NYCC '09: Marvel Takes the 'War' Online

As we’ve reported previously, Marvel is expanding its digital comics offerings on Marvel.com by offering more original material, either standalone new projects, or material that ties in to ongoing print storylines.

Coming this spring, Marvel’s War of Kings gets its chance to go digital with War of Kings: Warriors - four 16 page stories that will be presented on Marvel.com and spotlight key players of the story for galactic domination: Gladiator, Crystal, Lilandra and Blastaar.

The stories will be written by the team of Christos Gage and Jay Faerber, with art by Carlos Magno (Gladiator), Adriana Melo (Crystal), Mahmud Asrar (Blastaar) and Timothy Green (Lilandra), and will be co-edited by the team of Ben Morse and John Cerilli, and overseen by War of Kings’ editorial master, Bill Rosemann.

We spoke with Morse, Gage and Faerber about the stories.

Newsarama: First off guys, in the big picture, what aspect of War of Kings does Warriors fill out?

Ben Morse: When it comes to big action and epic character arcs, [War of Kings writers] Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have got that covered and then some in the main War of Kings book, but with a cast as big as the one they’re dealing with, obviously you can’t spotlight everybody without derailing the story a bit. War of Kings: Warriors is a series of very focused stories that look at the backgrounds and motivations of our featured characters. The goal is of course for Warriors to stand on its own and you definitely don’t need to read our stuff to understand what’s going on in DnA’s book, but if you read both, you’re definitely getting extra added value on both sides.

Christos Gage: Speaking for the Gladiator and Blastaar stories, we're covering events that fill in back-story for the characters…events that significantly inform their actions and motivations during the War of Kings.

Jay Faerber: I'm taking the same approach Christos is. Our intent is to provide some back-story and additional motivation for some of the key players who fans might not be completely familiar with. These four characters are a really diverse bunch that rarely -- if ever -- gets the solo treatment, so I think it's going to be a nice opportunity for fans to see these characters in a different light.

NRAMA: From what we've seen, everyone seems to be involved in all the fighting - why pull out Gladiator, Crystal, Lilandra and Blastaar as point of view characters? What do they offer that's unique?

CG: Each of them represents a separate faction in the war, and each of them is a strong character with their own unique viewpoint as well as their own specific role to play.

JF: Yeah, exactly. Usually these are the kinds of characters who are decidedly not the point-of-view characters, so I think it's great thinking on Dan and Andy's part to mix things up like this.

BM: Chris put it well that these characters each represent a different side of the multi-tiered struggled going on in War of Kings. Gladiator is obviously Vulcan’s right-hand man—though how long he’ll stay that way is a question both we and DnA will be looking at closely—Crystal is a key member of the Inhumans who is very conflicted in regards to their new more proactive stance, Lilandra is one of the rebels looking to take Vulcan down—not to mention a former Empress herself—and of course Blastaar is a very volatile wild card.

Beyond that, all four are characters who have been around for years but who have never really been explored to the degree we’re looking at them. That gives Christos and Jay both a lot to work with as well as a lot of freedom. I think it’s pretty cool we get to show such significant chapters in the history of tenured characters like these for the first time.

NRAMA: Where do you pick up the respective stories of these characters - are you telling their stories from the start of the war, or sometime after the beginning?

BM: One nice thing about our stories is that they all take place prior to the Secret Invasion: War of Kings one-shot, so it’s not like if you’re reading an issue of War of Kings, Gladiator flies off panel into our story and then back into the next issue and you need to read it all to understand it. What we’re doing is providing character-centric background stories about what makes these characters tick and why they are the way they are in War of Kings and in general. DnA’s story functions fine for a reader who hasn’t read ours and vice versa, but if you read both, you get that much more of an understanding for where these characters are coming from.

Also, note that I said the stories take place before Secret Invasion: War of Kings, but all of these characters have been around the Marvel Universe for a long time, so that period encompasses a lot of ground…

CG: In Blastaar's case, it's after Annihilation: Conquest, when he found a power vacuum in the Negative Zone and moved to fill it. For Gladiator, while we have a bookend sequence set in current times, we're actually delving well back into his past to tell his origin story for the first time. As a personal aside, one of the earliest comics I ever bought was Uncanny X-Men #107, Gladiator's first appearance, and I still have the same tattered comic as one of the most treasured parts of my collection. I was fascinated by all these incredible, Dave Cockrum-designed characters spilling out of the pages. I'm both amazed and honored to get the chance to tell Gladiator's origin thirty years later.

JF: I'm taking the same approach, in that my two stories are set before the war. Both will have present-day framing devices, and will also flash back to pivotal times in the characters' histories. And since Christos just geeked out, I'll share my own geeky connections to one of these characters. I have to admit I'm a huge fan of the Bob Harras/Steve Epting run of Avengers, known to most longtime fans as "the leather jacket era." Say what you will about that run, but I just love it. And Crystal was right in the middle of the action as an Avenger. So I'm having a blast getting a chance to write her.

NRAMA: Character-sketch time - without giving away too much, can you give a thumbnail sketch of who the four are, and an idea of what they'll be going through in Warriors?

-Gladiator

CG: Gladiator: Gladiator is an immensely powerful being who has devoted himself to serving the Shi'ar ruler-whoever that happens to be. Just in the stories we've seen over the years, he's protected and fought for D'Ken, Lilandra, Deathbird and now Vulcan…often going from one ruler to another whose personality and philosophy are diametrically opposed from their predecessor's. But Gladiator is clearly not a mindless drone or a mercenary working for material reward. So why is he so loyal to the throne, no matter who occupies it? We'll find out…and it's rooted deep in his past.

