The super scientists of the Marvel Universe have created a variety of dangerous and destructive devices. Many of those devices are products of villainous minds, but some of these inventions were created by heroes looking to improve their world like Bruce Banner’s gamma bomb, or Hank Pym’s killer robot, better known to the world as Ultron.
Writer Roy Thomas and artist John Buscema introduced readers to “Ultron” in 1968’s “Avengers” #54, and the villainous automaton has been hatching schemes to conquer and destroy the world ever since. Those schemes were foiled by the Avengers and many other heroes, but Ultron learned from his failures and in the debut issue of the Marvel’s 10-issue miniseries event, “Age of Ultron,” by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Bryan Hitch, the titular robot finally succeeded in his bid to overthrow humanity.
That doesn’t mean the heroes of the Marvel Universe have given up. In the first three issues of the series a number of champions have stepped forward to challenge Ultron’s rule and uncover the mysteries behind it. CBR News spoke with Marvel’s Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Tom Brevoort about these developments and some forthcoming ones like the arrival of Angela, the former “Spawn” character created by Neil Gaiman, who makes her Marvel Universe debut in “Age of Ultron” #10.
CBR News: Tom, let’s start with the big reveal that Angela will make her Marvel Universe debut and her creator Neil Gaiman will help introduce her into the Marvel Universe. How did this come about? Did Marvel approach Neil? Or did he approach Marvel?
Tom Brevoort: This has been in the works for quite some time. At the same time we were purchasing all the rights to Marvelman and cleaning up that situations we were also speaking with Neil about future stuff involving Marvelman. He mentioned, ‘I’ve also got the rights to this character, Angela. I got her as part of this same arrangement with Todd McFarlane, and at the moment I’m not doing anything with her. Is she something that you guys might be interested in incorporating into what you’re doing?”
So we reached an accord, we came up with a plan, and now we’re rolling that plan out. It’s pretty cool because it brings Neil back into our universe a little bit again. It’s always nice to have him contribute to what we’re doing. Plus we’re making a big splash with a character that has never before been in a Marvel title.
It’s been revealed that Angela will make her debut in a Marvel Films’-style post-credit sequence in “Age of Ultron” #10. Is Neil just helping Brian Bendis out with that sequence or is he co-writing the main story of “Age of Ultron” #10 with Brian as well?
No, that sequence is completely by Brian. Neil is co-writing with Brian the “Guardians of the Galaxy” storyline that springs out of that sequence.
Neil and Brian’s “Guardians” arc starts I believe in issue #5, and springboards directly out of that scene in “Age of Ultron.” It’s a much bigger commitment and involvement from Neil than people might have thought. He’s working with Brian on an entire arc of “Guardians.”
Let’s move from the future of “Age of Ultron” to what’s happened in the series so far. The story began in medias res. So in addition to being a post apocalyptic sci-fi super hero epic it’s also a story with many mysteries. Perhaps the biggest one right now is how all this happened and how the world became this way? Will we see that story in “Age of Ultron” or some of its tie-ins?
You’ll see some of it. In terms of the actual nuts and bolts there’s not really a lot to tell. Every time Ultron has shown up he’s wanted to do the same thing: scour the Earth of humanity and replace them with technological beings similar to himself.
So now in a Pearl Harbor-like strike he came down, did his business, and our heroes, like the soldiers at Pearl Harbor, were caught flat-footed. Before they knew it everything was over and done and we were here. We see a bit of that in “Age of Ultron” #2, and we’ll see bits and pieces of it again in future issues as well as in a couple of the tie-ins, but we’re not going to go into it in tremendous detail, largely because the events aren’t really all that interesting.
It was very much a lightning strike where Ultron put his big metal boot down and down everybody went.
Another thing many readers have been wondering is when and where “Age of Ultron” takes place? Is this a story that happens outside of the main Marvel reality of Earth-616?
I guess it’s an obvious question for people to be asking, but we’ve said it before and we continue to say that “Age of Ultron” is happening within the Marvel Universe and it is happening to our characters now.
Some people have theorized that this happened before Marvel NOW! somehow. No, it’s happening right now and the tie-in books that just shipped today, “Fantastic Four” and “Superior Spider-Man,” help illustrate that. It becomes a lot clearer as Ultron intersects with the Fantastic Four who are off on their time-space journey, and in the Spider-Man story we get the perspective of Otto Octavius whose brain is in Spidey’s body.
