The Marvel Report was invited to get an exclusive look at the digital graphic novel series “Black Panther: Soul of a Machine,” which was created via a partnership between Marvel and Lexus. Released over 8 issues, writers such Fabian Nicieza, Geoffrey Thorne and Chuck Brown all take their turns with this story.
During the event, Lexus and Marvel executives also touched upon the upcoming film and showed off a couple vehicles. First, we got to talk with Fabian Nicieza. Over a storied career, Nicieza co-created Deadpool and wrote some amazing runs on X-Men and New Warriors, among many more.
TMR: “Fabian, thanks for taking the time.”
Fabian Nicieza: “Thank you!”
TMR: “Did you come in via the movie or your history with the character when it came to the Soul of a Machine arc?”
FN: “My take here is from his first appearance in 1966 and history of the character. I bought Jungle Action when it originally came out. I got the Priest run in the 90’s. I’ve been following the character since I was 8 years old. It wasn’t about the movie, his appearance in the movie was really well done and Chadwick Boseman is excellent and I can’t wait for his movie in February, but I’m a comic book guy. So my feelings and understandings of the character is informed by his history and all the people who have worked on the character over the past 40-50 years.”
TMR: “I was reading the first issue a couple weeks ago. I found it to be very tech heavy and engaging but with an interesting angle that didn’t feel like a commercial. How did you go about this take and working with Lexus?”
FN: “It always starts with a phone call from Marvel Custom Solutions editor Darren Sanchez. When he calls me, it’s usually because he has a really big or hard job on his plate. I didn’t think it was going to be a hard job, all I had to read Lexus’ brand narrative and they had all their brand pillars, which is marketing speak. To me it’s not about marketing, it’s about the ethos of a brand or character.”
In many ways, BP is a brand, Marvel is a brand and Lexus is a brand – what are the core features each of those companies? All three, Marvel, BP and Lexus. Then when you look at Lexus’ brand pillars, you say ok, your story is about a brilliant scientist, Black Panther who has to confront another brilliant scientist, Machinesmith who both have different points of view about how technology can and should serve man and how man can and should serve technology.”
TMR: “Just like what’s going on in our culture today.”
FN: “Right. And then once you get that and then you break it down. Lexus and Marvel wanted the majority of the story to take place in Wakanda, so you then know your parameters, you know how many pages it’s gonna be and then broken down into eight chapters, which is challenging because each has a strict page count to it. Then you just navigate it. The heavy lifting was in breaking down the story… it was a lot of phone calls, sometimes all parties don’t know what they’re looking for. But there was really good communication. Darren got some excellent artists on board to draw it, so I’m pretty happy.”
TMR: “I was going to say that. I looked at the panels from where they are inside the machine. I immediately wished I could put that on my wall because the work was so striking.”
FN: “[laughs] That’s the one where the writer can take five seconds to write something and it takes the artist a day and a half to draw it. What I try to do a lot of times because I’ve been doing it so long, is try to provide some research or photo reference so they have an idea of what I have in mind and hopefully that helps create a little bit of a shortcut to solving the problem. Technology being as easy and beneficial as it is, I can google image something and get a variety of images that can help me show an artist what I mean when I say a binary code whirlpool, so it’s cool.”
TMR: “Compared to when you first started…”
FN: “[laughs] We needed to have monks etch it all out on scrolls.”
TMR: “Have they let you drive one of the Lexus vehicles?”
FN: “[laughs] No, they promised me I was going to get one at the end, but I don’t think they are telling me the truth. I told them up front I’m not much of a car guy. I have leased Lexus cars in the past and I love them but this particular car is out of sight!”
TMR: “I know! I was looking at the images from the SDCC event, and I was stunned.”
FN: “The movie car is really cool, because they had scratch marks and bullet holes.”
TMR: “Were they real scratch marks and bullet holes?”
FN: “Oh yeah, we talked to the mechanics and the techs about how they put those in there. They actually ripped open the hood with claws and shot rivet guns into the vehicles. Darren [Sanchez] and I took pictures because it was so cool. The actual LC500, what the comic is promoting, is just a beautiful car.”
