Only the truly desperate seek out the services of the Marvel Universe's super powered soldiers of fortune, because it means rubbing shoulders with hyperactive, narcissistic, homicidal operatives like Deadpool, or if you're not careful, someone who's even more mercurial, violent and self-possessed -- Deadpool's former employee, Slapstick. A living cartoon character who recently broke away from Wade Wilson's Mercs for Money organization to go solo, but not before stealing his boss' online profile. Prospective clients, beware! You may think you're hiring Deadpool, but instead you'll get someone even more unpredictable.
This November, readers will see Slapstick's catfishing operation in action as writers Fred Van Lente and Reilly Brown, along with artist Diego Orlotegui, kick off a new “Slapstick” ongoing series; the opening arc of which will find the title character teaming with Spider-Man and becoming the Marvel Universe's first line of defense against an invasion of malevolent cartoon characters.
CBR spoke with Van Lente and Brown about the title, which will be released as a digital Infinite Comic before being available in print. We discussed Slapstick's approach to superheroics and mercenary work, his family and friends; and some of the invading toons he'll be forced to confront.
CBR News: Before he became a living cartoon character, Slapstick was Steve Harmon, a teenager from New Jersey. These days Steve is permanently trapped in his Slapstick form. That and his lack of certain parts of human anatomy has caused him some emotional problems. What's your sense of how being trapped as Slapstick has affected Steve? And was Steve exactly a normal teenager to begin with?
Reilly Brown: I don't know if I'd call him normal. [Laughs] He was a huge jerk to begin with.
Fred Van Lente: He was definitely hyperactive.
Brown: Yeah, that was the thesis of the very first issue of the “Slapstick” miniseries by James Fry and Len Kaminski.
Van Lente: I think that anybody would do the same thing that Slapstick is trying to do in our series. They would try to turn themselves human again. That's what Slapstick spends a lot of time trying to do in our book.
If I remember correctly, Slapstick's almost terrifying emotional outbursts go back to the first stories I read with the character, which were his appearances in “Avengers: The Initiative.”
Brown: Yeah, he definitely has mood swings, and they are frequently very bloody. He likes to take his aggression out on "evil doers."
Van Lente: Of course, one of the central gags of the character is that his body works on 'toon physics, unlike the rest of the Marvel Universe. In our world, when you get hit with a hammer that hard and that fast, you don't get a bump on your head and see little birds flying around you. You more often than not get a crushed skull. [Laughs]
Brown: [Laughs] So blood flows freely in this first issue of “Slapstick.”
A number of writers have told me that the key to writing another comedic Marvel character, Slapstick's former boss Deadpool, is to balance the humor with tragedy and pathos. Does that rule apply to “Slapstick” as well?
Brown: Slapstick cares a little bit less about morality than Deadpool does, if that's possible. So we're kind of starting from Deadpool, and then going even deeper into crazy town. Slapstick is also much more narcissistic. He's less worried about consequences.
Van Lente: He's an idiot, too.
Brown: [Laughs] Deadpool is also an idiot, but we're trying to out-Deadpool Deadpool.
Van Lente: My favorite thing about Slapstick is, like all great comedy characters, he commits to everything, no matter how idiotic it is -- or especially how idiotic it is.
Van Lente: He's all-in, all the time. Slapstick has sort of convinced himself that he's the Punisher. He's sees himself as this gritty, realistic, grounded superhero who everybody should be respecting and making huge, big budget movies where he's saving falling cities. In reality, though, he's a mildly scary clown person with no nose and no dingus, and no one takes him seriously.
Really, the book is about someone who takes himself way too seriously and is thrust into this situation where really he's the only person who can save the world once the real problem of the book is revealed, which is the fact that New Jersey is being invaded by all these crazy killer 'toons with similar powers to Slapstick.
When issue #1 begins, where do we find Slapstick?
Brown: He's in Plainfield. He's moved in with his parents and is trying to make ends meet by taking whatever random mercenary or henchman job he can get.
Van Lente: He's doing this by catfishing clients online into thinking he's Deadpool. He's gotten a hold of Deadpool's online profile from when he worked for him as a merc. People think they're hiring Deadpool, but actually they're getting Slapstick.
Brown: We're playing around with his go-to app on his phone. It's kind of like the Uber for mercenaries.
