Jeff Parker Interview

Jeff Parker is the creator of the well-received Interman graphic novel from Octopus and is currently writing Marvel Adventures: The Avengers. Beginning this month, he's writing the new Marvel mini-series, Agents of Atlas. Westfield's Roger Ash contacted Mr. Parker to learn more about this book.

Westfield: What can you tell us about Agents of Atlas? Who are the main characters in the book? Are they based on actual Golden Age characters?

Jeff Parker: This is a team of pulp icons - a spaceman, a goddess, a killer robot, a talking gorilla - led by an FBI agent to take on a diabolical mastermind bent on conquering the world! Of course, that was the 1950's. Now they're a spaceman, a goddess, a killer robot, a talking gorilla - led by an ex-SHIELD agent to take on a diabolical mastermind bent on conquering the world! A version of this team was shown in What If? #9, discovered by Iron Man's equipment. The Avengers weren't sure whether they were viewing their own timeline or not, but were surprised to find a super group existed back in 1958.

Though on the surface this looks to be a story about heroes from a simpler time and how they relate in the modern world, we find out that that time wasn't really that simple and neither were those heroes. Nor the villains. I'm hoping everyone will be pleasantly surprised at how well these guys fit into the current day.

To go back to your question, yes, everyone was an actual character from the Timely/Atlas books of the 50's. Marvel Boy was probably the most popular, and modern readers often mistake him for Quasar if they don't know the lineage. Venus had her own book too, which started out in tone much like screwball comedy from movies of the time, and then delved more into supernatural adventures. She was a goddess who put aside most of her mighty power to come to Earth and teach us about love!

Atlas had two different versions of Gorilla Man, because hey, you can't have enough talking gorillas. One was a mad scientist who was sure that taking the form of a gorilla would help him rule the world. The other was our Gorilla Man, Ken Hale, an adventurer who was cursed into the form.

The Human Robot was actually from a very short story which mostly involved him being created and then killing the scientist who built him. Roy Thomas obviously put him in the roster of that What If team to be the past counterpart to the Vision, but for our purposes he's become a wonderfully oblique character. Unlike most comics characters who just can't talk enough about themselves, the robot (whom we designate as M-11) barely says anything and little is known about him. Can he be trusted? I mean, his eye is a Death Ray!

Our team leader is Jimmy Woo, a crack FBI agent who was always counted upon to foil the many schemes of The Yellow Claw. You might think he's the weak one of the bunch until it becomes clear that his leadership ability is practically a superpower all its own.

Westfield: What can you say about the genesis of the series?

Parker: Editor Mark Paniccia had a gut feeling about those characters, and asked me to come up with a story idea. I just started taking into consideration the histories of each one and imagining a logical way to bring them all back together. Both Jimmy Woo and Gorilla Man worked for SHIELD, so that agency had to figure in. Then of course a question immediately arose: No one has seen the Yellow Claw in ages, but he didn't die. What's he been up to all this time? There was of course a lot of continuity to adhere to and resolve, which I thought was going to be a hassle. Instead, all of that led to interesting developments.

After a long period of brainstorming, the series idea had to go before the Marvel High Council (Quesada, Buckley, Gabriel, etc.) and after Paniccia, Assistant Editor Nate Cosby and I worked out some things to their satisfaction, we were able to proceed. Editor Tom Brevoort has also been a big help with this book.

Westfield: What does artist Leonard Kirk bring to the book?

Parker: Well let's see... he's a master draftsman with innate storytelling instincts and a powerful sense of design, so essentially having Leonard on your team is like bringing a fully equipped destroyer to go up against some bumper boats at a waterpark. The editor and I were going on the other day, practically giddy about how cool Leonard makes the Human Robot look. I think people who focused on him as a "pretty girl" artist are now starting to realize the vast range he has. For me it's especially enjoyable, because this story kind of brings several genres together, and it demands an artist who can pull off a lot of approaches. He can do mysterious-moody, subtle-funny, horrific-powerful - pretty much any note that's asked for. You can name a lot of great artists who can do a bang-up job, but not all of them have the ability to inhabit the characters, and that's very important here. For most readers, these characters are a clean slate, no one knows what to think of them yet. But just with body language, gestures and emotions, Kirk makes it clear that each one has substance, a backstory worth waiting to read about.

Westfield: Would you like to do more with these characters if the mini-series does well?

Parker: The way this whole story ends, the group can easily go into another mini-series or an ongoing, and it would function in a different way than the other hero team books. I try to curb my tendencies to daydream on future characters and plots, but I can't help it. I've already come up with a big batch of ideas that I'd love to implement if things go well.

Westfield: Are there any other projects you're working on that you'd like to mention? Any new Interman stories planned?

Parker: I am working on an Interman Zero issue, but I probably won't be able to make any more progress on that until after summer. The same goes for an adventure graphic novel Steve Lieber and I are working on called Underground. Actually we may be able to pick up steam on that sooner.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Parker: Yes. Though I make some references to Marvel history, readers unfamiliar with all that have nothing to fear. The story works without any knowledge of that stuff, largely because these characters are such classic pulp archetypes that you get them without having to know those particulars. But if you are a stat-minded fan, you'll be able to get your geek on in a major way!