Over the past year, it's become the #1 question dedicated fans ask just about anyone involved with Marvel Comics: "Where is 'The Twelve'?"
The planned 12-issue series by J. Michael Straczynski and Christ Weston debuted in early 2008 to a positive critical and reader response, but as the story of 12 Golden Age superheroes trapped in suspended animation since the end of World War II got closer and closer to its finale, the series ceased publication with issue #8 in October of 2008. Marvel cited a busy screenwriting schedule for JMS as the culprit for the delay, though month after month no new issues have appeared.
This week, Weston himself brought the series halfway back, not with a new issue of the ongoing series set in the modern day but with "The Twelve: Spearhead" – a WWII-era one-shot featuring the characters that shipped to comic shops this week. Weston spoke with CBR about what caused the delays for the main series, what it was like to pick up the cast as both writer and artist and when fans will finally see the finale of "The Twelve."
CBR News: Well here we are, sir. A comic containing those two words you've been hearing from fans for over a year a year. "The" and "Twelve"! Since the last issue of the regular series came out, both you and JMS have been busy outside of comics with him writing sceenplays and you storyboarding "The Book of Eli." What exactly led to you going solo on this "Spearhead" one-shot as a return to the whole franchise?
Chris Weston: Let's be honest: I couldn't ignore the discontent amongst readers of "The Twelve" any longer. There was understandable frustration at the disappearance of the book, and I was at the receiving end of some of that. I felt we owed something to tide them over until we could complete the main series.
I can indeed, hold my hands up and admit that my work on "The Book of Eli" contributed to the delay on "The Twelve." In my defense I became attached to that film fourteen months before the first issue of the series hit the stands. If the writer's strike hadn't come along and hindered the production I could easily have finished both jobs on schedule.
But I was aware that there was a real danger the book could die through audience apathy and that would have been a shame.
JMS wasn't available so I seized the day and suggested I write something myself; a prequel that wouldn't mess with the flow or continuity of the main series.
Also, while I need to have work in order to pay the bills I would have been uncomfortable starting a new project somewhere else. I turned down some very tempting offers, believe me...but I wanted to finish this job before I moved onto another comic book.
From the start, "The Twelve" has been built on a really strong, shared collaboration. Even though JMS has been very supportive of you adding to the world solo while the rest of it is still coming together, what kind of expectations and pressure did you put on yourself when you decided to tell this story?
The main challenge was to make "The Twelve: Spearhead" a seamless addition to the saga. I didn't want the reader to notice it was actually written by someone else. That meant I had to stay true to the characters, their voices and the narrative devices used in the main series. That meant stepping into JMS' shoes...you've got to put on a whole load of extra socks to fill those boots!
So...a prequel story! 1945! The invasion of Nazi Germany! Setting the story in the past seems the easiest way to expand on the main series without stepping on the toes of the narrative, but why did you chose this specific conflict and time? Is it just really fun to draw all those tanks?
The conflict was a great device to bring these disparate characters together. After I'd decided on this setting, I found myself wondering what each of the character's contributions to the war-time campaign would be. Once I started thinking of the logical answer to that question the story pretty much wrote itself: Blue Blade would clearly have been in the USO, entertaining the troops (a subplot which predated the storyline rumoured to be in the new Captain America film), Mastermind Excello would be involved with Military Intelligence, Dennis Burton aka The Laughing Mask would be bringing his legal skills to The International War Crime Commission only with typically violent results...I could go on, but I don't want to ruin it!
Our focal point for this story is the Phantom Reporter, who also starred in one of Marvel's 70th anniversary specials last year. However, it feels fitting to see a hero whose one Golden Age story was a comics footnote trying to get in on a secret missile smashing mission led by Timely's biggest icon: Captain America. What kind of perspective does that underdog hero offer in the reality of the story itself?
