John Layman is not new to Marvel Comics. He wrote a good number of books for them in the mid-2000s; the three-issue Fantastic Four: House of M, the post-Decimation five-issue miniseries Sentinel Squad O*N*E, and 12 issues of a Gambit solo title. In 2007, he penned the Marvel/Dynamite crossover Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness.But all of that was before the comic book veteran hit big with artist Rob Guillory on the Image creator-owned series Chew, which won the Eisner for best new series in 2010, and is currently in development as a series at Showtime. So following a couple of shorter works at the publisher, Layman's returning to Marvel with "Identity Wars," a three-part series starting with Amazing Spider-Man Annual #38, in stores today and illustrated by the formerly DC exclusive Lee Garbet (Batgirl). The second part comes in May with Deadpool Annual #1 illustrated by Juan Doe (Spider-Man & The Human Torch in Bahia de los Muertos!), and finishes up in June's Incredible Hulks Annual #1, featuring art by Al Barrionuevo (The Authority). Garbett was originally scheduled to draw all three parts, but had to step away due to his committments to Fear Itself: The Deep. The story features the Spider-Man, Deadpool and Hulk of the mainstream Marvel Universe being transported to a parallel universe where they encounter alternate, "opposite" versions of their normal selves. To find out a bit more about “Identity Wars” — plus get some scoop on more of his upcoming work — Newsarama discussed the story with Layman himself. Interior page from
Annual #38.Newsarama: John, you’ve written plenty of Marvel comics in the past, but this is your first work of length for them since Chew hit big, right?
John Layman: Yes and no. I think what got me in the door was that Shadowland: Bullseye special.
Chew hit, and I started getting calls from Marvel. It’s been really nice, I’ve been actually getting calls from a lot of companies, but Marvel was one of the first people on the ball, and I did this short story [starring The Enchantress] for Women of Marvel, and then Shadowland: Bullseye. Steve Wacker said, “Do you want to take a hand at writing the Spider-Man, Deadpool and Hulk annuals?” I didn’t even think he was talking to me. I’m like, “Me, all three? Are you crazy? Of course I do.” It was really intimidating. I felt like I was being handed not just the keys to the car, but a Lamborghini. It was scary, and fun.
Nrama: So the three main characters were already set before you came on board.
Layman: Yeah. They said, “Do you want to write the Spider-Man, Deadpool and Hulk annuals, and make them into a crossover?” I said yes, but the consumer in me — I feel event fatigue just like everyone else. Yeah, it’s a crossover, and it’s best read in three parts, but I also tried to make them very stand-alone. If for some reason, you only want the Spidey, you only want the Deadpool, it’s not going to 100% make sense, it’s not going to be 100% satisfying, but you’re not going to be completely lost, and it’ll get you a story of that particular character.
Each one is tonally very different. I tried to give the Spider-Man sort of the most heart, because I think that’s that character. The Deadpool one’s just wacky, and the Hulk one is just sort of visceral action.
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Annual #38.Nrama: “Identity Wars” features alternate versions of these characters, which is fairly familiar territory for you, after comics like House of M: Fantastic Four.
Layman: It was a bit of a cheat, because I’m not deep enough into Marvel to go to the summits, and I don’t know what’s around the corner; I don’t know what’s happening to every last character beyond the pike.
An alternate version allows you to put them in a different world, and you can have fun out of continuity. Stories where nothing happens don’t feel as important. Even though it’s not the “real” universe, here, people can die. It gives you a feeling of more consequence, so you’re not like, “Oh, I just wasted $3.99 on a throwaway story that doesn’t matter.” The reader in me was trying to address all those sorts of concerns so everyone gets the proper amount of bang for their buck.
Nrama: And it’s not an “Elseworlds”-type situation, since the story starts in the mainstream Marvel Universe.
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Annual #38.Layman: Oh yeah. It’s not alternate Spider-Man, alternate Deadpool, and alternate Hulk; it’s our Spider-Man, our Deadpool, and our Hulk, meeting alternate versions. The idea was sort of that they meet opposite versions of themselves; each one is sort of an opposite in their own way. Down-on-his-luck Spider-Man, who’s this hero who always can’t catch a break, suddenly he’s in this world where Spider-Man is the best. He’s a millionaire playboy, with a Spider-Cave, and everyone adores him, and he’s on the cover of every magazine and everyone cheers for him.
[The alternate “Identity Wars”] Deadpool is this super-sane killer. “What if Deadpool wasn’t crazy?” So you get crazy Deadpool versus super-sane Deadpool.
The Hulk, where Banner has been trying his entire life to get Hulk under control using science, I have a Banner who decided to go down the sorcery route. So it’s sorcery rather than science.
You’ve got the Amazing Spider, you’ve got Deathmask, and you’ve got the Infernal Hulk, which takes the place of each respective character.
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Annual #38.Nrama: So other than the three main players, are we going to see alternate versions of some characters they’re connected to, like Spidey’s supporting cast?
Layman: Absolutely. You’re going to see supporting cast members. There’s one Marvel character who seems to show up in everything I do, and it’s not purposeful, I just love him so much. So Dr. Doom plays a big role, at least in the Deadpool annual, as he did in Marvel Zombies, and House of M. He’s really my favorite Marvel character.
There are familiar characters, there’s a twist on Dr. Strange, a lot of Spider-Man’s supporting cast.
Nrama: Annuals at one point were a big part of Marvel and DC’s publishing lines —
Layman: They were very special when I was growing up. I don’t know how they’re perceived now.
Nrama: — but they kind of seemed to fade away a bit in relevance in recent years, though stories like this seem to be an effort in making them special again.
Layman: I’m old, so it means a hell of a lot to me. To be a part of this, it was a weird sort of Wayne’s World “I’m not worthy” kind of honor. I’m still sort of in disbelief that I am part of it.
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Annual #1.Nrama: And with some real big-name characters.
Layman: You talk to people, you tell them you’re in comics, and half the time they don’t understand. “What, Calvin and Hobbes?” You can say, “Yeah, I’m writing an issue of Spider-Man,” and everyone knows what that is.
Nrama: You’ve clearly had a lot of success with Chew, so are you interested in further pursuing work-for-hire projects like “Identity Wars”?
Annual #1 cover.Layman: I took the first half of 2010 and I got really ahead on Chew. I got like five issues, six issues ahead, which I’m told is crazy. I took on this Marvel work, I’m doing a five-issue Godzilla series that’s been announced with IDW, with Alberto Ponticell. I’m actually doing production work — because I’m so anal, they let me letter it myself and now I’m pasting it up even as we speak.
And then I’m doing an unannounced project for a company I’ve never worked for with Sam Kieth, and that is super-exciting, because Sam and I are good friends, and we’ve been wanting to work together for a long time.I’ve done all this stuff, and it’s been a lot of fun, but I’ve lost my lead on Chew, so I’ve actually been turning down stuff. The plan now is to hunker down, get four or five issues ahead — and who knows what the TV stuff will bring — and basically not take any major work. Because Chew is doing so well that I can’t drop the ball, both for myself, for [Chew artist] Rob [Guillory], and for the fans. Nrama: It’s a big day for you all around, because a new issue of Chew is out, as well as the first part of “Identity Wars.”
Layman: Yeah, two books in one day! When’s the last time that happened? Not for a while. [#18] is a crazy issue. It’s really hard, because that issue’s crazy, and the next one, and now I’m writing #19, and it’s kind of intimidating. You can’t top yourself, but you don’t want to fall too far every issue.Visit Newsarama on FACEBOOK and TWITTER and tell us what you think!