One of the reasons super hero comics have captured the imaginations of readers for decades is because many of them happen in shared universes, where something that happens to one character, concept or institution can have implications for every character in that universe. It gives events weight and has also given rise to the event storyline, where a crisis of such magnitude arises and attracts the attention of most of the heroes and villains of that universe
In recent years, Marvel Comics’ heroes and villains have been involved in several major event stories, from a massive “Civil War” between its community of heroes to a “Secret Invasion” by a race of alien shapeshifters who covertly replaced heroes with doppelgangers and a “Siege” against the home city of the Asgardian Gods by an invasion force of super villains that was foiled by the combined might of the Avengers and their related teams. This April, the latest event storyline “Fear Itself” begins, as a new crises arises in the form of a massively powerful and malevolent fear god called the Serpent. While in the seven-issue “Fear Itself” miniseries, writer Matt Fraction and artist Stuart Immonen chronicle the main campaign against the God of Fear, the war against The Serpent will be a large one involving many heroes on many fronts.
Readers will get a chance to see some of those separate fronts and the struggles being fought in the seven issue anthology series “Fear Itself: The Home Front.” CBR News spoke with editors Lauren Sankovitch, Rachel Pinnelas and writer Christos Gage about the project, which also begins in April
CBR News: Let’s begin by talking about the purpose of this mini. For the past few major, company-spanning events, Marvel has published “Front Line” minis that sort of gave the man on the street perspective to these big events. Is “The Homefront” that type of companion book for “Fear Itself,” providing the “man on the street” perspective to the massive occurrences ripping through the Marvel U?
Lauren Sankovitch: As a companion series to the main “Fear Itself” event, we’re definitely aiming to give you both: your everyday Joe/Jane perspective and the POV of the multitude of heroes and villains from across the MU. Since “Fear Itself” is a global event, “The Home Front” will reflect this worldwide catastrophe. The entire world is our front line.
In terms of format, what will readers get in each issue of “The Home Front?” How many pages is Christos’s story and how many pages are the back up stories?
Sankovitch: For each of the seven issues of “The Home Front,” you can expect a full 32 pages of brand new content. The constant for each issue will be the Christos Gage/Mike Mayhew lead-off story featuring Speedball, which will clock in at 14 pages. Next will be a 10-page action/mystery featuring the Agents of Atlas by Peter Milligan which will go through issues 1-4. Additionally, each issue will have a 1 page short written and drawn by comic legend Howard Chaykin in which we’ll explore an intimate moment with everyone from the flat-topped mayor of New York to one of Namor’s royal guard to New Avenger Ms. Marvel. And if that weren’t enough, each issue will conclude with a 7-page short featuring that multitude of heroes and villains I was talking about earlier. Seven stories, seven different creative teams. The first story will be brought to you by none other than Hawkeye/Mockingbird mastermind Jim McCann.
How did you go about deciding Speedball would be focal point of “Fear Itself: The Home Front?”
Sankovitch: Looking back on the events of “Civil War” and “Secret Invasion,” it made the inclusion of Speedball a no-brainer. With all of the anguish and pain he’s been through and the genuine drive he’s displayed to get his life back, especially in the face of fear and hatred, I felt this would be the place to really bring him full circle, to make him a fully-fledged hero once more.
Christos, you’re no stranger to event storylines having told tales that tied into “Civil War,” “Secret Invasion” and “Siege.” What is it about these stories that makes them so appealing to you? And what was it about “Fear Itself” in particular that made you want to be a part of it?
Christos Gage: Event stories are fun because the scale is so huge. You’re writing about happenings that are literally earth-shaking — and often you can find personal stories within them that are smaller in scale but of equal import. “Fear Itself” is ideally suited to that, because while it’s a large-scale event, the nature of the story requires everyone involved to look inside themselves. That’s perfect for Speedball, whose life changed forever in another big event, “Civil War” and who will be taking another major step in his journey as a character here.
You’ve worked with Speedball for a while now, writing him in “Thunderbolts,” “Avengers: The Initiative” and currently in “Avengers Academy.” What is it about Robbie Baldwin that makes you keep returning to him?
Gage: He’s been through hell and come out the other side. He didn’t let it break him, but he’ll never be the same. He can be laughing and joking one minute, and tortured the next. I love multilayered characters like that. They seem more three-dimensional and real. And someone who is fighting for redemption is always compelling to me.
Where is Speedball, physically and emotionally, when your story in “Fear Itself: The Home Front” begins?
