These days, Jeph Loeb spends most of his time plotting out the future of Marvel Entertainment's Television division where as head of the department for the superhero giant, he works as point man on everything from new animated seasons of "Ultimate Spider-Man" and "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" to planned live action offerings like a new "Incredible Hulk" drama and "Mockingbird." But just because the writer is hip deep in Marvel's small screen offerings, it doesn't mean he's left comic books behind.
"The short answer is that I wish I could do more [comics work] because I love the medium so much, and these are stories I love to tell," Loeb told CBR News recently. "But it's challenging when you're running Marvel Television to find the time. Oddly enough, when I was working on 'Smallville,' 'Lost' and 'Heroes,' they were my day job. I had the time to switch gears and write comics. That became a breakaway from what I was doing in TV. But now when you sit and you work all day on Spider-Man and the Hulk and the Avengers, to then go home and write Spider-Man, the Hulk and the Avengers, it becomes a challenge. So now I'm looking for situations I can work in that will really benefit everybody."
Already on tap for this year is "Wolverine: Sabertooth Reborn" with artist Simone Bianchi, although readers following Loeb's work of late have already seen how he's fitting his comics stories into the Marvel Universe where he can, he explained that his ability to tell standalone tales for the publisher comes from his long-standing relationship with Editorial. "I've had an extraordinarily lucky relationship with Marvel where all the projects that I've gotten to do from 'Fallen Son' to the Red Hulk saga to 'Ultimate X' are ones where they really offered me the creative freedom to tell the stories I wanted to tell with the people that I wanted to work with. When you look at the roster from Frank Cho and Ed McGuiness to Arthur Adams and David Finch on through Simone Bianchi and people I'm sure I'm forgetting – John Romita, Jr.! – it really shows that it's just so much fun to do comics. The problem is that I don't have the time to do it that much. It's now become about 'What's the best use of my time?' and 'How do I find an artist who can work in the hit and run method or who can work on something that will take a long time to tell?'"
Loeb noted the challenges inherent in his working style of going script-by-script with his artist rather than writing a full series before its drawn, saying that some times the right match of talent and schedule is hard to come by. "Because sometimes I'm not available or they're not available, it becomes a project that we have to keep coming back to...yes, I know, 'Captain America White!'" he said of the long delayed mini with frequent collaborator Tim Sale. "At the end of the day, I'm hoping the work speaks for itself and that the stories we're telling are worth it for fans – longtime readers and new readers. It's never a situation where it's just about me. It really is about the best way to utilize me and the artist and tell the best story."
The writer looked back to an earlier story through which he was able to accomplish an idea only because of the artists Marvel provided him. "I'm just so fortunate to have done this for more years than I'd really want to admit, and now I do only want to work on characters that I love," he said. "I think 'Fallen Son' was the perfect example of that. I thought it was an opportunity to tell a story around the death of Captain America, and that literally just came up in a summit. We were looking at the plan, and I said, 'We need to take a moment and reflect on how this effects everybody.' Everyone in the room looked around and said, 'Well, how are we going to do that?' So I just pitched the idea of telling the story from different points of view, and all of the sudden I've got Leinil Yu and John Romita, Jr. and David Finch and Ed McGuinness working with me...and then John Cassaday came on to do the ending! At that point, I felt like things couldn't get any better, but they have."
Recently, Loeb's work has brought "Avengers: X-Sanction" – the four part mini series with Ed McGuinness that not only reintroduced Cable to the Marvel Universe but also served as prelude to the current mega event "Avengers Vs. X-Men." But as the writer noted – and likely many fans remember – the series wasn't actually conceived as a tie-in story. That came as part of the creative process, he said. "That was one of those strange situations. I had wanted to tell a very specific Cable story where he had 24 hours to live, and he was coming back to correct something that had gone wrong in the past. It was sort of taking my left side of my brain, my commando side of my brain, and going 'Okay, how do we apply this in a Terminator sort of world?' That was going to be a really cool story, and then Cable died! So I was like, 'Maybe this is how he comes back.' We started talking about how he comes back, and the more we talked about it, it became clear that this was a story about a man trying to protect his daughter.
"That theme is obviously something I can relate to as I'm very protective of my own daughter, and as I talked to Ed about it, Ed being a dad as well, we jumped in going, 'Let's do this' and it became another matter of timing," Loeb said. "When we looked at it, we went, 'We've got Hope. We've got Cable. This is going to fit right into that juggernaut that's about to come out. How do we make that happen?' I'm a big fan of giving credit where credit is due, and Brian Michael Bendis was the guy who stood up and said, 'Why don't we make this the prologue?' Everybody got very excited about it, and then it became a matter of would Ed and I be able to make the dates. The last thing we wanted was to be late and ship our finale after 'Avengers Vs. X-Men' #1. But we made it, and everything worked out great."
Overall, Loeb's main drive in the series was reestablishing the character as a major player in the Marvel U. "The other major challenge of that story was to tell a great stand-alone story that you could give to any Cable fan to remind them of what a complete and total bad ass he can be. By the same token, we'd get them excited about what was coming because there are all these little Easter Eggs I was dropping in to go, 'Wait until you see what's coming, kids.'"
So what can fans make of Cable's fate? Loeb won't reveal what's next just yet, but when he does return, he'll be very different than he's been in past stories. "The one thing I did want to do was [something I explained when] Axel and I sat down at the beginning of this. I said, 'To have him come back just to come back doesn't mean anything. When I left the book 100 years ago, I was telling this story about the techno-organic virus and how it was a part of him that he was completely losing control of. Here's a chance to see what happens if we go in the exact opposite direction. Let's start with a man who's terminally ill and see what happens when he gets a brand new lease on life in a way we've never seen before.' That was what was so exciting about this story. When you get to the end of that story, he is virus free. And we've seen in Nate Grey – a character I had a hand in creating for 'X-Man' – how powerful this guy can be when the techno-organic virus isn't weighing down everything you're doing. All I can tell you is that when Cable comes back, he'll be a force to be reckoned with. But the length of that gestation period you'll have to wait to see on."
Another major piece of the Marvel U Loeb had a hand in reintroducing was Nova – the teen hero who debuted ahead of "Avengers Vs. X-Men" and who's full story – and connection to new Nova Sam Alexander of the "Ultimate Spider-Man" cartoon – has yet to be revealed. "All I can tell you is that I really love Nova," Loeb said of where the hero will pop up next. "I'm a huge fan, and I honestly believe that Nova fans of all the fans in the Marvel Universe are so stoked about Nova. There are Nova sites and Nova everything. This is a character who needs to be one of the big players in the Marvel Universe, and it's certainly one of the reasons we made him a part of the 'Ultimate Spider-Man' show – so that more people can have that thrilling experience that Nova fans have in whatever incarnation he's going to have. I feel like people are getting to know Sam on the show, and we'll see what's going to happen next in the comics."
For now, readers looking for Loeb's comics work will have to set their sites on "Wolverine" until the Marvel Executive finds the next opportunity to tell one of his stories.