Creator Profile: Steve McNiven by Jerry Whitworth
For every age of the comic book industry, a crop of artists emerge that define their generation. At Marvel, the days of Kirby and Ditko gave rise to Romita, Byrne, Miller, and the Buscemas which lead to Lee, McFarlane, and Liefeld. The Modern Age of Marvel was lead by artists like Romita Jr, Epting, and the Kuberts but perhaps one of the brightest stars to emerge in the last ten years is Steve McNiven. Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan but raised mostly in and around Ontario, Canada, McNiven’s mother was an art teacher which inspired him to obtain a traditional education in art by attending Nova Scotia College of Art and Design where he earned a BA in Art Education and a BFA in Sculpture. McNiven and his wife spent some time in Seattle before she was offered a job in Toronto leading the couple to move back to Canada as McNiven began working part-time as a visual arts teacher at the high school North Toronto Collegiate Institute. McNiven, unfamiliar with anyone in the area, would stumble upon a comic shop with a co-op art studio and befriend a group of local comic book artists. A fan of comics, anime, and manga, McNiven decided to try his skill at hand drawn art working in a cartoony style inspired by his interests. After almost five years teaching and while developing a strong passion for comic art, McNiven’s wife wanted him to pursue his interest and bought him a ticket to the San Diego Comic-Con in 1999. Making a small portfolio of his art and technique, McNiven attended the event displaying his work to any company looking for talent. Eventually, a chance encounter with the Lai brothers led to the artist being hired at Florida-based company CrossGen.
As Steve McNiven and his wife welcomed their daughter Emma into the world, they prepared to move to Florida as the artist came under the tutelage the likes of Bart Sears and Brandon Peterson. McNiven developed his style, adding consistency to his work with a more realistic approach to his art. When Joshua Middleton was scooped up by Marvel Comics, McNiven replaced him as the ongoing artist on the title Meridian. McNiven would remain with CrossGen, working from his new home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, until some time before the comic company went under in 2004. The artist went to Marvel and was partnered with playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa in producing Marvel Knights 4, an offshoot of the Fantastic Four title. From that point, McNiven would see little rest at the publisher as he quickly moved on to Ultimate Secret and New Avengers with Warren Ellis and Brian Michael Bendis, respectively. However, his next project would likely be his biggest assignment in his burgeoning career.
Following the success of House of M, Marvel wanted to produce another crossover event of equal or greater magnitude. Assembling Mark Millar, Brian Michael Bendis, Jeph Loeb, and J. Michael Straczynski with Marvel’s editors, the group tried to hash out this next advent. Eventually, Bendis and Millar conceived of a story of reintroducing the Superhuman Registration Act pitting hero against hero. Dubbed Civil War, Millar took over execution of the story and Steve McNiven was selected to draw the event’s main series (Millar stating in one interview Marvel viewed McNiven as the next Jim Lee). Civil War was considered groundbreaking drawing in new readers and receiving attention from larger media outlets especially in regards to Spider-Man publicly unmasking. Employing almost every major character in the Marvel Universe (as well as scores of obscure ones), McNiven had his work cut out for him consistently displaying dozens of characters while telling a major blockbuster story with them. Coincidentally, McNiven’s next project would be with your friendly neighborhood wall-crawler.
Like many other people following a great accomplishment, Steve McNiven followed completing his part of Civil War with a family vacation to Disney World. During his journey at Marvel, McNiven consistently stated he wanted to work on Spider-Man, especially in the wake of Civil War. He would get this opportunity with Dan Slott on “Brand New Day.” Following the earth-shattering events of Civil War, the status quo for Spider-Man was seemingly forever changed. His identity public knowledge, it appeared the challenges mounting against the hero were insurmountable. In response to this, a controversial decision was made to retcon the character re-instituting his secret identity and undoing his marriage of two decades to Mary Jane Watson in a storyline entitled “One More Day.” The end of J. Michael Straczynski’s mostly critically-acclaimed seven year run on Spider-Man (with many viewing his final storyline, along with his controversial “Sins Past,” as marring this distinction), Slott and McNiven were left to pick up the pieces. Introducing new villains and supporting cast, “Brand New Day” returns Spider-Man to very much a down-on-his-luck character living with his aunt but as an adult rather than teenager. In terms of recognizable comic characters, few compare to Spider-Man. However, one such individual is Wolverine where McNiven collaborated with a familiar creator for his next project in 2008.
