Bill Rosemann: The Big Picture - War of Kings and More

Bill Rosemann: The Big Picture

To call Marvel Editor Bill Rosemann a utility player kind of nails it on the head.

Since he landed back at Marvel, Rosemann has handled a wide variety of projects, from shepherding Annihilation: Conquest to guiding Ms. Marvel, Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy, Loners, the Ultimate line, and now, titles as diverse as Thunderbolts, Marvel Zombies 3 and War Machine…just to name three.

So what’s on his plate and where’s it all headed? We sat down with Rosemann for a wide-reaching conversation that covered everything from War of Kings to War Machine and more.

Newsarama: Bill, one of the last times were spoke, you had just landed in the Ultimate Universe. Checking things out now, you're...well, not. You show up here and there - Iron Man/War Machine, Thunderbolts, and a few others. So what are you working on now, and how do these editorial shifts take place anyway? Do they come down from above, or do editors gather at lunch and trade books like baseball cards on occasion?

Bill Rosemann: With War of Kings and Dark Reign on the horizon, the feeling was that I could best contribute to the company by channeling all my attention and energy on Marvel U-centered titles. This allowed me to focus on building creative teams for several upcoming launches and ramp up my list of books to about 8 to 10 each month. I'm very happy with the mix of creators and characters now on my plate -- Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova, Secret Invasion: Inhumans, Secret Invasion: War of Kings, House of M: Civil War, She-Hulk, War Machine, a retooled Thunderbolts, Marvel Zombies 3, consulting on Stephen King's The Stand, a few more top secret developments on the way -- it's a fun and challenging group.

As for editorial shifts, sometimes you lobby for them, other times you're asked to make a move, it really depends on each situation -- and each time it's what Marvel thinks will be the best for its titles and creators. The bottom line is, I'm here to carry out my bosses' wishes, and I'm just lucky that my interests and Marvel's interests aligned.

NRAMA: Looking over your books...are they a cohesive group? Does that in fact matter that much, that is, that all the books you edit are of the same tone or similar in feel, or do you prefer a more disparate group where the books aren't similar at all?

BR: The way I look at it, whether the action happens in Manhattan or Mars, it all comes down to story and character -- that's the cohesive factor.

But at the same time, the variety of creators and genres is a huge positive. Working with so many different writers and artists is inspiring. It pushes you to constantly think about who would be the best fit for the story -- and you're always learning from creators from all over the world with a wealth of experience and knowledge. You gotta keep growing and learning -- and working with all these uniquely talented people is an honor.

So my hope is the books are cohesive in that they deliver heroic drama, contribute to the growth of the Marvel Universe, are loaded with the best talent possible, and keep readers coming back for more. Aside from The Stand (which, as a longtime King fan, is a thrill to work on), all my books take place in the core Marvel Universe, which is important to me. The Marvel Universe was there for me while growing up and I hope in some way to help it thrive so that it continues to be the engine that drives the company and inspires the next generation.

NRAMA: With both Thunderbolts and Marvel Zombies, you had to put new teams on each. Can you take each book individually, and explain how you chose the new teams? Both new teams, obviously, had hard acts to follow...

BR: As an editor, one of the greatest rewards and challenges is to be asked to put together or "cast" a new team -- and even help form a new series concept -- that builds upon what has come before. That's what you work for and that's why you're here. I was a fan of both books, so that adds to the fun. On the surface, Thunderbolts and Marvel Zombies seem as different as possible, but they actually (especially during the Ellis & Deodato run on T-Bolts) shared a darkly fun energy that had readers' jaws dropping.

The challenge was to match creators and concepts that would not only keep delivering what readers wanted, but would also explore fresh ground.

For Thunderbolts, we wanted to continue exploring the series' core theme of redemption and we also wanted to keep hitting the nasty vibe that a book starring villains should deliver. Axel Alonso had been talking with Andy Diggle, and mentioned to my boss Tom Brevoort that Andy might be interested in writing something for Marvel. Tom mentioned this to me, and we discussed how the guy behind sharp reads like The Losers, Adam Strange and Green Arrow: Year One would be the perfect fit for our merry band of misanthropes. Before you could say "Baron Zemo" I shot an email off to Andy and we started talking about who and what the Thunderbolts could be coming out of Dark Reign. Andy took our small kernel of an idea and grew it into a beast that's going to surprise a lot of readers.

On the art side, again, the goal was to bring on a creator who could deliver hard-hitting action with a shadowy, military flavor. I had worked briefly with Roberto De La Torre on Ms. Marvel before he was invited to draw Invincible Iron Man, and loved all the realism he was bringing to that series. A few emails later and now Roberto is turning in T-Bolts pages that have us all drooling. And colorist Frank Martin was doing such nice, almost watercolor work that it was a no brainer to ask him to remain on the team. Diggle + De La Torre + Martin = dark and twisty fun.

