Today, Marvel held a telephone press conference to discuss the upcoming “Fantastic Four” #536, part of the “Road to Civil War” which features the return of a character not seen in quite a while. Participating in the call was writer J. Michael Straczynski, Editor Tom Brevoort, Director of Sales David Gabriel and Marketing Coordinator Jim McCann. The call will later be made available for download as a Podcast at Marvel.com. Find below a transcript of the call.
Things started out with the assembled press asking questions of Brevoort, who laid out the “Road to Civil War,” with McCann and Gabriel sharing some details of their marketing and outreach plans.
Tom Brevoort: Leading up to “Civil War” we have three different titles, totaling six comics, which are part of the “Road to Civil War.” The first is “Amazing Spider-Man” #529, #530 & #531, the first of which just sold out coast-to-coast. The second book is “New Avengers: Illuminati Special,” which ships later this month. The third is “Fantastic Four” #536 & #537. Those are the six actual individual comics that comprise the “Road to Civil War.”
The big thing- which we obviously made no secret about- is in the opening of “Fantastic Four” #536, an object falls from the heavens and crash lands in the middle of Oklahoma. It’s a very familiar Marvel item, to which Reed Richards is called in to try to make sense of what it is that’s fallen and what it could be and so forth. It’s also an item coveted by the now-resurrected Dr. Doom. It will come as no shock to anybody who’s seen the cover that it’s Thor’s hammer. This is also the first step on the road to bringing Thor back to the Marvel Universe in a major way. On top of that, there are scenes peppered throughout that lead to the conflict within “Civil War,” but the main thrust of the plot is Dr. Doom, Thor’s Hammer, the FF and “Road to Civil War.”
David Gabriel: For those retailers on line with us right now, “Amazing Spider-Man” #529 sold out at Diamond the day before it actually went on sale at your stores. I’m going to guess that the second printing we did- where we actually printed double what the back-orders were- I’m pretty positive that will also be sold out well before next Wednesday. I’d caution retailers to think about their orders on “#536, on “New Avengers: Illuminati,” as well as the other “Amazing Spider-Man” issues.
Do you expect everything in this series will ship on time?
TB: Has anything in any of these processes ever absolutely shipped on time? [laughs] We’re going to make every effort to make sure everything ships in the proper sequence. That having been said, it’s a big ol’ cross-over with a lot of moving parts. I would be lying if I told you, “Yes, absolutely everything will ship on time!” We’ll make every effort to make sure the books come out when they’re supposed to and in the sequence they’re supposed to.
Is there a chance you would hold something back should there be delays?
TB: Yes. Depending on the interactions between the various “Civil War” tie-in titles, if something that’s a reveal gets pushed back, then the connecting pieces will also have to be pushed back.
DG: There are actually some plot points coming up in different tie-in books that would really ruin a lot of the main “Civil War” book if they showed up previous to the actual books, so we’re watching that pretty carefully.
You mentioned this is a huge event, Tom, how hard it been to coordinate everything?
TB: Last year I edited “House of M,” which was last year’s big cross-over, but it was a little more of a bottled cross-over in that it all took place in this altered Marvel-scape. This is three or four times the scale of that. There are a lot more moving parts. All these books are in current continuity. All of them, to one degree or another, are in the midst of runs by different creative teams. It’s been a bear, but hopefully the end result is something that the fans will feel was worthwhile and isn’t just being forced down their throats by appearing in the various books that it’s in. We’ve pretty much presented the story plan to the individual writers and said, “There’s an opportunity here. If you want to be a part of this, jump on board.” It more or less has been a volunteer process and after last year’s “House of M,” a lot of people seem to have gotten on board because clearly this will bring a lot of attention to titles that people aren’t paying as much attention to, hopefully in a way that will allow those books to retain their individualistic flavor.
Refresh our memories, when was the last time we saw Thor?
TB: In the last issue of the ongoing “Thor” book, so it’s been about two years now. Right around the time of “Avengers Disassembled.”
We’ve seen a lot of talk about “Civil War” in the mainstream press already. Can you tell us a bit more about your marketing plans?
DG: There’s a lot of stuff coming out, equal and maybe even rivaling what we did with “House of M” last year. There’ll be a sketchbook that you’ll get the last week of April, a free sketchbook. You will be getting what we’re calling “Civil War Tickets” so that you can actually invite your customers in your store to sign up to receive the book and pick it up at your store.
Jim McCann: And any new people that should show up due to the mass market coverage.
