by Scott Johnson of comicbook.com
Considering how reality TV has changed the landscape of television by allowing more viewer participation in shows, one would think that more comic books would have embraced elements of the format. However, there are relatively few comic books over the years that have involved fans through voter participation or contests, but an upcoming comic book from Aspen Comics looks to change that.
When I first heard the concept behind IDOLIZED I was intrigued, but after talking to series creator David B. Schwartz, I went from being intrigued to downright double back-flipping excited. At the forefront, IDOLIZED is utilizing some very innovative and groundbreaking reality TV type gimmicks, such as allowing fans to vote on character designs. But at the core, Schwartz’s description of IDOLIZED paints the picture of a series that is going to be a very well-thought out character piece and highly entertaining read.
With Image Comics’ Meltdown, Schwartz created a brilliant and original take on the superhero medium, and Aspen Comics’ IDOLIZED looks like it will continue in that tradition. IDOLIZED tells the story of a girl with super powers and a dark past, who seeks revenge, and ultimately finds redemption, over the course of competing in a televised super hero competition show. Aspen Comics describes the series as “True Grit meets American Idol…with capes.”
If IDOLIZED isn’t already on your radar, then you owe it to yourself to read Schwartz’ commentary on the series below. I have a feeling that this is a series that will catch a lot of people by surprise, so it’s one of those titles you might want to have your local comic book add to your hold box now, so you don’t miss out when it sells out.
Comicbook.com: Can you tell us a little bit about how you came up with the idea for IDOLIZED?
David B. Schwartz: First, thanks for taking the time to talk with me! I’m tremendously excited about IDOLIZED. It’s really a fun book to write, and I’m looking forward to telling your readers about it. So, here we go…
As far as the idea for IDOLIZED, ever since the end of my Image Comics series MELTDOWN, people have been asking me if and when I’d be writing another superhero book. I’ve definitely wanted to, as I love the genre, but I really wanted to wait until the right concept struck me. I knew it had to be something unique, compelling, emotional and exciting, and rife with opportunities for social commentary. A tall order.
So, one day several years ago, I was reading an article about the astounding success of the American Idol zeitgeist, and the tremendous amount of drama that the kids on that show go through; the fear, the desperation, the crushing blow of a bad performance, the elation of a great performance, the feeling that their entire future could be riding on every choice they make about their clothing and hair, every word they say, every note they sing.
Love it or hate it, it’s hard to deny that it’s a tremendously pressure-filled, high-stakes situation. And I was thinking, if there was truly a superhero world like the Marvel or DC universes, would there be a show like that, with that level of human drama and intensity, but for superheroes? If so, what would it look like?
Out of that grew the idea of a comic book series about a TV show where super-powered teens and 20-somethings are competing for the ultimate dream-prize: a guaranteed spot in that world’s top super-group, The Powered Protectors.
Guaranteed entry to the Protectors is huge. After all, it wouldn’t be easy to become a legal, sanctioned, paid superhero (as opposed to a mere illegal vigilante). But, if you get to start off by winning “SuperHero Idol?” Well, it’s like you’ve instantly arrived, and can write your own ticket from there on out. The chance of winning offers fame, fortune, massive endorsement deals and, of course, a chance to actually save the world. Kids who dream of being worshipped as the next Superman or Wonder Woman would be falling all over themselves to get on — and perhaps even win — the show.
And, from there, I fleshed out the idea for IDOLIZED as the story of a girl with superpowers and a dark past, who seeks revenge, and ultimately finds redemption, over the course of competing in this televised superhero competition show.
Comicbook.com: You received a great deal of critical acclaim for Meltdown. How is Idolized similar to and/or different from that series?
David B. Schwartz: I tend to write stories that are very character-driven, that really try to get into the heads of people who are wrestling with internal demons, with intense self-doubts. In MELTDOWN, it was a character dealing with regret over the choices he had made in his life. In FATHOM: BLUE DESCENT, another series I did for Aspen, it was a man wrestling with trying to balance his passion for his work with his love for his family. Here, it’s a girl who’s wrestling with overwhelming anger, and who needs to learn how to let go of her rage. But, in all cases, they’re stories that are driven by the internal struggles of the main character, and, hopefully, these are struggles that the readers can really identify with, be in some way touched by, and perhaps even see a bit of themselves in.
The other similarity is that both MELTDOWN and IDOLIZED both really play with a lot of the typical superhero tropes, turn them on their ear a bit, and subtly provide commentary on them. I try to take those tropes, layer them onto a more realistic world, and ask how things would play out if all of this – these costumed, empowered individuals fighting crime – were alive in the real world, and I try to mine both some comedy, and some drama, out of the answer to those questions.
