Al Ewing is one part of the two-man team responsible for writing Marvel's epic Empyre event, which brings the combined Kree/Skrull Alliance to Earth (as well as the Avengers' sometimes allies the Cotati) - and in Empyre #0: Avengers, Ewing will delve into the different sides of the upcoming conflict to set the stage for the cosmic conflagration.
With the Skrull, Kree, Cotati, Avengers, Fantastic Four, and more on the board for Empyre, decades of Marvel continuity are coming to bear around Hulkling and his combined Kree/Skrull army. Newsarama spoke with Ewing ahead of Empyre #0: Avengers' April 1 release to discover exactly how this all comes together, and what's in store for the Avengers as they face one of their own alongside some of their oldest foes.
Newsarama: Al, you’ve been building to what’s going on in Empyre for years now, across multiple titles and numerous threads. What’s it like finally seeing it come together?
Al Ewing: Well, it's nice to have the opportunity to advance a couple of those plot threads - I always hoped I'd have the scope at some point to make some of the moves we're making as a result of Empyre, so to have this all come together as it has is incredibly gratifying. While it wasn't a solid plan as such - I have a tendency to "seed" plot points that might become something down the line - it's fun to see some of those seeds I planted grow things we can use here.
Nrama: Obviously there are some big connections to Avengers history in Empyre thanks to “Kree/Skrull War” and more. How does that history set the stage for the Empyre #0: Avengers one-shot you’re writing?
Ewing: It spins out of how the Kree/Skrull War began in the first place - essentially, the Skrulls were a very technologically advanced and peaceful race when they happened to check in on Hala, home of the Kree, during a more primitive phase of development, when the Kree were violent stone age hunters.
But the Kree shared their planet with another alien species - the Cotati, a race of pacifist plant people. The Skrulls set up a contest to see which species would represent Hala to them - essentially, who could make better use of the resources on a barren moon near some no-account planet. That happened to be our moon - the Skrulls created the Blue Area, a pocket of atmosphere, as the "arena".
The Kree built a massive city using Skrull technology and their own hard work - that was the Watcher's home, before he died - but the Cotati grew a garden, and that was more impressive. When they got back home, the Kree saw which way the wind was blowing and massacred the Cotati so they'd win by default, and when the Skrulls complained, they slaughtered them too and stole all their stuff, getting a massive technological jump-start.
And that's how the Kree-Skrull War began! The question is, what happened to the Cotati - and where do they fit into the Kree-Skrull Peace?
Nrama: The Cotati are a less well-known component of Marvel lore, but they play a key role in both Empyre overall and in this one-shot. What’s their stake in the ‘Last War’?
Ewing: They've returned to the Blue Area to grow their garden again, as part of a push to re-establish themselves in the galaxy. And obviously, the Avengers have been firm friends of Quoi, the Celestial Messiah of the Cotati, since before he was even born. His mother, Mantis, is an Avenger in good standing.
So when the Cotati see the Kree and the Skrulls massing to approach Earth and warn the Avengers, the Avengers come running to help... and the story begins.
Nrama: Hulkling – Emperor Dorrek VIII – has a longstanding Avengers history himself. How does that factor in to Empyre and how he approaches his role as leader of their old arch-enemies?
Ewing: Hulkling became Emperor to save lives. By taking on the role, he was able to end the ongoing hot-and-cold war between the Kree and Skrulls, as well as call a halt to the smaller Kree Civil War. So by becoming Emperor, he's already saved millions of lives - but now, he's got a difficult job to do, and various hard decisions to make. All I can say for now is that he believes he's acting for the best of reasons - we're not turning Teddy into a moustache-twirling, cackling villain.
Nrama Pepe Larraz, who just came off of helping revamp the X-Men, is drawing Empyre #0: Avengers. What’s it like having an artist of his caliber joining you for this story?
Ewing: It's wonderful to work with Pepe again - we haven't collaborated since an old issue of Avengers Assemble back in the day - and it's been great to see him spreading his wings on House Of X. That was one of the books of the year last year, and as a reader I enjoyed it immensely, so it's great to be able to work with Pepe in the aftermath of that. He's done an incredible job on this one - I think readers will really feel the sense of myth and wonder we wanted to convey as the Avengers meet the Cotati again.
Nrama: You and Pepe have 30 pages of story together for this one-shot. How does that economy of pages affect what you add to each scene? What strategies do you employ to capitalize on that kind of one-and-done partnership while you’ve got it?
Ewing: With 30 pages to play with, I was able to get into some sweeping vistas and use double spreads to add a sense of scale to the bigger moments. As this is going to be the introduction to the story for a lot of people, I wanted to create an overture of sorts, to get readers pumped up, not just for the action ahead, but for the grandeur involved - after all, this isn't just an Avengers/FF crossover, it's a story of intergalactic empires clashing and coming together, so it's important to set the right tone from the start.
Nrama: Moving into the overall Empyre series, you’re working alongside Fantastic Four writer Dan Slott who, like you, is no stranger to group storytelling with multiple writers. How is the rapport you’ve developed as fellow masters of Marvel lore?
Ewing: Dan's an idea machine, and his knowledge of the far reaches of Marvel continuity vastly outstrips mine - he was great during the idea-generation process, and bringing in the Cotati as a sort of counterpoint to the Kree and the Skrulls was entirely his idea.
In terms of the main series, he's been extremely gracious at letting me take most of the reins of this and tell the story my way - which includes letting me take the FF for a spin, which has been great fun all the way.
Nrama: The millions of years long conflict between the Kree and Skrull is a huge part of Marvel Universe history – but one rule in Avengers comics is, the old order changeth. How did the idea to unite the Kree and Skrull come about? Was that a hard sell at any point?
Ewing: I think it's been in the cards for a while - I've been pushing for it occasionally, and I think it was a case of like minds on the editorial side. Certainly it's very good timing in terms of what I've been pushing to do with Marvel Space as a whole since I came onto Guardians of the Galaxy - create new connective tissue, and treat the whole cosmic arena as an interlinked and interlocking space, with causes and effects ricocheting off each other and Earth in the middle. Empyre is a major step on the road to that goal, and it'll have major consequences that we'll be exploring in Marvel Space books like Guardians.
Nrama: How aware were you when you were setting the stage for Empyre as far back as New Avengers that this is how things would play out? The seeds of this tale go back even further, to the original Young Avengers series over a decade ago. At what point did you decide to grab that baton?
Ewing: A lot of comic writing in a shared superhero universe involves standing on the shoulders of giants - when I wrote Hulkling getting the star-sword in New Avengers, it was very much building on what Allen Heinberg had contributed before, and writers like Steve Englehart and Roy Thomas had contributed before that. Back then, I assumed I was putting another brick in that structure, and either I'd be the one to make it pay off or somebody else would - but I'm glad it was me in the end, because I love writing Hulkling!
Nrama: Empyre is a sprawling epic that touches almost the entire Marvel Universe. What makes this kick-off story a must-read part of that saga?
Ewing: The Marvel Universe we get coming out of this will not be the same Marvel Universe we get going in - this is a story that's going to change things galaxy-wide, and I'm hoping it convinces a new generation of Marvel fans to look to the stars and find just how much action and adventure Marvel Space has to offer.