Thursday, March 8, 2012

Pitches That Never Were: SECRET AVENGERS

WARNING: If you’re not up-to-date with Marvel Comics, there are some spoilers ahead. Tread carefully.

Someday, I will have the chance to pitch for Marvel Comics.
That's the plan, anyway. And no surprise to anyone, as my comic book ambitions and aspirations are not a well-kept secret. But what I don’t always share publically is the anxiety that this thought sometimes causes. See, I worry that I’m going to suddenly have the opportunity to sit in the big room* in front of Tom Brevoort or someone and have them say, “Okay, fatty. This is your one shot. Wow us.” And under that pressure, I’m going to choke. “Uhmmm. Are you guys doing anything with Team America?"
And that’s when the bouncers throw me out of Marvel HQ.**
So every once in a while, as a thought exercise when I’m bored, or can’t sleep, or have a three hour layover in an airport without a restaurant (the latter two of these things happen more frequently than I’m comfortable with), I write little pitches in my head. If I got to go into the big room at that second, what would I pitch?
A few months ago I found myself plagued, once again, with insomnia. I had read the third issue of Marvel’s Fear Itself series, and was writing down little scraps of inspiration in my notebook, in hopes of salvaging awesome later. And then I had my burst of inspiration for the evening – If I was invited to pitch for Marvel right that second, I knew EXACTLY what I would pitch.
Secret Avengers.
Secret Avengers was a book that I dug a lot when it first came out. Ed Brubaker can pretty much do no wrong in my eyes, and the idea of him writing a team of black ops superheroes led by Commander Steve Rogers was too awesome to pass up. And I was not disappointed. The book had great stories, lots of fun action, and a utilization of some of my best beloved third string Marvel characters (Shang-Chi, and Valkyrie, to name just two). Then Ed left the book.
Nick Spencer came onto the title for a few issues, and then, after Nick departed, Warren Ellis was announced as taking over the book for a series of “done-in-one” issues. I love Warren Ellis, and I love done-in-one books like this, but I knew this was a temporary state of affairs, and I was worried that after Ellis, the book would suddenly go into limbo, and I would be left with this Secret Avengers shaped hole in my monthly comics reading.
So I thought a little bit about Secret Avengers, and what kind of a book I’d like to read, and what kind of a book I’d like to write, and I jotted down the ideas that you’ll see in a minute.
Now this is all very moot, for a handful of reasons. The central premise under which I was working (James Barnes (aka Bucky, aka Captain America, aka Winter Soldier) being dead) was revealed to be a swerve on the parts of Brubaker and Matt Fraction. He’s alive and well, and starring in a new Brubaker-penned series, which is REALLY, REALLY great so far.
Secondly, it was announced at NYCC that Rick Remender would be taking over Secret Avengers. Remender’s Uncanny X-Force was a major influence on the pitch I worked up, so to me, it is clearly an ideal fit. (Seriously, stop reading this blog right this second and go out and pick up Uncanny X-Force. It’s that good.) As I write this, the first issue of Remender’s Secret Avengers run is sitting here in front of me. It is just unspeakably awesome. And it’s featuring Hawkeye and Captain Britain, two of my favorite Marvel characters.
So much for that, then, but I still thought I had a somewhat decent idea, and I decided to work it up as something more than just some ideas in the notebook. Every pitch I have written to date has been for an indie book or an anthology title, so I figured the experience could only help me. Plus, I thought it would make for an interesting/entertaining blog. My good and trusted friend, Pat “The Best Guy in Comics” Loika agreed to do a pin-up for me, just to help illustrate the pitch. Pat also paid me the ridiculously generous compliment of saying that this pitch made him wish I was writing a mainstream comic he could read. That’s about the highest praise I can or will ever hope to receive.
So here’s the pitch I would have made, if I was in that big room, on that particular sleepless night.

“We assemble in the shadows. We do the work nobody else can do. No one can ever know we exist.”
Proposal for an Ongoing Series
written in 6 issue arcs, 24 issues in length

Quick Concept: Putting the “Secret” back in Secret Avengers with a team of Avengers on high stakes black ops missions against the ruthless corporate shadow brokers behind the most nefarious crimes in the Marvel Universe.

