January 20, 2012

HOW TO NOT WORK FOR MARVEL COMICS, OR: THE ULTIMATE SABLE MANIFESTO

Hello everyone out there. I'm sure you have been wondering what I'm up to (no, you haven't, but I am deluded enough to think that you have, hey, I'm a poor writer, and delusions are often all that we have, know?)

Okay, while I'm trying to keep my sanity together (and quite possibly finish the editing of my novel Live, which is driving me bonkers), I have been looking at some of the old stuff from way back, all the way back to 2003, to be perfectly honest, when Marvel Comics said they would have an "open contest" for everybody to create cheap-ass books for them through their Epic Comics competition.

Now, Mr. Edo Fuijkschot and I had something that we quickly whipped up together, essentially as a quasi-sequel to Millar and Hitch's Ultimates that had just been released (or rather, if memory serves me correctly, it was about 6 issues into the original limited series, but my memory could be wrong, it could have been issue 9 or 10).

EDIT: Having just looked it up, I wrote this pitch on June 30, 2003, so as far as I know the ending of Millar's first run was not finished by that point...

Now, I have a bit of a spy issue.

Or rather, I have the idea that spy stuff in a superhero universe should be somewhat impacted by all of those gods and monsters that are running, crawling and flying around.

And I thought, let's use a character that nobody gives a damn about.

Which was Silver Sable.

And so I wrote the pitch to The Sable Manifesto, which of course was to evoke all of the things that you by now (not back then, mind you, but now) associate with Matt Damon. The Bourne Something Or Other, so to speak.

But back in 2003, it was still fairly new, that title, so that's how it was.

It went into the Epic slush pile... and we never heard from them until we all got that letter from Marvel that stated (in a highly unprofessional fashion, I maintain, treating artists and writers like we were 10-year-olds) that Epic had gone bye bye, but hey, here's a letter with Spidey on the letterhead!

So here's what I had to say about how to do a spy series....




THE SABLE MANIFESTO

01/ SUPERHEROES AS WMDs

Everybody here? Right on, please sit down and listen to me rant for a while. After reading probably every Marvel Trade paperback known to man, there are a few things in the design of most superhero comic books in the past 30 to 40 years that – while grooming an ever-decreasing number of hardcore comic book fans – prevent the whole genre of superheroes to reach out to modern mainstream America, feasting on a steady diet of TV shows like “Sopranos”, “Buffy”, “Alias” and “24”.

Now, the easiest way to start this pitch (or indeed any pitch) would be to explain why Sable would be such a cool character and why it could make a lot of money. That kind of pitch would deteriorate very quickly into the following, taped in secret at a producer’s pitch meeting:
Producer
Well, we got success with the X-Men and the Hulk, and Bendis is doing a good job with Daredevil, but we need to broaden our sales base a little more…

Writer
You know, I have this good working idea…

Producer
As long as it’s not mutants. We got Morrison and Millar doing the mutants, not to mention Austen, Claremont and the other guys of the X-Corps…

Writer
No, no… it’s not mutants. It’s kind of a cross between Mission Impossible and The Dirty Dozen, but it is set in the Ultimate Marvel Universe. We start with a team of agents, and they’re being led by this woman called Silver Sable…

Producer
Really? So, this is about ordinary people then?

Writer
Yeah. Well, in a way. They’re not really all that ordinary. We can use all sorts of gadgets, tone down the superheroics in order to streamline it for cross-marketing. Anyway, Sable is this really cool character. She’s a mercenary, which is so totally cool, since she’s got such questionable morals and we can play on that.
Right. Now, let’s stop this and go back one step.

That kind of thinking is exactly what is wrong. Good stories do not necessarily begin with character, but with the environment that creates them. If you leave out that part of the equation, you will fall into the trap of most serial writers. You will take something for granted: in this particular case, the inner workings of the Marvel Universe.

Thankfully, the Ultimate universe has solved a lot of the problems that are inherent in an ever-growing creation with more than 40 years of history (hence, from now on, when we talk about the Marvel Universe, we will talk about the Ultimate Universe. Sounds complicated, I know). Millar’s “Ultimate X-Men” belong to the most accessible books on the shelves these days and are wonderfully in synch with the expectations of potential audiences that only know those mutants from the movies. Likewise, Bendis on “Ultimate Spiderman” has written Peter Parker in a way that any teenager today can relate to. But it is probably the “Ultimates” which takes the notion of superheroes in a real-world context to its most logical extreme so far. Not in a sense that such a team would actually work as a US sanctioned assault team (with the exception of Captain America, none of these people have any military background), but it is exactly how and why such a team would come into existence, if you accept the notion that superheroes are indeed real.

Or, rather, that superpowers are indeed real. The best example, although I believe not fully thought through, is Millar’s creation of the Hulk. He is a failed experiment to re-create the super soldier that Captain America has been. His blood (and Cap’s blood) is probably the most lethal weapon the planet has to offer, since it could be used to create more Hulks or even another Captain America. In a sense, that leads to the most important point one has to make about a world in which superpowers do exist and relate it to the real world we all alive in: powers are a weapon of mass destruction. In a world, where mutants are seen as terrorists, you want to have an army of supermen to take them out and protect the American Way of Life (isn’t it funny that this is always in capital letters?). You would need such an army, and the research into that would equal, if not surpass the original Manhattan project and the race to space flight in the 1960s.

Rogue states will want to have the means to produce such soldiers. The United States will try to keep them all. Terrorists will want to use them (which is played upon by the whole Mutant Terrorism storyline, but what about other terrorists? Real terrorists?) What kind of an impact would such a notion have?

That is something that has never been properly addressed. Even in the Ultimate Universe, which is a lot less complicated than the original universe, the fights break out within the superhero “families”. It’s the X-Men vs. Magneto vs. the Ultimates, without any regard to how other states, other governments, other people would see and react to those struggles.

Does anybody really believe that the Russians would keep quiet, if the US decided to start a team like the Ultimates to “fight mutant terror”? Does anybody really believe that there are not elements in the Middle East who would desperately want to get their hands on a Hulk serum, if only to arm their suicide bombers with enough destructive power to level a whole city block within Jerusalem? Or what about dictators such as Little Kim of North Korea? In our world, he already owns nuclear capabilities. In a universe that has an added factor of superpowers, those would become the new weapons of mass destruction, and pretty much every government in the world would try to pursue that road.

Once you have accepted the reality of such a world, it becomes a lot easier to talk about a character such as Sable.

 02/THE ULTIMATE SPYING GAME



Now, as strange as that may seem, in such a world, the most prized possession for any government and any terrorist would be the serum of Dr. Bruce Banner and his research findings, not necessarily the Hulk himself.

If the United States had a program with which to recreate the super soldier, then other states must have tried to infiltrate it, even despite the fall of the Soviet Union. I am pretty certain that S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury have been on the forefront of that battle for a few years by the time the timeline for the Ultimates and even the Ultimate X-Men kick in.

And Fury is the guy who has actually RUN that program. In order to get to that position, you cannot be a very nice person, but rather a player of power. We’re talking about a guy here, who – in the pages of Ultimate Spiderman – tells Peter Parker that the poor kid’s ass belongs to the United States government the moment he turns 18. No, Sir, not a nice person indeed.

A person who would have built up an enormous amount of personal and professional enemies over the years, and who has used, abused and harnessed the power of his position to it fullest potential in order to get the job done, the way he sees it fit. In a way that makes him almost a symbol of the current US government and their outlook on the world. The end, in Fury’s mind, always justifies the means. After all, he is fighting for Truth and Justice, right?

It is exactly that kind of thinking that fueled – in the real world – the actions of the CIA and other agencies throughout the Cold War (if you want to talk spy stories, you automatically start talking politics). If you need to assassinate a duly elected President in Chile and replace him with one of the worst dictators in the history of the 20th century, but who is in your pockets, you will do so. After all, you are fighting a bigger war here, right?

