Battler of Britain: Gage talks "Union Jack"

When an army of terrorists and super villains threatens the country, that country's premier costumed champion will spring into action. No, he won't be dispensing justice with an indestructible shield; this hero's tools are a pistol, a knife, and his wits. His country is England and his name is Joey Chapman AKA "Union Jack" and he will be starring in a four issue self titled mini-series by Christos Gage and Mike Perkins coming this fall from Marvel Comics. CBR News spoke with Gage about the series.

The groundwork for "Union Jack" was laid when Gage met Marvel Editor Andy Schmidt. "I'd worked with Andy while writing my story for 'Spider-Man Unlimited' #12. (Tom Brevoort actually hired me -- thanks Tom! -- but while I was working on it, the editorial reins of the book passed to Andy.)," Gage told CBR News. "Andy and I chatted in San Diego last year, and discovered we had similar tastes in both comics and movies. He'd enjoyed my 'Deadshot' miniseries for DC, and while we discussed possible projects I could do for Marvel, I mentioned what a big fan I was of Brubaker and Epting's 'Captain America.' For about two seconds we kicked around the idea of a Crossbones miniseries, but it turned out Ed had plans for Crossbones (as we all now know). Being the helpful guy he is, Ed suggested another character he knew would be showing up in Cap soon -- Union Jack -- and from there it all seemed to fall into place -- especially when Mike Perkins approached Andy, completely unaware of what we'd been discussing, to also propose a UJ mini. Destiny, I tell you!"

Another sign that Gage was destined to chronicle the adventures of Joey Chapman and his costumed alter ego is that he was first exposed to the character when he made his debut appearance in the pages of "Captain America" #253-254 by Roger Stern and John Byrne. "I vividly remember being a kid and wondering anxiously between issues how Cap was going to survive being bitten by Baron Blood -- it's just a classic story that made a big impression on me, so getting to add to Union Jack's mythology is truly an honor and a pleasure," Gage said. "Having said that, in all honesty, UJ was not on my top 10 list of favorite Marvel characters, but I think he was number one on Mike Perkins' list. Mike has been dying to draw UJ for years. He was so excited about this project that, as part of our pitch to Joe Quesada, he drew a cover-quality illustration with absolutely no guarantee of being paid for it. Fortunately, we got a green light, and Mike's art will see print as the cover of 'Union Jack' #1, albeit in somewhat altered form, as he originally drew it with UJ in the then-current 'hockey mask' costume. Since then, the creative teams of 'Union Jack' and 'Captain America' have unanimously agreed to go back to the classic Frank Robbins design, a move that seems to please everyone I talk to.

"For me, the appeal of Union Jack is that he is a man defending his country with nothing more than a dagger, a gun and his courage," Gage explained. "Sure, his physical skills are pretty much at the peak of human ability, but that's not exactly the Power Cosmic. This is a guy laying his life on the line because it's his duty; it's the right thing to do. I especially like Joey Chapman as Union Jack because he's a working class hero defending a country with a tradition of royalty, of aristocracy; I think that adds an interesting texture to the character."

By defending Britain, a country of tradition, Chapman has become part of another tradition. "Union Jack is Britain's version of Captain America," Gage said. "He has powers in the form of enhanced strength, endurance and speed, thanks to the mystical Power of the Pendragon; but his abilities, like Cap's, just raise him to the pinnacle of human potential -- he can't fly or shrug off bullets or anything like that. There have been several Union Jacks in the past century, and until recently they were all members of the wealthy Falsworth family, part of England's nobility. But, in the aforementioned 'Captain America' #253-254, the role was assumed by Joey Chapman, a working-class art student and shipbuilder's son (Joey was a friend of the current Falsworth heir, who was too ill to become UJ himself). His very first battle was to help Captain America defeat Union Jack's longtime enemy, the vampiric Baron Blood, and ever since then he's carried on the fight against evil, both alone and as a member of the New Invaders."

When the "Union Jack" mini-series begins, both Chapman's fight against evil and his non-costumed life are in a transitional stage. "He's no longer part of the New Invaders, and no longer romantically involved with Jacqueline Falsworth (AKA the superheroine Spitfire), although they're still friends and she appears in the

Captain America story arc '21st Century Blitz,' in which Union Jack guest-stars and which concludes just before the mini," Gage explained. "Joey has moved out of Jackie's estate and into a small flat. He's working as a house painter -- the closest he can get to a job utilizing his art degree -- and serving as Union Jack when needed. He feels a bit directionless at the moment, but by the end of the mini he'll have a redefined purpose. I don't want to say much more, as the mini picks up where '21st Century Blitz' leaves off and I'd hate to give away any of that storyline."

"Civil War" is currently making a huge impact on the Marvel Universe, but the events of that mega story won't affect the "Union Jack" mini-series. "Civil War is primarily a stateside event, and Union Jack's story takes place in England," Gage explained. "Second, as I mentioned, it follows directly after the '21st Century Blitz' arc, which places the events of the mini just prior to 'Civil War' in Marvel chronology."

Even though "Union Jack" picks up where "21st Century Blitz" leaves off, readers don't have to read the "Captain America" story to understand and enjoy the mini-series. Gage explained that "Union Jack" does spin out of events in "Captain America," in that the seeds of the story are planted there, but it's not required reading for those interested in the mini-series. "We'd like for people to buy both titles because they want to, not because they have to," said Gage.

