Al Ewing reveals Steve Rogers’ plans for A.I.M. as Secret Empire dawns

In U.S.AVENGERS #6—available May 17—Steve Rogers continues his campaign to remake the Marvel Universe in Hydra’s image by finally seizing control of A.I.M. One cannot help but wonder, however, what’s motivating the Sentinel of Lies to pull this society of scientists under his wing.

Thankfully, we do not need to wonder when we have writer Al Ewing on the speed dial. He gladly gave us some perspective on Rogers’ dark plan. To begin with, why is A.I.M. such a glittering prize for Steve Rogers in specific and Hydra in general?

Al Ewing: Well, they’re not a glittering prize as such—although if he can sway any to his side, that’s fine—but they are a potential complication, and one with the potential to mess up his intricate plans. So ideally, he needs to get them out of the way, both by making sure they don’t interfere with his plan as it unfolds, and then after that, by making sure they don’t interfere with Hydra business. What threat would an independently operating A.I.M. represent for Rogers?

Al Ewing: Well, for one thing, they’ve been trained to resist hypnosis in a way S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn’t—thanks to the teachings of the late, great Professor X—so Rogers can’t just use his good friend Dr. Faustus to brainwash them. Which means he’s probably going to have to lock them up in some secret facility somewhere and work on them for a while. He can’t let a bunch of super-scientists run around free and unsupervised. How does he envision A.I.M. working after he fully seizes control of them? What is his ideal vision of them as an organization?

Al Ewing: I imagine if he can get the whole organization on board, he’ll put them to work somehow, most likely as an arm of Hydra.

To be honest, what Rogers probably wants from A.I.M. is for them to just get back in their safe little box and be “evil scientists” again so at least he can understand what’s going on with them. He’s an old man at heart, he likes things a certain way and why does he have to change? As Roberto da Costa struggles against and, seemingly, falls to Rogers’ agenda, what are his fears for A.I.M.? Where does he worry it might go under someone else’s direction that isn’t his?

Al Ewing: Well, Roberto’s going to have a lot to worry about himself. As people might have guessed from the solicits, he’s in some serious personal danger and he might not make it through this one alive. But assuming he does, I’d imagine his biggest nightmare for A.I.M. would be them slipping backwards into their old, evil ways, or being lured there by a charismatic creep like Rogers. U.S.AVENGERS, particularly with this issue, is a great mix of intense action and political machinations. How does Paco Medina’s art help to bring that to life on the page without either element eclipsing the other? Any particular sequence, without spoilers, you are really excited for fans to see him render?

Al Ewing: Paco’s brilliant and he draws an amazing Red Hulk, too. I’m going to particularly enjoy seeing him deal with the sequence set in Europe, since that’s going to feature some exciting guest stars—for anyone who knows his work, we’re bringing back a selection of the contestants from the CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS comic we did together. So fans of Guillotine, Outlaw, and Ares should hopefully be happy there. I know I will be.

See if Steve Rogers succeeds in U.S.AVENGERS #6, available May 17 courtesy of Al Ewing and Paco Medina!

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Steve Rogers and Roberto da Costa face off about the group’s future!

Steve Rogers has arrived and his agenda shall not be ignored—well, that’s his plan, anyway.

Roberto da Costa, the former Sunspot and current Citizen V, however has different thoughts on the matter. He helped turn A.I.M. from an enclave of evil into an entity of scientific good in the world and he sees it just as the start. Why should he cede control now?

U.S.AVENGERS writer Al Ewing has studied the case and stands ready to arbitrate, but squeezed us into his docket to review the dispute. In U.S.AVENGERS #5, we’re promised what seems to be a battle between Sunspot and Steve Rogers for the direction of A.I.M. To handicap that faceoff for a moment, what advantages does each person—Steve and Roberto—bring to the situation?

Al Ewing: It’s more of a standoff than a battle. Steve, as the new big man on campus at S.H.I.E.L.D., is essentially Roberto’s boss now that A.I.M. have been absorbed by everyone’s favorite global superspy organization. Since Steve Rogers is also an agent of HYDRA after some meddling from a Cosmic Cube, and Roberto doesn’t know that…well, the situation’s a little tricky.

Steve’s goal here is to see if Roberto can be persuaded as to the rightness of his cause, and if not—and let’s face it, it’s going to be “not”—he’s going to find whatever weaknesses he can in A.I.M.’s defenses and generally get Roberto rattled enough to make an error.

