As Marvel's senior vice president of publishing and executive editor — and an employer at the company for more than 20 years — Tom Brevoort has experienced a lot of big event stories.
The latest is Infinity, starting in August with a six-issue main series written by Jonathan Hickman and illustrated by Jim Cheung, Dustin Weaver and Jerome Opeña. As tends to happen, the story is also spilling out into multiple other Marvel titles, notably the Hickman-written Avengers and New Avengers; along with the likes of Captain Marvel, Avengers Assemble, Nova, Superior Spider-Man Team-Up, Thunderbolts and more; plus miniseries like Infinity: The Heist and Infinity: The Hunt, both announced this past week.
Infinity takes a two-pronged approach, with the Avengers heading to space to confront the growing threat of The Builders, leaving Earth vulnerable to an attack from Thanos. As Brevoort tells it, it's a "direct outgrowth" of what Hickman has been doing in the Avengers books since last fall's Marvel NOW! relaunch, and only the first of significant spinoffs planned from his run.
Newsarama talked in detail with Brevoort about the event, and the integral role the Inhumans — long-running Marvel characters seemingly on the verge of a major push from the publisher — have been said to play in the story.
Newsarama: Tom, to speak fairly generally about Infinity, based on what we know about the story so far — the cosmic scale, the dual-pronged staging on both Earth and in outer space — it seems like such an ideal fit for Jonathan Hickman, the type of story that he was almost made to write. From your perspective as editor, is that how it feels seeing this come together? A story specifically designed for his strengths?
Tom Brevoort: Well, it's designed for his strengths essentially because he designed it. [Laughs].
Infinity is really a direct outgrowth of the work he's doing in Avengers and New Avengers, in the same sort of way that Secret Invasion was an outgrowth of the work Brian was doing in Mighty Avengers and New Avengers at the time.
I've got my Jonathan sound bite now — Jonathan writes science-fiction novels as comics. Each issue is like a chapter of Dune. When you get to the end, you can suddenly see that the stuff that was in chapter 3 affects the stuff that was in chapter 14, and plays off the things that are in chapter 31; and the big reveal that was in chapter 37 couldn't have existed without the stuff that was set up in chapter 3. That's just the way his brain works. Everything builds on everything else.
Infinity — I don't mean to undersell it — is the first crescendo, which means there are other ones that will follow. This is not the big wrap-up. This is sort of the first real movement. But it's a big, sweeping story in a style and in an arena that we haven't really played in all that much in recent memory. If Age of Ultron ultimately was about time, then Infinity is really about space.
Nrama: And Infinity also seems to be more of a conventional event in terms of the number of tie-ins — Age of Ultron had a limited number of tie-ins, and they were "AU" issues, Avengers vs. X-Men just tied into Avengers and X-Men books. Infinity already has been announced to have plenty of what you'd expected, plus some more unexpected tie-ins, like Thunderbolts and Superior Spider-Man Team-Up — why was this number of tie-ins the right way to go?
Brevoort: We tend to approach this the same way every time we do it, which is to say, we have a story, and the scope and the scale of the story tends to begin to dictate what opportunities there are for people to play around. There's stuff that's closer to the core, and there's stuff that's further away.
In the case of Infinity, as we did for most of the other events in recent memory, once we had our story locked in, we opened it up to the various creative teams, saying, "Hey, this is going on, here's when it's coming out, here's how it works, here's what you need to know to do a story, do you have something that you'd like to do during this time?" To some degree, the scale is determined by the number of people who show up with ideas that they want to execute that we think are any good. [Laughs.] In the case of Avengers vs. X-Men, we very specifically decided, relatively early on, to limit our tie-ins to only books that had Avengers and X-Men in the title.
Infinity is probably the first event we've done since Fear Itself that's a wide-reaching event story. But it's the size that it is essentially because that's what people came back with. The one thing I do want to mention, though, is that — and this should come as no great surprise — the issues of Avengers and New Avengers that will be shipping during those four months are the most critical of the tie-ins, and while you can read Infinity as just the core series; really to read it properly, you need to be reading Avengers and New Avengers.
Those two titles in particular, and Infinity, form the triumvirate that is Infinity for those four months. Beyond that, there are plenty of other tie-ins that are closer to the core, or further away from the core, depending on what the story is that they're telling. But when we sit down to do an event like this, we try mightily never to force anybody to be a part of what's going on. We certainly don't want them to contradict it. [Laughs.] But people either have a buy-in because they see merit in what we're doing, or they see an opportunity to advance something that they themselves want to do in their own book — or simply to get the spotlight onto themselves, because they're doing a good title, and here's a chance to get more people paying attention than have been so far. The reality tends to be a little from column A, a little from column B, a little from column C. But if people don’t want to tie-in, it's very, very rare that we'll say, "Oh no, you absolutely have to tie-in."
We know there's a need for critical mass — there's a need for enough tie-ins, whatever "enough" happens to be, so that it feels like the story has enough of a footprint in the Marvel Universe. But given that — if nobody else showed up to the game — Infinity was going to be the Infinity book, and Avengers for six issues, and four issues of New Avengers. We kind of had the footprint covered already. But it is a big story, it covers so many different areas both in space and on Earth, there were a lot of opportunities for people to connect to it in a lot of different places.
Nrama: It also seems like these types of things are cyclical, and that attitudes can change fairly regularly. "Too many tie-ins!" may have already become "There aren't enough tie-ins!" Have you noticed that?
