The Marvel Universe is filled with artifacts that can bend and manipulate the forces of reality, along with countless beings battling to control these relics. In recent years, the Infinity Gems have been the target of much fighting, but in the aftermath of “Secret Wars” a new and mysterious all-powerful substance called Iso-8 has emerged, and several factions are already battling for control of it.
That struggle is one of the driving forces behind “Contest of Champions,” by writer Al Ewing and artist Paco Medina, which is in turn inspired by the mobile game of the same name. Set in a mysterious dimension called the Battlerealm, where the enigmatic Elders of the Universe and their hand-picked teams of summoners and champions are battling for control of Iso-8, which appears to have the power to cross dimensions and even resurrect the dead.
Thus far, the Contest is in its initial phase as the Elder known as the Collector and his summoner the Maestro assemble their team from across the Marvel Universe in preparation to face their opponents; the team formed by the Grandmaster and his Summoner, Jake Gallows, AKA the Punisher of Marvel’s 2099 reality. Things are about to heat up as the two rival teams come face to face, the mystery surrounding Iso-8 deepens, and the South Korean super hero known as the White Fox begins investigating the disappearances of heroes drawn into the Contest.
CBR News: Let’s start with the revelation at the end of Issue #2: Jake Gallows, the Punisher of 2099, is serving in the role of summoner for the Grandmaster’s team. What made you want to bring Jake into the book? What does he add to the series?
Al Ewing: I thought it’d be nice to have another Punisher spin-off character in the mix, and I’ve always been a fan of Punisher 2099, although capturing that special Pat Mills’ flavor isn’t easy in the space available. Over time, we’ll get to see exactly why he’s here, how he ended up mixed up in this and what his own plans for the situation are, but these are spoilers for a few issues ahead.
Jake’s team of champions includes Joe Fixit, Venom, the Void, Madame Hydra, and a Bullsye that looks a lot like Elektra. Are these characters mainly just villainous antagonists for the Collector’s team, or do you want “Contest” to be more of a gray hued series?
Initially, I wanted to avoid the “heroes vs heroes” tag and make this much closer to something like “Secret Wars” — the original “Secret Wars” of my youth — in that we’d have a team of “good guys” and a team of “bad guys.” That said, we’ll be seeing over time how some of the “bad” characters are worse than others, and some of the “goodies” might have their own dark aspects, so it will all get very muddy as things go on.
Opposing Jake is the Collector’s team of the Maestro; former British counterpart to the Punisher, Outlaw; Guillotine; Daredevil’s resurrected mentor, Stick; and the God of War, Ares who was resurrected and joined the team in Issue #2. Is the team now complete? How would you describe the bond and dynamic between the group’s current members?
It’s mostly all together! They’re a four-man squad right now, and the Collector is drumming his fingers waiting for the fifth member to show up, as you’ll see in #3. Who will that fifth member be? The answer may surprise you! But there is a point coming where we get a five-against-five match, with all these characters in play, and we’ll see how that works out.
As for their dynamic — right now, the four good guys are a mix of known and unknown quantities. Some know of each other, and some don’t — but they’ve all been thrown together against their will in the Battlerealm, and that’s what bonds them together, what they have in common. When the fifth member arrives, you’ll see them start to come together and gel into a fighting team — although as the plot accelerates, it might be too late.
Guillotine was sort of co-created by Marvel and Kabam, the publisher of the “Contest” video game. How much of a hand did you have in creating Guillotine and her signature weapon? Are you interested in exploring more of the mythology of her sword?
I came up with the name and the basic idea — a woman with a cursed sword and a codename that had been passed down through the generations, since the French Revolution. Kabam and Paco [Medina] took that idea and ran with it, creating and refining the initial design — that look, and particularly the look of the sword, helped inspire a lot of the finer details as we went on.
I’ve laid some of the mythology down already — we know there was a Guillotine around during the Bloody Week, one active in the Paris Communes, a Guillotine fighting for the resistance in WWII, and various others. And we’ve got a rough idea of her situation at home, where she’s in a relationship with the detective obsessively hunting down her secret identity — which is a good old-fashioned Marvel-style set-up. Worthy of Spidey, I’d say.
I don’t know if I’ll be exploring all of that myself — I know other writers have expressed an interest in doing more with her. Part of me wants to set her adrift once her part in “Contest” is done — assuming she survives! — and see who wants to work with her. I’ve got a lot of faith that she’ll have some longevity — between her and her predecessors, there’s an almost limitless number of stories to tell, and that’s before we ask where the sword came from in the first place.