The same with the current fight on terrorism. As long as you can justify to yourself that all the means you have put in place will ultimately produce the right effect, you can look at yourself in the mirror each morning and still feel you are the good guy. Never mind civil liberties, never mind the fact that you need to kill innocents here and there. It is all for the greater good.

It is necessary.

Even Mark Millar played on that briefly when he opened up with the Black Widow and Hawkeye making fun of Nick Fury’s “media darlings”, while they had to do all the real work (he did portray Fury slightly differently in the “Return to Weapon X” storyline, which can be still considered to be consistent with our approach, since Fury had no problem killing a couple of hundred Indian soldiers and was only ready to see one person alone as human being, since he saved his life: Logan)

But that is the kind of world that spies live in. No questions, no answers, just a kind of professionalism that is needed to get the job done. This has been portrayed with great success in movies such as “Ronin”, “The Three Days of the Condor”, “Clear and Present Danger”, “The Siege” and, to lesser extent, in movies like “The Bourne Identity”.

That grit will be one pillar of what we call “The Sable Manifesto”. We will establish that kind of world within the Marvel Universe, to take a look behind the glitz and glamour of a group such as the Ultimates and into the inner workings of the machinery that made it possible.

Now, the spy business has been glamorized itself, and Bond, James Bond contributed a lot to it. Exotic locations, gorgeous women, impossible missions, all off those contribute to a romanticized vision of what a spy should, or could be. Even the updated versions such as “xXx” have played on that. Incidentally, here’s a question: in that movie, the big baddies want to release a nerve toxin into a city, and instead of recruiting a suicide bomber from their blatantly nihilist ranks, they build a boat that is released from a point so far away that our hero can still race it. John McTiernan once told an interviewer about the way he wrote the first “Die Hard”: “If your answer to the question ‘Why is the hero doing this?’ is Because otherwise the story would be over, then you have serious problem.

Updating a classic spy story takes a lot more than a tattooed guy you put in essentially the same stupid situations that Bond constantly finds himself in.

It takes the kind of realism that is part of those other movies and the combine those elements with the things that people have to come to expect from a good spy story.

The Sable Manifesto will do exactly that. And more so, it will do it in a way that is totally consistent with a universe that has characters such as Thor and Iron Man running around in it.

So, we are left with a few simple rules that makes a cool spy story set within the Marvel Universe.

1.    Make it real!
The world these people are living in is complicated and painted in shades of gray. People who may be your ally at one point can become your enemy later, due to a switching political agenda. Actions, in this world, have serious consequences. People die. People kill. People don’t give a damn about anything other than saving their own buttocks. Sounds cruel, but we are talking here about the dark side of a world increasingly dominated by superpowers.

2.    Make it accessible!
Treat everything in the story as if you are writing a movie, and not the third season of a TV show like “The West Wing”, where you need a bloody manual to know who is who and why they are doing what they are doing. The Sable Manifesto will have a beginning, middle, and an end and will run on movie time, meaning we are talking a six-issue story arc in which one comic book page roughly equals a minute of movie time.

3.    Make it work within Marvel!
Right from the beginning, the story needs to re-introduce the reader to the actual universe itself, pretty much in the same way a movie would introduce the foundation of the story.  It has to be stand-alone. Within the first ten to fifteen pages, we will tell people all there is to know about the Mutant Terror menace, the Ultimates, the development of superhuman strength as a weapon of mass destruction, but do so in a way that it immediately becomes an integral part of the story.

4.    Make it exotic!
Now, most people would say, especially in the current political climate, well, what the hell, use the Middle East as a backdrop, sthat’s what on television anyways, and what could be more exotic than a couple of ragheads whose religion and culture we don’t understand in the first place. Again, that would be lazy writing. The Middle East is very much like Vietnam or Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. These are wars that are merely the executive action of a bigger threat that is showing up all around the world. And that turns old enemies into allies and old allies into enemies. That is one of the reasons why a big chunk of the book will be set in “New” and “Old” Europe, for now we have almost a sequel to the Cold War, except we are forced to deal with new players. It will also address the fact that the biggest arms shipments to rogue states still come from places like Russia and France, simply because they have a political stake in numerous of those issues facing the world today, including the oil issue. We will use that as a springboard to deal with superhuman threats.

5.    Make it personal!
Now, if we decide to see the Sable Manifesto like a movie, then there has to be a very close, very personal connection between all the players involved. Our players here will be Nick Fury, Sable and Raphael Sabitini. Over the course of the story, we will find out that Sable’s relationship with Fury has been less than professional at one point in the past, while Sabitini’s relationship to his ex-wife will become a lot more professional, when he makes her part of his attempt to steal the research for the super soldier serum right out of the Ultimates headquarters.

03/ THE RELUCTANT HERO RETURNS


Now, to the important question: why the hell would anybody pick Silver Sable to star in a book? She’s not on the top list of characters people crave to come back like Dr. Strange, she’s only had one run in the comic book explosion of the 1990s and has been used primarily as a background player in the Spiderman series.

The answer: because she is perfect.

If you deconstruct the character and take only the most basic elements of her, she is exactly the kind of person who would be a player in the spy community. She has questionable morals (after all, she was designed by her creators to have an obscure Eastern European background, she acts as any responsible professional in that business would). She is in it for the money.

These are the elements that make her a perfect fit into a world where you cannot trust anybody, especially Nick Fury and his agenda.

She’s also a woman with expensive tastes and a serious penchant for decadence. She’s Old Europe, she’s exactly the kind of character James Bond used to be in the original movie, she is a professional player, is sarcastic and highly intelligent. She has no superpowers to speak of, has to rely on her ingenuity to stay alive and knows how to use sex as a weapon.

In order to have a fully-fledged persona like that, she must be older than your regular hero. When we open the curtain for our story, she is well into her Mid-Thirties, exactly the age of any good spy, meaning she’s had the experience and the knowledge to stay alive in a world, where nothing is exactly what it seems (most agents would never make it past their 30th birthday, so to have an agent like Sydney Bristow in “Alias” would never work. That show is not about spying, it’s all about Jennifer Garner’s butt in the same vein as Charlie’s Angels is all about Cameron Diaz’ butt).

And she has been out of the game for a couple of years.

That is the other thing that makes a good hero in a spy story: the reluctance to be brought back into that game. Let’s think about that for a moment. Does anybody remember why we all hated Luke Skywalker’s guts in the first Star Wars movie and why we all cheered for Han Solo? Simple, Skywalker was a typical teenage mall rat and we could almost hear him whine, “But I wanna go off with my friends to fight the Empire!” Which, incidentally can be translated to “But I wanna go off to the mall to play with my friends!” Now, Han Solo as portrayed by Harrison Ford, was entirely different: he knew the risks, he didn’t like them, so when in the end he comes to the rescue, it brings a totally different weight to that character. That, incidentally, is one fine American tradition, or at least it was in World War 2, and that is the reason why Millar’s re-interpretation of Captain America works so beautifully.

It is the same kind of weight that Hugh Jackman had at the end of X2. The ability to make the right choice despite all your instincts going against that is what makes the reluctant hero.

And there is no hero more reluctant than Silver Sable.

She’s done with the game. She’s done with that rather stupid code name (I believe that all of those names are code names. None of the people working in that business would use their real names, not even Bond, James Bond… that is still a name that I believe is taken by the person who takes up the 007 code) In the Marvel Universe, that would mean that all the other folks are using code names too, including the Black Widow, Hawkeye and even Nick Fury (what kind of a last name is Fury?)

Sable’s real name is Silvié Sablonski, she’s from former Czechoslowakia and has a family history that dates back to the Princes of Poland, which allows us to keep all the important elements of her original background and dispose of the bad ones, including the imaginary country of Symkarnia. The Marvel Universe, from its very conception, has used real cities and countries, as opposed to DC.

