Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning of Villains For Hire, New Mutants & More

DnA is everywhere these days, and they're giving us the skinny about what's coming and getting nudged out of Marvel Cosmic.

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

Dan Abnett Andy Lanning

Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have been writing together for 25 years, since the early days in the Marvel UK offices, and in the last few years, they've been all over the place in the comics business.  Not only did they completely revitalize interest in Marvel's cosmic characters with the massive epics Annihilation and its sequel, Annihilation: Conquest, bringing a cult following to characters like the Guardians of the Galaxy that they never had before, but they brought us IDW's big crossover event Infestation and its Transformers chapter, they're a part of DC's New 52 with Resurrection Man, and Marvel's got them in X-Land with New Mutants – and Heroes For Hire is about to get a darker bent in their hands.

Recently, I got the chance to speak with them about their past, their present and their future, including being a little sad at having nothing to do with Marvel's apparent Point One foray into their cosmic turf, as well as a lot of details about the crazy cavalcade of obscure supervillains we'll be getting to see in action when Villains For Hire starts up next month.



CRAVEONLINE:  First of all, you guyst are everywhere, it seems.  IDW, DC, Marvel – do you ever feel like you're stretched too thin, or does being a duo help mitigate that?

DAN ABNETT:  We've always been able to capitalize on the fact that, between us, we can do more than two people can do independently.  We can cover for each other and that kind of stuff.  We do actually turn down a surprising amount and pick and choose and have to sort of weed things out.  There are times, this year particularly, where we've been committed to things, and some things have taken longer than expected so they've dragged into others.  We're ridiculously busy at the moment.  We would never hand in anything that we felt was substandard because we hadn't got the time to do it.  That really is a determining factor when we turn gigs down because we just haven't got the wherewithal to do it.  But we're nice and busy.

CRAVEONLINE:  You guys have completely reinvigorated Marvel Cosmic in general with Annihilation and Conquest and now with Annihilators.  Now, it looks like the Point One effort might mean the rest of Marvel might be coming into your cosmic playground.  Are you working with them at all?

ABNETT:  We don't know anything.  We don't know anything at all.

CRAVEONLINE:  Oh, so you're just doing Annihilators and that's it?  Wow.

ABNETT:  That's the way it works.

CRAVEONLINE:  Really.  Interesting.  Will there be any more going on in cosmic with you guys once the four issues of Annihilators: Earthfall are done?

ANDY LANNING:  We don't know.  We know as much as everybody else.

ABNETT:  In fact, we know less.

LANNING:  I think so.  In fact, people have been saying to us 'have you seen the new Nova costume and the new design of it?'  I said 'no, haven't seen anything.  Didn't even know there was one.'  

CRAVEONLINE:  Does it feel like they're muscling you out of your own turf, or is it nothing like that?

ABNETT:  Well, we wouldn't be human if we didn't say 'oh, it would have been nice to have been considered for something,' but equally, it's Marvel.  Marvel's toys.  They get to play with them whenever they want to play.  We got to play with them for a decent run.  We had a great time doing it and I'm sure we'll get to do some more stuff at some point.  We'll be more than happy to do that.  It'll be interesting to see what other people come up with.  We'll move on and focus our efforts on the New Mutants, which we've got up and running.

CRAVEONLINE:  Yeah, the whole Regenesis thing is huge.  How tied into that are you with the main books, or do you get to do your own thing?

ABNETT:  Well, both.  We're completely tied in, because the X-office has a wonderful oversight over everything that happens in the X-books.  So we're very aware of what happens in our companion titles, and characters cross over and literally walk from room to room and will appear from one book to another.  As far as the Regenesis thing is concerned, we're very much taking our own path.  The New Mutants, we think, are a very distinct entity themselves, and therefore, they're independent of either one of the major camps.  So it's good fun.  We get to reinvent them on their own, in their own terms.  

CRAVEONLINE:  Let's go back a bit.  How did you guys first hook up and become a writing team?

ABNETT:  Back in the mid-80s, I was working at Marvel in London as a junior editor, and Andy was a freelancer.  We used to work on projects like Ghostbusters and Transformers and Thundercats together.  We used to go down to the pub after work sit there and realize that we'd read the same comics and loved the same sorts of things and have conversations which led to stories.  Then we were going 'you know, that's a pretty good story.'  It really came out of things that we enjoyed doing together, and we sort of parlayed it into work, and we've kept doing it because being a freelancer can be very lonely.  We do our own things – I write novels, Andy inks – and then, once a week, we get together and work on comic stuff and sort of stave off cabin fever.

CRAVEONLINE:  So how does the dynamic work – do you handle the –

ABNETT:  Consonants, and he does the vowels.

LANNING:  (laughs)

CRAVEONLINE:  Who does the verbs?

ABNETT:  (laughs) It depends on who is on Verbs Week.  We schedule it and there's a timetable.  It's very complicated.  I can't reveal the secrets.

LANNING:  We've been doing it now for 25 years, so we've got it honed to a fine art.  We've got different ways of working, depending on whenever the time's pressing.  Sometimes, I'll do a plot and Dan'll do the script, sometimes we work together to do a beat sheet, which I'll type up and then Dan will script from.  There's loads of different ways of working.

CRAVEONLINE:  Like 'I'm really busy right now, can you take the lead on this and I'll jump back in when I'm free,' that sort of thing?

LANNING:  Yes, but also, if they're really busy needing scripts – sometimes we'll be working on two scripts at the same time.  Sometimes, Dan will be working on one while I do a plot for another, so we can mix and match.

