Before Joe Quesada's decade-long stint as Marvel's editor-in-chief, he and Jimmy Palmiotti presided over the "Marvel Knights" imprint, which debuted in 1998 and presented memorable takes on classic characters including Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee's Inhumans,Christopher Priest and Mark Texeira's Black Panther and a Kevin Smith-written Daredevil, illustrated by Quesada himself.
As Quesada — currently Marvel's chief creative officer — rose to power at the publisher, the line continued, producing acclaimed works like The Sentry, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's Punisher, Madrox (which preceded Peter David's return to X-Factor) and Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's Daredevil run. Yet Marvel Knights has stayed mostly dormant since 2010's Spider-Man: Fever, primarily used as branding for the company's motion comics adaptations of print stories.
That changes this fall, with three new Marvel Knights miniseries launching in successive months. Each one pairs creators mostly known for their work at independent publishers with some of Marvel's biggest icons, starting in October with Marvel Knights: Spider-Man from writer Matt Kindt and artist Marco Rudy. November brings Guerillas' Brahm Revel writing and drawing Marvel Knights: X-Men, and December sees writer Joe Keatinge and artist Piotr Kowalski on Marvel Knights: Hulk.
Newsarama has the first interview with Revel on the five-issue Marvel Knights: X-Men miniseries, which takes place in current continuity and features Wolverine, Kitty Pryde and Rogue heading to a small town to recruit two newly manifested mutants to the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning. Things don't go as smoothly as planned, and Revel told us much more about the story he's crafting.
Newsarama: Brahm, Marvel Knights: X-Men marks your Marvel debut. How important of a benchmark do you see that in your career? Has working for Marvel long been a goal for you?
Brahm Revel: Well, growing up, I was, without a doubt, a Marvel kid. The Eastman and Laird Ninja Turtle comics got me in to the comic book stores, but it was the Marvel comics, and particularly the X-titles, that really got me hooked on comics. So back then, when my aspirations to draw comics for living were just starting, this would have been an unimaginable dream job. And of course, during that time period, the dream would really just have been to be the penciler, because my conception of the workloads were still very compartmentalized. So to think that I’d be drawing, inking and writing would probably have just been inconceivable.
As I got older and my career goals shifted more towards making creator-owned books, working for the “big two” became less of a priority and more of a bucket list type of thing. I never stopped wanting to work on superhero stuff, but as my style evolved and looked less and less like mainstream stuff, I figured it was less likely that I would get a chance to unless I made a name for myself with my own stuff and worked my way in through the backdoor. Which, I guess, is what happened, but it still came as a huge surprise when I was offered this gig. I’m still definitely not what you’d call a recognizable name.
So, I think this is probably a pretty significant benchmark in my career. If not just for the fact that a lot of new readers will be exposed to my work, the fact that very important people in this industry have had the confidence in my abilities to give me a shot at both writing and drawing a series. To use the baseball analogy, I feel like I’ve been in the minor leagues and I’ve just been called up to the majors. I’m extremely honored to have the chance, and the fact that it’s the X-Men that I’m working on is just icing on the cake!
Nrama: You're making your Marvel debut as part of a Marvel Knights revival. It's an imprint that has meant a lot in the publisher's history over the past 15 years or so — what does Marvel Knights mean to you? And how much creative freedom comes with being on a title that's outside of the multiple regularly ongoing X-Men series?
Revel: I’m doing my best to try not to put myself in any kind of historical context for fear of being overwhelmed by the magnitude of talent that has come before me. But I will say this, I think when franchises are successful it can be very easy for them to become stagnant, and I think it’s very smart of Marvel to create a line where indie creators have a chance to infuse some new ideas into their brand. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think any of the Marvel books are coming off as stagnant right now. On the contrary, I think the X-books that are coming out right now are some of the best that have come out in a long time, but you have to replenish your talent pool, and I think it’s very wise of Marvel to create a venue for that.
As far as my foray into the Marvel Knights line goes, I’ve been given almost no restrictions. It’s almost a case of too much freedom! One of the only caveats early on was that the story should stay in continuity. Beyond that, I had the luxury of picking whichever X-Men I wanted to use and the carte blanche to take them wherever I wanted them to go. It’s actually kind of ridiculous when I think about it.
Nrama: Though outwardly Marvel Knights: X-Men naturally looks to be a decidedly different type of project, what might fans of Guerillas recognize in the series? And on the other side of that, what are the differences between the two that are exciting to you as a creator?
Revel: For those not in the know, Guerillas is about an experimental platoon of chimpanzees, trained to be used as surrogate soldiers during the Vietnam war. Of course when they get there, everything doesn’t go according to plan, instinct conflicts with training, and all hell breaks loose. In Guerillas I touch on the many gray areas which exist between between man and animal, and on the moral gray areas inherent in war, and especially the Vietnam War. As a writer, it’s these gray areas that I find very interesting to explore. In real life it’s there, in that gray area, that most of us find ourselves. So I’m picking up a lot of similar themes in the X-Men series. The X-Men are trying to help these two young mutants, but in doing so, their presence is creating more problems for them. The girls both need the X-Men’s help in their own ways, but are unwilling to take it. Can the X-Men force help on people who don’t want it? Is their presence doing more harm than good? Stuff like that.
