Romance, friendship, and the chance to make the world a better place; these are things we all want to achieve, but it's not easy. These goals become especially hard when you live a double-life as one of the Marvel Universe's costumed champions.
This July, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Tonci Zonjic examine the tumultuous lives of four Marvel heroines who have banded together as friends to face the various challenges the Marvel U throws at them. CBR News spoke with Aguirre-Sacasa about the four-issue miniseries, "Marvel Divas."
Since its announcement in April, "Marvel Divas" has attracted quite a bit of attention and speculation; a lot of it centered around the J. Scott Campbell cover artwork, which features the series cast: The Black Cat, Hellcat, Firestar, and Photon. That cover and the accompanying text, which likened the project to "Sex in the City" in the Marvel Universe, had some fans crying foul and accusing Marvel and Aguirre-Sacasa of some sort of misogyny.
"In terms of those specific accusations, it's something I'm pretty sensitive to, and I think my record holds that I've never written a misogynistic story, including 'Divas,'" Aguirre-Sacasa told CBR News. "And that goes for my plays as well as my comics and even the stuff I've written for TV-the HBO show 'Big Love,' which is actually as much about three strong, smart women as it is about their single husband. [Writing a misogynistic story is] not something I'm interested in doing.
"As far as the cover goes, I like it. It's sexy, it's fun, it catches the eye, it gets people talking. And it's no more or less objectifying-in my opinion-than most comic book covers out there. But that's my opinion. To me, the book stands and falls on its content, which is either your cup of tea or not, but I promise you it's not misogynistic."
While "Marvel Divas" was pitched as "Sex in the City" in the Marvel Universe, it was never Aguirre-Sacasa's intentions for that to be a substantive description of the book. "More and more Marvel series and stories are pitched in Hollywood terms, referencing popular movies or TV shows," the writer explained. "Mark Millar's 'Old Man Logan' story in 'Wolverine,' for instance, might have been pitched as 'Wolverine' meets 'Mad Max.' (I have no idea, by the way, if that's how it was actually pitched.) But you try to come to come up with a shorthand, knowing that things will of course develop from the initial impulse. One of the reasons we referenced 'Sex and the City' was that that series mixed serious storylines with comedic ones and tonally that feels very right for 'Divas.' But believe me, it's not just going to be 'Oh my God! Here we are shopping for Manola Blahniks!'"
The roots for the "Marvel Divas" series actually begin with Aguirre-Sacasa's early work at Marvel, the series "4" and "Sensational Spider-Man," both of which he produced for editor Warren Simons. "Warren rightly identified that I seem to be drawn to and enjoy writing strong female characters," the writer said. "In '4,' I tried to write the most formidable Invisible Woman that I could. She was the heart, soul, and strength of the team when I wrote that series. And with 'Sensational Spider-Man,' I wanted Mary Jane to be as much an equal partner to Spidey as possible. I mean, there's scenes in which she takes on and beats Swarm and Man-Wolf-not to mention Aunt May outsmarts the Chameleon. I didn't write those stories with any agenda other than not wanting the women in Spider-Man's life to be pushovers, sitting at home, by the phone, wringing their hands, wondering if Peter would make it home safe and sound."
When they began to discuss the project that would become "Marvel Divas," Aguirre-Sacasa and Simons envisioned it as a solo book featuring the Invisible Woman, the writer's favorite Marvel character. Upon further brainstorming, the project became an "off-beat team book," featuring four characters readers wouldn't readily think of as being friends. "I definitely wanted to use Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat," Aguirre-Sacasa said. "She was a character I used quite a bit in 'Sensational Spider-Man,' including that one story where she had to go up against the Rhino on her own."
"As for Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat, when you look into her past, you see she's someone who has had some (to put it mildly) bad relationships (like when she dated, uhm, the Son of Satan)," Aguirre-Sacasa continued. "More than that, though, she had written a tell-all book called 'Gidget goes to Hell,' and I thought that would be a great thing to revisit; that she could be the chronicler of the trials and tribulations of a superhero's life, providing us a fun way to frame the series, which opens with the release party for Patsy's second book."
Aguirre-Sacasa wanted to use the character of Angelica Jones a.k.a. Firestar because he had a fondness for the character dating back to her appearances on the '80s Saturday morning cartoon series "Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends." "She's a character I've wanted to do something with for awhile. She has a rich history to explore and-since her status is semi-retired-it was easy to get to use her in this series.
