WW Philly: Bendis, Fraction, & Remender on "Dark Reign: The List"

Norman Osborn has pretty much taken over the Marvel Universe. The general public adores him and his government position means that when it comes to super powered people, his word is law. To enforce his will, he's got the might of the intelligence agency H.A.M.M.E.R, super teams like the Dark Avengers and the Thunderbolts, and his associates in his secret criminal Cabal all at his command. So now that he's king of the world, what's left for Osborn to do? Why, take a little "Me" time, of course.

Unfortunately for the heroes of the Marvel U, Osborn's "Me" time doesn't involve relaxation. Rather, it involves making a list of his biggest threats and doing something about them. Beginning this September in "Dark Reign: The List," a series of loosely connected one-shots that were announced yesterday by Marvel at the HeroesCon and Wizard World Philly Conventions, Osborn will do just that. Each issue of "The List" features work by a different team of all-star Marvel creators and details Osborn's plans for different characters. CBR News spoke with writers Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, and Rick Remender about their contributions to the project.

"The List" was born out of an idea that Brian Michael Bendis brought to a previous Marvel writers retreat. It's essentially a story that serves several purposes. The main thrust of the story being to raise the curtain on the second act of Norman Osborn's "Dark Reign." "Now that Norman is in charge ,what is he going to do? He's not going to just try and hold onto his power. He's going to sit down and make a list of what's wrong with the Marvel Universe" Bendis told CBR News. "So that's the plot; he makes a list of everything wrong with the Marvel Universe -- in his mind -- and proactively does something about it.

"Some of the stuff that makes it to his list might involve the status quo of things, like, why is the Hulk allowed to live? Or why is Nick Fury allowed to run around and do whatever the hell he wants? These are pretty important questions if you're in charge, and they're things you'd want to take care of immediately," Bendis continued. "It's natural that Norman would have a list. It's kind of like if a twisted version of Obama sat down and said, 'Here's a list of what's wrong and I'm going to fix it.' And Norman's list is pretty devious, but at the same time you could read it and go, 'These are all good questions. ' In my eyes, Norman is similar to Magneto in that his point isn't as arguable as his methods are.

Bendis felt that the best way for story of "The List" to be told would be to have eight different writers, all of whom he's a fan of, if not friends with, tell the part of the story that has Norman Osborn tackling the character or characters they're currently known for. "Then me and Matt Fraction went to Marvel and said, 'We think it would be cool and a great use of resources if these guys were teamed with artists that we all know are A-List guys, but at the same time may not have it within them to do a monthly series.' We thought it would be great for these specials to team someone like a Jason Aaron or an Andy Diggle with the best artists Marvel has, and really show them off." Bendis remarked. "I reminded them that when me and Mark Millar first came to Marvel, they didn't toss us on a book, hold their breath and hope it worked out. They partnered us with Mark Bagley and the Kuberts! They shined us up and put us out there with bows in our hair. So I thought this project would be a great way to show off all the good parts of Marvel; not just the books and the characters, but the creators as well."

"This isn't an event story. It's more of a, 'Look how excited we are about who works here' project. I'm excited and I was quite thrilled at how instantly this stuck to the wall and never unstuck. Sometimes you pitch stuff and it turns into other things, or just falls off the wall. With this though, like five minutes later, the teams were locked and everybody had their projects."

Bendis was especially happy, because for his project, "Dark Reign: The List - Avengers," he was partnered with acclaimed Marvel cover artist Marko Djurdjevic. "I think he's fucking amazing, particularly when it comes to storytelling," the writer stated. "I know everyone is all about his covers, but I love his interiors. His work on 'Thor' was gorgeous, and I've been sort of waiting in line with my hand up for my chance to work with him."

Bendis wrote "Dark Reign: The List - Avengers" specifically for Djurdjevic, and the story features characters from the writers "Dark Avengers" and "New Avengers" series. "It's a huge chapter in both of the Avengers books. It's a status quo changer," Bendis explained. "On it's own, it's a very big Annual in the classic sense that something big should happen in them. In this issue, we show Norman putting together his list and why he's doing it, which sets up the other chapters of the story. It also has Clint Barton, Ronin, saying, 'I'm not living in this world!' and going after Norman Osborn, one-on-one. It's a very important issue for the whole of 'Dark Reign' and Clint Barton."

The events in " Dark Reign: The List - Avengers" will be seen from both Barton and Osborn's perspectives. "You get the Avengers making their points about Osborn," Bendis said. "And that leads to Clint making the decision to go do something about Osborn, regardless of whether or not they go with him."

While Bendis was able to speak fairly freely about his chapter of "The List," Matt Fraction had to discuss his installment, "Dark Reign: The List - Uncanny X-Men," in some what vaguer terms, as it spins out of the upcoming "Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men" crossover, "Utopia." "There's a lot I can't reveal until the crossover is over," Fraction said. "I have to admit that I'm a little bummed that people now know that Osborn and the X-Men are still around at the end of it, but if you look at the pieces on the board and do some thinking, you'll see that the only way this story could have happened is the way it is happening."

While "Dark Reign: The List - Uncanny X-Men" spins out of developments from "Utopia," it's not an epilogue to the crossover. "It's a bridge moment. There's a grand scheme of where we're headed, and the 'Iron Patriot Acts' [Marvel teased "The List" with an ad featuring Osborn and the tag-line 'The Iron Patriot Acts'] or 'The List' leads into what is beyond," Fraction explained. "We're in the home stretch of the story, and it's a very organic kind of outgrowth from one moment to the next. It's a natural extension of 'Civil War' as it is 'Dark Reign.' This whole kind of through line has been leading to this, and we're getting to the root of it now. Hold onto your fucking hats."

