By Ben Morse
15 years ago, a young painter named Alex Ross first made his mark on comic books with an unforgettable rendition of the Golden Age Human Torch, kicking off the landmark MARVELS limited series. Now older, wiser and among the most celebrated creators in the medium, Ross prepares to reunite with the Torch—and both have brought friends.
Beginning in May, Ross pulls triple duty on the 12-part AVENGERS/INVADERS, co-writing, providing designs and painting covers for the series that brings the original Torch and his war-time cronies face-to-face with Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Joining Ross on this odyssey into adventure will be long-time co-writer Jim Krueger as well as interior artist Steve Sadowski.
Marvel.com spent an afternoon grilling Ross over the phone about this titanic team-up, his return to the House of Ideas and his various views and always interesting opinions on the current Marvel Universe and more.
Marvel.com: So what was the impetus to do AVENGERS/INVADERS?
The comic is about the very cool idea of revisiting characters that, frankly, we haven't seen in a Marvel comic in a while, aside from the little clips that we see in CAPTAIN AMERICA that [writer] Ed Brubaker does, which [have] been awesome. Ed has really [established] the sense that these are men in a war
. They have to be all soldiers because they're going out there to kill [expletive deleted
] Which translates to they're going out there to kill or be killed. So resuscitating that for Marvel continuity today and having that face-to-face with the very contentious world of the modern Avengers is, to me personally, extremely exciting.
Marvel.com: What sets off the conflict in this story?
I think what drives the plot is simply, "holy crap, if that's them and they are who they are, you gotta grab them and put them in a box somewhere," because the entire nature of reality could be shifted by these guys who don't belong here now and have to fulfill a history. They have to fulfill their lives for everything to go forward as it has. And if they don't do that, if they get somehow messed up, or they say something that could change time, maybe their very lives affect all of reality. So these guys could be an entire tipping point for the universe.
Marvel.com: How do the various teams approach the situation differently?
Well the Invaders aren't with an agenda of anything other than "What the heck are we stuck within?" They're warriors who are caught amidst a war and question who to believe, especially when the first thing [they encounter is people who think] they need to be captured. You know, that's the Tony Stark approach: "These guys need to be captured." And of course the New Avengers [are thinking] "That's Cap, we gotta free Cap! Get Cap over here with us and then we'll figure things out." But the New Avengers [also] operate with the aid of Dr. Strange who [knows] there is something going on with the timeline, with history, with alterations from the past. And
it's not strictly related to the fault of these men time-traveling, but there's a link. So it's figuring out how this comes together. Why is this happening? And what can they do to correct everything?
Marvel.com: How did this project come together behind the scenes?
It's something that [Dynamite Entertainment] pitched to me and Jim. [Dynamite] publisher Nick Barucci came up with the real simple idea of crossing over the classic team [with the] very popular New Avengers. [The project] started so long ago that it was actually just the New Avengers, and of course now it's two
teams. When they killed [Captain America] at the beginning of  I took that as actually a really great quality for what the story could respond to. Because otherwise it would have been two Captain Americas in our story.
Marvel.com: Where does your affection for characters from the Golden Age in general and the Invaders specifically come from?
I think that the time period, the fact that they were in the midst of fighting the war, there's always been something very romantic about that period in history. Everything was in this state of flux and you had the first creation of super heroes. I loved the INVADERS series as I saw it as a kid. I liked anything I was exposed to [involving] characters as they were created in the Golden Age, especially in looking at what was the original design.
Marvel.com: You started your career at Marvel 15 years ago painting the original Human Torch in MARVELS—what are your recollections of when you first approached the character?
My driving impetus for creating the initial pitch [for MARVELS] that would lead to me working on [the project] with [writer] Kurt [Busiek] was based around one illustration of the Human Torch in a way that looked like rendered flame as flame looks now in CGI, [which made] it look different than anything that had happened in comics at that point. There had been no precedent made, there had only been a handful of
by Alex Ross
[painted] comics in history [and] very little had been done in crossing over into the whole world of super heroes. So any other illustrations of the Human Torch looked like guys painting adaptations of Jack Kirby's style of drawing flame versus, say, just studying flame and putting it on a human body. So I was obsessed with making that come to life.
