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Making a Mangaverse

CINESCAPE chats with Marvel Mangaverse Editor Brian Smith

By Arnold T. Blumberg     January 28, 2002


Aw, isn't he the cutest thing? Heads up, true believers, it's the Mangaverse SPIDER-MAN. Cover to #1 pictured.
© 2002 Marvel Characters Inc.
Brian Smith, Editor of the new Marvel Mangaverse titles and co-creator of that line's GHOST RIDERS, wasn't a huge anime/manga fan before he began working on the project devoted to translating the classic Marvel Universe into a manga reality, but things have changed.

A team bound by fate experiences a new kind of origin in the Mangaverse version of FANTASTIC FOUR #1.

"I've always been more of a casual fan," says Smith. "I've picked up certain things along the way, like EVANGELION and BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, different things that caught my eye. But ever since I started working on this project, it's been more so. I'm seeing where these guys get their influences from and doing a little research. Right now, I'm hooked on the ROBOTECH DVDs. I think they're awesome. It really opened my eyes further to the manga/anime experience. I was always kind of into it, but now more than ever."

These "guys" he's referring to are folks like Kaare Andrews, Ken Siu-Chong, Chuck Austen, Alvin Lee, and the many others who have lent their talents to molding a Mangaverse out of the heroes and villains we've known and loved from 40 years of Marvel Comics. This new project began, as so many of Marvel's recent innovations have done, with a directive from Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada.

"About eight or nine months ago, Joe brought down a couple of proposals from Ben Dunn, different ideas for characters in the Marvel Universe told from an anime/manga style. Joe had been thinking of doing something along those lines as a fifth week event, and Ben brought all this stuff to the table. It all kind of happened spontaneously. Ben's ideas were fantastic, we refined some of the stuff he was doing, and we thought it looked like a lot of fun and that [we should get] some more guys involved, see if they'd be interested in playing with all these toys in this universe."

Dunn's concept work involved a central plotline that would eventually serve as the underpinning foundation of the entire Mangaverse launch.

MARVEL MANGAVERSE: NEW DAWN #1 page 6

"Ben set up the uber-story," says Smith, "which is the Hulk as Godzilla. This is the common thread that runs through a lot of the one-shots and also is the connector between the two book-ends. It's the one thing we had that really tied everything together - that there's a greater threat. Even if some of the one-shots weren't related to that, either visually or with a mention in the story, they're all tied back into the big story."

Those two book-ending chapters, NEW DAWN and ETERNITY TWILIGHT, surround the six one-shots reviewed here last week. Although the event has been executed as a self-contained set of stories, it was clear from the beginning that the Mangaverse was larger than eight comic books could possibly contain.

"Once we started working on it, we all felt up here that when the artwork first started coming in, it had legs beyond being a fifth week event," says Smith. "Sure enough, once the numbers came in, it sold pretty well, so we have a monthly book debuting in April - MARVEL MANGAVERSE MONTHLY."

Marvel Mangaverse's Sons of Satan

According to Smith, this new ongoing title will introduce "a whole bunch of new characters. The first story arc is the Mangaverse Captain Marvel, Galactus and the Silver Surfer, and a bunch of other people."

But with this new line hitting comic shop shelves, and the ULTIMATE books weaving their own version of Marvel events outside the Prime line, isn't there any thought that perhaps Marvel is spreading its recognizable icons a bit thin?

"Not so much," insists Smith. "It's always something we keep in the back of our minds because we don't want to conflict too directly with anything. You want to retain some essence of what Spider-Man is, but you have the room to do a really unique version of that character. So in one sense you have four different versions of that character, and if one's not your cup of tea, there's another one that might be. I look at it as there's more than one to choose from. They all appeal to somebody, not in the sense that we're cramming stuff down people's throats, let's put it that way."

Certainly one of the things Smith and company are hoping for is that the Mangaverse will serve as another attractive way in for comic fans both old and new. Smith believes the Mangaverse represents a mix that should entice classic fans eager to try something different as well as Marvel newcomers.

They're cool in any universe. The Mangaverse welcomes THE X-MEN #1.

"Just in the initial stuff we're presenting, maybe we did hook in a few manga or anime fans just on sight alone," says Smith. "Maybe we turned on some people to manga stuff that weren't into it to begin with. In the long run, it serves as an eye-opener that there are different kinds of comics out there. With the Marvel brand name on that, it should show the die-hard Marvel guys that there are other types of comics out there, and maybe we showed some people who wouldn't be inclined to pick up a Marvel comic that we can play ball like that too."

At the heart of it all is the notion that every comic book might be someone's first comic, a philosophy that Smith says is paramount at the Marvel offices these days.

"That's something you hear a lot of up here," says Smith. "You want to make any one of these as accessible as you possibly can." That belief definitely influenced the development of the Mangaverse X-Men, which echoes many of the themes and plot elements from the hit feature film and not the convoluted continuity of the classic comic book series.

"The movie is still very fresh in people's mind, so keeping that accessibility to those characters was very important, especially with the X-Men, who have had so many incarnations and so many revamps," says Smith. "When you get down to it, you want to retain the essence of what that group is, but hopefully you can show a different facet of it."

"We'll continue to take the standard Marvel stuff and tweak it, turn it on its ear," adds Smith. "A lot of the characters we showed you in the first story arc are characters a lot of people have an affection for, but for whatever reason, the stories that have been told about them lately are not as exciting or as interesting as they could be. The biggest response we've been getting from the fans and the people up here is like, 'Wow, Doctor Strange is so cool in this!' Hopefully we'll continue to take things that people are used to and do something offbeat with them that fans are going to like."

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