REFLECTIONS: Talking with the "Union Jack" Crew of Gage & Perkins

Mon, June 12th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Robert Taylor, Staff Writer

Reflections, Volume 2, Number 20

This is going to be the last edition of "Reflections" on Comic Book Resources…

…for the next two months. And what a shame, too, as I was just getting used to the place. I'm currently beginning a summer-long internship at Wizard Entertainment (yes, the comic book magazine), and since this job might pose as a conflict of interest, I need to bow out for a short period of time. The opportunity is way too big to pass up.

No worries though, I'll return back and better than ever by the end of the summer with several new tricks up my sleeve for the column. Of course, I need to thank Jonah Weiland for his wonderful support of the column before and after I moved it over to this Web site, and you guys, for coming back and reading my stuff every week. Thank you so much.

With that said: Miek Perkins and Christos Gage on "Union Jack." Can't miss miniseries. Interview begins…now.

"Union Jack" #1
Robert Taylor: Hey guys, how's life?

Mike Perkins: Cor Blimey Guv. Luv a duck. Me life's bostin' ay it? Betta tha wurkin dahn on the cut, scrapin' a livin' in order to goo 'ome an gi' the babbi sum suk.

RT: What?

MP: What, am I too English English for you?

RT: Apparently. You really expect me to write that out coherently?

MP: You'd better Adam and Eve it!

Christos Gage: My turn! I'm Jolly good! Ouch…okay, that's enough of me trying to sound British; I'd better leave it to the pros.

RT: So, for those of us living under a rock, who exactly is Union Jack anyway?

CG: Union Jack is Joey Chapman, a blue-collar former art student who moonlights as the defender of Britain. He is the latest to wear the uniform of Union Jack; the others, going back to the WWI era, were all members of the noble Falsworth family. But the last male Falsworth heir was too ill to assume the role, so his friend Joey took up the mantle to assist Captain America in defeating Baron Blood, the original UJ's vampiric arch-enemy. Blessed with enhanced strength, speed, senses and endurance by the mystical Power of the Pendragon, Union Jack has fought evil ever since, both alone and with allies like the New Invaders. When we pick up his story, his life's in a bit of a transitional state, as he's just been through the breakup of both the Invaders and his relationship with one of their members, the superheroine Spitfire.

RT: There's a superheroine called Spitfire? I so want to date her…. Now, how'd you guys jump onboard the miniseries?

CG: I worked with Andy Schmidt, our editor, on a story for "Spider-Man Unlimited" #12. Last year in San Diego we were talking about what we could do as a follow-up, and I mentioned I was a huge fan of what Marvel was doing with "Captain America." Since I'd written "Deadshot" for DC, a book about a villain, we briefly considered a Crossbones miniseries, but it turned out Ed Brubaker had big plans for Crossbones. As an alternative, he suggested Union Jack, since he'd begun planning the "21st Century Blitz" arc that would take Cap to London. As soon as I heard UJ's name, I immediately flashed back to the classic Roger Stern/John Byrne story that introduced Joey Chapman and got really jazzed about the idea! Andy told me to come up with a story that could only be about Union Jack…not one that could just as easily be about Captain Britain or Captain America, but one that grew out of who the character is at his core. I wrote up a pitch he liked. Now all we needed was an artist…

MP: Round about the same time as Chris was talking to Andy and Ed, I was formulating a plan to approach Andy at Chicago and pitch to him the idea of putting me on the penciling duties of a Union Jack mini series. It was one of the first things I did at the convention - at which point Andy walked away. I didn't think the idea was that bad! Little did I know that Mr. Schmidt was walking away to rummage around in his bag and produce a plot synopsis for a "Union Jack" mini-series that he had received from a certain Chris Gage that he was going to look over that very weekend. I was incredibly enthused by this and, when I returned to the studio, produced a promo piece for the series.

RT: What's the story?

