When the “Avengers Assemble” battle cry goes out, the citizens of the Marvel Universe can rest assured a team of seasoned and highly capable heroes are about to save the day — at least, those who live in New York can. The citizens of the Great Lakes region, however, have to make due with a band of endearing eccentrics and misfits that is the Great Lakes Avengers; a fan-favorite group of characters whose humorous exploits have been entertaining Marvel fans in guest appearances, limited series, and one-shots for years.
This October, though, the team finally steps into the spotlight with its first ongoing series by writer Zac Gorman (Oni Press’ “Rick and Morty”) and artist Will Robson. The series finds the team setting up shop in Detroit as they deal with their various eccentricities, the loss of Squirrel Girl who has moved on to more famous Avengers teams, and a new team member.
We spoke with Gorman and Robson about their take on the book’s cast, the team’s dysfunctional dynamic, and the appeal of setting a superhero comedy in the Marvel Universe version of the Motor City.
CBR: “Great Lakes Avengers” is known for its fun cast of super powered misfits and screw-ups, so let’s kick off by talking about team leader Mr. Immortal. What do you see as his essential qualities?
Zac Gorman: To me, Mr. Immortal has the most interesting powers of the group in that there’s something so inherently funny and tragic about a guy who can’t die, but kind of wants too. [Laughs] That’s kind of his whole thing.
Also there’s the fact that he has no other super powers. If he runs into a firefight, his only ability is that he’ll live to see tomorrow. He doesn’t have any fear about that, but he still experiences pain.
There’s been some good stuff written about his back story. I’m building off the fact in this series that he’s an alcoholic, which again kind of makes sense when you think about his powers and who he is as a person. I think he’s funniest when he’s sort of like Moe Szyslak. One of my favorite moments from any “Simpsons” ever is when Moe has his head in the oven and has a sign taped to his back that says “No funeral.”[Laughs]
Every time I think about that, I laugh, which is sort of that comedy-tragedy dichotomy. I think that’s how it should feel if you’re nailing Mr. Immortal’s character. He’s like Moe Szyslak putting his head in the oven.
Will Robson: For the visual of Mr. Immortal, Zac and I discussed his look and I’m really trying to get a Patrick Swayze-esque feel to him.
Big Bertha is a fun and interesting character, but her powers and the way they work are more than a little problematic.
Gorman: Yeah, Big Bertha is one of those characters who was kind of loaded down with some stuff from the ’90s that doesn’t work so well anymore. There was this bulimia trope that played into her super model career. I wanted to put a spin on that, so in this series she’s come to a place where she’s happy and confident with her size. She likes who she is, so she maintains her larger body size and has gotten into plus-sized modeling. That’s where her story picks up.
I think she’s great. In my mind, she’s probably the actual leader of the team in a lot of ways. She’s the most functional, but she does have her own problems. I don’t want to give anything away, but there is an incident that happened in the past between her and Mr. Immortal that is referenced quite a bit, but we won’t find out about it until a little later in the series. When the book opens, Mr. Immortal is not with the team. That’s part of the reason.
I think she’s the smartest and most capable member of the team in a lot of ways. She’s a business woman, and is the only member of the team who is actually kind of successful in their alter ego.
Robson: I loved the Dan Slott/Paul Pelletier “Great Lakes Avengers” book, and thank God Dan commented on the Big Bertha bulimia joke by saying, “If you want to complain, here is our address.” Because it is messed up.
The one thing that always bothered me about past depictions of Big Bertha is that when she got big, people would draw her grotesquely ugly. They would change her face and do things like remove her makeup. So one of the things I really tried with Big Bertha is to make her always look good. She’s fierce. She’s a model and she knows it, no matter what size.
Your other cast member with the ability to somewhat alter his shape and size is the elastic Flatman, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Mister Fantastic.
Gorman: In our run, Flatman is the interim leader while Mr. Immortal is off doing other things. Flatman’s life is a mess, and one of the interesting thing that I picked up on from some past GLA stories is this idea that he’s sort of dysfunctional and maybe even a compulsive liar. I really liked that and wanted to work that into his character.
There was a joke where he called himself a doctor, I believe, but no one really knows what he’s a doctor of. And you’re right, he’s sort of like this knockoff Mister Fantastic, and he wears that on his sleeve. We play his dysfunctions for laughs in our first couple of issues, but moving forward, I really wanted to delve into his backstory, because it really hasn’t been explored and there’s some interesting stuff to play with there.
Robson: He’s my favorite character on the team to draw since he’s so stretchy. I do a lot of stuff with expressions. My favorite thing is to be able to convey what a character is feeling without having to read the words. There are so many emotions I’m trying to get, and Flatman is literally flat. I thought he would have been difficult, but actually he’s a lot of fun. I exaggerate my expressions anyway, and with Flatman I can really stretch them out.
Plus, since he has no actual human anatomy he’s great to draw because he takes seconds compared to the rest of the team. [Laughs]
Rounding out your cast is the teleporting Doorman who has a pretty important metaphysical responsibility.
