By Jim Beard
Zodiac: a word rich with connotations.
Heavenly signs to guide one's fate. Hellish terror from the shadows. Portents and possibilities.
For the Marvel Universe and Norman Osborn it means a daring new name in villainy—in other words, the Dark Reign just got a lot darker.
In DARK REIGN: ZODIAC #1, unleashed June 24, writer Joe Casey sketches out a terrifyingly fresh face for evil in a world where the criminals now lay down the law.
"There's a new badass on the scene, one that doesn't cop to Norman Osborn's vision of having all the villains under his watch," Casey says. "So he's going to do something about it. That's basically it. Oh yeah, he beats the living snot out of the Human Torch, too. And then there's the cold-blooded murder of 100 H.A.M.M.E.R. agents. That pretty much sets the tone."
The masked and mysterious Zodiac—no relation to the old Avengers villains—pulls together a clutch of baddies both known and unknown to foster a bit of macabre mischief and in turn Casey fosters a team dynamic in the book that sets it apart from other chapters of the Dark Reign saga.
"Zodiac is able to round up a crew of villains that are, in many ways, misfits and outsiders," the writer explains. "Meaning, none of them fit in to Osborn's overall plan, either by choice or by circumstance. It's one of the deeper themes that emerged as I was writing the series, the idea that even crooks can form a kind of temporary brotherhood."
And though the Iron Patriot's a master of manipulation himself, Casey promises that Zodiac will match the former Green Goblin head game for head game in the issues to come.
"I think one of the worst things you could do to a villain-pretending-to-be-a-hero is to force him to actually be a real
hero," he muses. "It's like the ultimate '[expletive] you.' Well, in DARK REIGN: ZODIAC #2, Zodiac engineers a pretty intense, worldwide scam that absolutely forces Norman into being the heroic leader he purports to be, whether he likes it or not."
The writer pulls no punches when he describes the series as inhabiting one of the most brutal corners of the Marvel Universe, asking hard questions about the very nature of villains and whether Zodiac and his cronies play to the criminal norm or as aberrations.
"Well, when super villains are pretending to be Avengers or covertly working for the U.S. government, then I would say, yeah, my guys are an aberration, simply because they're bona fide super villains and proud of it," notes Casey. "They're anarchists and 100%
open about it. They ain't hiding. They enjoy being criminals. They like to fight and they don't want anyone telling them what to do, certainly not a nut job like the Green Goblin!"
To further entice readers into this seedy world of death, danger and degradation, Casey's joined on DARK REIGN: ZODIAC by artist Nathan Fox, a bold new talent the writer's more than excited to be working alongside.
"Everything that Nathan is doing is really knocking me out," he exclaims. "He's got a really visceral style that's perfect for a villain book. Plus, he gets to draw quite a few of the icons, both old and new, in the Marvel Universe, which is very cool to see.
"I'm not sure how the typical Marvel reader will react to something that looks a little grittier than what they're probably used to, but it'll be fun to find out."
Prepare yourself for new depths of evil this June 24 when the stars align for DARK REIGN: ZODIAC #1. You can also check out more work by Joe Casey on Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited!
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