Joe Quesada Talks Thor, Iron Man 2: Cup O' Joe

Comic Book Resources, 16 June 2009
By Joe Quesada

Welcome to the latest edition of CUP O’ JOE, the online home of Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, exclusively on CBR.

In his inaugural entry, Quesada opined on the promotion of Marvel’s latest Captain America projects, the increasing popularity of Deadpool, the renumbering trend and fan concerns about comic book price hikes. Joe followed up with an in-depth discussion of “Captain America: Reborn.” Of course, Quesada got his start in the business as a popular illustrator, and shared a step-by-step guide to his creation of a Spider-Man cover.

In this edition of CUP O’ JOE, Quesada speaks with CBR’s Jonah Weiland and Kiel Phegley about the Hollywood operations of Marvel, specifically with respect to Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man 2” and Kenneth Branagh’s “Thor.”

Jonah Weiland: Joe, we’ve spent the last couple of days talking Marvel’s publishing plans, so let's move to the world of Hollywood, an area Marvel has been staking a claim in pretty dramatically over the past few years. Let’s talk about the day you spent with “Thor” director Kenneth Branagh. You went on a a creative retreat with him, did you not?

Joe Quesada: It’s funny that you’re bringing this up as I’m leaving for LA on Monday for the week. I’ll be immersed in Marvel Hollywood business. Someone tell Scarlett I’m on my way! [laughs]

But yes, I sure did. We had one big creative meeting with the Marvel Creative Committee, which now works on all of our movies and I have the honor to be a part of. We sat with Kenneth and discussed the "Thor" movie and the overarching story of what that's going to be, just to give our input before anything was put down to paper by screenwriters.

And it was one of the highlights of my time here at Marvel because not only did Branagh sit there and give you the story beat for beat, he and [Marvel Studios head] Kevin Feige formed a great team. It was performance art. Kevin would give us the establishment of the shot and the situation: "Here we are. We're in (take your pick of location). And here's Odin and he’s coming up to (pick a character)." And then Kenneth would come in and give you the color commentary. "Odin has an air of majesty to him" and he'd act out the Odin part or the Thor part. So we sat there and literally got a three-hour one-man show from Kenneth Branagh. It was fantastic. People pay a lot of money for that kind of performance by one of the world’s greatest living actors.

And of course, he's got that great, charming British accent, so it makes it all go down easy too. [laughs] He could have said anything, and we would have said, "Yeah. Make that." He has such a passion for the material, and he's sitting there describing things from the Kirby run and things from the Simonson run, citing places where the mythology conflicted in Marvel history and how we're going to streamline it. It was just fascinating to watch.

As much as this may sadden Kenneth, he reminded me a lot of Mark Millar. He has a very charming, yet mischievous manner about him that makes him instantly likable.

After that, I was lucky enough about a month ago to see Kenneth here in New York City. We had no idea he was in town until we got a call from some of our guys at Marvel West saying, "Hey, Kenneth is in town, and he just wanted to stop by the office and see what it was like." He came up here and literally charmed the pants off of everyone. The people in the bullpen were literally out of their minds sitting there and talking with him. And then he came into my office, we closed my door and started talking casting.

Jonah Weiland: Do you have a recording of that conversation you’d mind sharing?

Joe Quesada: Well, you know at least one piece of the casting. They announced Loki. But we talked about possible Odins and other characters. What Kenneth has in mind is pretty cool. We'll see. People have to be talked to, and we'll see who we end up with.

Jonah Weiland: We’ve heard about a lot of these early creative presentations, that some directors are very animated – jumping up on chairs while they're talking. What kind of director is Kenneth Branagh? Was he really animated or more reserved?

Joe Quesada: Kenneth sat in his chair. I'll give him that. But of course he's very Shakespearean in his delivery. He'd sit there and give us the emotions between the characters as they are in scenes – what the character's motivation is in that particular moment and how it relates to the overarching story of the movie. He's definitely about character, which is the quintessential trait you have to have to understand the Marvel characters. It's not just big hammers and capes and things like that. It's about what makes the character tick. There's definitely a reason for Thor, a reason for him being and a very deep family relationship and story in the movie that I think is going to be very cool. Oh yeah, and there’s reasons and motivations for him to hit people with his hammer… hard!

Jonah Weiland: Is "Thor" going to be a tougher sell than any other Marvel Studios movie to date?

Joe Quesada: I think it's going to be on the surface. We had the same conversation in internally about "Iron Man." We knew Iron Man wasn't as recognizable to most people not into comics. He's not Spider-Man. He's certainly becoming that, but we worked very hard here at Marvel and started doing things like the Iron Man digital animation shorts, I worked on those with Blur Studios and Craig Kyle over at Marvel West. Those did really, really well for us online. They were basically designed to introduce Iron Man to kids by showing him in the Marvel Universe interacting with our characters, and I think we have the same work ahead of us with Thor. We'll be getting out there. We've got plans already to get Thor's name out within a younger group of kids. I think the upcoming "Super Hero Squad" and "Avengers Animated" shows are going to do wonders to get that across, and then we're working on a couple of ancillary things here and there to boost the desire for kids in particular to know more about Thor and the general public as well. Let me add that the portrayal of Thor in Super Hero Squad is my absolute favorite.

Kiel Phegley: On the other side of the Marvel Studios coin, "Iron Man 2" is filming right now. Director Jon Favreau seems like a Hollywood guy who's really been brought into the Marvel fold. You and other creators had a lot of input on how “Iron Man” turned out. How has that relationship changed, if at all, going into the second movie?

Joe Quesada: Favreau is really, really intense and very cerebral. I remember having a dinner at Comic-Con, I want to say three years ago, where he just grabbed me. It was a dinner for CAA, the talent agency. He introduced himself to me, put his hand on my shoulder, sat me down at a table, and we just sat there and talked. We almost skipped dinner. About two hours later, someone tapped Jon on the shoulder, one of his friends who said, "You know you're not being very social. We're all here." [laughs] And we just sat there and talked Iron Man, and he wanted to know who he is and why Tony Stark does what he does. That was really key to Favreau: why put on the suit and try to do good things? It was a much tougher question once he defeats the Iron Monger, gets his tech and his company back...why continue doing this? What does Tony Stark stand for?

In essence, the thing I never revealed about that conversation in the past is that Jon was looking for these answers because he was already thinking ahead, he was thinking about “Iron Man 2.”

See, it doesn't quite work on film that he goes and stops a little lady from getting mugged. While that may be an ancillary part of it, when you have that suit of armor, the world’s greatest weapon, the story has to be bigger, and your reason for being has to be bigger. But at the same time, it has to be small and streamlined enough that an audience can grab hold of it. Favreau is all about that. And at the same time, where do Tony's allegiances lie? It was almost the same kind of questions we had during "Civil War." So time with Favreau is sort of spent quietly huddling and talking about a character's reason for doing what he does. Again, that's also a part of that Marvel formula.

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