***This article contains spoilers for Age of Ultron #8, on sale now.***
Marvel promised that its multiple artists for Age of Ultron — Bryan Hitch, Carlos Pacheco and Brandon Peterson — were each there for a reason, and with eight of the main series' 10 issues out, they've all played a different role in the story.
Hitch started things out in the first five issues, drawing the ruined remains of a Marvel Universe that had been devastated by Ultron's massive attack. With issue #6, Pacheco and Peterson took over illustrating the Brian Michael Bendis-written miniseries, with Pacheco drawing scenes set in Marvel's Silver Age, and Peterson rendering the altered present that resulted from Wolverine's assassination of past-Hank Pym.
This week's Age of Ultron #8 is set entirely in that timeline and illustrated by Peterson, drawing arguably his most high-profile story yet in his long career at Marvel. For the latest in our series of Age of Ultron "Debrief" interviews, we talked to Peterson about designing the story's new takes on familiar Marvel heroes, how the secrecy surrounding the project affected him as an artist, and his collaborations with Bendis, which started in Avengers and looks to continue past Age of Ultron.
Newsarama: Brandon, Age of Ultron #8 was a big one for you, as the action takes place entirely in the transformed post-Pym Marvel Universe.
Brandon Peterson: It is definitely the big issue for me. It was the one I'm most proud of, and I think it's the one that was the most challenging.
Nrama: And you designed all of the story's altered versions of Marvel characters — like Scott Summers as Cable and "Colonel America" — right?
Peterson: I suppose so. [Laughs.] I was working on the covers way, way before I actually got full scripts, so I wasn't sure what I was drawing a lot of times. I got the impression that it was going to be alternate versions of these characters, but I got the impression they were going to be world-traveling, in maybe lots of different realities. I thought, "Oh, this is just one group."
I did some fairly quick drawings, just based on what Brian had given me in notes, not really sure how they were going to be utilized, and then they turned out to be the stars of two issues. Wasp, I used her old Yellowjacket costume and incorporated the Captain Marvel design, and that just sort of blended together. And then there's things like Thing having craters, just because I thought that would be cool. And Brian had specified things, like Wolverine has his old brown-and-orange costume.
The one thing [Bendis] said was, we don't want people not to know who these characters are. So when Captain America shows up, he still has to be Captain America. Just put some accents on them — so that's really kind of what I did.
It's funny, because that image [the Age of Ultron #7 cover] was the first thing that a lot of people saw, and they really pushed behind it. And there was just this wild speculation on the deeper meaning of things. Honestly, I wish I had thought it out more. [Laughs.] I watched people, and they're describing all these motivations and stuff. I talked to Brian about it, and he basically said, "That's what they do." I'm glad people were entertained, at least. I really didn't know, either. This was kind of shooting from the hip, in a way.
Nrama: And then along with the characters you mentioned, #8 features Iron Man heavily, and clearly he's been redesigned fairly dramatically.
Peterson: When I got to drawing him, I had the script at that point, so I knew he was going to be a major character, and I knew what his motivations were, and how he was changed.
The whole goal of Age of Ultron, with the time travel and what happened with Hank Pym — spoiler alert — was, they were trying to make a better world. They were trying to create a situation where by taking [Pym] out, Ultron didn't blow up the world, and the world would be better. What they basically discover is, no, it's not better. It's different, but it's still not good. It's just a different shade of bad.
And the bad they see is what has happened to their friends, because there's another battle they've been fighting with the forces of magic, and technology is the defense of the United States and that part of the world. Tony Stark is sort of the master of technology, and he has been consumed by that — literally. The origin of Iron Man was that he made the armor to keep himself alive. Well, now literally it's the only thing keeping him alive. There's not a lot of meat left on him anymore.
[Bendis] said he should look horrific; almost ghoulish, in a sense. So we went with the grey skin, and not having any hair on him. He's not the pretty boy. [Laughs.] He's a very tragic, severe figure.
Nrama: What can you say about the nature of working on Age of Ultron? There have been different artists on the series — mainly you, Carlos Pacheco and Bryan Hitch; and there has been a lot of secrecy around the story, specifically the ending.
Peterson: It was a very intense few months, as you can imagine, because there were a lot of things coming out of it at the same time. "Well, we have these series coming out, we can't talk about." [Laughs.] There would be a lot of that. "You need to put this in, but I can't tell you why."
There's the big [Angela] reveal at the end, which I was kind of privy to, but honestly, I knew about it — because I didn't have anything to do with that part of it — when it came time for me to draw my part in the last chapter. They sent me along the whole script, and I just went, "Oh! This is new. What's this?"
It was interesting. I really kind of felt like, "OK, I'm working on my part, and I know something big is being constructed out of this. I'm not exactly sure what, but they tell me it's important — anything for the war effort."
Nrama: And #8 is unique in that it's all you.
Peterson: Yeah. #6 I did like, a third, and #7 I did two-thirds. I did all of issue #8, and I do about half of issue #9, and just a couple pages of issue #10.
It all really makes sense, though, because [of] the way Brian wrote the script. If you have a way to fit it in — if it isn't a jarring break — I think it can work, and I think Brian actually did a really good job. When I see the script, it all makes sense, because there is some hopping of time periods, and different things happening. When you have the different artists, it actually kinds of accentuates that.
Nrama: Between this and your issues towards the end of his run on Avengers, you’ve been working a lot with Brian. He tends to work on multiple different projects together with the artists he works well with — have the two of you really bonded as collaborators?
Peterson: Yeah. It's funny, because I've been with Marvel for about 10 years now, after being other places. We just didn't work together — I came onto Ultimate X-Men, and he had just left, and it was Brian Vaughan that was writing those issues. I got to work with Brian Vaughan, and that was great. He's a great guy.
I was always kind of coming on to stuff after [Bendis] had already left it. About a year ago this time, he had a Vision story, and goes, "Who likes to draw tech? Oh, that Brandon guy." I hadn't worked with him, and I did it, and he was like, "Wow, you did a great job!" I think I kind of surprised him — he was expecting a certain job, and I did something that exceeded that.
I'll tell you, it's not easy to draw a Brian Bendis script the way it's written. He goes with the idea that a lot of artists are going to ignore things that they think are unimportant, so he puts as much in as he can, with the understanding that for whatever reason, an artist is just not going to be able to draw all of it.
I try to draw all of it. [Laughs.] That's my goal. "If it's in there, it's got to be important." I think that's what kind of blows his mind. He's like, "Holy cow, you actually fit all this in there." It hasn't been announced yet, but I'm going to be doing my next project with him, coming out in the fall.