TMR: “For the readers who aren’t familiar with Black Panther and the novel, can you give us some detail into the story and where it starts?”
FN: The story starts with T’Challa and delegate of the top Wakandan science and engineering students are in Japan for a symposium behind held by the Takumi Masters, who are affiliated with Lexus. They are creative perfectionists in technological advances. They are displaying something called Shareware, which is a cybernetic connective link that lets each of you feel the creativity in someone else. [It] let’s you see a problem through someone else’s mind in order to try find ways to solve problems together and advance things faster.
When that experiment is performed, that’s when [the villain] Machinesmith makes his move. He was contracted by Roxxon to try infiltrate that symposium as a means of co-opting the Sharewhare. He smuggles himself in with a cellphone and when he does that, he’s automatically connected to Wakandan systems because the people he connects to are also able to connect Wakandan systems. T’Challa realizes that and knows he’s going after Wakanda’s vibranium to spread himself and his ideology outward. At this point, vibranium in the Marvel Universe has been used enough places that it’s still connected to the central hub of Wakanda. Now Machinesmith can reach out to start changing human beings on a biological level. His goal is to turn biology into technology, a fusion of both that he sees as his ultimate perfection.
TMR: Wow, that’s quite a story!
FN: “As a result, the Takumi Masters, T’Challa and the Wakandan students have to go back to Wakanda in order to stop the infiltration thats taking place in all the different cities in Wakanda. [It then] splits up old Gardner Fox, Justice League style 1965 in different chapters with a Takumi Master and a Wakandan apprentice each having to be involved in a different story and city, each having to face a different kind of challenge in a way to solve the immediate problem in that city. The story is happening all at once, It’s not a linear story, because Machinesmith has infiltrated all the cities, but it does all flow back into chapter 8.”
TMR: “Wow, that’s an interesting storyline. Definitely sounds like a challenge.”
FN: “Yeah, it was fun. I think we handle Black Panther properly and his supporting cast. We used a bunch of characters that have been appearing in the world of Wakanda. The idea was to use the world of Wakanda because Marvel’s doing so much with it and we want to expose as many people to the variety the characters that exists in the Marvel Comics Wakanda as we possibly could.”
TMR: “Right. It’s always about that vibranium!”
FN: “There’s plenty of Black Panther stories that aren’t about the vibranium but it’s still always about the vibranium. When you’re working on a [Marvel] Customs Solutions comic, the way I say it is it’s a commercial that’s a comic book and a comic book that’s a commercial. If you do your job right, you’re pleasing all masters including the audience. If you don’t do it right, it’s too much of a commercial or you’re not doing your character justice. It was a fun jigsaw puzzle. I was Marvel’s advertising manager for five years, and my job was to sell Marvel comics. It’s in my DNA to take it as a creative challenge to sell things in a fun, enjoyable and entertaining way.
TMR: “I think you achieved that here.”
FN: “I also want to give a shoutout to all the artists who did a good job, but also Geoff Thorne and Chuck Brown, my co-writers did a really a really good job with their chapters too. It was too big of a load and I didn’t want to do it all myself, we wanted to get different voices and view points and I thought their chapters were really engaging.”
TMR: “Well, Fabian thank you so much for your time.”
FN: “Thank you!”
The first four chapters of “Black Panther: Soul of a Machine” are available now at https://marvel.com/lexuslc while the final four will be available on November 12.
When the cybernetic artificial intelligence, Machinesmith, infiltrates all of Wakanda’s systems, the very existence of human civilization is threatened. It is up to six Wakandan science apprentices and six Takumi Masters, working with Black Panther and his sister, Shuri, to create the ultimate machine to stop Machinesmith’s flawed, but deeply felt, vision for integrating man and technology into harmonious perfection.
Marvel’s Black Panther hits theaters February 16, 2018.
Come back to read Part 2 of this series with Mindy Hamiliton, Marvel’s SVP of Global Partnerships.