Talking Comics with Tim | Jeff Parker on Dark Avengers
Dec. 12, marks a new era and a new team dynamics for writer Jeff Parker‘s Dark Avengers as Issue 184 goes on sale. But before the new storyline begins, I convinced Parker to reflect on his Thunderbolts/Dark Avengers run, which started in November 2009 (Thunderbolts #138) as well as discussing what lies ahead with the series. It was interesting to learn his thought process when collaborating with past series artists like Kev Walker and Declan Shalvey, as well as what current artist Neil Edwards motivates Parker to tackle. This interview was a fun romp for me, full of surprises — none more than the first: that Parker nearly passed on writing the series.
Once you finish the interview, please chime in if you agree that Parker should get a chance to write a Man-Thing series for Marvel. And if you missed CBR’s Dave Richards’ interview with Parker regarding Red She-Hulk, be sure to read it to learn about more great Parker storytelling.
Tim O’Shea: You started writing Thunderbolts/Dark Avengers in November 2009. Could you have envisioned it would be a book you would still be writing a solid three years later?
Jeff Parker: No, I almost passed on it. When Bill Rosemann asked me if I’d be interested in coming on after Andy Diggle. I’d never read much of the title, and he described that they wanted to base it around The Raft superprison. And I was wary. “It’s all set in prison? They never go anywhere?” But Bill and Tom Brevoort assured me that they’d be able to go on missions, it just needed to have prison as a big backdrop; that’s what had been discussed at one of the Marvel summits. Bill had asked me because I’d just worked on The Hood sequel miniseries with him and Kyle Hotz and he thought I’d be good for continuing with a villain book.
The other element in flux was who would be the hero to lead Thunderbolts. It kept alternating between Luke Cage and Hawkeye at the offices based on them trying to figure out the roles for those characters in other books. I kept pushing for Cage, because Hawkeye had already done Tbolt time and Cage with his prison past was a perfect thematic fit. Cage won out mainly because Hawkeye was getting his own book then with Mockingbird. And now he’s got another one!
Any idea how many artists you collaborated with through the series? Off the top of my head, there’s Miguel Angel Sepulveda, Kev Walker, Declan Shalvey, Matthew Southworth, and many more. What were the highlights of collaborating with these artists?
I started with Miguel, and that was before the new status quo, I was really just finishing things Diggle set up. And the book was still in this more photo-realistic phase- I don’t think those first issues worked that great. Miguel and I have entirely different sensibilities and I felt the acting didn’t go with the tone I was trying to establish. He’s gone on to good success over at DC since, it’s simply that not every pairing clicks.
Then came the time for the new status quo, and Bill and Brevoort asked me who I’d like to put in there along with a few they already picked, like Juggernaut and Crossbones. That was when I first suggested the new character Troll, an Asgardian/Troll raised by the wilder group. And Kev Walker was chosen as artist.
It was strange because at first Kev would never respond to me in the email loops. I was trying to see what he’d like to draw, stuff like that, but he only wrote back in ones the editors sent. It really messed with me! I felt he probably assumed I was some illiterate jerk American writer who was going to stick him with uninteresting scripts and was trying to be chummy. That was all me projecting by the way, he was probably just busy at the time. After our first couple of issues, though, he started communicating directly with me, and then really putting forth story ideas that shaped everything. We’d plan out much together at that point.
Kev’s Mignola-meets-Jamie Hewlett style really set the tone for the book. It had power, darkness, but also lots of humor that somehow didn’t undercut any of the seriousness. And he would come up with great bits and concepts that I worked almost all of in. What also blew us all away was Frank Martin, who had been coloring the book before I joined, and how ready he was to synch up to art like Kev’s. It was instantly one of the best looking mainstream books on the shelves, I thought.
And then you may remember along came the “Shadowland” crossover and DOUBLE SHIPPING! Where many titles were encouraged to produce 18 issues a year instead of 12. I had been through this on Hulk so I knew what was coming. Bill and I both thought it would work best if we alternated between just two artists so the book didn’t lose its voice, and Declan Shalvey was starting to do the two-part “Shadowland” story. When his first pages came in, they were beautiful and matched the feel of the book even though his style was nothing like Kev’s. Bill asked if he would alternate with Kev so no one would be crushed by the deadlines (even doing 12 issues a year leaves an artist with no time for life) and he agreed. So from that point on I was always thinking “I’m in a Kev story” or “I’m in a Dec story” and wrote with each in mind.
