Avengers: The Initiative #26As was announced this weekend at Marvel’s Dark Reign panel at the FX international show in Orlando, artist Rafa Sandoval, recently of Incredible Hercules, will be joining Avengers: The Initiative beginning with July’s issue #26. Sandoval’s debut issue will be the first issue following the “Initiative Disassembled” arc which saw the superhero training program react to a world now effectively ruled by Norman Osborn.
We’ll check in with Rafa later this week, but at first, we caught up with Initiative editor Jeanine Schaefer and writer, Christos Gage about the change.
Newsarama: Let’s start with you Jenine - what led to the change in artists on The Initiative?
Jeanine Schaefer: Humberto was only scheduled for Disassembled (which he did beautifully, these next issues are going to kill!), and then we wanted to bring in someone else in for the next arc – because we’re shaking up the entire concept of what the Initiative is, it made sense to bring on a new team.
NRAMA: Take us inside the process of changing artists a little, of you can. Is there some super-secret Marvel database of creators that lists everything they're doing and when they're doing it that you tap into, and then contact the creator, or do you just start asking around with other editors?
JS: It’s actually a little of both! Of course we have a master list of who’s working on what with who and for how long, but because of the nature of what we do, talking it over with other editors is crucial. Someone might be coming free and you happen to have the perfect project for them and the timing just works out – serendipity is the sort of thing you can’t always account for on a database. And of course, there are always guys you know you want to work with, and hearing from other editors can seal the deal.
NRAMA: Of course, you'd be looking for a certain style for your books - how does Rafa meet the needs you have for the art on the book?
JS: Rafa is one of our Young Guns this year, so I was really excited that this worked out. His work on Young X-Men really shows why he’s perfect for this – he’s dynamic and fluid, which comes from his background in animation. And for a book about newbie heroes and villains, characters that are chomping at the bit, you need to feel that energy vibrating off the page. That combined with his wonderful storytelling is key for this, because with the cast we’ve got here, you need someone who can break it all down. Also, I love his facial expressions, and Chris Gage writes great character beats that demand expressive faces.
NRAMA: Christos, since Jeanine is laying on the praise, let’s move over to you. Rotating artists are a fact of life on titles these days - how does an artist change affect you, as a writer...or does it anymore? Do you write to the strengths of your artists, or do you just write the script, and it's up to the artist after that?
Christos Gage: Ideally, you want the same artist for the course of a particular story arc for consistency's sake, but beyond that it's not a big deal. I know some readers are disappointed when an artist they like moves on, but seeing it from the creative side, it doesn't surprise me at all. Think about it-as a writer, I can change gears creatively by working on an Initiative story one week, a War Of Kings cosmic book the next, and then something creator owned, let's say…so when I come back to the Initiative, I'm refreshed and raring to go. An artist, on the other hand, can only draw one book. They live and breathe these characters and storylines every day for however long they're on that title. So an artist working on a book for six issues is like me doing twenty-four. I never fault someone for wanting to stay fresh and challenge themselves by trying something new. And I always do try to write to the strengths of my artists, because that tends to produce the best work…understanding, of course, that existing storylines and plots will dictate matters to an extent. But even then, how you tell the story will change…for instance, Humberto's kinetic style isn't something you want to cram into eight panel pages, whereas someone like George Perez or Phil Winslade, who I worked with on Legends of the Dark Knight, seems to thrive on that.
NRAMA: When it came time to change out for Rafa, did Jeanie approach you with a few artists and let you pick, or was Rafa already selected?
CG: Rafa was already selected, but we've come to a point where I trust Jeanine and Tom enough to know that they're going to get someone good—and they got one of this year’s Young Guns, so they did great! She did approach me with her idea for cover artist and her concept of doing sort of propaganda poster-inspired images, which I thought was really cool and has sparked a ton of ideas between us. I think the cover for #26 (above) turned out wonderfully - it's like nothing else on the stands, and yet totally gets across what's going on in the book-and I can't wait to see what's next.
NRAMA: I always find it interesting when artist and writer speak different languages. Production-wise compared to other titles, does needing the script translated add any time to the schedule for you? Does it add any level of difficulty?
CG: Not really…I've done it before, so it's nothing new for me, but to be honest these guys are real pros so it's rarely an issue. Humberto, for instance, speaks excellent English, and the artists who are less versed in the language usually have someone translating who is experienced with the process and never hesitates to ask questions-for example, someone on another book recently made sure to clarify what it meant to “steeple” one's fingers. As a writer, I feel my obligation is to make the process as easy as possible for them, and that just means being aware--making sure the stage directions don't refer to cultural things, like TV shows, that the artist may not have in their country (i.e. “He has a Tom Brady smile” probably means nothing to someone living in a country where “football” refers to soccer). When I do draw on something like that for story reasons, I provide reference whenever possible.
NRAMA: Gut feeling - what does Rafa's art do for you?
