Creator Commentaries (Fantastic Four Tales #1)

Writing this script was a huge deal for me on a few levels. Obviously, it was yet another project from Marvel Comics, after the Spider-man short I was able to sell in the wake of my Marvel/Epic experience, and my first official full length mini-series. So because of that, I imagined that I could have a higher level of influence over the final product, having gotten my feet wet scripting over other writers’ plots and writing shorter stories. Technically, the first three issues of this FF mini were based on the plots of others, but as long as the original intent of the narrative was preserved, I had a lot of freedom to lay out and structure the stories in my own way. The mini-series also marked the very beginning of a long, mutually beneficial relationship with Apple products, as I used the check from this script to buy my first iBook, replacing the old Compaq my parents bought me for graduating high school.

The biggest thing is that the experience completely changed the actual process I used for writing scripts. Because I was a little green, my editor encouraged me to write out these incredibly detailed outlines, which broke the entire issue down into its 22 pages, and had important lines of dialogue and central visuals noted throughout. I did keep notes before this, but they were usually much less specific, focusing on the major beats of a story, overall dramatic themes, character arcs, etc. Doing things this way allows me to easily jump in and out of the story, while preserving the big picture at all costs and always keeps me moving forward. So when I get stuck somewhere in the story, the outline allows me to shift into another scene entirely, work that out, and usually by the time I come back, everything makes a little more sense. And when I’m doing the actual scripting, if that bit of inspiration strikes, I know exactly how everything around it will be affected. Great tool to make the process go a little more efficiently, and make sure all those deadlines got met. And it’s something I still use to this day, especially with some of the more complex Miranda scripts.

Did a little digging in the crates and found an excerpt from the outline that I sent my editor for this issue, and Google helped me find another little treat that is discussed at greater length further below. Enjoy.

(1) We start with Johnny Storm sitting at an outside table at a Manhattan restaurant, bragging to one of the waitresses about one of his recent adventures with the FF. He’s waiting for his friend Wyatt Wingfoot to show up, so they can have lunch. Someone screams for help, and Johnny asks the waitress to stand back.

(2) The Human Torch takes to the skies and closes in on the scream, finding a teenaged girl hanging precariously off the side of a building. He tells her to hold on, but she falls.

(3) Torch scoops her up, and brings her back up to the roof, but the “rescue” was a trap. The Black Panther emerges from the shadows and takes out Johnny, apologizing while he’s doing it, claiming that “it’s the only way.”

(4) Meanwhile, at the Baxter Building, Reed is in his lab, working on one of his many experiments, until his wife Susan tells him to get up to the roof. He and Ben Grimm burst onto the scene, and find the girl from the previous scene, telling them that to get Johnny Storm back, they’ll have to face the Black Panther. Then she leaps off the building.

(5) A high tech glider swoops in underneath her and she speeds off. Reed keys in on the small device she left behind, containing a holographic map to a place called Wakanda.

Originally published as “Due Process (FF Tales Commentary, pt. 1)” on June 6, 2005-

Stories got re-sequenced in the collection, but we’ve gotta kick this off with the first issue, featuring my man the Black Panther. My unconditional love for the character has been well documented, so you know I was incredibly excited with being tasked to adapt Lee and Kirby’s original introduction. There was an intimidation factor of course, because I mean, this was my first full length Marvel comic, and I wasn’t quite sure how much of myself I’d be allowed to inject into it. I’ve heard the arguments on both sides of whether the Marvel Age material should’ve launched with these “remixes,” or went for completely original stories, but honestly, from what I’ve seen, the adaptations adhere to their source material on a very basic cosmetic level. My Black Panther issue was the one script that stayed the closest to the original, because I wasn’t trying to overreach at that point, which definitely happened in later scripts. But for now, I was playing everything by the numbers.

Photocopies of the original story hit my mailbox, and they gave me my first, and usually last major concern, which was lack of space. I haven’t written one script that I thought couldn’t use an extra page here or there to give things further room to develop. And with my creator-owned stuff, I could kinda cheat and sneak a couple extra pages into it, but Marvel wasn’t gonna let me pull that trick. Page 22 was like this door that kept slamming on my foot, before I could get out properly, and even though I’d been approved one extra page in this case, because I was collapsing two issues (FF 52 & 53) into one, things were still at a high premium. Lee & Kirby devoted at least 10 pages to the Panther’s origin, and my notes looked like I’d have room for maybe four pages. Maybe.

