Jeff Parker and Ken Hale on ‘Gorilla Man’ and the End of ‘Atlas’ [Interview and Exclusive Preview]
This week, Marvel's Agents of "Atlas" get a spin-off as Gorilla Man takes center stage courtesy of "Atlas" co-creator Jeff Parker and Giancarlo Caracuzzo. Considering that the character hasn't had a solo story in about 54 years, this is a pretty momentous occasion, which is why today, I not only sat down with Parker for an interview, but managed to wrangle an exclusive with the Gorilla Man himself, Ken Hale!
ComicsAlliance: First off, Ken, thanks for taking the time to do the interview. I know you've got your hands full these days. And your feet, too.
Ken Hale: I got the skillz, Chris. I make it look easy.
CA: Now for our readers who might not be familiar with your career, you're not the Gorilla-Man who fought the Defenders with the Headmen, right?
KH: No, but in our "Classic Gorilla Man" back ups, you'll see the origin story of Arthur Nagan, ie; that weirdo with a human head on a gorilla body. Yuck.
CA: I'm a little surprised that a human head on a gorilla body would gross you out that much. You used to be human yourself, after all.
KH: Hey, human head on human body? NICE. Gorilla head on human body -- BOO. Same the other way. I'm all about consistency, either way.
CA: I have similar feelings towards centaurs.
KH: They're okay I guess. They can rock out with Flying V guitars and rear up on hind legs at the same time, that's pretty rad.
CA: Speaking of gorilla bodies, though, yours is looking pretty good, considering that you're, what, pushing eighty?
KH: Bro, immortality has its privileges. See, I'm always going to be the number one Silverback (without even the grey hair) as long as I can stay breathing. That's what the Gorilla-Man curse does for you. Of course, being a big ol' Western Lowland ape doesn't mean you're necessarily good at all the weapons and gear and flying and suchlike, most of that came from my early human days. Which this sweet series details.
CA: Does it focus more on regular Ken Hale, or is it a mix of your pre- and post-gorilla curse exploits (Also, thank you for allowing me to use the phrase "post-gorilla curse exploits")
KH: Sure. It's me going on a mission that has personal interest for me, because it connects all the way back to how I went from being a scrappy li'l Missouri farmboy to sophisticated world traveler. So you get to see how I got to the point of being a Soldier of Fortune, and ultimately, a big hairy player.
CA: So is the entire story a flashback, or does it tie in with what's going on now with your work with Atlas?
KH: It's a flashback that connects to a present day story. And it is part of my work with ATLAS. Jimmy Woo knows all of us are pretty awesome on our own, so he sends us out more and more like that so we can cover more ground, trying to shut down some of the more heinous operations that Atlas had going since before he started running the show.
CA: Yeah, you guys have had a pretty rough time shutting down Atlas's more... well, genocidal branches.
KH: The tough ones are when you get there and find out- man, that one was making good money. But hey, gotta go. The big fathead dragon is still betting on Jimmy to get corrupted and start letting some of those jobs slide, but don't count on it. Woo is as good as a Summer day is long.
CA: What do you think about your other Atlas teammates? It's a pretty eclectic group: You, a killer robot, a super-spy, a siren and a mermaid princess.
KH: They're all aces. I don't get why some yokels out there think they're weird. I mean, have you heard that?
CA: As opposed to the teams that have a Norse god, a Canadian samurai, a guy in robot pants and an 88 year-old soldier who never made it past private?
KH: He made it to CAPTAIN, junior. But yeah, my point as well. A robot with a Death Ray and a talking gorilla- we're silly, but a blind guy dressed as the Underwood Ham Devil, now THAT'S straight-up serious business.
CA: You guys should try dying and coming back, or getting one guy to leave the team forever and then come back. It totally builds street cred. So is there anything else we can look forward to in your solo title?
KH: I meet a new pal, find an old enemy, roll through the Congo, and talk to other apes who unlike me, keep it real and don't wear clothes.
CA: Are these talking apes, or is talking to regular apes another benefit of the curse?
KH: I tried living with them for a while, when I didn't think I'd fit in anywhere else. I just picked it up- they're not big talkers anyway, gorillas. I always felt like such a blabbermouth around them.
CA: Nice. Any parting words for your fans?
KH: Hey -- you Ken Hale boosters are the best, and I appreciate it. I will always dopeslap Wolverine for you people. Feel free to lobby to get me on another team, now that it's becoming cool to be on two teams at once! That's more G-Man to go around.
