “the problem isn’t me… the problem’s other people” is explicitly voiced by Cat in Issue 1. Again, though, that’s an assertion that’s taken her a while to reach, and she’s only saying it to herself, internally (and therefore to “us”). She would never say that out loud, at least not at this stage. Later in the story, I think she’s a lot more openly and vocally assertive.
The newspaper in Issue 3 is explicitly a reference to the Dark Knight viral marketing and world-building, but the Urbanite’s statements are meant to be almost entirely parodic. They are a satire of Batman’s grim and threatening rhetoric.
He’s making claims like “One day, we’re going to kill each other. But I’ll be the one who walks away,” and “One day, we’re going to kill each other. Except that I never kill.”
It’s an explicit play on (in that case) The Killing Joke, which is one of the most important texts shaping MSCSI (I’d like to think of it as the anti-Killing Joke in some ways) but more generally it mocks Batman’s doomy pronouncements, which are often pretty much nonsense.
Ford: That all sounds great to me. The parody of Batman is fairly spot on I feel and I think you write it rather well.
Could you elaborate on it being the anti-Killing Joke?
Brooker: MSCSI is the anti-Killing Joke in that it engages directly with the idea of people like Batgirl being expendable pawns (porn, even) in the game between Batman and Joker — and by extension also Gordon, Dent, Cobblepot, Nygma and the others. I find TKJ pretty troubling in that respect; in the way it treats Batgirl (or Barbara, as she then was) as a playing piece in an argument between these three men, to demonstrate whether someone can be turned “mad,” or “bad,” by a traumatic experience.
MSCSI addresses that explicitly, and also puts Cat in a situation which is deliberately reminiscent of TKJ, and then does something different. That all happens in issues 4 and 5.
I’ve often wanted to see more of Barbara’s story, behind TKJ – to see more of her life, her experiences, her yoga with Colleen from across the street, how that evening affected her at the time, what happened in hospital the first few nights, what she remembers.
Gail Simone has been revisiting TKJ from Barbara’s perspective in her recent Batgirl, which I enjoy and appreciate. I think MSCSI is attempting something similar.
Ford: There’s a lot to make us love any of the things we do and what I especially love about MSCSI is just how seriously it takes Cat’s agency. Cat asserts herself but she also strikes a good balance between that assertiveness and a willingness to admit faults and draw back when necessary. For example, she’ll investigate when she doesn’t think she knows enough and when she thinks she’s got her plan laid out she’ll go for it. She’s not a reckless person but when she knows what she is doing she is going go for it.
Winding down now I am curious about volume two and three of MSCSI. Last we heard you had some of the script done with volume two and volume three had some of the basic points done. Have things progressed since then?
Brooker: I think you see Cat’s character pretty much the way I do, yes. She is fairly cautious in some ways, very brave in others. Sometimes she’s very structured and sensible, and at the same time she can be rash. In the very fact that she’s going up against the city’s crime lord, and, by extension, really the whole system of “superheroes” surrounding him, she’s doing something incredibly radical, subversive, and courageous. But the way she tends to do it is quite systematic, through research, contacts, through trying a series of options, one at a time.
I never really planned out her character in terms of notes or traits. It just seems to be there, to me, and manifests itself — and develops further –in the choices that seem natural for her to make, as I write the story.
In terms of volumes 2 and 3, no, there’s been no reason to detail them further. If I had the scripts finished, I would want to see them drawn immediately, and right now, when we are focusing on Issue 5 and the print version of volume 1, that isn’t a sensible possibility. However, I do quite often visualise or revisit scenes from volume 2, in particular, in my head, and I do certainly want to see that completed at some point. There is a lot of stuff we’ll be able to explore now that we’re not introducing the situation and characters any more. People like Kyla Flyte will return and we’ll learn about them in far more detail, and new characters will come into play as others step into the background. Cat, too, will change significantly.
I think this is an opportunity for us to talk about issue 4 — you’ll be the first critic who has read and responded to it, as it was only published on Sunday 8 June.
Ford: Right, then.
Issue four is quite a jump in pace. Everything seems to happen so fast and a lot of things that seem to have been building, especially with Misper, seem to come to a head. The playing of time is also a nice touch that kept me intrigued.
I do have two things that caught my eye in particular:
The way that Cat talks about Carnival and that “he has his people” all around the city and no formalized structure as opposed to Urbanite reminds me (I swear I read other comics besides Batman…) of Batman Volume 4 which I recently read. The Red Hood Gang is a very much dispersed, informal, and anonymous group within Gotham. They (allegedly) serve no purpose or goal except to cause mayhem and signal the end of Gotham, etc. So they are purposeless, leaderless (allegedly) and so on.
The second thing was when Urbanite dismisses Cat (again) as a civilian and telling her that she cannot do what she’s doing, that the war on crime cannot descend into “anarchy,” which I find fascinating because if anarchy is being equated to chaos (as it often mistakenly is), then it really seems to be Urbanite who is a proponent of “anarchy.” With a state of martial law intact, police everywhere, tight control over events (such as with Kyla), and people missing and fearful, it seems like Urbanite is the one who supports “anarchy” and not Cat.
But that’s not even the most important point. I am even more intrigued by how a challenge to Urbanite’s authority automatically results in black and white thinking. Either he is defending the city (or someone he appoints) or no one is. It’s complete chaos if someone else defends the city but not if he does it! This reminds me of James Tynion IV’s run on Talon. Calvin Rose is the main character and he is basically trying to crush the remainders of the Court of Owls which are displaced after the City of Owls story arc in Batman. At the end of volume one (no real major spoilers here) Batman talks to Calvin as if he is a child, and, further, that Batman is really the only one who is allowed or should defend the city of Gotham.
