THE DEFENDERS FILES: BLAZING SKULL AND JIM MUNIZ: DEFINING THE DEFENDERS
- THE DEFENDERS FILES: BLAZING SKULLby Troy Brownfield and Joe Casey
Greetings, non-team fans! Last time, we covered bits of the history of long-time Defender, Nighthawk. This time, we take a look at one of the new non-members, Blazing Skull. Of the four announced Last Defenders (Nighthawk, Colossus, and She-Hulk), the Skull clearly has the lowest profile (in terms of public awareness, not candelas). Let’s take a look at his surprisingly lengthy history.
Timely Appearance: Blazing Skull first appeared in Mystic Comics, a title produced by Timely (eventually supplanted by Atlas before becoming Marvel). Mark Todd arrived in the fifth issue, in a story appropriately named “The Story of Mark Todd.” Like many super-heroic characters, Todd was a reporter; as a war correspondent, he’d been dispatched to Asia to cover the second Sino-Japanese War (a lengthy conflict between China and Japan that began in 1937 and ran until September of 1945).
Hiding in a cave during heavy shelling, Todd meets . . . the Skull-Men! The Skull-Men eventually reveal their arcane wisdom to Todd and give him the flaming mask. Todd promises to use his powers (which initially include resistance to flame and would later grow to include flame projection, super-strength, and regeneration) for justice. Over time, he adopts the Blazing Skull identity and fights against the Axis, eventually teaming up with the Invaders to fight Battle-Axis in 1942.
Joe Casey says: An appropriately kooky Golden Age origin. Doesn’t get much better than stumbling across a bunch of Skull-Men. And how cool is the title, “Mystic Comics”?
In 1945, the Skull would have a running series of battles with Axis agents, including the Masked Raider. He would also team up with Union Jack and the Destroyer in Germany and save the White House from a missile attack. In subsequent years, Todd took on various aliases, eventually leading to the fact that the Todd identity would be declared dead. At the climax of the Kree-Skrull War, Blazing Skull was one of the heroes summoned forth by a powered-up Rick Jones to turn the tide.
Joe Casey says: First off, let me say this -- there’s something very cool about a Blazing Skull-Union Jack-Destroyer team-up. I’d read that book. And obviously, if the Blazing Skull was, ahem, defending the White House from German missiles, his inclusion in The Last Defenders that much more sense, doesn’t it?
Now, his appearance at the end of the Kree-Skrull War was the first time I ever saw the character. Since I read it in reprint, and Ghost Rider had already come out by then, it made me even more curious as to who the “Blazing Skull” was. Great costume design, too. I actually prefer it to the 70’s biker look that Johnny Blaze was sporting back then.
Years went by before the Skull appeared again. When readers next found him, he’d been a prisoner in the Middle East. He was freed by John Walker, the U.S. Agent, and invited to join the modern incarnation of the Invaders (a team that featured his contemporary Spitfire and newer versions of his old allies).
Blazing Skull was a mainstay of the Invaders during the brief period of activity. Alongside the team, he fought Baron Blood, the Hyrda-possessed Wolverine, and Agent Axis. Unfortunately, the Invaders had been formed at the behest of Dell Rusk, U.S. Secretary of Defense; Rusk was actually the Red Skull. After this revelation, the deactivation of the synthetic humanoid Tara and the seeming death of original (android) Human Torch Jim Hammond, the team disbanded.
Joe, has the Skull been seen since?
Joe Casey says: Not that I know of. I knew he was available when I saw him in one of those Civil War one-shots that served more as a handbook, a “state-of-the-Marvel-U.”-kind of thing. The Blazing Skull was listed as a “potential Initiative recruit”… so we decided to recruit him. He’s too cool not to use.
The use of a rather obscure character does beg the question: why him?
Joe Casey says: Well, from a writer’s standpoint, it’s always fun to include a character that’s got an unpredictable personality (to say the least, in this case). Those are the ones that stir the pot, that keep the other characters on their toes, and they keep readers guessing, as well. Not to mention, being a war vet, the Skull is pretty ruthless. He’s not afraid to kill. Every team needs it’s “Wolverine” character, the teammate that might cross the line once in a while, much to the horror of his (or her) teammates. With the Blazing Skull, you never know what he’s going to do next.
