I first met Tony over four years ago at Easter Con and bought the first two Powerless books. In the past I had read some of Marvel’s novels and been disappointed as the action didn’t translate well to novel format. That’s where the Powerless series is different, there is less of a focus on action and when there is violence it’s short and to the point. The focus of the Powerless series is on super humans living out their lives in a Britain where they are subject to discrimination because of what they can do.
Interview by David Jenkins
MM: Hi Tony, I’ve just read the third Powerless book- Die Famous and it kept me entertained throughout but I do have a few questions. Whilst Martin and Haley are the main heroes of Die Famous the parts with the reality show and Havoc where just as gripping. Do you have any plans to expand on Havoc and the British heroic age?
Tony: When I wrote the second book, Killing Gods, I realised I needed to think more fully about the history of this version of Britain. That was when I detailed the history of The Elemental, the first recorded person with superhuman powers, who came to light during the Crimean War. I then created a rough timeline of major events through to the present day, but Havoc were the first detailed piece of that history I worked on, coming from a more lawless and dangerous period in time.
I guess I’m lucky I haven’t defined too much of this history in any of the books, which leaves me quite free to create what I need as I need it. And I definitely will be referencing past history in future books, although it won’t all be reappearing in the present day like Havoc did!
MM: You introduced Ruth- a Nigerian superhuman who fled her homeland in Die Famous and it reminded me of how every culture will treat superhumans in its own way. Are you going to bring a more international flavour to the series?
Tony: The series will primarily focus on the UK, and Element City in particular. But from the start I was always intrigued how other countries and cultures would react to the appearance of people with superpowers.
I researched a lot on the horrific treatment of children in Nigeria who were considered ‘witches’, and extrapolated this into a world with actual powers. It naturally fell into place that the same practices would go on in the Powerless world, perhaps even more so, given that it is commonly known that some people possess strange abilities.
I also made a couple of references to how Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia might treat people with powers. This was in relation to Raymond Billington, the construction magnate who decides he wants a superhero team, a decision which creates friction with his Saudi business partners. That is only a small side-note in the story, but it’s all part of me trying to show how heroes have affected the whole world.
MM: There was a big cliff-hanger at the end of the second book- Killing Gods and I thought there would be more of a focus on that. But then again, the authorities don’t use other teams of heroes to battle Havoc in the third book. Is the Powered Crime Agency underfunded or is there a shortage of superhumans willing to work with them to solve hero crime?
Tony: Sorry about the cliff-hanger! It was never my intention to follow that up, to be honest. That particular story thread was always meant to be left open.
As for the PCA and the ‘official’ superhero teams, they are separate entities in terms of how they function. The hero teams (Team Element City One, and Two) are sanctioned and controlled by Special Powered Services, a government department that deals with hero registration and monitoring, and funds the official teams to be propaganda tools. The reasons neither Element City team is given the go-ahead to fight Havoc in Die Famous is more to do with politics. They are generally wheeled out to assist with a few organised crime busts, but just for visibility, and never take over from the police. Now, can you imagine the political blowback if the government allowed them to fight Havoc and a huge, destructive battle ended up costing civilian lives? But, at the same time, they are the only people strong enough to take down Havoc during their reign of terror. It’s that dilemma that has the two team leads butting heads in the first chapter of the book.
The Powered Crime Agency is a version of our National Crime Agency, but one that specifically deals with powered crime. They have the skills and technology to tackle most types of powers, and likely get a lot more funding than the hero teams do.
MM: Martin is my favourite character and it’s refreshing to see a main character with mental health problems. What research did you do into claustrophobia and PTSD?
Tony: I already knew a fair amount about PTSD, panic attacks, anxiety, etc. having studied medicine at university many years ago, but yes, I did do some extra research on it for the book. Knowing the horrific events that Martin had gone through, I was certain he wouldn’t come out of that unscathed. I could well imagine how the death of his closest friend, suddenly being thrust back into the limelight and meeting all his old team members again would cause his memories to resurface and trigger symptoms.
MM: I’ve always wondered besides the obvious- Civil War and X-Men what inspired you to write the Powerless books?
Tony: Just a stray idea one day about a retired superhero. Who was he, why was he retired, what happened to him?
Ongoing, it’s the same issues that inspired the creation of the X-Men: what are the injustices of the world today, how are the marginalised treated, what are people afraid of, why, and who makes them afraid. I amplify those fears, apply them to superheroes and see where it takes me.
MM: One thing that I’ve always found odd about the Powerless books is how all superhumans are referred to as heroes regardless of their morals. What’s the reason for that?
Tony: That’s just a historical relic. The Elemental, the first powered person, was referred to as a ‘hero’ as he helped win the war. Subsequently, the people of that era just referred to anyone who displayed powers as a ‘hero’ and the term kind of stuck from there.
As shown in Killing Gods, however, there are anti-hero groups who definitely don’t like the word being used to describe anyone with powers, so it’s not without some controversy even in the Powerless world.
MM: The series can sometimes go very dark whether it’s what happened to make the Pulse (the team Martin was a part of) disband or the authorities like social services can act with super humans. Is this how you expect super humans to act and be treated in the real world?
Tony: Well, following on from the inspiration question, this is how any marginalised group of people is treated by many fellow humans. In the case of heroes, however, their powers raise an added danger in that they are already faster or stronger or more deadly than the police or security forces. This fear of dangerous people walking amongst us is something easily manipulated by those afraid or jealous of them, or just by those seeking political power for themselves.
MM: As well as novels you’ve also created your own comic books including one- Some Kind of Hero focused on how difficult it is for Hayley to be a police officer and have superpowers she can’t use on the job. Have you got any further plans to create comics for Powerless characters?
Tony: I do have an idea or two for some future Powerless comics, that may feature one or two characters from the books. However, the time it takes to create even a 24-page comic book is so formidable that it would be a significant time-sink for me to do solo (as I did with my other comics). So I may end up having to find an artist, or just complete it in stages and leave the release date to be “when it’s done”!
I love making comics though, so despite the challenges, it’s something I think I will always come back to.
Find out more about Tony Cooper here