In the mini-series, Union Jack will be forced to make decisions that he doesn't want to make, but has to in order to save lives. "In the first issue, Union Jack is called in by MI5, Britain's Secret Service," Gage stated. "They've discovered that the terror group RAID (which appeared recently in 'Captain America') is making a bid to establish itself as the Marvel Universe's premier terrorist organization now that Hydra's in decline. They intend to demonstrate their power by executing multiple strikes on London, led by an army of super-villains. Union Jack and his allies have just hours to prevent this from happening. But when UJ realizes his boss at MI5 is prepared to risk innocent lives to get the job done, he has to make a difficult choice, and the fate of all London could hang in the balance."

To save the citizens of London, Union Jack will have to battle a horde of deadly super villains, who might seem less than fearsome to some readers. "There's a veritable army of super-villains leading the RAID attacks, all of who have a history of working for terror groups," Gage said. "Some fans might consider them B-list, but I love taking overlooked characters and trying to make them exciting again. If you remember what Brad Meltzer did in 'Identity Crisis' with people like the Shadow Thief, Dr. Light and Merlyn, he turned them from has-beens into viable, deadly threats -- not by 'revamping' them, but by seeing what they could be if their potential was realized and writing them that way. For instance, take the Death-Throws, a group of '80s villains who hurl different types of missiles. Look them up in the 'Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe' and they probably seem kind of lame. But put them on top of London Tower Bridge at rush hour, when it's choked with pedestrian and vehicular traffic, and have them start hurling bombs and missiles at the citizens below with deadly accuracy, and you can imagine what carnage they'd cause. So, with that approach in mind, here's the roster of bad guys. Some, like Boomerang and Jack O'Lantern, will be familiar to most readers. Then you've got the ones diehard fans will recall -- Machete, Zaran, Shockwave (love those 'Master of Kung Fu' villains), Firebrand, Crossfire and the Corruptor. Finally, I raided the archives for a few really obscure faces -- anyone remember Ecstasy, Jackhammer, and Fasaud? Oh yes, we're gonna get old school."

Union Jack will be assisted in his battle against the throng of super powered terrorists by three allies, two of which are the premier costumed champions of other nations. "They are the only other heroes who were handy and available on short notice," Gage said. "One is the Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, former Deputy Director of SHIELD. Since her lover Nick Fury went rogue, the current regime at SHIELD has shipped her off to be their British liaison, because they don't trust her and want to keep her at arm's length. She's in a tough situation and has a lot to prove.

"Next we have the Israeli super-agent Sabra, in a spiffy new costumed Mike designed that keeps her original color scheme, but is more utilitarian and Black Widow-ish. Finally, there's the new Arabian Knight (not the villainous one briefly seen in Black Panther) - imagine Sayid from the TV show 'Lost' if he were a superhero. The Knight and Sabra are natural enemies, and even Val doesn't trust him due to the fact that he is a question mark, a blank slate they know nothing about, from a country (Saudi Arabia) whose ties to terrorism are the subject of intense debate It's up to Union Jack to hold this fractious group together and make sure they get the job done. As you can see, we really wanted to keep an international flavor to the mini, showing that the Marvel Universe and its characters extend well beyond the USA."

The internationally flavored action in "Union Jack" will take readers on a fast and furious tour of London. "The story is set in and around London," Gage stated. "On a recent trip there, Mike Perkins took pictures of the locations we're using, so they should be accurate! Expect to see crazy fight scenes at several London landmarks."

Gage described the tone of the series as a blend of superhero action and James Bond films. "There's less wry humor than a Bond film, since it's a pretty serious situation, but we've got lots of high-octane action scenes like UJ in a flying car chasing Jack O'Lantern through a subway tunnel," he explained. "One of the first things Andy Schmidt said was that he wanted to do a classic action movie like the kind Hollywood used to do so well but doesn't anymore, such as 'Die Hard.' So, while character is crucial to the story, don't expect four issues of talking heads!

"I've been really gratified by the response to news of the 'Union Jack; mini thus far…it seems he has a lot of fans who are excited to see him in a headlining role once again!" Gage continued. "Mike is really knocking himself out on the art, and I'm giving it my all as well, so I hope everyone who likes the character, or enjoys what's going on in 'Captain America,' or finds anything discussed in this interview the least bit intriguing, will give us a shot and pre-order the book. I guarantee that by the end of it, 'Union Jack' will have been redefined to hopefully be even more relevant and interesting than before, but it all comes out of his established history and character traits; no retcon here. The thing Andy said to me from the start was that we needed a story that had to be about Union Jack. If you could just plug Captain Britain or Daredevil or whoever into UJ's role and have essentially the same story, it wasn't going to work. That really made me go back to the roots of the character and think about what makes him who he is. In recent years he's been a guy who fights vampires, and that's made for some fine comics, but Marvel has other vampire hunters. A major purpose of this miniseries is to give Union Jack more of his own identity, so not only is this a key story for longtime fans, it's a great jumping on point for people who have little or no familiarity with the character.

"Before I sign off, I also want to express my appreciation to Ed Brubaker for being so collaborative and helpful with this process, from coordinating story points to suggesting research materials about MI5 -- he's really been great," Gage said. "And finally, thanks to everyone who plans to pick the book up! We're all working hard to make sure you don't regret it!"

The British Invasion continues next week as CBR News continues its look at "Union Jack" in an interview with artist Mike Perkins.

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