Recently, a new “Heroic Age” has dawned in the Marvel Universe. After the long “Dark Reign” of the villainous Norman Osborn, Marvel's costumed champions can now walk out in the sun. However, in the shadows of this new age, a vicious war is being waged. It's a conflict between three secret powers. One is the secret terrorist cabal known as HYDRA, a longstanding organization that has been rose to prominence in the aftermath of World War II thanks to the efforts of fugitive members of the Axis Powers. Another is the secret subversive organization known as Leviathan, which was founded by renegade agents of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact nations, and recently reemerged after a long period in hiding. The third power is a private army lead by Nick Fury, the former director of the espionage organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. Fury is a long time adversary of HYDRA and his soldiers include three teams of super powered young people dubbed “Caterpillar Agents” as well as a number of ex- S.H.I.E.L.D agents.
Every month, writer Jonathan Hickman chronicles this ongoing war in “Secret Warriors” a series that primarily focuses on Fury and one of his super powered teams. Recently the three way war between Fury, HYDRA, and Leviathan heated up, with massive battles causing all three organizations to suffer great losses. In “Night,” the current and penultimate arc of “Secret Warriors,” Nick Fury is attempting a risky gamble by trying to take advantage of his opponents' losses and destroy both rival organizations for good. CBR News spoke with Hickman about “Night" and his plans for the final issues of “Secret Warriors,” which will hit stores early next year.
When Hickman began “Secret Warriors” in 2009, he had plans for about 60 issues worth of story. As the story progressed, though, the writer felt his narrative would be best served by streamlining his agenda for the series.
“We're ending at #27, but we could have gone longer than that because our numbers have stabilized to the point where we're not really losing readers on the book. Which is, of course, very nice. Now, we're not a top ten book by any stretch of the imagination, but we consistently hit around a certain number and we make a little money - and there's certainly nothing wrong with that in comics nowadays. So, yes, we could have gone longer, but once I made up my mind that we needed to shorten the series and make it a bit more compact, I didn't deviate from that,” Hickman told CBR News. “Naturally, there would be no way to extend it now because that acceleration has put us in a certain place. And, honestly, most of the things we had to sacrifice were relatively minor. Much of it had to do with getting in depth Leviathan stuff. Some of it had to do with Nick Fury's black ops team that we never saw. Some of it had to do with the other Caterpillar teams, some of it had to do with Contessa and Nick, and probably the coolest bit that got left out had to do with Madame Hydra and Gorgon. I also would have wanted to prolong Daisy and J.T. getting together as well.
“Those are sacrifices I made because I wanted to tell the main spine of my story. Probably in some ways it was a really good thing that the story became more compressed and tighter,” Hickman continued. “For my first long format work ever I'm pretty happy with the way I navigated things. Considering that a lot of this was me learning to drive the car, I'm happy I didn't wreck it and at least I didn't kill anyone [Laughs].”
When Fury began his new crusade against HYDRA in “Secret Warriors” #1, he was determined to bring the secret subversive society down for good. That dedication has cost him a great deal. In “Last Ride of the Howling Commandos,” the series' most recent arc, Fury lost much of his army in a disastrous mission against HYDRA. When “Night” began he was his usual grim, gruff, and stoic self to his primary team of Caterpillar agents, but internally he is struggling with a crisis of faith in himself and his mission. “ At the end of issue #21 Nick has lost his oldest friends to death or imprisonment. His team has been decimated and, as it stands now, might be in for even rougher days ahead,” Hickman explained. “Nick's goals look murky and unachievable at best. Fury hasn't had a good year.”
In “Secret Warriors” #21, part two of “Night”, Nick's cause suffered another blow as Gorgon, one of the members of HYDRA's ruling council, killed Fury's Caterpillar Agent Phobos. Phobos was the son of Ares, the Greek God of War, and had experienced much during the course of the series. He reunited with his estranged father and then dealt with his father's death in the “Siege” crossover. He also developed precognitive powers. In an early issue of the series he prophesied the destinies of his fellow Caterpillars and in issue #21 he foresaw his death at the hands of Gorgon.
“He's one of my favorite characters,” Hickman said. “I thought clearly he was the most interesting character when Bendis introduced everyone back in 'Mighty Avengers' #13. I liked his pedigree. I liked that his feud with his dad had a somewhat happy ending, or, at least, an acceptable resolution, and then that got snatched away. He's a great character and we'll miss him on the team.”
“Secret Warriors” #22, by Hickman and artist Alessandro Vitti, is in stores this week and picks up just seconds after Gorgon's murder of Phobos. “Issues 20-22 are one chunk of story. #23 is a stand alone story that ties into 20-22. Than issue #24 is a bridge 'Nick Fury' story. Issue #25 is the flashback to all the Zodiac stuff and how everybody ties together, which is the unfolding of the story and lets people understand what's been going on all along,” Hickman revealed. “Then issue #26 is the massive conclusion to all the little mysteries and cliff hangers. The issue is filled with double and triple crosses and all the typical, traditional spy story elements. And #27 is our wrap up issue.
“It might get a little darker before it gets better [Laughs]. This is a spy story. It's not noon. It's midnight and it's dark and everything exists in the shadows. People die, there are consequences, and you won't know what's really going on until the very end. At least I hope people won't see the end coming,” Hickman said. “Right now, I don't think they will, because I just haven't given the readers all of the pieces yet. I think issue #25 though will be a very compelling story for a lot of people. Issues 24-26 are very interesting stories that you don't see done a lot in comics. I just hope that everybody gets a kick out of reading them as much as I have writing them.”
“Secret Warriors” is coming to a conclusion, but “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” another series by Hickman, is still in its beginning stages. Recent issues of “S.H.I.E.L.D.” have contained cryptic references to both the spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D and HYDRA, leading many readers to wonder if Hickman will bring any elements or surviving characters from “Secret Warriors” into “S.H.I.E.L.D.”
“Yes and no,” Hickman said. “These things touch ever so slightly. Like with 'Fantastic Four' [which Hickman also writes], there are little gifts to the readers if they're reading everything that I do, but you certainly don't need to read the other books to get everything. As for whether 'S.H.I.E.L.D.' and a potentially reborn S.H.I.E.L.D. at some point have anything to do with each other? That's a topic that's being discussed inside of Marvel right now. Joe Quesada has feelings and Tom Brevoort has feelings. Certainly Ed Brubaker and I have feelings about it. We're just going to have to see. There's a lot of really big stuff that's going to happen next year. So I don't know if this is the right time for that story but we'll see.”
When he looks back on his work on “Secret Warriors” Hickman is very proud of what he accomplished and hopes fans of the series will enjoy its coming conclusion. “When you add in 'The List' special, and the 'Siege' and 'Dark Reign' stories, 'Secret Warriors' will have run for about 30 issues. Those issues were my schooling in mainstream comics,” Hickman said. “ I think that I did a good job. I think that the book had a quality that we've pretty much maintained throughout.
“I just got news today that Alessandro Vitti is going to be drawing the rest of the series. He stepped in and drew the rest of #21. He's drawing #22 and he had already been scheduled to do #23. He's doing the beginning and end of issue #24 because it's a story that works that way. Then he's going to do the rest,” Hickman continued. “Marvel had to move some things around to make that happen and I'm really grateful that I work for a company that understands the benefit of a book needing to be consistent as we wrap things up. So, I'm thankful for that and that we have Alessandro here at the end, and that we've done a pretty good job of producing what is a really solid midlist book at Marvel. If you've stuck around until this point, I think you're going to love how we end.”