Marvel’s cosmic king Dan Abnett returns to ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

(CBR) In the aftermath of the 2007’s “Annihilation: Conquest” miniseries, the spaceways of the Marvel Universe were in a turbulent state — and in dire need of heroes. What they got was a ragtag band of defenders that included a half-human, half-alien prince, a highly trained assassin reputed to be the deadliest woman in the universe, an immensely powerful alien warrior whose body housed the spirit of a vengeful human, an alien life form that resembled a gigantic tree and a talking, heavily-armed raccoon. The adventures of these heroes were chronicled in a new volume of the fan-favorite series “Guardians of the Galaxy” by writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning; an epic space opera which pitted the titular team against a host of immensely powerful cosmic adversaries.

Abnett and Lanning’s run on “Guardians of the Galaxy” came to an end in 2010, but the work they did with the characters continues to resonate. Their stories inspired both the current “Guardians” series from writer Brian Michael Bendis and the upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy” feature film from Marvel Studios, which hits theaters this August. So it’s only fitting that Abnett and Lanning return to pen some more stories for the franchise they helped build, and this April they’ll do just that. CBR News spoke with Abnett about his work on “Guardians of the Galaxy” #14, which serves as a special 100th issue celebration, and the two issue “Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Prelude,” which serves as an overture to the upcoming feature film.

CBR News: Dan, I believe your last Marvel work was in 2012. How does it feel to come back to the company and to the Guardians, especially now when the team’s profile is at an all-time high?

Dan Abnett: I’m very happy. I had done a large block of work for Marvel and it had sort of run its course. Now to come back with these stories and there are other bits and pieces in the works, which are quite promising, is really great.

I started working with Marvel UK in the late ’80s, on staff. In that time there have been periods when I’ve worked for Marvel both in Britain and America, and there have been times when I’ve written for DC. So I think it’s a cyclic thing.

And what’s happening with “Guardians” is very exciting. The film is going to be great. I can’t wait to actually see it. I’ve had previews and have been privy to some information I’m not able to talk about, and it’s going to be spectacular. So it’s really nice that it’s related so closely to the work I did in that time period on the run on the “Annihilation” stuff and “War of Kings.”

I saw that you had the opportunity to tour the production offices of the “Guardians” film. Did you guys get to see any filming?

I did. I got an initial look at the film back when they were in preproduction. So I got to see a lot of design work, read the scripts, and all sorts of exciting things like that. Then I went back in the summer of last year. I went on set and met the characters in flesh and blood! I got to climb in the space ships and do all sorts of stuff. So that was very exciting. I’m very confident that this is going to be a memorable, exciting, and very entertaining film.

You and Andy Lanning collaborated on the “Guardians” stories that inspired the current series and the upcoming feature film, but I understand the new stories you’re writing for your return are a little different in that you’re working separately, is that correct?

Yes, kind of. Our working relationship essentially ran its course at the beginning of last year, but because [“Guardians” director] James Gunn asked us specifically if we would work on some of the material that would come out in support of the film we have done that.

In the old days we would brain storm together and then I would script. This time around we brainstormed ideas by e-mail with [editor] Bill Rosemann, who — aside from our “Annihilation: Nova” mini — edited our entire cosmic run. Andy then wrote up the basic plots and as always I wrote the scripts.

What can you tell us about the plot and characters featured in this “Prelude” that you collaborated on with Andy?

Because the movie is taking the comic and adapting it to movie form the characters will appear to be very recognizable, but they’re not in quite the same continuity as the comics. Since this material is based on the movie there are a lot of references and likenesses.

Issue #1 is a Nebula story, which involves a lot of the other characters from the movie. Issue #2 is a Rocket and Groot story. So these stories introduce some of the regular and supporting characters and set up some of the elements of the film.

Who’s drawing these stories for you guys?

Wellinton Alves, who we worked with on our “Nova” run, is penciling both issues. These stories take a little longer to get done because unlike a regular Marvel story everything has to be run by the Studio to make sure that we’re head on; that nothing’s said or done that shouldn’t be and that the details and tone are right.

Tonally I think it’s absolutely in keeping with our “Guardians” run as you would recognize it but it has its own flavor. That’s something I worked hard to maintain in those Prelude stories.

Let’s talk a little more about the back-up story you wrote for “Guardians of the Galaxy” #14. You wrote this story solo, correct?

Yes. The “Prelude” was done in the method I described earlier, but this one is coming entirely from me.

“Guardians” #14 also serves as the 100th issue featuring the team. How does it feel to have the franchise reach that milestone?

It’s great. I remember reading the very first “Guardians” story in a British Marvel reprint in the ’70s; the Arnold Drake-Gene Colan story featuring the original team. I always liked those characters and I loved it over the years when they reappeared in Steve Gerber’s work on “The Defenders” and other places. They were always interesting guest stars and when I got my hands on the cosmic stuff with “Nova,” and characters like that, reconstituting the Guardians name seemed like a great thing to do even if it was populated with completely different Marvel Cosmic characters. It allowed the traditions to carry through and create a link to this future legacy that I knew would exist.

So yes, it’s fantastic that it’s reached 100 issues with their appearances. That’s brilliant and I’m very pleased to be contributing to it. I’m just working out the details of the story now. I’ve got some strong ideas, but I’m probably not allowed to tell you what I’m doing just yet. It’s going to be fun though.

Can you talk about the characters you’ll focus on? Is this a story that spotlights the entire present day team? Or just a few members?

It is a whole team thing and I don’t think I can say any more about the characters until my story has been confirmed. Because it involves a team, but not necessarily that team. [Laughs] Let’s put it that way.

