CCC09: Marvel Unleashes "S.W.O.R.D." with Gillen & Sanders

With the announcement at Chicago Comic-Con that S.W.O.R.D., the secret organization introduced in the pages of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's "Astonishing X-Men," will get its own series with covers by Cassaday, CBR was chomping at the bit to get the details behind the mysterious new ongoing starring the Marvel U's favorite green-haired Skrull killer, Agent Brand. To get the full 411, we went straight to the source with writer Kieron Gillen ("Dark Avengers: Ares") and artist Steven Sanders ("Five Fists of Science") to discover some of the hidden secrets of S.W.O.R.D.

Kieron, what is the central concept behind S.W.O.R.D.?

Gillen: Hypervelocity orbital action/politics/romance/awesomeness comic. The continuing adventures of Earth's first-line interstellar intelligence agency - galactically speaking, HAMMER's CIA to the FBI, if you follow the metaphor - though S.W.O.R.D.'s job is a little wider ranging than that suggests. Agent Brand is our lead and abstractly mostly in charge. Beast is her boyfriend and top-science bod. Together, they save the world or die trying (whilst engaging in fine banter).

Despite their enormous mandate, S.W.O.R.D. is a smaller organization than HAMMER. They deal with everything from basic keeping track of the alien population on Earth - that is, border control - to basal diplomatic relationships with the galactic community to active black-operations when things need to be stopped. They've been instrumental in keeping the world in an agreeably non-atomized state since the late 1940s, and pretty much no-one knows about them.

In other words, S.W.O.R.D. is actually a real job. Brand's a classic workaholic. Much of what she does is actually incredibly tedious. Pretty much none of that gets into the comic, except when it's funny. The stories are about when a situation goes supernova, and she becomes a less-bestubbled Jack Bauer for the day.

There's a few other ideas we're playing with - while it's a lot like a team-book, our focus is very much on our two leads. [Marvel Editor Nick] Lowe and myself found ourselves chewing over the idea of the couple-adventure-fiction. Going classic, he talked about the "Thin Man" Nick and Nora relationship. That led me to go to His Girl Friday's overlapping barrage of fire, colour and wit - which led to Fraction punning His Spacegirl Friday, which I'm sure I'll use as an arc title eventually. Looking for modern incarnations, I hit upon the West Wing's walk-and-talk - which is an interesting parallel for the situation about the Peak. And swapping that verbal velocity for physical velocity, I led to the aforementioned "24." The idea being, we've got a story that is just as intense, as mercurial as the leads.

We are having fun, in other words.

Can we expect to see any old familiar faces in the S.W.O.R.D. ranks?

Gillen: Aside from Beast and Brand, the main character people will recognize is Lockheed. Mr. Whedon established the relationship and, with Kitty gone, he's found himself increasingly involved with the organization. He's actually bitterly depressed and furiously angry other the breaking of the bond. He's angry. Very angry. As such, we're kind of using him as the team's Wolverine. As in, a glowering, threatening presence. Of course, being a cute little dragon, that's pretty funny.

People on fire tend to stop laughing.

The nature of the first arc means that it's natural for any of the Earth-based alien heroes to show up. In hand-cuffs.

Seeing as how S.W.O.R.D. is space-based, will there be any appearances from some of the Marvel mainstay space heroes or alien races in this series?

Gillen: Eventually. The first arc is looking primarily at the situation on Earth and how Gyrich's plans play out. The thing with the series is that it exists absolutely at the boundary between Earth and Space. Most of our stories are about where the two touch. We're the linking point between the two sides of the Marvel Universe. We get stories from the synergy between the two. This is an incredibly fertile, exciting ground to play with.

When does this story take place?

Gillen: Right now, as the Dark Reign continues to silently choke the world. Specifically - and this keeps to the whole hypervelocity thing I mentioned earlier - the first arc takes place within a single work day.

Hold on a sec - Agent Brand was pretty instrumental in taking out the Skrulls during Secret Invasion - why is the U.S. Government out to get her?

Gillen: That Agent Brand even has a job after Secret Invasion is because of how instrumental she was in getting rid of the Skrulls. More than anyone else on the planet, it was Brand's job to make sure that Secret Invasion didn't happen. As she says in the first issue, without her, something like Secret Invasion would happen eight times a year. The problem was, this year she needed to stop it happening nine times. So, she's demoted to co-commander, with Gyrich being inserted to help out.

