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Christopher & Wendig Reinvent “The Shield” For Dark Circle

by  in Comic News Comment
Christopher & Wendig Reinvent “The Shield” For Dark Circle

In the world of Dark Circle Comics, the oldest superhero in the pantheon is also the newest.

Joining the rebooted Archie imprint in 2015 is “The Shield” from novelists Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig and artist David Williams. The series recasts the Shield identity (the first of the patriotic hero type in comics) as a young woman named Victoria Adams. And while the name is new, Christopher and Wendig teased that she has more experience with the Shield legacy than anyone.

NYCC EXCLUSIVE: Archie Unveils the Look of Dark Circle Comics

CBR News spoke with the “Shield” writing team, and while the pair are new to comics, they’re already sharing their love of the medium online. Below, Christopher and Wendig explain their long commitment to the form, share the early secrets behind the Shield’s new world of allies and villains and entertain the potential connections with Duane Swierczynski and Michael Gaydos’ “Black Hood” and Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid’s “The Fox.”

CBR News: It seems kind of fitting that when comic readers get to meet a new Shield in the Dark Circle books, they’ll also be meeting two new writers to the form. Before we get into the particulars of the series, could you guys tell us a bit about your comics histories? What books turned you on to the medium both as fans and then later as writers?

Adam Christopher: My first memories of comics are from when I was about eight, My dad bought me an issue of “Batman,” an issue of “Iron Man” and a volume of “The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe” from, amazingly, our local grocery store. Oddly, it was the Marvel handbook that captured my attention, and I spent years pouring over that single volume, even creating my own superheroes just so I could write out a biography and fill out the vital statistics — hair color and weight were important pieces of data to have nailed down, I thought. All this without actually reading the comics themselves.

Years later, a friend at high school used to bring his weekly copy of the British SF anthology comic “2000 AD” to class, which I remember enjoying, but then he moved schools and took the comics with him. Then in 2003 I saw “2000 AD” on a magazine rack and picked it up on a whim — and was instantly hooked! It was like a bolt of cosmic lightning. It really felt that comics were exactly what was missing from my life. From “2000 AD” I started reading DC and then Marvel, and it grew from there.

I have to confess affinity for DC characters. My love for Hawkgirl borders on obsession, and I’m a huge fan of Superman, The Question, Batgirl in her various forms, the Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Catwoman, the Legion of Super-Heroes… I could list favorites all day! I came to Marvel a bit later but I’m a huge fan of Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, the new Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel. As well as current books, I read a lot of Golden/Silver/Bronze Age stuff — there’s nothing I love more than collections of “Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen” or Chris Claremont’s “Uncanny X-Men.”

From characters to creators, I’ll read anything and everything from Greg Rucka, Gail Simone, Ed Brubaker, Paul Cornell, Kurt Busiek, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Caitlin Kittredge. I adore “Astro City,” “Lazarus,” “Coffin Hill,” “Fatale.” There are so many amazing comics.

Chuck Wendig: Hi, my name’s Chuck, and I’m a flea market comic junkie. That’s how I got started reading comics: cheap boxes of throwaway comics at flea markets. That’s how I read “Quasar.” That’s how I read the Will Payton era of “Starman.” And, of course, endless iterations of Bats and Spidey. But for me, I didn’t really “get” comics until I was in college. Back then, I discovered “Preacher,” the James Robinson “Starman,” “Love and Rockets,” Charles Burns — and again, endless iterations of Bats and Spidey.

Nowadays, Adam calls it true: so many great creators doing amazing work. I’ll add that I get inspiration from folks like Christopher Sebela, Faith Erin Hicks, Kurtis Wiebe and Alex de Campi.

Since before coming to Dark Circle, Adam has been writing pulp and horror-tinged sci-fi novels like “Empire State.” Chuck, you’re known for books including “Blackbirds,” which stars your ongoing urban fantasy character Miriam Black. I get the sense that you guys have been itching not only to write comics but to write them as a team. What do you share in writerly DNA from your novels, and how does each of your work in prose inform the kind of comics writing you want to do?

Christopher: My novels have been heavily influenced by comics, right from the start — “Empire State” has rocket-powered heroes and my second novel, “Seven Wonders,” is a straight-out superhero novel. [It’s] a giant homage to Silver Age comic craziness with as much spandex and laser beams as I could pack in. Even my latest novel, a horror space opera called “The Burning Dark,” has some sly comic references — I really can’t help myself!

Wendig: It’s true. He can’t help himself. I hope this is his intervention.

Christopher: So for me, comics has always been the goal in tandem with prose novels. I just love the form so much; it flicks a switch somewhere in my brain that other types of storytelling don’t, and while I love comics of all genres, I’m unashamedly a superhero junkie. Give me a cape and a cowl and I’m ready to roll.

