The Avengers are a world wide phenomenon in the Marvel Universe. Their adventures are usually large, bombastic affairs involving threats that place the entire world in peril. This May, the Avengers just might become a global sensation in the real world when a blockbuster feature film adaptation hits theaters. The titular characters in the film are a combination of the team's founding and most popular members including Captain America, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Hawkeye and the Black Widow.
That line up will also take center stage in the Marvel Universe this March when they and several other unrevealed characters become the stars of the all-new ongoing "Avengers Assemble" series by the legendary team that created Marvel's "Ultimate Spider-Man" series, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley. CBR News spoke with the creators about the project, which was announced by Marvel today at their "Cup O' Joe" panel at New York Comic Con.
Bendis has been the guiding force behind the Avengers franchise for the past seven years and currently writes both the "Avengers" and "New Avengers" titles. Several months ago when Marvel began working on a new series that would capitalize on the release of the Avengers feature film, he was naturally at the top of their list.
"Marvel came to me and said, 'We're really happy with the plans we have, but the movie is coming and we we're wondering if you could come up with something that featured the cast of the movie in a way that felt organic to you?'" Bendis told CBR News. "They made it clear to me that if I didn't have something it was okay and they would approach other people, but I did have something. And that was also right around the time that Bagley made it clear that he'd like a crack at the Avengers. I was approached about this book literally a week after he told me that, so I quickly said yes."
Editor Tom Brevoort then approached Bagley about the project. "Basically, Tom called me up and asked, 'How about you and Brian doing an Avengers book?' He laid things out for me and it's exactly the assignment I've been wanting to do for years," Mark Bagley said. "I made it pretty clear that I was dying to work on the Avengers right around the time I left Marvel to do some work with DC, and I loved working with Brian. He's just been killing on his Avengers work. Of the comics I buy, Brian's Avengers work is some of my favorite. I'd be reading those books going, 'Damn! I wish I could be drawing this.' So they figured we'd make a really good team, have a book that would come out on time, and cause a lot of excitement."
Bagley made his return to Marvel this year after spending several years at DC drawing comics like "Trinity" and "JLA." His first story back was "The Death of Spider-Man" storyline in "Ultimate Spider-Man." He will follow that up with the November's "Fear Itself: The Fearless" miniseries, a project that helped him become reacquainted with some of the characters that will appear in "Avengers Assemble."
"I've drawn Captain America a few times in 'The Fearless' and I've drawn him before so I'm pretty comfortable with Cap. It takes me a little time to get used to drawing a character, though. I haven't really had a chance to get completely comfortable with all of the characters yet." Bagley stated. "I'm always trying to improve my take on different characters.
Bendis knows there's a potentially huge audience for his and Bagley's take on the Avengers; both established readers and new ones who have discovered the team through the feature film. For that reason, he wanted "Avengers Assemble" to be a book that was accessible and full of surprising revelations.
"This will be an example of everything we are doing right at Marvel coming at fans of the current set of Avengers books. It's in continuity and it will focus more on the movie cast, but the difference is it's not going to be some clumsy tie-in. I told Marvel that it would be really great if the book had some stuff going on that was pretty surprising and shocking to both fans of the book and fans of the movie. They said that would be great," Bendis explained. "I was writing 'Daredevil' right around the time when the movie came out. I liked that the stuff I got to do was so shocking that people could go, 'Oh did you like the movie? Check this out.' And I wanted to do something similar with 'Avengers Assemble'; something that wasn't just a regurgitation of the movie or a soft pedaled version of the movie. It was about using certain movie elements that we all found attractive and building upon them to create this new story that would really blow the roof off the place.
"My place on the Marvel Creative Committee has allowed me to see everything in the movie," Bendis continued. "I'm just so proud of it and so happy to be part of it that this is kind of my valentine to the film. It's also my valentine to all that we've done so far and all that we can still do in comics. It's a great thing."
"Avengers Assemble" also afforded Bendis the opportunities to explore some characters that haven't really appeared in any of his books and revisit others that he wanted to do more with. The Incredible Hulk falls into the former category. In "Avengers" Bendis got to write the new Red Hulk character, but "Avengers Assemble" marks the first time the writer has penned the original jade giant in a starring role.
