By Albert Ching, Newsarama Staff Writer
posted: 08 November 2012 12:00 pm ET
There aren't a lot of superhero comics that star female characters, a fact that's been lamented by observers and fueled recent debate.
Come February, Marvel is debuting one more: Fearless Defenders, from the creative team of writer Cullen Bunn (The Sixth Gun, Venom) and, making his Marvel debut, artist Will Sliney (MacGyver, Farscape). The book stars the unlikely duo of Valkyrie and Misty Knight, and is something of a follow-up to the Fear Itself: The Fearless miniseries, which also starred Valkyrie and featured Bunn as lead writer.
Not only does Fearless Defenders star two female characters, it's an all-female team, and features a brand-new female antagonist plaguing the main cast. Newsarama has the first interview with Bunn on the series, who reveals the third member of the team — hint, she's one of the original New Mutants and lost her powers due to House of M — and talks about working with Sliney, and shining a spotlight on a few lesser-known Marvel characters.
Newsarama: Cullen, based on the title and the presence of Valkyrie, one wonders, does Fearless Defenders tie-in at least partly to the end of the Fear Itself: The Fearless miniseries?
Cullen Bunn: It does, to some degree. The basic idea of the book is that Valkyrie is choosing a new team of Valkyrior, and she's been asked to choose all these women from the heroes of Midgard, instead of from Asgard. She has completely failed in this task. [Laughs.] Valkyrie has been unable to choose anyone that she feels is worthy to be one of the hosts of the shield maidens. So she just hasn't done it. She's dropped the ball.
Because she's not done what she said she would do, nature — or supernature, as it is — abhors a vacuum. The absence of the Valkyrior has opened the door to something terrible. Something awful is waking, and Valkyrie finds that it's really her fault that she's put everything at risk.
Nrama: So of course the "Defenders" name implies that this is a team book, but it sounds like not necessarily in the conventional sense?
Bunn: It is going to be a team book. It'll be an all-female team. But I didn't want to go into issue #1 and say, "here is the team." My goal is to take my time in building this team. I want to build it slowly — even after the first arc, the team will not be formed completely.
Instead, I started looking at characters who make sense, and also can be interesting foils for Valkyrie. And that's when this idea of Misty Knight came up. I put the two of them together in the first issue, and I liked the way they interact so much, and I think they offer something completely different than what you've seen before. They became my core team. They're sort of the window characters — they're the proxies for our readers. The rest of the team will build around them.
Nrama: So Valkyrie and Misty Knight are co-leads of the book?
Bunn: Correct. They're our co-leads, and the rest of the team will build around them. I think it'll be interesting to see how the two of them see things differently. You've got Misty, who's a very street-level character. And you've got Valkyrie, who's a goddess. So you've got very different backgrounds, and I think they will see their potential teammates very differently, and I think you'll see that the two of them have some differences of opinion on who would be the right team for what they're going to be facing.
Nrama: Not sure how much you can say about the rest of the team at this point, but will it be a combination of new and existing characters?
Bunn: As we build the team, you'll see some of the more well-known characters, but I don't want it to be a team of characters who are all on six other books, either. I think some team members will be definite surprises, if not all of the team. There will be some new characters joining the team, who no one has seen before.
That said, this will also be a book that gives us a great opportunity to showcase the women of the Marvel Universe. You'll be seeing a lot of characters in the book who may not necessarily be in the core team, but will have the opportunity to guest-star and rotate into the book.
Nrama: "Defenders" is definitely a title with lots of history at Marvel, and Valkyrie is tied heavily into that history. What's the philosophy for you in calling the title Fearless Defenders? It's been tough recently for books titled "Defenders" — Matt Fraction's recent book was awesome, but had trouble finding an audience, and ended this week with issue #12. What makes this a uniquely "Defenders" title, for you?
Bunn: It has been a book that has had some difficulty. I agree with you, Matt's book was really awesome. But I think, in the end, what I liked about it was, when I look back at what Defenders has always been — going way back to the original team — it's been this book that kind of defies expectations of a team book. I just don't think anyone is going to expect what they'll get out of this book. Like the original Defenders, this book goes against what people are really thinking about when they think about a team book. People say, "It's a team book, so it has to have these types of characters in it." I don't think anybody would be expecting Valkyrie and Misty Knight to be leading the book. That's kind of the way I want to approach the entire series. It's all going to be a little bit offbeat, a little off-center of what you might expect. When I look at the history of Defenders, that's what that team has always been.
Nrama: Also, what's the significance, to you, of writing an all-female team? That's a big deal in superhero comics, and clearly something that happened by coincidence. There's a lot of importance and responsibility in that, given the climate of the industry.
Bunn: This is an idea that I came up with when I was working on Fear Itself: The Fearless. I was probably writing the sixth issue or so when this dawned on me. I came up with the idea that Valkyrie might have to replace the Valkyrior with women from the Marvel Universe, and when that idea dawned on me, I did not approach it as, "This is my opportunity to tell a story with an all-female team." I approached it as, "This is a great opportunity to tell some really cool stories, some things that I think would be exciting."
That said, now that it's actually happening several months later, it is not lost on me that it is important to treat these characters with respect; to make them real characters. I'm not a writer who's going to sit back and say, "I want to write a good all-female team," I just want to write a good team, and approach them as real people, and build some personality into some of these characters, and try to develop a fanbase for a lot of these characters who, in some cases, people may not have been exposed to at all yet.
