Priest and Illidge Show Us How "Catalyst Prime Is The Beginning of a New Superhero Mythology"

We sat down with writers Christopher Priest and Joseph Illidge to talk about their Free Comic Book Day 2017 comic, Catalyst Prime: The Event. They told us what makes Catalyst Prime so different from other superhero comics, and why you as a reader should get hooked on this comic sooner rather than later! Catalyst Prime: The Event will be a fresh and exciting addition to Free Comic Book Day 2017!



(W) Christopher Priest, Joseph Illidge
(A, CA) Marco Turini, Jessica Kholinne

A mission to save the world from a rapidly-approaching asteroid changes the lives of five astronauts forever, and begins the rise of superhuman beings on Earth. Catalyst Prime: The Event, written by Christopher J. Priest (Deathstroke, Black Panther) and Joseph Phillip Illidge (Solarman), with art by Marco Turini (Secret Wars: Battleworld) and Jessica Kholinne (Secret Wars: Star-Lord & Kitty Pryde)! This FCBD one-shot launches the much anticipated Catalyst Prime universe and lays the groundwork for what's to come! [TEEN] A

Free Comic Book Day: What does Catalyst Prime bring to the superhero genre and how does it stand out?

Illidge: The vitality of the new. Let’s be honest. Fans are tired of reboots. There are no more definitive mythologies to the heroes we love, anymore. They’re in a constant state of cosmic, sales-based flux. CATALYST PRIME is the beginning of a new superhero mythology, and the collection of talented creators are the team of ambassadors introducing a new universe to regular and new readers. As a science-based, socio-political based superhero universe, CATALYST PRIME brings more of a balance between the real world and the fantastic to comic books. It stands out visually, through the variety of art styles within a unified publication design by Rian Hughes. When fans see CATALYST PRIME comics on the shelves, the quality, dynamism, and distinguishable identity of the line will be clear.

Priest:  You know, there was once a Cary Bates approach and a Denny O’Neil approach, with Chris Claremont emerging as a kind of amalgam of the two: the high-energy larger-than-life superhero action but character-driven and grounded in reality. Successful superhero films are very much grounded in reality, while the main grouping of superhero comic books tend to read more like animated series in terms of their heightened reality and high-octane action. Everything is really loud and really bright and occasionally silly, with colorful villains like Doc Ock and so forth. The films may actually be too grounded—Batman v. Superman wasn’t much fun. But The Dark Knight was so good it actually worked without the costumes. I mean, if Bruce Wayne had been a Bond-style vigilante rather than Batman, that movie would have still worked. If I were writing Justice League, the book would probably not be something comics fans would want to read because it would be far less larger than life but would be grounded in reality life as we know it. The JLA save the planet, eliciting political chaos as the global economy crashes. In a Priest JLA, the team would be punished for virtually every good deed because that’s the world we live in. But they would triumph nonetheless and wouldn’t let the world’s cynicism break them. I want the real world—or as close to it as I can get—and then pop the heroes into it. The Catalyst Prime universe seems to be organized along those lines. It’s kind of a capitulation to the reality of comics publishing, that my generation of industry leaders have acted more like fans than like disciplined publishers in that we have followed our fans from grade school to retirement, often convoluting the best essence of the medium and various shared universes in an effort to keep this same group of people entertained. That’s not what publishing is about. Publishing is about maintaining the core values of your product while accepting the cyclical nature of the industry: people eventually move on. You don’t chop off Aquaman’s hand or run Dr. Strange over with a Greyhound bus. You bring in the next group of grade schoolers and walk with them. Not nearly enough of that is being done. Catalyst Prime does not seek to undo or even correct what now exists as comics publishing strategy but instead approaches it in more of a O’Neil-Claremont way by making their platform as close to the real world and real science fiction as they are able. Which isn’t to suggest there won’t be fantastic voyages or terrifying monsters, but that those elements will be grounded in a more familiar world and will tend to read more like superhero film than traditional superhero comics. There will be a heightened level of literacy (or, certainly, an attempt) in challenging the audience’s imagination.

