From Mid-Life Crisis to Hero’s Journey: ‘Supernatural’ Creator Eric Kripke Talks Vertigo Series ‘Jacked’ [Interview]
We all wish we had superpowers. Being the first person in the real world to get special abilities has provided the through-line for many superhero tales, and it's an idea that's scary and appealing all at once. It's easier to relate to someone in a familiar situation being endowed with inhuman abilities than it is a guy from the 1940s who was frozen in a block of ice for 70 years.
As the creator of Supernatural, Eric Kripke is no stranger to ordinary men facing fantastical circumstances. With his new Vertigo series Jacked, Kripke is looking to further explore those themes, but this time in the realm of superheroes. Teamed with artist John Higgins, Kripke's tale of an unextraordinary man given extraordinary powers will explore the realities of being the first powered person in a normal world --- but with the sort of dark twist you'd expect from a Vertigo title. We talked with Kripke about his inspiration for the story, why comic books were the right venue, and how Jacked might add to Vertigo's legacy.
ComicsAlliance: With Jacked, what inspired this story and what made telling it in comic form so appealing?
Eric Kripke: A few things. The main thing that inspired it was my mid-life crisis. I turned 40 last year, and when you hit that age your body starts to go into self-destruct mode physically. You also start to ask yourself, "Have I set out to do all the things I'd said I would do when I was a kid?" and, "Am I really going to achieve the greatness I thought I would when I was young?" It really occurred to me that no one had really told that story in the superhero space before. The idea that if you were in steady decline and unexceptional, if you were to suddenly become a superhero, that was an interesting way to tell a story about a mid-life crisis.
To me, it was a really good angle. All the really good genres are just metaphors for the human condition, and I think the superhero metaphor is a really good one for a person wondering if it's still possible to be great.
I also want to add this is more than a high-falutin' character study. The other thing that inspired me, and why I sought out Vertigo, is all my favorite comics are Vertigo. I wanted to do a throwback to all those Vertigo books that I really loved, which is basically all the Garth Ennis stuff. Preacher, Hellblazer, you know, stuff that was a little obscene, a little bloody, really irreverent, and had this reckless energy.
I felt it would be fun to tell this brutally honest superhero story, warts and all, with lots of nudity and sex and violence, and to tell it in the format and style inspired by the old Ennis stories. That was really why I wanted to put it into comics.
CA: There have been some similarly styled stories in the past, where people have taken these wonder drugs and gained special powers without being aware of the consequences. What makes Jacked different from stories like Limitless, MPH or Lucy?
EK: I think what makes it different is going to be the personal details. There are a lot of heroes that take pills, there are a lot of heroes that fly. Even when I was writing Supernatural, there were a lot of guys who were fighting monsters on television. The main concept to me is never as important as the execution. What makes Jacked really special are the characters. It's a very personal, idiosyncratic take on a guy with powers.
Most guys with powers, even those who get them through pills, are square-jawed, handsome. Josh, the main character in Jacked, is really one of us. He's doughy, he's chubby, he's neurotic, he's a family man, and he's really the last person who would go out of his way to do anything heroic.
He's already popping lots of pills to keep his body together. He's got acid reflux, hemorrhoids, and so when he ends up taking a pill that ends up giving him powers, his first move isn't to try to save anyone, it's to bang the hell out of his wife. I think it's going to be the specific details that make this one feel different and special.
CA: With this issue, and some of the upcoming solicitations, it seems fair to say Josh's journey isn't going to be a traditional hero's journey. What is about Josh that a guy with seemingly noble intent just can't seem to adhere to the old 'power and responsibility' adage?
EK: I think, in a weird way, Josh might not fit the classic superhero journey, where after one tragedy he sets out to do good, but he does follow a classic hero's journey. He just does it in a very neurotic way where he's given this power and at first handles it very selfishly, but then realizes his one shot at greatness isn't actually trying to be strong or awesome. That real greatness comes from being selfless and helping people when you can.
In a lot of ways, it does follow the beats of the hero's journey, it just does it where your hero spends his time slathering on Preparation H and being afraid of bad guys he's up against. And you know, taking this drug that's highly addictive and dealing with the drama coming out of the drug addict story as well.
I would say there are superhero elements to it, but it's a very subversive, very personal take on one.
CA: You brought up bad guys, and this issue intimates that Josh is exceptional in this world. We do see that the pharmaceutical company, Nootropics, has a lot of different pills in this universe. Will we see that Josh maybe isn't as alone perceived?
EK: In the opening six issues, Josh in the only one of his kind. Part of the story is about this brutally realistic take, how the real world would handle a superhero, and how that superhero would handle his place in the world. It was important to me that he be one of a kind, and that anyone that reacts to his power freaks out and sees that it's impossible.
For now, Josh is alone. We're very hopeful that the Jacked storyline will continue, and if it does, I have a plan to start expanding to other people. If Josh is a brutally realistic, neurotic hero, I'm very interested in seeing what a brutally realistic villain might look like.
CA: John Higgins is handling all the art duties on the book. What is it about his style and direction that gives Jacked so much of its personality?
EK: Speaking as someone who really is a rabid fan of comics and always has been, and specifically a rabid fan of Vertigo books, it's really a dream come true working with John. I've idolized him for a long time. The Hellblazer run, 'Son of Man', which he drew and Ennis wrote, it's probably my all-time favorite comic book story ever. To be working with him is such an honor.
The reason I think he's so right for this is because his stuff is so classically Vertigo. He gets the character stuff great, but he's just as talented at the sex and the violence, the really shocking images and the blood. To me, that vibe and energy, of making this comic a little bit shocking, is what drew me to John. I really wanted the violence that our poor, shlubby hero finds himself in to be really brutal and violent, and to show off the conflict of that violence and his domestic worlds. John really nails that.
I'm so impressed with how he's drawing the characters and laying out the pages. It's really amazing work, and it's been a pleasure and the best part of the process for me.
CA: Did you find it intimidating at all in your partnership to give feedback, considering his history and how much you admired him?
EK: Oh yeah. I'm smart enough to know when to keep my mouth shut when working with someone as skilled as John. He definitely has input in story, character and layout. When he speaks, I listen very, very carefully.
CA: A lot of Jacked is about those crazy over-the-counter, internet drugs you can find just about anywhere. Have you ever taken some of those crazy supplements?
EK: No, I'm not really into the Nootropic stuff. Josh is taking that weird online stuff that you can't really buy in a store, but I thought it was a fascinating world. If you go online, there are all these smart drugs that used to be herbal supplements. Now people are putting real medicine in these things and there's no FDA oversight. There are these real drugs that really affect your brain chemistry that you can buy online without any testing or oversight. I thought that was a fascinating world to delve into.
Jacked #1 will be available on Nov. 25 at you local comic shop and digitally online for $3.99.