Of Civil Wars and Sidekicks: Jenkins talks "Civil War: Front Line" and "Sidekick"

Wed, March 22nd, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Dave Richards, Staff Writer

When "Civil War" erupts in the Marvel Universe this May, the action will be coming fast and furious from many fronts. Hero will fight hero, teammates will become enemies and, like every war, there is certain to be casualties. Writer Paul Jenkins and artist Ramon Bachs will be taking readers to the various hot spots around the Marvel Universe when their bi-weekly mini-series "Civil War: Front Line" begins in June. CBR News spoke in depth with Jenkins about "Front Line" and briefly about "Sidekick," a five issue bi-weekly mini-series from Image Comics launching in June that also examines the complicated lives of superheroes, but in comedic light.

"Front Line" was born out of a discussion between Jenkins and Marvel Comics EiC Joe Quesada about the types of stories Jenkins could work into the framework of Marvel's "Civil War" storyline. "They looked at the way 'Generation M' came down and they were pretty happy with the result. The general feeling was that we had done a pretty successful tie-in considering it featured a new character," Jenkins told CBR News. "So, I was telling Joe how much I liked doing war stories. Even though I like doing all of that kind of stuff, Ramon and I were going to be doing 'The Pulse.' Joe said he preferred that we took the character of Sally Floyd [the star of 'Generation M'] and do a similar story where we tie in these embedded reporters to the whole situation in 'Civil War.' That gave us a chance to tell loads of different, interesting stories."

Readers don't have to be familiar with "Generation M" or "The Pulse" to pick up "Civil War: Front Line." Sally Floyd's story in "Front Line" picks up shortly after the conclusion of "Generation M." "The way we presented the arc in 'Generation M' was that she's an alcoholic," Jenkins said. "She gets to the end of the arc and stands up for the first time and admits it. She's really just at the last base we left her at, at the end of the series. She's getting used to life."

While Sally is getting used to her life and newfound popularity as a journalist, which allows her the freedom to write about almost anything, her co-star in "Front Line," Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich, finds his professional life has become much more complicated. "I really wanted to write something that was very realistic and in the past it hasn't been set up too great in the sense that Ben has a personal relationship with J. Jonah Jameson because normally reporters don't," Jenkins explained. "You never hear from the publisher if you're a reporter.

"Basically we're going to set up that Ben is sort of working for Rupert Murdoch. That's just who Jameson is," Jenkins continued. "That's something that Robbie Robertson points out to him early on and it's something that he knows full well. The truth is your primary goal is as a reporter, but that's not your job. Your primary job is to sell newspapers. In Jonah's world, it's like a tabloid of sorts, the idea of being subversive and writing things as you really see them won't fly because Jonah doesn't give a rat's ass whether you see it that way or not. It's like, 'Here's your editorial angle. Here's the things that I'm asking you to write and if you don't want to write them, I'll go get someone else to write them.' He doesn't have a choice, it's a bit more right slanted. Sally is more left slanted. Ben's told, 'We approve of the registration act.' Sally doesn't approve personally."

They might be professional rivals in their coverage of the Superhero Registration Act, but Ben and Sally are good friends. "They're like two lawyers who go into court and argue against each other for hours and hours and then they walk out and have a beer together," Jenkins stated. "Their relationship is like that, but what I think they will find is they get some interesting surprises from doing all this stuff. Not only that, but their friendship is really tested by this."

In addition to testing their friendship, their coverage of "Civil War" will test Ben and Sally's professional mettle. "This is his job and he's pretty good at it. He does what he's told to do, but he begins to see things a little differently than he always has," Jenkins explained. "I think one of the things that will come out is his long experience as a reporter is more profound than Sally's. She's done an opinion piece, but now she's doing news. And because of her kind of fractured personal life, it's not that easy for her and it's beginning to affect her more as she reports on this difficult stuff."

Ben and Sally are the stars of "Embedded," which is just one of the two main ongoing stories in "Civil War: Front Line." The other story is called "Accused." "We have another section that's dedicated to a very surprising character," Jenkins said. "This character's story is going to blow your mind."

The main characters of "Front Line" will be the mysterious protagonist of the "Accused" story and Ben and Sally in "Embedded," but they aren't the only characters in the series. Readers can expect appearances by a multitude of the Marvel U's familiar faces. "Mark Millar and I are sort of sharing everybody at the moment," Jenkins explained

In addition to the two main stories in "Front Line," each issue will also contain some small back up stories and vignettes titled "Civil War Correspondences." "It's basically taking a letter or an announcement from somebody's perspective and paralleling it to one of the events in the 'Civil War,'" Jenkins explained.