What’s it like writing action scenes for Paco? Are there some cool things he’s added to your recent scripts that readers might not know about?
Paco’s got a great grasp of action — he takes the fight choreography I lay down in the plot and amps it up a little bit, so it all flows a little more and has more razzle-dazzle to it. So that first punch Maestro threw against Ares [in Issue #2] — in the script, that was a pretty solid whammo, a nice right cross, knocking him down onto the floor. But when I got the art back, Ares was flying across the room — you could feel the impact. Speed lines from the force of the blow. It added a whole lot of punch, if you’ll pardon the pun.
The first two issues also introduced a wildcard in the form of South Korean super hero White Fox, who’s looking into the death of one of her countrymen, a hero who appears to have perished in the Contest. What do you find most interesting about White Fox? Which aspects of her personality are you especially interested in exploring?
White Fox is currently orbiting the narrative, poking at the Contest from the outside — she’s taking longer to get into the fighting than we originally figured, because other elements of the plot are moving faster and we’re throwing in a curveball or two. But when she does arrive, it’s going to be with a bang.
I’m enjoying writing her as a detective, investigating these otherworldly goings-on, getting closer to the truth — the origins of the Contest — and I’m also enjoying how easily she can move between the quite mythological space she’s originally from, and the more technological world of spycraft, human robots and armored super-gangs.
Your first few issues also introduced a MacGuffin familiar to the fans of the “Contest” game. In the game, Iso-8 is a way to level-up your character’s abilities, but it seems like the substance is even more cosmic in potential. What can you tell us about its comic capabilities? And are you really hinting that Iso-8 is tied to the aftermath of “Secret Wars?”
“Ultimates” readers will have seen Iso-8 from another angle — it’s a new form of Neutronium, a super-substance the Blue Marvel’s been experimenting with for almost as long as he’s been in the Marvel Universe. What’s different now is that — since the events of “Secret Wars” and whatever undid the death of everything — vast new stockpiles of this substance have been created, most of it in the Battlerealm, as the seeming by-product of, well, whatever happened. We still don’t know.
But we do know Iso-8 seems to have a certain amount of cosmic power baked in, and the Iso-Sphere — the concentrated collection of the Battlerealm’s supply of it — makes the all-powerful Cosmic Cube look like a party popper. We’ve seen it bring back the dead twice — once by invading the Greek afterlife — and as the Collector amasses more of it and learns more about how to use it, we’ll see more of what it’s capable of. Bear in mind that the Collector’s got quite a limited imagination. If anyone else got their hands on it, the consequences could be catastrophic.
We’ve talked about characters and mysteries lets talk a little more about the big draw of this series: the fights! What can you offer up about the slugfests we’ll see in upcoming issues?
Well, coming up next ish, we’ve got a new Hulk on the scene who “What If…?” readers may recognize from his time sticking it to the man, getting ginchy with various hepcats and generally enjoying the groovy seen scene. Hulk is Hulk’s happening — and it freaks Hulk out!
Meanwhile, we’ve got Ares facing off against the Sentry, because that had to happen sometime. We’ve got Bullseye — aka the Elektra Natchios of a universe that went very wrong — versus Stick, because ditto. Fans of the game will enjoy our Guillotine versus Venom showdown, with a twist.
Finally, we’re bringing in one of the greatest fighters of the Marvel Universe to kick ass in his own inimitable style. I couldn’t possibly spoil who it is yet — but writing him is a bit like writing Batman would be, if Batman was more awesome.
There are a lot of Elders of the Universe, and so far we’ve only seen two participating in “Contest of Champions.” In the months ahead, might we see more appear with their own Summoners and teams?
Come Issue #6 or so, we’ll be getting an idea of the size of the Contest,
and the origins of it, and we’ll get some cameos from some of the other Elders. We’ll be taking a look into the eight month gap, and we’ll find out a little more about how the Maestro got to his current position, and what he’s planning to do about it. That’s the issue that’s going to be chock full of revelations — readers aren’t going to want to miss it!
I’ll finish up with a general thank you to everyone reading the book! You’re about to be rewarded big-time, in many different ways. By the end of this arc, the Contest will reach the next level — and the Marvel Universe will never be the same! Keep reading — the best is yet to come!
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