Van Lente: It's called Merk. There's an umlaut in there somewhere, but I believe it changes from time to time where it is.
Brown: Like Fred said, he's got Deadpool's account on the app. People think they're hiring Deadpool, but they're hiring Slapstick, who claims to still be working with Deadpool.
Van Lente: He's desperately trying to get enough money to move out of his parent's house.
So his parents will be supporting characters in the book?
Van Lente: Yes, our supporting cast includes Mike, Slapstick's buddy from his original series who is an aspiring comics penciler -- Reilly gave him a whole family.
Brown: Slapstick's family is his parents, his brother, his brother's wife, and his brother's two kids.
In addition to his family and friends, you'll also be bouncing Steve off the occasional guest star, including another wisecracking former teen hero, Spider-Man. What's it like writing the dynamic between Spidey and Slapstick?
Van Lente: It's fun to contrast Slapstick's -- and I can't emphasize this enough -- absolutely terrible approach to superheroics against someone like Spider-Man, who's a more experienced hero who, of course, Slapstick does not recognize, even though they've teamed up several times.
Brown: Slapstick is too involved with himself to remember other minor superheroes like Spider-Man. [Laughs] So he's kind of shocked when they first meet. Spider-Man is like, “Seriously? You don't know who I am? We've teamed up before! I've saved the world a bunch of times!”
And, of course, Spider-Man has issues with Slapstick's completely irresponsible approach to fighting crime, while Slapstick thinks Spider-Man's goody two-shoes approach is just ludicrous. It's definitely fun playing the two characters off of each other.
Do you have plans for any other established Marvel characters in your initial issues?
Van Lente: We have a classic Marvel villain appearing in the first issue.
Brown: The first story arc, though, is mainly full of new characters we'll be creating and introducing.
Van Lente: Starting with Bro-Man, Master of the Multiverse. He carries a sword called Graykin, and he raises it high and says, “By the power of Graykin! I have the power!” That's called subtle satire. Again, if you think “Deadpool” is too sophisticated, Slapstick is here to meet your needs.
We'll also have the Taurs... I don't want to say too much about them. I saw Reilly's pencils of them for the first time today, and they were more than I could have hoped for.
Essentially, the Marvel Universe is being invaded by very famous Saturday morning cartoons causing mayhem and destruction. Much to the shock of everyone, Slapstick is the only person that can save the Marvel Universe from a toonami, if you will, of violence and chaos.
Brown: [Laughs] Oh, man.
[Laughs] So this 'toon invasion storyline is your long term plan for “Slapstick?”
Brown: That's actually our first story arc, and then we'll see where the series goes from there.
Van Lente: Basically -- you know how Marvel Comics and comics in general have really expanded in popularity and become much more mainstream, so there's a much broader audience and they're much more respected? We're trying to singlehandedly undo all of that with “Slapstick.” Fingers crossed! I hope we're going to do it, and once again make comics an embarrassment to culture and humanity.
[Laughs] Each issue of “Slapstick” will be available first as an Infinite Comic, and then later in print. Reilly, you have a lot of experience with digital comics. What's it like telling a story with a character like Slapstick in this format?
Brown: It's fun, especially doing all these takes on cartoon and animation style gags where it definitely pays off to have the Infinite-style screen where I can change things within the same panel without turning the page. There's a lot of fun visual gags I can do with that.
“Slapstick is being drawn by an artist named Diego Orlotegui. I'm really only familiar with the “Year of Marvels” Infinite Comic he did featuring Iron Man and Nova, but what I loved about his work on that story was how expressive the characters were.
Brown: Yeah. One of the things that I was really looking for in an artist for this series was somebody who could do a lot of different drawing styles. Because, like we mentioned, there are going to be a lot of different characters based on different cartoons. Diego is nailing it every single time a new character shows up. When Bro-Man appears, you can totally tell he's a Hanna-Barbara style character. So Diego is really killing it there.
Marvel is putting out a lot of fun, goofy comics these days, like “Squirrel Girl” and “Gwenpool,” but I think “Slapstick” is going to find its own unique place. It's a comedic book, but it's also very grounded in the regular superheroes of the Marvel Universe than maybe some of those other books are, as hard as that is to believe. [Laughs]