Gorman: In a previous “GLA” run, they gave him this interesting bit where he became an angel of death. He has this death sense and is tasked with carrying souls over to the other side. He’s become almost a cosmic being, and I think it’s funny to have an incredibly irresponsible cosmic being. That’s sort of what he’s become.
By being a member of the GLA, he’s sort of shirking his cosmic responsibilities. Our angle for him in this run is that he’s hiding out from these cosmic entities who want him to do his job. He doesn’t really care though. He’s just super irresponsible.
Robson: Doorman is great fun as well, because he’s all in black. So that saves on the anatomy, too. [Laughs] I love drawing characters with capes, because I’m a big Spawn fan, and I also like to draw him teleporting because then I get to do my Kirby krackle.
Will the GLA line up grow in this new series?
Gorman: We have one new member of the team. I don’t have plans for any more as of right now. She’s a character called Good Boy who transforms into something of a werewolf, but it’s more of a “fursona” than a full on Universal style monster. I think she’s great and super fun.
Squirrel Girl is no longer a GLA member, but it looks like her absence will be felt in the book. When I think of her, the first thing that comes to mind is her positivity. How has losing her affected the team?
Gorman: The way that it’s handled in the book is that she makes cameo appearances, but she’s not really a member of the team anymore because she’s sort of too famous for them.
They are a bit more of sad sacks than she is, and, like you said, she’s a very positive person. She almost doesn’t make much sense as a member of the Great Lakes Avengers anymore because of her success and positivity. The team is a little more depressing than that, but depressing in a funny way. [Laughs]
That makes me think the humor may be similar to “The Venture Brothers,” since that show often tackles failure and sad sack characters.
Gorman: Oh yeah! I’m actually a big “Venture Brothers” fan! I can totally see that.
I can also see perhaps a bit of “Deadpool” in that the comedy often comes along with pain and tragedy instead of just rapid fire jokes.
Gorman: Tonally, the previous “Great Lakes Avengers” handled humor in a way that was probably more reminiscent of “Deadpool.” There was a lot of Fourth Wall and self-referential stuff; an awareness of it being a comic book.
Our series changes that up a bit. There’s less breaking of the Fourth Wall, but it’s still very silly and kind of stupid.
The Great Lakes Avengers are based out Detroit, which is not quite as storied when it comes to comic book superheroes. What makes it the perfect city for your characters?
Gorman: I did some research for characters from or based in Detroit, and there wasn’t a whole lot there. I did bring back the one character I found; an older version of Firebrand.
Part of this was kind of a vanity thing for me, because I live in the area and I wanted the book to be set close to where I live, but I also think it makes sense to have heroes in place where they would be needed.
New York just seems so overwrought with heroes and villains that it’s almost like a cliché. [Laughs] I had no interest in doing a New York book. I wanted to do something in the Midwest. In fact the first project I pitched to Marvel was based out of Chicago because I also lived in Chicago for a few years and it seemed like a great city to set a series in. I like the idea of bringing superhero teams to places where you wouldn’t normally see them, and I think Detroit is the perfect environment for that.
It’s such an interesting time in the city. There’s so much development going on. I don’t want to say a renaissance is happening, because that word has haunted Detroit. [Laughs] But there is a little bit of that.
So will this Detroit be a supporting character in the book?
Gorman: That had been an initial plan of mine, but the book has shifted more into a heavier character focus as far as the team goes. Detroit will still play a role in the book, though.
Being based in a commuter city with booming development like Detroit begs the question of how are they getting around? Because, as Zac and I both know from living in the area, a car is kind of necessary to go places.
Gorman: Yeah, they have a Great Lakes Avengers mobile of sorts. [Laughs] It’s something I just kind of threw in and Will completely designed. I described it as being like a run-down ’80s RV. I think so far it’s only made one appearance in a scene, but it could return. I feel like that’s going to be their primary transportation.
Things are also happening very much right outside their front door. So we do have some ways of getting around them having to drive everywhere.
Finally, Will, what can you tell us about the overall look of the book?
Robson: I still don’t believe that I have my own series to do. I was a fill-in artist ,and this is my first ongoing thing. I’ve been drawing independent books for the last five years and have really struggled to break in. So the fact that this all happened is amazing.
I’m a very cartoony artist. I love people like John Romita Jr., J. Scott Campbell, Art Adams, Ryan Stegman and Greg Capullo. So if you’re looking for realism, I’m not your guy, but if you like light hearted, fun expressions, then you’re going to love “Great Lakes Avengers.”
Gorman: When I first pitched this series, it had some elements that were a little more serious and a little darker, but then when I saw Will’s work and realized I would be working with him, I shifted a bit, tonally, as far as the writing goes. I saw that the book lends itself to being kind of sillier and a bit more fun.
If that’s something you end up liking about the book, it really was the result of Will’s art influencing what I wanted to do with it. Because when I saw his art it was like, “This book should be sillier!” I think it worked really well that way.
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