OCCUPY AVENGERS Is AVENGERS A-TEAM, Fighting Alongside Blue Collar America

Marvel Comics December 2016 solicitations
Credit: Declan Shalvey (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Augustin Alessio (Marvel Comics)

The Avengers save the world from alien invasions and super villains every day, but what about real-world problems outside the big cities? That's where Occupy Avengers comes in.

Debuting this Wednesday, Marvel's new title is a grassroots superhero book let by Hawkeye and Red Wolf, by writer David F. Walker and artist Carlos Pacheco. Compared to the classic TV series A-Team and the movie Seven Samurai (and its various remakes), Occupy Avengers address the idea of blue-collar people in the Marvel U finding heroes to fight with them instead of for them.

Walker, who also writes Power Man & Iron Fist and the recently concluded Nighthawk, spoke with Newsarama about this unconventional Avengers team book, how it developed, and the stories and storytelling styles he aims to bring to the book.

Credit: Carlos Pacheco (Marvel Comics)

Newsarama: David, thanks for doing this. Let’s start at the beginning – how did this idea for Occupy Avengers come about for you and Marvel?

David F. Walker: Marvel approached relatively quickly looking to launch a new Avengers title a few months back. They already had the name ‘Occupy Avengers’ in play, that it would spin out of Civil War II, and that one of the main characters would be Hawkeye. There were two ideas for the book, the first being that it was made of people without superpowers but were highly skilled at what they do – for example, Hawkeye is a highly skilled marksman. The other mandate was for it to take on missions that are not traditionally what the Avengers would do. So no cosmic threats, or dealing with armies of werewolves or vampires – more working class situation.

My editors pitched it to me as being in the style of the 1980s A-Team television series – the one I watched when I was a kid. I proposed the inspiration of the 1960s show Have Gun Will Travel, as a mash-up of the two for Occupy Avengers. And they were like “Wow, that sounds great!” And that’s how it all came together.

Nrama: The title of this, “Occupy Avengers,” carries a lot of preconceptions with it. Since you said it was decided before you came on, what do you think of it?

Credit: Carlos Pacheco (Marvel Comics)

Walker: I’ll be honest – when I first came on, I asked if they were sure about the title. I was thinking some more hyperbolic – the Out of Control Avengers, Avengers Unauthorized. Maybe have the Avengers want our team to stop using the name, threatening them with cease & desist letters, something like that.

But people by-and-large have responded well to this name. It wasn’t a big fight.

Listen, millions of fans fell in love with the Luke Cage series on Netflix, and Sanford Greene and I have him as a co-star in Power Man & Iron Fist. People ask me why Marvel has “Luke Cage” there and “Power Man” in comics, and it's an easy answer: because they’re the same character. Bet there’s only so much you can do to control public perception.

Hopefully, when people read Occupy Avengers they’ll find a very working class, blue collar style book. The Occupy movement became typified by those protests several years back, but at the heart of it was a movement of the poor and the disenfranchised, slipping away but trying to find a way to fight back.

Nrama: So Hawkeye was baked into the concept – how did Red Wolf become the other part of the equation?

Credit: Carlos Pacheco (Marvel Comics)

Walker: I actually had suggested a relatively obscure character – Winona Wingfoot, Wyatt Wingfoot’s younger sister. She’s maybe had five appearances at the most. I wanted a character that was aboriginal, Native America. There’s many groups who are underrepresented in comic books, but I’d have to say Native Americans are at the top of that list. Winona Wingfoot doesn’t have a long history with the Marvel U, and I wanted to play with her a little.

If not her, American Eagle came to mind, as did a couple other Native American characters – with a goal to change the stereotype. Editorial came back and brought up the recent Red Wolf book and asked about that character being a good fit. I had read both 1872 and the Red Wolf solo book, and there had been some interesting stuff with this guy. At the end of the day, I see a lot of Steve Rogers / Captain America in him. He’s a man with very strong convictions, but was displaced to a different time and place. He has room for a lot of character growth and humor not derived from the standard humor tropes involving Native Americans.
I saw a way to use Red Wolf, where one of his first weapons is his smartphone. Here’s a guy transported from the 1870s to 2016, and he’s a sponge for information. The one thing he’s constantly learning about is the world around him. So perhaps in a fight, in the middle of it he might be looking up information instead of attacking.

Credit: Carlos Pacheco (Marvel Comics)

Nrama: So you have Red Wolf and Hawkeye - a unique pair, but not your first unique pair at Marvel after Power Man & Iron Fist. Why these two characters?

