Marvel NOW!

Marvel NOW! Q&A: Avengers

Writer Jonathan Hickman shares his grand vision for the next level of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!



Marvel NOW! teaser by Joe Quesada

By David Uzumeri

One of the most visionary creators working in comics today, Jonathan Hickman has proven that meticulous plotting leads to epic results.

From the infographic/sequential art combination of his early creator-owned work like Nightly News and Pax Romana to the interlocking clockwork of plot points and characters that made up his run on FANTASTIC FOUR and FF, he’s always combined a sense of grand scope with an attention to detail that makes his comics eminently re-readable. He’s capable of touching character work, too, especially with the Richards family in FANTASTIC FOUR. However, with that run wrapping up in October, what’s next for him? Why, perhaps the only thing bigger than Marvel’s First Family: following Brian Michael Bendis on the Avengers franchise.

Launching in December with art from Jerome Opeña and Dean White, and in tandem with January’s NEW AVENGERS with art by Steve Epting, Hickman will be rocketing AVENGERS into the future with his combination of effective character work and huge scale ideas. We sat down to chat with him about his upcoming run. What’s the origin of you working on AVENGERS? Was it offered to you? Was it sort of like an open pitch process? Did you actively go after it? How did it happen?

The Avengers

Jonathan Hickman: I did not actively go after it. There was a retreat where we were trying to figure out what was going to happen after Avengers Vs. X-Men. This is before we really got into writing AvX. One of the things that we talked about was changing creative teams across the board, and that, later on, turned into something that we decided to do. I was one of the ones that popped up and said “Well that’s fine. Whatever we need to do. Whatever we think is going to work, whatever we think is going to be exciting, whatever is going to be new and fresh." You know, we all need new experiences. So I volunteered to quit FANTASTIC FOUR on the spot. I said, “You know, I’ll go first. Whatever. I’ll quit FANTASTIC FOUR and I’ll go write Squadron Supreme or something, right?” And I don’t think I got the ball rolling or anything like that, but it certainly let everybody know that I was more than happy to jump around and try new things.

Then when it came time to do roster shake ups, I didn’t solicit for any gig. I think they just sort of started talking about it around the office. And we had done the ULTIMATE COMICS ULTIMATES launch, and even though that launch did not go as well as we wanted because of the New 52 kind of swallowing it over at DC, everybody thought I did a pretty good job. And I thought it was pretty solid. It showed that I can do work with what is essentially an Avengers team and I started getting phone calls about it.

But at the same time, I’m pretty sure that [Avengers editor Tom] Brevoort was on vacation when all of this kind of came to a head. So when Brevoort got back from vacation one of the first conversations I had to have was “You know, some of the management types, some of the brass are talking about me doing this and it’s your book, Tom, I’m not interested in doing it if you don’t want me on there.” And Tom said, "I’m the Avengers guy. I’m the one who’s going to have the final say-so." I replied, “I love working with you and all that kind of stuff, but let me know and if you don’t want me on the book, obviously I’m not interested in doing it if you don’t want to do that but I would love to do anything with you again.” And anyway, it all worked out. We talked about what we wanted the book to be and I was asked to take the job and once I had Tom’s blessing I said yes. And then we got into what the book was going to be. That’s really convoluted, but that’s kind of what happened.

Jonathan Hickman's Fantastic Four Well, that’s a good lead into my next question: A lot of your Marvel work is very ideologically centralized, with central themes being explored through both character work and superhero metaphor. With FANTASTIC FOUR you hit on family and SECRET WARRIORS you explored aging. Does AVENGERS have a similar central theme?

Jonathan Hickman: Yeah, very much so. AVENGERS and NEW AVENGERS are really just two sides of the same book, of the same story. Thematically, they’re aligned too. AVENGERS is about life and NEW AVENGERS is about death. That’s what the two books are. It’s a big book. In the AVENGERS, we tackle the biggest things. You’ve stated your team contains 18 members. Are any of those 18 characters purely yours for the duration of your run, to play with and mold a little bit more than could, say, Captain America or Thor?

