One might think that Marvel would be inclined to play it safe with Avengers. After all, there was that $1.5 billion movie earlier this year that ended up the third highest-grossing film of all time, and Brian Michael Bendis just — as in, just last week — wrapped eight years with Earth's Mightiest Heroes, perhaps the most influential and eventful run in the history of the series.
But instead of replicating the film dynamic or parroting what Bendis did, new series writer Jonathan Hickman is deliberately looking to avoid both, telling us that he's looking to "aggressively go forward into the Marvel Universe," something fans of his time on Fantastic Four and FF know that he's certainly capable of doing.
The Marvel NOW! Avengers aims to go "big," and that means a few different things: Scale, scope, setting and cast — with the final team consisting of 24 veteran Avengers, new characters and a few established Marvel heroes that have never been a part of the book before, like New Mutants alumni Sunspot and Cannonball.
With the first issue now on sale, Newsarama talked with Hickman about his plans for the book, his four initial artistic collaborators (Jerome Opeña, Adam Kubert, Dustin Weaver and Mike Deodato) and the importance of the main cast — as well as who isn't in the book.Newsarama: Jonathan, one thing that's been fairly consistent with Marvel NOW! books is that a lot of the creative teams are coming into their new books with a longer than average lead time. How long have you been in the development stage with Avengers? It seems like it's been at least since you left Ultimates, if not before then.
Jonathan Hickman: It's been a while. Probably at least nine months, we've been kind of hammering most of the bigger books out. It's been a retreat and a half ago, at least.
That was very smart of the editor-in-chief and all of our editorial guys, and the publisher, everybody that makes those decisions. I think all of the books have been pretty solid from the start, and I think stuff is being fairly well-received. I think the story that everybody is telling on most of these new books is really, really good stuff. It's been exciting for each of the creators. If everybody's doing bad work, and you do good work, you feel pretty good about yourself. If everybody's going great work, and you're doing OK work, you feel really bad about yourself. It's a competitive room.
I think the whole atmosphere that's been created, I think the incubation period has been really, really good. I think the whole thing has been handled really well. The winners are going to be both the market and the fans, having this stuff to read.
Nrama: And in taking on Avengers, it seems, especially now, like a title with almost limitless potential of what you can do, because "Avengers" has meant so many different things over the years., It's probably a more malleable concept than Fantastic Four, face — it's not locked in to as specific of a concept as so many other books. So do you see a lot of opportunity there to do something different?
Hickman: We certainly will. That's kind of the goal. Even if you look at something as rigid and locked-in as Fantastic Four, I think we broke the mold pretty hard on that. That's kind of what I'm going for. When you come on a book, you want to do a memorable run. You want people to be talking about it for years. Of course you want to be selling copies, but you want people to remember it fondly. I think you have to be ambitious, and I think you have to try some new things, and we're most certainly going to do that on Avengers and .
Nrama: Another consistent quality of Marvel NOW! books is that a lot of the teams are coming onto titles after classic, iconic runs with characters. You're following eight years of Brian Michael Bendis on Avengers, in what was an incredibly eventful and influential era of the franchise. The consensus seems to be that the best way to honor what came before is to do something completely different — does that line up with your way of thinking?
Hickman: Of course. If you wanted somebody to come on the book and be Bendis Lite, why offer Brian something different? Obviously, I want to do something different. I'm also hyper-aware of a couple different things. Obviously Avengers is a successful franchise anyway you can frame it. Possibly, right now, the most successful franchise in the industry.
Even if all of that stuff wasn't there, like you said, I'm following arguably the most influential Avengers writer since Jack and Stan. I understand that it's a big challenge, and I'm certainly not skittish about it, or worried — I'm more enthused, and honored that I got asked. Brian's a good friend, and a great guy. I can't think of anybody else I'd rather be trying to one-up.
Nrama: And there was a bit of a lead-in to your run in Bendis's last issue of Avengers — confirming in print that the new series is about going big, in terms of what the Avengers are dealing with, in scope, in setting, and also obviously also in terms of membership of the team. There's going to be, ultimately, 24 characters on the roster, right?
Hickman: That's where we end up at, yeah.
Nrama: What motivated that decision? Did it just seem like the natural direction to go in at this point? It feels like it matches your sensibilities.
Hickman: It wasn't a decision that I made just because the first thing I thought was, "We have to jam more characters into the book." It always came out of the story I wanted to tell. When I sat down, and I told [Tom] Brevoort what my plan was, having a bigger Avengers group was just kind of a natural outgrowth of that. I think it's right for the story. I think it's appropriate for the theme and the setting and the kind of adventures that they're going to be facing. It just was right for the story — and to contrast what's going on in New Avengers, which has a smaller, tighter group.