Walker: It’s really fun because Clint is a character who has a ton of baggage; he’s sort of loved and hated in the Marvel Universe after what happened in Civil War II. Red Wolf, however, is a character who doesn’t know anything about Clint Barton – unless he reads it on Wikipedia or something.

I’m writing it as these two particular characters – and others to join later on – are all at a crossroads in their respective lives. Something has happened in their lives, and now they have to find themselves. It’s an existential journey of redemption. That’s part of what I like in Clint and Red Wolf’s relationships – they’re helping each other through this.

Every time I write a character, I make a decision about what personality aspects to play with. With Clint, I came up with the notion that although not everyone in the Marvel particularly cares for him, they either owe him a favor or he owes them one. He’s constantly bartering, and calling things in.

But Red Wolf doesn’t owe him anything, and Clint doesn’t owe him. There’s a purity in the relationship as it builds. Red Wolf doesn’t do anything out of a perceived debt with Hawkeye, and the same goes for Clint.

Credit: Carlos Pacheco (Marvel Comics)

Nrama: In the first issue, you employ first-person narration with Clint in this. Like any tool it can be done well or overdone to death – why do you feel it was the right choice to be able to read his thoughts and his perspective going into this?

Walker: That’s a really good question. I go back and forth with first-person narration. Sometimes it’s a great idea for adding layers and doing character development, but other times I hate it. At the exact same time even.

But I came up with the idea, and talked with editorial, that each issue of Occupy Avengers would be narrated by a different character. Clint’s is #1, Red Wolf’s is #2, #3 Is Clint again, then #4 and #5 by other characters; the narrator for Occupy Avengers #6 hasn’t been decided yet, but I don’t think it’s going to be Clint.

I want to play with this notion of getting to know characters within the context of the story in ways that wouldn’t work with two people sitting around talking. It’s also me experimenting with narratives styles in my work.

I originally wrote the script to Occupy Avengers #1 without the first-person narration, then added the narration to see how it would work. Editorial really liked it, and then talked about giving the other characters a voice as well. I can’t remember whose idea it was to dedicate each issue to a specific character.

Credit: Carlos Pacheco (Marvel Comics)

I’m writing the sixth issue, and so far it’s the only one by a character who only appears in this one issue – it gives an interesting context and layer to the comic.

For me, part of it is involves my ego. When you write comic books, so many people don’t understand what you do. When you’re a writer that doesn’t draw, you’re still pretty much creating everything on the page – even fight scenes. If you look at a fight scene in comic book, chances are pretty good it was written out before the artist drew it. For my ego, I want people to read my words. The most frustrating thing comic writers get is people who ask “do you come up with the words and put them in the balloons?” thinking the art came on the page magically by someone who knows what to put there without a writer.

The other reason for me is that while I love the visual component of comics, from a consumer standpoint we deserve to give readers as much story as we possibly can. The beauty of comics is that we can give something written that’s not 100% connected to what is happening. Comics come down to just visuals and text. That’s what I love about comics. This is me trying to explore what I can do as a writer.

Nrama: Speaking of exploring, you mention that more people would be joining the team of Hawkeye and Red Wolf’s. Since you just finished up Nighthawk, the obvious question is about him being in this. What can you say?

Credit: Carlos Pacheco (Marvel Comics)

Walker: Yes, he appears in Occupy Avengers #3but his “membership” is tenuous. How do I put this? Clint thinks Nighthawk is a part of the team; Red Wolf thinks Nighthawk is part of the team. Nighthawk doesn’t think he’s a member of the team. Nighthawk would like to kill Clint – he hates his guts. The only thing keeping him in check is Red Wolf.

Nighthawk isn’t a full-time star of the book; he’s going to be the one to show up from time to time. When people ask me about Occupy Avengers, I tell them there are 4.5 members of the team. Nighthawk is a half member: one foot in, one foot out.

What you’ll see from him in Occupy Avengers is me giving him a chance to further grow and evolve as I originally planned for Nighthawk before it was cancelled.

I want to draw a comparison to DC’s Justice League; when I was a kid, I hated the fact that Batman was a member. I thought he should be off doing his own things, and then when something really bad happens he’ll show up when no one expects him telling them “You’re doing it wrong.”

That’s how I want to play Nighthawk telling Clint he screwed up again. He threatens Clint, and Red Wolf steps in and says “You kill Clint, I’ll break your neck.”

Occupy Avengers will continue the evolution of Nighthawk; he won’t be lightening up, but he might learn how to trust someone a little more.