-Crystal

JF: There are certain characters in the Marvel Universe that have connections to all the different corners. The Beast is one, having been an X-Man, an Avenger, and a Defender. And Crystal's another one, having been affiliated with the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, she was married to an X-Man, and she's also a member of the Inhumans. She's the most "human" of the Inhumans, if you know what I mean. She's probably spent the most time on Earth, and so she has a different way of looking at things than the rest of them. Her sister, Medusa, tries to paint her as irresponsible, always running off to have adventures on Earth. But Medusa doesn't quite realize the importance of what Crystal's accomplished in her role as a sometime super-hero. In Secret Invasion: Inhumans, we learned that Crystal agreed to marry Ronan the Accuser as a way to unite the Inhumans and the Kree. That's a pretty serious sacrifice for someone to make, so we'll be sure to examine just what motivates her to take that sort of action.

-Lilandra

JF: In most of her appearances, Lilandra is either a detached space queen or Professor X's girlfriend. With this story, we want to broaden that canvas a bit, and see just what Professor X saw in her. Lilandra is currently watching with horror as Vulcan makes a mockery of everything that was once good and noble in the Shi'Ar Empire. As their former Queen, Lilandra takes this quite personally and will stop at nothing to regain the throne, which will enable her to restore dignity to the Shi'Ar. Lilandra's story will flash back to a pivotal moment in her younger days, and we'll learn just why she so readily accepts the mantle of leadership.

-Blastaar

CG: I see Blastaar as having parallels to the Russell Crowe character in Gladiator (not our guy, the movie!). He's a born warrior who was oppressed, alone and rejected but never stopped fighting. He kept going while other, more powerful Negative Zone leaders like Annihilus fell, gathering an army of those like himself. Now he's on the throne...and woe to anyone who doesn't show him proper respect. We'll be getting a glimpse of how he became King Blastaar.

NRAMA: This is the first time you two have worked together - what's the relationship like? Are you collaborating on all of it, or are each of you taking two characters?

CG: I'm a fan of Jay's work, but our stories aren't really interconnected…we're each taking two characters. I think the coordination effort is more geared towards making sure what we do syncs up with what Dan and Andy are doing, and they've been terrific about it. I'd already done some collaborating with them for our respective WildStorm work and also regarding some story threads from Guardians of the Galaxy that might just get picked up in The Initiative, so I knew they were great guys to work with.

JF: What Christos said. I'm a huge fan of what he's doing (especially on The Initiative), but we aren't really collaborating. Heck, this interview is more of a collaboration than our four stories. But we are working closely with Dan and Andy, with Ben and Bill acting as the conduits.

NRAMA: The only, yet obligatory battle question - Gladiator, Crystal, Lilandra and Blastaar in a ring. Who walks away?

CG: I'd say Gladiator, unless Lilandra was the current ruler of the Shi'ar Empire, in which case he'd beat up the others and then cede the victory to her. That Gladiator is one loyal dude.

JF: Damn, I was going to do a Lilandra-orders-Gladiator-to-beat-everyone joke and Christos totally beat me to it!

NRAMA: Ben, how did you end up selecting Jay and Christos? Christos had been working around the Marvel offices for a while, but Jay was coming back after a while away, right?

BM: Bill Rosemann and John Cerilli gave me the chance to recruit the writers for this project, which obviously was a pretty neat experience for me. I’m fortunate enough to have a slightly deeper rolodex than your average rookie editor thanks to my time working at Wizard and Marvel, so I had a nice selection of talented folks to choose from.

I’ve been friends with Christos a few years now, dating back to when we met at WonderCon in 2006 and I gave him a hard time because he had the audacity to think he could get a Union Jack limited series greenlit at Marvel. So after he proved me wrong on that one, he’s gone on to become one of the fastest rising stars in comics these last couple years and has shown he can excel in just about every genre. I knew it would be a nice thing to have a veteran of the past Annihilation events who had worked with DnA before onboard for this gig, and Bill agreed, so we approached Christos and fortunately he was very receptive.

With Jay, I’ve been reading his work for years, but we never actually made contact until I wrote about digging his Noble Causes series in Wizard and he sent me an e-mail to say thanks. We’ve kept in touch since then and he recently contacted me expressing interest in doing some work for Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited so we were just waiting for the right project. Once we knew who the characters for Warriors were going to be, I thought Jay would be a perfect choice to write about Crystal and Lilandra. With Noble Causes and some of his other work, he’s shown a real knack for telling stories about families, and family is at the heart of Crystal’s story in particular.

NRAMA: Finally, as we've seen with both Annihilation events, Marvel's space epics have become choice places to either launch characters into new series, or polish up some otherwise overlooked folks - if you had to bet among these four, who's going to be the star of this particular show that may go on to bigger and better things?

BM: You’re talking to one of the world’s biggest Nova fans, so I know better than most about the power of an Annihilation or a Secret Invasion, which is what War of Kings really spins out of, to reinvigorate characters. I think all four of these characters have a great deal of untapped potential and would love to see all of them get more solo love after War of Kings is over. I think Gladiator is a front runner fan favorite among a lot of fans, but I think people are going to be blown away by what Christos and Jay do with all these characters.

More New York Comic Con 2009 Coverage:

NYCC '09 Video Page

NYCC '09 Mini-Site

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