When the Marvel Universe's "Heroic Age" began last year several different divisions of the Avengers were established. The cast of characters in "Avengers" served as the team's most prominent public face, while Luke Cage's team of "New Avengers" relinquished their outlaw status. Their endorsement by America's top super cop, Steve Rogers, freed them up to openly practice their own brand of super heroics. Meanwhile Hank Pym and several other prominent Avengers were brought in to teach the troubled super-powered youth of "Avengers Academy."
The public became aware of the "Avengers" and "New Avengers" shortly after they formed, and later discovered the existence of "Avengers Academy." Yet there is still another team of Avengers; a clandestine group led by Steve Rogers who have recently begun undertaking missions. Rogers and his teammates Sharon Carter, Black Widow, Beast, Valkyrie, Moon Knight, Ant-Man, and War Machine are the stars of the ongoing "Secret Avengers" series. On April 27th, a new era begins for the title as writer Nick Spencer and artist Scot Eaton take over the series for a four-issue run beginning with #12.1. CBR News spoke with Spencer about his plans for the book, which include exposing the team's activities to the public and a tie-in to Marvel's current event saga, "Fear Itself."
"Secret Avengers" #12.1 is a standalone tale that is part of Marvel's new reader friendly Point One initiative. In the issue, Spencer shakes things up for Steve Rogers's super heroic black ops unit by dragging them into the public eye. "I don't personally think that the team has really been a top secret classified team. I do think they've been operating in the shadows, though. The main Avengers team has been sort of the public face of what Steve is doing and the New Avengers have been sort of an independent offshoot of that and been allowed to do their own thing," Spencer told CBR News. "So Steve has been holding the Secret Avengers very close to his chest and has not been advertising their existence or their operations. One of the things we'll talk about in this story is how people might respond to that and how they might feel about him doing something like that."
While "Secret Avengers" is a team book, much of the action in #12.1 will revolve around or be seen from the perspective of Steve Rogers. "One of the really interesting things about Steve, at this point in his life, is for the first time he's really Cabinet level. He's military leadership now. He's always been able to be sort of a field captain, a symbol and an independent operator. Now, by request of the president, and not because he wanted the job, he's been forced into a role where we've normally seen guys with much more moral ambiguity; guys like Nick Fury, Tony Stark, and Norman Osborn. So Steve's natural idealism and that strong moral fiber that he has means that this is a whole new set of challenges," Spencer said. "He's going to be confronted by someone who's not happy with the job that he's doing and doesn't seem terribly convinced that he's all that different from Fury, Stark or Osborn. So he's going to have to answer that. It's a little story about accountability. It's a story about being on the other side of the fence and how people know you're doing the right thing.
"It's a fun story for me because it plays around with a lot of elements of the 'Captain America' stories that I loved as a kid, the Mark Gruenwald stuff. I don't want to spoil things, but there's some really fun elements of those stories you'll see early on that I wanted to reincorporate here and there's a new character who is very much in line with what Mark used to do," Spencer continued. "One of the fun challenges was taking my two favorite eras of Captain America stories -- Ed Brubaker's current stories and those classic Gruenwald stories -- and finding that connection. I'm trying to take the best elements of both eras for one story."
In "Secret Avengers" #13 Spencer kicks off a three-part storyline that ties into "Fear Itself" and spotlights three different team members. "I think so far in 'Secret Avengers' Ed [Brubaker, who wrote 'Secret Avengers' #1-12] has done an amazing job of showing them as a team and I think he's done an amazing job showing Steve as a leader. So I have the opportunity to come in and take 22 pages and really focus on characters like Beast, Black Widow, and Valkyrie during 'Fear Itself,'" Spencer explained. "I love those sort of character study issues. I do it a lot with 'T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents' and 'Morning Glories.' I'm a sucker for those issues where you'll see other members of the team will still have roles to play in the story, but in that month's issue we'll be looking through the eyes of one particular team member."
