SPOILER WARNING: The following interview contains spoilers for “Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Omega.”
Marvel’s latest major “Avengers” event, “Avengers Standoff,” concluded this past week with the “Assault on Pleasant Hill Omega” one-shot from writer Nick Spencer and artists Daniel Acuña and Angel Unzueta. In the notably eventful issue, two rival teams of Avengers set aside their post-“Secret Wars” differences and united to end the siege on Pleasant Hill, a high tech and controversial S.H.I.E.L.D. prison that had been taken over by its super-powered inmates.
During the event’s climactic battle, several significant events unfolded, including the return of major Marvel Universe legacy character, and the introduction of a new incarnation of a classic Marvel team. Meanwhile, a number of new partnerships and rivalries were formed, and old ones were reignited. To break down these big events, writer Spencer joined CBR News for a chat about “Standoff: Omega,” which touched upon the legacy character he reintroduced in Wendell Jones/Quasar, and how the fallout from Pleasant Hill will impact S.H.I.E.L.D. director Maria Hill. He also promised big things from the revitalized and refocused Hydra, not to mention the two major Captain America villains that will battle for control of the terrorist organization — Zemo and Red Skull.
CBR News: Nick, let’s start off by talking about one of the many new things “Standoff” added to the Marvel Universe, the new Quasar, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Avril Kincaid.
Nick Spencer: I’ve got a real soft spot for Quasar. I was a big fan of the original Mark Gruenwald run as a kid, and my entire Cap run so far has been pretty much a love song to Gruenwald’s run on that character. So there was a little bit of symmetry there.
Also, we were talking about the potential to introduce new characters out of this, and the mirror between Avril’s origin and Wendell’s was sort of inescapable. I really liked the parallels of there’s an attack on a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility and the character has to put the bands on in order to save the day. I also liked the idea of Wendell being there and being a part of it. He’s a character that, again, I have a lot of fondness for, so I wanted to make sure that this was done in such a way that he approved of passing off the legacy to a new character, and that he felt like Avril was worthy of it.
It just seemed like this was a perfect opportunity to do that. It was one of those things that came very late in the process. I was already working on the anniversary issue of “Cap” when I pitched it, so it was very much one of the last things through the door in terms of things we could get out of “Standoff.”
I’m really, really excited about the character. I’m having a blast writing her, and we have major plans for her on many fronts. This is a character that’s going to have a lot of importance in the Marvel Universe in the years ahead, actually. This is definitely not a one off. I can’t say exactly when you’ll see the new Quasar again, but when you do, it will matter.
With Avril as the narrator’s voice in this issue, and one of her captions near the end when the Avengers are battling the jail breaking villains was, “Once the war began,” that suggests to me that we’ll see her at some point during “Civil War II.”
Avril has just become a hero at a very tenuous and difficult time for the Marvel Universe. So it’s a real trial by fire for her. This is sort of the happy victory before the heroes are plunged into the darkness of “Civil War II.” The timing for her debut wasn’t lost on me. The character is not on an easy path. Things could not be harder for her.
I loved that final sequence, with all the Avengers working together. Was that always the plan with “Standoff,” to give the Avengers this bittersweet assembling moment right before the chaos of “Civil War II?”
Not at all! It was not even in my thought process until I was writing the “Omega” issue. I just realize that both of these Avengers teams are together. Lots of heroes have assembled and S.H.I.E.L.D. is there. Everybody is working together, and next week, the Free Comic Book Day “Civil War II” issue comes out. Everything, from the teams being united against a common enemy, to Steve’s speech, it’s very much the pride before the fall for them.
Part of the reason I loved that scene was the work done by artist Daniel Acuña. He and artist Angel Unzueta did some fantastic work on “Standoff: Omega.”
Yeah, we tried to break it up so Angel handled the prologue and the epilogue to the issue, then Daniel would handle the big climatic, finale. They’re both artists I’ve been having a blast working with.
This is my introduction to Angel’s work and I’ve been really impressed. He’s a really great storyteller. He’s very versatile, and super fast. He’s been a real pleasure to work with.
And Daniel is Daniel. I gave him a ton of space during the big fight scene, and the liberty to choreograph that, as always. He totally delivered, yet again.
