You there! Have a super power but don't know what to do with it? Able to leap tall buildings but not sure where to leap? Well, David Schwart's series at Aspen Comics Idolized might just have the answer for you.
Featuring art by Micah Gunnell, Idolized takes a look at a superhero reality show, "Superhero Idol," where contestants vie for a chance to join the world's biggest super team, the Powered Protectors. But while many of the contestants are there for the usual reasons: fame, money, and even good, old-fashioned altruism, one named Joule has entered to exact her revenge on someone.
We spoke to Schwartz about Joule, "Superhero Idol" and the unique voting competition going on at the book's Facebook page to choose some of the contestants' costumes in upcoming issues.
MTV Geek: In the broadest sense, what can you tell us about Idolized and the world in which it takes place?
David Schwartz: Idolized is the story of a girl with a pretty dark past who is looking for both revenge and redemption over the course of competing in an American Idol-type show for competing superheroes. So it's kind of like True Grit, given the revenge angle, meets American Idol meets superpowers.
And it takes place in a world that's not unlike the Marvel or DC universes where there are tons of people with superpowers running around. But it's somewhat more grounded in a more realistic world in that folks don't just automatically get to become these superheroes, it's something people aspire to when they're kids and they'll want to work up to. And it's not easy to join a Justice League or Avengers-type group, it's something you've got to work years and years for. And so, the winner of this American Idol-type competition--called "Superhero Idol"--the big prize that the get is to get to join the big super group of that world.
And so you've got tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of teens and twentysomethings showing up, desperate to become a big, world-famous superhero. And our lead character is someone who is really desperate to go out and try to avenge something that happened in her past. And as a girl from the middle of nowhere, she never thought that she'd actually be able to get that chance. But now that this show has come around, if she can actually get on the show, maybe even win that show and join that super group, she'll be close enough to the person that she wants revenge against, that she feels like this would be her one shot to actually make it happen.
Geek: You mentioned that in this universe, people have to be sanctioned superheroes. Does that mean there aren't any people running around freelance, doing their own thing?
Schwartz: Uh, there are, sure. But as you see with a Batman or someone like that, it takes a lot of money and opportunity to make something like that happen. And the police and other groups like that are really on top of putting a stop to that kind of thing--the same way they are in our world, trying to stop people from going out there and performing vigilante actions.
But the way to go, really, is to be a sanctioned hero.
Geek: Exactly how does the competition work?
Schwartz: So, the competition is actually sort of a backdrop for the whole series. It happens over issues 2, 3, and 4. And there's a lot that goes on before then and most importantly after it. But the way that the competition works is not unlike the competition shows that we see here. You've got initially tens of thousands of hopefuls showing up at a big stadium, and then they get narrowed down to a top ten, and the top ten compete each week. In the competition you have contests of specific skills, some test their mental ability to handle challenges that are thrown their way--it's all kinds of things a superhero might encounter.
You know, the top ten characters [Joule] is competing against are the folks who we're now having the voting going on for. So readers can vote on the look of the top ten competitors.
Geek: You mentioned that a lot of the characters are doing this for altruistic reasons: they want to be heroes and all of that. But to what degree do we see the kind of real-world motivations enter into it like money or fame for its own sake?
Schwartz: Oh absolutely. And in fact, each of these top ten characters has a very different reason for being there and for some of them it's completely about fame and fortune. Because as I mentioned, this is an opportunity for them to be on TV and to get famous. And if you were a Superman or a Wonder Woman or someone in the world's biggest super group, it is not only an opportunity to be idolized by millions and millions of people around the world, but also to make a heck of a lot of money, whether it's from endorsements, or merchandising, or your image or what have you. So that absolutely plays into it.
And like I said, each one of these characters is very different, and has their own goals and motivations. For some of them, it is fame and fortune, for our lead character, it's really revenge and redemption. For others, their parents pushed them into doing this with their lives and to be a hero whether they want to be or not. They all come with their own baggage, and that's something we explore throughout the course of the series.
