Interview: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning on Marvel’s Thanos Imperative

Thanos Imperative

Thanos Imperative

Dan Abnett has written numerous comics and novels. Andy Lanning has both penciled and inked comics. Together, they are the writing team affectionately referred to as DnA by their fans, and have worked on such books as Punisher, The Legion, and The Authority. Most recently, they have been writing books in the cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe such as Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy. This month, they begin The Thanos Imperative, a cosmic miniseries that gathers together Marvel’s cosmic heroes. Westfield’s Roger Ash recently spoke with Abnett and Lanning to learn more about this series.

Westfield: For people who haven’t been reading your stuff in the cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe, what do they need to know going into The Thanos Imperative?

Dan Abnett: Essentially, they don’t need to know anything. That’s one of the things we’ve taken great pride in. Although, if you’ve been a regular reader of our books – Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy, and so on – over the last few years, you will get a great deal of pleasure from seeing how a lot of storylines and threads tie together in this big event. We wanted to make sure it wasn’t inaccessible; it wasn’t a closed club. So from the start of what is effectively the prologue issue, which is Ignition, we make sure that every piece of information you need is contained in it. You shouldn’t be mystified by who anybody is or what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. It’s not like there’s a huge exposition or download. It’s a good opportunity for people who’ve not read the cosmic books but have heard great things about them and really want to jump in and see how much fun can be had with superheroes in space, to do exactly that and at the same time please the existing fans.

Westfield: Andy, anything you’d like to add?

Andy Lanning: Every time we’ve done one of these big events in the cosmic realm, we try to make them as accessible as possible and have gone out of our way to explain as much of the set up and the characters within the story as possible so that you don’t have to have reams and reams of Star Wars-like narrative at the beginning of every episode to set everything up, even though we still do that. [laughter] I think the thing is to really try to get people to pick them up and get them engrossed in the story as soon as possible and get everyone up to speed within the story itself. The allure of Thanos is he’s such a marquee character that we’re hoping people will pick it up and really enjoy it.

Marvel Masterworks Warlock

Marvel Masterworks Warlock

Abnett: Then again, if you do want to study up on this beforehand like it was some kind of big test, you could do a great deal worse than go back and read volume two of the Warlock Masterworks which is Jim Starlin’s stuff collected together there and also the Life & Death of Captain Marvel trade paperback which has most of Jim Starlin’s other great Thanos story in there. The Infinity Gauntlet and the Rebirth of Thanos and then our stuff from the last few years in Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy if you really wanted research the subject.

Lanning: That’s all the stuff we’ve just read. [laughter]

Westfield: What can you tell us about the story in the miniseries and the characters involved?

Abnett: Obviously Thanos plays quite a significant role in it. He is the central figure in a significantly villainous way. It’s rare in a story where Thanos turns up and he isn’t the bad guy. But there’s an awful lot going on at the same time. We have a lot of threads that we’ve built up through our Realm of Kings books over the last few months which involved the Fault, which is this huge hole in time and space, and the Universal Church of Truth which then brings into it Adam Magus, the dark half of Adam Warlock. On the good guys side, we’ve got the Guardians and Nova. We’ve often focused our attention on the lesser cosmic heroes so this is an opportunity for us also to bring in some of the real serious heavy hitters like Silver Surfer and Quasar and to put them alongside Nova and show that in the past few years he has matured and he is now absolutely capable of holding his own with them. Just in power levels and everything, he’s there with them. It should be great fun.

Thanos Imperative: Ignition

Thanos Imperative: Ignition

Lanning: I wasn’t joking, we have read all that stuff and we’re in a position to run with some ideas and some loose threads that hark back right to issue #1 of Guardians of the Galaxy which we’ve been playing with. Almost two years down the line now we’re seeing the fruition of some of those story plots as well as being able, very kindly by Marvel, to play with one of their biggest characters and bring back Thanos which we wanted to do right from the get go. Unfortunately he was dead when we started writing the stuff. We thought it was respectful, not only to Thanos but to Keith Giffen who’d killed him, to make it mean something and also have a story that was worthy of bringing him back. So it was something we definitely had in the back of our minds all along. We’ve said this before, but Dan and I were never quite sure who was in that cocoon when we first introduced it in Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s changed many times. Thanos was always one of our options so as we developed the idea of the Fault and the idea of the life universe, which we call the Cancer-verse which is full of Cthulhuesque monsters, the perfect antithesis of that is Thanos. This gave us a brilliant opportunity to bring him back and lucky for us, Marvel said yes.

Westfield: What is the appeal of the cosmic characters for you?

Abnett: For me, and I think for Andy as well, it’s a number of different things. We both loved Jim Starlin’s work. When we were growing up we were huge fans of that. So that helped; associating with particular talents that we like – Jim Starlin and Steve Gerber. When we were kids, they appealed to a particularly British sensibility that combined superheroes in the American sense of costumed heroes with British science fiction. It was a great combination that we saw as kids in things like 2000 AD. So the cosmic end of Marvel was a very appealing playground to us. I think in the cosmic books there is a way of portraying superheroes where they are godlike beings where their powers are often defined by alien technology, or just technology generally, rather than people who put on bright colored costumes in an everyday world. For a character like Star Lord or the Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s just a uniform or a utilitarian costume they’re wearing not costumes they’re making for identity purposes. I quite like that idea of playing in a world where people had extraordinary abilities sort of as part of the landscape rather than extraordinary abilities that stood out from the norm. That’s the sort of thing that’s appealed to me since I started to read them.