Tone: Superheroic action with global scale threats, taking us to all corners of the Marvel Universe. Similar to Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, Hickman’s Secret Warriors, and Brubaker’s Captain America.

Concept: Following the events of Fear Itself, and the death of Captain America (James Buchanan Barnes), Barnes’ lover and partner, Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, finds herself at loose ends. Unable to reconcile the loss of Barnes and the helplessness of the world’s superhero community during the events of Fear Itself, The Black Widow decides that SOMETHING must be done. This sort of crisis cannot happen again. The type of threats that The Red Skull and her Nazi henchmen represent cannot be allowed to grow to the level where they endanger the world.
The Black Widow creates a list of potential threats, and assembles a team of Avengers to seek them out and combat them. In their first meeting she tells her team that they are Avengers, but that they are the secret weapon of the Heroic Age.  They exist to eliminate threats, proactively and permanently, in a way no other heroes can accomplish. The team will never be called to assemble in public, and Steve Rogers and Tony Stark must maintain plausible deniability to their actions.
Of course, the Black Widow is lying. Steve Rogers and Tony Stark don’t know this team exists.

The Characters:
Black Widow (Natalia "Natasha" Romanova) – If the Marvel Universe has a “Batman”, it’s the Black Widow. She’s a deadly hand-to-hand combatant, a master spy, and despite having no powers of her own, has stood alongside thunder gods and super-scientists as an equal. She is brilliant, deadly, and sexy - a master of manipulation. In this series she is acting as the leader of the Secret Avengers, a team she has assembled to carry out her own shadow mission of crushing potential threats to the globe with zero tolerance and extreme prejudice

Ronin – A recurring identity in the Marvel Universe by those who wish to act without revealing themselves. No one on the Secret Avengers team initially knows the identity of this incarnation of Ronin, except for the Black Widow herself. It is obvious that he is very strong, very fast, and seemingly difficult to kill, as he survives injuries and wounds that would cripple an ordinary man. He is fluent in Japanese, and is a skilled martial artist. Until he finally pops his claws in the second arc, the readers will be left to guess the identity of the mysterious ninja. (Ronin is Daken Akihiro, Wolverine’s son. He has been recruited by the Black Widow, and given the Ronin identity to ensure the rest of the team does not rebel at the inclusion of a known murderer and criminal.)

Red She-Hulk- Elizabeth “Betty” Ross has been twisted, tricked, manipulated, and abused in her life. Now empowered with her own gamma-born strength, she, and the chip on her shoulder, are ideal recruits into the Secret Avengers. Strong, eager to prove herself, and with a helpful body of espionage experience, she is a valuable weapon in Black Widow’s war.

Yellowjacket – Eric O’Grady, the former SHIELD agent, and criminal opportunist operating until recently in a stolen suit as Ant-Man, has already been a Secret Avenger. He remains on the team in this current incarnation because the Black Widow believes his weak moral compass and overactive libido make him easy to manipulate. His criminal past makes him unlikely to reveal the truth of the Secret Avengers to anyone who will believe him. He has received a power upgrade and now operates in the costume of Yellowjacket. 

Machine Man – Aaron Stack has joined the Secret Avengers for the only reason Aaron Stack does anything. He feels like it. His sophisticated computer brain has already detected several inconsistencies in Black Widow’s version of the Secret Avengers’ charter, and he has already deduced that she is lying. But he simply doesn’t care. She is offering him a chance to go after his old nemesis Sunset Bain, and end her once and for all. Also, all the beer he can ingest. Aaron Stack likes beer. Machine Man and Yellowjacket will serve as comic relief in the series, investing even the grimmest situations with gallows humor.

Panther – Kevin Cole once, for a brief while, bore the mantle of the Black Panther. The Black Widow invites him to step back into that role, using his experience as a police detective to help her track down the team’s prey. As with Red She-Hulk, Yellowjacket, and Pulsar, Cole feels like he has something to prove, and embraces this chance to show the superhero world what he can do.