Who are some of the characters we’ll get to know during Catalyst Prime?

Priest:  In the 1-shot, my main contribution is adding some layers onto the core character of Lorena Payan, a fun mix of Imelda Marcos and Mother Theresa.

Illidge:  Lorena Payan is the CEO of The Foresight Corporation, the privately-owned company responsible for funding and providing the technology for the suicide mission to save Earth from an asteroid. In addition to Lorena and her science mentor, Shep Bingham, readers will get a glimpse of five superheroes within the Catalyst Prime universe. You’ll meet the heroes in the overture that takes place one year in the future, and later on in the publishing line, find each one of those moments in a Catalyst Prime comic book. Ultimately, the story’s focus is on the five astronauts and Mission Control, who take on the greatest risk so that the human race can live past this year.

Why should fans pick your book first on Free Comic Book Day 2017?

Illidge:  Look at the beautiful artwork by illustrators Marco Turini and Will Rosado, colored by Jessica Kholinne and lettered by AndWorld Design. Add to that a packed script co-written by the writer of Deathstroke. You really need more reasons? Okay, think about when you watched the first episode of Arrow, and now a whole superhero universe has come to life. That feeling of seeing ideas realized, knowing there’s a bigger plan, stories to learn, secrets to uncover…you should pick up “Catalyst Prime: The Event” because three years from now, you’ll want to be one of the people that was there from the beginning.

Priest:  Well, because it’s free J. Listen, I remember the day the ABC Soap Opera All My Children debuted. I was, I think, around 8 years old. My grandmother was absolutely addicted to soaps, which I did not understand because I couldn’t fathom who the characters were or why we, poor Black people in Queens, NY, cared about what men wearing ascots did. So, as a social experiment, I decided to start watching All My Children because I could get in on the ground floor, from Day One, and figure everybody out. I ended up being hooked on that damned show for 30 years. As a comics fan, if I had the opportunity to get in on a new shared universe from the ground up—for free—I’d certainly take it. I’m sure Lion Forge is hoping that means we’ll have ‘em hooked for the next 30 years.

What got you reading comics? What are some series you’re reading today?

Priest:  I got really sick right around 8 years old and my mom stupidly bought me my first comic to keep me amused while bedridden. It was an issue of Jimmy Olsen where Jimmy became a pirate. My mom regretted that choice for years because, in no time, my room was flooded with comics. I do not read comic books. As I mention above, it’s possible I’m just not the target audience for comics anymore. I’m also really busy and only read my own comics because I’m being forced to by my editor to review proofs and so forth. Otherwise, I wouldn’t read my own comics, either. I am more likely than not to read Lion Forge comics and Catalyst Prime in specific because it’s being written smartly and without all the baggage. I mean, the Vision has kids now. I’m sure that’s a great book, but I have too many years of continuity to figure out, and far too many superhero comics waste entire forests explaining why Thor is now a female rather than just getting on with the story. Christopher Nolan did not waste even one frame of film explaining the Schumacher movies. Audiences just accepted, here’s the new vision. Every comic I try to read these days has made a mess of continuity and, worse, wastes too much time boring me to death explaining the transition. “Here’s the new Potato Man, let’s get on with it.” In Deathstroke #11, we explained the post-Rebirth Creeper by having Creeper say, “I’m feeling much better now. End of recap!” Get on with it. Catalyst Prime has none of that, wastes no frames.

Illidge: I’ve been reading comic books since the second grade, and my favorite superheroes were the Justice Society, Legion of Super-Heroes, Avengers, and of course The X-Men. Today, I’m reading two years of Catalyst Prime stories as part of my job, but with other publishers, some of my favorites these days are Lazarus, Deathstroke, Romulus, The Unstoppable Wasp, and Wonder Woman. I’m about to dive into Tuskegee Heirs, Brotherman: Revelation, The Black Monday Murders, the newly-improved Prince of Cats by Ron Wimberly, and more stories by creators from the independent scene.