The Phantom Reporter's main role in this story is to provide commentary on the other characters...and that's not a position he's comfortable with. In his War Correspondent capacity he's given the task of covering the superhero contribution to the campaign; that's what brings him into contact with the other characters from The Twelve. However, he'd much rather be telling the stories of the "average joes" in uniform who have to fight the Nazis without the aid of incredible powers like flight, invulnerability and super-strenghth.
And just as he wasn't to content to merely report on crime rather than confront it, he also yearns to play a more active part in the downfall of The Third Reich. That's what makes him volunteer to join Captain America's secret mission.
From the preview pages I've seen, the juxtaposition of Phantom Reporter's mask and purple duds next to the troops in the trenches is a very striking image – a crazy, romanticized, old timey twist on today's embedded reporters in their bullet proof vests. As an artist writing for yourself, how much of this story grew out of your finding uncommon visuals to play with?
I think there's a couple of examples of this in the story. First of all, I was desperate to show Elektro the Robot in action. I think it was about time we saw just how terrifying that machine would be if you encountered him on the battle-field. There's something really creepy about the fact that he's remote-controlled by some mild-mannered scientist, miles away. Seems somewhat prescient too, considering the increasing use of drones in modern-day warfare.
The other image I wanted to get in there was Rockman's Burrowing Car which makes a a spectacular entrance in the story. I always loved "mole-machines" when I was a kid, from "The Black Sapper" (in the Hotspur comic) to Thunderbirds...and I was delighted to discover the Golden Age Rockman came equipped with one. That was a toy I needed to play with!
Even though The Twelve were never a team in the days of he war, you sure do seem to work a lot of the cast into this one-shot. How many of The Twelve make an appearance, and which one plays the biggest role outside the Phantom Reporter?
They all make an appearance, but poor old Fiery Mask gets the shortest shrift, getting a single panel in the whole story (fear not, though; he plays a big part in issue nine of the main series). The rest of the characters are encountered individually by The Phantom Reporter or have their adventures related to him second-hand. At a push, I'd say Mastermind Excello plays the biggest part outside of The Phantom Reporter, as his position with the Military Intelligence really drives the last act of the story: the mission to destroy the missile base.
All right, Chris. Let's get serious for a minute about the status of the main series. First question: I saw you in this "The Twelve is going to be finished come hell or highwater!" t-shirt on your blog. What is the story behind this shirt? Did you make this yourself? Please say you did.
Yes, I made the t-shirt. It was a quote JMS gave in an interview and at the time constituted the only knowledge I had on the status of the main series. I guessed I would be inundated with queries about the book's return during Comic-Con so I thought it would be fun to reply by indicating to my chest. At the very least it would save time and my breath. My only regret is I wasn't wearing it when I bumped into JMS! I'd love to have seen his reaction!
Like I said before, both halves of this creative team have been busy over the past year with very high-profile, I'm assuming high-paying Hollywood gigs. All that considered, I'm sure it's safe to say there have been times where each of you have been unavailable to work on "The Twelve," but is the time appearing soon where JMS scripts and Weston pencils will be "on the same page" so to speak? Could readers even hope for news of an actual release date for issue #9?
I'm currently working on the final three pages of #9. Marvel are expecting the imminent arrival of further pages. Beyond that, I have nothing else to offer. Let's keep our fingers crossed... I want to know how this story ends as much as the readers do.
Until then, what's your plan for your own comics work?
During my stints without scripts for The Twelve I've developed a sideline in creating my own comic strips. Aside from The Twelve: Spearhead, I've also written a couple of Future Shocks for 2000ad. They seem to have been received well, and I enjoy the process of writing, so I'll be looking to do more of my own strips in the near future. I hate to sound like Mark Millar, but I think I've got some great ideas for stories, both with existing characters and all-new concepts. My head is filling up with these ideas at the moment and if I don't get them down on paper soon it may just explode.
There is talk of further film work on a massive movie franchise, but that's a long way off. And I'd want to get The Twelve finished first, if possible. That's the main priority at the moment, trust me!
"The Twelve: Spearhead" is in comic shops today. Check out a full preview of the book here.