A lone hero with a colorful name comes to town and bring the villains praying on its citizens to justice. Think that describes the plot of one of Marvel Comics’ modern day super hero titles? It could, but it could also describe the plot of a comic featuring their Western heroes. In fact, super heroes and the larger than life gunslingers of the Old West share many common traits including being forced to find justice within or even above the law, seemingly superhuman speed and accuracy, and a penchant for secret identities.
This June, writer Gerry Duggan and artist Nik Virella will further compare and contrast the legendary figures of the Old West with the larger than life heroes of Marvel Comics in “1872,” a new “Secret Wars” series that transports readers to a Battleworld domain where the Marvel Universe has been reimagined as a corrupt Wild West town named Timely.
CBR News spoke with Duggan about his love of the Western genre, the Western incarnations of established Marvel characters that populate Timely, and working with new artist Nik Virella who replaced Evan Shaner on the title.
CBR News: “1872” transports readers to an interesting domain of Battleworld that appears to reimagine the early Marvel Universe as an Old West town called Timely. Is that a fair description?
Gerry Duggan: Yeah, I think it is. Obviously we’re hoping to play with expectations in a fun and cool way, but yes, absolutely this is a patch of Battleworld that is currently in the year 1872. The Civil War is in the rear view and boom times have come to the Valley of Doom, and one of the jewels of this patch of the world is the town of Timely. Unfortunately, as is often the case when there are fortunes to be made, corruption has taken a strong root.
Are the established Marvel characters that work and reside in Timely just Western versions of Marvel heroes and villains, or might we see some of Marvel’s Old West characters in the series as well like the Two-Gun Kid?
Honestly, the real answer is that you’ll see both. You’ll see characters that you know and love in a new way, and you’ll see some of the classic Marvel Western characters. You might also see them in fun and different ways.
This story is an embarrassment of riches. I have so many ideas that I think Axel Alonso, and Panic [Mark Paniccia] and Jake Thomas, my editors, have done a real good job of sort of taming the wild bronco in my head.
We’ve only given people glimpses of what we’re doing and people seemed to go crazy. So wait until you see this! It’s going to be great. This is truly a boundless western. It’s really wonderful.
You’re collaborating with Nik Virella who’s been doing some stunning art work on the post-apocalyptic miniseries “Night of the Living Deadpool.” Westerns and post-apocalyptic stories often have similar elements so it seems like she’d be a really good fit for this series. What’s it like working with her? What does she bring to the book and the world you’re building?
Nik was on my my radar from that first “Night of the Living Deadpool.” I happened to be at Marvel when her pages started coming in. Jordan D. White, Axel Alonso and I were all in love at first sight. She’s so talented, she just turned in a sequence with a gag that is so much better for having had her illustrate it. She’s the complete package, with a mastery of light, dark, action and even some romance. She’s a total pro, and such a pleasure to work with. “1872” is her book; I’ll try to get out of her way.
Let’s talk a little more about the world you and Nik are building in “1872.” Is Timely more of a “Deadwood”-style boomtown or a sprawling metropolis?
It has elements of both. There are some less fortunate folks that are definitely on the other side of the tracks, so to speak. There is also a real built up part of town too because there is so much money going around from things like mining concerns. So you might see some elements of big inequality. The town has a strong willed sheriff who’s had enough of the B-S, though. He’s fed up and ready to tackle the corruption.
I’ve been surprised where this western has taken us, so I hope readers are too. The art that’s been coming in from Nik and our cover artists has been so stunning. I can’t wait for these comics to roll off a printer. I’m very happy with all the comments I’ve seen online of people saying, “I’ve been waiting for something like this” or, “I didn’t know I was waiting for this, but I was.”
It looks like our point of view character in “1872” is the sheriff you mentioned, Steve Rogers. What I’ve seen and read suggests that he’s playing a very Gary Cooper-like lawman in this series.
That’s right. What you see with Steve is what you get and I mean that in a good way. He is about law and order and he believes in that badge that he wears on his chest like the Earth 616 Steve Rogers would believe in the American Way and standing up for what you believe in even if that’s an unpopular decision — and in Timely, it’s an unpopular decision.
Is Steve the sole lawman of Timely or does he have any deputies?
This is one of those questions where I’m going to have to reply, “Stay tuned.”
Fair enough. Let’s talk about the crime Steve is trying to stop then. I know an Old West version of the Kingpin plays a role in “1872” because I’ve seen him in the preview art, but a classic element of westerns involves heroes seeking justice outside society’s civilized ways. Does this mean Steve might be experiencing some moral dilemmas about how to clean up his town?
I think it’s fair to say that before too long almost everyone in Timely is going to be faced with some moral quandaries, Steve especially. By the end of this first arc I hope we will have surprised some people, but also set up a complex world that does not have a lot of easy or clean fixes for some of the problems.
I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve been able to do a lot of fun things over the last couple of years, but at the moment this is the project where I’ll get up out of bed in the middle of the night to go write down an idea that becomes a fixation in the morning. I’m in this for the long haul.
We talked about crime and the law in Timely. Let’s chat about some other aspects of the town and its residents. Both Bruce Banner and Tony Stark are part of this story. So how big a role does science play in “1872?” And will it be the science of the time or some fantastic and possibly Steampunk technology?
Tony is a washed-up inventor here, so we’ll see evidence of former glory. When we first meet him in the story though life has taken some unfortunate turns and he might be one of those characters in need of some redemption.
It sounds like “1872” is really a love letter to westerns and the Marvel Universe. It also sounds like you’re a fan of the Western genre. Is that correct?
I grew up loving westerns just from watching them on television. Now I live in Los Angeles, not far from where they shot a lot of those films. I recently visited the Autry Museum of the West. It is truly a wonderful place for anyone that is a fan of the genre. It is worth the pilgrimage to Los Angeles.
Plus I recently saw “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” projected, and I went and saw “Unforgiven” at Quentin Tarantino’s movie theater. He’s often showing his own prints of some of these movies. It’s a difference experience in a dark theater. Then I leave and I get to stay immersed in the Old West, I’m so lucky to have “1872.”
What is it about the Western genre that originally appealed to you? And why do you think the genre still resonates with you?
I love the desperation in these stories. I love the ability to force these characters to make horrible decisions. It’s the beauty of the landscape, the darkness in the hearts of these characters — life is always fragile, especially in the old west. The characters in this western will create a Marvel Universe that I don’t think anyone has seen.
â€¨On a personal note, westerns are always fun too because they are a uniquely American platform for telling these stories. We can use stories to hold up a mirror to America some times and I think that’s pretty wonderful and horrible.
Finally, it sounds like Timely is a town rife with stories. If the opportunity presents itself, would you like to chronicle more chapters in the life of the town and its residents beyond “Secret Wars?”
I feel like right now I could do a run longer certainly than anything I’ve done so far in this world. That’s absolutely the truth. Right now it feels like I could live in Timely for the rest of my life. It might not always be pleasant. [Laughs] But it would be worthwhile. My gratitude is extended to any man or woman that asks their local funny book purveyor to reserve copies of “1872.” You’re a daisy if you do. I hope you’ll enjoy your stay in Timely.
Visit “1872” in comic shops beginning July 8, 2015.
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