Marvel
Andrea Towers
August 24, 2015 AT 12:00 PM EDT

This fall, Karnak will make his debut as part of All-New All-Different Marvel’s new series. Who exactly is Karnak? Don’t worry if you’re not overly familiar with the character — that’s what acclaimed writer Warren Ellis is here for.

Ellis, along with up-and-coming artist Gerardo Zaffino, is the creative brain behind the story of the Inhuman royal family. “Once Warren told me his angle on Karnak, I knew we needed someone who could pull this off, to give it gravity and texture and live up to Warren’s script, and I couldn’t think of anyone,” Marvel editor Nick Lowe told EW. “Until I saw Gerardo’s work online and fell in love. I showed it to Warren who liked it, too, and then begged Gerardo to come onto the book. It’s his major American debut, but he’s the art crush to so many of the top industry artists. I can’t wait for everyone else to see what Gerardo can do.”

Read on for more as EW talked to Ellis about bringing the character to life, his writing challenges, and teases for the new series.

EW: So here’s an obvious (or maybe not so obvious!) question…why Karnak? Aside from being brought back from the dead, this is the first time he’s getting his own series, so was there something specifically that enticed you about the character and the stories you could tell with him?

WARREN ELLIS: Yes. He’s not an Inhuman. So, what happens is that every year or two Marvel pulls out one from the vaults and tells me I can take it to the lab and, you know, shoot lightning into it and stitch bits of hobo to it and whatever.  It’s basically all they keep me around for. They showed me Karnak, and I did some reading, because, seriously, short guy in a weird helmet who can karate-chop anything to death, why the hell not. And he’s not an Inhuman. He never took the mutagenic Terrigen mists like the other Inhumans. He’s a dementedly intense philosopher who can see the flaw in anything — objects, systems, ideas, people — and strike that flaw in order to destroy it. And, once you realize that that’s what you’re looking at… well, how can you not take a crack at that? That’s insane.

You’re known for taking characters and making them identifiable like you did with Moon Knight. Are you keeping to the Karnak that we know from past comics, or are you going to re-invent him a little bit in this day and age to fit to your story?

Honestly, all I really did with Moon Knight was boil the character back down to all the elements and traits that mattered.  Karnak was even simpler. His parents refused to allow him to become an Inhuman, and instead he studied at the Tower Of Wisdom until his natural powers of perception became so phenomenally strong that he could annihilate anything by touching it. He is the Inhuman who made himself inhuman by sheer force of will. He extends the work of the Tower Of Wisdom by both teaching and extending aid to people damaged (as he sees it) by the Terrigen mists that cause Inhumanity. It was all right there. In this new Marvel Universe situation, where all kinds of people have been mutated by Terrigen, there’s an endless number of plot launches there.

What has been the biggest challenge for you about writing this series so far?

Being in Karnak’s head. Easily. Also, I’m an idiot for deciding that writing a book about a guy who can karate-chop stuff to death required me to read several volumes of mind-crushing nihilistic philosophy. Karnak is completely mad, and espouses the most depressing ideas imaginable — except that he believes them to be positive and uplifting, and they constitute much of his motivation. It’s horrible, and it’s just as well I never leave the house and wallow alone in ontological doom and have no friends, otherwise I would probably be a bit of a downer at parties. Whatever they are.

Karnak is not a “universally known” superhero with multiple books, in that readers probably aren’t familiar with him the same way they are with characters like Dr. Strange. What do you hope that both fans who know him and also fans who don’t will take away from this new series?

I’d like readers to come away saying, “wow, that was astonishingly bleak, and he worked really hard to get those three bad jokes in there, and why can’t I stop crying and do I have enough cash left to buy a bottle of bleach to drink.”

Honestly, I think the set-up is so simple, but the character runs so deep and strange, that I just hope other people are as fascinated by the weird little bastard as I am. He does incredibly altruistic things for really kind of screwed-up deeply personal reasons, and does them in such a violent and misanthropic way that he might actually be the villain of the piece.

Can you tease anything we can look forward to seeing when Karnak #1 hits comic shops?

Well, I did get to write Phil Coulson, so channeling Clark Gregg was fun — he wrote the foreword to the Avengers graphic novel I did a couple of years ago, so I got to make up for the fact that Coulson wasn’t in that book. Also, Karnak goes to a building in Berlin where a bunch of my friends work and, um, kills everybody. So maybe I could apologize to them here?  Probably shouldn’t have done that.

Check out preview pages below, including a cover for issue three from Eisner-award winning artist David Aja (who is also responsible for the first issue cover) and a variant cover for issue two by Kevin Nowlan.

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