Debuting "The Protectors," Chicago-Style

Debuting "The Protectors," Chicago-Style

Next week, if you're at the C2E2 convention at McCormick Place in Chicago, you'll be able to pick up a limited-edition version of "The Protectors" #1, the comic I'm doing with Chicago Bears defensive lineman Israel Idonije and artist Bart Sears. The issue will be available all weekend at the Athlitacomics booth, #607. I'll be there, Bart will be there, and "Izzy" will be there. We'd like to show you what we created.

We did a prequel #0 issue last year (we should still have a few of those left at the booth), but this is our chance to introduce the true start of a series we've been working on for well over a year. We'll be announcing an agreement with a publisher in the near future, and start releasing the series monthly later this year. I've written the first five scripts, and Bart has three issues completed and is drawing issue #4 right now. For now, though, C2E2 is the place to get this special, oversize issue, which is actually set in Chicago. The issue contains a full 28 pages of story, plus character bios, and a tease for something called... Magic Leap. If there are any copies left after the convention, they'll be available via the Athlitacomics website.

CBR TV: Ron Marz & the Chicago Bears' Israel Idonije on "The Protectors"

If you haven't encountered it yet, "The Protectors" is a concept that Izzy, a lifelong comics fan, developed while at Bears training camp a few years ago. It's a superhero story with a cosmic/science-fiction underpinning, and one foot firmly planted in the world of professional sports. A group of athletes discover they are blessed with a genetic gift that, once unlocked, gives them an array of powers.

Believe me, I've heard every "NFL SuperPro" gag you're pondering right now. Twice. And yes, combining sports and comics has often gone badly. But to my mind, it's almost always a case of execution rather than concept. Comics excel at showing perfectly-sculpted bodies in action; there shouldn't be such a huge gulf between successfully depicting superhero action and sports action.

Mutual friends put me together with Izzy, and I was impressed by the breadth and depth of the series bible he'd put together. I was even more impressed by his willingness to accept input and make changes as the series took shape. I'm paraphrasing, but Izzy essentially told me, "You're the veteran in this, I'm the rookie, so I'll follow your lead." That's a pretty rare gift.

I reached out to my friend Bart Sears, and one of the few artists I knew who absolutely could pull of realistic sports action as well as superhero action. The rest of the team is inker Mark Pennington, colorist Neeraj Menon, and letterer Troy Peteri.

I honestly don't think of "The Protectors" as a comic about sports any more than I think of "Superman" as a comic about journalism. What I do find myself thinking about the classic superhero team books I read as a kid, and trying to capture the sensibilities that made me crazy for comics.

The first books I seriously collected, in addition to Marvel's "Star Wars" series, were team books. I always felt like I was getting more superhero bang for my buck (though comics were less than a buck back then). My twin devotions were "Avengers," drawn by George Perez and later John Byrne, and "Uncanny X-Men" by Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin, followed by Dave Cockrum and then Paul Smith. Not long after, I discovered "New Teen Titans" by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, a book that seemed to me to be cut from the "X-Men" cloth. They were all instances of writer-artist teams clicking, and building something over an extended run.

I ponder and even re-read those books when I'm working on "The Protectors," trying to generate the particular feeling of wonder and engagement I got from them. I loved the over-the-top superheroic stuff, like the X-Men going up against the Shi'ar Imperial Guard, the Titans taking on Brother Blood or Deathstroke, the Avengers getting Ultroned.

But even more, I was drawn in by the stuff that happened out of costume: the friendships, the love triangles, and especially the sense of family that permeated those titles. The fight scenes had an eye-candy allure, but I was even more invested in the Scott-Jean-Logan triangle, Terra's betrayal of the Titans, and the relationship between the Scarlet Witch and the Vision (still my favorite Avenger).

Those books taught me that action is integral (as is great art), but it's not what keeps the audience coming back every month. Readers return each issue because they care about the characters; readers care enough that they have to know what happens to those characters.

I haven't written a lot of team books in my career. I won't mention "Secret Defenders" if you won't. I wrote "StormWatch" for Wildstorm for a little more than a year (I'm saving some stories about that experience for a future column). I wrote a "Cyber Force" limited series for Top Cow. And I've had flirtations with "Teen Titans," a book I've always wanted to write, but I was the bridesmaid instead of the bride three different times.

So after more than two decades of writing comics, aided and abetted by one of the Chicago Bears and an artist who is one of my best friends, "The Protectors" is where I truly get to scratch my team-book itch. I want to summon up the feeling I got from the team books I read at that magic age. We're not looking to do throwback stories. Rather, our goal is the balance of action and character, of story and art, that those books had. And our goal is to keep the series going for the long term, telling big stories and small stories, adding to the diverse cast.

My fondest wish is that someone finds "The Protectors" just like I found "Uncanny X-Men" and the others, and feels the same way about it.

The limited edition of "The Protectors" #1 will be on sale at the Athlitacomics booth, #607, at C2E2. I hope you'll come by and give it a look, we're pretty proud of it. Israel Idonije, Bart Sears and I will at the booth to sign copies, and we'll have plenty of stickers, bookmarks and trading cards to give away. We'll also be joined by a bunch of our comic friends at the booth through the weekend, including Andy Lanning, Anthony Williams, Todd Nauck, Phil Hester, Matthew Waite, David Rodriguez and a few other surprises.

As a warm-up to C2E2, I'll be signing along with Bart and Israel from 6-7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Chicago Comics, 3244 North Clark Street, Chicago. We'll have copies of "The Protectors" #1 for sale. Here we come, Chicago.

Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Witchblade" and the graphic novel series "Ravine" for Top Cow, "The Protectors" for Athlitacomics, his creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image, and Sunday-style strips "The Mucker" and "Korak" for Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.

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