What books would you recommend to new readers and why?

Priest:  Well, I’d recommend Catalyst Prime—not kidding—for the reasons I’ve articulated above. I’d recommend the Deathstroke Rebirth Volume 1 not because I wrote it but because I wrote it especially for people who’d never even heard of Deathstroke. Geoff Johns and I wanted to pace out the character’s re-introduction in such a way that, even if you’ve never read a comic book before, you could effortlessly understand what’s going on. And, of course, I’d recommend Ms. Marvel and, I suppose, most anything written by Peter J. Tomasi. Who knew that quiet kid would grow up to be this incredible writer.

Illidge:  It all depends on what tastes and interests any given reader has. I love Deathstroke. My fiancée is more into Supermutant Magic Academy. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is a book that my fiancée and I always recommend, because it has universal appeal and importance. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud is required reading for creators and consumers of comic books, in my opinion.

Why do you think Free Comic Book Day is important to the comic book community?

Priest:  Well, sampling is always good. But FCBD works best when it’s widely advertised beyond the normal channels of distribution to bring people into the shops rather than just advertise to the normal crowd. We should be about building and expanding audiences. It’d be amazing if Coscto or Walmart provided space for local retailers on FCBD (even by charging a fee). The people are at Costco and Walmart. I wouldn’t want either giant to close the independent retailers—huge chains would treat the industry like knock-off purses from China. The indy retailer knows and loves this product. David Letterman routinely kicked NBC in the shins and was this aging child—which many of us are. But Letterman had a deep respect for the tradition of broadcasting. He understood it and knew how to expertly use it. My generation of comics’ industry leaders got the first part right, but largely scoffed at the business side, and this is where it’s led us. Disney would never follow their kids past a certain age. You’ll never see Dark Mickey or anything foolish like that. Disney lets their audience move on. Then they go get the next generation. We have failed, miserably, to do that.

Illidge: Free Comic Book Day is the industry’s reward to fans and consumers, who spend thousands and thousands of dollars a year on comic books, licensed product, conventions, and cosplay. Those monies spent are an investment, and part of the return on that is reciprocity from publishers. The gesture of Lion Forge Comics, to introduce fans to a new superhero universe for free…this is part of the fun, this is a day for your inner kid to go into a store and pick up free four-color goodness. It’s also a way publishers thank retailers, because any day in which the stores have lots of free items has serious potential for increasing traffic, and getting new customers for the stores. Now more than ever, the stores need our support, our partnership.

Why do you think local comic shops are important to the comic book community?

Illidge:  Comic shops are the gateway to imagination and story through many different kinds of product, and the staffers are people who believe in comic books. A number of them believed in comics before the Marvel Cinematic Universe made the term “Avengers” sexy instead of cause to treat someone like a pariah. The stores allow fans to influence their business culture, their product choices, and the best stores respond by making their businesses inviting to everyone, no matter their gender, age, lifestyle, or background. At the apex, comic book stores are the pop culture havens of our world, and as such, serve as much-needed members in our communities.

Priest:  As I mention above, they’re the experts. I wear a watch. Yes, I do. Not a Fitbit or an Apple watch (amazed people waste so much money on the latter). I wear a nice timepiece because I’m old. And I bought it not from Costco or Walmart but from a mom and pop store here called The Tick Tock Shop. They do not have bargain prices, they do not run sales, but these are people who’ve dedicated their lives to their art. That’s a comic retailer.

Where do you plan to spend Free Comic Book Day 2017?

Priest:  Likely where I always am, behind my desk. I try my best to avoid hanging out in local comics shops because I’d like to shop there like, you know, a person. If they knew I was in the biz, it’s be 20 questions every time I go in, and I really just want to grab my copy of Jimmy Olsen and be on my way J Actually, I’d like to browse and dive into the Silver Age bins. That’s the best part about comics’ shops.

Illidge: I’ll be doing signings at one or two of my regular comic book stores. My way of showing support for my favorite stores and store workers, and personally inviting readers to the Catalyst Prime Universe!

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