Sean McKeever and Mike Norton on Creating 'Gravity'
Flash back to 2005 as the writer and artist examine the origin of Greg Willis, AKA Gravity!
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It’s 2005, and Sean McKeever has carved a niche of approaching Marvel’s young characters in unique ways with projects like MARY JANE and SENTINEL. Mike Norton had also made a name for himself as an in-demand artist knocking on the door of the House of Ideas. Having known one another for nearly a decade and previously collaborated on McKeever’s creator-owned project The Waiting Place, the two rising stars seemed prime for a Marvel team-up.
Around the time Waiting Place began to wrap up, seeking a full-time gig writing comics outside of his own, McKeever had pitched a revival of New Warriors that included a small-town hero sporting gravitational powers making their way to the big city. In this initial treatment, the rookie do-gooder would be the latest bearer of the name “Marvel Girl.” The pitch didn’t land, but the writer held on to elements of the idea. When editor Mackenzie Cadenhead started to shape an initiative called Marvel Next, McKeever hopped onboard, with both Norton and the outline for Greg Willis, AKA "Gravity,” in tow.
“[It] was looking at my own Midwestern upbringing, and how I think it’s fairly common to dive into adulthood with all these expectations that wind up being dead wrong for better or worse,” says Sean of how he and Norton imagined the start of their GRAVITY series. “At the heart of it all, for [for me and Mike], was that we loved the '80s, Roger Stern era of [AMAZING SPIDER-MAN]. That whole balance of action, soap opera and slice of life where Peter was a single guy in the city, trying to make ends meet and be a responsible Super Hero. There wasn’t anything like that at the time.”
“Gravity is as much a love letter to those ideas as a stab at creating a new character,” adds Norton. “Gravity was us: a kid that wanted to be the hero we grew up admiring. I don’t think we had seen that before in a Marvel comic.”
Greg Willis’ story began in McKeever’s native Wisconsin, but over the course of the 2005 GRAVITY limited series took him to New York City for college where he encountered new friends and dove into a crimefighting career, sparring with established rogues such as Rhino and Shocker as well as new foe Black Death. While it took some time and some missteps, Gravity started to get the hang of being a hero.
“I thought that was the strength of the character,” contends Norton. “That he wasn’t good at what he was doing yet, but had an impossibly great power.”
“He knew next to nothing about who’s who and what’s what, which was a fun way to play with expectations and have a few laughs at poor Greg’s expense,” notes McKeever.
GRAVITY stuck a chord with readers, and both creators point out they still receive fan appreciation via social media and sign copies of the book at conventions to this day. McKeever even recalls the character being “referred to as ‘the Ultimate Spider-Man of the Marvel Universe,’ which was a massive compliment.
The writer remembers the five-issue feature fondly, stating, “It was important to me that we do a modern spin on that Spidey paradigm that Stan [Lee] and Steve [Ditko] originated. I think the story of Greg and [love interest] Lauren—and even Greg and his caffeine-junkie roommate Frog—played out pretty well and meshed nicely with where we wanted Greg to be by the end of the series.”
Reader’s weren’t the only ones who appreciated the newest hero of the Marvel Universe. When legendary writer and creative force Dwayne McDuffie assembled a cast for his epic BEYOND! project, he included Gravity—only one year old!—in the lineup alongside luminaries like Venom and the Wasp. Sadly, the neophyte seemed to perish, but as McKeever learned, the story had not ended…
“I had dinner with a bunch of comics creators in 2007 and Dwayne McDuffie was seated next to me,” he recounts. “I decided I wasn’t going to bring up [killing Gravity in BEYOND!], that it might be awkward, but then Dwayne does, and tells the whole table the story of how he was meant to kill off Gravity for a crossover storyline that was axed, and so he felt he had to bring him back and made a point of it for his [FANTASTIC FOUR] run. I felt so moved in that moment that Dwayne had developed an affinity [for the character]. He was a class act.”
“Dwayne writing Gravity made me so happy,” Norton says. “It was the first time I had seen anyone other than Sean do something with a character we had made. I even own a page from the [FANTASTIC FOUR] issue Dwayne brought him back to life in. What an amazing influence he was.”
Following his return, Gravity would feature in AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE as well as McKeever’s own 2010 take on YOUNG ALLIES. Both original creators came back to the character in 2011 with the FEAR ITSELF: YOUTH IN REVOLT limited series that left Greg Willis in a fairly dark place.
“My hope was to set him up to be the upbeat Greg Willis we know and love from that initial series, only wiser,” reveals the writer. “No one has picked up that ball and run with it yet. I know I’d love to someday. I bet Mike would, too.”
“I don’t think there’s anything about the original story I would change other than trying to draw it better,” Norton insists. “I learned a lot and I love the character. I still think he has more stories to tell.”
On that final note, McKeever concludes with a teaser: “We still haven’t told Gravity’s true origin story yet!”
Sean McKeever and Mike Norton’s take on this unique hero can be found on Marvel Unlimited in GRAVITY (2005) and FEAR ITSELF: YOUTH IN REVOLT (2011)! While you’re at it, give BEYOND! (2006) and YOUNG ALLIES (2010) a read as well!
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