This month, Archie Comics combines super-heroics with classic sci-fi horror with the debut of digital-first series Franken 9! Writers Jared Goldwater and Ryan Straughn are on hand to walk through the creation of Doctor Lambda and his creations — the Franken 9.
Matt Santori: Hey guys! Congrats on the new digital first series! This is quite the departure for Archie Comics, something unique that’s well outside their classic Riverdale or Dark Circle characters. What was the genesis of the project?
Jared Goldwater: It’s definitely a departure for Archie. This is the first brand new universe of all original characters for Archie in decades. We hope it’s just the first series in a whole new front for Archie.
I read an article that a famous genius’s brain had been stolen and studied after his death and that inspired the initial idea. I asked what if the brain of a great genius could be reanimated and implanted into a group of teenagers by a mad scientist. Those teenagers could then be trained in different scientific fields and blended into a group of nine superheroes. I sent the idea to Ryan, who came up with the characters plus some story ideas and we took it form there.
MS: You’re really combining two very distinct genres — almost three really — with Frankenstein representing a blend of sci-fi and horror, with super-heroics thrown into the mix. What’s your take on the tone and how this all sort of blends together for you as you write?
Ryan Straughn: I admire the confidence of people who can write squarely within one genre. To do so well you have to hone your craft for a very long time. Blending genres kind of comes naturally to me. It’s one of my favorite crutches as a writer. You get to cherry-pick your favorite bits from all over the place.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, for most readers, will come after they’ve at least seen a picture of Boris Karloff’s neck bolts. I was surprised the first time I read it that almost nothing I associated with horror was in there. So this isn’t really a horror story in the bump-in-the-night sense. We brought in these other genre elements because one begets the other. Science fiction is often how superheroes and monsters are born.
JG: Tone is tricky, because we want it to be accessible to everyone, especially teens and young adults interested in science, but we don’t want to just make a run-and-jump action comic. Introducing this many characters all at once challenges the reader to keep up, so we want to give them familiar archetypes to grab onto, like the mad scientist and the orphan. From there, the tone evolves naturally from trying to be honest about how these characters would interact.
MS: The character of Doctor Lambda is right away very curious, almost like giving your villain center stage. Is that an accurate assumption and what went into developing his unique take on scientific achievement for you?
RS: Frankenstein’s monster is deeply sympathetic, and Victor Frankenstein’s selfish ambition really makes him the villain. Lambda is our Victor Frankenstein, so, in a sense, he’s the character we needed to start the story on. We called the first Chapter ZERO because this chapter takes place before the 9 really exist. It’s very much Lambda’s story until the 9 start acting up.
The big thing that shapes Lambda as a character is the internal conflict that Oppenheimer felt about the atom bomb. I think we’re quietly approaching a “nuclear choice” in medical research. We may not be on the verge of whole organ reanimation, but as stem cell therapies advance I think science will outpace ethics and very difficult questions about who should live and for how long will start to pop-up.
MS: This idea of raising IQ and creating the super-human in terms of genius is somewhat a departure from the usual Frankenstein story that focuses more on physicality over anything else. How do you see the 9’s development along those lines?
RS: Sure, it’s different in that they aren’t automatically strong, but it’s similar in that they basically start without knowing who they are in a mature body. We wanted to ground the science a tiny bit by them having an ability to expand when they were implanted, instead of instantaneously making them geniuses. Today, intelligence IS super strength, so that was kind of an obvious choice, but each of the 9 translates their intelligence into a physical ability in a different way.
MS: The nine homeless kids are seemingly blank slates as we get into the first chapter. Does their background come to play in the story and how does that relate to Doctor Lambda’s idea of a new world order?
RS: Like Frankenstein’s monster, the 9 don’t know where they came from, what family they might have, who they might have been before. Lambda MAKES them blank slates with the brain surgery. A search for the lives they had will come into play for all of them soon. I think most teenagers’ idea of family and belonging is in flux even without a mad scientist opening their skull, so I hope it’s something readers relate to. Down the road there’s a surprise about one of the 9 being very different than the others.
I don’t want to spoil too much, but Lambda’s character is heavily influenced by Raelian ideas of geniocracy. You’ll see his endgame incorporates a lot of their ideas. Geniocracy scares me, precisely because I see the appeal, so I thought it’d be a good philosophy for him to ground his New World Order.
MS: You’re working with veteran Archie artist Ryan Jampole on the series. How has that collaboration been developing for you both?
JG: Working with Ryan Jampole has been great. As soon as we saw his character designs we knew he was the right guy. We love his style. We bounce ideas off Ryan all the time and he often suggests things that we hadn’t thought of like a character’s clothing in a particular scene, the best way to frame action sequences, even the layout of the page. His experience has been invaluable.
RS: We hope these characters will be around for a long time, but in order to really know them we have to know what the readers think. The great thing about comics is the potential for so much give-and-take with the readers. You can send us anything you think about Franken 9 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first 6 issues are done, but we’re gearing up for the next batch and we’d love to hear what makes you curious, what makes you excited, what keeps you flipping through the panels.
Archie Comics’ new digital series Franken 9 is now available on Comixology!