Catalyst Prime: Seven Days With Gail Simone and Desiree Rodriguez

A group of new superheroes pose on the cover of the first issue of Catalyst Prime

If all human life was to be extinguished in seven days, Gail Simone knows exactly what she’d do with her time: spend it with her son, husband, and their dogs. “I mean, I may want to go out and explore nature or something,” Simone mused in our recent San Diego Comic-Con interview, “but I’m more that kind of a person, and I think that would give me the most peace. Unless I was called to duty, then if there was something I could do that would help, then I would do it.”

Seven days is all humanity has left when a powerful alien sets their sights on Earth. Over seven issues, Simone’s handpicked team of creators will shape the launch of Lion Forge’s new superhero universe, Catalyst Prime. Announced at last year’s SDCC as the architect for this epic event, Simone has regularly expressed her delight in the concept of shaping a new universe and characters that truly reflect the world we live in from the ground up. But she didn’t really know what Lion Forge meant when they brought her on and gave her the title of “Catalyst Prime Architect.” As they provided her with material and they discussed getting a new universe off the ground, she became more and more excited about the project and its potential for the future. “I really love the conception of the characters and the world and how they gain their powers. The cast of characters are from all walks of life, which spoke to me immediately, because we can tell a variety of types of stories with them.”

This isn’t the first time Simone has orchestrated a major event. She’s managed smaller ones before, and most notably, she managed Dynamite Entertainment’s Swords of Sorrow, which we followed closely here at WWAC. “I think Swords of Sorrow would be the closest thing to Seven Days, which is a huge event that pinpoints down on characters and their stories. So it goes from this macro thing to a very micro examination of what happens to individuals.”

But managing a whole universe isn’t an easy task, which is why Simone considers herself very fortunate to be working with an editor like Desiree Rodriguez. Simone has nothing but praise for this former WWAC contributor, who recently picked up a 2019 Eisner Award for her work on Puerto Rico Strong.

As coordinator of the Catalyst Prime Universe, Rodriguez has made it her sworn duty to create as many resources as possible. Citing the continuity problems that too often plague other major comic universes, Rodriguez explained that it was very important to her to document everything, right from the beginning. Her efforts go well beyond plot devices and characterization. “I want to avoid Damian Wayne syndrome,” she said, referring to the character’s changing skin tone and eye colour depending on who is drawing him, or the X-Men’s Storm’s fluctuating skin colour and appearance. Consequently, every recurring character in this new universe has their own character guide to provide writers and artists with the specific details including skin tone, hair and eye colour details — right down to descriptions of character jawlines, for example, to avoid the dreaded same face syndrome.

“I learned a lot in my fandom days when I taught myself Photoshop,” she laughed, “I took notes from artists on social media and learned about swatches for skin tones.” She pointed out the in-story architect, Lorena Payan who is an indigenous Mexican woman that runs Foresight, a world-renowned research facility. Payan plays a pivotal role in the events that shape this new universe. As a light-skinned Latina woman, Rodriguez acknowledges her privilege and stresses the importance of portraying darker skinned Latinx people like Payan. Thanks to Rodriguez’s guides, the integrity of the character will remain no matter who is drawing, writing, or colouring her.

Lorena Payan, President of Foresight research facility
Lorena Payan in Catalyst Prime: Seven Days #1 (Lion Forge Comics, August 2019)

Payan’s research facility was the first to spot and react to the initial traumatic event that shook the world in Catalyst Prime: The Event, a Free Comic Book Day story that saw five astronauts head into space to stop a catastrophe, only to come back very changed beings. The world was hit hard by that event and is still struggling to recover in its aftermath. How does humanity deal with another world-crushing event again, only two years later? Summarizing her machinations for the next step in the introduction of this universe, Simone explained, “This superior being comes to earth and basically says, ‘My planet is dead. I’m taking yours. And I’m going to kill everything on this planet. But, you know, I’m not really a monster, I’ll give you seven days to get your get your shit together, to say your goodbyes, to do your last wishes, whatever you want to do.'” In those seven days, we’ll see how the people of earth, who are already dealing with PTSD from the previous event, will respond to this new threat.

“What I really wanted to do was introduce this world and these characters in a way that you know who each character is and what they’re about,” said Simone. Seven Days spotlights the various characters, some of whom, like Summit, Acell, Quincredible, and Noble are already making a name for themselves in their own stories. “And then post the event, I wanted the books to be different from each other, but part of the same world, but I wanted, you know, one of the books to lean into the sci-fi once again, one into horror, one to lean into fantasy, so that we can show not only a variety of characters and backgrounds, but also a variety of genres.”

Much of Catalyst Prime centres on Payan’s Foresight research facility, because, Simone confirmed, the concepts are very much grounded in science. “It’s not like, you know, someone was exposed to a radioactive spider. So they all get the same kind of power, but it affects people differently depending on who you are, where you are, how the exposure happened. So that was exciting, too, because we could get lots of variety globally.” How effective a character is in a particular situation, whether or not they even want the responsibility that comes with having power — all of this and more is what Simone hopes to explore over these seven days and beyond. There’ll still be some suspension of disbelief required, of course, but Simone feels that is easier to do with these new heroes. “I mean, we have Quincredible who is indestructible, so I don’t know how realistic that power is, but the way he uses it and how he responds to it is very real world. How he deals with it in school and at home with his family and walking down the street in the middle of this event.”

More importantly, it will be easy for a new reader to jump into Catalyst Prime. Superheroes are certainly seeing a lot of popularity thanks to DC and Marvel television and film, but neither publisher offers a good place for a new reader to start when they step into a comic store. “It’s just really, it’s quite amazing,” said Simone about her new universe. “I’m super excited, as the and there’s nothing else like it, and I really like the way that it feels fresh and modern. And you can get involved with these characters lives immediately.”

Simone is also excited about the global world she gets to sculpt. “I’ve been able to travel a lot and meet people from all over the world — artists and writers and citizens — and talk to them online as well, and I like to be able to have a universe where it reflects the world we live in.”

The first issue of Catalyst Prime: Seven Days will be available on October 2.

Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.