Interview: Christos Gage Gives ‘Absolution’

One of the most enjoyable things about writing for The Flickcast is having early access to new products like comics, movies and video games. Along with that, sometimes comes the chance for exclusive access to their creators as well. Recently, I was given the chance to interview Christos Gage.

For those not familiar with him, he has quite an extensive resume both in television and comics, from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit to Avengers: Initiative from Marvel. And of course we can’t forget the Flickcast favorite miniseries he recently was a part of through IDW, G.I.Joe: Cobra. Now, Christos is taking on a new challenge, but one he is most certainly looking forward to.

Coming out in August, Christos will debut Absolution from Avatar Press. The same people who brought us Crossed by Garth Ennis will be giving Christos free reign on his creator owned property. The following is the conversation we were able to have with Christos about this exciting new project.

The Flickcast: Thank you for taking the time to answer some of our questions. For those not aware, you have your first miniseries from Avatar Press coming out in August called Absolution. Would you mind giving a brief idea of what the book is?

Christos Cage: Absolution is about John Dusk-a superhero in a world where superheroes are a sanctioned branch of law enforcement-who starts secretly executing criminals.  There comes a point where he’s seen one too many of them end up beyond the reach of the law, whether because they’ve served their time, or there wasn’t enough evidence to convict, or whatever.  He’s seen them go out and re-offend, which he and everyone else knew would happen.

These are not purse snatchers we’re talking about; they’re killers, sex offenders, rapists-violent criminals.  The law says they can’t be touched.  John says different.  He knows it’s putting him on a collision course with his friends, his teammates and his girlfriend, a homicide detective.  But he’s seen the pain these predators cause, and he’s found a way to end it, which not only spares their future victims, but gives him some peace.

Of course, in some cases he’s punishing people not for what they’ve done, but for what they MIGHT do.  He’s taking the power of a god, the power of choosing who lives and who dies, into his hands.  He knows that’s wrong.  He wants to be forgiven…but he doesn’t want to stop.  And incidentally, I’ve seen some speculation about whether we’ll ever find out how the title, “Absolution“, relates to the book.  We will, but not until the last issue.

TF: In the most recent edition of Previews, issue #1 of Absolution was given a Featured Item spot. In your essay included with it, you focused on the phrase, “Some people just need killin’.” Could you expand on that a little bit for us?

CG: My wife Ruth, who is actually the one who came up with the idea of a superhero who is also a serial killer, introduced me to the phrase.  She said it’s essentially a Southern argument for jury nullification “Yeah, I killed him, but he deserved it!”  I think killing someone who is beyond redemption, who is a threat to others, when the authorities can’t or won’t deal with the situation, is something we all consider at one point or another.

Ed Brubaker has said some very kind things about Absolution, and when I wrote to thank him he said, in essence, “Yeah, if I could lob a few Molotov cocktails and get away with it, there’d be a few less houses in my neighborhood, and the rest of us would be better off”.  Of course, 99% of us never act on these impulses, but I think we can relate to them.  I think having those feelings makes us interested in reading about someone who does act on them.

And in my essay I also talked about my friend Ed, who told me how he spent a year as a cop only to quit because he kept being confronted by abusive, evil people he couldn’t legally do anything about but who he knew were violent predators.  He said if he didn’t quit, sooner or later he’d lose control of himself and blow them away. Since Absolution was announced, I’ve heard from cops, lawyers and others in the justice system who tell me the idea really resonates with them, so clearly Ed’s situation is not unique.

The story of John Dusk, in some ways, is universal, albeit something most of us fortunately never go past thinking about.  But in our dark moments I think all of us know what it would be like to be John Dusk.

TF: Also in your essay you commented that the power levels of the super powered characters were “more down-to-Earth”. What kind of super powers would the readers expect to see from the characters in the stories? Are there any characters at all with the kind of firepower someone like Superman brings to the table in this world?

CG: There are a wide range of abilities-John Dusk’s “aura”, which is not unlike Sue Storm’s force field or Green Lantern’s ring on a smaller scale; superhuman strength; pyrokinesis; and one character who has the ability to build super-scientific gadgets that don’t actually work for anyone but him.  So there’s plenty of variety, but what I’ve shied away from is somebody like Miracleman or Superman or Magneto, who could single-handedly destroy the world.

I felt staying away from that would make the story feel more street-level and grounded.  This isn’t about a superhuman abusing his earth-shattering power to level cities.  Mark Waid’s already doing that quite well in IrredeemableAbsolution about a cop who crosses a line, killing individuals who he thinks deserve it.  That’s what I wanted to explore…something we can all relate to, even if the weapon being used is a superhuman talent and not a gun.

TF: Aside from being a career super hero, what other insight could you let us in on about the life of main character John Dusk?

CG: He’s from a family of cops, so his sense of duty is strong, but he’s been on the job long enough to know that justice is not always done-in fact, sometimes it’s perverted.  And in his years of service he’s seen enough horrifying things to give him symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Going after those who prey on innocents-killing them-makes him feel better…like he’s finally truly fulfilling the oath he swore, to serve and protect.  But at the same time he has to maintain the veneer of an officer who abides by the rules of conduct of the police.  It’s a dichotomy that can’t survive…and it won’t.

TF: Do you see the character and world of Absolution continuing after the first six issue miniseries?

CG: I hope so, if the sales are there!

TF: How would you compare the world of John Dusk to something like the current Marvel universe where registration of superpowers is only a fairly new concept to its inhabitants?

CG: It’s quite different, because as you point out, in John Dusk’s world, this is the way it’s always been.  If you have super-powers and you want to use them, and you’re not a villain, you have to be licensed.  The authorities know your real name.

