Ross' Return = "Avengers/Invaders"

Tue, August 14th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

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This past weekend it was announced that Alex Ross, one of the most popular and celebrated artists in contemporary comics, would be returning to Marvel Comics. The early details were few - as noted in our interview with Ross posted on Saturday, he will return to Marvel with an as yet unspecified project for which he will be a story consultant on and provide designs for the characters, covers for each issue and some interior artwork as well. Ross will be joined by his long time writing partner Jim Krueger while artist Steve Sadowski ("JSA") would provide the interiors. Then of course, there was the image.

The image featured Captain America with the text "Return" typed across his chest. Speculation ran wild on message boards, with folks wondering if this truly meant the return of Captain America, who was killed in issue #25 of the "Captain America" series earlier this year. Throughout the weekend, speculation turned to this image perhaps signifying the return of the Invaders, the popular team created by Roy Thomas in the 1970s that featured Marvel's Golden Age heroes battling against the Axis powers in World War II. Would this new project star a modern group of heroes or the Golden Age counterparts? Would it be set in the present day or would it be set during World War II?

Today, we have answers to those questions.

The project is called "Avengers/Invaders," a twelve-issue limited-series that sees the return of the WWII era superteam, but not exactly in the way you might think. The project is the brainchild of Dynamite Entertainment owner Nick Barrucci and has been in development for over three years. While not a Dynamite product itself, Barrucci first conceived of the idea for "Avengers/Invaders" three years ago, ultimately bringing together this team of creators whom Marvel embraced enthusiastically. The series is tentatively scheduled for a February 2008 release.

But what about all those other questions you have? CBR News caught up with Alex Ross for a second chat to get the answers to your questions and to learn about what he has planned and what it means for the modern day, deceased Captain America.

Story continues below

Alex, let's start at the beginning - how did "Avengers/Invaders" become a reality?

None of this happens without Nick. Just like with the "Superpowers" project, this is Nick's baby; his concept first and he brought us in. It's Nick's idea and I think it's a great one. What happens with these things is they go back so far in time to when I was completely consumed at the start of the "Justice" series and had nothing but my focus there and he was coming up with this as a great way of getting me and Jim to return to where we came from together, at Marvel. And this is a great way to do it. Jim and I are huge Invaders fans and we've wanted to do all kinds of things with these characters over the years. It's also just a fan thing from Nick's perspective, being way into Golden Age characters. This winds up becoming a real challenge, creatively. What's the story we tell when you're just given the basic premise of the New Avengers combined with the Invaders, especially considering how popular and great the "New Avengers book" is, currently? It took until this year - even though it's going back almost three years since its inception - for it to really be talked of and planned for in the way that let us know exactly what we'd be allowed to do with the story. Ironically at the time we were able to finally talk over those details, suddenly Captain America is dead in the present day, so I guess he won't get to meet himself! In a way, it did nothing but help the story.

Alright, you said something interesting right there - "so I guess he won't meet himself." So the Invaders that lived in the 1940s will be transported to 2007?

Don't you think it would be more interesting?

It certainly opens up a number of interesting story opportunities. So this is a cotemporary story told with golden age characters who are truly out of time?

And it's not a "What If?" or "imaginary story." We are going to do some time traveling in this one. You would think you'd have to. Believe me, every sort of contingency was planned for with this, like is this going to turn into another one of these grand master plots where characters from the past are plucked from this time period and that world and they're all put together on one stage? No. We're trying to do something the best way we can, an organic story that puts these characters on the same stage in the most human way possible.

Okay, let's get into specifics and talk team make up - what can you talk about there?

Well, you know who the Invaders are. It's not as though you won't get a chance to see other 1940s era characters, that's an ultimate goal of the series, but I'd like to particularly embrace those characters that comprised the basic Invaders team, particularly those that were actually created '40s, as opposed to Union Jack and Spitfire who were inventions of the 1970s. I'm a big fan of not-retconning human beings in the past. And it's not like Marvel had a short cast list of super heroes to work with in the '40s.

