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By Kiel Phegley
Any fan familiar with Marvel Comics can thank Jim McCann for something.
The longtime member of Marvel's marketing and sales team has proven an omnipresent piece of the House of Ideas from his appearances at convention panels to amount of promotion he puts behind Marvel releases that remains unseen cannot be discounted. Come December 3, McCann steps into the creative spotlight, co-scripting his WHAT IF? HOUSE OF M with Brian Reed, in a story that asks the question "What if the Scarlet Witch had said, 'No more powers'?"
While the one-shot explores a premise in which all Marvel heroes saw their abilities decimated instead of just mutants, the story came about because another WHAT IF? McCann pitched to Marvel editorial struck too close to actual storylines.
"Last year I had pitched a WHAT IF? based on the Mutant Massacre to help heat up the Marauders for their role in Messiah Complex, but there was too much that happened that was similar to the actual storyline," recalls the newly minted scribe. When it came time for this year's round of alternate reality tales, McCann ran into a similar stumbling block when it seemed writer Brian Reed had beaten him to the punch.
"Reed already had an X-Men-centric pitch, but the same thing happened to him that had happened to me the year before," he relates. "What he had pitched was too similar to what was coming up in the X-Men's world. But rather than let them completely kill Brian's thing, they asked me if I would mind co-writing [the HOUSE OF M story] with and I was like, 'Would I mind co-writing with Brian? It's more like would Brian mind co-writing with me?'"
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The resulting story takes readers into a world where everyone from the Fantastic Four to Spider-Man have been stripped of their powers in a nightmare extension of the tragedy that hit Marvel's mutant population. McCann knows the ins and outs of the original storyline all too well as he sat in on the creative retreat where Brian Michael Bendis pitched HOUSE OF M.
"That was my first retreat, and it was only a couple of months into my beginnings at Marvel," recalls McCann. "It was very weird to be a part of that. I did a lot of listening and taking it all in. HOUSE OF M has a really special place for me because it was the first big thing I got to be involved in for Marvel."
McCann and Reed do more than play tribute in their WHAT IF? story. The pair dug deep into recent Marvel history to make sure their tale would be plausible for fans by synching up all character appearances with their regular Marvel U counterpart's 2005 status quo. "Brian has said that he and I did more research and looking into continuity to see where everybody was for this one-shot than he and Bendis did for the entire NEW AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI series," jokes McCann. "At first we definitely did try to throw everything in. In our outline, there was a cast of dozens. At one point, we had a whole team of Avengers led by Hawkeye, but in the end we had 27 pages, so how do you explain all this stuff? If we had a limited series, I would have loved delving into what was going on with Stephen Strange during this."
The heroes that do form the focus of the book include Spider-Man and Iron Man, two characters who fit the themes the writers struck upon early in their writing process.
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"Always the focus was on power and responsibility," McCann explains. "Brian had said that if with great power comes great responsibility, does that mean that with no power comes no responsibility? The idea was that if we had a world with no powers, what kind of advances had mankind made that would still have stayed? And so you're left with technology-based people. We had seen what happens when Tony takes on the burden of responsibility in CIVIL WAR [and] that's what happens when he's got a lot of heroes to watch his back. If his was the only power, does that mean he has all the responsibility? What happens if it's all on one character's shoulders?"
The story also sees the survival of a seedier kind of tech-based character, with an abundance of high tech villains more that happy to gun for Stark.
"Initially we had Doctor Doom because he seemed the most appropriate," reveals McCann. "Doom would still have the technology base, but we wrote our outline and somebody pointed out that if you look at the continuity, Doom is in hell at that point, so he really couldn't be our villain. And that sucked. So then we looked at the power players who were still on the board, and the Red Skull came to mind."
McCann says that during the scripting process, he and Reed shared moments of mind-melding, but that when it came time to script the one-shot story, he wrote the first draft solo before Reed came in to help him shave it down to a manageable length:
"I learned so much by him deleting my favorite six pages that I don't hold that much of a grudge against him. I think it was kind of cool for him because he came into comics co-writing with Bendis and learning from another Brian, so it was really neat for him, I think, to become the Obi Wan."
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Speaking of a solid mix of master and student, the art team on WHAT IF? HOUSE OF M includes two of Marvel's most celebrated creators as well as a recent find from Marvel's Chesterquest talent search.
"I do think I cried a little when I found out we were getting a Jimmy Cheung pencil cover painted by Marko Djurdjevic," gushes McCann. "What they did is absolutely astounding," praises the writer before talking up interior artist Paolo Pantalena:
"As a test, they had him do this one spread-it was kind of a key moment in the WHAT IF?, and it was completely different than what I had in my head. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, and this time it was a good thing. He had this crazy style and energy with his pencil-it's a really unique style that combines elements of J. Scott Campbell, Joe Madureira and Stefano Caselli. Taking those three sounds like peanut butter, banana and mayonnaise, and it may not sound like they go great together, but that's actually one of my favorite sandwiches. We had to tell a lot of story, and the pace is very, very fast. We had to essentially destroy and rebuild the Marvel Universe in 27 pages, and he's perfect for it."
See a brand new Marvel Universe in WHAT IF? HOUSE OF M #1, on sale December 3. You can also read previous WHAT IF? adventures at Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.
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