When the heroes of Marvel Comics made their first stand against crime and villainy most of them weren’t thinking about long term aspects such as legacies or families. For instance, Nick Fury wanted to fight back against the tyranny of the Axis Powers during World War II. Spider-Man was looking to take down the burglar who murdered his beloved Uncle Ben. Years later, both of these heroes have long, distinguished careers, not to mention family members who have been drawn into the business of heroics by the examples they set and the enemies they made.
In the pages of “Fear Itself: Battle Scars,” writer Chris Yost (who serves as Head Writer and Story Editor on Disney XD’s “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” animated series and pens an all-ages tie-in comic) and artist Scot Eaton revealed their protagonist, Army Ranger Marcus Johnson, was Nick Fury’s illegitimate son, and in the series finale on sale April 25 Marcus must rescue his father from the clutches of one of his deadliest enemies. Meanwhile, in the ongoing “Scarlet Spider” series, Yost and artist Ryan Stegman chronicle the career of Peter Parker’s genetic clone and “brother,” Kaine, who recently and reluctantly became Houston, Texas’ premier costumed hero. CBR News spoke with Yost about his plans for both characters.
Yost created Marcus Johnson when Editor Tom Brevoort approached him about doing a follow-up to last year’s “Fear Itself” storyline. “They wanted to do a book called ‘The Fearless’ that was two stories in one, which would have merged together at the end. It would have been the story of Marcus Johnson and the story of Valkyrie, which Cullen Bunn is currently telling in ‘The Fearless’ book,” Yost told CBR News. “Matt Fraction, Cullen and I talked and we came to the conclusion that this was actually two series. So ‘Battle Scars’ was born, but the idea of a new Nick Fury Jr. character that was more like the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Nick Fury and the Nick Fury we’re seeing now in animation came from the top. It was something that they knew they wanted to do and this was how we were going to do it As far as the details go, I fleshed out who Marcus was. I came up with his name, his mother, and their backstory. So the idea for Nick Fury’s son came from the top and the details of Marcus Johnson came after that.”
Over the course of the first five issues of “Battle Scars” readers have learned a great deal about Marcus Johnson. When the series began Johnson returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan to investigate the murder of his mother, whom he believed was just a school teacher. That investigation made him the target of both S.H.I.E.L.D. and several of the Marvel Universe’s deadliest mercenaries. Marcus eluded them all and in #5, on sale now, readers found out why.
Three decades ago Marcus’ mother was a spy with the CIA and she met and fell for Nick Fury while on a mission. Together they fathered a son who would grow up to have the Infinity Formula, which keeps Nick Fury young and in top physical condition, as part of his genetic make up.
“Obviously he’s gotten to the age he’s at. So Marcus does age, but at a certain point that may slow down. The Infinity Formula is kind of a weird thing. In theory Nick Fury has been getting injections to keep it going, but now he’s out of it. Marcus Johnson’s DNA, though, is seemingly generating it and that’s why he’s been of such interest to the bad guys,” Yost explained. “So he seems to be a source of Infinity Formula, but that doesn’t mean he’s Superman. He can definitely get hurt. We’ve seen him get hurt in this series over and over, but he’s a little stronger and a little faster. Plus he heals a lot faster. He’s not Wolverine, but he can definitely take punishment better than most people.”
Marcus’ heightened physical abilities have been both a blessing and a curse in “Battle Scars.” They’ve helped him survive the attacks of several deadly enemies, but they’ve also made him the target of one of his father’s arch-foes, Orion, the leader of the extreme terrorist group known as Leviathan. Orion and Leviathan made their debut in Jonathan Hickman’s epic espionage series, “Secret Warriors,” and Yost wanted “Battle Scars” to pick up where that series left off.
“The minute they brought up Nick Fury I instantly thought of ‘Secret Warriors.’ I’m a huge fan of that book and Jonathan Hickman,” Yost said. “Leviathan and Orion were great creations and they left it a little open ended as far as their fate. I figure if there was one guy that would want revenge on Nick Fury it would be Orion. So I was extremely happy to be able to play in that world.”
