There are some threats in the Marvel Universe that are too big for any one hero to face alone. These are the threats that originally brought the Avengers together to face, but sometimes there are giant threats that must be taken care of before the rest of the world discovers their existence. These covert threats fall under the purview of Steve Rogers' team of "Secret Avengers" established at the dawn of the recent "Heroic Age."
Because of the tragic passing of Bucky Barnes in "Fear Itself," Steve Rogers had to abandon his Super Soldier identity to once again become Captain America. A whole set of larger responsibilities comes with being Cap, so Rogers must also step down as leader of the "Secret Avengers." That doesn't mean the team is going anywhere though. This January a new era begins for the group as Captain America turns leadership of the team over to Hawkeye in "Secret Avengers" #21.1 by new writer Rick Remender and artist Patrick Zircher. That era then kicks into high gear with "Secret Avengers" #22 by Remender and new regular artist Gabriel Hardman. Remender and Hardman's run on the book was announced by Marvel yesterday at their "Avengers: Shattered Heroes" panel at New York Comic Con and CBR News spoke with both creators about their plans for the title.
The stories in "Secret Avengers" combine espionage and intrigue with super powered action; a formula that Remender knows well thanks to his work on books like "Venom" and "Uncanny X-Force."
"What I've found is that these books are highly enjoyable because of the stakes. I'm not telling blood drenched tales every issue, but the fact that I can go there every so often makes these books even more exciting to me. In 'Venom' #9 we've got some stuff coming up that we could never do in a Spider-Man comic. Likewise there have been plenty of things in 'X-Force' that you couldn't do in an X-Men book," Remender told CBR News. "I think my storytelling opportunities are wide open as long as the heavy moments are important and few and far between. I'm not restrained by tone or expectation in that regard and I think that ups the stakes and readers have responded to it."
Remender found the idea of telling those types of stories in an Avengers book very appealing and after learning that current "Secret Avengers" scribe Warren Ellis would only be penning a few issues he inquired about taking over writing duties for the book. "It tuns out that Tom Brevoort had already been considering contacting me. So we got to talking and I was like, 'Look I've got my head around this stuff right now with 'Venom' and 'X-Force' and this is the Avengers version of it," Remender explained. "I don't mind pigeonholing myself because I really do find that it's more liberating than I thought. I don't think the tone of the books I write are that far from their flagship brethren I just think that I'm allowed to do things that they're not."
Gabriel Hardman was working on Marvel's "Hulk" series with Jeff Parker when he was offered "Secret Avengers." The former "Agents of Atlas" artist welcomed the chance to return to a team book. "The challenge of drawing a team book and the variety of characters is really appealing to to me," Hardman said. "After drawing a single character book like 'Hulk' for a year I wanted something very different."
Remender and Hardman will have a large cast of characters at their disposal in "Secret Avengers." Chief among them will be the team's new leader, Hawkeye.
"I think what you've got in Hawkeye, because of his childhood, is somebody who is roguish and a little unpredictable. He's got a real sense of responsibility and a solid ethical compass, but he's also willing to go to lengths that maybe Steve Rogers isn't. That's one of the reasons that Steve chose and one of the reasons that we chose him for this book," Remender explained. "Now they're operating with a no kill rule, but we're going to put that to the test. For me there needs to be a difference between 'X-Force' and 'Secret Avengers.' This is the brighter, shinier covert operations team whereas I think 'X-Force' is a little dirtier. The fun of it is that you've got to cook up threats of such a grand scale that haven't yet boiled over and must be dealt with before they do. They're dealing with dire straits and something that they're potentially in over their heads with, but on top of that they must maintain their anonymity. They can't be seen so the team is still a secret to the villains of the world.
"One of the things I wanted to do with this first arc was really explore Hawkeye's approach to leadership," Remender continued. "Maybe there's some overcompensation because he hasn't had his own Avengers squad in awhile, and I'm interested in how I can play that off the other characters to develop him for new readers and redefine him for old ones."
Hawkeye is a character that Hardman has a great affinity for and the artist is enjoying the chance to bring him to life in "Secret Avengers."
"The first 'West Coast Avengers' miniseries was one of the early comics I remember collecting. Actually both Hawkeye and Green Arrow have always appealed to me. There's just something inherently dynamic about archer characters," Hardman remarked. "In the 'Secret Avengers' I think there's more potential for interesting character conflicts with Hawkeye in charge as opposed to someone like Steve Rogers who seems born to it. Here we get the chance to see Clint dealing with this unfamiliar group of characters as he assumes this new role."
Hawkeye has nothing but respect for Captain America, but one of the Secret Avengers he'll come into conflict with is Cap's UK counterpart Brian Braddock AKA Captain Britain, formerly of the British super group and spy agency MI-13. "He and Hawkeye have very different backgrounds. One is nobility and one is an orphan, so I'm playing them off each other a little bit," Remender said. "It's a fairly classic and traditional dynamic: you've got the guy who's doing his very best to be the shining, ethical hero that people expect him to be and that he wants to present himself as. Then we've got the guy who is still a good person and trying to do the right thing, but isn't quite concerned with doing things in the same clean and shiny way. So I see a lot of natural conflict between Captain Britain and Hawkeye and some fun stuff came out while I was writing scenes with those characters."
