Tuesday, November 1, 2011

FYC Replay: Nexus with Steve Rude

In an effort to archive my "For Your Consideration" columns from my time writing for the Pulse, here is one of the later pieces I wrote. I was very excited about this. I had met Steve Rude at a convention years earlier, but hadn't taken the opportunity to talk with him much (that's not my style). But given the opportunity to do a phone interview with him for the return of Nexus - for which I was extremely excited - I jumped at the chance. Sadly, the speaker-phone I used gave out on me just after Rude picked up (after two abortive attempts at the interview prior), and so I had to work doubly hard to parse out what he was saying in my recording. I lost some of our conversation and had to piece together much of the rest with the help of memory, but, overall, I feel I was successful in retaining the spirit of Rude's thoughts and ideas. I hope you enjoy.

For Your Consideration: Baron & Rude’s Nexus

By Chris Beckett

FRONT PAGE: Baron. Rude. Civil Unrest. Nexus. Sundra. Tyrone. Leaky diapers. Fully painted artwork. And the return of . . . Kreed. It’s Nexus #100, and this one has it all. Come in and check it out. It’s the return of a classic you don’t want to miss.

The 411:

Nexus: Space Opera pt. 1 & 2

Issue #99 (32pp. full color, $2.99)

Issue #100 (48pp. full color, $4.99)

Written by Mike Baron

Art by Steve Rude

Rude Dude Productions

What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

It’s been ten years since Mike Baron and Steve Rude last brought the wonders of Nexus to its legion of fans. And with such a layoff, one might expect the newest issue, last summer’s #99, to open with a short recap of who Nexus is and what makes him tick. But then again, these two creators aren’t known for taking the easy, or the expected, path in their work. That’s part of what endears these two artists to their fans, and it is an integral part of what has made Nexus a popular and critically-acclaimed comic for over a quarter of a century despite working its way through four publishers. But now that Nexus has landed within its co-creator’s newly-formed publishing venture, Rude Dude Publications, fans can hope to see far more of this dynamic and tortured character in the coming years.

Nexus is one of those comic characters that has stood the test of time, and if all fans are not intimately familiar with his exploits, most fans – I hope – are familiar with the name and the creators. But with the ten-year layoff, maybe a short introduction is in store.

Taking place five hundred years in the future, Nexus is one Horatio Hellpop, son of the Sov General Teodor Hellpop, a mass murderer who ordered the destruction of a planet. It is from this, and in reaction to this, that Nexus comes to be. Able to bend matter to his will, and tormented by feverish nightmares of the galaxy’s worst mass murderers, young Horatio takes on the mantle of Nexus, exacting justice upon those in his dreams, beginning with his own father. Hellpop did not choose to be the galaxy’s executioner, but he is compelled to mete out this justice so that the dreams might stop, or at least fall silent a while.

Word of his deeds quickly sweep across the galaxy, bringing refugees to the planet where he was born and continues to reside, Ylum. Outcasts, survivors, and others seeking a new life migrate to Ylum, bringing forth life from the once-dead orb. Despite this influx of people, and contrary to his relationship with Sundra Peale – initially dispatched to Ylum to spy on Nexus – this guardian of the galaxy remains a solitary figure, unable to find solace or understanding from others who could never know what he endures. But Nexus continues his duty while trying to have a somewhat normal life and create a planet where things will not be as bleak as they seem to be across the rest of the universe. It is a difficult life, but then again, what would life be without the challenge?

With the landmark 100th issue of Nexus, the fecal matter hits the fan. Nexus and Sundra have just welcomed their new son, Harry, into the world as the Elvonics threaten to destabilize the planet’s tenuous peace. Having so many different races residing together brings with it any number of problems, the most prominent stemming from those ancient differences that define us as they also isolate us, forcing one race to hate another only because they are different. It is this, and the perceived insult of Nexus against the Elvonics, that has incited them to open hostilities while others conspire in secret the murder of Nexus’s newborn, the most recent attempt involving the launching of hyposiles against Sundra while still pregnant. Luckily, Nexus was present when she was attacked and deflected two of the hyposiles as he seized the third one and digested it, absorbing the surge of power triggered by its detonation.

Nexus is a unique comic. It packs all of the action and spectacular science fiction elements of a great summer blockbuster, while also grounding the characters in a very real world that, despite being set five hundred years in the future, looks quite a bit like our own. Hellpop, Sundra, Judah, Tyrone, and all the others experience the same feelings of loss and guilt, love and embarrassment, as all those reading this book, and writer Mike Baron is unafraid of treading through the mundane aspects of this world in order to create a more believable and engaging story. Though the justice exacted by Nexus may be absolute and brook little argument from the audience, it is not so easy for Horatio Hellpop to slough off the magnitude of what he does. Beset by guilt and anxiety, he is an all too human character who is able to perform great feats of heroism, but not without a cost. Who among us would be unable to sympathize with Nexus? It is this humanity, imbued by Baron’s writing, which elevates Nexus above that of the typical action comic. This, and Baron’s trademark humor, helps to make Nexus one of the most enjoyable reads in comics today, whether it be the new series or the recently repackaged Archives from Dark Horse comics.

