Christos Gage's War "Initiative"

When the U.S. Government started it's Initiative program in the aftermath of the superhero Civil War, it was supposed to be a noble endeavor. The program was designed to train superhumans so that every state in America would have it's own team of heroes to protect them from the various villains and dangers of the Marvel Universe. When Norman Osborn came to power, however, that changed and the program quickly became a corrupted version of it's original self.

Now the Initiative is being utilized to train and give government legitimacy to the private army of supervillains lead by Osborn's associate, The Hood. In charge of training said army is the villainous Taskmaster, who is also the recipient of a promotion to Osborn's inner circle of villainy, The Cabal. It turned out to be more than the evil instructor bargained for, with Doctor Doom arriving at Taskmaster's first Cabal meeting to tender his resignation from the group by shooting Taskmaster with a mystical blast. While he was recuperating from Doom's attack, Taskmaster attempted to back out of his deal with Osborn, but the former Green Goblin made it very clear that such a decision could prove fatal.

Meanwhile, a small group of ex - New Warriors and ex - Initiative members have banded together to form The Avengers Resistance and are working hard to take back the Initiative from Osborn. The group is rocked by inner turmoil, though if they are able to keep from imploding, they just might accomplish some good.

The moment of truth for Taskmaster, the current members of the Initiative, and the the Avengers: Resistance arrives this January as the monthly "Avengers: The Initiative" series begins it's tie - in with "Siege." The tale will feature Taskmaster leading an Initiative invasion force into the halls of Asgard while finding the Avengers Resistance readying themselves to strike a crippling blow against Osborn. CBR News spoke with writer Christos Gage about the series.

CBR News: It seems with the villain scenes in "The Initiative" that you're primarily interested in exploring a specific type of villain, that of the professional costumed criminal variety. Is that correct? What makes these characters so intriguing to you?

Christos Gage: I don't know if I have a specific preference for mercenary types as much as that's what seems to best fit the book, but I definitely find those characters intriguing. I think ever since "Silence of the Lambs" we've all seen some pretty in - depth explorations of psychopaths. To me, characters like Constrictor, Taskmaster, and (on a different level) Johnny Guitar are a different breed; sort of the working class of villains. They don't get the attention of a Dr. Doom, Venom or Green Goblin, but they make the villainous world go 'round.

I'm not saying these people are normal or well adjusted by any means, but I do find it interesting to write a character who isn't a villain because they're too crazy to be anything else, but rather because they've consciously chosen that path. They see it as a route to fame, riches or luxury, or it feeds some other need you and I can relate to, even if we'd never put on a skull mask or octopus arms. What I like to try to do is put readers in the position of saying, 'Okay, I understand that guy. Maybe even identify with him.' I think "The Sopranos" did that brilliantly. Most of us can relate to Tony's problems with his kids, his wife, his mom, his co - workers. So it carries that much more impact when he often deals with those problems by killing someone, because then you have to ask yourself how far away you are from doing the same thing.

In "Avengers: The Iniatiative" #31, Taskmaster accepted Osborn's offer to join his Cabal and later attended his first meeting...where he was attacked by Doctor Doom. At the end of the issue, when he was recuperating from Doom's attack, it seemed like Taskmaster realized that in accepting Osborn's offer and trying to be involved in something much bigger, he's actually in way over his head. It also seemed like he felt like he was trapped. What exactly is running through Taskmaster's mind when Osborn reveals that they're invading Asgard?

You'll find out more about Taskmaster's thoughts and how he feels about everything over the course of the "Siege" issues - Taskmaster is definitely one of the focal characters. You're right, he realizes that, like it or not, he's stuck. He accepted Osborn's invitation and now he's got to see it through.

It could end with him dead, Osborn dead, or both. It could end with them winning and achieving even more power. It could end with Osborn using him as a human shield or throwing him under the bus. He's certainly thought about running, but he knows Osborn - one of the most powerful men in the world - would come after him, so that's not an option...right now. But you can bet Taskmaster will never stop calculating the angles and considering his options. That, if anything, is what sets him apart from other villains - his common sense. In his first appearance he took on all the Avengers, so he's no coward, but when things started to go bad he ran for it. He's not stupid. He's going to be keeping an eye out for opportunities - and he won't be too picky about who he has to stab in the back to save his own skin.

Issue #31 also shines the spotlight on Constrictor, another character you seem to enjoy writing. Will we be seeing more of him in upcoming issues, and how would you describe his moral compass? It doesn't seem like he's exactly a villain or a hero.

I very much enjoy writing Constrictor, and yes, he'll be another one of the spotlight characters during Siege. He's a guy who has literally walked the line between hero and villain for quite a while, and I agree that you can't firmly put him in either category. He'd steal without a second thought, and killing per se doesn't bother him, but he wouldn't kill innocent people.

He's capable of heroic acts, but he also has a highly developed sense of self - interest. He's made bad choices. He's got character flaws. But he can also surprise you, as when he saved an airplane full of people in #29. Right now his relationship with Diamondback is really putting him through the wringer, as the last page of issue #31 reveals.

Let's talk a little bit about that relationship. Diamondback and Constrictor's affections for each other seem to be genuine. What is it that they see in each other?

They actually have quite a bit in common. Snake themed villains who've flirted with both sides of the law, no strangers to moral gray areas, difficult upbringings around unpleasant people. I think they see a kindred soul in each other. But the path they're on would be challenging for any relationship - and it's about to get even more complicated.

Speaking of complications, Steve Rogers is now officially back among the living, and Diamondback's membership in the Initiative could put her on a collision course with her former flame. How would you describe her current feelings towards Steve? What might seeing him alive again do to her?

