Join Date: Dec 2003
OHOTMU: Alternate Universes 2005
ACROSS ALL WORLDS: SEPTEMBER'S MARVEL ALTERNATE UNIVERSE HANDBOOK
Until now, Marvel’s Handbooks have hit pretty discrete groups of characters – Spider-Man, Avengers, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, X-Men, for example.
In September, the doors get blown off the Handbook concept, and instead of groups of characters, entire realities are covered. The title gives it all away: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Alternate Universes 2005.
With entries by Jeff Christiansen, Mark O'English, Sean McQuaid, Eric J. Moreels, Stuart Vandal, Michael Hoskin, Bill Lentz, Anthony Flamini, and Chris Biggs, the book sports a cover by Tom Grummett and Morry Hollowell.
We caught up with Handbook majordomo Jeff Younquist, and a handful of his cadre of Handbook writers for more.
Newsarama: First off, while you have hit specific characters (including the Age of Apocalypse) whose origins lie in alternate realities, was a full Handbook on the many realities within the larger Marvel Universe in the plan from the start, or something that started slowly, gaining momentum and supporters as it went?
Stuart Vandal: I think the latter, at least from the writers' side of things - last year we knew which books were being done more or less as they were commissioned and we had to start working on them. However we knew before the start of this year that we had a run to the end of the year, and most of the books coming, which allowed for a lot more forward planning and working to let each book complement the others, rather than repeat bits of them.
NRAMA: What was the justification behind doing this volume? Obviously, there’s appeal - these alternate earth stories do resonate with readers…
Sean McQuaid: This volume celebrates the twentieth anniversary of Mark Gruenwald's Squadron Supreme, one of the greatest and most influential alternate-reality stories ever told - and the late "Gru" also happened to be a key founding father of the handbooks. Besides, there's so much cool alternate-reality material in Marvel's canon by now that you could fill several volumes easily, so we had to do at least one volume like this sooner or later. As for where the appeal of these things lies, who knows? Each reality is different, and each one charms different readers for different reasons. Sometimes it's the fun of seeing same-but-different variations on the mainstream Marvel characters, like the Fantastic Five. Sometimes it's the thrill of discovering something entirely new and exotic, like the Guardians of the Galaxy. The most common denominator is probably the appeal of seeing something different, a departure from the Marvel norm.
Stuart Vandal: I think people always like seeing different takes on favorite characters - the paths they might have gone down. And alternate Earth stories, when not overdone, allow for more uncertainty and excitement, because no character is safe ... unlike the regular Marvel universe where no one really believes Spider-Man or Wolverine are going to permanently die.
Mark O’English: While I wasn't privy to the initial discussions, Jeff billed this one as a tribute to Mark Gruenwald's classic Squadron Supreme limited series. Given that the Gru is pretty much uniquely identified with the OHOTMUs, and given that he's almost a comics hero to a good number of us writers, I can't think of anything more appropriate than basing a book around him.
As to the alternate universes resonating, certainly they do-when you find angry fans out there, they're angry about one of two things-either someone changed the characters too much, or they're not changing the characters enough. I think we all loved the What Ifs? because we could deal with repercussions that you could never have in a regular book and still keep the characters recognizable. The classic What If? where Korvac/Michael destroys the Avengers and the stakes keep building and building until that final fatal "click" when he triggers the Ultimate Nullifier and destroys his universe-that's a story you could obviously never tell in the "real" Marvel universe, and which still awes us twenty-five years later...
Chris Biggs: Like the others have said, the main appeal is the different take on the characters than what is usually presented in the mainstream universe. Like, would Peter Parker have become the hero Spider-Man after being bitten by the spider if his parents had raised him instead of his aunt and uncle, or would he have become a criminal, a hustler, or something else entirely? Done correctly that can be a fascinating story.
Also, stories where the entire universe is re-imagined in another 'mold,’ such as the Marvel Mangaverse series, or as an alternate future/present/past earth like 2099 can also be fascinating to read, if done correctly. Otherwise, if everything is just like the regular universe stories with no thought going into how the 'trappings' of a different universe would really work, or if the story returns/stays to the status quo of the regular books without a real good explanation why, then what was the point of doing an Alterverse story to begin with? The writer should have just written a regular universe story and been done with it.
NRAMA: Getting into the nitty gritty of this volume, you had, by a conservative estimate, hundreds of characters to choose from for inclusion. What was the original list like compared to who made the final cut?
Stuart Vandal: It's been a while since the list was debated, but if I recall correctly, bar a few changes, the final cut is pretty close to the initial one - though we had a few worlds and characters we would have liked to include but didn't have the space for.
Mark O’English: Speaking to the process, we start out just throwing ideas back and forth, seeing what sticks. I wouldn't be surprised if we brought up maybe three or four times as many universes as made the cut, but the serious list was probably double the final list, and in the end I think we have a list of more recent alternate universes as well as some of Marvel's older "classic" universes which haven't appeared in some time. There's a fine line we try to walk, to engage both the long-time viewers and the new readers. In terms of regrets, there was a lot of argument for the 1950s Avengers, who didn't quite make it, and Spider-Man India didn't quite have enough information out there yet to allow us to include him.
Sean McQuaid: Comparing our first tentative profile map of this issue to our final contents listing, we shed seven prospective profiles but gained five entirely different ones, plus a handy-dandy appendix. Overall, I think it was a positive change--several very cool subjects got added to the mix along the way. Of the profiles that didn't get made, the only cut I really, truly mourn is “Forever Yesterday...” a great storyline from a great run of comics - the Nicieza New Warriors. Just didn't have the room this time...
