KEEP 'EM HONEST: Bates on "True Believers"

In the Marvel Universe, where justice is often determined by slugfests between masked heroes and villains, concepts like honesty and accountability can get lost in the shuffle. That all changes July 30 in issue #1 of "True Believers," a five-issue miniseries by writer Cary Bates and artist Paul Gulacy hits stores. CBR news spoke with Bates about the series, which stars a group of dedicated super powered truth seekers.

Most of the Marvel U's super teams are concerned with fighting crime and crushing the schemes of nefarious super villains, but the True Believers have a different sort of mandate. "Although the True Believers have powers they're not super-heroes per se, but a group of counter-culture subversives, each with his and her own reasons for lashing out at the disinformation routinely put forth by the establishment," Bates told CBR News. "They're willing to take on any government, organization, group or individual that traffics in secrets or lies, cover-ups or conspiracies. But unlike more traditional super teams, these people do not see themselves as crime-fighters or action heroes."

"True Believers" stars four entirely new Marvel characters, each highly dysfunctional in his or her own way. Said Bates, "Without giving away too much, there's the requisite leader (an alpha female here), a brainy guy, a muscle guy and a female empath. But within these familiar general parameters I can safely say the characters are not like any seen before, in or out of the MU. This also applies to the unique permutations of their powers and abilities."

The True Believers' alpha female is Mavis Trent aka Payback. "Mavis Trent has a day-job as a data analyst for S.H.I.E.L.D., which gives her access to a great deal of classified material," Bates explained. "Before certain traumatic events transpire in her life she would have never seen herself as the leader of a subversive group like the True Believers. This is just one of the reasons she is in therapy, making twice weekly visits to Dr. Cornelius Worth. Readers will get to eavesdrop on many of her sessions."

When "True Believers" begins, Mavis's team is already assembled and a fragile peace exists between the four group members. "Considering the fact they were all strangers to one another before Mavis recruited them, they get along as well as can be expected. However, each member brings his or her own baggage to the party, and this can lead to complications," Bates stated. "For example, Mavis will have to deal with the fact that one of the other Believers was involved in a torrid sexual relationship with her father Max."

The True Believers' mission to bring the truth to the masses of the Marvel U may be a noble one, but not everyone sees things that way. "They are probably looked on in much the same way real-life muckraking sites like TMZ and The Smoking Gun are regarded. But among most of the superhero community they're seen as pariahs, since heroes often have as much (if not more) to hide from prying eyes as super-villains or just plain regular folk," Bates said. "On the other hand, at least two of Marvel's most prominent heroes will find themselves working side by side with the Believers, much to their amazement."

Each issue of "True Believers" focuses on a new story but one overarching story runs through the entire five issue series. "This was partly necessitated by the media res thing in issue #1, which meant the back-stories of all the characters would be carefully doled over the course of the remaining issues," Bates said. "There is an overriding central murder mystery that is not only central to the plot of the series but Payback's character arc as well. As a result, several issues of the miniseries will feature more than one narrative timeline. One thing I assiduously tried to avoid with this series was anything that could be perceived as a 'conventional' flashback. Anytime some past event is revealed, I strived to find an organic way to work it into the present day storyline."

The central setting for "True Believers" is New York City, the heart of the Marvel Universe. "Mavis lives in Queens and reports to S.H.I.E.L.D. Central every day," Bates stated. "But with the internet and TrueBelievers.com being truly global, there will be no boundaries on the settings for their adventures."

Digging for the truth and exposing the hypocrisies of the Marvel Universe means the True Believers adventures will take them into some dark and strange territory. "Each issue will feature at least one famous 'truth quote,'" Bates said. "One of my favorites came from Terry Prattchet, the British science fiction author: 'The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head.' This captures the subversive tone we've been going for. I saw a recent blog entry in which a reader posited that True Believers is a continuation of certain themes (government conspiracies, cover-ups, media PR spin) I once explored in my '80s DC series 'Captain Atom,' and I guess that's true to a certain extent. And even though some elements in 'Captain Atom' were pretty far 'out there' for a DC book at the time, 'True Believers' pushes the envelope considerably further. For example, the first issue deals with an underground S&M club where prostitutes wearing only thong bikinis are shot up with MGH [Mutant Growth Hormone] and LSD and then forced to beat each other senseless in a mud-pit for an audience of perverts who like to dress up as Marvel super-heroes."

The True Believers' activities will also bring them face to face with many of the Marvel U's established superheroes like Luke Cage, the Fantastic Four and Iron Man as well as established villains like Madame Hydra and Armadillo. "The series also introduces some unusual adversaries that will be totally new to the Marvel U," Bates added.

A number of prominent established characters and newly created ones also round out the supporting cast of "True Believers." "Because of the S.H.I.E.L.D. connection we'll be seeing quite a bit of Tony Stark and Maria Hill," Bates confirmed. "There are the aforementioned shrink sessions on Cornelius Worth's couch. We'll also be getting close-up and personal with Max Trent, who in addition to being Mavis's father was a renowned bio-chemist who once worked at Oscorp."

Bates is enjoying the chance to collaborate with comics veteran Paul Gulacy on "True Believers." "Paul and I had never spoke let alone worked together before this project and it's been a real thrill to see how he's brought these characters to life," the writer remarked. "I think his well-known ability to draw beautiful women is one of the reasons he was Tom Brevoort's first choice for this project. But there are many other aspect's to Paul's illustrative gifts that will be showcased over the course of these five issues."

While Bates worked on some stories for Marvel's New Universe line from the '80s, the writer is best known for his long stint at DC Comics where he worked on books like "The Flash," "Superman" and the aforementioned "Captain Atom." "True Believers" came about after Kurt Busiek introduced Bates to Tom Brevoort. "Once I made the decision in 2007 to try my hand at writing regular comics again, Tom Brevoort was one of the first people I approached," Bates said. "Of various possible projects Tom and I discussed, True Believers became the first one to see print. I've only good things to say about working for Marvel on this project--and since that New Universe stuff was a couple of decades and several regimes ago, it's hard to compare then and now. As for what's next for me at Marvel, Tom and I have discussed various projects but it's too soon to announce anything definitively."

Bates hopes "True Believers" resonates with fans because he'd love to tell more tales of the super powered muckraking subversives. "I think True Believers could become a unique fixture in the Marvel Universe because the concept is always straddling two worlds," he said. "On one hand, it would continue to chronicle the TBs' adventures as they dig into the dark corners and secret lives of various MU heroes and villains--but at the same time there would always be an undercurrent that reflects and comments on real-life events that are currently going on in this media-obsessed gossip-fixated culture of ours."

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