Tuesday Q&A

Tuesday Q&A: Fred Van Lente

With MARVEL ZOMBIES 3 on its way to infect the Marvel U., the series writer explains why B-listers make for the bloody best stories, HERCULES' underground success and why all-ages books are first class.

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By Kiel Phegley When the flesh-eating former heroes of the acclaimed, sales-shattering series MARVEL ZOMBIES invade the Marvel Universe proper, there's only one thing that can save the day…robots. And when a premise so strange that it has to be awesome works its way onto a Marvel title, there's only one man who could be scripting it…Fred Van Lente. Growing a rep as one of Marvel's most inventive up-and-coming scribes, Van Lente broke onto the Marvel scene a few years back with the SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM UP: M.O.D.O.K.'S 11 limited series. Since then, he's worked his way across Marvel's publishing line with a diverse array of imaginative projects including the blockbuster run on INCREDIBLE HERCULES with writer Greg Pak and stints on the all-ages Marvel Adventures line with several installments in the POWER PACK series of limited series. In the coming weeks, Van Lente sees a number of new launches for fans to give his work a first try, including HERCULES #121, on sale September 17, which starts a new arc on the heels of the well-received Secret Invasion tie-in arc titled "Sacred Invasion," WOLVERINE FIRST CLASS #7, on sale September 24, which takes Wolvie and Kitty to Russia for two issues of intrigue and the hotly anticipated MARVEL ZOMBIES 3 #1, on sale October 1, which sees the zombies make their way to Florida only to meet resistance in the form of Marvel's resident robots Jocasta and Machine Man. We caught up with Van Lente on all of the above to learn what the difference is between all-ages and the Marvel U., find out what writer inspired his love of oddball inventiveness and hear teases about the next big epic in HERCULES.

MARVEL ZOMBIES
3 #1 preview
art by Kev
Walker

Marvel.com: You're a guy who's been in the position like some others at Marvel where some of the things you do are all-ages titles like POWER PACK or WOLVERINE FIRST CLASS and some of the books are more mainstream Marvel U. work such as MARVEL ZOMBIES 3. What's it like shifting between the two? Do you say, "I'm tired of death and destruction and crossover…time for kids fun!"? Fred Van Lente: It's slightly different parts of the brain. Once I tried to do POWER PACK in the morning and MARVEL ZOMBIES 3 in the afternoon and my two lobes started smashing against each other, so I'm not trying that again. You definitely have to keep the two things separate. But what's funny is that I never set out to be an all-ages creator, so it's easier for me to do blood and guts and gore, but they're both in their own way humorous books. Part of what Robert [Kirkman] established with MARVEL ZOMBIES is a lot of humor in that title. That plays to my strengths as well. That and the fact that I'm a sick bastard. Marvel.com: As you went in to MARVEL ZOMBIES, was it a thing where Marvel editorial asked you to bring the zombie characters into the Marvel U. proper, or was it something you contributed yourself?

MARVEL ZOMBIES
3 #1 preview
art by Kev
Walker

Fred Van Lente:
You know, it's kind of hazy in my memory, in all honesty. [Editor] Bill Rosemann called me up and offered me the project, and I really wanted to do it not just because it was such a high profile project but because, like I said, it appeals to my kind of punk rock ethos in that it's sort of a subversive look at the Marvel characters actually published by Marvel. [It's] kind of a unique situation to be in. And they had a couple of different directions that they wanted to go [in]. I think I was the one who really wanted to bring them into the Marvel Universe. It was Bill's idea to involve the robots in some manner. He brought up Jocasta and that made me think of Machine Man. But it ended up being one of those things where I said to Bill—because he pitched me on it on a Friday—"Let me take the weekend and I'll get back to you," and by Sunday, I had the entire series in my head. I told him, "I'll pitch you a couple of ideas," and then on Monday I wrote him to say, "I lied. I'm not pitching you a bunch of ideas. This is the way we should go." And I pitched him what is pretty much verbatim what the full series is. Marvel.com: The nice thing about picking up the series now is that after the first series came out, people were saying, "Well, they made everyone a zombie! Nowhere to go with it now!" But because there are so many weird little pockets of Marvel continuity, if you have that fanboy gene you can endlessly pull out new characters to throw into the mix from the cosmic stuff to whoever. Fred Van Lente: Definitely, and another difference with our series is that the MARVEL ZOMBIES series, as the name implies, was where the Marvel Zombies were the "good guys" whereas here in MARVEL ZOMBIES 3 we're going in a different direction where we're pitting some "normal" characters against the Marvel Zombies and changing who or what it is you're rooting for. Marvel.com: Tell me about your love of Man-Thing. Fred Van Lente: [Laughs]