CG: Obviously it looks great, but what struck me the most was his amazing storytelling. In the “Sacred Invasion” storyline in Incredible Hercules, he took a large, diverse crew of gods from different pantheons, a teenage kid, and a Skrull masquerading as a coyote cub…and managed to give them all distinct personalities. You knew who everyone was, what kind of people (or, you know, gods or aliens) they were, and what their feelings and motivations were. Considering the large and varied cast of characters who move in and out of the Initiative, that's exactly what we need, and Rafa can provide it in spades. And, of course, it looks mighty pretty!
NRAMA: Jeanine, do you see Rafa as the “perfect” fit for The Initiative, or do you see him as having room to adapt and grow into it?
JS: The best situation you can be in with a new guy coming onto a project is when he’s the perfect fit right off the bat, but is constantly refining, really getting into that groove. I don’t see it as a luxury, though – watching that evolution is part of the excitement of seeing an artist take the reins. I love every page Rafa does even more than the page before, so I’m really psyched to watch it progress.
NRAMA: How long do you see Rafa staying on the series? Is he the regular artist, or is this for an arc, like Humberto?
JS: Chris has this next series of issues planned out pretty meticulously, and, thankfully, Rafa’s a part of the team for the long haul.
NRAMA: Speaking of the next series of issues, Christos, with your first arc under "Dark Reign," you made good on the title, that is "The Initiative: Disassembled." The solicitation hints strongly that with issue #25, the old management is out, and it's under the control of the Taskmaster and The Hood, and is now a place to train new Dark Avengers. This organization has never been "clean" since it started - it was part of Civil War at its birth, it was infiltrated and corrupted by Skrull agents, and now this...what keeps it rolling?
CG: What keeps any big, corrupt organization rolling? It's benefiting the people in charge. I think we've all seen that many large agencies, whatever purpose they might have been founded to serve, often come to a point where the real agenda is perpetuating itself so as to benefit those in power. Obviously, someone highly placed-i.e. Norman Osborn-sees a major upside. And think about it-what better way to fleece people than pretending to protect them? If you're the local crooked sheriff, you can soak a community for all it's worth if you're smart about it. Of course, it helps if the locals think you're helping them, and if they see you take down a burglar or two every now and then. And there's the rub. How will these, shall we say, “self-interested” individuals react to having to put their lives on the line to save Joe Sixpack from Galactus? (Just to pull out a name-Galactus is not showing up any time soon!)
NRAMA: So, with Rafa coming on board, and the promises that seem to be made about what's coming up, just who will we be seeing joining the Initiative with the new class?
CG: We'll still be focusing mainly on characters we've already met, like Constrictor, Diamondback, Taskmaste r, and of course the bona fide heroes who have decided they can no longer be part of the Initiative, like Justice and Tigra. But there will be some new recruits coming in and out…mostly of the nefarious variety. Sure, we'll have some recognizable names, but I'm really having fun digging up obscure faces for this-guys who've never even seen the inside of a Marvel Handbook. Johnny Guitar and Dr. Sax, anyone? That's right, they're all mine now…hands off, Slott!
NRAMA: Well, given that those are Dazzler villains, you probably need to warn off Jim McCann rather than Dan, but we’ll take your claim on dibs. That said though - is there no one that's a good guy with the team anymore?
CG: Sure-Komodo is still with the team, as are Trauma, Batwing, Bengal and others. Cloud 9 is still with her Montana team. Many of the existing state team rosters are still intact. The question is really more why the good guys stuck around, and where they'll go from here. Some of them may be working under duress-there's a specific piece of leverage that is making Trauma stay, for example-while others are trying to make the best of a bad situation, not wanting to just give up helping people because they don't like the boss, as it were. These characters, in many ways, are going to have the most difficult, wrenching choices to make in the coming months.
NRAMA: Finally – can you give us some broad strokes and stream of consciousness ideas as to where things are heading in the next arc?
CG: The state teams are expanding and growing. Want a team in your state? Let me know why you think it'd be a good place for a new Initiative team, and I might use it in an upcoming issue! Just be advised that you're more likely to end up with the U-Foes in your neighborhood than the Defenders…
Right off the bat, we'll see how the characters who have left the Initiative-I'm calling them the Secret Avengers-are setting themselves up as the resistance…an underground movement that seeks to reveal the truth about what the new Initiative is really all about. To an extent, we'll be exploring what happens to heroes and villains when you reverse the labels-most will keep doing what's in their nature, but will some villains rise to the occasion and behave heroically? Will some heroes start to cross lines they wouldn't have dreamed of crossing before? The title of #26 is “Up Is Down”, and in a lot of ways that's a recurring theme. We all remember Tigra being attacked by the Hood and his gang when she was a registered hero and they were outlaws. Now the shoe's on the other foot…and Tigra's going to be getting some revenge.
Also, there's the problem that 42, the Initiative's prison in the Negative Zone, was overrun and seized by Blastaar's alien army in Guardians of the Galaxy #8-#10. The Initiative has to take it back. We'll be dealing with this right away, and the former crooks will realize pretty quickly that their new gig isn't all press conferences and nightclub appearances…
Plus, keep an eye out for the return of a major character, one with long- standing ties to many of the other characters in this book. (No, not Butterball.)
It's going to be a wild ride, so I hope everyone will come along. And oh, all right-because you demanded it, pilgrims-Butterball will be back too!