ABNETT:  We like to sort of finish each other's…

LANNING:  Sentences.  Yay!

ABNETT:  I was going to say 'cauliflower,' but, you know… (laughs)

CRAVEONLINE:  So you guys worked on the famous Marvel UK Transformers series that kept going after the first American series crapped out.  Did you work closely with Simon Furman at all?

ABNETT:  Yeah, he was across the hall in another office.  There were a whole bunch of us working on different things like that.  Some of us were on staff, some were freelancers, it was a great community there for several years.  Ghostbusters was my particular thing, then Andy worked on that a lot – Transformers, Thundercats, what we called Action Forces with G.I. Joe, and the Godzilla comic as well, which is the other one Marvel was doing at the time.  That lead to things like Death's Head and Knights of Pendragon when we started to originate our own Marvel U.S. style things.

CRAVEONLINE:  That's very interesting, because I remember being surprised that you were writing the Transformers chapter in IDW's Infestation, and now I know why.  How cool was that to be brought back onto Transformers?  Did you ask to be a part of that or did they ask you?

ABNETT: They asked us last year.  They dreamed up what they were going to do, and they wanted a team who essentially had the experience of doing big crossovers, which we had done obviously with the cosmic books, who could come in and not make a complete…

LANNING:  Pig's ear.

ABNETT:  Thank you.  Finish each other's sentences – again, not the word I was going to use.  But we said yes, and in fact, the only bit of it that I regret is that we'd have loved to have written the Ghostbusters bit as well.  But the Ghostbusters bit was great and the team on that was fantastic and it was already assigned, but we went 'oh!  Ghostbusters as well!  It's like it's 1986!'

CRAVEONLINE:  Well, Ghostbusters is ongoing now, I'm sure you could get in there for a guest stint or something.

ABNETT:  I was Spengler for all the issues of the British Ghostbusters, which was like 200-and-something.  Every week, there was Spengler's Spirit Guide, where I would write 300 words of nonsense.  So I was uncredited Egon Spengler for the best part of four years.

CRAVEONLINE:  That's fantastic.  And the Transformers bit you did was really high-energy, and I loved the bombastic dick that Gavlatron was.

LANNING:  Yeah, we had fun with Galvatron.  We got to play him as the arch-nutty villain that everyone knows and loves.

CRAVEONLINE:  I want to make sure to get the details on the big Heroes For Hire/Villains For Hire switchover happening back at Marvel.  When is that happening?

ABNETT:  Right now.  There's issue 12 of Heroes for Hire, then a one-shot for Spider Island which kind of bridges the two, and then we go into Villains For Hire, which starts with a 'point one.'  It's kind of a Heroes For Hire point one, but it establishes the pattern so we can then reverse it.  It's all part of the same series, all drawn by the same guy [Renato Arlem], but it's a point one that is kind of a prologue to what happens after that.

CRAVEONLINE:  Is it going to be a big mystery as to why she's working with villains now that we have to lead up to for a while?

ABNETT:  Yes, the internal intrigue of the story is really the point of the story.  Originally, and let's be completely fair about this, we thought it would be great fun as an arc in Heroes For Hire to do Villains For Hire, just as a kind of 'yeah, check it out and do it upside down,' that kind of stuff.  But the market being what it is, it was much better to brand it as its own thing, so we did that.  Part of the mystery is 'why are they doing this and who are they working for?'

CRAVEONLINE:  So it's only going to be one arc or is it going to be an ongoing thing?

ABNETT:  It depends on how successful it is, I suppose.  We've got this opening story planned, and it's a stand-alone story.  

CRAVEONLINE:  Is Paladin still in the fray here?

ABNETT:  He appears in the series, yeah.

CRAVEONLINE:  What other great obscure villains are you planning to trot out here?

ABNETT:  Oh, goodness, who have we got?  

LANNING:  Scourge of the Underworld, I believe…

ABNETT:  Crossfire, Speed Demon, Bombshell…

LANNING:  Headhunter…

ABNETT:  Stilt-Woman.

LANNING:  Tiger Shark. It's great.  Great, great villains.

CRAVEONLINE:  Wow.  Everyone loves it when you dig up those villains and give them something to do.

ABNETT:  Nightshade, there's the other one.  Nightshade.  Shocker!  Avalanche!  Yeah, there's loads!

CRAVEONLINE:  Wow, I'm sold.  I'm so sold.   One other thing I wanted to make sure to mention, on the DC side, you guys are doing Resurrection Man.  How does it feel going back to a character you created.

ABNETT:  Very nice, indeed, and again, it was by invitation.  Eddie Berganza was the young junior whippersnapper editor on the original Resurrection Man.  We worked with him then, and he's always had a very soft spot for it.  He always thought it was a series ahead of its time, so he invited us to come back and make it a part of the New 52, which we said 'absolutely' to.  And it's great, because we're essentially doing the same book, trying to refresh it and do interesting things with it, but because we've done it once already, we're coming back thinking 'right, if we were doing this again now' – which we are – 'we would tweak it in these ways.'  Basically, it's a more proactive version of the original one.  There's slightly more pace to it.  Slightly more aggressive and dynamic, which I think is to its benefit.  So it's going very well.

LANNING:  It's a reimagining of it.  There's that phrase, but that's exactly what it is.  Given that we were the ones who thought it up in the first place, we absolutely had that fun of 'okay, let's do it with a slight twist.'  It's a cross between an Elseworlds Resurrection Man and an Ultimate Resurrection Man.

ABNETT:  I think Ultimate is the closest to it.