“I want to leave people breathless. I want to make people cry. I want to do both at once. That's what this kind of superhero comic is about,” says Kieron Gillen of his new Marvel ongoing series, S.W.O.R.D.
Spun out of the pages of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men, S.W.O.R.D. will follow Agent Brand, Beast, and Lockheed as they strike out for new territory unexplored thus far in the Marvel universe. Gillen and artist Steven Sanders, best known for Five Fists of Science with Matt Fraction, get to create and define the look and feel of things alien--which allows them a lot of options.
“On the one hand, I'm creating the status quo of what S.W.O.R.D. is up to right now – but I'm also in the position of what they've been up to until now. It's not as if Aliens haven't been active on Earth until now. What have these guys been up to? Who are they like? What is their job really? And why do they matter?” Gillen says.
S.W.O.R.D. will be the first ongoing comic series for Sanders and Gillen's first with Marvel, and thus they get to create new characters, dredge up old ones, and put new spins on classics. Gillen describes Lockheed, depressed over the loss of Kitty Pryde, as “the team's Wolverine,” and says of polishing up an old, half-remembered character, “Come back, you metal-headed goon, you.”
“Visually, I'd like to bring more of a sense of realism to the design sense of space equipment. Less Kirbyesque and more Shirowesque,” Sanders says of his plans for the book's visuals. “Things that are there because they have a purpose, not just because they look cool. (I'd like to mix both, ideally.)” He jokes that there's a reason he's not a writer, but that he and Gillen have a great working relationship, bouncing ideas back and forth. Gillen “is a machine made for generating awesome,” Sanders says, and Gillen notes, “I look forward to a collected oversized hardcover edition full of backnotes where Steve yabbers on about how he constructed the exhaust on panel 4 on page 19 of issue 46.”
Beyond the fun of defining and designing all types of alien activity and fabulous space ships, Gillen and Sanders get to play with the dynamic between Beast and Agent Brand, perhaps an unlikely couple but one that provides the impetus and the tension for most of what will happen in the series. Gillen describes the idea of a leading couple as pivotal for his concept of the book. “Beast and Brand hold the whole thing together,” Gillen notes, referencing everything from the classic film His Girl Friday to 24 to The West Wing as inspiration.
“Beast is more of a known quantity. Brand is mysterious. What's going on beneath those shades?” Gillen continues. “While the first arc is about the attempt of [classic X-Men villain] Henry Gyrich to extradite all the aliens on Earth, the second one will really dig into that part of her, whether she likes it or not. In a way, the first arc's point is 'Why S.W.O.R.D.?' The second is more 'Why Brand?' We've got a half-alien hybrid in charge of Earth's planetary defenses. That's strange. What's her story?”
In Astonishing X-Men Brand played a role usually relegated to male characters, a morally ambiguous, duplicitous, driven government agent, but one who doesn't use her sexuality as a weapon. She's up-front with her desires, and doesn't play nice. Gillen finds these aspects of her character part of the appeal. “My short-hand for Brand is 'Jack Bauer who doesn't shave as much,' which speaks volumes. She isn't very nice (Another line from the pitch: 'A comedy of manners staring a woman with none'). . . if you go by looks, you can map a beauty and the beast element onto them. But really? Brand's the beast. Beast's a pussy-cat.”
Following Joss Whedon might be a daunting task for most writers—Gillen notes that if he screws up a Whedon creation, he may have a league of ex-girlfriends ready to slaughter him—but Gillen and Sanders sound ready for the task, with a grasp of what makes compelling drama beyond the spandex and spaceships, and the ambition to carve out their own niche in the Marvel universe that will be around for years to come. “Death or glory. Or – even better – death and glory,” Gillen says. “Glory to those who climb aboard the fine interplanetary cruiser S.W.O.R.D. and death to those who stand against us.”