Interview with Al Madrigal on the comic series “Morbius” and “Primos”

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The timing worked perfectly for the comedian, actor and Daily show Alun Al Madrigal this spring with the release of Morbius (where he plays Agent Rodriguez) and the launch of his comedy series, First (inspired by ancient Mayan and Aztec mythology). These are in addition to a development deal with CBS Studios and his work overseeing the comedy podcast network he co-founded with Bill Burr. Now with Morbius on VOD and the last issue of volume 1 of First about to drop (it’s coming out today), it’s once again hard not to be impressed by the symmetry and workload that the ultra-multi-hyphen carries, but it seems quite content of all that.

As a comedian and someone who has known Madrigal for 15 years, I can attest that none of this is the result of luck or something that happened overnight. Madrigal’s success in show business (you may also recognize him in a pivotal, lauded role opposite Ben Affleck in The way back) is the result of hard work, planning, and, in Al’s case, ridiculous kindness. Like, so nice that he tells us that it (and his talkative side) drives his wife crazy. But it obviously opened doors for him. I spoke with Al about all of this, the role of Mayan mythology in his book, the importance of representation, and the difficulty of doing something truly unique in a genre where everything has already been done.

Please explain the MCU/Spider-Verse difference. Sounds like real Dr. Strange-type shit.

Search for “WHIH Newscast”. This is promotional stuff they did for the avengers movies. I play an expert against Leslie Bibb. And then in Morbius, I play Agent Rodriguez, who I’m told is inspired by “Phil Rodriguez”, who is a character from the Spider-Verse. And then, in a commercial for Farmer’s Insurance, I played Captain America.

If you think about it, JK Simmons, who plays Jonah Jameson in all avengers and Spider Man movies, the editor of the Daily Bugle, is also in Farmer ads. So a lot of crossover happens. But yes, three different characters and the first Latino Captain America here.

With Morbius hitting VOD, is it a relief that maybe more people have the chance to come in and experience the movie without the critical response dominating the conversation?

Morbius has been plagued by COVID in various ways. There were six different delays which may have led to unrealistic expectations building up over time. I think it has a bad reputation and people should judge for themselves.

Were you a comic book fan growing up?

I read a lot of graphic novels when I worked at Daily show. And when I was a teenager, I read a lot of comics before I started dating probably more than I should have.

Looks like it paid off. I want to talk about your new comic, First. You do such a brilliant job of weaving ancient Mayan and Aztec lore into the storyline while filling the page with heroes and villains who are all of Latin descent, at least in the first book. Do you remember a time when you read comics as a kid and realized that none of the characters looked like you?

Oh, Latinos were non-existent [in comics and comic culture]. That’s how this idea started. I met Axel Alonzo, who was editor of Marvel comics at the time. We were doing a podcast called “Comic Book Live”. We discovered that we had a lot in common and instantly became friends.

We’ve always talked about the lack of Latinos in the comics. Representation is important. If you never see yourself on TV, or someone who looks like you, you can’t help but feel, even subconsciously, like [you are] less than. If you are a huge Marvel fan and you are Asian and Shang Chi fate is major. So I feel like they’re becoming aware, and actually Axel Alonzo was one of the guys at Marvel who was responsible for a lot of their diversity initiatives.

Is there an added pressure knowing that you’re kind of creating the Latino avengers?

No, because the main thing I want is a good comic. Forget representation and ethnicity. I want it to be a gripping story. I want the characters to be unique and that’s hard to do when it comes to superpowers because everything has already been done.

Part of what makes First so unique is the amount of Mayan and Aztec mythology you weave into the origin story. I guess this is the product of a lot of research?

It does, but luckily I just stumbled across the coolest story, so I was able to pick up this actual character, an emperor from 603 to 683 named K’inich Janaab Pakal. Ricky Pascal (the protagonist of First), is its descendant. Thus, Ricky Pascal, Gina Pascal and Javier Pascal are all from this line of emperors.

What was it like stepping out of the mainstream entertainment world to try and bring an idea to life in the comic book world?

I had the opportunity because Axel knew how to accompany me. And then I leaned on Elliot Kalan, from The daily show who did that. Paul Scheer, who wrote for ghost rider, sent me what this outline looked like. And then, when it comes to learning to write comics, like anything else, I always think I can do anything because other people have done it. So why not me ?

The art is amazing. And I was curious what input you have on what art looks like?

I had a lot of entries. I have the greatest artist of all time in Carlo Barberry who made Spawn and dead Pool. I could watch his vision of what I was trying to deliver and learn from how he interpreted what I had written. I think that’s what they were doing in Stan Lee’s Marvel days. When they were creating these characters, they were actually having the artist draw everything and they were filling in all the dialogue afterwards.

What is the dream for this series and these characters? Screen adaptation, more volumes?

Obviously, a movie franchise or a TV series would be amazing. Right now, the plan is to keep building this world. Add characters, tell stories from the same universe. While we have a lot of people interested in current IP, I’m happy to expand on the rest of the story.

You mentioned some of the changes that took place with Morbiusis there anything about this experience that makes you less likely to want to be in another comic book movie or stay in control with First if you ever had to try to bring it to the screen?

Editing is part of this process. It is a collaborative medium and I feel extremely lucky to have been a part of it. I love the comics and all the Marvel movies and would love the opportunity to continue playing this character. I would feel incredibly grateful to have First make the trip to the big screen. Again, this is a collaborative process. One thing I’ve learned as a producer is to surround yourself with great people and trust them to do their job. I really don’t need to micromanage anything. And we do TV and movies. Nothing to be too precious.

‘Morbius’ is available on VOD and ‘Primos’ can be purchased here.


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