Not to mention that Marvel Age books were engineered to be repackaged as digests, which meant fewer panels, and less dialogue, so the pages could eventually be reduced, without losing their clarity. I took my dialogue quotient to its limit every month, but it took some doing to cut enough scenes, and accelerate enough passages to create a really tight walkthrough. After that page-by-page breakdown got approved, then came the fun part. When I start the actual scripting, I want to have as many notes as possible, because it makes it harder to get lost in the story, when you can duck in and out, and write things completely out of sequence. Dialogue usually comes first, then I jump back in and frame it into panels, though if I’ve planned for a really strong central image, I’ll jot it down in tandem. The construction of every scene is slightly different in regards to what came first, which is why I try to keep good notes, cause it gives me that mark to hit, and lets me know where every page begins and ends.

Very first scene I wrote was the capture of Johnny Storm, which was by far the easiest thing to manage, because everything was just right there and framed around the “spotlight panel” of Johnny ignited in flame, and flying up towards us on page 2. Tried to give every main character some poster-worthy rendition, that would jump out and grab the kids by the throat, but some of them worked much better than others. The ones that didn’t work were entirely my fault, because of space constraints, and the frantic clip the story was moving at, calling for more and thereby smaller panels. Visually, Sue and Ben got a bit squeezed out, but I’d make up for that later.

Second scene also went down nice and smooth, and contains probably my favorite page of artwork, which is page 5 where Tasmin plummets down the side of the Baxter Building. Think it was Michael O’Hare’s idea to give her the futuristic bodysuit to match her glider, which totally vibed with the 22nd century “black utopia” feel I wanted for Wakanda and its technology. Looks very Evangelion to me, the only anime I followed passionately in younger days, so I was really feelin’ that. And oh yeah, the whole idea of Tasmin is a very obvious nod to Priest’s work, as she’s filling the role of the Dora Milaje. If you don’t know what that is, please go ask somebody before it’s too late.

Panther himself got his big reveal on page 7, along with the credits, and my editor was nice enough to let me keep this, since it was preferred that the Marvel Age stuff have their title pages a little more frontloaded. Somewhere in here, with Panther throwing down with the FF, I found myself developing a very noticeable affinity for Sue Storm. Maybe it’s the Alba thing, but every time I looked up, I was giving her another line or another cool maneuver, and easily, she and the Panther have all of the really nice stuff in the story. I had planned to give her a “spotlight panel” where she was in the middle of turning light visible, half of her body viewable, with the rest melting into the background, but there just wasn’t room. Again, I’d try to make up for it in a later issue.

Next major thing was the origin of the Black Panther, which was the absolute last thing I handled. The notes had it settled in with three pages smack in the middle of the issue, but technically I only used two, bleeding some of the explanatory dialogue into the pages before and after the main flashbacks. Wish I could’ve shown more of Wakanda, but the brief shot of Panther’s glider flying over the main city is really nice, and gives it that sci-fi gloss.

From here, there were only seven pages left, and everything just starts crashing into everything else. I could’ve nailed this with another page, rocked it with two, but the door just slams. Monsters attack the main gates, Panther and the FF engage them, Panther runs off to confront Klaw, and it’s just cut back and forth until the last page. The Four’s defense of the gate isn’t too bad, but the fight between Klaw and Panther needs some room and was much more complicated in the earlier notes. Thought it would be cool to have Klaw taking shots at BP with the sonic cannon, while he flips around the room, barely a half step ahead of the blasts, until the hero uses some gadget to incapacitate the weapon. A frustrated Klaw tries to get the thing back online, and then notices there’s little charges placed all over the room wherever Panther touched the ground, and faces T’Challa, horrified. The hero presses a button on his gauntlets and everything detonates. Hell, that’s two whole pages right there, but I had to settle for a split screen, where once again, Panther and Sue get the cooler beats.

The final page isn’t too bad, bringing the heroes together, seeing Klaw carted off to some dark, Wakandan dungeon, and hitting that humorous conclusion we’re used to seeing in Saturday morning cartoons. My editor seemed to love the final pass at the script, and sent me this really nice, incredibly encouraging e-mail that had me feelin’ pretty good about myself for at least a couple days. Which was actually good for more than one reason, because I’d need that initial burst of approval to power me through the near disaster the Dr. Strange issue almost turned into…

While doing a little Google search last night, I found a particularly ancient Mile High Comics link to a preview for almost this entire issue. Think this is from the time Marvel was still doing its First Look program for retailers, but check out some pages from the first issue of my first Marvel Comics mini-series—a re-interpretation of the Black Panther’s first appearance.

http://www.milehighcomics.com/firstlook/marvel/mafft1/

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