SPOILER WARNING: The following contains spoilers for "Secret Warriors" #1.
When Nick Fury joined the espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and later became its director, he thought he was continuing his decades-spanning fight against tyranny and evil in the Marvel Universe.
Turns out Nick Fury was dead wrong.
As head of S.H.I.E.L.D, Fury believed he was working to smash several global criminal-subversive conspiracies, most notably Hydra, but in the sold-out "Secret Warriors" #1, Fury learned that S.H.I.E.L.D. was actually an arm of Hydra. This left the old soldier and master spy noticeably shaken and even more paranoid, but more determined then ever to end the threat of Hydra with the help of a team of superpowered young people he assembled to fight the Skrulls in Secret Invasion.
What's the first step for Fury and his team of "Secret Warriors?" To answers that question and more, CBR News spoke with series writer Jonathan Hickman about the remarkable new Marvel book, issue #2 of which goes on sale this week.
Hickman credits his editor Tom Brevoort and co-writer Brian Michael Bendis for the idea of making S.H.I.E.L.D. an arm of Hydra. "I remember talking with them about all the things that would make 'Secret Warriors' a cool book and we agreed that we needed a big, shocking reveal at the end of the first issue; something to make everybody say, 'Oh my God!" Hickman told CBR. "At first, I think Brian wanted the big reveal to come at the end of the first arc, but I said, 'No. Let's make it the first issue.'"
The reveal about the true natures of Hydra and S.H.I.EL.D. had a number of significant effects. Most notably, the truth demonstrated the fact that Hydra is a lot more formidable and frightening than anyone had previously believed. "My argument would be that this is the real Hydra and we're going to see all of their back story," Hickman explained. "We've got all those elements, like the Golden Age Hydra, already worked out. Nick Fury woke up and the world was even scarier than when he went to bed. It's all planned out, and we've got plenty of room to play around. The second issue is the back story of Hydra from Secret Invasion on; what happened to them, how they're retooling and what they're doing."
Readers first got a hint about the relationship between Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D and several of Hickman's other plans for the series through a story "bible" that was first posted on the mysterious website AgentOfNothing.com. The bible resembled a planetary chart, with different ideas orbiting around each other in concentric circles. "All of the information there is not necessarily true because this is a spy book and I promise we will lie to you," remarked Hickman, who is also a graphic designer of considerable skill. "You can read the bible a couple of ways. It's a character map. It's an evolving story where as the circles get bigger that's kind of the stuff we're touching on. It's not really up to scale and it's a little dishonest, though, because a lot of stuff happens very quickly and then things get even bigger than that."
Perhaps the most intriguing element in the bible was the mysterious Leviathan, an entity or organization that could be in control of Hydra. The exact nature of Leviathan will be an ongoing mystery in "Secret Warriors." "We'll probably start touching on some of that stuff in our second arc," Hickman explained. "Our first issue was 'Nick Fury, Agent of Nothing.' Issue two is about Hydra. I can't tell you the title of issue #3. Issue #4 is what happened to all the other S.H.I.EL.D. Agents. And issues 5-6 are a two-part story, which closes out our first arc."
Nick Fury fans were given further hints about upcoming reveals, stories and events in the 12 pages of supplemental data files that appeared in the back of "Secret Warriors" #1. The pages included information on Hydra front companies and more "Caterpillars," the term used to describe second or third generation super-people, like Fury's team of Secret Warriors. "All of that stuff will be revisited," Hickman confirmed. "And even though the pages answered some questions about things like the second and third stage Caterpillars, they also raised a lot more questions."
One question is how Fury handling his new role as a teacher and leader of a team of super powered young people? Readers got some hints as to how he's doing in "Secret Warriors" #1, but the question as to whether Fury is a good teacher will be answered in upcoming issues. "One of Nick Fury's motivations for having Daisy Johnson run the team is that he feels like he needs a buffer between him and his ground soldiers," Hickman explained. "There's an emotional disconnect that he feels like he needs to have. That can be both good and bad and we're going to see the effects from both sides as well as what that means to Daisy, what it puts her through and what conclusions she draws from it.
"I think a lot of people are misunderstanding the fact that there are kids in this book and thinking it's going to be like 'Runaways' or 'Young Avengers,'" Hickman continued. "Not that those aren't brilliant books, but this story isn't just about Nick Fury and the kids. It's about a belief that Nick Fury has and what it's going to take to get all these ducks to line up in a row and achieve an end goal. The kids are part of that. So is Hydra, S.H.I.E.L.D., his kid Mikel, and the Zodiac Key. All of that is interconnected to Nick Fury's plan."
As field leader of Nick Fury's Secret Warriors, Daisy Johnson is working hard to make sure Fury's overall plan is a success. "She believes in him. She's a disciple of Nick Fury's cause and she's going to do everything she can to make sure his goals come to fruition," Hickman stated. "The question with her, though, is something that all people of faith and everybody who believes in something must face: can you maintain your belief when your cause meets reality? We'll see."
While Daisy currently believes that Nick Fury is on the right path, her fellow Secret Warrior J.T. James - a.k.a. Hellfire -- needs some more proof. "He grew up poor to middle class in the South, and I think his thinking is colored by that," Hickman said. "I think he's naturally distrusting and therefore it's tough for him to believe in anything. Did he sign on for the gig? Absolutely. Is he going to blindly follow Nick Fury into the fire? Absolutely not. A lot of what you're going to see out of J.T. Is that he's going to be a lot like us when ever we're hearing something from Nick Fury. It will be, 'Why would we want to do that Nick? What's the point there? I'm not just going to follow orders. Tell me what I'm getting ready to do!' He's not going to do anything just because you say do it. And he's got a fascinating arc as well."
Known for his high-concept ideas like "The Nightly News" and "Pax Romana," Jonathan Hickman approached "Secret Warriors" with similar ambition. "I turned in an outline for 60 issues," he revealed. "The market will tell us if we're going to get there or not, but I think we'll have the people who bought the first issue for the first arc. And if we have them for the first arc I think we'll have them for the long haul."
Hickman's counting on the work of his artistic collaborators Stefano Caselli and Daniele Rudoni to help keep readers for that long haul. "Those two are doing a fantastic job," the writer remarked. "Stefano is doing the work of his career. I'm so excited for him. The evolution of his work is amazing; how it looks and how it's coming out. I'm so proud of him and fortunate to be working with him."
The creative team's immediate plans for "Secret Warriors" call for the cast to confront the grand conspiracy involving Hydra, but with 60 issues in mind, there will naturally be other villains appearing in the series as well. "We exist firmly in the Marvel Universe," Hickman said. "If everybody else is on the ground level, I like think we're in the sewers. That's kind of what the most recent 'Secret War' miniseries was. It was Nick Fury making moves in a big way and we're going to do that kind of stuff here, but we're going to build to it. So, Norman Osborn may currently be in charge of the Marvel Universe, but Nick Fury doesn't like that guy at all."
"Secret Warriors" #2 goes on sale this week from Marvel Comics.