Norman Osborn's isn't the only sinister force amassing power in the Marvel Universe. While the former Green Goblin's rise to power was fast and very public, another entity is slowly and quietly wrapping its tentacles around the planet. That force is called HYDRA, and it' leaders have a plan.
In the past it was believed that HYDRA was just a terrorist organization, the archenemies of the now defunct intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. Recently, though, Nick Fury, the former director of S.H.I.E.L.D., discovered that HYDRA was a lot bigger than anyone realized. In fact, his former agency was itself an arm of HYDRA and Leviathan, the mysterious figure that appears to be behind HYDRA. It was a discovery that didn't sit well with Fury, and in "Agent of Nothing," the recently completed first arc of "Secret Warriors," Fury and his team of Caterpillars fought the first battle in a war to wipe HYDRA from the face of the Earth.
CBR News spoke with writer Jonathan Hickman about the major revelations of "Agent of Nothing" as well as what readers can expect from the next "Secret Warriors" arc, "God of Fear, God of War" which puts the characters directly in Norman Osborn's sights.
"Secret Warriors" #6 saw Fury score a huge win in his war against HYDRA. Fury, the Caterpillars, and a private army made up of ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agents successfully stormed The Dock, one of the facilities belonging to H.A.M.M.E.R., the intelligence agency that replaced S.H.I.E.L.D., which Norman Osborn runs. Fury and his forces made off with several helicarrier bases and convinced an army of H.A.M.M.E.R. Agents to join their cause. It wasn't a total victory. Madame Hydra, one of the leaders of HYDRA, was revealed to be Contessa Valentina Allegro De Fontaine, a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and Nick Fury's old flame.
"We telegraphed that reveal early on," Jonathan Hickman told CBR News. "If you remember the flow charts that got passed around when the book got announced, it was very clear that the Contessa was Madame Hydra. So it's not a big surprise if you've really been following along, but it is yet another twist in a series of ongoing twists that are supposed to leave the reader wondering what's going on. When we wrap things up, we'll wrap them up and you'll get all the answers then."
Before the decision was made to make the Contessa Madame Hydra, Hickman carefully considered the character's motivations. "People should not look at this as one of those flashy retcons where I just thought it would be cool to make the Contessa a bad guy," the writer explained. "A lot goes into the direction of all these characters and we certainly don't want to trample years and years of devotion by loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. fans. Madame Hydra/Contessa has an arc. It makes sense and ties-in to her first appearance way back when. We have a plan and we're executing it and I think people are going to dig where we're going with it."
While readers know much about Contessa and some of her established fellow HYDRA leaders like Baron Strucker, Gorgon and Viper, others like Hive and Kraken are still shrouded in mystery. "Kraken is a new character. The other HYDRA character with that name [Commander Kraken] was a real b-list character and pretty lame." Hickman said. " It's the same case with this Leviathan thing that's coming down the road. That's not that character either. It's a repurposing of a cool name. Our Kraken is very important going forward. He has a long and elaborate history and we're going to be delving into that in a major way."
Another mysterious facet of the HYDRA leadership in "Secret Warriors" is their larger motivation. Some members seem to be expressing a cult-like religious conviction for their actions. "Some of them buy into their dogma and some do not," Hickman stated. "It's really tough to pin down what's going on with the HYDRA guys at this point and time because outside of the second issue, which was just a Baron Strucker issue, we haven't had a lot of moments with the individual characters. We had a little with Contessa and some cool moments with Gorgon, but the third arc of 'Secret Warriors' is a HYDRA arc. It's those characters and HYDRA's story. I'm very excited for that. I've written the first issue. It's pretty cool stuff and really fun."
The end of the "Agent of Nothing" arc left readers with several looming questions that Hickman plans on tackling in the book's immediate, near, and far future. The first question is, where is Nick Fury going to get the money to finance his new army? "That's a pretty easy one and it's answered in the first pages of 'Secret Warriors' #7. It's not the only place where we tackle this but it is a big moment," Hickman said. "Fury is clever in how he gets his money. There's an ongoing element with the money that we do bring up and answer."
The second question concerns the fact that Fury's team of Caterpillars have discovered they're not the only team of superpowered operatives that Nick is fielding. Who is the other team? Or teams? And what is Fury having them do? "The other teams are a big deal, and they are definitely going to be revealed," Hickman said. "It's one of the other big moving moving parts that we hint at and don't reveal until the third arc."
The third burning question stems from Kraken's cryptic statement in "Secret Warriors" #4 that HYDRA's battle with S.H.I.E.L.D. has been going on for ages. Just how long has that conflict been raging? "It's been going on for awhile and that's probably our broader overall story," Hickman explained. "It involves our big resolution so it will be awhile before I can answer that."
"Secret Warriors" #7 hits stores August 27 and kicks off its second arc, "God of Fear, God of War." It's a story that promises to answer more questions, like how does Nick Fury's war against HYDRA fit into the world of Norman Osborn's Dark Reign? "It establishes the place of Fury and the Caterpillars in the proper Marvel Universe in a way that we didn't in our first arc," Hickman stated. "Once we establish that we go back underground and stay in the shadows until everything blows back up at the end of our story."