Accentuating these fantastically human stories is the artwork of co-creator Steve Rude. Without his sleek lines, Nexus would not have reached the pinnacle it has. Rude is able, with a minimum of brush strokes, to create elegant characters that glide across the page, seemingly in motion despite living on a two-dimensional canvas. Rude’s work is reminiscent of one of his unabashed heroes, Alex Toth, a master draftsman whose output within comics was far too slight. Rude is an obvious heir to Toth, and the skilled manner with which he creates his pages adds so much to the reading experience of Nexus. Managing to pack his panels full of detail and action while somehow keeping them from becoming so cluttered that the action gets lost in the reading, Rude walks a fine line that is only enhanced by his aptitude for evoking emotion on the faces of his characters. Especially evident in close-up, Rude refuses to bash readers over the head – except when the humor of the character or the moment demands caricature – preferring to delineate understated, but more real, emotions on the faces of those populating this book. This refusal to “dumb down” the story through his subtle art is the mark of a consummate artist.

This 100th issue of Nexus also includes a history of the character by comics journalist Bill Baker (Alan Moore’s Exit Interview and Alan Moore Spells It Out) as well as the first fully-painted Nexus story from Rude. The eleven-page backup story, which showcases the backstory of Sundra from before she ever knew Nexus, is a rare treat and an amazing showcase for Rude’s painting. This book is chock full of the good stuff and any fan of great comics does not want to miss this one.

An Interview with Steve Rude:

Why choose to start RudeDude at this juncture?

The right time to do anything is when you feel it’s right. And then you just try your hardest. You read up and try and get as smart as you can so that you can succeed.

The type of thinking that says something isn’t going to work is exactly the type of thinking that keeps people where they are in life. You can’t move forward if you aren’t willing to take chances.

Ultimately, what will this move mean for Nexus and the Moth as well?

What I want to do is spread the word about these comics that I think are better than the ones that are out there right now. Comics have gotten very ugly. They’re dark and morose. For me, it’s a real aversion to what I consider good entertainment. And that’s my goal. I want to entertain people with my comics.

A lot of people look at Nexus as an antihero, and I was curious about your thoughts on that.

Labels are going to be labels. To me, that’s what he is, and how people interpret it is part of the magic of entertainment. When you see a movie that doesn’t have a cut and dried ending, you’re left to interpret it any way you want. That’s part of the fun of using your imagination instead of having it spelled out for you. To me, [Nexus] is a great character with a great life that’s worth drawing and writing.

The same with the Moth. He has a very interesting life and a lot of room to grow in the comics. I enjoy the growth of the characters. It’s all a matter of how you deal with the things that come at you. It’s like playing battle ball in gym class when you have a thousand balls coming at you. It’s how you deal with that, trying not to get hit.

And that’s life. Every day we get up and face the world. Comic books are no different. The various settings are different from our own, but the circumstances of how to deal with things are still: this person in this situation and how do they deal with it. Why do we keep getting up in the morning? Why do we want to keep trying?

One thing I find interesting though – again, with the labels – is it seems that Nexus really hasn’t suffered from the antihero tag. It seems to be more embraced than a lot of other characters that are in a similar vein. I’m wondering what you might attribute that to?

Well, he’s not a cruel person, for one thing. I think he’s the guy that got put into this situation and does his job even though he doesn’t enjoy it. I think there’s a lot of value in what he does. It’s something that I personally feel really strongly about. The idea that there are so many rotten people in the world and there’s nothing that seems able to be done about that. And we see it every night on the evening news. It’s not fun. And I don’t know how many people are able to watch the evening news, but I can’t watch it. I haven’t watched it for, going on two decades now.

I don’t want to watch that. But it’s real life, and how a culture deals with things that are as horrible as what we have on our television sets every night says a lot about them. And all I know is that there are really rotten people running around doing really rotten things. I wish there was a delegation somewhere that could do something. Part of what the book is about is that the legal system gets thrown out the window. Because people wait forever to decide if he’s guilty or not guilty, or if he’s insane and isn’t responsible for his actions. I dislike the notion that there is some guy out there that has the psychological makeup to solve his problems by killing people. That doesn’t work.

I would want justice for the people. I would like to see evil eliminated. But you could never wipe it out. That’s impossible. All I know is that you do what you can with your life.

Here on Earth there’s all these fighting factions. They fight based on their philosophies.

I was just watching this X-Files [episode] last night that will give you a perfect example of what I’m talking about. There’s this insane guy they’re going to let go and Mulder wants to stop it because he knows they can’t let him go otherwise he’ll be at it again. You’re laughing the whole time at those people sitting there in the chairs in this committee saying this guy’s perfectly sound for him to go out. These are the people that don’t understand what the hell they’re doing.

That’s my personal take on that. I think these people are vastly ignorant and choose to be because they don’t want to understand the facts that are repeatedly being shown to them.

And so there’s a lot of my personal philosophy in Nexus. And Baron feels the same way about this stuff.

To what do you consider the staying power of Nexus, especially considering the ten year layoff?

I think it’s a combination of things. There’s a foundational truth to the character that spans decades. Without that, it would feel flat. We try to ground it in the here and now even though it’s set in the future. We use events from today as our springboard. Everything is a reflection of its time because people don’t change. They never change.

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