In “Battle Scars” #6 the story of Orion and Leviathan might just come to an end when they have their final face off with a wounded, but enraged Marcus Johnson. “Issue #6 is not lacking for action. Scot Eaton is doing the work of his career here. All the pages are in and they’re amazing,” Yost remarked. “At this point, Orion has Nick Fury captive. He’s got a sample of Marcus’ blood and used it to transform himself back to his ideal “fighting weight.” He’s got everything at this point and there’s only one little loose thread in his plan and that’s Marcus. So it should be a fun time.”
Marcus may be outgunned by Orion and his forces, but he’s not without allies. If he can rescue his father he’ll have one of the most capable spies in the Marvel Universe watching his back. Plus, like his father, Marcus also has close war buddies. At the end of “Battle Scars” #5 Marcus’ friend and fellow Army Ranger “Cheese” was concocting a plan to help rescue his friend. “You’re going to get a lot more with him in issue #6,” Yost said. “We’re big fans of Cheese.”
“Battle Scars” concludes with issue #6, but the story of Marcus Johnson is just beginning. Plans are already in place for the character’s next appearance. “Marcus might have a little cameo in ‘Scarlet Spider,’ but I can neither confirm nor deny that,” Yost teased. “Also, Marcus won’t be replacing his father. Nick went underground. He’ll be showing up in books like ‘Defenders,’ but he’s pretty much done with S.H.I.E.L.D. Daisy Johnson is now the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. So anywhere Nick shows up he’s going to be more of an underground player. And Marcus will survive ‘Battle Scars,’ but don’t look for him to immediately become head of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
For Yost, introducing Marcus to concepts like S.H.I.E.L.D., Captain America, and super powered mercenaries has been part of the fun of writing “Battle Scars.” “Just imagine diving into that world. It has to be insane. That’s what we tried to show in this book. How does a normal guy survive this? I love that too because it’s so easy to be jaded about the Marvel Universe. Spider-Man and Captain America have seen it all, but this is all really new to somebody like Marcus,” Yost said. “I like Marcus a lot and I hope that he gets out there into the Marvel Universe. It was great to portray somebody from the military and somebody who is an average American, but what I love most about him is his new perspective. So this entire project was a blast.”
Kaine, the title character of Yost’s “Scarlet Spider,” also has a unique perspective on the Marvel Universe. Like Marcus he’s new to the world of super heroics, but that’s only because he spent several years as one of Spider-Man’s deadly foes. As a failed clone of Spider-Man, Kaine began his life and his costumed career as a villain. During the “Spider-Island” storyline Kaine was given a second lease on life when he was exposed to a vaccine that healed the defects in his cloning process. He also found himself strangely compelled to do heroic things.
Kaine fought that compulsion as hard as he could and fled New York to escape his villainous past. Unfortunately for him, that compulsion kicked into high gear when he arrive in Houston, TX in “Scarlet Spider” #1. Kaine now serves as the city’s protector and in #3 his new heroic vocation and his nefarious past collided as he ran afoul of the New Orleans Assassins Guild, which made their debut in a ’90s “X-Men” story.
“I found a way to bring my love of X-Men continuity into a Spider-Man title,” Yost said with a laugh. “It’s funny how this stuff works, but it was like this magical alignment because Kaine was a killer for hire. He had this deep, dark past life where we knew he was out there killing people for money. I then thought, ‘I know some other Marvel characters that kill people for money.’ So the prologue of issue #4, in stores April 11th, will show you Kaine’s first encounter with the Assassins Guild. Back when he was all bushy bearded and still killing people he encounters the Guild and it goes about as well as you might think.”
Kaine’s past encounter with the Assassins Guild created some bad blood between him and their leader Belladonna, and in “Scarlet Spider” #4 she’ll be looking for revenge. “You’re going to see Belladonna sending out a team of elite, super-powered assassins to go teach Kaine a little lesson,” Yost said. “They’re all brand new, original characters. There’s the Smithy, Harvester, and Dead Hand who made their debut on the final page of issue #3, and there’s one more character that gets revealed in the next issue.”
