By:Trent D. McNeeley
Date: Wednesday, September 27, 2000

If you thought prison overcrowding was a problem before, you ain't seen nothing yet. That's because Ronan the Accuser's coming to town, and he's decided the entire planet Earth should be a universal penitentiary for the worst criminals in this or any other galaxy. It all plays out in 'Maximum Security,' a massive crossover event that could have repercussions for every Marvel Comics title, from Amazing Spider-Man to Uncanny X-Men.

To sweeten the deal, it'll all be tied together by the aptly named Maximum Security three-issue mini-series. 'Maximum Security: Dangerous Planet is a prologue book shipping in late September,' says Tom Brevoort, the crossover's editor. 'That'll be followed by the bi-weekly Maximum Security book, a three-issue mini-series that starts shipping in October.'

All four books are brought to you courtesy of Kurt Busiek and Jerry Ordway, with Will Blyberg providing the inks. But the initial idea for 'Maximum Security' came from the fertile mind of fan-favorite Busiek. 'Marvel hasn't done a line-wide crossover since 'Onslaught,'' says Busiek. 'Every now and then, they'd make noises about wanting to find a premise for a new one. In talking about this with Tom Brevoort, I suggested a few ideas. Eventually, they got more serious about doing a crossover, and talked over the various ideas that had been proposed. 'Maximum Security' was the one they decided to go with.'

As the crossover begins, Busiek says the powers that be in the universe are fed up with humanity, 'largely because we keep messing around in their business, and worse, we have this irritating tendency to win. They see us as this annoying, backward, undeveloped race that butts into everything and enforces our will and our values on them, and gets away with it over and over again. It doesn't matter who we're up against--Galactus, the Celestials, intergalactic empires or what. We just keep winning.'

Deciding to end the interference once and for all, the various galactic races turn Earth into a prison planet. They figure that if they dump their unwanted, powerful, violent criminals here, Earth's heroes will be too busy to mess with the intergalactic powers, who've walled Earth off from the rest of the universe and want to keep it that way. 'Naturally, trouble ensues,' continues Busiek. 'And naturally, there's something else going on, something deeper. But just what it is, and why, is something people will have to read the books to find out,' he teases.

The Trouble with Crossovers

Busiek realizes some fans don't like these big events, seeing them as more for sales than for stories. So he designed the story with that in mind. 'I'm not really a big fan of line-wide crossovers,' admits Busiek. 'I haven't read many of them that I thought worked all that well. So I had two major reasons to pitch story ideas. First, it was a creative challenge: If it's something I don't think has been handled all that well in the past, can I come up with a way to do it that works? That sort of thing. Second, I'm writing Avengers, and at the time I pitched the idea, was writing Iron Man and Thunderbolts as well. So if they did decide to do a line-wide crossover, it was going to, by definition, involve me. So why not come up with something I like, that Tom and I get to be the major players on, instead of getting stuck doing what someone else comes up with--which I might like, but then again, I might not?'

Busiek continues: 'My big gripe about most line-wide crossovers is that they interrupt whatever the creators' plans are for their books, but don't give them much to do instead. There's one set of characters carrying the crossover and everyone else follows along like sheep, doing spear-carrier duty. What I wanted to do was built a crossover around an event more than a story--there'd be a story to it, just as the main 'story' to World War II is 'Beat Hitler!' But WWII had repercussions all over the place, not just an assault on Germany. There was politics, there was the push to develop the atom bomb, there was espionage, black marketeering, deprivations on the home front, agony in the concentration camps and more. So with 'Maximum Security,' I wanted to create a scenario in which the writers of the other books could play along as much or as little as they cared to, whether they were involving their characters in the main fight, in some kind of side issue, or just dealing with the impact of all these alien criminals being dropped in our laps.'

The list of major players in the story includes numerous Marvel good guys and baddies: USAgent, Ronan the Accuser, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the Silver Surfer, Ego the Living planet, the Avengers Infinity team, Professor Xavier and the mutant Skrulls he's been mentoring, Gambit, Bishop and others, including some Busiek won't reveal, citing story secrets. However, he did name a new alien race that shows up: the Ruul. 'They make a lot of this happen, thanks to their scientific knowledge,' hints Busiek. 'There is some interesting stuff to discover about them, but it'll unfold as the series itself does.'

