Interview: Brandon Thomas, Making the Impossible Possible With 'Miranda Mercury'

Did you know that the 300th issue of The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury came out last year? If the title sounds a little unfamiliar, then it's because Miranda Mercury, the creation of writer Brandon Thomas and artist Lee Ferguson, hasn't really been around all that long. First, she knocked around as an idea for a sci-fi, space patrolling vigilante in the minds of Thomas and Ferguson, finally reaching the page at Archaia. The first volume of stories, The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury: Time Runs Out was just recently released, and we thought we'd pick Thomas' brain on the process of creating the character, why he and Ferguson chose to start the series at issue 294, and the challenges of reaching a broader audience with a black, female, science adventurer character.

MTV Geek: What’s the big pitch for Miranda Mercury?

Brandon Thomas: Miranda Mercury is the star of the sci- fi adventure comic book, The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury. A third generation science hero that’s been spending the last several years of her life fighting to distinguish herself from her famous family, some have now taken to calling her “the greatest adventurer in this or any other galaxy.” But Miranda doesn’t believe or accept that impressive tagline for a second, and like most great heroes, she exists in this kind of emotional vacuum where her actions are somewhat commonplace. She’s devoted her life to experiencing every new world and culture possible, and to fight injustice and intolerance on more planets than she could ever possibly visit.

But all that is soon coming to an end, thanks to an exotic poison racing through her veins courtesy of longtime nemesis Cyrus Vega. She doesn’t have long to live and to ultimately solidify the legacy she’s been building since she was ten years old. On top of all that, she has to deal with some major fallout from keeping her terminal condition a secret from her partner and best friend, Jack Warning. Jack is a young super genius often assaulted by his emotions and he wants nothing more than to devote his every waking minute to finding a cure for his friend and helping her beat impossible odds once again. For reasons that are explored throughout this first volume, Miranda disagrees with this and just wants to kick as many bad guys in the face, and save as many people as she can before the curtain closes.

Geek: How did you and Lee hook up for the series?

Thomas: We were paired together on a Luke Cage project for Marvel/Epic way back in 2003/2004 that didn’t pan out, but since that point we stayed in close contact as we loved a lot of the same stuff, got along extremely well, and broke into comics in similar ways. When I showed him the little one page pitch I’d worked up about Miranda, he loved it immediately and we decided to officially develop it together. And once he brought his own sensibilities, artistry, and passion to the project, it became something else entirely that we both have a real, true ownership stake in. He’s created worlds, villains, and high concepts for the series same as I have, and without his input and respective influences, the book would be missing something important.

Geek: The book is structured as the latest in a long-running series of comics. How did you decide on that format for the series?

Thomas: It evolved out of a random IM conversation that Lee and I had years and years ago. This was still very early in the process and we were trying to come up with storytelling mechanisms that would make the book both challenging and unique and I threw the idea out that maybe we should start at issue #24 or something. Lee (and this happens between us a lot) took that little half-idea and said that if we’re doing it, we should really just go for it and take the numbering all the way up to almost #600 or something. So we came back down to the middle and once that was locked in, it gave us an entirely new set of ideas about the explanation for something like that, and how it would affect the stories, characters, and tone of the book.

We’d already decided that the book had to be almost frantically paced at all times, and this was something that very naturally fit into that mandate and before too long, it became absolutely integral to everything we wanted the book to be.

Geek: Who are some other characters and what kind of fiction has made its way into Miranda’s makeup?

Thomas: [A] lot of the original Star Wars Trilogy in there obviously, and more than a decent helping of Saturday morning cartoons. Being obsessed with those two things as a kid is ultimately what got me on the path of wanting to be a writer in the first place, so when you combine all that with my love of comics (which came a little later), you get the initial idea of Miranda Mercury. It’s designed to really serve as a very public love letter to the things that made us want to create, and really tap into those all-consuming feelings of excitement and anticipation that grabbed us by the throat as kids and still haven’t quite let us go.

Geek: The book shies away from calling any of its characters “superheroes.” What was the decision behind that?

Thomas: Well, the Infinity Class (from episode 298) are definitely “superheroes” in a more traditional sense, but we did make a choice to give Miranda, and by extension, the rest of her famous family, a slightly different call sign. In their universe, you pretty much have to have powers to be considered a “superhero” and since Miranda and Jack don’t apply, their tagging is slightly different. Obviously though, the book borrows a lot of conventions from the genre, and I LOVE superhero books, but this was just another little detail that we believed would differentiate her and her world. We’re really straddling the line between a superhero book and a sci-fi book, but I think the concept is flexible enough to handle more or less of the other if the particular story calls for it.

Geek: To what degree do you have Miranda’s past adventures leading up to the present batch of issues mapped out? Who are some of the characters and stories you’d love to go back and revisit from issues 294 and back?

Thomas: We have a pretty good idea of all the major beats, and some of those are actually touched on in the first book, but here are some random bits we’d like to touch on eventually, without giving too much away—how Miranda met Jack, what happened to Miranda’s parents, the greatest Cyrus Vega stories of all time, which includes a tale alluded to in #300 that pits Dorothy Mercury and family friend Nancy against Vega. How Maude “Madd” Mercury lost her arm and what she lost along with it. Why Malachi Mercury stopped speaking. The unquestioned awesomeness of Jack’s parents, Strom and Sherie Warning. How Dorothy died and why James couldn’t do anything about it.

