“Fearless Defenders” ended with issue #12 this week, concluding the short run of one of Marvel‘s true cult favorites. While not a top seller, the series — featuring Valkyrie, Misty Knight, new character Annabelle Riggs and more — attracted a uniquely passionate fanbase, one largely outside of the usual Marvel Comics demographic. The book’s letter column chronicled fan enthusiasm, “Fearless Defenders” cosplay was a common sight at conventions and the series was heavily dissected on Tumblr.
CBR News spoke with “Fearless Defenders” writer Cullen Bunn — just announced to be writing a “Magneto” ongoing series for Marvel — about his thoughts on the end of the series, plus a bit about the near future of the Eisner-winning series “The Sixth Gun,” and the current digital comic he dubbed “the strangest announcement ever,” his adaptation of controversial 1992 video game “Night Trap.”
CBR News: Cullen, even though “Fearless Defenders” was around for less than a year, it definitely seemed like it connected with a lot of people — it must have been a special thing in your career to make such an impact in a short amount of time.
Cullen Bunn: Yeah! If only it had connected with a few more of those people. [Laughs] It was an interesting book. It’s no secret that sales on the book just weren’t very strong after the first issue or two. To some degree, that’s expected with almost any series, and I think Marvel took a chance on this kind of book — they knew there were a lot of things stacked against it, but they were willing to take a chance on it anyway. We weren’t sure if it was going to make six issues, even, when we started the book. First of all, it’s an all-female team; “Defenders” as a title has had its struggles in the past.
When I go to convention and I meet fans, there’s definitely a difference in terms of the reaction “Fearless Defenders” got. The fans who would come up and talk about the book, it wasn’t just that they enjoyed the book, these people really connected with it in a major way, to a point that other creators were noticing that it was an unusually strong reaction. People really, really liked those characters. I think I was in Rose City [Comic Con in Portland], and Bill Crabtree, who is the colorist on “Sixth Gun,” noticed it, and said it’s interesting to him, because obviously this book is giving these people something that they really wanted and needed from a comic. That part of it was very fulfilling for me. There were a lot of people who really loved that book. And still, I get emails every day, and messages from people who love the book, and are very disappointed that it will be going away.
That has to be an interesting dichotomy for you as a writer — the fact that so many people who read it really loved it, but it didn’t find a larger audience. Is that both gratifying and frustrating?
I’ve talked to Ellie Pyle, the editor, and I’ve talked to Will Sliney, the artist. Everyone involved in the book, we’ve talked about it. We all feel like if we could have gotten more people to check the book out, we could have turned them into fans. It is frustrating, but at the same time I can’t say that I’m overly shocked that the book didn’t make it. We gave it all, we loved the book ourselves and we’re sad to see it go, but we knew going into it that it was going to be an uphill battle.
On one hand, twelve issues is not necessarily a bad run in this day and age — you’ll get two collected editions out of it.
I try to think of things in terms of a longer game. I had a much bigger story arc planned for “Fearless Defenders.” I couldn’t help it. I go into it, and I want to plan out 36, 40, 50 issues, before the first issue’s even written. I’m trying to think of bigger story arcs. That’s just the way I’m wired, that’s just the way I think of stories, and I set things up that way. Even in this book, I was moving in that direction from very early on. We wanted to do something bigger, and tell a different kind of story than we were necessarily allowed to tell in the space we had. But a lot of books don’t get 12 issues, even, anymore.
I’m not 100 percent sure that if it wasn’t for the vocal fanbase that we had for “Fearless Defenders,” I don’t know that the book would have lasted past six issues. I think the powers that be at Marvel saw that, and were willing to give it a chance because there were so many people who liked that book so strongly.
You and Will really seemed to work well together as a team — it’s early still, but have you given any consideration to working together more in the future?
I would love to work with Will. We’ve talked about what we could maybe do to work on something together in the future. He was a great collaborator; we were in pretty constant contact throughout that process, which I like. It’s one of the things I like about working in comics, the collaboration.
It seems significant, especially when creators are often spread across different countries and continents — as in your case, with Will in Ireland. There are definitely different variations in how closely a team actually works together.
