Benjamin Ong Pang Kean
When you put the two
words together in a sentence, it sounds so British.
For example, "Blimey!
Paul Cornell's writing Wisdom, a new six-issue MAX limited
series! That bastard!"
Sounds British to you
Yeah, we thought so.
We figured you'd go, "Paul Cornell who?" when you heard the news.
Paul Cornell is a novelist
and television writer (notably for Doctor Who). He is also
the creator of Bernice Summerfield, a Doctor Who spin-off character
serving as a new companion of the Seventh Doctor in Virgin Publishing's
range of original full-length Doctor Who novels, the New
He is no stranger to
comics, though, especially in the United Kingdom. He's previously
written a comic strip for the 2000AD Judge Dredd Megazine
(with D'Israeli in #209-214), now collected as XTNCT:
Cm nd Hv G f Y Thnk Yr Hrd ngh!. Other comics work include Doctor
Who in Doctor Who Magazine #156, 174, 197-202 & 207, Pan-African
Judges (with Siku, in Judge Dredd Megazine #2.44-49) and
Deathwatch: Faust & Falsehood (with Adrian Salmon, in Judge Dredd
And did we say that
he wrote for the long-running British science fiction television
program produced by the BBC about a mysterious time-travelling adventurer
known only as "The Doctor", who explores time and space with his
companions, fighting evil?
"Mark Millar tripped
and fell in front of a television on the night my episode of Doctor
Who ["Father's Day"] was broadcast last year. At his age, falls
are becoming, you know, an issue. Thanks to the angle his head was
jammed at against the sofa, he was unable to get away, and watched
the whole thing, and, still in a befuddled state, told everyone
he liked it. The guys at SFX Magazine were amongst his victims,
put us in touch, and I then viciously exploited his generosity to
pitch a few things to Marvel. There's nobody as good at networking
as Millar. You could parachute him into conflict zones and... well,
okay, the actual conflict would get worse... but you'd find him
having drinks on the embassy balcony with all the major players,"
Cornell explained to Newsarama, when asked how he got across the
Atlantic Ocean to work with the House of Ideas on Wisdom.
"Wisdom was [editor] Nick Lowe's idea. He's splendidly filthy,
by the way. Almost British. He sent me a huge wadge of photocopies
of Pete's backstory, but what he didn't know was that I was already
a Pete fan. My wife's very into Kitty Pryde, and got me back into
comics while we were courting, years ago, and the Pryde and Wisdom
mini-series was one of the first things I bought. That bit in Excalibur
where Pete freaks out the psychic interrogator with how nasty his
past is: one of my favorite moments in comics.
Taking the blame for
the Wisdom series is something Lowe will cop to, gladly.
"For the last few years I have had an unhealthy obsession with Pete
Wisdom," the editor said. "He fascinates me and I think it's amazing
that he hasn't appeared more in the Marvel Universe. Much thanks
to the genius of his creator, Warren Ellis, he is such a cool character
with a unique and yet completely identifiable personality- he doesn't
much like what he does, but the duty he feels pushes him to continue.
I think that's very relatable. So I've been wanting to do something
with him for a long time. And that wasn't a secret.
"So when Ruwan Jayatillike,
who does a lot of work up here recruiting writers and such, came
to me and told me about Paul - who he was, what he wrote, and mentioned
him as a possible writer for the Pete Wisdom project I'd been endlessly
talking about I was intrigued. Then Ruwan - or "Road House", as
we like to call him - gave me a DVD of Paul's Dr. Who episode
and I knew Paul was the guy for the project. I told him that I wanted
to do something with Pete Wisdom and MI-13, a branch of the British
Secret Service, he came back to me with a kick-ass pitch for the
book. It's one of the things you live for as an editor."
Cornell elaborated on
the story. "Wisdom is the story of Pete Wisdom's day job,
with the group of (largely super) operatives he runs as the sole
intelligence officer at MI-13, the division of British intelligence
that deals with Weird Happenings.
