Abnett & Lanning on Marvel/Top Cow's "Fusion"

What would happen if unregistered mutant Ripclaw caused a stir in a small Northeastern town in the heady days of the Marvel Universe's Initiative era? That's a question writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning set out to answer in "Fusion," a Marvel & Top Cow crossover featuring the New Avengers, the Thunderbolts, Cybeforce and Hunter-Killer. CBR News caught up with the writers - often known to their fans as DnA -- to get the details on the series that sets the stage for this summer's "Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer."

For those keeping score at home, "Fusion" takes place not during Marvel's Dark Reign but rather in the Initative era. "Marvel was immersed in the Secret Invasion storyline when we were putting 'Fusion' together and we knew, with our Marvel writer hats on, that this was going to set up the whole Dark Reign story arc and what the implications that would have on our ability to use the heroes we wanted to," Lanning told CBR.

Lanning and Abnett wanted to use the Initiative era New Avengers, but that team was scattered come Dark Reign, and Top Cow didn't want to do a time travel story. "The only way we could get a classic Avengers line-up to meet with the Top Cow heroes was to set it in the recent past," Abnett said. "The ideal time frame being during the Initiative run of books just preceding the Secret Invasion."

The Thunderbolts played a major role in the Marvel Universe at that point in time, and Abnett & Lanning realized that the Norman Osborn-helmed team played well into the story they were developing. "Setting the story in the months following the aftermath of the Civil War gave us the chance to tell an 'unseen' tale using that rich and creatively fertile storyline," DnA said. "Throwing the Top Cow guys into that paranoid and authoritarian mix just gave us more opportunity for conflict and clashes. Who could resist the chance to write Iron Man, Ripclaw and Norman Osborn in the same scene and see what happens?"

The villain of "Fusion" is the alien hybrid that took Ripclaw's place during "Cyberforce" Volume 3. Ripclaw -- who has a symbiotic link to the creature -- and "Hunter-Killer's" Ellis -- whose powers inadvertently reawaken the beast -- factor prominently in the story. "Add into this mix the Avengers running afoul of the creature's initial rampage, which leads them to Cyberforce's front door, and the Thunderbolts, who believe the creature is some unregistered hero that their government mandate demands they bring in," Lanning said. "We looked at what we as fans of the characters would want to see in terms of heroes pitted against each other and came up with a story that would logically put them at odds with each other so that we hopefully avoid the age old chestnuts of, 'Heroes meet. Heroes mistake identity and fight."

DnA admitted that with four super teams in the mix, the writing process could be overwhelming at times. "It is a juggling act to remember who's doing what and where everyone is as well as trying to pair characters off against each other and make sure that no one is forgotten," Abnett said. "This has involved the use of a lot of post-it notes with characters names written on them being stuck to walls, doors and computer screen to make sure they are not lost in the confusion of the action. Readers can tell us after they finish the series whether we managed that or not, we are still pouring over the script and art to make sure we haven't dropped a ball!"

"Fusion" is just the latest in a line of Marvel/Top Cow crossovers, including "The Punisher/Witchblade" and "X-Men/Cyberforce." "All of which work on the idea that [Marvel and Top Cow] occupy a shared universe, at least for the duration of the crossover anyway," Lanning said. "With most of these inter-company events, a certain amount of license is taken as it's restricting to let continuity get in the way of a good yarn."

With its inclusion of Norman Osborn and his Thunderbolts, "Fusion" foreshadows the former's importance in the Dark Reign to come, but the series also sets the stage for upcoming major events in the Top Cow Universe. "From the outset we were tasked with the job of seeding some story elements that would play out in the upcoming 'Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer' miniseries that Mark Waid is writing," Abnett explained. "Our story includes elements that Mark is picking up in his excellent series, beyond that we don't know, he's not telling us, we had to eat the outline he sent us and swear an arcane oath involving our firstborn and souls. He's a funny one, that Mark Waid."

Writer Ron Marz introduced Lanning to Top Cow's VP of Editorial Rob Levin at New York Comic-Con 2008. "Ron had waxed lyrical on the joys of working for Top Cow and what nice people they were, and I got firsthand experience of this when I chatted with Rob," Lanning said. Levin was a fan of the Marvel cosmic books that Lanning and Abnett penned, and expressed an interest in working with the writing team in the future, but at the time the duo had just signed a two-year exclusivity contract with Marvel. "But we parted with the promise that if we were able to, we should try to work together at some point down the line."

Levin eventually managed to find a loophole: because "Fusion" involves Marvel characters, it fell within the remit of Abnett and Lanning's exclusive contract with Marvel. So when Levin approached the writing team in Fall of 2008 about pitching for "Fusion," Lanning and Abnett jumped at the chance. "We got to finally work with Top Cow and write the Avengers too, win, win!"

Top Cow recruited Tyler Kirkham to pencil "Fusion," and Abnett and Lanning couldn't have been happier with the choice. "[Kirkham's] incredibly talented, able to produce the knock-out splash image as well as excellent storytelling sequences," Abnett said. "Over the course of writing the series, we've eagerly awaited emails from Tyler with his rough layouts; where we get to see the whole comic roughed out and get to have our input at that stage as well as being blown away when the finished pencils start to arrive."

At the end of "Fusion" #1 (on stands now), the Avengers are poised for a heated confrontation with Cyberforce, a situation which DnA promise will come to a head in issue #2. "Meanwhile, in Thunderbolt Mountain, Osborn is keen to examine the alien hybrid but doesn't bank on one of team having plans of their own," Lanning teased.

"Fusion" #2 goes on sale June 24 from Top Cow and Marvel Comics.

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