Inside AVENGERS ‘Time Runs Out’ – and the Original Plans for SECRET WARS

Interlocking covers to Avengers #44 and New Avengers #33 by Dustin Weaver
Interlocking covers to Avengers #44 and New Avengers #33 by Dustin Weaver
Credit: Marvel Comics
Avengers March 2015 covers
Avengers March 2015 covers
Credit: Marvel Entertainment

Time is almost up for Avengers and New Avengers’ “Time Runs Out.” The storyline, which pits Avenger against Avengers while entire universes die out in Incursions, is a storyline series writer Jonathan Hickman has been building to for years, and it comes to a head this season with the finales of both titles in April and the launch of Secret Wars in May.

Newsarama talked with Tom Brevoort about recent events in the “Time Runs Out” saga, as well as talk about the Dustin Weaver’s inter-locking covers to April’s Avengers #44 and New Avengers #33, which will be the final issues of those two series. Brevoort directly answered questions about the Fantastic Four’s role in the storyline amidst rumors about them being diminished at Marvel, as well as the original plans for Secret Wars as a follow up not to Hickman’s Avengers run but rather his Secret Warriors several years ago.

Newsarama: Tom, the past two issues under the “Time Runs Out” umbrella have featured an enormous cast, including New Avengers #28’s battle of one-upsmanship between Reed and Steve. It looks like the Illuminati is triumphant here, but how would you describe how things stand?

Tom Brevoort: Well, I don’t know that triumphant is quite the right word for it. Also, I’m going to have to duck and dodge a bit here as I’m a few issues ahead of you in terms of what you have read and what I’ve sent to print. Remembering what’s in each one specifically gets difficult once they’re in my rear-view mirror.

With “Time Runs Out,” the whole of the Marvel Universe is facing an enormous and seemingly unsolvable extinction event; it’s the thing the Illuminati have been grappling with since the beginning of Jonathan’s New Avengers. At this moment, it seems they have the upper and at least gotten the attention of the pursuing S.H.I.E.L.D. Avengers and the Sunspot-led Avengers, but none of that really solves the actual problem of the Incursions. Unless something changes soon, it will continue to blow up other worlds and their earth – their universe – will be annihilated. While these fisticuff conflicts were all born out of legitimate concern and emotion, none of it deals with the larger problem of what’s causing all of this.

Nrama: In these issues, we’ve really seen Reed come to the forefront here – and Susan showing up in the end of New Avengers #28 locking everyone down. The Fantastic Four have individually been in the Avengers before, but would you classify them as Avengers first here? Or do you think the nature of “Time Runs Out” opens the door to be more than just an Avengers team book?

Brevoort: Well, sort of. Reed has been a part of the New Avengers for 30 issues now; he was there right from the start as part of the Illuminati even before New Avengers. For all of you who think of him as always Fantastic Four, that’s legitimate, but he’s been a part of the Illuminati and this story all along. As for Sue, she didn’t really come along in a big way until the jump ahead and into “Time Runs Out.” But from that point on, she's been a major character in this Avengers story and certainly she and Reed both have their moments and make an impact just like anyone else involved.

One of the beautiful things about the Avengers is that they’re Earth’s mightiest heroes, gathered from all corners of the globe and across the universe. That allows for a diverse range of characters to be a part of the team depending on the circumstance. And like you said, it’s not like we haven’t seen members of the FF in the Avengers before, but you are right that Reed is more prominent than he’s ever been in the Avengers – but this isn’t new, but built on years of storytelling about Reed being in the Illuminati. At different points in this we’ve had other Illuminati such as Namor, the Black Panther, Black Bolt, Iron Man and the Beast come to the fore, but this being Reed’s time is not surprising.

Nrama: And seeing Reed and Sue in such prominent roles in Marvel’s biggest storyline currently – what would you say to the rumors that Marvel is phasing out the Fantastic Four?

Brevoort: It really doesn’t matter what I say. People are going to believe what they choose to believe, and people are going to make hay out of stirring the pot and fanning the flames – planting and harvesting that click bait. What we do is tell stories with all the Marvel Universe characters, as we have all along. Certain people have gotten nervous to the point of craziness, but the proof is in the books we’re putting out.

I could literally say anything, but it won’t make any difference. People are just afraid, and let fear overwhelm them.

Nrama: I’ll leave it at that for now.

Let’s talk about Namor. He reared his head in the most recent issue as part of the Illuminati again, after being trying to control the villainous Cabal with Thanos and others. What does seeing Namor here, back amongst the heroes, mean for the Cabal and the Illuminati?

Brevoort: Certainly the fact that Namor is here is just an outgrowth of what we’ve seen from him since jumping ahead into “Time Runs Out.” One of the very first things you saw was him seeking out the aid of Doctor Doom because trying to corral the Cabal is a lot more difficult than he thought it would be. Things were getting way out of hand there, and I think Namor showing up here means that same sort of thing. Just as much as any other character in this story, Namor is caught between a rock and a hard place, trying to make the best out of a bad situation. He’s looking for solutions, and appearing alongside or amongst the Illuminati is him trying to find a way out of this. We’ll see how it plays out pretty soon.

Nrama: Speaking of pretty soon, coming up here in January is Avengers #40 and New Avengers #29. Unless I’m mistaken, that’s the Beyonder on the latter’s cover. What can you say to that?