Captain Britain's reasons for joining the Secret Avengers tie into the one of the series mysterious villains as well as some of the team's other currently unrevealed members. "He's a character who I love quite a bit. We're developing a lot with him, with Otherworld, and with his brother Jamie and sister Elizabeth [AKA Psylocke] over in 'X-Force' at the same time that we're giving him his first taste of what life is like as an Avenger. I like things that interconnect a little bit and I tend to naturally start connecting dots like a "Beautiful Mind"-style lunatic. With the characters we're using in 'Secret Avengers' it was a natural fit to connect with some of the things that I've been doing in 'X-Force,'" Remender remarked. "So these two books, the threats and the things that they're dealing with are intersecting in ways that they're not aware of yet. Naturally, though, it would be pretty cool if those two things collided together, so maybe that's something that we're planning. Maybe 'UXF' #5.1 hints at some things coming up in 'Secret Avengers.' Maybe."
In "Secret Avengers" Captain Britain will play two roles. He's both a heroic member of the team and lord of the extradimensional reality known as Otherworld. "We've returned him to his Alan Davis outfit as the Captain Britain Corps have been put back together. They're in Otherworld," Remender stated. "One of the wrinkles added to the Captain Britain character was that his powers are based on his confidence, which I really like. That's something that we're building on and exploring for sure."
Remender is a big fan of Captain Britain and well versed in the character's lore, but "Secret Avengers" is Hardman's first major exposure to the character. "Captain Britain is almost entirely new to me. I may have read a couple issues of 'Excalibur' in the '80s, but I don't think I've ever drawn him," the artist said. "It will be a challenge to find an angle on this character."
Remender and Hardman won't just be exploring Captain Britain in this series, they'll also spotlight the realm Braddock now controls, Otherworld. "Otherworld is a dimension outside of other dimensions. I've always been fascinated by what Alan Davis, Alan Moore and Chris Claremont did with Otherworld. It's this giant place in the Marvel Universe that was built from ideas about Avalon in Jack Kirby and Stan Lee's 'Fantastic Four' run. It's not really explored that often, but I love it. I love the sword and sorcery stuff. I love the scientific magic that flows there. I love the potential, and I love the cast of characters. It's this entire corner of the Marvel Universe that's not utilized as often as it should," Remender explained. "Otherworld is also home to the Starlight Citadel, which houses this very cool tower that has a doorway to every dimension. The 616 designation for the main Marvel Universe Earth originated in a story featuring Otherworld and the Starlight Citadel."
The identities of the other members of Hawkeye's "Secret Avengers" team are currently being kept secret, but Remender was able to hint though that they will be an eclectic and diverse bunch.
"You do want characters that can delve into espionage and can deal with the covert ops. That was definitely a must, but you also want characters who can utilize their powers and skills in different ways," Remender remarked. "Like Captain Britain for example. With him if they need to they can go to any other dimension via the Starlight Citadel. That's a hell of a thing to have."
Hardman had to be equally coy about the identities of the other characters. "Loose lips sink ship!" the artist joked. "But I'll say I've never drawn any of them before. There is quite a bit of design work to do on this series, but mainly it's for the villains."
Remender and Hardman's cast in "Secret Avengers" will, of course, tackle international espionage style villains and threats, but the creators won't stop there. They view the title as having an unlimited scope and scale.
"Naturally with a team like the Secret Avengers, one of the things that's very important to me is because it's the Avengers the action can't just be international. It's got to be interdimensional, supernatural, cosmic and it's got to be drenched in big, crazy science fiction elements," Remender said. "It also has to meet that criteria that these things they are taking on aren't on the surface -- yet. It's not Kang come to destroy New York. It's somebody underneath New York building something that will slowly seep into it."
The first major threat that the Secret Avengers will have contend with under Remender and Hardman's watch comes from the rise of a new mechanical life form known as the Descendants. "The Descendants are all sentient versions of Marvel Universe robots that have been hyper-evolved and created by a man who will be familiar to readers of 'UXF.' I can't divulge their identity yet. The first wave of these are the Adaptoids. Sentinels hunt mutants. Adaptoids hunt Avengers. The Adaptoids are sentient versions of the Super Adaptoid," Remender explained. "Somebody has been up to shenanigans with all the cool different robots in the Marvel Universe and now we have the Descendants who are sentient, flesh, blood and nano-tech versions of all of them. The first wave of this new automaton revolution that we're going to be seeing in the Marvel Universe begins here in issue #22 with the Adaptoids."
The event that sets the Descendants story line in motion is the discovery of a new type of Descendant and the Adaptoids' subsequent attempt to apprehend it. "The Adaptoids are there to capture this new Descendant and bring it to their father, the Master of All. They're going to take it to a top secret place that people are going to go nuts for," Remender teased. "We're doing a lot of world building with new ideas in the Marvel Universe. We'll see a lot of the kind of stuff I did in 'Uncanny X-Force' in terms of making my own set pieces and going off and telling giant stories that are happening underneath your feet, which again is the real upshot of doing these books. So that discovery is the inciting incident, and of course the Avengers have never seen a Descendant before so things go a little sideways."