One example of this will be seen when Jenkins uses a poem by Wilfred Owen, a World War I soldier and well known war poet, to help place the events within "Civil War." "I've got to admit I'm not really a big fan of poetry, but World War I poetry is a cut above. It's a completely different thing. It's tragic, brilliant and so descriptive," explained Jenkins. "This is like their war photography. They were the war correspondents. So, we take this really nice, tragic poem and we sort of contrast it to the death of a costumed character. Here's a death in the First World War and it transcends the years. It's just as relevant."

It won't be just war poetry that Jenkins will be using in "Correspondences." "We've also got things like Winston Churchill's speeches on certain people during war time," Jenkins explained. "They were very inspiring. The jury is still out as to what kind of person he really was, but his war time speeches really galvanized the population against Nazi Germany.

"I wanted to do one about Anne Frank's diary," Jenkins continued. "I don't spend much time online, but it's interesting to see a few people have already objected without seeing it as if in I'm not qualified to comment on it apparently because I'm not Jewish. Frankly, the question as to whether I'm Jewish or not is nobody's fucking business. Maybe I am."

The reaction to "Civil War" has been very strong, people are both excited and angry about the story, and this has led some people to make another unfair assumption about Jenkins. "There was this assumption that there was going to be some kind of left wing bias on my part. I can't imagine why, except that maybe people assume that as a writer I must have left wing leanings and my political leanings are not anybody's business. Having said that, as a writer almost anything I do is people's business.

"At a certain point I did an interview and said I'm actually kind of a pretty central guy and that my intention in 'Front Line' was really to present both side" Jenkins continued. "I'm neither left nor right. As far as voting practices go, it's the person I actually agree with-- what a novel friggin' concept, right? One of the readers of the interview basically posted online that he could tell from the way I wrote Sally Floyd that I'm just a liberal. And I'm not. I went, 'Hang on a minute the political viewpoint of this character does not necessarily represent the management.' Just because I write that Sally Floyd is left wing doesn't make me left wing. I said, 'I'm relatively central.' The answer I got back was, 'Anne Coulter describes herself as a centrist. So does Hillary Clinton.' It's like you can't win sometimes."

Jenkins is a political centrist, but his personal and professional life brings him into contact with many people from both ends of the political spectrum. "I live in Georgia and I see staunch Republicans all the time," Jenkins said. "The assumption here in Georgia with a lot of people, that frankly I'm quite friendly with, is that if you vote Democratic you must be a traitor. It amazes me, but it doesn't escape my notice that the exact same thing happens when I go to California to work on the film stuff that I do. I have a conversation with somebody about Republicans and George Bush and their answer is George Bush is an evil, manipulative person. Then you go, 'Wait a second you're opinion is exactly the same as Republicans except reversed.' Everybody's polarized and nobody talks about it."

The polarization of the country has also generated lots of heated debate and discussion amongst comic fans over "Civil War." It's really funny and gratifying in some ways to watch people get polarized around this material, "Jenkins stated. "It goes to show that it's a good idea to do a book like 'Civil War' because that's what's going on and Marvel has always been the kind of publishing company that's doing books about what's going on in society."

In addition to giving readers a topically relevant story, Marvel is also making "Civil War: Front Line" a great value by allowing Jenkins and Bach's to stuff the comic with story. "I'm really excited about the fact that we're giving people 32 pages of story with no ads for $2.99," Jenkins said. "People are getting an awful lot of material for their money."

Some readers might be wondering whether Jenkins and Bachs will be tackling their original assignment of "The Pulse" once "Civil War: Front Line" is completed. "I've talked with Joe and he's very happy for me to do a book like 'The Pulse.' I don't know if it will be called 'The Pulse' or if it won't," Jenkins explained. "What they're giving me, and I think it's awesome, is they're basically saying, 'Look Paul, go off and tell any fucking story you like about anybody at any time in the Marvel Universe. Whatever you want go ahead.'"

Readers can expect this book to feature members of the Marvel Universe's fourth estate. Jenkins confirmed that Sally Floyd will most likely be part of his next project, but he said the jury is still out on whether or not Ben Urich will play a role in the series.

Jenkins has another series launching in June that will appeal to readers who need a laugh after reading some of the deadly serious "Civil War" tie-ins. The series is titled "Paul Jenkins Sidekick," a five-issue mini-series from Image Comics. "It's about a superhero sidekick who works for this really fucking useless, moronic superhero and he just can't make any money. So he decides he's going to be superhero sidekick for four heroes at once," Jenkins said. "The guy drawing it is Chris Moreno, who does this mad book called 'Monkey in a Wagon vs. Lemur on a Big Wheel.' It's bizarre and brilliant and I just saw his stuff and went, 'This is hilarious.' He's the perfect guy to draw 'Sidekick.'

Jenkins described the action is "Sidekick" as all out mayhem. In its five issue run the title character of "Sidekick" will find himself in a multitude of bizarre, twisted, and hilarious situations. "He's got a bi-polar stripper girlfriend whose favorite thing to do is beat him up," Jenkins said. "It's completely rude. You'll believe a sex doll can fly."

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