The Marvels ProjectEd Brubaker is telling the early origins of the Marvel Universe in this summer's eight-issue mini-series The Marvels Project.
Announced at Sunday’s “Mondo Marvel” panel at New York Comic Con, the miniseries (drawn by Steve Epting) is part of Marvel's 70th anniversary observance this year, which commemorates the company's history since the Golden Age of comic books. Known as Timely Comics in its infancy, Marvel Comics debuted adventures of the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner in late 1939, followed by Captain America in 1941.
That era will serve as the backdrop for Brubaker's story in The Marvels Project, promising to reveal the "true origins of the Marvel Universe." With characters from Wolverine to the Angel to Nick Fury involved, the story is what Brubaker calls a "modern espionage epic" by the creative team who often explores the early history of Captain America in that title.
Newsarama talked to Brubaker to find out more about The Marvels Project, why he calls it The Right Stuff of the Marvel Universe, and how this story will affect the superheroes of today.
Newsarama: Let's start by just giving people the broad strokes here, Ed. What is The Marvels Project about? Is it similar to what we saw in Marvels?
Ed Brubaker: It's similar to Marvels in some ways, but it's from a totally different point of view. It's an insider's point of view of the early days of the heroes of the Marvel Universe. I keep saying it's like The Right Stuff, but instead of being about the space race, it's a race to create super-humans. But it's got this espionage feel to it too.
NRAMA: You're known for street-level stories, but is this more epic than what we've usually seen from you?
EB: It is epic, but it's a lot of things. It's a wide-spanning character piece, but it's not just about plot. There's a huge espionage plot that it's hung on. And like The Right Stuff, it's really about the characters. If you think about it, we really already know the plot. We know the origin of the Human Torch. We know the early days of this world. But we've never seen it re-told in the modern language of comics. We've never gone back and told this whole story. There was The Invaders and Marvels, but we've never really taken any time and just sort of gone through and told this story in one long epic.
It basically goes from the Depression era to just after Pearl Harbor. It's sort of doing a modern espionage epic about the early days of the Marvel Universe, showing that time in one big story, which has never been done. Marvels covered that era in one issue from an outsiders point of view. This is the inside story of the creation of super-humans in the Marvel Universe. Who funded the experiment that created the Human Torch? Why does Namor hate surface-worlders so much? It's not just because his mom made it with one of them and made him hate them. There's more to the story.
And I'm writing this like no one's ever heard these stories before. But I'm putting little Easter eggs in there for all the long-time fans. It's really fun to have all those pieces and just move them into this giant espionage story that also delves into who these heroes were and why they became heroes, and it's not even clear that they were heroes.
NRAMA: Where did the idea for this come from? With the espionage angle, it sounds like it was your idea?
EB: Yeah, well, part of it was [Marvel Editor] Tom [Brevoort] asking me, last year at some point, about doing a 70th anniversary project that was a little bit like Ultimate Origins, where you go back and you look at the early days of that world, but this time about the Marvel Universe. And they realized they'd done origin stories of all these characters here and there and we'd printed the Golden Age stories themselves, but the Golden Age of the Marvel Universe has never – other than the Invaders – they've never really delved into that era very much.
So I just started thinking about what would be the story to tell. And yeah, that's where the espionage idea came from. It's going to be me and Steve. You know, that's what our Captain America book is already. It's like a big espionage story. And I just started thinking about that era, and how Namor just came out of the ocean and began destroying things, and some guy in Brooklyn invented a robot man who was on fire, and Nazi scientists were defecting to America to work on super-soldier serums, and the Nazis were trying to create super soldiers and sending spies over here. That's really what was going on in the Marvel Universe. I just looked back at the canon of what's already been established about what was going on, and I just thought, that's a great story to tell. That's a story that hasn't actually been told in any detail, and yet at the same time, it's a story that we all know well. So there are bits and pieces you can show that have never been shown, and you can approach it from different angles, but ultimately, the coolest thing about it is seeing the story behind the story we know.
Again, like The Right Stuff, we all know we got to the moon. You know? It's the journey that made the story. How did this really go down? What's the secret behind this story? One of the titles I suggested was Secret Cold War [laughs], or Cold Secret War. But that would never have stuck.
We ended up calling it The Marvels Project because it's like The Manhattan Project. But instead of working on atomic bombs, they were working on atomic people.
NRAMA: What characters will be involved? Are you introducing any new characters to tell this story?
EB: Mostly, I tried to use all established characters, although there will be a few new people here and there. The first characters will be Marvel's first superheroes, like the Angel, who we meet before he becomes a hero, actually, and he's sort of one of the narrators of the story. And we meet Namor and see him attacking people for the first time. I don't think we'll be creating any characters who weren't published in Marvel comics up to the period right after World War II. And there are some characters we'll have to leave out, because unbelievably, in that period, there's a huge amount of characters, and some of them only appeared once. But some of them are cool, even though they weren't around long, and we've discussed ways to deal with that, just to get them in.
And there are some real life characters, obviously, because the Marvel world has always weaved real elements in. So you're going to see FDR and people from that era.
