By Kevin Mahadeo
Earth's Mightiest Heroes became the topic of conversation in Marvel's latest Next Big Thing conference call on Tuesday where writer Brian Michael Bendis and Executive Editor - Vice President Tom Brevoort divulged plans and plots to come in both AVENGERS and NEW AVENGERS.
Things got underway with Bendis discussing next week's release of AVENGERS #7, which adds a new member to the team roster: the raging Red Hulk.
"As [Jeph Loeb's Red Hulk story] was winding up, he—like a lot of us—had that feeling where you did a lot of work on something and you're done and you go, 'I don't want it to go away,'" explained Bendis of how the decision to bring the character to the title came about. "Sometimes characters can go back in the drawer and you never hear from them for a while. It just kind of hit me and I was like, 'He should be an Avenger.’
"The team does need a Hulk, and not only do we get a Hulk, but we get a smart Hulk and a feisty Hulk and a Hulk with some legitimate issues and drama with the other members. It was the closest Jeph Loeb ever came to hugging me."
Of course, the writer did acknowledge the fact that the Red Hulk hadn't made many friends since his first appearance. In fact, the character's actions during World War Hulks pegged him more as a villain than a hero in the eyes of many. However, Bendis said that Red Hulk's addition brings with it some key story elements he looks forward to exploring and fits in directly with the Avengers' previous M.O.
"He isn't trying to be a villain; he's trying to do what he thinks needs to be done," said the writer. "As far as why Steve Rogers would agree or even want him on the team, [Red Hulk is] a man with a very specific military experience and who is a military tactician and also someone who has dealt with very powerful super elements in the Marvel Universe and how to deal with them. Having someone on the team who can help make a plan and execute it with the highest level of power sounds very good.
"And the team by nature, from its earliest days, has always taken in strays who need that little extra kick that help them get over whatever little mistakes that made in their previous life," he added. "You think about Hawkeye. You think about Black Widow. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. These are the earliest members of the Avengers and they were coming off of truly criminal-like careers. They asked for a second chance. The Avengers have been really good at rehabilitating those who really want it."
Along with the addition of the new team member, Bendis begins a brand new story arc, one that sees The Hood searching for the legendary Infinity Gems. The last time readers saw the Hood was in NEW AVENGERS FINALE, and Bendis teased that the first issue in the upcoming arc explains exactly how he managed to go from jail to questing for the most precious stones in the Marvel U.
"Once you had power like that and you lose it, that's a reason for a power quest," related Bendis. "It's one thing to never have power, but to have power and have it lost—especially Asgardian power—you would be on a search."
Through The Hood's quest, Bendis and Brevoort revealed the return and subsequent outing of the Illuminati.
"It's something I've been dying to do," enthused the writer. "It's pretty mindboggling that these guys have been sneaking around everyone's back since the Kree/Skrull War. I think it's one of the biggest revelations, particularly after AVENGERS PRIME and Steve and Tony finding a place to get along. Then this happens. It's a pretty brutal and punishing situation behind the two of them."
Brevoort also added that The Hood also makes a significant appearance in the pages of AVENGERS ACADEMY #7 and #8. The two-part tale deals with the fallout of the villain previously filming and distributing a brutal attack on current Avengers Academy teacher Tigra during Bendis' NEW AVENGERS run.
"That story is by Christos Gage and I believe that is a story where Christos Gage is writing how he wants to beat me up for that Tigra storyline," joked Bendis. "Just imagine me as The Hood in that storyline."
Conversation then turned to NEW AVENGERS. As announced at New York Comic-Con, that book’s cast also expands by one with the arrival of Squirrel Girl as the new nanny for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones' baby. The writer explained that the decision came during an Avengers Summit and that everyone proposed various heroes for the role—all of whom appear during the story—but in the end Squirrel Girl got voted in almost unanimously.
"This announcement [at NYCC], the reaction seemed sustained,” remembered Bendis. “People were very, very happy. To the point where I started looking around the room to see if Stan Lee walked in. We're thrilled that people are excited as we are about this."
"Now that she's at Avenger's Mansion, there is no question to what team of Avengers is the most powerful," joked Brevoort, recognizing Squirrel Girl's previous defeat of some of Marvel's most powerful villains. "That has now been settled completely and there will be no further discussion."
The arrival of Squirrel Girl comes right after the first arc on NEW AVENGERS, which wraps with today's issue #6 and features the death of a major character.
"Issues #6 and #7 will set up what kind of book NEW AVENGERS is in the Heroic Age," said Bendis. "With the death comes a pretty big price that the New Avengers will have to pay and sets up what I think will be one of the more interesting villain situations that we've had in the Avengers book—a brand new villain they really have no way of fighting against."
As a way to look even further into the future of both the titles and the Marvel Universe as a whole, Brevoort shared his thoughts on the historical map of events past, present and future laid out in AVENGERS #5. The editor called special attention to two things. He said that the title’s first arc only set up what’s still to come in the Ultron War.
"The other thing I would point people toward is the comment scrawled off to one side: 'Who is worthy,'" he continued, "Which [are] three words that have a massive impact on the Marvel Universe throughout 2011."
While fielding questions, Bendis addressed the changing rosters of the two teams and whether either Avengers group might find some stability in the future.
"I'd say [the line-up] is 80 percent solid with a little bit of fluidity," he said. "But the Avengers always [changed up the roster]. As I was going back through the classic, early stories, I'm amazed how quickly there's a shift. This guy is in. This guy is out. It's almost every issue. So, there is a kind of historic precedence to it."
In regards to Squirrel Girl, Bendis joked that readers can look forward to "every dumb squirrel joke I can come up with." He also added that down the line, she will play a big role in protecting the baby, but he didn't want to hit that particular story point too early.
"She is going to have a lot of face time and does have some surprising interactions with some of the team from the past that we may or may not know about," he hinted.
Bendis closed out the call by discussing his long tenure on the title. Already holding a record for his continuing work on ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN, Bendis actually recently took the record for the longest run with the Avengers team, as revealed through a Twitter post by Brevoort.
"I know he meant to be nice by saying that, but that's the kind of thing where somebody who has just about had enough of me or who doesn't like me to start with may hear that and go, 'What?!' and then just launch at me; I had to unplug twitter that week," joked the writer. "I like if a creator has it within him to tell these stories, I liked that they put their foot down and stay. I like when you think about Green Lantern, you think about Gil Kane and Geoff Johns. I like when a name is synonymous with a character even if they didn't create it. If I cured cancer, the first three words on my obituary will be 'ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN writer.' I like that. Though I'm not looking to break a record, I'm happy about the opportunity I have to go the distance, as they say."
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