C2E2: Fraction, McKelvie Get Strange in "Defenders"

Imagine a world just like our own -- but stranger. Day-to-day problems are still a reality, but so are aliens, super-science and magic. This is the world of the Marvel Universe, a place filled with mysteries. In the inaugural arc of "Defenders," series writer Matt Fraction brought together a new band of heroes and sent them on a mission, which led to them stumbling upon one of the oldest, strangest and biggest mysteries in the Marvel Universe: What are the Concordance Engines?

This past weekend, at its Next Big Thing panel during the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, Marvel announced that as of July, acclaimed artist Jamie McKelvie will begin bringing to life Matt Fractions scripts detailing the Defenders delving into the mystery behind the Concordance Engines. We spoke with Fraction and McKelvie about their plans for the book.

CBR News: Jamie's first issue of "Defenders" is #8, which doesn't hit until July. What can you tell us about the issues leading up to it, Matt?

Matt Fraction: Issues #4-6 are stand-alones. Issues #6 is an Iron Fist issue and it really kicks off the last half of our first year. It's called "Who's killing the Immortal Weapons of the World and What Do They Want With Danny Rand?" The answer to that spills torward everything else that comes afterwards.

Issue #7 finds the team going to Wakanda. They're digging into and chasing down the mystery of what the Concordance Engines are. So Jamie comes in right as the shit and the fan have merged. [Laughs] There's blood on the floor and panic in the air. Then the end of #8 is a big shocker that sends the book spinning off in another direction.

I see that Black Cat appears in issue #7. Is this just a guest-starring role for her, or will she be a regular character in "Defenders?"

Fraction: She's in issues #7 and #8. I can't reveal any more besides that. She does have a particularly cool McKelvie sequence in issue #8, though.

Jamie, let's talk about how you got involved with this book. What were some of the factors that lead to you taking over "Defenders?" What made it an appealing assignment for you?

Jamie McKelvie: I jumped at the chance to work with Fraction again. I had such a good time on our previous stories together, and I was a fan of the "Defenders" book already -- it's so unlike any other superhero book at the moment. Of course I wanted a crack at it! Though it's nerve-wracking to follow the Dodsons. They're one of my all time favorite art teams.

Matt, what do you feel the addition of Jamie to the "Defenders" creative team brings to the book?

Fraction: Nobody does work like him. You can't mistake Jaimie's work for anybody else's. You don't question the reality of his panels. You believe the figures are standing in those spaces. When you look at his "Secret Avengers" issue, you believe every line of that underground city. It all exists. It's all real, and that's what I'm looking forward to. "Defenders" is such a strange book that you need to believe that these characters are in these places and that these things are real, present, prescient and pressing

I'm such a fan of his and he's at that phase of his development where he gets better with everything does. So it's fun to write stuff and see how he'll handle it. He's got such a lively and fluid style and such a sense of composition and storytelling. I just love throwing stuff out there to see what he comes up with. We're still doing this Marvel Style, so it's incredibly collaborative.

Jamie, Have you ever worked Marvel Style before, or have you always drawn from full script?

McKelvie: My very first book -- "Long Hot Summer" for Image -- was sort of plot style, but not since then. It's fun. You have to take on more responsibility for planning the beats, the reveals, what's the most important element of the page and so on. It means you have to focus on storytelling. I think it's a good exercise for an artist.

While we're on the topic of drawing and design, what can you tell us about the visual identity you want to give the book?

McKelvie: I'm following on from the Dodsons -- straight from their last issue into mine -- so in a way that's already set for me, though I hope I can inject my own take on it.

What's it like working with Matt? As an artist, what do you find most interesting about his writing style?

McKelvie: Matt always has these big ideas that he gets you, as the artist, as excited for as he is. There's so much invention in his scripts that I can't wait to get drawing.

Matt, what can you tell us about the initial story Jamie is working on? We understand it will offer up some clues to some of the mysteries you introduced in the first arc of "Defenders."

Fraction: It's kind of a call back to Jack Kirby's time on "Black Panther" where he introduced these... um... magical brass frogs? One let you travel through time and the other let you travel through space. That may sound nuts, but it was beautifully nuts in a way that only Kirby could deliver. Dwayne McDuffie brought them back during his run on "Fantastic Four."

There are rumors that there's a third frog and the Guild of Antiquarians, again from Kirby's "Panther" run, have hired Felicia Hardy to steal it for them. They inform her that she has to go to the most dangerous place in the world and steal from the most dangerous man in the world. Then they offer her a very compelling form of payment. They say, "If this thing exists and you steal it and bring it back to us, we will let you have whatever you want. We will have the ability to literally give you whatever your heart desires. You get one wish." So how can she say no? Meanwhile, the Defenders are racing towards the same destination, albeit for wildly different reasons.

We've talked a little bit about the artistic and story end of things, so let's finish up by talking about the cast of characters. Jamie, what's your sense of the team as a whole? Which of their traits do you really want to capture and convey in your work?

McKelvie: They're a ragtag bunch. Despite all being incredibly powerful individuals, there's a sense that they're the underdogs, because what they're going up against is so insanely bigger and more powerful and wide-reaching than them.

I'm still getting a feel for them all -- it's early days -- but I enjoy figuring them all out. At the moment I'm enjoying drawing Iron Fist and She-Hulk most, but that may change. I think it's important to show their personalities through the artwork, though. It's a large part of the job. I read Matt and Ed Brubaker's "Immortal Iron Fist" as it was coming out, so I feel like I know him best of all the team.

I just hope people dig what me and Matt are doing! We're throwing some really crazy stuff into the book and I'm loving every minute of working on it.

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