While Alex Ross is a regular sight and contributor to DC Comics’ publishing business, he’s has been absent from Marvel Comics for quite a while. It was while at Marvel in 1994 that Ross first gained wide spread acclaim with the publication of “Marvels,” written by Kurt Busiek. Following the conclusion of his “Earth X” series, Ross has been all but unseen in the Marvel Universe, but that’s all set to change.
With the release of the cryptic Captain America image to the right, labeled simply, “The Return,” Ross is set to light up not just the Marvel U, but message boards across the Internet. What do this all mean? Is Ross bringing Captain America back from the dead? What we do know at this point is that it’s a teaser for a larger series, which finds Dynamite Entertainment head Nick Barrucci at the start. He put together the package with Ross at the head of it all as creative consultant and cover artist, with Ross’s long time collaborator Jim Krueger handling the scripting chores and artist Steve Sadowski providing the interiors.
CBR News caught up with Ross at his home outside Chicago to discuss his return to Marvel Comics and what this image means. While Ross explained prior to the interview that he would have to be intentionally coy regarding their plans for now, as Marvel’s not ready for all the answers to be made public yet, we did our best to wrangle some information out of him.
Let’s start out by discussing your return to Marvel Comics here. You’ve been playing in DC’s sandbox for quite some time now, and you still are, but here you are back at Marvel. Let’s talk about that return and what it means. What exactly is the scope of this return?
You’ll see me creatively involved and I’ll be painting some Marvel characters again. While I can’t get into how many right now, you’ll see my images on some Marvel books.
Will you be providing interiors as well for this new project you’re bringing to Marvel?
Oh, boy, here comes the first of many disappointments. I’m not doing any interiors.
What can you say about your involvement on this project, currently codenamed “The Return?”
I’ll be a co-plotter on it and as I mentioned earlier I’ll be providing some imagery.
As I understand it, your return to Marvel has a lot to do with Dynamite Entertainment Publisher Nick Barrucci.
Right, this is all chiefly due to Nick working on this over an extended period of time. [“The Return”] was his idea and it was his effort to try and get me back [to Marvel]. I’m working on multiple projects with Nick, both with “Superpowers” and now this with Marvel. Nick and I have a long-standing friendship and relationship that has extended to this part of my life. In a way, I’m working for three major publishers in comics now, between DC, Marvel and Dynamite.
When Nick first came to you with this idea, and I understand you have to be cagey about all this …
Which, you know, is all my fault.
Well, I just thought I could be cute with an illustration and look what it turned into!
Let’s talk about that. What’s the story behind the creation of this image?
Well, at this point it’s only about a week old as an image. I came up with it as a way of teasing out what we’re talking about at Marvel. It’s to grab the eye of course with the forthcoming return of Captain America. You know there’s got to be some kind of return coming, so what is it? It’s appropriately mysterious.
And as I understand it this wasn’t necessarily a planned part of this roll out, but when you sent over this image to Marvel, they embraced it with a huge amount of enthusiasm and suddenly plans began to blow up.
Yes and I honestly can’t believe that has happened. I’m so used to getting turned down for enthusiastic ideas on how to promote things. You get used to having a number of projects where they get green lit and put into production, but by the time you’re trying to work out say a plan based around illustrations that have no other purpose than to tease, titillate or advertise your product, the system is not built usually to engender those things being offered or commissioned. It’s like, “We worked out this contract here for you with a base number of pages, but there’s nothing left in the kitty to pay you for a teaser.”
Here, it’s a lovely situation where both Marvel and Dynamite have said, “Why not!” Promotion and tweaking people’s interest has got to be a good 50% of getting people to the store or getting them to care later, so there’s a whole language to that that I’ve not been able to play with for quite a long time. It’s nice to be able to do so.
What was it about this project that appealed to you?
Well, of course, the characters involved. Obviously, I’m a big Captain America guy. Whether or not that’s something I’ve carried on my sleeve for a number of years, I’m not sure, but either way I’m like a lot of people who love this icon. Between both [Marvel and DC], I tend to gravitate towards the purest icons they have. The guys who are supposed to represent, I’d say, the culmination of the values of all superheroes. In both corners of DC and Marvel, that’s two very obvious characters.