It wasn’t just new characters that were introduced in “Standoff: Omega.” We also got new incarnations of an old team, the Winter Soldier-led Thunderbolts.
At New York Comic Con, Tom Brevoort pitched the idea of a Thunderbolts book coming out of this, with Bucky in the lead. Again, it’s another one of those situations where I’d love to say that we planned this all so perfectly, but this was another thing where we were already working on the story, and it just fit perfectly into the event. It’s really nice when things work out and it feels so organic. Obviously, we already had most of the classic Thunderbolts line-up already at Pleasant Hill. I requested those characters ages ago, because I really like all of them, so they were already there and waiting, and it just made so much sense as a book to spin out of this.
It’s the same thing as Quasar; a big part of what this event does is set up arcs for a lot of new characters, new teams and concepts. These are not things that are going away. We have big plans for them going forward. I know that Jim Zub is doing a phenomenal job on “Thunderbolts.” I’ve read some of his scripts, and they’re great. That book will become very important within the Marvel Universe in a very short period of time. If you sleep on it at the beginning, you will be rushing to catch up. There are things coming that will play heavily into that book.
Will the Winter Soldier still be the occasional supporting player in your “Captain America” books?
Bucky will pop up from time to time. Steve, Sam and Bucky are still all in each other’s orbits. So they will show up in other places and some of those characters will show up in “Thunderbolts” as well. So there’s a lot of cohesion, I’m working really closely with Jim. He’s a lot of fun to collaborate with, and we’ve got some great plans.
“Standoff Omega” also saw the renewal of an old partnership between Steve Rogers and Rick Jones. What kind of role will Rick play in your “Captain America: Steve Rogers” series?
Rick has a really cool part to play in “Captain America: Steve Rogers.” Obviously, he’s back working with Steve. This is how he’s serving out his sentence for leaking S.H.I.E.L.D. secrets as the Whisperer, so he’s with us from the first issue onward.
â€¨We’re going to see a lot of that story through Rick’s eyes. I think it’s always fun to tell Captain America stories through somebody else’s eyes, because you really get a sense of how important Cap is to the Marvel Universe. Rick is our man on the street. He’s our everyman. He’ll be our connection point to the story a lot of the time.
He’s also a great source of emotional support for Steve. Obviously, they have a lot of history; they’re close friends, and Rick has always really looked up to him. It’s great to have that voice back in the story. I think that Cap and Rick are a really good combo, so you’ll see a lot of those two together.
Rick will, of course, be making use of his computer expertise, but I seem to recall during the Mark Gruenwald Captain America run there was another computer expert that worked with Steve. I believe his name was Ram —
[Laughs] That’s right. That’s a deep cut, man. And you’re right, Rick will be in that kind of role. He still has his Whisperer skills, and S.H.I.E.L.D. will definitely be putting them to full use.
You also revived the partnership between Red Skull and Hydra. The Skull has been part of a number of different incarnations of the organization, but at the end of “Standoff: Omega” it appears that he’s really embraced Hydra.
I’m really excited about this! I’ve always been a big believer that it’s time to make that a marriage. There’s been sort of a Hydra leadership vacuum for a while now. Zemo had picked it up for a time, but he has even less association with Hydra than the Skull. That was a new approach for Zemo, so I was really excited about the Skull hatching his own plans for a new kind of Hydra and a new approach to Hydra; something that reflects his belief system and his very bleak and dark world view.
That was really cool for me, but then also to tease a little bit of “Captain America: Steve Rogers,” Zemo is not going to go quietly on that front. Zemo believes that he rebuilt Hydra, and that it’s his divine right to run Hydra. He’s not going to be giving it up easily.
We’ve got a lot of stories coming up that are very much about Cap being stuck between a different kind of Civil War — one between the Red Skull and Baron Zemo.
It felt like you were suggesting there was a rivalry between the two, especially at the end there where the Red Skull sort of dismisses Zemo as being an idiot.
[Laughs] I think the Skull would be furious if he heard that anyone thought there was a rivalry between him and Zemo, because the Skull very much feels like he’s above that sort of thing. He’s sort of like Victor Von Doom in that sense. The Skull generally believes that he’s above everyone.
