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Walker Wishes Readers a Sweet Christmas With Power Man & Iron Fist

by  in Comic News Comment
Walker Wishes Readers a Sweet Christmas With Power Man & Iron Fist

With Christmas just around the corner, we wondered what the holiday is like for Marvel Comics’ Luke Cage. After all, the husband, father and Avenger is not only known to engage in street-level superheroics with his best friend, Iron Fist, he’s single-handedly responsible for the phrase “Sweet Christmas!” entering the pop culture lexicon. This December, readers will wonder no more as Luke, Danny Rand and a number of surprise Marvel guest stars fight to save the holidays in a special tale by writer David Walker and artist Scott Hepburn.

RELATED: Walker Sets Harlem Ablaze With Power Man, Iron Fist & Alex Wilder

And so, CBR spoke with writer Walker about the upcoming “Power Man & Iron Fist Sweet Christmas Annual.” Walker unwrapped the details on the inspiration for the one-shot story, and what he finds in his favorite holiday tales. Our chat also tackled the spirit of the holidays, which are all about coming together with family and friends by discussing Walker’s collaborations with artists like Sanford Greene and his friendships with fellow comic creators that inspire him.

CBR: What can you tell us about this holiday-themed story? And what’s your sort of philosophy and approach to a Marvel Comics’ annual?

David Walker: I can tell you that it’s a holiday themed issue that leans heavily towards Christmas because that’s what everybody thinks of when they think of winter holidays even though I tried to not make it as Christmas specific as humanly possible. I failed at that, but there’s no shame in admitting that two of my favorite movies of all time are “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”

power man and iron fist annual

Luke and Danny tackle Krampus in their Christmas special — art by Scott Hepburn and Matt Milla

I’ve read a ton of holiday-themed superhero comics, but none of them have left me with the feeling that I have when I watch either the original “Miracle on 34th Street” or Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” So my whole goal was to not just to have a comic that was set during the holidays, or to have something that’s overly gimmicky and holiday themed, but to actually do a holiday comic that was like the Marvel equivalent to a Rankin-Bass holiday special — “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” or “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” I wanted to do Power Man and Iron Fist save the world and the holidays. It was a really fun story to write. It allowed us to get a lot more outrageous, not that we haven’t gotten outrageous already.

Who are some of the supporting characters that Luke and Danny will interact with in the Annual?

Two of my favorite comics growing up were “Marvel Two-In-One” and “Marvel Team-Up.” I always loved those books. They always made me feel like I got more bang for my buck, because I got more characters. I sent a note of to my editors and said, “I need a character who can fulfill this role in the story.” They came back and said, “Here’s somebody you can use.” I was like, “Great!” Then I said, “I need another character who can do this.” They were like, “We’re not sure who could do that.” I replied, “This is who I want.” They were like, “We don’t think that would be a good fit.” I wrote the script anyway. [Laughs] I can’t reveal who that particular character was, but in a lot of ways, it’s this ultimate team-up sort of situation. It’s really fun.

A lot of this story is about what it means to be a parent during the holidays and be inundated by that sort of lack of holiday spirit, which is what I have. I’m one of those people who are really grumpy during the holidays and pretty much a “Bah, humbug!” type of guy. Then something will remind me, “This isn’t what it’s about.” What this story is about is the people you love and care about. It’s about being there for them, but there’s also a lot of kick-ass action in it.

My two favorite holiday movies after “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” are the first “Die Hard” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” [Laughs] So I would say that somewhere in the middle of that square of those four movies is the “Sweet Christmas Holiday Special.” I think people will love it.

I understand artist Scott Hepburn will be bringing this tale of yuletide cheer and explosive action to life.

Yes, he just came off a run on “Drax.” I loved his work on that book, and he was originally supposed to draw the Nick Fury one-shot that I did like a year a half ago. I’m really excited.

I think it’s going to be fun because it’s a story that’s both grounded in some sense of reality, but also in the super outrageousness that Drax got into. I really loved that book and I really love his style.

I was a fan of Sanford Greene before we started working together. I like Scott Hepburn’s work. Khary Randolph, who’s working on Mosaic for Marvel is one of my favorite artists. I love Humberto Ramos. I love Damion Scott. So I think you can see a theme of where I’m going; there’s this really heavy cartoony look, and I don’t know why people call it cartoony because everything is cartoony.

power man and iron fist annual

If you know your comics, that style is really influenced by Michael Golden and then Art Adams. Those are probably the two biggest influences. It goes Michael Golden, Art Adams, and then Joe Madureira. I love that whole style so much, and anything that gives me a variation of it makes me happy. Because if I could draw that’s how I would draw.

That’s not to take away from artists like Alex Maleev, Mike Deodato, David Marquez, or Sarah Pichelli who are a little less exaggerated in their work. I love all of them too. I think there’s room to love and appreciate so many different art styles, and I always get kind of sad when people are like, “I don’t like this style,” because it’s too this or too that. I’d understand if the work was just completely off and someone’s hand looked like a VW Bug or something, but I think a variety of styles makes comics great. I really, really do.

Let’s talk a little bit about your artistic collaborator on the “Power Man & Iron Fist” monthly series, Sanford Greene. How does it feel to have him back for “Harlem Burns?” Can you talk about which of his many artistic strengths will be on display in it?

What can I say about having Sanford back? First of all, I want to say I loved working with Flaviano Armentaro on issues #5-9. He was great, and “Civil War II” kind of threw a weird wrench into what Sanford and I had talked about doing and what we were planning on doing.

