SPENCER: Mystery & Immediate Danger In AVENGERS: STANDOFF!

"Standoff!: Assault on Pleasant Hill Alpha" cover by Jesus Saiz
Credit: Jesus Saiz (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Marvel Comics

It seems like every comic book event gets bigger, but Marvel's next one hopes to trump them all by getting right up in your face.

Announced Friday at New York Comic Con's "Iron Man & The Avengers" panel, Avengers: Standoff! is a two-month event in early 2016 where Earth's Mightiest Heroes are drawn into a small town mystery with big stakes. Sam Wilson, Captain America writer Nick Spencer is leading the event, which will crossover in all of the various Avengers titles in March and April and be bookended by a kickoff "Alpha" issue and then a finale "Omega" issue.

Newsarama spoke with Spencer and Marvel Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort about this new, different kind of Marvel event. And while the duo doesn't want to say too much given it's six months away, they can say that Captain Americas past and present are the centerpiece of it and one of them may die.

Newsarama: Nick, Tom… Avengers: Standoff! First off, who’s doing the “standing off” and who’s doing the “assaulting”?

Tom Brevoort: Nick is doing the stand off, I’m doing the assaulting. [Laughs]

Nick Spencer: [laughs] This story has a little bit of the small town, mystery vibe. Who’s on what side is something we’re going to keep to ourselves right now, but the key players are Captain America, Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, and the people in every Avengers book. So lots of familiar faces.

Nrama: Nick, you’re writing Sam Wilson, Captain America and now this. How big a part will Cap be in all this?

Spencer: This story was really born out of 2016 being Captain America’s 75th anniversary. We wanted to make this a big of deal as we could, and make sure we celebrated it as much as it deserved to be. We wanted to tell the best story we could, and one that involves Steve, Sam, and Bucky.

Nrama: This is set in a town called Pleasant Hill. There’s some real Pleasant Hills in California, Louisiana, and else where – some even with comic book shops. Is this based on a real town, or is it something new?

Spencer: It’s a city just in the Marvel Universe.

I like small town stories. I like the setting they provide for stories like this. When we were coming up with this story, we wanted to make sure the stakes and the scale felt personal and real. We wanted to put the characters in a tightened environment, where the danger is literally six feet in front of them.

This isn’t Manhattan being leveled – its danger on a much more personal level: right in front of their faces.

The small town setting is best for this kind of story. It’s a fun environment to see superheroes in, and one you don’t actually see that much. We see them surrounded by skyscrapers and alien ships a lot, and for me what I’m trying to do is tweak things a little. Make things a little off balance for our heroes, and led readers see them in a slightly different perspective.

Nrama: What are the stakes with Avengers: Standoff!?

Spencer: This deals with some heady concepts that has succinct, real world comparisons... like the best Marvel stories always do. It’s the mirror into our lives.

Avengers: Standoff! is a story that heavily involves S.H.I.E.L.D., and any time you’re telling a story with them it can touch on the way we in real life handle security and how we keep our community safe, and the judgment calls you have to make for that.

It’s a topical story, without being preachy or partisan.

Nrama: Tom, Newsarama has been talking to you about Marvel events for over a decade, and you’re someone who’s always been really good about framing events and giving the big picture. So what’s the big picture for this story?

Credit: Jesus Saiz (Marvel Comics)

Brevoort: I think there are a few things I can say to that, maybe.

One is that there are things buried in Pleasant Hill which will probably be best left buried. But on top of that, this is a story that thematically takes some of its metaphor cues from some of the situations in the real world these past 12 months… but focused through a very Marvel sort of lens.

Avengers: Standoff! has some genuine validity to the zeitgeist of the moment, but it’s difficult to say too much. First, it hasn’t come out. Second, most of the Avengers titles’ first issues haven’t come out. So it’s a little early in the game, but those are the two things I can say.

Nrama: With the “Alpha” issue and then it becoming a crossover in ongoing series, can readers presume its like last year’s “Black Vortex” in terms of format?

Brevoort: To me, in every one of these events we try to change things up and not do the same thing over and over again. The way the Avengers book has been set up the past 10 years or so, we haven’t done any real Avengers family event the way the X-Men would do one, simply because every Avengers event had the tendency to grow into becoming a line-wide Marvel Universe event. [laughs] Suddenly, it becomes a big massive event.

But with Avengers: Standoff!, we wanted something smaller in scale, focused on the core Avengers family of titles because we haven’t done that in a long time.

The structure is somewhat like “Black Vortex” – not exactly, but there’s a beginning, an end, and the story in-between carried in issues of our ongoing titles. I will say that its not as literally linear as “Black Vortex” was. In that, it was a single story thread with part 1 here, part 2 there, part 3 over here, etc. In Avengers: Standoff!, the alpha issue will set up a couple issues that’ll be addressed in the ongoing titles before it returns in the Omega issue.

If we do it right – I’m going to keep saying that because sometimes schedules change – Avengers: Standoff! will have new installment out essentially every week for the duration of the event; at least one per week. The buy-in is easy, but if you like it and ask “what do I read next?” it doesn’t necessarily pick up literally in another book. There’s a different strand of the overarching story though, kind of like tentacles of an octopus.

Spencer: If you like just reading one book, you can do that. But there’s an added incentive to check out the bookends and some of the other titles. Probably with only one or two exceptions, you can just read Uncanny Avengers, for example, and get a complete story. But you’ll understand more about what’s going on if you get more pieces of the puzzle.

Nrama: And illustrating this is a big get from DC, Jesus Saiz. He worked at DC for over a decade, and now is making his Marvel debut. Tom, Nick, can you tell us what he adds to your story here?

Spencer: I’m a big fan of Jesus’ work, especially on Swamp Thing Some of his recent stuff has been really phenomenal. He’s really grown as an artist, and I’m fired up to be working with him. Just like I am working with Daniel Acuna on Sam Wilson, Captain America, and Paul Renaud as well. It’s fantastic.

Brevoort: Jesus is somebody who impressed us with his growth. He’s really stepped up his game in recent years, to the point where we really noticed him break out of the pack and shine.

This wasn’t a consideration, but he’s also from a similar school of illustration as Daniel Acuna.  Their styles are totally different, but both of them pencil, ink and color their own work, and in terms of creativity that’s more cohesive and personal. It brings a sort of “hand in glove” fit that works great.

Jesus is great, and hopefully we’ll be doing more with him after Avengers: Standoff!

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