Marvel Studios is currently in the midst of selling July’s Ant-Man big-screen feature to the general public, but they also have something extra for long-time comic book readers. February's two-part Ant-Man Prelude from Marvel Comics is the latest in a string of comic book stories set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and gives fans of the Hank Pym a taste of the original in action. Ant-Man Prelude is a flashback story of Pym (played in the movie by Michael Douglas) as a younger man, operating as Ant-Man in the waning days of the Cold War… and at the center of it no less, atop the Berlin Wall.
This two-part series is written by Will Corona Pilgrim, who is no stranger to Marvel and its movies as he works for the studio as their Creative Research Director. Corona Pilgrim started with Marvel on the ground floor of the MCU with 2008’s Iron Man, and has seen the MCU grow into the franchise it is, and has overseen the production of the various MCU tie-in comics before jumping into it himself. Newsarama talks with the California-based writer about this comic series which leads into the Ant-Man movie, what kind of research it takes to adapt Marvel’s movies into comics, as well as his job heading up research at Marvel Studios.
Newsarama: Will, what can you tell us about these Ant-Man and Avengers: Age of Ultron prelude comics you’re doing?
Will Corona Pilgrim: Well, as with any of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Prelude comics, we love to be able to explore the backstories of our main characters so we can give fans a taste of what’s to come while also giving them that extra bit of insight that we sometimes aren’t able to include in the final feature simply due to running time. What that means for Avengers: Age of Ultron is we’ll get to learn more about how Loki’s scepter came to be in the possession of Baron Strucker like we saw in the tag at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and for Ant-Man we get to have more time with Hank and his adventures wearing the suit.
Nrama: I wanted to ask about that, and the reveal from the solicitations of that Ant-Man Prelude that Pym operated as Ant-Man during the Cold War, leading me to think of Agent Carter. Can you tell us anything about Pym’s time in the Cold War as it relates to this two-part comic series?
Corona Pilgrim: You’re absolutely right! Of course, the Cold War played a pivotal role in the post-World War II world and shaping what would become the agency we all know as S.H.I.E.L.D. but when you’re talking about a global conflict that spanned decades, there is definitely a distinction between Peggy’s Cold War era, which would have been around the time of the Truman doctrine and Hank’s, which would have been closer to when Gorbachev was leader of the Soviet Union. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s evolving position in the world during all that time plays a big part in defining Hank Pym’s role as the Ant-Man.
Nrama: Interesting. So who will Pym be up against in this comic series prelude?
Corona Pilgrim: Pym finds himself on a field mission that pits him against a major distinguishing landmark of the Cold War: the Berlin Wall. As a kid growing up near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library I had the opportunity to check out a fantastic exhibit there, which recreated a tunnel so you could crawl through and experience what it would have been like for those people who attempted to cross such a monstrous barrier. They had the sirens going, the spotlights, all the sounds of gunfire, dogs barking, and guards yelling at you, it was such a trip. And when I learned that Pym would have been doing field missions during that particular point in history, I couldn’t think of a more formidable and exciting foe for our hero to go up against!
Nrama: In addition to Pym, might we see any other characters from the movies show up in this two-part comic?
Corona Pilgrim: As with most of our tie-ins, there are gonna be a couple of cameos that MCU fans will be excited to see-- I know I am!
Nrama: That excitement betrays you as a fan, Will. You’ve written and co-written things like this before, as well as comics adaptations of Marvel movies, but how’d you get into the comics writing aspect of this?
Corona Pilgrim: I’m definitely no stranger to the Marvel Cinematic Universe! I’ve been living and breathing this world on the film side from the get-go and the same is true on the MCU comics, although it was more of an oversight capacity earlier on while we brought on some amazing, more experienced writers like Joe Casey, Fred Van Lente, Christos Gage, and Peter David to tackle those stories.
I got engaged on the writing side back when I was pitching some plots for the upcoming tie-ins to Bill Rosemann (our MCU Editor at the time) and he took notice of my knowledge and experience with the characters and how much I cared about the world of the MCU and said I’d be perfect for the job if I was interested. And I was absolutely interested.
Nrama: For the comics that are adaptations of the movies and not new stories, do you refer just to the movie – or do you also look at the scripts or other materials to inform your adaptation?
Corona Pilgrim: It’s hard for me not to refer to all of the information at my disposal when working on these books, especially the adaptations. We always want to give the fans as much as possible knowing full well that they aren’t privy to the behind the scenes discussions that really make these movies come together.
One such discussion was an Iron Man 2 scene, which was storyboarded but never filmed that we felt necessary to include in the adaptation since we believed it to be in canon, this was the “Boys Flight Out” sequence where Tony invites Rhodey to wear the Mark II and it’s a first flight test for Rhodey. It’s one of those things where we felt strongly enough to include it in the official adaptation though the sequence was never shot. The Avengers adaptation was a little different in that I knew where this larger story was headed, having already worked on the Phase Two films and having Avengers: Age of Ultron shooting at the time I was writing. It made the adaptation process much more critical in not only capturing the feel and tone and the humor of such a fantastic movie, but also setting up the future relationships and stakes of the MCU as a whole.
Nrama: That being said, how many times do you imagine you watched Avengers to adapt it like you have into comic form?
Corona Pilgrim: You know, you begin to lose count after a few dozen. I know I re-watched specific scenes while working on the adaptation, like the Banner and Widow scene in Calcutta, and the Widow and Loki scene on the Helicarrier to make sure we were retaining as much of Joss’s script as possible. It’s just so good. I have to give credit to all the writers who have had to tackle cramming these bombastic stories into two issues because it is no easy feat!
Nrama: Currently all of your comics work has been in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – could you see yourself branching out to the Marvel comics universe, or even other comics companies down the road?
Corona Pilgrim: Without a doubt. I have loved and continue to love working with our Publishing family and think they produce some truly imaginative and fantastic character books (like Charles Soule and Javier Pulido’s She-Hulk and Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Young Avengers). I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for some of the fringe Marvel horror and magic characters like Terror Inc. and Ian McNee and would certainly be interested in any Marvel magic books. And if any opportunities presented themselves to write for other comics companies, well, I know I’ve got one or two conversation starters just off the top of my head…
Nrama: You come to all this from your full-time job at Marvel Studios as the Creative Research Director. What does that job entail?
Corona Pilgrim: My role at the studio touches on a fair amount of areas, but a majority of my time is spent working in film development with the producers, production heads, and Marvel Visual Development and providing them with research materials, comics and otherwise, so that everyone is on the same page as we adapt these classic stories and characters into feature films. I also work in tandem with Jeff Youngquist, Sarah Brunstad, and Jeff Powell in Marvel Publishing on those gorgeous Art of’ Marvel movie hardcovers. If you haven’t checked out the one from Guardians of the Galaxy yet, you need to. It’s spectacular!
Nrama: You started at Marvel Studios right when the MCU movies did, with 2008’s Iron Man. From your perspective, how have things changed inside Marvel Studios with all the success?
Corona Pilgrim: To be honest, other than a few physical studio moves and the company now being able to make more films in a year, things have basically stayed the same. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” you know. Of course, with success we’re now able to start exploring those characters that we’ve been talking about working on for years that otherwise would have had to stay on the shelf for that much longer had we not been successful. Which is super exciting for a fan of Carol Danvers, T’Challa, and Blackagar Boltagon!