Nrama: What was the process of putting together the team like? Did you pretty much know who you wanted from the start?
Hickman: We labored over three or four spots, but a lot of the members come out of the story that we're going to tell, so a lot of it was very easy. Some of it less so, simply because it's really hard to project years down the road, regardless of how hard you try. And we have other things that we're doing at Marvel that we feel have natural connectivity, and it's better to address that stuff upfront than it is having it drop onto your lap. If you're doing your due diligence, you want to take all that stuff into consideration.
Nrama: The series contains the six movie Avengers — was that simply a no-brainer, or were they also characters you were definitely interested in using regardless?
Hickman: I don't think anyone that saw the movie and was a comic fan, and liked the movie, didn't immediately want to see that comic. I don't know anybody that doesn't like all those characters more now, either — just like everybody now kind of writes Iron Man as Robert Downey Jr. We just do it, because it works — it just completely crystallized him.
I thought it was not only a no-brainer, I love writing Captain America and Thor and Iron Man, anyway. I love writing those characters. The Hulk seemed a lot more appropriate after the movie. It was an easy choice.
It's the same way with Spider-Man and Wolverine. You put those characters in there because they're arguably Marvel's biggest characters. But also, I happen to enjoy writing Spider-Man. So given the option of leaving him in the book or taking him out, I would like to leave him in there, because I've had a lot of fun writing him in the last year or so. And I've never gotten to write Wolverine. I love that character; I can't think of any reason I would take him out. The big eight — the movie people, plus Spider-Man and Wolverine — those are the people Tom definitely wanted to keep in there, and I completely agreed, and I would have made the argument to keep them even if he had been against it.
Nrama: Since your Avengers is debuting in the same year as the very popular movie — as in, third highest-grossing movie in history popular —how much that affect your outlook? It certainly looks like you're doing something in tone and scale that's very different, although there are connections.
Hickman: I think that would be a mistake. I think that would be the same mistake as trying to write the book like Brian. I think that would be the complete wrong way to go — so I'm not. [Laughs.]
I say take it further. Do something they can't do in the movies, something that would literally break the bank. So that's kind of where we're headed.
Nrama: Within the lineup you're working with, there are the big names we mentioned, but also new characters, plus unexpected ones like Sunspot and Cannonball . Obviously part of that is probably wanting to do something different with the team and concept, but is it also motivated by a notion of populating the book with characters that are in other books, ones you can control solely?
Hickman: Yeah — the place to get the character evolution of Captain America is the Captain America book. The Hulk book is the Hulk book, and the Thor book is the Thor book. We've filled the book up with characters that you can control inside of the Avengers, that I'm the only person writing them, so it becomes about their evolution. If you were doing — and I'm not — a hypothetical hero's journey for Sunspot and Cannonball, the hero that you would want to compare them to is Captain America, for example. That's kind of the way that it works. It's always through the prism of the archetypal Avengers.
As to why those two characters are in there? Those are my vanity picks. Everybody else is almost entirely story-driven. Bobby and Sam was me saying, "You know what, I'm going to stick Bobby and Sam in there." I'll completely cop to that. Guilty!
Nrama: And a couple of the new characters have been revealed, kind of, at this point — Smasher and a new Captain Universe.
Hickman: Yeah. Smasher is the first human member of the Imperial Guard. Obviously there's a story there.
Captain Universe is radically different than the traditional Captain Universe, how the uni-force jumps from person to person.
Nrama: "The hero that could be you."
Hickman: Right. Something happens that breaks that Captain Universe paradigm, and sucks our Avengers into a really huge adventure — and gives us a brand-new character.
Nrama: You're also using Hyperion , which could mean several different things, because there have been several different versions of the character. Which one is this?
Hickman: This is yet another parallel universe Hyperion. This is not King Hyperion, or Supreme Power Hyperion, this is not Gruenwald's Hyperion. This is Hyperion without all that baggage. This is Hyperion with a fresh slate, for a very specific purpose. He comes out of what the big story is behind the whole Avengers three-year plan that I have. He's very important, very pivotal, and I think people are really going to dig where we go with that. He's not going to be our poor analogue for Superman.
Nrama: Way back in July in the original Entertainment Weekly article that announced Marvel NOW!, you mentioned Shang-Chi would be playing a part, but I haven't heard much about the character since then. Is he still in the mix?
Hickman: Oh, absolutely. The way we're doing this, structurally, is that we have these big adventures where everybody's in the book. Then we have a series of one-off issues where we have smaller teams. He's in the big first thing, and then he's fighting for airtime along with everybody else, because there are so many people in the book.