So it’s happening right now in the same way that every Marvel story is happening right now. Not too long ago I answered a question by saying, “‘Age of Ultron’ is happening now. The current issue of ‘Avengers’ is happening now. The current issue of ‘Wolverine’ is happening now. So are the current issues of ‘Savage Wolverine’ and ‘Wolverine and the X-Men.'” Every one of those comics is happening right when you read it. Ultimately, once those stories are finished, you’ll kind of be able to put them together in a chronological sequence. “Oh, this Paul Cornell ‘Wolverine’ story must have happened after this Frank Cho ‘Savage Wolverine’ story and before this ‘Avengers’ story.”
It’s the same thing with “Age of Ultron.” The story is happening in the here and now when it’s being published. Once it’s all through you’ll be able to see how it intersects with other stories that are going on at the same time. So it’s no different than any other situation where characters are appearing in multiple books.
â€¨We’re not in an alternate reality or the 617 universe or something like that. It’s our characters. It’s for real, and it’s happening now. We’ve got seven issues left to show people how it all fits together.
And yet in this Marvel Universe, which is happening now, some characters like Thor and Hulk appear to be dead…
That’s true. It’s certainly going to make it difficult to publish those books beyond a certain point, but we weren’t really all that fond of Mark Waid and Jason Aaron anyways. So it’s no great loss. [Laughs] Again, everything will be revealed in time.
The mysteries of the “Age of Ultron” world deepened even more in issue #3 when readers were taken inside an Ultron facility in New York and it was revealed that the Vision seemed to be in charge. I can’t imagine you can tell me what exactly is going on, but perhaps we can talk about how important the synthezoid is to his creator, Ultron? We know Ultron is fixated on Hank Pym, whom he considers his father, but do you think he’s equally fixated on the Vision?
I think he’s fixated on the Vision in a different way. The family around Ultron has always been of paramount importance to him. In fact he’s attempted to extend his family over the years in different stories by creating other robots, like his bride, Alkhema. And there were stories where he was attempting to gather the brain patterns of the Avengers to create other beings like himself. So clearly these familial connections going all the way back to his original Oedipal Complex where he wanted to kill Hank and marry a version of Jan have always been important. And the Vision has the closest ties to Ultron of just about any character in the Marvel Universe.
So he’s certainly going to be a significant piece of what to come. We’ll learn more about his role in “Age of Ultron” #4, where he’s in more than a single panel.
While we’re on the topic of Ultron’s “family” I noticed we haven’t seen Hank Pym or the Wasp (AKA Janet Van Dyne) yet in “Age of Ultron.” Will they have bigger roles in the story later on?
You’ll definitely see both of them and they’ll both get extensive screen time. There may be more Hank than Jan, but Jan is still there as well when we get into future issues. As you’ve seen, we started with a relatively small cast and we’ve slowly been building it up.
In issue #1 we began with really just Hawkeye. Then we picked up Spider-Man before moving to the downed Helicarrier in a cave with about a half a dozen other heroes. Then in issue #2 we cut across the country and brought in Moon Knight and the Black Widow. Then in issue #3 we cut to the center of the country for scenes in Chicago where we saw the Black Panther, Taskmaster, and the Red Hulk, and then moved back to New York for a final scene with the Vision. So we’re picking up other stories as the story goes along and we move our focus from place to place.
We’ll be getting to Hank and Jan in turn as we continue through the remaining issues. They’ll both have roles to play. Like I said, Hank may have a larger one, but that doesn’t undercut Jan’s presence. She’s in a very interesting and unique place when she comes into “Age of Ultron” that I think will surprise some people and will hopefully intrigue them as well.
Let’s move from key characters in “Age of Ultron” to life in this world. In issue #1 Hawkeye uses his crossbow to deliver what appear to be fatal wounds to the thugs guarding Spider-Man. Then in issue #2 Moon Knight kills a person threatening the Black Widow by shooting him in the head. Is it safe to assume that the events that led to the rise of this world made some heroes more pragmatic in their views on killing?
Essentially what our characters are facing here, no two ways about it, is the end of human civilization as they know it. Cap’s shield is shattered and he’s been a broken man, but we’ve seen that he’s starting to get himself together and formulate a plan.
So the world that’s out there that the Owl and Hammerhead and their various thugs are trying to navigate is radically different than the world that existed a couple weeks earlier. Human civilization and its infrastructures are more or less gone. So under those conditions I don’t think it’s implausible, particularly when it comes to characters like Moon Knight. I don’t think he needs much of an excuse to use lethal force.
