Mark Waid writes some damn good superhero comic books. He has a healthy history in the industry, writing some of the genre’s biggest characters. There’s a clear affection in his work, he loves superheroes, what they stand for, and it shows. Of course, he also has written some of the darkest, most twisted takes on the god in tights process that include major deconstructions of what it means to be a superhero and the effect it has on society and humanity. His latest graphic novel from Legendary Comics, AXIOM, is one such deconstruction, a meditation on human nature, heroics, and violence. Recently we had a chance to talk with Mark Waid about AXIOM, modern takes on superheroes, and why human beings are such jerks.
“It’s a first contact story, in a way,” Waid says of AXIOM. “It’s the story of what happens when aliens turn on us and how we react as a people.” He pointed out that AXIOM deals very heavily with our current, fear driven society. “It feels like fear is the engine of society and has been since 9/11. The idea that we are so motivated by fear, not only in the (United) States, but worldwide–especially as somebody who grew up reading superheroes in the Jet Age and the Atomic Age, when it was about courage and facing your fears–it all really gets to me.” Waid notes that good decisions and clear thinking are generally not born out of fear, and that is the genesis of AXIOM.
AXIOM is a book about a superhero going mad and unleashing his fury on the world, but it’s also about how humans push boundaries, perhaps too far at times. It’s easy to sympathize with the character Axiom, because all he wanted to do at first was help. “I don’t think he’s the villain, per se. I wouldn’t call him the hero though,” Waid says. “A lot of what goes on in the book is our reaction to the character, what that brings out in him, and the consequences of that.”
Waid understands the fundamentals of superheroes. His work on titles like Daredevil and Superman is often pointed to as the way to tell a story about good, morally strong hero. There’s more to Waid than that, of course, and some of his best stuff is a darker, grimmer take on superheroes. “The Mark Waid who loves Superman and loves pure, unangsty superheroes is the eight year-old Mark Waid. I love that kid, and I’m not putting him down in any way, shape, or form, cause I think there’s a place in the world and among the readership for altruistic, very simple superheroes that harken to a simpler time. When your a kid, all the lessons you learn about being a superhero make sense.” Waid pointed out that the real world is much darker and that it’s okay for superheroes to reflect that. “Those darker points and twists appeal to a grownup Mark Waid, and I think there’s room for both of us in my office. But the guy who wrote AXIOM was very much looking at it from a grownup point of view.”
When it comes to the look and feel of AXIOM, Mark Waid knew that getting a superhero comic book artist was necessary. Ed Benes fit that bill perfectly and you would be hard pressed to find somebody who draws better superheroes. “That’s exactly why he was picked, because he is a superhero guy. That gave me the latitude to go off book about what to expect in a superhero comic book.” Waid noted that AXIOM could be viewed as horror story, of sorts, and that Benes helped balance things and keep readers expectations and mindset of superhero comics.
“When it comes to superhero-aspect of (AXIOM), it’s kinda cynical,” Waid says of the book. “The idea that the fan who grew up loving Axiom is the guy who has to take him down because he realizes that hero doesn’t have a place in this world is pretty cynical.” He noted that the graphic novel has lots of ideas and philosophies that he’d love to explore more. “I have other tales I can tell in this world, it really just depends on how well the book is accepted.”
Editor’s note: Nerdist Industries is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks.
Benjamin Bailey writes for the Nerdist and can be found on Twitter talking about Godzilla, comic books, and hardcore music.