UPDATE 3/5/2014 1:35 PM PT: The back-up story James Asmus describes in the below interview as running in “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” #11 will not appear in that issue, and will be rescheduled.
James Asmus has been busy in the Valiant Universe developing “Quantum and Woody.” This week, Asmus and artist Tom Fowler reunite for “Quantum and Woody: Goat” #0, which details the origin of enigmatic barnyard animal Vincent Van Goat. If that weren’t enough, it was recently revealed that Asmus and Fred Van Lente will team up for the Valiant crossover that fans have been asking for since day one: “The Delinquents,” which sees “Archer & Armstrong” and “Quantum and Woody” collide. Plus, Asmus will make his return to the Marvel Universe in March for some “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” backup stories that help get to the heart of everyone’s favorite villains.
CBR News spoke with Asmus about his plans for “Quantum and Woody” and “The Delinquents,” his ideas for “Superior Foes” and his love for the series as a whole. Plus, he discusses his work on the “X-Men: Battle of the Atom” mobile game and teases his upcoming History Channel miniseries, “Cryptid: The Swamp Beast.”
CBR News: James, you’ve got “Quantum and Woody: The Goat” #0 out this week. Everybody loves Vincent Van Goat, and it seems like such a no-brainer to do a comic starring him, but how does one go about doing a full origin issue for a goat?
James Asmus: [Laughs] Well, it started as half a joke in my mind when I knew they had done zero issues in classic Valiant. As part of my pitch, I half-jokingly suggested we do a “Goat” zero for that reason — you have to ask yourself, “What story do you need to tell the origin of an animal?” The way the story came together, we introduced a goat that already and superpowers. I do think then, it is worth answering the question, “How the hell did that happen?”
Also, there’s a big piece of our ongoing story that I wasn’t quite sure where to tell or reveal, and I realized it married really well to doing a Goat origin. It’s something that has really significant weight for our ongoing story as well as the absurd fun that is doing a 22-page comic about a barn animal with superpowers run amok. Basically, all of that was our thought: It would please the fans, and it would tell a big part of our ongoing story. We kind of skipped any questions or any slow build-up to the Goat gaining its powers, so we can remedy that.
You’re really starting to get into full swing on the series — you hit issue #8 this month. What’s the process been like for you developing the concepts and seeing the reaction to the world that you’ve built with Tom Fowler, Ming Doyle, then Tom Fowler again?
It was really nerve-wracking and it’s really gratifying. I’ve been a huge fan of the original “Quantum and Woody” run and all the work that Christopher Priest and Mark Bright did. I was certainly a little nervous about being the first writer who’s not Christopher Priest to do something with these characters, and I realized the only way I could be successful and not worry — or get something out of it whether or not people agree with what I chose to do — was just to dive in wholeheartedly and have fun with it; if I entertained myself the way I would by doing a creator-owned book. That was my approach to pitching. I thought if Valiant wouldn’t be excited by me cutting loose and trying to make the comic I really would want to make — if they wanted anything else, I felt like I would withdraw myself. There were too many ways that fans could be not on board. If I was walking into a trap, at least I would enjoy myself in the process. [Laughs]
As it turns out, I think that idiosyncrasy and passion that comes with creator-owned projects and comes with people really chasing their own vision as opposed to cop orate mandate — that’s why you see BOOM! and Image Comics’ output representing the breath of fresh air that comes from creator-owned comics. I think we were able to capture that with “Quantum and Woody” and just run wild. Valiant has been totally supportive. I was still nervous how people were going to react, but the response has been better than I could have hoped. I’m really grateful for that.
Tom Fowler is certainly an incredible artist to pursue that with because he has brilliant comedic sensibilities in the mechanics of his artwork; but he also has genuine emotion and really brilliant world-building and creativity and detail in his work that let us very quickly not just do something that harkens back to the original “Quantum and Woody,” but really build out a crazier world around these guys very quickly and very visually. Certainly the villains are very, very rich.
Ming was a wonderful follow-up collaborator with that, too. She knew right away that the relationships and the character-driven humor is the bread and butter of this book. The facial expressions and the emotional relationships she captured in these characters — the personal story and the humor just as much as we needed to. She did it beautifully.