This territorial monopoly on the use of violence as well as relying heavily on black and white thinking seem to me like two really dangerous qualities we see in some superheroes, especially ones like Batman and Urbanite.
Anyways, those are some of my thoughts, what do you think?
Brooker: I noticed that about the Red Hood gang, and funnily enough, Morrison does a similar thing with Leviathan in Batman and Robin: Gotham’s Most Wanted. All I can say is that I wrote the script for all five issues in Autumn 2011, so I wasn’t copying Snyder or Morrison! Their great minds seem to be thinking alike, and my lesser mind was clearly on a similar wavelength. Sometimes there does seem to be a trend for certain ideas.
Personally, my concept of the way Carnival operates was a development from my book on Batman, and the discussion in the final chapters about Batman being defined, and defining himself, in relation to the other figures in his world. Carnival and Urbanite are taking part in a kind of game across the city. Arguably, they’re more like partners than opponents, but it’s vital to both of them that they seem like opponents and opposites.
Carnival deliberately positions himself as the anti-Urbanite and Urbanite’s identity is partly centred on being, or seeming, different to Carnival. They must appear to be different, even if they’re actually quite similar figures in terms of their relation to the city and its people.
So Carnival doesn’t have a base, but a dispersed field of operations; a gang of street kids. And in turn, Urbanite has to have a base; a Man-Cave, with one trained sidekick. Carnival explicitly treats their relationship as a game, so Urbanite has to act as if it’s all deadly serious. Carnival’s shtick is sinister and playful, so Urbanite’s performance is grim and no-nonsense.
It’s vital to both of them that they seem to be opposites, even though on one level, they’re on the same side, supporting each other’s existence and giving each other a reason to be.
To your second point, I actually see most of what Urbanite says as empty rhetoric. I don’t think he fully understands it, and he wouldn’t understand your question. His speech about anarchy is more like a tinned speech he delivers every time he takes Carnival prisoner. Again, it’s part of his routine to justify his own role, and in turn to justify Carnival: he declares has to follow “the law,” in his terms, which helps to construct Carnival as playfully chaotic.
So, you’re right. But I don’t think Urbanite would really necessarily get it. (If he did, he’d fiercely deny and resist that truth).
Urbanite wants the system to stay exactly as it is, with him in control. But for him to be in control, he needs Carnival; just as he needs Doll’s Eyes and Sekhmet, and just as the Major needs them all to define and justify his own role. Kyla is who she is in relation to Sekhmet and Miss Sparkle. The Major is who he is, in relation to Urbanite and Carnival. And so on. They all want this to continue, because they all essentially benefit from it as celebrities and business-people.
Cat is disrupting this, and essentially what we’ve seen in these episodes to date is everyone pulling ranks against her. Sekhmet challenges her, Urbanite attacks and undermines her, Carnival taunts and tries to contain her, Kyla ignores and removes her, even Misper argues with her and tries to dissuade her. They all want this to carry on the way it is. Cat wants to disrupt that system. So in a way, they all have more in common with each other than they do with her.
Ford: This self-perpetuation of the super-hero as something based in fantasy and manufactured scenarios is also explored wonderfully in the first volumes of Mark Millar’s Avengers. I don’t want to give too much away but it really goes into depth about how a lot of superheroes are much more reliant on evil existing than the other way around sometimes. This is especially true when they become institutionalized through organizations like Shield.
I would also like to say, on a side note, that because of the frustration I have with what you and I are discussing here, that, when these situations get pushed back against, it can sometimes make for very awesome scenes. For example, it was one of the most satisfying things in the world seeing Peter Parker in Ultimate Spider-Man punch Nick Fury. That was just great. After having arc after arc of Fury pushing Peter around and making him do things and manipulate him to work with Shield I just loved that he got a nice punch for his jackassery.
As far as Urbanite goes, I can’t dispute that he is clearly just engaging in empty rhetoric. I think the unfortunate part of that is that some people see that empty rhetoric and take it seriously (characters like Batman) and then try to make some point about it. Which, I think, tends to make them look like the bad guy more than anything else. And then the audience eats it up and doesn’t get that the character is full of crap. It’s frustrating how so few people can’t distance themselves from what some so-called heroes say they want and what they actually do with their intentions.
I don’t know if that’ll happen either way in this case, but my larger point is just to say that this “empty rhetoric” is often (too often) treated as something way more substantial.
Brooker: Just to comment on your final point here, it’s interesting for me to consider that people might well take Urbanite as a serious, heroic character rather than reading him as a satire on that kind of armored-lawman figure. I’ve already had the experience of some readers seeing him as a sad but admirable individual… a real “bro.”
This has been a problem with a lot of anti-heroes, most obviously perhaps Judge Dredd and Rorschach. Obviously, we are nowhere near the level of either of those characters and their comics, but I can see how the same principle might apply. I’m not sure what you can do in that case apart from try to make the satire more explicit and the anti-hero more ridiculous, pathetic, or unlikeable. In any case, part of the high concept behind Volume 2 — basically, what would happen if all the key players, who happen to be men, are unavailable, and the female superheroes, villains, and vigilantes dominated and decided what happened for a while — involves Urbanite being out of the picture for the main event.
So if you really love Urbanite, you can wear the t-shirt, available as a Kickstarter reward, but you won’t be seeing so much of him after Issue 5.
Ford: Well I’m sure some of us will miss the big oaf at any rate.
Will, thanks so much for your time.
Where can people go to find out more about MSCSI? And do you have any other projects coming up or going on now that you’d like to let our audience know about besides MSCSI?
Brooker: I’d like people to go right here, and either support our Kickstarter or spread the word about it far and wide. Or both, if they can.
Right now, I’m not going to ask your readers to do anything more than that.