Superhero action in the Marvel Universe is primarily an East Coast thing but this July, writer Matt Fraction and artists Barry Kitson to change that with the launch of their new ongoing series "Champions," announced today during New York Comic-Con. In part one of our look at "Champions," CBR News spoke with Fraction about the series.
"Champions" was born out of Fraction's desire to do something slightly different from his current crop of projects. "I wanted to try writing a team book and I wanted to try writing a straightforward superhero book," Fraction told CBR News. "I saw the post-'Civil War' landscape as a chance to try something different and new but something that was still Marvel and still in the Marvel Universe and tied into everything that's going on. The idea struck me and I couldn't let it go. So that tends to be a good sign that it's something I should follow up on."
In the '70s, Marvel published a book featuring another superhero team that operated out west using the Champions name, but the characters in Fraction's book are all new. "They're connected to the old book in name only," Fraction explained. "They're all new people with all new powers. They're not anybody we've seen before. The only character that we've really seen before is going to be Tony Stark."
Stark has gathered together the Champions for a very specific reason. "It's a team that's really about redemption," Fraction said. "It's a little bit different than the rest of the Fifty State Initiative. It's a little bit different than everything else that's going on. These are all people who have had some degree of fame and heroism in their lives in the past and lost it. It's sort of a social experiment for Tony Stark. It's almost more about the people than it is about the heroes and as it's the California team and it's totally touchy feely, that's perfect for California [laughs]."
Tony Stark is in charge of the Champions but readers shouldn't expect Iron Man to be an active member of the team. Stark's presence will constantly be felt, but his role is not that of an active member. "He's sort of like Zeus. He sits atop of the pantheon," Fraction stated. "I sort of imagine him like how Martin Sheen was supposed to be in the 'West Wing.' He shows up from time to time and is sort of this grand power that everybody is working around. We don't see him. We don't deal with him. It's his baby. It's his pet project. It's his thing He's taking an extraordinary interest in it."
In addition to their unique role the Champions team will also be organized in a way that's distinctive from any other team in the Marvel U. "The team is a competitive entry and continuance and it only lasts a year," Fraction explained. "At the end of your year, your powers are taken away from you. So if you had a year to save the world would you do it? A lot of people would do it and a lot of them would be very good at it.
"They're almost more like a baseball team where you can have three different third baseman on a team and if one of them goes out and drinks and drives, he's out and he's replaced. So, don't get too attached to anybody. People come and people go and it's going to affect the other members of the team as they start to form bonds and relationships with one another and realize people can go away, people can get fired, people can quit, people can be asked to leave if they don't rise to the challenge and if they abuse their opportunity. Stark has no interest in funding that.
"The Champions are like any other high performance work team that's been put together. They don't know each other. They were brought together from separate walks of life and they have wildly different stories and different experiences and they've been given a year to save the world."
Another way in which the "Champions" will be different than other Marvel teams is they'll be assisted in their battle against crime by a network of support staff. "The core team is seven active members and then the upper gods in the pantheon, to sort of extend the metaphor, are training, support, marketing and PR, management, weapons and other departments," Fraction stated. "It's a California team so they're media savvy, but it's not a book about the media. A ball team has a press office and this is a similar sort of vein.
"The Champions are different from the rest of the Fifty States Initiative. It's of course about protecting people and keeping them safe but there are other more interesting social studies and experiments being done with the way the Champions are assembled. It could only work in California [laughs]."
California will be a big part of Champions and not just the City of Angels. "The book starts off with them based in Los Angeles but then San Diego makes a bid for them," Fraction explained. "Then it becomes very much like a baseball team where a bunch of cities begin making deals for them. They'll start off in L.A. but whether or not they stay there, we'll see. California is a big state and Northern California is a lot different than Southern California."
In the first "Champions" story readers will meet a character who before he began working with a super team was part of one of Southern California's most famous industries. "We're going to be looking at the guy who is running the show. Our first story is really about him. He's an actor that once upon a time played Iron Man in a television series and has a kind of personal relationship with Stark. We're going to be looking at that and why Stark chose him to run the show, what the two of them have in common, where they've come from and why them. Why this guy?"
The Champions will face a variety of obstacles and adversaries in their adventures, including some older villains, many new ones, and perhaps their most dangerous adversary, each other. "That's a definite thing; they're going to have to learn to work together as a team," Fraction stated. "We're going to see some older threats, but I'm looking forward to the chance of creating guys for them; very California based adversaries and situations. This book isn't necessarily going to be 'Ha! Moleman shows up in California.' They'll be sort of organic to the state, to the region's history, to the region's people and culture; very California specific things."
With the exception of Runaways, the California of the Marvel Universe has not been really fleshed out. Fraction plans to continue to detail the realities of the MU's Golden State. "It was sort of great to see in 'Runaways' that California was such a blank slate," Fraction said. "It was refreshing to watch Brian create this sort of whole cloth. So, this will be very similar. I'm looking forward to having a similar opportunity in looking at new stuff to play with out here."
It's very important to Fraction that the California setting of "Champions" feel accurate. So much so, that the Kansas City based writer is currently spending a few weeks there to research and get the proper feel of the state. "'Doom Patrol' right before Grant Morrison took over back in the day took place in Kansas City and I believe the extent of the research done was somebody looked at a picture of Union Station and kind of drew it. So it's always great when a book really feels like the place where it's from."
For Fraction the feel of a place involves more than just working in landmarks into the background of his stories. "I know me as a writer and I'm not going to be able to not write a scene in which the Capitol Records building is in the background," he explained. "But it's more about the vibe and the culture and texture.
"Places like L.A. have a sketchy fucking past and it will be in this book," Fraction continued. "I hope to find the stories that convey that beat down L.A. soul that makes the town great. It's got a brutal and weird history. This won't be a crime book but those elements are there. There's also amazing and wonderful things that have happened here. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is out here. There are all kinds of fascinating stuff. It's easy to look at L.A. especially and think Hollywood and then to look at the stuff you've seen on TV and in the movies as being Hollywood, which is not really the case. I'm certainly not an L.A. apologist and I'm not an L.A. super fan. I don't live out here and I don't necessarily love the place, but I find it fascinating. So, if I can tap into that real California soul, which is joyous and sorrowful and scary and wonderful, it will be in there."
Fraction plans to use his unique cast of characters and distinctive setting in "Champions" to tell a variety of stories. "I think there's space for everything," he stated. "It's a big family and there are a lot of different stories to be told. There's a Hurricane Katrina story that we're going to have to deal with. There will also be some stories dealing with the ecological and environmental disasters in California history."
"Champions" artist Barry Kitson is in charge of bringing to life Fraction's diverse stories and the writer couldn't be happier. "I want to write the ultimate Barry Kitson comic. I love Barry's stuff," Fraction said. "It boggles my mind that he's not at the top of things like Wizard's top ten list. I can't wait to write for Barry Kitson. It's a dream come true as far as I'm concerned. I think he's fantastic."
Fraction hopes readers find the tales he tells in "Champions" fantastic. He said, "It's set in a complicated place and I hope it's a complicated book and that we can hit a lot of different notes and tell a lot of different stories but tell them about this family given this extraordinary chance to spend a year saving the world, if they're brave enough and strong enough to do it."
CBR News continues its "Champions" coverage in an interview with artist Barry Kitson coming later today.