2019 is looking to be a pretty big year for Jim Zub! Next year will see the fan-favourite writer of such comics as Wayward (Image Comics), Rick & Morty vs Dungeons & Dragons (Idea & Design Works), and Uncanny Avengers (Marvel) tackle both a relaunch of Marvel’s premiere teen superhero series, Champions, and re-team with Al Ewing & Mark Waid on another weekly Avengers story, No Road Home, following in the success of Avengers: No Surrender earlier this year! I recently talked with Jim Zub about the past, present and future of Champions and his other projects at Marvel!
Q: Champions #24 was one of the most moving comics I’ve read all year, and one I’ll be recommending everyone read in the future. What inspired you to tell that particular story with Miles Morales?
ZUB: The simple truth is that it was just the overall state of America’s gun problem. Our story is timely and probably will be for quite some time to come because that’s where we’re at. America is either going through a school shooting or reeling from the after-effects of one almost every single month. Thinking about that, and how the Champions are teenagers who would have strong perspectives on what’s happening in their own schools, started me thinking about how we might be able to approach it.
It would have been easy for Tom Brevoort, my editor, to tell me to back off from a hot-button topic like this and to just stick with our regular story, but he believed in the pitch and went to bat for it at every level of approval. I’m extremely proud of how it all turned out.
Q: Currently in the book is the much-promoted Weirdworld arc, featuring the young heroes in a much more fantasy-based environment. Given your past writing with books like Skullkickers, Conan/Red Sonja, Dungeons & Dragons: Evil at Baldur’s Gate, and even Rick & Morty vs Dungeons & Dragons, it’s clear the fantasy-genre means a lot to you. How did the idea to put the teens of this book into such a setting come about?
ZUB: I’ve been joking with Tom that I’ll add magic and supernatural stuff to every book I work on at Marvel until they give me Doctor Strange to write, and he thought I was kidding…
I have a lot of nostalgia for two of my favorite X-Men stories, the Asgardian Wars annuals drawn by Arthur Adams and Uncanny X-Men #190-191 where Kulan Gath turns Manhattan into a fantasy world, drawn by John Romita Jr. Both of those Claremont stories stuck with me year after year and I wanted to do something similar with the Champions without just repeating what Chris did back then.
Fantasy versions of characters allows me to explore different aspects of their personalities and push them into different conflicts. It’s a fun way to switch things up and surprise readers who may have become complacent about our cast. I think it’s pretty clear that all of us on the book are having a blast putting it together.
Q: This arc features covers and designs from Sean Izaakse (which look AMAZING, I’m really hoping Marvel makes a poster of them available for sale), with interiors from a new artist to the title, Max Dunbar. What’s it been like working with him on this storyline? What are some of Max Dunbar’s strengths he brings to the title?
ZUB: The first project Sean and I ever worked on was the Pathfinder comic series, based on the tabletop RPG, so he’s well versed in fantasy design and absolutely rocked out those new designs.
Max and I previously worked on the Dungeons & Dragons: Legends of Baldur’s Gate comic mini-series, so I knew he would be a perfect fit for this Champions story. Max has the sword & sorcery thing down cold and he brings a heightened sense of reality to the page in a way that’s perfect for the material.
Having them both on board our super-sized 25th issue made it even more special.
Q: After this arc wraps up, the Champions will be sending out the new year with their first annual issue. Can you give us a bit of information on what to expect from it? What’s it been like to collaborate with Marcus To on the annual?
ZUB: Champions Annual #1 is a Snowguard-focused issue as we see Amka return home to Pangnirtung for the first time since she gained her powers and joined the Champions in issue #22. We’ll get to see her past, her family, and the stresses she feels trying to bridge her modern life with the ancestral power she now wields.
Nyla Innuksuk, who has been acting as a consultant on everything Amka, has come aboard to co-write this special issue, bringing extra insight into Inuk culture, locations, and mythology.
Marcus To is a friend of mine who also lives here in Toronto and I’m thrilled we finally get to work together on this issue. His pages are absolutely stunning and I know readers are going to freak out when they see how beautifully he portrays our young hero and her homeland.
Q: Going into the new year, Champions is being relaunched with a new number #1 issue, and a new art-team joining the title, Kim Jacinto on covers and Steven Cummings penciling, whom you worked with on your excellent creator-owned series Wayward at Image. What’s it been like working with Steven and Kim on this title? And what should fans expect from the relaunch? Any new members you can tease?
ZUB: Steven and I have been working together on Wayward for the past four years, so it’s incredibly comfortable. I know exactly how he works and how to get the most out of a scene when we collaborate. That confidence carries through to our story as we ambitiously push the Champions concept to bigger places than ever before.
Ms. Marvel is now the formal leader of the Champions and she’s decided that the team needs to make their mission bigger than ever. She believes that since young people will inherit the world some day, they need to step up and make it a better place. Dozens of teen heroes around the globe have answered her call and the Champions are becoming a movement like no other.
On our first issue cover you can see that Red Locust, Power Man, and Patriot have joined the team, and there’s more who will be coming on board as well, including a brand new teen hero in issue #1. It’s going to be a roller coaster ride.
Q: On the note of Wayward, with it ending this month, how does it feel to see it conclude? I can remember buying issue #1 from you back at Fan Expo 2014, and it feels sad for me to see it end. It was one of the first Image books I ever followed!
ZUB: It feels a bit surreal, to be honest. With Skullkickers, Wayward, and Glitterbomb all overlapping as they were released, this is the first time in 8 years that I won’t have an Image title in development or on the stands.
It’s a milestone and I’m really proud of what we’ve done.
Q: Also announced at NYCC, you’re going to be re-teaming with Mark Waid, Al Ewing, Paco Medina on Avengers: No Road Home, being joined by Sean Izaakse and Yasmine Putri on covers. Presumably, this is a follow-up to this year’s Avengers: No Surrender weekly series, how did this story come about?
ZUB: Avengers: No Surrender was very well received and we ran a tight ship in terms of organization, so when we were wrapping that up, the Mavel editorial team looked at the opportunity presented by having a new Avengers movie arriving next Spring and they asked us if we wanted to do it again. As you might imagine, we all jumped at the chance.
No Road Home is the spiritual sequel to No Surrender, but it’s also a self-contained Avengers epic where you don’t need to have read No Surrender or any other Avengers story to get on board and enjoy the ride.
Q: From the reveal of the first few covers, we can see Rocket Raccoon joining this story, why add the wily weapons expert? And how will return characters such as Hercules and Voyager factor into the story?
ZUB: Rocket’s inclusion was actually a suggestion by Marvel Editor-In-Chief CB Cebulski as we were brainstorming our cast of characters. We have some Avengers mainstays and a few oddballs, and when CB suggested Rocket, it just felt like the right mix, someone from the outside who could make things a bit crazier and unexpected.
I don’t want to give too much plot away just yet, but Voyager is the herald of a new threat coming our way. She’s seen something terrifying and heads back to Earth to warn the Avengers about it before it’s too late…*cue ominous music*
Anyway, No Road Home is big, brash, and shakes up the universe in fun and unexpected ways.
Q: Thank you so much for your time Jim, we’ll be eagerly awaiting Champions, Avengers No Road Home and everything else you have in store in the coming months?
Zub: Rick and Morty VS Dungeons & Dragons should wrap up by end of the year and I’m planning another D&D mini-series with the Baldur’s Gate cast for 2019.