Marvel's Next Big Thing: The Fearless

Marvel Comics latest major event series may not wrap until October's "Fear Itself" issue #7 ships, but readers are already well aware where the impact will be felt. Starting that same week, "Fear Itself" writer Matt Fraction will team with Christ Yost and Cullen Bunn as well as artists Mark Bagley and Paul Pelletier for "The Fearless" - a 12-part series that ships twice monthly and chronicles the fate of the Asgardian hammers that have given many Marvel heroes and villains a fearful facelift.

The new series served as the latest topic for Marvel's "Next Big Thing" conference call as the trio of writers was joined by SVP of Publishing Tom Brevoort and Editor Alejandro Arbona to field questions and show off some brand new art (below) from the first issue of the series.

Brevoort started the proceeding describing how and why this series came to be. "Initially, we had a number of elements established in 'Fear Itself' that were going to become the spine for this series 'The Fearless,'" he said. "What we ended up finding is that we had too much story." Fraction added the two major elements they had that they liked didn't work together "Like peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and sports cars."

In the end, the second half of the original "Fearless" pitch was spun off into the separate "Battle Scars" project which the three writers are also heading up with artist Scot Eaton. "It makes more sense for Chris to do most of the heavy lifting on 'Fear Itself: Battle Scars' and for Cullen to do more of the heavy lifting on 'Fear Itself: The Fearless," Brevoort said as Arbona compared the process to building story in a TV writer's room.

Bunn is writing each script for "The Fearless" based on the noted the team came up with together. "I write the scripts and then feel like I'm going to throw up until I get notes back from everybody," the writer joked as Yost explained that he's often there for moral support. The team enthused over the speed that Bagley brings to his pages and how that helped up the game of Pelletier. "Paul is moving at a really fast clip...but he's constantly operating under this weight of 'I have to do more!' which we really like, so nobody tell him [how good he's doing]," Brevoort said.

The story of the 12-part series focuses on the fate of the hammers brought to earth by the villain The Serpent. "These still have an incredible amount of destructive potential," Brevoort said, noting that many characters - each with their own purposes both nefarious and true - go out in search of the weapons. "In the course of this journey, this brings [the searchers] into contact and conflict with characters all over the Marvel Universe...the sense of this is that it spans the entirety of the Marvel Universe. You're going to see characters from every corner."

The Editor revealed that the two biggest leads would be Valkyrie and Sin (teamed again with Crossbones) while Arbona said Namor, the X-Men and the Thing would all appear along the line.

"It's kind of become an epic travelogue," Fraction said, noting that the series was an opportunity to elevate Sin and Valkyrie as two of the Marvel U's premier female characters.

Bagley will draw the majority of the Valkyrie pages while Pelletier will focus on the Sin and Crossbones sequences with the former bringing many heroic images to life while the latter gets a more dark tone. "The two story tracks reach this collision point where the two will be collaborating as artists," Bunn said. "Their two styles play very well with each other. It works very well."

When the floor opened up to press questions, the idea of who did what writing on what characters was broached. Brevoort explained that the whole team spitballed on what characters would move best out of the main event and into the hammer quest including the Thule Society set up in the initial "Fear Itself" prologue comic. At the same time, they developed a new character to be involved in "Battle Scars" whose life has been heavily impacted by the events of the story now unfolding. At a certain point, Bunn took the Valkyrie breakdown while Yost took what became "Battle Scars" as its own series. "That's when we realized we had more material than would fit in 12 books," Brevoort said. "Once we did that, it became a pretty natural thing...while everybody else had contributed to the [series] construction, it was easy for Chris to take on 'Battle Scars' and the same for Cullen...to do the heavy lifting on ['The Fearless.']"

Fraction said that once the books are in fans hands, it will be apparent how each writer was made for their respective spinoff, saying how "The Fearless" was "kissing cousins" with Bunn's Oni series "The Sixth Gun" while Yost jumped into a "bone-spliting" espionage comic in "Battle Scars."