That is one of its strong points.

There are no cities like Metropolis and Gotham there, there is NYC and the rest of the world. By turning Sable into a Czech woman, we merely extend that idea to the rest of the world and inject some realism into her character. The same goes for her name. In the original background, her name is Sylvia. Now, unfortunately, that name doesn’t exist in Eastern Europe, but Silvié actually means Sylvia. That way, we change only the bits that stood in the way of realism, but without annoying long-time fans too much about major changes.

We also update Raphael Sabitini that way. He is Sable’s ex-husband, he is still an assassin, he is still in the game, he is still known as “Foreigner” amongst some of his associates, but that is not his code name. He is a rogue agent that Sable should have killed three years ago on a mission sanctioned by none other than Nick Fury.

He should be dead.

And when Fury finds out that he isn’t, he forces Sable back into his game: a very sick and twisted game.

And we’re here to walk you through it. Sit tight, take a good look underneath your seat for a b… (it’s not a b…, it’s a bomb) and enjoy the fireworks.


ISSUE ONE: POLICY CHANGES



I’m assuming that you’ve read the script for the first issue by now, so we will merely do a little recap here. The first issue is pretty much all set-up. In movie lingo, we’re talking the first fifteen to twenty minutes, interrupted by the titles. And we’re dealing with a damn tall order there.

We FADE IN with Raphael Sabitini. He wakes up in Saint Petersburg, in a high class hotel, right next to a gorgeous woman who has apparently shared the last night with him. And he starts talking. Apparently, the big bad in a spy movie always seems to have verbal diarrhea, and Sabitini is no exception. We use him to give us the lowdown on the Marvel Universe, and especially the role of the Ultimates in that universe, while the woman on the bed seems to be still fast asleep. We even get to know from his monologue that the woman is an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D, that he himself started off as a terrorist and lead the read to think that this is going to be that kind of Goldfinger moment that we all know.
“Do you expect me to beg, Mr. Goldfinger?”
“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die…”
It seems that all big bads have the inclination tell all their plans in advance, before they lock an agent in a chamber without supervision and wait for some sharks with lasers attached to their head to kill them. Yeah, right. Or, like Scott Green in the first Austin Powers rightly said, “Dad, I got a gun in my room. Let me just get it, we pop him right here, we pop him right in the head.”

We will use the reader’s subconscious knowledge honed by years of watching movies and TV shows and pull the rug at the very end of the scene as we reveal that the agent on the bed is dead and indeed has been dead for numerous hours.

That way, we immediately establish Sabitini as a formidable big bad. It also gives us a chance to integrate important information about the universe (superhumans as WMDs, the Mutant Terrorism threat and the notion that putting together a team of inexperienced heroes in costumes to fight terrorism is in general a very, very bad idea indeed) into the main story and use that at the same time to establish Sabitini’s character.

He’s cold, he’s lethal, he conducts terrorism and spying as business and not as a foundation for an insane plan to DOMINATE THE WORLD (insert insane laughter here) and he DOES NOT make the mistake that apparently has been made by every big bad in every spy movie since Goldfinger.

And he KNOWS that he has been watched, even acknowledges it by winking at a hidden camera as he exits the room as we CUT TO

TWO PEOPLE watching the surveillance tape of that room. It’s NICK FURY and the BLACK WIDOW. Fury asks the Widow if the tape is authentic. She tells him it is and that the Russians have delivered it through their UN embassy.
“Who the hell wires their hotel rooms?” muses Fury.
“We do, Sir,” the Widow answers. “We got them all wired for image and sound in accordance with the Patriot Act. The memo should be on your desk.”
The smiling Sabitini on the screen seems to mock them.

We then CUT to our BIG OPENING. Let’s call it the first scene after TITLES. After introducing the VILLAIN, the UNIVERSE, we will now introduce the HERO.

We FADE IN on Monte Carlo. It’s night. It’s Casino time. Visually, we play the introduction of Sable the classic way. She is in a Casino, playing Blackjack, and in the beginning, we only see glimpses of her. We also see that she is totally at home in that environment of money and decadence, which is contrasted when Nick Fury enters the scene. Sable only acknowledges him by a sideways glance.
“Hello, Nicky,” she says.
“How did you know it was me?” is his reply.
“You smell of gun oil and old wars. Most of the other men here smell of Versace.”
That little exchange immediately shows their relationship to each other. They are mistrustful of each other. And Fury, despite the fact that he has an assault team inside the Casino, dressed up to blend in, is inferior to her throughout the whole situation. This is not his world. He is not James Bond. He is a soldier. Or, as Sable puts it, “Old Europe really isn’t your style. No military boots, no guns, no bombs.”

It is only when he produces a glossy of Sabitini, taken from the surveillance cameras, that he has the upper hand for a moment and we learn that Sable has worked for S.H.I.E.L.D in the past, that she is the ex-wife of Sabitini and that Fury gave her the order to kill him. We immediately understand that the mistrust between Fury and Sable is not just based on professional differences. There is something there that runs deeper, even if we don’t explore it immediately. There is something personal.

That undercurrent explodes in the final question: “But that’s not the funny thing. Funny thing is that he’s still breathing. Especially since I ordered you to kill him three years ago. Care to explain that to me?”

ISSUE TWO: CROSSING THE LINE



When we OPEN UP in the second issue, we have Fury and Sable driving towards Nice International airport. It is clear that he has extracted her from the Casino and is on his way back to the States to debrief her. Now, in a regular spy story, she would have been able to pull of some kind of stunt inside the Casino to get out of Fury’s way, kill a few of the undercover soldiers and set out to prove her innocence.

That’s bullshit.

Not only would it be totally unrealistic (now, where in your evening gown would you hide the AK 47 to do that?), but it also would not be consistent with Sable’s character at that point in time. She’s done with the whole thing. It’s not her game. So she would go with Fury, but not without noticing a few things before she does that:

The Audi A8 that passes them on the street with the three men sitting in there.

The man with the cell phone who begins talking with somebody the moment they leave the Casino.

The tourist couple that take pictures with a digital camera when they get onto the serpentine that leads out of Monte Carlo.

We INTERCUT these sequences with Sabitini, sitting in Saint Petersburg, preparing a big deal with some of the ex-KGB people that he’s had numerous relationships with. It becomes clear that the man on the cell phone in Monaco is part of his team, and that he’s had Sable under surveillance for quite a while, for reasons known only to him at this point (a point here: If there is any foil for Sabitini at this point in this story, it is John Travolta’s character in “Swordfish”. You just KNOW that this is the man pulling the strings, regardless of what the other people might think. The audience should be in awe of that man).

He tells his team to extract her immediately.

There are three things we (as the audience) get from those sequences. One, Sabitini seems to know everything that Fury knows, and that there seems to be an inside man within S.H.I.E.L.D. feeding him the information. Two, Sabitini seems to need Sable for that deal that he has just brokered. Three, he seems to have the French in the pocket, all the way up to the government, on this deal, which makes his plan easier.

We RETURN to the serpentine streets between Monaco and have the very first BIG, BIG action sequence in the book as Sabitini’s team extracts Sable from Fury’s hold. It will be played out in just as much in a realistic way as the ambush in DeNiro’s “Ronin” or Harrison Ford’s “Clear and Present Danger”, as the team carefully prepares and ambush in a village set between Nice and Monte Carlo, killing most of Fury’s carefully selected S.H.I.E.L.D agents in the process. Remember, these are pros pitted against each other. These are not superheroes that rip apart a couple of buildings while doing some glib one-liners.

When Sable’s getting away from Fury, she picks up a cell phone handed to her by one of Sabitini’s team and acknowledges her extraction. She does so in a way that makes us think that not only did she notice that before, but that this was some part of a bigger plan and that she had expected Sabitini’s call.

