A Pack of Feral Super-People: An Interview with Crystal Frasier on Immortal Hulk, Gamma Flight, and More!

Gamma Flight cover for issue one featuring the book's main cast

With the recent announcement of Marvel’s 5-issue Mini Gamma Flight it felt like an amazing time to sit down with one of the writers on the upcoming title, Crystal Frasier, to talk more about the series, her work on Immortal Hulk, and more. It was truly an honor and inspiration to sit down with the such a talented and insightful writer.

Gamma Flight cover for issue one featuring the book's main cast
(cover) Gamma Flight #1, Crystal Frasier, Al Ewing & Lan Medina, June 23, 2021, Marvel Comics

Dani Kinney: Alright. (presses imaginary recording button on the imaginary tape-recorded)

Crystal Frasier: (imaginary burp. Can we start over?)

DK: (scrambles to get the intern to rewind the tape)

DK: So, my signature interview kick-off question: Of the cast appearing on the first cover release, who sleep with socks on and who sleeps with socks off?

CF: Leonard (Doc Sasquatch) absolutely sleeps with his socks on, but I think the unexpected answer is that Titania also sleeps with socks on to keep the moisturizer on her feet. Puck is a practical guy and he’ll wear socks to bed out in the field, but at home, it’s too appealing to go casual and comfy. Charlene is 100% socks off. I doubt she even owns pajamas. Carl (Absorbing Man) is a tough call. He’s been reflecting on who he is and why he does what he does more and more. And he’d never admit it, but he’s taken a liking to Leonard and is being influenced by him more than he wants to admit, so I think he’s sock-curious. That’s everyone from the cover of #1!

DK: Now, since I’m speaking with an immensely talented game dev, if the same team were a D&D party, what respective roles/classes be for each member?

CF: I will have to go get Owen KC Stephens if you really need a talented game dev to answer this question. But if you’re okay with me answering it… Hmmm…I actually statted them all up for Mutants & Masterminds just to keep their relative skills and abilities straight, but for D&D specifically… Leonard is more of a Tank while Titania and Absorbing Man are both DPS. Puck and Charlene are both controllers. Absorbing Man would probably be a classic Barbarian, while Mary is more of a Fighter; she’s canny and proactive. Charlene is as close to a Wizard as you can get without her studying under Dr. Strange. Puck is a Bard; I’d say a Warlord if this were 4e. And Leonard is very much the Fighter who put his highest ability score in Int, game balance and party utility be damned.

DK: Which of the party members is most likely to accidentally befriend a mimic?

CF: Accidentally… probably Leonard. But Puck would probably befriend one on purpose

DK: The biggest series spoilers right there.

CF: No comment.

DK: I feel like Charlene would be an excellent DM. The type that places fog machines under the table and makes really amazing maps.

CF: Charlene is fun to write. She is 100% hardcore geek who fell into the role of mom to a pack of feral super-people. But she is also so overworked I doubt she’s had time to draw a map in 6 months.

DK: I have loved seeing Charlene’s geeky side, even seeing things like her Trans-Flag-Cap mug (which I’m sippin a la croix from as we type). The character has always felt really grounded. She’s clearly bringing her own fandom into things. I’ve always wondered what the connective tissue for her is to Cap. Is there a greater inner appreciation for Captain America for Dr. Mcgowan?

CF: Nothing cannon that Al and I have discussed; a big part of her just admires the way he can be strong and still be gentle and nurturing, and with her rough background I think it reminds her she doesn’t have to be mean or become “hard” to survive. I think there’s also a lot of childhood hero-worship. A part of me–and this is 100% not cannon–thinks Steve was the archetype for masculinity she tried to hold herself to when going through that “I need to man up and just stop feeling these girly feelings” phase so many young trans women go through. Someone who was masculine and strong, without being toxic.

DK: Speaking of, you’ve worked closely with Al Ewing on Immortal Hulk as a story consultant. Can you talk about what experience was like? How that came about and what the process of crafting those stories was like?

A female winged beast crouches over Hulk on the ground, prepared to attack, as an African American woman runs toward them.
The Immortal Hulk #20 (Marvel Comics, July 3, 2019)

CF: Working with Al has been great. He’s one of the easiest creatives to collaborate with I’ve ever encountered. He’s thoughtful, open to ideas, and genuinely wants to do best by everyone at every stage of a project. He came to me when he decided he wanted to include (or rather, reveal) a transgender character in Immortal Hulk. He spoke to my friend Jay Edidin first, but Jay suggested talking to a trans woman since the character would be a trans woman and he recommended me.

What he brought me at first was one of the better treatments of a transgender character I’ve seen in media; he’d obviously done his homework already, so the process was mostly about tinkering with what was already gold to have fun–like that trans pride Captain America mug the community seems to love–and playing up a lot of the subtleties you usually can’t get to because you’re too busy explaining the 101. Things like Charlene being resistant to Xemnu’s mind control because she’s already faced a situation where she had to push back against other people’s vision of her.

