Every comic book fan – and particularly Marvel comics readers – knows the basics of Marvel Universe history.From the origin of the Human Torch to the characters who formed the Invaders, the history is something modern comics often reference and sometimes explore in detail. For example, Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross put their own mark on the story in 1994 with Marvels, a four-issue comic told from the point of view of the "man-on-the-street" during the emergence of the superheroes who populate the universe.
But now writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting are delving further into what was happening behind the scenes when the Age of Marvels first dawned. In an eight-issue mini-series titled The Marvels Project that starts in August, the award-winning team behind Captain America will uncover the intrigue and hidden truths behind Marvel's earliest heroes.
In a lengthy interview in February, Brubaker told Newsarama that the idea of what The Marvels Project will tell about the Marvel Universe is comparable to how The Right Stuff told the details behind the origin of the U.S. space program. "We know the early days of this world," he said, "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."Brubaker is excited to be bringing along his Captain America collaborator to share the project as Steve Epting draws the interiors and covers. "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," he said. "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."
In a series of articles looking at the project, Newsarama talked to Epting to get his take on The Marvels Project, and to find out his take on all these characters from Marvel's past.
Newsarama: How did you hear about the idea behind The Marvels Project?
Steve Epting: One day I had a conference call with Tom Brevoort and Ed Brubaker, and they told me they had a project connected to Marvel's 70th anniversary and they wondered if I might be interested in it. Ed was very enthusiastic about it, and it sounded like he had a really good idea for a story that would serve as sort of an origin for the Marvel Universe. The more he talked about it the more interested I became.
NRAMA: Ed told us that you enjoy drawing flashbacks to World War II or the Depression Era in Captain America. Why is that part of history so compelling to you as an artist?SE: I'm not sure, unless it's just the nostalgia attached to that era. Maybe that and all of the Sgt. Rock comics I read as a kid. Let's face it, there aren't many war comics around, and so when there's an opportunity to draw them, even if it's just in a flashback scene, I really enjoy it. I think it's the same thing that I enjoyed so much about El Cazador – it's a chance to depict another world essentially, but it's one that actually existed not that long ago.
NRAMA: Are you approaching the art in a similar way to how you're drawing Captain America?
SE: In a way it's the same approach. One of the things Ed mentioned when we first discussed the book is that he wanted to bring the same storytelling sensibility we used in Captain America and apply it to this period piece. Most of these Golden Age characters have only been seen the way they were first portrayed in the '40s, and the way we approach telling comics stories now is quite different. Not to say our way is superior, it's just an approach designed for the modern audience, just as the original stories were crafted for contemporary readers 70 years ago. Also, the story is similar in tone to what we were doing in Cap with some espionage and cloak and dagger stuff, so yeah, I'm not veering too far away from what I've done before.
NRAMA: We've talked to Ed a little about the story, so we know many of the main players. How do you approach a character like Namor, keeping in mind his unique personality as you portray him?SE: I think personality is something you have to consider for every character, especially those like Namor who have fairly well-defined attitudes. Even in the world populated with larger-than-life characters, this guy is going to have a commanding presence when he enters a scene and will demand your attention and respect. All of this has to be taken into consideration when drawing him, particularly his body language. But as I said, this is something that applies to all characters. It becomes trickier when you don't know much about the guy you're drawing and you feel your own way as to how they should be portrayed.
NRAMA: Let's talk about Nick Fury. There have been a lot of artistic interpretations of Nick Fury over the years – including your own – so how do you approach the character in this era?
SE: Fury's a little different for me this time around, because this takes place when he is younger, before he entered the war. Usually you have a sort of crutch with guys like Fury because the eyepatch is a defining visual characteristic that immediately identifies him. In this case he hasn't yet lost his eye, so I've got to draw a young guy that looks like he'll become the Nick Fury we all know and love.
NRAMA: Ed told us that the Angel plays a role in the story. What can you tell us about that character and how you draw him?
SE: The Angel is more a street-level superhero who stops bank robbers, muggers, etc. He's sort of in the same mold as Daredevil – hopping across rooftops and swinging on flagpoles. In fact, some of the scenes I've drawn would be right at home in a Daredevil story, if you just changed the costume. Perhaps he's a little less brooding and has a bit more of an Errol Flynn quality, but that's essentially the way I'm portraying him.NRAMA: How do you approach Human Torch, and what are the challenges of drawing him SE: My approach stems from when I first tried painting fire on some Captain America covers. I took what I learned there and applied it to the figure. I believe this was Alex Ross' method as well, and the look he established for the Torch in the first Marvels series is definitely a big influence. At the beginning of our book he has very little control over the flames and has to learn to harness the power, so as the series progresses my depiction of him will probably change to reflect that. NRAMA: Do we see much of Captain America in this series? How are you approaching his character differently in this era than you do in the regular series?
SE: We will see the birth of Captain America certainly, and I assume we'll see some of his early adventures. We haven't gotten that far into the story yet. As to how I'll be drawing him, it's something I'll probably just go by instinct on when the time comes.
NRAMA: Knowing what Bucky Barnes will later become and having drawn his future in such detail, does that influence how you draw his history? Or is he really almost a different character in the past because he was so young?
SE: Yes, and that character has been established for decades. I think knowing his future will provide some deeper level as far as the story goes, but it won't really factor into the way I draw him. At least I don't think so. Again, when I start drawing Bucky, my instincts may tell me to do something subtle here or there to hint at what's in store for him, but I guess I'll find that out when I'm actually working on it.
NRAMA: With real characters like FDR, Kermit Roosevelt and others from that era showing up, have you done a lot of research on that era?SE: Yes, I feel like when you have actual people as characters in a book, particularly historical figures, you need to get the likenesses down as close as possible, or at least so they are recognizable. It's not so much a problem with people like Kermit Roosevelt of John Astor, becuase I doubt many people know what they look like. FDR, of course, is well known, but at least there is plenty of reference for him, unlike Kermit. NRAMA: Who are some of the other characters we'll be seeing in this series?
SE: Ed has really done his research digging up some of these guys. Besides the familiar ones like Angel, Torch, Namor, and Nick Fury, we'll see some less notorious characters like Fiery Mask, Phantom Bullet, Mr. "E", Electro the Robot, and many more. A lot of them will appear only in small scenes or cameos, but they do help add to the atmosphere of the time, giving it a feeling of a different era of superheroes than the one we're familiar with.
NRAMA: Ed Brubaker has become a frequent collaborator for you. Why do you enjoy working with Ed in particular? Do you think his writing fits the way your style has evolved?
SE: Ed's great to work with. He's one of those writers that understands the visual part of the story telling and his scripts are a pleasure to draw. He also keeps things interesting for the artist by writing scenes with unique locations and avoiding extensive talking heads. Things like that go a long way to make the long hours at the drawing table less tedious. Somehow I seem to usually give him exactly what he wanted so I guess we're on the the same wavelength as far as making comics.
NRAMA: How has the experience of working on The Marvels Project been so far? How is it different from being on a monthly?
SE: Well, deadlines are deadlines, so it's not really any different than a monthly in that regard. It definitely requires more research than most of the books I've worked on, with the exception maybe of El Cazador.
NRAMA: Is the plan still to have you come back to Captain America after the conclusion of The Marvels Project next year? Or have you been looking at other projects?
SE: The original idea was for me to return to Captain America, and as far as I know that's still the plan. However anything can happen between now and when The Marvels Project wraps up, so I'm just taking a wait and see attitude. I'd be happy to return to Cap though, as long as Ed's still there and still wants me to draw it.