C2E2 2017: Interview with Marvel and Black Mask Star Matt Rosenberg

Matt Rosenberg is one of several comic book writers who has conquered both the world of creator owned and corporate comics. He broke into comics as one of the co-writers on 12 Reasons to Die, a comic released in conjunction with Ghostface Killah’s 2013 album of the same name from Black Mask Studios. From there, he has dabbled in a variety of genres, including superhero road trip (We Can Never Go Home), espionage (a Quake one-shot for Marvel), crime (Kingpin, 4 Kids Walk into a Bank), and even comedy (Rocket Raccoon.) Rosenberg’s work has clever plots and a sly sense of humor, but there is also a spirit of social consciousness that imbues both his comics for Marvel and Black Mask

I had the privilege of chatting with Matt at C2E2 about many of his current and former comics, including Rocket Raccoon, the upcoming Secret Warriors series, Kingpin, and the long anticipated sequel to We Can Never Go Home.

Graphic Policy: What did you enjoy most about writing Rocket Raccoon in the streets of New York versus his usual space adventures?

Matt Rosenberg: Rocket is a character that a lot of people have done really well in his space adventures. I don’t think I would do that well with that. It’s not my strong suit. But I’m from New York and grew up there.

Rocket’s great because no matter where you put him, he’s a fish out of water. He’s the only one of his kind and is sort of lost. There’s no difference for him between a space cantina and the D-Train. I wanted to give him an Earth experience where it’s not social satire, but it’s pointing out a lot of things that are weird about American culture.

And he’s just super fun to write. He’s a jerk, but a really good-intentioned jerk.

GP: He’s cute.

MR: Yeah, he’s cute. He may be gruff, but you can’t hold it against him. I love him. I’m really happy that I did my run on him. But I am very excited for Al Ewing and Adam Gorham to send him back to space.

GP: Al is one of my favorite Marvel writers. So, why did you decide to make Kraven the Hunter the Big Bad of your Rocket Raccoon run?

MR: First of all, I love Kraven. “Kraven’s Last Hunt” is one of the best Marvel books and one of the best comics period. Rocket is on Earth, and no one really respects him because he’s an animal, he’s different, and he’s an outsider. The book has a lot to do with xenophobia, and people not respecting each other.

Kraven is someone who hunts people and things, but only the things he respects. I thought it was an interesting dichotomy because the character that is trying to kill him is the only one on Earth that shows him proper deference. Kraven has a lot of respect and admiration for Rocket, and that’s why he wants him.

Everyone else doesn’t care that someone is trying to kill him because he’s basically a raccoon to him. I thought Kraven presented an interesting opportunity. And I got to put the “Kra-Van” in there, which I love. He’s a madman so it’s fun.

GP: Moving onto your new series Secret Warriors, which of the members of the team was most difficult for you to write, and why?

MR: Devil Dinosaur’s really difficult because he’s a dinosaur. It’s hard because you have to put him places. Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare, who write Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, are really good friends of mine, and I bug them a lot like “What do you do with him when people have to go into a building?”

And they’re like, “He goes into large buildings.” Yeah, I guess.

For me, [the hardest to write] in a lot ways is Ms. Marvel because that is a book I love so much. What Adrian [Alphona] and [G] Willow [Wilson] do on that book is so important to me. I think in twenty years she’s gonna be considered one of the great characters in superhero comics standing on her own.

I love Quake, and she’s one of my favorite superheroes. But Ms. Marvel is such a specific, singular voice. A lot of people have written Quake. I think of her as a [Brian Michael] Bendis character, but Jonathan Hickman’s run on her is really good. A lot of people have contributed. Ms. Marvel feels like just a few people’s visions, like Sana [Amanat] who edits it. That’s really intimidating, and her fans expect her to be certain things, which I want her to be.

But we’re also challenging the team in different ways. She’s gonna be challenged. I love her so much. In the book, we put [the Secret Warriors] through the wringer, and they don’t all get along. I don’t like writing her and Quake fighting. I kind of want those characters to be friends, and they’re not. They wouldn’t be in a lot of ways if you think about it. They have differing beliefs, ways of acting, and end goals. Quake is a spy, and Ms. Marvel is a superhero.

