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Wonder What If No More!

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Cartoonist Jeff Parker may be best known for his spy-on-the-run graphic novel, The Interman, but lately he’s been spending his time at the House of Ideas. Parker’s been a key player in the launch a new era for Marvel Comics with the all-ages Marvel Adventures line and is also scripting X-Men: First Class, a mini-series set during the earliest days of the team. Next up however, Parker takes some heroes from the 1950’s and spins a concept created in the 70’s for a new mini-series for the modern age. Parker stopped by this past week to discuss Agents of Atlas, the August debuting series featuring art by Leonard Kirk and Kris Justice.

Broken Frontier - Just to make sure everybody is getting onboard at the same place; can you give us a quick overview of what Agents of Atlas is about? This is a story set in the current day Marvel Universe, but featuring characters with their roots in the Golden Age, correct?

Jeff Parker - Yes, these characters are all from the 50's, and the story takes place in the present day. Due to their respective natures, time hasn't really made much of a dent with them, except for former FBI-now-SHIELD agent Jimmy Woo. He is not only the real age he would be, he is horribly maimed when the story begins. But, as you'll see... he gets better!

BF - I read elsewhere that the initial impetus for the series came from editor Mark Paniccia re-discovering What If? #9. How did you come aboard and how much of an outline had Mark laid out?

JP - Mark had a gut feeling about those characters, and he was starting to get a sense of the kinds of stories I wanted to write outside of the Marvel Adventures books. So he asked me to mull it over and get back to him. Luckily I came back with a story that felt like something he wanted to do, because he wouldn't tell me what kind of story he wanted! That's probably a good way to solicit a creator for a concept, because otherwise they're just going to try to tell the editor what they think he or she wants to hear. This way they just get your honest pitch of a story you'd like to tell.

BF - Which of the Agents have you found the most enjoyable to write?

JP - That's tough. Gorilla Man is almost too easy an answer, because he'll say and do anything he feels like. Venus is fun too, because she's so sweet you don't have to fool with cynicism and petty emotions. Marvel Boy is so alien to us now that his strangeness is appealing (if tricky) to handle. Jimmy Woo has the neat tic of talking like a hep cat from 1958, and Namora is very regal in her mannerisms.

So with all that, I'm going to say The Human Robot, who says almost nothing. You never know when he's going to talk, and it's usually very brief. He's impossible to figure out because he gives you very little to go on, and something about that just makes M-11 a real pleasure. A very closed book.

BF - 3-D Man is one of the “1950’s Avengers” that is noticeably absent from the Atlas roster… is there a reason that he was excluded from the series?

JP - Because he wasn't really around in the 1950's! The starting point of this was examining the core concept of the What If book, but now we weren't trying to create a 50's version of The Avengers, but just a neat team. And Roy Thomas and Don Glut made some great picks, but 3-D Man was mainly a counterpart for Captain America. We're still working off of what they wrote in a way, because Namora was asked to be on the team. What interested me once she was a part, was that you would have a team of pulp fantasy archetypes - Spaceman, Gorilla (or Beast Man), Mythical figure, Robot, Mermaid... it just felt more balanced.

BF - How much was continuity a concern for you with this project? 

JP - Normally I think people are too concerned with continuity, and it shouldn't get in the way of a good story. In this though, it occurred to me that we could use the continuity as a strength, especially since we working under the idea that a huge secret organization is manipulating things. So we left most of the continuity readers might be expecting removed, completely in place. But there's more information to share to get to the truth of it all.

BF - Why do you think penciller Leonard Kirk is a good match with this project?

JP - My god, when you see how these books are coming together... Leonard has made one of those plateau leaps that artists hope for so much in their careers. He's a bit beyond mere mortal now! Again, another gut feeling by Paniccia. There's a big variety of locales and moods and scenes going on in this storyline, and he has knocked each one out of the park every time. It's made me realize how so many cartoonists tend to stay in a safe zone, playing to their strengths. Leonard just takes on a new task, and makes that thing one of his strengths too. He can do sci-fi, horror, mystery, you name it. He allows me to be indulgent and take the story as far as I want to go with it with no fear that a scene can't be pulled off. I try to repay him by giving him stuff to draw that he's just not going to get to do in a typical superhero comic book.

He's going to be pretty darn sought after by various Marvel editors after this. I just hope it works out that he do more Atlas!

BF – Earlier you mentioned the Marvel Adventures line that you’ve done a fair bit of writing on. How does this line differ from the “real” Marvel Universe?

JP - The books were created to introduce new readers to classic Marvel characters in big adventure fashion. A nice development has been that long term readers have been getting into the books too. The stories are always one issue long to make hopping on easier.

BF - How is writing an all-ages book, such as the Marvel Adventures comics, different then working on one of your “in-continuity” or independent titles?

JP - The prime directive I have to follow is to make the stories work for people with no knowledge of Marvel Comics history- and then I shoehorn in my own agenda to make them also work for readers who do know the characters from way back. It can be hard for me too - when I said I wanted to write the Black Panther, I was asked to introduce him through the Fantastic Four meeting him. Then suddenly I'm all nerdly, arguing "But-but they met fighting Klaw, and Wyatt Wingfoot was Johnny's college roommate..." and that's the kind of thing you have to face that you may love but there's just not the room to bring in that kind of history without making new readers feel like it's inaccessible. One of the best models I look to in this case is Batman the Animated Series, where they introduced other characters by stripping away everything but the most iconic and mythic elements that were there. And what that tends to produce is characterization that feels right, more than if we concentrated on continuity detail.

What it all really adds up to, though, is that I got to write MODOK in issue 9 of [Marvel Adventures] The Avengers!

BF – Another Marvel book you have in queue is the X-Men: First Class mini-series. What was the attraction of writing the X-Men in their early days?

JP - Frankly, because they just don't have the baggage that they would later acquire. Having the benefit of hindsight and knowing all the characters go through tough times later makes me want to grant them a bit more fun at this period in their lives. Now I'm finding opportunities to make the X-Men encounter other neat characters from Marvel history because events later don't contradict such things.

BF - Given the nature of both X-Men: First Class and Agents of Atlas, do you consider yourself a “comic book history buff?” Are there any other “forgotten characters” or times past you’d like to try your hand at?

JP - No, I'm more like the teacher at your school who's only one step ahead of the student's because I've got the Teacher's Edition textbook! Well, there are some things I know by heart. Agents of Atlas is making me peer more into Golden Age characters, and there are some really cool ones that would be very entertaining to handle. Especially done in period. From the better known Marvel realm, I'd like to write some Dr. Strange.

BF - Any other upcoming projects that you’d like to mention?

JP - Oddly enough, I will be doing a What If story pretty soon! I can't mention what it's about yet.

BF - Are you planning to attend any conventions this summer?

JP - Yes! I'll be at Comicon International in a couple of weeks, and I'm thinking of going to Baltimore. It killed me that I couldn't go to Heroes Con in Charlotte, and I hear that turned out to be a terrific show.

Agents of Atlas #1 debuts August 2, 2006, while X-Men: First Class #1 arrives September 20th. For more information about Parker and his work, visit his website at www.parkerspace.com. 

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