Every story needs a villain, and in Chaos War, it's Mikaboshi. Based on the mythological Japanese god of the same name, he's caused trouble for Ares and Hercules in recent years, and in Chaos War, targets the Marvel Universe as a whole.
But what about his side of the story? That's detailed in November's Chaos War: Chaos King, where writer Brandon Montclare, a former editor at DC's Vertigo imprint but new to Marvel Comics, sets up key events leading up to the main Chaos War miniseries, co-written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, with art from Khoi Pham. In the one-shot, the gods of Zenn-La and the Impossible Man both do their best to stop a rather determined Mikaboshi, bent on driving the world into pure, well, chaos.
Montclare isn't coming alone — he's joined on art duties by prolific veteran illustrator Michael William Kaluta, whom he worked with on Vertigo's Madame Xanadu. Newsarama talked with Montclare about writing for Kaluta, making his Marvel debut and presenting the Chaos King as the "hero" of the book.
Newsarama: Brandon, I'm familiar with your editing work over at Vertigo, and correct me if I'm wrong, but this is your Marvel debut?
Brandon Montclare: This is my Marvel debut, and I’m incredibly excited about that. Back in 2005 I did an original graphic novel, Private School, for TokyoPop. And also some short stories and a few English adaptations of manga. I was on a path to do more writing, but my personal life brought me to New York. And when he found out I was coming to town, Bob Schreck — who I knew from hanging out at conventions — offered me a job at DC. I love editing so that’s a job that was impossible to refuse. But at the end of last year it was time for a change again, and I’m very lucky to once again be writing.
Nrama: What's the experience been like, and how did it come about?
Montclare: A lot of editors use that career to work their way into the creative side of comics. That’s a perfectly valid road to take — one that’s produced a ton of great writers and artists. But that was never me while at DC — so when I decided to leave I didn’t have any transition plans. Somehow I got it in my head that I didn’t want to hit up my office mates — didn’t want to put them in the position where they were listening to my pitches because they were my friends, because they had to. I guess a part of me wanted to “prove” myself by getting work elsewhere before sniffing around DC. All this was from a place of confidence; I never second-guessed my abilities. So I inquired and pitched at some smaller publishers and also at Marvel. Mark Paniccia, my editor on Chaos King, was very receptive to some of my pitches. But first he wanted to give me a test drive on a short story — 8 pages, I think it was, to be published online. That was the seed of this book. It just snowballed from there. The more we looked at Mikaboshi (who’s now calling himself the Chaos King), the more and more interesting stuff we found. Plus a huge catalyst was Michael Kaluta coming on board (we had wanted to work together after getting along well when I edited his Eisner-nominated run of Madame Xanadu). When the artist is a superstar, you want to give him a lot pages to do his magic! The final result became this special one-shot—and we’re now in print instead of online.
Nrama: For this comic, you're being paired with Michael William Kaluta on art, a prolific artist who's been at it for decades. How cool is that, and was it intimidating at all?
Montclare: Don’t tell Michael this, he doesn’t know — I was a frequent fan of his at conventions before I was a professional. I’ve got a bunch of his doodles in my sketchbooks; back-issue bins were mined for Shadows and Phantom Strangers where he did Spawn of Frankenstein, and those books are signed; I have the original cover art to Conan the King #51. So it’s pretty f*cking cool. Since we’d worked together before, I wasn’t intimidated. But very early in the process I think I qualified everything at least twice. He’s the draw, so to speak, so I wanted him to feel I was pulling my weight. Michael is a very generous person, and this shows up in his professional work. He respects the roles that many, many people have in producing a book. A separate quality is that he’s a talker: he likes to ask questions and he likes to explain his decisions. The combination is a great recipe for collaboration. He’s engaged with the material and you always know where he’s coming from. Every panel is going to be scrutinized and many wind up tweaked as Michael finds ways to make the storytelling stronger.
Nrama: Getting to the story itself: this stars the Chaos King, and the story is called Chaos War, so it seems pretty vital to the overall narrative. The preview text says it contains the "first strikes" of the Chaos War, so is this kind of a prelude?
