YONDU is 'NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN Meets THE NICE GUYS in Space'

Marvel Comics December 2019 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Cully Hamner (Marvel Comics)

The Guardians of the Galaxy franchise's irascible blue badass Yondu is embarking on his own solo limited series starting November 6 - or perhaps we should say their own series, as two different versions of Yondu will star in the title.

With Yondu's big solo debut bringing together the original, future version of Yondu and the more recent incarnation of the current Marvel Universe in a down-and-dirty-space-crime story, writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler, along with artists John McCrea and Mike Spicer are hoping to present something similar to Marvel's version of Hitman -  a tongue-in-cheek, hard-boild yarn inspired by stories like Breaking Bad and The Nice Guys.

Newsarama spoke with Thompson and Nadler ahead of Yondu #1 to discover how the two Yondus come together, what they'll face down in this "space western", and what it's like carving a new niche in the Marvel Universe.

Newsarama: Zac and Lonnie, you’re giving Yondu a spotlight in this new solo series – and not just one Yondu, but two. What’s the space smuggler’s status quo going into this new title?

Lonnie Nadler: Yondu is his same potty-mouthed, space hick, I-don’t-give-a-damn self. The difference is that he’s now operating in a galaxy without the Nova Corps, and as a result there are far less sanctions around for him to worry about. If he didn’t care about breaking the law for a quick cash grab beforehand, he certainly doesn’t care now. All caution has been thrown to the solar winds.

So, ol’ Yondu is hoping to take advantage of this lawless time in the Marvel universe in order to make a big score for himself because he knows better than anyone that when it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. With the notion of lawless times in mind, we’re setting this out to be a neo-Western, one that will take Yondu to unexplored and forgotten planets as he attempts to forge his future.

Think of this as No Country for Old Men meets The Nice Guys...but in space. That sounds stupid when I type it out, but we promise it works. It’s been a lot of fun to bring thematic elements from the Western genre to the greater reaches of the galaxy. And all this is uniquely suited to Yondu Udonta. There aren’t really any other character in the Marvel U who could fit into this gritty, dirty, frontier-esque setting and feel at home.

Credit: John McCrea (Marvel Comics)

Zac Thompson: You find out pretty quick that Yondu is no longer rolling with the Ravagers either. He’s cut out on his own, looking for scores wherever he can find them. Yondu is still his sleazy self but with the addition of his distant ancestor Yondu Udonta, he’s going to be pulled in a very different direction than he’s used to.

The book is all about a lawless man stuck in the middle of something he barely understands and struggling to do the right thing. Yondu prides himself on being smart and resourceful but we’ll see pretty quick that things don’t always go his way. In fact, they rarely do. But this time he’s got the weight of the cosmos on his shoulders. Hopefully he doesn’t screw it up too badly.

Nrama: Many fans may know Yondu from the Guardians of the Galaxy films, but the original comic book version of the character is different. What can you tell us about how these two Yondus are related?

Nadler: Honestly, I can’t say anything about it because it would ruin some big moments in the book. All I can say is these two are more connected than we think they are.

What I do want to say is that while, yes, this version of Yondu spun out of the films, Zac, John, and myself are making sure he has his own style, background, and character traits in the comics so it doesn’t feel like we’re just porting him from one medium to another. This was extremely important to us from the very inception of the project – to build out the new version of Yondu that he feels just as rich and multifaceted as any other character who has a titular series.

Zac Thompson: In many ways, the original Yondu is the heart of this series. He shares a namesake with the titular grimy pirate fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have come to love, but he’s a very different character with an incredibly complex view of the universe.

He’s everything the new Yondu isn’t. And the tension between these two men is what propels the series forward. The original idea behind the series was to use both Yondus in a buddy-cop like scenario where both are trying to accomplish the same goal through very different means. Hell, we were even trying to get the book titled “YONDUEX” but… Marvel (rightfully) passed on the suggestion.

Credit: John McCrea (Marvel Comics)

Nrama: On that note, what drives Yondu as a protagonist? What qualities does he show once he’s in this spotlight?

Nadler: Yondu is driven by the idea of fame, fortune, good times, and upgrading his ship to the point that it doesn’t break down every time he flies it. He’s a pirate, through and through, and while he’s always looking for a way out, for the big break, it turns out this kind of miscreant lifestyle isn’t so easy to escape because he’s made a lot of enemies along the way. Deeper down, he wants a place he can call home, where he doesn’t have to be looking over his shoulder every second of the day, but he’s grown so accustomed to this way of life that any other way seems impossible.

Thompson: Like Lonnie said, he wants to stop running. He’s been pushing a racket of piracy, thieving, and grime for too long. Like any good criminal he’s looking for his ticket out. This book is about him potentially finding it but not in the way he originally anticipated. We’ve used Breaking Bad as a reference while working on the series because we want to ensure there’s that tension there of… how far is too far...when do you call it quits...and can you leave behind a life of crime when that’s all you lived. If Yondu wants to make a big break and go straight...he’s got a lot of atoning to do both in the eyes of his people and the galaxy as a whole.

