The Power Cosmic: Andy Schmidt talks "Annihilation"

Thu, December 15th, 2005 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

Cover to "Annihilation: Prologue"

You've seen the press release for Marvel Comics' new big event. You've even read the exclusive first interview with Keith Giffen, the writer in charge of "Annihilation." Now it's time to talk to the man upstairs…in the Marvel offices of course. Editor Andy Schmidt is spearheading this 2006 event, as the editor in charge, and CBR News spoke with him to learn more about the genesis of the project.

"Tom Brevoort, Keith Giffen and I were trying to figure out what to do with 'Thanos' when Keith came on to write that book two years ago," explained Schmidt. "We all agreed we should try something new and Keith came up with a cool approach. While that was going on, I had pitched a large "Cosmic Event" to Joe Q. 'Annihilation' grew out of those two discussions. So, building to this announcement yesterday was over two years worth of talking, discussion and brain storming.

"As for what "Annihilation' is, well, that's a little harder to say without giving up too much information. I know we've been throwing around the term "Event" a lot. Both Marvel and DC have. But this is really an epic story. It's a story. It's an event only when and if the fans say it is. If they read it and dig it, then it becomes an event.

"The limited series do have connective tissue but they're also built so you can read any one of them you like. I assure you, if you only want to read about Silver Surfer, you can just read the SILVER SURFER limited and nothing else and you'll be fine. I'm not building these to end with a big "to be continued…"

"For me, I just want to tell new, cool, and refreshing stories with characters that I like. I hope readers will buy them all and want to buy more, but I'm (read: Marvel) not trying to force these books down anyone's throat.

"Wow, that didn't answer your question at all, did it? [laughs]"

With the exception of the poorly received, and now largely irrelevant, "Maximum Security" event years ago, Marvel's cosmic universe hasn't seen much of a spotlight, despite the immense popularity it found in the early nineties, with series such as "Silver Surfer" and "Infinity Gauntlet" proving to be favorites. It does seem like an odd time to bring back the cosmic universe, when both Marvel and rivals DC Comics seem to be trying to pare down their lines, but Schmidt says there's a good reason. " It took some convincing. I'm a really big fan of taking characters that aren't widely considered cool and bringing them back. Like I said above, I had pitched a revival of these characters a while back and it was a no go. There were a couple of factors there. I was relatively new at this editing game, Keith hadn't done that much work for Marvel yet, and there wasn't a lot of confidence in the characters.

"While I didn't get the big event approved back then, I did get 'Drax The Destryoer' approved. I was pretty much given a clean slate. Do what you want-that sort of thing. It turns out that Keith proved himself and so did I. So the bigger story got approved based on the Drax's merits. No, this is not a 'Drax' follow up. If you liked 'Drax,' great! He's in 'Annihilation', but you do not have to read DRAX to understand what's going on in a single 'Annihilation' comic book.

"So, honestly, this has been building internally for a long time. I'm very proud to be a part of 'Annihilation' with all these creators, Tom Brevoort, and Joe Q. It was a long road to get here, but man I'm having a blast!"

With all the big "events" at Marvel, from "Planet Hulk" to "House of M," it's becoming hard for readers to truly pinpoint the "big" events, since all are billed in that fashion, and Schmidt says that the fans play a large part in what's an "event." "Ultimately, fans are the ones who decide what's big and what's not. We try and point them to what we think they'll like, but fans let us know what they like. If the fans buy into 'Annihilation' and get emotionally (and ultimately financially) invested in it, then it's an event and you'll see more stuff come out of it and more stuff of a "cosmic" nature.

"You're the fans. You guys have much more control than you think. You guys tell us if this is an event! We'll follow your lead."

Besides Giffen, whose involvement has been outlined above, Schmidt has assembled a wide breadth of talent to work on the "Annihilation" tie-in mini series and he's proud of the group that's come together. "I've been extremely fortunate in terms of how much freedom I've been given to choose the talent. I've liked the work I've seen from these guys in the past and think they'll bring fresh voices to these characters.

"Simon Furman created Death's Head with Bryan Hitch and I loved that character (I'm also a Transformers fan from back in the day).

"Dan and Andy's Legion of Super-Heroes was the best it's been since Keith Giffen re-booted it like 20 years ago.

"Javier Grillo-Marxuach's Middle Man is a great read! "LOST" is great too, and Javi just knocked me out with his ideas for the Super-Skrull!

"My editing style is such that I build for the story and for the project. So, I reached across the ocean for some of these guys. They're eclectic choices but they all have very unique voices and very cool things to say about these characters. I've wanted to work with every single person on these books. But I didn't build the stories around them, these were the 10 or so guys that I want to work with that are right for these series. I'm sure there's a lot of debate about why I chose who I did, but hey, I think it will all play well once they start coming out or you guys see preview art."