So we're looking at a team that consists of Captain America, Bucky, the original Human Torch, Toro and Namor the Sub-Mariner, right?

Yes, the original Bill Everett Sub-Mariner. There can be some really creative ground there in terms of the difference of behavior back then and the impetuousness of youth. Particularly, I put that on Namor. His being the first anti-hero of comics is something worth really getting inside.

I can imagine on a writing level this series presents some huge challenges, one of which you just touched upon - working with the sensibilities of living in a war torn world in the 1940s somehow presenting them convincingly in a modern setting.

The biggest thing worth paying attention to is where they come from - the battlefield. They should not be mockingly interpreted as overly idealistic characters from a bygone age that was so much nicer than we have today. In the mid-'40s, when most superheroes were created, we were in the middle of a world-wide conflict that the ultimate result of which nobody could guess.

This series stars characters who unlike many of the DC characters who were almost always written as stateside characters focused upon dealing with bank robbers in the U.S, as opposed to [the Invaders] who went off and fought against Hitler's soldiers. The classic tales of Marvel characters then were based in the middle of the war, even with fanciful interpretation, they were dealing with Nazis and the Japanese and all the forces that were affecting us during wartime. That's their greatest asset; they were very much a part of that battlefield culture. They should be battle-hardened heroes. It's less about beating up an opponent to win a fight for saving the status quo of American culture and more it's you're in a place where it's kill or be killed.

What's interesting about the Invaders' early appearances is that they have these sort of two extreme appearances - one is sort of the grand master plot where they're plucked from their time period and for just a few pages they're fighting the modern avengers in about '68 or '69, and then a year or two later they're conjured up from the mind of Rick Jones during the climax of the Kree-Skrull war, so that somehow these fanciful characters of old are the characters who inspired the men who somehow ended that conflict. Those in a weird way become my two greatest inspirations for how we sort of take hold of this and this story.

Let's talk about the story a bit - how does this all come together and what are your goals for this story?

The goal is to provide some intriguing conflict between your characters who have just lost a Captain America in a very sad and striking way and finding the younger version of that character in your midst and the culture shock that comes with that. We have here a Captain America who doesn't know what the future holds and of course his way of looking at the world he's seen is going to be a question of how much will he really understand or keep any of this, other than being just a bizarre experience that seems to be nothing less than traveling to another planet.

In much the way that "Kingdom Come" really was, at its core, a Superman story, with "Avengers/Invaders" this appears to really be a Captain America story.

It kind of has to be given the time period. We're going to do as much as we can to focus particularly upon the three principal men of that group and getting into the issues like what does Namor do when he goes to search out his own people? What is the original Human Torch? He was an artificial man - what does that mean? What kind of affect has his life and his being vacant in the modern landscape mean? I don't think we have a moment where he meets Johnny Storm again, but that has happened before, so it's not exactly a novel thing. For us it's also an opportunity to make these characters as cool as we always felt they were.

What can you tell us about what we'll see in that first issue?

Well, we better figure that out soon! [laughs] We're working on it this week, actually. Just at the time all of this is breaking I get to say, "Hopefully we'll have it all figured out by the end of this week."

So, I guess all you really can say right this second is, "Well, it's going to be awesome!"

[laughs] We know what the story is, we just need to figure out exactly how it'll go down. Essentially you'll get your Invaders thrown into the modern day, I'll reveal that much.

Last week we talked about these Golden Age characters you're playing with in "Superpowers" and how you get to redesign characters who had, in most cases, very odd designs, but also very cool and funky designs that were really pushing limits. Now, with the Invaders, I don't know if I'd say you had characters with major problems in their designs, but you're still presented with the challenge of making 1940s designs, in some cases really iconic imagery, compelling for a modern audience. Talk about your approach in redesigning the look of these characters and what are the essences of those original designs you brought with you?