"I had a couple of moments with him in 'The Illuminati' and some stuff here and there, but in this book he's certainly going to be a big deal as far as screen time is concerned," Bendis said. "This will tie in to where Jason Aaron's ' Incredible Hulk' series is at come March, and I've had a lot of Hulk ideas rolling around in my head thanks to some of the conversations we've been having about his cinematic counterpart. Those discussions have been my favorite part of the various talks we've had over the years about the Avengers film. They got me pretty excited about writing the character."
Bagley was also excited about the chance to work with Hulk. "I've drawn the character before. He guest-starred in a couple issues of 'Thunderbolts,' but I've never had a chance to really work on him and get comfortable enough to nail him down. I did a special 'Requiem' issue of 'Ultimate Spider-Man' with the Hulk. That was the last time I got to draw him and that was so much fun. I guess I should also mention that I did the comic adaptation of the Ang Lee's 'Hulk' film, which worked out really well," the artist joked.
Bendis has written characters Captain America and Iron Man many times before, and Bagley has drawn them each several times, but that didn't stop the artist from having some trouble with the latest incarnation of Iron Man.
"That new Iron Man armor is tough to draw!" Bagley said. "I'm working it out, but when I first started I had to have four different shots of it sitting on my desk to draw it for the cover that we're doing. It's got some real funky lines to it. I miss the old simple armor."
Iron Man, the Hulk and Captain America are some of the most powerful and well-known members of the Avengers, but the film adaptation and "Avengers Assemble" will also feature cast members like Hawkeye and Black Widow. Both characters have a long history that connects them to the Avengers and each other.
"I'm very interested in exploring their history together," Bendis said. "I enjoyed writing the Widow in 'Mighty Avengers and I had plans for her in that book that I never got to. I've actually been a fan of hers from the get go. It's funny, people think I created the character Snapdragon that's appearing in 'Moon Knight' right now, but that character is from the 'Marvel Fanfare' issues that Ralph Macchio wrote and George Perez drew that featured the Black Widow. I also liked her as an Avenger. In the Roy Thomas issues her entrance into the Avengers was so contentious; she was in, she was out, she was good, she was bad, and she ended up there anyhow. So I liked that about her."
Hawkeye and Black Widow are also connected in the fact that they lack any real super powers. That doesn't mean they'll be any less important than some of the high-powered characters like the Hulk. "There are things that Hawkeye and Black Widow can do that those guys can't. Strength isn't always the answer," Bendis explained. "For instance, Black Widow is a super spy. Like Wolverine, she's someone Captain America can go to when he needs some dirty work done."
Bagley can't wait to depict some of the unique feats Hawkeye and Black Widow are capable of. "They're both fun characters to draw," the artist stated. "The Black Widow is the Black Widow in this series, but Hawkeye is going to have a costume that's more reminiscent of the one he wears in 'The Ultimates' and the movie. I'm going to miss drawing that funky mask, but I like drawing full faces as well. It's going to be good."
His costume may be different in "Avengers Assemble," but the facial and physical features of Hawkeye and the rest of the cast are staying the same. "I don't want to give the impression that I'm doing likenesses of the actors in the movie," Bagley stated. "Hawkeye has a costume that's a little more like the movie, but aside from that I don't believe there's really any other pure, strict visual connections to the movie. I'm not even thinking about doing likenesses because my likenesses are terrible."
In the past, some Avengers teams have come together because a handful of random heroes happened to have the good fortune to all be fighting the same villains at the same time. In this case, the cast of "Avengers Assemble" is going to be a unit hand picked by Captain America. The Sentinel of Liberty brings them together to combat the newest incarnation of a classic Avengers threat, the villain group known as the Zodiac.
"I've loved the Zodiac concept ever since I was a kid and they've been on my 'to do' list of characters and concepts ever since I started working on the Avengers books," Bendis explained. " I know some people know Zodiac as the name of the character that Joe Casey just used, but I'm talking about the old school villain group. I love them. We're going to get back to that and reinvent them for the modern age.
"There were a lot of things I loved about the Zodiac. They truly were an Avengers level threat and there was some great imagery associated with the characters," Bendis continued. "I also loved that they were working by their own set of rules. I'm always a big fan of when the villain has their own set of rules that flies in the face of whatever rules the Avengers are living by."