DG: Right, and those should be showing up in three weeks. We’re also doing inserts in most of our books in April. You will see, I think starting this week, cover blurbs which ask “Whose Side Are you On?” right on the top left-hand corner under the Marvel banner so that when you display those books it’ll be a reminder for everyone that “Civil War” is on its way. There’ll be a lot of online coverage. You’ll see a lot of coverage in the Marvel Previews. Towards the middle of the run on this there’ll be another postcard that will more than likely have a checklist. We’ll be posting a checklist online in about a week or so that can be downloaded for your customers. There’s also a checklist in Marvel Previews. We’ll be doing something similar like we did with the “House of M: Pulse” special edition last summer- it’ll be a “Daily Bugle: Civil War” edition that we should have out the week of the San Diego convention, so it’ll help boost interest in the second half of the series. We’ll also be doing a retailer incentive on the first issue similar to what we did last year. We might even up the stakes a bit on that incentive. You’ll also see two posters- one large poster featuring the Turner cover that’ll come out in April, and sometime at the end of March or sometime in April we’ll release what we’re calling the “Civil War” panorama poster, which is the full sized version of the Steve McNiven art from the cover of #1.
Mainstream media is also very much taking notice of this story. You’ll see a very large media blitz. A number of outlets already have stories in the can that’ll hit right before the first issue. Look for new customers and all sorts of attention outside of just the comics press as well.
Can you give us some idea of what kind of coverage we can expect to see in the mainstream media?
JM: There are a number of print media outlets, weekly magazines and newspapers. Since their stories are in the can, they haven’t launched yet so I can’t say what they are, but there are at least six waiting in the can. Literally, I get requests every day from major magazines, television press and things like that. It’s going to be part of the mainstream consciousness, especially given the current climate of the nation and how this story echoes a lot of that.
If there is a major influx of new readers for “Civil War,” what is being done to ensure this book will be on the stands during the course of the run of this?
DG: Retailers are going to make sure they ordered double the amount they did on “House of M” and they’re going to take care of that for us! [laughs] Seriously, nobody had a problem last year with “House of M” and nobody will have a problem this year with this book.
How do the “Road to Civil War” titles interact with each other?
TB: Each of the three titles will all be individual titles. There’ll be one or two touch points. There’s a press conference we see taking place in “Amazing Spider-Man” that will be seen on television sets in “Fantastic Four.” But really, those three “Road To Civil War” titles are standalone, even though they all feed into “Civil War” #1.
At this point, JMS joined the conversation and introduced the concept behind the “Road To Civil War” again.
JMS: [When we were developing this] we talked amongst ourselves about what would happen if at some point down the line a particular object fell from the sky and were to land somewhere on the earth, say Oklahoma, and a group of scientists were assigned to look into it and how it came to fall there. When they get there, they find a rather large, gray hammer with inscriptions on the side of it. Any large corporation like Enron or Halliburton will of course build a large structure around it to begin examining it and keep it to themselves. But, word of this gets out and it brings someone back from Hell, basically, to get his hands on it.
At the end of the final issue of “Thor,” he yelled “I come as your doom!” One wonders if that was a hint, or was it just a coincidence?
JMS: It’s a wonderful coincidence!
DG: [laughs] Oh now, we planned it two years ago Joe!!!!
JMS: Oh, I’m sorry! [laughs] It was all planned ahead of time.
DG: You and Mike Oeming – hand-in-hand! [laughs]
JMS: That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
You talked a lot about how this storyline has a lot of resonance with the current political climate. Could you address that a little?
JMS: What political scientists have found in the last four years or so, as a point of comparison, is more relationships, engagements, marriages and families have broken up because of political disagreements than they have in the previous 10 or 20 years. The sides have become so polarized that as one person once said, if we were divided up geographically as we are politically, we’d be hearing gun fire in the distance. This has spread to families and relationships. What we wanted to do with the Fantastic Four, and also in the Spider-Man title as well, was look at that dynamic in a family arrangement. What happens on the one hand with the Spidey family where they try and work within the system as much as they can, which slowly corrupts itself around them. Or to use the Fantastic Four, some of them go one way and the others go another, and real strong, emotional schisms erupt. We want to show the war at home and the emotional toll that it takes on our families and there aren’t that many public super-hero families in the Marvel Universe except for the FF, so that gave us an opportunity to explore the personal stakes that these stories have.
How does the rift in the family begin and what are those ramifications? Will the family be broken up or will they stick together?
JMS: You’ll see the team fracture in a very large way. They’ll be fractured very early on by the events of “Civil War” because the stakes of what are going on are so huge and the emotional dynamic is so powerful. There may even be long-term consequences beyond that. Again, if you look at our political climate today, I’ve seen couples who’ve been married for 20 years– one of whom was a little more right while the other was more left– have huge, knock down, drag out arguments about it and not talk for days at a time. When something of this magnitude is involved in our storyline, it’s very easy for Reed and Sue to take opposite positions in terms of what they should do about this. Because it’s a situation where they have to work very fast and if they have opposing points of views and if Reed were to find out Sue was going in a different direction, it could shatter the marriage.
TB: There is an event that takes place in “Civil War” #1 that kind of brings the whole circumstance home in a very personal way for the FF and makes this a situation that they’re dealing with in the immediacy rather than off in the distance.
JMS: It’s not theoretical for them at all, it’s deeply personal.
Did you volunteer to do the Spider-Man and FF Civil War tie-ins yourself?
