Last week at the New York Comic-Con, I had the opportunity to talk with historical fiction novelist and Marvel Comics writer David Liss about his two big efforts at the House of Ideas. One, as we all know, is the fact that he's been writing the former king of Wakanda as a New York vigilante in Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive. What you may not have noticed, but should have, is that he also got the opportunity to dive into the history of Marvel's New York, pre-Captain America, with an entertaining and compelling pulp miniseries entitled Mystery Men (which may have been lost in the shuffle when people realized it had nothing to do with Mr. Furious and The Shoveler).
Here's a video excerpt from the Crave Online interview with Mr. Liss, and the full text can be found on the next page. Read on, to find out more about Liss, his influences, and what the future may have in store for T'Challa, and what you need to do to make sure we can get more Mystery Men adventures.
INTERVIEW WITH DAVID LISS
CRAVEONLINE: You started as more of a historical fiction novelist, and your comics work is relatively new. What brought you to the comics world?
DAVID LISS: The editor who brought me in for Marvel, Bill Roseman, read one of my novels and he particularly liked the main character, who he said reminded him of an 18th Century Luke Cage. So he contacted me and said 'do you like comics and do you want to write for Marvel?' As near as I can tell, there's only one answer to that question, so that's what happened.
CRAVEONLINE: What was the name of the book?
LISS: A book called The Conspiracy of Paper. The main character is actually in three different novels, called Benjamin Weaver, and those books are currently in development at Warner Bros. for a film series.
CRAVEONLINE: Did you like comics much as a kid?
LISS: Oh yeah, I grew up with comics. You know, I always like to describe myself as a 'narrative junkie.' I love novels, I love comics, movies, TV. If it's a good story, I'm hooked. I am pan-genre in my love. I don't discriminate.
CRAVEONLINE: What comics did you like as a kid?
LISS: I was always a big Justice League fan. I always loved Batman, Superman – I have a weird Martian Manhunter fixation. He's our man of sorrow, and there's something very compelling about that. Of course, everybody loves Spider-Man. Daredevil was probably my favorite Marvel character. Then, a little bit later, I liked a lot of the independent stuff. I was a big Nexus fan, Grimjack. So, you know, across the board.
CRAVEONLINE: So you're steeped in the lore. That's great. Now, Mystery Men was a recent miniseries that was essentially historical fiction, which is right in your wheelhouse, and it explores the very rarely touched-on Marvel pre-Captain America Golden Age, and I was really excited to see that. What inspired that and will there be more?
LISS: Well, the second part first – I sure hope there will be, but you guys need to buy it. Buy it in collection when it comes out. It's all about sales. People who read it really seem to love it. Patrick Zircher, the artist who did an amazing job – he and I both put everything into this book. We were really happy with how it came out, we were really happy that people who read it loved it, but not enough people read it. So, for there to be more, there have got to be more sales. Unfortunately, that's how the business works.
Where it came from was Marvel came to me and said 'we're interested in doing this. Would you have any interest in creating all new characters and pushing the history of the Marvel universe back almost a decade? Again, there's only one answer to that question. So Bill Roseman, the editor, and I, we had a lot of conversations about what kind of characters we wanted. We wanted to work with pulp archetypes. We wanted people to look at them and say 'oh yes, this is that kind of character and that kind of character.' So very rooted in pulp origins, but also for them to have a real Marvel feel. In other words, these characters have to be messed up. They have to have personal problems, they have to have inner demons. So combining those two things – because pulp characters are traditionally just kind of square-jawed, unapproachable, untouchable guys – so combining those two things was really so interesting and so much fun. Like I said, I think the book looks great. Patrick's art is amazing, Andy Troy did a great job with the colors. So it all came together. It's rare the things you want to come together come together as well as this did.
CRAVEONLINE: I want to touch on Black Panther as well, which is your current ongoing series which had a weird sort of development, in that it was originally Black Panther: Man Without Fear which made him replace Daredevil, but now Daredevil is back, and Black Panther is still in Hell's Kitchen even though Daredevil has returned. The last issue, I was excited because Kingpin is messing around in Wakanda, which seems to open up the potential there. Is there a chance that he might break out of this really narrow setting that he's been in?
