Marvel Comics fans know the original “Avengers” line-up first assembled on a day unlike any other. Readers of “New Avengers” know that fateful day may have come much earlier than anyone originally believed. In the series’ recently completed “Infinity” arc writer Brian Michael Bendis told a story set in the present with the book’s present day members illustrated by Mike Deodato, and a story set in the past featuring art by Howard Chaykin. The story set in the past took place in 1959, and in it the U.S. President tasked war hero Nick Fury with creating a special “Avengers Initiative,” a team of highly skilled and super powered operatives that would take on secret missions. Over the course of the five-issue storyline, Fury assembled his team and led them on their first assignment, to shut down a secret Nazi cabal attempting to create their own Captain America.
This fall, Fury and his team return for another action-packed, top-secret mission in the five-issue “Avengers 1959” miniseries written and drawn by Chaykin. CBR News spoke with him about the project beginning in October.
“Infinity” originally came about because Chaykin approached Bendis with the idea of doing a Nick Fury story in a context similar to the AMC television series “Mad Men.” The idea grew and eventually became part of a “New Avengers” arc, but Chaykin felt the story worked out beautifully. It featured a large cast of interesting characters, and Nick Fury was still front and center for all the action. That suited Chaykin just fine because the writer/artist is a longtime fan of the character. His past Nick Fury stories include books like 1976’s “Marvel Spotlight” #31 where Chaykin teamed with writer Jim Starlin to tell a story that introduced the concept of the Infinity Formula, the secret chemical concoction that keeps Fury young. There is also 1989’s “Wolverine/Nick Fury,” an original graphic novel by Chaykin and writer Archie Goodwin that brought Fury face to face with Mikel, the son he never knew he had.
It comes as no surprise that Chaykin is very excited to be writing Nick Fury again, especially the 1959 incarnation of the character. “I was born in 1950. My older relatives were all vets of either the Second World War and or Korea. It really did inform the life we lived. I was nine years old in 1959 and aware and reading comics. So to a certain extent I’ve kind of become the go-to guy in comics in general for period material because I seem to have a pretty good handle on conveying visually and textually a sensibility that’s markedly different from contemporary senses,” Chaykin told CBR News. “What it is about Fury that I like, is that he really is a guy who is old enough to have genuinely experienced the horror of the Second World War and young enough to still be active and vital at this point. And for me it wasn’t just because he looked like him, but my backstory in my head for Fury, because of where he was born and raised, is that in another universe he would have been Burt Lancaster.
“Lancaster was a guy who was born and raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan who became an acrobat in a circus and ultimately moved from that into heroic movie roles and then became a great character actor. Fury is a guy who is a product of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He’s a Yancy Street guy in the most basic way. I really like that aspect of this guy. He’s a New Yorker born and bred whose seen the world and has a world view that’s both global and local,” Chaykin continued. “The story that Brian and I told took place before Fury became a super spy. In that story, and in this one as well, you’re seeing Nick Fury stepping up to the plate to become the guy we know he’s going to become.”
Nick Fury isn’t the only member of the 1959 Avengers with a special place in Chaykin’s heart. Chaykin created Dominic Fortune and introduced him in in the pages of the black and white Marvel Magazine “Marvel Preview” #2 in 1975. Before his most recent return to the character with “Infinity,” Chaykin wrote and drew a four-issue “Dominic Fortune” miniseries for Marvel’s MAX imprint.
“I always figured that Fortune was a couple years older than Fury. In my head, Fortune served in the Spanish Civil War. If I ever get a chance to do another Fortune miniseries I’d love to show his experiences during that conflict,” Chaykin remarked. ” And again, like Fury, he’s a New Yorker. Unlike Fury though, he fled New York and built a new life and identity for himself in California. So by the time we meet him again in ’59 he’s a bit more weathered, a bit more cautious than he would have been in the ’30s and ’40s, and has a more sanguine view of life. Perhaps he’s more fatalistic.”
In “Infinity” Fortune was the second person Nick Fury recruited for his Avengers team. His first was Wolverine’s savage arch-enemy, Sabretooth, and Sabretooth wouldn’t be the only recruit with a primal edge. The team also included Spider-Man’s foe Kraven the Hunter and his girlfriend at the time, Namora of the “Agents of Atlas.” In “Avengers 1959” Chaykin will explore the dynamic between these three fierce characters.