This dude on the New Avengers #29 cover sort of reminds you of the Beyonder, no?
This dude on the New Avengers #29 cover sort of reminds you of the Beyonder, no?
Credit: Marvel Comics

Brevoort: I don’t know if I want to confirm or deny that. It certainly looks a lot like the Beyonder, and giving that we’re building up to an event called Secret Wars that would make sense. New Avengers #29 comes out pretty soon, and I think that’ll give plenty of confirmation on who exactly that is on the cover.

But no question about poor Yellowjacket on the cover there? Awwww…

Nrama: He’s had a pretty good couple of weeks with all this Ant-Man press.

There’s another cover I want to ask you about: February’s Avengers #41, which features the all-too-familiar Bryan Hitch cover to The Ultimates #1. Is this just an example of Marvel dusting off an old piece of art to repurpose, or are you and Jonathan Hickman up to something here tom?

Brevoort: [laughs] It’s most certainly the latter. We could have gotten someone to do a different take based on Bryan’s original piece, but using that piece itself certainly implies something. Exactly what it implies I’ll leave it up to people to conjecture about, but we made a deliberate choice when we chose that image – and it did what we hoped it would do: make people talk. There is certain stuff going on in Avengers #41 with the Ultimates.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: It was an interesting choice – I could have easily imagined you getting one of your cover artists to do a homage to Bryan’s cover, but instead you just went back to the source. Did it take time to come to that simple solution, or was it there from the get-go?

Brevoort: When Jonathan and I were talking about what the cover for Avengers #41 might be, it came up. I don’t remember if it was of his thought or mine, but I’ll assume it was his and it seemed like a good thought. Plus, it was easy to do and I was sure I’d have it in time for the catalog. We reached out to Bryan Hitch about it, and paid him for the re-use and so forth to get it all covered.

Nrama: Speaking big picture, “Time Runs Out” must have come out of a couple summits and a lot of phone calls and emails between you and Jonathan. Given that, did you ever do a chalkboard style visual of the storyline ala that John Romita Jr. Panel from the “Heroic Age”-era Avengers #1?

Brevoort: Not in the same sort of way. And actually, this wasn’t talked about much at summits.

What we’ve had for many many months has been a very basic issue-by-issue breakdown with around one line of description each of what each issue would contain. It goes back to the start of Jonathan’s Avengers/New Avengers run, and it’s adapted and change as we’ve gone along. That’s as close as we get to mapping out things in that manner.

But “Time Runs Out” and Secret Wars are still fluid enough that some stuff still just exists up in Jonathan’s head. I just got a script in from him last week that had something happen to a character that I didn’t know would happen. It took me by surprise as it wasn’t part of the plan up until that point, but not in a bad way.

For example, the “Original Sin” issues of Avengers and New Avengers was pretty light in the planning stage. It pretty much said “Infinite Avengers” leads into “The Last Avenger,” then we jump ahead. The plan was very basic; if I put it in front of you, you wouldn’t know what all of it meant – even the things that have already happened.

Nrama: So what was your earliest memories of “Time Runs Out” being brought up?

Brevoort: It was in Jonathan’s original pitch for Avengers/New Avengers. Whereas most other big events have a little bit more thread going through other places, “Time Runs Out” is all just Jonathan telling a story.

And the idea for Secret Wars predated even that pitch by Jonathan. “Time Runs Out” was mentioned, not by name, but in a very sketchy thing for an idea to do three years into his run on Avengers and New Avengers should he reach that point. “Then we jump ahead,” pretty much. I didn’t know what he was referring to at the time, but it all came about since.

Nrama: You mentioned something interesting – Secret Wars was being discussed before Jonathan even took over Avengers /New Avengers from Brian Michael Bendis. What is the origin of that then?

Brevoort: I’m trying to remember. I think it was while he was working on Secret Warriors and we had maybe started talking about Fantastic Four. At that time, Jonathan had an idea for a book that would be called Secret Wars but actually ended up being the story, in a way, he’s told so far in Avengers and New Avengers. The Illuminati, dealing with alternate universes and incursions… it all goes back to the middle of Secret Warriors as an idea of his. When the opportunity arose for him to take over the Avengers book, he said he’d like to do that story here and tailor it for the two titles structurally. Had that not have happened, he probably would have officially pitched doing a series containing that story called Secret Wars or something else.

The original thinking was that each of these incursions amounted to being a Secret War. Two Earths coming together and in eight hours, one of them is dust. It’s come to mean something slightly different now with what we’ve done in Avengers and New Avengers and, of course, Secret Wars.

Nrama: So we got a look at the connecting covers of April’s Avengers #44 and New Avengers #33 by Dustin Weaver. I know you can’t divulge spoilers, but just the cover itself – looks like Steve Rogers back as Cap versus Superior Iron Man - but that’s not the older Steve Rogers, from what I can tell. We just saw him take down a host of Shang Chi’s even in his advanced age, but is these April covers revealing Steve will revert in age?

Brevoort: Steve only looks younger there because of Dustin’s style. He’s not rejuvenated. That’s still an older Steve Rogers. I can tell you that definitively.

Interlocking covers to Avengers #44 and New Avengers #33 by Dustin Weaver
Interlocking covers to Avengers #44 and New Avengers #33 by Dustin Weaver
Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: Chris D’Lando at Marvel told me these are the final issues of Avengers and New Avengers. But can you confirm that? The end of those series here?

Brevoort: Yes, these April issues are in fact the final issues. After a scant 77 issues, we’re finally ready to go into our big event. [laughs] It only took us 77 issues to get there.

Nrama: So there won’t be a new Avengers or New Avengers series on comic shelves in May? Or during Secret Wars’ run?

Brevoort: Correct. That’ll continue as far as we know it. There won’t be anything in June either. Beyond that, who knows.

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