Practitioners 43: Dan Abnett

Born in England (12th October 1965), Dan Abnett is  a comic book writer, novelist and full time fantasist absorbed in the world of fantasy, space and superheroes. He has directed enormous future armies into cataclysmic battles, led mighty metal robots to clang together to save the universe, assassinated space empresses and sent heroes into space in wheelchairs. He is a frequent collaborator with fellow writer Andy Lanning, and is known for his work on books for both Marvel Comics, and their UK imprint, Marvel Uk, since the 1990s, including 2000AD. He has also contributed to DC Comics titles, and his Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 novels and graphic novels for Game Workshop’s Black Library now run to several dozen titles and have sold over 1,150,000 copies as of May 2008. In 2009 he released his first original fiction novels through Angry Robot books.

While Abnett cannot claim to have kick started a character on the same scale as Judge Dredd, the ABC Warriors or Slaine in his tenure at 2000AD, he did create one of the book’s better known and longest running strips of the last decade, Sinister Dexter, following the exploits of gun sharks (hitmen) Finnigan ‘Finny’ Sinister and Ramone ‘Ray’ Dexter in the state city of Downlode, sprawled across central Europe ‘ like a hit and run victim’. Sinister Dexter is a universe apart from that of Strontium Dog and Dredd, and style supplants horror, with neat and precise detailing throughout to give it an alternative edge that readers found addictive. With more than 135 stories alone to his name, most stretching to more than one issue, Abnett is one of the most prolific of all 2000AD writers, making his lack of success at generating a  genuine globe trotting legend like Slaine or Dredd more down to bad luck than anything else.

Most likely in fact it’s lack of intent intent. Abnett’s style is pretty light, humorous and wry. His stories bound along and drag you with them. First and foremost is character, planted firmly at the heart of whatever dying star/ hive of alien warriors / dangerous street he can find. In Abnett’s universe character is secondary to event at times but only momentarily. Then, the characters bounce resolutely back into the frey and mash it up (for want of a better word). Abnett is addicted to failures. The almost-guy. Slaine and Dredd, much like Superman, Batman et al are a stall of successes. You put a criminal in his way, Dredd crushes dissent and puts them away. Slaine warp spasms, charms, wangles or shags his way out of every scenario. One of Abnett’s character steps into the frey he might as well be ready to lose an arm. Abnett’s characters are desperately, hilariously and touchingly out of their depth. This makes readers even more attached to the characters as they survive all that Abnett (and Lanning – to be featured in the following article) throw at them. Major characters are put to the sword, or in the case of perrenial space empress and Mutant headteacher beau du jour circa 1995, Empress Nerimani of the Shi’ar, who has wandered in and out of Marvel’s most prominent titles for decades, unceremoniously blown away by a sniper as part of a Darkhawk conspiracy. This, to anyone unfamiliar with the situation – is lunacy. Brilliant lunacy. You can almost see the grins on their faces as they decided it.

This was to move a nobody character, effectively unheard of since the ’90s into the foreground of an empire churning, galaxy battering epic in the guise of Marvel’s War of King’s series two years ago, in which stable, mainstay characters were supplanted, abused, annihalated, twisted and entire empires changed status. The scale of the effect on accepted rules of the wider Marvel Universe was mad, but Abnett and Lanning play with the planets and principle characters involved like so many ping pong balls. This, you suspect, was learned in the furnaces of the creative pool of 2000AD and the more blood thirsty Marvel UK. But more likely, they are just crazy bastards.

As well as a neat absurdist streak and a whithering habit of throwing humour at serious plot points (hard not to when your head tactician is a talking Raccoon but more on that later). He didn’t stop there. As well as generating Black Light, Badlands, Atavar (with Richard Elson, about the last Human alive trapped between warring alien races), Downlode Tales (an extension of the Sinister Dexter universe), Sancho Panzer (with Henry Flint, featuring the eponymous character piloting a giant tank, excellently monickered Mojo, with his brilliantly named technician, Tool), Roadkill and Wardog, Abnett scribed Judge Dredd, Durham Red and Rogue Trooper.

