If you would have told a Heroes-for-Hire-era Luke Cage that he would eventually become an important member of one of the Marvel Universe's premier hero teams, he would have told you were crazy. But in the aftermath of "Avengers Disassembled," the former convict turned superhero helped found a team of New Avengers where he remained through the chaos of "Civil War," "Secret Invasion" and the "Dark Reign" era. In fact, Cage's team continued to operate during "The Heroic Age" and beyond, but recently, he made the decision to walk away from super heroics in order to devote more time to his new family.
This September, however, Cage finds himself forced back into the world he thought he'd left behind thanks to the cosmic crises that explode out of Marvel's latest event storyline "Infinity." In the debut issue of their new, ongoing "Mighty Avengers" series, writer Al Ewing and artist Greg Land chronicle Cage's efforts to put together a new team of Earth's Mightiest Heroes to keep New York safe while the core Avengers team is out in space, tackling the threat of the mysterious and powerful beings known as the Builders. We spoke with Ewing about Cage, the heroes that answer his call and the writer's plans during "Infinity" and beyond.
CBR News: Al, you're a veteran writer of British comics like "2000 A.D." and have been writing for Dynamite for the past several years, but you're relatively new to Marvel. How does it feel to be given the reins of an all new series in Marvel's biggest franchise? And how does it feel to be launching it as part of a big summer event?
Al Ewing: Humbling and a bit scary. It's the Avengers! It's a real "go big or go home" kind of moment. Especially since my pitch involved Luke and company aiming to define what "Avengers" means to them and what it should mean going forward, so -- I'm not making it easy for myself, really. I should have pitched "this is the Avengers team that talks about old British computer games a lot," but like a fool, I used that card up already. Anyway, I'm conscious that I have very big shoes to fill here, and also that I'm playing with a lot of people's favorite toys and I should try very hard not to break them or use them badly.
As for the summer event thing, it means extra eyes -- it's a chance to wow people who might not have picked up the book otherwise. What's important to me in those terms is trying to make sure as far as I possibly can that it slots in nicely with the main "Infinity" series, while still being very much its own thing so people reading both books don't get knocked out of the story by something, and people just reading "Mighty Avengers" get a full, satisfying experience.
One of the most interesting aspects about this "Mighty Avengers" series is its line up, so I'd like to run down your cast of characters and their various dynamics, starting with the man who puts the team together: Luke Cage. Beyond assembling the team, what kind of role will Luke play in this series?
Well, over the past decade, Luke's family has become a massive part of his character, and the last thing I want is for him to move backwards. He's made the decision to quit front-line super heroics for the sake of his family and the safety of his daughter, and he's not about to just turn around and wade right back into situations where he could make Danielle an orphan. But at the same time, he's a man with a very strong sense of social responsibility, and he's not going to stop trying to make the world a better place for his baby girl to grow up in. That's the aspect of his character I want to explore, that desire to make things better not just in the immediate, punch-out-the-Wrecking-Crew way, but in more long-term ways that benefit the community, locally and globally.
Victor Alvarez, who assumed Luke's old identity of Power Man, will be part of the team, and we know he has a problem with authority. I imagine he'll clash with some of the members of this team, but I'm curious about his dynamic and relationship with his former Avengers Academy teammate, White Tiger. Do you think they have a bond from their Avengers Academy days, or is his relationship with her just as antagonistic as some of the other characters?
They were in the same class, but not exactly friends. Vic's got a lot more front and bluster -- he's a lot quicker to blow his top, and Ava maybe feels he doesn't take this business as seriously as she does. And she takes it very seriously -- she's very conscious of the price of the life she's entering into. Her brother was murdered by the very system he fought to uphold, half her friends have vanished without a trace and neither she nor any of her mentors are able to find them. She's in an angry place right now, much angrier than Vic could ever be, despite his own tragedies, so I doubt his attitude is going to butter any parsnips with her. And not to spoil anything, but later in the first year, a face from her past is going to come back into her life and draw some of that rage out.
This team also features two veteran Avengers in the form of Falcon and Monica Rambeau, who is adopting the code name Spectrum. Besides their past connection to the Avengers, what else do you feel these characters bring to the book?
Falcon's very much there because he wants to be, but Luke's trying to keep his team separate from the government, S.H.I.E.L.D. and the "Avengers World" concept -- he wants this Avengers iteration to be its own thing and do its own thing, not be an appendage devoted to Tony Stark's goals. There's a suspicion that Sam is only there as Cap's eyes and ears, and while that's more than a little unfair, in a sense, he does provide that connection to the larger Avengers universe.
Monica, meanwhile -- well, she adds Monica. The first Avengers I read, she led, so having her back as co-leader -- and field leader -- is a massive thing for me. I remember from the Roger Stern days that she had a habit of not taking any nonsense from anybody, including people like Namor and Zeus, and more recently she refused to put up with shenanigans from Machine Man, Baby Modok and various other oddities in Warren Ellis' "Nextwave." I'll be continuing that tradition as best I can, having her brook no funny business from a new generation of teammates and bad guys.
Jen Walters, the original She-Hulk, has also been part of Avengers teams before, so I imagine she was a natural fit, but she's also part of another team these days in the Future Foundation. How big a role does Jen play in this book? From what was said in the announcement, it sounds like she's not just the team's physical power house, she's also their legal adviser as well.
Yep. Luke, having been sent down on flimsy evidence before -- and being well aware that the police are not necessarily your friends, S.H.I.E.L.D. will turn on you at the drop of a hat and Tony Stark really doesn't like it when people don't see things his way -- knows the importance of having a good lawyer, especially one who can crush a tank with one hand. It's not paranoia if they really are out to get you -- with tanks. And if the Mighty Avengers don't end up needing Jen's legal expertise, they'll definitely be aiming to help out people who do.
