The upstart publisher Action Lab Entertainment is pitting its creator-owned superheroes against each other in a new series which acts as the beginning of a cohesive shared universe. Launching this fall, Actionverse is both a crossover event series and the name of a new line of superhero titles for Action Lab, bringing together its current series Molly Danger, Stray and Midnight Tiger.
Actionverse #0 debuts in November, but an 8 page preview will be in Action Lab's entry for comic retailers' Halloweenfest event. The series is written by Jamal Igle and Vito Delsante, with Ray Anthony Height and Sean Izaakse on art. Newsarama talked to the quartet about their creator-owned heroes colliding, the draw of superhero crossovers, and how theirs measures up with other recent indie superhero crossovers like Image United.
Newsarama: Guys, big picture -- what is Actionverse?
Ray Anthony Height: An inter-dimensional romp through the super hero universes of Action Lab Entertainment.
Sean Izaakse: It's a shared universe of action and adventure filled with heroes and villains of all types, of diverse characters created by diverse, impassioned and talented creators, who have come together to have fun and tell this story together.
Jamal Igle: Actionverse is the umbrella under which most of the Action Lab Entertainment superhero titles will be operating from. Actionverse #0 and the upcoming crossover is a launchpad for that initiative. It's something that's been in the planning stages for almost two years and I'm excited. It's also one of the biggest collaborative creator-owned efforts I've been involved in.
Vito Delsante: Sometime after Comic-Con International: San Diego and before New York Comic Con last year, Kevin Freeman, Action Lab's President, emailed all the Action Lab Entertainment creators that have superhero books with basically a four word pitch: Free Comic Book Day. That didn't work out, but what happened was...we, the individual creators, got together at NYCC last year (Sean was even in from South Africa) and we hashed out the idea over, what I thought was, a great dinner (that's my jab at Anthony Ruttgaizer, creator of The F1rst Hero). So, sometime after that, we all really started diving into it. That's kind of the little toy baby in the cake; the cake is a group of independent creators doing what they do best (tell great stories) and challenge the perception that only "the big boys" can tell this type of story.
Nrama: So what are each of your heroes up to in the Actionverse crossover series?
Izaakse: They're touching base with old friends and making some new ones. Coming together to fight evil and in the process forging new relationships and bonds with other characters and also learning things from each other. Also, punching bad guys in the face cos evil is evil and they won't stand for it.
Delsante: Actionverse #0 takes place maybe a month or two after Stray #4, so we have Rodney, the aforementioned Stray, back in the swing of things as a street level vigilante in New York City (no one ever patrols NYC, I know). He's just dealt with burying his mentor (and father) and he's in a state of flux, identity wise. Still trying to figure out who he is.
Height: At the beginning of Actionverse, Gavin (a.k.a. Midnight Tiger) has just barely established himself as Apollo Bay’s new hero and started training with the Icons, Action Lab’s West Coast superhero team. He’s a superhero fanboy and student of their history. So, he’s enthusiastic about it all and taking full advantage of finally being part of their world.
Igle: Molly Danger is one of the world's premiere heroes. While she appears to be a 10 year old girl, she's in actuality an immortal with superhuman strength, speed and invulnerability. Molly has been operating out of her adopted hometown of Coopersville, N.Y. for over two decades.
Nrama: And an eight-page preview of this upcoming series' #0 issue is appearing for free in Halloween Comicfest: Actionverse. What can you tell us about this excerpt?
Igle: It's the first eight pages of Actionverse #0, which will ship November. Actionverse #0 is an old fashioned team-up story where Molly, Stray and Midnight Tiger must team up to take down Hyena, a villain with connections to both Midnight Tiger and Stray.
Izaakse: There's a hint of the connections between some of the characters. The "sins of the father" if you will. And just enough to hopefully entice readers to be curious as to what happens next. Vito and Jamal have really written a fun issue and the preview is just the tip of it. The full issue will have you laughing at how fun these heroes are when they're together. Midnight Tiger—who's the wide eyed new hero on the block that's a little overwhelmed by it all, the superfan living the dream, Stray—the ex-sidekick who grudgingly got pulled back into the superhero life again and is starting over, and Molly Danger—the girl powerhouse who's done it longer than most.
Height: For the most part, it is a glimpse into Actionverse past and gives you a peek at how Rodney and Gavin’s origins share a common thread. Also, one of my favorite things about Actionverse #0 that gets previewed in the Halloween Comicfest issue is the first meeting between Molly and Gavin. Adorable and hilarious!