CG: A terrorist group called RAID, which has appeared in Cap recently, is trying to declare itself the new premier terror organization in the Marvel Universe. To show their power, they've planned simultaneous multiple strikes on London led by an army of super-villains. Union Jack is called in by MI5 and informed they have just hours to find and stop the bad guys. The only other heroes available on short notice are a mismatched trio: the new Arabian Knight; the Israeli super-agent Sabra; and SHIELD's UK liaison, the Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine. These three are at each other's throats half the time, so it's up to Union Jack to keep them together and get the job done. But when he finds out his boss at MI5 is keeping the news of the attacks secret from the general public, potentially leaving them in harm's way - while the rich and powerful are quietly finding out and evacuating - Union Jack has to decide whether to reveal the truth, even if it means alerting RAID that they're on to their plans. It's action, tension, espionage, and subterfuge in the mighty Marvel manner! Wow, I've always wanted to say that.

RT: Chris, tell us a little about what you are going to bring to the miniseries that another writer couldn't.

CG: Well, I doubt many other writers would use villains as obscure as Ecstasy, Fasaud and the Death-Throws. One of my favorite things to do is take underused characters and make them exciting again. Aside from that, I'll leave it to the readers to decide what my unique contributions are.

RT: You mentioned that this story is specifically for Union Jack, and couldn't fit any other character. Care to elaborate?

CG: I will say that Andy Schmidt and I agreed we wanted to make Union Jack more than a guy who fights vampires -- not that there's anything wrong with that, but the Marvel Universe already has Blade for that purpose. So I revisited the roots of the character - his earliest appearances - and realized one of the defining characteristics of this Union Jack, as opposed to his predecessors, is that Joey Chapman is working class while the others were all nobility. We'll be exploring how that affects Joey…the unique perspective it gives him.

RT: What drew you guys to the character?

CG: His costume is just too cool. Plus his first appearance, in "Captain America" #253-254, is one of my most fondly remembered stories from childhood. Those are the visceral reasons; on a more intellectual level, I am intrigued by the idea of a working class hero representing a country with a tradition of aristocracy. Finally, I think anyone who takes on super-villains with just a knife and a WWI-era gun is totally badass.

MP: Number one -- if you're a Brit, he's a homegrown, working class hero. We kind of come from similar backgrounds, so for me there's an instant connection there with the character.

Number two -- gotta agree with Chris. That is one fine looking costume.

RT: Will there be more miniseries after this one?

CG: That depends on the readers. If enough people buy it and like it, I'll be back. Mike and I have already agreed we'd enjoy doing regular "Union Jack" minis in between Mike's "Captain America" arcs. I like the idea of exploring the Marvel Universe outside the USA a bit more, and Union Jack is a perfect character to do that with.

MP: I would hope so as well. There's so many ways of looking at the character whether from an action point of view or tackling the specific kind of class and politics you find in his base of operations. The ideal situation would be for me to be working on the alternating "Captain America" arcs and fitting in the "Union Jack" minis in between.

RT: Mike…um…first Captain America…now Union Jack…you do know you are British right?

MP: Chuck Dixon believes that I'm not British. That I'm actually from Arkansas (pronounced, by myself, as "Ar - Kan - zus"). I just have a speech impediment.

RT: That would explain quite a bit. Who's filling out the rest of the creative team?

MP: That would be the dynamic duo. The terrific twosome, The accompaniment of Aces - Drew Hennessy on the inks and Laura Villari on the colors. Laura just got married on the 8th of June - so everyone can send their congratulations to her or her lucky husband to be Mr. Andrea DiVito via their respective Web sites. You can send all the flowers, chocolates and gifts to me. I'll make sure they get them, honest!

RT: Oh yeah, did you give them that expensive box of French chocolates I send to them via you?

"Union Jack" #1 Pencils
MP: … (chewing noises)

RT: Mike?

MP: …

RT: Okay…what have been some of the biggest obstacles to overcome so far, both from a writing and artistic standpoint?

CG: Not many at all, knock on wood. There was one minor hurdle where a character we planned to use ended up being needed for "Civil War," but we found out early enough that it wasn't a big deal. Just from a writing standpoint, this is a very action-oriented story, which has been a lot of fun - Andy and I wanted to do an action movie in comics, like a James Bond film with superheroes, so it would be easy to get carried away and make it a four-issue fight scene. But it's the character elements that give it all meaning, so hopefully I've achieved a good balance between the two.

Probably the toughest thing is having to write "The Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine" in the right order and spelled properly every issue.