Pulsar – Monica Rambeau is the most powerful member of the Secret Avengers team. And is also the greatest threat to Black Widow’s plans. The most traditional “super-hero” of the group, Monica has led the Avengers herself, but a series of unfortunate personal incidents and career missteps have relegated her to a cautionary tale in the superhero world. The Widow uses this to draw Monica into the team, but must then be especially careful, as Monica is the one member of the team who, if she learned the truth, would almost undoubtedly go to Captain America with her story.
Artwork by Pat Loika. Listen to Loikamania every week!

1st arc – “Out in the Cold”: The series kicks off with us right in the middle of the action. Pulsar is in space, tasked with destroying a rogue satellite, while the rest of the team is conducting a thoroughly illegal incursion of Wakandan soil, pursuing a team of agents attempting to extract liquid vibranium. The agents are revealed to be operatives of Roxxon Corporation. The team follows leads that lead them to a Kronas Corporation facility in Siberia, where scientists working for Kronas are attempting to weaponize blood extracted from Emil Blonsky, the Abomination, creating a cadre of monstrous soldiers. The team runs afoul of the Titanium Men, and a group of Russian “caterpillar” agents - a Soviet-era counter to Nick Fury’s Secret Warriors teams. In the aftermath of the fight, the team is forced to abandon Yellowjacket and Panther, leaving them behind enemy lines in order to make their escape.
Interspersed with this first arc will be flashbacks showing how Black Widow assembled the team.

2nd arc – “Pegasus”: Continuing to investigate Roxxon and Kronas brings the team into conflict with Sunset Bain, and leads them to discover a new, illegal iteration of Project Pegasus. Recruiting two new team members – Iron Patriot (Michael O’Brien, formerly the Guardsman), and a new US Agent (Josiah X) – The team breaks into the Project and finds themselves in a life or death battle against Pegasus’ test subject superhumans. By the end of the arc, Pulsar has realized the illegal nature of the Secret Avengers activities, and has left the team.
Cobbled together from illustrations by the amazing Ronnie Thunderbolt

3rd arc – “Entities of Mass Destruction”: The corporate villains of the book, led by Sunset Bain, arrange for the Hood to be broken out of prison. He is offered powers as part of their initiative to continue to monetize and mass produce superhumans. In exchange, he is given the mission of tracking down and destroying the Secret Avengers. At the same time, Pulsar assembles her own small team of Secret Avengers, and takes them back to Russia, intending to free Panther and Yellowjacket. The arc concludes with the Hood discovering that the Secret Avengers are a rogue operation, and revealing their existence to Captain America.

4th arc – “Secret Avengers: Disassemble”: Both of the Secret Avengers teams and the real Avengers descend on a secret storehouse filled with the Kronas/Roxxon/Baintronics alliance’s stockpile of technology and chemical power enhancements. In the ensuing battle, there are fatalities, and the Secret Avengers are disbanded, with Black Widow now on the run. As the arc concludes, we are shown Nick Fury, watching the proceedings from a secret location with his own, brand new team of Secret Avengers.

Possible Consequences
1. A new Black Widow ongoing. Natasha is now the most wanted person in the Marvel U, and we launch a new series following her as she is pursued by forces of both good and evil.
2. Rehabilitation of Monica Rambeau. After these arcs, we have brought Monica to enough prominence that we give her back her old identity of Captain Marvel, and integrate her into one of the other Avengers books.
3. Reintroduction of Machine Man. In the aftermath of the 4th arc, we will have destroyed Machine Man, giving us the ability to bring him back later, either in his current personality (based on Warren Ellis’ portrayal of the character in Nextwave) or in a more “classic” superheroic personality.
4. Secret Avengers v2. We can keep the series going with Nick Fury running his own team of black ops Avengers, drawing in plot threads and ideas from Bendis and Chaykin’s “Avengers: 1959” series..

So anyway, that’s the pitch. It has some wrinkles, I’m aware, but I still like it.

If anyone from Marvel is reading this, I can still pitch you my NFL Superpro idea. You just tell me where the big room is.

Hugs and Kisses,


* I have no concrete evidence that the room is big.

**I have no doubt, however, that there are bouncers. There’d HAVE to be, right?

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