With Marvel UK, Abnett had runs on Death’s Head 2, The crossover Battletide, Knight’s of Pendragon (all of which he co-created) as well as The Punisher, War Machine, Nova and various X-Men titles. Over at DC he reinvented Legion of Superheroes as the Mini-series Legion Lost which was later launched as the ongoing series The Legion. As was typical of his most recent work, most of Abnett’s work was written with Andy Lanning. From this they derived their moniker DnA. For Dark Horse comic Abnett was responsible for Planet of the Apes: Blood Lines as well as knocking out Lords of Misrule and Hypersonic. Many UK readers will know his work however primarily on the 40,000 Warhammer series, including the Gaunt’s Ghost, Eisenhorn and Ravenor trilogies, and more recently as part of the Horus Heresy, the SF best-selling Horus Rising, Legion and Prospero Burns. Frankly, these titles are unfamiliar to us here at the Bunker however clearly Abnett has brought his strong character and situation writing to bear on the battlefields of 40K, no doubt, injecting personalities that prove engaging in ferocious battle. He’s dabbled in comic books for 4ok’s black library imprint; producing Damnation Crusade, Lone Wolf, Inquisitor Ascendent and Titan. Again no doubt with the same results, given the number of titles.

Put this together with writing two Doctor Who audio dramas – the Harvest and Nocturne – as well as Torchwood: Everyone says hello for BBC Audio as well as two novels based on the respective series: The Story of Martha and Torchwood: Border Princes, and it’s clear that Abnett is a significant bedrock in British Science Fiction. With this grounding in space and time hopping adventurers it’s perhaps unsurprising that Abnett (and Lanning) have found such a secure home in Marvel’s cosmic titles.

But prior to that they developed the sharp edge of DC’s Wildstorm Imprint, The Authority, spawning storylines in which Earth is attacked by God himself back to feed on what was a primordial soup and understandably narked at discovering a Human populated, verdant planet where he left his pantry. It’s not til you see an interdimensional, sentient supership entering God’s pores and detonating its brain with the power of the previous century that you understand the lunacy of Abnett and Lanning. Magnificent space operas be damned, God assassinations by chain smoking blondes is the remit here. In many ways that is Abnett and Lanning’s genius. Lighter than Millar’s follow up too as perhaps would be expected.

At the heart of incredibly massive events, the collapse of star spanning empires or the decimation of a city block there is the average, the easily recognisable. The character’s written by them carry the easily recognisable traits of normal people. No matter what you throw at these characters, they remain people first and superheroes second. After joining Guardians of the Galaxy, as part of Marvel’s Cosmic Imprint Jack Flag can’t stand ‘space stuff’ even as he fights tentacled beasts from the far side of an interdimensional fracture or trying to survive a Negative Zone prison breakout in a wheelchair. Jack Flag is another fringe character unrecognisable outside of Captain America comics until he was crippled by the Thunderbolts under Osborne. He came out of nowhere, went downhill and sent to a prison in a backlot of the Marvel Universe and instantly became irresistable to Abnett and Lanning (I’m not calling them DnA – I’m just not).

It’s Guardians that represents the hybrid brain of Abnett and Lanning. Led by the permanently down trodden Star-lord and a Raccoon, Guardians of the Galaxy represents exceptional gung-ho space adventure and dead pan tongue in cheek humour at it’s own expense. Most of the characters are as unhappy to be there as you’d expect to be if you were faced by an interstellar absolutist faith that feeds on the beliefs of others and kills anyone who steps in their way. The members of the team are an eclectic batch (when alive); including a psychic titan lesbian, a master assassin, a talking tree king and a man from 1000 years in the future witha  Captain America shield. These characters should struggle to blend but at the hands of Abnett and Lanning the many parts become a much more satisfying hole. Not a mispelling.

Abnett is a veteran chef of plot line and character, always incorporating the right blend to create satisfying and engaging storylines. A man of specific interests, he is most at home (with Andy Lanning) dealing with situations of bewildering scale and yet manages to draw you in to the minutae of characters caught in these events. A master of scale and plotting, Abnett can handle a charge on an alien world or two characters grabbing a drink (provided it descends into a bar room brawl inspired by an quadreped alien with telescopic glasses on. As 9 Billion lives are threatened and an imprisoned Moondragon (character), pregnant with a spore from a cancerous universe where life won allowing disease to thrive is about to give birth amongst a militant fundamentalist cosmic church, Star Lord jumps out and shouts ‘ Hi, I’m Starlord! I’d wave but my hands are full of guns.’ Don’t know if that was Lanning, don’t know if that was Abnett but Abnett was in the room and that is good enough for me.

Regarding the talking Raccoon – you’ll have to wait ’til we do Lanning. I got worried I wasn’t going to leave anything for his article next week….

