Balancing Intricacy & Intrigue in Marvel's SECRET WARRIORS

Jonathan Hickman Talks SECRET WARRIORS

Art from Siege: Secret Warriors

Over the course of the past two years, writer Jonathan Hickman has been the mastermind behind one of the most bloody – and secret – wars in Marvel history. On one side you have Nick Fury and his shadowy organization of Secret Warriors, and on the other you have a revitalized HYDRA. In the debut issue of Secret Warriors, it was revealed that HYDRA’s tendrils and influence reach deep into virtually all of the nation’s government – even being a controlling factor in Fury’s former spy shop S.H.I.E.L.D. With Secret Invasion and the Skrulls behind him, Fury is now putting all his resources into finding the truth about HYDRA and stopping it in its tracks.

Although it’s a team book, the title has become the defacto home for Nick Fury and his friends – from his caterpillar team as seen in New Avengers, but also the site for a reunion with his WW2 buddies the Howling Commandos. But just as Fury’s ranks seem to be multiplying, Hickman has been showing more of the long-hidden command structure of HYDRA, with longtime villains Baron Von Strucker, Viper, and Madame Hydra being joined by new formidable villains like Commander Kraken and the Hive. With a new threat to both organizations showing up in the form of the group Leviathan, each organization is threatened on all sides while trying to reach their own ultimate goals.

Over the course of fourteen issues, Hickman with artists Stefano Caselli and Alessandro Vitti have brought to life a whole new playing field in the Marvel Universe. Newsarama talked with Hickman by phone about the upcoming story arcs and the special Siege: Secret Warriors one-shot.

Newsarama: Jonathan, what would you say is coming up for people in the regular Secret Warriors title?

Jonathan Hickman In the last issue we saw Nick and Contessa get together and have dinner again – which is always a romantic kind of thing, despite how much things have changed. Coming up we’re going to see the rest of the origins of the HYDRA people, as well as see the unveiling of the rest of Leviathan and the continuation of them versus HYDRA.

Nrama: Although the title is that of a team book, much to readers delight this has been at many times a defacto Nick Fury book -- something readers hadn’t been getting on a regular basis in years. Although he’s been a supporting player in Marvel comics for recent years, he’s never been the main thrust of something. Why do you think that is?

Hickman: I can’t really speak to why other Fury books that haven’t succeeded. That’s not a comment on the quality of those books – just where the market has been.

I think Nick Fury is a little difficult depending on what’s going on in the world. There are times when espionage is a relevant topic in the news, and since that’s what his gig is he seems to work best during those times. Right now happens to be a real opportune time for espionage; not quite perhaps to the height it was a couple years ago, but it’s still fresh in people’s minds.

Nrama: And why do you think Fury works so well in these times?

Hickman: Fury works because he’s one of the cooler characters in the Marvel U. I don’t know if there’s any particular “code” to be cracked, but he has a way about him. He has no internal monologue – you either don’t know what he’s thinking, or his thought is his action. He thinks exactly the same way he acts.

Nrama: The Secret Warriors team seem to be Nick Fury’s personal army, but we’ve seen glimpses of his old running buddies the Howling Commandos here and there. Do you plan to do a full on Commandos adventure, either as a flashback or with the modern day older Commandos?

Hickman: Yes. Issues #17 through #19 is the last ride of the Howling Commandos, and it’s certain about that. About those guys reuniting for one last run. That’s all I can say at this point.

Nrama: One of the Howling Commandos most regular colleagues has been Captain America. With Steve Rogers back with us, will he be making a stop in the title?

Hickman: Yes, definitely. He’s going to be in those issues.

Art from Siege: Secret Warriors

The thing about Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos is they’re all from the Greatest Generation. Those people of the last century are guys everybody in society looks up to. But who do those guys look up to? Captain America – he’s the ideal.

Nrama: Coming up on April 14th is a standalone one-shot called Siege: Secret Warriors, which you’ve said before wasn’t initially in your long-term plan for Secret Warriors. Can you tell us how it was introduced, and how story-wise an idea developed to fit into this?

Hickman: We took advance of Siege’s skip month between issues #3 and 4 and Marvel wanted to put out some ancillary books to fit into that hole. I jumped at the opportunity to write it – it’s my baby. We’re only going to do around 20 or 30 issues of Secret Warriors overall, down from my original plan of 60 issues. When I actually got down to writing the book I saw that being more concise was needed, but nevertheless there was a lot of stuff that got dropped out. With the chance to do this special Siege: Secret Warriors one-shot, I was able to re-introduce some elements and play with the characters more.

I was really happy to write Siege: Secret Warriors; a lot of it is about Phobos, and dealing with his father Ares getting killed earlier in Siege.

Nrama: The central thrust of this book has been Fury’s team of Secret Warriors against HYDRA and now Leviathan. In recent months, you introduced the fact that there’s not just one caterpillar team – but several, with two others codenamed “Black” and “Grey”. Can you tell us about Nick’s structural organization and if we’ll be seeing more of them in the future?