I think there are a lot of great female characters in the Marvel Universe who have not been given the chance they need, because maybe they can't support a book all on their own, or maybe they've been on a team and they've been kind of lost in the shuffle for, in some cases, many, many, many years. This is my opportunity to put them all together, and to give them the spotlight.
Nrama: Let me throw a character name at you who might fit the bill, and you can "no comment" at will. Wasp just came back from presumed death, and she doesn't seem to be in a Marvel NOW! Avengers book yet.
Bunn: She did just come back, didn't she? [Laughs.] I kind of want to build that speculation of who's going to be on the team. I want people to say, "Hey, are we going to get a new team member in the second arc, and who are they going to be?" So I don't want to say too many people that are going to be on the team.
I'll tell you that Misty Knight and Valkyrie are on the team. The third member of the team, who you'll see really quickly, is going to be Dani Moonstar. She's an awesome character. She has a fanbase. There are a lot of people who really like Dani Moonstar — I'm one of them. Even better, she has such a connection to the Valkyrie. She was on the top of my list when I started putting together who I thought would be the core roster.
I think she also represents what I'm talking about — she has a fanbase, she gets a lot of attention in New Mutants, but New Mutants just came to an end. I think she's a character who deserves some time in the spotlight, and this will be a different capacity for her as a character. I think you'll see Dani in a different light, and for so many reasons, she's a character who deserves that moment to shine.
Nrama: Yeah, that's a character that a lot of people seem to have fondness for, but she really doesn't have much of a role outside of the context of New Mutants.
Bunn: Right. I think when people read the second issue, and Dani makes her appearance on the team, people will really like her role in the book. I have an endgame in mind with Dani that will change her character to some degree, and it will define her for the future in a different way.
Nrama: You're paired on Fearless Defenders with artist Will Sliney artist, who has done work at BOOM! and Image, but is new to Marvel. It's fairly early still, but how has working with him been so far?
Bunn: It's fairly early in the process, but the great thing was, I was just at New York Comic Con, and Will was there, so I was able to actually sit down with Will, and talk to him about the series, and really get his take on some things about the book, and talk to him about what I wanted to do. I always enjoy it actually being a collaboration. I don't want to just turn in a script, and then see pages. I want to work with the artist. I think you get a better result when the writer and the artist are both invested in the book. I wanted this to be [Sliney's] book, as well.
I think he's turned in 10 pages so far of the first issue, and it looks pretty great. I think it's a book that'll look unlike any of the other books coming out from Marvel NOW!, in a good way. He's giving it its own distinct feel, and its own distinct vibe.
Nrama: And it's fortuitous that you met him at NYCC, since he's in Ireland and that chance might not have come up again anytime soon.
Bunn: Yeah, he's in Ireland. They put my accent and his accent together. I think the editors at Marvel think it's funny to have me work with the Irish folks, because I'm working with Declan [Shalvey] on Venom. [Laughs.]
Nrama: It's notable that though you've written a lot for Marvel in the past couple of years, Fearless Defenders is really your first chance to create something new from the ground up on a more long-term basis, rather than coming on board an already ongoing series.
Bunn: It definitely is, and that's one of the reasons I'm most excited about it. It's the chance to tell a story from the ground up, really. I get to do some world building in the Marvel Universe.
With shorter arcs, which I love doing, it's very difficult to do that. You get in, you tell the story, you get out. With Fearless Defenders, I'm getting the chance to get in on the ground floor and hopefully take my time to develop this concept, and to develop the story, and to bring this team about.
Nrama: And there will be new villains, too, right?
Bunn: Yeah, in the first issue I'm introducing a couple of new villains. One of them is, in my mind, the nastiest villain to ever come into the Marvel Universe. She is absolutely ghastly. At her very core, she is a horrible, horrible person, and she is capable of some really deplorable things that we'll be seeing.
We're creating a new team, and I felt like it would be important to create this mastermind-type character who's coming in to be the main antagonist for the foreseeable future for the team. She's not the only villain you're going to see, and you'll some other Marvel Universe villains, but she is new, and I wanted people to believe she is a challenge for Valkyrie. Look at Valkyrie — she's a very powerful character. This woman is definitely going to be a challenge for Valkyrie, and she's going to be that challenge without having any powers whatsoever.
Nrama: So the book will have both female heroes and female villains.
Bunn: To some degree. I'm not going to say that this is a book where the only people who are going to star in it are women, but I did feel that for this main antagonist, there were certain things I wanted her to be. I wanted her to be a woman, and I wanted her to be definitely a challenge for Valkyrie, and I didn't want her to be a challenge in the traditional sense. She's not a woman who could go toe-to-toe with Valkyrie. At all. She couldn't go toe-to-toe with Misty Knight. At all. But we'll see that the way she works, she's no pushover.
Nrama: Cullen, anything else readers should know about Fearless Defenders at this stage?
Bunn: I've heard, for many years, that a female presence in Marvel books is important. I hear a lot of readers saying that. I also hear a lot of readers saying, "Let's do something different." Something that's not the same old trick. I believe this book answers both of those things. Those are some great reasons for readers to give the book a try, if nothing else.
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