"The Walking Dead" creator Robert Kirkman has never shied away from a controversial topic. And in the April 9 debuting issue of his superhero book "Invincible," the main title character dealt with something that, unfortunately, has become a bit of a trope in modern comic books.
SPOILERS FOR "INVINCIBLE #110" PAST THIS POINT.
After his fiancée breaks up with him, Invincible (alter-ego name Mark Grayson) is flying through the air, upset, and is approached by a female alien named Anissa. She's part of a race called Viltrumites who have been exiled to Earth and asked to procreate in order to perpetuate their dying species.
Anissa explains she doesn't want to mate with a human, she wants to mate with the half-Viltrumite Grayson. He refuses. They fight. She rips off both their costumes, throwing him to the ground and raping him. At the end, she flies off promising she'll be back, and he should, "Man up."
Naturally, the comic reading public exploded, with reactions ranging the gamut of emotions. To find out more about why the plot point occurred, and what will happen next, we talked to Kirkman about the issue:
MTV News: How did you end up landing on this particular plot point? What made you decide to get Invincible to this point in the story?
Robert Kirkman: It's been planned for a while, ever since the Viltrumite plan of going to Earth, and procreating to reestablish their population through hybridization with humans. [It] was set up in issue 80 or so. It has been designed that Anissa would key in on Mark and decide that's the only person worth procreating with.
It's been in the works for a good long time, and we hit a period in the book where things are getting a little darker, and we're trying to put Mark Grayson in the worst possible situation that he could be in over a fairly long stretch of issues.
He's going to come out the other side in a very interesting way, and a very interesting place. Definitely as far as superhero comics go, we'll be breaking a little bit of ground with Mark Grayson coming out of this.
It's just really an attempt to push the boundaries, and do a little bit more mature explorations of what could happen in a superhero story, and see what comes out of that, creatively.
MTV News: Why was that important to push those taboos in a superhero comic book?
Robert Kirkman: It's very unfortunate that rape has become a go-to thing in superhero comics. There has been other female on male rape in comics, there's been an insane amount of male on female rape in mainstream superhero comics. And it is a very strange trope that's worked its way in.
"Invincible" is a creative exploration of, "okay, this is a very weird thing people are doing in superhero comics. Let's see if we can do it in a different way, and hopefully a better way." That's always the attempt.
Here, we are trying to explore these familiar tropes that come in, but it's important because fiction is always a place you can explore things that are very uncomfortable in real life; and especially in superhero comics where the world is so unreal, and strange, and alien.
To creep in with these very real moments that are these things we don't like to talk about, and don't like to analyze in real life, to make the stories powerful.
MTV News: You certainly haven't shied away from physical violence in the comic, but was there any hesitation in adding sexual violence in this issue?
Robert Kirkman: We have so much freedom in "Invincible," there hasn't been that kind of hesitation. I think "Invincible" is a shining example of what you can do in comics, and what I mean by that is that most other storytelling mediums are a slave to tone, just because of the way the audiences experiences those mediums; and the restrictions that are placed on those mediums.
You can never break rating on a movie, or a television show. You can never have a PG-rated movie that has R-rated material for a few minutes. That's a storytelling device that can be infinitely entertaining and appealing to an audience, in the fact that you can shift tone in comics so wildly.
In the process of telling a story, it really makes it a much more exciting, much more dangerous, much more compelling medium. And that's something we try to do with "Invincible" a lot. Having that freedom does make comics stand head and shoulders above other storytelling mediums, as far as consumer experience goes.
MTV News: The scene certainly isn't played for laughs, or as part of a goofy superhero book; and it even ends with that absolutely awful moment where his rapist says she's going to come back and do it again. Why was it important to leave Mark — and us the reader — at that point at the end of the issue?
Robert Kirkman: It's a dark moment. When you end an issue, you always want to leave something there that is compelling, that is heartbreaking. I always try to leave every issue — and I don't often accomplish this — with something you can't stop thinking about, that is a very monumental moment.
To end that issue that way, to have there be that gap in time between issues does lead to the way people experience these stories, and it does contribute to their enjoyment of them. It leaves with a good long time to think, "What if?" Is she coming back, when is she coming back, how would I deal with that if experienced that, knowing it may happen again.
As much as you can engage the reader, and make them worry about what the future outcome may be it becomes that much more compelling.
MTV News: Are we going to be seeing Mark dealing with the fall-out of this specifically? Or does he just get caught back in a superhero/supervillain plot with his former friend Robot's plans going forward?
Robert Kirkman: Well, Robot's plans going forward are definitely taking center stage, but there's an undercurrent of this scene and what it's done to Mark, and how he's going to move forward.
It's certainly going to be a huge part of his character for the rest of the series; which is planned to run for an extremely long time. This event, and this situation between him and Anissa is going to present and a huge part of the series.
For the issues coming up, the Robot trying to take over the world storyline is certainly going to be the main focus, while we will be dealing with these issues.
It's just a really bad time in Invincible's life. Things aren't going to get better any time soon. There's going to be another horrific event in his life next issue, and things are going to continue from there. We're setting him up for some major changes in his life.
MTV News: When planning to continue the fallout from that last scene, have you looked into how rape survivors have dealt in real life, both emotionally and physically? And is that something that's going to play into the series?
Robert Kirkman: Yeah, that's going to be a big part of Mark's character going forward. I've certainly done my homework as far as how people deal with these kinds of things, and how it affects them going forward.
You can't do storylines like this without treating them in the most respectful way possible. It is a very serious thing that's happened to a character, and to treat it with any kind of ignorance, whether on purpose or completely by accident, is doing a disservice to the character, and the real events that you're trying to portray.
I certainly read up on that a lot.
"Invincible #110" is currently in stores from Image Comics and Skybound Entertainment.