Going to outer space sounds like fun, but it’s not exactly safe. While Marvel’s Earth has spent the past few years civilly warring or secretly being invaded or reigning darkly, the cosmic reaches of the 616 have had to come to grips with annihilation, conquest, warring kings, and rips in the fabric of reality that essentially lead to Cthulhu. In the middle of the chaos are writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, also known as DnA. As the regular scribes on “Nova” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the post-Annihilation cruise directors for the Marvel spaceways, they’ve navigated a shifting vista of civilizations at war, heroic sacrifice, and unimaginable terrors. Now, they’re about to do something truly crazy.
When the forces of the universe on the other side of The Fault, the deathless, chthonic place we’ve seen in “Realm of Kings”, begin to seep into the 616, heroes like Nova, Silver Surfer and more will attempt to hold the line. As is their wont, though, the Guardians have an absolutely insane plan: stop the incursion by bringing back the guy who looks at death as a hobby: THANOS. That’s the set-up for the six-issue “Thanos Imperative”. We caught up with DnA (answering as a unit) to fill us in about their journey to the stars and what we can expect when a god returns.
Newsarama: Before we get into Marvel Cosmic, you’ve been a well-known team for a number of years. How did you meet, and what were your earliest projects as a duo?
DnA: We met over twenty years ago, when Dan was an editor in Marvel UK. He edited Andy on the Real Ghostbusters magazine and Andy's creator-owned comic, the Sleeze Brothers. We then went on to write together when Dan became a freelance writer, teaming up to write the Punisher for three years as well as Mutatis for Epic comics and then the West Coast Avengers as it transitioned into Force Works.
Nrama: Do your backgrounds with 2000 A.D., etc. make you fit more naturally with the cosmic/sci-fi material, or do you think that your affinity for Marvel Cosmic comes from another source?
DnA: We were both raised on a healthy diet of 2000AD but also had exposure to the classic Jim Starlin run on Captain Marvel and Warlock via UK reprints of Marvel comics, so our love of all things cosmic and Marvel cosmic in particular goes right back to our formative years.
Nrama: How have you refined your writing process over time? Is there a definite approach that you use, or do those things shift depending on the particular project?
DnA: We have definitely refined our process over the twenty years we've been doing this together. We used to sit at a steam-driven word processor and agonize over every word and phrase. Nowadays we've reached a level of familiarity and ease working whereby we meet up once a week to plot out an issue which Andy usually types up as a breakdown (essentially a page by page breakdown of the action for the whole issue-sometimes panel by panel depending on the level of detail needed with occasional dialogue ideas but always with the main story points covered). Dan then takes this away to write it up into a full script complete with dialogue. We both give this a polish then it's off to Bill Rosemann to rip to shreds with his editorial red pen! Sometimes, if a deadline is pressing or an artist prefers it, we'll work to plot and script the pages when they are pencilled but mostly we work to full script.
Nrama: In terms of the so-called Marvel Cosmic titles, you got involved with Annihilation as the writers of Annihilation: Nova, then wrote the Annihilation Conquest Prologue and that subsequent Conquest mini-series. You were already writing the Nova monthly at this point; was your place in the “Cosmic” firmament something that had been planned, or did it just evolve over time? (Your own form of Conquest?)
DnA: We were very lucky to be asked to take part in the Annihilation series by editor, Andy Schmidt who, along with Keith Giffen, was generous enough to give us a shot at tackling Nova's part in the series. Andy and Keith were aware of our work from our time writing Legion at DC (Keith was very generous and helpful to us while we were producing that too) and we had previously pitched a potential Nova series with Chris Batista that never got past the planning stage. When Nova got his own ongoing series after Annihilation Andy asked us to take the reins, as he was aware of our previous pitch and liked the direction we wanted to tackle the character (unfortunately Chris was working on another project and couldn't join us). We were lucky that when Andy left, our new editor, Bill Rosemann, liked what we were doing and asked us if we wanted to have first stab at a follow up event to the very successful Annihilation War, we naturally said yes and went on to write Conquest, out of which the Guardians of the Galaxy book was launched, based on the wonderful work Keith did during the Conquest series and our ideas of creating a quirky series that was the opposite in tine and approach to the more traditional superheroic style we were doing in Nova. From that point on, we were given the key to the cosmic toy chest at Marvel and have had a blast playing with some of our favourite and iconic characters over the last three years.
Nrama: From Conquest came Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s become quite the fan favorite, balancing action and humor. How do you strike that line between the two, and why do you think that Guardians has struck the chord that it has with its loyal readership?
