As Marvel heads into its Siege event over the next few months, everyone's eyes may be on the A-listers like Loki, Thor, Norman Osborn and Iron Man. But developments in another comic have turned a few heads toward characters that may not be as high profile, but still have a high-profile role.
Avengers: The Initiative, the ongoing comic by writer Christos Gage, has been building toward Siege the last few months as Taskmaster has not only joined the Cabal, but the character is gearing up for a battle against Thor himself.
Along with Tasky's noteworthy role in Siege, there's also been a battle brewing in the comic as former heroic members of The Initiative have gone rebel and are looking to dethrone Osborn and his villainous henchmen at H.A.M.M.E.R.
With this month's Avengers: The Initiative #32, the confrontations finally turn into all-out battles and solicitations promise that not everyone will still be around at the end.
Newsarama talked with Gage about the comic, how it has evolved along with all the recent changes in the Marvel Universe, and what's coming next for this group of heroes and villains within Avengers: The Initiative.
Newsarama: Let's just start out, Christos, by looking at the evolution of this comic. It originally explored an idea spawned by the conflict of Civil War, but has changed as the Marvel Universe has changed. What's it been like writing this comic through all the changes?
Christos Gage: It's been great fun being so immersed in the evolution of the Marvel Universe. Every major event, every status quo change that happens is something our book reacts to by virtue of its nature. I know in the past readers have complained when some books feel like they are forced into a crossover, but I've never heard that said once about A:TI, because it makes perfect sense we'd be right in the middle of it.
Writing this book has been a dream come true for a lifelong Marvel fan like me, getting to explore all the nooks and crannies of the Marvel Universe and spotlight characters both A-List (like Iron Man) and, well, let's be kind and say less-than-A-List (like Johnny Guitar). At first, being invited to come on board by Dan Slott, it was my first significant experience co-writing with anyone besides my wife, and we had a blast… I'm sure because we're very like-minded in terms of our love for Marvel history and the more obscure characters.
At that time we were in the midst of the fallout from Civil War, and one of the things I personally liked was getting into the mindset of what most fans felt was the wrong side: the pro-registration camp. Make no mistake, we showed the warts and all of the program, but we also took pains to show that characters like Justice and the Gauntlet were true heroes who only wanted to do the right thing. We got to do comedy (the Ant-Man/Taskmaster hijinks, Butterball), war comics (Secret Invasion), and bring characters like Devil-Slayer, She-Thing and the Skrull Kill Krew out of the mothballs. All the artists we had, from Stefano Caselli to Rafa Sandoval, were amazing. It was a great ride and I will always be grateful to Dan for sharing his creation with me.
My taking over the book solo coincided with the dawn of Dark Reign and Norman Osborn seizing control of the Initiative, so the advantage of that was I never felt like I was trying to fill Dan's shoes. The book was organically transforming into something different on its own, as the heroes went underground as rebels while the Initiative was reshaped in Norman's image as an army of villains pretending to protect American citizens while robbing them blind. Of course, with that came the opportunity to get a little more into the bad guys' heads.
Nrama: During Dark Reign, whose stories have you enjoyed getting to explore as you've gotten to look at things through the eyes of villains? Were there any that particularly challenged you as a writer?
Gage: I've always enjoyed getting into the heads of the villains. It's something I've loved doing ever since my very first comics work, the Deadshot mini-series for DC. The Taskmaster-focused issue that just came out, #31, was a favorite, and Issue #27, the Johnny Guitar story, is a personal career highlight for me. That was a challenge because I basically wanted to take a Z-list villain who had appeared only once before, and who nobody remembered, introduce him, make people care about him, and tell a complete, engaging story in half an issue. People really seemed to like it. I'm pretty hard on my own work, but I look at that one and feel like I did a good job. Of course, it helps when brilliant artists like Rafa Sandoval are doing the heavy lifting for you! Other storylines I've enjoyed have been Tigra's quest for vengeance against the Hood's gang and the Constrictor/Diamondback romance.
Nrama: This comic hasn't shied away from romance or at least "hook-ups" between characters. Will these relationships be further explored in future issues?
