One of the most entertaining aspects of Marvel’s comic book and cinematic universes is the free flowing exchange of ideas between the two. Seeing iconic Marvel characters like Captain America and Iron Man brought to life by talented actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans is great, but it’s equally entertaining to watch original characters created for the MCU like Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson and Ming-Na Wen’s Melinda May on ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” introduced into the comics where the scope and scale of the action is limited only by the imagination of creators assigned to their adventures.
â€¨First introduced in Marvel Studios’ “Iron Man,” Coulson made his comics debut in 2012’s “Battle Scars” miniseries and has since become a vital part of the Marvel U. His “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” colleagues including Melinda May, Leo Fitz and Gemma Simmons have only been part of the Marvel Universe since writer Mark Waid introduced them in his recently concluded “S.H.I.E.L.D.” series which debuted late last year and found characters like Coulson, May, Fitz, Simmons and the Marvel Universe incarnations of Quake and Mockingbird teaming up with a number of Marvel’s biggest characters.
This January, “Arrow” Executive Producer Marc Guggenheim teams with artist GermÃ¡n Peralta to take the adventures of Coulson and company to new and unlimited heights with the ongoing “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” series; a high octane spy-fi thriller that sends its titular characters to some of the Marvel Universe’s most exotic locales. CBR News spoke with Guggenheim about the plans his cast, the addition of new member Deathlok and the role Hydra members like Wolfgang Von Strucker and the comic book incarnation of Grant Ward will play. The writer also discusses the series’ initial arc that finds Coulson’s love for the heroes of the Marvel Universe is turned against them.
CBR News: What is it like to have the opportunity to write a new “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” series for Marvel? Between this and your day job on “Arrow” it seems like you’re living the dream, working on comics and TV projects for both Marvel and DC.
Marc Guggenheim: I am so remarkably fortunate to do the work that I get to do. Especially these days. Every project I’m working on is just fanboy wish fulfillment for me, and I’ve always been a huge S.H.I.E.L.D. fan. It’s so much fun to do a James Bond-style espionage concept in the Marvel Universe. I’ve thought that was cool ever since I was a little kid. So this is a great deal of fun for me.
In the “All-New, All-Different Point One” special we got a glimpse of your characters in action. It appears that Phil Coulson is team leader and a field operative; Mockingbird, Quake, and Deathlok are sort of your super agents; and you have a support team in the form of May, Fitz and Simmons. Was that story indicative of the types of how the team will function in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”?
Yeah, it’s very, very indicative. The way I’ve structured it is that there’s the “Brawn” team and the “Brains” team; or the Operations team and the Intel team. I don’t want to reduce May, Fitz and Simmons to support because, as you’ll see, they’ll be out in the field also and doing some cool things. This is just a helpful shorthand.
Coulson is the head of both branches. He’s out in the field when necessary and he’s back at home base when necessary. For me, it’s a cool way to service a large cast of characters. We’ve got a cast of seven and I always need to have cool things for everybody to be doing.
What kind of role does the cast play within the larger S.H.I.E.L.D. organization? Are they sort of a special unit operating solo or will they be reporting to Maria Hill and Nick Fury?
I’m treating them as a special unit. It’s very much in the vein of how they were in the first season of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, back when S.H.I.E.L.D was a going concern in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So they’re operating on their own. They’ve got their own base of operations, a cool new vehicle called the Battlecarrier.
If you think of the Helicarrier as a flying aircraft carrier, the Battlecarrier is a flying battleship. So it’s got a little more muscle behind it than your average Helicarrier. It’s a fun, cool new design.
As far as the interactions with Maria Hill and Nick Fury, there’s going to be fairly significant interaction with Maria Hill as a result of the upcoming “Avengers: Standoff” crossover, which we’ll be a part of. So you’ll definitely be seeing other parts of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Let’s talk some more about your individual cast members. What’s your sense of Phil Coulson? Has he changed at all in terms of personality or perspective when you pick up with him eight months after “Secret Wars” in this new series?