Kano is doing the next arc and the pages I’ve gotten from him are insane. [Laughs] He’s totally in that same vein of having brilliantly performant characters that are sincere and have beautifully idiosyncratic expressions. He sells the comedy, he sells the expressions and he’s turning in some of the most dynamic pages that we’ve seen in the book yet.
You’ve also got “The Delinquents” coming up, which marks the long-awaited crossover between “Quantum and Woody” and Fred Van Lente’s “Archer & Armstrong.” Tell us a little bit about the work you’re doing with Fred on that book.
Truthfully, this is a crossover I hoped we would get to do since I knew I got the job. “Archer & Armstrong” was the book that got me to jump on this new Valiant relaunch. As good as I heard the other books were, I’m such a huge fan of Fred and more humor-intrinsic writing. That’s just what I want to read, so I was dying to get my hands on that book. It was so good that I was perfectly willing to run and try the rest of the Valiant stuff.
I’ve always wanted to work on something like this that’s a perfect marriage — where you have two sets of mismatched, adventuring, really funny but also human and well-detailed characters. There’s endless opportunity in smashing these guys up against each other. In fact, once we started talking about it, we went through several different iterations of what it could be and keep coming up with more and more concepts. We’ve settled on something that is definitely a bit more of a romp and setting them loose to run across some parts of America and the Valiant Universe that we haven’t seen yet. It’ll definitely, I think, reward fans who have been reading each of the books, but I think it’s also going to be the most wild good time, even if people haven’t tried it yet but have heard good things. We’re being very mindful about making it pay off for people who have read, but it’s also something you can just jump on.
Considering how much you enjoyed Fred’s run on “Archer & Armstrong,” what was it like for you to cede a bit of control of Quantum and Woody, while getting some control over Archer and Armstrong?
I think so far everything’s been really collaborative, and I think we’re both really excited to hear the other person’s take — confirming or denying concepts we’re putting forward about how the respective characters would think or behave.
At one point, I brought up the fun that could be had having Eric — Quantum — interact with Archer just to find ways to make Archer feel profoundly bad through white guilt; really make him twist. Fred corrected me by saying, “Archer probably doesn’t have a sense of white guilt because he was raised without ever being led to believe he could have possibly done anything wrong.” Or even that his people — white male dominant culture — could ever have done anything wrong.
It’s that sort of thing where I certainly see what he’s done with the character, and I understand all these facts about his sincerity and his intentions and all that stuff, it is interesting to know somebody on the other side of it where he’s already worked through and mapped all of these things that are influential factors or consequences of what you’ve seen, but they just haven’t had a place to reveal themselves on the page yet. That’s why I’m incredibly glad that we’re doing this together, because there are truths that each of us know about our characters, things that we haven’t had a chance to show that are certainly there. It’s really gratifying to have him working on it. … I laugh so much more working with him than I do sitting in a room by myself.
You’ve written a lot of comedy, both in comics and theater, and you’re doing something for what is arguably Marvel’s most comedic-focused book: “Superior Foes of Spider-Man.” Tell us a bit about what you have planned for your time on the series.
[Laughs] I have the delightful, fantastic opportunity of coming in and playing around with some side stories and backstory for some of the characters. They were looking to supplement some of what they were doing for issues #10 and #11 by getting into the heads of some of the characters and flashing some sides of the characters that we hadn’t seen yet. I had certainly seen people on Twitter comparing “Quantum and Woody” and “Superior Foes” — like, if you like one, you should be reading the other, or even asking for a crossover.
I think this might be as close to a crossover as you might get — a behind the scenes crossover. “Superior Foes” is one of the few comics I make a point to read when it comes out. I enjoy it that much. It was a thrilling opportunity, and I think editor Tom Brennan was surprised when he reached out to me and I very quickly said, “Great! I was actually thinking…” [Laughs]
Particularly in issue #10, I’ll fully admit my inspiration on this — there’s an old episode of “Batman: The Animated Series” called “Almost Got ‘Em” where all the villains are sitting around, playing poker, talking about the closest they’ve come to taking down Batman. Reading the scenes where the Superior Foes are sitting around tables, planning heists, recovering from them — I always felt like they were flirting with this opportunity to use a game like that to see how they view themselves.
