SDCC 2011 Interview: Matt Fraction Launches Marvel's New 'Defenders'

Are you ready for writer Matt Fraction to bring the “Big Weird” back to Marvel Comics? After years of writing big events and big ideas in titles ranging from the critically acclaimed Invincible Iron Man, to the mega-Event Fear Itself, Fraction is teaming with Uncanny X-Men collaborator Terry Dodson to bring us a brand new title with a familiar name: THE DEFENDERS.

Long a fan favorite, DEFENDERS was always known as the “non-team,” bringing together such diverse characters as Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange, The Hulk, and Namor The Sub-Mariner to battle evil in the Marvel U. And after a few fits and starts, the title is back in a new ongoing, as announced yesterday at Marvel’s Fear Itself panel – and teased throughout the past few weeks with some very cool bits of art. The series – which picks up where FEAR ITSELF left off – won’t hit comic book shops until December, but we chatted with Fraction about why he’s never been a Defenders fan, how Editor Tom Brevoort is letting him go “The Full Casanova,” and what it’s like to do Kung Fu in Zero G:

MTV Geek: Okay, Matt… The original Defenders ran for a long time, but the past few series have has a little trouble getting a foothold... Other than you guys being awesome, what makes this stab at the Defenders different?

Matt Fraction: I think we're gonna make the book awesome. I think we're gonna try to make this book unlike anything Marvel does, or has done. I think we're gonna try to make something big and weird and imaginative and thrilling and compelling, a book full of secrets and mysteries and everything that makes you love the Marvel Universe. It's a book about that, starring the characters that everybody loves, doing the stuff literally no one else is doing right now. It's a singular book in our arsenal. Which I love. It's our coolest fucking characters vs the Big Weird.

Also, and I don't want to disrespect anybody's hard work on the DEFENDERS books of yore but I suspect there was a degree of faith and fidelity in what had come before. I have no nostalgia for it-- never read it as a kid, have gotten into it since discovering how great Steve Gerber was but DEFENDERS was never a book I knew much about. So... so there are no tethers to the past here in the DNA. On its sleeve, perhaps, but not in its heart.

Geek: Possibly the biggest reason the Defenders has trouble catching on is that its famously seen as a “non-team…” What brings these characters together this time? And will Defenders continue to be a non-team, or is this the, er, team for the foreseeable future?

MF: This book vaults out of the ending of FEAR ITSELF and then rockets into the heart of the Marvel Universe in the blink of an eye. The short start is this: the Hulk needs a favor. He goes to the people powerful enough to help him that, he feels, owe him-- and those are his old Defenders cohorts. So that's the start of it and... and then in the course of helping Hulk out they discover... this... thing. This mystery. A self-cloaking, self-perpetuating, mysterious and magical mystery that hides itself. How do you solve a threat to the entire fabric of spacetime when you can't even tell people about it?

Like I said: Big Weird.

Geek: More generally, what makes someone a “defender?” Versus, say, an “avenger” or “offender,” I guess? Are we going to see this team mostly on the defensive?

MF: In this case, the nature of the mystery that frames the whole macro-arc of our DEFENDERS book. They are, in fact, by design, defending us from a Big Weird that is up to all kinds of no good. And has been for quite some time.

DEFENDERS is a book that explores what makes the Marvel Universe the Marvel Universe. Fabric of spacetime. Nature of things. The debasement of physics for your edutainmentry.

Geek: Talk a little bit about the core team of Dr. Strange, Red She-Hulk, Iron Fist, and Namor – what draws you to these characters? And for Terry, what’s it like drawing these characters?

MF: By the time the entire roster of Defenders is assembled-- no, wait, 'assembled' is taken-- you'll see that each one has a kind of circle covered of the Marvel U that nobody else does. When they're all... dassembled... they create a kind of daisy shaped Venn diagram that blankets everything. So... so they're all unique in a certain way in terms of their expertise and understanding and experiences.