That brings advantages-you can testify in court under your code name, you get pay and benefits-but it also carries the same restrictions, frustrations and stresses any cop experiences, as well as dangers.  But registration of superheroes is not something that’s terribly controversial in this world.

It’s just the way things have always been done.

TF: How much of your experience working on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit came in to the super powered police force that will be the focus of Absolution?

CG: A lot.  While working on the show, Ruth (who I co-write nearly all my screenplays with) and I reviewed FBI data on crimes against children.  We chose not to look at graphic crime scene photos, but what we did see was enough to stay with us for the rest of our lives.  It really makes you realize the level of brutality and evil that’s out there, the predators and the horrors they inflict.

I’m still against the death penalty, because it’s been proven that innocent people are convicted of capital crimes all too often.  But give me a gun and point me at someone I know raped and killed a child?  I’m probably pulling that trigger.  Luckily I’ll probably never be in that situation, and it’s always preferable for the legal system to deal with people like that.

But if they couldn’t-if the perp had served his time, let’s say, and he walks free even thought you know damn well the recidivism rate of offenders like him is incredibly high-and if you have the power to do something about it, are you doing wrong by killing that person…or by leaving them be and giving them the chance to kill someone else?

TF: How would you compare working with Avatar and their lack of content restrictions to working with any of the other publishers or licensed properties you have been a part of?

CG: It’s funny, when I’m writing company-owned characters I don’t notice the restrictions, because it doesn’t occur to me to have, say, Spider-Man cursing a blue streak or crushing someone’s skull.  That just wouldn’t work.  It doesn’t feel right for that character and that story.

But with a creator-owned project that’s a hard-edged crime story at its core, you want the freedom to depict the brutality of the world you’re exploring.  Avatar provides that freedom like nobody else.

TF: Some of the preview pages that have been put on-line from Absolution #0 are downright horrifying even without any dialogue included in them.  How has your experience been working with artist Roberto Viacava? What have you thought of the work he has given back after seeing your scripts?

CG: I thought Roberto started strong and just got better as our creative communication really began to gel.  He’s excellent at creating a realistic world, yet putting telekinetics and alligator-men in it and making it work.

There’s a scene in issue #1, a crime scene where a victim has had her head beaten in, and he depicted it with the perfect combination of horror and routine that crime scenes have.  I’m very pleased with the results.

TF: What other books, comic or otherwise, are you reading and enjoying right now?

CG: I don’t read much fiction because then I unconsciously start imitating the writer’s style in my own work, so when I do find the time to read books it’s usually nonfiction.  I just read a biography of the mobster Crazy Joe Gallo called The Mad Ones and I’m about to delve into Serpico.

One fiction book I did get to read on a plane and absolutely loved was World War Z by Max Brooks.  Brilliant stuff.

I read way too many comics, justifying it with the fact that it’s “for work”.  I love Incognito, Criminal, most of Ennis and Ellis’ Avatar work, Geoff Johns’ and Ed Brubaker’s stuff, Incredible Hercules, Abnett & Lanning’s stuff including The Authority which everyone who likes their Marvel work should try…Owly…the list is almost endless.  Ex MachinaAmazing Spider-Man…just a ton of stuff.  I think comics are better than they’ve ever been.

TF: If you don’t mind talking about one of your other projects, where did you come up with the concept behind G.I. Joe: Cobra? Being so different from anything else the franchise has put out as of late, was it a group effort behind it or your own brainchild to take an underrated character like Chuckles and put him in such a serious role?

CG: Most of the credit for that goes to my co-writer, Mike Costa, because I didn’t know Chuckles from Adam.  I’d worked with Andy Schmidt, the GI Joe editor, when he was at Marvel, and he called me asking me to write Cobra.  He already had the idea of a Joe going undercover in Cobra and having to make horrible choices…”he who fights monsters”, etc.

I love stories like that-Sleeper being a prime example-but one, I was too busy, and two, I know nothing about GI Joe continuity.  I was twelve when the cartoon hit and I felt I was “too mature” for cartoons by then.  (The only thing worse than a nerd is a self-loathing nerd.)

But I knew Mike was a big fan of the Joes.  So I called up Mike and asked if he was interested in co-writing, and he came up with the ideas to use Chuckles, Jinx, Tomax and Xamot, etc.  Me, I’m just trying to rip off Ed Brubaker.

TF: Can we expect any of this darker side of the super hero world sneaking in to any of your other works like Avengers: Initiative as the Dark Reign takes over the Marvel world?

CG: Oh yeah.  Starting with Initiative #25 we will be getting darker.  For instance, a lot of people have said very kind things about how they like the way I write Taskmaster, but let’s not forget he’s a bad guy.  One of the many brilliant things about The Sopranos was that, just when you’d start to get comfortable with Tony and really root for him and relate to him, David Chase would remind you that he is not a nice guy by doing a story like the one where Tony utterly destroys Robert Patrick’s life.

We’ll be seeing some of that.  And the good guys will have to make some tough choices as well.

TF: Are there any other current books out there right now that you’d like to be a part of? Or any dream project in mind you have always wanted to work on?

CG: Yeah, the ones that sell the best (laughs). In all seriousness, I’m pretty happy with what’s on my plate.  It’s a good mix of creator owned and company owned characters, a nice variation in tone and feel, so I never get bored.  I’ve gotten to play with most of the toys at Marvel in one way or another.  World War Hulk: X-Men was a childhood dream come true.

So I’m pretty happy.  I’d say my greatest unfulfilled ambition in comics, which will probably remain unfulfilled due to rights issues, would be a fight between Godzilla and the Shogun Warriors and Devil Dinosaur.  When I get filthy rich I’ll write my own version and pay Art Adams to draw it and no one will be able to see it but me.

That would be my version of porn.

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