So, Ms. Marvel was a challenge for me because we want people who like the Ms. Marvel book to pick up Secret Warriors and feel like it’s their character, but it’s a very different setting for her. She’s out of her element a little bit, and that was hard.

GP: At the Secret Empire panel, they talked a little bit about Secret Warriors, and that the Inhumans are getting rounded up into camps. What are the implications of that plot point in light of the camps in Chechnya where gay men are being rounded up, tortured, and killed?

MR: It’s hard because everyone wants different things from comics. Some people really want escapism. Some people really want social commentary. Some people want things to be uplifting. You can’t do all of those things in a story.

What I like about Secret Empire is that there are facets to everyone. It’s a dark story, and it’s a story that’s controversial because it’s about the rise of facism and why a hero would become a villain. It’s a time when that stresses out a lot of people understandably, and there’s a lot of real world stuff that you can see on the pages.

What’s going on in Chechnya and the rise of white supremacy with more nationalism and more jingoism is obviously a problem. I’m a leftist. But we’re not the escapist book. If you want to see a happy, uplifting book, we’re not necessarily that book. We are about watching the people, who get stepped on, and the people, who are a little bit underappreciated, fight back and kick the bad guys in the face.

It’s hard to make the correlation with the real world because real people are dying and having their rights trampled on. I don’t think a comic can address that in a way that does what is happening in Chechnya justice. It’s a human rights violation, an upcoming holocaust, and a nightmare. And we’re dealing with a cartoon dinosaur. We don’t have the language emotionally to handle that in a way that is deserving of the magnitude of the event.

But if you wanna see the downtrodden fight back, that’s what Secret Warriors is. Everyone’s book has a different purpose, and that’s what our book has always been. They’re young. They’re kids with very diverse backgrounds and methodologies. They’re people coming together to fight back. That’s something I really believe in. People need to look out for each other and support each other as much as they can, which is why I wanted to write this book for that event.

GP: That team lineup is seriously stacked.

MR: I’m excited for it. I hope that some people read the book, and it’s inspiring. That’s sort of what we wanted to do. It gets dark, but there’s light at the end of it.

GP: Moving onto Kingpin, why did you decide to make the journalist character, Sarah Dewey, the POV character instead of Wilson Fisk?

MR: Wilson Fisk is my favorite Marvel villain by far. He’s a character who is always two steps ahead of everyone else. He’s controlling the chessboard, and if it’s his POV, there’s not going to be as much mystery. Knowing what the Kingpin is going to do takes away so much from him.

We talked about doing it from a superhero’s perspective or another gangster’s perspective, but I really love the idea of books like Marvels or characters, like Ben Urich. You can follow a character into this world and see [the Marvel Universe] from their perspective.

Sarah is a journalist, who’s not a perfect person. She’s had some problems in her life and has fallen on some bad times. She’s coming out of an awful, failed marriage. The idea of Kingpin to Sarah is that she knows he’s a bad guy, but he’s good to her. Not everyone is a hero, but is the Kingpin going to be a hero to her?

I want the reader to wonder if he’s going to be a good guy in the end. I think the Kingpin definitely has the capacity to be a good guy. You can’t forgive past deeds, but he has all the trappings of a classic hero.

GP: You really believe in him.

MR: In a lot of ways, yes. I said to someone once, “He’s almost a superhero.”

And they said, “No, he’s a monster.” Daredevil and Spider-Man want to save New York City by fighting in alleys. Kingpin wants to clean up New York City and make it a better place, but he’s in the whole city. He’s not in alleys, but he’s trying to make sure there aren’t warring crime factions in the streets. He’s trying to make it so the regular person doesn’t have this rough, violent city. He’s bringing a classier element of crime. Kingpin wants New York to be a nicer and safer city for the average person.

Well, [some might say], “He kills people.” But the Punisher kills people. Is the Punisher a superhero? No, but he’s on the other side of the line from the Kingpin. [Others say], “He’s trying to make a profit.” Tony Stark is trying to make a profit. He’s making technology that he uses as a superhero and vice versa.

I don’t think Kingpin’s a good guy, but he’s passionate toward a good thing. His methodology is wrong, and his moral compass is wrong. But that’s what’s fascinating. Can he fix it? Can he end up being a hero at the end of his story? I don’t know if he’s worth redemption, but I would like to see him try.

