Next month in Marvel’s Secret Avengers, writer Ales Kot and artist Michael Walsh are going to be showing the downsides of having a team full of secrets. For in June’s Secret Avengers #4, someone will die on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier and everyone has a reason to be blamed. And oh yeah, M.O.D.O.K. is there too.
In the three issues released so far, the “All-New Marvel Now” Secret Avengers title has re-centered itself as an eclectic group of dysfunctional super-spies and superheroes. Described by Kot as ”Arrested Development with superheroes meets Breaking Bad,” it features a powder-keg of a group comprised of Maria Hill, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Spider-Woman, Agent Coulson, Nick Fury Jr., as well as the newly minted member – M.O.D.O.K. Describing that big-headed bad guy as a “wild card” would be an understatement, but it all works together to create a diferent kind of team book – and that’s just how Kot wants it.
Newsarama reached out to speak with Kot about his and Walsh’s work, leading into next month’s Secret Avengers #4 as well as the two-part Infinite comic Original Sin: Secret Avengers digging into a buried secret from Nick Fury Jr.’s past.
Newsarama: Three issues in, and you and Michael Walsh have a lot going on – multiple sub-teams and multiple storylines. What’s it like now that you’re on your own here as writer, picking up from the previous volume with Nick Spencer?
Ales Kot: Easy. The story comes in an easy flow. That's the truth of it. I pretty much just sit down, sometimes review my notes -- I work with no steady outline, although I remember bits and pieces of where it's all going -- and write. I know James Ellroy says the whole idea of "listening to" the story as it appears within you is essentially a lie, but I don't believe it. I believe the story comes to me because I am able to tune into it. How it works I don't know, but I liken it to sculpting. One day I woke up in front of a rock. I had a vague idea of what the sculpture should be. So I started taking pieces off the rock off. Now, piece by piece, the final vision becomes clearer.
Perhaps a big part of why I can work like this is my immersion in fiction and in fiction mechanics (books and magazines on cinema, especially) since an early age. Sometimes I suspect I internalized most of the rules and narratives I saw and now I'm working with that knowledge while learning more.
It's wonderful. Every aspect of the book is me. Every character, every situation in the comic says something about me. This is true for every comic by every author, I suspect -- a decent Jungian psychologist could have an excellent time digging into the comics we all publish every month. I know I do.
M.O.D.O.K. is, at least in part, my manipulative, secretive self. Same goes for Maria Hill, who also seems to sometimes believe in the "greater good", which is, I believe, a lie. And more.
When doing these interviews for major comics websites, after reviewing the comments sections and the general readership, which is anyway just a sliver of the real readership, I suspect, I sometimes wonder: is there going to be anyone who will read this interview with genuine interest? I hope there is. I choose to believe there is. Comics are such an interesting vehicle for exploration, not just of the world around us, but also of the self.
Nrama: I really enjoyed the space scenes between Agent Coulson and Nick Fury in the last issue – can you talk about those two particular characters, and your view on them as individuals and also as partners?
Kot: Thank you very much. Agent Coulson is usually very concerned with doing things by the book. He likes to be the man of the hour, the man who solves problems, and he's not afraid of careful, concentrated work. He uses humor to alleviate the stress stemming from a line of work that is very repressive and brutal.
Same can be said about Nick Fury, except that he doesn't care about his self-image when it comes to others. Where Coulson is the English gentleman pre-WWII, Fury is dirtied up SAS who made some very questionable choices. Does he believe in what he does? Yes. But is it a complete, utter belief?
We will see an answer to that question as we go on. Belief is a core theme of the entire Secret Avengers run, and that becomes explicit around issues #6-8, when we realize how it all connects to Jorge Luis Borges, another worlds, and multiple personalities.
As partners, Fury and Coulson love each other very much. There's tenderness to them. There's genuine care and friendship, perhaps coming from the subconscious understanding of their shared woes. There's instinctive empathy and appreciation of their differences -- for example, Coulson can help Fury not take things so seriously, while Fury, with his raw determination to achieve his objective, can help Coulson focus.
Nrama: People have been buzzing about the idea of Nick Fury facing off against the Fury from the classic Marvel UK comics. Can you tell us about the Fury’s involvement, and the upcoming showdown?
Kot: Well, first of all, back in Secret Avengers #1 -- someone had to put the Fury up there, on that space station. How did it get there? This is a piece of the puzzle that will be found under your bed as you dig deeper into the issues, later on in the game.
Second -- the Fury is a machine created to kill superhumans. What was its intended use in #1? Was it sent to kill Fury and Coulson?
Third -- in #4, Hawkeye and Nick Fury, plus a S.H.I.E.L.D. squad, hunt the Fury. In the Kowloon Walled City, therefore in China, therefore deep in what we could call a forbidden territory. Plus Kowloon the Walled City got leveled more than twenty years ago, so its existence is certainly intriguing. Issue four is essentially a survival horror.
Nrama: Also coming up is a showdown you’ve been teasing for a while: Lady Bullseye versus Black Widow. What are these two femme fatales after?
Kot: Black Widow wants to complete the mission. Lady Bullseye wants to kill Black Widow.
Why? I won't tell.
Nrama: You mentioned him earlier, but one of the major changes since the February relaunch is the addition of M.O.D.O.K., now working in the lab; how would you describe his role in the team and in the book?
Kot: Wild card.
Nrama: In terms of style, some critics have compared this to the Hawkeye series but with a broader playground and more spycraft. What are you aiming for here in terms of feel of Secret Avengers?
Kot: When I set out to write Secret Avengers, I decided for a tone I described as "Arrested Development with superheroes meets Breaking Bad." This was a statement about the tone, first for myself, and also for the editorial. It felt right for the comic, and from there I just let it evolve on its own terms. While I adore Hawkeye, and I can see the surface similarity, on a deeper level these comics are very different. The surface similarity comes from the fact that both of these comics are action thrillers/comedies that have Hawkeye in them. The surface similarity comes from the quality of the comics and of the clear commitment of their creators. The surface similarity comes from uneducated comparisons of Michael Walsh and David Aja. It's sort of like saying Chris Burnham copies Frank Quitely. He doesn't. If one looks deeper, the influence of David Mazzucchelli is clear on both Walsh and Aja, but then their styles diverge. Same is true for me and Matt Fraction, with the key influence probably being Jean-Luc Godard? I could be reaching here.
Anyway, by now I'm not aiming at anything in particular except for putting the story down exactly as it requires to be written. It's all going in the right direction.
Nrama: The solicits for Secret Avengers #4 promise the death of someone on the Helicarrier. What can you say about what’s coming up on that front?
Kot: Everything from Secret Avengers #1 is connected to what happens in #4 and further down the road. What's coming up is this: someone on the Helicarrier kills another person. And by the end of #5, we have a good idea of who the killer might be.
Nrama: And while all this goes on in Secret Avengers, you're also writing Original Sin: Secret Avengers Infinite Comic #1 featuring Nick Fury Jr. We talked previously about the series, but can you go more in-depth about what that series means to the ongoing, and vice versa what Secret Avengers and Fury Jr. means in relation to the premise of Original Sin?
Kot: It's a vignette. It deepens our understanding of one of the core relationships in Secret Avengers. It doesn't create huge repercussions for the main title in a sense of simple A to B story mechanics. What it does is it shows us the characters from a point of view that is unlike what we are used to -- and therefore it helps us better comprehend the events that occur in the main story, especially from #5 up.