We CUT BACK to Fury as he gets in all the details about his losses, and strangely enough, he doesn’t seem to be fazed by any of the truly horrible numbers. Acceptable losses, it seems. And it is only then that we learn that he has placed a tracking device on Sable that flares up on at least half a dozen spy satellites back home at HQ, with the Black Widow supervising the whole operation.

“Plan’s working,” Fury tells the Widow and then tells his driver to take him to his plane. “We got her.”

We FOLLOW as the signal is tracked all the way from Monaco to Saint Petersburg, where Sable and Sabitini meet for the first time in our story. And here’s the next surprise. For somebody, who has apparently quit the game, Sable seems to be exceptionally happy to see Sabitini again, as they kiss passionately.

ISSUE THREE: FOLLOW THE LEADER



Now, we left the audience with some sense of confusion as to what side Sable’s playing on. This is made clear by the first few sequences in which we have Sable and Sabitini have incredible, OTT sex that is usually reserved for extra-marital affairs or spies. Apparently, in the case we have both.

Throughout that sequence, we also get the info what exactly Sabitini is planning to sell: the latest batch of Bruce Banner’s research, meaning the serum that turned Banner into the Hulk and all the relevant data that is necessary to produce that serum on an industrial level. Despite the fact that the Hulk is not really the best weapon of choice, he knows there is a huge market around the world and one that hasn’t been regulated and supervised, because it officially doesn’t even exist.

That promises big, big money for both him and Sable, he promises her (actually, he only calls her Silvié, never Sable, but that is just by the by. To him, she is not that code name, but the woman who has crossed the line three years earlier and is part of his operation). All is good, it seems.

We also the other member of the team that is going to participate in this impossible bust, so he will have his very own so-called Wild Pack (like we said before, we will use references to Sable’s rich past, but we will never make it obvious, this is more along the lines of Logan’s and Scott Summer’s dialogue in the first X-Men movie, kind of like, “what would you prefer, yellow spandex?” It is a reference to keep hardcore fans happy, but, like the inclusion of the word “Foreigner”, it doesn’t need the previous knowledge to enjoy the story. We merely add another layer by doing this):

The final addition is a German hacker by the name of Klaus Rheinhardt (the Germans have a pretty decent history when it comes to terrorism, unfortunately, but that is not the main reason for making him German. The main reason is that Germans make good villains…) But it is the way that we introduce this character that makes him just as important to this story as Ving Rhames was in Mission Impossible. You see, the way this issue goes like is something like this:

We INTERCUT Sable’s meeting and sex session (so to speak) with Fury and his people TRACKING her through the bug that he has placed on her during the earlier meeting in Monte Carlo. We constantly switch back and forth, pretty much using the oldest trick (but still very effective) by conning the audience into believing that Fury, and the Black Widow, now with an assault team, know EXACTLY where Sable (now, here is the big question: does Sable know that she is being tracked? Well, we’ll answer that later…) is and get ready to take out Raphael and his team. Imagine big SHIELD forces, helicopters, the whole Appleseed SWAT team order.

In the meantime, we have Raphael not explaining that he has an inside man in SHIELD, no sir, we also have him explain to Sable that he plans to get the Hulk serum straight out of the Triskellion.

And Fury’s team is getting closer… This will also set up a couple of paragraphs in which Fury discusses the relationship between the US and Russia in a day and age, where the US have the Ultimates and Russia has effectively lost the arms race on numerous counts. Pretty much like back in the early days of the Cold War, when only the US had the nuclear bomb. His Russian counterpart doesn’t like it, but hey, we are now all on the same side, and that technology can’t be allowed to fall into the hands of terrorist groups, right?

We worry about the bilateral relationships later, so it seems…

And Raphael introduces us to Rheinhardt, who then explains that by the by Fury’s team is exactly where THEY want them to be, since he has diverted the bug’s signals to a place somewhere Chechnya, where terrorism is running high anyways, and Fury had no problem getting in, due to the Anti-Terrorism pact with Russia.

We also learn that this has only been made possible by the Black Widow (who is with them), who worked for Fury’s counterpart during her time at the KGB. And the two still seem to be friendly with each other.

We will play this very much like a mixture between the Search and Destroy in “Patriot Games” and the finale of “Silence of the Lambs”.

It will only be on the final three to five pages of the issue that we realize that a) Sabitini is in complete control of the situation and b) that Klaus Rheinhardt is the bloody best hacker on the bloody planet, which is necessary to establish his character through his profession. He is a minor character in this play, but vital, so that bit is necessary to set up what seems to be Fury’s defeat and


ISSUE FOUR: IN AND OUT

Here, we have a full issue of three people pulling off the impossible: Getting into the Triskellion, getting the Hulk serum and the research data AND avoiding the Ultimates in doing so.

Like I said, impossible, right? Just the power levels alone would be enough to kill and/or maim Sable, Sabitini and Rheinhardt, despite the “inside man” that Sabitini claims to have and who gives them access to the internal surveillance system, so Rheinhardt can help them from a remote site in Manhattan (just think of him as our little German R2-D2, heck, German sounds to American ears like robot speak anyways LOL).

But even with all that, it should be impossible, right? I mean, we have Captain America on the other side, Thor, Iron Man. Not to mention 5000 staff and soldiers all through the bloody complex.

Still, getting in is incredibly easy, if you have an operation on such scale, provided you have some inside information. It is the getting out that a team should worry about.

Right.

Now imagine this: You’re Bruce Banner, in your holding tank and working silently on the cure for your little Hulk problem, and through the air lock you have a guy coming in who immediately pulls a .45 and points it at your head. Now, the following conversation would work something like this:

BANNER
Please, dear god, don’t do this.

BANNER
Please, in the name of god.

BANNER
You have no idea what you are doing.

SABITINI
I do, Dr. Banner

And he shoots him right in the head.

SABITINI
Believe me, I do.

Now, we all know that you cannot KILL Bruce Banner. The Hulk serum will prevent that from happening. But that shot shows two things: the absolute ruthlessness of a professional agent and the only way to get OUT of the Triskellion.

For Banner turns into the Hulk as Sabitini walks away and starts THRASHING the place, meaning that everybody and anybody, and yes, this does include Cap, Thor and the 5000 soldiers have their hands full with that threat.

All the while Sabitini and Sable get the relevant data out of the labs. Unfortunately for Sable, there is only one other person in the Triskellion with a background similar than hers: The Black Widow, and she is the only one who immediately assesses the situation correctly.

She meets up with Sable on her way out and we have a REAL fight, none of that Matrix hoopla (it would work within the MATRIX, but real people fight differently). Rheinhardt is watching all through the internal surveillance system. Sabitini is already on his way out, and so he can see that fight as well. He tells Sable to withdraw, but she can’t do that with the Widow knowing.

So he orders Sable to kill her to prove that she is really on his team, and not a covert sent in by Fury. Which she apparently does. She shoots her point blank. And the team disappears into the shadows again

It is only in the aftermath that Fury checks all the surveillance again, and sees the following: Sable slipping the Widow a flack jacket and only THEN shooting her point blank for the camera.

The only problem now is: where the hell is the Widow?

Because she is GONE from the Triskellion.

And we FINISH with that to set up

ISSUE FIVE: COLLATERAL DAMAGE

After returning to Saint Petersburg, we have a somewhat subdued beginning, during which Sabitini and his team finally SELL the Hulk serum to… none other than the Russians!

