Since his mainstream comics debut nearly five years ago, writer Fred Van Lente has been one of our favorite writers, climbing slowly but steadily to prominence by self-publishing books like the Xeric Award-winning "Action Philosophers" while simultaneously rising through the ranks at Marvel Comics, making his name first in the "Marvel Adventures" line aimed at younger readers, before moving on to the "Marvel Zombies" series, and his widely acclaimed run on "Incredible Hercules," which recently came to a close.

Now a new chapter is beginning for Van Lente, as he takes the plunge with an exclusive contract at Marvel, where his current slate includes "Web of Spider-Man," "Iron Man: Legacy," "Prince of Power," and the upcoming "Marvel Zombies 5." ComicsAlliance has an exclusive first look at the first four pages "Marvel Zombies 5" #1, and a chance to chat with Van Lente about making the commitment to Marvel to forsake all other publishers.

ComicsAlliance: I remember first reading your work on your Evil Twin indie books like "Action Philosophers," and now you've obviously gone really far in the superhero comics realm with Marvel. How do you look back on the narrative arc of your career, now that's you're signing an exclusive?

Fred Van Lente : It's been very exciting. I'm still kind of reeling from the fact that they put me on Spider-Man, when that first happened. It was [also] exciting to kind of toil intermittently in doing indie comics, and I had a series of really crappy temp jobs in Manhattan, living with a bunch of comic book artists and doing my own thing, but never really breaking out. Then in a really bizarre fashion, my first Marvel comic book, an issue of "Amazing Fantasy," and "Action Philosophers" #1 came out on the same day. It was completely insane, because [comics shops] usually alphabetize the titles, so "Action Philosophers" and "Amazing Fantasy" came out on the same day, and they came out next to each other. It's like waiting for a bus: nothing comes along for a long time and then three show up at once.

Doing the indie comics thing has been wonderful and very rewarding, but it's also been this slow rise over this rise at Marvel from doing the kids' books to getting the "Hercules" assignment, which is really what put me on the map over there. That's what got people thinking, hey, we can trust him with bigger projects. And then there was "Marvel Zombies" and Spider-Man and now, all the rest of it.
CA: What's going to happen with your indie work in light of the Marvel exclusive?

: "Comic Book Comics" and all my Evil Twin stuff is going to be exempted [from the exclusive], so they'll be continuing uninterrupted.

CA: Just the existing Evil Twin books, or possible future projects as well?

FVL: Well, there's some new stuff that I knew Ryan [Dunlavey] and I had in the works, so I had that exempted too. I'm a long-term thinker. It's funny, because the whole idea behind Marvel exclusivity is that you only do comics with them, and not third parties. And I had to be like, well, I co-own a comic book company with Ryan – am I a third party? So I had to carve that out so I could work for myself.

CA: Is there a dream book at Marvel that you've always had in the back of your mind?

FVL: I think what I always kind of wanted to do was take an obscure character and put him or her on the map, [like] the guys I admired from when I was teenager reading "Animal Man" – that was something I wanted to do. And to a certain extent I've already done that with "Hercules."

CA: You peaked too soon!

FVL: It's like Orson Welles; it's all downhill from here. Guess I better start getting fat! [laughs] No, but with Marvel, every single time I think I've sort of tapped out their characters, something comes along or an editor tells me something that I'm totally psyched about. So my dream project is always the next one.

CA: Did – did you say "X-Force"?

FVL: No, no. "The next one."

CA: That's always been the dream, right? "X-Force"?

FVL: And not this whole Wolverine X-Force, I want squinty guys with big guns, and Shatterstar, Domino, everybody! [laughs] But no, for me the dream project is always the next one, because for me, it's about creating the stuff that I love the most. I think you get into this business largely wanting to replicate that enjoyment you had as a reader, but it never works that way when you're looking at your own stuff. You're never going to experience your own stuff the way you experience somebody's else work that you're discovering for the first time. I've gotten over it now, but early on I used to have this euphoria upon finishing something and thinking, "I'm a genius, I'm a god!" Then I'd read it and think, "Oh. It's just a comic book."

CA: You've got "Marvel Zombies 5" on the way – what's coming for "Marvel Zombies" fans in the new series?

FVL: What isn't coming, Laura? "Marvel Zombies 5" is kind of a smorgasbord for zombie connoisseurs. We have this scenario in which the alcoholic robot Machine Man has returned, and is now tasking with hunting down and collecting samples from zombies across the Multiverse. So it's like a United Colors of Benetton of zombiery. He manages to collect various allies along the way, including one that I think everyone will admit is the perfect person to be a member of A.R.M.O.R., the Alternate Reality Monitoring and Operational Response agency, which is charged with containing the zombies. And we go into all these different genres, so they're going to Camelot, a post-apocalyptic War of the Worlds" Martian tripod world, a cyberpunk world from the 1980s Barry Windsor-Smith "Machine Man," but in the first issue they go a world where the frontier was never settled, and it's perpetually the Old West, so you get all the Marvel western characters. One of the first things I ever saw Jeff Parker write was in a book in 2006 that we both did as part of this "Marvel Westerns" event, and his story was way better than mine. So I'm going to do a sequel to it, because I'm oedipal like that. His story was about this really obscure character called the Hurricane, the fastest gun in the West, so I'm doing what happened to Hurricane after he got old story. With zombies. And robots.

CA: Dimension hopping is always so interesting, because it allows you to go literally anywhere you want to go in terms of time or place or genre.

FVL: The whole Marvel Zombies thing came about with Mark Millar and Greg Land in "Ultimate Fantastic Four" where Ultimate Reed Richards ended up in the zombie world, so it just seems to be part of the theme of the series from the beginning. And since it's a different dimension you can kill anybody and it doesn't affect continuity.

CA: You've got the Amadeus Cho series "Prince of Power" coming up – was it tough for you to wrap the regular "Incredible Hercules" series after such a great run?

FVL: Yeah, I got a little verklempt doing the final scene where Athena does in Hercules. It's a scene that we had in our minds for two years, but then when it finally came about time to do it, it was very, very gut-wrenching.

CA: You didn't want to do it anymore?

FVL: No, in the end I still wanted to do it, because I'm kind of a bad person, fundamentally. [laughs] In the end, it was a very moving scene, and I kind of adopted the attitude that Athena did, which was I don't want to do this, but I have to. And we're moving on.

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