Jonathan Hickman: Well, 18 is where we start. And yes, a great number of the characters are going to pretty much be exclusively appearing in the Avengers books. I don’t know how I could do the story if it wasn’t that. But that whole thing where other people are writing Captain America stories, and Thor stories, and Iron Man stories—that’s okay in the sense of AVENGERS because it’s really about the idea of those guys. But no, I’ve structured so that everything else that revolves around those guys is completely malleable and we can play with it however we want. So as much as your AVENGERS run is planned out to a large degree, you’re also giving yourself room to work and modify things if the characters start writing themselves, or someone else has a great idea for Iron Man, or what have you?

The Avengers

Jonathan Hickman: Sure. I mean, just because I have plans doesn’t mean that they’re laws. And in the broader sense I have laid out all of these kinds of guidelines, and they’re the rules. And in a very real way there are no rules. So I’m okay and completely open to things changing and things flopping around, but if someone decides to kill Iron Man, let's say, it’s not going to wreck what I’m doing because the entire premise of the book is built around being able to survive things like that. It’s why all the other characters kind of look at the main Avengers and all the other really big Marvel property characters [as] kind of a hero worship thing. If stuff happens to them in their own books and it resonates across, then that’s fine. It’s all about reacting to that, which has nothing to do with the broader narrative of what is going on in the AVENGERS book. That’s just supplemental stuff that makes it more organic and more spontaneous. How are you approaching the structure of the series? It’s shipping twice a month and will be interconnecting with New AVENGERS as well. Will it have its own discrete arcs and stories or will the books interact on an issue by issue basis like FANTASTIC FOUR and FF?

Jonathan Hickman: It’s not like FANTASTIC FOUR and FF. It’s not like that in that part one of a two-part story could go across both books. That won’t happen until way, way down the line. Not until the story demands it. But if you know what’s going on in one book it makes the other book way more interesting. More like referential things. Iron Man does one thing in one book and we reference it in the other book. It’s not critical to the story that you know what the other thing was, but if you know what the other thing was it’s kind of an “Aha!” moment where you’re like “Oh, I see.” This is a whole world kind of feel.

Jonathan Hickman's Secret Warriors So more like what you were doing with SECRET WARRIORS and S.H.I.E.L.D., for instance?

Jonathan Hickman: Even different than that, but yes—that’s probably a little bit closer. A more obscure reference, but yes. [Laughs] Something like that. How about in relation to the way Bendis had the books interrelate?

Jonathan Hickman: Yeah not at all! In one of the books, everybody knows everything that’s going on. In the other book, nobody knows what’s going on. So one is happening on the down low and the other one is what the world sees. That make sense? Yeah. There have been connections between a lot of your Marvel work—even more than usual in a shared universe; for instance, the Brotherhood of the Shield playing a major role in the SECRET WARRIORS and influencing Nathaniel’s arc in FANTASTIC FOUR. Is AVENGERS largely a new beginning or can we see plot points and loose ends from earlier series picked up in this run?

Jonathan Hickman: Well, I always like to amuse myself so it’s very possible that that stuff will show up. Certainly because with of some of the characters I’m using, some of those threads will be pulled on. But yeah—if I reference something that’s just sitting there and waiting to be mined further and I have a tangential story that would tie right into it of course I’m going to do that. There are two reasons for that. One, it’s more interesting and two, it gives readers of my stuff a little bit extra. Just kind of a—Easter egg isn’t the right word, but just a little bit bigger bite, I suppose, of what I’ve been doing in the Marvel Universe.

The Avengers You said that your AVENGERS is going to have a gigantic, epic tone that increases in scope as it goes on. What are the main influences for your take in terms of previous Avengers stories?

Jonathan Hickman: I don’t think there is any. What I mean by that is, when I took over FANTASTIC FOUR—for example—one of the things I did was I went back and read all the other Fantastic Four books, because my general idea for the premise of what Fantastic Four should be was injecting nostalgia into modernity, and so I wanted to take the modern FANTASTIC FOUR and make people when they read it feel like all of these older Fantastic Four stories are being revisited. It would have that kind of feeling.

