The Marvel Universe’s combination of real world problems with fantastic elements means that the complex geopolitical concepts like international terrorism and arms races are even more problematic than in our reality, thanks to super powers, super science and the supernatural. Regular covert operatives are often unable to effectively handle those types of threats and super heroes typically aren’t called on because the public nature of their costumed identities makes plausible deniability difficult.
But what if there was a way to turn super heroes into covert operatives? Writer Nick Spencer and artist Luke Ross began to explore that question in the new volume of “Secret Avengers.” In the pages of the debut issue, the espionage agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. utilized hi-tech memory wiping devices to turn Hawkeye and the Black Widow into the first recruits of a new team of super-powered operatives. We spoke with Spencer about his plans for the series, including who will be joining our unknowing heroes on the team’s roster, the roles of Mariah Hill and Daisy Johnson in the newly re-organized S.H.I.E.L.D. and the growing role of A.I.M. in the Marvel U.
CBR News: Since S.H.I.E.L.D is such a large part of this series, let’s start by discussing the command structure of the organization. Maria Hill is currently acting Director and in charge of the entire organization, but Daisy Johnson has also been referred to as with the title of Director. Clear that up, if you would – what is Daisy’s official position in the hierarchy of the organization?
Nick Spencer: Daisy is the Director-in-Waiting. She’s the person who was hand-picked by Nick Fury and Senator Ralston to head up this new incarnation of S.H.I.E.L.D. However, she has to be confirmed by the United Nations who at the end of the day foot the bill for this new S.H.I.E.L.D.
So while Daisy awaits confirmation, they’ve brought in Maria Hill to run the organization. It’s a bit of an awkward situation. Maria is in charge, but with the understanding that this is Daisy’s ship to run in the long term.
There’s going to be a lot of tension over who’s in charge. Maria is not the greatest at playing with others, and Daisy is obviously pretty young. She’s more than proven herself, but she’s still a relatively fresh face in the Marvel Universe. So of course, there’s going to be some conflict there.
We also spent quite a bit of time with the field leader of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Secret Avengers, Nick Fury, the son of the legendary S.H.I.E.L.D. director of the same name. What’s it like writing Nick? It seems like he’s making the transition from soldier to spy nicely, but is that necessarily a good thing?
One of the things that we wanted to make clear was, while Nick is new to this role, he’s not very green. Nick’s been an Army Ranger in Afghanistan for years, so he has been in his fair share of fire fights and has had to make some tough decisions.
While the game has changed somewhat, there are a lot of skills that are transferable. Plus, this is sort of in the genes for Nick. There are parts of this that come very natural to him, but as we move forward in the story, we’ll see that Nick certainly has his reservations about aspects of his job. He’s got a moral compass that guides him, but it’s buried under a strong ethos of doing what has to be done.
Nick’s former Ranger buddy Phil Coulson played a small role in issue #1. In future issues, will he be going into the field with the Secret Avengers? Or will he be more of a support agent?
Phil is a support guy. He’s their advance man. He goes in and lays the groundwork a lot of times. That doesn’t mean we’ll never see him in the field, because we certainly will, but his primary role is working support. When it comes to a sales pitch for bringing in new members or doing a little reconnaissance, that’s all up Phil’s alley.
Actor Clark Gregg, who originated the character of Coulson in the Marvel films, demonstrated similar aptitudes. Is the way you’re writing Coulson inspired by Gregg’s portrayal of the character?
Absolutely. One of the coolest experiences about working on this book is that Clark’s been really kind and Tweeted about the series several times. He’s obviously pretty excited about it. That’s amazing to me. I’m working very hard to capture Clark’s voice as close as I can. To me, Coulson is Clark Gregg, and vice versa. It’s a fun challenge for me and hopefully we’re doing a good job.
We got a quick glimpse of another S.H.I.E.L.D agent in “Secret Avengers” #1, Sebastian Druid. It appears that he’s the team’s advisor on mystical affairs —
Yeah! I’m a huge “Secret Warriors” fan, so I’ll be sneaking those characters in whenever I can find an excuse. It occurred to me that on a mission like this, Daisy would certainly recommend bringing in Sebastian to consult. And it might not be the last time that we see him. I really love Sebastian.
Let’s move into the series’ technology, specifically the wind wipe tech that erases the Secret Avengers’ memories of missions. How safe is this technology in the long term? Could it cause neurological damage to the team members?
What I can say right now is that S.H.I.E.L.D. feels pretty comfortable that the technology is safe to use and is fairly foolproof in design. Obviously, a lot of complications are going to arise since this is a very risky play on their part. There are a lot of different ways that it can and will go wrong; this is certainly a dangerous road that they’re going down
Hawkeye and Black Widow are willing to accept these memory wipes and a position on S.H.I.E.L.D’s super team because the espionage agency offers the duo a shot at a mysterious foe whose identity was redacted in this first issue. I know you want to keep this threat’s identity a mystery, but can you tell us when we’ll learn more about this adversary?
That’s very much part of the long form mystery of the book. It’s something that’s pretty integral to our story, so it will start to come into focus as we move along. You won’t get a full confirmation until I’m near the end of this story. It’s a big piece of the puzzle.
Since the series showcases Black Widow and mind wiping, will you be dealing with some of the fallout from the recent “Black Widow Hunt” arc in “Winter Soldier?”
Certainly. This is a technology that’s been a huge part of Natasha’s life. She obviously has some opinions on it, and when we get to the moment where we can really shed some light on them, I think it will surprise some people.
