Writer, actor, and comedian Paul Scheer's history with comic books is well known to his fans. His podcast How Did This Get Made? routinely covers the best of the worst of the superhero movie genre, and has even featured guest appearances from Ed Brubaker discussing Ben Affleck's Daredevil, and Punisher: War Zone director Lexi Alexander to talk about her own movie's cult appeal.
But it's the source media that started it all for Scheer, and with Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History, Scheer and co-writer Nick Giovanetti have planned a loving tribute to some of the best, most overlooked, and weirdest parts of the Marvel Universe, with this twisted, future version of Frank Castle along for the ride as the book's sorta maybe unreliable narrator.
Newsarama spoke to Scheer ahead of Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History #1's March 6 release to dig into the real emotional heart of this oddball version of Frank Castle, what's at stake for "CGR" as the series progresses, and the roster of artists taking on the six-issue issue series.
Newsarama: Paul, what led you to hop in the driver’s seat on this cosmic motorcycle? How did Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys the Marvel Universe get off the ground?
Paul Scheer: My co-writer Nick Giovanetti and I, who I’ve written all my comics with, had been toying around with doing a longer story with Marvel, but it never quite lined up with a character we wanted to commit to. But we loved Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw’s work on Thanos, and Cosmic Ghost Rider specifically. Donny makes characters I never thought I’d be interested in incredibly interesting.
So when Marvel approached me and Nick, we were really excited cause the character’s mostly untapped. We’re kind of in the George Lazenby James Bond role, we’re the first people to take over the character from the original writers. Which is a little daunting, but Cosmic Ghost Rider is fun and different, and really played to our sensibilities. We like stories that have a lot of room for humor. But we wanted to do something with a little more gravitas – I think CGR is just a little less silly than a character like Deadpool.
Nrama: You mentioned gravitas - how seriously should we be taking that title, Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History? The teaser ads seemed to legitimately worry some fans.
Scheer: I saw that! [laughs] The one teaser I saw, which was actually a fan made one, “Who gave Gambit his vape pen?”, we’ll definitely be answering that question. [laughs] Like with all our comic books, we’re having fun and embracing the title. But since these books are told through CGR’s post of view, who’s to say if he’s the most reliable narrator?
Nrama: What’s the overarching story for Cosmic Ghost Rider? What’s he up against here?
Scheer: Cosmic Ghost Rider is in crisis. He’s been doomed to live through human history, and this book picks up the day before his family was killed. This book is really about giving Frank a chance to reconnect with his family and his humanity.
Nrama: Your own history with comic books is no secret. How did you draw on that to pick which eras and stories to revisit in Marvel Universe history? Are there any characters or eras you’re specifically excited to bring in?
Scheer: This has been a giant task. Part of the fun of the book was celebrating the 80-year history of Marvel and all the amazing characters in the Marvel Universe, so we wanted each issue to focus on a specific character. The first issue is about the Fantastic Four. The second is about Spider-Man. The third goes to the world of the X-Men. We’re kind of playing with these seminal Marvel characters and events.
What we really wanted to do was avoid telling stories that have already been done to death, which is tricky especially with a character like Spider-Man. That’s where my co-writer Nick has been doing the lion’s share of work looking and finding obscure but still fun and interesting stories with these characters for us to shine a light on.
For example, we went back to “The Death of Jean DeWolff”, this story where Spider-Man and Daredevil team up to solve the murder of this detective Jean DeWolff, who was a supporting character in Spider-Man at the time. It was a great fun buddy cop story but it’s not one that gets revisited a lot, and we stumbled on that as a kind of jewel in the rough. There’s so much Spider-Man that everyone knows, it was amazing to find this great story that we never read before.
What we really want to do, if there’s a perfect world, you read these books and then go find the original source material. We’re not just doing the moments everyone knows from Marvel history, the ones everyone’s seen a million times. We want to highlight some of the great stories that have been done in the past.
Hopefully if you’re a first time or a newer Marvel reader coming to comic books from the movies or another way, this will be a great book to help you find some of the creators and stories and characters that aren’t as well known but are still important reads. And if you’re a classic fan, hopefully you’ll be reminded of some classic storylines you haven’t read in awhile.
Nrama: Is there a core theme you’re going for?