After wrapping things up with Gorilla Man, I also got to talk to writer Jeff Parker, who told me he had an announcement to make.
Jeff Parker: Why hello, Chris!
CA: How's it going, Jeff? Thanks for taking a minute to chat between writing your... what is it, 28 monthly titles now?
JP: Oh please, it's just 26. About to be 25.
CA: Uh oh. I don't like the sound of that.
JP: Me neither, so I might as well rip the bandaid off now. I'm killing "Atlas" at issue 5.
CA: Oh no!
JP: Yeah. So there, haters who predicted we'd go down- you win! Don't you feel great and wise? But at least it was me who went out back and shot Lenny while he looked for bunnies, not Marvel.
CA: So what brought this on?
JP: Well first, maybe we should embed an audio file for mood. I'd suggest "Parting of the Sensory" by Modest Mouse.
Anyway, our orders for ATLAS 1 started off in the low 20ks, which isn't surprising because a lot of things are coming in low right now, and we've always been on the fringe. Atlas has actually always sold better than a lot of books that get to go on much longer- a good bit of DC's line. But the Marvel danger zone is 20k more or less, and since books tend to trend downward, that always sets off alarms. I know some people think I try to cram them in everywhere, but that's really more editors suggesting it, and me usually agreeing. I brought up at least four different characters for "Deadpool Team Up" that were shot down before I finally said "uh... Gorilla Man?" and got greenlit. And that issue has ordered really well, so that makes me think Gorilla Man is probably a character who will have some legs after Atlas. Namora too.
CA: So this is the end?
JP: Yeah. I could have kept it going, but the options offered were to tie the book into another crossover mini-event, I just wasn't feeling it. I did it a couple of times already and feel we got some good stuff out of it, but I'm just not interested in doing it again, introducing the team again, all that. This 3-D Man story really turned out to be pretty great, it's going to be a definite highwater mark. And I don't want to follow it with something that would probably be less inspired. Because the whole reason for doing the book is to do the kinds of stories I set the book up for, and if we're not going to do that, there's not much point.
CA: I know you know this better than anybody, but man, it sucks that it's got to end, even if it goes out on a high note. It was really a book that led the way in shining a light onto more obscure corners of the Marvel Universe where there's so much untapped potential, much like "Hercules" or even "Nextwave," although the approaches there are obviously different.
JP: Thanks! It's really hard to get people to buy a Marvel or DC comic that doesn't focus on a character or team they grew up with, right now. Which is too bad, because I'd like to see Marvel doing horror, sci-fi, mysteries- all the stuff I was wanting to use Atlas as an outlet for. But I'm still going to try to get that across in my other work. The agenda will not fade. It's kind of interesting how the book became more a rallying point for other creators- no doubt because we have excellent artists. Everyone from Leonard Kirk to Gabriel Hardman has gotten really invested in the book and really shown off what they can do. In the end, I think we've helped influence some other cartoonists if nothing else. We're like the Velvet Underground of comics. Maybe though we'll be able to do a yearly special or something. The regular readers of Atlas are pretty hardcore in their love of the book, and I'd like to do something once in a while they can look towards.
CA: It'd be nice if it could keep going in some form or another, whether it's just the characters having their own miniseries or a persistent presence in the background. If nothing else, Atlas and its various subsidiaries are a great plot device.
CA: Is there anywhere we can watch for the characters? Obviously we know where Gorilla-Man's appearing next, but what about Jimmy Woo?
JP: The next big appearance will be Venus as a part of Hercules' new God Squad! And you know, I am a little happy that for now, I get to write the end of the series, knowing it's the end- which makes a difference. We really go all out with the Return of the Three Dimensional Man story, as will become clear in issue 3. And there's a lot of fun stuff to look for throughout- like go back to issue one and see how many times Threes follow Del Garrett around. He's been a great character to write. But at least I get to work with the team supreme of Gabe Hardman and Elizabeth Breitweiser again! We wanted to work together still.
CA: And you've got other books too, like "Thunderbolts."
JP: And you know what Thunderbolts has, Chris?
JP: MAN-THING. (high five!)
Sad news indeed, but maybe this'll help take the sting out of it: Five exclusive preview pages from Gorilla Man #1 with art by Giancarlo Caracuzzo!
"Gorilla Man" #1 is out this Wednesday from Marvel Comics with a cover price of $3.99!