Fear Itself

Tuesday Q&A: Cullen Bunn

The newly-Marvel exclusive writer preview the post-Fear Itself landscape and revisits the origin of Spider-Man

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By Chris Arrant

One thing no Marvel fan needs to be afraid of in the wake of Fear Itself: less Cullen Bunn, as the writer has signed exclusive with the House of Ideas.

Following in the footsteps of Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction and others, Bunn got his start on the independent scene before recently making his mark at Marvel with a string of assignments including FEAR ITSELF: THE DEEP and FEAR ITSELF: BLACK WIDOW. Next, along with Fraction and Chris Yost, the writer will form the collective responsible for charting the fallout from the event currently terrifying the Marvel Universe with FEARLESS and BATTLE SCARS.

In addition, Bunn has been tapped to revisit the origin of Marvel’s flagship character in the upcoming SPIDER-MAN: SEASON ONE. If with great power comes great responsibility that says a lot for this writer’s host of upcoming projects.

From aquatic adventures to international spy stories and into the future – and past -- of the Marvel U, the enterprising Bunn spoke with Marvel.com about his bevy of assignments and finding what makes each story the most engaging it can be for both him and the readers.

SPIDER-MAN: SEASON ONE cover

Marvel.com: Cullen, can you tell us just what SPIDER-MAN: SEASON ONE is and isn't?

Cullen Bunn: Well, most importantly, this is not an alternate universe story. This is a presentation of Spider-Man’s origin and earliest adventures—all in continuity. The idea is to offer a kind of “leveling statement” for new readers, casual comic readers, and current Spider-Man readers alike. This is how Spider-Man came to be. It’s the ground floor for this character. I want to be clear, though: This is not just a re-telling of Spidey’s origin. This is a story that I hope will give readers a little more insight into what it might be like to be a teenager who is suddenly given these amazing powers. It’s a more detailed glimpse into Peter Parker’s mindset—the story of how one kid goes from being “Puny Parker” to one of the greatest heroes of all time. It’s a road with more than a few speed bumps.
Marvel.com: Re-exploring this origin with 20-20 hindsight on the character and almost 50 years of stories sounds like both an opportunity and a challenge. How'd you get your head around the origin and how the character has developed since then?

Cullen Bunn: It was more of a challenge than I thought it would be when I started. I spent a lot of time puzzling out how to present these early stories in a way that would appeal to modern readers. At the same time, I have to honor the character’s long history. It took a while for me to find the right angle. Keep in mind; Spider-Man’s origin originally appeared over—what—11 or 12 pages? I’m all for compression, but I didn’t think that would fly nowadays. The extra breathing room in the book gives me a chance to explore some moments and ideas that may have been glossed over until now.

Marvel.com: Getting this assignment sounds like a good excuse to read a bunch of Spider-Man comics. What would you say were your primary reference materials for this project?

SPIDER-MAN: SEASON ONE preview pencils by Neil Edwards

Cullen Bunn: It was the perfect reason to read through my Spider-Man comics!

My primary reference was definitely the first 10 or so issues of the original series. My Marvel Masterworks copy is now definitely dog-eared and pretty much covered with Post-it notes. Beyond that, I read a bunch of issues in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s—because any excuse to look at some of that great John Romita Sr. artwork is a good one. Then I just read a lot of my favorite Spidey stories from across all the different titles. Finally, I dove into a bunch of the most recent stuff.

Basically, what I’m saying is that I lived and breathed Spider-Man for a few weeks before I ever wrote the first page of script.

As I mentioned, I wanted to be true to the classic origin while trying to capture the “feel” of the modern Spidey stories. At the same time, though, I wanted this to feel fresh. I didn’t want it to be a re-tread of what has gone before. I used the reference as a guide for the things I wanted to do—and the things I wanted to avoid.

Marvel.com: Studying over these classic comics, what moments do you feel were the most crucial?

Cullen Bunn: For me, this is a story about Peter Parker. Remember, when he first started out, it was never his goal to be a hero. So I wanted to play around with that concept a bit. How does he go from something of a shallow teenager to this selfless hero? We all know the major signposts along the way, but I wanted to spend a little more time with them.

Also, I know a lot of writers who would love to write some Uncle Ben stories. He plays such an important role in Spider-Man’s history and in the development of the person Peter Parker would become. I couldn’t wait to write his scenes!

And I think there are some interesting themes going on in terms of the villains in Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery. I wanted to explore some of that, and when the bad guy shows up, it’ll come across loud and clear.

Most importantly, I wanted to focus on the sense of fun and adventure that Spider-Man represents. Despite all his problems, Spider-Man always seems to be the most optimistic of heroes. Yeah, some of that is his way of coping with the life-and-death situations he faces every day. Still, he makes it seem like being bitten by a radioactive spider would be a lot of fun!