So there's a practical thing. But what drew me to them was-- well, was if you asked me to make a list of the books I wanted to do, these guys are all pretty much the guys I wanted to write, all in one place. That was sort of what got me into the book and pitching on it and such-- it was presented to me (after I embarrassingly confessed, as above, that I had no real affection for the old series) as the chance to write all the characters you're always complaining about wishing you were writing. I get to do my William S. Burroughs/Occult CIA Spook with Kung Fu Ditko Grip take on Strange; I get to do Cosmic Love Explorer Surfer; I get to do Sexbomb Earth King Namor again; I get to do Kung Fu Billionaire Danny Rand again. And I'm turning Red She Hulk into this, like, Johnny Knoxville-as-Indiana Jones Fearless Adventure Archeologist of the Weird.

AND THAT'S JUST THE START.

I've only seen Terry do a cover so far, but... but in talking with him and trying to figure out with him if THIS was in fact our new jam, I came up with the notion of doing the book Marvel Style-- meaning I write a sort of text piece per each page of comic, he figures out how to break it into beats and panels, then I go back and dialogue over his art. It's wholly out of my comfort zone and my scripts are somehow EVEN LONGER THAN EVER but it has made Terry even MORE of a collaborator now-- he's a co-conspirator, a designer, even more than "just" a storyteller.

It's designed to be done in short pops-- short arcs, stand alone issues-- and terry is kind of reinventing his style for each one. So a Ditko-esque Strange issue would look wholly different than a Moench-Gulacy super-fight issue...

I dunno. After FEAR ITSELF I wanted to get frightened again, get off my balance, make things challenging and weird and strange. Pardon the pun.

Geek: You’ve teased that there’s this vast conspiracy at the center of the Marvel Universe… I don’t know how much you WANT to tell us at this point, but is this the sort of mystery that readers should be combing back-issues for, or is it something new?

MF: It's never been... It's both? It's something new in that I’ve not hinted at it or planted anything about THE DEFENDERS anywhere in any other book I've written. That said... THE DEFENDERS is the grand unification theory of the Marvel Universe; nothing less than the entirety of all spacetime is connected. So ALL of the back issues should be combed through. Mine. All of 'em. Everything connects. Here's how.

Geek: It seems like – as opposed to, say, Iron Man, which is more grounded – writing Defenders is a license to go crazy (in a good way). Are you able to go The Full Casanova on this project? That’s an official term, by the way.

MF: That's funny-- my short pitch for this was, figuring we've got or have had New, Mighty, Dark, Young, etc., Avengers, that THE DEFENDERS could be called "The Weird Avengers." And Tom's been calling this "The CASANOVA Avengers."

It's been a chance to reconcile Casanova Matt and Marvel Nerd Matt, with poor Tom stuck in the middle of the two as Mediator. Luckily big weird and crazy are at the heart of the Marvel Universe and nobody's more familiar with that than Tom, so every time I sheepishly come to him with a notion I'm convinced is too far... Tom has encouraged it and the book has just flourished into this... this amazing thing. It's everything I love about the Marvel Universe, about Marvel Comics. Which are nothing if not Big, Weird, and Crazy.

Geek: At this point, are you and Terry in this for the long haul? You guys are both very good about delivering, but just to ask, how far along are you in the project (and I know it’s not coming out until December, so “not that far along!” is a totally cool answer)?

MF: It's very tightly planned. Beginning, middle, and end. Not *quite* to the point where I can tell you where I'd be leaving but I'm close. I'm in it for the long haul. No way out.

Geek: Lastly, tease us as to what’s coming up – when are fans going to freak out about when they read the first issue?

MF: I dunno. All of it I hope. Here's what made me giggle, though: Zero-G Kung Fu. "Don't get me wrong, I hate myself and want to die... just not TODAY." The first time we see Namor. Kind of every single word and action the Surfer does. Betty's intro to, like, planet DEFENDERS. So far the whole thing has made ME freak out. Hopefully I can transmute that joy into the writing and infect you all with it.

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SDCC 2011: DC's Batman Panel

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