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Empyre State of Mynd #4: Anthony Oliveira talks tackling messy couple dynamics, Skrull physiology, and more

Comic Books

Empyre State of Mynd #4: Anthony Oliveira talks tackling messy couple dynamics, Skrull physiology, and more

Fans get to ask Anthony Oliveira, co-writer of Lords of Empyre: Emperor Hulkling, their best questions.

The war drums of excitement continue here at AIPT as we embark on our fourth edition of Empyre State of Mynd. We’ve collected your questions for Marvel editors like Tom Brevoort, co-writer of the event Al Ewing, and this week we are featuring Anthony Oliveira. Oliveira is the co-writer (along with Chip Zdarsky) on Lords of Empyre: Emperor Hulkling with art by Manuel Garcia. Below you’ll find the best questions, the best answers, and a whole lot of introspection as we probe the mind of Oliveira and by extension the new emphatic emperor of Empyre awesomeness, Hulking!

To start things off, your hosts David and Forrest ask about his collaboration with Chip Zdarsky…

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You’re co-writing with Chip Zdarsky, how did this project come to be and what is your work process with Chip like? (P.S. does this project relate to your “special thanks” in Zdarsky’s “Know Fear” story).

I haven’t exactly been secretive about my love of these characters and that I’ll drop ANYTHING to write them, so I guess when this event came down, editor Wil Moss knew I’d want to play! Wil Moss is always a joy to work with – the best, sharpest notes, great humour, honest as heck, and the staunchest queer ally, which in comics is something you want to grapple to yourself with hoops of steel.

Obviously being a gay writer working on marquee gay characters at the heart of such a HUGE crossover mega-comics event is a huge honour and responsibility, and coming into the story at such an early point made me feel a great duty to establish who this character is before we put him through the meat grinder of war.

Chip Zdarsky is the most goodest, dearest guy – he’s been my biggest cheering section for my comics career, and I would literally die for him. The thing about meeting your heroes is sometimes they are even sweeter, kinder, and more generous than you imagined. He’s been this project’s comic-dad – letting me know when a page-turn could be sharper, making sure beats are landing the way we want them to, and dealing via text with my late-night mind-scorpions.

My “Special Thanks” in ‘Know Fear’ is for very hilarious reasons – Chip wanted to make sure he was landing some of Daredevil’s childhood beats when the priest character was speaking with him, and Matt Murdock and I have similar Catholic traumas lol.

@bc_leecomics gets personal with the first fan question, “Who do you think is closer to Teddy, besides Billy of course, from the Young Avengers members? Follow up, will we see some of them in the comic?”

One of the joys of this comic was that I wanted to explore the parts of Teddy’s life we haven’t seen, and that includes his social life – what’s his life like when Billy is not around?

His relationship with PRODIGY/David Alleyne has always been important to me – here we see that that gentle unrequitedness from YA Volume 2 has actually become a very affectionate friendship, and M-Day means he knows what it’s like to see your peers pass you by.

And I think his relationship with SPEED/Tommy Shepherd has a very protective, big brotherly quality – Billy’s tempestuous relationship with his own identity has always made him a little prickly to his twin Tommy, and I think Teddy (as a natural caregiver) has always quietly worried about him. He and Tommy both know what it’s like to be overshadowed by Billy, and they cope with it in very different but parallel ways.

Of course, David and Tommy have their own bonkers dynamic going, and we see here that it’s only gotten…weirder lol. We see both these boys in this comic as they try to cheer up a moping, lonely Teddy with a night on the town (that goes, as you might expect, a little sideways on them..)!

Empyre State of Mynd #4: Anthony Oliveira talks tackling messy couple dynamics, Skrull physiology, and more

Young Avengers #9
Written by Kieron Gillen and art by Jamie McKelvie

Next up, @Jandr0G goes for the relationship question on all our minds, “Teddy has largely played 2nd fiddle, mainly serving as an emotional crutch for Billy, who let’s be frank, never learns from his mistakes and constantly takes advantage of Teddy’s support/patience. Will Empyre tackle the more messy aspects of the couple’s dynamics?”

Yes, absolutely – actually this was one of the main things I wanted this story to be about. I think these two love each other very very much, but they also have a tendency to co-dependency that can be a real challenge when it feels like one partner is outpacing you. I think readers have long felt like Teddy has been left behind, and here we find out that he feels that way too.

In “Drag Brunch with Loki” I had him basically parked on the couch eating cereal, and we find him in this story basically exactly in the same place, slowly losing his mind, getting texts from Billy about his adventures with Spider-Woman and Blade and being like “cool, I played Animal Crossing all day.” And eventually, that erodes on your sense of self – if Billy’s gallivanting around the world with Strikeforce – what’s Teddy now?

Empyre State of Mynd #4: Anthony Oliveira talks tackling messy couple dynamics, Skrull physiology, and more

War of the Realms: War Scrolls #2
Written by Anthony Oliveira and art by Nick Robles

Time to get literary as @RobertSecundus asks, “What would be Teddy’s favorite passage of paradise lost?”

Oh, I know this. The Adam of Paradise Lost is…I always describe him as a bit of a golden retriever. He’s a lot like Teddy. He’s very sweet, and has no ambition; he just loves Eve with all his might, even though he in some ways doesn’t understand her.