Just as that was settled, there was an editor rotation at the office and Bill was moved! Tom Brennan came on, and I think he’ll say that as he was getting a ton of things dumped in his lap, Rachel Pinnelas who was already the assistant editor really kept that transition smooth.
How did your adjust your writing approach when you knew “I’m in a Kev story” versus when you knew “I’m in a Dec story”?
If I wanted to go particularly dark, and suggest violence that feels of the real world, that’s the kind of development I would set up for Declan. His art conveys that sense. Hence he got the Jack the Ripper story, and the Death of Fixer. Dec can pull off powerful moments and leave readers breathless.
If I needed surreal or bizarre, or were going for just the right mix of humor and harshness, Kev tended to get that. The big beatdowns of the Hyperion two-parter (widely known as everyone’s favorite story) or one of my personal favorites, the Songbird focus issue in the mad scientist’s cave lab where she gets her toes licked. When he sent in that page, I couldn’t breath for minutes I laughed so hard.
I find it hard to decide which of the Bolts grew the most under your guidance. Who do you think you changed the most? Also, I would love to know if you are going to figure out a way to write Man-Thing again?
Maybe Hyde and Boomerang? Or Satana? I did get to give Ghost an origin, which he never had, so maybe him a bit. And sure, for obvious reasons Man-Thing since he can now talk and think clearly. That was something Kev was pushing for early on, when he started speaking to me. I’d really like to do a new Man-Thing comic, I have ideas that would make it a different kind of book. I established the universal language he speaks to explain that everyone hears him differently, so he could never be written wrong.
How the hell did you juggle the time-travel aspect of the series, while still maintaining the present-day arc in parallel?
That wasn’t as hard as it seemed. I was most surprised when Tom Brennan suggested we have them go through time because that seemed like an old-fashioned arc to do and the kind that I’d normally be shooed away from. I think he needed one of this books to stay out of crossovers, for his sanity. And mine! So I was happy to jump on that idea. Even though the time traveling was a classic comics element, since this was villains and the kind of villains they were, it made it new and fresh. The Thunderbolts wouldn’t be concerned with preserving history, but they were very into survival, and luckily had the big brains of Centurius and Ghost to help guide them.
Tom’s instincts for what would make intriguing covers and solicits led me to fantastic story opportunities. He suggested that the Bolts meet The Invaders in World War 2, and that was a blast. Running into Dr. Doom was another Brennan brainstorm.
How hard was it to say goodbye to this set of characters?
Quite hard! I really felt comfortable with all of them and loved what I was getting out of each. But it’s probably when you are comfortable that shake up and change is needed most. A lot of what makes interesting writing is venturing into new territory. I like that we’ve done something different by bringing in the Dark Avengers as pure bad guys first, so you can see where they’re coming from, and then making them the status quo. It’s a new book shaped thoroughly by the one it’s borne from, it has a legacy.
Looking forward to upcoming issues, how are the team dynamics going to change with USAgent at the helm?
Well, he’s a natural leader, and they’ll be in a situation where they really need that. The question is- is John Walker being led?
What kind of challenges are you looking to throw artist Neil Edwards with the new team?
I am giving him really the hardest challenges that involve a ton of design work, whole armies, crazy monsters- and he laughs at all of my demands and gives back these incredible pages like it was nothing. Watch Neil closely, he’s been evolving his style going into this, and it looks fantastic. I feel like a lot of Chris Sprouse snuck in, see what you think.
Is Moonstone changed somewhat from her time travels, and will that show in coming issues?
I think she’s not as selfish, but it could have just been that she grew to like or tolerate her fellow Thunderbolts and now she’s starting over with a new group she has no affinity with. Her big change is of course her costume, which happens for a story reason. And looks a lot like Captain Marvel.
Is there going to be a new base of operations for the Dark Avengers?
Not at the moment, no, they are footloose and fancy-free.