In Marvel Comics' Secret Empire event, heroes are fighting to reclaim the United States from the forces of Hydra and its leader, a Cosmic Cube altered Steve Rogers, who used the trusted reputation he had established as the original Captain America to conceal a coup de tat against the nation he once swore to defend.
Rogers' sneak attack hit the stars of U.S.Avengers, by writer Al Ewing and artist Paco Medina, particularly hard; several members of the government sponsored superteam were taken out of commission or captured by Hydra. Enigma and Squirrel Girl, however, managed to escape to France where they discovered the war against Hydra isn't just an American problem. A European front has opened as well.
They won't have to fight that battle alone, though. In U.S.Avengers #7, Ewing introduced them to a group of heroes leading the fight against Hydra's encroachment into Europe. We spoke with Ewing about the European heroes, the Hydra forces they'll face, his plans for the U.S.Avengers still on American soil, and that one member last seen floating in outer space.
CBR: Much of Secret Empire has involved the struggle on American soil or above the Earth in space, but in U.S.Avengers #7 you took readers to Paris and showed that Hydra was a global problem. What can you tell us about the general situation with Hydra in Europe? Is it as bad as things are in America?
Al Ewing: Essentially, the situation is that the European arms of Hydra have been emboldened by the success of the American contingent. Hydra is Hydra - it's the same organization, and as we've seen, information can quickly pass between the various arms - but there's some deniability mixed in. Steve Rogers could, if it came to it, deny having anything to do with Euro-Hydra, and Euro-Hydra has its own aims, goals and projects going on, and so far, while they've had some victories, they've not had as much success. We're mostly going to be spending time in Paris, which is where Euro-Hydra's pushed hardest - we saw them take on EuroForce in another of the Secret Empire books, I think, and if they ended up taking over the middle of Paris, that battle probably didn't go too well.
Paris and Europe isn't without it's defenders though as readers saw in in issue #7. Their ranks included several of the contestants from your Contest of Champions series: Ares, Guillotine, and Outlaw as well as Captain Britain and Dr. Faiza Hussain (aka Excalibur) who you've also written before. How does it feel to return to these characters? What's it like bouncing them off each other and the situations created by Secret Empire?
Well, part of me was looking for an excuse to bring these guys back on-panel for a little while - if nothing else, I figured Guillotine could do with a little more time in the spotlight, and I always enjoy writing Ares and Outlaw as well. And it's been easy to slip right back into writing them - there's a fun little bit where Faiza and Jeannine get to compare magic swords, and I got to do a nice big Ares moment in #7... it's just a lot of fun in general.
When we ended Contest Of Champions, I didn't know the Champions name was coming back, so I never actually officially dubbed that thrown-together team "The Champions,” but they're very much the "Euro-Champions" to me - this rag-tag trio of international heroes wandering around doing good deeds, which seems very reminiscent of the original Champions in a way. There's a sort of "failed Saturday morning cartoon" vibe about the idea as well, which appeals to me a lot.
The ranks of the European heroes in issue #7 included another character I don't believe you've written before, La Peregrine. What made you want to bring him into this story? What do you find most interesting about the character?
Basically, I felt we were a bit light on French heroes - there are loads of them, and it didn't make sense for Guillotine to be the only one responding to all this. And Peregrine seems to be Marvel France's equivalent of Captain America - the biggest hero-name in his respective country, even if he doesn't dress up in a flag - so it made sense that he'd be teaming up with Captain Britain against Hydra. I ended up making him quite a straight-laced, classical hero, with a poetic turn of phrase, at least in English - a bit less of the banter and quipping that's the trademark of the modern super-person, a bit more of the kind of lyrical soliloquies that were perhaps the hallmark of an earlier time.
What's it like bouncing regular cast members Squirrel Girl and Enigma off of your European guest stars? What kinds of perspectives do they add to the situation?