When I was putting the story together, I researched some of the history of that era. Like I looked into how, this was before the CIA, so how did the president get his intelligence briefing? Did he even have one? What was pre-war intelligence like in America? The CIA wasn't around until after World War II. I found out there was a really suspicious, mysterious cabal of people that FDR was friends with back when he was Secretary of the Navy. And they got together once a month. It was put together by this billionaire guy, and FDR's cousin Kermit, Teddy Roosevelt's son, was on it. And there were these rich, intelligent people who were also funding spying and serving as spies when they were off on diplomatic missions. Even when Roosevelt was president before we were in the war, he would take his presidential vacations on the yacht of this guy who was the one that formed the circle, and people from the circle would show up and give him intelligence briefings. So I grabbed that and thought it would be great to take little pieces of the real world and weave them into the Marvel Universe.
So you'll see some parts of it told from the insider point of view of spies or government operatives or people working on these experiments or soldiers. But a lot of it you'll also see from the point of view of heroes, like the Human Torch on the run from the government, basically building his own human identity. It's a lot of different things at one time. We've got this hard, cold espionage plot that's driving everything, but it really is a wide-reaching period piece at the same time.
NRAMA: You're collaborating with Steve Epting again. Is Steve going to stop working on Captain America to do this?
EB: Yeah, this is what we're doing instead of him working on Cap for awhile. It was too good of a project for us to do as a team. Steve has been struggling with the monthly deadline on Cap anyway, for the last few years, so it seemed like it would recharge his batteries to do a special project like this. Every time we have flashbacks to the World War II era or the Depression era in Captain America, that's always Steve's favorite stuff. But a lot of time, when we have those flashbacks, we have to take those pages away from Steve because we're so tight on deadline, so we give the flashback stuff to Michael Lark or we give them to Butch [Guice] or give them to other people. So Steve was always bummed that he didn't get to draw that stuff. [laughs]
The minute this came along, I knew it would be great to give it to Steve. This is the guy who did the death of Captain America and this long acclaimed run on Cap.
NRAMA: What's happening to Captain America without Steve? You're not leaving the book, are you?
EB: No, no. I'm not leaving Cap. I believe Steve is still doing covers, and the plan is for him to just come right back to the book when this is over. Cap has made Steve into a really important artist. This is the centerpiece of Marvel's big 70th anniversary celebration this year. So it's cool to have Steve, who's been in the trenches on a monthly book, get a more high profile. Although Cap's one of Marvel's top books, this is a new project, and it's a real evergreen project the way Marvels was.
NRAMA: And who will be drawing Cap in the meantime?
EB: I don't think we're announcing that yet. [Note: After this interview, Newsarama asked editor Tom Brevoort, who said, "It'll continue to be Luke Ross and Butch Guice for the foreseeable future."]
NRAMA: Will The Marvels Project affect current day stories, or is this really just a stand-alone story from the past?
EB: There are aspects of things in this story that will affect the future. Some of the stuff we're revealing is, like I said, the "secret" cold war. In the same way the Wolverine: Origins story impacted his modern day stories, this will have some impact. It's really about the early characters, but there is a plot thread from the beginning that goes to modern times. There is a modern times epilogue to the story that introduces some interesting things. I don't want to ruin it. I'm worried if I say anything, I'll spoil it. But yeah, there are some modern ramifications to it, but it's not like this is flashbacks or anything.
NRAMA: No time travel, huh?
EB: [laughs] No, no time travel in this one. But because it covers the beginnings of some of these Marvel characters, some of them are still around in modern times.
And it's also about these early programs, like we'll get into the Weapon X program a little bit. And we'll see a little bit of Wolverine during this time period. So we'll get into revealing some secrets about these characters. I'm not saying that's what the story is all about, but there are some cool things coming up like that. Even in the first issue, we're showing something that has never been addressed before. And during my research, I was like, "Oh my God! How could this not have been addressed? This is one of the most interesting stories in the history of superhero-dom!" And I was like, well, who could be responsible for that? And I thought, of course it would be Nick Fury. And as I researched Nick Fury, I found out that not only is this ideal for his character, but it fits with what we know. Every time I do research, it turns out all the pieces are exactly where I want them to be already.
But yeah, there are a lot of these characters still around today. You've got Nick Fury and Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers and Namor. There's the original Human Torch, whose remains are being dealt with in Captain America right now. And then you've got characters like the Angel, and Captain Terror and tons of characters from this era, some of whom could easily be relevant today. So there is a certain amount of finding these Golden Age characters and what would make them interesting if there were a modern day version of that.
NRAMA: You mentioned Steve Epting getting to work on things he's always wanted to draw as kind of a reward for all his hard work on Cap. How does it feel for you to get to do this comic?
EB: It's pretty exciting! I haven't been as excited about a Marvel project like this probably since the early days of Captain America, just because it was a dream when I was a little kid to work on that book, like no other book was. And this is the same kind of thing. One of my favorite books as a kid was the Invaders, and I come from this military background. My family was all military and my uncle was in the CIA, and I grew up around all these war movies and spy movies. So just to be able to take all of that stuff and drop it into the early days of the Marvel Universe where it fits perfectly is a lot of fun.
And like I said before, this is an evergreen project, and that's part of why I couldn't possibly turn this job down. If anyone ever wants to know how the Marvel Universe started, this is the book. This is the beginning of the Marvel Universe right here. So yeah, I feel lucky that I'm the guy who gets to do it.