With heroes fighting heroes coming up in Civil War II, that leaves a mighty big opening for Marvel's villains to step up. While the cat's away...
Next week's Illuminati #2 reconvenes the Hood's new gang of villains as they delve deep into Marvel's underground for one big score. But as writer Joshua Williamson and artist Shawn Crystal tell us, it's not going to be clean, but rather filled with "blood" and "Madness!"
Newsarama talked with the duo ahead of December 16's sophomore issue, delving into how bad guys have a bad wrap and the revival of a rivalry between Titania and Thor.
Newsarama: Joshua and Shawn, what drives such nice guys like you to create a comic book about such terrible people in Illuminati?
Joshua Williamson: Maybe I’m nice because I get out all my crazy evil feelings out in my books. That is a popular answer, but it’s because it’s true.
I’ve always found the characters who are a bit of a jerk, or on evil side, to be fascinating. The bad guys have more fun. And they can be unpredictable, which is a blast to write.
And you know… their side… especially at the level these characters are at is often unexplored.
Shawn Crystal: You’re making a false assumption here. I’m a terrible person. Sure, people love me, but I’m awful.
As a creator, I don’t think you can judge your characters. Once you do that, you can no longer feel empathy of sympathy towards them and they become one-dimensional. Sure, Titania is a criminal, but she’s motivated by love. I look for that in each character.
Nrama: All joking aside, the Hood has tried to assemble a conglomerate of villains before, and it did not go well. What’s different this time around?
Williamson: The Hood thinks he has learned from his past. Before he was greedy and trying to be the leader. This time around he’s just a guy with an offer and a plan. He’s not the leader. His goals are different. He wants to help his villains out so that they can have better lives.
At least that’s what he says are his reasons.
Crystal: Maybe it’s different this time, maybe it’s not. Let’s see where this goes.
Nrama: Titania is a classic Marvel character who is kind of perpetually stuck in the B-List. What makes her an ideal POV character for Illuminati?
Williamson: Because she’s on that b-list. It gives her a unique perspective on the lives of villains in the Marvel universe.
At first she wasn’t the POV character. It was going to be the Hood. But as I started to work on the book I started to build the story and her narrative sort of took over naturally. I liked telling the story of a villain the Marvel Universe trying to leave the life and having difficulties.
Nrama: In the first issue of Illuminati, we only just got a glimpse of the team aside from Titania and the Hood. What can you tell us about the rest of the team?
Williamson: One of the hardest challenges with doing a team book is making sure every character gets enough scene time. The focus is on the Hood and Titania a lot of the time, but that doesn’t mean the other characters are any less important.
Thunderball wants respect. He’s a genius and he knows it but he wants the world to know it.
Enchantress is a very complex character in a… unique stage of her life. Her story will build as we go on. She has a secret that she’s keeping from the team that will have major ramifications down the line.
Black Ant is a Life Model Decoy still and really not happy about it. So he’s acting out an unexpected ways.
Mad Thinker is a nut. Frustrated that he’s running out of ideas. He’s on the team because he is looking for a little bit of inspiration.
We haven’t had the time to spend with the characters personal lives but I have plans to.
Nrama: Titania started out Illuminati trying to walk the straight and narrow, but it seems she’s pretty quickly falling into old habits. Is there more to her story than meets the eye?
Williamson: Of course. Her story is a major part of the plan for the book. What path does she decide to go down? In her eyes this is her only choice right now. She was trying the crime free life and looked what happened? Luke Cage and Iron Fist didn’t believe her. She’s always going to have her past looming over her. So she has to work toward a change… or lean into that past. Double down on it. Can she use this opportunity to turn her life around?
But as you saw at the end of Illuminati #1… the Hood has been manipulating things. Does he have a greater reason for bringing her to his side?
Nrama: Shawn, you’ve got an incredibly energetic, somewhat lighthearted style. How do you balance that energy with a story about villains?
Crystal: I love contrast. Growing up, I fell in love with the films of Ralph Bakshi. There was one called Wizards. It was super cartoony but very violent and serious in tone. One character resonated with me, Necron 99, the world's greatest assassin. He had the word “peace” written across his saddle. A violent assassin working in the name of peace. It just hit me, from that moment on i was fascinated with contradictions and contrast in art. I always wanted to create cartoony art for dark stories.
Nrama: Without being too spoiler-y, what’s on your drawing board right now, Shawn?
Crystal: A rainbow bridge, a dark cavern, a crew of baddies, and a ton of eraser crumbs.
Nrama: In the first issue, we saw Titania take on Luke Cage and Iron Fist, and advance solicitations show that she’ll be going toe to toe with the new Thor. Which guest stars are the two of you looking forward to most?
Williamson: The Thor versus Titania fight is epic. I hate using that word, but it really does best describe the battle. They’ve kind of fought before. Not really. This time they really have a knockdown, drag-out fight.
There are a few minor villain cameos in issue two and three that have been a lot of fun, including Paste-Pot Pete… I mean the Trapster.
And there is an Absorbing Man story coming up that I’m really excited to share.
Nrama: Speaking of Titania vs. Thor, Titania was once officially the strongest woman in the Marvel Universe. Now that Jane Foster is Thor, will she give Titania a run for her money? Will that debate be settled when they clash?
Williamson: You’ll just have to wait and see! There is something going on with Titania’s strength levels and powers…
Nrama: Shawn, which of the team is your favorite to draw? Josh, who is your favorite to write?
Crystal: Black Ant. I love drawing his costume, but I just drew a scene of him out of costume, and I liked that even more. You’ll see why in Illuminati #3.
Williamson: I love them all, really. Each has their own quality that I like to dig into. My hope is that the series goes on long enough that I can really get into more than just Titania and the Hood. They each have a story we can tell.
Nrama: Last question: what can readers expect to see in Illuminati #2 and beyond?