The Marvel Universe is a place of costumed heroes and villains, constantly battling to protect or dominate humanity. Many of these heroes and villains made their debut during the World War II and Modern day eras, but it would be an act of hubris for the characters of those periods to think of them as the most important in the MU’s history. In 2010, writer Jonathan Hickman [“Fantastic Four”, “Secret Warriors”] and artist Dustin Weaver [“Star Wars”, “X-Men: Legacy”] will reveal that the present day Marvel Universe was shaped by important events spanning several millenia with their ongoing series “Shield”. CBR News spoke with Hickman about the series, which kicks off in April.
Hickman’s current “Secret Warriors” series has a lot to do with the history of the former espionage agency that operated under the acronym of S.H.I.E.L.D., and it’s counterpart the terrorist group known as HYDRA. In “Secret Warriors,” the writer has revealed clues that the two rival organizations have a history that stretches back some time, but the writer’s “Shield” series is about much more than just the history of the modern terrorist/anti-terrorist agencies.
“In ‘Secret Warriors,’ there have been some hints about an event that happened in the near past. Certainly, all of the Zodiac elements and many of the hints about Leviathan are part of this. The next arc of ‘Secret Warriors,’ which is titled ‘Wake the Beast’ and runs through issues #11-16, will add to that developing story as we look at the history of Hydra and it’s current leadership,” Hickman told CBR News. “But you’ll notice, though, that the title of this new series, “Shield,” is not an acronym. In this new series, there will be a single plot line that does deal directly with the history of the organization, S.H.I.E.L.D., but this book is about so much more than that. It’s more fantastic; there’s a larger scope. in many ways, it’s more ambitious.”
The story of “Shield” begins in what would be the ’50s and ’60s of the Marvel Universe. “This is, of course, relative to Marvel’s sliding scale time line. When doing something like this, we have to wink at some of the previous stories from that time period, and sometimes we have to massage some of the others and try to make it all work (the perfect example of this being Sharon Carter from “Captain America,” who started out as the little sister of Steve Roger’s WWII girlfriend and later had to be changed to her niece – the story just doesn’t work anymore if you don’t fudge it),” Hickman explained. “Anyway, we start with a normal guy, just like you and me, who’s snatched out of his daily life and swept up into something bizarre and wonderful, what is essentially a whole new reality. We’ll then, of course, find out that he’s much more than a simple boy. Blah, blah, blah… Joseph Campbell mixed with my own special blend of dysfunctional weirdness, and we’re off.”
The Golden Age of the Marvel Universe is just where the story of “Shield” starts. Early on in the book, the action will flash back to ancient times. “We jump back through time and see the first alien invasion that happens on the planet. I’m not talking about the Celestials or any of that stuff. This is more along the lines of a straight up, ‘humans repel alien invaders’ event that happens. We see what gets born out of that, how it transforms society, and how that evolves through the history of man,” Hickman revealed. “We start our flashbacks in the third dynasty of ancient Egypt with a man called Imhotep. He’s considered the world’s first polymath, which is another word for what’s commonly referred to as a ‘Renaissance man’. We never state this in ‘Shield,’ but that kind of becomes the requirement for somebody to be part of the organization. That’s the type of men and women that the Shield is looking for. It’s only natural that Renaissance men big guns, like da Vinci and Galileo, feature and feature prominently”
Making up the main and supporting cast of “Shield,” Hickman has assembled a collection of historical figures, established Marvel characters, and original creations of his own. “I would say our main cast is around eight to ten characters. Very early on, we’re introduced to Nathaniel Richards, the father of Mr. Fantastic, Reed Richards, and Howard Stark, the father of Iron Man, Tony Stark. The young man I talked about above is named Leonid. He’s the Eternal Dynamo… the great engine of the human machine. He represents progress, the advance of society and all that other cool stuff,” Hickman said. “There’s also a guy called The Night Machine who is the opposite of Golden Age Renaissance heroes like da Vinci, Michaelangelo, and Galileo. We’ll see the dark dreams of Nostradamus and we’ll unflinchingly answer the long-standing question of whether Isaac Newton was the first man of the age of reason or the last of the magicians. And, hey, why be boring… let’s stick a Celestial, Galactus, and the Brood in the first issue and see what happens.”
Because “Shield” is a story that flashes back and forth between various time periods and spans thousands of years, it will be structured differently than other ongoing Marvel series. “It’s probably best not to think of this series in arcs. It’s really not that kind of story. This is a bit like ‘Secret Warriors’ in that it has a beginning, middle and end, but the comparison probably falls apart after that. “Shield” is not a mini-series. It’s an ongoing, but it’s also a finite story,” Hickman stated. “I’m honestly not sure how many total issues it will be, but it’s simply not an arc-driven thing. I know there’s a tendency to do that because of the marketplace, and God knows we all want to do our due diligence in being commercially relevant, but this isn’t that kind of story. There’s no real way to break the pieces up. It simply fits together a certain way.”
“Shield” was born out of a pitch Hickman began developing when he first started working with Marvel. “My only book at the time was ‘Secret Warriors.’ I believe I had just started working on ‘Dark Reign: Fantastic Four,’ and I was looking to develop a couple of other ideas to fill up my time because, well, I love the troika of telling stories, creating comics and getting paid to do it. But this was something I was very excited about – the concept of following man’s progress and how that paralleled to a modern story; the struggles we face every day, and what they mean for the future,” Hickman said. “While I was preparing this pitch, I went into the X-office and sat down with John Barber and Nick Lowe, who is the editor of ‘Shield.’ Nick wanted to talk to me about pitching a S.W.O.R.D. book. So I pitched, and eventually that document morphed into this book, and then, regarding S.W.O.R.D., Kieron Gillen came in and knocked it out of the park.”
“Regardless, Nick always liked the idea of a person out of time and Renaissance men, and the fact that it synced up with this other idea I had was kind of serendipitous. The story would simply be stronger if I could do it in the Marvel Universe, with all these touch points of massive moments from Marvel history,” Hickman continued. “By making it more fantastic, it became more evocative… more powerful. So, I put together a pitch document that integrated all my stuff with all the Marvel dressing, put it in the oven at 400 degrees… a couple months later we got ‘Shield.'”
April 2010 is five months away, but Hickman can’t wait for readers to get a chance to see his and Weaver’s work on “Shield”. “This series is operating on what is roughly a 7,000 year time line, and that’s exactly how I like things. In fact, this book is probably the perfect synthesis of all my indy and Marvel work to date. I think it’s easily the best thing I’ve ever done. It just feels right,” Hickman said. “Everyone at Marvel, and all my friends that have gotten early looks, really seem to dig the book. And honestly, even if you think I’m an idiot and can’t write worth a damn, you should check out this book just for Dustin Weaver. He makes murdering trees for print a holy and righteous thing.”