LISS: Obviously, you know I can't answer anything too specifically, but I will tell you that at the end of this arc with the Kingpin, things are going to be very different. Some of your questions will be addressed in a way that is meaningful.
CRAVEONLINE: When you went and did research for the Black Panther – were you a fan of Black Panther before?
LISS: Well, I was, and I knew the character and I'd read a fair amount of Black Panther, but when you're starting with a new character, you want to read everything you can get your hands on, and you want to know the whole history. There were definitely gaps in my knowledge, and I reread a lot of stuff that I'd read previously. I was really interested in the very different takes that different writers had over the years and what take I wanted to have. My take really came out of the premise that was handed to me, which was 'he's now abdicated, he has no power, he has no tech, and he's in Hell's Kitchen – do something with that.'
The story we're telling is an ongoing story of character. It's not just a single arc. His character has been changing and developing from arc to arc. He starts out at about the lowest moment of his life, and in many ways, it's the story of him finding himself again.
CRAVEONLINE: So, they just revealed that Storm is going to be joining the Avengers, which puts her right in New York regularly. Is she going to be more of a factor ongoing in the series now that she's local?
LISS: That will be interesting to find out, I think. I can't answer it.
CRAVEONLINE: All right, thought I'd throw that out there. They also mentioned at the Spider-Man panel that with the new Daredevil title, they were saying 'well, Hell's Kitchen is fine now, just go look, it's great, so we're trying to move Daredevil out of Hell's Kitchen,' but Black Panther is still stuck there, which seems really weird.
LISS: He's got stuff to do. He doesn't think it's fine. You know, I can tell you, walking around last night after the Marvel party, it didn't seem that fine to me. On my way back to my hotel, I was like 'I could use a little Black Panther escort here.' So I think there's still work to be done in Hell's Kitchen.
CRAVEONLINE: One of the runs I've noticed you've been referencing in there is the legendary Christopher Priest run, which is the run that made me a fan of the character.
LISS: Absolutely, it was a great run.
CRAVEONLINE: I always kind of felt it got shoved under the bus when Reginald Hudlin came on, as it changed drastically, and characters were sort of thrown out, which is why I was so happy that you brought the White Wolf back recently. I thought I would never see any of those Priest characters again. Are there any more Priest characters that you are thinking about bringing back – like Everett K. Ross, even?
LISS: Whenever we talk about a new arc, this is stuff we talk about. So it's all on the table. We're all aware of these characters and we see them as they're all in the green room waiting to come on. We want to use all of them, and it's just a matter of what seems like the best story to tell at this moment for both the character, for the rest of the Marvel U. But we like to use all those characters. I want to do a Man-Ape story.
CRAVEONLINE: Yes! M'Baku!
LISS: There are so many great things to play with, so it's just a matter of if and when you get time for them, but we're Black Panther fans and we want to do this stuff.
CRAVEONLINE: One more impassioned plea to just get him more on the international stage, because that feels like where he belongs. Maybe it's a personal thing. But with the Wakanda thing coming up, can we hope for more international intrigue?
LISS: Like I said, you'll know more in a few months, and again, this is something that we don't ever say 'oh, let's not think about that.' That's something we always talk about, we always think about. We always talk about Storm and how much we want to bring her in, if we want to bring her in, in what way. So all of the concerns that fans have, those are our concerns. We're on top of it. We're thinking about it.
CRAVEONLINE: What other projects do you have coming out?
LISS: In the spring, I'm doing the old pulp character The Spider for Dynamite, and I'm having a blast writing that, that's a lot of fun. I also have early next year, it got pushed back, I'm doing an illustrated novel for Radical called Sword of the Apocalypse. It's sort of like a 12-th century League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Richard III, Saladin, Genghis Khan, Robin Hood and a few other characters get together to find a legendary sword of power.
CRAVEONLINE: That is awesome. Historical fiction is so cool, and I'm so glad you're there. Thank you very much.
LISS: Thank you.