Asked whether a big event book focusing on female characters was an intentional or discussed part of the process, the writers revealed that they looked at story before zeitgeist. "It was the most logical thing. It was only after it was pointed out that we realized. There was no mandate. It was all born of the story," Fraction said. Arbona added that the only character obviously there from the beginning was Sin, and then the team went about looking for another character to compliment the story, the final choice being Valkyrie.

Brevoort called it a happy accident, saying that the story just came along at a time when fans are very vocal about the need for more female representation in superhero comics. He also noted that if the books had not had to be split, the three characters on the "Fearless" teasers would have been Sin, Valkyrie and Marcus - the character who has gone to "Battle Scars" for what Yost joked was "all-masculine action."

The core of the two characters were discussed some as Brevoort said, "Valkyrie was always a character that we liked, and a lot of this actually springboards out of the 'Secret Avengers' issue Nick Spencer wrote during 'Fear Itself' delving into her background." He added that the character had the right resume as someone from an Asgardian background. "She's also a character as opposed to a Wolverine or a Spider-Man who's not integrally invested in so many other places that it's not harder to put her at the center of a book like this." Relationships for Valkyrie to have between other Marvel characters were found in the writing that will connect "odd and disparate elements of Marvel continuity past that will make a subset of the audience chuckle in wonder" as the character will be made more integral to some past event stories.

Bunn said a big group of long unseen characters will make their return in issue #5. Fraction soon jumped in joking, "That's right...ROM's coming back!" before adding "I just got myself fired from everything ever."

The twice-monthly format was decided upon because the creators and editors did not want to take a full year to tell this story and rather keep the pace moving. "There's an emphasis on velocity and impact rather than risk us outstaying our welcome," Fraction said.

Brevoort revealed that when the X-Men appear late in the series, Dani Moonstar and Wolverine will play significant role, and that the Avengers will be in it in a big way as will the FF and the Thunderbolts not to mention the Forgiven from "Hulk Vs. Dracula." "Pretty much almost everybody with the possible exception of the Blue Marvel, though we tried mightily" will appear, the editor laughed. Fraction added that he may have to put that particular fan favorite character on the Defenders to make fans happy.

Yost said he's struggled with talking about Marcus, the new character in "Battle Scars," pausing before saying that over the course of "Fear Itself" one of the man's relatives is killed that sets him off on a quest of his own. "In 'Battle Scars,' Marcus is going to be trying to figure out what exactly happened and why the people who were involved were involved...it's really taking a normal person and throwing him into the insanity of the Marvel Universe. And when I say 'normal person' I mean 'Army Ranger.'" Brevoort added that the story takes a person who would be a hero in the real world and pushes him into the Marvel U to "peel back the onion of what is actually going on, what all the stuff means...and getting to the heart of this big secret that's at the center of a lot of Marvel history. You'll see characters in a different light and it will set a lot of other pieces on the chessboard in place." Brevoort called "Battle Scars" the component that could most easily break out of the original "Fearless" pitch and be a story of its own.

"It has a different taste and scale," Fraction added. "It's almost the difference between a film and TV show. We'll get to the point where Valkyrie would have been to four different places, and Marcus is still in the early phases of his story." Yost compared the two to the difference between a Captain America story and a Thor one where the first is more real world based while the other can go off into cosmic territory. Arbona said that Marcus is a character people will easily fall in love with.

The panel compared the hammers in "The Fearless" to loose nukes where even Valkyrie's chasing after the objects that turned heroes into villains will lead to her allies standing against her.

Bunn ended the proceedings speaking to how he's bringing his own sensibilities to the massive story even while he works with everyone else on the team. "I'm writing this story as a story i would write, and it's been a natural fit for me. Going into this kind of thing, you always hold your breath in case it's going to be a nightmare...thus far, it hasn't been a nightmare." Fraction added, "Just wait...by the end I'm going to pull some real diva shit" before talking up "The Sixth Gun" as a series fans more familiar with the Marvel side of comics should look for.

"Fear Itself: The Fearless" starts in October the same day as "Fear Itself" #7 before going twice monthly from there on out from Marvel Comics.

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