By Eric Drumm Hey there, true believers! We're back with another installment of MCP SPOTLIGHT, taking a closer look at MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS and their creators and the characters that are getting some face time. Once again, editor John Barber is stopping by to let us know what is happening in the next issue, and the creators themselves will be giving you the inside scoop of what we'll be seeing. First up, who is working on this issue and what stories are they telling, John Barber? "Issue 2 continues 'Vanguard' (by Marc Guggenheim and Dave Wilkins), 'Weapon Omega' (by Rich Koslowski and Andrea DiVito) and 'Hellcat' (by Stuart and Kathryn Immonen) from issue one, plus a 'Taskmaster' story written by M. Zachary Sherman and drawn by Khoi Pham. Plus, the Fantastic Four's Reed Richards guest stars in 'Vanguard', as Stacy Dolan's investigation into the murder of a mysterious John Doe takes her to the Baxter Building…if you've seen the end of Chapter 1, you might have a good idea why…" Putting together that many stories in one book must have been a daunting task. Lucky for John Barber, he had an assist from former Marvel Editor Andy Schmidt, who is now making his surprise triumphant return in this very article! "Andy Schmidt put together the Taskmaster story, so let me ask him. Hey Andy—how did you find Zack and Khoi? This story came together before Khoi did X-Factor, right? How'd you guys meet?" asks John Barber of his friend and colleague. "I had seen Khoi's sample pages a couple of times and really liked them. So I had been in contact with him for a while, assuring him that I wanted to work with him and give him something to cut his teeth on," explains Schmidt of the Taskmaster story penciller. "During the weeks that followed, he showed me some newer samples where he used this ink-wash technique that I liked even more. I was just waiting for the right story to come along to assign him to." "I met Zack Sherman through Roberto De La Torre, who was penciling MS. MARVEL for me at the time. Roberto sent me a batch of pages one day and stuck his Image book, SEAL TEAM 7 in it just for me to read. Zack wrote that book and I enjoyed it quite a bit. So I asked Roberto to hook me up with Zack and he was really happy to do it. I spoke with Zack and found out he was an ex-military man and was working for George Lucas's company, Industrial Light and Magic at the time--but he really wanted to be a comic writer. So, he and I tossed around ideas and landed on a S.H.I.E.L.D. centric story featuring the Taskmaster--a character we both liked a lot. Once the script came in, I knew this was the story to show off how good Khoi really is. This was a good case of the right creators coming together at the right time." With the solid creative team in place, it seemed as if the Taskmaster story was writing itself. The character has been having a bit of a comeback lately in the pages of MOON KNIGHT, THUNDERBOLTS and CIVIL WAR, so it was natural that he be given a stage to display his deadly, deadly talents. M. Zachary Sherman couldn't be more excited to be writing the skull-faced copycat. "In one word, it's freakin' exciting!" he squeals about his story. "Okay that's technically two, but hey! One of the best villains to spawn from the Avengers, Taskmaster's never really been given a chance to grow as a character or for us to explore his origins, but every time we see him, we love him because he's just so inexplicably cool. Quick with a quip or the flash of a blade, Taskmaster's the most deadly assassin in the Marvel Universe because of his ability to mimic anyone he sees, but more importantly, he's one of those few characters whose life's still shrouded in secrecy, which makes him interesting and mysterious and a lot of fun to write for." Like the man said,Tasky can mimic the movements of anyone he observes. Meaning, Captain America throws his mighty shield, Taskmaster can re-enact it with the same surgical accuracy. That makes him pretty darn handy at killing people. He's been around a while, so its very possible that he has ridiculously deep bag of tricks. Who might we see him mimic in MCP #2? "I don't want to give too much away, but a certain super-soldier or a Billy club-toting demon, among others, might make an appearance!" teases Sherman. "I tried to make his powers poignant to the situation he was in and not just gratuitous so when he turns on the 'photographic reflexes,' look out, 'cuz pain's coming with him! Khoi did a