The Black Messiah is Coming

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After penning stories featuring small gods like Owen Young and Bobby Pope, Jason Rand turns his attention to a slightly bigger god in Emissary, debuting this Wednesday from Image Comics through Jim Valentino's Shadowline imprint. Emissary features the sole superpowered being on the planet and the world's reaction to his appearance. Everyone wants to get to know him... too bad he won't say his name. Oh, and he's black as well.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Emissary is basically a story about how the world reacts to the sudden appearance of a super-powered individual. He's already an adult, so how come he hasn't shown up until now?

JASON RAND: That’s a very good question. Emissary’s nature is one of the mysteries of the book – who is he, where did he come from… is he genuine, or a crackpot? Is he flora, fauna or mineral? They're all possibilities - we could be at the beginning of a new era in history with the world's first superhuman appearing, or at the end of days with the Antichrist - or the Messiah - making his presence known. The book focuses on the very mystery of these questions, as well as his origin.  Do we even know his age? If we look around at the events that are going on, what would be prompting a super-powered being to suddenly make himself known to the world at large, at this point in time? To some the answer may be self-evident, but the only way you'll know for sure is to read the book.

BF: Aside from the ability to fly, what other powers does the Emissary have?

JR: Lots. And… lots. Without giving too much away, in the first few issues we'll see the equivalent of telekinesis and teleportation, healing and… speed reading.

Yes, I said speed reading. Don't laugh.

BF: Does the character have a name, or does he just go by "Emissary"?

JR: As far as we know, that’s what his name is, that’s what it's always been, and that’s what he’s always gone by. As to how he came by that name, well, that would be giving the story away!  In the second issue, you get to witness first-hand the frustration of FBI Agents Tara Bright and Josh Lee as they try to get him to confess his “real” name (check the BF-exclusive preview pages below for more on that - ed.) .  As the story moves forward, the reason for his name and his mission becomes quite clear.

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BF: The book is more like a maxi-series than an ongoing, with three arcs of four issues apiece. Will these arcs focus on different periods in our hero's life?

JR: No, rather than time periods the arcs focus on stages of Emissary’s experiences in the world. The first arc is his introduction and the world’s reaction to him. The second arc immediately follows with Emissary getting involved with his true mission. The third and final arc deals with the effects and resolution stemming from the first two arcs. It’s a definite beginning, middle and end. All becomes clear, all questions are answered and nothing is left hanging.

BF: Emissary is firmly entrenched in the real world, as it deals with many present-day social and political topics. Has your writing been inspired by any factual events?

JR: Oh, for sure. One of the things I thought about when we first started bouncing Emissary about was how would our world and the events we see in it every day affect someone like Emissary - and in return, how would he influence those events himself? Emissary is a story looking at the Earth's first superhuman – how someone like that would fit into today's world is one of the most interesting elements of the story, I think. I don't want to give away which particular events make their presence known in the book, but I think if you've had a look at the preview  we've made available, you should probably be able to guess at one of them.

BF: The book's supporting cast includes the two FBI agents you mentioned earlier, Tara Bright and Josh Lee, and a reporter named Nick Bresner. What kind of roles will the government and the press play in the story?

JR: Not to be disingenuous, but major roles. The fact is that in many ways government and media shape the world we live in. The latter has changed in recent years as the influence of the internet has grown, as that's a place where we can find our own answers without having to rely on the media. However, the vast majority of the population still relies on big media for their understanding of the world. Getting back to the story, can you imagine the government not trying to keep a handle on someone like Emissary - and the media not trying to find out everything they can about him? So yeah, we'll see a lot of involvement from these two big players in the story.

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BF: A very key aspect about Emissary is that not only is he the sole superpowered being on the planet, he's black as well. One can practically hear the controversy simmer right around the corner…

JR: Well… yes. But that was one of the things that sold the whole concept to me when I first saw it. Emissary isn't taking any easy outs. It's looking at the theme of the superhuman from a tough perspective. This is a hard world we live in, not an easy one, and there are no easy answers to the problems we see every day. So why should life be as easy as going out and beating up a few criminals for a superhuman? Who Emissary is is all part of that.

BF: Was it hard to get in the mind of a black character, really?

JR: When you pick up the book, you'll soon notice that Emissary is oblivious to race. If anything, he sees humanity as one large group of equals. Every single person is a human being, no matter their ethnicity or social status. So being in Emissary’s mind wasn’t the hard part. It’s how the world sees him that was the bigger challenge. The story is only partly from Emissary’s perspective. No matter how powerful Emissary is, he’s only one person – and there’s six billion of us looking back and judging him. 

BF: Unlike the world of Small Gods, you didn't create this one; Jim Valentino did. What elements did you add to Jim's initial ideas?

JR: Originally, Jim just threw the concept at me and let me build on the basic foundation. From there we, along with Shadowline editor Kris Simon, bounced things back and forth, building up the big picture of the story. So while the characters (besides Emissary, of course), the specific issue plotting and the scripting are my domain, it's all working to a plan that we've all had a hand in creating. It's different - I have a lot less control here, which is something that wasn't easy to accept at first, but I'm getting used to it, and I think it's stronger for having three minds working it over.

BF: Once again, you're collaborating with Juan Ferreyra. Does his artwork differ much from his work on Small Gods? Since we're no longer dealing with psychics but with superheroes, I can imagine that Juan went for more of 'a larger than life' feel than before…

Click to enlargeJR: To some extent, yes, he did. We're looking at a different, bigger world here, which means that there's the occasional, obligatory double page spread, but that has less of an influence on Juan's art than you might think. He's always been incredibly versatile (have a look at the "painted" style work he's doing on Rex Mundi, for instance), and there's never been any question in my mind about Juan's ability to draw superhero stories - nor would there be for anyone who's seen the occasional superhero piece he's posted up on the Image boards.

What he has done for Emissary is refined things a bit - it's still highly realistic, which serves the story well, but it feels cleaner than Small Gods, where I wanted a dirty, gritty edge to the art. The other thing you'll notice here is that he's working with a team for the first time, which undoubtedly has an effect on the art. Fortunately, Clayton Brown (inks) and Angel Marin (colors) are both highly talented artists themselves, and the work of each complements that of the others. So, you can be sure that the final product will be something special.

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