Long before superheroes were Marvel Comics stock and trade, it was monsters -- and now they're back.
The recently launched Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D. features a team lead by longtime agent “Dum Dum” Dugan consisting of members such as Man-Thing, Kid Abomination, Werewolf-By-Night, Hit Monkey, and Goom. But they’re not just doing the Monster Mash – they’re saving the world.
Writer Frank Barbiere and artist Brent Schoonover have assembled the mightiest monsters in Marveldom, joined by some unexpected additions such as a zombified Jasper Sitwell, and the new character, Glyph.
With Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D. due out November25, Newsarama caught up with Barbiere to discuss his plans for the Howling Commandos, how he brought together such an eclectic team, and whether he could envision them joining the cast of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D..
Newsarama: Frank, with Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 on stands now you’re getting feedback about this series you’ve been working on for months. How’s the book so far, for you?
Frank Barbieri: It’s been an absolute blast! I’m so fortunate to have amazing collaborators (Brent Schoonover, Nick Filiardi, and Joe Carmagna, respectively) and editorial on the book. We’ve been plugging away since the summer, so it’s refreshing to have the issues hitting the stands. I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, so I can’t wait for readers to see the next few issues.
Nrama: What are the touchstones from previous comic books for how you write "Dum Dum" Dugan?
Barbieri: I’ve been a long fan of Marvel Comics and I’m familiar with Dugan, but I have to say I try to bring a fresh point-of-view here. He is essentially an empty shell who learned he’s “supposed” to be this iconic figure, so I try to process that by treating him as a new character and casually looking at the history as an outsider. What I’m excited about is his “mentor” role on the team, learning that he is defined by teaching the other members of the Commandos how to work together and use their unique attributes as positives.
Nrama: This is the first book in which he (and readers) know he's a machine. How does that impact what he does?
Barbieri: As I mentioned, Dum Dum is going to continue to grow and evolve. There are some really fun twists coming down the line that are going to really show who this new incarnation is and how he thinks, and I think readers are going to be excited to see him come into his own as a new addition to the Marvel Universe. I think it’s really helping make Dum Dum even more unique and memorable, pushing him forward rather than just relying on past incarnations/versions from other books.
Nrama: You have an assortment of Marvel monsters in this -- some obvious, but some outliers and surprises. How'd you come up with the team line-up?
Barbieri: It’s really been a matter of finding out what drives each character and how they interact with one another. Clearly they all have their “surface values”—i.e. Manphibian is stronger than Hit Monkey, Hit Monkey can do this better, etc.—but the real meat of it is defining what drives them and who they are. The first issue was a grandiose action piece to kind of show of those surface values of the cast and have some fun, but as the book moves forward we’ll be focusing in on exactly who these characters are and what they want. Those wants will overlap and collide with their team members, and possible S.T.A.K.E. itself, so it’s really going to make for some exciting, character-driven drama.
Nrama: Who is this Glyph character mentioned as joining the group?
Barbieri: Glyph is a brand new character that we created for the book. She’s a great new addition, and a classic entry point for readers as they begin to understand what S.T.A.K.E. is and how the Commandos function as a makeshift family. I don’t want to give too much away as the first arc is really her story, but I’m excited for readers to get to know her and add to the amazing canon that is the Marvel Universe with a new character.
Nrama: Any chance you could delve more into Marvel's monster past down the road?
Barbieri: Yes! There are a lot of amazing characters that haven’t been featured, and we’re having a blast mining through the annals of Marvel history to find some characters to bring into the book. I’m very fond of Rick Remender’s run on Frankencastle, and while a bit more contemporary than some other books, there are a few elements he introduced that I can’t wait to play with in our title.
Nrama: In the first issue, Jasper Sitwell really jumped out to me -- now an overzealous zombie with a bit of a deathwish. Can you talk about him?
Barbieri: We’ll be learning a lot more about Sitwell and how he became what he is as the book moves forward. For now, he’s such a great emotional anchor for Dum Dum. Imagine seeing your best friend back from the dead, but they are just a husk of who they used to be…he is very much a driving force behind Dum Dum becoming a mentor to this team and guiding them to discover who they are.
Nrama: Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D. #2 comes out soon, so what can you say the team will be up against?
Barbieri: We’ve revealed in our covers that we have the villain Sphinx making an appearance, but there is a much bigger mystery at the heart of the book. I can’t wait to start getting to some of these big reveals and hope readers will join us for the ride—we can promise it’s going to be a fun one!
Nrama: One team-mate not in the book but making it is artist Brent Schoonover. Brent looks to be an integral part of the overall concept of the book. How'd you and him get into a groove for this?
Barbieri: From his initial sketches and designs, Brent has brought such a unique tone and style to the book. This is a book that would collapse under the weight of being overly dark or self-serious, and I think Brent’s work is a great fit for it. He allows levity and fun action, as well as the serious emotional beats, but gives it all a sense of whimsy that is wholly unique to the comics form. Our colorist, Nick Filiardi, is doing some absolutely amazing work as well and has given the book such a great visual identity. I don’t think anything else on the stands really looks like it! Brent and I have certainly settled well into a groove after working on the book, and his work is only getting better and better. I can’t wait for readers to see the amazing stuff he’s cooking up.
Nrama: Last question: there's already an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on TV -- could you picture these Howling Commandos showing up on the ABC show?
Barbieri: I think it could definitely be a lot of fun! I may be biased, but these monsters have some real depth and appeal, so I’d love to see them embraced by other mediums. People can really connect with the plight of being labeled “other,” and I think it’s a very resonant theme in our book and in these characters.