The Rookie & the Vet - McCann & Reed on What If? House of M
by Vaneta Rogers
Date: 19 September 2008 Time: 11:53 AM ET
McCann & Reed on What If? House of M
Anyone who's been to a major comic convention has seen Jim McCann moderating Marvel's panels. As the publisher's Marketing Manager, he knows what's going on in just about every corner of the Marvel Universe.Now McCann is crossing over into the realm of comic book writing as he teams up with Brian Reed for one of Marvel's latest batch of What If? Stories coming out in December. Titled What If? House of M, the McCann/Reed issue will explore the question: "What if Scarlet Witch had said 'No More Powers?'" Penciled by Paolo Pantalena with a cover by Jim Cheung, this issue marks the first time McCann has written a full comic book issue, although he told Newsarama that he's got another project coming up after Secret Invasion. But before he works solo on that future project, McCann said he's learning a lot from Reed during this co-writing gig on What If? House of M.
As fans may remember, Reed also started out learning from an established Marvel scribe as he co-wrote his first few issues with Brian Michael Bendis. After starting his writing career in the video game industry, Reed is now a busy solo comics writer working on Ms. Marvel, Red Sonja, Secret Invasion: Front Line and Secret Invasion: Spider-Man. We got both McCann and Reed on the phone to talk about how they worked together on the issue, what readers can expect from their collaboration, and what the future might hold for McCann's writing career. Newsarama: How did you two get together to do this? Jim McCann: I had an idea for a What If? last year, but because it ran too closely to something that we were actually going to be doing later on down the road, it got kiboshed. Brian Reed: And the same thing happened to me. I had been asked if I wanted to do another What If? related to the whole Messiah Complex. So I pitched something. And it turned out they said, "That's a good idea. It also happens to be the next two years of stories." JM: We both had the exact same thing happen to us within a year apart. We pitched things that weren't really a "What If?" but were instead a "When?" because they were both planned to happen. And I had verbally pitched that I'd love to eventually do a What If? where Wanda had said "no more powers." Then later, they told me, "Brian Reed's X-Men What If? is no more because we're already doing it, just like yours. Would you mind writing with Brian on this? Brian likes the story idea." And I was like, "If Brian likes the story idea, I will definitely write with Brian. I will just do the punctuation if Brian wants me to. Sure, I'll do anything to learn with Brian!" I knew Brian had learned from Bendis, so it was something that was really, really exciting for me to be paired with somebody like Brian for my first outing on a full-length comic. NRAMA: Brian, does the way you're helping out Jim remind you of what Brian Bendis did for you when you first started co-writing comics with him after your video game experience? BR: I'm sure Bendis had it much rougher. [laughs] Jim already knew how to structure a sentence after all. No, seriously, with Jim, it was just a matter of telling him he was on the right track and was 90 percent there. When you do this month in, month out, you learn the tricks to telling a story this way. And Jim was making exactly the same mistakes I was making when I started out. I'm sure it's exactly the same mistakes everyone else has made when they've started out. And that was most of my work with Jim, honestly. We had the story in place and we kind of hashed it out together. I had him do the first draft of the script. I told him, you're going to learn to swim by being thrown into the deep end of the pool. JM: We worked together on the outline, so it was a little overwhelming to do the whole script by myself. After I sent the rough draft to him, I think that was the most nerve-wracking 36 hours of my life. And the title of the email back to me was: "I'm going to tell you what Bendis told me my first time." I almost didn't open that email. It came at 8 p.m., and I thought, "OK, if I open this email and it's awful, I'm not sleeping." So I just stared at this subject line for about 30 minutes -- I'm not kidding. And then I thought, hey, it's Reed... he'll at least give me a kiss before he punches me in the face. BR: Jim really just came out swinging and the script was really, really good. Like I said, most of what I did was just adjusting pacing and things. It's tricks that you learn as you tell stories in comic book form. You learn that the thing you took four panels to do last time, you can really do that in one panel. And this thing I did in one panel works better if I make it three panels. You just pick this up over time. Honestly, that was most of the work with Jim. He really did a great job. JM: I'm blushing over the phone. Emoticon blush please. NRAMA: What was the most difficult thing about writing the story? BR: We were ending the Marvel Universe and telling the story about that in 27 pages. So it was difficult at first because the opening was one of those things where you completely overthink a situation. We were both doing it at first, when we came up with the outline. And as soon as he'd written it in this completely over-thought way, I looked at it and went, well... we've just done too much. JM: I had done this hugely intricate scene. Brian and I were trying to touch upon almost every character. BR: His first six pages would have been this beautiful artistic story. It was like, we're going to tell the Spider-Man story by structuring the panels as a web over this two-page spread. He has this incredible, intricate thing set up, and the first thing I did was delete the first six pages. [laughs] JM: It's true! But he told me to never throw anything away. And I still have it so I can use it someday! BR: I just took it and changed it, and now there's still a lot of excitement and there are a lot of things going on, but it's not doing that overthinking of the scene where you completely kill the reader with information overload. It's got a much better pace. JM: I've learned a lot. I have something coming up soon that I can't talk about yet. But I was in the process of reworking my outline for this other project, and as soon as I saw what Brian had done with this script, combined with some notes I'd gotten, it helped