I LOVE MARVEL; NO, REALLY, I DO
It's been bandied about lately that folks think I'm "anti-Marvel" because I've been "taking shots" at the House of Ideas off and on since I've started this column.
Nothing could be further than the truth; I love Marvel. I'm a big fan of the characters they publish, and I've spent many a month of my boyhood enjoying the varied adventures of Captain America and Thor and Omega the friggin' Unknown.
Sure, I think there're ways they could be running their business a little better, now; but there's always an industry pundit or two who's got a better take on how one should run one's business. Every time I give Marvel an idea for marketing, that may or may not work under their present business plan, somebody else throws me their two-cents on what we should be doing with AiT/Planet Lar. The Monday-morning quarterback is sort of part-and-parcel of working in an entertainment-driven business. These things happen.
But if you've been following this column for a while, you've probably been under the impression that I spend more time on the marketing and promotions and administrative side of comics more than I do the creative side.
That's not right. Not right, at all.
In fact, six months ago, in October 2000, when I first had heard that my pal Stuart Moore and former DC editor Axel Alonso had been hired by Marvel, I was overjoyed. Finally, I thought, Marvel was going to take some chances with their characters, and have editors in charge of the trademarks who knew when to hold fast to the reins and knew when to give a little slack.
So, with the able help of my very good friend, Hollywood screenwriter and author Adam Beechen, we worked up a kick-ass proposal for a new Marvel book. Because of other plans Marvel held, or because of the tough sell to the powers-that-be because I'm a, dare I say it, loose cannon, and/or Adam being little-known in comics, but best-known for his Hollywood work, nothing really ever came of this proposal at the House That Jack Built.
I will say that Stuart Moore was his usual gracious and gentlemanly self, and indicated that the proposal had strength for whatever comic book universe we might choose to float it in; it's my feeling it'd work, with only a few cosmetic changes, in DC, Image, Dark Horse, or even WildStorm…
… but if you've ever wondered what a comic book series pitch looked like, or what I'd do let loose in the confines of the Marvel Universe…
AGENT OF SHIELD: a series proposal by Larry Young and Adam Beechen
THE HIGH CONCEPT: Mission: Impossible meets Donnie Brasco in the Marvel Universe.
THE TAG LINE: Under fire. Under pressure. Undercover.
THE APPEAL: The action-packed series AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. offers an insider's perspective into the Marvel Universe like no other series before it – the perspective from inside Marvel's deadliest criminal organizations. The series introduces a young, complex hero with deep ties to Marvel history and makes comics' most venerable and glorious law-enforcement agency truly relevant once more. The series brings S.H.I.E.L.D. back to the forefront of Marvel by emphasizing the key components of its original acronym – Intelligence and Espionage – and pits the agency against villains of the highest order for the most extreme stakes. Because the hero interacts every issue with Marvel icons, the potential for crossovers and guest appearances is limitless. Employing non-stop thrills, pulse-pounding action, and multidimensional characters, the series will draw in longtime Marvel aficionados, fans of adventure and spy fiction, and new readers looking for a fun ride.
THE SCOOP: His identity is top-secret to all but a handful of S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel. His purpose is to infiltrate the criminal organizations of the Marvel Universe and undermine them from within. His every step tempts discovery and death. And his mission is not only to save the world, but also to redeem his family name.
The agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in question is JAKE FURY, JR., the nephew of S.H.I.E.L.D. Director NICK FURY, and the son of the deceased super-criminal JAKE FURY, SR., once known as SCORPIO. Jake Jr. grew up apart from his father, was humiliated by his criminal legacy, and determined to win back his family's honor by enlisting in S.H.I.E.L.D. He spurned his uncle's offers of special treatment, asked for only the most difficult training, and accepted only the most dangerous assignments. He rose through S.H.I.E.L.D.'s ranks with amazing speed, and soon became the best (and youngest) top-level field agent the organization had. An expert marksman, a master of disguise, a supremely skilled martial artist – the perfect Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
His drive didn't stop there. He proposed becoming a new kind of agent – an operative totally alone, out on the front lines with no one officially responsible for his actions but himself. He would ingratiate himself into the darkest corners of the criminal underworld – the Maggia, A.I.M., Hydra, the Hellfire Club, and more – and work to destroy their plans from inside. Nick Fury didn't want to approve the position, having lost enough blood relatives in his lifetime... And the S.H.I.E.L.D. docs warned Colonel Fury that Jake's drive bordered on psychosis – How far might Jake go on a mission to achieve his S.H.I.E.L.D. goals? Would he murder one man to save millions? But Fury saw the need for such an agent, and there was no one better qualified for the job than Jake Fury, Jr.