One of the things I did when I first worked on these character,s when I was doing the first issue of "Marvels," was to try and provide a sense of cultural detachment - just how alien these things may look to the real world that encountered them if they were real. Like the Human Torch looks genuinely like a man on fire and most people can wrap their brains around that better now given the special effects in the "Fantastic Four" films, but my treatment of Namor is to explore the culture he comes from and the strength he has - he's not just some guy running around wearing swim trunks, he probably doesn't care about clothing at all. I was always trying to drop the hint in "Marvels" that if you look at any single shot of the Invaders in there, his lower region is always blocked from view. It was intended that, yeah, there was quite a bit of culture shock when this naked man suddenly shows up in the modern world.

While Captain Americas was brightly colored, we were largely detached from his appearance in the world because he was largely a figure seen through the black and white propoganda of the time, so we weren't getting the full color presentation of him in my first handling of his appearance in "Marvels," at least not until the end of that issue.

In thinking about this back then and even today, I was very committed to the idea that Namor and the Torch are two of the most bizarre inventions of this new fledgling comic book company, adding their characters in to the overall mix of post Superman invention in 1938. So, in 1939 you have this amazing spin on the Superman archetype of a super human man from beneath the seas, pre-Aquaman, who's an anti-hero against the Americans, against Hitler's horde, pretty much against everybody. He was destroying New York at one point in his early days fighting the Human Torch. Before he would become one of the heroes who worked with the allies, he was a bit of a mercurial enemy - both a friend and an enemy. How interesting it is that the character who dominated that early landscape of comics was so rich with complexity. He wasn't a flat character created like Superman. He's got a lot going. He was in most ways, on a physical level, Marvel's Superman in those early days, but he's so much more than just that.

He certainly had a lot more internal conflict than most of the other characters created during that time.

Avengers artwork by Alex Ross
Right. Now, seen through this filter of the '40s, the Golden Age Namor compared to our modern day Namor, well, the '40s Namor is obviously a younger man and has that impetuousness of youth. So, there's a briskness to him and what I'd certainly like to embrace as much as possible is the art style really reflecting that earliest version of him. He's a bit more alien and elfin looking. I don't know if they'll let us make his hair color red like it used to be, but I can also say if you look at every painting of him I did in "Marvels," I always obscured the view of his hair and a few times you'll see some red painted in as almost a reflective glow.

Very sneaky!

I try to sneak those types of things where possible. I can appreciate the fact I'm not going to show a naked man. No, he'll have his shorts on! [laughs] I don't want to offend anyone like I apparently did with my Commander Steel cover from earlier this year.

Probably best to avoid that. Now, very simply - is this story in continuity?

Yes.

How much of the past Invaders history do you have to concern yourself with?

Well, "The Invaders" series that ran in the '70s only comprised time from '41 and '42. They never got to the middle of the war, so we're all thinking that the specific year they're being pulled out of is 1944.

There was a "New Invaders" series in 2005, and seeing as how that was a modern team, not one plucked from the past, I'm guessing it doesn't play much of a role at all in "Avengers/Invaders."

Not so much, but Chuck [Austen's] version is responsible for one key thing - the revival in 1989 of the original Human Torch that ultimately floundered for the next 18 years was brought to an end by Chuck, as he was shown as having been sacrificed or destroyed in that series. Whether or not that's the case could be left for Jim and I to pursue or somebody to pursue. Possibly even after this particular drama. But I think Marvel's saying that their very first launched hero into comics publishing should not be dead, ever. I think he should remain alive through some manner, especially considering he's not a guy who doesn't technically need to age. What, he needs to die because Johnny Storm is better known than he is?

That's the thing I hate about a lot of deaths in comic book publishing. I understand the drama related to some of those deaths, but in the real world we cannot control life and it's this fragile thing we loose so often. When you have a fictional world where all these toys in the toy box can be played with, why in the world would you limit yourself? Certainly we can create metaphors for the cruelty and sadness of the real world, but we don't always have to do it with icons there is great attachment to. If you can keep Clark Kent working at the Daily Planet for close to 70 years, then you can keep other likewise characters timeless and, honestly, in many ways, generations of people tied into the same communal source of entertainment. Guys who were reading Marvel Comics in the 1960s who loved Spider-Man then now see that kids, hell, everybody is crazy about Spider-Man. What an amazing thing it is to tie together generations.