GP: You’ve written a lot of event tie-ins for Marvel, like the upcoming Edge of Venomverse and Civil War II: Kingpin. How do you balance serving the ongoing plot of the event with telling your own story?

MR: The short answer is that it’s the job. I grew up reading Marvel and liking them as a company. I love what superhero comics do. It’s really a tapestry and a huge picture that everyone is working in tiny portions on. It’s a challenge to be relevant to someone else’s story while telling your own satisfying story. That’s the challenge that I grew up loving, like “How do the X-Men deal with Civil War?”

GP: It’s like a puzzle.

MR: Exactly. When it works well, stories complement each other. When it doesn’t, things feel crazy and schizophrenic. I did the Civil War II: Kingpin book [with the idea that] the heroes are fighting so what does Kingpin do? How is he going to rise to power? Everyone is afraid to operate, and the Kingpin finds a way to operate. That’s what the book is about.

Do you need to read it to read Civil War II? No. Do you need to read Civil War Ii to read it? No. But I think if you understand both, there’s a nice complement. I think that’s the balance you should have. Don’t make anyone read anything else that they wouldn’t normally read, but complement each other if you can.

GP: That makes sense. You’re doing The Archies one-shot with Alex Segura and Joe Eisma. How are you bringing the world’s first “cartoon band” into 2017?

MR: Archie is sort of having a renaissance now and modernizing. The Archies and the Archie universe is really classic Americana. I grew up in New York City, and Archie didn’t feel like my childhood, it felt like Happy Days. That idealized sort of thing.

That evolves and changes, and what Americana is in the greater pop culture sense  is updated and changing. Hopefully, it’s more inclusive to people who aren’t white suburban kids. It’s nice to watch that. The Archies is about kids in a band, and it’s not perfectly idyllic. They struggle to put it together, and there’s conflict. It’s about Archie’s aspirations to make something of his talent. I think that’s something people can identify with.

You don’t want to make something that’s so current that it’s alien to classic Archie fans. But you don’t want to pick it up and feel like it’s anachronistic. A lot of it is the language and the visuals, and the way people interact. Not so much that they’re on Twitter.

GP: The main Archie does love using hashtags as plot points.

MR: But it doesn’t rely on those hashtags. The main book doesn’t, and we don’t. We want it to feel like a modern and to give it to people who haven’t read Archie in years to jump right in.

GP: I have one last question about the We Can Never Go Home sequel. What can fans of the original miniseries expect from the sequel, and because you had those playlists in the back of We Can Never Go Home, what music are you listening to while scripting the new series?

MR: A lot of people when they were done reading We Can Never Go Home thought it was truncated and cut short. That’s definitely not true. We didn’t want do more; that was the story we wanted to tell from day one. Josh [Hood], Patrick [Kindlon], Tyler [Boss], Jim [Campbell], and I wanted to do a book that was essentially about growing up.

There’s no finality to growing up. I feel like it’s an ongoing process. It can be a frustrating and heartbreaking one. An important thing for me going back to those characters’ world is not to end it or say what we didn’t say before, but to say something different.

I don’t want to talk about it too much, but the sequel is going to focus on some different characters. Madison and Duncan will be in it, but it’s a journey from a different perspective that relates to them. It takes place a year later in 1990.

As far as the music, I haven’t started working on [a playlist]. I’m a little nervous about it. I put a lot of my favorites in the first volume so there are gonna be some deeper cuts in this one. It’s all punk rock stuff from 1976, 1977 to 1990. We have some new characters so I’m hoping to throw in some different genres. I hope people are into it.

It’s coming out either the end of this year, or the beginning of next year. We want to make sure there are no delays, and that it’s the best book it can be. We don’t wanted it to be rushed. Josh is such a brilliant artist, and I want him to have time to do his absolute best. People are impatient, but we hope the book pays off in the end.

Matt Rosenberg is currently writing Kingpin for Marvel Comics and 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank for Black Mask Studios. He is also writing the upcoming Secret Warriors series for Marvel along with a story in Edge of VenomverseThe Archies for Archie Comics, and another volume of We Can Never Go Home for Black Mask Studios.

You can find Matt’s website here, and his Twitter here.