And it is not only that, it is exactly the person who was seemingly helping Nick Fury in the previous issues. The Black Widow’s former executive officer (a name is still missing here, I know, but names are not really that important)

We also reveal who Sabitini’s “inside man” was: none other than the Black Widow herself! Who, as it turns out, has apparently never stopped working for the Russians, but has been a deep covert for the past few years. When asked about this by Sable at the meeting, she sneers and tells that she would never betray her own country (that is consistent with her original origin and it would be fun to have it in a way that we can return to that moment of “oh my god, she’s a bad guy”)

The Russians, it seems, have learned from SHIELD’s mistakes. Based on their research with monkeys during the space program, they have come up with a way to treat the emerging Hulkings (well, there is only one Hulk, now, is there?) and use them as weapons pretty much in the same vein as you would use a K9 dog. They are being manipulated by electric shocks.

Now, the appearance of the Black Widow here seemingly puts Sable into serious danger: her cover is blown, now that Sabitini knows that she’s been playing them, AND that Sable didn’t kill her when she should have.

But this where the next unexpected thing happens (or at least very unexpected for Sabitini): The guy who was seemingly so totally in control of everything gets shot by the Black Widow point blank, on the order of the KGB (well, also for the fact that he would have ALLOWED her to die previously).

Sable and Rheinhardt, meanwhile, get thrown into jail, where Sable has some serious thinking to do. Now, this is our moment. Up to this point, everybody has been playing everybody. But now, Sable is in a classic James Bond situation: she is alone (well, with Rheinhardt), she knows there is nobody she can trust anymore, and still, still she manages to pull off a daring escape, thereby firmly establishing her as a true hero, who is now desperately trying to race against the clock to prevent the Russians to finish their experimentation.

Unknown to her, though, the Black Widow STEALS the control device that should have controlled the Hulklings, and this is where things get really, REALLY fucked up.

You see, now the Hulklings wake up WITHOUT control.

And immediately start thrashing the lab. One of the first who gets it is Rheinhardt, who gets literally torn to pieces by the Hulklings. And here is where Sable and the Widow meet again.

And Sable is pissed. Very, very pissed.

“That was not the plan,” she yells at the Widow. “That was not the plan.” The two women desperately race out of the lab as the Widow contacts Fury to tell him that something has gone terribly wrong.

As Sable escapes, the Hulkings wake up.

And then it’s the end of the world…

ISSUE SIX: STATE TERROR

We OPEN UP with a truly horrible picture, by the way of news networks. Saint Petersburg is overrun with uncontrolled Hulklings. And chaos ensues on a level that has never been seen before. Forget 9/11, we are talking about 150 superpowered mindless monsters that RIP through the city.

Sable and the Widow actually RACE the Hulklings as they make their way across the city, on motorcycles, ACROSS the rooftops (again, every action sequence has to be made in a way that it can be done in a movie WITHOUT too much CGI involved)

Sable and the Black Widow, during their escapes, are met by none other than Fury again, who has apparently been waiting at the outskirts of the city. And again, we learn something unexpected: the Widow has not been a double agent after all.

“You got it?” Fury asks the Widow.
“You doubt?”
“Not really.”

All the while the city behind them is turned into dust.

Fury calls his Russian counterpart and offers his help with the situation. That request is denied. The Russians know how to handle it themselves. (this is essentially a play on the Kursk. The Russians have seriously trouble with accepting any kind of help, especially coming from the Americans. And, well, would you really accept help if the reason for that chaos is the fact that you stole technology from your enemy? No, didn’t think so)

Essentially, what we are doing here is to up the stakes with each subsequent action sequence throughout the series, like it would be in any good movie. We start on “Ronin” level, but then, with each new action sequence, we get bigger on the level of destruction, until we reach this issue: The total obliteration of a city.

Or, in other words: We are dealing with the first superhero Hiroshima ever shown in comic books. There will be real deaths, real murder, real mayhem.

And it’s the civilians who have to pay that price. And it is not going to be the kind of destruction of cities that has been seen repeatedly in comic books. You know, the kind of death ray that may kill a million or two, but is over and done with in two panels.

No, this destruction will be played out panel by panel as the Hulkings, unrestrained and uncontrolled, tear people apart. And there’s a real danger of them leaving the city and running rampant in the country.

Fury offers his help. Of course he has already planned for such a contingency (you see, this is the moment where we actually get to know that it was not Sabitini who is essentially Travolta in “Swordfish”, it is Fury. He plans for everything). Part of the team he has with him are the Ultimates. Again, that offer is declined.

Up to a point, where the Russians use their final means of control. They release a gamma bomb over the city.

The final cover-up. And, of course, they tell the world that this catastrophe was a terrorist attack coming from Chechnya. Well, easy to swallow, that one, right? Especially since Fury backs up that story with forged documents from SHIELD.

And we return to Sable, Fury and the Widow who are flying out, back from a mission that seemed to have been a complete failure.

And it is only then that Sable realizes it: Both Fury and the Widow had planned this long before she got involved. They WANTED the Russians to experiment on the Hulk serum, because that kind of research is now forbidden in the US (well, does anybody really think they could use the serum on anyone after it created the Hulk? No way). Fury acknowledges it by not denying.

And Sable realizes that she has been played all along. She is back in Nick’s world. And in that world, the loss of a complete city, if it is not an American one, is an acceptable loss for the greater good.

We find out that, while it was Sable’s mission to infiltrate Sabitini’s team, the real payoff has always been what the Widow’s mission was: the technology to control the Hulk.

Fury tells her that the money is on her Swiss bank account.

She punches his lights out, before looking back at the green mushroom cloud that has engulfed Saint Petersburg.

We END very much in a “Swordfish” way, through a series of SHOTS coming from news networks, in which we are told of INCREDIBLE destruction at various places where there were apparent terrorist cells. Over and over again… Is it the Hulk, now controlled like a Pavlovian dog? Maybe…

________________________________________

Okay, since there is apparently a lot of ruckus on the Internets about how much freedom an artist should have to interpret your stuff, let me just state for the record that from the very beginning, Edo (Fuijkschot) and I worked on shit the way other people party. In other words, I did a script, then we sat down, had a lot of coffee and tea, he'd have brilliant ideas, I'd go mental and think "gah, must incorporate that), I then did re-writes and the actual final writing would be done by him and me... sitting at the computer together.

But here you can see how things looked in the original script... and way up above, you can see how Edo drew these things...

THE SABLE MANIFESTO

ISSUE ONE: POLICY CHANGES
(SCRIPT)

PAGE 01
Let’s get the show on the road, and I do mean that quite literally. We OPEN UP with a ROW OF FOUR SMALL panels that consist of CLOSE UPS. We START with a very ornate HUMIDOR, placed on a just as ornate nightstand. Think 17th century. We FOLLOW as a thick, muscular hand takes out a Romeo & Juliet (for those non-cigar aficionados out there, that is a rather expensive Cuban one ;) and lights it with a long wooden match in just the right way, first rolling the cigar between the fingers, then lighting it while rolling, warming up the cigar before we go to the next panels. We NEVER see who the man is in that first row of panels. We have him talk, though.
MAN
And that, my dear, is the whole trick.

MAN
To make them see what they want.

MAN
Keep their mind occupied with other things.
Now we PULL BACK from those CLOSE UPS and introduce the man. Call him RAPHAEL SABITINI. He shows his CHEST underneath a silk morning gown. His nipples are both pierced, there is a TRIBAL running down from his shoulder to his navel. Long hair, slicked back on the top and curly at the neck. He is SEXY in a BRUTISH WAY. There is a carefully trimmed goatee, giving him the look of a modern-day Peter The Great.
CAPTION (LOCATION)
Saint Petersburg, Russia
He takes the cigar between his lips and takes a drag over the course of the next ROW OF PANELS, this time consisting of THREE. We SEE that he is in a lush 17th century BEDROOM, getting up from the bed. He continues to talk while he gets ready.
RAPHAEL
Thank god for those mutants, that’s what I say. They just make it all so damn easy.

You have them blow up the Brooklyn Bridge, you get everybody in the States scared of any freak in a strange costume.