"It's a MAX series,
which means not so much sex and violence...well, quite a bit... okay,
it's a bloodthirsty shagfest, all right?...as the chance to tell
stories in different ways. For a start, the first three issues are
three complete stories. They contribute to the six-issue storyline,
though, and should make for a satisfying compilation. It's beery
and bawdy and entirely set in Britain. And British territorial waters.
I get to use a few of my favourite British Marvel characters. Black
Jack Tarr and Sir Clive Reston KCBE! Nobody else got a little shiver
then, did they? I'm trying to deal with a genuine modern Britain
that's not twee, but where we can still visit the mystical. So we're
on a helicopter-borne military assault on Otherworld/Avalon in the
first issue, automatic weapons against fairies, and in the second
issue we've got something ancient and terrible in a little Wiltshire
village. Those familiar with the character will recall how much
Pete enjoys popping down to Wiltshire. It's not parochially British.
If you like that hard-nosed sense of pubbish humor that the Brits
in the field already have toyed with, you could do worse than give
this a try.
"Pete's team are entirely
new characters, apart from one who's been mentioned and seen in
flashbacks during the Bronze Age. (Couldn't we find a better name
for my favourite comics era?) There are some X-guest stars a few
issues in, including a scene with Captain Britain that I've wanted
to write since I was ten. One of the team is John the Skrull, who
was part of Operation British Invasion, where in the 1960s the Skrulls
wanted to replace the Beatles and influence the world. He decided
that anyone could do an alien invasion, that he wanted to do something
more arty, and stuck around, still pretending to be John. He's starting
to think he should put his relationship with Captain Boko of the
Kree behind him, call Skrull Paul and maybe talk about getting the
band back together.
"In one way, it's about Fortean mysteries, that lead into a big
Marvel Universe apocalyptic British battle, in another it's about
Pete's life and backstory. And there's a new romance for him. Terrifyingly.
Because if you want to get involved with Pete, there are some things
you really should know about him but probably don't."
According to Lowe though,
the miniseries wasn't necessarily set to be a MAX title from the
start. "It was going to be more like a Marvel Knights book, but
when the opportunity to go MAX came up, we jumped at it," Lowe said.
"The thing is, Pete has always been more of a MAX character. He
drank to much, he had terrible memories of the horrors of war fare
and his solutions were never the kind of solutions that, say, Captain
America would decide on. So it is just appropriate. One of the great
things a MAX label gives us is an opportunity to play with genre.
This isn't a super hero book. It has some similar elements - i.e.
fighting, but it's a sci-fi book. That's one of Paul's specialties,
so we wanted to let him run wild with it. It's a book about spies
who deal with crazy supernatural sh*t. And it's gorgeous.
So, wouldn't it be good
if the two former lovers, Pete Wisdom and Kitty Pryde, could get
back together? After all, since Colossus is now back in the pages
of Astonishing X-Men and all other Marvel comic books, wouldn't
it be cool to have a slugfest other than a shagfest?
"I know what some of
you are thinking: wouldn't it be good if Pete and Kitty could get
back together? And I kind of agree. Kitty should be with this Pete,
not that Pete. That must come in handy, that coincidence. Saves
all sorts of post-coital misunderstandings... I'd like to see the
two Petes fight it out. In a pub. On wet sawdust. Never mind pro
or anti registration, what about 'Peter War, I'm with Wisdom'? 'Cos
Kitty deserves so much more. Simplicity and heroism my arse. She's
got a big brain, she'll tire of innocence in the end. Like one tires
of sweet cider and seeks the dark, tasty delights of real ale. Unfortunately,
it's Joss we're talking about here, working with Colossus and Kitty
(how would you feel if your ex ended up with someone called Colossus?)
So it's my point of view against the leading genius of modern storytelling.
And I love how much he loves Kitty, and am at the comic store as
soon as it opens for Astonishing, opening the boxes for them.
They hate that.