He's got big stuff in issue #6, and then again in issue #9, I think; maybe #10. He serves a really specific purpose, and I think people are going to dig that. It's always good to have a calming influence in the room that can also punch through a wall, I say. Cool character, excited as hell to be writing him.
Nrama: And then once that original tri-fold cover that revealed much of the lineup was released a few months back, there was some criticism online that there weren't enough women or minorities on the team. In return, Marvel made it clear that it wasn't the entire roster, and the final team will "reflect the world." Since that debate happened so early before issue #1 was even out, how frustrating was it to see that there were people already judging what the book would be like at that point? Or does that kind of come with the territory?
Hickman: People saying insanely stupid and insensitive things about you because they're just reacting to something that they care about… It's not malicious towards me. It's more of a reflection of things that they're frustrated with. I get that. That's kind of how the world is lately, anyway. Everybody throwing an immediate tantrum, and then backing out of it. [Laughs.] It's just kind of what we do.
It comes with the territory, and you can't really get upset by it. I try very hard not to get upset about it. That was particularly frustrating, because it was a marketing piece that just was, "These are the guys that you know — not everybody. Isn't this a cool, exciting visual?" And instead it turned into something else. I guess the point is that we maybe should have done something more expansive, but we didn't want to give away all the new characters that we were doing. There was also a portion of it, too, that I expect people not to judge a book by its cover. I think that's not unwise advice.
But again, I get it. Maybe we should have handled it differently, but it doesn't change that the guts of the book were always going to be guts of the book, so all of the arguments were completely pointless and baseless. There was no "there" there. A little frustrating, mostly just irritating. Yes, it comes with the territory, but nobody's going to give a sh*t once we start shopping books. It's just all there.
Nrama: And some of that is the nature of putting material out there so early.
Hickman: I wish we didn't have to show interior pages, marketing-wise. But that's the pre-sale direct market. We kind of have to do that. I would love it if people went to the comics stand — went to the 7-11 like we used to do when we were kids — and picked up the book, and saw the cover for the first time, and read the book for the first time, without having any idea what was in it. I miss that immensely.
Nrama: There definitely have been a lot of Marvel NOW! interior pages released — the last scene of All-New X-Men #1 was in a preview book a month before the issue came out.
Hickman: I fight that stuff as much as I can. I try to talk everybody into doing unlettered versions of pages. But listen, Marvel knows what they're doing in regards to that. They can literally tell you how much orders go up when they put a lettered version of the first couple pages online. It's crazy. Those are the metrics, and as much as I love surprises, I suppose I have to cop to loving my paycheck more.
Nrama: And most everyone so far has liked what they've seen from the Avengers preview pages.
Hickman: We've got a fantastic team, man. Jerome, and Dustin, and Adam, and man, Deo's just turning in killer stuff right now, too. We might f*ck it up down the road, but the first 12 issues are going to be glorious.
Nrama: Since you're working with four different artists in the first 12 issues, have you been able to write to their individual strengths?
Hickman: We structured it to hit stuff as strongly as we could. That's why the guys are in the order that they're in. I try and write specifically for everybody I'm working with.
I think we're going to be pretty fine for the first year without too many hiccups. After that, we'll reassess. But I think we're going to be OK.
Nrama: The book is twice monthly — was that your idea?
Hickman: It was my idea. I wanted to do something that had more velocity than any other book in the market. I wanted to do something that felt heavier than it was, because of the frequency. I have things that I like to try, and this was one of them. You don't get opportunities of guaranteed eyeballs to do experiments like this, and man, it feels like it's going to work in a big way. The immensity of this thing, and the velocity of it, and the talent behind it, and the style and scope of the story — I think it's going to be very interesting to see where we're at in a year.
Nrama: The lineup is a big one, but were there any characters that you were specifically looking to avoid? It seems that there's a certain section of characters who have historically been best known for being Avengers — Hank Pym, Wasp, Wonder Man, Vision — that don't appear to be a part of the book. Was that a category you were intentionally straying away from, or am I inventing this?
Hickman: No. Beyond needing certain characters for certain jobs — needing certain pieces for the engine to work properly — I was very conscious to not look back, and revisit a bunch of older Avengers characters. That's not what this book is.
Fantastic Four was about nostalgia. It was about romantic notions. That's not what this is. This is as aggressively going forward into the Marvel Universe as we possibly can, and that means we don't revisit what Stern did, and we don't revisit the Kree/Skrull War, and we don't do any of that. I don't think you're imagining that. It was intentional that we didn't go backwards at all.
Nrama: Does that extend to villains, too? Or are we going to see some of the older faces?
Hickman: Some, but not the way you've seen them before. The old-school Masters of Evil aren't showing up.More from Newsarama:
- The 10 Greatest AVENGERS Lineups of ALL TIME!
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