The Fantastic Four-In-One: Javier Grillo-Marxuach talks "Super-Skrull"

Wed, January 4th, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

It's unusual to see a "big event" launched in comics with overwhelming applause, but it seems as though Marvel Comics has done that with "Annihilation," their 2006 battle in the stars event. CBR News has spoken with architects Keith Giffen and Andy Schmidt, but today we're turning out attention towards Javier Grillo-Marxuach, writer on television's "LOST," who will be writing the tie-in "Super-Skrull" series. It focuses on the titular character, a long time villain of the Fantastic Four, whose combination of abilities mimics that of the FF and whose morals are, well, non-existent. Super-Skrull is one character that no one expected to get his 15 minutes of fame in 2006 and it's made fans curious about the series. Grillo-Marxuach was happy to talk to CBR News, via instant messenger (no, you can't have his username), a talk that began as oddly as it ended.

CBR News: Hey!

Javier Grillo-Marxuach: Hello!

CBR: Before we start, if I sent you a "Lost Personality Quiz," would you be able to fill it out for the interview?

JGM: Sure, is this one of those "which character are you?" things?

CBR: Yeah. I'm Sawyer. Which may or may not be a good thing.

JGM: Almost done...

Boone
You scored 55% kindness, 63% courage, 44% seedy past, and 30% secretiveness!


"I know you made a promise. I'm letting you off the hook. Let me go, Jack."

You are Boone. You are kind and brave, with a slightly less checkered past than your fellow survivors. You are an open book, and do not keep secrets from anyone. While your humanitarian efforts are chivalrous, being so trusting and helpful can get you into major trouble...especially when you spend your days hanging around John Locke. Stay away from the manipulative types and you should be winning a Nobel Peace Prize in no time.

Yeah, that was accurate.

CBR: Is that a good result?

JGM: You tell me. I mean - he's dead!

I can tell you several things I don't have in common with Boone, beginning with that I am not decomposing.

CBR: Considering you killed the guy and then threatened to chop off his leg, after he hit on his sister...

JGM: Boone didn't just hit on his sister...

... he tapped that - hard!

Sorry.

I'm a vile cad.

CBR: At least you're not Ethan, right?

Ethan was misunderstood.

CBR: Canadians. Can you really trust them?

JGM: Dunno. I grew up watching "Mr. Dressup" and "Friendly Giant' on CBC.

They seemed trustworthy.

CBR: So let's begin, eh?

SUPER-SKRULL (Marvel Comics)

CBR: Let's start at the beginning. How'd you get involved with "Super-Skrull?"

JGM: It was a pretty simple thing actually, Andy Schmidt, my editor, knew about me from "Lost" and "The Middleman," as well as from Damon Lindelof, who - as you know - is doing "Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk" over there...

CBR: So you didn't bribe Marvel by telling them who the monster is?

JGM: There actually is a distinct possibility that I scored this job on talent! Anyway, a few emails later, Andy was telling me about "Annihilation" and I have to admit I was not very familiar with Marvel's cosmic characters. But I liked the arena quite a bit, and the Super-Skrull assignment was open - so I went off, did some research on the green guy and next thing you know I had an idea about how to bring something fresh to the character.

CBR: And what made this all so interesting to you? Was it childhood nostalgia or something about this event that drew you in, like the girl in the red dress at the bar with the come hither look in her eye?

JGM: I came to love K'Lrt out of the research I did to develop a take on the character, not out of nostalgia.

CBR: So what makes him K'Lrt so compelling for you? I'm sure a lot of people look at him as though he's just a big dumb villain or a clich.

JGM: There's a two-pronged answer to that.

It was a three-pronged answer, but then it changed.

Damn prongs.

First, I found that there is a lot of tragedy and, for lack of a better word, humanity to the character that has never really been tapped. K'lrt is an oft-defeated villain, and because he has been on the losing side of so many battles, he has a lot to prove - and that's an intrinsically interesting place form which to tell a story. The second and deceptively final prong...is that he is a villain. Why is that interesting?