Delsante: There's a bit of a flashback at the very start of the issue, and that flashback is basically the origin of the Hyena. If you pay close attention, you can see how these four characters tie our three characters and books together.
Nrama: One of the big draws of this seems to be the shared universe. As creators (and in the vase of Jamal and Vito, marketing people in comic books), why is shared universes so attractive for you as creators and for readers?
Igle: Well, for me as a creator it's just fun to see what we can build together as a group. It's amazing, because having been involved with big crossover events like 52, Countdown to Final Crisis and New Krypton/War of the Supermen at DC, there are always things you have to consider like timing and not stepping on other people’s toes. It's also fun to see Ray and Sean draw my characters. I think readers will appreciate the level of work and detail involved and the connectivity of everything going forward.
Height: For me as a fan and creator, it’s the opportunity to play with someone else’s toys as we all sit in the same sandbox. I’ll be honest; I love my friends’ characters as much as their fans do. Maybe even more...hehe. In addition, readers of all three books at one point or another seemed to already be interested in some sort of a crossover between our books and would let us know on either Twitter or Facebook. So, the creator and fan interest was already there.
Izaakse: For me it comes down to that time as a kid when you always wanted to see your favorite heroes interact and see what would happen. And the first time I was in awe when I saw that cover to Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man. Those have all been done and with events and crossovers so massive happening every few months, that sense of wonder is pretty much gone. We see heroes in each other's books all the time now and most of them are so full of characters that some are just there to take up space in the background. What we're doing now is the very first interaction between these characters. It's heartfelt and fun and everyone is unique and has their voice. I think anyone who tries it will enjoy the ride and come away loving these characters a little more.
Delsante: I listen to the Fatman on Batman podcast regularly, and one of the things that Kevin Smith and Marc Bernardin bring up, when talking about comic book movies, is how a lot of the studios want to build their own universes. For example, I think it's been confirmed that the Fantastic Four and X-Men franchises are going to crossover at Fox. For us, as comic book creators, I think it has less to do with metrics and economics (although that would be nice), and more about what everyone here has either said or hinted at; the fun of working with your friends, and building something together. I think about filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, and how he made movies in his backyard. He probably had his friends act in them, no? That's the same feeling, for me. Creating something you love with people who you not only like and respect, but trust enough with your own property.
Nrama: It's already been established that Molly and Rodney Weller have a connection, but how overlapping is the three book's histories with each other?
Height: You know, Stray is kind of the linchpin when it comes to the connection of all three titles. Molly and Rodney have known each other since he was a sidekick. They have history in that vein. While Gavin and Rodney’s connection go back way before either of them was ‘born’. I’ll leave it at that. Actionverse #0 is where it all comes together. The start of something awesome.
Igle: Molly and Rodney have a relationship that dates back to his kid sidekick days. Unfortunately they lost touch when Rodney quit the hero business, and she felt abandoned by her old friend. I liken their relationship to the old World's Finest comics where Robin would travel back in time and team up with Superboy. However the relationship between Rodney and Gavin (Midnight Tiger) is much more closely tied together. One of the things that has come out of all of this for me as a writer is that I want to explore Molly and Rodney's team up days, I have a scene that will be used in an upcoming issue of Molly Danger.
Delsante: We kind of answer that in the first three or four pages in Actionverse #0, but we only really hint at Molly and Rodney's relationship. That story is much bigger and, without sounding like a shill, it's worth the price of admission. It's got to be its own tale. That said, you know what happens when dogs and cats get together, right? Ray and I have been friends for years...so long we don't know when and how. Ray, Sean and I used to have these clandestine Skype calls where we'd plot out how our characters know each other, which villains know what, etc. And the three of us knew that, on paper, Rodney and Gavin would be best friends. It's just getting there. How do they become best friends.
Izaakse: Oh man, the more time I spend talking with Vito, Ray and Jamal, the more we find ways that these characters fit so well together. It's so organic that it's almost like kismet. Just the other day Vito and I were hashing out some story points for down the line and I mentioned something that totally just connected with a character of Ray's as if out of nowhere. And that stuff happens like all the time.
And then of course Molly and Rodney have a history that will be touched on and at the same time Rodney and Gavin's friendship is just starting and it's gonna be fun to see how it develops.
Nrama: Vito and Jamal, you two are co-writing Actionverse and are also Action Lab's chief marketing people. This was advertised as the "biggest crossover in indie comics history," so how does it match up to things like similar attempts like Image United and Way of the Independents in scale?
