Battleworld, the patchwork planetoid setting of Marvel Comics' "Secret Wars" event, is a chaotic world full of diverse and dangerous domains, many controlled by villains who have seized ultimate power. Some of these criminals turned conquerors are content with the land and positions they've secured, but for others, the taste of power has only made them hungry for more.
In "Squadron Sinister," "Arrow" Executive Producer Marc Guggenheim and artist Carlos Pacheco take readers to the domain of Utopolis, a Battleworld domain ruled by the titular group of villains, whose creation was inspired by the members of DC Comics' Justice League. CBR News spoke with Guggenheim about the fun that comes with chronicling the adventures of back-stabbing villains, and just who the Squadron Sinister will run afoul of in their quest for more power.
CBR News: While the Squadron Supreme -- especially Hyperion, in his role as Avengers powerhouse -- are familiar to a lot of modern readers, the villainous version of the team you're re-imagining in "Squadron Sinister" is likely a bit less well known. how did they end up being the center of this particular Battleworld realm?
Marc Guggenheim: Tom Brevoort reached out to me and said that they wanted to do a "Secret Wars" book dealing with the Squadron Sinister incarnation of the Squadron Supreme team. I, of course, was very familiar with the Squadron Supreme, but less familiar in terms of the Squadron Sinister, whose creation actually predates Squadron Supreme.â€¨I went back read the original "Avengers" issues that set up the Squadron Sinister, and I thought they were really interesting. I believe it was Roy Thomas who wrote those issues, and it's very clear that the high concept behind them was "What if the Avengers fought the evil Justice League?"
That idea, of an evil Justice League, is fascinating to me. It's also fun, because I do get to traffic in the DC Universe on occasion. So doing the villainous versions of DC Universe characters is a lot of fun. Then, you throw Carlos Pacheco in there on top of that, and I was like, "I'm in! I've got to do this book!"
So you're exploring the Squadron Sinister in this book, but I understand in the series opening moments you will have a bit of fun with the Squadron Supreme. What can you tell us about that?
It's funny, my other exposure to these characters was through the "Hyperion Vs Nighthawk" series I did a number of years ago that was set in the universe featuring the "Supreme Power" versions of those characters. When I was working out the opening story for this book, I thought, "You know what would be a lot of fun and immediately tell me how powerful and dangerous these characters are? If I had these characters kick the Squadron Supreme's asses on the opening page." It's the Supreme Power version of that team. That would tell a lot about the characters and tell readers a lot about the tone of the series and prepare them to expect the unexpected.
It's been so much fun to write this series. Because of the Battleworld conceit I really get to do some crazy stuff and have fun with characters you haven't seen in a while and probably couldn't do under normal circumstances
The setting of "Squadron Sinister" is a Battleworld domain called Utopolis, where the title characters have ultimate power. How tight of a grip do they have on the area, and what's life like there?
It's very interesting. Imagine if people with the super powers and abilities of the Justice League were in control of a country and they ruled, not quite with an iron fist, but more with an "every man for himself" kind of ethos. Their grip on power is pretty tight, but it's a little bit of carrot and stick. It's partially based on pure intimidation, because you've got people who punch at the weight class of Hyperion and Doctor Spectrum, basically Superman and Green Lantern level. They can hold power for as long as they want to. For them, though, it's not just about beating people down. It's a mob mentality over there.
They're totally fine with robberies, beatings and other crimes, just as long as they get their cut. They just want a piece of the action. That's their main thing, and we'll really see that dynamic work out in the first two issues
So, a sort of supervillain/Ayn Rand-style Utopia?
That's exactly right. It's that sort of supervillain ethos of every man and woman for themselves, and as long as you pay up your share of the ill-gotten gains, the town is pretty much your oyster.
Are the Squadron Sinister the only super-powered characters in Utopolis?
That's the thing -- there are a lot of rival factions in and around the orbit of Utopolis if you will. It's fun, because I'm sort of treating my characters like a street gang. The fun thing about street gangs is that there are rival gangs. Probably the biggest rival gang is the Frightful Four.
So there's some fun in seeing how the Squadron Sinister deals with guys who are not a threat to their reign so much as a threat to how greedy they are. These supervillains don't have the ethos of "there's enough to go around." They have a different ethos of every man for themselves, and everything is a zero sum game.