Because here you have a guy with the combined powers of the Fantastic Four - but because thematically he lacks the familial values of the fantastic four, he can never win in a contest against them. That is the theme of those books. When you take him out of that Manichean superhero/supervillain contest you are left with a guy who has all of the powers of the Fantastic Four - and the will to use those powers in less than scrupulous ways in order to achieve his goal. Through "Annihilation," Super-Skrull has a relatable goal, he wants to beat back the enemy, but he is not exactly bound by heroic codes of honor.

Put simply, he can frag ass in ways Reed Richards would never imagine.

So give that power to someone with the way to use it by any means necessary and you got yourself a pretty durned interesting character. This was the defining moment for me: I was working on the story and I came up with a beat in which Super-Skrull defeats a group of Annihilation wave soldiers by stretching out his arm until it is razor-wire thin and snapping it in such a way that he decapitates a squad of incoming soldiers. And I stopped and said to myself "Wow, Reed Richards would never do that!" And all of the sudden, Super-Skrull came to life for me: he went from being a fairly ineffectual legacy villain in the Marvel Universe to being the cosmic version of Clint Eastwood' s "Man with No Name."

CBR: What are Super-Skrull's goals? What makes him tick?

JGM: What makes Super-Skrull tick is that he is an old villain - but he doesn't see himself as a villain. He sees himself as a warrior who has given his life for a vision of the Skrull Empire, a vision that is no longer current. He is an outcast - a man without a country who has done questionable things, but has never shown the slightest pity or mercy because it was always what he thought was right for his people. Now, no one wants him, but the universe is in crisis and he can't help but step into the fray.

CBR: So, then is the Skrull Empire as evil as we've seen in comics or, like Ethan Rom, are they misunderstood?

JGM: To paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi, many of the truths they adhere to depend on a certain point of view. Super-Skrull was trained to use his powers for the glory of the empire, to him, what he does is the right thing. But in this limited-series, Super-Skrull is acting alone - even the empire turns on him as a relic. So, all this character has is his own peculiar sense of what is right and wrong. In this case, he is objectively on the side of right, but his methods... well, they are the methods of a very, very mean guy.

CBR: With a war story, in this day & age, do you feel that you're influenced by current events? Or do you stay away from making your work that "kind" of statement?

JGM: I just approached it from the point of view of this guy who is perceived as a villain. How about I just look at him as a guy doing what he thinks is right and go from there? He is evil - but the annihilation wave is worse, and that makes him our hero, even if he has a tendency to fight fire with gasoline.

As far as current events - this really isn't something to be read as a metaphor for current events - it exists for two reasons, or prongs, as it were...

1) How do we make a thirty year-old villain fresh and exciting - and interesting as a character?

2) I like heroes who act like villains. I like it when Batman ignores due process and dangles guys off roofs to get info from them. I like it when Dirty Harry shoots a bad guy and then steps on his wound while he lies there screaming in agony. I like it when Robocop shoots a sexual predator in the nether regions.

There is an element of wish fulfillment that you can only get with characters who push the extreme of heroism into an unbridled form of highly legalistic bad-assery - what we D&D geeks call "lawful evil."

Super-Skrull was ripe for that kind of treatment - and what's more is, he doesn't understand why people think of his as a villain! To him, he is just using the tools he was given to fulfill the vision of morality he was taught!

I'm out of prongs.

CBR: So, to use a "Lost" analogy, is he the Sawyer of "Annihilation?"

JGM: Nope. Super-Skrull is the Super-Skrull of "Annihilation!"

Let me put it to you this way: Sawyer is a deeply wounded guy who, at the end of the day, backed out on a con for fear of hurting a child in the way that he himself was hurt. He is a rake and a badass - but we all know he has a soft, chewy center, even if he constantly sabotages himself. If you sent in a shrink to give you an in-depth analysis of the psychology of Super-Skrull...

