John Carter

Tuesday Q&A: Peter David

The prolific writer explores a variety of worlds with The Dark Tower, X-Factor and John Carter



By Chris Arrant

Marvel Comics has become a nexus for stories from all over the fiction world, and veteran writer Peter David sits at the center of it.

In addition to writing mutant series X-FACTOR, David also leads the way in the epic adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower novels as well as writing the comics prequel to the upcoming feature film “John Carter.”

David spoke with about his trio of comic series and inspirations that range from William Butler Yeats and Edgar Rice Burroughs to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

THE DARK TOWER: THE GUNSLINGER - THE WAY STATION #1 preview art by Laurence Campbell This December you’re mounting up for the new Dark Tower limited series, THE GUNSLINGER – THE WAY STATION, adapting the second chapter of the prose Gunslinger book. What can you tell us about this arc?

Peter David: Actually it's a combination of two chapters from the first Gunslinger novel. Both The Way Station and The Oracle and the Mountain are being covered.  Essentially Roland is still pursuing the Man in Black, and believes he's getting closer—except that may just be illusion. How does Roland come across the way station, and what does he find inside worth investigating?
Peter David: He comes across it pretty much the same way he comes across anything: in his endless chase after the Man in Black. He runs into the exact sorts of challenges that one would expect the last Gunslinger to encounter, such as a demon hiding in the basement. Because of course when you're the last Gunslinger and you go into a basement, you're not just going to encounter a rec room, a wide screen TV, and a cooler of brewskis; there's gonna be something trying to kill you. One thing not trying to kill him is a young boy named Jake Chambers. What can you tell us about this pivotal character?
Peter David: Jake is Roland's first major connection to, and even inkling of, the outsider world. Or what we would refer to simply as "our" world. Under hypnosis, Jake winds up having recollections of his life in New York City and opens Roland's eyes to the multitude of possibilities outside Mid-World. How does this story-arc fit in within the building mythos of The Dark Tower?
Peter David: It's pivotal. Not only does it introduce Jake, but we also see glimpses of other characters in the canon, such as Eddie Dean; characters who lots of fans have been asking about.

THE DARK TOWER: THE GUNSLINGER - THE WAY STATION #1 preview art by Laurence Campbell Artist Laurence Campbell joins you for this series, so put yourself in his shoes: what’s it like stepping into this kind of comic, far different from the standard Marvel super heroes he’s used to?
Peter David: I honestly wouldn't presume to speak on his behalf. I know that in my case, [as somebody] who is writing—or more correctly, dialoguing—something far different from Marvel super heroes, it was both daunting and exhilarating becoming swept up into King's world. I hope that Laurence likewise shares that measure of excitement. Jumping into that world of Marvel super heroes, your most recent issue of X-FACTOR left us with a cliffhanger with the revelation of a new villain named Bloodbath. What’s coming up for the team and the title?

Peter David: Some major, major events. The end of #227 has a one-two punch that, if they give out an annual WTF award, this one would have it hands down. It's going to propel the team into wholly unexpected directions. And the reason I know they're unexpected is because I've looked around the Internet and see lots of speculation as to what's coming up, and exactly no one has gotten it right. Or even come close. I see passing mentions of breadcrumbs I've dropped, and people wondering whether I've forgotten about this thing or wondering aloud when the hell I'm ever going to get back to some other thing. But absolutely no one has speculated correctly about what's coming up. Bottom line is that the team is going to be left reeling over the events of #227-#229 and the surprising shift of status quo in #230—which was surprising when I wrote it, but less so since it's also being heavily promoted. But hey, if it gets people buying the book, then fine.

X-FACTOR #227 preview art by Leonard Kirk Coming up, I’ve heard rumblings that there’s a death in the team in future issues. I don’t want to spoil X-FACTOR #227, but can you speak at all about the team dynamic and how losing one of their own might affect them?
Peter David: Shocked, saddened, bewildered, distraught. All this and more, which comes to a head in #230 when the team is literally tearing itself apart through recriminations, finger-pointing, and uncertainty about each other. #230 is pretty much the epitome of the first stanza of the poem “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. And in January’s X-FACTOR #230, the team joins up with the overarching X-Men story-arc Regenesis. Can you tell us how X-Factor Investigations fits in with that?

X-FACTOR #227 preview art by Leonard Kirk

Peter David: Well, by #230 you've got a team that's at a crossroads. Thanks to all the second guessing and grief, they're wondering whether they can hold it together, or if they even should. One member is gone, they're not sure if they can trust several others. How the hell are they supposed to work together and live together? They have their own internal schism, as it were, and it overlaps with the other one going on. And basically one of the individuals caught up in Schism, although I won't stay who—hint: rhymes with Shmolverine—has his own stuff going on and can totally relate to what they're going through. To that end, he approaches them with a sort of "We can help each other" deal. Now whether they take it or not, well, you have to keep reading for that. But I absolutely, positively will not tell you who else shows up in #230. In addition to that, the cover for X-FACTOR #230 shows both Havok and Polaris—ex-members from your first run on the title in the 90’s—showing up. What can you say about these two new additions to the team?
Peter David: Oh. You saw that cover, huh. Dammit. Okay, well, so much for that. What can I say? Well, I can say read the book. I mean, come on, you gotta leave me something to surprise people with. Jumping over to your other big project, when we spoke to you back in September about JOHN CARTER WORLD OF MARS, you related to us how you’ve been a fan of this work going back to your childhood. What’s it like stepping in to write this story?
Peter David: It's fantastic. Not only is it a wonderful opportunity to play in the Edgar Rice Burroughs universe, but I'm also very aware that this series might well be—probably will be—an introduction to Barsoom for some readers. I take that responsibility very seriously. You never have a second chance to make a good first impression, and I want people to be encouraged to go and read the original novels—not to mention, obviously, see the movie—and discover Burroughs’ world of Mars in the same way that I was able to many years ago.

JOHN CARTER: WORLD OF MARS #2 cover by Mico Suayan This limited series tells of Barsoom before John Carter set foot on the planet, and you’ve really fleshed out the world, especially Dejah Thoris. How’d you hone in on the best story to tell that could fit within Burroughs’ dynamic story and work seamlessly with the upcoming movie?
Peter David: Actually it was a very challenging needle to thread. I was to create a prequel, which meant that it had to be before Carter was on Barsoom. But Carter had to be in it because it was going to be called "John Carter," so if he wasn't there it was going to be confusing. But I couldn't have sequences on Earth, which meant Carter had to be on Barsoom, except, again: prequel. So I thought about all the inherently conflicting aspects and ultimately decided to have a story in which—at the very beginning—Carter is on Barsoom, and he's talking at two different points in time to Tars Tarkas and Dejah Thoris, and both of them are telling him a story about key events on Barsoom before he arrived. Carter than relates first person to the reader the stories that Dejah and Tars told him; which, when you get down to it, is very much in the spirit of the books. In those, a narrator—presumably Burroughs himself—shares with the reader the story of John Carter as told by Carter. So we're just continuing in that tradition.

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