"But, you know, I feel
for Pete," Cornell continued. "When Frank Tieri said 'you won't
believe how much of a bastard Wisdom can be' on Newsarama the other
day I bridled. I really did. On a completely fictional basis. I
thought 'yeah, he's a bastard, but he's our bastard'. And
he's got his reasons. Though he may have forgotten them. He's trying
to clean up his act these days. He's stopped the smoking, he shaves,
he now wears a really smooth wardrobe from Yohi Yamamoto and Junk
De Luxe. He's all for the future now, getting away from the past.
And so obviously it's going to catch up with him.
"I'm also trying to
do a few stylistically different things with Wisdom, like
floating subtexts in the air beside characters' faces, in the manga
style (anyone know if there's a word for that?) I'm a huge manga
fan. Fruits Basket I think is one of the best single texts
in the history of literature. Seriously, it's Jane Austen vs. Natsuki
Takauya, 'Civil Responsibilities Burden War, I'm with Natsuki'.
I'm interested in trying whatever different stuff gets the job done,
and will be nicking from everywhere."
But - to definitively
address the Kitty question - no, she won't appear. "Being a MAX
book, we dance around the edge a bit," Lowe said. "You won't be
seeing Excalibur or any super heroes, but it's the Marvel U. There
are Marvel things throughout, but it's definitely MAX. It deals
with the Marvel U. the way that Alias dealt with the Marvel
U. There will be other Marvel U. characters showing up, but not
the usual suspects. For example Black Jack Tarr and Clive Reston
(of Shang-Chi fame) show up in the mini. There will be some recognizable
people but, no, Spider-Man and Wolverine won't be showing up."
Oh - and Lowe wanted
to give his take on what the series is about as well.
"One of the cool things
that this series will do is tell some shorter contained stories
that will all come together in one big finale that span a few issues,"
the editor said. "IIn the first issue, fairies have run wild in
England. But this isn't a sort of-ohmigod, they're making children
laugh too much-thing, these fairies are savaging people. To top
it all off, Oberon - the leader of all the fairies - has kidnapped
a high-ranking Minister of Parliament's child. It's up to Pete and
MI-13 to save the baby and England. The next issue centers around
a town whose nightmares are driving the people mad. When the dreams
start coming to life, MI-13 has to step in. It's all really cool
and builds to one of the most horrifying stories I've ever heard
of. They all push the characters to the limits of what they can
or are willing to do. It's just good drama."
board to illustrate Wisdom is British artist, Trevor Hairsine
(X-Men: Deadly Genesis, Ultimate Nightmare, Cla$$war).
"The artist is the wonderful Trev Hairsine, and I've never worked
with anyone who's so professional, so adaptable. He's doing some
very photo-realistic stuff that kicks arse (not ass, no) in action
sequences, communicates human relationships through expression,
and tells the story. It's a lovely situation to know that I can
let the pictures do the talking. He loves drawing helicopters, so
as often as I can I've tried to give him a big splash with an enormous
Lowe: "I couldn't be
happier to have him on board for this book as he is poring his heart
and soul into it. I've been working with Trevor since I came to
Marvel - from Captain America to Ultimate Six and
Ultimate Nightmare, so it's a bit of a reunion. Check out
the first cover and a few of his pencils! The other good thing is
that we were able to give him a head start on this one to prevent
delays between issues."
British creators are
not unfamiliar to American comic book readers. Writers like Alan
Moore, Dave Gibbons, Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Mark Millar, Garth
Ennis, Peter Milligan and others are quite popular with fans for
their non-traditional, unconventional and visionary works such as
Sandman, The Authority, Transmetropolitan,
Preacher, Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,
Cornell admitted that
while he's a novelist, TV and comic book writer, he is also a comic
"In comics, I love how
much the Big Two have got their houses together at the moment. I'm
avidly following Civil War and One Year Later. Anything
Millar, [Andy] Diggle, Joss [Whedon], Gail Simone, [Brian] Bendis,
Mark Waid does. But I also love a lot of the smaller stuff. Albion,
there's a book that deserves to be read more. Exiles has
been a great book almost every issue since it started. I've just
got back into Thunderbolts, and almost every Black Panther
run has been great, particularly the current one. And Legion
right now is awesome, the first thing I read. I'm interested in
the way that movies and television are influencing comics storytelling
and vice versa. There's an essay I'm going to write about the death
of the thought balloon, which is somewhat down to Alan Moore's dislike
of them and somewhat down to other visual media not doing them.
