If you’ve paid enough attention in recent years, you’ve likely spent quite a few hours contemplating the End Times. But what if it doesn’t come with the total annihilation of all people? And what if we don’t exactly wipe ourselves out but are forced into something somehow all the more terrifying? (And isn’t that also somehow more comforting than, say, consuming ourselves into oblivion?) That’s sort of the big hook involved with All Against All.
Written by Alex Paknadel, and with art from Caspar Wijngaard, the book sees a future Earth taken over by an alien race called the Operators, who treat the planet’s remaining species like specimens in an “artificial jungle environment.” But when the Operators seek out an “apex predator” as part of their schemes, they come into contact with the last human, Helpless, kickstarting a narrative that explores where humanity went wrong and what’s left to fight for. RIYL: gut-wrenching dystopias, savage violence, and “organic exosuits.”
Issue #1 drops this week (December 7) from Image Comics. Paknadel was kind enough to answer some questions in the lead up, including the story’s development, the larger messages and/or motifs, and creating their intriguing human protagonist.
AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for All Against All?
Alex Paknadel: “The far future. When Earth’s wildlife is recreated from frozen embryos by a brutal race of alien conquerors known as ‘Operators’, the last human being in the universe takes bloody revenge on his captors.”
AIPT: There’s a lot going on in the world-building of the book, with aliens, exosuits, giant predators, etc. What’s the challenge in balancing all these elements, and how much world-building did you do?
AP: The biggest challenge with this book was shifting readers’ natural allegiances from the human antagonist to some more sympathetic alien protagonists. We wanted the aliens to feel familiar enough that it would be possible to empathize with them, but we also wanted them to be alien enough that they would read as a plausible extraterrestrial civilization. Threading that needle between empathy and estrangement was a huge challenge, and it eventually informed the design of the characters themselves.
We initially wanted the Operators to have very blank unreadable faces, but we had to give them eyes, mouths, etc. in the end because otherwise Caspar would lose too many of his weapons as a consummate dramatist. We needed our characters to “act” and so more and more human elements crept in. It was a fascinating experiment in the limits of empathy, but I think we found a very happy middle ground. Our aliens are still alien in the sense that they’re essentially jellyfish in body armor, but anthropomorphizing the armor felt more acceptable because the creature within is still deeply strange and unfamiliar.
AIPT: Similarly, I feel like there’s a lot of possible themes and messages to this book. What’s the biggest or most essential idea or motif?
AP: I don’t want to guide interpretation too much, but I can tell you that parenthood—and the awesome responsibility it confers upon the individual—was uppermost in my thoughts when I sat down to write All Against All. Our alien protagonists have recreated an Earth-like habitat and are raising extinct animals for the purposes of experimentation and potential weaponization, but what is their responsibility to their experimental subjects? Why should their captives be treated humanely? Do they have any right to treat these incredible creatures as mere resources to be tapped? More generally—and away from the parenthood motif—are there any limits to our obligation to the other? I would say no.
AIPT: On paper, this book is basically aliens vs. the last living human. But is it so simple, or are there not such clearly defined boundaries?
AP: It’s certainly not that simple, no. Helpless has been unintentionally brutalized by his alien captors, who simply have no idea how Earth species are supposed to interact within a stable ecosystem. Their ignorance has turned the recreated Earth habitat into a torture chamber, but they have no idea what they’ve done. Accordingly, while the Operators think of themselves as civilized and rational beings, Helpless wants to tear them limb from limb. Who’s to say he’s wrong?
AIPT: What went into “designing” the “last human,” Helpless. Is this just one person or do you feel he’s indicative of the best and worst of our species?
AP: Funnily enough the idea behind Helpless’ heterochromia—his mismatched eyes—is that he’s a biological chimera, the product of many “parents” all thrown into a genetic witch’s cauldron. In terms of what informed his design, Caspar and I discussed various approaches, but we settled on a very athletic handsome guy. Why? Because we wanted to play with reader empathy. Helpless commits the most horrendous acts in our book, but he’s one good looking dude. Hopefully that’s going to leave readers feeling very confused in terms of where to “gift” their empathy.
AIPT: I feel like this book could be a great synthesis between your respective work in DC vs. Vampires and Home Sick Pilots. How much of those experiences filtered in?
AP: To be honest this book has been a clean slate for the both of us. Obviously DC vs. Vampires is a very brutal, very violent book, but it’s intended to be a rollercoaster. Home Sick Pilots, meanwhile, is a masterpiece that could only have originated from the collective superintelligence that is Watters-Wijngaard. The Caspar I’m working with has utterly transformed his style for this book, bringing a more rough-hewn, dirtier aesthetic to it.
The peerless compositional eye and the painstaking attention to detail are both still there, but in a very real sense the Caspar Wijngaard who co-authored All Against All is not the same artist who co-authored Home Sick Pilots. He’s a chameleon and I think the medium as a whole benefits from his restlessness.
AIPT: Why should anyone pick up issue #1?
AP: If you like big ideas, big action, beautiful art and the best lettering you’ve ever seen then this book will make your month. If you don’t like big ideas, big action, beautiful art and the best lettering you’ve ever seen then it’s probably not for you.
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