Nick Spencer Aims at Cynics with SECRET AVENGERS

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Nick Spencer may be co-writing the main Avengers title with regular series writer Jonathan Hickman for a tentatively six-issue stint starting in May, but he's no newcomer to the new franchise. He wrote Secret Avengers in 2011 during the Fear Itself event, and returned to book when it relaunched with a new #1 last week, as part of the Marvel NOW! initiative.

The new take on the concept, from Spencer and artist Luke Ross, puts an emphasis on the word "secret" — specifically, the team is put together by S.H.I.E.L.D. (and in the case of Black Widow and Hawkeye in the first issue, not entirely above board) to take on cases so sensitive, the participants' minds are wiped following each mission. It's a high concept that attracted both interest and skepticism, though Spencer calls the reception thus far "pretty awesome."

Spencer — who is also busy with creator-owned titles Morning Glories and Bedlam, both at Image — discussed Secret Avengers with us, stating that the team's lineup will expand even beyond the already-announced Hawkeye, Black Widow, Taskmaster, Mockingbird, new Iron Patriot and Hulk. Courtesy of Marvel, we're also debuting brand-new interior pages from Secret Avengers #2, scheduled for release in March.

 

Newsarama: Nick, your solo Avengers book, Secret Avengers, debuted with #1 last week, and it has a lot in one issue — you had to introduce the premise, it jumped around in time, had quite a bit of action, and something of a twist at the end. Was that a hard first issue to put together?

Nick Spencer: One of the cool things about this whole Marvel NOW! thing is, this wasn't something that got dropped on us last quarter. I had a long lead time, and a lot of months to think it through. Sometimes having that extra time can be hard, because you're getting so many ideas, and you have the luxury to wander through them. This first issue came to me pretty early, and I was pretty set on it. I wouldn't say it was a particularly difficult issue to write. There was a lot of ground to cover, and a lot of beats to hit. When you have them, you have them, and then it just becomes how much time you can afford to give each one.

This one hit me pretty fully formed. One of the very first things that I conceptualized for the book is that it would open with Hawkeye laid out for the gunshot wounds, and trying to trace backwards from there. It's always fun when you have something like that in your head, and your carry it around for months, then you script it, and it gets drawn, and a year later the book is out. That was pretty cool.

 

Nrama: It must be rewarding to see it out there now, and it seems like the response has been good.

Spencer: Response has been pretty awesome. The reviews and stuff, the vast majority have been pretty positive. I think in some ways they're deceptively better than they might seem, because I know for a fact that this was a book that people approached apprehensively. When it was announced, you certainly had people voicing suspicion, cynicism, whatever you want to call it — "Is this going to be a movie tie-in that sort of forces me to accept things that I don't want to accept in the comics continuity?" Stuff about obviously our new Nick Fury here, and the cast having a bunch from the film, and even the first issue being set in Budapest.

When we went over the early concept for the book, we talked a little bit about the mindwipes, and the fact that the team wouldn't actually know that they were on the team. People were like, "That sounds terrible!" It doesn't really sound terrible, it sounds like something bad happening to the characters, which is actually good in terms of storytelling. But it's understandable that a fan of Hawkeye is going to say, "Hawkeye getting brainwashed sounds bad!" That's fair, and I understood all of it.

 

I'm very aware of the fact that a large part of the audience came in saying, "I’m not going to like this book." When, two days later, the response is, "You know, I actually kind of liked it," that means you made up a huge amount of distance. So I feel really good, actually. It's nice when these things go the way that they're supposed to.

The decision that we made was, we're not going to stop and get into this stuff. We're not going to stop and explain every little thing, we're not going to justify every little thing; we're just going to move. At some point, these things tend to fix themselves. They can become less about why they exist and more about what's happening within them. That was a big goal for me. Put all the, "Why is this character in this book?" aside. They're in this book, and here's what they're doing. As long as the "here's what they're doing" is exciting and you can get invested in that, you will completely forget the "why." That just won't even matter anymore. That was the goal, and hopefully we pulled it off for at least most folks.

 

Nrama: Speaking of skepticism going into the book, it likely couldn't be helped that this was literally the sixth book with "Avengers" in the title launching as part of Marvel NOW. Even though Secret Avengers was an existing title, that can't be easy. It's one of seven monthly Avengers books.

Spencer: It is. I think now that they're all out, and some of them have got a few issues to them, what people are starting to see is, title's not everything. Obviously there are sales reasons why a book called "Secret Avengers" is going to do a little better than a book called, I don't know, Secret Somebodies. Obviously there's a reason why "Avengers" is in the title.

I think what people are seeing now is that all of these books with "Avengers" in the title are very different. There's no redundancy here whatsoever. Avengers is in fact pretty different from New Avengers, even though those two are very connected, and both of those are very different from Uncanny Avengers, and both are very different from Young, and Arena, and Assemble and Secret. These are all very distinct stories. It's not as though you're getting six of the same book. To my eyes, I'd much rather have the book have "Avengers" in the title and last longer and sell better and everybody's happier, than 10 issues of the book by a different name. That just seems like a no-brainer. To me, this is a very smart move, and there is a reason why the book is called Secret Avengers. It is S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Avengers initiative. It is their attempt to build an Avengers team of their own. The name fits.

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We kind of live in that era where everything is assessed based on the press release, but now that the work is actually out there, people are very glad that they have all of those books. It's hard to argue that comics would be better if any of those books didn't exist. I think that was a problem that kind of fixed itself.

Nrama: With the different things you're juggling in Secret Avengers, a big part of that is that the whole cast isn't there from the first issue. In fact, only a few of the characters announced to be a part of the book show up in #1. So is it going to be something of a slow trickle, where more people eventually join the fold?

Spencer: Yeah. There's a little bit of putting the band together to the first arc. I wanted to do it in such a way that you're not waiting for the next person to show up. Hopefully each issue could be satisfying enough as its own mission and its own adventure, that knowing in advance who else is coming onto the team, you're not saying, "When is the Hulk going to show up in this issue?" but you can enjoy that this issue is about Taskmaster. That was a big focus for me, making sure that at least most of the issues really feel like their particular story. We'll have some instances where we'll get into shorter arcs of two and three, but for the most part, I wanted it to feel like each issue had its own story with a beginning, middle and end that fed into something larger. When you want issues to be like that, one of the easiest and best ways to do it is to kind of put the camera on one member in particular. It seemed like that was the best way to roll this out.

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Nrama: And you've said that this book will have quite a few different characters.

Spencer: There are a lot of other ones that we haven't even talked about. It'll be a really big cast. Lots of comings and goings. It's good practice for co-writing that Avengers book.  

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