Are you able to reveal who’s drawing this story?

No, unfortunately I can’t reveal that just yet.

Let’s talk about the current climate of Marvel Cosmic then, which will inform your story. The landscape was recently shaken up in some pretty substantial ways by the events of “Infinity.” Which elements of that story did you find most appealing? What sort of story opportunities do you think it created?

I think it created a lot of major ones. I think one of the nicest things about “Infinity” was that it was done very confidently and very stylishly as proper SF with super heroes in it, which is something that I did try to do with “Guardians,” but there was a certain amount of levity to it as well. I think that goes back to Steve Gerber and Jim Starlin, who I admire tremendously.

Marvel Cosmic stories often had a whimsical feel to them, and this definitely wasn’t whimsical. It shows the cosmic stuff really maturing as part of the Marvel Universe and something that people took seriously. It involved mainstream Marvel characters, was a big spectacular thing, and it looked great too.

“Infinity” and “Guardians,” especially since the advent of the movie, are just opening up this whole other part of the Marvel Universe. It’s been there forever and has had its own fans, but quite a lot of people have not made that cross over. They love mainstream, earth-based super hero stuff. They don’t make that cosmic leap though, and I think that leap is made more confidently when it’s treated like proper SF.

It sounds like fans of Marvel Cosmic, your work on it, and Marvel films have a lot to look forward to in 2014.

I’m incredibly grateful and honored that the run of comics we did has made an impact. At the time we were doing them they were successful critically because they were lovely comics and the readers of “Guardians of the Galaxy” were properly devoted to it and thought very highly of it. It wasn’t a huge breakout hit in terms of the Marvel Universe though.

So when I was told the wonderful sequencing of the ongoing movie program was going to branch out to the cosmic and be that, and not only be that but was going to be based on that line up and tone I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t. It was immensely rewarding to discover that something I had done and thought “people liked that at the time, but they’ll forget about it” has actually made a big impact in terms of the structure of Marvel’s output.

I think it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens because the movies so far have always been about characters that are very recognizable to the general public as well as comic readers. Whereas “Guardians” is a bit more obscure and I think it’s going to be fun for people to go in and say, “I don’t know what this is” and then just be blown away by what happens. They’ll see how the connective tissue works with other movies, how this is happening at the same time as other things, and fall in love with this group of oddball characters who I always treated as underdogs.

That was the whole point because they weren’t the Avengers. I always wrote them as if they knew they weren’t the Avengers or the Fantastic Four. That made them very attractive and slightly downtrodden. I think the movie does the same thing, and it’s lovely to see those elements in something that big. To go on set and be high-fived by Zoe Saldana? Who could complain about that?

It’s going to be a great film and I like the real variety that James Gunn has put into it; the way he’s chosen his cast and the way he selected the characters from the storylines he’s got in the film. I think if you’re an existing Cosmic fan and you know “Guardians” you’re going to love it. If you just like the Marvel movies or big blockbuster films you’ll love it because it’s exactly what you want, but it’s quirky, intelligent, and funny. No matter what happens to it I think because of the visual design, style and craft of it the film may well become one of those science fiction films that, quite apart from Marvel’s general output, is remembered as being a cult classic.

It doesn’t look like other SF movies and I think that’s a really strong thing. So many films today try to mimic the styles of past films. They try to emulate other things. This has got a panache all of its own.

I understand you’re currently discussing some other work with Marvel as well. Is there any truth to that?

Yes, there are bits and pieces. I’m actually working on one thing right now that I’m dying to talk to you about, but it hasn’t been announced yet.

While fans of your Marvel work are waiting on those announcements, is there any other comics or prose work by you that they should keep an eye out for? I understand a huge and beautifully painted “Warhammer 40,000” graphic novel by you and artist Neil Roberts was just released.

Yes, it’s called “Macragge’s Honour.” It’s a “Horus Heresy” book and it’s a 100-page graphic novel fully pained by Neil. Neil has done all the covers for the “Horus Heresy” series and many other books besides it. It was a wonderful thing to do because it’s very rare to get commissioned to write a 100-page self-contained story. Usually it’s broken up and divided into other forms.

Plus Neil had been itching to do comic work and he’s a great artist so I was sure we could encourage him to understand sequential art. Just because you’re a great artist doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be a great comic book artist, but Neil is a great comic book artist. His sequential storytelling is amazing. It’s basically like a two billion dollar movie sitting there in book form. It’s very nice and it connects to some of the other things I’ve written.

Plus my latest “Horus Heresy” book just came out and I believe it went to number four on the charts the week it debuted. It was great though, because the three people above me were George R.R. Martin, Terry Pratchett, and Tolkien. [Laughs] So I was really pleased with that result.

I’m also working on some more “Warhammer” stuff at the moment. I’m writing a new Gaunt’s Ghosts novel now and there will be several other “40K” novels to follow. I’m also writing regularly for 2000 A.D. I’ve done many strips for them. Plus I have projects lined up for both BOOM! and Dark Horse. And I’m of course writing “Masters of the Universe” for DC.

That takes me back to the late ’80s because one of my the jobs I had as a freelance writer was on all the licensed characters that Marvel UK produced at the time. So I got to do “Galaxy Rangers,” “Ghostbusters,” and all that kind of stuff. Of all those from that era the one I never wrote was “Masters of the Universe.” So to be given the chance to do that is enormously good fun. It’s still fun, but they’re taking it seriously. It’s the He-Man you grew up with if you we’re a kid then. I’m really enjoying it.

So there’s all sorts of stuff. I’m as busy as usual.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” #14, the 100th issue celebration, goes on sale April 23.