Last weekend at Whedon Con, I had the pleasure of speaking with someone who has contributed more than his fair share to the Marvel Universe. Christos Gage, a writer for Daredevil‘s highly acclaimed first season as well as the co-creator of Avengers Academy, sat down with us to reminisce over his time with Marvel. While he also writes Buffy and Angel comics for the Whedonverse, he’s well versed enough to know the difference between issue 167 and 168 of Daredevil – because the latter is the first appearance of Elektra.
When it comes to his influences as a writer, though, he’s far more varied. “Everything I read influences me in some capacity,” Gage explains. “I grew up reading comic books, so those are a big influence.” But it is Ray Bradbury’s words to his film school class that stay with him: If you want to tell stories, you have to devour stories. “And I thought it was interesting the way he put it, because like food, stories nourish you. They get all jumbled up inside you, and they come out as your stories.”
The stories he’s spent the most time jumbling come from Marvel, but Gage insists that it’s no different from playing in anyone else’s sandbox. “When you’re going into Law and Order: SVU your job is not to bring a bold, new voice to Law and Order: SVU. It’s to make it feel like the other episodes.” When it comes to Daredevil specifically, he went into a little more detail: “We knew it would be a mix of Frank Miller and Stan Lee, and a lot of Drew Goddard and Steven DeKnight. So you take all this awesome stuff together, churn it up, and what comes out is hopefully good.” Looks like their recipe for Daredevil came out quite good indeed.
Working with show runners like Drew Goddard and Steven DeKnight was the highlight of Gage’s Daredevil experience, but he also recalled a specific instance on set that warmed his heart. “[My wife] Ruth and I were on set when Bill Sienkiewicz actually came to set along with David Mack. And it was so awesome to get to see Bill meet Vincent and Charlie. Vincent was as excited to meet Bill as Bill was to meet Vincent. Vincent was like, “I have one of your paintings of Fisk that I look at every day before I go on set.” Bill just about fainted, because he’s such a huge fan of Vincent.”
Christos Gage had much more of a say when creating Avengers Academy, though, and he talked a little about that process. “Mike McKone, the artist, and I co-created a number of characters for that series. I was defining their voice, so that was more me.” Gage cracked a few jokes when asked just how much of his voice is in the story. “Are they all aspects of me? I hope not, because they were pretty damaged people. It is more coming from within me.”
There is one Avengers Academy character who has a special place in his heart, though – Emery Schaub, also known as Butterball. “He’s this chubby guy who got the superpower of being completely indestructible. But he also didn’t become strong, so he couldn’t be a superhero because he couldn’t fight anybody,” Gage explained jovially. “He was so happy to be in the training camp, but he was terrible. He couldn’t do anything, so he ended up washing out.” Something about having a passion for something you’re not cut out for called to Gage, especially since this story took place during the Avengers Initiative. “There were all these characters who didn’t want to be there and they were upset and wanted to leave. This guy wanted more than anything to be there, and they were like, ‘Just go on home, kid.’”
Though Gage considers it a dream come true that he’s had a chance to write nearly every Marvel character out there, his personal goal “would be to write the Avengers Academy characters that I created in another medium. Like film or TV, I think that would be awesome.” Speaking of other mediums, Christos Gage has spent some time writing for video games (including The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and spoke on how different that process was. “You’re writing the story as almost interstitial cinematics that lead from one game play sequence to another. You have to be extremely economic, more so than any other format of writing that I’ve done.” One of the biggest challenges is writing twenty different variations of the same line. “And that’s a great exercise as a writer, if you’re coming up with a cliched first-take on a line and you’re like, ‘What’s a more interesting way I can have the character say this or get across this emotion?'”
One way he gets around new lines of dialogue is borrowing from himself! When asked if Marvel characters sometimes remind him of Buffy characters and vice versa, Gage said, “All the time. As a matter of fact, I will often use a joke or a line or a quip in Buffy and then I’ll use it again in Spider-Man because I know the audience doesn’t have a big crossover.” He recounted how Joss Whedon himself was influenced by early 80s X-Men. At a convention, Joss defended himself by saying that Buffy was unique – but even she has startling similarities with Kitty Pryde. Christos Gage concluded the story by declaring, “I think it’s probably coming from the same well in a larger, archetypal sense.”