And a bunch of other stuff I’m either forgetting, or shouldn’t mention at this point…

Geek: It’s hard out there for a book headlined by a black character, and even more so for a black female character. To what degree did that ever enter your mind when writing MM?

Thomas: Oh, we certainly didn’t think it was going to make it easier for us to find support for the book, but the entire point of Miranda was to challenge pre-conceptions and so-called conventional wisdom. We know that the marketplace is harsh to anything that hasn’t been fully established for decades already, but you know what, that’s not a good enough reason to pack it in and give up that the only comics anyone will ever care about have Batman or Spider-Man in them. We had a joke amongst ourselves that we came up with every conceivable way to sabotage our own efforts and it just turned into something we embraced, because otherwise, there was no point in trying.

Like, well, she’s already a black female character, how could we make it even harder? I got it, let’s start the book at #295, and make the cover the first page of every story, and every story self-contained, etc. etc. So we were well aware and went into this with eyes fully open, and despite the years it took us to finish the first volume, the landscape for female and/or minority characters is largely unchanged, which is equal parts funny and sad. Only in the far reaches of deep space does no one care that the greatest, most respected heroes in the galaxy are black, and anytime someone asks, “Why Miranda Mercury,” we’ll often answer, “Why not?”

Geek: Not to hijack the whole interview with a conversation about race in comics, but the industry’s been in this weird place for a long while where’s it’s needed to reach out beyond the current race and age demographics. What do you think is missing? Do you think something like making Ultimate Spider-Man a black/Latino kid helps?

Thomas: Oh, no problem, it’s a valid and relevant question in comics, especially recently. I do think things like Miles Morales and some of the efforts being made by DC Comics in their relaunch line-up are all very necessary in the long-term. And I hope people approach it as a long-term issue that won’t be perfectly solved to everyone’s satisfaction overnight. Personally, I’ll be supporting several of the books and I urge others to do the same. Maybe the books aren’t the exact perfect fit for every single person, but every success will encourage more attempts, and along those same lines, every perceived failure will have the opposite effect. It’s not fair, but waiting and waiting for the mainstream companies to spontaneously produce the perfect book for you might not ever happen if no one supports the attempts that are being made.

One of the most disheartening things I’d heard these last few weeks are some of these titles being dismissed on sight and I’m not suggesting that people buy books just because they have black or female lead characters in them, but give an issue a read and if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. But looking at some artwork and solicit copy written before the book is barely done and then deciding on the spot you don’t want it, all the while assailing the publishers for not getting the job done is incredibly unproductive. You have to be willing to help the process along with the tools available to you, and if you’re still unhappy with the offerings, nothing is stopping anyone from going out there and creating their own. Miranda’s proof of that, but seriously, what do you think it’ll mean if this marketplace can’t or won’t support a bi-racial Spider-Man book written by the biggest writer in comics and with an undeniably fantastic artist?

But, and I promise I’m wrapping this up, something I’d also like to see is more minorities (and when I say that, I’m referring to both ethnicity and gender) working at the mainstream companies in positions of power. People that have the authority to find characters and creators and help them to improve and diversify the representations presented in these fictional comics universes. Because it’s possible, anything in comics is possible, and sometimes “conventional wisdom” just becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Geek: In your notes at the end of this volume, you talk about pretty much saying “no” to the prospect of this book being impossible to complete. Could you talk a bit about what kept you going, and why Miranda’s story needed to be told?

Thomas: Well it gets me in trouble sometimes, but I’m just naturally hardheaded and according to my mother, I’ve always been that way. On my kindergarten application in that space where they ask you to describe any persistent problems your kid has, she wrote one word: stubborn. I just have never accepted “No” for an answer, and I remember every single person and/or publisher that told us Miranda Mercury had no chance and that is one of the little things that always kept us going forward, even when it felt like we were going backwards. We knew that this character deserved to exist in comics and no matter how arduous it was sometimes, we never lost sight of that or doubted our ability to get it done.

And you know what, we feel good and proud about this book, but we know we can do better and push the concept even further, and that’s what we’re planning to do, no matter how unlikely or impossible other people thought (or still think) it is. As I mentioned above, if there’s one medium that should clearly embrace the impossible at all times and all costs, it’s comics, and that what’s Miranda Mercury is all about.

Geek: What’s next for Miranda?

Thomas: Hopefully volume two. There are plenty of stories that need telling, and we’ll be talking to Archaia in the next couple weeks about our big plans for the next volume and beyond. People seem to be really enjoying this first one, so we want to continue to get better and show everyone just how good the book can become if we keep working hard at it.

Geek: What else do you have coming up next?

Thomas: In addition to Miranda, I have a couple upcoming projects from Dynamite Entertainment launching at the beginning of next year. One is Voltron and the other is a Project Superpowers mini-series that features a great, great character that we’re bringing back into the public eye. I’m intending for these to be only the first of many projects, as my big goal for 2012 is to establish myself fully as a working professional writer and making sure that a steady number of books release with my name on them. Dynamite has been fantastic to work with, and they’re really allowing me to learn and grow with every script I turn in.

Check out our chat with Brandon Thomas from C2E2 2011!

C2E2 2011: Brandon Thomas Talks 'The Many Adventures Of Miranda Mercury'

The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury: Time Runs Out is available now from Archaia.

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