Spencer found inspiration for his "Fear Itself" tie-in in the way writer Brian Michael Bendis handled the issues of "New Avengers" and "Mighty Avengers" that tied into the "Civil War" and "Secret Invasion" storylines. "In these big event stories huge things happen, but we can only spend a couple pages on them because we have to get to the next big thing that's happening. What we really have an opportunity to do in these Avengers tie-ins, in my opinion, is to really take that big splash page that you saw in 'Fear Itself' and do 22 pages of how that affects a certain character's life," Spencer remarked. "I want to take a huge moment and turn it into a huge story for an individual character. So all of these 'Fear Itself' chapters will take something that happened in 'Fear Itself' that month and turn it into a personal story for one of the Secret Avengers."
Each "Fear Itself" tie-in issue of "Secret Avengers" will feature the perspective of one team member, but a whole host of characters will be involved in the action. "For the Avengers it's sort of an all hands on deck response to what happens because Matt Fraction is telling such a massive story in 'Fear Itself,' and it affects all corners of the Marvel Universe. Big things are happening all the time. So all of the Avengers are going to be called into deal with this," Spencer said. "We're going to take some time with Beast, Black Widow, and Valkyrie and see how what happens in 'Fear Itself' impacts and affects them, and what they're doing while things are happening in the main story. You'll still see the other team members though. Ant-Man and War Machine will have an extensive role. You'll see Moon Knight, Shang-Chi, Sharon and Steve but it's really front and center on those three characters."
Spencer also writes of the ongoing "Iron Man 2.0," which stars War Machine AKA James "Rhodey" Rhodes. Beginning with "Secret Avengers" #12.1, Rhodey will be clad in the new War Machine armor that made its debut in "Iron Man 2.0" #3.
"The new armor is going to be everywhere that Rhodey is," Spencer said. "And Rhodey is making new friends. Ed established a really fun dynamic between Rhodey and Eric O'Grady, the new Ant-Man. I really fell in love with that dynamic [and] I've had a lot of fun writing both of those guys. To some extent during the three 'Fear Itself' issues they're sort of the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the book, and I've had a lot of fun writing them."
Spencer couldn't reveal much about the antagonists or other supporting players in the "Fear Itself" tie-in issues of "Secret Avengers." "Like I said before, everything that they're facing and everything that they're fighting spins directly out of 'Fear Itself,'" Spencer offered. "In my opinion as a reader there are close tie-ins and distant tie-ins. I really wanted this to be a close tie-in. I wanted this to be something that you pick up right with the main book and feel like it's really adding something to the story."
Scot Eaton has been drawing comics since the early '90s and Spencer feels the veteran artist is producing some of his best work ever for "Secret Avengers." "Scot is fantastic. His pages on the Point One issue are gorgeous. The man is a machine. He's fast and he's a great storyteller. In the Point One issue in particular, it's really challenging because it's a done-in-one story with a lot of ground to cover. He killed on it though," Spencer remarked. "Scot is somebody I'd love to work with for a long time because I like how he operates. I like how he thinks about the page and I like his style. I think it's perfect for this book. I think readers are really going to drop their jaws when they see the work he's doing here."
Spencer's run on "Secret Avengers" may be short, but the writer wants to make sure it's memorable. He intends for each issue to be epic in scope, but intimate and personal in terms of perspective. "That's what I try to do all the time. I really want to tell stories that people can connect to on an emotional level, so they can care about the characters," the writer said. "I like writing high concept stuff and I like writing action, but what really intrigues me and gets me cranking out pages is when I feel like I'm getting to the core of who a character really is and what their role in the story is. I think these 'Fear Itself' stories are gut wrenchers. They're meant to pull on your heart strings. That can be a tough thing to do in comics. I think back to things like Warren Ellis' 'Planetary.' That series hit you in the heart and I'm hoping we can do something along those lines.
"Working on this book has been real blast," Spencer continued. "I just got to Marvel and to get a chance to play in one of their biggest sandboxes on a cool event like this is a dream come true for me. This is why I wanted to write stuff at Marvel. It's been a lot of fun so far and I'm very excited to see how people respond to it. It's probably the biggest assignment of my career so far, so I really hope I get it right."