With the launch of Catalyst Prime Universe last year, Lion Forge Comics founders David Steward II and Carl Reed touted the creation of a comic universe with real-life consequences, based in reality, hinging on the idea that anyone could be a superhero.
Titles range from Superb (a superhero with Down Syndrome) to Accell (a Latino superhero with super speed) to Summit (an MIT genius engineer who happens to be a lesbian). As the call for greater representation in comic books has grown louder over the last decade, Lion Forge seems poised to take it further than publishers like DC and Marvel, who have made moves to attract fans with diverse new characters over the last few years. Leading that charge is esteemed writer Gail Simone (Deadpool, Birds of Prey, Domino) who was recently named chief architect for the CPU.
Simone said these characters won't be traveling to alternate dimensions, dabbling in time travel or battling mythological deities. Instead, stories follow people like astronaut David Powell (aka Noble), who despite having an otherworldly origin story, grapples with everyday issues like race, identity, and family.
That's not to say there isn't action. Noble has to evade shadowy government forces while taking out gangs, metahumans, and white supremacists.
Last week, Simone spoke with SYFY WIRE about why she's excited to play inside the CPU toy box, what kind of stories she wants to tell and teases where she sees the CPU going over the next year.
For the CPU uninitiated or people new to comics, please explain Catalyst Prime and how it differs from something like DC or Marvel.
That's actually a trickier question than it seems at first, because the Catalyst Prime Universe is its own thing entirely. We're not watching what DC and Marvel are doing and imitating OR avoiding their movements. We're all fans here, there's no one here who is doing this because they hate DC or Marvel or any other company. The CPU is an action, not a reaction.
The founders just felt that there were stories out there that they weren't seeing. Most of the hugely iconic characters were created at least fifty years ago, and there's been several generations of kids who have been getting their big new heroes elsewhere, from the Ninja Turtles to the Power Rangers. At Lion Forge, we want to create new characters that feel like they came from today.
If you love superhero comics, at some point in your life, you felt the wonder, you believed in the message. We are exactly the same way, we want people to feel those same joys and thrills with our characters.
As the newly appointed chief architect of the Catalyst Prime Universe, what exactly is your job?
Any company with this number of connected titles is going to need someone to keep an eye on the overall connectivity of the books, to make sure that the universe maintains its integrity. But it's more than that. I am helping guide the future of the universe by writing and consulting. I have two major projects coming up that I'll be writing that I hope will help show the world what we have here.
But I'm also in consultation with marketing, sales, editorial, creative and management, and even some of the other departments outside of the CPU. It's a new challenge for me, but Lion Forge has managed to hire these remarkable, dedicated people, so it's an exciting pleasure every day. Some corporate culture can be very draining, but this is more like a gift.
I've written lots of comics, and I'm always up for something new, a new challenge. Lion Forge offered me a position with tremendous freedom and responsibility, and I'm absolutely loving it.
What kind of goals are you setting as you set out to steer the stories in this new universe?
I have two priorities right now. First, we need to get our message out there. There's so much material out there right now, but only a tiny handful of companies doing what we do. And none are doing it in quite the same way. I want to put our books in front of more eyes. I think people will love a book like, say, Summit, which features a lead hero who is female, LGBTQ, and an astronaut. I mean, I would have wanted to read that book regardless, but then you have Amy Chu writing it and Jan Duursema drawing it. I think a lot of people don't know we have books like that coming out every month.
Second, I want to clarify what each book is about for new readers. I feel like this is something almost all companies need to work on, but for a new company, it's essential. Again, we have a book like David Walker's excellent Superb, where the lead hero has Down's Syndrome, and it's portrayed with grace and empathy. Our books have heart, I want to share what the core concepts are, because they're just rock solid.
Additionally, I want to pump up the volume, and we're doing that. Some of the upcoming stuff is just nitro.
The whole Catalyst Prime Universe is interesting because it's brand new and there isn't much history to it. What kind of stories are you looking to tell as you move forward?
My theory regarding superhero universes is this: if done well, some readers become fans not just of the stories and characters, but of the setting. Part of the love of say, the Marvel Universe comes from knowing there's a Wakanda, an Atlantis, a Baxter Building. It's like Middle Earth, we want to spend time there.
So I'm hoping to further develop the world of the CPU, so that it feels unique and full of mystery and adventure. It's more of a science fiction universe than any other comic world, the heroes are often inventors and astronauts. But there's other stuff out there, on the edges.
Other than that, I want to tell deeply personal stories, amid the bombast. That's my favorite.
Why is the idea of an open and inclusive universe like Catalyst Prime important?
Well, I think there's a lot here that we don't see often in other comics. I say this with love, but Hollywood owning the big companies is a mixed blessing. You can only do so much in the comics when billion-dollar film franchises are on the line.
So It's wonderful to have a book like, say, Noble, where the hero is a family man, a devoted husband, and father. I mean, that right there is very rare in mainstream superhero comics, they tend to avoid marriage and parenthood.
What that does is, it presents this weird message, that you can't be a family person and be a hero. It's a licensing choice, not a storytelling one. And for a lot of people who may not have working, happy families, having a lovely father figure or mother figure, that's a big, big deal.
I love that we have freedom. There's no one above us telling us we can't do something. I get that it's lovely having these big budget films, but I do sometimes get sad about how they affect the comics that inspired them.
There's also a real message about inclusion in our books. It comes from a different place here, it's right in the company's DNA. Look at the line-up of characters, of creators, of management, editorial, staff, and ownership. It comes from being part of the real world, and it's just completely organic. I love it.
Is there anything you can share or tease that's upcoming from Lion Forge and the CPU?
Just that there's a lot we can't talk about yet. But Lion Forge is a much bigger force than people think. And we have plans that are as exciting as anything I have ever been part of in comics. I hope people give the books a shot, take a couple and give them a chance. I think you'll see the heart and muscle involved. [As for a tease] Yes. We're being watched.