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Rookie Marvel Comic Writer Goes on Own Hero’s Journey at Comic Con

RealClearLife's Ethan Sacks is writing 'Old Man Hawkeye,' the prequel to 'Old Man Logan.'

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Rounding the corner and seeing the hundreds of fans, some in super hero costume, in line left my spider-sense tingling. Actually, it was more likely just my butterflies-in-the-stomach sense.

That’s because those true believers were waiting outside Room 1A24 in the basement of the Jacob Javits Center in part to meet me—or more accurately to hear more about my first major comic book series for Marvel, Old Man Hawkeye.

That Marvel entrusted the 12-issue prequel to one of its most popular series in years — the post-apocalyptic tale Old Man Logan, which inspired this year’s hit movie, Logan, starring Hugh Jackman — to a virtual unknown with just one eight-page story on his comic book resume (read the RealClearLife account here) is a plot twist.

The “X-Men Legacy” panel was stacked with much bigger names in the business, including Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso and much more established comic writers Charles Soule, Matt Rosenberg and Ed Brisson.

For me, the runt of that litter, however, Friday night’s New York Comic Con event marked a first. After years of covering geek culture as a reporter for The New York Daily News and RealClearLife, it marked this life-long comic reader’s very first time on this side of the stage.

Make that an entire weekend of firsts, ranging from the first time a fan asked me to pose for a selfie to my first access to an open bar at Marvel’s party for writers, artists and staffers at a midtown Manhattan bar on Saturday night. Sure, Star Wars: The Last Jedi actor Mark Hamill probably got a better deal elsewhere in town, Comic Con served as a confirmation that my own heroes journey from journalist to “rising star” comic writer (the description in the overly generous Marvel solicitation) may not seem as misguided as it does to my tax accountant.

Even at the age of 44, maybe it’s not too late to follow a childhood dream.

Look who I found at @newyorkcomiccon. @ethanjsacks on his first panel for @marvel

A post shared by fposillico (@fposillico) on

This hero’s journey came courtesy of a phone call from Marvel in mid-July offering me the chance to pitch a story set in the world of writer Mark Millar and artist Steve McNiven’s Old Man Logan,  fifty years after all the supervillains banded together to kill off just about all heroes. In that original text, Hawkeye (who is played by Jeremy Renner in the Marvel movies) is a supporting character who is well past his prime and blind from glaucoma. But that, apparently hasn’t sapped either his proficiency with a bow and arrow or his sense of humor.

The odds were stacked against me, both because I was up against other writers and because the original is considered a sacred text by fans. But somehow, after a sleep-deprived week and a half of preparation, my pitch, a revenge story that evokes a wide array of influences, from Kill Bill to Better Call Saul, won. Here’s the synopsis in the solicitation sent to retailers:

“The Super Heroes have fallen.  The country has been divided into territories controlled by super villains.  Among the wastelands lives CLINT BARTON—one of the few Avengers to survive.  But it’s been 45 years, and he’s no Avenger.  Trying to eke out a living anyway he can, the former HAWKEYE is confronted with a startling discovery:  the sharpshooter is going blind.  With time running short, Clint realizes there’s one last thing he wants to see: revenge for his fallen comrades-in-arms.”

Thus began my own, less violent adventure: a story brainstorming session at the Marvel offices with Alonso and my ace editor, Mark Basso; pacing our big ideas in 20-page scripts; email chains with superstar artist Marco Checchetto on character sketches and layouts that made me tear up when I opened the attachments.

Appreciative of the chance, I vowed to my editors that I would devote my energies to spreading the word — which is what landed me at New York Comic Con on Friday night. I fired off enthusiastic answers like arrows into the audience, because I want the readers to be just as excited as I am. Even if they have no idea who I am… yet.

“You were so happy, you were the happiest person on the panel,” said one fan, Angel, who came up to me after my Comic Con debut Friday night. “You were so happy, I didn’t think you were a writer,  I thought you were an artist!”

Old Man Hawkeye
Character sketch by Marco Checchetto (Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment)