"We're all floating around in the Negative Zone," joked Jeff Parker at the start of Marvel Comics latest NEXT BIG THING conference call as this time around, the purpose of the conference remained secret until everyone had arrived. Joining press for the event were writers Rick Remender, Jeff Parker, Rob Williams along with artist Tony Moore and editor Jeanine Schafer.
The group revealed that this coming February, a crossover is in the offing for Marvel characters including the leads of "Venom," "Ghost Rider," "Hulk" and "X-23." However, the story will technically all take place within the pages of "Venom" with issues being labeled #13, 13.1, 13.2, 13.3, 13.4 and finally concluding in #14. The announcement was accompanied by some early art from "Venom" #13 by artist Stedano Caselli, which can be seen at right.
"The origin of the thing is a little crazy," Remender said, noting that the story started between him and Jason Aaron proposing Wolverine could be a part of the action. "One of the big ideas was finding a way to freshen up that idea that Walt Simonson and Art Adams did when they made Wolverine, Ghost Rider, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange The Fantastic Four."
The story turned to a new take on the "New FF" idea with X-23, Ghost Rider and Red Hulk joining Venom on a new team. Schafer said all the characters here have been searching to find themselves as heroes and are all in need of support on that quest as the story starts.
"They're all second generation characters in a lot of ways," Williams added, noting the attraction was that "They're going into this thing as one version of themselves, and by the time it's over they'll all be changed. The plot breakdown we've got is pretty exciting in that regard." The participants said that the story will hold impacts for all the books the characters star in full time. "As we've been talking about this back and forth, we've been finding the way these characters intertwine without even trying," Schafer said.
"Plus, you don't want to undersell the fact that they look really, really cool together," laughed Williams.
Remender said they'd keep the big bad of the book quiet for now, but he did reveal where the story starts as he writes #13. "The character is trying to bring something from another dimension to earth...and the villain is succeeding in doing this," the writer said, noting the action takes place in a Las Vegas casino. Captain America sends the Red Hulk out to investigate on behalf of the Avengers, and soon Hulk and Venom clash along with the other two characters unknowing of what awaits them in Sin City. "The events that take place in Las Vegas won't be completely resolved after this, and there will be an interesting new tone for the next few years in that dirty city."
While separate issues of the event will be written by the writers solo, the group said they're highly coordinating the event as a whole together via conference calls and e-mails. "It's fascinating for me to see how the other writers work," Williams said as Remender added "We end up going long [on the phone] and I think that's a good sign...everybody has a really positive attitude, and what we've come up with here is so incredibly creative and exciting...this is the crazy soup that you want."
He noted that Tony Moore will draw the initial, 30-page special issue that is "Venom" #13. "It's been a similar process to how Rick and I have worked for a long time," Moore said about the long calls to break the story. "We knock some ideas around and try to find that one missing puzzle piece, or he'll brainstorm with me on an action set piece that'll be fun for me to draw...as far as the characters, I love drawing Venom, and I'm excited to see other people try my design. I'm also excited to draw Ghost Rider again...and I think I've been waiting to draw the Hulk my whole career." The artist added at Williams question that making the female Ghost Rider feel more feminine was a challenge he was looking forward to meeting.
Remender said he was excited to bring the flavor and feel of their longtime collaboration to a larger group of people. That process has made the story have more impact on the ongoing "Venom" series. "I think when people see the villain and how we've handled it...I think in conversations we've had with Jeff, Rob and Jeanine, I've aleady had some ideas for where to take all this next," he said, noting the team just found the ending of their story this week.
Making the characters clash on the page is a big part of what's in store for the book. "The reality is that these characters came together as an offshoot of that Walt Simonson/Art Adams run," Remender said, adding "But since then...we've worked really hard to make sure this is a character story. In fact, Jeff's entire issue is a character story where he's defining one of these characters in a major way for one story."
Williams added, "I think obviously people have got individual ownership of their character, but everybody's been completely cool...I'm not going to run off and say 'I'm going to write Red Hulk this way for ten pages."
The dynamic of the team will be shakier even than the original New Fantastic Four as Williams joked, "You've heard stories about rock bands where all the members have to take separate tour buses." Remender noted that "Hulk is on a manhunt for Venom...but everything changes as a good story always does, so they've got to high five and try to be friends."
Artists for the issues past #13 will remain under wraps for now, but Caselli will draw all the covers. "X-23" writer Marjorie Lieu has been consulted on that character's part of the story, but as the monthly title has taken the lead character off to Madripoor on a solo run, the writer is focusing on that for now.
The choice to keep the story technically in "Venom" instead of crossing over into other series came mostly because the idea started with Remender and his plans for that title. "Flash is at his lowest point, and I think he maybe has the most throughline for this story and is the lynchpin for all these characters to come together and learn that they do have more in common with other characters and don't have to stand on their own," Schafer said.
"I like it in one book," Remender said, noting that if the story exists in one title, the chance for fans to be able to find all of them in their local comic shops will work. "I think it was a decision for clarity's sake as well." The event will also run as a "fifth week" event of sorts of February and early March.
Looking at what characters have been the most surprising, Remender said despite some solid stories, X-23 "never really clicked" for him until he got the chance to get into her own head. "Marjorie was really cool in letting us...dig into her conflicts," he said, saying her quest was "Do I have a soul?" Parker spent time putting himself into the minds of his other writers, saying he wanted to "So slavishly imitate Rob that he'll get freaked out by it." Williams agreed that X-23's journey "is a fascinating one...and again, X-23 isn't a character I'd say I had a great amount of feelings for...but as we've been talking about her journey, it's created a real resonance."
Remender added that the fact that the characters were legacy characters made you realize "You're not confined by constraints...you can tell stories that really unearth their characters." The writer noted that the entire "Venom" series to date will come to a head in this story and that the team can do things with the cast that they could never do with Bruce Banner or Wolverine.
As for a reference to the original New FF, even though Ghost Rider was supposed to be the only character who remembered the events of the first story, but they didn't want to try to untangle it all on the page lest they send readers into "a continuity stupor."
"Look, we just want to see four people cosplay these characters...is that too much to ask?" Parker joked, to which Williams replied "I thought we were going to cosplay them." Parker replied, "Okay, you're the girl."
Ultimately, the draw of the series for the writers was that because these heroes are largely solo concerns who don't have to get sucked up into every major Marvel event, this Venom event will have real dramatic impact on the heroes' ongoing series. Asked whether the story is optional for the fans who have been following the solo books, Remender said, "It's 100% not optional if you've been reading 'Venom,'" adding that fans who love the characters wouldn't want to miss this. "I think readers get mad when some other unsympathetic team gets handed their favorite characters," Parker added, but since these writers are on their own characters here, it should be an easy pick-up for readers of the monthly titles.
"For me, the thing about the Marvel Universe I want to do is explore new places," Remender said when asked about the Vegas piece of the story. "When we were talking about where to tell this particular story...Sin City was the right place for it. It's visually spectacular." The writer gave Moore credit for making the setting sing as part of the story and as pure eye-candy. "It's always nice when you can get something that's visual and serves a role in the story, and that's what Vegas does here."
Marvel's Venom Event starts in February's "Venom" #13 before continuing throughout the month.