There’s a fine line between good and evil, black and white, and Marvel’s Secret Avengers lives in that grey area.
Secret Avengers is currently in the last arc before the series relaunches with an “All-New Marvel Now!” #1 in March, and series co-writer (and sole writer come March) Ales Kot is pushing the limits on both the S.H.I.E.L.D.-led team as well as the various parties in A.I.M. In the recent Secret Avengers #12 Mockingbird was outed as a mole inside the ranks of A.I.M., while back on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, Maria Hill got some unexpected guests in the form of surrendering A.I.M. operatives and the surprise appearance of M.O.D.O.K.
Newsarama sat down with Kot to go over the events so far in Secret Avengers, and looks forward to the events of the volume finale and onward through March’s Secret Avengers #1 relaunch. Along the way Kot goes into detail about the complicated ethics of spies and terrorists, and where M.O.D.O.K. stands in this seemingly eternal war between S.H.I.E.L.D. and A.I.M.
Newsarama: Ales, a lot happened in the most recent Secret Avengers #12, and I’m going to start at the ending – M.O.D.O.K. here and apparently the secret hand that guides A.I.M. Can you talk about bringing him in as the key adversary in this story-arc?
Ales Kot: M.O.D.O.K. is no adversary! M.O.D.O.K. loves you!
What we're looking at here -- no major spoilers -- are the previously invisible dynamics of A.I.M. coming to light. Your assumptions about M.O.D.O.K. being the secret hand that guides A.I.M. and being the key adversary are, at this point, just assumptions. Let's not forget that Andrew Forson, the Scientist Supreme of A.I.M., was -- and maybe still is -- running the show since Secret Avengers #1. Abandoning that part of the story would go against its nature.
So, maybe the question to ask here in order to get to the core of what is going to happen next is -- what kind of a relationship do Forson and M.O.D.O.K. have?
Nrama: From just his plain visual look to how he carries himself, M.O.D.O.K. seems like a interesting character to write. What’s the experience been like for you?
Kot: M.O.D.O.K. is such a player. He arrives excited to manipulate. He is interested in being Midas, perhaps even identifies with him, desiring to transform everything into an opportunity. M.O.D.O.K. has a pure Goldman Sachs mindset -- people are resources, nothing more. It seems there are no ethics to be found in that twisted body on those mechanical spider legs.
And that's the thing -- is that really the entire image, or are we vilifying someone, simplifying who they are out of laziness? How much about M.O.D.O.K. do we not know? What is going through his epic gigantic head? Why does someone decide to become a terrorist for hire, a manipulator? M.O.D.O.K. might be much closer to Walter White / Heisenberg than you ever considered before. We are all so, so complex. Robbing the beings in the story of their complexities would be disrespectful, and as I love and respect them, it's not on my mind at all. We have such sights to show you.
Nrama: There are a lot of players on the good guy and bad guy side of things in Secret Avengers, so just how big will M.O.D.O.K.’s role be here?
Kot: One of the things I am very much enjoying about writing Secret Avengers is the ethical instability of the entire scenario, the morality play aspect of it, the fact that all characters are, or at least seem, somehow compromised. "Good guys" and "bad guys" is a black and white view of the Universe and I don't subscribe to it.
M.O.D.O.K.'s role will be big. Crucial, even, in a way.
Nrama: So how would you describe the situation on the battlefield for S.H.I.E.L.D. and A.I.M. as M.O.D.O.K. steps into view here?
Kot: Five hundred shades of grey and mind games. Dead bodies start piling up.
Nrama: Getting past the giant elephant-sized head in the room, I also wanted to ask about other villains – namely Mentallo. I really enjoyed that scene of him on the beach, and really gives us more juicy character for that guy. What’s your thoughts on him and the role he plays in this?