Changes in Look and Feel

In addition to the excitement of the 'main event,' Busiek also promises some major changes for a few characters. The most dramatic is what's in store for USAgent. 'The one big change we can talk about, because it shows up at the beginning of the story, is a new role--and a new look to go with it--for the USAgent,' says Busiek. 'He's become the federal government's point man for super-powered incarceration and justice-system issues. He tracks down bail jumpers, handles extraditions, deals with prison escapes and more. Think Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, but super-powered, and dealing with Dr. Octopus instead of Dr. Kimball.'

Busiek says he's thought for a long time that USAgent needed a new role. 'He was introduced as a political opposite to Captain America, but over the years lost a lot of his distinctiveness and energy as a character. I think it's mostly because he lost a lot of that early antagonism, and it wasn't replaced with anything--he became just another superhero. So I wanted to see him in a unique role where he could be himself, and not just a B-level Captain America.'

This new outlook for USAgent was pitched well before Busiek used him in Thunderbolts, in which USAgent led an armored team called the Jury against the former Masters of Evil. 'But I didn't know Marvel was going to pick it up and decide to do it a couple of years later, so I did something else with him. And then 'Maximum Security' got going, I'd left the Thunderbolts and [new writer] Fabian [Nicieza] didn't seem to be in any hurry to use him or the Jury, so we moved him over here and did what I wanted to do with him in the first place.'

USAgent now has a staff working for him, according to Busiek, as well as jurisdiction over a lot of super-powered matters. As a result, he should be able to play a more distinctive role in the Marvel Universe. 'And Jerry's designed him a great new look,' says Busiek. 'I'm hoping he'll get his own mini-series, at least.'

Ordway hopes for the same, saying he's talked with Brevoort about that possibility. For now, though, he's pleased with USAgent, too. It's the one character he says he could do a lot with. 'With a crossover, there's not much room for character development,' says Ordway. 'I definitely got to do the most with USAgent. He gets a total re-do, which he deserves. He's a character that's been around for a long while, but still gets no respect. I hope to help in changing that.' Ordway also sees USAgent as Tommy Lee Jones from The Fugitive, but with a definite nod to the actor's role in Men in Black, too. 'Hey, he'll be fighting aliens,' says Ordway. 'It's a good look for him.'

In terms of the rest of the crossover, most of his character designs come from research into past looks for the characters. 'I'm leaning on Marvel for specifics,' says Ordway. 'I've never drawn a Skrull before.' In particular, it's Cadre K--the group of Skrulls working with Professor Xavier--that Ordway is very excited about drawing. 'I get to play a little bit with that, putting them in uniforms based a bit on the original X-Men uniforms. I like that.'

External Ramifications

Busiek feels 'Maximum Security' will work not just because of its construction, but because Marvel's Earth is populated by so many aliens. 'There are aliens all over Earth,' admits Busiek. 'That'll sprawl into other titles. Some books will pick up main threads of the story--Avengers, for instance. Some will pick up minor threads. We tried to keep it open to allow writers to play into what we were doing in a big way.'

Busiek says Nicieza, for one, is getting plenty of mileage out of the event, both in terms of making Gambit--[which he also writes]--important to what happens in the crossover, and making the crossover important to what happens to the Thunderbolts. Other creators have chosen to do self-contained, single-issue stories that deal with the situation more than the main story, as writer Paul Jenkins chose to on Peter Parker: Spider-Man. The idea was to make the event as reader-friendly and creator-friendly as possible.

And, on that level, that's why Busiek says 'Maximum Security' differs vastly from 'Onslaught' and other past events. 'It's a big story that plays with the Marvel Universe, both on Earth and on an interstellar level,' says Busiek. 'The idea here is to entertain, not to shuttle the characters somewhere else, or accomplish some publishing deal. The events that happen, the changes that occur--they're story stuff, not a platform for a new series or new creators being introduced or whatever. It's a story, not a set-up,' he promises.

In the end, Busiek wants to achieve one goal with 'Maximum Security,' and it's a universal one. 'We're not out to change the world,' says Busiek, 'just to tell a good story and make readers happy. I think that's a plenty worthy goal in and of itself.'