Rule Britannia: Perkins talks "Union Jack"

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Last week, CBR News spoke with writer Christos Gage about the "Union Jack" mini-series, which premiers this fall from Marvel Comics. Today we chat with Gage's collaborator, Mike Perkins, the artist charged with depicting Union Jack's battle with an army of super villains, hell bent on unleashing an onslaught of terror on London.

His work on the adventures of another costumed patriotic hero and real world events inspired Perkins -- who had wanted to tackle Union Jack for some time -- to pitch the idea of a mini-series featuring Britain's premier costumed hero to editor Andy Schmidt. "When I was approached about the alternating arcs on 'Captain America,' I was thinking about other projects I could pack my schedule with whilst working on the pencils and inks of Ed Brubaker's stories," Perkins told CBR News. "I figured, why not keep it within the same 'universe' and approached Andy Schmidt about the possibility of taking on a new mini series featuring Union Jack. This was at Chicago last year, a month or so after the London bombings which were foremost in my mind. I wanted to look at the possibility of a British hero confronting terrorism on his home land. This was also a few weeks after Chris Gage had talked to Andy and Ed about the possibilities of writing a 'Union Jack' mini-series.

"The character appeals to me from a national identity point of view, I suppose," Perkins continued. "Being British, it's nice to have your own hero -- and especially nice to be illustrating the adventures of that hero. Captain Britain seems to have become more 'Super' whereas Union Jack is a normal enough, working class bloke, trying to do right."

Perkins first exposure to Union Jack wasn't the working class Joey Chapman incarnation, but the noble born, Brian Falsworth. "In England we had very sporadic distribution of the American comics -- you could never be sure that you would be able to get the same comic month after month in the newsagent's shops -- and even if, by some chance, we did, they would most likely be the non-major books," Perkins explained. "No 'X-Men,' 'Spider-Man,' 'Fantastic Four' or Captain America -- they were already well served in the British reprints, anyway.

But, what we did have an abundance of on the stands were comics like The 'Human Fly,' 'Rom,' 'Shogun Warriors' and, of course, 'The Invaders.' That's where I first came across the Second World War recipient of the title of Union Jack. Those adventures were fantastic and they took place, primarily, in Europe, so there was a connection there. I missed out on the initial (modern day Union Jack) Joey Chapman appearances in 'Captain America,' but renewed my interest in the character when the Ben Raab/ John Cassaday series hit the stands."

When "Union Jack" hits the stands this fall, fans of the artistic style Perkins employs on books like "Captain America" will be pleased to know he'll be using a similar style on "Union Jack." "I don't think there are that many differences apart from a conscious effort to bring forth the musculature of the character," Perkins stated. "I suppose that any differences that arise would come about from the team work between myself, Drew Hennessy (inker) and Laura Villari (colorist), both of whom I've successfully worked with in the past. I have to give them 'mad props' as they're firing on all cylinders."

Perkins also feels that Christos Gage has been firing on all cylinders with his scripts for the "Union Jack" mini-series. "I've done a lot of work where the characters are standing around and talking and I love doing that stuff -- it's a challenge and a joy," Perkins said. "Chris has put a lot of action into the issues and I enjoy tackling that just as much. It stretches me as an artist. I'm trying to capture the kinetic energy he puts into the scripting of those sequences."

The kinetically charged action sequences in "Union Jack" take place all over London and it was important for Perkins to accurately depict the bustling British metropolis. "I was actually over in England just before Christmas very briefly, but I made sure I made a detour through London to get some shots," Perkins explained. "By this time I knew the direction of the series and a few of the set pieces, so I was able to get some exact reference shots that you wouldn't find perusing the web sites. It's important to me that the comic has a very realistic setting. If you look at the success of, say, Hitch's work on 'Ultimates,' then you can readily understand the significance of that. Even though the characters you are dealing with are otherworldly, there feels like there's more resonance when we're placing them in realistic settings - especially in a story with such an espionage slant. Throughout the story we're dealing with terrorism in and around London, primarily. We have action scenes on Tower Bridge, outside the Houses of Parliament, in the Underground and at Heathrow. We also have a few shots of the SHIELD hover cars speeding above the cityscape."

In addition to bringing to life the cityscape of London, Perkins has also redesigned the looks of many Marvel characters for "Union Jack." "When I got the character outlines from Chris, there was already a desire on his part to change the costumes," Perkins said. "He figured that Sabra, basically being Israel's answer to Black Widow, should be comparative in the fashion department too, so that's the initial tack I took on the character. The Arabian Knight is now less cliché and more of a modern, hardened Arabian man of action. He's seen his fair share of conflict and his uniform mirrors this. I've also had the chance to modify the Countess Val's SHIELD costume a little and performed a total revamp on villains such as Machete and Zaran. It's been really exciting to design these new costumes and know that they may stick around for a while."

Perkins would love the chance to illustrate the adventures of "Union Jack" for a long while. "It'd be the best situation if I could continue working simultaneously on Captain America and a Union Jack mini-series," Perkins said.

The "Union Jack" mini-series doesn't hit till this fall, but fans of Perkins work can check out his website for news on a number of his upcoming projects. "I have an Captain America 'Civil War' arc coming up (issues 22-24), which I'm particularly excited about. Not only do we deal with Cap's actions during 'Civil War,' but Ed's also written a great noirish scene with Sharon Carter that I can really get my teeth into. I'm also working with my 'Ruse' co-hort, Butch Guice, inking his pencils on his 'Mandalay' work for Humanoids. This is a realistic/supernatural series that takes place in 1940's Burma, of which I believe the first volume is seeing publication in June, followed by the second volume in October."

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