Gage: They will, especially Constrictor and Diamondback. Their relationship will be put to the test by Siege and also by Diamondback's ex, Captain America, showing up. I have to say I've loved writing this particular relationship. It may be my favorite thing about the Siege tie-in issues. Somehow you can't picture these two with a white picket fence, 2.5 kids and a station wagon, but you kind of root for them anyway, don't you?
Nrama: Oddly enough, yes. As we head into the next issue, what's the status of the Resistance and the Initiative?
Gage: The Initiative is gearing up for the big invasion of Asgard. Meanwhile the Resistance has started to realize that something fishy is going on by discovering secret payoffs Norman Osborn made to the U-Foes, and they'll use that knowledge in their favor. We've seen the Resistance slowly lose ground, going from the relatively cushy digs provided by Night Thrasher to a crumbling house in a dying California suburb. They realize time is running out, and they realize that Siege gives them what is probably their last chance to take down Norman and H.A.M.M.E.R. once and for all.
Nrama: What can you tell us about what Siege will mean to each of their futures?
Gage: It will change everything for all of them. None of the characters' status quos will be the same at the end as they were in the beginning.
Nrama: You mentioned earlier that the last issue, where you got into Taskmaster's head a little, was one of your favorites. What were your thoughts behind doing an issue like that? And now that you've made readers understand the human side of this character, what's Taskmaster's role going forward?
Gage: I wanted to get into Taskmaster's head – make him live and breathe. He's always been a favorite character of mine, in part because his powers and look are just so cool, but also because he seemed to have more common sense than your Mad Thinkers or Dr. Dooms. He didn't want to conquer the world or prove he could outsmart Reed Richards; he just wanted to get rich, the faster and easier the better, and live the good life. In his first appearance he held his own against all the Avengers, but when the odds were against him, he did the smart thing and ran. He's more of a blue-collar supervillain, by choice, and I wanted to explore what it might be like for someone like that to be invited to take a seat at the big boys' table. Is this a dream come true…or a nightmare? Is he finally hitting the big time, or is the big time hitting him? That's something we'll continue to examine throughout Siege with Taskmaster. He's definitely one of our focus characters. We'll see a lot of Siege through his eyes.
Nrama: Is he really going to battle Thor? How can Taskmaster hold up against a god?
Gage: Taskmaster is going to attack Thor, but he's going to do it Taskmaster style. In other words, he'll make sure the deck is stacked in his favor. You'll see what I mean.
Nrama: We've seen that Taskmaster will also go up against Captain America in Issue #34. Have you started writing this issue? How has it been writing a rematch between these two shield-slingers?
Gage: Yeah, I'm writing #35 now, so I already wrote the fight. In fact, Taskmaster will go up against both Captain Americas! It was a lot of fun writing that battle. One of my all time favorite stories is Taskmaster's debut in Avengers #195-196, and he fought Cap there too. I have to thank Brian Bendis for having them fight in Siege, which gave me the opportunity to expand on it.
Nrama: It feels like there have been some hints about things that might become very important as the comic moves into Siege, from Penance's preference for his cat to Night Thrasher hiding something mysterious. Is there anything in particular you can point out to fans that might be worth noticing?
Gage: It's all coming to a head. All the plot threads, everything we've been setting up. This is the payoff, folks.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell readers about Avengers: The Initiative as it heads into Siege?
Gage: This is not some tangential tie-in. The characters are right there in the middle of the action of Siege. If you've never picked up an issue of Initiative, you should be able to follow the story easily, but if you've been following us for a while, you'll get payoffs to a lot of long-simmering plotlines. So don't miss it! And as always, thanks for your support and for continuing to make it possible for me to avoid getting a real job!
Nrama: The April solicitation for Avengers: The Initiative #35 that has been released says that will be the series' final issue. Will you still be working on an Avengers title after that?
Gage: I can't say what I'll be writing for Marvel after Initiative ends, or whether it's Avengers-related...but there will be something, and it's something big. Keep your ear to the ground!