Zemo is just as arrogant, in a lot of ways, but he’s not able to detach in the same way. He takes things very personally, he brings a lot more emotion to the table. He really wants a war with the Skull. He sees this very much as an insult and an affront to his work.
These are very different schools of thought that the Skull and Zemo have. They’re very different characters, so it’s a lot of fun to have them butt heads.
Could Zemo perhaps be working through some father issues by going after the Skull?
[Laughs] He’s always working through father issues! That’s at the core of the character. His anger at Steve is about father issues. Everything about Zemo really starts from that foundation.
That will be a fun thing to explore. I think Helmut has a very conflicted view of his family and his father. He’s gone back and forth a lot on that. The Skull, in the same way that Steve has, has first hand experience with Helmut’s father, and to him, Heinrich was just another guy. In a lot of ways, that’s more infuriating than any vision of him as a monster or a hero. It’s that dismissal that I think would anger Helmut the most.
We talked about coordination earlier, and Steve Rogers isn’t the only one with a grudge against the Red Skull. The rest of the Uncanny Avengers are after him, too, and Marc Guggenheim has teased that Hydra will start to play a role in his “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” book. Will readers of your Cap books who are reading one or both of those titles see some coordination and connective tissue between these books?
It’s all very connected. We’ve all had that thing where Hydra is doing different things in different books, and they’re just sort of the stand-in villain that’s thrown in. One book will be saying that Hydra is completely shut down while another book will feature a big Hydra army. That is not the case right now. There’s close control on what Hydra is, what it looks like, and how it operates.
So you’re going to see a lot of cohesion over the books. I’ve talked with Gerry a number of times. I’m really excited about what he’s got coming up in “Uncanny Avengers.” That’s absolutely going to be an integral part of the story going forward. The same goes for Marc on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
Can you elaborate more on the status of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Maria Hill in the aftermath of “Standoff?” I know you’re not done writing Hill from the solicits that have been released for your Captain America books.
[Laughs] I’ll never be done writing Maria Hill. That will probably be the day I’m done at Marvel.
As far as the public is concerned, all is normal with S.H.I.E.L.D., Maria Hill is in charge. As far as many of the heroes are concerned, Maria Hill is in charge, but no, she’s not! She’s had most of her power taken away from her, is being closely watched by the World Security Council, and is about to face trial for her crimes.
She’s now facing a secret tribunal that is going to hold her accountable for what she did in Pleasant Hill. We’re going to hear her side of the story. We hear a little bit of it here in “Standoff: Omega,” but we’re going to get a lot more. Most of us view Hill’s position on the issue as indefensible, but I think she raises some points that need to be considered.
She took action when nobody else was on this sort of revolving door of incarcerations that plagues the Marvel Universe, and that’s what S.H.I.E.L.D. is set up to do. They’re supposed to deal with these problems that nobody is willing or able to deal with. She’s going to make a strong case, but as you can tell from what you see in the “Omega” issue, the deck is very much stacked against her. The Council have clearly had enough
Will the story of Maria’s trial unfold before “Civil War II,” or will that be part of your tie-in arcs on the Cap books? And what does the future hold for the rest of the event’s big developments?
It’s going to unfold during and after. It’s a big story. She’s got a key role to play in “Captain America: Steve Rogers.” Folks should also pick up “Captan America: Sam Wilson” #9, which became an epilogue to “Standoff.” We’ll get into Maria’s situation a little more right there.
We’ve got a new Thunderbolts team. We’ve got a new Quasar. We’ve got a new Hydra. We obviously have Steve Rogers restored to fighting form as part of his 75th anniversary. We’ve got the trial of Maria Hill coming up. A lot of big deal things ended up happening in this. I’m very surprised and pleased that Marvel let me get away with all of it, because a lot of it was not in the outline. [Laughs] I talked with a number of guys when they’re done with these things, and they’re exhausted and nervous about doing it again. I came out with a smile, though. I’m genuinely proud of what we pulled off here.
“Standoff” is really the beginning of a lot of stories. It sets the stage for some big things to come, so I definitely would tell folks that this is more of a beginning than an end. I think that will become really clear over the next two months.
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