It's Gyrich who really is the problem. He looks at S.W.O.R.D. and sees an organization, which is run by a half-alien, full of aliens who let an alien invasion happen. He wants to purge it. He's maneuvered so he's got a repatriation bill passed to send all alien life home. While she'll be caught up in it, Brand isn't actually the target. Gyrich thinks her incompetent, but there's not actually any active vendetta here. He wants Earth safe and is willing to take any act to do so.

In other words, in some ways, he's more like Brand than either would like to admit.

What do you think is most challenging about doing an ongoing series on S.W.O.R.D.?

Gillen: Just deciding what to actually focus on. As I said, it's a book that straddles the two main sides of the Marvel Universe. More so - S.W.O.R.D.'s history hasn't been explored yet, so we also have to define the past of the group. The book screams possibilities for me, and it's a question of judging what screams the loudest.

But really - despite the technical challenge of cramming all this in, this is the Marvel book I've felt most comfortable with. It's very me.

What are you most looking forward to in terms of writing and drawing the series?

Sanders: I love drawing tech and conceptual design in general, and this series gives me a lot of chances to create new designs or modify extant ones. I was going to be an Electrical Engineer before flunking precalc in High School convinced me to go back to art, so this lets me play Engineer, and I try very hard to have everything I draw "work," or at least look like it would.

I'm also looking forward to trying to get across the sublime wonder of space, and I'm trying to take a fairly realistic approach to the landscape of space, IE; no nebula in plain sight, etc. Yukinobu Hoshino's "2001 Nights" was a huge influence on me as a kid, and his approach to sci-fi was immaculately crafted. Same with Otomo in books like "Memories." I doubt I'll ever match the work of those masters, but it's a nice goal to shoot for.

Gillen: To echo what Steve said, one of the best things about the S.W.O.R.D. so far has been seeing what emerges from Steve. There's an agreeable back and forth. He'll ask a technical question, and we'll riff over a solution to the problem. A tiny detail of one of his designs will inspire me to run off in a different direction. It feels like a real collaboration. I've known Steve for a while, so getting a chance to actually do a book together feels like an adventure in it of itself.

Actually, as an aside to the sci-fi glory of it all, it's the human elements that I'm most looking forward to writing. The more I think about Beast and Brand, the more their budding relationship fascinates me. If S.W.O.R.D.'s going to be the book we're trying to do, it's absolutely the heart of the book. Humanity and the infinite and all that.

It's the constructing the whole thing that is the joy. Polishing up old toys, constructing new ones. I'm totally writing a comic book.

How will this story fit into continuity with Beast pulling duty in the X-Books?

Gillen: Beast will be working nearly as hard as Brand. Perhaps he can get Wolverine's social secretary to help him arrange his time? Poor Beast.

Guys, tell us how you got involved in the project?

Sanders: I had worked with Matt Fraction on "Five Fists of Science," and he had suggested me to Nick Lowe for an X-Men steampunk fill-in. I did some test pages, but the year or so I had spent doing work other than sequntial art showed, and I didn't have the chops for the gig. But both Nick and Matt thought that Kieron and I would be perfect together on S.W.O.R.D. I had a table with Kieron at SDCC a few years ago, and really respected him and his work, and was very excited to get this chance to work with him. I did some test art for S.W.O.R.D., was approved, and here we are.

Gillen: I'd worked with Nick with a couple of things, and he asked for a S.W.O.R.D. pitch. I lobbed out this frenzied document culminating with IN SPACE NO-ONE HAS TIME TO BREATHE. He seemed to dig it. Go-go action comickybook.

Is there anything you'd like fans to know about the series?

Sanders: I think this is the best work I have ever put out, period. So there's that, and I'm having a lot of fun working on it, which, at least in my experience, usually translates into books that fans have a lot of fun reading. Does that sound arrogant? Maybe it's like this: I think Kieron, Nick and I are essentially kids playing in a sandbox with S.W.O.R.D. toys and making pew-pew noises with our mouths, and not bothering to intellectualise "how do we make a comic fun and enjoyable?" You just play, and have fun, and it should flow naturally.

Also, for whatever it's worth, I have "Easter Eggs" all over the place, ranging from some architecture based on sacred geometry, to manga and Dr. Seuss references.

Gillen: I think Steve sounds incredibly arrogant, so I'm going to join in too. I think it's the best work I've done for Marvel. There will be shrines in our honor established on all sentient worlds. Enormous edifices in black marble reaching to the heavens with our features captured for the ages. The planets of the solar system will be arranged in an abstract effigy of the features of Nick Lowe. The Universe will be renamed the SteveSandersverse. I won't be punched in the face by strangers as often. This is going to be amazing.

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