No, not so much. I’m trying to write him very faithful to the way Mark Waid had written him in the previous “S.H.I.E.L.D.” series. One of the things I really liked about what Mark lent to the character was this super fascination and great knowledge of the Marvel Universe. That actually continues not only into this series, but it also plays a pivotal role in our first arc.
The super powered “Brawn” team features a new agent in the form of the latest Deathlok, Henry Hayes. In his ongoing series Henry, a former soldier, found himself dragged into the world of super-powered espionage. How is he adjusting to this new life when you pick up with him?
I’d say he’s adjusting surprisingly well. I love the character of Deathlok and its — his? — different incarnations. And honestly, the reason I included Henry was because he’s cool. He’s a fun character to write, and hopefully in the future we’ll get a chance to go home with him and experience what brought him to S.H.I.E.L.D. and how he feels about it.
So eventually you’ll want to have his daughter appear in the book?
Absolutely. I have two daughters. So it’s always fun writing father-daughter stories whenever I can do so organically.
The “Point One” issue also showed Mockingbird in her new costume, which we first saw in “Amazing Spider-Man.” So she’ll be juggling her role in that title and this one. Does that mean we might see Spidey appear in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”?
As the last panel of the “Point One” story indicates, you’ll definitely be seeing Spidey in the book. It’s a great deal of fun to have Mockingbird in both Spider-Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. She’ll also be getting some cool, new tricks up her sleeve beyond just the new costume thanks to her association with Spider-Man.
Plus, further down the line she’ll be getting her own series from Chelsea Cain.
Yes! I’m super excited about that!
Between the “Point One” story and some of the promo art I’ve, it looks like Hydra will be a big part of the story you’re telling. You even reintroduced the organization’s most infamous leader in that first story. Why bring back Wolfgang Von Strucker?
I just like the character a lot. He’s a lot of fun. I particularly like the way he was portrayed in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” And for me, Hydra should be a slow burn. When you write a S.H.I.E.L.D. comic and you deal with Hydra it’s kind of like when you’re writing a Fantastic Four comic and you’ve got Doctor Doom. You’ve got to bring that big bad onto the stage in exactly the right way and at exactly the right time, and I’m very much a big believer in waiting to hit the right note when we actually do that.
That same story also suggested it won’t just be familiar Marvel Universe Hydra leaders appearing in your series — on the last page there was a character that looked very much like Grant Ward. Can we take this as confirmation that you’re bringing Ward into the Marvel Comics Universe?
Yes, but I want to do it in what will hopefully be a surprising way. I don’t want to talk about them here, because I want people to read the book, but I’ve got really cool plans for introducing Grant to the Marvel Universe.
What sort of state is Hydra in when you pick things up with them? In “Captain America: Sam Wilson” we recently found out that one of the organization’s many heads was severed by Sam in the eight months before that series began.
I’m chatting with Marvel right now about Hydra. Plans are afoot.
That’s interesting. Since you can’t say more about Hydra, what other antagonists can readers expect your agents to go up against?
One of the big antagonists for S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to be the United States military. One thing that I think has been relatively unexplored in past incarnations of S.H.I.E.L.D. is how the non-S.H.I.E.L.D. parts of the United States infrastructure feel about the organization. S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t just an intelligence organization. It’s also a paramilitary organization with a whole lot of fire power behind them, and as we know the United States likes to swing the biggest stick on the playground.
So we’re going to be introducing a brand new character; a military general who works for the Department of Defense and he’s got some plans on how to deal with S.H.I.E.L.D. that I would say put the United States government in direct opposition to S.H.I.E.L.D.
I’m most familiar with the work your artistic collaborator, GermÃ¡n Peralta, has done on books featuring some of Marvel’s most twisted characters like Carnage and Moon Knight. What are you enjoying about the flavor he’s bringing to “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”?
