The Future is Now in Vision-Focused AVENGERS A.I.

The next phase of the Marvel Universe is here. Well, almost here.

Following the events of the currently unfolding Age of Ultron — issue #5 of the 10-part series is out this week — the role of artificial intelligence in the Marvel Universe will greatly increase, and though the hows and whys aren’t public knowledge, it’s clear that it’s going to have an impact.

A big enough impact that a new Avengers series — Avengers A.I. — is launching in July, spinning directly out of the Age of Ultron climax. Written by Uncanny X-Force’s Sam Humphries and illustrated by Fantastic Four #5AU’s André Lima Araújo, the book will star a team consisting of both humans and A.I.’s: The Vision, founding Avenger Hank Pym, Ultron’s son Victor Mancha, Monica Chang, a Doombot and new character Alexis.

Newsarama talked about the series in detail with Humphries, and why Vision fans should be keenly interested in what he’s got planned.

 

Newsarama: Sam, it seems still pretty early to be talking about Avengers A.I. in too much detail, as it's pretty heavily influenced by the end of Age of Ultron, correct?

Sam Humphries: Yeah, and this is where it gets a little sticky, where I'm going to have to speak carefully so I don't give away anything.

This book spins directly out of the end of Age of Ultron. An unintended consequence of the end of Age of Ultron is that artificial intelligence that is mushrooming throughout the Marvel Universe, and is metastasizing way out of control. There are now A.I.s in the Marvel Universe that have the ability to create successive generations of A.I.s of increasing complexity and power, without the assistance of humanity.

This is like squeezing all the toothpaste out of the tube — you just can't put that toothpaste back. The A.I.s now have the opportunity to be fully in control of their own destiny, and that destiny can be completely separate from humanity, or it can be in harmony with humanity, or it can be as an enemy of humanity — whichever way they go, they are now not limited by the applications of human ingenuity. They are still a product of human ingenuity, but now they are in control.

It's a brave new world crashing into the present. The future has arrived ahead of schedule, and the effects are going to be careening through the Marvel Universe.

Nrama: So it definitely seems like this is not just another Avengers team book, but a series that is going to be confronting some pretty major issues throughout the Marvel Universe.

Humphries: Yeah, absolutely. I would say that all the Marvel books right now have a pretty well-defined mandate, and a pretty well-defined role in the Marvel Universe. And this book, you could reduce it down to the "Robot Avengers" concept if you want. These are synthetic characters, or characters who have direct relationships to the history of robots and androids in the Marvel Universe, and they will be confronting threats and problems and conundrums that arise directly out of this new kingdom of artificial intelligence.

Nrama: Avengers A.I. is fairly clearly in the sci-fi vein, which based on your past work lines up right with your interests. Is that a significant element of what appeals to you about the series?

Humphries: Oh, absolutely. It's definitely well within my sphere of interest. This is probably the Avengers book with the most explicit science fiction leanings. This is the one that's equal parts Tron and Homeland, but filtered through that lens of Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

I did Our Love is Real, and Higher Earth, and probably you can dig up science fiction elements in all sorts of stuff I've done . John Carter of Mars, the first work I did for Marvel, is considered the granddaddy of sci-fi literature, or at least pulp sci-fi literature.

It was a difficult decision to leave The Ultimates, but it was only difficult for about 20 minutes, because it was such a great opportunity — an Avengers book, a new #1, a chance to really define a book from the ground up — but it also seemed tailor-made for my sensibilities and passions. It’s right up my alley. It's a little bit like the Uncanny X-Force of the Avengers line in that I got to put together a really unlikely lineup of characters. Some of them are classic Avengers mainstays — like founding member Hank Pym and classic member The Vision — but then we've also got some new characters, and some characters that are out of left field, characters you've never really seen before as Avengers. That kind of outsider and misfit element to it is always really attractive to me.

Nrama: Hank Pym seems like an interesting character to write, because he can be so heavily bogged down by his notable past indiscretions — sometimes that's the focus on the story, and sometimes it's a little glossed over. This is coming after Age of Ultron, which was all about his creation dooming humanity. What's your take on Hank Pym?

Humphries: Hank Pym is a fantastic character to write. It's a little difficult for me to talk exactly about Hank, because a lot of it comes out of the end of Age of Ultron, and the Age of Ultron epilogue that Mark Waid is writing. Both of which I've read, and both of which are great. The Age of Ultron has got an incredible crescendo, and that leads right into what we’re doing. 

Age of Ultron

#10A.I. cover.

Waid's epilogue is great, because Waid loves Hank Pym so much. Waid really, really has this deep, genuine affection for Hank Pym the same way that he does Daredevil and Superman. Waid has this ability to tap deep into these classic characters in a way that nobody else does. Talking about the end of Age of Ultron, and the epilogue, and the beginning of Avengers A.I. with Bendis and Waid was fantastic for me. It was amazing. I wish both of those guys could re-define my characters before every book I do, because they're razor-sharp at this. 


