Note: Adult language in the following story.
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A sketch of the Katherine Farrell by artist Guy Davis.
If you’re an online comics fan, you know Bill Rosemann’s writing. The most vocal advocate of Marvel Comics online, Rosemann is a tireless promoter of the company, and appears at major conventions as the emcee for Marvel panels. But this spring, Rosemann gets to put his gift for words to use in another arena, when his new miniseries, “Deadline,” hits stores in April.
“This is the House of Ideas,” Rosemann told CBR News, “So, following the lead of titles such as ‘X-Force’ and ‘Alias,’ it’s time to unleash more new characters on our faithful readers. Not only is The Judge a brand-new character, but our very own EIC Joe Quesada designed him! As for who is, that’s what readers will discover – along with our protagonist – as the story unfolds. But I will say this: He starts out as a media-darling Judge in a division of the New York City court system that handles only super-villains… and becomes, through a nasty twist of fate, a cross between Batman and Ghost Rider! He’s a modern urban myth. A judge who’s become a jury and executioner. And he strikes in ‘Deadline’ #1!”
The story is told through the eyes of a new Daily Bugle reporter.
“Katherine Farrell hates superhumans. Hates ’em. Sure, some may find superheroes fascinating, but not our girl Kat. She thinks they’re overgrown babies, what with their ridiculous costumes and their petty ‘feuds’ and their constant destruction of public property. Especially when the police and firemen of NYC showed us on 9/11 what real heroes are. You could compare this to the world of sports. Some think pro athletes are inspiring … while others think they’re overpaid jerks. So while we’ll be looking at some familiar heroes (and villains), Kat does so with a cynical eye that questions their motives and methods. Adding to Kat’s attitude is the fact that, as a rookie reporter fresh out of journalism school (from my alma mater Notre Dame), she’s stuck chasing down superhumans, or as the press calls them, The Capes. Our story opens when she learns that she has one chance of getting a coveted spot on the City Crime Desk alongside her hero Ben Urich … but only if she can land one big story in a week. Deadline follows Kat for that one week as she chases that one huge hit. If you’re a Spider-Man fan, like I am, then you’re going to see plenty of friendly faces. Folks like Ben Urich, Robbie Robertson, Betty Brant, and good ol’ J. Jonah Jameson all feature prominently in Kat’s world. And since it’s her job to cover The Capes, we’ll also see plenty of cameos by Manhattan’s superhuman population, but from a ‘person on the street’ view. But what I hope people will find more interesting is the level of society that the mere existence of The Capes has created. For example, you know about The Bar With No Name (the dive where super-villains go to knock back a few), but where do costumed creeps go when they break an arm fighting Thor? After all, it’s not like they can just waltz into an emergency room. And where does someone with super-tough skin go to get a tattoo? It’s questions like that that I’m interested in, and it’s this world that Kat prowls in her hunt for the story.”
Don’t look for Kat to have a dark secret from her past making her hate superhumans, though. The truth is more prosaic and, well, realistic.
“It’s not that she had any direct experience with superhumans that made her despise them, it’s more of a general dislike and distrust of them. It’s more like this: some people think actors are gods to be worshipped and praised. Some think they’re overpaid prima-donnas who soak up attention while real heroes, the people that really deserve our attention and praise, are ignored. So while some journalists would love to write about celebrities, other reporters would hate that assignment. That’s the case here. Kat wants to write stories about the people of New York City that struggle everyday to make a difference – or just survive. Instead she’s stuck covering glory-hound Capes, and that colors her perception of them.
“If you’re asking what experiences formed my portrayal of her prejudices, I make no bones about it: I’ve been reading comics for nearly 25 years. And in that time, you can grow too close to what you’re reading. The fantastic becomes the mundane. What I like about standing squarely on the street and looking up at the costumed characters is that it reminds us how amazing, how inspiring, how scary they can be. By using the voice of a person-on-the-street, especially one that isn’t predisposed to liking superhumans, it can result in a fresh look at the characters we’ve followed for decades.”