Hawkeye maybe a little more, but even he recognizes what the situation may call for. As far as our characters are concerned, this is the end of the world. Mankind is on the ropes. So under these circumstances characters are being pushed into situations that they ordinarily would not go to. That’s part of what’s interesting in telling a story like this. It really is a post apocalyptic tale. We’re dropping our characters into that world and seeing how they adapt to it; seeing what they will or won’t do and how they measure up against these overwhelming odds.
In the first three issues of “Age of Ultron” we’ve seen that this story takes place on a national level. Does it take place on a global one as well?
Yes, we will see beyond the confines of the United States over the next couple of issues and also in a couple of the tie-ins. “Avengers Assemble” #15 is set in the United Kingdom. So we’ll have a bunch of action that goes on over there. We’ll see the coming of Ultron from the points of view of characters in the UK like Captain Britain, Captain Marvel, and a few other folks.
Plus, as I mentioned earlier, we’ll be going to some other places around the globe as the story continues on. So this is not simply a North American phenomenon. It’s a global event and we’ll see more of that as we branch out further in the issues to come.
With “Age of Ultron” #3 we’re nearly a third of the way through the story. What can you tell us about the remaining chapters of the first half of the story? From talking with Brian Bendis it sounds like issue #5 ends with an event so big it lends itself to the change in artists that’s coming up?
It’s not so much the end of issue #5 as it is the beginning of issue #6, but that is exactly right. As you get to that point and move into issue #6 it will be very apparent to everybody who’s reading why and how the artists shift operates and functions. You’ll see why both Brandon Peterson and Carlos Pacheco, who are doing portions of issue #6 and beyond, are doing the sections that they’re doing. There is a methodology to it that makes sense.
I can’t tell you a heck of a lot about it just now, but you’ll certainly get a sense of it by the time you get to “Age of Ultron” #5. Then you’ll see it play out in issue #6 and subsequent issues.
Let’s talk a little more about the artists working on “Age of Ultron” starting with Bryan Hitch. My first memories of his work were the “JLA” stories he did with Mark Waid, particularly the oversized graphic novel “Heaven’s Ladder.” On that book he showed a real flair for science fiction, and it seems like the mission statement here is a little similar; to tell a huge widescreen science fiction epic?
I’m going to use last names here because it gets confusing otherwise. As he does with any artist he knows he’s working with, Bendis really tried to tailor his approach to the story to Hitch’s strengths and aptitudes. He does the same thing later on when we get into the issues where he’s writing for Carlos and Brandon.
That’s one of the reasons why the first half of the first issue of “Age of Ultron” is practically wordless. There’s very little copy and it’s all allowing Hitch to tell the story visually and cinematically, which is one of the things he does extremely well; not just giving you every bit of rubble and detritus in these vast vistas of destroyed cityscapes and landscapes, but cinematically following the characters. We follow Hawkeye’s incursion into this building and into a battle with Hammerhead and the Owl. Then we have the reveal of the Ultrons showing up.
â€¨That whole sequence, which is about 20-25 pages, has relatively little copy on it. That copy quotient goes up once Hawkeye and Spidey arrive at the cave where the other heroes are at. So I think Bendis really tried to take advantage of the strengths that Hitch brings to the story and give him the latitude to do what he does best.
I think, of everybody working in comics, Bryan Hitch is probably the most cinematic storyteller. He moves his camera and sets up his shots like a movie. So it’s an immersive experience to read one of his stories, whether “Heaven’s Ladder” as you mentioned, or “Ultimates,” “Age of Ultron,” or “America’s Got Powers.” Depending on the needs of the story he’s really good at giving you a feeling of being there and following the effortless glide of a camera as it moves through space and gives you a sense of this world. I think Bendis was very much trying to take advantage of that.
Let’s move from Hitch to Brandon Peterson and Carlos Pacheco, two artists who are also really good at technology. What else do you feel they bring to the issues that they’re doing?
It’s hard to talk about that [Laughs] because obviously there’s something that happens in “Age of Ultron” #5 that lends itself to the fact that Brandon and Carlos are doing portions of issues #6, #7 and so forth. I can’t really talk too much though about what that involves.
I can say that both of them are excellent illustrators. They both do great, heroic characters. As you mentioned, they’re both great with technology. Also, both of them recently worked very effectively with Brian on his last “Avengers” and “New Avengers” stories. So there’s a nice comfort level there in terms of what they would bring to the table. You can ask me this question again when issue #6 comes out, but right now it’s hard for me to say specifically why Brandon was the perfect person to do this without telling you what this is.