Enigma's a European hero herself - although, of course, Norway isn't an EU member state. But then again, Brian, Faiza and Nigel are here to help despite the ongoing Brexit shenanigans, so she'll hopefully fit in as well. Meanwhile, Squirrel Girl's relentless positivity should be a balm to La Peregrine's gallic melancholy and Captain Britain's occasional grumbles of frustration. I'm aware I'm on thin ice with Brian's fans, but it wouldn't be Brian Braddock for me if he didn't occasionally get peevish at the ongoing madness of the world of capes.
Have Squirrel Girl and Enigma met all of Europe's remaining heroes? Or will you be introducing more of those characters as the story moves forward? And if so will they be new characters? Familiar faces? Or both?
We'll be meeting a couple of familiar European faces as the story continues - whether we'll have the space or time to come up with any completely new faces remains to be seen, but I at least want to get back to Euroforce and maybe a few other old Euro-favorites. Marvel has created quite a few Euro-heroes over the years, and it'd be nice to dig up some of the lesser-known ones if possible.
While Enigma and Squirrel Girl were meeting with the international heroes Iron Patriot and Red Hulk were taken to a Hydra prison camp in the U.S. What can you tell us about the action they'll get into there and the characters they'll meet?
In a lot of ways, #8 is Iron Patriot's story more than anyone else's. We've been dropping hints that getting into the armor on a regular basis has knocked loose some internal stuff that Dr. Toni Ho thought she'd buried, about her relationship with her father, Ho Yinsen, and his unfortunate death. As Iron Man fans will remember, Yinsen sacrificed his life buying Tony Stark time to fully boot up the first Iron Man armor, and that's something Toni's struggled with in one way or another for a while. And now, she's found herself in a situation that eerily mirrors how her Dad died - she's stuck in a cell with a dying billionaire (U.S.Avengers leader Roberto da Costa, aka Citizen V, aka Sunspot), and the parallels are kind of staring everyone in the face. Hopefully she'll come out of it a little better than her Dad did.
U.S.Avengers #7 also featured the revelation that Cannonball is not dead. He appears to be in some pretty dire straits though having been found floating in space by intergalactic slavers. Will you continue to follow Sam Guthrie in this current arc? Or will we see more of him down the road?
Yes, Cannonball is alive! I lied to everyone! We'll be seeing more of him - we get a little glimpse of his situation in #8, and depending on how many explosions I want in #9, we might get another peek at him there, too. But his story really starts moving in #10, where we find out where he ends up. I'll give you a clue - it's a very long way away from home, and it'll take the combined might of the U.S.Avengers and at least one extra-special guest to get him out of the jam he's in.
Part of the fun of this story is watching Paco Medina bring to life all the different characters, environments, and situations. What's it been like telling this story with Paco? Were there some elements you included just for him? And what were some of the things he added to the story that readers might not be aware of?
Pretty much all the Euro-Champions were just for Paco - and just for me, as well. I couldn't resist the urge, seeing as the gang was back together, to bring in the Contest Crew for another adventure. In terms of things Paco adds to the story - to every story, in fact - pretty much everything. I work in a kind of Marvel-ish style at the moment, writing a reasonably full script, but then going back and rewriting all the dialogue when I see the finished art. So until I see Paco's art, the story doesn't really exist.
Paco's absolutely wonderful when it comes to storytelling, sense of place, the general solidity of his art and the energy of the characters - all things that are absolutely essential, in my view - and seeing his art in my inbox tends to suggest all sorts of new and interesting tweaks to put on the dialogue, or ways to take the "acting" of a scene that I hadn't considered. It's one of the reasons I always enjoy working with him.
Can you leave us with some final hints and teases about the action we'll see in U.S.Avengers during Secret Empire and perhaps beyond? Do you have plans for these characters moving into the fall of this year?
Well, once Secret Empire is done, there are going to be some changes - a new status quo for a couple of the team members, a new Supreme Leader of A.I.M. and at least one new member to take Cannonball's place. Then we have the Search For Sam, a story that takes the team on a journey to an America that's at once achingly familiar and at the same time unsettlingly alien. And after that comes... something else. Something I can't currently talk about. But you'll find out about it soon enough.
I'll finish up in my customary way, by thanking everyone who's chosen to buy the comic - or any of my comics, for that matter. It's very much appreciated, and I hope I can keep on producing work you enjoy.