If you ask me, my dear, it’s these people that give terrorism a bad name. Talk about weapons of mass destruction.
We FINISH the page with a WIDESCREEN PANEL, in which Raphael moves away from the bed and towards the camera, smoking his cigar. In the background, covered by SATIN SHEETS, we see the NAKED BODY of a young woman.

PAGE 02

SPLASH PAGE. Let’s make some impact here. We have Raphael standing at the bedside, and now we can actually see the whole room. It’s a huge atrocity of Pre-French-Revolution proportions, the walls covered with gold, the floor polished wood, a bedroom made for kings; the woman in the bed doesn’t move. It looks like she is still fast asleep. Think expressionism. Not too much detail, let the colors and the rough line work do most of the work here (or you go insane by the details)
RAPHAEL
Used to be, all you needed was some determination, a gun or a knife and you could make them negotiate.

That’s how I started, you know? A gun and an airplane. Those were the days.

Back when it was all about business.

Not today. Now, you need to wear your underpants outside and pose for Dateline to get any kind of attention. It’s all for show, that’s the problem.
PAGE 03
We have THREE WIDESCREEN PANELS on that. We START off with Raphael moving past the woman on the bed, CARESSING the lines of her back, looking down at her. In that POV, we still don’t see her face.
RAPHAEL
All to make it look good.
We CUT to an ESTABLISHING SHOT of the TRISKELLION; the “Ultimates” headquarter. It’s an imposing sight against the nightly backdrop of Manhattan.
RAPHAEL (OFF PANEL)
It’s a P.R. exercise. Even that name: The Ultimates. 
Straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon.

We CUT BACK to Raphael. He has PASSED the woman and moves slowly towards the luxurious BALCONY DOORS. The blinds are made out of heavy silk. Morning has already broken outside.
RAPHAEL
Don’t get me wrong. I like a good show. And that show’s as good as they come.
PAGE 04
Again, we OPEN with a WIDESCREEN PANEL. We STAY with Raphael. We are on the outside of the balcony as he opens the door and takes in a breath of fresh air. We stay CLOSE to him, not too much background here. We keep focused on CHARACTER, not LOCATION.
RAPHAEL
Just look at it this way. You got a country that’s scared enough to piss on its own constitution. You got a media that’s telling the public whatever you want it to hear.
We CUT BACK to the TRISKELLION; this is essentially a CAMERA MOVE that FOLLOWS from the establishing shot. We get the ENTRANCE HALL of that huge building. I’m envisioning a kind of “Patriot Games” shot here, that kind of rolling camera move that HOVERS above the floor of the entrance hall as we show the S.H.I.E.L.D insignia on the marble, very much like those CIA shots in half a dozen movies (most recently in a rather forgettable one called “The Recruit”, with Pacino). There is the usual buzzing of employees, agents and soldiers in that entrance hall.
RAPHAEL (OFF PANEL)
Hell, you even got a hundred and fifty billion dollars through Congress for your war on terror, and what do you spend it on?
We MOVE through the CORRIDORS of the TRISKELLION as part of the busy SUPPORT STAFF. We FINISH the page with none other than CAPTAIN AMERICA in FULL GEAR coming towards us.
RAPHAEL (OFF PANEL)
More freaks in costumes.
PAGE 05
We CONTINUE our little tour of the TRISKELLION in another WIDESCREEN PANEL. We have passed Captain America and are in another CORRIDOR. We PASS the HOLDING UNIT that Dr. Bruce Banner designer to hold the Hulk. Again, there’s the usual flurry of activity by soldiers, support staff and tech people. We see BANNER on the other side, in the unit, looking at people on the other side.
RAPHAEL (OFF PANEL)
Seems there are so many of them these days, it’s impossible to contain all of them.
We RETURN to Raphael for a THREE PANEL ROW as he is outside on the balcony, smoking lazily his cigar. He looks at the sky above him for a BEAT, then INSIDE for a MOMENT then returns his attention to his own speech We have one word balloon per panel here.
RAPHAEL
But you probably know all of that, don’t you, my dear? Working there with them, I suppose, does have some benefits.
RAPHAEL
All of that glamour and glitz on top, that’s just a good coating for what we are really talking about.

RAPHAEL
What all of them really are.
We FINISH the page with another WIDESCREEN. We change POV and are INSIDE the holding unit, together with Bruce Banner. Outside, the people pass by as if a skinny man in a cell built to hold a monster is just the most mundane thing in the world. We can see Banner’s REFLECTION inside the glass. But it’s not the skinny man we see there; it’s the raging beast that makes up THE HULK (can we have the kind of reflection that is using that total color transparency, without any line work there at all? That would look totally awesome, I would think).
RAPHAEL (OFF PANEL)
Monsters.
PAGE 06
We START this page with another THREE PANEL ROW that STAYS in the same POV. We are hovering above the luscious bed, showing the woman inside it. It is essentially the same panel over again, to make one point and one point alone: she DOES NOT MOVE while Raphael continues to talk to her.
RAPHAEL (OFF PANEL)
Oh, by the way. If you want me to stop talking, just say so.

RAPHAEL (OFF PANEL)
I must be boring you to death with all of this.

RAPHAEL (OFF PANEL)
I just like to think out aloud sometimes. Have somebody listen to all that’s going on in my head. Have somebody who knows what I’m talking about.
We FINISH the page with TWO WIDESCREENS that take us back to the TRISKELLION.

The FIRST ONE is a REPEAT of that panel that shows Banner locked up inside the HOLDING UNIT. The only thing showing time has passed is the different type of people walking by. Banner has stepped back from the glass and has withdrawn into himself.
RAPHAEL (OFF PANEL)
Gods.
The SECOND PANEL here is showing THOR approaching the TRISKELLION. As much as Banner should be seen as a symbol for human misery, Thor is BIGGER THAN LIFE. Awe-inspiring even from that one panel, he is essentially exudes the same kind of gentle kindness that somebody like Superman would exude in that universe built by the Distinguished competition.
RAPHAEL (OFF PANEL)
And monsters.
PAGE 07
Right on, this page will be just FOUR WIDESCREENS that all STAY in the SAME POV. We are with Raphael on the balcony, the camera is positioned BEHIND him as he watches while the SUN SLOWLY RISES behind the rooftops of St. Petersburg, burning away the shadows on the city.

All those panels will be silent, played for cinematic effect rather than expository purposes, before we turn to

PAGE 08
We have a BIG PANEL that takes up most of the page. It’s the first big ESTABLISHING SHOT of St. Petersburg that is GLOWING in the morning sunlight.
RAPHAEL (OFF PANEL)
A new dawn of man.
We FINISH the page with a THREE PANEL ROW. Again, we STAY in the POV of hovering above the bed for all three panels. The woman is still lying there, not moving, still apparently FAST ASLEEP. The only difference to the previous THREE PANEL ROW is that we are going to play with color here as the sun creeps into the room. By this time, we KNOW something is not quite right with that woman.
RAPHAEL (OFF PANEL)
Now, don’t laugh.

RAPHAEL (OFF PANEL)
I know very well how that sounds.

RAPHAEL (OFF PANEL)
But it’s what it says in your press release.
PAGE 09
We have another THREE PANELS in a row, in which we follow Raphael as he walks back into the bedroom. They should be bigger than the previous rows we used, probably a third of the page in length, BLEEDING into a BIG PANEL that that takes up the other two thirds of the page.
RAPHAEL
To me, that sounds almost like the things you hear from those mutant terrorists.

RAPHAEL
To these people, it’s all about vision. What you see, how you see it, how to make you see the world their way.

RAPHAEL
And in the end, it’s just another press release.
We CUT now to MAGNETO in his FIBERGLASS HOLDING UNIT deep within the bowels of the TRISKELLION for our BIG PANEL SHOT. He is sitting as his glass desk. Three agents in dark suits and sunglasses are surrounding him for interrogation.
RAPHAEL (OFF PANEL)
Did I tell you that I met Magneto once? Of course that was a long time ago, before he decided to wear that costume and blow up half of New York with his mutant army.