As much as it’s fun to see these mini vignettes about their other adventures, I also love those moments because you really see how the characters think of themselves when they have to tell a story. I had that ready to go when [Tom Brennan] called me. I was delighted and relieved that they felt it landed in the right spot for the book and I was able to find a voice.
If issue #10 is the roundtable-ish discussion, what’s happening in “Superior Foes” #11?
#11 is going to be a Shocker-centric chapter, but also one that builds his backstory a little bit more. We expand the two pages he got in his first appearance in “Amazing Spider-Man” #46 from Stan Lee and tell a little bit more about what got him into all of this and, particularly, how he looks back on the choices he made getting into costumed villainy. We’ve forced him to look back at it and consider whether or not it was the best decision. [Editor’s note: Marvel has informed CBR that this story will not appear in “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” #11, and will be rescheduled.]
It sounds like you had a lot of fun coming back to the Marvel Universe.
I did! You know, working for Marvel is intoxicating fun for anyone that grew up reading Marvel Comics. It feels like taking your favorite toys out of the toy chest, but somehow getting paid for it and contributing to the ongoing mythology — it’s just exciting to be a part of that. For me, particularly, I’ve always had the most fun with the secondary characters. I don’t mean to degrade the quality of any of those characters, but if I’m being honest, I’m not the guy who gets to decide what Thor’s path in life will be while he has movies and he’s in five titles. But when you get into these characters who are used less often, there’s a lot more flexibility and freedom to tell something interesting, to really chart a course in digging deeper with them or throwing them into a different place in their life. Those are really fun, those are really exciting when you make the character reveal things about themselves and become more dynamic and more invested themselves.
Well, you did a lot of work for the “X-Men: Battle of the Atom” mobile game, which seems like a job that caused you to deal with a lot of top-tier characters.
Yes, and certainly my love for all the arcane characters came in handy when writing profiles and dialogue for characters who appeared for five issues in the 1980s! [Laughs] But that’s, I think, the exact joy of this game. It introduces and lets you play as — ultimately — every X-Men mutant character you can think of: alternate universe versions, short-lived and obscure characters — anyone who was your favorite weird entry in the X-Men A to Z that didn’t get as much page time as you wanted, you can now play that character in a video game, which is really exciting for people who have that deep nerdery or just can’t get enough.
The level of detail in the profiles and the overwhelming number of them seem pretty different from your usual scripting job — what was your process for crafting those profiles?
Well, working on that game, I was doing a bunch of different things at once. I was working with the game developers plotting the stories — I think moreso than a lot of other card battle games that I’ve seen, this one is utilizing actual stories from the comics and adapting them into a more narrative framework for what you would usually think for a mobile game. We wrote lots of scenes and dialogue for single player missions. There are a lot of characters that pop in, and there are even comic book page sequences where we mix art and scripted it to do comic book pages and panels. We also thought about how we could progress between special events within the game that would harken to classic X-Men stories and how you can resequence and weave between these in a way that makes sense, and think about the consequences for the characters. Simultaneously, we had to peel down which characters made sense for these stories and really had a place in them.
From there, I just had to write hundreds and hundreds of bios and dialogue to give you a sense of the character’s personalities. It was amazing. For some characters, I could write a succinct biography and even tell you where they’re at during certain points in a story. A ton of them, I was amazed at how many I could write off the top of my head — I would double check my work to make sure I was remembering things correctly. … Mostly, it was just piling through from memory and looking up a couple characters.
What else is coming down the line for you?
It’s a big side-step away from comics, but a TV show I helped develop, “Cryptid: The Swamp Beast,” is currently airing on the History Channel. It’s a docu-mystery-horror show about folklore in Louisiana — specifically cajun superstitions and creatures they think are out in the swamp, all of that getting stirred up when there’s some real weird things turning up. It’s a six-episode miniseries that I helped developed. … We went down there and followed an animal control team in the middle of this craziness. It’s on Mondays at 10 for six weeks.