Practitioners 37: Peter David (Part 2)

Peter David is an American writer of comic books, novels, TV, Movies and Video Games. In part One we looked at how Peter David came to arrive in comic books, in Part Two we arrive at how he changed the fcae of comic histories most prominent characters.

Peter David made his name on - and a legend of The Incredible Hulk with 12 Years as writer


Having been given an unpopular and derided title like the Hulk David discovered that he had greater creative control so far away from the central, more popular titles. This enabled him to investigate and test out his storytelling with impressive results. Within his first 12 month run on Hulk, David had reintroduced his estranged wife, destroyed the Hulkbuster base, sending several characters turn-coat and on the road with Bruce Banner (trying to contain his other persona), introduced X-Men – for a rematch with Wolverine, and X-Factor (who he would write for in the mid-nineties), effectively kill Hulk and have him return as the more cerebral Joe-Fixit, a figure in contention with the less intelligent Green persona. David concentrated on the recurring theme of the Hulk/ Bruce Banner’s multiple personality disorder, his periodic changes between the more rageful and less intelligent Green Hulk and the more streetwise, cereral Grey Hulk, and of being a journeyman hero, whicxh were inspired by Incredible Hulk 312 (October 1985) in which writer Bill Mantlo (and according to David himself Barry Windsor-Smith)had first established that Bruce Banner had suffered childhood abuse at the hands of his father. These aspects of the character would later be used in the slightly misaligned but well-intentioned 2003 film adaptation written by Michael France and directed by Ang Lee. In his 12-year run as writer of Incredible Hulk, in which he worked with luminaries and upcoming talents as Todd McFarlane (there when he got there) Gary Frank, Liam Sharp and Adam Kubert he developed the character further, revealing a third, and potentially less engaging Hulk. Banner and the Hulk merge in a more balanced character, retaining the intelligent characteristics of Bruce Banner and the strength and power of the Hulk. The effect was impressive. The now intelligent Hulk found a new relationship with his former wife Betty Ross and along with friends Rick and Margot found himself in control of a secret cabal of immortal heroes known as the Pantheon. David gave Hulk everything he wanted, access to his intelligent mind, strength and access to a private jet and technology bordering on magic. This is where David excels. He puts no limitations on the potential for change in his characters in order to explore possibilities in the story and is fearless in progressing the story at a break neck pace. He also listens to his artists, asking the newly signed Liam Sharp, fresh from success in the UK and US with Marvel Uk’s Death’s Head 2, what character he would like to draw. Gary Frank’s first comic book project with Marvel Uk was drawn upon as well, as the Marvel UK characters Motormouth and Killpower arrived in the pages of Hulk. Using the newly empowered Hulk as a platform to deal with difficult issues such as AIDs, false political imprisonment and homophobia. Not forgetting who was reading the book however, he soon brought the furious, sub-intelligent Hulk back to the pages of Hulk, leaving him lost and alone in the Everglades, effectively restarting the story of the only journeyman struggling with his own demons. Not to say he didn’t throw in Swamp-Thing and Speedfreak for good measure.

And was after he had been freelancing for a year, and into his run on Hulk, that David felt his career as a writer had been cemented and he began to make approaches to DC, being offered a four issue mini-series of The Phantom by Mike Gold. Finally – and astonishingly given that he had been employed on a Marvel title for a year, David only then left his sales position to become a full time writer.

Dreadstar (DC Comics)


David took on Dreadstar during its First Comics run, with issue 41 after Jim Starlin left the title, and remained on it until issue 64 (March 1991), the final issue. David’s other Marvel Comics work in the late 1980s and early 1990s includes runs on Wolverine, the New Universe series Merc and Justice, an excellent run on the original X-Factor, including issue 92 (with Joe Quesada), as part of the Fathers and Sons crossover which incorporated X-Men 25.
Peter David launched the future universe of Marvel with Spider-man 2099, a beautifully realised, dystopian tale of Miguel O’Hara, a futurist scientist who develops powers comparable to a spider in the corporate-run streets of a monolithic New York. Intelligent, witty and deliberately referential of the original without touching directly on its predecessor thematically or literally, Spider-man 2099 helped launch the entire 2099 Universe which lasted for the better part of a decade and took in almost every character in the Marvel Universe and redeveloped them. David set the tone for it all.