When the quartet of all-new super assassins come for Kaine he won’t be alone. In the first three issues of “Scarlet Spider” Yost developed an eclectic supporting cast of friends and allies for Kaine that includes Doctor Donald Meland; his husband, Police Officer Wally Layton; Aracely, a young illegal immigrant that Kaine rescued from human traffickers; and Annabelle Adams, a kind-hearted hotel bartender.
“In issue #4 Meland and Layton have their own little team up that’s pretty crucial to the story. Then issue #5 is a full on Scarlet Spider and Officer Layton team up,” Yost explained. “The supporting cast is a huge part of this book. They’re going to be important throughout. Characters like Annabelle Adams and Aracely aren’t going to be make random appearances. We’ve got a big story going on here and they’re all important parts of it.”
Kaine and his allies will be racing all over Houston in “Scarlet Spider” #5 in a desperate search to find a nuclear bomb that’s been planted somewhere in the city. “The people that planted the bomb are a group called the Watchdogs that debuted during Mark Gruenwald’s run on ‘Captain America.’ They’re still out there and they’re still causing trouble,” Yost said. “In this case the Watchdogs bite off a little more than they can chew.”
Finding a bomb in Houston is going to be especially difficult for Kaine because, as readers of “Scarlet Spider” #3 saw, parts of the city are not conducive to web swinging. “There are skyscrapers in Huston, but not a lot and they’re kind of spread out, too. Kaine is operating right in the heart of downtown so in a certain radius he’ll be okay, but once he gets past that he’s going to have to find other modes of transportation,” Yost said. “In issue #5 you’re actually going to see that occur. We’re going all over Houston in that issue and web swinging is not going to cut it. So you’re going to see him figuring out other ways to get around.”
Nuclear bomb scares in a major American city tend to attract a lot of attention. As a result, “Scarlet Spider” #5 features a few guest star and cameo appearances by characters like the Avengers. “You’re going to see a presence from S.H.I.E.L.D. You’re going to see a presence from the Avengers. And you’re going to see a presence from other agencies like the FBI,” Yost said. “The thing is, though, it takes quite awhile for groups like the Avengers to get from New York to Houston and there may not necessarily be a lot of time on the bomb timer.”
In “Scarlet Spider” #6 Kaine moves from dealing with a large scale threat to a more intimate but just as lethal one in the form of Kraven the Hunter and his family. “As you may recall, the Kraven family actually succeeded in ‘killing’ Kaine during the 2010 ‘Grim Hunt’ story line in ‘Amazing Spider-Man,’ which means he’s probably got a whole lot to say about that,” Yost joked. “So Ana Kraven comes to town in issue #6 and of course her father isn’t too far behind.”
The battle between Kaine and the Kravens in “Scarlet Spider” #6 will be especially interesting in terms of visuals, because with that issue Yost’s artistic collaborator, Ryan Stegman, will make a change to his style. “Ryan started inking himself and the pages are beyond anything we could have hoped for,” Yost remarked. “With issue #6 his art style explodes. We can’t wait for people to see it.”
Yost and Stegman’s first three “Scarlet Spider” issues seem to have resonated with readers. The writer hopes fans of the book will continue reading and that curious readers will give the book a chance as well because the writer has big plans for Kaine and his new hometown of Houston.
“The first issue is now in its third printing. The second issue went to a second printing. We’re hearing good things about the numbers for issue #3, so people have seemed to really respond to it. Of course we’d love to have more readers, but as far as launching a book called ‘Scarlet Spider’ in this market it was not a bad launch,” Yost said. “We’re very happy with it and we’re very thankful for all the people that have tried it out and are sticking around and hopefully we’ll get some new readers coming in too. Issues five and six are kind of done-in-ones and issue #7 is our first big story. It involves a company by the name of Roxxon that has a big presence in Texas.”
“Battle Scars” #6 is on sale April 25; “Scarlet Spider” #4 is on sale April 11.