Avengers set their plot in Billings
Posted on 21 March 2016
If you've poked around a bookstore lately — or you're one of the thirty-million people who saw Iron Man or The Dark Knight last summer — then you probably know that comic books are enjoying a cultural renaissance.
While Robert Downey Jr. rockets around as a Marvel Comics hero on the big screen, the byzantine plots of the Marvel universe continue to unfold in dozens of series of comics and graphic novels. One series, Avengers: The Initiative, recently placed its super-battles in an unlikely setting — that's right, teams of caped crusaders are duking it out with supervillains right here in Big Sky country.
The gist of the plot: All the country's superheroes fought each other over whether or not to work for the government. The government side won and, as a result, assigned each state it's own team of superheroes. After that, undercover aliens start getting involved, but what's important is that one of The Initiative's main characters is assigned to Montana's team, the Freedom Force, giving the state a bit of face time while the heroes rescue civilians and battle baddies in downtown Billings. Among our heroes are Cloud 9, a young woman who creates and controls cloud vapor, and Think Tank, a telekinetic gent with a floating brain where his head should be.
We talked with Christos N. Gage, the 37-year-old writer of Marvel's Avengers: The Initiative series, about what it takes to be a superhero in the Treasure State.
Montana Living: Early in the series, the Texas superhero team makes an appearance, and they're all very . . . well, Texan. There's an armadillo superhero and a cowboy superhero. Is there pressure to have a strong thematic tie for each state's hero team?
Christos Gage: If something makes logical sense, then we might do that. The Texas Rangers, actually, most of those characters had previously existed — the armadillo guy was added in. In Montana's case, we just wanted to put together a team of cool characters. We didn't want it to be too gimmicky.
ML: Like a mutant fly-fisherman?
CG: Exactly. Though my wife did want to tell you that Missoula is her favorite place because she loves A River Runs Through It. Still, you don't want to have, like, the “California Redwoods,” where they're all tree-themed characters.
ML: One of Montana's heroes is Cloud 9, who we often see riding on clouds, and with her goggles, she looks a lot like a snowboarder. Did you send her here because of our great powder?
CG: I think Montana was chosen more because it has a big sky for her to fly around in — and someone has to keep an eye on the Canadians.
ML: I have to say, though, your downtown Billings looked a little generic. Ever been?
CG: No, although I do usually use the internet to find a tourism site, then put a link in the script for our far-flung artists. The series' main artist early on, he lives in Italy, so he doesn't know Tampa from Portland. There was an issue of Thunderbolts where an artist showed downtown Phoenix, and it looked a lot like downtown New York. Some of that's unavoidable, but I try to provide some visuals. One of the things we want to do with The Initiative is show that there are characters in all parts of the country, because when aliens invade, they don't much care about geography.
ML: So the Freedom Force is based in Billings, but Montana is 630 miles across. If Kalispell is under attack — villains rampaging through Glacier National Park — how do they get around? It'd be embarrassing if Idaho's team showed up before ours did.
CS: Sometimes that happens! I did a story where the Nevada and Arizona teams both showed up to deal with an attack on the Hoover Dam, right on the border. But we're assuming they all have some sort of transportation, like an Avengers Quinjet, which is a really fast plane.
ML: I'm waiting for Yellowstone to appear in the comic, since you know, there's a volcano underneath that could destroy life as we know it, perhaps if properly tweaked.
CS: I didn't know that. Well, now that I do, it might well show up.