Roberto’s goal, meanwhile, is to get through a particularly rough, and increasingly strange, performance evaluation. To look at the debit side of the ledger, what are each of their vulnerabilities or weaknesses?

Al Ewing: Roberto doesn’t know what’s going on with Steve. That’s a biggie—that’s everything. This is the first time Roberto’s been in a situation where he hasn’t been two steps ahead.

But from Steve’s point of view, Roberto is clever enough to figure it all out—if Steve pushes too hard. So there are a lot of subtle tactics, a lot of gentle probing, pushing and the occasional naked micro-aggression. HYDRA-fied Steve Rogers might think he’s the hero of his own story, but he’s a very nasty character, and he doesn’t mind if people don’t like him, either. He’s going to put all that to work. If we were able to speak to both of them, why would they say that control of the direction of A.I.M. should be theirs?

Al Ewing: Steve Rogers can’t have any loose cannons and general weirdos interfering with his masterplan. A.I.M. could be great allies of HYDRA if they just knocked off this goofy stuff they’ve gotten into. Steve likes the way Roberto’s rehabilitated the brand in the public eye, he just thinks he needs to straighten up at this point and fly right. As for Roberto, why would he want to quit now? He’s just gotten started. If Roberto’s going to hand A.I.M. over to anyone, it’ll be someone who gets it—in the meantime, he’s going to keep control as long as he can. This conflict leaves Sam Guthrie, Cannonball, feeling as though he is being pulled in separate directions. What about this situation is leaving him feeling as though he is stuck in the middle? What does each party represent and mean to him?

Al Ewing: Sam is actually on leave this issue—he’s being pulled in separate directions because he’s on his new home planet with his space family. Except Earth is his home planet, isn’t it?

Readers have been asking what the status of Izzy—aka Smasher—and their son Joshua is, and whether the marriage is going to turn up in the book; well, this issue, it does. It’s been mentioned before that Sam commutes to the team from space, but this is the first time we’ve seen him on weekends, or seen how nice the Shi’ar colony planets can be. Sam’s got a lot to think about. Within A.I.M. is there a dominant opinion amongst the employees about the direction the organization should go and who should be in charge of it?

Al Ewing: At this point, Roberto’s pruned the organization pretty effectively; anyone with a hankering for the bad old days of evil science and world takeover has been pretty much kicked out. But there are always one or two who are nostalgic for the good old days of bad against good, and Roberto might find traitors in the ranks where he least expects them.

See how the situation between Steve and Roberto plays out in U.S.AVENGERS #5 by Al Ewing and artist Paco Diaz, coming April 19!

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Al Ewing discusses the fine art of the single issue story!

U.S.AVENGERS #4 arrives in shops and on stands on March 15, the first part of a…one-part story?

Yes, indeed. Writer Al Ewing and artist Paco Medina will be taking fans back to the old school with a tale so intense, so fast moving it could only be told in a single issue.

To enlighten us on the ancient art of the done in one, Ewing gave us a spot of his time. For you, what’s the key to delivering a single issue story that satisfies in general?

Al Ewing: Beginning, middle and end; a powerful opener and a slam-bang finish are obviously important, but every page in between needs to satisfy. Fortunately, by its very nature, the done-in-one story has to be dense. When you’re delivering a full tale in a short space, there’s no room for messing around.

In this case, we’ve got a beginning, a middle, another middle, and an end, because it’s a four-issue crossover in one comic! Short issues, admittedly—five-page chunks, even—but that just makes them all the sweeter! Specific to these characters and this book, what makes a strong single issue story?

Al Ewing: I wanted to go solo on Red Hulk; he got some play in [U.S.AVENGERS #1], but since then he’s been stuck in human form waiting for his “hour of power” to come around again, so I figured the readers deserved 20 full pages of smashing Red Hulk action! We get to see his idea of a stealth op when he’s tasked with infiltrating the small and fictional country of Lichtenbad—nestled on the borders of Latveria and Symkaria—to fight a rogue, rabid American Kaiju!

And what’s a crossover without guest stars galore? I hear that Deadpool guy is pretty big these days—he was in a film, as I recall—and he’s one of the few Marvel characters I’ve not actually written yet. Putting Deadpool in issue #4 is the new thing across all my books, as readers of ROCKET will soon come to learn.