CF: My personal involvement on Immortal Hulk was limited but Wil [Moss] and Sarah [Brunstad], and Al obviously didn’t hate working with me.

DK on  behalf of Zoe Tunnell (another talented WWAC writer): Dr. McGowan’s identity as a trans woman serves almost the role as a superpower when confronting Xemnu rather than just being a part of the character’s backstory. Is this something you’re planning to delve further into with the character in Gamma Flight?

A page from Immortal Hulk #32 featuring Dr. McGowan
Immortal Hulk #32 (Marvel Comics, March 2020)

CF: It’s something I’d be really excited to work with in the future if Gamma Flight gets picked up as a series instead of just a mini, but not something we’re playing with in these five issues. A LOT of characters are coming out of the pages of Hulk with more immediate issues to address, and that’s what we’ll be focusing on for now. And also Mary and Karl being sweet. But I’ve always loved the narrative potential of “trans as a superpower.” So many superheroes are defined by the hardships they’ve overcome, and there aren’t a lot of hardships more impressive than telling god to sit down and shut up while you fix his screwups

DK: It’s something that I think Charlene’s story does incredibly well. As a sensitivity reader and consultant, I’ve seen many stories where writers struggle to find ways to integrate a character’s identity/experiences as a trans person into their being without directly imposing/replicating real world forms of a oppression. Charlene’s story was beautifully refreshing to read.

CF: Bah! 90% of the credit there goes to Al. Like I said, he did his homework and the few minor issues that existed he was eager to fix.

DK: So what has the process been like moving into Gamma Flight together?

CF: Very smooth so far. Al is MUCH better versed in Hulk lore than I am–I was a Spider-Man girl growing up–so there’s been a lot of staring in awe at his endless breadth of knowledge, but when it comes to designing arcs, it’s easy to work off each other and kick an idea around to help it develop. You just start chatting about six different things that could be cool and then there’s this plot twist that just sort of emerges fully formed from the conversational ether. I was honestly expecting to go into this process as the kid sister, just filling in the little bits of narrative and dialogue Al didn’t want, but he’s really respected my input and feedback and the process of working out who will write what tends to be a lot of “You do this part because you’ll do it so well,” “No you!”

DK: As an avid gamer and a critic, for me I’ve always found running games has a major impact on the stories I’m engaging with and how I break them down. With you history in ttrpg development, do you bring those tools to bare on your writing? And how do you think those skills have shown up in your work on Gamma Flight?

CF: The joke I make a lot is “Writing RPG adventures is a lot easier than writing comics, because you only have to write the villain’s half of the story,” but there actually is a lot of skill transfer. In both industries you have to have a solid grasp of story structure and pacing, a good idea of how and when to seed in plot points, and understand how to convey who your characters are in a very limited amount of space. I actually cheated and went from RPGs to comics, back to RPGs, and am now getting back into comics, so I’ve gotten to plunge my baby into both sacred pools, but I do feel like everything I learn from one helps the other. And like I said above, I did make character sheets for all our central characters to figure out what their relative abilities, skills, and powers look like compared to one another, so hopefully that provides some verisimilitude in terms of who’s stronger or tougher or better with which skill

DK: So what’s your elevator pitch for this book?

CF: Oh god….This is a book about people with deep personal issues who’ve come to appreciate each other despite their imperfections, who are trying the damnedest to make sure people in crisis don’t get dumped into an uncaring system.

DK: Wow.

CF: Alternatively, this is the book where everyone’s past bites them on the ass.

DK: Is there anything you can tease about how everybody’s favorite femme-in-STEM Dr. McGowan fits into those exciting tidbits

CF: To steal the Spider-Man terminology, Charlene is “the person in the chair” She’s running the translocator and figuring out scientific questions while the rest of the team are on the ground getting punched, so she’s not in the line of fire until the very end. But personally, Dr. McGowan has to confront her own worst enemy: Her own assumptions about herself. She still sees herself as a Shadow Base lackey who did a ton of harm, even if she hated doing it, and learning to move on from that and embrace the truth–that she’s a caring person who mitigates harm and helps others–is painful.

DK: I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m most excited to see more Dr.McGowan. So much of IH focuses on the tensions between structures of power and identity and knowing we’ll get to see Charlene digger deeper into that is such sweet news. With Dr. McGowan being the first visibly/out trans character to be feature, did this impact any part of the story being told? And with Gamma Flight it’ll break the Jessie Drake record for consecutive appearances of a trans character in Marvel.