The new Zodiac will be a very mysterious group of characters when "Avengers Assemble" begins. The only thing that will be immediately clear about the group is that they threaten the entire world.
"I wanted to take the Zodiac concept and scrape some of the cheese off of it to get to the scary part, like how we did with the Skrulls in 'Secret Invasion.' So what we have now is a story line specific to these characters. Captain America puts this group together specifically to deal with the Zodiac," Bendis said. "I don't want to give too much away because what they want is going to be a reveal. What they want and who the Zodiac really are is going to be interesting. Who they really are is a mix of familiar faces, some surprising faces, and a couple of new faces.
"If I say anything more about the plot, it will give some stuff away," Bendis continued. "This is a very large story that involves an Avengers level threat that puts the whole world in peril on every conceivable level: physically, mentally, and spiritually."
While an epic world in peril story is nice, fans of Bendis and Bagley's work on "Ultimate Spider-Man" know that the duo really shine on stories with some intense emotional moments. "This is a story geared towards Mark. There's a lot of emotional baggage involved. Things are going to happen to the Avengers in this book that will surprise people who think this story is only being told because a movie is coming," Bendis said. "Yes, there is a movie coming, but here's a surprise. We're going to knock your socks off with some deep emotional moments and situations for the characters. It's what Mark does best."
Bagley has only just begun his work on "Avengers Assemble," so the artist hasn't quite perfected the overall style he'll use to bring the book to life. "Usually when I get into a project it happens naturally for me. My drawing style tends to adapt automatically to what the subject matter is. If it's a dark, moody, horror story than all of a sudden I'm channeling Bernie Wrightson. Not intentionally, it just happens," the artist explained. "I've done team books before, but I've done them with such different writers, and you don't really know how you have to structure a page to finish what the writer has written until you start working on a book. Last time I did a team book was 'JLA' and James Robinson is a much different writer than Brian. So I don't know yet. I could be doing three panel pages or eight panel pages.
"Working off a full script makes team books even more of a challenge because the choreography is just important. When you work off a plot like I did on 'Thunderbolts,' 'New Warriors,' and 'Strikeforce Morituri' it makes a team book easier for me to draw because instead of having Brian or a writer telling me exactly what they need, they give me an idea and I visually tell it. So if it's coordinates in a sequence there's a hundred different ways you can avoid certain things as long as you're not locked in," Bagley continued. "This will be a feeling out process. Brian and I have never really worked on a team book together, so it will take some doing. Although if his other team books that he's been doing for years now are any evidence, he handles those aspects pretty darn well."
Bendis knows that some fans might find the news that he's writing a third Avengers book a little distressing. The writer sees it as a sign of commitment though. He's put a lot of work into the various "Avengers" titles and would love for "Avengers Assemble" to become a vital and important part of the franchise.
"I know there will be some people that will be going, 'He's writing three 'Avengers' books? Is that what I'm hearing?' And the answer is, 'Yes.' There are people that are annoyed that I'm writing any 'Avengers' books, but the idea that I'm writing three should delight them. And for those of you who were annoyed at me when I was writing two, you have to appreciate on some level how obnoxious I'm being. There's got to be a level where you go, "You know what. I've got to give it to him. That's completely obnoxious. It's not half ass obnoxious,'" Bendis joked. "I love these characters and I'm thrilled that people have stuck with our Avengers stories for all these years and have done so with a verve and a passion. They scream at me when they think I fucked up. They applaud when they think I'm doing well and I take that very, very seriously. I know I joke around that people get overly angry with me, but their passion is insanely important to me. I love it and I never go out of my way piss anybody off, but I knew when I signed on to this that it would piss somebody off.
"The fact that Marvel continues to trust me with the most important brass ring of all of Marvel Comics is a blessing. I get to do this book how I want to do it and I'm working with the best artist in the world. It's a fantastic thing. Will I be on all three 'Avengers' books forever? No, that's insane. We have huge plans for this upcoming year though," Bendis continued. "You don't even know all the crazy stuff that's coming your way this year in the Avengers line of books. Starting here with 'Avengers Assemble' and headed towards the rest of the year I promise you every month is just going to be wild."
"Avengers Assemble" launches in March.