Montclare: Chaos King begins immediately before Mikaboshi attacks Earth, and our story then takes the reader up to a key battle in the Chaos War miniseries. Also, the Chaos King is a very mysterious character. He’s kept his powers and motives hidden from the readers. In this issue you’ll learn a lot about what makes him tick. I hesitate to call it a prelude because it will be on the stands in the middle of the mini series, and I was very conscious of that timing when creating the story. What the one-shot delivers is some back story to the villain of the event — right at a time when, I think, readers will be clamoring for more.
Nrama: The Impossible Man appears to be the hero of the piece. How does he get involved? Are you a fan of the character?
Montclare: Well, it’s actually more fair to say Chaos King is the hero. He’s the villain of Chaos War, but that’s not how he sees himself! Impossible Man, however, pays a key part in the book. He’s got a very different idea as to what “chaos” means, opposed to Chaos King’s definition. Impossible Man can do anything he wants. But all Mikaboshi wants is absolute nothingness. They are at polar ends of existence: it truly is all or nothing with these two. And with the enormous power that both of these characters command, the dispute results in some cosmic-sized fireworks. I’ll also tease that if you see Impossible Man, can the Fantastic Four be too far behind?
Nrama: What about the Chaos King himself — what's your take on the character?
Montclare: Mikaboshi is, at his core, a nihilist. In Marvel mythology he’s the oldest entity — at least in our 616 universe. He was around before creation. Whether you subscribe to the big bang theory or metaphysical explanations for the origins of the universe, Chaos King preceded everything else. And it’s important to note that this pre-creation void wasn’t empty. It was “chaos” in the Classical sense: light and dark, good and evil, you and me — every atom existed, but nothing was divided or separate. Looking at the state of creation now, Chaos King can’t believe it’s come to this. The world — the galaxy — is pulling itself apart with wars and conflict and greed and competing agendas. So he wants to turn back the clock — all the way to the beginning, and then some. Back to a state of pure chaos that is free from consciousness and conflict.
Nrama: How does the Chaos King’s demeanor here compare to past appearances? The tone of the book seems pretty severe.
Montclare: When the character first appeared in the Ares mini series he was quite sinister. The lighter portrayals are more a product of his appearances in The Incredible Hercules. Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente set an adventurous tone — and don’t shy away from the humor. It’s a combination that makes the book a fan-favorite and a terrific read. The Prince of Power and company like to take their foes down a peg. I do think, however, that good storytelling always needs to incorporate some amount of fun. In this issue the comedy will be a little blacker and a lot more subtle. But Mikaboshi means business. The always madcap Impossible Man finds out first hand that it’s no laughing matter. Chaos King is as calculating as a chess master and as cold as the void itself. He’s determined to put an end to absolutely everything—and that’s no joke.
Nrama: It sounds like your story encapsulates the gods of Zenn-La against the Chaos King, Impossible Man against the Chaos King, and also the destruction of Hell, which seems like kind of a big deal. How is all this crammed into one comic?
Montclare: Well, it’s a big comic! By which I mean it’s an oversized issue. But you’re right: there’s a lot that we’re trying to do. The book is divided into three separate chapters. Each one stands alone, but is also a part of the greater Chaos King character arc. Chaos King’s mission puts him on a collision course with literally everyone and everything — so we wanted to create a one-shot that makes the reader feel that epic scope. Giving the audience so many different angles was ambitious. It’s a difficult balance to maintain, but it also keeps you honest as a writer: you can’t waste a single panel; moreover you have to be conscientious that panels and sequences not only progress the story, but also strengthen other panels and sequences in the same story. … That explanation might sound more complicated than it is. It’s a pretty basic idea in comics (or any other kind of narrative), but you’re extra mindful when you’re telling a tale that’s a bit more compressed. It’s the artifice that makes what you’re reading a story, as opposed to just watching things as they happen in real life. That’s how I see it, anyway. At the very least you’re sure to get your money’s worth!