Team Dynamics and Violent Cork-Screw Ballet: A Conversation with Jeff King

I stopped by Jeff King’s booth at Long Beach Comic Con back in February because I was already a fan of his writing. King has had a long and impressive career in television as a writer, director, and producer, and I’ve watched several of the shows he’s helped bring to life, going all the way back to Due South.

The 90s were a different era, when a Chicago cop and Canadian mountie could both commit crimes against fashion.
The 90s were a different era, when a Chicago cop and Canadian mountie could both commit crimes against fashion.

Although King has spent the past year writing titles for DC, he is far from the first television writer to take a turn writing for Marvel. Young Avengers creator Allan Heinberg was tapped while he was still working on The OC. More recently, Supernatural writer and producer Robbie Thompson went from writing the very excellent Silk to penning a number of Spider-related titles. And who could forget Marvel’s decade-long relationship with Joss Whedon, who will be writing an upcoming Steve Rogers one-shot for Captain America’s 75th anniversary.

The Guardians of Infinity series, of which this is issue #5, is part of the All-New, All-Different Marvel, and one thing that has been All-New and All-Different is that each issue includes a main narrative by the main creative team of Dan Abnett and Carlo Barberi, and also a second story written by a different creative team. The series was spotlighted recently when Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez and Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels co-wrote a story that incorporated the Ceiba tree into Groot’s cosmic mythos.

Guardians of Infinity #5 was released on April 20th. King is currently hard at work on the season finale of NBC’s Blindspot, but generously took the time to answer my questions about his Marvel debut by email.

The Guardians of Infinity series is pretty unique in that you’ve got this main storyline happening with Dan Abnett et al. and then also, as a bonus, you get a ten-page story written by a different creative team, each focusing on different members of the Guardians of the Galaxy. So, when you have all of Infinity to play in, how do you decide what to write?

First off, I am a huge Dan Abnett, Carlo Barberi fan. HUGE. I read GoI #1 prior to meeting with Nick and Jake and was impressed with theirs and with Jason and Jim’s bonus story.

Big shoes to fill.

In my case, with all of Infinity to choose from I started with “who.” The parameters were a story that could be told well in fifteen pages; choose two Guardians, from the current, or classic teams, but feel free to combine and pitch any pairing you like. 

I am a huge Rocket Raccoon fan. HUGE. Especially the Bendis/Pichelli Rocket, but also the MCU Rocket. So Rocket was a given. I am always drawn to a fish out of water character. I was intrigued by Kitty.

I discovered the great care and affection Kitty and Rocket have for each other, but how Peter’s abdication of his leadership of the Guardians for the throne of Spartax had put them in a curiously opposing situation as far as who would lead. I felt that obstacle had been explored, but not completely and wanted to see if I had anything to say about team work, friendship, and their complex relationships to Peter. From there, I went about sketching a few story ideas and we settled on a what I thought would offer the chance for both humor and especially action. The specific “what” became a Galactic Whistle Blower Rocket and Kitty would need to guarantee safe passage to, for 16 blocks, from a bar to a space port.  

The preview artwork is amazing! What was the collaboration process like with Jorge Fornes and Jesus Aburto? Is it what you envisioned?

Thank you! I’ve told Jorge and Jesus this. They ROCK.  

It’s hard to explain my excitement seeing “my” Rocket and Kitty for the first time. I’m pretty sure the feeling was the same for Jorge. Obviously, Rocket and Kitty were created by others and have been written and drawn by legends who have established the legacy upon which the current continuity is built. But because they are so iconic, you’re dead inside if you don’t have a dream of what “yours” will be like. And you only ever have one “first time” to see yours…

I can’t express how lucky I was that Jorge agreed to do this. Originally, the art was to be by Flaviano Armentaro, but very early on schedules changed, and Marvel editorial brought Jorge in. I recall he worked incredibly fast. He had my script, and I saw his first couple of pages almost immediately and was hooked.

My response to everything was great, great … GREAT? Jorge has a visceral style built for action, but my approach is like a performance piece and there are jokes. So my characterizations are very specific. When you write “Rocket pirouettes in a violent cork-screw ballet” and you make it a double page spread in a fifteen-page story, your editors better like what they are seeing, and in my case, I’m happy to report Jorge stuck the landing. Jesus’ bold, nuanced colors, amplified his work, and we all came away happy.