While Guerillas may sound like a kind of wild concept, it’s still very much grounded in reality. So one of the things I’ve been having a lot of fun with while working on the X-Men, is letting things get much more fantastical. I’ve found that over my career I’ve been more concerned with creating a believable reality, as opposed to taking you to another world. So, despite having a somewhat sedate build up, by the end of this series it’s gonna get crazy.
Also along those lines, I’m very excited about working in color, and more specifically, about collaborating with a colorist who knows what they’re doing. Cris Peter has been working with me on this series and it has been so much fun to get my pages back from her every couple days. Color is such an important storytelling tool, and it’s not one I’ve had a lot of chances to play with yet. So as the series progresses I’m looking forward to all the new ways I’ll be able expand on the storytelling process with this new tool at my disposal.
Nrama: Getting to the story itself — it's set (at least initially) in a small town, which automatically distinguishes it from the many Marvel stories taking place in New York City. How important do you see the setting to the overall story?
Revel: It was definitely a conscious decision to take the X-Men out of their element. At first it was to avoid having to deal with a lot of the current continuity, but as the storylines developed it really became integral to the plot. The X-Men have been alerted to a possible mutant hate crime in this small town and they’re racing to save two young mutants who are still in the area and potentially in grave danger. But when they get there, their good intentions are met with cold indifference. To these two young mutants in this cloistered little town, the X-Men might as well be big city politicians trying sell them snake oil. To make matters worse, the X-Men’s presence there brings even more trouble.
I think it presents an interesting dilemma for the X-Men, who, for so many years have been this underground, antiestablishment organization, but who are now finding themselves more and more, becoming the establishment. Especially when it comes to mutant matters. And as that happens, they have to remember to stay true to the ideologies that got them there, or they risk alienating the people they are trying to help.
Nrama: The miniseries introduces two new mutant teens —what can you say at this point about the new characters?
Revel: I can’t tell you too much about their powers because how we learn about them and their abilities are very intertwined in how the story reveals itself. I’ll say this though, they are both teenage girls at very vulnerable points in their lives, but are too proud or stubborn or scared to accept any help. One of them is harboring a dark secret and the other’s natural abilities expose secrets, so from the very beginning they are at odds with one another, but, ultimately, they will find that they are far more similar than either of them would think.
Nrama: Your story also stars Wolverine, Kitty Pryde and Rogue. How did you settle on those three for the main cast? What do you like about their dynamic?
Revel: Well, Wolverine was a definitely gonna be in it. I wasn’t gonna do an X-Men story and not have Wolverine in it. Part of the story has to do with aspects of the X-Men’s past coming back to haunt them. Wolverine’s fractured past which is still filled with holes fits nicely into that storyline. He’s a natural born killer with rage issues, yet he’s also undeniably sees himself as a “good guy”. Or does he?
Conversely, Rogue started off life in the Marvel Universe as a “bad guy” and only became a part of the X-Men because she could no longer control her powers. Until she was able to fully control her powers, they were seen as a curse, a sentiment that is echoed by one of the two young girls. Add to that, the fact that she can absorb people memories and she also fits well in a story that touches on the past.
Kitty was chosen because I always really enjoyed the unlikely relationship that she had with Wolverine, the gruff bestial man and the innocent little girl. However, time has passed and Kitty has grown up and become one of the leaders of the school. But because Wolverine is in this perpetual ageless state from his healing factor, I feel like he still kind of sees her (and treats her) like that little girl. So I thought she would fit nicely into a story about reconciling the past with the present. Also, of all the X-Men, she is the most diehard supporter of Professor X’s ideals now that he is gone. And when it comes to these kids, it’s her youthful exuberance that leads her to forget that they aren’t just mutants that need to be saved, but individuals that have a say in the matter as well.
Nrama: The story is said to involve the above three characters' relationship to the Jean Grey School, so presumably, this is in current continuity, even though it likely doesn't tie directly into the other ongoing books — is that a correct assumption?
Revel: Yeah, as I said, the one restriction that they put on me was to keep it in continuity. It’s my understanding that the fans don’t like a lot of loose ends when it comes to that kind of stuff. So, this story takes place in the world that the X-men are living in right now. One in which Cyclops is drawing lines in the sand and there is a lot of media coverage about what’s going on with the two factions of mutants. That being said, this story doesn’t really tie into that storyline at all. It’s more just the political climate that permeates the times.
Nrama: Visually, what can you say about your artistic approach to Marvel Knights: X-Men? It seems like a good synthesis of a couple of different things that work-for-hire, shared universe books can provide — both working with iconic characters, and also creating new ones.
Revel: That’s kind of a hard one to answer. I’m not consciously trying to do too much with the characters other than to just translate them into my style, whatever that is. And a lot of those decisions are more instinctive than conscious. Of the three, Wolverine has probably ended up having the most distinct look. I tried to give him a real beat up catcher’s mitt type of face with high cheekbones and a kind of squinty, constantly annoyed expression.
With Kitty, I’m more or less following Immonen’s model from All New X-Men. My thinking with Rogue has always been that she should be drop dead gorgeous, because it added to the tragedy of her inability to touch anyone. She could have anybody, but she’s unable to have anybody. But alas, she’s gone and figured out a way to control that. I guess I should be happy for her, but she’ll always be that damaged hot girl in my heart, so that’s how I’m drawing her. Excelsior!