The great thing about working with Chuck is that we are totally different writers. His books are amazing and completely unlike anything I could write — which is perfect for a collaboration, because we’ll each approach the same story or concept from completely different perspectives, coming up with ideas that the other just would never think of. So when you put it all together, we’ve got this true storytelling synergy, creating something that neither of us could do on our own. It’s a hugely rewarding experience too. We’re both invested in the story and the characters and we love writing this book, and then the other writer will add something new and unexpected and the whole thing goes to the next level. It’s creative heaven!

Wendig: This is the first I’m hearing that we’re different writers. This disturbs me on a fundamental level, as I believed up until now that Adam Christopher was merely a construct of my thorazine-addled delusions. Or that Chuck Wendig was a construct of Adam Christopher, starving somewhere in a desert.

Still, regardless of whether or not we share the same body as imaginary people, the great thing is I think we each have these different strengths and skill-sets that come together and do the Voltron thing — rogue robot lions that become a giant robot.

I’ve done some work in film and television and it’s interesting to see how comics is kind of a… mash-up of the prose-work found in novels and the visual work of film/TV. It’s awesome. So happy to be in this sandbox, finally.

When Dark Circle line editor Alex Segura approached you guys about doing a new version of the Shield, what was your immediate response? Were you familiar with the history of Archie’s previous Red Circle line of superhero comics, and what was your first impulse at playing in that space?

Wendig: “Yes.” Our response was “yes,” and then I think we said “yes” like, a hundred more times.

Christopher: After Alex called me, I think I wandered around the house in a daze for a couple of days. I mean, being asked to write “The Shield” is the equivalent of Marvel or DC calling you up and asking if you fancy rebooting Captain America or Superman! We’re dealing with arguably the lead character in the Dark Circle universe — certainly one of the oldest. So there’s a feeling of responsibility there, for sure.

But I was a fan of the old Red Circle heroes anyway. My first exposure to them was in 2010 with the DC Comics miniseries, and from that I went back and unearthed the old books. So I have my own favorite stories and characters, and I love the fact that we’ve been handed the keys to this superhero universe. Kid in a candy store doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling!

Wendig: I’ll be honest, most of this is pretty new to me. I was only peripherally aware of the Red Circle heroes, and they never much pinged my radar. For me, the exciting part is recolonizing an old world — taking former elements and doing our own thing with them. Alex and the Dark Circle team have been particularly spectacular when it comes to: “Think bigger, weirder, bolder.” Most times with licensed work, you go big and then someone starts to hedge. This was the opposite.

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Obviously, “The Shield” is a high profile book for Dark Circle because it’s making a turn from previous iterations of the character. While casting the new Shield as a woman is thankfully no longer earth-shattering news in the modern comics marketplace, it is a choice that comes with some intent in terms of the kind of story you’re looking to tell. How did the creation of this new Shield come about, and what do you think it signifies about what you want this book to be?

Christopher: It came from Archie. The original idea was to reboot the Shield back to the young version of the original character, Joe Higgins, but after a while they said, y’know what, let’s push it further — take the core concepts of what makes the Shield the Shield and create a completely new character. And that’s what she is. This is not a mere gender-flip of an existing character. She’s a brand new one who actually fits into the old continuity, but her history goes back much further than Joe Higgins and World War II. We’ll be exploring that history and how she and Joe Higgins and other people who have borne the title of “The Shield” fit together. Archie have been brilliant, giving us completely free reign to craft a new character with new history, origin, the works. We need modern, diverse superheroes for a modern, diverse audience, and we’re really proud to make the new Shield — or Victoria Adams, in her civilian guise — a part of that.

Wendig: The joy of all this for me is that we get to take that original archetype of the Patriotic Soldier Hero — and, in fact, one of the origins of that archetype — and see how that holds up in the modern era. America is in a strange place: spying on its citizens, throwing its democracy around like a hammer, doing little to fix the class warfare in the country, doing little to fix the overall divisiveness here. So: what’s that mean for a patriotic super-soldier? How can our Shield navigate this? What does it mean to be patriotic, to be American? Is it to the nation, to its government, to its people or its ideals?

Alex has told us that the new Shield is “more soldier and warrior than costumed avenger.” Tell us about who she is that focuses those particular traits. Who is the woman in this new costume, and how does her story bring her into contact with the Shield legacy?

Christopher: Victoria Adams is a woman with a very mysterious past, and we explore that right from the first panel of the first issue. She is a new character but one inextricably entangled with the Shield — not just the previous versions of the superhero, but the core concepts of what it actually means to carry the name. The opening story arc is about her finding her place in the modern world, working out not just who she is and what she can do but why she needs to do it. She wears a costume and a mask for a reason, but at the same time she is a soldier. But she’ll have to face some key questions: Who is she fighting for? What does she represent? What does it mean to wear the emblem on her chest? These are things she is going to discover herself, alongside the reader.