That's a very interesting and weighty question in light of what's going on between Diamondback and Constrictor. If you're Diamondback, does the return of Steve Rogers make you look at your current relationship in a new light? Could old flames be rekindled? And if you're Constrictor, how do you compete with a living legend? It's bad enough when your girlfriend compares you to her ex, but what about when that ex is a national icon? Things would sure get complicated if they happened to run into Steve, don't you think? Oh, wait, look at that cover to 'Initiative' #34 - who's that in the red, white and blue...?

In issue #31, Penance seemed to be in the best mental health that he's been in a long time. Is that an accurate assessment? And why do you feel he stayed at Camp HAMMER? I know he didn't feel like he was ready to rejoin his New Warrior friends, but he knows the Initiative is being run by villains, so why not just quit the Initiative and go AWOL or solo?

Penance suffered a setback when Norman had him drugged and brainwashed to forget his past, but now that he's recovered all his memories and received some support from Trauma (such as being reunited with his cat Niels), he seems to be getting it together.

As to why he stayed with the Initiative, you're right that he doesn't yet feel he can face his old New Warriors friends in his new persona, but I think there's more to it. With Penance, I've come to a point where I am picking up his development at the place Warren Ellis left off in "Thunderbolts" where, if you'll recall, Robbie made some progress in therapy with Doc Samson, but ultimately decided to stay with the morally questionable Thunderbolts as a way of serving his penance for what happened in Stamford - helping people when he can but also keeping these shady characters honest. He seems to have a similar feeling about the Initiative - for now.

In recent scenes with the Avengers Resistance, it seemed as though the team was experiencing some major inner turmoil. How would you describe the dynamic and emotional state of the team going into "Siege?"

It's strained, and I think most of them realize it, even if they're not entirely sure of all the factors involved. Readers know that Night Thrasher has been offered a bargain by the Hood - returning his dead brother to life in exchange for betraying his teammates. Meanwhile, Tigra is clawing her way through the Hood's men to get revenge on the boss himself, but the path she's on could end up damaging her more than anyone. They've been losing resources - Debrii quit the team rather than fight what she saw as a pointless war. They're constantly hunted. I think Justice and the other team leaders know that time is running out for them. They have to win soon, or not at all.

For the "Siege" tie-in issues, it looks like there will be both superheroes and supervillains present as characters, but you're essentially telling two different types of tales. With the Initiative members in Asgard you're telling a war story, and with the Resistance it sounds like their break-in and assault on Camp HAMMER is more of a spy/heist type story.

Kind of - it's almost all a war story but with different fronts, with the Siege of Asgard representing the front lines - all-out war - and Camp HAMMER more of a "Where Eagles Dare" type of mission. None of it is "Ocean's Eleven." There's way too much stuff exploding for that.

"Avengers: The Initiative" is a book with a huge cast, so who are some of the characters whose perspectives we'll be seeing the action from?

There'll be two major fronts: Asgard, where Taskmaster, Constrictor, Diamondback and other Initiative teams are in the thick of the action, and Camp HAMMER, which the Avengers Resistance makes a last-ditch attack on to take it down once and for all while its forces are split. Focus characters will include Taskmaster, Constrictor, Diamondback, Justice, Night Thrasher, Penance and Tigra.

As for the conflicts - well, some of them you've touched on, like the romance between Constrictor and Diamondback, and Taskmaster's efforts to get through this whole mess alive. Night Thrasher has a heavy choice to make. Tigra has had her fill of flunkies and is going after the Hood. And Penance will pick a side once and for all.

How would you describe the tone of these stories? It sounds like the Initiative tale could be very grim and brutal and that the Resistance story will have a lot of high-tension action?

What I love about this book is that the tone can shift from one issue to the next, and even within the same story. One of the things that Brian Bendis has said about "Siege," that you alluded to, is that it's not a superhero battle, it's a war comic. And I'm definitely taking that approach. It's the culmination of many, many storylines, character arcs and plot threads. Hopefully there will be a number of moments that will affect the reader, moments of both triumph and tragedy. What makes all the action work, and keeps any story from being, as Tom Brevoort puts it, "action figures smashing into each other," is the characters. There's no shortage of action, but in the end, characterization will determine if it succeeds or falls flat.
How new-reader friendly will the "Siege" issues of "Avengers: The Initiative" be?

We're taking pains to make sure the "Siege" issues of "The Initiative" are new reader accessible. Whether you're a longtime "Initiative" reader or have never picked up an issue, we hope you'll come along for what's going to be one hell of a ride!

What can you tell us about your collaborators for the "Siege" issues of "Avengers: The Initiative?" Which artists are you working with?

Issue #32 features a star turn by Mahmud Asrar and Rebecca Buchman - really great stuff - I think Tom Brevoort's been posting some of those pages on his blog, so take a look, and imagine this team let loose on all-out Asgardian mayhem! And the uber-talented Jorge Molina, who did a wonderful job on the Nightmare story in #29 - 30, will lend his prodigious abilities to the remainder of the "Siege" issues. I love the emotion and expressiveness he brings to the characters and plan to make full use of his skills.

Can you give us any hints as to to what the outcome of Siege might mean for "Avengers: The Initiative?" Is this series ending after "Siege," or will it continue? And if it does continue, can we expect a radically different direction for the series?

I think it's no secret that post-"Siege" the status quo in the Marvel Universe will change dramatically. Will there even be an Initiative afterward? I hate to be a tease, but stay tuned and find out. I will say this: regardless of the outcome of "Siege," I'll be writing an Avengers book, and there's some really exciting stuff coming up that I am bursting to talk about but have to keep under my hat just a bit longer. Believe me, it's harder for me than you!

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