EXCLUSIVE: Ed Brubaker Previews ‘Incognito: Bad Influences,’ Updates ‘Incognito’ & ‘Sleeper’ Movie Status

In the 2008-2009 comic book series “Incognito,” Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips brought readers the story of Zack Overkill, a former supervillain living in witness protection after he testified against one of the world’s most dangerous “science villains.”

Told in the same gritty, noir-influenced style as the pair’s popular 2003-2004 series “Sleeper” (about a superhero who goes undercover in the super-powered underworld), “Incognito” was picked up for adaptation in April by 20th Century Fox, with Robert Schenkkan (“The Quiet American,” HBO’s “The Pacific”) writing the live-action feature’s screenplay. The series will also get a comic book sequel, titled “Incognito: Bad Influences,” which kicks off this week.

With the first issue of “Bad Influences” arriving on shelves Wednesday, Brubaker offered up some new details about Zack Overkill’s return to action in the comics world, as well as the status of the “Incognito” and “Sleeper” movies. Splash Page readers also get the first peek at some new pages from “Bad Influences,” courtesy of Marvel Comics.

MTV NEWS: Last we saw Zack Overkill, he’d become something of a reluctant good guy — or at the very least, he was even more of an enemy of the bad guys. Where does “Bad Influences” pick up?

ED BRUBAKER: We pick up a year later in Zack’s life, and he’s been a bad guy working for the good guys at this point. It shows you the dichotomy between a bad guy living in Witness Protection and a reformed bad guy working for the good guys, and the bureaucracy he has to deal with and the tedium of red tape, and the kind of things an agency like the S.O.S. would make a guy with his history do if he wanted to work for them. That’s where some of the black humor of it comes out, and it touches on some similar things as we did in the first series, but from a different angle now. He’s loving in New York City, he has to maintain a secret identity, but he doesn’t have to go to a job or any of that other stuff. His job is working with the good guys now.

A big part of the series takes a darker noir twist on an old pulp and comic book cliche that you’ll see when you read the issue. It’s a twist I’ve never seen explored before, so I thought I’d use that as a jumping off point before I send Zack off down the well.

MTV: “Incognito” was such an original, unique concept for a series. Did you have the sequel planned all along?

BRUBAKER: It was something I thought of toward the end of “Incognito.” The big concept of “Incognito” — a supervillain living in witness protection — you can’t duplicate that again. But you can take his character and look at what the next logical or interesting step would be. For me, the high concept of a bad guy in witness protection was a great way to get into a character who really was a guy who had no moral compass. It was really a black comedy about a guy growing a moral compass, viewed through that noir, pulp fiction, superhero/supervillain lens.

Part of the creation of “Incognito” was looking at an idea I’ve explored and wondering what the flip side of that would be. We had this success with “Sleeper,” the good guy undercover with the bad guys and being corrupted by it, but I thought I’d taken that idea as far as I could take it. So I thought, “What’s another moral dilemma that you could put someone in that we don’t normally see?” And that was when I thought, “What if a bad guy is forced to be surrounded by normal people and good guys?” It’s the opposite of corruption, basically.

Now I feel like I’ve explored both sides of this one coin, and “Bad Influences” is a little bit of trying to mash them both together. I’ve explored the good guy who’s gone bad because he’s lived with the bad guys too long, and I’ve explored the bad guy who starts to grow a moral compass — now let’s have them meet. So there’s a character in “Bad Influences” who’s a new character that touches on the same themes that “Sleeper” touched on. We’ve done one side, we’ve done the other, now let’s see what happens when the two trains collide.

MTV: Well, you also have yet another version of “Incognito” on the way: the live-action movie. What’s the latest on the film?

BRUBAKER: It’s full-steam ahead so far. We’re expecting a draft in the next couple of weeks. Robert just went off on a research trip to scout some locations for the big finale.

It’s interesting because Robert is a friend of mine and I helped attach him to the project and everything, and he won an Emmy a month or so ago for being a producer on “The Pacific,” so that was nice. He was up for two Emmys for episodes he wrote of “The Pacific.”

MTV: It must be nice to say you have an award-winning screenwriter on the adaptation…

BRUBAKER: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s good timing. He said after they had their big beat-by-beat meeting that he’d never had a studio that wanted to be more faithful to the source material, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear that. I was expecting for it go the other direction, because you never know what you’ll get. So far, everybody involved in the production is really excited about it and into the source material.

MTV: So have you seen any of the draft yet?

BRUBAKER: He’s got a draft he’s revising now, but he’s not willing to show it to me yet. Luckily, he travels a lot or I would be stealing his laptop to read it.

MTV: Was there ever a time when you considered writing the screenplay yourself? Between all your comics work and “Angel Of Death” and such, you certainly have experience in both worlds…

BRUBAKER: I’ve done screenwriting, I did a pilot for Fox in December and January, and I’ve had lots of experience in that world, but not nearly as much as I’ve had in comics so far. When you start moving into a new industry or trying to learn new industries, you really want to watch a seasoned pro to know how to do it. With the amount of interest we had in “Incognito” as a property, I didn’t want my first studio job to be adapting one of my own books and possibly getting the life beat out of me by studio notes. At the time, I didn’t know the people interested in it would be so enthusiastic about it. But I’ve also seen movies Robert had written and read screenplays by him, and he’s someone who’s been working steadily for a couple decades in Hollywood now, and I thought I could learn a lot from watching how he would do something like this.

Also, I had already written it once, and I didn’t necessarily feel the need to do it again.

MTV: So here’s the question I have to ask everyone: what’s your dream casting for the film? Is there someone you had in mind when you were writing Zack Overkill or any of the other characters?

BRUBAKER: It’s weird because I’ve done that here and there with “Criminal” characters. In my mind, when I was creating Tracy Lawless, I thought, “This would be such a great role for Brad Pitt to do.” And the minute I started working on it I saw that Brad Pitt had optioned “The Killer,” damn it! [Laughs] I didn’t do it on this one so much, though. Everyone suggests Leonardo DiCaprio for everything. My wife thinks Chris Pine would be perfect for Zack Overkill, but no, I haven’t really thought about it.

MTV: Any news on the “Sleeper” movie? Last we heard, there was a change in writers

BRUBAKER: I’m pretty out of the loop on that stuff right now. I’ve been focusing more on the “Incognito” movie. I was going to check in with the producers on “Sleeper” sometime soon, because November is like the last active month in Hollywood.

“Incognito: Bad Influences” #1 hits shelves Wednesday, October 27. Marvel Comics has provided Splash Page readers with an exclusive preview of the issue, featuring the work of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips. Click on the thumbnails below to view each page.

Let us know what you think in the comment section or on Twitter! You can also follow me, Splash Page editor Rick Marshall, on Twitter!