Geek: How has leaving the choice of the costumes for the characters up to the readers affected your writing (if at all). I mean, costumes are these sort of deeply important things that reflect a lot about the character and what they think they might represent to the world.
Schwartz: Absolutely, and that certainly plays into it. As we actually get into the issues where we see them in costume, some of them will sort of be making comments about the things they like or don't like about the costumes. Many of these costumes are going to be given to them by the producers of the show, and they may not agree with what the producers choose just like I may not love the final choices that the fans come up with. And so the characters, I'm sure, will certainly have thoughts of their own about the costumes and may want to alter them or update them or what have you as things go on.
Geek: And sorry to keep going back to the particulars of the contest--
Schwartz: No worries!
Geek: When the finalists are chosen, have you thought about the possibility that maybe they're not choosing the right kind of people to be superheroes? Maybe they choose the most telegenic one, or the one with the most explosive personality.
Schwartz: Yep, that's actually something you're absolutely going to see happen in the series. There are some people who are great, upstanding citizens who would make spectacular heroes. But they either don't have the right look or whose powers call into question the legitimacy of their even being there. I don't want to go into too many details with that because that would be giving it away, but there are definitely controversies that come up that might get people kicked off the show when they shouldn't be, because they really were being altruistic. And so we may see people making it towards the end of the competition that--because you get to see them behind the scenes, also--we realize shouldn't be there.
The fact that we're doing something that really deals analogously with things that are there in our real lives and in the real world, really gives us the opportunity to play with a lot of different opportunities for social commentary and commentary on the media in our current lives and the way that we get so wrapped up in these entertainment-type competitions. It's just really fertile ground.
Geek: Are there any reality shows that you're hooked on?
Schwartz: [laughs] Um, not as many as I used to be, mostly because now it seems like there just aren't as many hours in the day to watch the things I'd want to watch. You know, the first few years they were out, I definitely watched shows like Survivor and American Idol and what have you. But there just aren't that many hours in the day.
Geek: We're at least past the point where a lot of these shows were running three, four, or five nights a week.
Schwartz: That's definitely true. I also think that there is so much more media for people to consume nowadays. It seems like there's increasingly more media each and every year that, I think, things can't help but fragment. And people gravitate more towards their individual tastes rather than giant cultural zeitgeists taking over like American Idol did for a few years.
Geek: Are there any particular characters that you wouldn't mind--I don't know, not spoiling but telling us about that you're excited for readers to encounter for the first time?
Schwartz: I really love the villain of this series. He's someone whose ends are--not to use the same word repeatedly--altruistic, but whose means are anything but. His means are actually pretty horrific. But because his goals are so in line with what I think a lot of society is feeling nowadays, I think a lot of readers may have a hard time deciding whether to root for or against him. And so it's just a lot of fun being able to play with that sort of duality. And so he's someone I'm really excited about.
Geek: Who are you reading right now? Who's doing some of the best work in superhero comics in your opinion?
Schwartz: There's a lot of folks who--I don't want to just say right now--over the years... you know, Kurt Busiek, back in the day, the work Frank Miller did, revolutionizing comics... I try to read as much as I can and there are just a whole bunch of people who impress me one way or another.
I actually really like a lot of DC's New 52 books. I think they've put out some interesting things in a lot of those series.
Geek: Are you above or below 50% of the books you're sticking with in the New 52? I think I'm a bit below.
Schwartz: I'm around 50%.
Geek: And finally, what are you working on next?
Schwartz: After Idolized, I have another--actually several--creator-owned series that are going to be coming out at Aspen. None of which that I can reveal just yet, but I have various plans lined up after Idolized coming out.
But right now, I'm just focused on Idolized. I'm really having a blast writing it, seeing the pages come back from Micah, just blowing me away more and more with each one. And really having fun with the voting we put out there and all of the big plans that we have out there for the coming months. Right now, we've actually just started our fourth week [of voting for the costumes], and I think that there's just one more week after this one. So we're coming to the end of the character design voting, but we've got another pretty cool thing coming up right after that.
Idolized will be available in early 2012. You can vote for your favorite costume designs at the book's Facebook page.