As for Marvel Zombies 3, the aim was to continue the brand's trademark over-the-top humor and horror, but also try something new. You don’t want to drive away the loyal fans, but you also want to invite new readers to the party. Writer Fred Van Lente was doing an amazing job mixing existing ingredients and wild new ideas in titles like M.O.D.O.K.'s 11 and Incredible Hercules -- he knows how to turn continuity from a roadblock to a stepping stone. Plus he's got that humor thing nailed. So after a few discussions about where he could take the franchise, we knew Fred was our head ghoul.

When it came to the art, writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning told me that Kev Walker, who had drawn their Annihilation: Nova mini, might soon be available. Kev's gritty details helped readers take a new, more serious look at the Human Rocket, and we figured he'd bring the needed grungy touch to our undead crew. Talent liaison Chris Allo, who is a true unsung hero here at Marvel, then showed me examples of Jean-Francois Beaulieu's colors, and we had our new team. If the sales numbers and reviews are any indication, it looks like readers definitely enjoying what Van Lente, Walker and Beaulieu are serving up.

Long story short, building a creative team is part research, part playing mad scientist, and mostly luck. Basically, it's like Fantasy Football, but with your favorite characters and creators -- and you get paid for it!

NRAMA: Looking at something coming up for you - War of the Kings which you mentioned earlier. First off, can you run down how it will all spill out? What leads into it, and how does it play out in terms of titles?

BR: War of Kings is two freight trains locked on a collision course. On side you have Vulcan, the third Summers brother who is swiftly and viciously expanding the Shi'Ar Empire. On the other you have Black Bolt, who -- as you'll see in Secret Invasion: Inhumans -- is, to quote Network, "mad as hell and isn't going to take it anymore." In issue #2 of SI: Inhumans, you saw the seeds planted for an Inhuman/Kree alliance -- and that's going to quickly blossom into a force to be reckoned with.

What sets these two powers on the path to battle? Upcoming issues of X-Men: Kingbreaker, Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova and Secret Invasion: War of Kings gets the snowball rolling into an out of control avalanche that will sweep up heroes, villains and worlds.

It's got a little something for everyone, whether you're into the X-Men, the Inhumans, Marvel's continuing cosmic renaissance, or just kick-butt action. War is ugly and horrific -- so don't expect characters to walk out unchanged or unscathed. Abnett and Lanning are the architects of this sci-fi opera, and they're coming in with all barrels blazing.

NRAMA: What goes into organizing a crossover "event" such as this? Obviously, you've got the experience with Annihilation: Conquest, but yet...how do you start off and try to control it?

BR: It all comes down to story. Let's compare your event to an animal. If you construct a steel spine -- and always make sure everything connects to and supports that -- you can add on the teeth and claws and wings. Months ago, Dan & Andy visited the Marvel offices, where we locked ourselves in a room for two days with Tom Brevoort and Joe Quesada to discuss, argue about and brainstorm. From that, Dan & Andy drafted a blueprint for a story that will evolve the Marvel cosmos to its next stage.

So, yes, there's weeks of planning, hundreds of emails, and enough lists, schedules and reference art to choke a Badoon, but the real job is to keep all the creators informed, communicating, inspired and focused -- the talent and the story takes care of the rest.

NRAMA: What are the pressures of something like War of the Kings in terms of its reach? It's obviously got an inherent "cast" in space, but is there a tug to make it even more wide-reaching and pull in a few more books?

BR: Again, it's the story that drives everything. Are we tempted to add on additional titles and characters? Sure, but not at the expense of the story. Everything must be integral and necessary -- all fat must be cut -- otherwise it becomes bloated and meaningless. And we owe our readers and these characters too much to do that. We're not under pressure from Publishing and Marketing to generate X many titles -- but we are pushing ourselves to create something we can be proud of.

NRAMA: While we're looking at everything on your desk - you're also launching a new series, War Machine, written by Greg Pak. Where is that series in terms of production? What issue are you working on now?

BR: Alongside Thunderbolts, War Machine is another dark gem that is going to blow readers away. Around the world, dictators and despots are making life a living hell for the innocent and helpless. I don't know about you, but sometimes the things I see in the news get my blood boiling. Why is this injustice allowed to happen? Why is no one standing up to these monsters? Okay, in our world, I know things aren't so simple -- but in the Marvel Universe, we have James Rhodes, who does see things in black and white, and who is willing to blast through bureaucracy and political red tape with his shoulder-mounted Gatling gun and personal arsenal of heat-seeking missiles.