So it's a story about power addiction.
Exactly, and there's a lot of limitations. In the Marvel Universe, they say, "With great power comes great responsibility" -- but great power is not all it's cracked up to be. Some of the plot turns in this series are based on characters like Doctor Spectrum not quite knowing how powerful he is. If you have the power of Green Lantern's power ring, you could be like a god if you wanted to. I don't think Doctor Spectrum is actually smart enough to know that.
Right, I believe the 616 incarnation of the Whizzer in Squadron Sinister became the villain known as "Speed Demon," and as we saw in "Superior Foes of Spider-Man," he's not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed either. He also wasn't really ambitious.
[Laughs] Exactly! And the Whizzer in this story isn't really all that brilliant, either. He's surrounded by people who are far more insidious and more long term thinkers than he is.
One of the things that's fun about this book is that it's an ensemble. I would say over the course of the series you pretty much get the P.O.V. of all the main members of the Squadron Sinister, which is Doctor Spectrum, Whizzer, Warrior Woman, Hyperion and Nighthawk.
It's a lot of fun to see these characters from different perspectives, because they're all supervillains. They're all keeping secrets from each other and they're all keeping certain agendas close to the vest.
So the Squadron Sinister isn't a tight knit band of brothers, like, say, the characters in the first season of "Sons of Anarchy." These are more guys who would throw each other under the bus for the right opportunity.
Yeah. The dynamic is actually a lot like the later seasons of "Sons of Anarchy." That show was a huge influence on me as I was writing this. I loved "Sons of Anarchy," and I thought they did a really nice job of doing stories about these internecine politics and maneuvering among essentially criminals.
So if the Sons are the Squadron Sinister, then the Frightful Four are like the Mayans [One of the chief rival gangs in "Sons of Anarchy"] Watching those politics and conflicting loyalties is part of the fun of the book.
Since this is a book about power-addicted supervillains with their own Battleworld domain, what does that mean for the scope of the series? Do the Squadron Sinister have designs on other Battleworld domains as well?
They do. The Squadron isn't just interested in holding on to their own domain and power base. They just can't help themselves. They have to keep feeding, essentially. One of their big sources of income in this series are their attempts to try and annex or take over a variety of neighboring provinces. Part of the fun for me is, I get to populate those provinces with concepts from the Marvel Universe that you haven't seen in forever
For instance, in issue #2 we go to a province populated by all the World War II Marvel characters: the Sky Wolves, and Captain Savage, the World War II Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos, Combat Kelly. It was a lot of fun to play with those characters. There's also going to be a province called Utopia, made up of all of the characters from the original "New Universe." There's no concept from the history of Marvel Comics that is off the table, which to me, is one of the things that makes this so much fun.
Judging from your earlier comment, I imagine another fun part of the book is collaborating with Carlos Pacheco. He's brought to life stories featuring pretty much every mainstream Marvel and DC hero -- what's it like seeing him on a story starring a band of villains?
I always approach my writing from a fanboy perspective, really, and I had a great deal of respect and appreciation for all of Carlos' work. So I start from, "Oh, my God! It's so cool that I get to work with Carlos Pacheco!"
This project essentially mixes the Marvel and DC Universes, so Carlos is the perfect choice because he's done so much work for both companies. Plus, he brings such a great energy to the project. There's so much life and fluidity to the lines of his art. I think he's doing some of his best work on this series. Every page is more gorgeous than the next.
I'm scripting in little Easter eggs and nods, and he's taken that ball and run with it. When I get a new page from Carlos, it's like, "Oh! He stuck that interesting thing in there! I hadn't even thought about that!" He's thinking about both publishers and universes as much as I am, and it just adds this additional layer of exciting fanboy stuff.
I'm doing two "Secret Wars" series now, and I always feel like the great thing about the Battleworld conceit is that whenever I work on these stories, they feel like love letters to the Marvel Universe. Both "Squadron Supreme" and "X-Tinction Agenda" have me digging into my old trades, comics and copies of the "Official Marvel Handbooks" in a way that I just haven't had to in a very, very long time. It's so much fun. I really think, at the end of the day, "Secret Wars" and all of its books are going to feel like your favorite moments and characters from the whole history of the Marvel Universe.