Jimmy Palmiotti is no stranger to Marvel Comics. He got some of his earliest professional work at the publisher as an inker on titles like Ghost Rider, Punisher and The 'Nam, and co-ran the original version of the Marvel Knights imprint with current Marvel chief creative officer Joe Quesada.
As a writer, he and his frequent collaborator Justin Gray worked on Marvel books like Heroes for Hire and Shanna the She-Devil: Survival of the Fittest, but the bulk of Palmiotti's work-for-hire output lately has been at DC Comics, where he and Gray are currently writing All-Star Western and Batwing. Yet Palmiotti is returning to Marvel in conspicuous fashion in July: Writing What If? AvX, a weekly four-issue miniseries featuring the company's two biggest franchise, using one of its most beloved storytelling formats to revisit one of their most successful event stories in recent years, last year's Avengers vs. X-Men.
Newsarama talked with Palmiotti, who also served as a story consultant for the recently released DC fighting game Injustice, about his altered take on AvX, working with series artist Jorge Molina, and the plentiful creative freedom inherent in telling a What If? story.
Newsarama: Jimmy, it's been a little bit since your last work at Marvel was published. Why is now the right time to return, and why was What If? Avengers vs. X-Men the right project?
Jimmy Palmiotti: Well, last project I did for marvel was a recently aired episode of Ultimate Spider-Man, which I scripted from an outline by Joe Quesada. Comics-wise, it was a couple of Wolverine books.
My door is always open to Marvel work. I got my start at Marvel years ago and feel very connected with the characters and the crew up there. When I got the call from my editor Daniel Ketchum about the What If, I was laughing because I was a huge fan of the old series and messing with what people know about a character is something I really enjoy doing. When he said it would be covering the Avengers vs. X-Men story I was a bit overwhelmed, since that story ran for such a long time. I ran to my local store and bought all the copies of the 12-issue series, and then scrambled to get the others and started to piece together what I thought might be an interesting take on things. Daniel came back with some good ideas building off the ones I pitched, and we went crazy from there. A project like this is a bit overwhelming because of the amount of characters, but I was up to the task.
Nrama: To that end, do you find having a bit of distance from being involved with big Marvel events like AvX helps your perspective with an event like this — looking at something from recent Marvel past from a different angle?
Palmiotti: I think it really helped reading it all fresh and that helped me get to the core of what the story was about… the relationship of the characters to each other… the situation and future of Hope and the coming of the Phoenix Force. I really enjoyed reading all the books in a row. The real fun comes throwing a giant sized “What If?” into the mix.
Nrama: More specifically story-related: What If?s tend to either be one specific thing turning a different way and resulting in a great deal of change (like in the original couple of series), or more of a general reimigination of something from Marvel history (like some of the latter releases under the title). How would you describe the What If?-ness of this story?
Palmiotti: Mine is taking the core story, the original fight, the idea of this energy source coming to earth that can make or break the world and twisting the ideas presented to have different outcomes.
What is really fun is taking characters I know and love and do things to them I would never, ever be permitted to do in the regular series. In a What If book, characters can get married, have children, explode for no reason, die in a million different ways, and so on. I am looking at all these powerful characters and really digging in to what would really happen if they were fighting, and I didn’t have to worry about their future. The main focus will also be the Phoenix Force getting into the wrong hands, and what happens after that. All I can say is expect the unexpected, and understand what you see on the covers after issue #1 isn’t always what it seems.
Nrama: Also, in a rarity for What If?s, this is a four-issue story. As a writer, how valuable was it to get that kind of space to explore the altered timeline of the story? And how much added freedom did that grant to go to some truly unique places with it?
Palmiotti: Daniel is letting me go a bit crazy here and to be honest, there was no way in hell I could nail a story with this much scope in a single issue. Even with the four issues, it’s a bit limited, so I have to move the characters around in a different way the original creators did. Events in the books happen quicker and bloodier than the original series. I do not copy and dissect every single story element presented in the original, but I take what I can use to push the story forward.
Honestly, with any good story, you have to care about the characters and what is happening to them. I will say that a major Marvel character dies at the end of the first issue… and this event causes complete chaos.
Nrama: The original AvX naturally included a lot of characters; which ones did you choose to focus on for this story? It looks like Magneto and Hope both play important roles.
Palmiotti: They are the main ones. Storm, Magneto, Hope and Scott on the X-Men side; Captain America, Iron Man and Thor out of the gate, and then we get into the other characters pretty quickly. I have a character list on my computer screen so I can keep track of everyone in the book. Like I said, it’s a bit overwhelming. It would have been a lot easier to write a “What If Black Widow was a man?” or “ What If Galactus went into a food coma?"… stuff like that. This original event was huge, so I have a lot on my hands to work in there.
Nrama: The artist on the series is Jorge Molina, last seen on X-Men Legacy. From your perspective, what makes him visually suited for the story?
Palmiotti: Jorge knows what is important to the panel, has tremendous storytelling skills and can really draw the hell out of the characters. I am simply in love with the work I have been seeing from him on this. This isn’t a simple book on any level for any artist… with a cast of hundreds; poor Jorge is having some pretty insane pages to draw. The first issue alone I feel almost guilty for what I gave him to draw. Almost.