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Van Lente's Big Three - Part I

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If you know Fred Van Lente, you know that he's a man that's passionate about everything he does, especially writing comics. Currently, the writer landed a job at Marvel as the writer of the next Amazing Fantasy story-arc, debuting with April's Amazing Fantasy #7. The story introduces you to the new version of the Scorpion. Mac Gargan the original Scorpion and Spider-Man villain, gets pushed aside as Carmilla Black takes his place -- a younger and definitely a more heroic version, as Carm is in fact a teenage SHIELD agent. 

Without giving anything away ourselves, let's hear what Fred had to say about AmFan, as he calls the book. Next week, we'll conclude this two-part interview with a look at two other projects Fred has been working on: Action Philosophers, and of course, the gig that more or less kicked off everything else, The Silencers.

BROKEN FRONTIER: After having started your career at Moonstone, you're suddenly at another 'House of M' (pardon the pun) in Marvel. How did you land a job at America's current best-selling comic company?

FVL: My partner-in-crime (literally) on THE SILENCERS, Steve Ellis, handed Mark Paniccia a copy of our Moonstone series at a convention. This was back when Mark was still an editor at Tokyopop. Mark read 'em, he dug 'em, and when he moved to Marvel he contacted me, along with a bunch of other writers, about pitching for AMAZING FANTASY. The stars aligned and I was the guy who ultimately got the gig. 

BF: Is there any difference in how you approach writing a small press comic and a more mainstream one such as Amazing Fantasy?

FVL: Not at all. The goal is always the same: tell a damn good story. If five people or fifty thousand people pick up a book with my name on it, I want them to walk away thinking it was a quality read.

A reporter once asked Joe DiMaggio, toward the end of his career, why he went out and played so hard day after day after day after he had nothing left to prove. He replied, "Because I never know when someone's seeing me for the first time." That's the attitude I aspire to. 

Of course, a big difference is that when you work for Marvel, you get paid in checks with Spider-Man on them, which is pretty darn cool. (laughs)

BF: You start working on the series as of issue #7, with your first story arc to feature the new Scorpion, a.k.a. Carmilla Black. What can you tell us about the character?

FVL: She starts out as a normal teenager - popular, lots of friends, football star boyfriend, Homecoming Queen, the whole bit. But when she turns sixteen, all of a sudden, this hideous power suddenly erupts out of her - a poisonous hand that "stings" anybody it touches. The power manifests itself at the worst possible instant, and tragedy results. Carm runs away from her sleepy Vermont town. 

AMAZING FANTASY #7 opens three years later. Carm's adoptive parents have been killed and she has to return to the town that hates her to settle their affairs. It's only then she learns a horrible secret: her biological mother is AIM's Scientist Supreme -- and AIM had her adoptive parents killed. It's like a fairy tale gone horribly wrong. She's not the heir to a royal throne, but to this dark legacy of terror. 

BF: Will readers find out along with Carmilla when and why she got 'scorpionized'?

Click to enlargeFVL: You got it. The entire first storyarc, which lasts through AMAZING FANTASY #12, is the story of Carmilla's journey to find out who she really is, what Mommy Dearest wants with her, and what's the origin of the poison arm she's dubbed "The Stinger." It's a quest that takes her to the fleshpots of Madripoor, the medieval towers of Prague, the deserts of war-torn Sudan, all with an earth-shattering climax in... well, you're just going to have to buy it.

BF: To what extent is this Scorpion's origin story yours? How much of fleshing-out had Marvel done before you came aboard?

FVL: Mark's original request was that the new Scorpion had to be a) teenaged; b) female; c) a SHIELD agent; d) have the poison arm and e) appeal to regular fans and Goth chicks alike -- that was basically it. So, it's kind of like those bits on "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" where the comedians get props and they have to improvise skits around them. I love that stuff. Starting completely from scratch can be just as daunting as writing with a lot of restrictions: the dreaded "Facing the Blank Page." Pitching an editor completely cold can be a total nightmare too. 

In this case, I had a sex, an age, a job, a power and an attitude, which were just enough pieces for me to assemble into something that was both my own and something that satisfied Marvel's requirements as well. When I first got Mark's pitch I immediately reacted to the female espionage aspects of it, having grown up madly in love with Diana Rigg from "The Avengers" watching that classic show in reruns back in Ohio. So, once more, the stars aligned. 

Certain aspects of the character, such as her slinky Black Ops outfit and the high-tech gauntlet on The Stinger, were developed by the artists in the design process, so the whole thing has been a group effort between me, Mark, associate editor Mackenzie Cadenhead, and the artistic team. 

