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Part One of RICK REMENDER talking to Matt Adler
About LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME!
Hi folks, Matt Adler here. I got the chance to speak with Rick Remender, who’s known for his work on many comics, including THE PUNISHER, FEAR AGENT, THE END LEAGUE, and more. First up we spoke about his latest project, LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME from Radical Comics, a heist story set in the future of a world very much like our own. In this installment, Rick tells us what the book is all about, and how it came to be.
Rick Remender (RR): Steve Niles had done a book with them, and he was speaking highly of them, and he put me in touch with Barry over there. And of all of the books that I have developed, the creator-owned books, LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME was the last book of my initial breed. In 2004, I sat down and I wrote FEAR AGENT, THE END LEAGUE, SORROW, SEA OF RED, NIGHT MARY, STRANGE GIRL, and LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME. LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME was the last thing I hadn’t set up any place, and so when Barry began asking for different genre stuff, I immediately sent him the pitch. He really seems to love it, he picked it up that afternoon. Barry said he wanted to open up the floodgates and do something really special, and in terms of something special, I think we’ve done that. And Greg Tocchini’s probably going to explode after this, because his work’s on par with anyone working in the medium today. And we’ve also got beautiful covers by Alex Maleev.
Also, before I go any further, I’d like to give thanks to my aunt, Annie Stafford Adler, for her invaluable assistance with transcription. Couldn’t have done it without her.
And now without further ado, the interview!
Matt Adler (MA): Rick, tell us--how did you get involved with Radical?
MA: What’s the basic premise behind the series, for those who don’t know?RR: It was born in 2004, after the elections, when I was thinking that I wanted to have a mind control ray, and make everybody do the smart right thing that I wanted them to do. But they didn’t. But you start thinking about a mind control ray, and your mind kind of drifts, and it ended up where I was imagining “What if a Republican had this mind control ray?”
MA: You sure they didn’t? That might explain 2004.RR: It might! I did think in terms of “What if some neo-con ended up with this thing? There are a lot of ethical implications to mind control. It’s obviously not something anyone should have.” It sort of spun out from that, I was thinking “Well, after 9/11 we gave up -- or had taken from us -- all our personal freedoms.” Everybody fell down and said, “OK, keep us safe, whatever you want. Tap my phone – I don’t care.” And I’m thinking in terms of how that would play out if there was another attack and there was a behavior inhibitor ray.
Basically what happens in our story is the government has developed a broadcast that inhibits humans from doing anything they know to be unlawful... it’s a frequency that makes your brain not capable of doing these evil things. So, it’s kind of like a little sci-fi dollop on top of what is mostly just a heist story. The story itself revolves around a loser and grifter and life-time criminal Graham Bricke who has been planning a heist for some time. A couple of years earlier he got out of the federal pen and as a career criminal he can’t get work. He tried to do anything, ended up doing janitorial jobs and he just couldn’t cut it. He did his very best. So he plans this heist around the more public government response to the terrorism that is taking place -- the transitioning of all American currency to digital fiduciary charge cards. There won’t be any paper money. You can’t do anything illegal. You know, you can’t go buy enriched uranium, or sell weed, or pay for head, you can’t…
MA: Because it will record every transaction.RR: Right, you can’t do anything criminal because you’re going to be tracked by the government. But Graham uses that to his advantage by planning a heist to steal one of these machines. If he can steal one of these machines, go online and basically move himself onto a beach in Mexico and charge money endlessly. But, of course then API, the American Peace Initiative as the American Government calls it, this broadcast, the story breaks in the Washington Post that a broadcast is going to be turned on New Year’s Eve, which is two weeks away. And so Graham now, instead of having 6 months for planning this job, he’s got two weeks which forces him to bring in a couple of freelancers he doesn’t know. And of course, that doesn’t work out very well. And from them on it’s a classic heist story.
The sci-fi element is more…we don’t deal with it as anything other the backdrop: America is in chaos. People who can leave are leaving. People are trying this mass exodus to Canada and Mexico. Everybody who is resigned to being stuck where they’re at, is either locked inside their house with a shotgun aimed at the door or they’re out engaging in debaucherous behavior because they’ve only got two weeks, weirdoes hunting lions in the zoo, mass suburban orgies, dogs and cats living together…pandemonium in the streets. It’s fun because the sci-fi elements adds this chaos, and it’s almost like a zombie film, in the sense, if you’re on the street your in danger…
MA: It’s apocalyptic, in other words.RR: Yeah, so it adds a tension level as well as the ticking clock, because in two weeks, no more fun.
