The Tangled Web of David Marquez
With great power comes great responsibility. That's what uncle Ben told Peter Parker, and now local comic artist David Marquez has the responsibility of seeing Miles Morales, the newest wallcrawler, into a fresh era as he takes over on Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man. Like seemingly most of Austin's graphic artist, UT graduate Marquez got his start working on A Scanner Darkly before moving into well-regarded indie and creator-owned comics like blood-splattered crime thriller Syndrome. Then a one-off penciling job on issue 24 of Marvel's Secret Warriors lead to a remarkable challenge: Fantastic Four Season One, the first in a series of graphic novels intended to streamline and modernize the origins of many of Marvel's longest-running characters.
Yet Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man may be his biggest task to date. Marvel launched the Ultimate line in 2000 as an alternate take on its iconic heroes and villains, designed to be more contemporary and often much edgier than its core titles. Let's just say that dead means dead in the Ultimateverse, as was proven when Peter Parker – the original Spider-Man – died saving his family and friends. Now Morales is the new Spider-Man and Marquez takes over art duties on his adventures starting with issue 9.
No-one is more surprised at this meteoric ascent than Marquez, who said, "It came out of nowhere." After he completed Season One, Marvel made it clear they wanted to work with him again, "but there was a good month period after Fantastic Four finished where there was nothing concrete." Another project looked likely, "and out of the blue Mark Paniccia, who is the Ultimate editor, sent me a pretty brief email saying, 'Hey, we have this arc on Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, it's written by Brian Michael Bendis.'"
Hold up. Bendis, along with Matt Fraction (Thor) Ed Brubaker (Captain America), Jonathan Hickman (Fantastic Four) and Jason Aaron (Wolverine) is part of what Marvel calls its architects, the core creative forces that define their shared universe. Bendis was the sole writer of Ultimate Spider-Man throughout its entire 160 issue run, and he created Morales for Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man. But Marquez has been reading his work since his early days as an indie crime comic phenomenon on Image's Sam and Twitch series in the late 1990s. When the offer to work with him came "I called my editor at Marvel and she didn't pick up. So I called her two or three more times, kind of in a half panic, wanting to say yes as quickly as possible but not seem too desperate." Fortunately she gave her blessing to him leaving her project for such a high-profile title. "She said, 'As a matter of fact, if you didn't take this gig, I'd kick you out so you could take it.'"
The Bendis connection is what really sealed the deal for Marquez. "A year ago," he said, "if I'd seen him on the convention floor, I would have been shaking in my boots." Now they're in regular contact, and Marquez praised his collaborator. "[He] sent me an email, just to say hi and let me know I should feel free to do what I want with the script. That was a really surreal moment."
Marvel was so happy with their first issue that Paniccia immediately contacted him to say they wanted him for a second arc straight after his first one finished. "I'll be on the book for most of this year, and I think the idea is that Sara Pichelli and I will be rotating arcs after that."
Bendis and Pichelli have given Marquez two reasons to be thankful. Firstly, that he doesn't have to draw that infamous and unforgiving blue-and-white Spidey uniform. "I've drawn that original Spider-Man costume a few times for my own purposes," he said, "but that costume is a huge pain in the ass to draw, with all the webs." Pichelli's new, sleeker look takes off the pressure from having to match the inheritance that goes right back to Steve Ditko's original design from 1962. Marquez said, "I like that I get to come in on the book after that introductory arc was complete, and so I get to draw a whole lot of Miles in costume, a whole lot of action scenes."
The other benefit of the Morales era is that Marquez gets to help comics evolve a little, and represent modern American ethnic diversity more. Growing up drawing super heroes meant drawing a lot of blue-eyed boy scouts in costumes, but since Morales is of mixed Latino/African American heritage, his friends and families aren't as monochromatic as Peter Parker's associates tended to be. "I make this joke that the only white people I have drawn so far are extras."
David Marquez will be signing issues of Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man issue 9 today, April 4, 4-7pm at at Austin Books and Comics, 5002 N. Lamar.