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On Mining Marvel

One of my main gigs, these days, is as a contract writer to Marvel Comics. The job is two-fold — part of the time, I’ll lead out big projects for them, like the relaunch of IRON MAN and THUNDERBOLTS, or the second stage of ASTONISHING X-MEN. Part of the time I am, as one of my editors once affirmed, their mad scientist in the basement, performing experiments on moribund old properties.

This is actually an important part of the job, for them. Marvel Comics publishing stands or falls on their creative library being ambulatory enough to earn money or status.

So I spend part of each year doing research. Trawling through the net for information on old Marvel properties, getting the office to send out photocopies from the archive, researching backgrounds and the roots of concepts. Mining out the Marvel library.

So yesterday I jokingly gave my fellow writer Brian Reed some shit about his currently trying to do the same thing, finding a property with some legs on it. The worst part of the joke being that I wasn’t really lying about madness lying in wait for him.

Because the Marvel library has largely been mined out of the useful stuff. I think I snagged one of the last ones (it hasn’t been announced yet because it’s been in production for the last year by a very slow, meticulous and wonderful artist — we’ll call it out when all five issues are in).

This is actually good news for Marvel. They’ve gotten all their viable creative properties up on their feet and earning money. It’s bad news for me because I have to produce a certain number of comics to meet the provisions of the contract, and because I was hired to be the mad scientist, and there’s really not much to be done with, say, the BROTHER VOODOO villain who dressed as a giant occult chicken. Or, indeed, Brother Voodoo himself, whom I presume was intended as the black Dr Strange but whose appearances that I can find tend to cast him as the literal Magic Negro to a white lead.

This is, as I said to Brian, where the madness lies. You dig and dig and drill down into Wikipedia and MarvUnApp and exhume ever more obscure and justly-buried characters, and the constantly diminishing returns and increasing desperation bring you to a point where… well, I think there was a reason why Joe Straczynski pitched me on his idea about reviving The Spectacular Spider-Ham that year…

You find yourself thinking, yes, this character here who appeared once in 1981, attempting to trap Captain America in the radioactive pasta extruded from his eight nipples, that guy’s got some fucking MILEAGE there. Because you’ve spent six hours looking through all this monstrous shit and you’re just aching to latch on to something remotely useful to stop the pain.

And then Nick Lowe at Marvel phones up to see if you’ve got anything and you find yourself pitching a grim political post-BATTLESTAR GALACTICA take on Rocket Raccoon. And then he tells you that someone else is already doing Rocket Raccoon, because the situation is just that bloody awful.

This is what I was warning Brian of. I don’t want to see him end up like me. Because I’m sitting outside the pub with Wikipedia loaded on my phone, wondering if there’s a revisionist take in Monark Starstalker and his robot bird…

Published in comics talk


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