I’m loving working with German, and our colorist Rachelle Rosenberg is absolutely spectacular. She’s a perfect fit for German’s style.
â€¨What I love about German’s art is it conveys a sense of sophistication that makes the series feel like this is a high-end art house or independent book. That may be the wrong way to say that and this might be as well, but it gives things a Warren Ellis kind of feel, which I like a lot. What’s fun is to contrast his style, which is more sort of indy with the very mainstream Marvel Universe stories that we’re telling. So it gives you a really cool, new way of looking at the Marvel Universe. I think that’s a lot of fun.
Let’s finish up by talking a little more about your initial arc of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” I believe it’s titled “The Coulson Protocols.” Can you get into what that means, specifically?
Like I said, I was picking up on Mark Waid’s characterization of Coulson being the perfect expert on all things Marvel Universe. His introduction in the first issue of Mark’s run was that Coulson knows everything there is to know about super heroes. So I got to thinking, “How could all that knowledge be corrupted and used against the super heroes?”
â€¨So what Coulson finds out in the first issue is that he’s unwittingly placed all the heroes that he worships in great danger by thinking up all these different ways that they can be taken down. So it’s all about Coulson making this discovery and trying to get that genie back in the bottle before really horrible people can do equally horrible things to all the heroes that Coulson worships.
So Coulson has sort of came up with a Batman-style gambit?
Yes, very much so. There are going to be comparisons I’m sure to the “JLA” storyline “Tower of Babel,” which quite frankly made me a little trepidatious to approach this story. I didn’t want people to just think I was ripping that story off, but I think you’ll find the way it all plays out is very different.
First, Coulson’s motivations are 180 degrees away from Batman’s motivations. So the character motivations at the heart of the story and, thus, the story are completely different and what happens is also completely different because fundamentally what I want to do is that I’m trying to structure these stories like a great James Bond movie, or a “Mission: Impossible” or Jason Bourne-style film. My whole sort of high concept for the book is to tell a high-octane espionage thriller that just happens to be set in the Marvel Universe.
If you look at the Bond, Bourne and “Mission: Impossible” films, two of the things all of those movies have in common is they’re all going after a cool, world threatening MacGuffin, and they’re going to exotic locations like Italy, Germany, and Tokyo. In this story, our heroes are going after a potentially world threatening MacGuffin in the form of Coulson’s protocols, but instead of going to exotic real world locales they’re going to exotic locales and interacting with people from the Marvel Universe.
It looks like Iron Man is the first character they’ll interact with.
Yes, Iron Man, but not quite as how you’d expect him.
We’ll also be visiting places like Genosha, the Morlock Tunnels, and as you saw in the “Point One” story we visited the remains of Attilan. I’m trying to really make this a travelogue of the Marvel Universe.
So you might visit places like the Savage Land, Madripoor and the Monster Metropolis?
Exactly. One of the reference books I have on my desk as I write is the “Marvel Atlas” that they published a number of years ago, and I’m always digging into my Marvel Handbooks. I want to visit every corner of the Marvel Universe that I can during this run.
Going back to what you said earlier, it just sort of clicked with me that the way you and Mark Waid write Coulson is sort of as us, the Marvel readers and fans as a super spy. Is that correct?
That’s exactly it. It’s a great way of putting it, and just like a regular fanboy Coulson has thought about things like, “Who can beat up who?” And “If I had to take down the Hulk what would be the best way I could do that?” In our first arc we’ll see how that passion got corrupted, and quite frankly really stolen from him.
I just reviewed some of the lettering from our first issue of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and the book is just so much fun. I think people will be surprised by the amount of story that we’re cramming into each issue. Each issue has a lot of fun characters and a lot of fun moments. If you’re a fan of James Bond and other super spies, or if you’re a fan of the Marvel Universe then this really is the book for you.
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” #1 is on sale January 13 from Marvel Comics.