All of which is a long way of saying that I can't really say what my take on Hank is, other than I think this is a take that is firmly rooted in Hank's history. It in no way ignores what came before, but I think it's also a bit of Hank coming into his own. Hank is justifiably one of the smartest minds in the Marvel Universe, and if you're on that list, you're shoulder-to-shoulder with some pretty amazing contemporaries. You don't get that smart, and remain that smart, without getting a little bit of swagger in your step.

Hank is also distinguished from Marvel Universe geniuses like Reed Richards and Tony Stark in that he really lets his imagination be his guide. Tony Stark's most visible achievement, Iron Man, he created out of necessity, to keep himself alive. Hank Pym's most visible achievement is the ability to shrink down to the size of the ant. It's very different. He's a genius that's only limited by his own imagination, which is a beautiful thing, but also a very dangerous thing.

Nrama: So is he going to just be going by "Hank Pym," and not Ant-Man or Giant-Man?

Humphries: Yeah, that's correct. We'll definitely see some of Hank in action, but we've got an Ant-Man in the Marvel Universe in the pages of FF, and we have seen Hank as Giant-Man as recently. This will be a Hank Pym who is an adventurist, but he's also a scientist.

Nrama: Another character I'm curious about — you're bringing Monica Chang with you over from the Ultimate Universe.

Humphries: We're going to reverse the polarity a little bit. We're doing the Marvel Universe version of Monica Chang, which I'm really excited about.

Monica Chang was a character I did not expect to love writing so much in The Ultimates. I loved making her more central to the Ultimate Universe, making her director of S.H.I.E.L.D. — and the fan response to that was awesome. People really rallied behind Monica Chang, which was great to see, because as a character, she's kind of an underdog. She was a replacement Black Widow. It was great to be able to write her as an ambitious character.

This is going to be the Marvel Universe version. She's not going to be Black Widow-style Monica Chang, but she's going to be working at S.H.I.E.L.D., and she's going to be the head of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s A.I. department.

 

Nrama: Are you approaching her as fundamentally the same character, though — the voice, personality are effectively the same?

Humphries: On a fundamental level, it's definitely the same Monica Chang. If you're a fan of Monica Chang in The Ultimates, you will find a lot to love in the Monica Chang of Avengers A.I.

Nrama: There are a lot of Avengers books right now — some are very closely connected with each other, and some have more thematic ties to the franchise. How connected is Avengers A.I. to the greater Avengers ecosystem? Is it more of that spirit — and obviously there's Hank Pym and Vision —  or is it pretty centered to Avengers business in general?

Humphries: This is a book that’s definitely smack-dab in the middle of the Marvel Universe. We've got some heavy hitters. Vision has always been one of the heaviest hitters of the Avengers. These are characters that uniquely equipped to deal with the issue of artificial intelligence in the Marvel Universe. Who are these new intelligences? What do they want? How do they exist? How do they see the world?

They have a new bad guy to tackle right off the bat. His name is Dimitrios. He is pretty upset about the way that humans regard A.I., and the way that they've been using A.I. for the past hundred years or so. Now that they have the ability to define their own destiny, they're not content to sit around and be the ideal lapdogs of humanity. Some of them will be pro-humans, and some will be wary of humans, but Dimitrios and his faction will be antagonists, and will have some pretty radical ideas about how the A.I. should be defining their future moving forward.

Nrama: Speaking of the new villain — even though you're doing a very different thing with Uncanny X-Force than the previous volume, that was still working off of an existing concept. With this series, you're full-force adding new elements and characters to the Marvel Universe, which has to be an exciting thing for a writer.

Humphries: Yeah! It's pretty great. It's a thrill to be able to define a new corner, a new dimension of the Marvel Universe, in a way that is integrated with the rest of the Marvel Universe, and Earth's Mightiest Heroes, and everything else that is going on in the Marvel U this year — which is a lot. So it's pretty great to write a book that's so front and center.

 

Humphries: The Vision is a character that I love. He's a mainstay of the Avengers, but he has been kind of floating around the past 10 years or so since his death during "Avengers Disassembled" — spoilers, sorry. This has been a great place to really give him a new status quo, and redefine what it means to be a machine in the human world. Before this book, you’ve got all these great stories about The Vision from the perspective of, "I'm the only robot in the room." When you have that dynamic, it takes the character down a certain path. Now Vision is an A.I. in a world full of A.I.s and humans. He's no longer one of five robots he's ever met in his artificial life. This puts Vision in a position to really reconsider his role in the Marvel Universe and the Avengers, and step into a leadership position with all these new A.I.s in the world. It’s an opportunity to reconsider the way he's been treated in the past, and the way that people look at him in the present. It's really exciting to take the character with that much depth and complexity, and throw him into a new context.

The Vision has been upgrading himself. It'll be a new Vision in the Marvel Universe. He's going to be absolutely the central figure of Avengers A.I.. He's been really exciting to write.

This whole book is about future shock arriving in the Marvel Universe. It's about technology moving faster than our ability to cope with it, and our ability to understand the ramifications on our own day-to-day lives. I think that's a theme that we can all relate to in real life. The best Marvel stories have that "world outside of your window" element, and Avengers A.I. certainly stands within that tradition.

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