Hickman: Nick’s got a database of all these potential players – caterpillars as he calls them. Brian Bendis wrote that up even before Secret Warriors started. What we’re revealing now is that he’s got multiple teams for specific missions, but we just haven’t seen them in action yet. If you look back to the first issue of Secret Warriors and the charts and diagrams for the all the groups, these teams and characters first showed up there.

With all of these characters that were in Nick’s files, it’s logical to think that if Nick recruited some of them he would also recruit the others. He’s the kind of man that doesn’t put all his money on one plan – he has multiple plans, going on simultaneous. Each team has different objectives.

Nrama: Another thing I’ve enjoyed is the villains of HYDRA you’ve worked up – especially Gorgon and the Kraken. Can you tell us about developing these new officers in the modern HYDRA force?

Hickman: Well, all of the HYDRA stuff stems from the idea that whatever Nick Fury’s organization is at the time – whether it be the Howling Commandos in the 40s to his development of S.H.I.E.L.D. and now his shadow company, HYDRA has been doing the exact same type of empire-building. HYDRA has always been one of Nick Fury’s most memorable villains, but in recent years they’ve been used more as gunfodder and bodies to get through around – they became caricatures of themselves by being so easy to beat. One of my goals with this book has been to rehabilitate the group and make them worthy adversaries.

And there had to be more players to the group than Strucker and Viper, so I made more. I came up with Leviathan, as well as guys like Gorgon and the Kraken as well as revamping some older characters. Then the key to making them formidable again is to let them win some.

Nrama: You mentioned Leviathan, which is a third group who’s been at odds with both Fury and HYDRA. Can you tell us about them and this question for something called “the box”?

Hickman: What I’m hinting at is the final days of World War II. You have the Allies on one side, the Soviets/Communists on the other and Germany in between them. Fury represents the Allies, while HYDRA are the remnants of Imperial Japan and Germany. Leviathan are old friends with the Russians.

Art from Siege: Secret Warriors

Nrama: Can you tell us anything about the box they’re looking for?

Hickman: I’m not divulging that just yet, but what I can say is that it’s an artifact of great power – but not in a mystical sense. It’s more literal.

Nrama: You’ve got a lot of characters on the board, from the Howling Commandos, the Secret Warriors, and even the thick ranks of HYDRA. What’s it like to balance this many players in one book?

Hickman: It’s been a big task to fit all the pieces on the board, but it’s something I had mapped out from the beginning. Everybody that you’ve seen up until this point – and I do mean everybody – you’ll see again.

Nrama: I’ve been amazed at your ability to maintain such a complicated structure of teams, groups, and alliances in this book. I’ve gone back numerous times to the back-matter pages of Secret Warriors< #1. Can you tell us about your own formative stages in developing the complex mythos of the book?

Hickman: Well, a lot of that is just how my head works.

Nrama: [laughs]

Hickman: I wish there was a methodology to it, but there isn’t – it’s just pieces clicking into place. I’m trying to have a better answer, but I can’t really explain; plotting isn’t something I struggle with.

I almost always start at the end of the story, but I don’t just work my way back from the end point – that’d be implying that it’s linear, when its not. I have an end point, then I start at the beginning and I’m really thorough with planning – even though I’m not against deviating from that plan. I’ve already done it numerous times.

Art from Siege: Secret Warriors

Working digitally the way I do, I’m able to see interlocking patterns in the developing story, and see how it works in a visual sense. Maps help you find your way when you’re lost, and that’s just kind of how I work. Maps – not bullet points, but a visual map of the story.

Nrama: You mentioned the end of Secret Warriors -- how set in stone is that final arc?

Hickman: I know exactly how it will end – I knew how it ended the day after I wrote the first issue. It’s just like I know how my run on Fantastic Four will end – same as S.H.I.E.L.D.. I don’t really do that thing where you start writing a series and let it take you where it takes you. I don’t know whether it means I’m more or less gifted; I don’t even know how to classify what I do. But I can tell you right now what’s on all twenty-two pages of the final issue.

Nrama: I can’t ask you that yet, but what I can ask is about the beginnings of the book. How thorough were you with the pitch for this to Marvel to let you do the book?

Hickman: I put together a lot of shit for this. At the time I didn’t know what was necessary in a pitch to Marvel, and I have a tendency to go overboard in any way – which I did. At the time, I was still relatively new to comics – I had done three small things with the company, and now I had been given the chance to do my own series. That’s a big difference of scale.

So I prepared a lot of stuff – charts, diagrams, art, descriptors and even a story bible. I think I made a visual bible as well – it was overkill. But you know the good thing about all that work that went into it is that it always pays off; I don’t regret it one bit. The good thing about it for everyone following this interview at home and wanting to work at Marvel someday is that enthusiasm is contagious. Hard work is usually appreciated, and my editors and the guys that run this company knew I was being sincere with my intentions for Secret Warriors.

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