In "God of Fear, God of War," readers will get to see how HYDRA fits into Norman Osborn's world in a scene that has Baron Strucker and the former Green Goblin interacting face-to-face. "They have a conversation and it's pretty interesting. They're not friends but they have a common enemy," Hickman explained. "The world of the Marvel Universe is a very interesting place now in that the bad guys are running everything. That makes for interesting scenarios. You have people operating in daylight who normally wouldn't. And you have people who normally wouldn't be sneaking around in the dead of night. The Norman-Nick Fury-Baron Strucker dynamic is in character and makes sense."
Baron Strucker and Norman Osborn talking and scheming about their common enemy means the "God of Fear, God of War" arc will be a tough one for Fury and his allies. In fact, it's a storyline that finds them under siege. "It's the Thunderbolts and Dark Avengers versus Fury and the Caterpillars, and there's a second story that Fury gets into when he recruits John Garrett, a very dangerous out-of-commission S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. They go on a special mission in the 'Dark Reign: The List-Secret Warriors' special," Hickman revealed. "We also resolve all the questions about Ares and Phobos."
The title of the arc references Fury's recruiting of Phobos, the God of Fear, who's the young son of Dark Avengers member and God of War, Ares. Father and son haven't seen each other for a long time and when they do come face-to-face, dear old dad shouldn't expect a warm welcome. "Phobos is pissed at Ares because he's trucking with the bad guys. You try to think the world of your father but if you find out he's working for a group like the mob, he becomes a dick. So Phobos is very upset with his father," Hickman said. "There is an internal morality to Ares, though, as you know if you've been reading 'Dark Avengers.' And father-son relationships are complicated. All of that is 'Secret Warriors' #10. That's the culmination of the whole arc."
"God of Fear, God of War" isn't just about fathers and sons. It's also a fast paced tale of superpowered action. "The second arc of 'Secret Warriors' is really the most superhero that our series gets," Hickman stated. "There's still a spy subtlety but it's a big, bold superhero arc for the kids. There's a huge conflict between Norman and Fury and the kids."
Of course, "Secret Warriors" is first and foremost a spy book. "There's an immediate sense that people would think this is a superhero team book. Some of that was the early marketing and some of that was the direction [former co-writer and Caterpillar co-creator Brian Michael] Bendis was originally taking it in. The problem with that was always going to be Nick Fury was in the room," Hickman said. "He's just such an amazing character that you can't make the book about six kids you don't know and have him just sitting there. You can't expect people to not be frustrated that there's not more Nick Fury. So we didn't do that. 'Secret Warriors' isn't a teen superhero team comic. Those usually come with certain predispositions on how to operate and I didn't want to do that."
Fury and the Caterpillars' conflict with Norman Osborn unfolds in "Secret Warriors" #7-10. And as Hickman mentioned, the special "Dark Reign: The List-Secret Warriors" issue, which occurs around the same time as "Secret Warriors" #10, has Fury embroiled in a side story with Osborn that directly involves the H.A.M.M.E.R. Director's reactions to Fury stealing his helicarriers and troops in "Secret Warriors" #6.
Regular "Secret Warriors" artist Stefan Casselli is hard at work on the third arc of "Secret Warriors." Filling in for him on the "God of Fear, God of War" arc is Alessandro Vitti. "This is his first job with Marvel but I think he's going to be doing plenty of work for them. He gets better with every issue," Hickman stated. "He's very European and cinematic with the way he tells a story, which is nice. His stuff looks like something that would come out of 'Soleil' or something like that."
Casselli's break from the second arc of "Secret Warriors" means the artist will be able to tackle the entirety of the series' third arc as well as the remaining issues of the title. Hickman has a planned ending for the book, which currently calls for "Secret Warriors" to span six arcs. "Originally I had a 60-issue plan for the entire series and we're not going to do that. The series will be shorter for many reasons," Hickman said. "The chief factor being the fact that I thought the story should move faster. I didn't want it to be too belabored. When I looked at my plan I had some interesting stories but I felt like for the story to maintain it's energy, and not obfuscate the Nick Fury through line, it had to be shorter. So it's going to be shorter and there's a definite end."
The tightening up of Hickman's story for "Secret Warriors" means fans should prepare themselves for a wild ride all the way to the end. "The slowest things get is the superhero elements in 'God of Fear, God of War,'" Hickman stated.. "That's just because there's less moving pieces in the story for the first time, but there is a lot of important stuff that happens in the arc. We wanted to go a little bigger and more public with what was going on to add a sense of scope and scale to the story."
"Secret Warriors" is Jonathan Hickman's first ongoing series for Marvel and when it's all complete, he'll definitely look back on the series fondly. "I'm pretty proud of how things are coming out," the writer said. "We obviously put a lot of effort into it and I was really honored to get to work with the people I did on the first arc; certainly Brian Bendis. Now that he's off the book I'm just as appreciative to him. Tom Brevoort has been really awesome as an editor and Stefano keeps getting better with each issue. I'm pretty appreciative of the opportunity to work on this series and proud of the job we've done."