“These were the characters that were handed to me, and in that first story we hinted at some bad blood between Kraven and Sabretooth. As we speak I’m working on the panel break downs for issue #4. I did a sequence that directly addresses some of that,” Chaykin explained. “It was one of those moments where I’m flying by the seat of my pants and wondering how I’m going to solve this problem and it was like ‘O’Brien to Ryan to Goldberg.’ It’s like a triple play. It started with this, goes here, and then boom! The tag line is sort of Namora’s dismissive, ‘Whatever, he’ll get over it.’ So there is that. You’ve got those three characters who are barely contained by civilization.”
Rounding out Fury’s Avengers recruits in “Infinity” were two other characters with hunting backgrounds, but better able to blend into civilization: monster hunter Ulysses Bloodstone, and Nazi hunter Ernst Sablinova (AKA the original Silver Sable). Chaykin is keeping those characters in reserve for “Avengers 1959” and plans on exploring them more in a possible sequel. This allows him to put the spotlight on some new characters that will be joining the team with this series, like the Golden Age female crime fighter known as the Blonde Phantom.
“Bloodstone and Sable have got other lives to deal with and they didn’t seem to give me what I needed from a creative perspective. Replacing them with the Blonde Phantom was a big choice. It meant fewer characters to service, but there are still a lot of characters to service,” Chaykin stated. “I spent 15 years in television, and one of the things you learn in television is, if you’ve got an ensemble cast you’ve got to figure out a way to balance those characters. And servicing Bloodstone and Sable for what they were able to do seemed counterintiutive and less fun than servicing the relationship that exists between Kraven and Sabretooth, between Kraven and Namora, and between Fortune and Fury. It just seemed to undercut things.
“I brought the Blonde Phantom in because I felt we needed another feminine touch. I didn’t think Miss America would be appropriate, and for the kind of work this character is doing we will draw on the international stage,” Chyakin continued. “She’s not the only new team member. We’ve also created a brand new character who brings a little more to the table than what originally meets the eye. He shows up in the first issue and is kind of a ‘ghost in the machine’ in a lot of ways.”
“Avengers 1959” picks up a few weeks after the end of the “Infinity” arc in “New Avengers” and finds the titular team pursuing a different target. “They’re not after the Red Skull this time. Basically they’re up against that nascent network of post-World War II fascist villains that’s slowly coming together,” Chaykin said. “There’s also a third party, which I will not go into, that is instrumental in stirring up a storm between our heroes and those villains. That sort of complicates things radically.”
The battle against the fascist villains and their mysterious enemy will take Nick Fury’s team of Avengers all across the globe. “I’m having an enormous amount of fun with the setting. One of the things is no cell phones and no super sonic jets. The technology that’s featured in this story is real technology, for the most part, with some obvious adjustments,” Chaykin remarked. “We’re going to take a look at New York in the 1950s, and we’re going to visit Madripoor and some of the great kingdoms of Marvel history.”
Over the course of their travels Chaykin’s protagonists will come face to face with a number of different Marvel characters operating in that time period. “We’ll see other characters from that period show up in cameos and guest spots, which I will not talk about,” Chaykin teased. “But expect some fun and recognizable faces.”
For Chaykin, scripting the action and character interactions is just half the fun of “Avengers 1959.” He’s also enjoying the chance to bring all the action to life.
“I’m having a great time. I get to draw stuff I like to write and write stuff I like to draw. Who can argue with that? It’s a dream! When Tom [Brevoort] called me about the job, I jumped on it like a dog on a bone. I told him it was a dream job for me. It’s exactly the sort of stuff I like to do. I like to draw people in clothes and I like doing research. When you combine my reference file with Google I don’t have to fake anything. I see no reason to,” Chaykin said. “When I lived in New York I was a serious clothes horse. I gave up my suits when I moved to California, but I still keep current. I still subscribe to men’s and women’s fashion magazines to maintain a current look, but I also have tons of shit that dates all the way back to the 17th century, so I don’t have to fake anything.”
Chaykin ultimately wants “Avengers 1959” to be a project where the story and art combine to deliver an epic, action-packed, character-driven, tale. “For me it’s basically punching, killing, and explosions. People always assume I’m a huge pulp fan and I’m really not. My familiarity with pulp stuff is actually limited. I have to do research on that as much as anything else,” the writer/artist remarked. “I’d certainly say there’s no dearth of action. If you found that atmosphere from the ‘New Avengers’ story appealing, there’s plenty of that too because this is what I like to do; character moments and action. What could be better?”