Gage: Physically, he’s still teaching at Avengers Academy, but in “Home Front” we examine how he’s still dealing with the repercussions of the destruction of Stamford in “Civil War,” for which he was blamed. A lot of people have forgiven him, as more information about that event has come out (such as Nitro artificially augmenting his powers), but he hasn’t fully forgiven himself. He still feels an obligation to try to help the people in Stamford in any way he can. So we reveal he’s been going to Stamford disguised as a civilian and involving himself in charitable activities there. Of course, that’s a heck of a place to be if he were to get exposed — right in the middle of people who may blame him for the deaths of their loved ones.
I imagine this story will in some ways be about Speedball confronting his fears. Can you talk at all about what it is Robbie is afraid of?
Gage: He fears something like Stamford happening again, but really, even more deeply than that, he fears that there is no way he can ever be redeemed for what happened there. That he can’t do good any more, he can only cause harm. And he definitely will have to confront that fear. There will be several antagonists of the super-villain variety, but when you get down to it, the real enemy is Speedball’s own fear and despair.
Who are some of the other important supporting players in your story?
Gage: Miriam Sharpe, the woman whose son’s death in the Stamford explosion spurred her to work to pass the Super Human Registration Act, has carried on her work by founding a charity named after her son: Damien’s Gift. Robbie is volunteering for them and since Miriam is usually away fund raising on the national level, he hasn’t had to see her. Now he does — and she sees him. Jocasta will also be involved.
How important of an element is setting in your tale? From what we understand, it will be a globe hopping adventure.
Gage: Yes, as we go along Speedball will be traveling throughout the world, giving us a perspective on how “Fear Itself” is playing out in communities throughout the globe. That’s the advantage of having Hank Pym’s dimensional doors at your disposal. But Speedball’s fear is that every one of these places is a potential Stamford.
What does Mike Mayhew brings to this story as an artist?
Gage: Mike is perfect for a story rooted in emotion and character. He has a beautiful, painterly style that really brings the characters to life. His people all look real and unique, there isn’t a generic “handsome man” and “beautiful woman” only differentiated by hair and clothing. Everyone is an individual, and that’s a crucial part of this story. Of course, Mike is also amazing at action scenes. I’ve been wanting to work with him for a while and I’m thrilled to have the chance!
How would you describe the tone of your story?
Gage: Grounded — emotional — I really want to get into how it feels for people to be in the middle of something as big as this, where not only is there a massive conflict of super-beings, but literally every person in the world is part of it. The only way the large scale will resonate is if we see how it affects individuals and that’s what I hope to explore.
Rachel, you’re editing Peter Milligan’s “Agents of Atlas” story. Are all the Agents on deck or is it primarily a tale of Jimmy Woo and Namora?
Rachel Pinnelas: The story is primarily focused on Jimmy’s steep history as a Marvel spy as well as his unique experiences as an agent from quite a few eras. Namora has a similarly exciting perspective from her standing as an Atlas member that has past associations with familiar faces like Namor and the Avengers. Their relationship may have evolved because of this bond, but they’re very much as involved with Atlas as ever. All your favorite agents are on deck to make an appearance, so be sure to read!
Like “Home Front’s” main event, the story is about a hero’s reaction to a worldwide climate of apprehension and uncertainty. In terms of genre, let’s call it “an action thriller for your mind!” If that sounds fun yet frightening, it’s because it is!
The Atlas characters are fan favorites, but I also imagine you want to make this story new reader friendly for those who will be meeting these characters for the first time. To that end, can we expect some nods to past Atlas stories and continuity in Peter’s tale?
Pinnelas: Continuity is very important to the tale, and although some readers may be introduced to Jimmy and company for the first time here, recent events are reflected and certainly evident in some of their appearances. New and familiar readers will have an immediate sense of who these characters are.
Who’s providing the visuals for this story?
Pinnelas: Elia Bonetti (“Captain America: Theater of War”) is on art duties for Peter’s Atlas tale, and his breathtakingly realistic style is rendering the characters as you’ve never seen them before! It’s perfectly suited for a story that has us focusing on the reality of a hero’s fears.
Any final thoughts you would like to share about “Fear Itself: The Home Front?”
Sankovitch: I will say (with gusto even!) that this book will have something for everyone. We will be touching on everything, from the heavy hitters to the far, dark and dusty corners of the MU where those D-listers we love so much reside and everything in between. I know we say it (a lot) but really, this is not to be missed.
Gage: Like Lauren and Rachel mentioned, my Speedball story is just one of the very cool tales in this oversize book! We’ve got Peter Milligan, Howard Chaykin and many more bringing you stories ripped from the front lines! And if you don’t buy it — the Serpent wins!