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Flagship Team-Up

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After reviving a bunch of old-timers in Agents of Atlas and offering a glimpse into the original X-Men’s past, Jeff Parker is taking on Marvel’s first family and the company’s flagship superhero in Spider-Man/Fantastic Four. The four-issue mini series, illustrated by Mike Wieringo, starts tomorrow and sees Spider-Man and the FF team up to save the entire universe.

BROKEN FRONTIER: They’ve met on countless occasions in the past—what leads Spidey and the FF to cross paths this time around?

JEFF PARKER: It’s a good old-fashioned invasion of planet Earth. Well, maybe not so old fashioned. Our alien race in this, the H’Mahj are just following a biological mandate to merge with another species, as they’ve always done. And Earth is perfect—we seem to be pretty influential in the Cosmic Order of things, yet have no natural defences against the symbiotic merging these aliens initiate.

I wanted to explore the type of peril that the Fantastic Four would encounter early on in their careers, but without the evil villain component of it all. The aliens think they’re doing us a big fat favor by creating a new race. And maybe they are. Once they merge with a new race, war and famine go away.

BF: The project has nothing to do with the fallout of Civil War. Does that mean it’s set at some point in the characters’ past continuity, or is this an out-of-continuity tale?

JP: It’s set in the recent past, so we don’t have to have to have Reed and Spider-Man acting awkward—“Uh, sorry about that whole Registration thing... my bad.”

BF: Since it doesn’t delve into what’s currently going on in the Marvel Universe, did the mini-series come about as a nice concept that would give readers something that specifically didn’t involve all of the big hullabaloos?

JP: That is pretty much it. You know, there are two huge movies featuring these characters coming out this year, and lapsed fans coming back into the comics shops might want something a little more classic styled. ‘The Brevoort’ made that call I believe, and let us start crafting this story. They then of course threw Steve Wacker in to head it up without mentioning how difficult Mike and I are to work with. Nonetheless, it’s all coming together very well!

BF: Still, the premise teases fans that Spider-Man and the FF might have to save the Marvel Universe at some point during their quest. Does that have to be seen as ‘poking fun’, or will they really have to save the day?

JP: Oh, they really do have to save EVERYTHING. Our overall title “Heroes of the Silver Age” refers to the alien colonization, but I want it to also remind people where these heroes came from. There will also be some crucial developments with a long standing character of the Marvel Universe.

BF: How did the writing duties on this project end up in your hands?

JP: I’d been bugging everyone to let me work with Mike, that’s the only thing I’m sure of that may have contributed. Some of it may have been due to the nice press Agents of Atlas was getting, I hope.

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BF: It sure did. Now, Agents of Atlas saw you play with both D-list characters and over in X-Men: First Class you handled the top of the bill, which also holds true for Spider-Man/FF. Which type do you have more fun with?

JP: You raise a point here by letter-classifying characters that I’ve wanted to say something about for a while. I know you’re just using it as a factual way to rank the visibility of characters, but it seems in recent years that writers are overly concerning themselves with that rank. So you have characters speaking of themselves as scrubs—it’s this weird self-loathing thing happening. You can almost hear the creators grousing behind the word balloons that they aren’t writing Batman or X-Men.

Any group I’m given to write becomes The Most Crucial Group In Comics as far as I’m concerned. It’s my job, and also I just naturally start to get attached to the characters as I write them and get in their heads. As long as I have some breathing room to interpret them, I have just as much fun with either type of character. But really I see that my job is to make those D-listers become A-listers.

BF: Dealing with D-listers means you have to look for a way to grab readers’ attention, while with flagship characters, the challenge is to put them in a situation that hasn’t been done before. What’s the most difficult type of story to write?

JP: Now I’ll actually answer your question instead of going off on a mini-rant. It is more difficult to write a story with the popular characters because they’ve been put through almost every story imaginable. But once you find the way in, then you realize there’s a lot of things they really haven’t done that you could write.

Obviously the FF and Spidey have dealt with invaders from another world before, but I’m thinking the way we’re doing it is different and intriguing enough that you’ll get a new thrill out of it.

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BF: You brought in a light-hearted tone on both Agents of Atlas and X-Men: First Class: the stories have their serious moments, but there’s a high feel good-factor and a lot of fun involved as well. Are you looking to set a similar tone on Spider-Man/FF?

JP: Spider-Man/FF falls in between those two. First Class is all about recapturing some lost innocence. Atlas deals with some more mature stuff like sex, racism and death, behind all the pulp fun. This book focuses on discovery and makes more use of the heroes as being members of families. Now that I’ve written most of it, I notice that I pay a lot of attention to how the heroes do their job.

I think fun moments and heavy ones work best played off of each other. You can be laughing at a character one moment and then be afraid for him the next, and I like a story to play out that way. 

Moreso X-Men: First Class. Atlas has some heavy moments in it, but we don’t rub your face in it forever. It’s a little hard to be depressing when you have a gorilla on your team, and two gorgeous women.

BF: Yeah, that’s true. [Laughs] Mike Wieringo’s runs on Fantastic Four and various Spider-Man titles over the years showed he knows how to get a light-hearted feel across without relinquishing deeper emotions and drama. Surely, that makes him the perfect choice to illustrate this story?

JP: Surely it does! Lots of things make Mike the perfect choice, really. He’s a pure cartoonist- the way his characters move and act always reinforces who they are. They’re always in character, and very believable. His environments, pacing, staging—it’s all the work of someone at the top of his game, and [who] achieves what you need to have in adventure/sci-fi/fantasy comics: it makes you completely accept the fantastic and implausible.

Selling the world of Marvel heroes is no small feat, and it gives readers something they’re rarely going to get from television and movies.

Mike juggles a lot of very difficult duties without calling too much attention to himself, so you really get invested in the story. To me, that’s what it’s all about. Being able to open the comic and jump in, forgetting you’re reading word balloons and turning pages because you’re being transported somewhere else for a while. We’re doing escapism here!

Mike’s work on his and Todd DeZago’s Tellos proves that he also has a massive capacity for pure fantasy. I’d really like to work with him on something Hercules-related where we could bring in lots of mythical creatures.

BF: Hopefully that’ll happen some day! Speaking of the future, what’s next for you once Spider-Man/FF wraps up in July?

JP: There’s a mini series I don’t think I can mention yet, but it’s probably common knowledge that I’m writing Marvel Adventures: The Avengers for a while, and an ongoing X-Men: First Class series with Roger Cruz is starting right up. Speaking of Avengers, my Atlas accomplice Leonard Kirk is joining the book for an arc and he’s kicking insane amounts of butt on that.

There will also be a First Class Special, featuring Kevin Nowlan, Paul Smith, Mike Allred and Colleen Coover. That makes me want to add another thought to the statements about light hearted and positive portrayals popping up in these books. I suddenly appear to be working with THE VERY BEST CARTOONISTS IN THE FIELD, all the time. It’s kind of hard to contain the sheer head-exploding joy of my work!

Spider-Man/Fantastic Four #1 goes on sale tomorrow through Marvel Comics.

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