There are so many things I love about Miranda Mercury. She’s a brilliant sci-fi adventurer who gives Hal Jordan and Matt Murdock a serious run for their money in the Without Fear department. With the help of her right-hand man, the perfectly named Jack Warning, she kicks evil’s ass across the galaxies with gusto — all in a day’s work for someone who comes from a family of science heroes. She’s also the kind of character that’s still rare in comics: an exceptional woman defined almost entirely by her bravery and smarts, and one who happens to be black.
Miranda had a big 2011. The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury hardcover graphic novel, written by creator Brandon Thomas and strikingly illustrated by Lee Ferguson, earned high praise after it debuted at San Diego Comic Con. The kudos are deserved, because it’s an exciting and beautiful book, the kind you read in one sitting. The fact that the heroine is dying from an incurable virus also hooks you right away.
Miranda isn’t exactly a new character. Archaia released the first and only issue of The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury a few years ago, but there were a number of unfortunate events and obstacles that temporarily shelved it. Girls Gone Geek interviewed the very gracious Brandon Thomas about Miranda, the story behind the comic and his heroine’s successful resurrection.
Girls Gone Geek: Miranda is truly the Woman Without Fear. There is almost nothing she can’t do. How did you come up with the character, and did you know from the beginning that she would be black?
Brandon Thomas: Oh, absolutely, she was always black, and part of the reason I created the character was to challenge me as a writer, and really to challenge the industry I was working in. At the time I was feeling a little stifled and that I wasn’t getting the opportunities I wanted, so there came a time when I just had to go out and create the kind of comic that I would enjoy writing, and hopefully, that others would enjoy reading. The mission statement is that Miranda Mercury would never stop moving, never stop trying to improve the world she lived in, and that if I was going to keep up, I had to embrace something similar.
And as a black writer, the portrayal of characters of color, the advancement of creators of color and even the advancement of female creators, is all something I have a very personal stake in. Sci-fi and comics have become a bit notorious for having a lack of true representation, and maybe making Miranda a third-generation science hero, the product of a long line of black adventurers, was over correcting a bit, but it felt right in this case. In the universe Miranda lives in, no one cares that she’s black; it doesn’t come up. There is prejudice and intolerance, but it’s not always about skin color, and there’s no such thing as “black superheroes,” and I thought that was perfect.
Miranda Mercury is about celebrating and achieving the impossible, and I knew with that mandate, it was something I could write forever, and a project whose only limits were my own.
G3: Did that make the pitch difficult? For example, were you met with any concerns that the book wouldn’t be as marketable with a woman of color as the lead?
BT: You know, I think there was, but there was also some concern about a project coming in from two creators no one had really heard anything about. When you put everything we had working against us together, I can understand some of the skepticism we were met with. Important word there is “some,” and we did get a few puzzling/insulting/disappointing responses from a few of the publishers it was pitched to. But anything that’s a little different or is something people aren’t used to seeing is going to garner similar responses, and we’re just glad Archaia was bold enough to take a shot on it.
G3: Lee Ferguson’s art knocked me out, and he got key details right – like the hair! How did you work together to create the character’s look, and how did you wind up collaborating? I also can’t neglect to mention the beautiful work by the team of colorists.
BT: Well, thank you. It wasn’t our intention to have quite so many colorists on the book, but we do think it worked out very well and that we were able to find a lot of talented folks to contribute. And obviously, I’m a huge fan of Lee’s art as well. We met years ago when we got paired on a Luke Cage project for Marvel that never quite materialized, but it was clear from those few months working together that we had a lot in common and both loved the same things about comics. We swore to work together on something creator-owned and Miranda happened to be the thing that just seemed perfect on all fronts.
Coming up with her look wasn’t too difficult, we went through a couple passes of adjusting things like her suit, gear, and hilariously, bust size, before settling on her core look, which is always in constant flux. Pretty sure Lee’s wife was the one who suggested the final color scheme too, and the credit for her hair belongs entirely with Marc Deering. He actually wrote up an entire little feature on the MM website that explains his techniques and why it’s so important to him that it looks right and authentic.
G3: In your notes, you talk about how her doggedness in the face of impossible odds mirrors the book’s triumph over difficult obstacles. Can you elaborate on some of the challenges you had to overcome to get the book in readers’ hands?
BT: Hah, we always said that we were affected by a series of unfortunate events from start to finish. Finding a publisher was the first significant hurdle and something of a roller coaster ride. We were confident that it would go one place, as was our contact at that company, but after weeks of waiting and wishing, the deal never actually materialized. We had another publisher that literally shat all over the proposal with a few particularly harsh assessments that became “bulletin board material” for us. Then once we settled into Archaia and released one issue, they went through a restructuring that affected a lot of books, and idled our production process for so long that we lost our original colorist. We signed a replacement and he spent almost a month pretending to color the book when he really wasn’t, and if there’s one real regret about that first volume, it’s that we used so many different color artists throughout the book.