Nrama: What’s Yondu up against in this tale?

Nadler: We are throwing everything at Yondu that our editor would let us get away with. Seriously, some of the people and obstacles he encounters in the later issues are insane. If Zac and I were going to play in the cosmic sandbox, you bet your bottom dollar we took full advantage of that. Readers can expect a lot of familiar cosmic faces, but also some deep cuts to people, places, and planets we haven’t seen for ages. Some of which were thought to be extinct.

We want this to feel expansive, vast, and chaotic. We’ve been describing it as a black buddy comedy of errors, and so whether Yondu is up against a new bounty hunter we’ve never seen before, or an entire race of people long thought to be dead, there’s no alleyway, sewage drain, or rooftop where Yondu can hide without running into some other horrible hurdle in his way.

A lot of this was inspired by shows like Breaking Bad and Barry. The writers are brilliant for the way they keep viewers on their toes by forcing them into the shoes of characters who often make questionable moral decisions. And no matter how hard Walter or Jesse or Barry try to plan their lives, nothing ever goes their way. It’s always the worst possible outcome, and just when you think it can’t get worse, it somehow does. This mode of storytelling is one that really appeals to us as creators, and Yondu is the perfect opportunity to see this through in a purposely over-the-top, bombastic way.

Credit: John McCrea (Marvel Comics)

Thompson: He’s up against himself first and foremost.

Nothing goes right for ol’ blue and we’re ensuring that for every action he takes there’s an equal and opposite reaction. It’s a comedy of errors in every issue where things get progressively more difficult and insane until it all comes to head in the end.

We’ve introduced and built so much in this series that writing the final issue feels like a cosmic summit where we’ve had to consider all the people he’s wronged and how they want vengeance. Something tells me it ain’t gonna end well...

Nrama: Beyond Yondu and Yondu, who can we expect to see as the supporting cast?

Nadler: Zac and I went a bit nuts in creating new characters for the series. We always like to treat every project as if it could be our last, and the thought-process this time was, “If this is our one chance to do a big cosmic story, let’s make it feel boundless and lived in. Let’s create new characters, new races, new planets to build out Yondu’s history in this world. Let’s leave a legacy behind in the furthest reaches of the galaxy.”

One of my favorite supporting characters is the main antagonist. I can’t say who they are, but it’s a forgotten villain who has so much potential, playing a role we have never seen them in before. Another character I really like is Yondu’s ex-lover, Zhala, who we encounter in the second issue. She’s not who you would expect a dirtbag like Yondu to be with, but it works so much better because of that.

Thompson: Like Lonnie said, we’ve created as many characters, races, and planets as we could. We think part of responsibility as Marvel is to create. Too many stories are beholden to the past and with the giant cosmic sandbox you really are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t create some new toys to play with.

My favorite new character is the alien we created to who’s hunting down Yondu over the course of the series. He’s a disgusting brute of a creature whose main inspiration was Anton Chigurh (from No Country for Old Men). He’s that unwavering embodiment of evil who will stop at nothing to collect Yondu’s head. We created him and his insane weapon that will aid him in his hunt. I love him so much and wish we could write an entire series around just him.

Credit: John McCrea (Marvel Comics)

Nrama: John McCrea is drawing Yondu. What makes him the perfect collaborator for this title?

Nadler: I cannot even begin to express how fortunate I feel to be working with John. He is a legitimate comic book legend, and if you’d told me even five years ago that I’d be doing a miniseries with him, I would have slapped myself across the face to see if I were dreaming. I mean, this is the guy who drew Hitman (which was a big inspiration for the series before John was even on board).

It wasn’t really until John started sending in pages, however, that I fully understood how fortunate we are to have him as a collaborator. Zac and I generally script our books in pretty heavy detail, especially our action sequences, but with our first we gave him one action page where we just described the major beats without breaking it down into panels, and what John delivered was so brilliant that we began embracing the plot-style writing in subsequent issues.

I recall reading an interview with Matt Fraction years back about Hawkeye and he said that he learned early on to just set out the story beats and then get out of David Aja’s way. Working with John is the first time I’ve had this sort of collaboration and it’s really exhilarating and a bit scary to relinquish control. But there’s also a sense of safety in knowing that whatever we put on the page, John will not only pull it off, but that he’ll also expand it in ways we simply never could as writers.

I’d also like to mention just how important Mike Spicer, the colorist on the series, has been to the team. He and John work incredibly well together and Mike is embracing the seediness of the world to make it feel like a neon-lit space western without having it look like Blade Runner. It seriously doesn’t feel like any other book on the shelves right now and John and Mike are the reason for that.

Thompson: We feel incredibly fortunate to work with John McCrea on this book. When we were building out the pitch for the series we went in talking about how we wanted this book to feel like Marvel’s version of Hitman. So when the opportunity came along for John to draw the book we were floored.