SPIDER-MAN: SEASON ONE preview pencils by Neil Edwards

Marvel.com: Working with you on this book is artist Neil Edwards. What's it like working with him on this book in such hallowed material?

Cullen Bunn: A year ago, if you had told be I’d be working on a Spider-Man book, I would have laughed in your face. It’s definitely an honor, but it’s stressful, too. I worry over the script, and I worried over how the art would turn out. Then Neil sent me some of the artwork, and my fears were replaced with excitement. The book is simply going to look amazing. Neil’s art ups the ante in terms of liveliness. He captured the sense of fun I was talking about perfectly.

Marvel.com: Jumping over to a comic of yours on shelves as we speak, FEAR ITSELF: THE DEEP sits at its halfway point, so what can readers expect coming up?

Cullen Bunn: It only gets crazier from here on out!

Marvel.com: In our last interview the villain was under wraps, but now the secret's out: Attuma, along with the Undying Ones. First off, have we ever seen Attuma this powerful and in charge? How is it for you to bring him back like this?

Cullen Bunn: One of the first comics I remember reading was an issue of AVENGERS featuring Attuma and Tyrak as the bad guys. They scared the hell out of me! I remember thinking that they had killed the Avengers in that comic book. In a way, Attuma has always seemed that scary for me. Since rising as one of the Worthy, he’s just all the more terrible. One of the things I like about Attuma as one of the hammer-wielders is that he’s not just going it alone. He’s raising a horde of bad guys to stand by his side!

Marvel.com: Early on in this series you depicted the fall of New Atlantis; what's the lay of the land there right now?

FEAR ITSELF: THE DEEP #3 cover by Lee Garbett

Cullen Bunn: New Atlantis still stands, but it is in ruins. To make matters much, much worse, Attuma’s hordes have occupied the city and enslaved its people. While Attuma himself has stormed off to wreak havoc elsewhere in the world, his “generals”—Tyrak, Tiger Shark, and Aradnea—are left to tend their prisoners and execute the next stage of their plan. The fear that’s spreading throughout the world has weakened the barriers between dimensions just enough that the Undying Ones can start entering our reality once again—but only while possessing a living creature. The Atlantean prisoners are the perfect candidates for possession.

Marvel.com: Reading this over, FEAR ITSELF: THE DEEP has a real "big fight" kind of feel to it, almost like an event unto itself. How are you balancing all the players on both sides of the battle?

Cullen Bunn: To some degree, I wanted it to be unbalanced. I want the heroes to be the underdogs. Admittedly, that’s tough to do with Namor, Doctor Strange, and Silver Surfer on the side of the good guys. So, they’re not only facing a powered-up version of Attuma. Attuma’s “generals” are all really tough in their own right. Tyrak is so nasty that he once bested the Avengers all on his own. Aradnea is a potent sorceress. And Tiger Shark goes through some pretty scary changes himself. To top it off, Attuma has a horde of well-armed barbarians and a group of demonic entities on his side!

So, yeah. It’s not balanced at all.

But if the heroes had it easy it wouldn’t be much fun.

Marvel.com: Namor has assembled an odd bunch of teammates, to say the least. What can readers expect coming up from them?

FEAR ITSELF: THE DEEP #4 cover by Lee Garbett

Cullen Bunn: Facing such overwhelming odds, the team is going to have to learn to work together. Of course, I’m not going to make it easy on them. In the next issue, they get separated and have to face their fears—and some nasty opponents—individually. Their next move is to attempt to liberate New Atlantis. Even if they manage to pull that off, they’ve still got to face Attuma. Defeating him may be something that even this group of powerhouses can’t manage on their own.

Marvel.com: In addition to all this, you're part of the creative team for a bi-monthly series spiraling out of Fear Itself called FEARLESS. A lot remains top secret, but what can you us about it?

Cullen Bunn: Not much, because I don’t want to spoil anything! It’s a 12-issue bi-weekly limited series that offers something of a tour of the Marvel Universe in the most exciting way we could imagine. There will be guest stars aplenty, but there are definitely three major players who will be showcased from issue to issue—and they are not on friendly terms. I’m pretty excited about this trio, because I think readers will get a real kick out of seeing them in the spotlight. This is a great series, because in addition to working with some amazing creators—Matt Fraction, Chris Yost, Mark Bagley, and Paul Pelletier—I get to work with a lot of awesome characters, including many heavy hitters in the Marvel U.

Marvel.com: Any chance some of your characters from FEAR ITSELF: THE DEEP could come to the surface in FEARLESS?

Cullen Bunn: I’d definitely say it’s a strong possibility!

Marvel.com: Likewise, you're also doing another series called BATTLE SCARS. Just who has these scars, and how will it affect them—and the Marvel U—going forward?

Cullen Bunn: I have to be even more tightlipped about this one. I’m pretty sure I signed a blood-pact of secrecy when I started working on these projects. I can only offer a little bit of advice: Hold onto your seats!

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