In the storyarc “Old Man Logan,” Mark Millar and Steve McNiven once again teamed for a new take on Wolverine in a dystopian future where the supervillains defeated and wiped out the heroes (drawing parallels to Millar’s earlier work Wanted). Surviving this war, Logan tried to live as a family man until circumstances forced him back into action and, eventually, to become a hero again. The story proved to be a big hit and lead the duo to collaborate on another project the following year, this time creator-owned but published under Marvel’s Icon imprint in a title called Nemesis. Under the simple premise of “What if Batman was The Joker?” arose the concept of a Batman-like character that was a criminal and as mad as the Joker. Also borrowing slightly from Millar’s creator-owned series Kick-Ass which featured a world without super-powered heroes, the eponymous star of Nemesis was his world’s only costumed criminal. Having worked on such iconic characters as the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and Wolverine, McNiven would tackle another of Marvel’s biggest stars with another one of their biggest writers.
Following the events of Civil War, Captain America was seemingly assassinated as his former partner Bucky adopted his mantle. However, this was instead an elaborate ruse by the Red Skull and Steve Rogers would return only to ask Bucky to continue to bear his name and shield. Rogers would be pardoned of his crimes during Civil War and become the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., overseeing the Avengers (later, leading a black-ops version of the group called the Secret Avengers). When Bucky is apparently murdered, Rogers again takes up the shield for another Captain America series produced by Ed Brubaker with art by Steve McNiven. For “American Dreamers,” Rogers’ WWII romantic partner Peggy Carter passed away bringing together the star-spangled hero and some of the remnants of the Howling Commandos. The occasion sparks an attack by Hydra leading to a confrontation with the organization as Rogers’ current girlfriend, Peggy’s niece Sharon, is abducted by the villains. The following year, McNiven would get to try his hand at scripting in addition to art with the “Captain America vs. Gambit” issue of AvX: VS (pitting the Avengers and X-Men against each other). Also in 2012, the artist would begin an infrequent relationship with the New York Times providing art pieces for some articles including “Cocaine Incorporated: How a Mexican Drug Cartel Makes Its Billions” about Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel and “Data You Can Believe In: The Obama Campaign’s Digital Masterminds Cash In” about Barack Obama’s use of data mining to win elections.
As the workload of Steve McNiven increased and more requests for his collaborations on projects came in, the slower pace of the artist to ensure the quality of his product was becoming bothersome. In an effort to move along his speed at a quicker rate, McNiven began the process of opening his own studio called Carbon Sun Studios with colorists Simon West and Andy Cotnam and artist Greg Brown. Mark Millar wanted to produce a sequel to Nemesis originally called Nemesis 2 and later Nemesis Returns but it was decided to avoid delays in its publication, work on the project would wait until McNiven could meet his obligations in regards to his assignments for Marvel. In 2012, this meant a redesign of the Guardians of the Galaxy in the wake of Marvel NOW! A relaunch of the Marvel Universe following the earth-shattering events of Avengers vs. X-Men (which featured the return of the Phoenix Force), Marvel NOW! saw many of the company’s most popular titles begin again with number one issues. As the DnA (Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning) reconfigured Guardians of the Galaxy was slated to be adapted for the big screen, McNiven was tasked with redesigning their uniforms, hoping to find some common ground with what ended up in the film (unfortunately, Hollywood was not at that stage until after McNiven’s work on the book was already completed). Brian Michael Bendis would again team with McNiven in this reinvention of the Guardians as Iron Man joined the group. McNiven would finish out the year with a brief stint on Uncanny Avengers (a mash-up of X-Men and Avengers) with Rick Remender.
For 2014, Steve McNiven returned to the character of Wolverine, this time however with writer Charles Soule. For the mostly-weekly storyline “Death of Wolverine,” the X-Man’s healing factor shuts down and his varied foes return seeking vengeance. In a story that takes the character from Canada to Madripoor to Japan and features a supporting cast like Nuke, Viper, Sabretooth, Lady Deathstrike, Kitty Pryde, Ogun, Cyber, and Dr. Cornelius (formerly of Weapon X), in a manner covering the career of Wolverine, the story culminates ultimately in his demise. Recently, it was announced McNiven and Soule would re-team for the upcoming Uncanny Inhumans in April, a companion series to Soule’s Inhuman title. As Black Bolt abdicated his crown to his wife Medusa, the previous Inhumans series focused on her journey as new Inhumans around the world emerge. In the upcoming series, Black Bolt will star as he’s goes out on his own against a yet revealed powerful foe.