“Axcence” Published by Image Comics; Written by Shane Davis; Drawn by Shane Davis; Inked by Michelle Delecki; Colored by Morry Hollowell; Available October 7, 2015.
Shane Davis is a veteran of the comics world having drawn for both Marvel and DC on various titles including “Batman” and “Spider-Man” among others. His new series “Axcend” is creator owned and being printed by Image, the story follows three teenagers who are introduced to a game that gives them unexpected abilities and changes their lives.
Meanwhile the world is under constant threat of nuclear annihilation, peace has been achieved, but only by way of a firm boot heel on the planet’s collective neck. What will happen when these forces collide? The book is described as, “an epic sci-fi/thriller that's like Tron meets Inception with a cheat code.”
In the first issue we meet Eric, our protagonist, a teenager mourning the loss of his twin brother. Eric uses video games to escape the feelings he's experiencing and ends up getting access to a Beta that's more than it seems. The artwork is gorgeous with a slight nineties feel and the interiors are just as good looking as the cover.
I recently had an opportunity to talk with Shane Davis and Michelle Delecki who are the creative forces behind the book.
BSR: This being creator owned, and you being a husband and wife team, I wondered if that had an impact on your creative process.
SD: We’ve worked together on a lot of covers and stuff for DC so this isn’t exactly the first time we’ve worked together. So you know, a lot of time with us in the studio together, which is kind of the norm because Michelle is an artist on her own, she does gallery paintings.
MD: In the studio we’re side by side so I can see what Shane’s working on and he can see what I’m working on and we provide constructive criticism so it’s almost like this symbiotic relationship. Because we both care very much about doing really good work and that’s how we roll in our studio. We just try to do the best that we can and we communicate as far as how to keep our work looking as good as we can.
SD: And with the project itself if I have an idea I can always bounce it off her head real quick. Or as we’re working on the book, as the story develops, I’m like well, I think this should happen or I come across a page and I’m like, maybe this will be a better viewpoint if I move it around to a different character or change a situation up here and Michelle’s always around to bounce ideas off of. Because with this project it’s not like I have an editor or even input from the publisher. I basically do what I want with “Axcend” and Image prints it. So it’s helpful to have, really it’s more than helpful, it’s a necessity to have somebody to bounce those ideas off of as you’re coming across these things. There are a lot of scenes you could tackle from multiple points of view and get the same information across in five or six ways. I have one scene in particular where I had to get across some information on this government program in the book called The R.U.N. Program and I was going to do it with the main character giving an oral report, then at the last minute I thought it would be better if the teacher is lecturing and he’s just not paying attention. So I can always just say he, is this more interesting to you? And I can always get input with that sort of dynamic with Michelle.
There’s probably good days and bad days just like anything. I’m sure there’s days where she probably wants to kill me, but overall it’s been a great experience.
MD: It’s not so bad, believe it or not we’re both pretty mellow. He tends to go to the gym a lot also so it’s like the classic Greek way of you’re doing your job and at the same time you air your brain out with some exercise. He tries to keeps me from being stagnant. It’s cool to have Shane over there and tell me, Hey Michelle you have to leave the drawing table because you’ll lose track of time, you forget to eat. And it’s great because between the two of us we keep each other in check.
SD: Yeah, yeah.
BSR: I wondered what stories, games, or art inspired you? What things did you draw from or are maybe paying homage to?
SD: You know, it’s weird, because probably the biggest to me, which nobody puts together, some of the things that inspired the story is the anime series’ that has nothing to do with it. I mean, I’m going to be tackling a lot of issues like bullying in schools and teen violence and stuff in the comic. A lot of that is just inspiration from current events in the world today. I’m definitely going to be tackling the globalization nuclear threat type situation that is in the world in the book itself. The world is kind of governed by this program called The R.U.N. Program which is seven nations after Reagan’s Star Wars program, built nuclear capable satellites. I kind of liked that sense of eighties kind of Cold War era type nuclear threat. But instead it’s a global peace nuclear threat. Peace through brute force on a global scale. So there’s a lot inspiration from government issues throughout the years, growing up during the whole Cold War era and trying to mix that with world economy issues.
As far as video games themselves, I played a lot of video games as a kid. With “Axcend” they’re only in the video game for the first issue and I really just wanted to touch base on a mixture of all different video games. Probably most people in my age demographic play some kind of video game whether they know it or not whether it’s a cell phone game or a puzzle game. To me I think the first handheld video game was Rock, Paper, Scissors. It’s not even a video game but the idea of a game that you use your hands to play has always kind of been there in some way or another. So the whole video game of “Axcend” in the book is just homage to a lot of video games that most people may have played.