Wendig: Right. This isn’t the Shield’s first rodeo. This isn’t her origin story. She’s returned to the world — reborn, in a sense — and we discover that this is not the first time she’s appeared here. She has been a soldier and a warrior, appearing any time the country and its people are in danger. This time the great mystery becomes why is she back now? What is the danger? The threat is no longer obvious.

Storywise, I know this book will be playing with the conspiracy thriller genre of superheroes as much as it is a straight action book. What can you say about the opening arc of the series and the way this story propels us into that kind of world?

Wendig: The opening arc forces us — and Victoria — to ask: who is she? Why is she here? Is the country she has been cosmically entangled to protect now, in part, an enemy to itself? This first arc is about identity — both of the character and of the nation.

Christopher: Right from the beginning, we’re throwing the Shield into a conspiracy. There’s plenty of action, but there’s also political intrigue, clandestine ops, and dirty secrets. The world is simply a different place than when she first appeared, so the way she operates has likewise evolved. Having said that, I am a fan of widescreen superhero action, so rest assured when it comes time to punch a giant robot in the face, her fists will be flying. But there is more to her story and character than her not inconsiderable firepower.

It’s just been announced that artist David Williams is taking on interior duties following on the design work of Wilfredo Torres. How did having Wilfredo’s work early on help define this character for you as you wrote, and what has it been like to see the final pages start coming in from David to complete that process?

Wendig: Wilfredo set the stage, but David’s running the show. Both have been fundamental to helping us understand who this character is.

Christopher: Wilfredo’s design work on the new character is amazing and really helped us crystalize not just the Shield herself but the story we wanted to tell. It was really important to us that she looked like a real woman. She’s superpowered but her costume is practical — she’s a warrior, after all. And, as a happy consequence, she’s also very cosplayable. Designing a brand new hero is a huge challenge and I have to take my hat off to Wilfredo. He nailed it, perfectly. As soon as we saw the designs, she came to life, and I think both Chuck and I were desperate to tell her story.

David is quite a different kind of artist, and seeing his take on Wilfredo’s design has been a real joy. He’s also a huge fan of not just the Archie superheroes but the Shield specifically, so we couldn’t have had a better match for the ongoing artist. His input has been vital in helping craft the story arc. When I first saw his work on the book, even at the early concept sketch stage, my jaw was on the floor. This book is going to look beautiful.

One thing I have to ask about is the villain of the piece. You’ve teased that this character is one of the scariest that you could unleash on the series. Considering the place the Shield has as the marquee, A-level hero of this universe, how do you go about building an opposite number in her nemesis?

Christopher: Choosing an A-list villain for an A-list hero was a very careful process. Archie basically gave us carte blanche to open up the whole history of The Shield and the Archie superhero universe and use what we liked. The Shield is a Golden Age superhero, so it seems appropriate for her to battle a Golden Age supervillain, but one who, like the Shield herself, has been updated and reimagined. I spent many happy hours searching through old comics and character encyclopedias before finding the absolute perfect match for our new hero. And as a comic geek and fan of this universe, this was another opportunity to play with a classic character but in a totally new way. We’re not just recycling old characters or concepts, we’re taking some of the best aspects of the old universe and fashioning them into something modern and fresh. New readers don’t need to know anything to just jump in, while fans of the old comics should be pleasantly surprised at who we have pitted the Shield against. And yes, he, she or it is very bad, and very powerful, and very, very scary.

Wendig: Insert sinister laugh here.

And of course, with an ongoing series you’ve got a much broader cast than one hero and one villain to play with. Who else plays an important role in this first story and in the book moving forward?

Christopher: The Shield is immediately thrown into danger but quickly finds help from a surprising place — Impact City detective Nicole Simmons, who helps the Shield understand who she is and what it means to be a superhero in the modern world. Of course we have a whole cast of characters who will work both with and against our heroes. While it’s a fresh start for new readers, the old heroes still exist in the universe. So let’s just say there may be a surprise or two in store…

Wendig: I should add that Nicole also has a rather big secret herself — a secret tied to another Red Circle legacy. Nicole has a very powerful — well, let’s go with “friend.”

At this stage in the game, how much have you been working with or thinking about the broader universe in terms of series like “Black Hood” and “The Fox” and wider stories that you can play with?

Christopher: Everyone’s been working on making the individual books the best they can possibly be, but with the fact that it’s a single, shared universe in the back of our minds. Our version of the Shield is completely new, and we need to introduce readers to her, so we’re focused on making this book a kick-ass standalone title. Having said that, I’m sure she’ll bump into other Dark Circle heroes over the course of her adventures. It’s going to be fun to see how she reacts to others like her. And, who knows, maybe one day she’ll get the old band back together again…

Wendig: Duane, Dean and I were talking at NYCC about our first one-shot crossover event will look like, and the word “Rashomon” was bandied about quite a bit…

“The Shield” arrives in 2015 from Archie’s Dark Circle Comics.

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