Kot: Mentallo kept himself in the background. Being one of A.I.M.'s ministers meant being on the High Council of A.I.M., yes, and it also meant watching the power games unfold, while at the same time becoming friends with the Taskmaster. Seeing all the scheming from the remove, being on a beautiful island while people around you think up new ways to kill people, finding a friend to play ping-pong with, especially when nol one wanted to play ping-pong with you for such a long time, and now you feel accepted, and at the same time you're wondering if…well, I should stop before I say too much.
Mentallo loves sunsets.
Nrama: In this issue we also learned Mockingbird has been outed inside A.I.M., and is in a pretty bad predicament here. The title’s arc, “How to M.A.I.M. a Mockingbird” doesn’t promise good times to come for Bobbi, so what can you say about her storyarc going forward here?
Kot: Nothing except "I am not sorry. It needed to be done."
Nrama: Since we last talked to you you’ve settled in quite well as co-writer on Secret Avengers. How’d it feel to be in the thick of it now, working with Nick, the artists and the editors?
Kot: It's a wonderful experience. Nick & I co-plotted "How to MA.I.M. a Mockingbird" together and I write the scripts by myself, which feels just right. There was this moment when we were figuring out #12, and I already thought of M.O.D.O.K. but then I decided not to mention him because I wasn't quite sure, and Nick mentioned M.O.D.O.K. himself, and at that moment I bowed in front of the mighty synchronicity of it. We both wanted him in.
Working with editors Lauren Sankovitch, Jon Moisan and Tom Brevoort -- the entire editorial team -- is inspiring. I value a good editorial team, and this editorial team is not just good, it's great. For example, just today Tom mentioned something that is a beautiful, simple revision of the flow in the new Secret Avengers #1. I don't really want to spoil the details, except that it concerned page/scene flow and Tom's suggestion was to switch some pages around to create a more impactful flow, and once I read the email from him, my gut went "Yes, this is great", because I knew.
And the artists -- I get to work with Butch Guice and Luke Ross on "How to MA.I.M. a Mockingbird" and they work so well together. Butch is doing the first three issues, Luke the last two. The structure of the story supports that choice, as we begin with a spy thriller and move towards a slightly more action-based narrative in the last two issues of the current run. I knew Butch would have a lot of fun with going Jim Steranko on these issues, and he's certainly doing so, however what I did not expect was Luke Ross reinventing himself so utterly. Luke and I had a great Skype conversation before I wrote the first script for him, and we agreed that in order to keep the narrative flow right, his style would move a bit closer to Butch's in terms of the layouts, but in a way that would make Luke happy and would feel entirely his. We discussed what Frank Quitely and Grant Morrison did with the layouts in WE3, the work of JH Williams III., once again Steranko…and then Luke started sending in the pages and I am still grinning when I think of them.
And Matt Wilson on colors? I love his work.
Nrama: And this all leads to March where you and Michael Walsh are relaunching Secret Avengers with a new #1. How does this volume transition to what's coming next?
Kot: It brings the events of this run to a close -- and certain decisions the protagonists make will form the core of what happens next. Spy games take their toll.
Nrama: And this relaunch itself, break down the first issue for us.
Kot: SECRET AVENGERS #1!
With M.O.D.O.K. being somehow involved. Hawkeye being chased on the rooftops of NYC. Black Widow & Spider-Woman hanging out in Russian baths. A very peculiar assassin attacking inside the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. Phil Coulson and Nick Fury Jr. facing the horrors of deep space. Falling space satellites. Double crossings. Triple schemes. Adrenaline-fueled action scenes. Characters who are not who they seem to be.
It's Mike Walsh on art, Matt Wilson on colors and me on the rest taking you on a fast-paced ride through the ethically grey areas of the Marvel Universe. You will likely laugh. You will likely scream in disbelief. You will likely love reading this comic. I believe in it.
The first issue puts us on the ground, in the air and in the space. The new team is separated and attacked before its first official mission even begins -- and now they all have to fight for their survival.
It won't be easy. Bullets will be shot. Bones will be broken. New truths will be discovered. And as to what comes after that, we are going back to the statement that describes the comic the best:
Run the mission. Don't get seen. Save the world.