As luck would have it, Greg Pak attended the last Marvel editorial retreat when we pitched the group on the concept behind War Machine. During a break he immediately stopped by and said how much the idea interested him. And it doesn't take a genius to see what the guy behind War World Hulk -- which had just as much heart as it did muscle -- would do with a one-man army. And I don't know what excites me more, the shocks in Greg's first six-issue arc or the pages that are coming in from Leonardo Manco.

If you haven't seen it, go back and check out the steam-belching locomotives that Leonardo drew in Blaze of Glory and the dirty tech he delivered in Deathlok. Leonardo was born to unleash War Machine. And the colors by Jay David Ramos kick it all up to the next level. The team has already finished an 8-page prequel that you can read now at Marvel.com, and issue #1 is really turning heads in the office.

NRAMA: As we've seen over the last few years, all Marvel launches (and even many early issues) get multiple covers. As the editor, do you have a say on which issues get the variant covers, and who draws them? Any names you can reveal for War Machine's covers?

BR: Variant covers are a funny thing. Some readers don't like them, and they're free to ignore them, while others dig the opportunity to pick the cover that they like best. So whenever I'm asked by Sales & Marketing to create an additional cover, whether it's for a reprint or a variant, I trust that it will help attract readers and improve the long-term health of my books. With so many titles under their watch, I appreciate that Sales cares about my titles. So keep an eye out for the great covers by Leonardo Manco and Francesco "MATT" Mattina -- and for one villainous variant by Brandon Peterson!

NRAMA: What kind of work do you do on a book like War Machine? Greg's pretty well versed in the Marvel U, so I doubt there's much continuity checking and fact checking...so what role do you play with him?

BR: I love working with writers who know how to use Marvel's rich continuity to enhance a story. Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, Fred Van Lente, Peter David, Christos Gage, Andy Diggle -- they all use history and characters like a chef uses ingredients in a recipe. Same thing with Greg Pak, as anyone who's read World War Hulk or Incredible Hercules will tell you. As I learned from Mark Paniccia, who has worked with him a lot, Greg likes to discuss story and bounce ideas around. So it's mostly talking over coffee or emailing back and forth about themes, characters, motivations, symbolism and structure. What does the protagonist want? How can the drama and action escalate? What is your metaphor? Who would win in a fight, a rabid wolf or a blind bear? Stuff like that.

NRAMA: Is that similar to your role on your other books, or does it change, depending on the team?

BR: Each creator has a different personality and strength. Some want creative guidance and someone to bounce ideas off, others want to be left alone. Most know more about telling a story than I'll ever learn. So my job on each book is to figure out what the playing field is, and how to give my talent what they need to do their best.

Joe Q always tells us that Marvel should be a place where creators are given the freedom and trust to tell the stories they want to tell. And Tom Brevoort constantly reminds us to stay behind the curtain and let the talent shine. I happen to think both guys are pretty darn smart. So while I do interviews like this in the hopes that readers might check out the books, I also try to stay behind the scenes and give the creators the space to do their thing.

NRAMA: Looking at your plate, as with it seems most editors at Marvel, you've got a lot of titles you're working on...is this many titles at your comfort level, or can you handle more?

BR: It's a balance of quantity with quality. Every single book and creator deserves as much care and attention as you have time and energy for. Everyone on staff is asked to contribute as much as they can -- probably more than they can -- to the team. So it's never about "comfort" at Marvel. It's about creating as many good books as possible. It's not glamorous. It's not cushy. It's not 9 to 5…it's thinking about your books whether you're commuting, at night or on the weekends. But, hell, I could be doing any number of back-breaking and soul-crushing jobs, so I thank my lucky stars every day that I'm working at the place and with the people and characters that I dreamed of when I was a kid.

NRAMA: One last question - plug away...what book of yours do you think more people need to check out?

BR: I try to love my books equally, so I'll let all the preview take the stage. Mahmud Asrar's art on She-Hulk: Cosmic Collision, Paul Pelletier on Guardians, Wellinton Alves's Nova, Manco on War Machine, De La Torre's Thunderbolts, Tom Raney's SI: Inhumans, new discovery Bong Dazo on SI: War of Kings…it's all good stuff!

The books might not all be huge sellers (not that we don't want them all to be), but they're filled with some of the most interesting characters and talented creators going today.

Also, if you're a fan of talking raccoons, scheming villains, drooling zombies, creepy robots or telepathic dogs, there's a good chance you'll get one -- if not a combo -- in any of my books. So that's cool.

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