The anthology has most definitely returned to mainstream comics in these late days of the 21st century's first decade. In the last few years, Image Comics has enjoyed enormous success with its acclaimed and influential "Flight" and "24Seven" series of anthologies; Dynamite Entertainment launched its "Savage Tales" book; DC Comics has their Batman, Superman, JLA and JSA "Classified" titles; Eric Powell's Goon received a very successful anthology treatment from the top talent of comics as well as comedy; and the seminal "Dark Horse Presents" has returned in the form of a free online comic on MySpace.
Never to be outdone, Marvel Comics has returned to the anthology landscape with a new series of "Marvel Comics Presents," featuring original stories by Marc Guggenheim & Dave Wilkins; Rich Koslowski & Andrea DeVito; Kathryn & Stuart Immonen; Stuart Moore & Clayton Henry; and Nelson Decastro, featuring many of fans' favorite Marvel characters and a few not-ready-for-primtetimers as well. In the first of a series of articles about the project, CBR News spoke with series editor John Barber and a few of his stable of creators about "Marvel Comics Presents" #1, which is on sale in September.
"'Marvel Comics Presents' is going to be the premiere place for new stories starring fan-favorite characters that haven't got their own series at the moment, and for off-beat, unusual stories about characters that do," John Barber told CBR News. "One of these stories is by creators you know - Stuart Immonen, Chris Gage, Ed McGuinness - and some are by rising stars. It's really a chance to see some characters and creators that you're not used to seeing, or seeing them in situations that you're not used to seeing them in. I mean, Spider-Man is still Spider-Man, but his 'MCP' story is not the same stories you're seeing in the monthly books."
The new "MCP" project has been brewing for years, and is something Barber has wanted to do for a long time. "An anthology like 'MCP' is a great place to tell unusual stories that we might not be able to elsewhere," Barber said. "It's great to fit in side-projects on top-level talent - every once in a while somebody like Ed McGuinness has a hole in his schedule and can fit an extra eight pages in, so it's great to take advantage of that. Plus, there are a lot of talented creators who haven't done work at Marvel, and it's nice to be able to try out working with them, you know? See how things work with them."
In addition to Barber, Marvel editors Nick Lowe and Warren Simons will edit some stories throughout "MCP's" first year. Former editor Andy Schmidt put together some of the creative teams, among which is writer Marc Guggenheim ("Blade," "Wolverine"). "Marc made a big splash really fast and proved he was the real deal right out of the gate, so he was a natural choice to do the lead 12-part story," explained Barber.
Written by Guggenheim and illustrated by Dave Wilkins ("What If? X-Men: Age of Apocalypse," El Zombo Fantasma"), "Vanguard" is a 12-part Manhattan murder mystery starring a character who sharp-eyed and long-time Marvel fans may remember, Stacy Dolan. What appears to be a straightforward investigation leads Dolan on a terrifying trail that goes back to World War II and collides with a top-secret team that's been operating under the radar in the Marvel Universe for some time.
"During the course of the investigation, we'll cross paths with many different people in the Marvel Universe, on our way to uncovering the existence of, well, that would be telling," teased Marc Guggenheim. "Suffice it to say, we get into some territory that has never been covered in the MU before. It's pretty exciting stuff."
"Dave Wilkins is a guy I've known for years-an amazingly talented artist and designer, so he was the first guy I thought of to draw it," added Barber. "He's not a big name yet, but he's got the talent and people will be amazed by his work on this."
Guggenheim agreed, remarking, "[Dave's] art is going to render everyone barefoot - i.e., knock their socks off."
"Weapon Omega" continues the story of Michael Pointer AKA the Guardian from Marvel's successful "Omega Flight" miniseries and comes courtesy of artist Andrea DeVito ("Annihilation," "World War Hulk: X-Men") and writer Rich Koslowski, best known for his award-winning "Three Fingers" graphic novel and the Eisner-nominated "The 3 Geeks."
"Rich is a really talented cartoonist whose work at Top Shelf caught Andy [Schmidt's] eye," said John Barber. "He and Andy were developing a story which, for various reasons, didn't work out, but he came on to 'Weapon Omega' instead.
"I asked Andrea DiVito to do the art because I knew he could handle the emotional/psychological side of the story, as well as the action - and coming off of 'World War Hulk: X-Men,' everybody knows he's on fire!"
"Michael Pointer epitomizes the term, 'reluctant hero,'" Rich Koslowski told CBR News. "I have never seen a character in comics who has suffered like Michael Pointer has - he makes Spider-Man's beginnings look like a singing of Kumbaya around the campfire! So, what am I going to do for this poor bastard? Make him even more miserable, of course! I'm satisfying my sadistic side, what can I say?
"Seriously, though, in addition to making him even more miserable, I'm working to better define him as a character and better define his misery. He was thrust into the Marvel Universe very quickly and we're (Me, Andrea Di Vito and John Barber) working very hard to give the character more! More background, more history, more room to breathe, more everything. The character has great potential and I hope that the readers enjoy the story."
Husband-and-wife team Stuart & Kathryn Immonen turn in a story about Patsy Walker's superhero alter ego, Hellcat, invading her personal life. "And it's not alone," teased Barber. The story is one of editor Nick Lowe's projects and was born out of Stuart Immonen's desire to create an offbeat story in contrast to his work on "Ultimate Spider-Man." "Kathryn is a really great writer," said Barber. "A lot of people only know Stuart from his high-profile superstar work, but he and Kathryn have been working together on comics for years," like their webcomic, "Moving Pictures."
Also contributing to "Marvel Comics Presents" #1 are Stuart Moore ("Lone," "Firestorm") and Clayton Henry ("Uncanny X-Men," "Exiles"), who've authored a stand-alone Spider-Man story in which Peter Parker makes his way into a decidedly unfriendly neighborhood. Said Barber, "Stuart Moore and Clayton Henry are both great creators, and this was a case where Andy liked both of their work, they both had the time, and they came together to do a one-off Spider-Man story that's just crazy - in a good way."
Finishing off issue #1 is Nelson ("Action Comics") with a slice-of-life story about Ben Grimm AKA the Thing. "Nelson's Thing story shows us what it's like to be Alicia Masters and to try to live a normal life when your boyfriend is a huge, orange, rocky dude," explained Barber. "Nelson's a great guy and a supremely talented individual. For the past few years, he's been mostly known as an inker, but he's actually a jack-of-all-trades. Andy put this one together with Nelson, but I remember Nelson writing, penciling and inking back at Dark Horse years ago, and the only surprising thing about this story is that he's even better now than he was then!"
"Marvel Comics Presents" #1's mix of big names, medium names and perhaps smaller names is part of the plan of this anthology series, and readers can expect more of the same in subsequent issues. "There are a lot of talented creators out there that not everybody's seen," said Barber, "and I really like being able to get hot up-and-coming writers like Josh Fialkov or Robert Venditti, or any number of other creators, to a wider audience."
"Marvel Comics Presents" also seeks to provide new readers with a gateway into the Marvel Universe. "We're not expecting anybody to have to have a PhD in Marvel Comics to follow a story," Barber said. "Marvel fans will get to see some characters that they might not get otherwise, and see disparate corners of the Marvel Universe. New readers will get good, exciting, and interesting stories in a variety of different styles."
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