With the distance and everything, it could have been something where I never even talked to Will. I met him last year at New York Comic Con, when the book was just getting approved, and the entire creative team went out for dinner at the most recent New York Comic Con to say goodbye to that book.
With “Fearless Defenders” ending, you’ve got several new projects starting, including something that was announced at Halloween —
The strangest announcement ever? “Night Trap”?â€¨
Yeah, I don’t think anyone saw that coming.
I’ve got to be honest: I didn’t see that coming. Lion Forge is actually a company that’s here in St. Louis, in my hometown. I’ve talked to them for years, even when they were first starting to plan on making their push. I was under my exclusive with Marvel at the time, so I couldn’t do anything with them, but I liked hearing their ideas, and they really had big plans.
I never anticipated that they would call me and say, “Have you ever heard of the video game ‘Night Trap?'” — which I remembered vaguely, because there was some controversy over it way back when. But then I went back and looked it up: “Oh yeah, I remember this game.” I don’t know if it was a game I played, but I think it was a game that I’d go to friends’ houses, and they’d have it. “Hey, check out this game, it’s so crazy and controversial. You’ve never seen a game like this before!” But I remembered the game from that aspect of it, and they told me they had this plan to reinvigorate the franchise, and they asked what I would do with it. I came back to them with some things — I expected them to poo-poo some of it and say that’s not what they had in mind, but they actually liked the idea I gave them, and we went from there.
It has elements of the video game in it, but it was something I felt I couldn’t do a full adaptation of, because it’s a concept that only worked as a video game.
If it did work as a video game.
If it worked as a video game! Exactly. [Laughs] If you remember the video game took some big steps in logic — this special investigative team sent a member in undercover with a group of girls on a slumber party. They knew these girls were going to get killed, and they had rigged the house somehow with traps to capture the monsters that were coming after them. I had to take a lot of that stuff out. It just didn’t work in a comic book.
“Night of the Living Deadpool” is very much an homage to zombie movies, “Night Trap” is very much an homage to slasher films. When the video game came out, those movies were very popular. It’s the same sort of cast [as the game] in a lot of ways, and there are some other characters who show up from the game, but beyond that it changed quite a bit. I have no trap doors that you can capture monsters in.
When the announcement was made, I had to read it a few times, because I was thinking, “This can’t be based on that video game, it has to just have the same name.”
It’s funny, because I got a lot of people on Facebook and Twitter, who read â€¨”Cullen Bunn’s doing a book called ‘Night Trap,'” and they came back saying, “You should know that there’s a video game called ‘Night Trap.'” The challenge of it was to take the basic tenets of the video game and turn them into a workable story. It’s very much now a slasher story — the video game was a vampire story that was sort of masquerading under” girls go to a sleepover.” This takes the “girls go to a sleepover” story and goes off on its own serial killer/slasher story.
I kind of think every writer has a slasher story in them whether they’ll admit it or not. I don’t think a lot of them would admit it, or that they were influenced by those kinds of stories. But I’ve always been a pretty simple man in terms of my tastes and the things that I liked, and I’m not really too ashamed to admit those things. [Laughs]
On the day they announced it, they released this video trailer that I had not seen before, and it’s really strange. The people that put it together, they made it seem like an ’80s horror movie. I was like, “Wow, this actually looks like a horror movie that I would have rented” — not watched in the theater, because it probably went direct to VHS.
It’s a weird one, I’ll admit it. It was a lot of fun to work on, just because it was such a different kind of story for me.
Over at your work with Oni Press, “The Sixth Gun” is starting to ramp towards the end — how close are you to the finish line at this point?
The book ends with issue #50, so I have maybe a dozen or so issues left to write. I say “or so,” because I think the last couple of issues will probably have a lot of extra pages.
I’m working on the arc right now that I feel, when people read it, they’ll be no questions that this series is moving towards its endgame. It’s actually kind of a tough place to be as a writer. I’m writing what I know leads to the end, and there are a lot of things that I’m having to do, and there are characters I’m having to treat poorly, and it’s surprising that it’s this tough and this emotional, even at this point. I don’t know how I’m going to react when I’m actually writing that final issue. It’s going to be an interesting time. I’ve wrapped up books before — “Fearless Defenders” and “Venom” were both very bittersweet writing the last issues. But this one is going to be like a punch in the gut.
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