Exclusive: Mark Waid on Empire's Return: "I Don't Know Who I'm Supposed to Be Rooting For"

After a fourteen-year wait, yesterday saw the release of the first issue of Empire Volume 2 from [...]

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After a fourteen-year wait, yesterday saw the release of the first issue of Empire Volume 2 from Mark Waid, Barry Kitson and Thrillbent. The series, which follows the exploits of a brutal, costumed villain who has succeeded in taking over the world, is available via subscription and comes with a free PDF copy of Empire Volume 1 -- the first time in years that it's been widely commercially available. The series, which was initially published through Image Comics's short-lived Gorilla Comics imprint and then moved to DC Comics, was a fan- and critical favorite and has remained for years on lists of "books that need to come back." Finally, it has. Writer and co-creator Mark Waid joined ComicBook.com to discuss the return of Golgoth and company. You can also check out our earlier interview with Waid about the challenges of resurrecting a print title for the stylized digital world of Thrillbent.


ComicBook.com: I'm so glad to see the first volume available again. I loved it at the time and even I felt like having a PDF was useful. Still, you don't want to spend too much time catching people up, lest you burn off valuable Barry Kitson pages and lose the goodwill of those with better memories with me, right? Mark Waid: I'm very aware of that; that's one of the reasons that we put the free PDF up there to begin with. We want you to jump in, square one, chapter one of Volume 2. There's a little bit of catching people up to speed, as there always should be with anything that's a first issue, but I guarantee by the time you get to the end of chapter one of the new volume, whether you've been here before or not, there are some surprises in store for you and you won't be disappointed. ComicBook.com: Is it surreal to be finally revisiting Empire? For a long time you guys always said you wanted to do this and then it seemed like it kind of faded. Waid: It seemed impossible for a long time. The way the DC publishing rights work are they license it from us to publish but it's still creator-owned by us...but the way the DC deal works is that as long as they keep it in print for a certain period of time then they maintain the publication rights. It took us forever to get to the point where it was sold out, and then it took us another forever to pry the rights from them because they had abandoned the rights because they hadn't kept it in print. During that time, we might have done it though DC but there was never a time in the first decade of the 21st Century that Barry and I were both at the same company at the same time. So now that it's free of DC and the rights have reverted utterly to us, we couldn't wait to find a way to make this work for us and find the time to make this work for us. It's certainly a sequel that Barry and I had been percolating on for 14 years. So God knows that we've been itching to get at it, and if there's any justice in the world, Barry and I are both much better at our craft than we were in our mid-thirties and so I feel much better about us tackling it now.

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ComicBook.com: I actually recently listened to an interview with Ethan Hawke about Before Midnight, and he said that after it's built up this kind of reputation as a beautiful thing, it's something that you worry about breaking. Do you feel that way, or at this point in your career do you say, "Hell, I haven't broken Superman yet, so I'm good?" Waid: It's not...it is a fear in the late nights, and by the way, thanks for bringing it up and making me scared again! -- but no, I feel good enough about this and Barry does too but that doesn't mean we don't have a little bit of stage fright. Those first couple of chapters in particular, not only are we revisiting that world but we're doing it in a totally different way. I mean, there's a whole different way of doing digital than there is print so Barry's on a learning curve. I've been doing it a while, the digital stuff, but Barry hasn't. We were a little worried but I think we've got it. I think we'll nail it. ComicBook.com: This is one of those titles that has topped lists for years. Do you think the odds are good that the new readers will come at it with less prejudice, while the old readers will just be so happy it's back that they don't go on the attack right away? It seems like just by existing you've bought yourself a bit of a curve. Waid: The kind of nice thing about it being off the radar and out of print for so long is we really are debuting to a new audience and I don't feel as conscious as if I were, say, going back to Captain America or Fantastic Four or Justice League or something, where I'd feel I had to compete with myself. This is the same team, but I think we've just gotten better and we've mellowed nicely with age. ComicBook.com: Can you give us an elevator pitch for this title? What would you say at artist's alley pitching it? Waid: It's a science fiction Game of Thrones. It's the story of Golgoth, a mad emperor who has finally conquered the world as we know it, but now what? There are enemies around every corner and you're the king of the world, but heavy is the head that wears the crown.

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ComicBook.com: This feels very different from Irredeemable, which of course it was compared to a lot in the early going since at the time you were perceived as the bright, cheery, colorful heroes guy. Waid: They're not really [similar], but the common thread is that they're not about positive protagonists. Empire is much darker than most of the material that I generally write. It's not cynical, it's not gratuitously violent but I'm not entirely sure who in this story I'm supposed to be rooting for and I think that's good. It helps me flex different muscles. ComicBook.com: I felt like Irredeemable was part of an evolutionary chain of which Empire was a very obvious part. Waid: I think that's fair. It's an attempt to stay within the boundaries of storytelling that I know but at the same time really explore the dark and ugly sides of fantasy and science fiction and almost-superheroics that you really can't do in mainstream comics because you're selling beach towels and cartoons and Toon Tumblers. ComicBook.com: And Netflix TV shows. Waid: And Netflix TV shows, exactly! Whereas this gives us a lot more flexibility to be not darker for darker's sake but be able to explore things a little more nuanced of characters. And it's ours so we're not beholden to crossovers, we're not beholden to merchandising, we're not beholden to anything we don't think enriches the story. ComicBook.com: The culture has changed a ton in the last 15 years. Are you looking forward to hitting Comic Con this year and seeing 15 people dressed up as Golgoth? Waid: You know, until you said that, that honestly never occurred to me but now, oh my God, it does occur to me how much potential amazing cosplay there is in Barry Kitson's designs. Now I'll be disappointed if I don't see people, yes.