U.S.Avengers #4 cover by Paco Medina

U.S.Avengers #4 cover by Paco Medina What can you tell fans about American Kaiju? Why, if they haven’t already, are they sure to fall in love with him now?

Al Ewing: American Kaiju is a giant lizard monster with the US flag painted on his face like Nuke. I think that answers both of your questions. What elements does Deadpool bring to this book? How does he alter the chemistry amongst the other U.S.Avengers?

Al Ewing: Well, mostly he’s bouncing off General Maverick, but it’s some fun bouncing, although we’ve made the classic error of taking away his power of speech for the bulk of the issue. It’s like I never even saw that movie.

But essentially, he’s there to poke fun at a couple of cherished genre conventions—I’m pretty sure that’s how it generally goes with a Deadpool guest spot—and he’s bringing along a fabulous new/old villain who’s the great-grandson of one of the forgotten heroes of the Marvel Monsterverse! Who could it be? There’s no telling, unless you’ve already read the solicits for this issue! From a creative perspective, what made you feel that it was important to deliver such a story at this juncture of the book?

Al Ewing: Well, we’ve just come out of the opening arc, and we’re about to go into an arc that’s even heavier as Secret Empire plays havoc with all our hopes and certainties. I felt like the readers could use a breath of air and maybe even something to put a smile on their faces. This is definitely going to be the lightest-hearted issue so far; and it’s also the most experimental thing I’ve done in a while in terms of format, what with the whole four-comics-in-one thing.

Hopefully readers will enjoy the fun before everything gets darker and gloomier. How did Paco Medina’s art aid you in delivering a single issue story that satisfies by itself and as part of the larger series?

Al Ewing: Paco is a genius when it comes to fun and action; he’s got a clear, clean, un-muddled style that pops off the pages, and every single panel just begs for dialogue. His art on this issue in particular inspired me to add in a whole bunch of additional gags that weren’t in the plot, and we’re passing the savings on to you, True Believer!

Seriously, I don’t know what I’d do without him on this series at this point; he’s set the tone perfectly on everything we’ve done together since CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS, and I’m pretty sure the readers agree.

Dive into the done-in-one action of U.S.AVENGERS #4 by Al Ewing and Paco Medina on March 15!

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Writer Al Ewing evaluates the members of his patriotic super team!

Some teams act like families. Others act like friends. Others still act like soldiers, brothers, and sisters-in-arms thrown together to wage war.

The U.S.Avengers, on the other hand, play it a bit more corporate.

Like any good corporation, the team utilizes performance reviews to make sure everyone stays on track and increases their productivity. These reviews, of course, have been labeled confidential and cannot be reviewed by just anyone.

Don’t worry though, we have the hookup. U.S.AVENGERS writer Al Ewing peeked at them and summarized them for us.

The A.I.M. Crew
“These come in three flavors,” the writer reveals. “You have Admin division in blue, Science division in white—like the lab coats—and Security division in red. After Roberto got through pruning the organization down in NEW AVENGERS and getting rid of the bad apples, the A.I.M. troops who were left were surprisingly clean, and they’ve all been thoroughly vetted. The verdict: none of them are worse than John Garrett, or that guy who played Galaga during mission briefings.”
PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Keep an eye on them anyway

General Robert L. Maverick, aka Red Hulk
“On loan from the United States Government,” reminds Ewing. “General Maverick’s last posting was with the top secret Skunkworks facility Project: Troubleshooter, where he created the American Kaiju—although if rumors are true, American Kaiju is currently AWOL. His new posting as military liaison to A.I.M. might be seen as a demotion, especially as he never got on well with A.I.M. or S.H.I.E.L.D. in the past.

“He’s not just a liaison, however—as the Red Hulk, he gets to be a full team member. A.I.M. technology has enhanced the ‘Hulk Plug-in’ of days gone by—the technology that created the Bannermen—into a subcutaneous delivery system that reacts with Maverick’s unique genetic profile to create a full-on Hulk state, for a period of one hour. Attempts to exceed this time limit are seen as highly dangerous, which limits the General’s utility in the field. Unless, of course, he were to tamper with it.”
PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Don’t let him tamper with the Hulk Button

Aikku Jokinen, aka Enigma

“Aikku—introduced way back in Jonathan Hickman’s classic AVENGERS run—bonded with a suit of living armor named Pod, which eventually sacrificed its life in order to save hers,” states the writer. “Aikku still has the Pod undersuit, though. Where Pod was a big, bulky blasting machine, the undersuit, codenamed ‘Enigma,’ is more of a stealth suit. It can phase itself—and other things—through matter, disguise itself holographically, and do a couple of other neat tricks if need be. Performance-wise, she’s doing great.