Igle: Like I said previously, Actionverse isn't just about lending characters to a single writer and artist as in the case of both of those other projects. With due respect to both Robert Kirkman and Dave Ryan, neither of those projects were finished either. Actionverse will be finished by the time it's ready for solicitation. In terms of scale, we are definitely taking our lead from Crisis On Infinite Earths. The crossover itself was plotted and written by five writers working in concert, each one taking care that the voice of the other creators characters rang true. A lot of deliberation was taken to shape the story in such a way that everyone was represented well. It's not a matter of just throwing random villain X into a story for giggles;, everything matters. So while we don't have the same number of characters that were in either of the other projects, we also aren't also just filling the pages with a character just to have them show up in a background. The core group involved in the Actionverse, have been working on this since November of last year. We had story meetings that went on four hours, trading artwork, designs, asking for input. This isn't a case of just lending my character out to a project, it's a collaborative effort.
Delsante: I think very early on, I was very cognizant, and very adamant that what we do in this mini-series has to have stakes. When next we see Jake Roth in his next issue of F1rst Hero, the events of the mini have to impact him somehow. Same with Molly, same with Midnight Tiger and same with Stray. And that's just because...it's easy as the independent guys that are doing a crossover, it's easy to ignore this and sweep it under the rug and have one character say, "Well, that was a rough week" or whatever. But what I wanted was, especially in Stray's case, I wanted him to really be affected by this. And I think that's what separates us from the other guys. I don't know how Image United was being run, but I imagine that since it never finished, the impact of that event was minuscule, if not absolutely...if not ignored, pushed to the side, in the individual titles represented in the mini. As the two guys in charge of marketing, I think Jamal and I...we've both been at this for a while and we both worked in retail (at the same store, although at different times). We know how these things work, or rather, how they're supposed to work. Right now, it's possibly the greatest challenge ever, creatively and from a publishing standpoint in the market, the way it is currently. The outside perception is that this is a failure before it's even begun, but I think we have a lot more pluses than minuses. If anyone is thinking of ignoring this, don't. This is not either of those other two books and I think it will pleasantly surprise even the most casual fan.
Nrama: Midnight Tiger, Molly Danger and Stray are all creator-owned by its individual writers & artists. Who owns Actionverse the series? Is it all co-owned by the four of you?
Igle: It's going to be an equitable split between everyone involved. Actionverse is a banner more so than an individual title. Six issues, Twenty Two creators, Five heroes, One huge story.
Delsante: Technically, Action Lab owns the branding, the logo. We own our own individual IPs 100%.
Height: Yep. Just what Vito and Jamal stated. We all still own our own characters, but Action Lab Entertainment owns the Actionverse name and logo.
Nrama: And this kicks off a new concentrated line of superhero books for Action Lab called "Actionverse." What are the goals for the line as a whole?
Igle: Everything in this series will lead into what we're building as a company. Both Molly Danger and Stray will be launching next summer as ongoing bi-monthly series, along with some returning miniseries and new titles that will be spinning out of Actionverse. Books that are already under the Action Lab banner will also join the line and any creators down the road who would like to join the Actionverse umbrella are welcomed to participate. the way we want to go about the books various connections is sort of like back in the early days of Marvel where you'd have Spider-Man swinging through the air and you'd see Thor flying by in the background. It's not about crushingly tight continuity, it's about open participation between creators. I think it makes for a richer environment.
Delsante: There are at least two books I'd love to see join the Actionverse because the creators are such good friends, but more importantly...they are tremendously talented. And that's a purely selfish thing. I want to see Stray crossover with them or cameo or whatever. Crap, there's three. My own personal goal for the line is to have a diversity of creators, diverse characters, and provide a true alternative for the Marvel and DC fans that want to see this kind of throwback type of superhero story. I have gone on record as saying that if you're a Nightwing fan and you're not feeling Grayson (which is a wonderful book, nothing against those guys), then you should be reading Stray. I don't know that you could categorize all the other books like that, but I think that spirit...being a true alternative to what is out there, while also being comfortingly familiar...I think that's what I want to see Actionverse achieve.
Doggone it, there's four books.
Height: As both Vito and Jamal are the marketing guys, they definitely had the best answer for what the overall goals for Actionverse are. For Midnight Tiger, Actionverse is his home and it represents the potential for an ever growing world for his future adventures. The title is going on a bit of a hiatus after the Actionverse series and the last two issues of the Midnight Tiger mini concludes. With that said, there are plans for the title to follow Molly Danger and Stray’s lead with a possible bi-monthly series after the hiatus, but I’m still working some things out.
Delsante: Ok, there are five books out there I want to bring in. Happy?