AWA Studios' ambitious plans for a shared universe are beginning to take shape. The upstart imprint launched its diverse world with the comic series The Resistance by J. Michael Straczynski and Mike Deodato Jr. Coming in November, the expansion of the fictional universe continues with Knighted, a brand new series created by New York Times #1 bestselling author Gregg Hurwitz (Out of the Dark, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Vengeance of Moon Knight) and superstar artist Mark Texeira (Ghost Rider, Wolverine). It marks the return to comics for Hurwitz, who has been focused in recent years on his hit Orphan X series of novels as well as his original screenplays.
If you're not yet familiar with AWA's comics output, its interconnected universe was introduced in The Resistance and now encompasses the various sequels to that title, as well as other AWA books such as E-Ratic and Moths. Knighted is the latest addition to that world. The story takes place in New York City after the global event known as The Great Death, caused by the XV1N1 virus, killed 400 million people. However, thousands of people who survived the pandemic came out of it with super powers. They're known as the Five-Percenters.
"They're the ones who survived and came out the other side with different superpowers," Hurwitz explains to SYFY WIRE. "And so all of America, all of the world is in transition between the sort of new people in this new guard who have different powers and then ordinary people. And so security and freedom is a constant dialogue that we're having and politics and the world order. As this war is raging in, we have Bob Ryder thrust in the middle of it."
Ah yes, Bob Ryder.
Poor Bob is a sad-sack crime analyst with a girlfriend who thinks he's a loser, and frankly, his own opinion of himself isn't much higher. Everything changes for our guy when he runs into the city's greatest defender, the masked hero known as the Knight... and accidentally kills him.
If you're wondering why I didn't say "spoiler alert" there, it's because the Knight, at least the guy we first meet wearing that costume, isn't a central figure in Knighted. You see, the original Knight was actually kind of a scumbag, who died not in the line of duty but while being a peeping tom. It's a scene perfectly depicted by Texeira's crisp pencils and Brian Reber's colors –– as you can see in SYFY WIRE's exclusive first look at pages from the new series in the gallery above.
This sets off a chain of events that winds up with Bob taking over as the Knight. It's not exactly the typical superhero origin story, which is exactly what Hurwitz set out to do.
"There are so many different origin stories, and I've had the benefit of writing some of my favorite characters, from Moon Knight to Batman and Wolverine and Punisher, and they all have these amazing origin stories," the writer says. "I just thought, "Wouldn't it be so funny if instead of a radioactive spider or your parents getting killed... instead it literally was a guy who's an ordinary average guy who inadvertently and accidentally winds up killing the single superhero of a city, and then is forced to kind of fill the shoes. And then I also thought it would be really funny if the original superhero who everybody reveres is kind of... is kind of an a**hole."
When Bob and the bloody corpse are taken by the dead hero's Knightmobile back to his secret lair, he meets Ash Devane. Ash is not exactly heartbroken to see the demise of his old boss. But he tells Bob that the city needs a hero, it needs a Knight. And Bob is it.
"He is much more like Bernie Mac than he is Alfred," Hurwitz says. "And we find out that he's the institutional memory, he's the brains of the operation and the moral center..."
Having read the first issue, I can tell you it is nothing like what you expect it will be. Texeira's dramatic cover is a clear homage to Frank Miller's image to the first issue of The Dark Knight Returns. And while Bob Ryder has very little in common with Bruce Wayne, the book's Big Bad does offer a reminder of the Mutants the aging Caped Crusader faced off against in Miller's seminal series.
"The Grinders are this group of antagonists who have prosthetic arms, they have exoskeleton-type limbs and uploadable skills," Hurtwits says. "They're not Five Percenters in the universe. There are people who are biologically normal, but they've taken on all this technology and they consider themselves real Americans who use any tool at their disposal to fight against the Five Percenters. The worst of them is the leader, a guy called the Boneman who can literally knock people's bones right out of their skin."
Bob will find himself on the Boneman's hitlist shortly after he puts on the costume, in a plot that will develop over the course of the five-issue series. Whether or not Knighted will cross over with one of the books in the shared universe is yet to be known. Hurwitz says he and Straczynski, the architect of AWA's universe, discuss how to make sure readers are aware that it's all connected, without boxing in any creator with rigid parameters.
"We definitely have an eye towards developing and crossing over the mythology and the narrative, and you can see that with references in Knighted," Hurwitz says."I think what we're going to do is let it develop organically and see where those opportunities make a lot of sense. It's like we have a game plan of the direction that we're heading, but we're not going to have an overly rigid mythology where everything's planned out three years in advance. We want to kind of see what hits in what ways, and then start to build [from there]."
With some 20 bestsellers under his belt, like the recent Orphan X novel Dark Horse, and screenplays like the one he did for 2017's The Book of Henry, the prolific writer certainly isn't lacking for work. What brought him back was the chance to join AWA's high-powered creative council, and to reunite with his old editor and good friend, AWA's Chief Creative Officer Axel Alonso.
"There's not a lot of other people who I trust as comprehensively as [Axel] and we'd had a chance to work together a lot," Hurwitz says. "I consider him a legitimate friend, not just an industry friend, and he's the best editor I've ever worked with. So that and having a lot of creative latitude to kind of throw my elbows, it just was a recipe for too much fun to possibly turn down."
Hurwitz does admit though, that he thought he was done with comics.
"I won't ever take a job just to do it or for the paycheck. I've got to be engaged. It's a reason why I haven't worked in comics for a lot of years," he notes. "To be honest with you... I feel like I had this great opportunity at Marvel and DC. I got to work on all my favorite characters. I even crossed Spider-Man over into... Moon Knight and I worked with great editors. I worked with Mike Marts at DC, and I only worked with Axel at Marvel. And I was treated very well by both DC and Marvel, but I felt like I'd kind of written everything that I had to say."
But Bob Ryder and the Knight give him a new type of story to tell. Another project that's occupying his time is a political project he collaborated with fellow screenwriters Marshall Herskovitz, Laeta Kalogridis, Billy Ray, and Shawn Ryan. The group, which doesn't have a name, created 150 commercials for various political groups around the 2020 election. While Hurwitz freely admits he's a liberal, he says the intent of the group was and remains to promote candidates with platforms that promote unity instead of partisan political warfare.
"Our goal is to try and decrease polarization and get us away from the sort of vehement and toxic polarization that kind of blocks out reason and is driving us apart," he says. "After Trump was elected, I kind of went the opposite direction of people and wondered how could my [political] party have failed so miserably in the messaging to...key states in the electoral college that led people to considered [Trump] the better option. But messaging I think has always been a failing spot for Democrats."
Hurwitz says the coalition will continue its work creating commercials and helping candidates with debate prep and other communication elements as next year's midterms approach. "We have to get very real about the ways that we message and talk about things to Americans of all shapes and sizes... that constitutes the American population. The stakes are too high."
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.