“Aikku herself is Norwegian—although she’s been fully vetted and vouched for by S.H.I.E.L.D.—and it’s a little up in the air as to whether she’ll stay in America or move back to Europe at some point. It helps that she’s got friends and a relationship—with Dr. Toni Ho, the Iron Patriot—in the U.S., but Norway is pretty strict about citizenship, so moving to the States full-time is a big decision for her.”

Sam Guthrie, aka Cannonball
“As an ex-Avenger and an ex-X-Man—not to mention X-Force and the New Mutants—Cannonball is a one-man unity squad,” Ewing argues. “His power—to fly through the air propelled by a ‘blast field’ that renders him nigh-invulnerable while he’s blastin’—is useful in all kinds of situations, especially since he’s learned to use it in some surprisingly subtle ways over the course of years of super hero experience.”

“As one of the late Professor X’s most committed students, he’s dedicated his life to a dream of brotherhood between human and mutant—one he feels can only be achieved if all humanity can come together as one. He’s also torn between his birth-world and the Shi’Ar colony world where his family lives. How this will affect his performance as a U.S.Avenger remains to be seen.”
PERFORMANCE REVIEW: He is nigh invulnerable while he’s blastin’

Dr. Toni Ho, aka Iron Patriot
“Toni is only a medium genius by Marvel standards—she’s got three PhD’s, but they’re specialized in engineering and tech fields rather than being degrees in everything at once—but she’s definitely the biggest brain on the team,” the writer asserts. “For A.I.M., she built time machines, giant robots and gravity chutes, but for S.H.I.E.L.D., she’s stepping out of the lab and into combat as the new Iron Patriot.”

“Toni’s got a complex history with armor; her dad, Ho Yinsen, died while helping to build Tony Stark’s first. She says she thinks about Stark a lot as a result, and that’s no surprise, but is she subconsciously moving down the same road? For a scientist who claims to hate building weapons, she’s building a lot of them—from a slim, concealable ‘stealth armor’ to a big, bulky ‘heavy combat suit’ and everything in between. That’s good for S.H.I.E.L.D.—but is it good for her?”
PERFORMANCE REVIEW: We don’t care, keep building fight suits

Doreen Green, aka Squirrel Girl
“Squirrel Girl is the best super hero, so it’s only natural that Roberto da Costa would headhunt her for A.I.M.; not just because of her amazing squirrel-strength and agility, but also for her smarts and compassion,” acknowledges Ewing. “Where other heroes apply their fists to a problem, Squirrel Girl applies her brain, her heart, and her army of squirrel friends—and don’t knock that last one, it’s beaten Doctor Doom.

“But while S.H.I.E.L.D. likes her big wins—including Thanos, the real Thanos, not a clone or simulacrum—how do they feel about her desire to rehabilitate all her foes and solve their underlying problems? Is there room for that style of heroics in the current climate? And if Squirrel Girl were to turn against S.H.I.E.L.D. for some reason…could they stop her?”

Roberto da Costa, aka Citizen V
“Once he was Sunspot, but thanks to the Terrigen Cloud and its awful effects on mutants, every time Roberto uses his Sunspot powers, he loses five years off his life,” reveals the writer. “Until a cure for his unique M-Pox condition can be found, Roberto da Costa is essentially just a normal man—a normal man who’s been training to be a super hero since he was a teenager. Which—along with his natural talent for the super-spy game—might make him one of the world’s top secret agents.

“He’s also the head of A.I.M., that organization of super-science baddies-turned-goodies we mentioned earlier. As a group, they’ve got a record as long as a helicarrier deck; and while Roberto may have personally saved the President from the clutches of an evil Reed Richards, it was the outgoing President. Is Roberto the kind of guy S.H.I.E.L.D. wants in a senior role at this point in history? Or are there already moves to oust him from power?”

U.S.AVENGERS #3 from Al Ewing and Paco Medina ships out February 15!

