Villain? Anti-hero? Or simply just a badass? It’s clear that Nebula does what she wants when she wants, but writer Vita Ayala wants to know why. Whether it’s trying to bring about Ragnarok, destroying Thanos, or just one-upping her half-sister Gamora, Nebula has evolved into one of Marvel’s most interesting antagonists over the past few years.
While she skirted along the periphery in many space-centric Marvel comic books after her debut in 1985 (Guardians of the Galaxy, Annihilation, and of course The Infinity Gauntlet) she became much more visible after the success of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie in 2014.
Last week, SYFY WIRE announced that writer Vita Ayala would be taking over writing duties for the character’s first-ever mini-series, giving the busy up-and-coming writer a chance to tackle Nebula’s backstory.
“It is really refreshing to have a character that isn’t concerned with what the right thing to do is, and instead makes their desire their guiding light,” Ayala told SYFY WIRE. "I think one of the things that I wasn’t necessarily connecting to, in terms of her stories, is that she didn’t seem to have a lot of cohesive motivation. For any given arc, she would have a goal, but I couldn’t get a sense of her overall center. Why did she do the things she did? Why did she want what she wanted?"
Ayala says using that approach in writing this new series made writing Nebula that much more compelling.
"She has endless possibilities, she is so unique, and to be able to explore what makes her tick is super fun," they added.
In an exclusive follow-up interview with SYFY WIRE, Ayala says they were excited to take on a character that often acts without fear, but wanted to dig deeper into the root causes of her actions.
Can you tell me about your pitch for this book and how it came about? What made you want to work with Nebula or was it something that Marvel offered?
I was approached by the editors, who I had worked with before [on Prisoner X]. They wanted to know if I had a take on the character. Immediately I responded with wanting to examine what would make a person be so aggressively bad. Like, she is such a flaming jerk! What would drive a person to become basically a hateful monster? And I thought it would be boring if she was just “born bad” or something like that. Too easy. I thought long and hard about what bad guy origin narratives really appealed to me, and what it boiled down to was three things.
One, a loss of innocence that is world-shattering; something that destroys the foundation for safety and trust, all-encompassing. Two, something involving either family or close friends; something that strikes at the heart of a person where they live and love. And three, in trying to regain power, they become more nasty than what hurt them. There are a million ways of doing each of those things, but almost every villain origin that I enjoy (and helps me enjoy the villain themselves more) has one or more of those elements.
Now, all that is cool but we wanted a high-danger adventure in the present as well, and I wanted a chance to bring back a person or two, so the story formed out of wanting to service those three goals!
I also wanted to try and strip [Nebula] down to what made her uniquely herself, just to see what made her tick. I think we get bits and pieces of it, but I wanted to see if we could get a sustained look. I love space, and pirates, and space pirates, and Nebula is exactly the kind of character that makes my interest perk up!
What kind of research did you do for this book? Were there any particular arcs or issues that stood out when you were brainstorming or writing?
I read all the origin stuff that could be found, and re-read the most recent appearances (and stories in-between). I like reading as much as possible to prepare for something like this. It absolutely blew my mind that she used to have hair…
For me, I wanted to concentrate on examples of her desires and goals. I think those are the key to building a backstory that makes sense. The stuff with the horn in Asgardians of the Galaxy was really interesting. At first blush, it paints her as a kind of mustache-twirling villain, but re-reading it, it raised some good, meaty questions that I wanted to answer. So in terms of brainstorming, that was the most helpful!
How has Nebula's history of abuse shaped the character? What kind of approach did you want to take when looking at her rough history?
I wanted to be as respectful as humanly possible when I approached her past because even though she herself is not real, there are many people who identify and connect with her, and I didn’t want to harm them. This is entertainment at the end of the day, but it should ring as authentically as it can, while not damaging the people who are partaking.
I wanted to take the things we knew about her (both before Thanos and after) and kind of craft one possible set of reasons for why she does what she does. I don’t subscribe to the idea that people who are abused are fated to abuse (having been the victim of abuse myself, and also because even a rudimentary understanding of psychology can tell you that).
But I did want to be in conversation with the idea that there are things that happen that build up, and the combination of many kinds of abuses — in her case, a lot of physical and psychological — and also very bad lessons being learned (doing harm has worked in that it helped her survive and become stronger so that she was harder to hurt), can help cement harmful/bad behaviors.
I think of Nebula a bit like Callisto from Xena (or even Xena herself, but in the warlord phase of her life) — a whole confluence of gnarly stuff came together and a frightening villain was born.
What was it like working with Claire Roe on this book? How did your collaboration unfold?
Listen, Claire is an absolute genius. We’ve worked together once before, for a shorter piece, and I wanted to be able to do it again. Knowing that I would be working with Claire definitely changed how I wanted to approach the story, and how I wanted to script.
I wanted to give her as much room to do her thing as possible, especially wherever there was either action or intense emotion happening. Her acting and blocking is brilliant, and it is my job to stay out of her way! For Nebula in particular, I wanted to see if we could play a little with genre and cross genres. Knowing we were working together, I felt really comfortable playing with that!
Also, seeing her art changed a lot of how I approached dialogue. Her work is so expressive, and it was so much easier to get into Nebula’s mind seeing her come alive on the page like that! Claire makes things so fun and funny. She’s got an understanding of form and strength and movement that is god-tier. Her eye for detail is incredible, and her expressions are perfection.
I know that sounds like hyperbole, but honestly, I think she is one of the most skilled and talented storytellers working in comics today, if not the most. She understands characters in a way that I aspire to! If they let me, I would work with her forever!
Nebula is admittedly a murderous space pirate, but we still root for her. Can you explain why we love this character?
Who doesn’t love a badass? Who doesn’t love someone wicked who does what they do with a smile? Confidence is an incredibly charming and attractive trait, and she’s got that in spades!
Working on this book, I went from being fascinated with Nebula, to loving her. This book is so much fun to work on, and I sincerely hope everyone finds reading it as impactful and enjoyable as I have found working on it!