me throw out everything that I had been structuring on this outline. And I was able to completely restructure it. Now I understand what it means to just do too much and give too much information. So I don't hate him too much for hitting delete on the first six pages. [laughs] NRAMA: Let's talk about the story. What's it about? BR: It's What If? House of M. And it asks "What if Wanda had said 'No More Powers' instead of 'No More Mutants?'" And it takes out the entire superpowered world. NRAMA: What characters will we see? BR: Just about everybody! It opens the morning after House of M. And this time, instead of just the mutants going away, everyone powered has gone down. If you kind of stop and do your Marvel math for a moment, you realize that most of the bad guys don't have powers. Most of them have technological-based powers. The heroes have superpowers. So that really leaves Iron Man against the world. And this is the story of what happens to the world in that situation, and what happens when evil really had nobody standing in its way. JM: It's the story of Iron Man, and it's also the story of Peter Parker, whose whole life has been about "with great power comes great responsibility." So with no power, does that mean no responsibility? So he's our other set of eyes through this. There are choices that have to be made. It's very much about power and responsibility and who bears the burden of it. Peter gets away from the superhero life, while Tony becomes more the Iron Man than Tony Stark. We talked about how you can look at the Marvel Universe, and two people can have the same powers, but one's a hero and one's a villain. So it's obviously not the power, it's what's inside of you. As a result, we looked at who the people were of the Marvel Universe, as opposed to what the superheroes and power sets were of the Marvel U, if that makes sense. BR: And we had a lot of fun killing off much-beloved characters. [laughs] It's not every day you can slaughter the Fantastic Four, so you can enjoy it when the opportunity comes along. JM: And when you can do it really ruthlessly too. Sorry FF fans. Plus I had this one thing in mind to do to one character, and Brian got completely disgusted by it. So it totally made it in. That's the good thing about What Ifs. Anything is possible. Although we both really took a look at what went on right before M-Day and what was going on in the Marvel Universe. So it doesn't completely diverge. NRAMA: People assume you can ignore continuity in these things. But you have to look at that stuff, don't you? BR: That's the thing that has fascinated me most about doing a What If? I'm doing Spider-Man: Secret Invasion, Secret Invasion: Front Line, tie-ins to this huge summer event, and for those comics, I deal with one editor. And I've done two drafts of each of those scripts, tops, to match continuity to other things. This What If? story went through how many editors? Three? JM: Three or four. BR: All of our "What If" continuity had to bring in account all the current continuity too, so we knew we were referencing everything properly, where we were in history was matching characters properly. I'm not kidding you -- Illuminati, with all the continuity that came with it, was easier than a What If? JM: When I wrote the draft and when Brian and I were going through everything, we both had the House of M trade, the Cap Omnibus, all the Road to Civil War stuff. We even had to keep in mind who was a Skrull at that point and who wasn't. I was just thankful I had the trades department to go to. I just grabbed every trade I could think of so I could answer things like: Who is in the X-Men at this particular moment? What is happening with the Avengers at this time? We even lost a main villain. We wanted to use Doom, and it was like, "Doom is in Hell at this point." And we were like, &*$^! [laughs] NRAMA: Brian, you've worked on comics by both collaborating and working alone. What's the difference? BR: When you've got someone else and something's not working, you can just throw it at them and say, "I can't figure this out." And that sounds completely selfish and silly, but I can lose days to that by myself. You can have this thing that you think is a gorgeous idea, and as soon as you put it on paper, you go, "Oh my God! This is horrible!" And if you have someone else, you can go, "OK, look, here's this horrible idea I have. What does it make you think of?" And that's the great thing about having a co-writer. Whether it's somebody just starting out like Jim or it's someone like Bendis, that's the great thing, because man, when you're on your own, you're on your own. NRAMA: Jim, you probably know these characters' voices pretty well because you eat, breathe and sleep Marvel, don't you? JM: It's true. But it was still really, really fun to write them. And it was nice to see a good deal of the dialogue come back unchanged. I actually came from the world of scriptwriting for soaps, and that's basically where you plug in dialogue for characters that have been around for 60 years. So it's very similar to that. I'd like to think that I can do OK dialogue. That's the one thing I know how to do, but I was still nervous about being able to do it in comics. It was great to get through this first time and feel so good about it. BR: Writing the Spider-Man video games, designers will send me dialogue they've written for their level. And I read this stuff, and it's so bad that I'm thinking, "Didn't you see the Spider-Man movie? Have you ever read the comic book? You're aware who Spider-Man is, right?" But this made me think right away, OK, Jim knows who these characters are! Yay! NRAMA: Jim, you mentioned you have something coming up for Marvel that you can't talk about yet. Can we get any clue on what it is? JM: Well, it's a mini. BR: And it spins out of Secret Invasion. JM: And now every single in-box I have will be filled. Everybody will be asking, "What is it?" I now understand what every other writer goes through because I'm fighting with myself because I want to talk about it! NRAMA: We'll have to talk soon. Anything else you want to tell people about the What If? JM: I couldn't have asked for a better introduction to comic writing than working with Brian, and I'm so excited about this project. And I hope other people are excited too. Brian Reed is a freaking phenomenal writer and people should buy everything that he writes. And I can't wait for them to read this.