So one day Eve asks if she can spend the day by herself, and Adam is a little sad, but he decides to spend the day weaving her a little crown out of some flowers he picked, so he can give it to her when he finally gets to see her. Except when he sees her next, she looks wrong – there’s a dangerous look in her eye, and then he sees what’s in her hand: the forbidden fruit.

Adam, soon as he heard
The fatal Trespass done by Eve, amaz’d,
Astonied stood and Blank, while horror chill
Ran through his veins, and all his joynts relax’d;
From his slack hand the Garland wreath’d for Eve
Down drop’d, and all the faded Roses shed:

I think Teddy would know that pain intensely – of having a partner who seems always on the edge of something darker than you can follow them into, but knowing you’d destroy yourself for them, if they needed you.

One of the pleasures of Empyre, actually, is that strangeness – that the least ambitious person in the universe is now Emperor of the Cosmos. What would such a person do? How terrified would they be of that potential corruption?

A shapeshifter’s life is rife with surprises, but what about those abs? @Ted_Altman must know: “Will this one confirm whether or not Teddy actually works out or just shapeshifts to look like that?”

I think it’s actually been established in Young Avengers Presents that he bulked up with his powers to fit in better with the jocks at school! This dichotomy of he and Billy has always fascinated me actually – we know Billy was brutally bullied in school because he never “passed” as straight, but Teddy has immense passing privilege. Teddy is super-sweet and gentle, but in some ways he gets to be – Billy had to survive a crueler world than Teddy did.

But also, Skrull physiology doesn’t work like some shapeshifters – they don’t revert to “defaults” when you knock them out etc (they stay cows etc), so I think their concept of a “true form” would actually not be a thing. Teddy looks like Teddy; there is no guile in it.

Empyre State of Mynd #4: Anthony Oliveira talks tackling messy couple dynamics, Skrull physiology, and more

The Fantastic Four #2
Written by Stan Lee and art by Jack Kirby

Next up, @csmith03 asks for the audiophiles, “What is Teddy’s favorite song on E•mo•ion?”

This is so funny, because there’s a panel very early on in the comic where you can actually SEE Teddy’s phone, and for a long time it said we could see he was listening to Carly Rae Jepsen or Janelle Monae, but it was just too small to show it.

His favourite track on E*Mo*Tion is “Run Away With Me” and he always drives Billy crazy by miming the saxophone at the beginning, BUT ACTUALLY his favourite Carly Rae Jepsen track is “Cut to the Feeling.” Billy’s favourite is of course “Your Type,” because he likes the sad ones.

If Teddy had a podcast what would be the topic and why?

He wouldn’t have one (he gets nervous talking that long about anything), but he sometimes daydreams of starting one where he talks about classic action figures and kids meal toys, which he at present keeps in an unsorted tupperware box under the bed. The Altmans did not grow up rich, so getting these as kids was always a big deal to him, and it’s a way to remind him of his mom. He makes Billy stop at every rummage sale so he can see if they have any good ones. But he’s shy about them, so he’d probably use an alias on-air.

He definitely does have a Twitch stream, and right now he’s obsessed with DOOM ETERNAL.

Empyre State of Mynd #4: Anthony Oliveira talks tackling messy couple dynamics, Skrull physiology, and more

X-Men fans can thank @Non_RoyalSucess for this next question. “With Teddy possibly willing to align with Krakoa, it got me wondering what his personal opinions of the nation are considering the grudge they hold with his fiance’s mother? A side note: Is Wiccan still a mutant or was that changed along with Wanda’s status?”

I have a very “Billy Versus the Island of the Mutants” story I’d love to tell that would bring all these characters into each other’s orbits and finally bring a lot of this into the sunlight – I guess we’ll see if Marvel’s into it!!

Back to music from @kittykattybang, “Do you have any music or playlists that you either relate to Teddy himself or to the story of Empyre? Do you play this music while you write?”

OH BOY DO I!!! I build a playlist before every project, just to inform its energy and give me a “soundtrack” for how I want it to feel. You can listen to the EMPEROR HULKLING one here – it’s all classic cosmic pop and big hair eighties riffs to get that Flash Gordon / Barbarella / He-Man energy I wanted, with a deep bench of space opera and gay power chords.


Dave and Forrest take back the mic for the last two questions first asking what an Oliveira event would be like, “If you were given the full reigns of a Marvel event, which characters would you like to focus on?”

The Pretender vs Master of Magnetism, with the Demiurge hanging in the balance! I want to tell the story about the House of M – all of them – Maximoffs, Minimoffs, and those fancy pantses on Krakoa!

At a smaller, non-event level, I’d love to do a Billy/Teddy book that was just about, like, them. I think gay lives don’t get depicted in as full a way as they should – largely because straight writers don’t really know what they’re like lol. So I’d love to just, like, show them living their lives (as superheroes, of course) in a more focalized way, like the fun old Vision & Scarlet Witch comics – two people who love each other dealing with cosmic and robotic threats and then going to the movies or having to visit their in-laws or deal with laundry day or whatever.

Empyre State of Mynd #4: Anthony Oliveira talks tackling messy couple dynamics, Skrull physiology, and more

Aliens are attacking Earth. Your best defenses are taking on the brunt of the force but danger still lingers. What’s the first thing you do?

I would ask myself – what would Teddy Altman do? And that would lead me to ask myself: where can I meet cruelty with kindness? Fear with strength? And incomprehension with an attempt to understand?

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