Paul Jenkins can turn the seemingly mundane — like Peter Parker and Uncle Ben watching a baseball game — into something as compelling as any epic-scale superhero crossover.
Between his runs on Peter Parker: Spider-Man and Hellblazer, it’s clear that the writer has a knack for poignant single-issue stories. That’s kind of the whole point of the May 2011-debuting four-issue miniseries Thor: Heaven & Earth.
“About a year-and-a-half ago, [Marvel Comics publisher] Dan Buckley had come to me and said that he felt that one of the biggest strengths in the material that I had done for Marvel was in my single issue stuff,” Jenkins said to Newsarama in a phone interview. "I was very excited to do something really worthwhile."
Heaven & Earth is actually planned to be the first in a series of similar projects — what he calls the "contrast series," due to the titles — with Jenkins writing single-issue stories for characters across the Marvel Universe.
“The concept is to really get to the meat of what the character’s all about,” Jenkins said. “In Thor’s case, I think what I really wanted to write about was faith and belief, and the belief in one’s self versus belief in a higher power.”
Similar in format to the Jenkins-penned Captain America: Theater of War, the four issues are united by theme; there’s no framing device or underlying interconnected plot points.
Each issue will have a different artist — Ariel Olivetti, Mark Texeira, Pascal Alixe, Stephen Segovia and Steven Sanders are all scheduled to be a part of the series. (Five artists in four issues because one will be illustrating a humorous back-up feature.) Two issues are set in the present day, one in the early Viking-era of Asgard, and one right before Ragnarok.
“Some of them are very big stories, some of them are stories of faith,” Jenkins said. “One of them is really an action-adventure story. I got a chance to write about the gods of Asgard versus the Welsh dragons, which is a subject very dear to my heart.
“And then there’s one very quiet story about a priest who’s really having a hard time reconciling his faith; that he’s a Catholic priest but he’s having such a hard time trying to work out what to do now that he’s had proof of the existence of what he thinks are pagan gods. He’s been given proof of an afterlife, but he doesn’t want that proof, he wants his faith.”
The first issue stars Thor and his brother/archenemy Loki and takes just prior to Ragnarok, and attempts to answer a question about their relationship that Jenkins has had since childhood.
“As a kid, I always looked at [Loki] and I kept thinking to myself, ‘Why on Earth would they keep that guy around?’ Every other five minutes he’s stealing something, or causing trouble,” Jenkins said. “And then the next story starts and he’s back in the fold again. I wanted to write about the difference between Thor and Loki, and have a story where Loki really justifies his existence.”
Though he’s written for Marvel regularly for more than a decade, this is the first significant Thor work for Jenkins, who’s mainly used him in supporting roles in books like this year’s The Sentry: Fallen Sun.
It’s also the first major crack at Thor for the bulk of the Heaven and Earth artists, including Olivetti, who wrote via e-mail in his native Spanish that Thor was one of his favorite characters, and that he’s pleased to be drawing the character after 16 years of working for Marvel. Alixe is similarly excited.
“Thor is a really nice and strong character to draw,” Alixe wrote via e-mail. “I just enjoyed the process with the help of a very nice story.”
With the exception of Mark Texeira, who drew a Sentry & the X-Men one-shot back in 2001, it’s the first time any of the artists have worked with Jenkins.
“When I first heard that Paul Jenkins was the writer, I was blown away,” Segovia wrote via e-mail. “Working with such a talented writer deserves the best craftsmanship in the pencils so I'll make sure to do my very best on it.”
Jenkins described his input on the artist selection as “not much, but kind of a lot.”
“I wrote this huge, long list out for [Marvel editor] Ralph [Macchio] a long time ago, and said, ‘here’s all of the people I’d love to have in these series at some point,” Jenkins said.
Even though Heaven & Earth is still seven months away, Jenkins is already focused on his next single-issue fix.
“I think there’s a billion single-issue stories,” Jenkins said, “because there’s so many themes we can think of — these characters at Marvel are so perfect for it. Give me an opportunity to write four single-issue stories that define a character in my eyes, I go, ‘great, let me go!’”
And, yes, he’s still hearing from people reacting to that baseball issue, Peter Parker: Spider-Man #33.
“I’ve had more people come up to me over the years with that issue, just telling me how much it affected them,” Jenkins said. “A couple of people kind of crying. I’ve pointed out to them that that single issue is really important for one reason — if you open it and read it, there’s only one panel in which he appears in his Spider-Man costume.
“Single issues have this ability to really tell wonderfully powerful stories.”
All this might sound a little more emotional and cerebral than typical superhero fare, but Jenkins doesn’t want readers to worry.
“Of course there’s lots of punching and kicking and cool action shots in the middle of it all.”
What's your favorite single-issue Paul Jenkins-written story?