So Jake goes deep underground for months at a time, getting more up-close and personal than anyone ever has with the criminal underbelly of the Marvel Universe. And while Jake's gone, Nick Fury and Jake's one field contact, beautiful S.H.I.E.L.D. ESPer REBECCA CLARK, wait, help when they can, and hope Jake comes back alive. They know only too well that the odds are never in Jake Fury's favor, and that death is always a possibility for this bravest Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
THE STRUCTURE: AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. takes its structure from the brilliant, groundbreaking television series Wiseguy. This continuing series will be made up of multiple-issue story arcs, with each arc taking Jake into another Marvel criminal organization. Arcs will run from four to six issues each, with continuing plot threads that will overlap from arc to arc. There will be frequent entry points for new readers, while continuing readers will experience continuity between the storylines.
JAKE FURY, JR. (28) takes his job very, very seriously. It's his life's work, and each successful mission is another step toward regaining the family honor lost in his father's mad criminal career of trying to escape Nick Fury's considerable shadow. Jake is handsome and haunted, charismatic and conflicted.
Work is his escape, from his past and from the messy realities of personal relationships. Jake throws himself into missions to such a degree that his essential character almost disappears – he becomes the role he is playing. This can lead to a dangerous blurring of the lines as his missions progress – if killing Daredevil is necessary for maintaining Jake's cover in the Owl's gang, will he do it? With each mission, Jake comes ever closer to crossing that dark line, and there may never be any going back.
As at home as Jake is in the dangerous circles he prowls, he's just as uncomfortable when not working, or when dealing with people on an everyday, conversational basis. It's almost as though there is no real Jake Fury outside of work. Deep down, this bothers Jake a great deal, but there's no time to waste learning social graces when there's a mission to be carried out.
Jake harbors more than a professional interest in Rebecca, his S.H.I.E.L.D. contact, but his one-track mind won't allow him to make their relationship anything more than professional. Still, she's the only person he can talk do, and he does so, albeit infrequently, and painfully. Much like his father, Jake worships his famous Uncle Nick, but bears a confusing resentment toward him as well, knowing Nick is the reason Jake Sr. became the man he was. Jake is equal parts driven to prove himself to Nick, and earn the love of a father figure he never had.
COLONEL NICK FURY needs no introduction. A war hero decorated many times over, he has saved the world just as many times in his capacity as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., often going into the field himself to get the job done. A cigar-chompin', bare-knuckles brawler never entirely at home in the high-tech, gadget-heavy world of international espionage, Fury nonetheless runs a tight ship at S.H.I.E.L.D. from his vantage point on the legendary Helicarrier, and has earned the respect of every agent beneath him.
His relationship with Jake is a difficult one, made all the more tough by Jake's contentiousness, Nick's own paternal feelings, and his lingering doubt that Jake might one day follow his father's path. Nick hates himself for thinking such thoughts, but he's seen a lot in his time on the planet, and nothing would surprise him.
Nick is hard on Rebecca, not least because she's his only connection to Jake when he's in the field. But Nick also realizes her potential as perhaps the strongest ESPer S.H.I.E.L.D. has ever cultivated. Fury recognizes her uncertainty as she tries to cope with her new abilities, and is always ready for a gruff pep talk when it is needed.
REBECCA CLARK (29) was a promising field agent until something happened during a harrowing mission in Europe to trigger her enormous latent psi powers. Excited by her potential, S.H.I.E.L.D. promptly took her off the front lines to train her in the use of her new abilities. Rebecca hates being a lab rat, and longs for her old life. But she's loyal to S.H.I.E.L.D., and accepts her role.
Like most S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Rebecca idolizes Nick Fury, and relishes the chance to work closely with him. Supremely confident and capable as a field agent, she's much less so as a novice ESPer, and every mistake she commits only makes her harder on herself.
But she was specially requested by Jake to be his contact, for reasons unknown to her. And though she may be a novice, she's not going to let him down. Rebecca views her role as much more than simply Jake's contact – she thinks of herself as his ace in the hole.
PLOT FOR FIRST ISSUE OF INITIAL STORY ARC: "A.I.M." (one of six)
As the issue opens, we meet JAKE FURY, JR. without even knowing it. He's deep undercover as a henchman for ELECTRO, trying to discover for whom Electro is creating enormous power batteries. When SPIDER MAN discovers the operation, Jake gets the drop on the hero, and the disabled Electro urges him to move in for the kill. Jake stands over the prone superhero, finger on the trigger. Rebecca's voice in his head urges Jake to stand down, but Jake continues to struggle with his choices. Finally, the agonizing scene is interrupted by the arrival of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who take them all prisoner as Spider Man swings away.
