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Whatever Knows Fear...

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Next week the Man-Thing, Marvel’s very own muck-encrusted swamp monster, makes his triumphant return in the new Dead of Night miniseries. Broken Frontier sat down with series writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Marvel Knights: 4, Nightcrawler, Sensational Spider-Man) to chat about Marvel horror characters, Man-Thing’s bizarre yet engaging supporting cast and what the future holds for Ted Sallis’s alter-ego…

BROKEN FRONTIER: For potential readers who may have never encountered the Man-Thing before what can you tell us about the premise of the new Dead of Night featuring the Man-Thing miniseries?

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: The basic premise is: Four issues of horror and mayhem starring the Man-Thing and his, uh…eclectic supporting cast. These can be read as stand-alones, but together, link up to tell a larger story, which is, basically, one of love and revenge. The mini-series is also a sort of deconstruction of the horror genre…

Okay, that sounds pretentious, here’s what I really mean: Each issue is written in a different horror "style." Issue #1, "The Cool Dark," retells the Man-Thing’s origin as an EC horror comic from the 1950s. Issue #2, which focuses on swamp-witch Jennifer Kale, is an homage to horror magazines from the 1960s like Creepy and Eerie. Issue #2 is my version of 70s horror movies like The Hills Have Eyes and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Issue #4…is like a James Cameron horror movie, like Aliens. But, regardless of style, they’re all Man-Thing stories, they all feature the Man-Thing, and they all focus on some aspect of the Man-Thing mythos.

BF: How did this latest Man-Thing revival come about and how did you become attached to the project?

RA-S: My editor Warren Simons and I are always batting around ideas, so when our time on Sensational Spider-man began to wind-down, and I said I wanted to focus more on mini-series, Warren said, "What about doing a Max horror book?" From there, it was a hop, skip, and a jump to Dead of Night, though originally it was going to be much more… straight-forward isn’t the right word, but it was going to have a much more focused scope, telling one discrete story (what eventually became the miniseries’ third issue). Once we hit upon the idea that the miniseries could be about Horror with a capital "H," and that we could tell a few different Man-Thing stories (capturing the original series’ weirdness and eclectic-ness), then it really took-off.

BF: You've used the Man-Thing before in the pages of Nightcrawler and shown a certain affinity for the 70s Marvel characters in some of your previous work. Would I be right in thinking that's an area of Marvel publishing history that you have a particular affection for? And do you remember fondly any stories from Ted Sallis's past that inspired your approach?

RA-S: More than having a fondness for a specific era (though I guess I do, which is why Madame Web came back in Sensational), I have a definite fondness for a specific corner of the Marvel Universe — namely, the horror corner. So, historically, I’ve always tried to drag Marvel’s horror characters, kicking and screaming, into whatever super-hero adventures I happened to be writing at the time. In this case, though, no dragging necessary; we got to pitch a tent right at the foot of the Tower of Shadows and spend some time in that particular sandbox.

BF: This series is a "re-imagining" of Man-Thing's origin. Reboots are, of course, a little controversial at the moment... So with that in mind, how did you approach redefining Man-Thing's world while remaining true to his basic concept? And can that dreaded question be asked: is this "in continuity"?

RA-S: More than being a wholesale "re-imagining," I see this miniseries — especially its first issue — as an expansion, and a deepening, of the original, 11-page origin. (The ensuing three issues are pure invention.) I mean, new elements are definitely introduced in the first issue (cannibalistic mutants… sure, why not?), and the horror quotient has been turned-up, I think, but I also wanted us to spend a little more time with Ted Sallis before his transformation. I wanted him to have an actual character — an actual personality — before, of course, taking it away. As for it being or not being "in continuity," I definitely think it is. It’s certainly not aggressively refuting anything that’s happened before the miniseries.

BF: The Man-Thing is a curious character in that he's often either a catalyst or a resolution for events in the stories he appears in, rather than the real focus of those stories himself. He kind of shambles in and out of the lives of the characters surrounding him. Is this an aspect of the Man-Thing that you'll be exploring in this series, and how do you deal with the challenges of writing for a near-mindless protagonist?

RA-S: When I was first pitching this miniseries to Warren, one of the things I said to him was: "The best Man-Thing stories are the ones that don’t have Man-Thing in them," and I was only half-joking, because there is some truth to this. (It’s the reason why Dracula only appears in about fifty pages of the 400-page novel Dracula…) Also, you’re right, unlike say, Swamp Thing, who talks and has a personality and psychological needs and wants, the Man-Thing, truly, is much more…elemental. Much more a force of nature. There’s something a lot messier and more primal about this character, and you have to kind of embrace that, I think, and not see it as a liability. That’s what the character is; trying to "deepen" the Man-Thing sort of diminishes him, I believe. Of course, it means that you have to be careful when plotting out your stories, so that there is some kind of order and governing principle, so that it doesn’t all appear to be happenstance or deus-ex-machina or whatever. That, and you better have a great/weird/quirky supporting cast, which — thank God — we do.

