Paul Scheer is destroying Marvel history.
The gaptoothed comedian — known for being the butt of the group’s jokes in “The League” and for roles in Showtime’s “Black Monday” and HBO’s “Veep” — might not seem best suited to the work, which feels more like a Thanos type of gig. But, along with his writing partner Nick Giovannetti, Scheer is taking on (and taking down) history.
The pair have taken the reins of a new six-issue “Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History” series, the first book of which debuts Wednesday. For the uninitiated, the Marvel character is the undying soul of the Punisher, a brutal vigilante killed in this universe by the aforementioned ultra-villain Thanos and who can travel through both time and the cosmos. Now, the Punisher is visiting various moments throughout Marvel history, such as the creation of the Fantastic Four — and might be making a few adjustments.
“What we’re doing through the course of these six books is picking a character or team and showing off the last 80 years of Marvel,” Scheer said.
Before embarking on this time-traveling journey, the writing duo spoke with comic-book writer Donny Cates, who created the character. Cates told them that, to add some levity, he based part of his Cosmic Ghost Rider character on a famous, caustic comedian who plays up his anger issues for laughs. Scheer and Giovannetti decided to mirror that. As Scheer said, “Seeing it as Bill Burr going through Marvel history really helped encapsulate the character for us.”
The result is a hilarious, action-packed and oddly touching comic.
A page from the new Cosmic Ghost Rider series.
So how did a comedian — best known for his on-screen antics, directing television shows and hosting podcasts — end up helming his own comic book series?
The 43-year-old Scheer first grew interested in comic books while attending high school on Long Island. But his fandom was fleeting.
“It kind of flamed out because no one I knew was reading comic books. I went to a school that was more full of jocks than nerds, and there was no one to explore them with,” he said. “So I put them away for a long time, but I got back into them in a big way in college. From there, I just got deeper and deeper.”
By embracing the art form at two different points in his life, Scheer’s appreciation for comics became uniquely layered.
“As a kid what I loved about comics is that it was like reading, but it was easier,” he said. But it also helped extend his fandom of other properties. He loved the “Star Wars” movies and reading the comics based on them “was a way to keep ‘Star Wars’ alive before I could get the movies. So I would have comic book adaptations of all my favorite stuff.”
“I remember in the middle of a hurricane that hit Long Island, happily sitting in my parent’s living room with a flashlight reading ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,'” he added. “It was a way of, like, having movies at my disposal. It was a very visual way to visit these characters.”
Then, when he was older, “what reignited my fandom was how subversive comics had become.”
Despite his affection for the storytelling form, he never actually considered writing one of his own. In fact, he didn’t even “think it was in the realm of possibility.” It actually happened almost by accident.
He and Giovannetti had written a script for a sci-fi comedy, and they were told that while the script was funny, the movie was “too big” to get financed. Cue comic publisher Ross Richie, the founder of “Boom! Studios,” who told Scheer that he was trying to find writers who could make new comic books out of old projects.
That’s exactly what Scheer and Giovannetti did. The result was 2014′s “Aliens vs. Parker,” the book that launched the duo into the world of comic book writing.
“It just opened my mind,” Scheer said. “It was so fun. In a way, writing comic books was like writing, acting and directing simultaneously. . . . I think writing comic books has made me a better director and a better actor.”
For a while, the pair would write one-off comics for various houses, including Marvel, where they experimented with such famous characters as Deadpool. The learning curve was steep for Scheer, who was used to writing scripts in more of a vacuum. In comics, he said, the writer has to consider what the page will actually look like, how many panels it will include, etc., so “you are writing in a way that’s really more descriptive . . . it can feel like you’re in a production meeting and writing your script all at the same time.”
Eventually, Marvel asked the pair to tackle a six-book series. The project “attracted us because we loved the idea of exploring Marvel history.” Of course, now that they’ve got it, Scheer said, “This is the most work that I’ve ever really done.”
Still, he’s thrilled to be working on the series, a fact that still feels almost surreal.
“I started reading Cosmic Ghost Rider from day one, not knowing that it was a book I would one day be writing,” he said, before pausing and reflectively adding the obvious: “It’s cool.”