Credit: Augustin Alessio (Marvel Comics)

Nrama: We’ve talked big picture, so let's drill down to the first issue.

In this first issue, Hawkeye comes to investigate contaminated water in Santa Rosa, New Mexico – where Red Wolf works as a deputy. Tainted water is an all-too-familiar situation for those reading U.S. news or living in some areas of the country – but here you’re adding action elements with a seemingly private military group involved. How’d you approach telling this type of story without twisting it too much into a rote 1980s-style educational comic book?

Walker: It’s not easy – it really isn’t.

A lot of younger people won’t remember this, but on September 11 when the towers fell, some people who were in the moment said they expected someone to save the day before the second plane hit. Superheroes are so engrained in our consciousness, or some kind of super-character like James Bond. In reality, superheroes don’t come and save us.

The Flint, Michigan water supply was contaminated purely because of greed and lack of empathy for human dignity. So how do you tell that story with Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America coming in to save the day? That would be really tricky.

One of the things with Occupy Avengers is that we didn’t want it to turn into a Scooby-Doo ending. “We would’ve gotten away with it too, if not for you kids!” We want it to be about empowerment and showing that the poor, oppressed, and victimized can find power. If anything, what we’re going to see in Occupy Avengers is the sort of team that represents the catalyst of change – they come along at crucial times in towns and sometimes big cities, and stumble across these nefarious schemes. But instead of rescuing the townspeople, they help them fight back. I think that’s missing from a lot of superhero comic books. Superhero comics, by and large, are about these gods and god-like beings who come down and save the day. That’s great – we’ve all been weaned on that. What we need now though is story about these individuals helping us help ourselves. I think in this political climate, that’s more important. You turn to elected officials to save us, but they don’t – they don’t have our interest at heart.

So Occupy Avengers is about superheroes – but again, without powers – doing that, or trying to.

Hawkeye is a guy who has really good aim and a penchant for not getting killed. You’ll see more of that with other skills people have.

Credit: Dan Panosian (Marvel Comics)

Nrama: The first three issues are all solicited to be by Carlos Pacheco, a Marvel veteran and an artist’s artist. The first issue’s done, and I’m sure you’re already seeing pages from #2. How’s having such an established artist who is able to really communicate your story visually on the other end of your script?

Walker: A lot of people don’t know this, but Gabriel Hernandez Walta was originally going to draw Occupy Avengers. He got tied up finishing The Vision, so my editor asked “What about Carlos Pacheco?” He’s amazing, but very different than Gabriel – but I jumped at the chance to work with him.

Nrama: Walta will join up with the book beginning on Occupy Avengers #5. But him and Pacheco are very different - why'd you jump at it?

Walker: He’s a veteran, and I can learn from him – learn what I’m doing right, and also what I’m doing wrong. Occupy Avengers #1 was written more for Gabriel, but by the time I started #2 Carlos was locked in. But even then, Carlos’s work on the first issue is so amazing. It’s one of those things that Matt Fraction talks about a lot – 60 to 70% of the words a comic book writer puts down never shows up in the comic book. It’s the artist who translates that to comic books. When Carlos first started turning in pages, it was nothing like what I had envisioned – but at the same time everything I wanted.

I also teach comic book writing at Portland State University, and tell my students that that’s the most beautiful thing about writing comic books – when the art comes in. A couple of times you’ll feel it missed the boat, but Occupy Avengers is anything but. There’s a particular scene in Occupy Avengers #2 where Carlos does a particularly incredible job with the action and ‘over the top’ aspect of comics, before transitioning seamlessly to down to earth stuff.

Credit: Declan Shalvey (Marvel Comics)

In Occupy Avengers #1, there’s a moment where Clint and Red Wolf go snooping around a reservation, and Carlos brings a level of humanity and depth that’s so amazing.

Nrama: Big picture, what are your goals for Occupy Avengers?

Walker: Most obvious and basic, it’s to write an entertaining comic book that people like. In a more big picture story structure kind of thing, I’d like see Clint, Red Wolf, and the rest of the team become something that empowers everyday people. How do will build threats that, again, Avengers might not come and deal with? But we have these guys help the townsfolk in Iowa, Ohio, or wherever, get it together and fight back against whatever is keeping them in check.

I haven’t seen the recent Magnificent Seven remake, but the original – and of course, The Seven Samurai – are about basically guns for hire who teach farmers to stand up for themselves. That’s part of what the Occupy movement and Occupy Avengers is about. You may feel powerless and may not have a dollar to your name, but that doesn’t mean you have to get walked on.

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