Readers of Remender's "Uncanny X-Force" know the team has also encountered several cybernetic and bio mechanical threats, most notably an army of dimension hopping Deathloks and the cybernetic X-Men adversaries, the Reavers, who appeared in "Uncanny X-Force" #5.1. "Maybe we'll see the Reavers? Maybe all that stuff I seeded in 'X-Force' #5.1 is going to turn into an entire year's worth of storylines? That would be pretty cool," the writer said with a laugh. "That 'X-Force' #5.1 story didn't really have an ending. What was Lady Deathstrike talking about in the story? Where did she download herself to? And what's going on? This has been gestating for awhile and it fits 'Secret Avengers,' but it will definitely have ramifications across the Marvel Universe, which has been fun to plan."
Rogue mechanical life forms won't be the only villains causing trouble for the "Secret Avengers." Remender also has plans to introduce an all-new Masters of Evil. "[In] issue #21.1 you'll get your first taste of the new Masters of Evil and their connection to long time series villains, the Shadow Council. It's another new threat to the Marvel Universe that the 'Secret Avengers' are the first to discover," Remender explained. "#21.1 will be drawn by Patrick Zircher and that will be my bridge from all of what's happened into what I'm doing. We'll show why Cap hands the reigns of the team over to Hawkeye and the new Masters of Evil are going to be pretty amazing. We just got approval on that cast. We've been going back and forth for awhile to make sure we can get these characters. I wanted to make sure it was a very unique group that had an immediate impact. I think people are going to go pretty nuts over these guys."
Remender also feels that readers will go nuts for Gabriel Hardman's work on characters like the Adaptoids and the Secret Avengers' new space station headquarters, the Light House. "I worked with Gabe briefly. He did about 12 pages of 'Doctor Voodoo' and they were just amazing. He's a perfect fit for not only the tone of this series, but also because he's one of those guys who never puts a giant illustration on a page ahead of telling story. Telling story comes first," Remender remarked. "This is a guy who storyboarded 'Inception' and 'The Dark Knight Rises.' He's A-List when it comes to Hollywood storyboard artists and just happens to love comics, so we're very lucky to have him in the industry and I'm very lucky to have him on this because he's an A-List artist and a hell of a storyteller to boot."
Hardman is equally thrilled to be working with Remender again. "I had a great time doing flashback sequences on the late lamented 'Doctor Voodoo' and working with Rick again was a big factor in me deciding to take this book," the artist stated. "Anyone who's read his work knows he's full of huge, inventive ideas and his 'Secret Avengers' scripts are no exception."
Hardman has just begun working on Remender's "Secret Avengers" scripts and is currently figuring out ways to capture and convey both the book's shadowy covert moments and its larger than life super hero action sequences. "I love grounded and gritty, but anyone who has read my 'Hulk' run knows I love drawing huge explosive action too," Hardman said. "I'm really just starting on the book so we'll see how my style for it develops. I think every story has its own unique style that emerges as I work on it. Pick up issue #22 in February to see what I came up with!"
Readers who pick up "Secret Avengers" #21.1 in January and #22 in February will be treated to the first pieces in a long form story that Remender is currently hard at work assembling. "I've got high concepts and have outlined stuff for the first year of this book at least. I like to have the tracks laid so I know where the train is going. That way I can seed stuff along the way," the writer explained. "I've been rewatching 'Game of Thrones' and seeing how well things were set up in the story. I appreciate that as a fan and a writer. I endeavor to know exactly where I'm going. I don't want to make things up on the fly. This way you can see intention and you can see things being planned; like how the events from 'X-Force' #5.1 are leading to ideas that we're now going to see in 'Secret Avengers.' I keep a well of ideas that will spring from other things and be touched upon later. I like to tell stories that leave potential for that and then when I touch back upon them it connects things."
New readers looking to experience Remender's ideas and Hardman's interpretation of them will have two good jumping on points with "Secret Avengers." At the same time, the duo are doing everything they can to honor and continue the work of the creators that came before them.
"We're doing our very best not to treat this as a relaunch obviously because I'm going to be very respectful of all the time and energy that Ed Brubaker, Nick Spencer and Warren Ellis put into the series so far, but with the #21.1 issue I'll do my best to present a nice bridge and resolve a few things from previous issues," Remender said. "If you miss #21.1, issue #22 is a hell of a jumping on point. If you're a fan of my 'X-Force' or 'Venom' work this is a must-have because those three books have a lot of interconnected tissue in the coming year."
Hardman added, "I hope people enjoy the work we're doing and look forward to hearing from fans who might be exposed to my work for the first time on this title. I think it's going to be an epic, exciting ride."
Remender takes over "Secret Avengers" with #21.1 in January before joined joined by Hardman on #22 in February.