Most of the comic book events today, such as "Infinite Crisis" and "House Of M," have seen mixed reactions by fans due in large part to their tones, as the book involve a lot of hand wringing and brooding introspection. That's something that's never been associated with the Marvel Cosmic U and while Schmidt isn't saying that's going to change, he's not going to say it won't either. "life, "Well, I'm sure no one is going to agree on what the vibe of 'Annihilation' overall will be. It entirely depends on which series you pick up. Some of them are similar to what you describe and some of them are very much a different color. If you pick the whole thing up, I still think different people will walk away with different impressions. It's as long as it is because it's not just one story. There's an overall arc both in terms of plot and character development, but there are a lot of smaller stories-some down beat, some up beat.

"I can tell you that the one thing that you'll definitely see on every book is a Gabriele Dell'Otto painted cover! If that's any indication of what tone we're setting, then there it is. The tone we're setting is that this is real. We're putting our money where are mouth is.

"You'll get lots of action and thrills! You'll get more than a few surprises! Notable guest appearances! Plot twists! These opening limited series are about things happening (you'll see that in the Prologue issue for sure)! I think if you're looking for decompressed story telling, you'll be disappointed.

"Ah-hah, I've gotten awesome at saying nothing!"

"Annihilation" is an interesting project to many, because it's trying to bring in new fans to a universe they know little about and trying to bring back old fans by changing everything. Add in some C-list characters, such as Ronan The Accuser, and you've got some valid concerns about accessibility. "I'm a really big science fiction fan personally," explains Schmidt. "My favorite novels and movies are in this genre but I'd be lying if I said I was a huge Marvel science fiction fan before I started working on this. I've certainly read my fair share of Marvel sci fi stories ('Infinity Gauntlet,' 'Maximum Secruity,' 'Kree/Skrull War') but one of the things I've found is that they have tended not to resonate with me because they're often not terribly personal stories.

"If you look at the cast of characters you'll notice that no two of them are from the same race. So, one of the ways we're attempting to simplify them is by focusing the stories. RONAN focuses on a Kree man. We get into who he is, what he does, and you get a sense of Kree culture. This is true with the 'Super-Skrull' as well.

"If you don't know these characters already, but you WANT to like them (that's how I felt), then I think this is the right place for you. If you're an old-time fan of these characters, then this should be great for you too. They've been so underused of late I think they'll play well for everyone."

With multiple mini-series and a core mini-series tying it all together, the structure of "Annihilation" is very to that of DC's "Seven Soldiers" and "Infinite Crisis," though Marvel isn't trying to ape the Distinguished Competition. " The "cosmic event" as I called it originally has changed. The format for DC's Infinite Crisis works for them. The format of 'Annihilation' I'm hoping works for us. But no, I didn't rip off the structure. I built a structure that fit this project. Does it mirror the structure of a successful project across town? Certainly.

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"In the case of 'Annihilation,' these were characters that I wanted to tell personal stories with as they occur in larger events. So, it seems like a good idea to give them each a focus book or limited series. One of the things that's important if you're reading all of them is that they are going on at the same time. That's part of the fun and so it makes sense from a story stand point to structure them this way.

"This structure also allows those readers who don't want to read the whole thing to choose more easily which characters interest them. We considered doing this as three 12-issue limited series, but that's a huge commitment. This way, you're choosing your bite-sized bits. Ultimately, it's a useful structure both in terms of organizing who writes and draws what, and in terms of building to a big climax.

"Honestly, if the big complaint I hear about is that it has a format similar to something else, I figure I'm in good territory. There's no format I could have used that wouldn't have been compared to something else. As soon as I see someone saying (who's actually read the series) that the story is just like 'Infinite Crisis' or 'House Of M' or whatever, that's when I'll get worried."

For those readers with tighter budgets, who've been buying all the "events" lately, Schmidt understands your fiduciary concerns and says he understands that some want the "bare essentials." " It all depends on which characters you as an individual like the most," he explains. "If you only like Ronan (come on, I know there are like 5 giant Ronan fans out there), then just buy 'Ronan.' If you love it, then buy 'Annihilation' proper. If you feel like you got your fill of 'Ronan' in the 4 issues in his limited, then don't get 'Annihilation.'

"Don't overload yourself. That's entirely possible with these kinds of things. It's your money. I've labeled them as clearly as I can. You like Nova, get 'Nova'. You like the Silver Surfer, get 'Silver Surfer.' If you like big stories that have consequences and character arcs, then get the whole thing.

"And if you're not sure which ones you'll be interested in, get 'Annihilation: Prologue' and see if any of the characters peek your curiosity. Heck, decide as you go!"

Schmidt is a bit more quiet on the topic of how this event affects books such as "Young Avengers" and "Runaways," which involve alien members ("Only time will tell on this one") and when asked about the return of Quasar, everyone's favorite b-list Marvel hero, he says "Yes, there's always a chance."

If you're still unsure about "Annihilation," then Schmidt has this to say, " Check it out because you're excited! We're doing new things with these characters.

"Check it out because you're daring to pick up a comic book with a ridiculous title like 'Super-Skrull.'

"They're good-at least I think so. I love reading comics, and I hope you guys are all going to love reading these comics."

And now you can talk about the story on CBR's Marvel Universe Forum.

 
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