Before your bosses locked him away for good.

Made the world a safer place, I guess.
We FINISH the PAGE with another THREE PANEL ROW, but these will be smaller and INTEGRATED at the bottom of the BIG PANEL. We have a STRING of CLOSE UPS in which Raphael extinguishes his cigar in an ashtray. It keeps on SMOULDERING for a while, then the smoke fades away. In the background, we can see the DOOR leading out of the bedroom.
RAPHAEL
Talked for him for quite a while, back then.

RAPHAEL
He was the man with the vision. For me, it was all about business.

RAPHAEL
That’s all I ever talk about, it seems.
PAGE 10
We start with the SAME THREE ROW PANEL that we ended the last page with. We see Raphael walking away from us, OPENING the door in the background and WALKING THROUGH IT.
RAPHAEL
I don’t care about how to make it better. Or safer. I leave that up to other people.

RAPHAEL
I just clean up their mess.
We then have two WIDESCREEN PANELS. In the FIRST, we have Raphael walking down a very lush, very exclusive hotel corridor. We are BEHIND him as a MAID bringing some towels crosses his way. The maid is a typical old-fashioned Russian mamuschka.

In the SECOND WIDESCREEN, we have him PASS the maid, nodding friendly at her, before we CUT TO

PAGE 11
Right on, we’ll have THREE WIDESCREEN PANELS here on this page that ALL stay in the SAME POV. We are IN the bedroom and have this and treat this and the next page as a way of showing how TIME PASSES. It was very well done in Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s “From Hell” at one point (and it did even make it into the movie, which was one of the very few scenes that I actually liked. The rest of that thing was very, very bad…) Now, before we digress…

We START with the maid entering the room. The woman on the bed still hasn’t moved.

We CONTINUE with the same POV (I would suggest from an above angle, but I leave that up to you) and the maid now SITTING in one of the chairs, after having had a nervous breakdown. There’s also the HOTEL MANAGER standing in front of the bed, wiping sweat off his forehead. The woman has been turned over in the bed and we can see that she is dead. She stares with BLIND EYES at the ceiling (and therefore, at us)

We FINISH with the SAME POV and show the MAID, still sitting on a chair, but now more composed, the HOTEL MANAGER talking to a RUSSIAN POLICE OFFICER while another POLICE OFFICER (both uniformed beat cops) LOOKS at the body.

PAGE 12
The same game, three WIDESCREENS continuing our little passage through time.

We START with now even MORE people being in the room. The MAID, now being questioned by two cops in suits, with at least FOUR uniformed POLICE OFFICERS looking through the room. The HOTEL MANGER talking to another cop in a suit, while we have two people from the CORONER’S OFFICE coming into the room.

We CONTINUE with the focus now being on the RUSSIAN C.S.I people having taking over the crime scene. They investigate the body thoroughly as more and more people from the RUSSIAN ARMY come into the room, looking around. The HOTEL MANAGER, the MAID and the STREET COPS are gone in this panel. There’s a PHOTOGRAPHER flashing snapshots of the corpse.

We FINISH with the room FILLED by SHIELD operatives, as they TALK to some of the RUSSIAN ARMY OFFICERS and some others looking at the corpse with their high-tech gear.

PAGE 13
We’ll have FOUR WIDESCREEN PANELS on that page that are all in the same POV. It’s a BIG SCREEN with two people sitting in front of it. We only see the backs of those two. They are shrouded in SHADOWS. One of them is NICK FURY, the other one BLACK WIDOW. Only the images on the screen CHANGE as the scene progresses.

We START with the last IMAGE of the previous page. The only thing different here is that we show the TYPICAL TV LINES coming from shooting something on Hi-Definition video.
FURY
Freeze it.
In the SECOND PANEL we have pretty much the same image, but on the display we also have the “II” that shows up on an OSD when you freeze frame a video or DVD
BLACK WIDOW
We got the feed through the Russian embassy yesterday evening. I had it run through Tech all through the night for inconsistencies.

FURY
Is it authentic?

BLACK WIDOW
Looks like, Sir.

The THIRD PANEL stays exactly the same as the second one. The only thing that I would change is that the two silhouettes in the foreground shift slightly as they continue to talk to each other (that should be consistent throughout this sequence, since it gives the impression of cinematic movement)

FURY
Who the hell wires their hotel rooms?

BLACK WIDOW
We do, Sir. Got them all wired for image and sound in the D.C and New York areas last week in accordance with the Patriot Act. The memo should be on your desk. The Russians just got there a little faster, that’s all.
The FOURTH PANEL also stays exactly in the SAME POV. The image on the screen is still in FREEZE FRAME. Fury turns around to face Black Widow.
FURY
Show it again.
PAGE 14
We CONTINUE with the FOUR WIDESCREEN BREAKDOWN that stays in the same perspective, so we can play this like a movie with nearly a minute of screen time per page.

In the FIRST PANEL we SEE the REWIND BUTTON on the display and the typical SCRAMBLED UP PICTURE that shows up when somebody rewinds a video tape (of course, a DVD jumps a little cleaner, just showing single frames, but that might be difficult to pull off artistically within the confines of a comic book. But if you have an idea how to make that REWIND more high tech, I’m all ears). We GO BACK in TIME and have the image of the MAID and the HOTEL MANAGER from Page 11, Panel 2 there. In the foreground, Fury and Black Widow, still talking.
FURY
What was her name?

BLACK WIDOW
Vanessa Ferrick, Sir. Codename: Rapier. Seven years in the field, five of them in Black Ops.
In the SECOND PANEL, the image on the display jumps FURTHER BACK INTO TIME. Now we see RAPHAEL on the SCREEN as he LEAVES the ROOM. Otherwise, we stay in the same POV. We STILL see the REWIND BUTTON on the display as well.
BLACK WIDOW
You briefly met her at the opening gala for the Ultimates last year.

FURY
I remember.
In the THIRD PANEL, we skip further back in time. Now we are SHOWING none other than Vanessa Ferrick and Raphael in bed (or around the bed or wherever you want to place them) as they are doing the naughty.
FURY
What about her family?

BLACK WIDOW
Has been notified.

FURY
Give them the works for the funeral. Find out who their congressman is, get him on the phone and have him hold the eulogy.
In the FOURTH PANEL we skip even further back in time. Here we see Vanessa as she pours some champagne into a flute In this shot Raphael is not in the image.
FURY
She died a soldier.
PAGE 15
We FINISH the sequence with (yes, you guessed right) the final FOUR WIDESCREEN PANELS. Again, we have the two shadows in the foreground move as they speak over the imagery.

We START with Raphael and Ferrick entering the bedroom.
BLACK WIDOW
You give the word, we take him out. I can have an assault team out there within 36 hours, Sir.
We CONTINUE with Raphael LOOKING up STRAIGHT INTO THE CAMERA. He starts breaking a smile.
BLACK WIDOW
We got Stark’s new armor back from field-testing in Arizona. They got enough firepower to level the whole place, if necessary.

FURY
No. The Russians won’t go for that. This ain’t Iraq or Afghanistan where nobody gives a damn. We march in there, we’re right back in the bloody cold war.
We CONTINUE with a ZOOM onto Raphael’s face LOOKING UP as his smile widens.
FURY
And the bastard knows it.

We FINISH with a CLOSE UP of Raphael on the display with a KNOWING SMIRK.
FURY
He knows exactly how to play us.
PAGE 16 & 17
This is a SPREAD that opens up with a HUGE PANEL to establish LOCATION which takes up the whole spread. At the bottom of the spread, we have a ROW OF EIGHT PANELS INSERTED INTO the big image like a string of BOXOUTS.

