Blah Blah Blog – Formative Crisis

A post from my Marvel.com blog of long ago, this one detailing the creation of SKRULL KILL KREW, a series I edited in the 1990s created by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar.

Formative Crisis

January 29, 2009 | 1:00 AM | By Tom_Brevoort | In General

As far as I can remember and work out, the first all-new project that I pitched, got approved, and made it all the way to being a comic book was SKRULL KILL KREW, which lasted five issues back in the mid-90s. Prior to this point, all of the projects I had done had been handed to me pre-conceptualized from folks above me. I had also spent a number of years primarily in Marvel?s Special Projects area under Bob Budiansky, where we did tons of trading cards and licensing artwork and posters and movie adaptations, but precious few regular mainstream comic books. At this point, however, the trading card business that had monopolized most of our time had been handed off completely to the recently-purchased Fleer, and most of the Special Projects work had been handed off to other people along the way to allow more time for making trading cards. So Bob and I were moving back towards the publishing unit proper. I had inherited the flagging NEW WARRIORS titles at that point, and was also involved with a handful of other odds-and-ends.

I seem to recall that it happened during a week when most of the staff was away at a convention. A blind fax came across the transom from Mark Millar and Grant Morrison. It simply stated who they were, and that they were looking for opportunities at Marvel. I was a hug fan of Grant’s work on such series as Animal Man, Doom Patrol and Zenith–he was probably my favorite mainstream writer at that particular moment–so I snatched up the fax and made an outreach call to Mark. He was just starting out at that point, had done a little bit of work for 2000 A.D. in the UK, and was basically functioning as Grant’s apprentice and sidekick. The three of us talked about what the possibilities might be, what characters were in play where, and what sorts of things they might be interested in pitching. As a low-ranking editor, I didn’t really have many cards to play in terms of securing popular characters for any project I might come up with. So the best strategy was to come up with something new.

Mark and Grant came back with an idea called SKRULL KILL KULT (the name a takeoff on the band Thrill Kill Kult) built around one of the earliest Fantastic Four stories, at the end of which Reed Richards forces a trio of Skrulls to transform into cows, and then hypnotizes them so that they forget their true identities. This was the period when the Mad Cow Disease scares were taking place in the UK, so it was a short leap for Grant and Mark to hit on the notion that those Skrull cows had been slaughtered, their meat entered the food chain, and that those who wound up eating it developed Skrull-like abilities, which they would use to hunt down the secret Skrull infiltrators that were living among us. It was a very 2000 AD sort of an idea–part parody, part over-the-top action/adventure comic. Grant was also looking around for new paradigms onto which to paint the super hero team structure, and in this case the model would be a motorcycle gang. Believe me, for the Marvel of 1994, this was some pretty off-the-wall thinking.

Despite that, however, the series was an easy sell to then-EIC Tom DeFalco. He read the pitch, heard my spiel, and found a peg to hang it on in his head: “I get it. It’s ROM.” This statement rankled me a little bit at the time, since ROM was a well-done but relatively lightweight toy-tie-in series, whereas SKRULL KILL KULT would be a modern, cutting edge-style series, right at the forefront of the industry! Time and experience, though, has shown me that, yes, it was pretty much ROM. With shape-changing bikers. The one thing Tom objected to was the use of the word KULT in the title–he felt that it made the series seem like too much of an endorsement of murder cults and the like. So after a quick confab, the series was renamed SKRULL KILL KREW. (There was no issue with defaming any crews.)

The artist for the project was Steve Yeowell, a 2000 AD veteran who had worked with Grant on Zenith. The characters themselves, however, were designed by Brendan McCarthy at Grant’s urging (and after a lukewarm reception to Steve’s initial visualizations.) Throughout most of the process of producing the series, I mainly communicated with Mark–not only were we largely on the same wavelength in terms of the sorts of comics we liked, but I had terrible timing when it came to getting in touch with Grant. Like clockwork, every time I called him, I later found out, he had immediately previously taken one consciousness-altering substance or another, and between that and Grant’s accent, and the not-always-wonderful international phone connection, it was virtually impossible for the two of us to understand one another.

SKRULL KILL KREW was intended as an ongoing series, but it was a victim of the downturn in the market in the mid-90s as the speculator bubble burst, and also the victim of Marvelution. (This was the restructuring period in which Tom DeFalco left the company, and in his place five separate EICs were put into place over five separate divisions of the publishing line, partly to limit the power of any one individual..) We were well underway with the series when I was informed that it was being turned into a limited series, now situated within Bobbie Chase’s patchwork Marvel Edge line–I remember having to convince people to extend the book to a fifth issue, since we already had four scripts in hand, and the fourth issue ended on a cliffhanger. Also hindering us was the ridiculous decision to slap cardstock covers on the project and raise the cover price.

Knowing I was facing an uphill battle with the series, I utilized every guerilla marketing tactic I could think of. Chief among these was gathering up the names and addresses of a couple hundred comic shops, drafting a letter and a preview of the series, and sending it to them directly. My hope was that if I could get my message out to the people ordering the book, I could have an impact on how well it was ordered in. Sadly, that was ultimately a lot of effort wasted–the cards were simply stacked too severely against the project. I’ve never heard back from even one retailer who received that mailing. I also did some early internet promotion, posting script excerpts and hosting chatroom events. But none of this had much of an effect. (One of the craziest ideas, conceived by Dan Slott and actually pitched in desperation by me, was doing an enhanced cover that made the first issue of SKRULL KILL KREW look like an issue of X-MEN–the notion being that it was somehow hiding in plain sight, like the Skrulls in the series. I remember Bobbie Chase staring at me slack-jawed when I rolled that thought past her.)

Grant and Mark did pitch a bunch of other things together during this period–I remember a big crossover idea they had in which the first half of the series would be set on a parallel Earth created by the Puppet Master (but the reader wouldn’t realize this fact until issue seven, by which time a bunch of the parallel Marvel characters would have been killed or horribly wounded, and then revealed to have been a “trial run” for the real plan all along. It was very reminiscent of Alan Moore’s Fury sequence in CAPTAIN BRITAIN.) and an X-MEN ANNUAL that never quite happened. Mark solo also pitched a villain series that got some limited traction, called THE SHOCKER, that ultimately was spiked–Mark reworked some of the formative ideas from that project into what eventually became WANTED. But it would take a decade of other successes and a complete regime-change before either Grant or Mark was fully embraced at Marvel.

It has been fun, during SECRET INVASION, to bring the characters back in the pages of AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE. And I take a perverse glee in knowing that a new SKRULL KILL KREW limited series is also on the way. It all validates one of my theories about publishing within the Marvel Universe, which is this: it’s good to introduce new titles and new concepts, even if they don’t catch on right that instant. Because all of this stuff eventually comes back, in one iteration or another, and you never know what new flowers will bloom from the conceptual seeds you plant.

More later.

Tom B

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One thought on “Blah Blah Blog – Formative Crisis

  1. I was at a DC group dinner in San Diego with, among others, Grant. And yeah, it was hard to understand him. But at one point, he was telling a joke and he put on a Sean Connery accent, and bam, suddenly every word was crystal clear to American ears.

    I wondered if it would be somehow rude of his editors to ask, “I didn’t get that last bit, Grant. Could you say it again, but like Sean Connery?”

    Probably.

    Liked by 1 person

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