Years ago, Ted Sallis was working in a lab in the Florida Everglades, attempting to duplicate the serum used to create Captain America. When terrorists raided his lab, Sallis injected himself with the serum and plunged into the swamp, which was home to a mystical phenomenon known as the Nexus of All Realities. The magical forces of the Nexus reacted with the serum and transformed Sallis into the Nexus’ new guardian, the premier muck monster of the Marvel Universe, Man-Thing.
As a result of the massive physical change, Sallis’ human mind was wiped away. While occasionally showing flashes of humanity, the Man-Thing is a simple creature that operates mainly on instinct. It’s super strong and can reconstruct its physical form from plant life when damaged, making it virtually impossible to destroy. What makes Man-Thing truly dangerous, however, is its reaction to the emotion of fear. Whenever someone feels fear in the creature’s presence, the creature secretes an acid like substance that can literally burn the fearful to death.
In Marvel’s “Fear Itself,” a malevolent god known as the Serpent is unleashed, causing people all over the globe to feel fear, transforming the normally peaceful Man-Thing into a walking murder machine. Thankfully, the monster has several friends who stand in his way, protecting the world from his touch. This summer, in the four issue “Fear Itself: Fearsome Four” miniseries, Man-Thing’s longtime friend Howard the Duck teams up with She-Hulk, Nighthawk and Frankenstein’s Monster to attempt to end his friend’s destructive rampage. CBR News spoke with writer Brandon Montclare (“Chaos War:Chaos King) about the project, which begins in June and features an all star art team that includes Michael Kaluta, Simon Bisley, Henry Flint and Ryan Bodenheim.
CBR News: Brandon, this is your second full length Marvel story and once again it’s an event story. Is this simply coincidence, or do you find event style stories to be particularly compelling?
Brandon Montclare: I wouldn’t say it’s a coincidence. It’s probably a simple product of current publishing dynamics more than any “event-mojo” I might bring to the table. I was on the other side of the desk for several years, working as an editor at DC and Vertigo, and it’s hard to make room for new talent. I’m especially sensitive to creating space for new voices because I had the incredible good fortune of working under Bob Schreck on top flight titles. But books like “All-Star Superman” and “Batman Year 100” don’t have fillers; books like “Sweet Tooth” are one-man shows. There are always more creators with whom you want to work than books on which you can put them. Big events are important for newer talent because they create the ancillary gigs; moreover, the publisher can mitigate the risk of employing lesser known names by connecting to the strength of the blockbuster main story. And with the market steering Marvel to put out more issues of core books while steering DC to drop back-up stories, opportunities for newer talent are becoming even rarer commodities. So I am flattered/encouraged/grateful when Marvel wants me to play a small part in a big event.
All that being said, there are unique creative aspects to big crossovers. I think the editorial part of my brain helps me find places where smaller characters can fit in the larger story. When a huge event promises to change the status quo of everything and everyone, it begs the question of how deep Marvel is going to go with that. That can be a compelling inquiry. All readers want to know how it affects Captain America and Thor, but the Marvel Universe is a big place and hopefully many readers will want to see it truly touch upon the darkest and farthest corners.
For “Fearsome Four,” you’ve assembled an interesting and eclectic cast: Howard the Duck, Man-Thing, Frankenstein’s Monster, She-Hulk and Nighthawk. There’s an existing connection between Man-Thing and Howard, but what made you want to bring these other characters together for this story?
I wanted characters who could have very different responses to fear, the things that scared them and ways in which they scared others. I think all of these characters have an essential component that is based in terror. That connection is obvious in Frankenstein. But perhaps it’s not so obvious in Nighthawk-and I hope to illuminate a more complex (but still fundamental) connection to that base emotion. And, of course, I wanted characters I thought were cool!
Let’s talk a little bit more about your cast of characters, starting with Howard. What made you want to tell a story about him during “Fear Itself?”
Man-Thing is the ignition for the story. His mythology is rooted in fear and many of his powers feed off that unique emotion. It’s a terror-saturated world, and I felt he needed to play a big part. “Fearsome Four” is in many ways a classic approach to the Monster genre and Howard the Duck is in a position which at first glance seems completely wrong for him: monster hunter. Monster hunters like Van Helsing or Quint — they all possess arcane expertise to vanquish their enemy. It’s an obsession — quite literally killing themselves to chase white whales. With Howard, I got to flip that. He’s Man-Thing’s friend, and I think our friends often know our weaknesses better than our enemies. Plus, our friends are the ones who stop us from doing things we regret. I think Man-Thing’s psyche is beyond “regret,” but Howard feels, deep down somewhere, Man-Thing doesn’t want to hurt all these people. Howard is very conflicted in this story. He’s motivated to save the New Yorkers being threatened with inferno, but he’s not in the superhero business. He really just wants to protect his friend.
We know Jen Walters’ cousin is going to become one of the Serpent’s avatars, the Worthy, during “Fear Itself,” so how does She-Hulk feel about being involved in the events of “Fearsome Four?” Is her immediate concern for Bruce or does she have other things on her mind?