Fair enough. Then of course we know that Joe Quesada has an issue on the horizon as well, “Age of Ultron” #10. Can you comment at all on his work on the issue?
It’s not an issue and it’s good that we’re covering this. I want to make sure that everybody understands that Joe is not doing an entire issue. He is doing a portion of issue #10; specifically, the Angela portion.
In point of fact there will be material in issue #10 from Carlos, from Brandon, from Bryan, from Joe, and a couple of other surprise guys. Again it’s all based upon the content of the material.
I want to be very clear though, because while I certainly love the idea that people are super-excited by “Age of Ultron” #10, I don’t want them walking around thinking that Joe is going to be drawing the entire comic when in fact he’s only doing the Angela sequence.
It sounds like he’s doing something that he’ll have more than enough time to complete given his other duties?
Oh yes. Doing this is a priority and honestly one of the reasons it’s Joe, beyond the fact that he’s an upper echelon artist and we’re happy to have him draw anything that we can squeeze into his schedule for [Laughs], is the fact that for the longest time the reveal that Angela was going to appear at the end of “Age of Ultron” was a closely guarded secret. So much so that even the artists on the other portions of the book didn’t know about it. So in order to try and keep that to as tight a crew as possible it just made sense. At some point Joe said, “I’ll draw that sequence, and this way we don’t have to worry about getting reference to another artist or bringing other people into the loop.”
It allowed us to keep the circle small and tight and control the information until we were ready to let the world know what was going on. That wasn’t something I argued against a whole lot because Joe was pretty much volunteering to draw part of the end of our big event, and it’s a wonderful thing when that happens. So it was win-win from my point of view.
We know that there will be fallout from “Age of Ultron” and that it will affect the larger Universe, but I’m curious if it will impact or set up the next major Marvel event, “Infinity.” Will “Age of Ultron” contain clues about “Infinity” and set that story in motion?
Not as such, no. It’s kinda become an expectation to think that one event will connect to another, but “Siege” didn’t really set up anything for “Fear Itself” and “Fear Itself” didn’t really set up anything for “Avengers Vs. X-Men.” So “Infinity” is its own thing and we will talk about that on the day it’s time to talk about that.
“Age of Ultron” sets up a lot of stuff. By the time you get to the final issue and see the crazy things that go on and the ramifications of them there will be plenty of things for people to be excited about and invested in, but the set up for “Infinity” isn’t one of them. “Infinity” is a separate thing from “Age of Ultron.”
Finally, we’re close to a third of the way through “Age of Ultron” and you’re in contact with many Marvel readers via various social media. What kind of feedback have you gotten from them about the series so far?
So far it seems like it’s been going over pretty well. The comments I see the most are the ones you sort of started with. Some people are a little bit confused or feel a little bit off kilter in terms of where they are in reading “Age of Ultron.” Some of that is deliberate on our part. The story that Brian wanted to tell dropped you into this world and had you reeling as much as the characters were reeling. So the fact that people are having that feeling is the right thing. It’s the effect we’re going for, but again it really is happening. It really is our Marvel Universe.
The extreme velocity with which we’re releasing issues of “Age of Ultron” means that #4 will be along shortly and there are some excellent tie-in issues coming up. I read the “Wolverine & the X-Men” one last week and it was really good, and we’re finishing up the “Uncanny Avengers” one right now. That’s coming together very nicely. So the fact that we also contained this to a smaller scope I think is having a benefit as well.
It’s funny though, too, going back to the earlier point, somebody said to me just the other day, “One of the reasons we’re thinking this has to be an alternate reality is the tie-ins. There aren’t that many tie-ins. There’s not a lot of stuff there that really says this is really important.”
I had to reply, “Stop and think what you’re saying to me here. Because for years now, we’ve heard from fans that we do too many tie-ins. They love ‘Civil War’ and ‘Secret Invasion,’ but man all the tie-in books get them right in the wallet. They can’t afford to keep up with everything. So we’ve sort of got on board over the last couple of events. We scaled back our tie-ins on ‘Avengers Vs X-Men’ and we scaled them back on ‘Age of Ultron.’ Now what you’re telling us is we need to have more tie-ins. Well, when we get to ‘Infinity’ and what comes after it and there are a lot more tie-ins, remember you asked for it.” [Laughs]
“Age of Ultron” #4 by Brian Michael Bendis and Bryan Hitch is on sale now.