MA: So, in terms in how the government enacted that, do you get into that, the detail of it? Do you show the resistance, of people protesting that?RR: Sure. And I try not to do it with exposition. You see it around them in the city. You see bits of broadcasts on television. As they move through the world, through the country, you see different things. So I’m trying to make sure I show it instead of telling it. It’s definitely something you visually pick up on.
MA: If they’re eliminating literally all crime, in other words, everyone has to follow the rules, wouldn’t…I don’t know how to put this, but….let’s face it. A lot of the people in power have been breaking the rules. Isn’t there…RR: Would they not have an inhibitor to make sure they…?
MA: Yeah, there’s got to be a loophole for some of them.RR: Yeah, we deal with a couple of the different potential loopholes in the story and that’s a part of the plot.
MA: But for the masses at large, they can’t even jaywalk any more.RR: No, that’s the great thing about it. If you know it’s illegal, it inhibits you from doing it. You can’t litter. If you’re living in Texas, no more sodomy. Wherever you’re at, if you know what the laws are, you can’t do it.
MA: Do you think, given the technology, that would actually come to pass here?RR: Oh, I don’t think mind control rays or powers are possible….
MA: No, I mean, let’s say that the technology was a reality—I know that’s a far-fetched idea-- but as far as societal, would that be something people would accept?RR: I think there would be a lot of people who are just enamored with the idea of safety and security. And it goes into why I think religion is still as prevalent as it is, that life is scary and it’s frightening and death is frightening and the chaotic nature of life is frightening and the human mind wants to put it in order and twist reality to our comfort level. And so I think there would be a large percentage of the population that would be happy and would say, fine.
MA: Just tell us what to do.RR: Tell us what to do. If it’s illegal and they can’t do it that means no one is going to burgle my house. There’s an upside. No more murder, no more rape, no more drunk driving. That’s the fun thing about the concept. You can see an upside to it. You definitely don’t want to live in some Orwellian world where Big Brother has control of your mind. But there are some fun elements in that, like…well, the big things that I have to worry about with my fellow man….when I’m doing business or if I’m dealing with a banker or someone selling me a car, they couldn’t lie, cheat or steal. There are definitely upsides. But then again you also deal with the ramifications in terms that it’s no longer humans making decisions, its humans having them forced upon them. The ethical implications…if you’re being forced to do the right thing, is it still the right thing? I guess the effect is still a peaceful society where no one can be murdered, raped, or robbed. I don’t know. Is it worth it? I try and just paint it without making a judgment.
MA: So, in these two weeks before this change goes into effect, what are some of the more outrageous things we see in the book as far as what people decide what they want to get up to?RR: Well, that kind of stuff is really backdrop stuff. And you’ve got a lot of kinky stuff, sex clubs, a lot of mobster and mafia guys are trying to switch over to business models that are legal because in two weeks they’ll be out of business. Whereas, a business man with a family of three is out there fucking and cutting or hunting his fellow man, or whatever. Basically, a lot of normals going out and trying heroin because they’ve never given that a shot before. It sort of turns that upside down. Then there’s the criminal element. They’re either trying to make giant big heists to get the money in place and set themselves up to live, or they’re trying to – in terms of the bigger Mafia families in the book – they’re trying to become legitimate in this two week window.
MA: Now, the heist side of this -- were there any sources from other media, movies or TV that you drew on to do the heist part of it?RR: Yeah, I’ve been reading James Elroy – that’s not necessarily a heist story – but there‘re a lot of great crime stuff in -- I’m reading AMERICAN TABLIOD. I’ve almost finished that. Mamet’s HEIST is a big inspiration because that movie is about the heist itself. It’s too easy to get through the heist and get to the betrayal and the fucking and the shooting. But he focuses on the heist itself, the intricacies of how the characters made their ways into this, a lot of twists and turns throughout the heist itself and I wanted to do something that didn’t just go: and then they did the heist, and then they got betrayed and then everybody fucked and shot. I wanted to sink in and give myself a good 45 pages for the heist itself.
And when you do that, you open that door; you realize it’s very tricky. You have to set up, in terms of this fiduciary charge card machine; you have to set up the rules on how it works. They haven’t been activated yet; they have to be activated at the same time by the API, the American Peace Initiative. You have to have a hacker, and then you have to set up how the bank would work, and how the guard detail would work, and the metal detectors, how you get past the metal detectors, how you open the doors without setting off the alarms. And it’s a lot of fun. I had a great time writing it. It’s the kind of problem solving as a writer that I found to be really engaging and just a lot of fun to write. It didn’t seem like homework. Like sometimes figuring out how a superhuman can beat another superhuman based on his power set – that can be fucking horrible.