From the psychotic marksman moonlighting as Hawkeye to the crazed chief executive hiding in the shell of the Iron Patriot, the Dark Avengers currently headlining the Marvel Universe's "Dark Reign" aren't all that they seem to be. Still, even in a world where villains are heroes, some characters never change. No matter what side they're on, they're always jerks.
Word rolled out today from North Carolina's HeroesCon that the Greek war god known as Ares returns to solo action in "Dark Avengers: Ares" – a three-issue mini series by Kieron Gillen and Cary Nord. In describing the story to CBR, Gillen went back and forth between detailed descriptions of the big ideas and gut check teases as to the content, finally landing upon, "There's a lot of fighting. Manly fighting."
"The story is based around Norman Osborn having a look at his inventory of assets," the British writer best known for his Image hit "Phonogram" explained. "He's got H.A.M.M.E.R., a fledgling military-world-defense organization. He's also got, on his payroll, an actual god of war. He wants to see what happens if he puts Ares in charge of training some of his troopers, hoping for an elite-special force unit of unparalleled brilliance. He also knows that it's possible that it'll just end up with a load of mentally-crushed soldiers. But it's worth a try, eh?"
"Point being, when Ares hasn't been off being a Dark Avenger, he's been training soldiers. Ares as a drill-instructor was the initial image of the series. How far would he go? Entertainingly far, I decided. In terms of tone, it initially starts something like 'Generation Kill' in the Marvel U, except with a ancient Greek god embedded instead of a weedy journalist. It's all about rubbing Ares' ancient ideas of warfare versus the modern world's – with Ares dragging the soldiers ever further into his world."
Having been reintroduced into the modern Marvel cannon by way of Michael Avon Oeming's 2006 berserker action mini series, Ares' cache in Marvel Comics has been steadily on the rise in recent years. And for fans of the "kill first, talk later" take on the character, Gillen quickly pointed out that his series won't track his internal debate over his role in the Dark Avengers as much as it will revel in his favorite pastime. "Your assumption that blowing-up-of-shit will be a key motif is correct," the writer said. "The series is really about showing who Ares is. People have wondered both why he decided to join the Avengers under Stark and stay under Norman. I'm not going to be doing anything like have him explain it, but by throwing him through the grinder of the series, I'm hoping people will understand Him With The Awesome Axe a lot more. It's about who Ares is and why he does it...he thinks about war a lot. Which isn't exactly the same thing as *fantasizing* about war. He has a philosophy of war, forged in his past, which is increasingly alien in the modern world. He has formed it carefully. But part of the philosophy is about the primacy of action. It's not that he's going to explain this stuff to you. Explaining is what Athena does, and he's not that kind of god of war.
"What I'm trying to say is there's some serious thinking behind Ares' ultra-slaughter. By having him center stage, in a situation where he's a little more demonstrative, we get a chance to show some of what's beneath that Greek helmet."
"Dark Avengers: Ares" marks a first for Gillen in that, despite landing gigs on some name Marvel properties, this series will be his first major foray into the current Marvel Universe. "I've been inching closer to the ravishing beauty that is the Marvel U, like a nervous boy at the school disco. She has such pretty hair, everyone likes her and she'll never look like a wretch like me. Oh, what's the point? I'm going to go home, listen to the Smiths and paint my 1500 point Skaven army," the writer lamented, soon gaining his composure to add. "Yeah, this is the first time I've felt really deep in the Marvel U. 'Newuniversal' was off in its own thing. [My stories with] Dazzler and Sabretooth were both historical pieces. Even the Beta Ray Bill stuff I've been doing has either been spinning off the tail end of the main thrust of the Marvel U ('Green of Eden') or a removed from main narrative ('GODHUNTER,' which deserves capitals). But 'Ares' is right there in the dark heart of the world. If the Marvel U is a music festival, it's playing on the main stage rather than off on the Jazz or acoustic stage or whatever. We're a long way from 'Phonogram's' standing around in a night-club admiring each other's fringes, y'know?"
And with former "Conan" artist Cary Nord stepping in to the series after recent supehero stints in "Secret Invasion: X-Men" and last week's "The Trial of Thor" one-shot, Gillen expressed excitement over Ares having a penciler adept at drawing big, brawning battlers. "The pages I've seen are great. Yelp-worthily great. Generally, in a 'I can't believe they're letting me write this stuff' kind of way," he said. "[Cary's] just amazing. Well, I gave him a mass of big beefy men with swords, or the modern equivalent thereof. I'm just trying to give him a variety of war-related imagery, taking liberally from the modern world and Greek myth alike. We start with the former, and work increasingly towards the latter. Like anyone who grew up in the eighties, I have a terrible Blaine-from-Predator born love of miniguns, so they make an early showing. I wish I had an minigun. In fact, living in North London, it'd probably be helpful getting to the shops and back."
Though Ares has appeared of late as both protagonist and antagonist depending on which Marvel title one reads, Gillen made sure that there were no contradictions in his main character's outlook. "It speaks a lot about Ares that he's able to move his position around the universe without actually fundamentally changing the nature of the character. He's not a villain who turned hero or vice versa. He hasn't had a change of heart. He's just being Ares. Sometimes that means he's trying to kill Hercules. Sometimes he just saves the world. They're all direct results at how Ares sees the world."
With Norman Osborn seeing the world as one big opportunity for control, it's a certainty that some of the cloak and dagger elements of Dark Reign will come to bear on "Ares," but having only three issues to tell his tale, the writer played mum for the time being on the rest of the story's ins and outs. "It's a story which starts in quite a simple, fun way for Ares – that is, him doing this job with H.A.M.M.E.R. – and becomes complicated when new information comes to light. The story is based around the conflict between his duty to train these soldiers and his...familial duties. I think that's enough.
"Bar that, it's got a pretty tight cast. Bar the soldiers – who are stars, bless 'em, and I had a lot of fun making them up - Hera and the Greek Pantheon have pivotal roles. And obviously, Norman puts the whole thing in motion. Ares is a total scene-stealer though. He's agreeingly compelling to write. What *is* this guy going to do next? I find myself thinking as I tap away, cackling. Cackling is a good sign when writing comics, I find."
And for anyone still on the fence as to whether or not Gillen's mad cackles will tickle their fancy, the writer shared his series theorem. "Why Ares? he asked. "He's a character I like a lot – Oeming's Ares run is highly recommended – and thematically quite a few of my personal interests (ancient mythology and modern-warfare). I think we can have a lot of fun with him. And that's what attracts me to any project in comics: can it be fun? Can I entertain people with it? Can I not waste someone's time? Thats' what it's all about. I think of friends who work terrible long-hours jobs, and throwing down a few quid on a comic is the only chance to actually make their day better. If they buy your comic, they're relying you to literally provide what could be the only ray of light in that day. That's an enormous responsibility, and that's what pop-art is for. Speaking generally, that responsibility to try to entertain is more of my mind than the worry that I'm on a larger stage. The point is doing good work.
"Er... that answer turned worryingly serious. Ares has an awesome axe."
"Dark Avengers: Ares" launches this fall from Marvel Comics.