Yesterday, we spoke with writer Jonathan Hickman about his current role heading up Marvel's Avengers franchise, writing both "Avengers" and "New Avengers." We covered a lot of ground, looking at the character development and threat building he's done over the course of a dozen and a half issues, but as Hickman himself admits, the other, cosmic-sized shoe has yet to drop on Earth's Mightiest Heroes in the form of August's event miniseries, "Infinity." Today, we dive further into the road that lies ahead for Marvel's Illuminati, while also taking a look at the origins for the first solo event the writer has crafted for the House of Ideas.
While the mission statement in "Avengers" has been somewhat mysterious from day one, the heroes' task in "New Avengers" has remained crystal clear from the get go: prevent the destruction of the planet. And in order to accomplish their mission of saving the Earth from the apocalyptic destruction that accompanies an incursion (an event which happens when two Earths from different realities begin to occupy the same space), the Illuminati welcomed a new member into their ranks early on in the form of the Hank McCoy, aka Beast, who took the place of his deceased mentor Charles Xavier.
"I think he's intellectually capable of standing with the other guys," Hickman said. "I think the history of the character lends itself to the darker tone as well as the grander thematic story that we're telling, which involves the deaths of worlds. That's part of the character's history. He also, of course, represents the mutant perspective, but I also think he represents what Charles was on the team, which is why we introduced him in the way we did; always hopeful, believing that there's more strength in unity, and that together they can overcome anything. We'll see if that perspective works out."
The Beast joining the team meant he could bring to bear the Infinity Gem that Professor Xavier had willed to him. In "New Avengers" #3, the gem was joined with the ones wielded by the other Illuminati members to recreate a weapon they hoped would end the threat of an incursion forever, the Infinity Gauntlet. Unfortunately, the Gauntlet merely bought the Illuminati a brief respite before the gems powering it shattered. The repercussions of their destruction will soon ripple out from "New Avengers" and be felt all across the Marvel Universe, especially during "Infinity."
"I don't think Thanos is going to be very happy that they're gone. I imagine that will bum him out a bit," Hickman laughed. "Plus, the first arc of 'New Avengers' is a bunch of different things, including a deconstruction of all the simple solutions we'd see in a scenario like this. It's like, 'We've got a huge problem involving a planet. What are we going to do?' If you've been reading Marvel comics for the last 20 years, you know that this will involve the Infinity Gems, or Galactus, or some other, well-known elements. You're seeing, though, that none of the normal solutions we've been presented with are going to suffice. At all. We not only need new ideas, we need bigger ideas. And, perhaps, we may need help."
The loss of the Infinity Gems left the Illuminati desperate for a solution to the incursion event, a situation that did not sit well with Captain America, who was unwilling to even consider some of the more morally complex solutions the team might come up with. Cap's inability to compromise led to his removal from the team; a decision the other Illuminati members do not regret. But Cap's warning about compromising themselves to save the world will come back to haunt them.
"These aren't a bunch of guys that sit around whining about the consequences of decisions that they have made. That's not who these characters are. They're way more proactive than that in general, and specifically, in regard to a couple of them, once they make a decision, it's go time. They never look back again," Hickman said. "They did something that they had to do, and the consequences of that will, of course, be raised and come back up again. I don't think I was subtle in foreshadowing the fact that stuff is going to come back and matter. Even if it did bother some of the Illuminati, I don't think they've had any time to really dwell on it. Worlds are ending, shit is going down."
In "New Avengers" #5, the team deals with their latest end of the world scenario as they tangle with Galactus and Terrax the Tamer while trying to escape an alternate Earth which happens to be in the middle of an incursion event. "Once again, things look grim and we'll see how they handle them," Hickman said. "Also, as I mentioned earlier, we get a little bit of the backstory of Black Swan in this issue. We'll find out who she is and where she comes from. Then, we'll learn a little bit more about the mechanics of how all of this is going to work. We're dangling over the edge of the rabbit hole."