MARVEL ZOMBIES
3 #1 preview
art by Kev
Walker

Marvel.com: I know, it's a cheap joke, but I had read somewhere that part of where this series came out of was that you loved the old '70s MAN-THING series and all the weirdness and supporting cast members that came from it. Fred Van Lente: I can't remember how this happened, but when I was in high school I went on a huge Steve Gerber kick, and so I was collecting everything he wrote—particularly from Marvel in the '70s like MAN-THING, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and DEFENDERS. I think my favorite was GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, but my second would have been MAN-THING, particularly because Mike Ploog is such an incredible artist. That first run they did was just spectacular. It occurred to me that the easiest and most interesting story hook for MARVEL ZOMBIES 3 to get the zombies into the Marvel Universe was to have one of them accidentally stumble into our world, the Marvel world, through the Man-Thing's Nexus of All Realities that he's the guardian of. And everything kind of grew out of that—the idea that Marvel has this super secret interdimensional defense agency called A.R.M.O.R. [Alternate Reality Monitoring and Operational Response] which has a relationship with the Initiative, which is how they have Jocasta and Machine Man get pulled into it. Marvel.com: When you write a series like this, you're not going to have a plot where a zombie bites 616, "Brand New Day" Peter Parker and go, "Well, will he become a zombie?" Isn't there a bit more of a possibility of those kinds of stories and tension with B and C-listers who could end up as cannon fodder?

MARVEL ZOMBIES
3 #1 preview
art by Kev
Walker

Fred Van Lente:
We won't do that [with the big Marvel characters] but not for a lot of the reasons that people commenting online seem to think, where they go, "Of course you couldn't turn Peter Parker into a zombie because he's the 616 Peter Parker…what about AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and NEW AVENGERS and everything else? It'll screw up continuity!" But from an artistic perspective, there's an even more important reason not to do that, which is that Sean [Phillips] and Robert already did that in the DEAD DAYS one-shot. [Laughs] And if people want to see that, they can go to DEAD DAYS. We're taking a different take. To me that's the more important reason…to use characters we haven't seen before to keep the franchise fresh. Because let's be honest–there's not a whole lot of difference between the 616 Peter Parker getting bitten and the DEAD DAYS U. Peter Parker getting bitten back before it became the Zombie Universe. What's the difference? It's still a guy in a Spider-Man costume. He's still going to eat Aunt May. Marvel.com: As you move on in the series, are you playing with the idea of the zombies' possible impact outside of Florida and how they'll be prepared for that? Fred Van Lente: Yes. [Pause] Ask a simple question. [Laughs]

INCREDIBLE
HERCULES #121
cover by
Arthur Suydam

Marvel.com: With INCREDIBLE HERCULES, you and Greg Pak seemed to have hit on one of the books that a lot of readers pointed to and said, "Here's a Secret Invasion crossover that was unlike anything else." Now that you're on the other side of a big crossover, are you finding that there are some new readers interested in following from the new issue on? Fred Van Lente: It's probably too soon to tell because that book hasn't come out yet, so the orders aren't set in stone, but I think anecdotally, yes. I've certainly seen a lot of people saying online that they've added it to their pull list, so it certainly seems like a lot of good will [come] out of that. HERCULES #117 and #118, which were the first two parts of the event, sold out and had to be reprinted which was pretty awesome. It's funny—every issue of HERCULES has out-sold, with a couple exceptions of some issue numbers, all the issues of INCREDIBLE HULK prior to WORLD WAR HULK. So we didn't maintain the same heady heights as what was in WORLD WAR HULK, but we've maintained a nice head of steam. One of the things that was terrific about HERCULES is how many people seem to think that it's a little, low-selling, boutique cult hit whereas when you look at the sales charts, we're actually much higher than that. [Laughs] So I kind of like the fact that people think we sell poorly.