Eric J. Moreels: Yeah, that would have been great to see included. Similarly, in an ideally less corporate world, it would have been great for us to be able to include both the Amalgam-verse and Ultraverse…
Sean McQuaid: There's no real pattern in what got added and what got cut along the way, though. Casualties included a 1960s villain, a 1980s/1990s temporal phenomenon, some late 1990s villains, some 1970s alternate realities, a 1990s alternate reality and a 1980s alternate reality. Additions included a 1980s team, some 1990s villains, a 1960s villain, a recently-created alternate reality and a 1970s heroine. Lots of variety either way.
Chris Biggs: I didn't keep a tally of who was considered vs. who was accepted on the various books, but I'd say roughly - very roughly, 25-50% of those considered were cut, with a fair chunk of the 'rejects' being touched upon in the entries of similar characters who did make the cut.
NRAMA: Speaking as fans, who had to make the list, as far as you were concerned?
Mark O’English: I think everyone would agree that Gruenwald's Squadron Supreme wrote the book on alternate universes. Those classic Marvel sci-fi books of the ‘70s were probably close seconds: Killraven, Deathlok, the Guardians of the Galaxy: all classics of their day.
Sean McQuaid: Speaking as a fan, I regard the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Squadron Supreme as the essentials in this category. Spider-Ham, the Scarlet Centurion and Thundra are also personal favorites.
Chris Biggs: Squadron Supreme, which was groundbreaking in so many ways when it first came out - not that the reviews at the time really noticed that. Days of Future Past, for the impact it had - and still has - on the X-Men's history for so many years. And Larval Earth, just for the heck of it…
NRAMA: Speaking more to the specifics of the breakdown - from the cover, it looks as if you’ve got Squadron Supreme, 2099, New Universe, Earth X, 1602, Spider-Girl’s future, Days of Future Past…what other large groups/worlds are in there?
Sean McQuaid: I think almost everything the fans could reasonably expect to see will be in here, plus a few oddities, obscurities and surprises along the way. We've got plenty of profiles of various alternate worlds and timelines, plus profiles of some of the major characters and groups from Marvel's alternate realities.
Chris Biggs: Ones we hope the fans will be pleasantly surprised to see included. Though far from complete this book covers a pretty good range of what Alterverses Marvel has published over the decades, from the relatively obscure to the better-known.
NRAMA: Okay, looking at the entries themselves, then. Are those treated as “world” entries or as collections of characters? That is, does each have a listing for how the world is unique, and who the characters are, or is it just the characters listed?
Stuart Vandal: A mixture of both - many worlds, some unique characters.
Mark O’English: Right. It varies from universe to universe. Some of them are "worlds," some are "teams," and some are "characters." There's not so much a solid plan as a consideration of how they best write themselves: "Days of Future Past" is focused about the entirety of the world- it's broad enough that it'd be hard to write a "team" or "character" entry and still cover all there is to be covered, similarly the focus of the Squadron Supreme's universe has always been the Squadron, and you can cover most of the universe through covering the team itself, so that has a "team" entry.
Chris Biggs: It also depended on what kinds of stories were originally set in each universe. If the original series/stories focused primarily on the adventures of one character or group during their run(s), then the entry concentrated on the adventures of that one character/group. If the original series/stories covered bunches of characters/groups during their run(s) without a major 'breakout' character/group, then the entry became more of a 'history' of that universe.
NRAMA: Given that…is DP 7 in there? Kickers, Inc?
Mark O’English: They're part of the New Universe, aren't they?
NRAMA: As for art, this book is following in line with those previous, in that the entries will contain existing art?
Sean McQuaid: Right. Almost all the art for the current handbooks is derived from existing illustrations, a necessary cost-cutting measure to keep the books profitable. Commissioning all-new art for the handbooks would probably result in a steep cover price increase.
Jeff Youngquist: It’s also a time-saving measure – both for our artists, who are tied up with their regular monthly gigs; and myself and the other Handbook editors, who’d have difficulty commissioning/trafficking that much new artwork on a monthly basis given all the other projects we’re working on simultaneously.
NRAMA: That said, what goes into selecting the art for the entries?
Mark O’English: With 40+ years of Marvel art out there, as the writers reread every single appearance of our subjects, we keep our eyes open for those classic images which really signify who and what our characters are. Davis did do some amazing work on his Killraven series just a few years back, but why not go back to the roots and find a Killraven which exemplifies the Killraven of the ‘70s, one which inspired Davis to do what he did?
NRAMA: Finally, more often than not, it seems that the Handbooks are tied to some kind of larger Marvel Universe editorial element – is this one related to the upcoming Exiles World Tour storyline, as some of the cover universes have been named as locations that the team in that series will be hitting?
Jeff Youngquist: Not really. This Handbook has been on the schedule since the end of last year, long before the World Tour was planned. It really is just one of those happy coincidences.
The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Alternate Universes 2005 is due in stores 9/28/05.
Here's an OHOTMU that I'm really looking forward to. I'm sure there will be ones left out that I would have wanted to see, but nonetheless it should be good.
Mr. Hyde: Ever killed anyone, Benjamin?
Benjamin: Not personally. I have people.
Mr. Hyde: You're missing out. It's like sex. Only there's a winner.