It’s been as much of an incredible opportunity as it has been a learning lesson for us. John has floored us with every page he’s turned in, he’s built out this world to be layered, comical, and his acting is simply outstanding. We jive really well, and early on it was clear we all had the same idea about what the book was.

Even still, John has been turning in the best work of his career on Yondu (which is saying something). Every day he takes our scripts and elevates them to a level we never imagined.

Like Lonnie said, working with Mike Spicer has also been a dream. John and Mike love to collaborate together and you can see that in the finished pages. Every little bit of detail is accounted for, all the colours are perfect and the world feels lived in, worn down, and the air feels heavy on the page.

Oh yeah! Also, John’s been hand-lettering all the sound effects for the book and I couldn’t love it more if I tried. I just stare at the pages as they come in...completely in awe.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: What’s your favorite thing he’s drawn for Yondu so far?

Nadler: John just turned in a page for the third issue a couple days ago and the layout for it is wonderfully experimental and fully captures the mood and theme of the scene. It’s a bit of a spoiler, but Yondu is climbing some sort of mountain in the blazing heat, and while it seems simple enough, John just laid it all on the line.

Zac and I were just talking the other day about how the first two issues look amazing, but John truly found his style for the series at the third issue, and it’s remarkable to see an artist like that at the top of their game. I only wish we had longer just to see where John could take this thing.

There’s also a brief bit with Galactus in issue #2, and John drawing the devourer of worlds is something I never knew I needed to see until I did. It’s stunning. You can see it on Twitter.

Thompson: All of issue #3. It’s so crazy and works as a nice long sequence that showcases all kinds of different page layouts and panel styles. I wish people could see it now but they’ll have to wait until December. But trust me, it’s worth it.

Nrama: What has surprised the two of you most as you’ve gotten to know Yondu in this light?

Nadler: There’s a sense of depth to his character that we found along the way, which we didn’t fully expect or intend to discover. When Zac and I pitched the book, and even when we began writing, I don’t think either of us thought we’d grow attached to the character because we figured this would be a comedic romp through space, trying to stray away from the usual gravitas and seriousness with which we usually imbue within our work. This isn’t to say we wanted it to feel mindless, but we had different goals in creating a comedy crime book than we do with our creator owned books, or even with “Age of X-Man,” which was a much slower burn.

With Yondu we wanted to challenge ourselves and people’s conception of who we are as writers. We discovered that while we can’t escape heady themes, they can be expressed differently. Yondu has a lot hiding behind his rough, cavalier, nonchalant exterior.

There’s pain, there’s repressed trauma he’s yet to deal with, and there’s a heart, no matter how hard he tries to hide it. This was all discovered when we wrote his origin story, which will be revealed at the tail end of the series. It was a unique experience to define a backstory of this ilk because so many Marvel characters have had the same origin story for decades. We wanted to bring something new, more contemporary, and earnest to the table for Yondu, while still being true to his laissez-faire attitude.

All this is to say that while there are plenty of jokes in the book, it’s balanced with moments of genuine connection and emotion, all of which stem from who Yondu is underneath the radical blue criminality.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Thompson: It definitely is a strange feeling to fall in love with a greasy scumbag...but here we are.

Honestly it’s about finding his heart and showcasing that even though the book is lined with jokes and at times feels like it’s about to go off the rails - there’s a strong emotional core within it. We’ve found an anchor in Yondu that isn’t apparent right away but as you get deeper into it with his character you can see he’s in pain and it’s all an act. We’re showing a different side of who Yondu is while still channeling the things people know and love about him.

It’s been impossible to resist leaning into the comedy of his character and Lonnie and I have found ourselves crying from laughing while writing the book because we’re having so much fun. We set out to challenge ourselves to do something completely new and unexpected and I believe we succeeded.

Now, I don’t want to say goodbye to Yondu. I could legitimately write about him and his s***-stained adventures forever.

Nrama: Bottom line, what can readers expect from Yondu’s big solo series?

Nadler: This is a darkly comic, buddy cop, self-aware, western in ass-end of space. Yondu gets to do things most other characters couldn’t do and as a result the book is chock-full of surprises. Some hilarious, some violent, and some tragic. If you’re going into this because you love the Yondu in the Guardians films, you’ll get what you’re looking for, but you’ll stay for the elements you didn’t expect. It’s a book about what it means to exist on the fringe, to be an outsider, and how always struggling for survival takes its toll on individuals, cultures, and entire planets.

Thompson: You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll take a trip to Tittlemen’s Quist. You’ll find everything you love about Yondu. And you’ll discover that there’s a second Yondu out there, just as cool, just as complex and always in conflict with his distant ancestor. In many ways this is a modern buddy-cop comic that’s aware of its own absurdity. So much so, that we put a giant blue ass on the back of Yondu’s spaceship. You’re welcome.

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