INCREDIBLE
HERCULES #122
cover by
Clayton Henry

Marvel.com: Then you get that groundswell of "Save HERCULES" even though it doesn't need saving. Fred Van Lente: Exactly! [Laughs] That way our fans, God bless them, who think we're going to be canceled at any moment can go out and convert more fans so our sales can go even higher. So as far as I'm concerned, they can keep thinking we're in trouble. Marvel.com: Eventually, you'll hear people saying, "It's only the number six book, you guys. Come on!" Fred Van Lente: We can do number six! We can do it! [Laughs] Marvel.com: In the new arc, "Love and War," you've got the triple threat of Amazons, Atlantis and Ares coming into the book. As you've broken out the series, you've made this a road book where Hercules encounters mythological characters he's met in the past, but is Ares going to be the constant antagonist where he follows them around the country? Fred Van Lente: For the most part. We kind of have joint custody of him with Brian [Michael Bendis] over with [MIGHTY] AVENGERS so I'd definitely say he has more rights to Ares because it's one of his main characters… Marvel.com: You get him on the weekends.

INCREDIBLE
HERCULES #123
cover by
Clayton Henry

Fred Van Lente:
Yes. And we have to take him to the zoo and stuff…and shoot the animals. But Ares is going to remain a constant supporting cast member, but it's going to be a while before he gets as big a supporting role as he had in the first arc. And that has more to do with how the Marvel Universe is developing post-"Secret Invasion" than anything else—which I can't tell you under threat of death. The chip that's implanted in my brain will explode. Marvel.com: But between Amazons and Atlantis, you've got plenty more characters who work as mythology but you've also got the modern Marvel interpretations to play off each other just like in that first story arc of the book. Fred Van Lente: We're definitely going to get into the Greek myth aspects of Atlantis as Poseidon is obviously their god as well as Hercules' uncle. Particularly, what's most exciting about this arc is that we finally introduce the main villain. This is the INCREDIBLE HERCULES arc that will begin driving the whole series from this point on.

WOLVERINE:
FIRST CLASS
#7 cover by
Michael Golden

Marvel.com: You've got a new arc coming up in WOLVERINE: FIRST CLASS. One of the fun things about this series is that you get to dig into what everyone cites as their favorite classic Claremont UNCANNY stories. In this new arc, are you using an adventure in Russia to build on the early days of the Peter/Kitty relationship? Fred Van Lente: Yup. It's all very mysterious, but it involves Colossus being deputized into the Soviet Super Soldiers somewhat against his will. And so Wolverine and Kitty have to go rescue him, but then Kitty ends up getting captured with him, and there's a mysterious base in Russia on the Belarus border. Wolverine has to go rescue both of them, and it's very similar to a little place in Russia called Chernobyl. A lot of this stuff harkens back to the '80s, and that's when Chernobyl happened, so I boned up on all of my China Syndrome knowledge. Marvel.com: Like we were discussing earlier, FIRST CLASS rides the line between all-ages and regular Marvel U. stuff. While Jeff Parker's X-MEN FIRST CLASS has stuck with a lot of the single-issue stories, your book has started to build some longer arcs. Fred Van Lente: I think Jeff started some of that before me, but mine ended up getting published first. Because Jeff had gotten them to extend it out to two-issue arcs prior to me.

WOLVERINE:
FIRST CLASS
#8 cover by
Michael Golden

Marvel.com: Have you learned things doing longer arcs on books like HERCULES that you can apply here, or even have you learned things in single issue stories that you're applying to your Marvel U. titles? Fred Van Lente: Well, anytime you have more time to do something, you can do more epic storylines. And HERCULES is definitely the most epic thing I've ever attempted in the comics form just because we have a seven or eight arc-long storyline that we're not quite in the middle of. That's very rewarding. What's funny about the long form stuff—and this is one of the glories of the Internet—is that it's fun to be a voyeur and look on the message boards and have people say, "Can you believe this happened?" or "I wonder what this plot's up to"—that's really exciting. It's the story that keeps giving because you write it and get to see all these reactions. And the reaction to the all-ages stuff is fun as well, in a different way, though. To have a parent come up and say he taught his autistic son how to read because POWER PACK was the only thing that could keep his interest or to have a father say that his daughter is heavily into WOLVERINE: FIRST CLASS because his daughter was captivated by the first issue. That's also very exciting because as everybody knows, the industry as a whole, and not just Marvel, has to do everything it can to bring in new readers and replenish the younger generation of fans. That's really rewarding to be a part of that. Check out more work by Fred Van Lente on Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited!

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