The BIG DOUBLE SPREAD PANEL: an image of Monte Carlo at night, as seen from the sea. It should evoke old movies with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly as well as early James Bond, not the newer movies. Anybody who’s ever been to Monaco knows that the place is still stuck in the Sixties, despite the fact that they have all the new cars driving around there. The flair is still the Sixties, the women (at least the RICH ones) still adhere to Sixties formal style, so even with that opening shot of Monte Carlo, where we DON’T see any people but rather the buildings lit up for the night should convey that feeling of old-fashioned glamour (I am ranting here, but most of the modern writers have only seen the city on TV).

In the BOXOUTS we position the camera BEHIND none other than SABLE sitting at a blackjack table. Even in those little shots, we can see that the casino she is in is top class. The dealer has the slick expression of a European professional and none of that Las Vegas sleaze. These people here play for pleasure, not for money. Sable is in formal wear; evening gown, a sable fur, long, black opera gloves. We FOLLOW the game she is playing through those eight panels and PLAY it totally for visual effect, so there will be NO DIALOGUE at all.

The only thing we do on that double spread is a
CAPTION (LOCATION)
Monte Carlo, Monaco
PAGE 18
We OPEN with a FOUR PANEL ROW of CLOSE UPS as Sable meticulously takes out a small cigarillo from a silver case, lights it, blows the smoke against the ceiling and then slightly turns her head as to acknowledge the presence of somebody behind her who we don’t see yet.
SABLE
Hello, Nicky.
We FOLLOW with THREE WIDESCREENS that have NICK FURY in an ARMANI TUX sit down NEXT to Sable at the table, first PULLING UP the STOOL, then positioning himself next to her.
FURY
How did you know it was me?

SABLE
You smell of gun oil and old wars, darling.

SABLE
Most of the other men here smell of Versace.

FURY
Right.
PAGE 19
We continue the CASINO SEQUENCE with a FOUR PANEL ROW at the top with QUICK CUTS between SABLE and FURY as they talk. We START with a CLOSE UP of Fury.
SABLE (OFF PANEL)
And they don’t look like a butler when they wear Armani.
Then we CUT TO Sable as she continues to talk. The CUTS should be as cinematic as possible. Since we have a lot of dialogue and exposition to get through here AND at the same time make it sound cool (meaning it has to snap, crackle and pop like the best Tarantino), we get through some quick cuts here and there.
SABLE
Old Europe isn’t your style, Nicky. No military boots, no assault rifles. You even had to dress up your soldiers to get them in.
In the THIRD PANEL of that first ROW, we have a SILENT FURY look surprised, before we then CUT BACK to
SABLE
Oh, come on. You think I didn’t notice?
We CONTINUE with a BIG PANEL that shows the CASINO HALL, all done in late 18th century style, filled to the brim with people gambling and partying in an old fashioned cocktail party kind of way (ever compared a European cocktail party with an American one? Trust me, there is a big difference between New American Money, and even old American money is new money to Europeans and really OLD OLD OLD European money. It is just the level of decadence, I guess, but that can be played very nicely in this book). It is the comic book equivalent of a WIDE SHOT that is needed to give a good overview of the location and serve as an interim shot before the next series of SMALL PANELS that are on the BOTTOM OF THE PAGE, almost an OVERLAY OF BOXOUTS onto the BIG PANEL that goes all the way down.  We have three PANELS there that show exactly what Sable is describing in her VOICE OVER.
SABLE
What I do like is the German ambassador in the back. Hardly noticeable, unless, of course, you know that no German would have such a good sense of fashion.

SABLE
Then there’s the couple at the Roulette table. They’ve spent less than the half a grand in the past twenty minutes. You wasting all of your money on superheroes these days?

SABLE
Now, the cocktail waiter, that’s sloppy work. I can see his earpiece. Everything we say, you probably have it analyzed by your monkeys back home while they live on Starbuck’s coffee and Happy Meals.
PAGE 20
We have A ROW of FOUR PANELS each to begin with as we CONTINUE the conversation between Sable and Fury. Again we have a lot of QUICK CUTS between the two, starting with a CLOSE UP of a smiling Fury. It’s that kind of a smirk who knows how to be charming and at the same time dangerous. Think Robert DeNiro in “Ronin” here as a good reference (or even better, when it comes to the mood of Fury here, think DeNiro in “Goodfellas”)
FURY
Of course.
We CUT TO Sable as she looks down in another CLOSE UP
SABLE
Of course.
Again, we CUT BACK to Fury as his face hardens.
FURY
You know the rules of this game, Sable
And BACK to Sable. Now it’s her turn to show a dangerous, very thin smile.
SABLE
I quit your game, Nicky. Even quit that stupid code name.
Now, we go into a WIDESCREEN of the two sitting next to each other. Sable has turned her back against the Blackjack table, while Fury is still sitting there, facing it. He rests the chin on his hands, looking at nothing in particular while smiling to himself.
FURY
Really?
We move to a SECOND ROW off FOUR PANELS with another series of QUICK CUTS and CLOSE UPS. This time we start with Sable.
SABLE
Really.
We CUT TO Fury as he again looks around to face her.
FURY
I remember correctly, I fired your ass.
And BACK to Sable who holds her ground as she stares him down.
SABLE
Same difference.
We CUT BACK to FURY as his smile widens to a grin.
FURY
Right.
We FINISH the page with ANOTHER WIDESCREEN. Sable moves closer to Fury as she talks.
SABLE
That’s your game, Nicky. You got all the toys, agents with code names, heroes in costumes. All you could ever need to save the world.  Your world, not mine.
PAGE 21
We’ll CONTINUE the conversation. I would suggest another FOUR WIDESCREEN PANELS that stay in the same POV as the final widescreen from the previous page. Again, we play with time and movement here to guarantee a good flow. So, we have them do rather mundane things (I leave the who does what when to you) while they discuss important ones.

During that conversation, Fury pulls out a small piece of paper from his Armani tux and puts it on the table. Sable, on the other hand, takes out another cigarillo from her case and lights it. Then she RECOGNIZES what (or rather who) it is she sees on that paper.
SABLE
I just have to live in it.

SABLE
Trying not to think too much about old times.

FURY
Bad thing about old times, they always catch up. When you do our kind of work, that’s just the way it is.

FURY
People like us, we never go ex.
PAGE 22
SPLASH PAGE. We have the whole page DEDICATED to a CLOSE UP of that SHOT of Raphael smiling into the security camera. We see Fury’s hand covering up a small portion of that print.
FURY (OFF PANEL)
I know the shot’s not as good as the ones we made at your wedding reception and the beard’s new, but I’m sure you can still recognize your husband.

He goes by the name of Raphael Sabitini now. Runs an operation out of Saint Petersburg. We’re not sure what kind.  He killed the covert we got in to put him under surveillance last week. But that’s not the funny thing.

The funny thing is that he’s still breathing. Especially since you were ordered to kill him three years ago.

Care to explain that to me?




________________________________________

Now, some of those ideas are now, 9 years (fuck, has it been that long?) somewhat... known (and having just read through it again, I am quite certain that I wrote the pitch before the end of the first Ultimates ending, because I felt incredibly clever for using somebody to shoot Bruce Banner in the head as a way of bringing out the Hulk), but back then, I don't think they were all that known, to be honest, and some of the action set pieces I still love, and some of them have in the meantime found their way into my own original writing.

I have not kept up with Marvel in the meantime all that much, I feel that most of the things they are doing now (that I have skimmed through) are monotone and incredibly boring, which probably means that I have finally outgrown them. Yay, I am a grown up!

Still, superheroes hold a fascination for me, and like I said, some of the things here found their way into my own writing.

Hope you enjoyed this little flashback... and one of the very rare moments (I was younger and dumber back then) that I actually tried to make a corporate character work. I still think that I wasn't all that bad, and that it would have been a good limited series.