(whispers) I know what Mike's going to say…that I like to put about a million panels per page. What can I say, I grew up on George Perez! And Mike executes it so well that he just encourages me.

MP: Actually, the numerous panels per page don't phase me. As far as I'm concerned it's all about the storytelling - if that takes a splash or a page with 14 panels per page, then so be it. I'll tackle it regardless with equal enthusiasm and relish. My biggest obstacle is getting Drew and Butch to empty the rubbish bin in the studio.

RT: Allright, let's bring this home. What was your first comic book?

MP: American or English??

RT: Both, British man.

MP: We had the Marvel reprints over the pond. Widescreen formatted Titans comics reprinting the best of the "Avengers," "Ghost Rider," "SubMariner" and "Spider-Man." That would place me at around 2, 3 years old.

The first real American comic book I remember picking up was "Detective Comics" #456. It had a woman in a red dress, in a spotlight, standing over the body of Batman, after she had snogged him to death. "Death Kiss!." I was six years old at the time. Fantastic stuff!

CG: No idea…I started reading at age three and I can't remember back that far. I still have a tattered copy of "Amazing Spider-Man" #161 from when I was five. The first comic I ever made a point of collecting and saving was Marvel's "Godzilla" series; I love it to this day.

RT: Has there ever been a comic book that touched/changed your life? What was it?

MP: "2000AD." It introduced me to artistic influences such as Brian Bolland, Steve Dillon (although I first came across his work on "Absalom Daak - Dalek Killer"), Mike McMahon, Dave Gibbons, Cam Kennedy and thousands more.

CG: I don't know that there's a single issue or title, but comics have had a major influence on my life. I absolutely owe my career as a writer (not just in comics, the screenwriting as well) to having my imagination inspired by comics. My morals and values were shaped by "with great power comes great responsibility" and other heroic ideals. Comics have always been a part of my life, and I'm sure always will be.

RT: If you could only write/draw one book for the rest of your career, what would it be?

CG: DC: "Suicide Squad." Marvel: The classic "Avengers."

MP: I'd love to have a run like Mark Bagley is having on "Ultimate SpiderMan" - although I think I'd have to choose a team book - from a variety point of view. Stick me on the "X-Men" or "Fantastic Four" and I'd be happy.

RT: Who would be your writer/artist partner?

MP: I'm going to weasel out of that one as there are so many flavors I haven't tried yet! I always enjoy collaborating with Mike Carey.

CG: Anyone but Mike Perkins. Okay, okay…for the "Avengers," who else but George Perez. For "Suicide Squad," Frank Miller. For "Union Jack:" Mike Perkins! What can I say; he's grown on me in the last thirty seconds.

RT: What's the best comic book movie ever made?

CG: The first "Superman" movie.

MP: I'd agree with the first half of the first "Superman" movie - just until he finishes his first patrol.

RT: What's the best comic book movie not yet made?

MP: "Preacher."

CG: "Union Jack!"

RT: What is your weirdest convention experience?

MP: I had lunch with a guy who confessed to me that he had stolen one of Jeph Loeb's tickets to a Joss Whedon panel - and then faked a bad leg so that he could sit up front. I think he actually sat in John Cassaday's or Joe Quesada's seat. He had to limp around the convention for the rest of the weekend.

RT: It was actually Dan Buckley's seat…oh wait…I mean…I know nothing about the above story!

MP: Either that - or picking up a "Union Jack" mini series at the Chicago convention last year.

CG: Last year at San Diego I was signing at the DC booth, and among the banners in back of me was one of Krypto. A very irate man in his fifties came up and ranted at me about the fact that in the new cartoon, Krypto can talk. This gentleman was quite firm about the fact that Krypto had never spoken before and should not start now. I could offer no defense, since I've never seen the cartoon and have nothing to do with it, but this guy had a grievance and wanted to air it, so I sat there and nodded sympathetically and hoped he wasn't armed.

RT: If you were remembered for only one thing in your career, what would you want it to be?

CG: Writing good stories, and lots of 'em. Many illustrated by Mike Perkins. He grows on you like mold, that guy.

MP: Illustrating some well written, nicely drawn - high selling - comics.

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