The prisoners are separated and sequestered aboard the Helicarrier. Jake is brought in chains by armed guards to a personal audience with NICK FURY, and it is here that we discover Jake's identity for the first time. Jake berates Nick for pulling him out so close to the operation bearing fruit. Nick counters that leaving Jake inside a moment longer might have resulted in the death of Spider Man. He pleads with his nephew to take a vacation, a sentiment echoed by REBECCA CLARK, who also joins the meeting. Jake refuses, demanding a new assignment. Nick reluctantly sends him off on his next mission, to infiltrate Advanced Idea Mechanics – A.I.M. Word is they have a secret weapon, and within weeks, they'll be ready to turn it on the world. Nick sends Jake off to meet with the few S.H.I.E.L.D. technos aware of his existence for outfitting and prep. As Jake exits, Nick urges Rebecca to keep a close watch on Jake this time out – the kid keeps stepping closer and closer to that frightening edge.
Where does A.I.M. find the twisted, genius scientists that make up its membership? The answer is surprising and logical – college campuses and technical trade schools. And so the next time we see Jake, he's enrolled in the Marvel equivalent of M.I.T. His apparent scientific genius is recognized by the respected PROFESSOR MORAN, who takes Jake under his wing and, certain of Jake's bona fides, reveals himself to be an A.I.M. recruiter. Jake is eager to join, and Moran, having found a prize catch, introduces Jake to the world of Advanced Idea Mechanics.
The organization, he tells Jake as they enter the catacombs beneath a dilapidated airplane hangar that make up A.I.M.'s local headquarters, is split into two divisions – Research and Application. Research creates the weaponry A.I.M. employs. Application takes those weapons, melds them with master plans, and puts things into motion. There are crossover personnel between the two divisions, but there is no love lost between them. Research feels Application has bungled when supplied with devastating weapons. Application feels it could succeed every time – if it had better weapons to work with. There has been talk of A.I.M. separating into two organizations, but A.I.M.'s supreme leader has thus far held the organization together. Jake wants to know who that leader is and where he is based, but Moran tells him such information isn't for new initiates.
After passing a long line of underground mechanical workshops, computers, and ominous-looking devices tended by A.I.M. soldiers in their traditional yellow uniforms, Moran introduces Jake to CHARLES PARRISH, a Bill Gates look-a-like with a meaner streak. Parrish is the crossover coordinator for the local A.I.M. chapter. Despite his slight appearance, Parrish proves to be a fanatical bulldog, driven by ambition to succeed with the current master plan and rise through the ranks of A.I.M. to replace the supreme leader. Moran pumps up Jake as a perfect candidate to be a "crossover" between the two divisions on the current project.
Impressed, Parrish escorts Jake to the heavily guarded, highly secure vault where A.I.M.'s latest brainstorm is becoming reality. Parrish invites Jake to meet A.I.M.'s crowning achievement, their newest ally in their quest for world domination. The heavy steel door dramatically swings open, revealing more computers, more scientists, more armed guards and, in the center of the room, held prisoner by super-scientific means and completely unable to move, IRON MAN.
END OF ISSUE ONE
THE LAST WORD: AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. offers comics fans a heretofore untapped perspective on the Marvel Universe – from within the mysterious criminal organizations that have threatened it for forty years. The series can feature any Marvel hero whose path might cross with one of those organizations, and it returns S.H.I.E.L.D. to its greatest glory as comics' favorite spy organization. But most importantly, it introduces JAKE FURY, JR., the man who may be one of Marvel's greatest heroes – a man without any super powers, a man whose name is known to but a few, and a man in whose hands rests the fate of the world every time he accepts a mission.
LARRY YOUNG is the creative force behind AiT/Planet Lar Publishing, and the creator and writer of the critically-acclaimed comics series Astronauts In Trouble.
ADAM BEECHEN is a screenwriter whose produced credits include "X-Men: Evolution," "Rugrats," "The Wild Thornberrys," and many more.
Ya gotta admit, we couldn't have put this together if we weren't big fans of Marvel's characters. And I am. I love Marvel.
Really, I do.
Joe Quesada, Axel Alonso, or Bill Jemas can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I'm sure we could get going on this right away.
Of course, all of those Marvel characters are copyrighted and trademarked by Marvel, while this plot is copyrighted by Young and Beechen. But, you know, really, Joe, we could get going on this right away. Send us some email. Go ahead; it's money in the bank.
If you're reading this on Friday, or any time this weekend, chances are I'm getting into trouble at WonderCon in Oakland, California. More info on the convention is available here.