YOU WOULDN'T GET IT, CAUSE HE'D FRAG THE SHRINK - HE'D STRANGLE THE GUY WITH HIS STRETCHY ARM, THEN POUND HIM WITH HIS THING HAND, THE BURN HIM WITH HIS FLAME-ON!

It's a very subtle distinction.

CBR: So, there's no chance of Marvel continuing their romance line with "Super-Skrull?"

JGM: Oddly enough, that was my original pitch! I had him wooing Gwen Stacy with ice skating at Rockefeller center! Then drinks at the Rainbow Room!

CBR: Well, she did go for the Green Goblin, so this is a step up, right?

JGM: ... then BURNING THINGS AND POUNDING ON THEM WITH HIS THING HAND!

To me, this is a story about an old soldier, the kind of character you'd see played by Lee Marvin or Robert Shaw.

CBR: Switching gears, what's it like to work with Greg Titus, the artist on the book?

JGM: I was a fan of Titus' work before he came on board. I was a ground-floor purchaser of "The Imaginaries" specifically because I liked his art so much. So when Andy suggested him, I got very excited. This is a book and a character that demands a look that is a little different. I think that people have a very set way in which they perceive Super-Skrull - the look of the character, his leotard, his malicious lantern-jawed grin - our job is to change that while keeping him recognizable as Super-Skrull, and Titus is giving this universe and this character a truly fresh spin. His art has a very unique signature that sets it apart - also, and this is pretty important, the guy is not only a surgeon in terms of how he is portraying these characters, he also does a mean action sequence - and this book has a lot of them. Honestly, the book should just be called "Super-Skrull Frags Everyone In Every Way."

CBR: So are you planning to work further with Super-Skrull after this? Or would that spoil the end?

JGM: I am loving this character tremendously... and I wouldn't mind becoming "the Skrull guy." Let's see if this mini does well, and this interpretation of the character, because if it does, I have a lot of ideas. I really think Super-Skrull could become an iconic, Toshiro Mifune/Clint Eastwood (in his Dirty Harry/Man With No Name Idiom) character: a very dark, master-less knight who shows up places and wreaks justice in a very harsh way.

CBR: Let's switch gears for a moment and talk about your creator-owned series "The Middleman." What's coming up?

JGM: I'm glad you asked!

"Middleman" is starting 2006 with a killer 1-2 punch of sheer, unadulterated quality! First the TPB collecting the first four issues - all of volume one, with an intro by Paul Dini and a bunch of other special features, then Volume #2, Issue #1 - specially priced at 99 cents, so there really is no excuse not to pick it up!

And let me tell you, volume two... it's an order of magnitude superior to the first mini! Les's already awesome art has totally gone to the next level - and the story, it's a lot, a lot more ambitious than the first mini. If you can find another book out there that has Mexican Wrestlers fighting Asian Martial Arts Masters, babes in salamander costumes, the Antonov AN-125, decapitated octagenarian combat droids and a cursed Mayan Pyramid... well, just go buy it!

CBR: Can you give new readers the 411 on the book?

JGM: You got it... it's the story of Wendy Watson, a young art school graduate whose life is going nowhere... until she meets up with the Middleman, a mysterious operative from the world's most absurdly secretive organization. Wendy is soon drafted into service and takes up the cause of fighting threats extra-, infra-, and juxta-terrestrial.

The book is the story of how she deals with fighting monsters, aliens and talking monkeys while living her own life - and it's about this really cool master/apprentice relationship she develops with the Middleman, who is a very straight-arrow, Dirk Squarejaw character who is completely unfazed by her "whatever" attitude.

It's a book which juxtaposes these truly absurd sci-fi, spy-fi, wire-fu situations with monsters and so on with very real emotions and characters that the audience can understand. It's my attempt at grafting the most ridiculous elements of the sci-fi genre with a core of humor and relatability.

CBR: Is there a long-term plan for the book, or are you and Viper Comics taking it one series at a time?

JGM: Ya know, I think I have enough of long-term arcs with my day job!

