'Jacked' Creator Eric Kripke on the Difference Between Superheroes and Real People

"About the last thing people would do if they had powers would be to stop crime."
Glenn Fabry/DC Entertainment

What if all the help you needed to get through life was available in a pill — and you also got superpowers in the process? For Josh Jaffe, the protagonist of DC/Vertigo's Jacked, it's a solution that seems too good to be true — which turns out to be exactly the case.

The six-issue series, created and written by Supernatural and Revolution creator Eric Kripke, completed its run earlier this year and is being released this week in collected format, giving audiences another chance to discover just how enjoyable someone else's bad trip can be. (It's not spoiling anything to say that hallucinations of talking snack foods are involved — which become even more of a problem when they're giving poor advice to someone with the power of Superman.) Kripke talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the creation of the series, the surprising difficulty of working in the comic book medium and what lessons it taught him for future television projects.

Jacked is a story that takes the "What if superheroes existed in the real life?" idea as its starting point, and follows something much more intimate about its protagonist, Josh, going through a midlife crisis and trying to come to terms with who he's become. How did those two things come together for you in the first place?

The origin story was my own midlife crisis. I was at a point in my life where I was just kind of unhappy with how things were going, and asking myself a lot of questions. Was I where I wanted to be — the feeling was no, I wasn't — and, what could I do to make myself happy? What does it even mean to be happy, was I achieving my goals? And on top of that, I was just getting older, you know? Was there still time to correct the course of my life and make myself happy — do something great? Be the person I had set out to be?

When you're young, your life is all potential, and right around when you turn 40, potential becomes actuality, and what "might be" becomes what is. That's why people have a midlife crises, because they go, 'Oh shit, this is my life.' I was going through that in a very real way, and I started thinking, it's an interesting emotional state to write a story about, and the idea popped into my head: What if I could take a pill that would lend me, midlife-crisis me, powers? Would I try to be great, or would I make a huge mess out of the whole thing? The notion of, what could I do to get out of my slump, and what if what I needed — the confidence, whatever — came in a pill.

It's funny that you talk about whether people become great or make a huge mess out of the whole thing, because Jacked kind of shows that the answer is both.

I think Josh just becomes a more concentrated version of himself. The idea that, if you had this power that you'd become this kind of selfless hero is really bullshit. (Laughs.) About the last thing people would do if they had powers would be to stop crime. They'd be the same neurotic, confused, selfish bastards they always were, they'd just have powers. And by the way, I'm a hopeful person — I think Josh was trying to do the right thing. He genuinely loves his family, and he genuinely wants to help others, but he's confused and slow, like we all are.

It's taking the superhero morality and showing that real life isn't as straightforward.

Yeah, exactly. If you take the mythology of a superhero and apply it to the various shades of gray in the real world, it's ridiculous. Who's to know who's good and who's bad? How are you supposed to fight bad guys, when all bad guys are are just guys with a different point of view? I think it'd be very complicated and difficult to be a superhero in the real world.

This was your first comic book. How was it moving from TV to comics?

I don't think I had any idea how difficult it would be. It was way harder than I thought. Every comic script is, like, 30 pages of careful prose and takes a lot of time to map out and write. I think, honestly, if I'd known how much work it was going to be, I doubt I would've done it. (Laughs.) Believe me, I bitched and grumbled through the whole thing. It was really hard! I walked away with a great respect for people who create comic books; it's an incredibly labor intensive job.

It was really difficult, but ultimately really gratifying. It's honestly one of the most gratifying things I've ever written, because I had such creative freedom — the gang at Vertigo, Ellie Pyle, my editor — I had such freedom and encouragement to write whatever I wanted to, and it was so personal and idiosyncratic and unique. That was a great pleasure for me.

Did you learn any lessons from writing in the comics medium than you ended up taking back into television?

I would say that where it's been really useful is that it's encouraged me to take more risks with my writing. Sometimes, all of us — especially in my line of work — fall into patterns, and play things a little too safe, and not try a riskier, wilder idea. I had such fun with Jacked, just going a little insane with my writing and some of the notions — really trying with things that are just really out there — that I feel that was very useful. I ended up applying some of that sense of freedom and experimentation to my current TV writing.

There are certainly things in Jacked that you could never get away with on television …

To have the freedom to create a sequence that there was no f—ing way I could put on TV was really nice. Like, eviscerating a bunch of giant anthropomorphic snack cakes? When do I ever get the chance to do that? (Laughs.) I grew up with a very particular breed of Vertigo comic book. To me, Garth Ennis is the gold standard of what a comic book writer is. I think a lot about Preacher and his great Hellblazers, and one of the things I was really inspired by was not only the story, but wanting to tell it in the style of the Vertigo comics I loved — this bloody, funny, inappropriate shocking comics. On top of all the thematics about midlife crisis, the comic is gory and violent and funny, and I think I managed that. And getting Glenn Fabry to do the covers — this is the guy who did the covers to Preacher and Hellblazer! He's one of my heroes! It was just amazing.

And the story itself is illustrated by John Higgins, who drew some of Ennis' Hellblazer, and colored Watchmen

He's so good. Watching that guy work was a master class. It was incredibly educational — he's so smart and collaborative and kind, and so talented. The thing that really amazed me was how much thought and care he put into the compositions: how he laid things out on the page, where he put the panels, the shape of the panels, all these things I had no idea about. Honestly, watching him work was the highlight of the whole thing for me.

You said writing comics was difficult and so hard that you wouldn't have done it if you'd known in advance. Jacked ends with a hint that there could be a sequel — but are you suggesting that writing comics was so unpleasant that there will never be one?

I'll put it this way: I actually have become smitten enough with the process that I hope there is a potential follow-up. But if it happens, it'll happen when I have a lot more free time. It's nothing that can happen when I'm busy; I don't think I can run a TV show and write a comic at the same time. But if and when I have the free time, I would love to write another comic, and write more Jacked.