In the opening issues of the current volume of Marvel's "Avengers," writer Jonathan Hickman embraced the core concept of the team being "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" by expanding their ranks to 18 members, adding characters like the Hulk, Hyperion and Captain Universe to its roster. And because powerful heroes need powerful challenges, the Avengers are currently tackling a crisis so huge, they're not even aware of its full scope -- or that there are other heroes investigating it at the same time.
The secretive super hero brain trust known as the Illuminati, re-formed in the debut issue of Hickman's "New Avengers," are also tackling the universe-level threat, albeit from a different and, at this point, seemingly unconnected angle. This August, Hickman will escalate the challenges faced by both groups to such a degree that the entire Marvel Universe will get involved when the writer kicks off "Infinity." We spoke with him about all three books.
The most obvious connection between "Avengers" and "New Avengers" is the character of Tony Stark. As a member of the Avengers, he's been helping the newly-expanded team investigate incidents where attempts to evolve and create new life on Earth have gone awry. In "New Avengers," Stark and his fellow Illuminati members have been trying to prevent an "incursion" from occurring on our Earth -- an event which happens when two Earths from different realities begin to occupy the same space, resulting with the destruction of one of those Earths.
"I think Tony Stark is a futurist and a pragmatist, a builder and an engineer. He's looking for practical solutions to real problems. Almost everything he's doing in 'New Avengers' and 'Avengers is trying to manufacture ways to deal with all this stuff that's going on. And while the Illuminati in 'New Avengers' aren't a team in the normal sense of the word, he is working with other very smart people to try and solve an impossible problem," Hickman told CBR News. "Then, in 'Avengers,' he's set up this unbelievably powerful organization run by the one guy he trusts more than anything -- except when it comes to end of the world, 'Illuminati' scenarios, obviously. Captain America runs this super hero team that, at first glance, could basically mop the floor with everyone. But the dangers and the conflicts that the Avengers encounter are about to increase in scale, and we're going to see that Tony and Steve have built an Avengers team for the times. They're going to have to rise up and be what they need to be. They are built to handle those kinds of threats, while the 'New Avengers' are tackling the even greater threats going on in that book."
And while the missions the "Avengers" and "New Avengers" have been dealing with may seem unrelated at first glance, Hickman has begun seeding clues to show that two crises are indeed interconnected. In "Avengers" #4, readers learned through a flashback sequence that an incursion event destroyed the home world of team member, Hyperion. Then, in "Avengers" #8, the being known as Nightmask spoke about problems with systems and conflicts, leading to the theory that there's a problem with the life cycle of the multiverse. "Avengers" readers are seeing how that problem manifests when it comes to the creation and evolution of life, and in "New Avengers" they are seeing it manifest in the destruction of worlds via incursion events.
"That's a fair take on what's happening," Hickman confirmed. "Then, of course, it's all building towards those things smashing together at some point. They can't coexist. The end scenario for both of them can't be correct."
Another common thread between "Avengers" and "New Avengers" is that both stories are mysteries, in that both the characters and readers are unaware of the party or parties responsible for the multiverse's problems. "We'll get more information about the character of Black Swan [who tipped the Black Panther and the Illuminati to the incursion event problem back in 'New Avengers' #1] and her experiences with multiple incursions. We got a little bit of that in "New Avengers" #5," Hickman said. "We won't find out what is causing all this for a while, however. That's the big mystery we're headed towards."
While he's been setting up his multiverse-sized puzzle, Hickman has also been introducing some fun, new concepts to the Marvel Universe. A recent storyline in "Avengers" brought back the character archetypes of Nightmask and the Starbrand, which were created in the '80s for Marvel's "New Universe" line of comics and then redefined by writer Warren Ellis in 2006 in the series "New Universal."
"Up to this point, everything we've done in 'Avengers' and 'New Avengers' has really been constrained and confined to the Marvel Universe proper. However, that's not going to continue to be the case," Hickman said. "I was always going to bring in other universes and all the other toys, and I thought that Warren Ellis had a really elegant device that he came up with in 'New Universal,' which fit in perfectly into this bigger device that I had made. Plus, I've always liked those characters, especially the Starbrand. So I took the opportunity to use them."
The Avengers aren't the only ones who have noticed things are going awry with the creation and evolution of life on Earth. The villainous mad scientist group known as Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.), an organization Hickman revived and re-empowered at the end of his "Fantastic Four" and "FF" run by turning them into a sovereign nation, has also gleaned onto the truth that strange things are happening.
"I think they're great villains, but I also think that nameless, faceless groups of bad guys like HYDRA and A.I.M. need leadership. They need characters that are running the show and what not. You're going to see a good bit of that in 'Secret Avengers,' a book that Nick Spencer is writing," Hickman said. "I think there's something interesting going on there, and the fact that they're evil super scientists falls into what we're doing in 'Avengers' as well."
In addition to its role in "Secret Avengers," A.I.M. continues to have a presence in "Avengers," especially since Nick Spencer will begin co-writing the series with Hickman starting in May.
"The shipping schedule of a bi-weekly book while you're doing another monthly book is a lot, and we always knew it was going to be a significant workload. What we didn't know was that I was also going to get drafted into writing the event for the summer. So we all looked around and said, 'We don't know if this doable.' That quickly became apparent when I was having a month where I had to write for five, six and even seven artists," Hickman said with a laugh. "You can't do that. I needed to bring in some help, and Nick is a good friend. He's doing a really bang-up job and the book is back on schedule."
Beyond the cosmic events and mysteries, Hickman's "Avengers" run has also been about exploring the title's large cast of characters, especially those who don't appear in other books. Past issues have put the spotlight on characters like the human Imperial Guard member known as Smasher, and May's issue #11 is a story about the adventure Shang-Chi and several of his teammates get into while on a mission in China.
That issue is followed by a two-part tale focusing on the activities of several team members in the Savage Land before he and Spencer begin the countdown to "Infinity" with an arc titled "The Signal," a prelude to the late-summer event. "It's a four-issue arc that runs through issues #14-17, and serves as a ramp up to what happens in 'Infinity,'" the writer said. "It's where we put all the pieces together that we've spread out before you in previous issues and tie it up into one little bow and say, 'All of that meant this and led to this. Now: Take a look at what's getting ready to happen!'"
With "The Signal" and the stories that follow, Hickman plans to give readers a better sense of the purpose and mission statement of the "Avengers" while escalating the book's pace. "We haven't really clued people into what the point of 'Avengers' is. I suppose you could make an argument that we we've done a 12-issue prelude to the stuff that's going to happen," Hickman said with a laugh. "Maybe I shouldn't have done it that way, but I'm happy with the work. I think we've turned in a lot of cool issues and done some neat stuff, but probably the velocity and 'mission statement' will ramp up very soon. I think when people see 'Infinity,' understand what it is, where we're going from there, people will understand why we took all this time to do these little seemingly disconnected and open-ended stories."
Check back with CBR tomorrow for Part 2 of our all-things-Avengers interview with Jonathan Hickman where we discuss how "Infinity" fits into his grand scheme.