The book itself is more about crossing that line where reality ends and fantasy begins and telling a story about three teens. One of the players, the antagonist won’t really know when to stop playing. When he crosses over he becomes very disillusioned and he still wants to grow by killing heads of state or something to get XP.
I really wanted to play more with game violence and teen violence and trying to connect those two. There’s a lot of debate about if violent video games have been influencing more violent acts by teens which everyone has their own opinions and theories on. I didn’t want to make the book completely about that but that theme will impact one of the characters in the book.
Me personally myself I like everything from old classic “Mario” to “Resident Evil” games to fighting games like “Street Fighter” and “Tekken.” I’ve kind of played all kinds of games, I’ve kind of played video games most of my life.
MD: You know, we did do a nod to some fighting games. I personally like fighting games a lot. I grew up with your “Mortal Kombat,” your “Street Fighter” then you had your “Tekken.” We did a nod to the fighting games in our VS. covers. It’s like a B cover, we have our standard cover but our variant covers you’ll have the option to select a cover featuring one of the main five characters of the book.
SD: They interlock. Cover one will interlock with cover two and they make a VS. screen. There’s a V on cover one and an S on cover two and they slide together to make a fighting screen. You can rotate them around and say, this character is fighting this character. It was something I hadn’t seen done and it’s a huge nod to all those classic fighting games.
I don't like the perfect hero, to me there’s nothing more interesting than a young person with a broken moral compass.
BSR: You mentioned a minute ago you wanted to touch on a lot of different topics. I wondered with you having the freedom that you have with Image, is there anything you want to maybe touch on that you weren’t able to touch on in the past?
SD: Well, yes and no, I’m going to be touching on teen depression a lot with the book. It’s kind of funny, a lot of books try to touch on it but they use it as a stepping stone for the character’s motivations to swing over Gotham City or for Spider-Man to stop a super villain. A lot of these characters have been built off of loss, I did that with the main character in the book but the book doesn’t really feature super heroes.
There are losses in your life, the main character is a surviving twin and I thought the idea of a twin brother that survived the death of the other one, whose social skills were built off of being a twin. You know they’re always sharing clothes as kids and answering each other’s questions and always being handled as a set of two. Our character is a year after his brother’s death and I found it to make an interesting character and in Marvel or DC comics they’ll say like, Uncle Ben died and Spider-Man will feel guilty but with this I kind of focused not so much on the guilt or the motivation but how did that impact the character’s social skills and going forward how does the rest of the world treat him because he’s half of what they knew.
Stuff like that is a little bit on the heavier side that I don’t think I could do on a corporate comic level. And there’s some other things again with depression I was able to deal with that in the comic and I think they’re real strong character issues that define the characters. There are other characters that I don’t really talk about in a lot of interviews but our co-op second protagonist that will premier in issue two, Rain, she’s actually like a pop star who is kind of on the edge with drug abusing and a lot of pressure with tabloids. She’s really into gaming, she’s kind of like if YouTube and Twitch had a baby. She has as many fans who like her for her gaming as they do for her pop music and live shows she puts on with her hologram body. She’s kind of like a pop star geek girl. And we get to deal with a lot of those issues with her also just with social networking bullying and tabloid bullying.
All the three main players are all anywhere from seventeen to nineteen, relatively late teens and I’ll be dealing with different bullying issues with all three. I find that character age very interesting because of teen angst. Their viewpoints to the world are usually so self-centered it makes them very energetic and, to me, entertaining. I just find it very interesting to play with that age group.
BSR: That makes sense. Reading it, I wondered if the other two characters had their own baggage and maybe if that was related to why they were selected for the game.
SD: Yeah, I don’t talk about this a lot because I think it’s harder to pitch but the first issue surrounds Eric, and the second issue will show Rain before she activates and then the third issue will show Ruin before he activates. So the first three issues, you’ll still see Eric and Rain come together, and you’ll see what happens to Dog, the A.I. system that comes out of the game. You’ll see them come together to try to get to Ruin, the protagonist, they want to get to him before he comes over to the real world because they were never able to beat him in the video game. There’s a big concern that if they couldn’t beat him there and he got an upgrade and he came here, what would happen to them and what would happen to the world. Their mission is they have to come together to get to him before he activates.
I wanted to take time with the first three issues before everything and everybody is in the world and everything comes to this nuclear holocaust situation I wanted to really address the background. I don’t like the perfect hero, to me there’s nothing more interesting than a young person with a broken moral compass. Those situations are interesting when you have somebody and you see their background and you see what that may or may not influence them to do. These aren’t characters that are there to do the right thing. When he first comes out of the game in issue two he’s stealing cars.
BSR: I appreciate you guys taking time to talk with me.
Issue number one of “Axcend” will be in stores October 7.