BF: Advance solicitations mention Ellen Brandt, Jennifer and Andrew Kale playing a crucial role in proceedings. Can we expect to see any other familiar faces from the classic Steve Gerber era?

RA-S: You know, I really, really wanted to fit Howard the Duck into this miniseries, and Ka-Zar, and I really, really wanted to muck around in the Nexus of All Realities, but ultimately…we had to pick our battles… There’s only so much you can do in four issues, but never say never… Steve Gerber’s run is one of the all-time greats, bursting at the seams with ideas and characters — what was he on? (asked with the utmost respect and awe) — so…maybe not this go-around, but hopefully the next one.

BF: Kaare Andrews' EC Comics-homage covers look quite stunning. Is it that EC vibe that inspired the idea of reviving Digger as host of Dead of Night? He really is an obscure blast from the past, even for aging fanboys like myself...

RA-S: Nail on the head. Once I decided on the "EC concept," I e-mailed Marvel’s trade department and was like: "I dimly remember Marvel having a Crypt-Keeper-like horror host…" And the folks there shot back: "Yeah, that’s Digger," and then, of course, it all came rushing back… But again, it came from this thought — "Hey, Marvel has all these great horror characters gathering dust, why aren’t we using them?" You know, the way DC and Vertigo have kept their horror characters like Cain and Abel in play, over the years… (And I’m not counting Digger’s stint as part of the "Night Shift.")

BF: What extra latitude has publishing the book under the Marvel MAX imprint given in depicting the often macabre and violent part of the Marvel Universe that Man-Thing inhabits?

RA-S: You know, at first, I was wantonly inserting sex and violence and cussing because I was allowed to, but then, after awhile, the novelty wore-off and I didn’t think about it too much… Though, having spent the bulk of my time at Marvel writing icons like Spider-man and the Fantastic Four (my favorite characters, make no mistake), it was nice to be able to kill characters off and actually show them getting ripped to pieces… on-panel.

BF: What can you tell us about what series artist Kano has brought to the atmosphere and tone of the book?

RA-S: Well, Kano’s just the artist on the first issue (since the series is written in four different styles, we decided to use four different artists), but he really sets that bar high, let me tell you… I keep saying this to Warren, but I truly believe that Dead of Night #1 is among the single issues I’m most proud of, and a lot of that is due to Kano’s work. He’s just got a great style, terrific storytelling skills, meshing perfectly with the EC-flavored script. I mean, a lot of that first issue rises — or falls — on its style and atmosphere, which Kano delivers beautifully.

BF: To me, as a Marvel reader for more years than I want to admit, the title Dead of Night conjures up mental images of horror reprints in the Seventies and the debut of Scott Edelman's Scarecrow. Last year also saw more horror nostalgia at Marvel with the various Legion of Monsters one-shots. If the opportunity arose would you be keen to work on more Dead of Night runs featuring other characters from the darker corners of the MU?

RA-S: Uhm, yes. I have a great (I think) Werewolf by Night story that I was going to tell in my horror-tinged Nightcrawler, but then that went away. Then I was going to tell it in Sensational, but "The Iron Spider" and then "The Other" and then "Civil War" and "Back in Black" happened… So now, maybe, hopefully, it’ll find a home in the pages of Dead of Night, where, truthfully, it most belongs.

BF: Are there any other projects you're working on at the moment that you'd like to tell us about?

RA-S: A miniseries called Angel: Revelations that Adam Pollina is drawing and Matt Hollingsworth is coloring that is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, a Fantastic Four miniseries I can’t talk about yet because it’s a big secret, another miniseries featuring a team made-up of Marvel’s more…curvilicious characters. And an ongoing that stars a supporting character from Spidey’s universe (hint: not Jackpot). So yeah, things have been pretty quiet for me comic-wise for the last few months — mostly ‘cause I was out in LA, writing for the HBO show Big Love, before the dreaded writers’ strike happened — but lots of things in the pipeline or about to come out of the pipeline…

BF: And finally, as we all know, "Whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing's touch"... Re-imagining or not, we will get to hear THAT tagline at some point in the series won't we? 

RA-S: Whether or not you hear that actual line, I swear to you…there’s lots of burning in this miniseries. Lots…

Dead of Night featuring the Man-Thing #1 goes on sale 13th February from Marvel MAX priced $3.99.

       

  

 

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