When you're used to driving a slick-moving car, it's easy to forget the guy who invented the thing in the first place. In the case of "Invincible," the highly successful superhero series from Image Comics, Cory Walker is one of those inventors.
After co-creating "Invincible" with Robert Kirkman and illustrating the first seven issues of the series, Walker left and handed over the car keys to current artist Ryan Ottley. While there's no denying Ottley's incredible talent whose work shepherded the title to huge success, Walker himself deserves much more than a pat on the back for his contributions. The co-creator established the sharp and visceral page-leaping style that "Invincible" has become known for, and to this day continues to contribute character designs and sound advice to Kirkman.
More than fifty issues after he left, Walker is returning to the driver's seat of "Invincible" with a special two-issue arc due out this September. The self-contained story focuses on the outer space exploits of Allen the Alien and Nolan the Viltrumite - better known as Invincible's father. The two will continue their odyssey to bring down the nefarious Viltrumite Empire, and Walker will pencil every step of that pulse-pounding adventure.
CBR News sat down and spoke with "Invincible" creators Cory Walker and Robert Kirkman to talk about the artist's long-awaited return to the book, why he left and what the duo have planned for down the line.
CBR: Cory, can you talk a little bit about how you got involved in "Invincible" in the first place and the reasons behind leaving the book?
Cory Walker: It all started when Robert and I were working together on "SuperPatriot." We found out about Image's new superhero line, and Robert and I got together to come up with something to pitch for that. That's pretty much how it happened.
Robert RK: Yeah, Jim Valentino was trying to put together a line of classic-y kinds of superheroes - not grim and gritty gun-toting psychopaths, that was his only stipulation. He basically noticed that Image wasn't publishing very many superhero titles at the time. So I heard he was putting together the thing, and Cory and I talked about trying to get in on that action. We had only done "SuperPatriot" at that point. I'd done "Battle Pope" myself, but at Image we'd only done "SuperPatriot."
CW: [As for why I left,] I'm not well spoken here, but I'll do my best. I just wasn't meeting the deadlines. The book was gonna be late and I was gonna kill it. So rather than do that, I stepped aside so someone more capable could take over.
CBR: How involved in the behind-the-scenes work have you been since then?
CW: I'll help with character designs from time-to-time. Robert talks to me a lot about what he's doing in the book. Sometimes I think I still rein him in from doing stuff that's a little too wacky.
RK: [Laughs] What's an example of that? I don't remember any of that! What in the book have you talked me out of?
CW: Ah... just a few things, Robert.
RK: I think there was a time where I actually wanted to do a scene where Invincible was continually growing a mustache and he had to shave it off all the time. I've had wacky ideas like that. Because Viltrumites all have mustaches and Invincible doesn't. We never really explained why, so I thought it'd be funny to have a bit where he's constantly shaving. I tend to lean towards goof sometimes, and I try to break myself from that.
CW: It's pretty much up to everyone who works with Robert to keep him away from that stuff.
Well, you're back in action now. Was this something you'd always planned on or hoped for, to come back to the book and draw the interiors?
CW: I don't know. It's Ryan [Ottley's] show. It's nice, but it's not like it was ever a goal, I don't think. It's always sad for me to think about how I've left the book, but it's not my baby anymore, even though I still am involved. No, it's just something that came up.
Was it something that came up after you guys started collaborating on Marvel MAX's "Destroyer?"
RK: We had actually talked about this before we were doing "Destroyer." This has been in the works for a good long time. I knew this story was coming up. I try to plan ahead in advance as far as possible and we had actually discussed this... there was time earlier, maybe when I was in the #30s, or early #40s in "Invincible" where I wasn't really sure what exactly I was going to do for #50. I hadn't decided on doing the whole Cecil [Steadman] confrontation for it. I think it was going to be more Viltrumite-heavy stuff and deal with that aspect more. Because I wanted to do something special in the big anniversary issue and at that time, I didn't know - this story with Allen and Nolan that we're doing is going to be leading into the big climactic Viltrumite confrontation - I didn't know if that was going to be in #50 or not, so there was a time when Cory was going to be doing these two issues much sooner.
Then we ended up doing "Ant-Man," and I ended up changing my plans for "Invincible," so this has been in the works for a good long time. Now it's finally time for us to do it.
So the Viltrumite War that you're building up to - you said you were planning on possibly doing that at issue #50. Are you surprised that it's happening so much later, or are you surprised that it's not happening even further down the line?
RK: I kind of get carried away with the book. I've always had far-reaching plans and benchmarks to get to it and different stuff going on. It's almost embarrassing to admit, but I had so much different stuff happening in the book that I almost lost track of the Viltrumite subplot to a certain extent. I think I was writing #40 or #41, and I was like, "Oh yeah, I'm doing that thing in #50..." I started looking at my plots and I didn't have enough room to set up the story I had in mind. Instead of rush it, I had other plans for Cecil and the Reanimen and stuff like that. The storylines actually fit to do that first. I even brought in Anyssa, who is an important Viltrumite character that appears in #44, so there's different things I had to do before I could get to the story, and there was no way I could do it before #50.