Brevoort: That absolutely happened during Age of Ultron. Someone asking me questions said, "We know that Age of Ultron is all going to be erased and undone by the end, because there aren't many tie-ins. And therefore it's not going to impact on all these books." I kind of replied, "Take a step back, look at what you're telling me. You're telling me I need to have more tie-ins. So when the next one comes, and there are a lot more tie-ins, remember that you said this."
Again, it really just comes down to critical mass. How much is enough to make readers feel like what you're doing is going to be of significance, to not just that month's releases, but to the Marvel Universe in total, in the future?
Nrama: On the topic of Infinity — it's been established that Inhumans are playing a pretty big role in it; characters that Jonathan Hickman has been exploring since Fantastic Four. It feels like there's a definite push behind them from Marvel right now. We've seen it before, certainly with the cosmic characters recently. Is it accurate to say that the Inhumans have become a priority at Marvel more than recent years, to reintroduce them and give them some focus?
Brevoort: I don't know if I'd call it a "priority," but it's definitely sort of an agenda item. In the same way we spent a lot of time and energy — and continue to — in re-establishing and developing Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova, and the space end of the Marvel Universe, and making it feel significant and relevant, at the moment, we've now turned our attention to the Inhumans, who are a terrific bunch of characters, who have great names, great powers, a great back story, great history, great pedigree — but that somehow we've never quite been able to lick beyond the short-term, in terms of making them really important characters in the Marvel Universe. And we think we've got it figured out now. [Laughs.] Or at least we think we've got a take and an approach that's interesting, and that will get some people excited, and will give us the same opportunity that we've had with Guardians and the other cosmic stuff — to land them in a place where they're much more relevant to the Marvel Universe moving forward, and much more important characters.
This is hardly the last of these you're going to see us do. I'm sure that 12 months from now, we'll be talking about whatever the next thing is. "OK, there's gold here, let's dig that gold out, and polish it up and make it shiny."
Nrama: It's likely hard to trace the origin of what gets that type of ball rolling, but with the reality of how Marvel is structured now, there are a lot of different aspects and different considerations. But it also seems these things can crop up organically, as there are creators who are genuinely interested in these characters. How did the interest in Inhumans get going?
Brevoort: I think, like so many things, there's a zeitgeist. There was a point a couple of years ago now — I'm going to say seven, eight years ago — where, for no really discernible reason, everybody was suddenly interested in Moon Knight. Both fans and fan press — Wizard did a big thing on it at the time, I remember. I don't remember what kicked it off, and I don't know that any one thing kicked it off. It was suddenly like the biological clock going off. Everybody at once kind of went, "Moon Knight!" And that was the moment of Moon Knight.
These things sometimes just have their moments. There are also things that simmer along in the background. The notion that ties into what we're going to be doing with the Inhumans moving forward, we’ve had bits and pieces of it kicking around for the last year or two. It would get talked about at our various retreats and meetings, and maybe we'd move the ball up the field a little bit. Or we wouldn't, and the time wouldn't be right, and the constellations weren't quite in the right alignment to get the sort of traction that we needed.
Certainly, these are not characters that we haven't been using. Jonathan's using Black Bolt a lot, and Medusa's in FF right now regularly, which is the most exposure she's had in a long while. These are characters that are always kind of around, and in people's brains. I don't know that you could ever look back and find 12 months where there wasn’t some sort of Inhumans appearance. The specific thing that got us going — there was half of an idea, and then it became three-quarters of an idea, and then it became two ideas, and then it became four ideas, and then suddenly you had something that was worth doing.
Who will be next? It's hard to say. There are a million different characters in the Marvel Universe, and it really just boils down to where the zeitgeist happens to be when a bunch of us go into a room for three days — and what's going on outside in the world, as well.
Nrama: And the approach seems to be paying off at this point with Guardians of the Galaxy.
Brevoort: Yeah. Very happy with how that's turning out.
Nrama: And cast news from the film has made for nearly-daily entertainment headlines for months, which has to help.
Brevoort: It's a good thing that it’s a big team, because it gives us a lot of people to have to cast in the film, which means that the news cycle just keeps getting to go on longer.
Nrama: It's definitely one of those things — pick however many years ago, if you knew that not only was there going to be a Guardians of the Galaxy movie coming out, but that it would have plenty of big-name actors in it, and the comic would not only be a top-seller, but co-written for a few issues by Neil Gaiman — it's pretty surreal.
Brevoort: It's pretty crazy, and yet at the same time, what it shows is that any of this stuff, any of these characters, could have their big moment. It's the same sort of thing with Iron Man. It's become fait accompli because now there have been three enormously successful Iron Man films, and he's a character that's recognized around the world, but the year before Iron Man came out, everybody was saying, "Marvel Studios, they're going to do some movies, but all they got left are the crummy characters. They sold all the good stuff, so this is clearly not going to work, and be an enormous bomb." It was only after such a nice job was done with the first Iron Man that everybody kind of went, "Oh, of course."
To me, all it shows is that — particularly for the characters who have lasted the test of time — there is something intrinsic about each one of them that makes them appealing to an audience. If you can find that and put the right kind of creative brains behind it, you could make a success out of any of these things. So, yeah. aGuardians of the Galaxy movie, with Rocket Raccoon and Groot. Who would have thought, even three years ago? But it's a real thing. They're going to spend a billion dollars making a Rocket Raccoon and Groot movie. What a world we live in.