At DC Comics in 1990, David wrote an Aquaman miniseries, The Atlantis Chronicles, detailing the history of Aquaman’s home city Atlantis. This has since been cited by David as one of the works he is most proud. His following Aquaman mini-series Aquaman: Time and Tide and the subsequent run of 46 issues on the ongoing series gained notoriety as Aquaman lost a hand early in the series, which was later replaced with a harpoon, a feature of the character that lasted David’s full tenure on the book. He also wrote DC’s Star Trek comic books (though openly opined that Star Trek is better served in novel form as they’re not particularly visual), as well as Supergirl and Young Justice, the latter cancelld in order to transfer the assembled characters to the newly reformed Teen Titans monthly.

David’s work for Dark Horse comics has included the Spy Teen Adventure, SpyBoy, which appeared between 1999 and 2004 and a 2007 mini-series. Other independent work includes Soulsearchers and Company, which is published by Claypool Comics and the Epic Comic’s Sachs and Violens, which he produced personally with co-creator George Perez.

David returned to Marvel with Heroes Reborn: The Return for Marvel, in which the Marvel Universe’s lost characters that had disappeared in an event a year before returned to the Marvel Universe as well as a run on a new series of Captain Marvel, which was critically acclaimed.

David and his Second wife, Kathleen. wrote the final English-language text for the first four volumes of the manga series Negima for Del Ray Manga. In 2003, David began writing a new creator owned title , Fallen Angels, for DC Comics, using material left from development of the now-defunct Supergirl title as well as writinga Teenage Mutant Nija Turtles Mini-series for Dreamwave that tied into the animated television series broadcast that year. After Dc cancelled Fallen Angels, David relaunched at IDW the same year. He went on to produce Spike: Old Times one-shot and Spike Vs Dracula mini-series, based on the character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel Tv series.

X-Factor 92 (Peter David, Joe Quesada, Marvel Comics)

In 2005, David briefly returned to the Incredible Hulk but only lasted for 11 Issues due to work pressures. He also developed a new title Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-man, beginning witha 12-part ‘The Other’ storyline in which Spider-man discovers he is dying, lost a fight during a traumatic fight with Morlun, underwent a metamorphosis and developed new powers and greater understanding of his abilities. Yet again whenever experimental alterations are made to popular characters, this proved controversial with readers, who were bemused perhaps by the extended stingers coming out of Spider-man’s arms and the association of a Spider totem from which his powers were derived. David’s run ended with issue 23.

Following on from David’s original and successful run on X-factor in the early 90s, he wrote a successful MadroX (Multiple Man) title for Marvel the same year which led to the reintroduction of the X-Factor title, using characters from David’s original tenure Multiple Man, Strong Guy, Wolfsbane) working as private investigators in a detective agency of the titular name. David’s work on the title proved popular with Ain’t It Cool News and David found that the new Opt in/ opt out policy on Crossovers and greater forward planning on titles made his second tenure much easier. However, his decision to create a homosexual storyline between established characters, Shatterstar and Rictor (a confirmation of clues that had been established in X-Force years earlier) drew criticism from Shatterstar’s Co-creator Rob Liefield, though Editor-in-Chief and former creative partner on David’s original run on X-Factor supported the story. The title eventually won a 2011 GLAAD Media Award for outstanding comic book for his work on the title.

Peter David announced in 2005 that he had signed an exclusive contract with Marvel, his independent works Spike, Fallen Angel and Soulsearchers and Company ‘grandfathered’ into the agreement. David wrote the dialogue for The Dark Tower: A Gunslinger Born, a comic book spin-off from Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels, bringing his career full circle. He then wrote Marvel’s Dark Tower comic book adaptations as well.

David took over She-Hulk after Dan Slott left, from Issue 22 to 38, a run which won praise. He also wrote Halo: Helljumper, 2009 Ben 10: Alien Force Manga book published by Del Rey, Ben Fold’s Four, a ‘Little Mermaid’ story in Jim Valentino’s Fractured Fables anthology that won more praise from Ain’t it Cool News, an adaptation of the 1982 film Tron to tie in with the 2010 sequel of the same name and a John Carter from Mars prequel to the film due out next year.

Peter David is a genius. His methodology is to block out different days for different projects, allowing him to be prolific in his work. Assured, well liked and professional, Peter David is a quiet voice in a creative industry but one with an enormous fan base exclusively based on the enjoyment of his work. His writing conveys his enthusiasm, wit and humour as well as never losing grip on issues close to him. Unafraid of controversy and generous in his plotting and pacing, David is a joy to read. A clear reason as to why his works are reprinted through Marvel, available as Masterworks collections and including full runs of his writing.