JMS: Absolutely. No question about that. When we first began talking about these aspects of the Marvel Universe, it was left open as to whether I wanted to dip into the pond or not. I think we really had to get into it with these two books primarily because on the one hand with Spidey, he is our everyman. He is representative, I think in many ways, of the average Marvel reader. Peter is able to look at everything from ten different points of view and through him we can explore the dynamics and personal conflict of what’s going on. The “Civil War” books move so fast and there’s so much action and cool stuff going on, that there isn’t a lot of time to sit back and sort of chew on what this all really comes down to. We need someone to be the voice of that.
For instance, Peter goes to Washington and through him and his relationship with Tony Stark, we can hear the guys in the Senate discussing why they’re in favor of this Registration act. The thing of it is, their logic actually does parse and make sense. You can’t just have a strong man argument where these guys are obviously wrong. The point they make is if a doctor has to register with the AMA and a pilot with the FAA in order to be accountable if something goes wrong, then why should a hero be handled any different? That’s really a very good and valid argument. Through Peter, we can see that and I wanted to really explore that dynamic because it’s a very important one for use to get into. So, in Fantastic Four, we explore the consequences on the family side of it.
Getting back to the cover of “Fantastic Four,” is Thor coming back and is the hammer the massive weapon that both sides covet in the “Civil War,” or is it a sideline item?
TB: The answer we can give you right now is, “Wait and see.” It will definitely be an item of interest and Thor will definitely be a character with a role to play and a slot to fill in the course of “Civil War” and what follows immediately there after. But exactly what it is and how it all comes together, it’s too early to tell you all that. We hope you’ll spend $2.99 to find out! [laughs]
With regards to Spider-Man, how will the events that have happened in “House of M” and “The Others” influence his choices heading into “Civil War?”
JMS: The events of “House of M” will not play a part particularly. There’s so much going on with “Civil War” that we don’t want to drag in the “House of M” stuff as well. This comes down to his friendship with Tony Stark and his work with the Avengers when he was in there. More than anything else, during that period of time, Peter bonded with Tony. These guys are in many ways very much alike. They’re both smart, they’re both scientifically oriented, they both have a sly sense of humor and Tony became a father figure to Peter. It’s been so long since he’s had a good, honorable father figure. So when Tony comes to him and says “I need your help,” when you hear it you have to respond with honor and say “I’ll be there for you.” But there comes a point where you have to ask is that promise given a valid promise? Are you signing a blank check on your conscience that you shouldn’t be agreeing to? That will begin to eventually fray their friendship.
When we last saw you handle Dr. Doom, you had a little bit of fun with the nobility aspect of the character. Where do you think the character is now and what aspects of the character do you think are important to this particular story?
JMS: I’ve always loved Doom’s character. As you said, there is a certain nobility to him. This is a guy that however odd he is or however wrong he may be from our point of view, he thinks he’s a patriot and he thinks he’s trying to build a better Latveria and he has his own code of conduct. We may not agree with it, but he has one. As opposed to a lot of guys in corporate America or elsewhere who have no particular compass, he has one. Granted it points straight to Hell, but he has a compass. Which of course is where we find him at present. The question is how do we get him out of Hell? What we discover over the course of the book is the hammer has passed through time and space to get here, it momentarily breached the gateway to Hell itself and was able to sort of provide a way for Doom to get out and that’s how he became aware of it and why it’s important for him to find once he got here. His whole goal is to get his hands on that thing and he thinks he now has the capacity to do something with it.
So, whether you agree with him or not, and I think most people with any sort of conscience do not, he is an honorable guy. He’s someone I’ve always admired as a character throughout the years, from Stan & Jack writing him and thereafter.
Just to get some clarification, is the enchantment that only the most worthy can pick up the hammer still in place and will that play a major role?
TB: Yes and yes. That’s sort of the reason why people build the big dome in Oklahoma because they find this thing and they really can’t move it. It’s there where it’s fallen, so they construct this super structure around it as they examine it because they can’t pick it up. They have to deal with it exactly where it struck the earth.
In “Amazing Spider-Man” #529 there seemed to be some indication there that Tony Stark and Steve Rogers were going to be on opposite sides of the Civil War. And will you be releasing the trade paperback of “Avengers: Galactic Storm” around the same time as “Civil War?” Does that have any kind of tie-in with “Civil War?”
TB: The actual scheduling of that trade paperback is a coincidence, but it’s kind of a fortuitous coincidence. Not that this is about New Avengers, but the arc that runs in “New Avengers” during “Civil War” is being called “The New Avengers Disassembled” and will definitely fracture that team in hopefully interesting ways and put them back together in a new and different configuration by the time “Civil War” is over. But really we are talking about FF.
DG: Before we finish up, one question that always comes up is how will this all be collected in trade. For those of you who are wondering, we are planning to collect this, but probably not until the end of this year. I would suggest you tell your customers not to sit around and wait for the trade because it will be quite a while before all this does come out. We do plan to put all the “Road to Civil War” in one trade paperback, probably around November or December. And the rest of the collections of “Civil War” will not be done until early 2007 at the earliest.