What if one of the largest cities in the United States was suddenly transported to an alien dimension?
That’s the unsettling scenario explored in “Oblivion Song,” a 2018 comic book series co-created by “The Walking Dead” mastermind Robert Kirkman and artist Lorenzo De Felici for Image Comics.
The series opens 10 years after a 30-square-mile section of Philadelphia and its suburbs inexplicably swaps places with an alien world, sending 300,000 citizens—as well as Philadelphia’s City Hall, iconic One Liberty Place and a chunk of the Ben Franklin Bridge—to a jungle-like realm crawling with teeth-gnashing monsters. In exchange, an unforgiving expanse of Oblivion, as it’s now known, and all the monsters that inhabit it, was dropped on everything east of Broad Street.
When the “transference” first occurred, the United States developed a method of traveling to Oblivion to recover anyone who wasn’t immediately devoured by alien creatures.
Now a decade out, monuments have been erected to honor the lost men, women and children (long presumed dead), a museum preserves survivor statements and morbid relics of the alien invasion, and Hollywood has cashed in with big-budget movies recreating the heroics of transference first responders.
America seems content with moving on from the horror on the Delaware River, but Nathan Cole is still haunted by the event that changed his world forever. An original member of the government-funded team sent to rescue survivors from Oblivion, Cole continues to make daily, unsanctioned, unfunded trips to the treacherous territory in hopes of pulling one more soul from the proverbial wreckage.
But when Cole miraculously stumbles upon a pair of mangy survivors during one of his excursions, he unexpectedly discovers a faction of Oblivion immigrants who aren’t interested in returning home.
Yesterday, I caught up with Robert Kirkman in New York City for one of his first interviews about “Oblivion Song.” For more on the series, as well as a few interesting tidbits on “The Walking Dead” season eight premiere, check out the full interview below:
David Onda: What was the initial spark of an idea that ultimately became the “Oblivion Song”?
Robert Kirkman: I came up with this idea at least 10 years ago. It’s something that has kind of evolved quite a bit over many, many years. The initial spark of it doesn’t apply, it didn’t end up making it into the book and it’s very weird. Basically, I read an article where somebody was pontificating about how Jack Kirby had never done a run on Batman, and what would Jack Kirby’s Batman be like? And that started making me think about what kind of weird tools or what kind of mechanisms Jack Kirby would have given Batman, and what kind of world would he be in. A hop, skip and a jump to now, you’ve got a guy popping back and forth between dimensions to try and rescue people. It’s a very weird starting point for the story, but that is the initial nugget that got me thinking about this.
Onda: There are elements of “Oblivion Song”—particularly the museum, the stories of survivors and the monument to victims—that remind me of the aftermath of 9/11. Was that something you thought about while writing this series?
Kirkman: Yeah, and I think that’s something that’s on everybody’s mind, and rightfully so. It’s something that should be something that informs every day of our lives. It is kind of a commentary on the fact that something incredibly profound can happen that changes everyone’s lives in a huge way, and many years later, it’s just kind of a part of everyday life. “Oh, yeah, there’s a museum about that, I saw a movie about that, but it’s not something I think about all that often.” Just how strange that is. And so I’ve taken that one step further to, like, a massive American city got transported to another dimension 10 years ago, and now it’s something that people don’t really talk about every day. You’d think that would be something people would talk about every day, all day long. I think it’s a coping mechanism for us as a society to be able to go, “Well, I guess this is the new normal.” It is a strength, and it is very much a huge weakness that we have.
Onda: I had a surreal moment while reading this first issue of “Oblivion Song,” in which I saw the exact building I was sitting—the Comcast Center—pictured on the horizon of this dystopian world.
Kirkman: That’s great! Is it in Oblivion or is it on Earth?
Onda: I think it’s on Oblivion.
Kirkman: Oh, sweet! [laughs] Hey, the building is holding up after 10 years without any maintenance, so that’s a good thing.
Onda: What is the geographic split of that 30-square-mile portion of Philadelphia that was transported to Oblivion?
Kirkman: I’m not an expert on the geography of Philadelphia, to be completely honest, but working with Lorenzo the artist, I did kind of say I want to make it a section so that there’s a bridge that’s cut off. I want to have certain elements, and we kind of picked a certain area. I don’t know exactly like—oh, it’s from this street to this street. It definitely includes a bit of suburbs and things like that. There is a definitive dividing line that I believe he’s using. I mean, it actually cut cars in half.