"With Photon, Monica Rambeau, I wanted to pick up a thread that Reggie Hudlin had introduced in 'Black Panther,' that she was part of a team that went down to New Orleans to help with Post-Katrina reconstruction, which led to a run-in with vampires and an interaction with Brother Voodoo. I have a real fondness for Marvel's supernatural characters, so I started imagining, what if Monica and Voodoo had a fling in the Big Easy? And what if it wasn't 100% over?"
The cast in place, Aguirre-Sacasa's real work began. "There are so many traditional superhero team books that I thought it would be fun to have a super-team book in which we basically follow the character's personal lives; what they do together and separately, and it's more than them getting together for coffee," the writer stated. "We show their 'origin story' in issue #1, then we follow them as they work together and get involved with each other's lives and problems. You **do** see them in costume fighting together in the series, but more of what you'll see is the personal, slice-of-life moments."
Much of the action in "Marvel Divas" will be viewed through the perspective of Hellcat. "She's our filter through which the stories are seen; she's the character who ties everything together," Aguirre-Sacasa confirmed. "There are four storylines that crisscross through the series, but there's one sort of uber-story that gives us the shape of the series."
Hellcat's storyline in "Marvel Divas" finds her dealing with the fallout from the publication of her second tell-all book and the attempts of her ex-husband, Damien Hellstrom -- the Son of Satan, to reenter her life. Photon's story also involves an ex-flame with ties to the occult world and her helping Brother Voodoo retrieve a powerful artifact. The Black Cat's tale has her struggling with a number of difficult choices. "Felicia is really contemplating a return to a life of crime in this series," Aguirre-Sacasa stated. "And, like in 'Sensational Spider-Man,' I'm using the character of Thomas Fireheart, The Puma. In Felicia's story, she's trying to reopen her business, Cat's Eye Investigations, a difficult thing to do in the current financial climate. Thomas Fireheart is, of course, a billionaire industrialist who wants to help her, but she doesn't necessarily want her on-again, off-again boyfriend investing in her business. That puts them in conflict with each other."
As for Firestar's story, the writer said, "She's more or less retired as a superhero and is a graduate student studying art history, when we catch up with her, but she does get into costume. I don't think it's an understatement to say that Firestar's story puts her in the fight of her life. It has to do with elements from her past, stemming from the time she discovered that her powers were making her infertile."
Like her fellow cast members, Firestar's story may also involve an ex-boyfriend, and Aguirre-Sacasa hinted that Angelica's former fiance Vance Astrovik a.k.a. Justice might also make an appearance.
Indeed, ex-loves and relationships will be a strong undercurrent in "Marvel Divas." "This series is partly a conscious tip of the hat to the old Marvel romance books," Aguirre-Sacasa said. "There are stronger romantic/relationship elements in this series than there are in other mainstream Marvel books, I would say."
"Marvel Divas" is a mix of comedic and dramatic elements. "There is more humor and lightheartedness here than I usually include in my books, but the series does go to some pretty dark and serious places," the writer explained. "With a little bit of camp to spice things up, but not too much."
The first glimpse many fans saw of "Marvel Divas" was the controversial cover for issue #1, but Tonci Zonjic's interiors for the book are drawn in a very different style. "He has a very unique, appealing style that almost makes me think of certain kinds of New Yorker cartoons," Aguirre-Sacasa remarked. "Plus, he's just a kick-ass storyteller."
For about a year now, Aguirre-Sacasa has been hard at work penning Marvel's adaptation of Stephen King's "The Stand," a work he's very proud of, but he's very excited to be writing "Marvel Divas" and for the chance to return to the creative sandbox of the Marvel Universe. "I really appreciate people's passion for these characters and I'm not going in there to mess them up or break them or put them in a debasing situation," he said. "I'm trying to put them in different kinds of adventures in a different kind of book.
"I really encourage people to check out the book with an open mind. I didn't write this series with any specific audience in mind. I wasn't writing it to court female readers or to appeal to guys who are after the T&A stuff. I wrote it to tell a good story about four really strong characters who don't get as much of the spotlight in the Marvel Universe as they should."
"Marvel Divas" #1 is in Stores July 1 from Marvel Comics.