I'm not surprised I pushed it back or kept it back for so far. There's a lot of different things that are going to happen before we get to issue #75. I don't know if ["Viltrumite War"] is going to start a couple issues before #75, but it'll be around that area. There's a lot of big, monumental things that are going to happen in Invincible's life and in the book leading up to that, so it's exciting times for "Invincible" readers starting now with the "Conquest" storyline.
Cory, what makes this arc the one to come back with? What makes going back to Nolan and Allen a particularly appealing story for you to draw?
CW: It just works well. It's pretty much a contained, two-part story. I don't even think I'm - Robert, am I even going to be drawing characters on earth?
RK: No. He's coming back to "Invincible" and he's not drawing Invincible. Mwa ha ha!
CW: So no one's missing out on any of Ryan Ottley's Invincible art. The Invincible stuff is uninterrupted. [This arc] is just an aside.
Robert, is Ryan looking forward to taking a break from the book for a couple issues? Or is he going to be hard at work on the next stuff at the same time as Cory's arc?
RK: He won't be taking a break in any way, shape or form. [He and I] will be jumping directly from #65 to #68. We have the whole "On Time In '09" thing going on. We're a little bit ahead of schedule but it'd be nice to have a little bit of breathing room just in case, so we're not gonna be hanging around by a pool for a month. It's nice to have buffer room in case you're cut off or something. It's not in order to give Ryan a vacation or anything - we're gonna keep going, full steam ahead.
And he's drawing "Haunt" right now, too, so he's kind of pulling double duty. If we end up losing a couple days here or there, this will help us gain that ground. But Ryan's a workhorse; I think he would die if he stopped working. I wouldn't want that to happen.
What can you tell us about the plotline of this two-part arc? What's going on with Allen, what's going on with Nolan?
RK: It picks up on from issue #55 of "Invincible," which was kind of the same thing, where Invincible wasn't in the issue and the whole issue focused on Allen and Nolan escaping from the Viltrumite prison that they were being held in. Also, there's that startling revelation that there are very few Viltrumites still living in the universe because of some unknown thing that has started weeding them out. We'll probably delve into that in these two issues.
It picks up right after issue #55, it starts out with them floating in space. The Viltrumite prison has been destroyed. We're gonna find out what happened to the Viltrumites, why there are so few of them. We'll see Nolan and Allen working together to try and gather up different people and things that can hurt Viltrumites in the universe that are known. Because Nolan's job for a long time was to neutralize anything that could hurt a Viltrumite, so he has knowledge of everything in the universe that can be used against them. Now that he has turned against the Viltrumite Empire, he and Allen are going to be gathering those things up and gathering for war. That's what these two issues are about.
Cory, you're spending all your time in space - are you a little bummed out that you're not going to get to draw Invincible or any of those characters on Earth?
CW: Not really. I mean, nah, not really. I enjoy drawing Nolan and Allen for sure.
With you guys having collaborated now on "Destroyer" and "Invincible" in the past, do you have any plans to do anything in the future? Anything all-original, or another "Invincible" arc down the line?
RK: Well, Cory's gonna draw something after these issues, so I definitely don't plan on ever letting the guy go. There are definitely plans in the works. If you search through Cory's blog, you might find some hidden evidence of what that next project's gonna be.
Cory and I have been working together since - lord, Cory, 2001? 2002? Something like that. Off and on. He's done some "Shadow Pact" stuff and some "Punisher" issues with Matt Fraction.
CW: "I Heart Marvel: Spider-Man, Web of Romance!"
RK: Aw yeah! We've been working together consistently for a good long time and we haven't killed each other yet, so it seems to be working out okay. I think Cory hides his loathing for me pretty well.
Cory, what's the difference in drawing for Robert as opposed to other writers?
CW: Mainly, it's that I've worked with Robert so much that there's a comfort level there, you know? We understand each other and work well together.
RK: Like when I type in the script, "He's kicking someone with bath feet," Cory knows that I mean "both feet." I think that's a good thing.
Cory speaks Kirkmanese.
CW: I think that's it. I guess we just work well together.
RK: Cory is one of a few artists that I've worked with that I've actually been able to picture how a panel is going to turn out just from writing it. I know how he's going to interpret things, what he's going to do. There's a huge comfort level on my part. Ryan's great, Jason [Howard's] great, Charlie [Adlard's] great - I've worked with a lot of artists in my career that I get pages back where I'm like, "Oh..." Sometimes it's cool, sometimes it's not cool, but people interpret things in different ways. It's like, "Ah... that's totally not what I meant." That can be kind of frustrating, and I've never had that with Cory. He's a good guy.
We're building up to the "Viltrumite War," which is something that fans have been waiting for a long, long time and are really excited about. Do you see a time in the book where the Viltrumites won't be a presence anymore, or do you think that they're just as important to Invincible like Krypton is to Superman?
RK: They'll always be kicking around. There's not really a Kryptonian threat in Superman. So to a certain extent there might not always be a Viltrumite threat, but there will always be Viltrumites in the book. They'll always have some kind of presence. As far as the Viltrumite Empire? I don't know. Maybe not. We'll see.
CW: Guess we know how that "Viltrumite War" turns out! [Laughs]
RK: Heyo! [Laughs]
Cory Walker reunites with Robert Kirkman for "Invincible" #66, on sale this September from Image Comics.