You’ve spent a lot of time with Marvel’s characters in the past, through “Marvels,” which catapulted you into the spotlight, and then through the various “Earth X” series you worked on, which was a long journey for you.
Absolutely. There’s as much creative investment for me personally in the “Earth X” stuff as anything I painted the entire series for. In fact, I’ll always lament I never actually illustrated those books myself because I would have died to do it, but the physical time of my form of art is just so much of a drain and it never would have gotten done, not to the degree of the number of books and stories we told. It would have to be a project cut tremendously short.
Now, readers of yours know your absolute, almost pure love for the DC heroes and clearly the same can be said of the Marvel Universe, yet you’ve been away from that universe for a while. I want to talk a bit about you coming back to the Marvel stable of characters and what they mean to you. What do they pull out of you creatively?
Well, continuity really, really matters with Marvel. The various events that have happened to their characters haven’t been retconned continually and, generally, you can treat most of what Kirby, Lee and Ditko did as canon. That’s very important. With much of the published Superman stories in the ’50s and ’60s, every other story seemed to be an imaginary story, like one that imagines whether Superman married Lois Lane. While over at Marvel, in a way they had bigger fish to fry, where they were evolving the characters and creating new ones by the handful almost to catch up on a decade of publishing where they created no super heroes. There was creative ferocity that will always set the Marvel characters apart. Just the quality of the creations that were added into comics history in the mid ’60s, and I would say even some of the ’70s, as birthing some of these creative concepts that we still enjoy to this day.
You mentioned that Nick was the impetus for this project. What is that creative process going to be like with Nick?
Well, it’s more like Nick is going to get a chance to poke his nose in on everything, which he has and it’s valid, valuable stuff. Nick’s point of view is one that doesn’t always get to control everything, certainly, but as a guide point, his enthusiasm is the purity of a fan’s enthusiasm. What people should always understand, as Nick deserves to be a known figure in comics, is that he’s a mover and shaker based upon being the ultimate fan given form; the ultimate fan putting together his company based upon his desires to do things as a guy who was neither a writer nor an artist. He wanted to breathe life into properties and get a chance to bring creative people together and make the best product possible, without being an absolute jackass about it. [laughs] And we know how that can go wrong.
OK, getting back to this image of Captain America a bit, I’m curious to know what your thoughts were on the death of Captain America.
I thought for one it was a well-told story and continues to be one from Ed [Brubaker]. I’ve enjoyed his entire run. The quality of writing and art that Steve Epting and Mike Perkins have brought to “Captain America” is something I’ve enjoyed a lot. It’s the Cap book I’ve been waiting for. Even as it’s come to this culminating point of Cap dying, I’m not looking for a way to say, “I’m done.” I’m really interested to see what comes next and want them to be left to tell their tale as they’re going to tell it. We can provide critical commentary years from now when we know how everything worked itself out. Right now, it’s still a very exciting story and it’s been a worthy creative endeavor to see how Ed would work it. And I don’t know Ed, just so you know. I’m not just praising an old buddy here, I just really admire his work on “Captain America.”
And of course a nice side effect of all this is that this great icon of American comics, whose popularity has gone up and down throughout his history, is back at top form and also near the top of the sales charts once again.
Yes, it’s very cool and honestly if I had any way of coming back and getting back involved with Marvel, this is a pretty cool way to do it. I look at the book Epting’s done and I don’t sit there and think, “Wow, I wish …” wait, I should say I do wish in a way that I did those illustrations, but I don’t necessarily wish that my involvement ever was to come in and bump him out of the way because I feel like everything he’s done is something I would take great pride in as an illustrator. Of course, I’d love to be involved and take credit for his work! [laughs]
Does the heightened awareness of Captain America due to his death and anticipated return change or inform the way you approach the character in any way?
I wouldn’t say it intimidates me. There’s plenty to be excited by. The fact he’s currently missing from continuity will serve our story very well. It winds up being a very positive thing that’s happened to be able to bounce off of.
Thanks, Alex. We’ll catch up again soon when you can discuss this project further.
Now discuss this story in CBR’s Marvel Comics forum.
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