Scheer: Nick and I have really been discussing the idea of family and second chances. As you get older you look back on the choices you’ve made and what you’ve learned and I think we all wish we could go back change things, what you’ve said or done. This book is about Frank making some meaningful and some not so meaningful changes that affect the world of Marvel.
Nrama: On the flipside of that, are there any Marvel moments you’d like to actually like to use Cosmic Ghost Rider to alter given the chance?
Scheer: I think after reading these 6 issues you’ll see that CGR affects some of the most pivotal moments of Marvel history. I don’t want to spoil anything but we’re definitely poking some fun at the Clone Saga. We’re talking about the costumes choices in Marvel’s past, and even changing the perspective of some classic stories including “Days of Future Past.”
Nrama: You mentioned your co-writer Nick Giovanetti, who you’ve collaborated with for several comics now. Is there a silver bullet to developing a singular narrative written by multiple people, which moves across multiple eras and characters?
Scheer: Nick and I are telling a new story so we don’t feel we need to write to the style or exactly recreate events verbatim. Like I said, this is all through the eyes of CGR. This is his perspective so it gives us a lot more leeway. We taking elements from the past that relate to where our story starts. We want to make sure we aren’t simply doing What If? or even Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe. We want our story to be grounded and have consequences. We definitely attacked it from a few different angles before deciding to make it a more personal story about Frank and his family.
Our first instinct was to do something a little more comedic where Cosmic Ghost Rider was basically running a Planet Hollywood style restaurant with memorabilia from Marvel history that the stole throughout time. So you’d see like a pair of the Thing’s shorts in a case, and CGR would tell the story that relates to that. We had Doctor Doom as the musical entertainment. It was really fun but it was harder to create a six-issue narrative that had real stakes.
Nrama: Gerardo Sandoval, Todd Nauck, and Nathan Stockman are all drawing issues of this series. How do you approach scripting for an artist versus scripting for film or TV?
Scheer: It’s totally different. This is the hardest thing to do. When you’re writing a comic book you’reessentially writing, directing, and acting all at the same time. Usually if I write a script for TV or a movie I write it and I don’t have to worry about production issues until later, then you cast your actors and that causes even more changes, then you get on set and things change again. So everything is very fluid in that process – the script you wrote, the thing you shot, and the final edited product are three completely different stories by the time you’re done.
But in comic books you have to make all the choices immediately – and you want to play to every artist’s strength’s and specialties. We love working with Todd Nauck because he knows how to balance what we do. We definitely err on the side of more dialogue heavy books. But then Gerardo has such wild visuals that we wanted to get out of the way and leave plenty of room for his art.
In this book alone we have six different artists, one on each issue, so there’s a learning curve every time. We try to work closely with our artists, we like to sit down before we start and talk about what we want to do, the look we want to achieve. And also to let them know we’re gonna have a lot of dialogue, and we’ll need space for the balloons. There’s a balance to writing in a way that says everything you want to say, but leaves room for the art to tell the story too, and we’re working closely with all the artists on the series to hit that, so nothing’s totally covered up by word balloons.
Nrama: On that note, many readers will know you as an actor, so I have to ask, have you considered which character you’d want to play in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Scheer: WONDER MAN! I mean my dream of dreams is Mr. Fantastic. There are so many great characters…Very few who are bald. So I’m definitely wearing a wig like I do in Black Monday.
The one thing I always thought would be fun to do would be Damage Control. I know they teased Damage Control in Spider-Man: Homecoming. That would be a funny TV series though, Damage Control. Just these exasperated people who are like “We have to clean this up again?” doing sanitation jobs, and a rogues gallery of C-list super powered people.
Nrama: Bottom line, what makes Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History a must read?
Scheer: The title is Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History, so that title alone is going to get people worked up, and I think you gotta see what we changed! I’m sure we are going to piss a lot of people off but at the end of the day it’s actually about celebrating Marvel history. That’s something we really cared about. Plus we’re telling a Cosmic Ghost Rider story about a period of time in Frank’s life that doesn’t get explored much in comics.
For new fans it’ll be fun to read something crazy and then discover, oh wait, that’s actually a real story. And if you’re already a die-hard fan, it’s a fun trip down memory lane. Hopefully we are surprising both types of readers.
And finally, it’s relatable. It’s the question everyone has asked - if you knew what the future was, would change it or let it be? Are we created by making the perfect choice, or letting the imperfections mold us? And that is why this book is so much fun.