The first arc of "New Avengers" comes to a close with issue #6, followed with a story that look at the bonds and schisms between the individual team members like the Black Panther and Namor, whose respective nations are at war with each other. "I think it's fair to say that Namor is the least liked person in the room, but he's perfectly fine with that. He doesn't care. He doesn't need, nor want, nor desire the approval of his fellow Illuminati. He's there because the world is ending and he wants to save his people and save himself, which is a fair goal and one that he shares intimately with Black Panther," Hickman remarked. "Namor and the Black Panther want identical things. It's just that they hate each other and their nations are at war with one another."
The "New Avengers" current quest is to save the Earth from destruction, and when "Infinity" begins in August, it simply adds more levels of complexity to their task. "'Infinity' is really a two-part story. Half of it takes place in the Marvel Universe; the other half takes place on Earth," Hickman explained. "It's bigger than that, but in terms related to Avengers, the Universe stuff is an Avengers story. The Earth stuff is an Illuminati story."
The Illuminati portions of "Infinity" will unfold in the six issues and two book ends of the main series, as well as a four-issue tie-in arc of "New Avengers." Meanwhile, the "Avengers" portions of the story take place in the "Infinity" miniseries and a six issue tie-in arc.
"I've joked around that this is could be like a 'Choose Your Own Event,' because you can read whichever bits of it you want and they all intersect. We don't repeat anything, but they all follow different characters on different journeys," Hickman explained. "If you just want to read the Space Opera elements, you can just get the Space Opera issues. If you just want the Thanos stuff, you can just read the Thanos stuff. It's a really cool structure."
Writing "Infinity" alongside his two other Avengers books is keeping Hickman extremely busy. He loves the work, though, and is thoroughly enjoying the experience of helming his first big, solo Marvel event.
"We were at a Marvel retreat and we were going back and forth about what Marvel was looking for. These things happen a bunch of different ways. Sometimes they're completely planned like 'Secret Invasion' was. Brian was always building towards that. It was always going to happen; it was just going to be an Avengers story, but it was big enough that it became a huge Marvel event," Hickman explained. "Then there are stories where it's more like the company would like to do certain things. For instance, the 'Avengers' movie came out and people are crazy about Thanos right now because of the way the movie ended. All of that stuff is selling real well. So the question then becomes, do we have a good Thanos story?
"We passed that around the room. At the same time, Jason Aaron and Simone Bianchi are doing their 'Thanos Rising' miniseries, which is kind of a lead-up. So everybody was kicking stuff around and I was keeping my mouth shut because I had plenty of work to do. I started to pipe up, though, the more they talked about it. I told them what I thought would and would not work. Then, Tom Brevoort said that I should probably do the story. We took a little break and then we came back and I pitched what I would do. Everybody liked it, and we were off to the races.
"I've said this before in other places, but working at Marvel is like signing up for Selective Service. Sometimes you get drafted to go fight a land war in Asia," Hickman joked. "The goal here, though, is to win. Again, the story is a lot of fun. I'm excited about it. I'm really, really proud of what I came up."
For Hickman another fun element of working at Marvel is the chance to collaborate with a number of talented artists. His current assignments on "Avengers," "New Avengers," and "Infinity" have paired him with some of the company's biggest names and some of their fastest rising stars.
"Right now, Mike Deodato is doing four issues of 'Avengers.' Then Stefano Caselli is going to come on and do the ramp up to 'Infinity.' He'll be followed by Leinil Yu, who will do all six issues of the 'Avengers' arc that ties in to 'Infinity.' Then, Mike will go over to 'New Avengers,'" Hickman explained. "And 'Infinity' is being brought to life by Dustin Weaver, Jerome Opena and Jim Cheung.
"Hey -- worst case scenario, we can count on the books being beautiful!"
"Infinity" kicks off early with a special prelude on Free Comic Book Day (May 4) before heading full-bore into the event when issue #1 lands in stores in August.