Marvel.com: Yeah, prior to MARVELS both versions of the Torch just seemed to be red guys with black lines on them, but you don't see that interpretation much anymore.
This is such a ridiculous thing to say but I'll say it anyways: when I [painted th Human Torch] I was like, "See, I've changed everything." And within just a few years you had this ["Heroes Reborns"] deal with Marvel where you had Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld redoing all the main characters and in the FF book that Jim Lee drew, he went right back to the whole lines on the body thing. And I thought, "Wait, what are you doing man? I just fixed this!" [Laughs
] I kept thinking that there would be this opportunity to for a computer colorist to go in there and render anything that I did with a paintbrush with a digital brush. It took longer before that sort of filtered down. Like when you see Bryan Hitch's new [FANTASTIC FOUR work] or the use of flashbacks of the Human Torch in CAPTAIN AMERICA, you see it handled in the way that, graphically, really does feel like something tactile and real versus the pen and ink interpretation.
Marvel.com: Switching gears, what has it been like handling the current Avengers both from a standpoint of painting them on the covers and then writing them as well?
Well I haven't had enough chance with a lot of them yet. One of my thrills of wanting to come and work with this [version] of [the] Avengers is [that] I absolutely adore the Jessica Drew Spider-Woman. I think it's one of the greatest costumes in comics. So getting to fit her in the story and getting to make her more important was one of my pushes. I [also] love the Dave Cockrum design of Ms. Marvel and even better
the Frank Cho revision of the same. You know, she's a woman with a lot of heft. [Laughs
] I'm thrilled to work with designs I absolutely love as recently readdressed by some of the hottest illustrators in comics, guys like [David] Finch and Cho and Leinil Yu. [There are a] lot of great people working at Marvel right now, so the thing about coming to work [here] is like, "Shoot, will I stand out?" You know, I'm going to have to do some really hard work on some of these covers [to] come out feeling like I really stand out apart from the pack. I mean there's some really phenomenal people working for this company!
Marvel.com: Outside of the Avengers and the Invaders, who can we expect to see show up in this story in the way of villains, guest stars, etc.?
There will be villains that will make their presence known in the story as [we] go along, but because there's so much conflict to be had [between the heroes], that's the initial distraction that we have to contend with. When you find out more about who's behind the scenes, that'll expose itself. So there are multiple villains that will make their presence known and the other characters [like] the Thunderbolts.
Marvel.com: You mentioned Ed Brubaker's work on CAPTAIN AMERICA in part inspiring this series—what have you thought of that book and what was it like to be a part of that team designing the new Cap's costume?
It was a great opportunity because I've been a long time fan of that book and Brubaker made me a convert to the ambition of bringing the character of Bucky back in full. I was not a supporter initially and there's part of me that still has that, "Ah can't some people stay dead?" philosophy, but at the same time in the 40 some years Bucky has been interpreted as a dead character in Marvel continuity, he's actually always been active. Whether it was Rick Jones wearing his costume, revisiting stories set in the Golden Age like Kirby [did] or the INVADERS series that he's featured in, or the character of Nomad that was supposed to be a clone of him. There's countless examples along the way of this character never really [staying] dead in terms of story telling. He was symbolically a dead person and Brubaker just finally brought it to an end and said, "You know what, in the world of who populates what's important to Captain America, this guy needs to be here." And he's got a full court cast of everybody's who's important in Cap history operating in this book. And I can't really begrudge that.
Red Skull sketch
by Alex Ross
Because in a world where killing characters is such the common fodder of the day, taking a step towards life and rebirth—I'll vote for that instead.
Marvel.com: Given the opportunity, would you be interested in doing an ongoing series with the Invaders?
There's a definite interest in a revival of the Invaders in full and lets hope everything works out well with this series because we're having a great time and hopefully it leads to more.
Marvel.com: Beyond that, you've worked on just about every character at Marvel in some form or another between MARVELS and the Earth X trilogy and now this, but do you have your eyes on any future projects once AVENGERS/INVADERS concludes?
I've got a great interest in so many Marvel characters, it remains to be seen what I'll be able to do next and it'll all be based upon what Marvel's interested in too. I don't dictate anything to them.
AVENGERS/INVADERS #1 ships on May 7. You can read Alex Ross' original masterpiece, MARVELS, on Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.