This isn’t that at all. This is not trying to go back and look at all the other Avengers stories and see what I like. With FANTASTIC FOUR I went through everything and I picked up stuff that I thought was great, and wonderful, and I revisited a bunch of that or modernized it or tweaked it for a new audience—and then all of the stuff that I didn’t like I just completely disregarded. I’m not doing any of that with AVENGERS. I’m sure, because there have been a ton of issues of AVENGERS and there have been a lot of Avengers stories over the years, that I will do certain things that remind people of previous Avengers stories. But the idea here is for this to be the next logical step of the Avengers paradigm. This should be completely new stuff and we should be doing things that we haven’t done before. On that note, you have Jerome Opeña along to give the book a new visual language and look and feel. I know he’s only on for the first arc so far, but I’m guessing he’s setting up a lot of the overall designs. How’s the collaboration been?

The Avengers by Jerome Opeña

Jonathan Hickman: It’s been good! It’s always interesting when you’re working with an artist who you’ve never worked with before— especially someone as talented as Jerome. This year I’ve gotten to work with John Romita Jr. and Olivier Coipel and Jerome Opeña and Adam Kubert and Mike Deodato and I’ve never worked with those guys before. When you work with talented artists who are that good, a lot of it early going-wise is just trying to figure out how they interpret your script and how to give them what they need. Like those guys? They don’t need any help from me. I don’t need to set them up to cover up deficiencies or cover up storytelling inadequacies or just things that you would do with lesser artists. All these guys are just absolutely amazing.

My job is really not to exert myself and not to supersede what they’re capable of doing but to enable them to just dance. Let them do their thing. So a lot of working with Jerome is me just trying to get out of the way and give him what he needs and let him do his thing. And it seems to be very fruitful so far. All the pages that we’ve gotten in are amazing. He seems to really be having a good time. We both feel really good about the first script, we feel very good about the first issue, and I think that all the people who pick it up are going to be pretty damn stoked. Jerome’s world class and I’m lucky to be working with him.

Jerome Opeña: Jonathan is shooting for something big and that's been really reflected in the script. Most of the pages, so far, have been around four panels at the most so I haven't been really doing anything complicated layout wise. With the four panel pages, it's allowed me the opportunity to use a lot of wide angle panels to try to keep it as cinematic as possible, which in turn, I hope, lends itself to conveying the big feeling that Jonathan is going for. Collaborating with Jonathan has been great and it's very similar to how Rick Remender and I work together.  When it comes to designing a character, Jonathan will sometimes have a rough description as a guide. Other times, since he's also an artist, he'll have a rough drawing of what he had in mind design wise. All that being said, he still gives me free reign to do whatever I think would work or look best. The same can be said for the interiors. He'll have descriptions for each panel and the action going on, but it's ultimately up to me to design or compose how I see fit.

Thor vs The Phoenix by Jerome Opeña Is Dean White following Jerome from UNCANNY X-FORCE?

Jonathan Hickman: Yeah, Dean’s coloring the first couple of issues. So did Jerome do the majority of the design work for this book?

Jonathan Hickman: No. Yes and no. Thor was already designed by Esad Ribic. And the new Iron Man armor had already been designed and Jerome did the Captain America redesign. Hawkeye is going to keep his new costume. Black Widow, obviously, why would you mess with that? She’s killer looking as is. Hulk has, you know, got pants on sometimes. [Laughs] And the other characters, yes, there’s some designing stuff there but there’s also some overarching stuff that I told him we would need to see and some of these characters are going to tie into stuff that we see further down the road. But yeah, all the stuff that Jerome is designing, like all the bad guys and some of the other heroes, it looks fantastic.

Jerome Opeña: I don't know if I'm necessarily setting a tone for the book since I haven't been in contact with the other artists and they may interpret Jonathan's scripts very differently from myself. I also haven't had the opportunity to read any of the stuff Jonathan has written for them, so I'm not sure if anything I've designed will make it to anything they're working on.

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