There are a lot of things happening with the Hulk in “Fear Itself,” and She-Hulk worries about her cousin for good reason. But there’s hardly a moment in your life where you wouldn’t be worrying if Marvel’s most famous monster was a loved one. Hulk is at times a hero, but always a potential menace. She-Hulk sees that in Man-Thing as well; another scientist trapped inside a massive, mindless brute (and they’re both green!). She knows, like the Hulk, Man-Thing doesn’t want to hurt people, but rational consciousness is gone and the swamp creature has a powerful and deadly reaction to fear that matches Hulk’s reaction to anger. So she sympathizes closely with Howard, who wants to prevent his friend from harming himself or others.
How does Frankenstein’s Monster get involved in this story?
Misunderstood, as monsters always are, Frankenstein doesn’t know how or why he’s with these other heroes on a mad suicide mission to stop Man-Thing. In many ways, he’s the most at risk. As the old banner reads, “Whoever Knows Fear Burns at the Touch of Man-Thing.” I don’t think there’s anyone who knows both ends of fear-terrorizing and being terrorized-better than Frankenstein; moreover, he’s pyrophobic! He’s forever in the wrong place at the wrong time. Frankenstein’s Monster is very self-aware of his freak status-the last place he belongs is on a team.
The last major Nighthawk story was Joe Casey’s “Last Defenders” series — what’s the character been doing since then? What made you want to include him here?
Nighthawk, meaning Kyle Richmond, was handing down the Nighthawk mantle in “Last Defenders.” Some of that was choice and some of it was forced upon him by his indecision during “Civil War.” I think indecision is a big part of the character. He’s played so many sides, had so many motives and readers have even witnessed so many mulitversal variants. The terror behind “Fear Itself” is making some of the boldest Marvel heroes question what they always believed, question even themselves. Nighthawk is the one guy who takes it in the other direction — he sees the crisis as an opportunity to cast aside past doubt and indecision and become a better-in fact the best-crime fighter. And while this sounds noble, you’ll see his chosen path is quite slippery.
How would you describe the dynamic between the four members of the Fearsome Four?
The team is permeated with inner conflict. It all starts with Howard the Duck. He’s in trouble and he reluctantly calls on She-Hulk, who has bailed him out before. Nighthawk enters the scene, and everyone is waiting for him to leave it, but he’s not going anywhere. In fact, he thinks he’s the “leader.” Frankenstein’s Monster, as the archetype perpetually pines, just wants to be left alone, but fate intervenes before he can ever manage to exit. So if the Fantastic Four is a family, the Fearsome Four is anything but.
It’s a story about facing your fears. Being a team book, these four oddballs have to do it together. In some ways they’ll help each other; in others they’ll throw fuel on the fire; in still other ways they’ll, unfortunately, drag each other down. The series embraces weirdness. While there’s a lot of action that you expect in superhero comics, as well as elements of horror, “Fearsome Four” celebrates these stranger characters. That’s going to allow some wicked humor — but the story isn’t a comedy.
Man-Thing is obviously the central antagonist of this story. How dangerous is the muck monster in the fear-heightened atmosphere of “Fear Itself?”
Man-Thing is overloaded by the fear that’s choking the whole world. The creature is always a threat, and now is at his absolute deadliest. He’s more than just a hulking monster — the extent of his powers is really unknown. But we do know he has access and in some ways controls, the mysterious Nexus of All Realities-an expressway to alternate dimensions-there’s no telling what kind of cosmic horror he might let loose.
What can you tell us about the other supporting players of “Fearsome Four?” Will your characters run afoul of any other adversaries besides Man-Thing?
Man-Thing, as powered-up as he is by the events of “Fear Itself,” might already be a fire too hot for them to them to put out. Still, there are a few other distractions with which they have to deal. Among these, there are several ways — one quite literally — where they run afoul of themselves.
This project reunites you with your “Chaos War: Chaos King” collaborator Michael Kaluta. What’s it like to be working with him again and how does the art break down between Kaluta and the rest of the series’ artistic contributors?
Yes there are several great artists attached to this book. And if “great” can ever be an understatement, maybe it’s when it comes to describing the creators lined-up for “Fearsome Four.” Ryan Bodenheim is the main man. We were joking about Marvel separately calling both of us “rising stars” in the space of a few sentences in the first press release. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I live up to the hype, but I have no doubt that Ryan is proving himself the real deal. He’s doing all the “team” stuff and the main story.
This isn’t (to steal editor Mark Paniccia’s term) a Franken-book (Frankenstein’s membership notwithstanding). Sometimes a publishing schedule requires the traditional writer/penciler duo to expand to a trio or more some. But it was always the plan on “Fearsome Four” to use multiple artists. The story structure developed where we need a few cut-aways, each spotlighting a different team member. #2 will have Simon Bisley doing some interiors, #3 will have British Eagle Award-winner Henry Flint and #4 is still a surprise.
Launching the Nighthawk solo in #1 is series cover artist Michael Kaluta. I’m still counting all those lucky stars that let me work with him. Last year he was elected to the Eisner Hall of Fame. The same year, he was nominated for his then-current interior work on “Madame Xanadu.” And now he’s been doing an explosion of all kinds of covers for Marvel. He’s at the top of his game. Michael was born the same year as my father, but generations in comics are shorter lived and more than a couple separate us. It’s an amazing dynamic that I get to lean on. After all, he is a legend in the business.
It’s very fair to say that one has to think real hard about a single story that packed this many top-notch artists. There will be even more surprises on the art side of things when the book wraps. And it’s truly meaningful contributions from each person. “Fearsome Four” might be a story about a bunch of rejects, but it’s delivered in ace style.