One of the things I can say is that Natasha is a spy’s spy. She’s very aware of the kind of world that she’s working in and the kinds of situations she’s going to find herself in. She goes into this with open eyes.
Since Bucky Barnes will be a part of this book as well, can you discuss the status of their relationship in “Secret Avengers?” Or will that be something that is dealt with in Jason Latour’s “Winter Soldier” book before it appears in “Secret Avengers?”
My editor on this book, Lauren Sankovitch, is also the editor of “Winter Soldier.” Plus, I’m a huge fan of what Jason is doing on that book. His first issue was so good. We’re going to make sure that we’re walking down these paths together. I certainly want to honor what he’s doing and what Ed Brubaker did on the book as well. I want to make sure what I’m doing feels like a continuation and a companion to those stories.
If this first issue is any indication, you’re interested in telling real world action thrillers while fully utilizing the fantastic elements of the Marvel Universe.
Yeah — I think if we’re doing things right ,that’s how it will feel. We want to do a covert ops spy book and a political thriller, but we want to do it in such a way that you could only tell it in the Marvel Universe. We’re trying finding that perfect balance between that world of spies and super heroes. It’s fun to cross genres like that.
In “Secret Avengers” #2, Taskmaster is introduced to the book. What does he adds to the series?
Taskmaster is fun because he’s a rogue and a mercenary. So he complicates things, and it’s a blast having him in this book. He’s one of my favorite characters. The response to issue #1 has been fantastic, and I personally like issue #2 even more. I’m really excited for that issue to get out there.
Given how the character’s powers affect his memory, will S.H.I.E.L.D. need to mind wipe Taskmaster?
We’ll deal with that. As you said, he’s obviously got his own memory issues. S.H.I.E.L.D. feels it’s better to be safe than sorry, though, so they are going to be covering their tracks and Taskmaster is certainly going to be a part of the program.
In issue #3, the new Iron Patriot joins the Secret Avengers. Are you able to reveal anything about the character’s personality without spoiling the mystery of who is under the armor?
What particularly excites me about the Iron Patriot story is not so much who is in the suit, although that is going to be a big deal, but more how they get there. I think when it’s done and people see where the character is, they’re going to see that it’s something that’s fundamentally different from what we’ve seen before. I think it’s going to create a lot of really cool story opportunities for that character.
Then, in “Secret Avengers” #4, the Hulk comes into play. Is his membership in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s team of operatives something that grows naturally out of the stories we’re currently seeing in Mark Waid’s “Indestructible Hulk” series?
Yeah, Mark and I are very much on the same page in terms of the Hulk and the relationship between Bruce Banner and Maria Hill that’s been set up so perfectly in his book. So you’re going to see all of that stuff reflected here. It’s hopefully a nice compliment to what Mark is doing.
Since Banner and the Hulk are already part of S.H.I.E.L.D., will they be treated like the rest of the team? Or will they be treated a little differently in terms of mind wipes and things like that?
There’s a bit of wait and see factor on this question, but I will say this: Some of the missions that this team is designed for go to a level that really only Daisy and Maria are at now. So they want to make sure that they’re covered, no matter who we’re talking about.
So the memory wipes are utilized for plausible deniability?
That certainly is one of their purposes.
The solicits make it seem like you’re putting the team together mainly in order to deal with the growing threat of the terrorist group A.I.M.
Yes. That will come a lot more into focus in issue #2. We’ve got a big A.I.M. story that we’re telling here. They’re my favorite of the big bad Marvel Universe terrorist organizations, so we’re giving them a big moment in the sun.
Can you talk at all about the philosophy of the A.I.M. agents you’re focusing on? Recently, we’ve seen both ultra-left wing members of the group and hardcore capitalists.
A.I.M is not in a terribly different situation than S.H.I.E.L.D. is in because there are some leadership transitions and new voices in the mix. A lot of what I’m doing with them comes out of what Jon Hickman set up in “Fantastic Four” and “FF,” with the new Scientist Supreme Andrew Forson and his sort of pure science philosophy and getting A.I.M. back to its roots of discovery and innovation at any cost. There’s some very cool things coming there.
The Secret Avengers’ interactions with A.I.M. are going to be especially complex due to Advanced Idea Mechanics current status as the rulers of their own nation. Do they have diplomatic immunity?
Very much so. A.I.M. is a country now. They have a seat at the U.N. and that fundamentally changes the way that S.H.I.E.L.D. can treat them. It makes them a different kind of threat and that’s going to be a big part of this story.
Series artist Luke Ross and colorist Matthew Wilson’s pages have a fun, almost cartoony flair, but they also give us plenty of spy-style darkness and moments of bad-ass action.
I’m a huge fan of Luke’s, and have been for a long time. He’s a guy who can do anything. He’s an enormously talented story teller. He’s got a great flair for character acting and you can give him any location and he’ll nail it.
And Matt is just the perfect colorist for this book. The palette that he brings is so well-suited for this kind of world. They’re a fantastic team and I’m having a blast working with them
Finally, we’ve talked about your immediate plans about the book, but what about further down the line? Can you offer up any hints or teases about things we’ll see later in the year?
The first issue is very much a prologue; it exists to show the rules of the mind wipes and how the team will operate. I wanted to give them a quick sort of done-in-one adventure. Issue #2 has elements of that. There’s a done-in-one component to it as well, but we really open the doors to a much bigger story. It’s a plot that’s going to drive the book for probably as long as I’m writing it. Once that book is out there, you’ll have a much clearer picture of what “Secret Avengers” is about.