But comics should, because they can, because they're a medium in
their own right, and not a drydock for movies.
"In the past I've loved
[Grant] Morrison's Doom Patrol (got a letter in that), [Sal]
Buscema/[Roger] Stern Avengers (Buscema anything, really),
[Marv] Wolfman and [Len] Wein (Tomb of Dracula particularly),
[Doug] Moench's Master of Kung Fu, all things [Steve] Gerber
and Killraven Killraven Killraven. I have a pile of Essentials
beside the bookcase, and it's reaching the ceiling.
"In many ways, for me,
working for Marvel is up there as a lifetime's ambition with writing
for Doctor Who. Dad brought home a copy of the first British
weekly Avengers comic for me when I was tiny. And I was hooked.
Learnt to read with Stan [Lee]'s highly literary prose. 'Begone,
base defiler!' That's what I'd say when other kids tried to nick
my swingball. That comic reprinted Avengers #4, the return
of Cap, and thus made no sense, really, to a new reader, and had
Dr. Strange in the back, making even less. I still find the alien
from that issue weirdly scary. I was cheering on when Dark Phoenix
wiped that lot out, I can tell you. 'Why the long face?', that's
what I'd have asked them afterwards. In the future, Stan Lee's going
to be regarded in the same way as Hans Christian Anderson or the
Brothers Grimm. He's a genius, and he's still not appreciated enough,
we've never come close to giving him his due. When are we going
to get around to thanking that man properly?
"My absolute lifetime
desire is to write the Dynamic Defenders. So not a lot of hope there
right now, really. Everyone thinks that book's about the big three,
Hulk, Namor, Strange, but it's actually about Nighthawk, Patsy and
the Valkyrie. Seriousness and humor at once. A very Buffy sensation
before its time. An absurd subtle modernism. Gerber and Buscema
made that absurdity look effortless. I think that's a book made
for today. With, perhaps, Wolverine on the team. For artistic reasons.
Against the Bozos. And the Elf with a Gun."
And if you think Cornell
sounds exuberant here, Lowe said, you should read his scripts.
"I was expecting one
thing from Paul and he delivered something far exceeding my expectations."
Lowe said. "The thing about a lot of new writers is that, a lot
of times, their writing voices sound like Frank Miller or Bendis
or Millar. Paul has a voice all his own and layers his scripts with
so many interesting things while still telling a compelling sci-fi
story. They are a joy to read."
Other than Wisdom
and everything else mentioned earlier, Cornell's kept himself busy
writing a certain archetypal English folk hero. "I've just finished
writing two episodes of the new BBC Robin Hood, which will
be on in September in the Doctor Who slot on BBC1. That's
very modern and hot. Keith Allen as the Sheriff rocks.
Also, "I'm developing
my own show, which, if it happens, I should think will, ahem, be
of some interest to Newsarama readers. There are a couple of incredibly
exciting things in the world of novels that are happening, but about
which I can't talk yet. I'm up for a Hugo Award next month for last
season's Who, another lifetime ambition. And I'm writing
Doctor Who again for season three, a two-parter this time,
so I get to write a cliffhanger. I'm due to deliver the first draft
of episode two as soon as I finish this. So it's a good time now
for me, really. I have gone on and on, haven't I?
hey, check out my blog at: http://paulcornell.blogspot.com/ I try
and put news there at the same time as I announce it to my MySpace
friends list, on http://www.myspace.com/paulcornell
Newsarama's Comic-Con International '06 Coverage is brought to you by Miramax Films’ RENAISSANCE. In theaters this fall.