Angst & Espionage: Van Lente on "Amazing Fantasy"

Mon, March 28th, 2005 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Dave Richards, Staff Writer

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When something goes wrong in a teenager's life they feel like the world is about to end. In the case of nineteen-year old reluctant S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Carmilla Black, if something goes wrong the world may actually end. Black AKA the Scorpion is the star of a new six issue action espionage story in Marvel Comics' "Amazing Fantasy." The story arc begins in issue 7 of "Amazing Fantasy" and is written by Fred Van Lente with art by Leonard Kirk and covers by James Jean. CBR News gathered intel on the project via e-mail from writer Fred Van Lente.

The idea for the story line began with a poll on Marvel's website asking which one character would fans like to see revamped in the pages of "Amazing Fantasy." The Scorpion won the poll beating out characters like Kraven and Werewolf by Night.

Up till age 16, Carmilla Black was living an idyllic adolescent life. "The new Scorpion is an adopted girl of (apparent) half-white, half-Asian background whose birth parents gave her the name Carmilla Black," Van Lente said. "She grew up in a small town in Vermont and was a popular kid, pretty, a cheerleader. Then, around her sixteenth birthday she learns she has a particularly nasty super power - her left arm is poisonous, delivering a lethal stinging touch. This power erupts out of her when she least expects and tragedy ensues. She runs away from home and doesn't come back until three years later, and she's a hard-as-nails punk street kid."

Carmilla returns home because of tragedy. "The reason Carmilla finally comes home is that her parents are viciously murdered and she returns to Grand Falls to set their affairs in order," Van Lente explained. "Among their effects she discovers a clue to her true identity - her biological mother is the Supreme Scientist of Advanced Idea Mechanics."

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It seems that Carmilla's mother wants to be part of her daughter's life. "Now Mommy Dearest wants her back - A.I.M. goons try to nab her, but S.H.I.E.L.D. gets to her first," Van Lente told CBR News. "They flip her, they want to use her as bait to try and infiltrate A.I.M. so she can lead them to their leadership. They code name her 'Scorpion,' outfit her with the slinky Black Ops spy gear you see on the cover and send her back out into the cold. She's on an international quest to find her mother, and, in doing so, learn the secret of her true identity and the origin of her poison arm… or 'The Stinger,' as Carm has dubbed it"

Carmilla's quest to find her mother takes her across the globe, hitting four continents in six issues. "We start out in New England in #7 then hit Madripoor to #8. Carm trashes both Lowtown and Hightown while investigating the crooked orphanage where she was adopted. In #9 the scene shifts to Prague where we feature one of the most spectacular chase sequences I've ever written, I'm quite proud of it. In #10 Carmilla gets trapped between the warring factions in western Sudan, in North Africa. #11-12 is our big nail-biting finale, so I hope you understand if I keep mum about that for now.

"On her travels Carmilla befriends Troy Goddard, an American kid her age who's traveling around the world," Van Lente continued. "He claims he's trying to be a writer but his past may be as, if not more, mysterious than Carmilla's own, so she's both attracted and mistrustful of him at the same time."

Carmilla is also accompanied by her contact with S.H.I.E.L.D.. Van Lente said, "Derek Khanata is the S.H.I.E.L.D. Special Agent-in-Charge of the whole Scorpion operation, he's a big Wakandan that takes no guff from anybody."

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Derek Khanata's boss, Nick Fury, also makes an appearance in "Amazing Fantasy," but he's the only Marvel guest star to appear in the story. "Fury appears briefly in his official capacity as S.H.I.E.L.D. head, but my editor Mark Paniccia made it clear to me early on that he wanted Scorpion to stand on her own and use her own characters, not crowd the field with guest-stars right off the bat," Van Lente explained. "The bottom line is that the more guest stars show up, that's less air time your main characters have to be developed. And in a series' first six issues that's not a great idea."

The forces of A.I.M. will be the main villains for the Scorpion arc of "Amazing Fantasy." "We've really made [A.I.M.] into scary terrorists, a bunch of technophilic pseudo-anarchists who want to destroy the world in order to save it - destroy this society so it can be replaced by a 'purer,' more 'just' one," Van Lente said. "The name of the overall story arc is 'Poison Tomorrow,' so there's one clue as to how they're going to do that. And Carm's birth mother, A.I.M.'s Scientist Supreme, her name is Monica Rappaccini, so that makes Carmilla, Rappaccini's daughter. There's a big clue right there. I'll just let you Nathaniel Hawthorne fans figures that one out for yourselves."

The Scorpion arc of "Amazing Fantasy" mixes teen angst and espionage. Assistant Editor, Mackenzie Cadenhead described the story as a "Noir 'My So Called Life."

There were a number of influences on Van Lente's story and although some readers may compare The Scorpion to TV super spy Sydney Bristow any similarity between the two is coincidental. "Maybe that was Marvel's original intent, but I have to admit I've never actually, uh, seen an episode of 'Alias,' so not from my end. However, I have seen 'La Femme Nikita' (the movie, not the show) about a million times and my favorite show as a kid was all the various incarnations of TV's 'Avengers.' Strong female action characters are something of a specialty of mine so the stars really aligned when I got this assignment," Van Lente said. "There's a heavy surveillance angle to the series-that, and sort of depicting this international spy agency as what spy agencies are, these big sprawling bureaucracies that fight their own red tape and petty political battles as the bad guys, comes entirely from one of my current obsessions, HBO's 'The Wire.' Also, as my day job I work for the United Nations, so I am familiar with how international organizations actually work and, treating S.H.I.E.L.D. that way has been highly amusing to me personally. Efficient they ain't."

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Van Lente marveled at the art of his collaborator, Leonard Kirk. "Len is pouring his heart and soul into this project," he said. "The action is top-notch and he's really creating a terrific character in Carmilla, who's cute and self-reliant at the same time. He's making all our varied locales look like eye-candy and fans will not be disappointed."

If the latest arc of "Amazing Fantasy" sells well, The Scorpion will appear again in another mini-series or ongoing book. Van Lente already has ideas on where he wants to take Carmilla Black next. "The Marvel Universe has so many great components to stage a really kick-ass espionage series. I want to have Carm, in future missions, lock horns with villains like The Chameleon, who seem ready-made for a spy series. I also want to send her to as many of the Marvel foreign countries as possible. She's already going to Madripoor, why can't we have her spying on Doc Doom in Latveria? I'm a big fan of Priest's 'Black Panther' series, and those scars on S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Khanata's cheeks link him to the villainous White Wolf, so I have a whole story line in mind for Scorpion where she tangles with the 'Pantherverse' in Wakanda."

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