Bunch of other little things along the way, and real life stuff like deaths in the family, Lee learning his house was filled with Chinese drywall that was releasing toxic fumes, making him and his family consistently ill. I think some of this was just a byproduct of how long we worked on the project, and really anything that’s worked on over a period of years is going to naturally find a number of hurdles along the way. Some of our wounds were self-inflicted, and we’ve already got definite ideas of how to avoid some of this stuff when we move onto Volume 2.
G3: Right from jump, we know that Miranda is going to die, and that adds a great deal of urgency to the story. What was behind the decision to begin the story that way?
BT: It seemed like a great place to introduce this character and examine her role and influence throughout a larger universe. It also gave us a really great source of tension between her and her best friend/partner Jack Warning, which quickly became the anchor of this entire arc. And we wanted to try balancing the scales, since a lot of the stories dealt with showing how resourceful and how incredible her exploits were. Having the equivalent of a ticking time bomb in her blood, and an emotionally damaging incident in her past, helped in ensuring that she doesn’t feel entirely invincible ripping through these stories.
Yes, she is formidable and unflappable, etc., but she’s a person who kept a huge secret from the person she cares the most about, and she’s going to suffer some consequences for that decision.
G3: The close friendship between Miranda and Jack is really interesting in that it provides the few moments where we see the character being somewhat vulnerable. Most of the time she’s solving problems and kicking ass. Was it always part of the plan to give her a partner — a brilliant Robin to her Batman, so to speak?
BT: Jack was always supposed to be in the book, but his role did change somewhat. Originally, he was simply “the sidekick,” who would follow Miranda around on her adventures and chronicle what was going on, providing something of an impartial POV on all these impossible things that were happening around him. But once I got into actually writing the scripts, that kind of thing became less interesting and he became more and more entrenched into both the main plots, and helped create the emotional thrust of this first arc.
Without that friendship between the two of them creating an anchor for things, I think the book is really missing something, and the more I wrote, the more appropriate and pronounced that idea became. It was obvious that this is what the story was really about, examining how secrets and lies impact and change a relationship. And how two incredibly opinionated, intelligent, and stubborn people navigate a philosophical disagreement. Sometimes you think you know what your book is about, but once you start writing it, you realize it’s about something else entirely, and that definitely happened in this case.
G3: Another moving part in the book is when you go into Miranda’s grandfather’s past. You broach the topic of race in a brief but powerful way. Why was it important to you to make that part of the narrative?
BT: I knew pretty early on what the story of Miranda’s grandfather was, and that the experience would greatly inform her particular view of the world. This is teased a little in #296*, which was actually written shortly after Hurricane Katrina, and with the exception of that story, I intentionally shied away from offering any kind of statement about prejudice or intolerance. Because while understanding that part of Miranda’s history is important, I didn’t want it to become too overt or overshadow everything else, so there’s a reason it was saved for last. But it’s a critical piece no doubt, and I’ve had that image of a man from the future jumping through a time portal and lighting a bunch of racists on fire with a laser gun for years now!
And I always thought the idea that this heroic dynasty could only take flight in a galaxy far, far away with the only real “statement” needed.
G3: I get the sense that this book was your baby, so it must be gratifying to have it receive such positive reviews. Has this created new opportunities for you to tell more stories from Miranda’s past or to spin off books about her family members?
BT: It has been, and I think I can speak for all of us when I say that it means a lot that the book has been so embraced thus far. We’ve been working on this a long time and we’ve always maintained the belief that there’s an audience out there for this book, and more specifically, this character, and once we can get the book into people’s hands, they seem to really respond to it.
Right now, we’re just focused on getting another volume out there sometime next year, but the larger goal is to be able to tell present Miranda stories, along with an occasional mini or “flashback” issues that tell some of her past adventures. Be nice to have them trade off release-wise, so there’s always some Miranda Mercury out there, very similar to what David Peterson is doing with his Mouse Guard series.
G3: How did you get into the comics industry?
BT: I started writing a column called “Ambidextrous” for one of the premier comics news sites that was one part soapbox, one part discussion group, and one part journal. I wanted to break into the biz as a writer and I thought a column would not only be helpful, but would be interesting to kinda document the entire process, warts and all. After a few years at this, I’d developed some contacts in the industry that helped get my foot into some important doors, which eventually led to me being given a shot at places like Arcade Comics, Marvel, and later on, DC. My first comic was published at SDCC ’03, so I’m approaching my ten-year mark as a “professional writer,” and Ambi continues on today at my personal blog after a lengthy stint at Newsarama. And the only thing harder than breaking in is staying in, so that’s where I’m at right now, and hoping that this next year will bring some big changes that’ll turn this into a full-time gig.
G3: What are you working on next?
BT: Well, the Voltron book I’m writing for Dynamite (which came out in December) sold out of its first issue), so I’ll be continuing on that for the foreseeable future. I aso have two more Dynamite projects, one for the spring and the other likely for the summer, that should be getting revealed fairly shortly. And I’ve already started on the scripts for the second volume of Miranda, so I’ve got a busy few months ahead of me, as I make that push to fully transition into a role as a professional comic writer. Wish me luck!
*A note about the numbering: The comic begins with issue #295 to indicate that Miranda Mercury is a long-running series.