There are three creators outside of your team on "Avengers/Invaders" that are key to all the characters you're working with - Roy Thomas, Brian Bendis and Ed Brubaker. Let's start with Roy Thomas - have you spoken with him at all about your plans?

Not about this, no. The last time I spoke with Roy was to check to see was he ever consulted about making a character he invented, Obsidian, gay. Knowing from talking to Roy, most people don't usually check with Roy, as you might imagine. Now, I've not checked in with Roy [about "Avengers/Invaders,"] but it's also not specifically an alternation of anything Roy did, and further more, we're talking about characters that were invented when Roy was a young boy. Roy's greatest contribution to this entire dynamic was largely a revitalization of this group in the 1970s and naming them after a TV show in the 1960s.

Not that it would absolutely be necessary, but do you plan to talk with Roy?

Well, I am doing some stuff for his "Alter Ego" magazine, so we'll be talking at some point I'm sure. Now, Ditko's obviously still alive, but does anyone check in with him before they start their run on a Spider-Man book? No and we all avoid that because …?

Well, he probably wouldn't take our phone calls.

Exactly. We're all playing in ground that was cleared by someone else's greater efforts. Do we all owe a lot in large part to the work that Roy's laid out for us? Absolutely.

What about "New Avengers" writer Brian Bendis and "Captain America" writer Ed Brubaker? Have you had discussions with them yet and how or will they be involved?

I have not yet spoke with either of them and we were told that was something we should get on with soon. I'm looking forward to a chance to talk with both gentlemen. I'm a huge fan of their work and what they've done for Marvel over recent years. For my money, Ed delivers my favorite run on "Captain America."

Brubaker's also brought Bucky back from the dead, although he's quite a bit different than he's been depicted in the past. Do you plan on addressing that at all?

I hope so. That's one of those kinds of things that demand us getting on the phone with Ed and we'll see what we see. We may be allowed some general use of him in our story, I hope. It would seem like something that should directly affect him - a younger version of himself interacting with modern Marvel characters. If the two don't meet, they should at least have some kind of point made about how these two things co-exist in the same time and space.

Let's talk a bit about the villains, if you can. The two big villains for the Invaders were Master Man and Baron Blood. Do you plan on using them in this series?

What I imagine we will be able to do is acknowledge some of the '40s villains as well as some other '40s characters at some point in the development of the series. I think the ground work will be there, but this is not a villain plot.

Anyone who's read even just a handful of your work will know that you have a tremendous respect not just for these classic characters, whether they be at DC or Marvel, but also a tremendous respect for the history of comics. It's seen in your treatment of characters and the numerous homages in your work to previous, famous scenes. Do you plan on opening up those old "Invaders" comics and choosing various scenes to parallel in your new series?

Absolutely. If possible, the right kind of thing will present itself. My first image that hasn't been completeld yet is self-referential, graphically, to what I did at the end of "Marvels" #1. I've also got thumbnails recreating one of the Invaders specific "What If" stories from 20 years ago. There will be a lot of inspiration, if not specific points, taken from that work.

One of the things that the last 15 years worth of publishing has given us is a lot more reprinting of the authentic books of the 1940s and also some of the works where we've got collections of characters from a lot of the Marvel Comics from back then, characters that never made their way into the Invaders series of the 1970s. Marvel wasn't short on characters back then. Do we have a chance to make some use of that? I know there's something happening like that elsewhere, but I can't say more than that. There's an enormous catalog of characters to play with.

Chiefly, of course, the important thing is can we sex up the Invaders for a modern audience who probably doesn't know who we're talking about, but considering they've been made to care about the Avengers again, I think there's a good chance of that happening.

Oh, and thank God for that! I know I'm about to say an anti-Marvel thing a bit here, but man, I can't stand anymore X-men! Alright? [laughs] I'm happy to have the Avengers be, in a way, the book everybody has to read. I have to read it as soon as it comes out. And look, its got an X-Man in it! See, you've got 'em all covered.

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