With the Marvel Now! relaunch in full swing, it’s interesting to see how the structure of the company’s books is changing. In some ways it’s becoming similar to the different mini-lines DC has introduced with the New 52 , with the Avengers and X families of books both very interconnected and front and centre, with the other families of books one step further out and then the solo books one further step out. It’s an interesting set-up, which, so far, has managed to avoid the traditional bugbear of needing to buy six issues of another title just to find out what’s going on in the books you normally buy.
It’s also given them an opportunity to experiment. Just as DC’s Edge line tends to be the darker or more experimental books, there seems to be far more room for slightly eccentric, off-beat titles at Marvel than there has been in some time. The excellent X-Men Legacy , dealing with Xavier’s massively powerful son, David and his battle against his multiple personalities for control of his powers is a good example of this, as are the new approaches taken to Young Avengers and the post-Loki Journey Into Mystery .
Fearless Defenders ( reviewed here ), written by Cullen Bunn and with art by Will Sliney is another excellent example of this kind of book. Following Misty Knight, traditionally one of Marvel’s street-level characters, as she teams up with Asgardian sword maiden Valkrie and Dr Riggs, a female archaeologist studying Asgardian tech, it’s one part action movie, one part bone dry comedy and one part supernatural. I spoke to Cullen about how he got started in comics, the inspiration for the book and what’s next for the odd couple heroines.
“I've loved comics since I was very young, and I've always liked telling stories. When I was in third or forth grade, I wrote (and drew!) a comic book titled X-Lazer Knights . The ‘z’ in ‘lazer’ was intentional, because the word just looks cooler spelt that way. I think that ran for 10 issues or so, printed on my dad's photocopier and distributed to a handful of classmates. I still have some old comic books I put together when I was a little older (sixth grade, I think).
“Since those days, I tried my hand at breaking into writing comics, but I never really knew how to go about it. I sent in tons of submissions and proposals, and I collected my share of form rejection letters. Eventually, I found myself working at a comic book shop, where I met my future collaborator Brian Hurtt. We talked a lot about working on a comic book together, but the timing wasn't right for a few years. Eventually, he started doing some work for Oni Press, and we sent them a pitch for our horror/noir book The Damned . That became my first major comic book publication.”
“I have always loved westerns... supernatural westerns in particular. One of my first professional short story sales was a horror/western story. It wasn't so great, though, so I'm glad the magazine folded before it saw print. So... old Jonah Hex comics, lots of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies, and books like Dead In The West by Joe R Lansdale were all big influences for me. When I look at the series now, I also see the works of writers like Michael Moorcock as big inspirations.”
How did you approach plotting the book? Do you have an endpoint in mind?
“Originally, I plotted toward the end of the sixth issue. But very early on (while I was writing the first arc) the idea for the ending came to mind. The series had a definite end point. Issue 50 will bring the story to a close. I have a map of what will happen in each arc and which loose ends need to be wrapped up. There's some flexibility there, but everything is moving the story to the ultimate finale.”
It's recently been optioned for a TV pilot. Congratulations on that and are there any further developments yet? Anything you can talk about?
“Nothing I can talk about right now! There are lots of exciting things happening, and I'd imagine there will be some cool announcements soon!”
Fearless Defenders #1 is out now and features an entirely female cast. Was that a difficult sell for Marvel? And do you think it'll be a difficult sell for the audience?
“It wasn't terribly difficult to get Marvel on-board for the series. The biggest obstacle (if that is what it can be called) was that the Marvel NOW! initiative was in early planning stages when I pitched the book. So, there was some delay as editorial decided where it would work best in the schedule.
“And I've been really surprised by the response from the fans! I think if we can build momentum from this starting point, we'll be in a really good place.”
What led you to choose these characters?
“I wanted characters who were not appearing in dozens of other books, characters I could have a little room to work with. I also wanted characters who would be unexpected for the reader.”
The book draws from established Marvel Asgardian lore for this initial story. Is that something that will be a regular element?
“With Valkyrie as a main character, it will always be there, but I think future arcs will show a wide range of genres, settings, and characters. We've got streelevt el stories, cosmic stories, horror-themed tales... The only thing that will remain a constant is a light, fun tone.”
Doctor Riggs is brilliant. Any big plans for her?
“Yes. Very, very big plans.”
Given Valkyrie's presence in the book, are there plans for a crossover with Journey Into Mystery , Sif's new home?
“There are no immediate plans, but it's a possibility if the story is there.”
What's the plan after this first story arc?
“The next six or seven issues will feature a number of shorter stories that will tie loosely together. As these tales play out, though, you'll see the connective tissue of a much larger arc coming together. You'll be seeing ninja and aliens and new heroes and new villains as the series progresses.”
What other characters if any would you like to introduce?
“There are so many characters I would like to see in the book. And one of the things I'm excited about is that this book lends itself to loads of guest stars! Keep an eye out on the fifth and sixth issues for a big cast expansion!”
What's next for you?
“Next up is my creator-owned series, HELHEIM , which is sort of a Viking-era Frankenstein story... with witches and demons. We just released a book trailer for the series .
“During the age of the Vikings, savage wild men and dark creatures beset a small settlement. A brave war party stands as guardians of the helpless villagers, but they are no match for the horrors rising up around them. One of the warriors, a young hero named Rikard, will pay the ultimate price in battle… but his fight is far from over. A gothic horror story of witchcraft, night creatures, and the undead.
“I'm very excited about this project, and I can't wait for readers to see it!”
Fearless Defenders is published monthly by Marvel Comics, priced $2.99. Read our review here .
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