DnA: We have been very lucky with Guardians that the readers seem to enjoy it as much as we do. I think we've taken the wonderful blend of humor and heroics that Keith Giffen started in the Starlord mini-series during Conquest and added our own blend of weird and wonderful, left-of-centre entertainment with a quirky, odd-ball group of characters that no one would have cared two hoots for but who now are firm fan favorites- after all who couldn't love a Raccoon armed with a rocket launcher? In a market place that's overflowing with gritty, serious and sombre comics, it's a refreshing change to have a title that's out and out fun and funny.
Nrama: The next Cosmic Events, “War of Kings” and “Realm of Kings” also saw you at the helm. Considering that you’d written the earlier event and were charting Nova and Guardians, how much freedom did that give you in plotting for your pair of “Kings”? It would seem that you’d be able to focus on a clear vision of your own making while laying down plot threads, foreshadowing, etc.
DnA: Like we said, Marvel have been very generous letting us play with the cosmic toy box, they've even encouraged us to use characters we would have thought out of bounds; especially when we were able to use the Shi'Ar and the Inhumans in the War of Kings Event and Ultron in Conquest. Nothing seems off the table as long as it makes for a great story and we've had a great fun tying together various plot threads and character details given that a lot of these great heroes and characters have been around for decades and have such rich and full histories. This fact has made it easier for us to connect characters to story strands and themes as it becomes clear what a certain character would do or who they would side with given their previous background. It's made our job of fleshing out the Marvel cosmic landscape a lot easier and made the MCU a much more interesting place now.
Nrama: “Realm” definitely took a Lovecraftian turn. It’s fair to say that Lovecraft did one of the earliest truly “cosmic” sagas with his mythos. Is it fair to say for your part that that was part of the appeal in mining that territory?
DnA: As with the Marvel cosmic stuff and Starlin, we are both big fans of fantastic horror fiction and HP Lovecraft, as well as R E Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, so when it came to creating a truly horrific and evil threat from beyond our universe, this was an easy fit to make. Cthulhu lore has a long history within the Marvel Universe, with their Elder Gods like Cthon, Sliggurh, Shuma-Gorath, N'Gabthoth and others, all of which are very 'cthuloid' in appearance and powers, and many of whom have origins from beyond the stars but very seldom have they appeared outside of the pages of Dr Strange or the Defenders. We thought the extra-dimensional/ deep space roots of these characters was worthy of exploration in the cosmic realm, which is what lead us to the Cthulhuverse that we saw in 'Realm'
Nrama: Now, we’re up to “The Thanos Imperative”, featuring a character that is, in many ways, Marvel’s greatest cosmic villain. What is it about Thanos that you enjoy as a character, and why is he crucial to the next phase of Marvel’s cosmic development?
DnA: Thanos is an iconic character and one we've been eager to have a crack at writing ever since we were brought in to work on the cosmic books. Unfortunately Keith Giffen killed him off brilliantly at the end of the Annihilation War, so we've had to bide our time until such a moment when we had a story big enough and important enough to attempt to resurrect him. We've also had to think long and hard about how we achieve that end too as we wanted his reappearance to be as a result of an ongoing storyline and not a throw away gimmick. With the convergence of the story threads in the Realm of Kings books (Nova, Guardians, Inhumans and Imperial Guard) the time was right for us to give it a try. We have several long term plots that are reaching a crescendo and what better way to have them culminate than with an epic story that not only resolves almost three years worth of plotlines, but also brings back one of comic's most enduring cosmic villains.
Nrama: I see that the Silver Surfer, Nova, Gladiator, Quasar, and the Guardians all have a part to play. Will there be other specials and minis, or will the action be confined to this series? With the Surfer, it seems like it’s his first time back in the yard for a bit; how does he fit in?
DnA: The story will be told within the six issues of the mini-series. The Surfer and his boss will find themselves inexorably drawn into the crisis as it begins to threaten not only the local region of space but the entire universe as well.
Nrama: What else might we expect from DnA going forward, and do you anticipate involving any of your cosmic characters (apart from Nova, who has) with Marvel Earth in the near future?
DnA: The Thanos Imperative covers such a vast canvas of galactic real estate that Earth cannot but be threatened. But, as is the way with these cosmic stories, the main action will be played out in the remote endless depths of space by brave cosmic heroes who's exploits are barely noticed by their Terran counterparts. These guys are the unsung heroes of the universe, without them the cosmos would be a much deadlier place. It's also what makes writing these cosmic tales such fun, as we get to do things and create situations that, if we were tied into Earth based continuity, we wouldn't be able to. Sometimes, being so far removed from the planet earth can have real advantages.
The Thanos Imperative begins in June, 2010 from Marvel Comics