"Dark Reign: The List - Uncanny X-Men" is told from a third person perspective and finds Osborn in an unpleasant mood. "This is Norman striking a note that we haven't seen too much of since he became the 'big man on campus' of the Marvel U," Fraction remarked. "He has a very specific goal and message that he wants to send to the X-Men and their associates."

While Osborn's message is bound to affect all of the X-Men, it's directed at some specific members. "This is a very personalized 'fuck you' letter that he's dropping in the mail," Fraction said. "This is Norman at his most bitter and most wicked at the same time."

"Dark Reign: The List - Uncanny X-Men" is a self contained story that also serves as a good jumping on point for new readers who may not be up to speed on the latest developments in the X-Men's world or "Dark Reign." "It addresses and deals with the new status quo coming out of 'X-Men/Dark Avengers' and gives you a taste for who the people making the X-Men up are and what their world looks like," Fraction explained. "It also examines what Osborn's world is like, who he is and what he's up to."

Bringing to life " Dark Reign: The List - Uncanny X-Men" is acclaimed artist Alan Davis. "He's amazing; a master. I just try to stay the hell out of his way," Fraction remarked. "I love the guy's work and I'm so in awe of what he can do, that I wanted to write something that really let him open up and give him as much open road as he needed to really put the pedal to the metal. He's Alan Davis and I really wanted to remind everybody of that. This story will be red meat for Alan Davis lovers."

"Dark Reign: The List - Uncanny X-Men" is the second time Fraction and Alan Davis have worked together, and will feature a different tone than the duo's last collaboration. "The 'Young Avengers Presents' story that we did was a very intimate and emotional, character driven story. I think the most exciting action piece was some kids running into an elevator," Fraction said. "With this story, I wanted to create a summer tent-pole movie experience, a big over the top blockbuster story. The X-Men books themselves are complicated plot and character driven enough, so to be given this opportunity to do a stand alone mega adventure was a refreshing change."

Like Bendis's Avengers story, Fraction's installment of "The List" promises to have a dramatic impact on almost the entire line of X-Men titles. "The 'X-Men/Dark Avengers' crossover is huge; the biggest thing I've ever written. It answers so many questions and deals with so much stuff," Fraction stated. "We come out of it with big, huge blockbuster moment, and from there we're off and running to what the new deal, the new sound, the new style is like."

Rick Remender's "Dark Reign: The List - Punisher" also spins out of a big story for the title character, "Dead End," the second story arc of his "Punisher" series which kicked off with issue #6 (in stores now). "The way things work is there's 'Punisher' #9 and then the Annual by me and artist Jason Pearson, and then issue #10 wraps 'Dead End,'" Remender explained. "From there we move into 'The List.'"

In the pages of Remender's "Punisher," Frank Castle has been using a high tech arsenal of super weapons to wage a guerrilla war campaign against Osborn's authority, both in the streets and in the press. The writer's installment of "The List" finds Osborn finally fed up with Frank Castle and ready to personally end the threat posed by him. "Frank has been showing that crime is still rampant in New York City, and more than anyone else, he's been tarnishing Osborn's carefully constructed PR campaign. Frank is like Guy Fawkes out there, so Norman basically says, 'This guy has to die!'' Remender explained. "So he takes all of H.A.M.M.E.R. and a couple of his Dark Avengers and goes into New York. Once there, he dedicates four hours for the agency and his allies to do one thing; find Frank Castle and kill him.

"When you've got Frank Castle with all of H.A.M.M.E.R. and some of the Dark Avengers all after him all at once, it's a situation I could write another 100 pages of [Laughs]," Remender continued. "Nothing else has been as fun. I love writing Frank Castle and 'Dark Reign: The List - Punisher' ends in a way that nobody is going to see coming at all. It sets up and leads into the third story arc of the series I'm doing with Tony Moore. The status quo of the series is going to be turned upside down and completely flipped. In some ways it's even going to connect with the 'Doctor Voodoo' series I'm writing this fall."

Remender is incredibly excited to be collaborating with the art team of John Romita Jr. (thought by many to be one of the definitive Punisher artists) and Klaus Janson on " Dark Reign: The List - Punisher." "That's a dream come true! They're two of the absolute best! I get speechless," Remender remarked. "Anybody in the industry knows that John Romita Jr. is as good as it gets when it comes to all around talent. If everybody else has a power chart and has varying degrees of storytelling, dynamics, page layout, illustrating and lighting, then John Romita Jr. is a ten on every scale. And inked by Klaus Janson, he's an 11. I hate to do the same old 'Spinal Tap' joke, but they just are. They're a dream team."

Like the other installments of the series, " Dark Reign: The List - Punisher" is a self contained story that not only moves things forward for it's title character in a major way, but is also new reader friendly. "I loved writing this project, and the 'The List' wraps up our first two arcs," Remender said. "So by the end of 'The List' if you've read issues 1-10 of 'Punisher' and the Annual you've got one big story. Both 'The List ' and issue #11 are great jumping on points for the next year of Frank Castle's life."

In addition to the three titles discussed in this article, Marvel also plans on releasing " Dark Reign: The List - Spider-Man," " Dark Reign: The List - Secret Warriors," "Dark Reign: The List - Daredevil," " Dark Reign: The List - Hulk," and "Dark Reign: The List - Wolverine." With so many different titles to choose from, fans may feel overwhelmed, but they shouldn't be. Bendis and his collaborators have designed "The List" as a project where readers can pick and choose which titles they want and not feel forced to read any others. "It's really set up as, if you're interested in the whole of "Dark Reign," here's a giant chapter of it, but if you just want a one-shot, or a mini-series, it's that as well," Bendis explained. "If you read them all, you get a big cool story, but if you just read what you're interested in, you get to see what your favorite writers look like when they're drawn by these big artists. As a fan, that's what I perceive to be the best of everything."

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