Spoiler Alert: The following interview contains spoilers about Rick Remender's upcoming "Secret Avengers" arc beginning in issue #33.
Strange and frightening menaces are a common occurrence in the Marvel Universe. In recent years, it's weathered alien invasions and the onslaught a malevolent Fear God and his avatars. Weird crises often pop up in the Marvel U -- largely unbeknownst to the general populace due to the Secret Avengers, a team of Earth's Mightiest Heroes tasked with neutralizing clandestine threats before they become a worldwide problem.
In "Secret Avengers" #29 by writer Rick Remender and artist Matteo Scalera, the team tackles the latest crisis, confronting old adversaries the Shadow Council, who have formed their own incarnation of the villainous super group known as the Masters of Evil.
Remender's regular cast of "Secret Avengers" includes team leader Hawkeye, Captain Britain, Beast, Valkyrie, Ant-Man, Venom and Black Widow -- but the roster has changed since the "Avengers Vs. X-Men" tie-in arc. In fact, new readers may not know Ant-Man's fate when the Secret Avengers tangled with the Descendants, a clandestine automaton conspiracy, in Remender's first "Secret Avengers" arc.
"In our first Descendants story, we set up this bubbling plot where Ant-Man, Eric O'Grady, was killed and replaced with a Life Model Decoy who basically has all of Eric's memories. It's almost like he died, everything went black and he woke back up with Father, the leader of the Descendants, standing over him," said Remender. "I don't want to reveal too much of the deal they make and how this all works out, but Eric is still Eric. He's a Life Model Decoy dealing with the fact that he's an artificial person. He has his own his motivations for serving Father and the Descendants and that's going to play a huge role coming up because the Secret Avengers now have a spy within their ranks.
"Eric is a complex character," Remender continued. "He was established to be a bad guy and sort of a dirt bag. Even when he attempted redemption, it always fell flat, like a selfish and slightly rotten person putting on a pose. This story is going to keep with that theme. It's going to play into who the character has been as well as developing him into a new character known as the Black Ant, which Art Adams has designed and is amazing!"
The Secret Avengers battled the Descendants in Remender's first full arc, but in his first issue on the title, #21.1, Remender sent team leader Hawkeye and Captain America to the outlaw nation of Bagalia where they battled the mysterious Shadow Council, where the secret society established a new version of the Avengers' old arch-enemies, the Masters of Evil. In "Secret Avengers" #29, Remender kicks off a story where Hawkeye's team will learn just how dangerous the Shadow Council and their new Masters of Evil are.
"Bagalia, also known as the Red Light Nation, is our setting for our next four issues. When cooking this up with depredated series artist Gabe Hardman it was important to us both that we pick back up all of what Ed [Brubaker] had laid down about the Shadow Council and their motivation to bring the Abyss here to Earth. That's the big story," Remender said. "While this story introduces a lot of new ideas, it's also a nice ending and new beginning for all of the things that Ed set up. That way, long time readers don't feel like those ideas were just thrown out. As a reader, I always liked it when new writers made sure to pick up old threads and keep everything going. This is that."
The Avengers have quashed several of the Shadow Council's operations, which is why the mysterious villain organization has formed its own super group. In "Secret Avengers" #21.1, readers met the initial recruits in the Council's version of the Masters of Evil: Princess Python, Vengeance and Whiplash -- and their ranks have only continued to grow.
"The new Masters of Evil are an army. Why they've come together and how is a lot of fun," Remender said." In issue #29 you get your first taste of just how many villains have joined and the scope of what the Shadow Council and their chief operative, Max Fury, Nick's villainous Life Model Decoy, are putting together here."
As the story of the Masters of Evil and the Shadow Council's latest operation unfolds, readers will see more of the country of Bagalia and its night life -- like bar known as The Hole, which caters to a very specific clientele. "It's a super villain bar. It's in a giant crater created by the Molecule Man when he was fighting with Radioactive Man and it went a little haywire. I like the idea that the villains in the city don't necessarily all get along and they have this place to get drunk and rowdy," Remender explained. "So Arcade has opened up a bar at the bottom of this crater and it's got a reputation as a place where the worst of the worst go. You don't go down there unless you're ready to get into a fight with the Wrecking Crew, or a punch up with the Bi-Beast, or have Letha and Lascivious come at you. It's a very rowdy place. So where better to have a fight between Venom and Taskmaster?"