Lanning: I think it’s safe to say that Dan and I are both men of a certain age [laughter] and we both grew up in the 70s and there was an absolute wealth of sci-fi stuff coming out from Marvel at that time because of the success of Star Wars. It was the heyday for cosmic stuff and really was what we were weaned on as kids. And again because of the success of Star Wars, we had 2000 AD at home so we had home-grown science fiction stuff as well as well as great American import stuff which we could pick up in reprint versions in the UK. I think it really did inform us. I had a great love of Marvel stuff growing up through those black and white reprints which were Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. And as major backups in those, we had Warlock and Captain Marvel. Even the Fantastic Four is a science fiction comic as far as I’m concerned. Their main adventures are very cosmic and very out there. I was a massive fan of that stuff. A massive Kirby fan as well and you got to see him do his adaptation of 2001 and the Celestials. It’s a great source of creativity for us to be going back and playing with these characters which we grew up reading. Even a character like Rocket Raccoon has got an incredibly convoluted background and history going back to, strangely enough, the late 70s. We’ve been pleased as punch to play with these characters that we grew up reading.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

Westfield: You two have been working together for a long time. How do you write the stories together?

Abnett: We started writing together I think because it was fun. I write stuff on my own. Andy is obviously an inker. We both work on stuff on our own, and over 20 years ago now we realized that, I suppose in the same way that American comedy shows are often written in that kind of writers room thing, it was more fun to get together and bounce ideas off of each other than it was to produce projects in total isolation. We get together on a regular basis and have probably too much of a laugh bouncing ideas off each other, which then we can take away separately and break down into manageable pieces and turn into plots and scripts as are needed. As a freelancer, it’s very easy to do everything entirely in isolation and then get on the phone to the editor and email stuff in. It is keeping a strand of what we each do as something we do together. It’s proved very, very useful and very, very helpful to our sanity. I think there’s a danger of cabin fever. A lot of freelancers get terribly stir crazy after a while.

Lanning: When Dan was my editor, I was working on the Sleeze Brothers comic at Marvel UK, and we were both working on Ghostbusters comics for Marvel UK. We would meet regularly; once or twice a week in the offices and go down to the pub and share ideas and spitball stuff. It’s a habit that we’ve developed over the course of our working relationship as editor and freelancer. Then when Dan went freelance and we had a chance to write some stuff, Punisher I believe was our first, we already had a way of working. We refined it and refined it over the years but I think the core nugget of the whole relationship is sitting together and knocking ideas around and having a giggle, which we do hysterically like little girls. [laughter]

Westfield: What can you tell us about the artist you’re working with on the book?

Lanning: We’re quite excited to be working with Miguel, and we’re very lucky that Brad Walker’s in a position to start the ball rolling by doing the prolog issue which is called Thanos: Ignition.

Abnett: Miguel Sepulveda has come off Thunderbolts.

Lanning: He’s got quite a dark, gritty, technical style which, I think, given that Thanos is the avatar of death and the grim nature of his existence, his stuff is going to be particularly suited to it. I think he’s quite excited about the idea of getting to draw some space stuff that doesn’t involve loads and loads of real world stuff which, as an artist, is always appealing, being able to just make stuff up. It can be daunting sometimes as well but it can be very liberating too. We’re very keen to see what he comes up with.

Nova

Nova

Westfield: After this is done, do you have any other projects planned?

Abnett: We do have things planned, unfortunately we’re not allowed to whisper a word of them. The world and you pesky kids have not seen the last of us.

Lanning: Information will get released as soon as it’s available. I think Marvel are quite careful about letting bits out piece by piece.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Abnett: I’d just like to say that the readers who have been reading our cosmic books for the last three years or so, I hope they’re in for a real treat with this story, more than usual with big events. It’s comparatively rare for creative teams to have a long term goal and be able to realize that in the way that we’re realizing this. I’m hoping there will be enormous satisfaction to be gleaned from seeing where the storylines go to. This isn’t just a quick flash in the pan story that starts and finishes before you’ve even begun. I hope there is a sense of it being something really, really worthwhile. I think we’ve got in the course of it some real juicy surprises.

Lanning: This is our cumulative story arc based on the run of stuff we’ve been doing up to this point. It’s been two years or more in the planning and we’ve been allowed by Marvel to really do what we want to do to wrap this story up with the Thanos stuff. And to use characters that we’ve grown up reading. To get to tell a story that involves the return of Thanos and have Silver Surfer, Quasar, Nova, Guardians, Inhumans, Shi’Ar, it’s like we’re getting to do a great big epic Lord of the Rings-style novel in the course of seven issues. We’re having a blast plotting it. If it comes out anything like we want it to, it’s going to be a great read.

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  1. Westfield Comics Blog » Roger’s Comics Ramblings: Nova Says:

    […] as an aside, make sure you check out my interview with Abnett & Lanning to learn their plans for the Marvel cosmic characters in The Thanos […]