The violent corkscrew in question.
The violent cork-screw in question.

The story takes place in Knowhere, which new Guardians fans (like me) will recognize from the film. What drew you to Knowhere as the setting for your story and did you have a particular aesthetic in mind?

A story set at home allowed me to put Rocket at ease. Where normally he’s a tightly coiled spring. Kitty would try to use that so he’d relax and let down his guard. Plus, who doesn’t want to set a story in the head of a Celestial!

These were literally the first words I wrote:

“Space Port City has the feel on a Medina or an Alhambra. Land speeders skim the ground and jets jump skyward. Tightly packed buildings line narrow winding streets that resemble a MAZE. A jagged burst of LASER FIRE draws our eye.

I’m delighted with what Jorge turned that idea into and especially how Jesus colors brought the pages to life. Incidentally, Bar None is a well known NY watering hole with no sign on the door! But in our comic it has a sign.

I have to confess that I’m a huge Due South fan, and the episodes you wrote were some of my favorites. “Letting Go” might be my favorite season finale of any show ever. What was so great about Due South was that with Fraser and Vecchio, you have this dynamic of people who were opposites, who should never by rights have met since one is a Canadian mountie and the other a Chicago cop, but they do meet, and they end up being a great team. Is there a sense of that with Rocket and Kitty?

Thank you!!  That’s incredibly kind of you to say.

At the time, writing “Letting Go” after the thundering triumph of “Victoria’s Secret” was a pretty tall order. By the time we shot “Letting Go” at the end of season one, real life Paul and David were at a very emotionally raw and physically exhausted place. We hadn’t been picked up by CBS by the time we started shooting. I remember thinking, this may be the last time we work together.  

But what started as a “goodbye” wrapped in an homage to “Rear Window” turned into an affirmation of Fraser and Ray’s deeper affection for each other as characters. Partly, or maybe because, none of us was ready to “let go.” Remember, Fraser went rogue. Fell in love. Broke every rule he stood for. Victoria shot him for his trouble despite Ray’s best efforts to stop her. But once we started filming, even though they were too tired to believe they could, Paul and David let those wounds go and re discovered how much they cared about each other and about Fraser and Ray.

On some level I felt that team dynamic is what I would discover in Kitty and Rocket.  They care about each other and the world in which they live. Give them an enemy to unite against and the courage to rely on each other, they will rediscover who they are. They realize on some level they hadn’t stopped caring, they just forgot how much they had the capacity to care.  And that selflessness gave them a reason to fight.

Without spoiling too much, you use one of my favorite tropes of sci fi/fantasy where you have a character’s doppelganger suddenly appear and another character has to figure out who the real character is, and it works so successfully here because it gives us insight into the character doing the guessing in addition to the character who has been doubled. I was thinking about this section long after I finished the story, so I was hoping you could talk a little more—as spoilery or non-spoilery as you like–about what we learn about Kitty and Rocket, or what you wanted us to learn?

Without getting too spoilery, Rocket and Kitty—two VERY unique people—have uniqueness and are in teams who ARE their families. Also, each in their own way is in love with Peter. Because it was fresher, I was curious about Kitty’s relationship to Peter and the Guardians. But as my wily editors reminded me, you only have fifteen pages!  It’s funny how things work out. Initially, I wrote them as a couple so her scene about Peter with Rocket was different. As my story evolved, it became clear they were headed for a split in the comic-verse and that is the version we ultimately went with.  

Odd teammates are the best teammates.
Odd teammates are the best teammates.

You have also worked on a lot of sci fi shows, including the legendary Stargate SG-1, Total Recall 2070, and the more recent Continuum. What draws you to sci fi as a genre?

Freedom from the rules of the real world and the opportunity to create a new one. And a chance to put old wine, in a new bottle. Especially SG-1 and Continuum.

Moving now to your TV present, you’re currently working on Blindspot with the magnificent Jaimie Alexander, and Kitty Pryde is one of the most badass ladies in Marvel comics history. Who’s more awesome, Jaimie or Kitty?

Are you kidding??! Jaimie! But if Jaimie ever gets tired of playing Lady Sif…

Let’s hope that never happens! Guardians of Infinity #5 (and Jeff King’s other comics) are available now digitally through Comixology or at an LCS near you.

Kate Tanski

Kate Tanski

Recovering academic. Fangirl. Geek knitter.