Sanford was originally just supposed to take two issues off, which is what he did. He took off issues #5-6, but #6 is where “Civil War II” kicked in. I had made it known that I didn’t want to do all of “Civil War II” without Sanford. I just didn’t want to do it. I feel like we work really well together. I love his work, and I love him as a person. Within “Civil War II” there’s essentially two storylines going on. We came up with an idea that Flaviano could draw one and Sanford could draw the other. Then in issue #9 when everything came together we could cross that bridge when we came to it.

The whole time, though, I kept thinking, “I want to see Sanford go to a new level in terms of what he’s capable of doing. It was really difficult because I wrote the script to issue #10 and turned it in, and Sanford’s first response was, “Hey, great script! What are you trying to do? Kill me?” We had this conversation and I said, “I would never ask you to draw anything that you can’t draw, but I want to push you to do things that you haven’t drawn.”

I think “Power Man & Iron Fist” is an opportunity for both of us to showcase ourselves at our best both as individuals and as a creative team. I apologized in advance. I said, “I’m going to be really demanding.” I may have apologized to his wife as well. [Laughs] I can’t remember. I may have said, “I’m going to put him through the paces with this story arc.” And to be 100 percent honest with you, issue #10 is the best looking of this series that he’s done, and I think it may be the best looking comic he’s ever done, period. It was absolutely beautiful. Then he showed the layouts for #11 and I was like, “Wow! Okay! So you’re going there!”

As a writer the best you can hope for is two things. One is an editor who gets you, but also challenges you to do more, and the editorial team on “Power Man & Iron Fist” are doing that. They’re really challenging me. They call me out when I do stuff that is good, but they think I can do better. I ask, “How could it be better?” And they respond, “You tell us. You know that this can be better.” It’s like when your parents go, “You got a B+, but you know you can get an A, right?”

The other great thing that can happen to a writer is you can team up with an artist who not only do you get what they’re doing, but as you’re writing you can actually visualize how they potentially might draw an action sequence or even the expression on a character’s face. It makes the writing that much easier. Then when you write it and see the art you realize, “Okay, they surpassed what I asked of them for that.” That’s what it’s like working with Sanford.

power man and iron fist annual

Issue #11 is looking as good if not better than issue #10. I think we’re seeing a real level of maturity in our collaboration. Even though we’re not yet a year into this thing we’re hitting our stride. If the first four issues were good then these next several issues are going to be very good. Then if everything works out according to plan at some point we’re going to hit a level where we reach excellence. That’s something that we’re all striving for as creators, but we don’t always get there.

You only get there for a whole host of reasons and a lot of it has nothing to do with what you’re trying for. There’s only 20 pages in a comic, you know? Will Eisner talked about it. Scott McCloud talked about it. I teach comics and I talk about it. You are limited on what you can say and do by time and space.

That’s been a huge stumbling block for me with issue #12. I’m committed to telling this story in three issues, and halfway through #12 I realized I should have asked for four issues, but I didn’t. It was like, “We’re going to have to make this work in three.” It’s like sculpting. You know the story is in this lump of clay, and at some point out of this lump of clay you’re going to make a sculpture that really isn’t a sculpture. It’s a metaphor for a comic book that will be awesome.

Sometimes I look at shorter and longer arcs through the prism of something like a Ramones song, which are often short but still amazing. Longer comic arcs allow you to do a lot of things, but sometimes they can be indulgent. Shorter arcs though can be like a great, exciting punk rock song because you’re forced to hit the ground running and be sort of “all killer, no filler.”

That’s a great analogy. I’m a huge fan of Bad Brains. They’re one of my favorite bands of all time, and they’ve had songs that are like a minute and a half. They’re some of the best songs you’ve ever heard. They couldn’t leave you wanting more if they wanted to. It’s like, in 90 seconds they’ve said it all. Sometimes, that’s how it is. You say it all in two or three issues.

Finally, Brian Bendis’ “Jessica Jones” series just started up, and it’s got a connection with “Power Man and Iron Fist” because Luke and Jessica are married. I know you guys want the books to stand on their own but given that Brian is a friend, teaching colleague, and fellow Portland resident I imagine we might see some ties and connections between your books, correct?

Yeah, we’re co-instructors at Portland State University. So when our students are hunkered down working on an assignment, we’ll be in the corner, whispering. Brian has an incredible love for Luke Cage, and I have an incredible love for Jessica Jones. We’ve definitely been talking about bouncing some ideas around.

More than anything, though, I’m lucky in that he’s sharing with me a lot of what he’s got planned. Part of the reason he’s sharing that with me is so that I can plan out my stuff moving forward, and it’s a great learning experience. There’s a lot to be learned from everybody. Even if you’re not necessarily a fan of their work you can learn from somebody. When somebody who’s you’re friend and you’re a fan of gives you insight into a story you can ask, “Why would you do that?” And their answer really gives you insight into how the mind of a writer works.

I love talking to other writers about the decisions they make. That’s one of the best parts of the position that I find myself in right now. I had conversations in the past with different professionals when I was still trying to break into the industry, but now I feel like I’ve earned the right to ask some of the questions I ask. I’ll run things by Matt Fraction, and Jen Van Meter is my greatest sounding board. She’s one of my favorite writers in comics. Her and I try to get together at least a couple times a month and bounce ideas off of each other and push each other to be the best writers that we can be.

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