With so many secret societies, cloak and dagger operations and sneaky assassin clans skulking around the Marvel Universe, it should come as no surprise that there are pieces and players in that world that fans have still never seen before. And a big part of Marvel's upcoming Daredevil-focused event "Shadowland" will be expanding upon the ins and outs of one of the universe's longest-running organizations: The Hand. Of course, just because the Hand is a ninja society doesn't mean it's a boys club, as writer Jason Henderson and artist Ivan Rodriguez will explore in August's "Shadowland: The Daughters of the Shadow" three-issue miniseries.
As the writer explained to CBR News, the series will focus on Colleen Wing – half of the '70s street duo known as the Daughters of the Shadow – joining Matt Murdock's attempts to reform the Hand as a force for good. "The alliance between Colleen Wing and Daredevil is born of a shared distaste for some of the worst criminals in the city," said Henderson, perhaps best known for his creator-owned vampire series "Sword of Dracula." "When we find Colleen, she's investigating a powerful slave ring in New York – untouchable crime lords who lure women in from overseas, steal their passports and force them to work as prostitutes. Colleen hits a brick wall, but Daredevil offers her a new plan. He's discovered things about Colleen's family history related to the Hand: it turns out that Colleen's mother was the head of an all-female hit squad in the Hand, and that all five of the original group were assassinated years ago. Now, Daredevil is offering Colleen information and her rightful place. It's her familial destiny, and hitting those notes is incredibly powerful to someone like Colleen.
"The deal works this way: in exchange for Colleen taking her rightful place in the Hand, Daredevil will give her leave and resources to pursue her investigation. And those resources, of course, include her new team. Colleen has inherited leadership of something called 'The Nail.'"
As with any major event, Marvel's introducing a few new players to the fold with "Shadowland," and The Nail represents a chance for Henderson to put his stamp on some new female assassins in hopes they'll take hold of the Marvel U. "The Nail is a group of five women, all in blood lineage to the last Nail, who are assassins for the Hand," the writer said. "In their old incarnation, their leader was Colleen Wing's mother. In their modern incarnation, Colleen inherits leadership. The other four are scary: Black Lotus, an all-around martial artist whom we've seen before, is Colleen's second, and wants to be first. There's also three new assassins: Cherry Blossom, an insane homicidal cheerleader; Yuki, who wears a white, hard mask and harkens to the Japanese Snow Demon Yuki-onna, who can freeze her enemies, and Makro, a woman whom the Hand has augmented with extra, weaponed limbs, so that she resembles the Indian Kali, or the Japanese Giant Spider-Crab. All of these women are chaotic, and Colleen has to work extra hard to keep them under control."
Though she was originally created as a stand alone character by Doug Moench and Larry Hama in 1974's "Marvel Premiere" #19, Wing has often played the role of second fiddle to her more famous partner Misty Knight, who aside from being one of the Daughter's of the Dragon has also had significant roles in classic X-Men stories and as the main squeeze of Iron Fist. Henderson explained that part of his goal in "Daughters of the Shadow" was to up Wing's stock as much as he could. "She has the Bucky problem, almost. She's always thought of as Misty's partner, and Misty is this brash, confident woman who somehow overshadows Colleen. And then she steps out of Misty's shadow and you go, wow, this woman is amazing, she's fast and agile and skilled with bladed weapons. But she doesn't patter like Misty so it's easy to miss her. Think of being that person, to be a superhero who everyone thinks of as someone else's partner. It would be like always being someone's child or someone's parent, and never just yourself.
"One of the things that made me really want to write 'Daughters of the Shadow' was the opportnity to address the relationship between Colleen and Misty," he added. "In this book, we find Colleen a short time after the falling out between Misty and Colleen. Colleen is done taking orders, but she reminds me of some really smart, competent people I know in that they're just so eager to please and be approved of. Daughters of the Shadow is about Colleen's journey into herself, to a place where she's a leader and not a follower. And of course it also means that she'll have to finally bring closure to that relationship with Misty."
In Ivan Rodriguez, Henderson said he has a partner on the series who not only can design some deadly and dangerous women (the artist's past work includes "Lady Death" and "Supergirl") but is also a collaborator in every sense of the word. "So far all I can talk about is the pre-planning stages, and Ivan rocks – he has a very good composition sense in laying out pages, but what I am impressed by is his quickness responding to notes: 'What if we make this character taller? Shorter? Older? Younger?' He's very responsive and fast, two things that are vital in a team member in comics. I can't wait to see what he pulls off."
Overall, it seems the team was tapped for their strengths in creating adventure fiction around strong women. "I'd been knocking around the Marvel U from time to time, but never had a real in-universe assignment. And honestly I hadn't been doing much comic writing, focusing on [my novel 'Alex Van Helsing'] that just came out," the writer said of his involvement. "But not long ago I wrote a Hulk alternate-universe story for Mark [Paniccia], and suddenly he popped up and said 'You've done all of these comics about female main characters ('Sword of Dracula,' 'Soulcatcher,' 'Strange Magic,' 'Sylvis Faust); how about writing one for the Marvel Universe? Except it's part of a big crossover event, and it's kind of due yesterday.' It wasn't quite yesterday, but it was close. When you get a call like that, it's really a call to pitch, to see if you have an inspiration and the editor can share in it. And in this case, I did. And voila. It came together really fast!
"Editorial knew that Colleen Wing would have an important part to play in the overall Shadowland story. Colleen herself has been an important part of the Daredevil world, and whereas Misty Knight was going to be working to stop the violent vigilanteism of the Hand, Colleen goes the other way. She finds common purpose with the Hand when she, like Daredevil, is disgusted by the crimes that keep going unpunished. When the editorial team approached me, they knew this would be a story of redemption. For me, what I became really interested in was exploring Colleen Wing as a character, and finding out what makes her tick and how much she would have to go through to want to join the Hand against her better judgment. What Daredevil would have to tempt her with, and what it would take for her to give it up."
Although Henderson hasn't been writing too many comics of late, the author has been keeping in the fictional worlds he created for the medium. "I spent the past year working on a new vampire action series called 'Alex Van Helsing,' which takes place in the same universe as 'Sword of Dracula,'" he said. "'Alex Van Helsing' is a HarperCollins YA series about a 14-year-old superspy who hunts vampires with the Polidorium, the same spy organization that his sister Ronnie belongs to in 'Sword of Dracula.' So as of May 2010, you can get 'Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising,' the first book, nearly anywhere in hardback. Meanwhile, 'Sword of Dracula' is being re-released by IDW this summer. So far the reaction to 'Alex Van Helsing' has been very strong: the School Library Journal gave us a starred review, which means lots of librarians are ordering it, and I'm doing lots of school visits. There are two more 'Alex Van Helsing' books already lined up with Harper, so the second hardback comes out in Summer 2011, along with the first paperback.
"I love writing in that universe because it's rockem-sockem vampires, vampires who plot and scheme and want to blow stuff up, so our heroes have to jump off buildings and ride motorcycles and blow more stuff up. Also there is a literary mystery related to Shelley's Frankenstein, but solving it involves blowing more stuff up. I love writing these books. Besides writing the next two 'Alex Van Helsing' books for HarperCollins, I'm putting together a new pitch for a new supernatural action YA book. Beyond that, I'd really like to do more comics. We'll see."
"Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow" will go on sale in August from Marvel Comics.