So I am taking it one series at a time - I know what the mythology is behind the Middleman and all of that, but for me, the pleasure in writing this kind of material is to set up a world and some characters and explore where they take me. I do know what the third miniseries would be about in terms of Wendy's life and who the antagonist would be... but it's not like there's some great plan... this one's all about coming up with cool stuff and entertaining the audience with the possibilities!

LOST (Wednesday's on ABC)

CBR: Well, I guess that as good as any segue way into "LOST." Talk to us a bit about working on one of television's top shows.

JGM: There's two prongs to this one!

CBR: I love prongs. [laughs]

JGM: That's good because we seem to be in a prong-rich environment!

Ok, first prong - it's my job. I get up, go to work and I'm there for long hours working to make it the best I can make it. In that way it's no different from the least successful show in which I have worked... that part of it is just about being in the zone and coming up with the best story and character material I can.

Second prong... you stop, you take a step back...and you go HOLY CHEESE AND CRACKERS - HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE WATCHING THIS? HOW MANY EMMYS DID WE WIN? WE'RE ON THE COVER OF WHAT?

And then it becomes this overwhelmingly huge thing - and you just sit back and enjoy the ride, because it's humbling and it's a once-in-a-lifetime. The elements don't always come together to create something as spectacular as "Lost" in terms of the popularity, the critical response and the quality of the material, and I, for one, certainly appreciate the hugeness of it. I also respect it. It's rather big. Like - you may think Buicks are big, but that's peanuts to "Lost."

CBR: Now, I won't ask you what the monster is, but does the devotion of fans, so much that they'll hound you over that, ever scare you? And how do you think it compares to comic fans?

JGM: I'm not gonna lie to you. Super-Skrull might be the monster [laughs].

It doesn't scare me at all, I love and appreciate it. Look, I am coming from that exact place myself. I love comics, I am a Trekker, I love Doctor Who and when I get into something I like to know everything that there is to know about it. The people who scare me are the ones who don't have that kind of otaku-like compulsion. I don't get how you could be into something and not get all Travis Bickle on it.

(Only without the mohawk and the killing and the "you talkin' to me?")

CBR: So have you considered "Lost" comics at Marvel? You and Damon are there...

JGM: I consider all sorts of things - that and a ticket will get you on the subway! Seriously though, there was an "Alias" comic and there will probably be a "Lost" comic, I don't know with whom or when, but it's just a matter of time and all the elements coming together to make it something worthy of the show.

CBR: Do you guys feel more pressure this season? It seems like there's a mini-rebellion on some websites. Like it's cool to hate on "Lost" now.

JGM: Dude, I'm just going in and doing the best job I know how to do - I have two exceptional bosses in Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, whose job is to steer the ship and keep us all on the straight and narrow, and I trust that they are great at it. If we tell our story with integrity and stay true to our vision, then when it's all done we can all walk off into the sunset holding our heads high, and hopefully, the world will agree. But the moment you start playing to what you think the audience wants, that's when it all goes to hell...

CBR: So, without spoilers, what's your favorite aspect of "Lost" that you think others haven't picked up on?

JGM: Other than in an upcoming episode when they find a vale full of Easter island-like statues of Hurley?

What I like about "Lost" more than anything else is the sad destinies of the characters. One of Damon's great skills is this amazing sense of pathos with which he imbues the inner lives of the people on the show. Everyone is wounded and trying to redeem themselves and falling back into old patterns of behavior. To me that's the heart of the show, and it's where I like to live...

…and to be honest, all the action and cool stuff in "Super-Skrull" aside, that's what I dig most. It's about a guy who can't help but be a loyal, tenacious and ruthless soldier - it's in his nature.

CBR: Well, wrapping things up, my mom is a sweet lady and as she's getting older, she's pickier about TV and she loves "Lost." But Ana Lucia bothers her. Any chance Ana can disappear so my mom can die a happy woman?

JGM: For your mom... anything! Note to self - write email to Damon...

For more on "Annihilation," check out our interviews with Writer Keith Giffen and Editor Andy Schmidt.

 
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