Onda: And just to be clear, this entire section of Philadelphia swapped places with an entire section in the Oblivion dimension, correct?
Kirkman: Yes, that is entirely correct. And that would have gone some level of depth into the Earth. But, yeah, anything that was on the corner of this street was transferred to the other dimension, and whatever was in that area in the other dimension swapped to Earth.
Onda: Why did you choose Philadelphia?
Kirkman: I think it’s a very visually interesting city. You’ve got a lot of old buildings and cool architecture and things like that, and it’s an important city to our country. In a never-ending quest to not set stories in New York and Los Angeles, it came up in the city lottery.
Onda: Well, since the early issues of “Oblivion Song” seem to be building towards a showdown between two brothers, it’s appropriate that the story is set in the City of Brotherly Love.
Kirkman: If only I was a good enough writer to have noticed that. [laughs] By the way, you’ll read an interview with me in a week or two where I go, “You know, it’s the City of Brotherly Love…!”
Onda: You can have it! Why would some of these people who have been transported to Oblivion not want to return to their homes and lives on Earth?
Kirkman: It’s an abandonment of modern society. If you were suddenly to find yourself living in the Wild West dimension—people have done stories where people are like, “Eh, I don’t really wanna go back.” Life is much simpler. There’s a very binary way of life of: I grow food. I eat the food. I go to bed. There’s something somewhat appealing to that. I don’t know that it’s necessarily realistic for people to be like, “Well, I don’t wanna see the fourth ‘Avengers’ movie!” But I sometimes fantasize about, “Oh, my gosh. Wouldn’t it be cool if life was simpler?” I’m sure I’d probably hate it, but I think there’s something to that. I don’t wanna be tied to a cell phone anymore. I don’t wanna have to worry about a lot of the different things I have to worry about. Where one person sees an apocalyptic hellscape, someone else might see something that is more appealing to them. That also gets down to these people’s individual lives as well. There’s a lot of people that aren’t necessarily happy in their lives and have stresses and conflicts that would be happily avoided at all costs and at great sacrifice. Those people could also find living in that dimension appealing.
Onda: It appears we’re going to possibly meet tribes of survivors in Oblivion, which is reminiscent of the world you created in “The Walking Dead.” Is there a thread in those stories that reflects a particular interest or fascination in you?
Kirkman: I think I live in terror of our society crumbling. Like a lot of people, I’m very worried about this potential North Korean conflict brewing. There’s definitely an element of world financial collapse and food service being disrupted and shipping channels being halted. It’s something that’s always kind of in the back of my mind like, “Oh, man. This this would be a really terrible thing to happen.” And that can’t help but work its way into fiction when you’re a writer. This is, I guess, my way of dealing with that.
Onda: I have to ask you about “The Walking Dead.” Everyone is talking about that shot of bearded Rick at the end of the season eight trailer. You must have known you’d be trolling people who think this entire series is Rick’s coma dream…
Kirkman: You know, one man’s trolling is another man’s hype, but sure. We knew it was something people would talk about.
Onda: Will we get a satisfying answer to what that clip is all about? Are you teasing a midseason time-jump?
Kirkman: I can’t say. That’s an element to the show that people might be expecting if they’re big fans of the comic book series, but I will say that you get a definitive answer on that scene in our very first episode back. It’s not something that we’ll be torturing our audience with for a very long time. That gets out of the way fairly quickly and then we kind of hit the ground running with our all-out war storyline.
Onda: We saw Morgan’s mental dam break at the end of season seven, and that unhinged killer lurking under the surface finally reared its head. And the season eight trailer seems to tease a fight with Jesus. Which version of Morgan will we see this season?
Kirkman: I would argue that we’re getting an entirely new version of Morgan. He hasn’t gone feral and lost his wits as we had seen him before, and he’s certainly not the man of peace that we had gotten to know over many seasons. This is something very different that I think Lennie James is handling with the same level of expertise he handles everything with. He’s absolutely amazing.
The first issue of “Oblivion Song” releases March 7, 2018. “The Walking Dead” returns to AMC on Sunday, October 22.