fantastic job of capturing the visceral and kinetic style of his actions and I'm really lucky to have worked with such a great artist my first time at bat for Marvel." MARVEL COMIC PRESENTS is an arena for one off stories with fun and interesting characters, but it also provides readers with multi-part stories that keep them coming back issue after issue. MCP #2 features the next chapter in three ongoing stories. John Barber is pleased with how they are coming along, and is glad that they have had a warm reception thus far. "I think they're coming along well. It's funny, I read two reviews of issue #1 today, and both were very positive, but the funny thing was that they each had the exact opposite reaction to every story. Both reviewers recommended the comic, but they each disliked the ones the other loved," comments Barber on the feedback the book is receiving. "And that's part of the fun on this—all three of those stories have really different sensibilities. I love a lot of variety in my comics, I always loved coming home on Wednesday with a big stack of comics and going through reading, I don't know, a [artist Rob] Liefeld YOUNGBLOOD comic, then an issue of EIGHTBALLl. I loved being able to do that. And I don't think MCP goes to those extreme poles, but there is a lot of cool variety. And I'm glad to see those two reviewers still liked the book overall enough to be so enthusiastic about it. So, I think those three continuing stories will keep growing in their own directions, and continue to become better and better and more and more what they are." One of the returning this month is the "Weapon Omega" story written by Rich Koslowski (THREE GEEKS). Continuing the story of Omega Flight member Michael Pointer aka Guardian, the mystery is getting deeper for us as well as Michael himself. As you may remember, Michael absorbed all the released mutant energy after the events of M-Day in the pages of NEW AVENGERS. With literally more than he knows what to do with, Michael is now working for the Canadian government but is reluctant to use his immense power. Unable to perform in the field, it remains unclear what is standing the way of controlling his powers. Rich Koslowski won't say what Michael's problem is, but we can guess its something sinister. "MWah ha ha ha!!! That is THEquestion!" he cackles about the mystery he has created. "I'd really be spilling the beans if I revealed too much here on that particular point. Let me just say that Michael Pointer has been through pure hell since his debut back in NEW AVENGERS last year, and the possession by Xorn and the Collective, the destruction of his home, family, loved ones, Alpha Flight...the poor guy really deserves a break. So I, of course, am not going to give him one. Gird your loins, folks, cuz Michael Pointer is in for some pretty serious [stuff]!" What's certainly not helping matters is his tough talkin' teammate, USAgent. A cowboy on a team of Canadians, the slightly crazy version of Cap is upset that Michael is underperforming, but its looking like he has something pretty dastardly going on behind closed doors. Acting more like USJerk, its possible that he is out to get Michael in the worst way possible. "I love USAgent! His 'jerk' attitude is great fun for a writer to play off of," says Koslowski. "I was thrilled when John Barber asked me to tackle Guardian/Weapon Omega because the first thing I thought was, 'Okay, cool, I can throw USAgent in there and really screw things up!'" If that wasn't mysterious enough, in the last issue we were shown a woman locked away in a place unknown for reasons unknown. All we do know is that she seems to …wither…whenever Michael is controlling his power. Their connection is yet to be revealed, but it seems possible that she could be the key to ending his suffering. "Aaahhh...the woman in the locked room. Yes. She is a 'key.' I will definitely say that. She is a "key," confirms Koslowski. "But yes, the 'mystery girl' that opens the story on page 1 and ends the story is obviously there because she will play a pivotal part in Michael Pointer's ongoing evolution as the new Guardian. And as you may have gathered by her appearance on the last page it ain't so pretty. I will send an original piece of 'Guardian' art (I draw too!) to the first fan who correctly guesses the link between the woman and Michael Pointer." Hear that, true believers! Hit those message boards because that sounds like a challenge! Stay tuned to Marvel.com for more MCP SPOTLIGHT!