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Indie Comics Spotlight: Why you won't see V.E. Schwab's 'Extraordinary' characters again until 'Victorious'
Set between the first and second books of the series, Extraordinary adds new exciting new characters and ideas to the Villains series.
If you're a fan of YA science fiction, you're probably familiar with Victor Vale and Eli Ever, the protagonists of author V.E. Schwab's hit 2013 novel Vicious and 2015 sequel Vengeful. Fans have been clamoring for a third novel in the Villains series for years. But Schwab, with 22 books under her belt to date, has been busy with her Shades of Magic series, The Adventures of Addie LaRue, her children's books, an upcoming Netflix series, and a host of other projects.
This year, the award-winning author did give fans a taste of the future of the Villains series in her comic Extraordinary. Set between the end of Vicious and the beginning of Vengeful and illustrated by artist Enid Balam (Hawkeye: Kate Bishop, Omni) the story introduces new characters into the world of those with extraordinary powers. The collected edition, the only graphic novel set in the Villains universe, is out this month through Titan Comics.
In the novels, Victor and Eli are pre-med students who decide to experiment on themselves after discovering that a combination of high adrenaline levels coupled with a near-death experience at the right frequency can unlock latent abilities. Following their separate experiments, Victor develops the ability to inflict pain on others while Eli can heal from any wound. Their abilities — and the resulting collateral damage — send the two friends down different paths. Eli looks at their work as evil and sets out to eradicate the world of EOs (Extraordinaries), while Victor only wants to extract revenge on Victor for his betrayal.
At the start of Extraordinary, EOs are hunted and separated from the general population, while Eli (although incarcerated for attempted murder) uses his expertise to help hunt them down. That's where readers meet Charlotte Tills, a teenager who almost dies after a school bus accident and is then revived in the hospital only to find out that she can see death… literally. On every reflective surface, Charlotte constantly sees visions of the deaths of those around her, including her demise at the hands of Eli. With the help of some new friends who also happen to be EOs, Charlotte learns to live with her stressful powerset while attempting to get to Eli, before he comes for her.
Extraordinary isn't Schwab's first foray into comics. The author got her comic book feet wet on The Steel Prince (Titan), a graphic novel set in the Shades of Magic universe collaborating with artist Andrea Olimpieri.
Currently, Schwab is writing the third novel in the Villains series, Victorious. But she took time out of her busy schedule to speak to SYFY WIRE from her home in Edinburgh, Scotland, about Extraordinary, the meaning behind her character's powers, and why she won't be doing another graphic novel for a while.
How difficult was it to create a new story and art with a new artist inside a world that so many people already know and love?
It's kind of a tricky situation and a very contentious one when you're working in a world that was already novels. For hundreds of thousands of readers already have a visual image of Eli in their minds. Now what Enid is going to do is not going to be that vision. It's going to be Enid's vision.
Enid is such a fabulous artist in many, many ways. The thing that I love most about his work is the dynamism, like his sense of movement. I try really hard when working with my artists to give them as much creative freedom as possible because they're artists.
And so I actually think the most tempestuous places are where the comic overlaps with the books. It's always a fascinating thing to see where people chafe and where people love it. There was definitely some pushback. There's one issue that shows Victor and Eli. And of course, people have very strong feelings about how Victor and Eli look and I said "Look, for the purposes of this comic, this is how they are going to look."
In that issue, was it difficult for you to edit down Victor and Eli's story into a few pages?
One, it was very difficult and two, I needed to not actually break canon. Victor's perspective is in Vicious and Eli's perspective in Vengeful and I would pick lines of dialogue, as they appeared in the book and then add in dialogue as though we hadn't gotten the full conversation. But I didn't want to do anything that would retcon or break the world that I so painstakingly crafted in the novel. So actually, yeah, Eli and Victor's backstory was the hardest thing to bring through because of course it takes up like 50 to 100pages in the books. These are my college kids. Like these are my babies! They have so much space in the book and it was like, "here's a few pages".
Let's talk powers for a minute. Charlotte has the ability to see how people will die, but is that death absolute?
It's how they'll die as of that moment if they continue in their life unencumbered. That really gets to a philosophical problem for her: she can intercede and potentially change the death, but she doesn't actually know. if she can push it back or bring it forward. Death comes for us all in some form or another and her intervention as she discovers throughout the comic, can change what's in the reflection
In the Villains universe, are the EO's powers simply an extension of who they are?
This is probably the thing that I'm proudest of. So the EO's extraordinary powers are a direct reflection of the circumstances of a near death experience.
So if there's a physical and there's a psychological component, the example I always give is one that doesn't exactly exist in the books. Imagine a man is climbing Mt. Everest and he is freezing to death and in his last moments, all he can think of is how badly he wants to be warm. Well, if he's revived, his ability, if he manifested one would be the ability to self emulate or light pieces of the world on fire, not freeze it because in his last moments, it wasn't that he was cold. He wanted to be warm.
These powers are not arbitrary, like so many superpowers in narratives are, but they are tied really closely to the identity and the psychology and the circumstance of the character.
You have said in the past that Vicious is a book about control and toxic masculinity while Vengeful is a book about the women characters gaining control. Where does Extraordinary fall within that paradigm?
Oh, that's such a good question. I think it really gets to the philosophy, like what is control, right? Because say like Charlotte has an ability, the question, does she have any control over it?
And that's really a question for herself as well. She is a teenage girl who sees in her own reflection. Her murderer. And she decides that she's not going to spend her life waiting for him to show up. She's going to go find him in the effort shakes. Now, the question is, of course, is she fulfilling the very reflection, like would the reflection happened?
Something that kind of plays out across the entire comic, down to the very last page of it, which asks the question, “Is control itself an illusion when it comes to power?” Because power does not grant you control, you have to take control, but can you actually take control over the forces that govern the world?
Those are my favorite conundrums. I write genre and fantasy but I just love asking all of these like deep, psychological questions.
Are we getting a Volume 2 of Extraordinary?
Right now? Just one. Because basically the comics happen between the books. So Extraordinary happened between Vicious and Vengeful. I'm currently working on Victorious, the third book right now, so if I do another comic, it needs to fall between Vengeful and Victorious. And I don't want to do that until I know what happens in Victorious.
[A new comic] will probably not follow the same kids. Because I like writing these kinds of capsule narratives. What's interesting is introducing Charlotte, Felix, Marshall, and Mia, into Victorious because we are not done with them yet as characters, but their small visual story is kind of complete.
What would your Extraordinary power and catalyst be?
I have an obsession with time. Everybody knows it. There's never enough of it. Right? But I acknowledge that massive problems happen in narratives when people can go back in time because that's how everything falls apart. So I am sure that regardless of what my near death experience would be, I would just want more time.
And then my power iteration of that would be the ability to control time, but only moving forward. If you're only going forward, you can speed up, slow down or hit pause. And I think how nice it would be sometimes to just, like, hit pause and just like gain a day, gain a week, gain a month, gain a year outside of everyone else's experience of time. So if I could have a power, that would be it.
Extraordinary Vol. 1 is available on Nov. 24.