When CBR first spoke to Joe Casey about his June-launching, three-issue Marvel Comics miniseries "Dark Reign: Zodiac," the going rate on the identity of his main character had odds on a strong connection to the classic Marvel crime organization. But readers interested in the comic book that explores the flip side of Norman Osborn's reign at the top of the Marvel Universe need to keep one thing in mind: "Supervillains - by definition - are selfish, conniving, evil assholes and I don't think they'd get along with (or want to hang out with) each other at all," the writer told CBR, noting that the only true connection between his new Zodiac character and the astrological-themed baddies are the latter's decapitation at the hands of the former.
"I think putting their heads in a bag pretty much sums up how I feel about them as viable characters. Having said that, the name is fantastic so it's great to be able to use it as the actual name of a character," Casey explained. "I came up with the character first, then it came down to Tom [Brevoort, the book's editor] and I finding a name that 1) had at least a tiny bit of recognizability - in the Marvel reader sense - and 2) was also available to use. After a few suggestions, Zodiac was the winner. And at this point I know it was the right decision, because I can't imagine the character having any other name. This whole series came together so fast and we whipped out the official announcement at WonderCon, I don't think the press had enough time to process exactly what this series is all about. And so, I ended up getting a bunch of questions asking how I felt about Aries and Taurus and Sagittarius."
But while "Dark Reign: Zodiac" will pulverize rather than polish up the old Avengers adversaries, Casey and artist Nathan Fox plan on brining together a wild line-up of obscure villains to add to the mayhem Zodiac has planned for one Norman Osborn... just don't call them a team. "The whole notion of a 'super-villain team-up' is ridiculous to me," Casey said. "They'd be double-crossing each other at every turn, because that's what evil motherfuckers tend to do to each other. So, this whole Norman-Osborn-In-Charge status quo that's the basis of Dark Reign never really rang true to me... at least in terms of who'd actually align themselves with this maniac and follow his lead. Especially when he's placing himself in the position of such high authority. As far as Zodiac is concerned, that puts a well-deserved bullseye right on Norman's forehead."
Casey shared with CBR a bevy of exclusive sketches Fox made of "Zodiac's" supporting cast, which includes Marvel villains the Clown, Manslaughter Marsdale, the Whirlwind, the Trapster, and a new character called Death Reaper.
"We've been slowly developing a pretty ambitious creator-owned project, but when 'Zodaic' popped up, I knew Nathan would have a blast with it," Casey said. "We share a pretty sick, twisted sense of humor about certain things, and a book like this plays into that perfectly... since there's some sick, twisted stuff that happens, right from the first page of issue #1. All of those characters have all been members of other villain gangs, in some form or another, so they're all ready to follow a leader... it just so happens that Norman Osborn isn't that leader. So naturally they're going to gravitate to Osborn's polar opposite, Zodiac.
"The Death Reaper is a little different, though. She's a new character, the illegitimate daughter of the old villainess, Nekra. She was the one character I brought over from my 'Young Masters' pitch from a few years ago. She's like a super-villain groupie. She knows all the history, she's a total fangirl. She's also Zodiac's under-aged girlfriend. But super-villains don't give a shit about statutory rape laws, do they?"
And with Zodiac, the only adherence the character holds is to a lifestyle where law breaking takes precedence over all else. "I think 'amoral bastard' is pretty close to describing him, although he does have his own 'code,' so to speak. He's actually offended by the fact that Osborn and his Dark Avengers team are playing the hero, pretending to be do-gooders. Zodiac sees it as a complete betrayal of what being a true super-villain is all about. Anything that attempts to control is obviously in opposition to a belief in anarchy. And he has no intention of hiding who he is."
That mix of slick, sick characteristics doesn't mean a total random set of murderous explosions as much as it means a messy scalpel will get taken to the world Norman is building. "More than a few of Zodiac's schemes - that we'll see play out over the course of the series - will seriously fuck with Norman's ability to lead, to protect, to do all those things he promised the world he would do better than Tony Stark did," Casey explained. "And underneath it all, there is a specific goal that Zodiac is working for. Something that Zodiac really gets off on is the idea of the good, ol' fashioned villain scheme. The stock in trade of the so-called criminal mastermind. The kind of convoluted machinations that the A-list villains used to routinely excel at, but seemed to fall out of favor with villains - and most comic book writers - ever since the Joker killed the studio audience of the 'David Endochrine Show' in 'Dark Knight Returns' and Lex Luthor became the CEO of his own corporation. Zodiac's bringing sexy back, with a 21st Century twist. I should also stress that Zodiac, being a full-blooded supervillain, is going to target some bona fide heroes, as well. Some really recognizable Marvel superfolk are going to get profoundly sodomized by this guy... in a manner of speaking."
Most important for Casey is making "Zodiac" deliver in three quick monthly issues some literal bang for the readers' buck. "We are trying to pack these books with as much cool shit as we're capable of," the writer said. "These books cost too much money not to make every page, every panel, every moment count. Plus, there's so many of these Dark Reign tie-ins happening all at once, it's even more motivation for the Zodiac book to stand out among the rest.
"After I'd plotted it all out, I actually asked Tom if we could possibly stretch it to four issues, mainly because there's so much stuff that goes on, I thought I'd need the room. But it's actually much tighter at three issues. It's also more of a blast to write this way.
"Not to mention, I thought we were over the 'writing for the trade' syndrome, but it's still happening all around us. I think we've taken the six-issue storyline as far as it can go. By now, we all know that Part Fives of Six are always the 'treading water' issue, the so-called 'calm before the storm' issue. Well, 'Zodiac' is all storm. It's actually a pretty sprawling story that goes all over the world. On the one hand, it's a gigantic crime caper and readers will be able to get into it on that basis. On the other hand, it's an intense character study of someone who we hope will be a worthy addition to the Marvel Universe."
Ultimately, that's where the creators have set their sights - on adding a new chapter to the Marvel U that will have legs long into the future thanks to its inventive inversions of what fans expect from a Marvel comic book. "We live in a world - hell, we work in an industry - where political correctness threatens to run rampant, sometimes to a stifling degree. So, when it comes to 'Zodiac,' I like the outright honesty of it," Casey said. "I like the self-awareness of it all, where even a total bastard can not only accept what he is, but revel in it. Zodiac loves being a supervillain - loves the lifestyle and all that goes with it. For him, it's like being a rock star, without the corporate sellout part. I actually think he's a likeable character... for someone who performs horrible acts of mass murder and domestic terrorism. He still gets laid and hangs out in a bitchin' hideout."
"Dark Reign: Zodiac" #1 goes on sale in June from Marvel Comics.