CF: While Charlene being transgender impacts her own perspective and relationship to the world, it doesn’t impact the larger story in Immortal Hulk and Gamma Flight too much–except for the fact that her being transgender is what lead ultimately to her being drafted by Shadow Base and becoming a part of the Hulk storyline. But storylines aren’t really built around the idea that she’s transgender so much as her being transgender influences the stories that are there. For example–and I don’t think this is giving away the farm–Leonard Samson is going through some major body dysmorphia issues right now with him occupying Walter Langkowski’s body, but the two of them have also been flirting. This leads to Charlene being more sensitive to comments about body disgust than the average romantic partner might be.

DK: Was it a conscious choice to have Charlene’s stories not “be about” her trans identity?

CF: That Charlene herself isn’t front and central about her trans identity. (Some) binary trans folk fall into a sort of routine a few years after transition where they just kind of stop thinking about gender and transition as often and don’t bring up their trans status–not necessarily because they want to be stealth, but because it might be awkward when you meet someone for the first time, or it might be too much private information for the context, or it just doesn’t come up because you’re busy. She brings it up when it’s important, and if we ever bring more of her past in it will come up a lot, but for now most of her life is about gamma mutation so that’s the part of her that spends the most time on-page.

DK: So on the topic of mutation… Without giving anything away: We obviously have some idea, however small, about what’s similar between Gamma Flight and Immortal Hulk, but what do you think is the difference you’re most excited for readers to find? Or what might be the most unexpected this about Gamma Flight?

CF: This is more big-picture, but for me the biggest change is that Immortal Hulk at its core is all about pain and hurting. And that’s not always a bad thing; the characters keep using their pain constructively–Bruce is confronting who he is to understand it, Carl is forcing himself to grow, Charlene uses it to see when she’s being manipulated–but the book almost hurts to read. In Gamma Flight, we’re focusing more on healing and putting things back together. And anyone who’s been through therapy or PT knows that healing isn’t an easy road and can be painful as well, but it’s pain with a purpose and guidance.

DK: How has writing such an intensive and pain/trauma focused story felt as a writer? Were there parts that felt all too easy or maybe too hard to work through?

CF: Thankfully a lot of the story and pain in Gamma Flight hasn’t touched too close to the trauma I’ve personally been through, but it can be hard when you write about universal themes like parental disapproval and self-loathing. I’ve been lucky enough to write a lot of fun dialogue to cut the pain, though. Jokes make everything hurt less. For now.

DK: To lighten the mood as we close things out… If my research is to be trusted ( and shucks I sure hope so ), I believe you’re the first trans woman to write an ongoing story (that is, beyond a one-shot/single issue) for Marvel. How does that feel?

CF: That can’t possibly be right. There have to be trans women who’ve written ongoing projects before me

DK: So far as my googling was able to find, you’d be the first to work on consecutive issues of an ongoing Marvel story.

CF: My god… that’s way too much pressure for my half-assed scribblings. We need a time machine.

DK: I’m sure your scribblings are whole-assed.

CF: I’m going to go back to 1998 and put Rachel Pollack on She-Hulk.

DK: Speaking of She-Hulk, for our final question what are you most excited about for folks to read your She-Hulk story in the Marvel Voices Pride anthology?

Cover of Marvel Voices: Pride #1 (Marvel Comics, June 2021) featuring characters such as Angela, Northstar, Daken
Marvel Voices: Pride #1 (Marvel Comics, June 2021)

CF: I’m incredibly excited. My story for the collection is less about Jen specifically and more about my relationship with the character, who kind of saved my life as a kid.

DK: Should we break out the tissues when we crack the issue open?

CF: I don’t think you’ll need tissues. The story is pretty upbeat and fun and ends with a Deadpool gag. No tears, just feelings.

DK: What exactly defines your personal connections with Jennifer Walters?

CF: I wouldn’t say it’s personal. We barely know each other. But I discovered She-Hulk just as puberty was hitting me, and puberty was not a gentle wonder of nature. I grew FAST, sometimes a half inch in a month. It made my bones and joints hurt, and when it was over I was 6 feet tall and broad-shouldered but was still just a goofy kid inside. I felt like I was a giant monster and that I’d never feel pretty or lovable. But about the same time I discovered Sensational She-Hulk, and here was a series about a girl who was gigantic and broad-shouldered and muscular and goofy–everything I hated about myself–and she was loved for it all. She became a vicarious outlet that helped me learn to love myself.

DK: I’ve always appreciated when artists have really taken that physicality to heart. Jennifer has always felt like a really great character to explore the periphery of femininity in comics as an extension of the norms of the society that gives rise to them.

CF: She certainly did a lot for me when I didn’t have the insight or vocabulary for academic texts. That’s the real power of comics.

DK: Do you ever feel like it’s easier to say it in comics, either directly or through an extended metaphor?

CF: I do, but I tend to be a very visual thinker so it helps to have the art to help carry the message.

That you so much for reading! And don’t forget, you read dive into the a Gamma-Pack-pool of goodness when Gamma Flight #1 and Marvel Voices: Pride #1 both hit the stands on Wednesday, June 23.

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