Comicbook.com: Since you work as an entertainment lawyer, have you been able to incorporate your legal knowledge into the scripts for Idolized?
David B. Schwartz: Not yet on IDOLIZED, but I’ve got several additional series lined up with Aspen after this one, and there are a few of them of them where that legal background is gonna come in very handy. Stay tuned!
Comicbook.com: Idolized is described as American Idol meets True Grit with capes. The American Idol comparison is obvious, but what will make the series like True Grit?
David B. Schwartz: Okay – warning – there are “True Grit” spoilers ahead (for those who haven’t seen it)!
It’s the revenge angle that made me draw the comparison to “True Grit”. “True Grit”, to me, is about a girl who lets her anger get the best of her. She becomes so consumed with her desire for revenge that it ends up costing her dearly. She loses her arm, she leads a life of loneliness and despair.
Similarly, our main character, Joule, is desperate for revenge against the super-villain that she feels wronged her. When she hears about this new “Superhero Idol” show, she thinks that, by winning, she may be able to get close enough to the man who caused her all that anguish that she’d actually be able to exact her ultimate revenge upon him.
We’ll have to see whether she’s able to learn and grow over the course of the series, and to overcome her anger and determination, in a way that the “True Grit” character never really did. Or, at least, didn’t until it was too late.
Comicbook.com: So the lead character in Idolized is a girl with super-powers and a dark past who goes on a superhero competition show. Can you provide some hints on what her dark past is?
David B. Schwartz: She went through something pretty horrific as a little kid, which she blames herself for. She’s spent the last decade since then working madly to become a superhero. She’s determined to atone for her failure; to save other lives in order to make up for the lives she let slip away. She’s working day and night at honing her powers. Gaining speed and strength, agility, dexterity. Honing her mind, soaking up information like a sponge. Working one dead-end job after the next, just making enough money to pay for her training. She’s gotten good – really good — but she just can’t get that first lucky break into the business.
Until she decides to audition for Idol. She’s embarrassed to be surrounded by a group of people she assumes are only desperate for fame and fortune. But, she needs to be a hero, needs to win this opportunity to step up and prove herself, shake off her demons. And, as I mentioned before, to get her revenge.
What I love about her is that she’s really a study in contrasts, a person who’s internally at war with herself. She desperately wants to do good things, to help atone for what she sees as the sins of her past, and help change the world. But, at the same time, she’s filled with anger and loathing and wants to kill the man who wronged her. The interplay of those two sides of her — one half wishing to be a do-gooder, the other half ruthlessly seeking to draw blood — gives me a lot to play with, and makes for a great, dramatic character arc over the course of the series.
Comicbook.com: Knowing how the press tends to dig up the dark past of anyone who goes on a reality show, what would lead her to go TV? Wouldn’t she be nervous about her dark past surfacing?
David B. Schwartz: Yup, that’s definitely something she’s gonna have to deal with.
Overall, we’ll be really taking a deep look at the effect that this process has on the kids who compete on it, the way in which the world reacts to them. We’ll look at the way the producers twist the reality of what these characters are actually doing and saying. We’ll be ruminating on the nature of fame, the public fascination with supposed heroes who they think they know well (but really don’t know at all), the reason people get so obsessed with reality shows, and, perhaps most interestingly, the role that superheroes would play in our lives if they truly existed. And we’ll be doing it all over the course of a thrilling, action-packed, emotional storyline.
Of course, the real question is … how the heck am I gonna fit all of that in??
Comicbook.com: Do the superhero competitors go in front of a panel of judges? If so, are the judges similar to any of the current or former American Idol judges?
David B. Schwartz: In terms of telling our story, judges were definitely necessary. But we do use them sparingly, and hopefully to good effect. They’re part comic relief, but more a vehicle for moving the story forward. Eventually, they may help Joule to learn a valuable lesson or two, and they’ll turn out to be much more well-rounded than simple parodies of real-world judges.
Comicbook.com: Is Idolized intended as an ongoing series? Or is there a definite end/conclusion planned for the series?
David B. Schwartz: There’s an ending, and a very specific arc, that’s planned for this initial IDOLIZED story. But, if fans really respond well to it, and if sales are strong, then there are a tremendous number of additional IDOLIZED arcs we could continue on to, either as an ongoing or, more likely in additional, separate volumes. Perhaps we’d have the continuing adventures of Joule, after she’s finished with the show. Or, we could move on to a new season, with entirely new competitors on the show who wrestle with an entirely different set of inner demons and issues and reasons for desperately wanting fame and fortune. Or both. But, in any case, there are certainly a tremendous number of additional IDOLIZED stories I’d be itching to tell.