Taskmaster will play an adversarial role in the story that kicks off in "Secret Avengers" #29, but readers shouldn't assume the mercenary villain has sided with the Shadow Council and the Masters of Evil. "The Taskmaster represents a third party with interest in what's going on in Bagalia," Remender remarked. "His true agenda will have a really big reveal and payoff in issue #30, I believe."
Artist Gabriel Hardman was originally slated to bring the Taskmaster and the Master of Evil to life for "Secret Avengers" #29-32, but he had commitments elsewhere. Matteo Scalera ("Wolverine & the X-Men," "Valen the Outcast") stepped in and Remender was tremendously impressed by the Scalera's work on the book.
"We were really lucky to get Matteo Scalera to come in. In my opinion he's a superstar and I'm so excited for people to get to see what he's been doing." Remender said. "Matteo is good at everything. He's one of those guys who is an amazing story teller and an amazing illustrator with very expressive, wonderful acting. Plus, he's a world-class inker. His inks are jaw dropping. So he's just as good as it gets. In this story, I'm giving Hawkeye and all my cast members big, big action sequences that are fluid and read like a film, and he's one of these guys because he has such an amazing grasp of storytelling I could literally take all the text off the page and the story would still be there."
The Secret Avengers' latest battle against the Shadow Council comes to a close in issue #32, but their ongoing crusade against Max Fury continues in November's "Secret Avengers" #33 as the team turns their attentions back to the Descendants.
"While the events with the Shadow Council and the Masters of Evil are going on, the stuff with the Descendants is boiling in the background. So the events of issues #29-32 lead into the next five issues, which will primarily involve the Descendants and their rise," said Remender. "We'll deal with these sentient automatons in the Marvel Universe who want the same rights as humans, mutants and everyone else, but are being lead by Father, a man with a violent and dangerous motivation and methodology. It also examines the question of at what point do we acknowledge artificial intelligence as life? At what point does the intellect no longer become artificial? When does artificial intelligence become the same as or more powerful than the human brain?"
Artist Andy Kuhn will kick off "Rise of the Descendants" with issue #33 with Matteo Scalera returning to finish up the story. "Andy is an artist who I've been in love with forever. He is equal parts Mike Mignola, Tim Sale, and Frank Miller," said Remender. "The issue that he's drawing is the first appearance of Black Ant. It deals with the Descendants and their ultimate plot and moving that forward. This is going to be Earth shattering stuff. This is no longer hidden under the ground. They're going to rise up."
"Rise of the Descendants" means Remender's next "Secret Avengers" arc will feature plenty of the science fiction elements he's known for, but the story will also include a heaping helping of the supernatural. "Captain Britain and Hawkeye will go on a mission to Otherworld where they use the Star Light Citadel to travel to another dimension. Once there they must acquire something," the writer said. "They end up on Earth 666 where they go up against the Avengers of the Supernatural, which is comprised of FrankenCastle, Cap Wolf, Vampire Wolverine, actual Spider-Man and a mummified Thor. There are monster versions of other characters as well. That story will build and build as the B story throughout all of this. So there will be a lot of big stuff happening on Earth 666 with the Avengers of the Supernatural."
Fans of Remender's other Marvel work, such as "Uncanny X-Force," know the writer has a fondness for seeding plot and character elements that pay off in later stories in a large way, something he's been building with "Secret Avengers" ever since his the beginning of his run. "Rise of the Descendants" is his big payoff arc.
"If you've been reading the series so far you're going to get all of your pay outs. There's no thread left dangling. We're also setting up new status quos for a lot of things that I've been seeding since issues 21.1 and 22. So everything that I set up with the Masters of Evil and the Descendants is going to come to a big head and pay out in big ways that will have ramifications on into the future," said Remender. "This is going to be the biggest story that's ever happened in 'Secret Avengers.' It starts as a secret and blows up into something that is earth shatteringly huge and will have ramifications throughout the Marvel Universe in a big way."
"Secret Avengers" #29 goes on sale July 25.