Jen's going to play as big a role as I can make for her in this. She's got a tendency to push herself hard, in work and out of it, so I can see her accepting this job and getting everything done that the FF needs from her. I can also see her taking out the frustrations of such a workaholic lifestyle on a few tanks, which should be fun.
"Mighty Avengers" features another hero who's been part of past
Avengers teams before in the form of Ronin. I understand that this will be a new Ronin, though, whose identity will be a mystery to readers. Will the new Ronin's identity be a mystery to the other characters in the book as well?
Mostly, yes. Monica knows who he/she is from the off, and she/he confides in Luke as well. There are good reasons for the new Ronin to approach both of those characters, but the rest of the team won't know who he/she is at all until the time comes for her/him to unmask. Until then -- I'm enjoying reading everybody's guesses. I love this kind of mystery, and I'm enjoying springing one on the readers. Needless to say, I'll be dropping plenty of hints over the course of the first year.
This team will also have a sort of antagonistic relationship with the Superior Spider-Man. How would you describe Doc Ock's initial perspective on the team? Does he have any sort of respect for any of his teammates?
None whatsoever. His arrogance gets in the way -- he doesn't see how they can possibly protect New York better than he can, and obviously he's fought quite a few of them. He basically sees this team's existence as an insult to his vital work, and if they won't do the decent thing and disband so they're no longer in his way, they should at the very least be bowing to his superior leadership. How dare they? The insufferable ignorami! They're like gnats to him! Gnats!
The one he hates the most, though, is Ronin, for reasons that will become all too apparent in #1.
Rounding out your team is Adam, the Blue Marvel. Adam's super heroic career dates back to the 1960s, so how does he feel about being part of the Avengers? And how do his teammates initially feel about him? He seems like he might be an intimidating, almost awe-inspiring figure, given his vast powers, intellect and science skills, not to mention his distinguished war career.
Adam's been thinking carefully about how best to use his powers and how best to live up to his late wife's memory. He's not a man who takes anything lightly, so while he's not been idle in terms of helping those who need it all over the world, at the same time, he's still not sure if the current definition of 'superhero' -- far more morally ambiguous and less representative of the ordinary citizen than it was in his heyday -- is one he wants to be part of. Rather than signing up with Tony Stark or Maria Hill, he's finding his own path, and the Mighty Avengers -- who are themselves in the process of defining what it means to be a superhero, an Avenger, etc -- is a step on that journey that appeals to him.
In terms of how the Mighty Avengers think of him -- he's intimidating and inspirational, yes, but at the same time members of the team are going to have problems with his history, particularly his acceptance of JFK's decision to retire him. Luke, for example, having been actively hunted down by his government over what he felt was an unjust law, doesn't exactly have the same respect for authority and the office of the President that Adam did in 1962. All he knows is that growing up, he could have used the Blue Marvel standing proud as part of the culture, as a hero and a role model -- and the Blue Marvel wasn't there. That's going to cause some friction.
So that's your line-up -- let's get into the story! What kinds of obstacles and adversaries are your heroes up against?
Well, the first arc is the "Infinity" tie-in -- which basically means not one but two Thanos lieutenants coming to New York City. It's one of those "there came a day" situations where all the heroes on the scene band together to form a new Avengers team. It's happened before, it will probably happen again. But let's get back to 'all the heroes on the scene' -- that's more than just the ones with superpowers.
That includes first responders, firefighters, paramedics, police and those ordinary people who don't make a career out of saving lives but just automatically step forward in an incredibly dangerous situation to help their fellow human beings, and stand up against those who'd hurt them. And people do stand up. In the real world, when something horrible happens, there are heroes who run towards it to help -- they don't have unbreakable skin or energy powers, and they don't mill around like lemmings while big tough men carrying shields tell them what to do. They step up and they help out.
That's kind of the theme of this series. No more A-lists, no more D-lists. No more looking down from towers and mansions. There might only be so many slots on the actual team, but if you're a person who helps people, you have as much value to the world as Luke or Monica or Thor or anyone else, and as much right to call yourself an Avenger.
You're working with Greg Land on "Mighty Avengers." What do you feel he brings to this book as an artist?
He's got pizazz -- it's quite a glam style, but also with a weight to it that comes out in the B&W art. #1 opens with a bit of a fight, so I'm enjoying the general solidity of the punches. The Plunderer doesn't provide dental cover for his henchmen, so it's quite a tragic scene in some ways.
I'm doing it Marvel-style -- in that I'm supplying a dense plot and some scoops of semi-final dialogue, and then he's bringing back the pages and I'm final-dialoguing them, and -- so far, I'm having a blast. One of the pages I just got back is kind of Steranko-y -- you'll know what I mean when you see it -- which is especially fun to put words to.
It's a really fun way to work, I've been finding -- there's something about having the art in front of you while you do the dialogue that just opens up all sorts of new possibilities, and I'm really looking forward to every new page that comes in.
Finally, we know your initial "Mighty Avengers" story takes place against the back drop of "Infinity" and Thanos' attack on Earth. Can you hint, tease, or talk about your plans for the book after that? With such a diverse cast, this is a series that could go anywhere and tackle almost any kind of genre.
Yeah, we're going to be tackling all the genres we can handle. There's comedy, there's horror, there's romance, there's what I understand people on Tumblr call 'the feels'. There are big threats, little threats and threats that can't be solved with a punch or an anti-matter blast. There are creatures torn from the depths of Hell, secret societies, corporate intrigues, vengeance quests, family squabbles, diapers that need changing, some laughs, some tears, some guest stars. A new HQ, new transport, a new way of doing things with a little of the old mixed in.
I'm loving working on this book, and I hope people come and join us in September, because it's going to be ace.