What other unique qualities does he bring to the team?
Joe Casey says: To me -- in the specific context of The Last Defenders series -- everything about the character is unique. There’s a distinct possibility that he might be immortal, and that has definitely f**ked with his head. Considering the other members of the lineup… where Nighthawk brings the legacy, She-Hulk brings the stability, and Colossus brings the nobility… you could say that the Blazing Skull is the one that brings the party.
Joe Casey writes The Last Defenders, debuting in March. Troy Brownfield writes for Newsarama, runs ShotgunReviews.com, and would love to meet Skull-People.JIM MUNIZ: DEFINING THE DEFENDERSWe’ve talked with The Last Defenders writer Joe Casey a couple of times, and taken looks at both Nighthawk and Blazing Skull, two of the four initial members of the team.
So what about that art side? That would be one Jim Muniz who with Last Defenders is returning to a high profile gig. We spoke with him about the series.
Given that he’s still a relatively new name, we asked him how he got from the original “there” to here.
“I grew up in Queens, NY where I originally wanted to play baseball as a living,” Muniz said. “I showed promise at an early age and started pitching at age 10. I threw until college were I had some major league teams interested, but since I started throwing at such an early age, by the time I got to college, may arm was shot. The pain was so intense I had to give it up. I really did not know what direction to go to with my life at that point.”
Muniz’s plan from there? Move to passion #2 – art. Muniz said that he had always liked to draw and paint, but didn’t know in which direction to point his interest until one fateful day. “One day, an issue of Spider-Man, drawn by Todd McFarlane fell into my lap. I knew after I closed that book, that's what I wanted to be, a comic book artist! After that I discovered Jim Lee, then Dark Knight by Frank Miller and the obsession to break in started. Ironically, it was Todd McFarlane who gave me my first break doing a cover for Sam & Twitch. Then Joe Quesada gave me a shot with MK 4 and now I'm working on The Last Defenders.
To be completely accurate, there were a few other projects between Marvel Knights 4 and The Last Defenders. One of them – Devil’s Due’s Infantry saw him paired with Casey, in fact. So one day, the phone rang…
“I was doing concept work when Joe called about a pitch he and Kieth Giffen were submitting to Marvel, and If I was interested in being the artist,” Muniz said. “We sent some art samples to editor Steve Wacker and he welcomed me aboard.”
A self-professed fan of the Defenders, Muniz said he’s got no problem with the line-up as it stands. “I was thrilled when Joe told me who was on the team,” Muniz said. “I get to draw Colossus, She-Hulk, Nighthawk and Blazing Skull! I have become a big fan of Blazing Skull because of the way Joe writes him - he's a real wise guy that Skull. But I have seen first hand what Joe is doing with the line up and if anybody can make it work, it’s Joe.”
Love for Blazing Skull aside for a moment (you draw the skull first, and then the flames, Muniz admitted), the artist said that the character that’s become his favorite since signing on has been the team’s leader, Nighthawk.
“He's the one I most identify with. Kyle is still trying to prove himself as a hero/leader,” Muniz said. “This series will get really intimate with Kyle and really get into his head .There will be a struggle with himself and his doubts as well as higher powers. So, aside from the great battles these Defenders will go through, the most interesting one will be internally within Nighthawk.”
As Casey explained, the now DC exclusive Gifffen was originally on The Last Defenders, and did layouts for the first issue or so, which Muniz is working off of. “But I do get to inject a little bit of myself as far as angles and page layouts,” he said. “But by studying Keith’s layouts I have become a much better storyteller, he's really awesome!
“As far as the process goes, we’re working in an unorthodox way with the first two issues. First, Joe writes the plot then he sends it off to Steve Wacker who okays it and then sends it to Keith who lays out the entire book, which is then sent back to Steve for changes. It then comes to me and I start drawing and Joe starts placing in the dialogue. The process has been a real learning experience for me.”
And finally, Muniz does have his eye to the future of the series…with at least one scene that he’s anxious to draw. “I can’t say what it is, but when I draw it, it’s going to be a magical moment!”
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