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Gleaming new villain The Golden Skull stands revealed by writer Al Ewing!

Ask any child, they will tell you: red might be a cool color but it doesn’t compare to gold.

Apparently, the newest villain of the Marvel Universe remembers those lessons of his childhood so while he shares a look with The Red Skull, he went the extra mile, sporting a bright shiny golden cranium.

Color sense, alone, however, will not conquer the modern Marvel Universe and The Golden Skull has no intention of not leaving the world tightly in his grip. U.S.AVENGERS writer Al Ewing reached out to us from his hidden bunker to let us know why the Golden Skull’s arrival may very well spell all our dooms. How does The Golden Skull differ in motivation and M.O. from the more well-known Skull, Red?

Al Ewing: In motivation…not that much. The Golden Skull’s aim is to create ruin and make money from the rubble, and the more people he can cheat, lie to, and steal from along the way, the better. It makes him feel clever. I suppose The Red Skull might actually at least pretend to himself that he believes in something—as evil and monstrous as that something may be—but I’m not sure the same is true for The Golden Skull. He believes only in himself. If the Red Skull’s soul is a bleak, shriveled lump of bile and ash, the Golden Skull’s soul is a howling void surrounded by golden mirrors that reflect it back, and there is nothing else in him.

In M.O.—I don’t think The Golden Skull uses any methods The Red Skull wouldn’t. Although I don’t think The Red Skull likes pirates as much. Without spoiling too much, can you vaguely describe Skull’s goal and why the U.S.Avengers in particular are the force set up to stop him?

Al Ewing: The Golden Skull is here to make money, and if other people have to suffer and die to make that happen, well, he’s more than happy to sneer at them about it. He’ll probably stockpile his ill-gotten gains in the form of gold, since the eventual endgame is to take his haul somewhere else and start the process over again. and gold is relatively universal among the alternate dimensions. That’s the nice thing about the Marvel Universe: there’s always another Earth somewhere if you burn this one.

As for why the U.S.Avengers are involved—Captain America 20XX, the Cap from the Skull’s future, knows and trusts them, and she’s worked with them before. All the other heroes in this timeline are up to their eyeballs in drama; Black Widow’s always got some spy stuff going on, Vision is not exactly the Vision she met last time, and her parents have all manner of things going on, as seen in their own books. Roberto, meanwhile, has just set up a giant super-spy organization. He’s the obvious choice to come to for a helping hand.

U.S.Avengers #2 cover by Paco Medina

U.S.Avengers #2 cover by Paco Medina Given that Golden Skull comes from alternate future U.S. where Manhattan periodically floods and helium is in high demand, how much shock does he experience with the Marvel U’s mainstream modern NYC?

Al Ewing: Not much at all! Anywhere he can find a mark to con, he’s happy. If anything, this timeline is a paradise for him; the future timeline he comes from [has] learned a lot of hard lessons at great cost, and they’re currently in the “won’t get fooled again” phase. The Golden Skull can’t afford to wait decades for people to forget all about that, so he’s come back—and sideways—in time, instead. The solicits for U.S.AVENGERS #2 mention the death of Captain America—although not which one. Given that the only times we’ve seen Skull to date he was fighting or being beaten by a Captain America, what has his reaction been to the hero’s death?

Al Ewing: That’s at the start of issue #2, I believe. We kill off two of them! We don’t see his reaction, though, as presumably he’d have learned about it in history class, assuming he bothered to go. That’s right: we’re taking a close look at the mysterious Zero Day that started the world of 20XX! In general, how does Skull view and react to the heroes of the mainstream Marvel U?

Al Ewing: A collection of rubes, marks, and idiots, just like the heroes of his home dimension.

The fact that they keep beating him doesn’t change his assessment.

After all, how can anyone be on his level? He’s quite similar to Doctor Doom in that, although unlike Doom, the Golden Skull doesn’t “do” book learning; not even ancient tomes of mysticism. What is the single most important thing readers should know about Skull to understand him and the threat he represents?

Al Ewing: He is capable of anything—absolutely anything—in his own service. He will never reform. He will never change. And he will burn the world before he ever admits he’s wrong.

See the Golden Skull’s schemes begin to unfold in U.S.AVENGERS #1, available on January 4, and explode in issue #2, coming January 18, both by Al Ewing and Paco Medina!

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