Rosemann is a rookie writer himself, and was fortunate to have none other than Marvel’s editor in chief, Joe Quesada, mentoring him through the process of working on the miniseries.
“Joe is my guardian angel. The funny thing is, when he climbed behind the controls, he sent down an edict that no staffers at Marvel could write for us. As our Marketing Manager, this made perfect sense, knowing we had to re-establish the Marvel name with fresh talent. But as a writer who had a few back-up stories under his belt, I was burning to tell this story. And I knew someone else would turn in a similar pitch, because, let’s face it, telling a story from the point of view of a Daily Bugle reporter isn’t that ground-breaking. It’s been done before and it was only a matter of time before someone wanted to do it again.
“So I wrote up a pitch and put it on Joe’s desk with a note that read: ‘I know staffers can’t write for us, and I’m cool with that. But if that rule ever changes in a year, two years, whenever, I would like to tell a story like this.’ And the pitch was actually written in the voice of Kat. I guess something in it clicked with Joe, because he gave it the green light … but not before he had me rewrite the outline four times. So even before it was handed over to Sr. Editor Tom Brevoort and Assistant Editors Marc Sumerak and Jeff Youngquist, Joe had helped me for over a month to get it tight. He told me that since I was a staffer, I would be scrutinized more than others, so he wanted to be even harder on me than anyone else to make sure it was a good story. And if Joe knows one thing – that is, beyond being one of today’s greatest artists – it’s the elements of a good story.
“And did I tell you how cool his design of The Judge is?!”
While Quesada designed the ghostly Judge, veteran Vertigo artist Guy Davis will be providing the interiors on “Deadline.”
“I was a huge fan of ‘Sandman Mystery Theatre,'” Rosemann said, “And it was Guy Davis’s art I had in mind as I wrote the entire outline. His ability to make characters look like real humans, his eye for detail, his amazing architecture. ‘Deadline’ is an urban noir thriller, and no one’s better at that than Guy. He’s a pro’s pro, or as Joe Quesada called him ‘the real deal.’ Landing Guy Davis on ‘Deadline’ is like a first-time director saying, ‘The name on the top of my wish list to star in this movie is Robert DeNiro’ … and then DeNiro signs up! Brevoort and I talked about how he would be perfect for the project, Joe said how great it would be to have Guy here, and after a few phone calls by Sumerak, Guy was drawing his first series for Marvel!
“This may sound funny, but do you know I hadn’t read ‘Nevermen’ or ‘The Marquis’ until after I had turned in the first two plots for ‘Deadline?’ And then after reading them, I was like, ‘Holy shit, he’s even more perfect for this!’ Like I said, I absolutely loved ‘Sandman Mystery Theatre’ … it was my favorite comic for years. But now after reading those two collections … well, let’s just say they’re all duking it out for the top spot in my book!”
As for “Deadline,” it’s not entirely similar to any of Davis’ previous projects.
“Hmmm … well, it has the urban feel of ‘Sandman Mystery Theatre,’ the supernatural aspect of ‘The Marquis,’ and the overcoats of ‘Nevermen.’ So let’s just say that if you liked those three, hopefully you’ll dig ‘Deadline,’ too!”
Of course, it’s probably not a big leap to assume many Marvel Comics readers haven’t seen those comics, either. Rosemann says that’s not a problem.
“Here’s a true story. When I told Joe Q. that Guy was my #1 pick to draw ‘Deadline,’ I said, ‘I know he’s not considered mainstream, but he’d be perfect for this.’ Joe just looked at me and said, ‘Bill, if he draws something for Marvel, than he is mainstream.’ In other words, fresh voices such as Jim Mahfood, Chynna-Clugstan Major, Eduardo Risso, Alex Maleev and Igor Kordey are proving that the ‘main-stream’ audience will warmly welcome more independent styles – as long as they’re good. And, well, we know how good Guy is, so no worries there!”
Once Davis was on-board, Rosemann got out of the way and let him get to work.