BF: Amazing Fantasy #7 opens three years after Carm first ran away from home. Does that mean that a large part of the story will include flashback sequences to what happened to Carm during that period?

Click to enlargeFVL: Good question! But the answer is no. Something we all agreed early on was that Carm's three years on the streets would remain a mystery, with only bits and pieces of that period dolled out over time. Believe me, her present is exciting enough. If we got too much into that three-year gap we'd start making people go into cardiac arrest. 

BF: You've already told us that Carmilla is a SHIELD agent. How did she end up in Nick Fury's stable and what repercussions will that have on the character and the story?

FVL: SHIELD knows that Carmilla's mother, the Scientist Supreme, is trying to get in touch with her. They think it's because AIM is building up to a mammoth terrorist attack that Mom won't survive, so she's putting her affairs in order, so to speak.

In the first chapter we introduce readers to Derek Khanata, a take-no-guff Agent of SHIELD who hails from Wakanda, the Black Panther's country. He's Scorpion's "controller" as they say in spook lingo, and he and his team shadow Carm throughout her adventures. They can provide logistical support and spy equipment, but they cannot intervene in her missions in any way. Carm's what's known as an "illegal" -- an unofficial operative. Total "we will disavow any knowledge of your actions" stuff. She is expendable to these spooks and that's why they use her. 

BF: What about Fury in particular, is he going to be a supporting character during the story?

FVL: Fury appears in a scene or two during the arc. But he is the agency's Public Director, so it's just not practical for him to venture out into the field, except under exceptional circumstances. 

One of the great pleasures of doing this series is to really treat SHIELD like an international spy agency, composed of secret agents from around the world. As you know, I currently work for the United Nations, so I have kind of a unique perspective on this. In SHIELD, democracies like America, dictatorships like Sudan, and monarchies like Wakanda all have to make nice-nice to combat technologically advanced terrorists like HYDRA and AIM. This throws together a lot of countries whose interests are not really aligned and can cause numerous bureaucratic and ethical headaches for the agents involved. I'm trying to inject as much of the current socio-political climate into the series as possible to make it as realistic as it can be. 

Click to enlargeFor example: given the contempt of the current American administration for international institutions, it seems only logical to me that SHIELD would not be particularly welcome in the USA at present, and that can create life-threatening complications for Our Heroine. 

BF: Unlike the first, male Scorpion, this newer teenage version is not a badass. Or is she?  

FVL: Damn, don't let Carmilla hear you say that, she'll sting your ass. 

Actually, from her three years on the streets Carm is tough as nails in a lot of ways and her methods are sometimes more direct and effective (and at odds) than the "fill-out-this-assassination-form-in-triplicate" methods of the SHIELD agents, which makes for a lot of fun tension throughout the series. 

BF: How would you compare or contrast her to the original Scorpion, besides her age and sex obviously?

FVL: Uh … They have the same name … 

Basically, the comparison ends there. This started life as a poll on Marvel.com, where fans were asked to pick which character they'd like to see get a total revamp in the pages of AmFan, as it's affectionately known around here. The Scorpion won by a landslide, beating out Werewolf by Night, Hellcat and Kraven. 

Just to be clear: Carm doesn't replace Mac Gargan. Mac Gargan is still around. But somebody told me he's Venom now, so what do I know?

BF: Working on the book with you are cover artist James Jean and interior artist Leonard Kirk. What's it like working with these gentlemen?

FVL: A joy. Len really knows to break down a script cinematically, a word that gets overused in this business, but he's a great director in the sense of choosing exactly the right angles and shots to hit a story's emotional beats dead-on. And he draws beautiful women, which in this book we have in abundance. 

I'll let James's covers speak for themselves: they're pure eye candy. His design skills are jaw dropping and he is on the verge of being a megastar. 

Aw crap, I just jinxed it for him. 

BF: At this point, we've covered the basics of your story-arc, can you give any plot details away?

FVL: In AMAZING FANTASY #12, Carm whips off her rubber mask to reveal ... she's Mac Gargan! All along! 

Wait, no, that was a lie. 

Seriously, the twists and turns in the plot are what make this roller coaster fun to ride, so I'll just let people get on board and hang on for dear life. I'm doing my darnedest to make this the most exciting spy thriller-with-superpowers it can be - "24" or THE BOURNE IDENTITY in comics format. 

BF: The new Scorpion story accounts for six issues, running in Amazing Fantasy #7-12. Are you slated to write more issues on the book afterwards?

FVL: Like most things in today's dog-eat-dog world of funny books, I imagine that will depend on sales. But I hope so. I love this character! I already have a couple more arcs in mind and could see myself writing another fifty issues of THE SCORPION. 

- Frederik Hautain

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