In the first issue of “Uncanny Avengers’” debut volume in 2012, the terrorist super villain known as the Red Skull united Steve Rogers and his fledgling Unity Squad of X-Men and Avengers with the heinous act of stealing the brain and psychic powers of deceased X-Men founder, Charles Xavier. Since then, there have been a number of different iterations of the Avengers Unity Squad, and they’ve tackled a variety of crises, but the team never lost sight of their goal of capturing the Skull and making him pay for the desecration of Professor X’s body and legacy.
Unfortunately, the Skull never lost sight of his vendetta with the Unity Squad, either, and in the most recent arc of “Uncanny Avengers,” he’s gone on the offensive against the team. Issue #19, by writer Gerry Duggan and artist Pepe Larraz, saw the Skull score a major victory by psychically felling or bending most of the team to his sadistic will.
What members of the Unity Squad remain at this point, and will they be forced to stand alone against the Skull, or will they have allies? And how does the Unity Squad’s battle against the Skull connect to the larger story about their founder having his history altered to become a life-long Hydra agent that’s currently unfolding in “Captain America: Steve Rogers?” For the answers to those questions and more, CBR spoke with Duggan, himself.
CBR: The psychic abilities the Red Skull acquired by stealing Charles Xavier’s brain makes him one of the Marvel Universe’s most dangerous villains. What’s it like writing the Skull in this position of power? What’s your sense of his ultimate goals?
Gerry Duggan: I think it always was to destroy the Avengers. Obviously, things have changed for him, but now that he has Charles’ brain, he can look forward to and enjoy destroying them. That’s where a lot of his sadistic tendencies come in. He’s sort of pulling the wings off of them.
Original “Uncanny Avengers” writer Rick Remender introduced the thread of the Skull stealing Xavier’s brain back in 2012. That in mind, it feels like this story is a payout on the series’ longest running plot thread.
That’s right. That was a great bit of story that I inherited from him, and the characters more or less guide you in the right direction. This felt like something they were ready to die to succeed at. I’m going to make them really try not to.
[Laughs] You mentioned the Red Skull is having fun with his assault on the Unity Squad, and it could just be the way Pepe Larraz drew him in “Uncanny Avengers” #19, but I did get an almost “Seven” style horror/serial killer vibe from the character.
That is true. Since we started this new volume, “Uncanny Avengers” really has been a stealth horror book. When we came out of the gate we wanted to catch people by surprise, and we look to our villains for inspiration.
We talked about what the Skull would do with his telepathic powers; I think at one point we have him sitting on a throne made of enthralled humans. He’s also been doing some weird and pretty messed up things to the Avengers.
The Red Skull controls Hydra, and Unity Squad founder Steve Rogers recently had his history altered by a living Cosmic Cube fragment, a change that has resulted in him having been a lifelong agent of Hydra. In Nick Spencer’s “Captain America: Steve Rogers” book, we’ve seen that Steve is no friend to the Skull and is hoping to wrest control of Hydra from him. He hasn’t appeared in this book for a while, but the Unity Squad battling the Red Skull begs the question of how big a presence Steve will have in your book moving forward.
I think it’s fair to assume you have not seen the last of Steve Rogers in this story, or in the pages of “Uncanny.”
Is Hydra something that might come into play in this current story? Or is it more about the Avengers’ vendetta against the Skull?
With the real estate available to you in a team book, I think it’s better to keep the fight personal. Thanks to his powers, the Skull knows everyone’s deepest, darkest fears and he intends to pray on them.
It feels like “Uncanny Avengers” and Jim Zub’s “Thunderbolts” are almost sort of sister books in that they provide complete stories on their own, but they’re also big chapters in the larger Steve Rogers story that Nick Spencer is telling. Is that a fair description of what you’re doing in “Uncanny Avengers?”
Yeah, I think so. I always wanted to work in the larger scheme of things. We work far enough out where these things can line up. Nick has been very accommodating. He’s been writing for the trade and for people who will read these stories several years later on things like Marvel Unlimited. These stories have to make sense on their own and they’re better when they’re stories for your characters that are in the shadows of other stories.
I think that the way Nick has written Cap and how everything is being executed has been great. I love that he’s weaving himself into the background of the big events of the Marvel Universe.
In “Uncanny Avengers” #19, most of the team appeared to fall to the Red Skull’s psychic onslaught, but all hope is not lost. The final pages of the issue saw Deadpool join forces with Spider-Man and Doctor Strange’s friend and associate Wong. What made you want to bring those characters into the book for this story?
Spider-Man started with the Unity Squad, so it felt appropriate that he pop back in now — Deadpool has him on his speed dial. Then we reached for Doctor Strange, but we weren’t able to get him. I like writing Wong, though. I think he’s a fun character, and is especially fun when he steps out of the shadow of Doctor Strange’s cloak. And who knows who might turn up later?
Deadpool having Spider-Man on speed dial is due to the growing friendship between the two characters over in Joe Kelly’s “Spider-Man/Deadpool” comic. Will we see some of the new dynamic between Peter and Wade in “Uncanny Avengers?”
I’ll always think of Joe when I think of these two characters together. I hope fans of all these characters enjoy the way they’re going to bounce off of each other.
What can you offer up about the remaining chapters of this arc with the Red Skull? It looks like there are at least two issues left in the arc.
Yes. This has been an ongoing story for years, so when it’s done, it will change some of these characters forever. It’s exciting. I hope people enjoy the landing.
Pepe is a wonderful artist. To collaborate with him, Ryan Stegman and the other really talented artists we’ve had on the book has been great. It’s on their coattails that I’m riding around.
With the Skull, we just said that this should be a scary figure. We’ve seen a lot of iterations of the Skull. This one gave us the DNA to add some horror stuff, and the way Pepe is drawing him in this story makes it almost feels like noir at times. We love that. The book doesn’t look like anything else out there right now. I give all the credit to these artists.
Kevin Libranda, who worked on issue #18, will be stepping in for a couple more issues. He and Pepe are knocking these stories out of the park. It’s been a treat to collaborate on.
Finally, can you leave us with any teases about what comes after the Unity Squad’s battle with the Red Skull? What does spring hold for the “Uncanny Avengers?”
I can’t talk too much about what happens after, but it definitely feels like this story marks a big change in the lives of several of these Avengers. So there’s a new status quo for a number of our characters. I think long time readers who care about the Avengers or the X-Men will definitely want to check this story out.
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