“What, I’m going to tell Guy Davis how to draw something? Seriously, we picked him because of what he delivers. I think the best stories develop when you step back and let the creators do their thing. So while Guy and I have had general discussions of what my influences are and how I see this series looking, I’ve just taken my own advice and have stepped back and let Guy go!”
“After seeing how great his art looked in ‘Nevermen,’ we thought the
best person to ink his stuff would be Guy himself.”
“Deadline” will be getting photo-realistic covers, courtesy of “Elektra” cover artist Greg Horn.
“Greg’s work on ‘Elektra’ is exactly why I picked him as the cover artist. See, people have him pegged as a great ‘bad-girl’ artist who can only draw women with big boobs. But I knew Greg could deliver great art, period. So I told Greg that this would be his chance to prove to everyone that he can draw more ‘normal’ characters, too. And luckily he jumped at the chance!
“Again, as with Guy, I gave him general ideas. We talked a lot about Kat’s character, her body posture, etc. Then he sent Tom Brevoort and I several sketches and we picked the pose we liked best. Then we talked about what sort of items we’d like to see in the background to convey the feel of the story. Then Greg went nuts! And I couldn’t be happier about the results. As the series progresses, readers will see that the four images link together thematically, expressing elements of the characters’ story arcs.”
“Look, I’m not going to say that Deadline is as good as any of the stuff that Brian Michael Bendis does, but I’d say readers of ‘Alias,’ ‘Powers’ and ‘Daredevil’ may want to check this out. The way I see it, there’s room on the racks for many riffs on similar subjects, as long as they’re good. It’s like TV. There’s NYPD Blue, there’s Law & Order, there’s CSI. All different looks at similar subjects. And people watch all three because they like what they see. And with Guy Davis supplying visuals, I know people will like what they see in ‘Deadline.'”
Besides the noir influences, Rosemann is playing in a milieu he enjoyed even as a young comic fan.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of being a reporter for a big city paper. When I was a kid, I didn’t want to be Superman, I wanted to be Clark Kent. For me, some of the most compelling scenes in Peter Parker’s life were not when he was swinging above the streets as Spider-Man, but while he was running through the frenzied halls of the Daily Bugle. So I just took that idea and ran with it, exploring what it would really be like to be a reporter in a town over-run by strange beings in latex. On top of that, I’ve always dug gothic romances like those in Wuthering Heights and even Interview With The Vampire; plus the dark visions of movie directors such as Tim Burton. So I just let all those influences pour through my fingers, and ‘Deadline’ came out. As for direct inspirations, You may not see them directly, but things that influenced me, that percolate in my mind, are there in ‘Deadline’: movies like His Girl Friday and City of Lost Children, TV shows like NYPD Blue and The Prisoner. Books like The Alienist and Catcher in the Rye. But most importantly, I’m inspired by New York City itself. After admiring it from afar, I’ve lived in the Big Apple since 1993, soaking up its energy and character every day. If anything has influenced me the most it’s the style, the grit, and the heart of Manhattan and its people.”
That kid who wanted to be Clark Kent grew up to work for a comic company, not a major metropolitan newspaper, though, so Rosemann had to do some research before writing “Deadline.”
“Mostly I’ve been doing a lot of reading and talking. Reading both fiction and non-fiction books (such as Manhattan Nocturne, How To Solve A Murder Mystery, Gig, etc.) to soak up the language and attitude of journalism. Then I’ve been talking to relatives and friends who are reporters, making sure my language is right. Assistant Editor Jeff Youngquist was a reporter, so he’s been suggesting some bits, and my time as a reporter for my college newspaper and years as Marvel’s copywriter have also given me some insights into the profession.”
If readers warm to Kat and her world, Rosemann is ready.
“Would you believe I already have a sequel in my head? Well, I do. And this one could get even more nasty. So it’s all in the hands of the retailers and readers. If they want to join Kat on her hunt through the mean streets of the Big Apple, Guy and I are ready to go!”
CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland contributed to this story.