When the news was announced that Cullen Bunn would be writing Fearless Defenders for Marvel next year, the world breathed a sigh of relief. It’s no secret that this is a project many have been waiting to happen ever since he first hinted at it earlier this year, during his ‘The Fearless’ miniseries starring Valkyrie. Fearless Defenders returns to the character, this time asking her to assemble a team of women in order to protect the Marvel Universe from imminent danger. Artist Will Sliney will be drawing the series, which will begin in February. Wikipedia are already very excited about the book!
As am I. I couldn’t be more onboard for this book if Pixie and Hepzibah were on it (but think about it, Cullen?), so I immediately asked if he’d be interested in talking to me about it. He kindly agreed, and we talked about how the series came to be – specifically, how the pitching process began, how it developed, and how the book went from a tease at the end of The Fearless through to a new ongoing series.
Steve: When did you first pitch Fearless Defenders? Has it been a long process?
Cullen Bunn: I remember the moment the idea for this team first dawned on me pretty clearly. I was working on the series FEAR ITSELF: THE FEARLESS and was brainstorming how to wrap the final issue. There were these eight magical, evil hammers floating around the Marvel Universe, and I wanted to get rid of them. So, I thought it might be interesting to have the Valkyrior—the Shield Maidens of Asgard—take the weapons and scatter into the universe. That left the Marvel Universe without Valkyrior, and I wanted Valkyrie to have a new sense of purpose.
So I thought it might be cool to have her tasked with gathering a new team of Shield Maidens. I also thought it might be interesting if these women had to be chosen from Midgard—from a group that might include already established characters.
I rushed to my computer and fired off an e-mail to my co-writers and the editorial team, just to see if they liked that direction. At the end of the e-mail, I wrote something along the lines of, “Be warned. I’m working up a proposal for this series right now!”
And I put together a short proposal that I sent to my editors at the same time I sent in the script to the final issue of THE FEARLESS.
It took a few months after the finale of THE FEARLESS for the series to get the go ahead. Remember, this was during the time that Marvel NOW was being planned, and I’m guessing there was a lot of discussion in regards to where this book would fit. Editorial teams changed a bit and the book went through a number of changes from my initial 1-page proposal.
Steve: The book was first hinted for readers in the final issue of Fear Itself: The Fearless, in which it was presented as an option to Valkyrie. Was this always a beat you wanted to include in the story? How early on did you first think of the premise, and how much did it inform the story in The Fearless?
Cullen: That idea for the formation of the new team of Valkyrior hit me around the time I was writing issue 6 or 7, and from that point on, I really couldn’t wait to reach that final issue and that teaser image. So… yeah, it helped shape where the second half of that series went.
Steve: When you pitch an idea like this, do you come with a firm idea of the book and where it’ll head and how it operates, or a more general premise, which can be altered? Do you try to firmly define the book, or do you leave room for editors to manoeuvre around the premise?
Cullen: My initial proposal was only one page. I knew, though, that I wanted a good part of the book to be about how Valkyrie would choose the members of the team. That was the note that I really wanted to stick to. I think that building the team relatively slowly gives every character a chance to find a place and voice in the group and in the book as a whole. Beyond that, the proposal definitely had room for editorial input. The collaborative nature of comic books is something that I enjoy, and I love seeing where new ideas can take a book. Sometimes, some of the suggestions I’ve been given have really challenged me, but I think it takes the series in some unexpected directions.
Steve: This has clearly been a book you’re passionate about creating – what was it about the series which spoke so strongly to you?
Cullen: I thought the concept was interesting and would give me a chance to showcase some characters who rarely get the spotlight and almost never get to work together. And I liked the way this could develop these characters. Also, I just thought this was an outlet for some really crazy, action-packed, surprising stories.
That’s all it took for me to be hooked.
Steve: How has your pitch developed since the original idea?
Cullen: I mentioned that the book went through more than one editorial team. Every time a change occurred, the book changed a little. It’s funny, though, because in many ways it came full circle. The premise moved away from what I originally had in mind, then circled back to something that was very close to my original pitch.
The biggest development is something that occurred because of the timing of the book. Because it took a while for the series to be approved, I decided that Valkyrie was procrastinating when it came to the task of choosing allies. She simply didn’t see anyone worthy of becoming a Shield Maiden. This, I think, paints Valkyrie in a much more interesting light, and I love the idea of exploring her definitions (right and wrong) of heroism.
Steve: What do you think is the essence of a good pitch? Do you follow the idea of boiling down the premise to a five-word ‘elevator pitch’?
Cullen: I think a good pitch needs to tell the editor what the story is about, who the characters are, how they will potentially grow, and who the audience will be… as succinctly as humanly possible.
My proposals typically have a one-sentence elevator pitch, a one paragraph expansion on that pitch, a breakdown of characters, and a three-act breakdown of the story (or first arc).
Steve: Did you write speculative issues, to show Marvel how the series would work in terms of tone? What physical work, besides a premise or synopsis, do you do to prepare for pitching a book?
Cullen: It’s different for every project, but I don’t often write a speculative issue. I’ve only been asked to do something like that once—for my first comic book series THE DAMNED (from Oni Press). Since I had no real prior experience, they asked me to write a couple of different scenes, just to make sure I could do the work.
Most of my proposals these days are less than two pages. That should be enough to interest the editor. If they’re interested enough, they’ll ask for more. That may, I guess, include a speculative script… but that’s not often the case for me.
Steve: What do you think ultimately sold the pitch to Marvel, and gave you the chance to create the series?
Cullen: I think they liked the basic premise of the series—Valkyrie building a new team of Shield Maidens from the women of Earth. It’s a clean, simple reason for a new super team to form. I think the fact that the cast is all women—an area that hasn’t been explored often and could draw some attention to the book—only helped.
Or maybe they just got tired of all my e-mails about the book.
Either way, I’m glad they took a chance on this. This is a book that is different from every other book on the shelf. And I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Many thanks to Cullen for taking the time to speak to me! I imagine I’ll be pestering him again in the future to chat about Dani Moonstar’s lovelife and if Misty Knight could beat up Iron Fist. Aside from Fearless Defenders, don’t forget that The Sixth Gun is still barrelling along, with a new title “Sons of the Gun” due out next year. In fact, just today he kicked off a competition for anybody who pre-orders either of his new books, with the winner receiving a pile of signed comics and goodies. You can find out more at his website!