As a hero in the Marvel Universe, saving the world is part of the job — but how far would you go to accomplish this mission? That’s the question writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Steve Epting raised in the opening arc of their Marvel NOW! “New Avengers” series where Doctor Strange, Reed Richards, Namor, Black Bolt, Iron Man, Black Panther and the Beast formed a new version of the secret superhero Illuminati to battle a mysterious threat to all life on Earth.
That threat, a strange phenomenon known as an “Incursion Event” where two Earths from different realities occupy the same space until one is destroyed, became even more pronounced in “New Avengers” #6, the final installment of the opening arc. CBR News spoke with Marvel Editor Tom Brevoort about the Incursion threat, the other mysteries and menaces currently plaguing the title characters and the role “New Avengers” plays in August’s Marvel cosmic event “Infinity.” Plus, exclusive art!
CBR News: Tom, let’s kick off by talking about the dynamic of this new incarnation of the Illuminati, formed in the introductory arc of “New Avengers.” Â While they may be stars of a book that has “Avengers” in its title, at times it feels like each character has more in common with a non-team group like the Defenders. Is that a fair comparison?
Tom Brevoort: I guess that’s a fair comparison, but nobody complained or balked in the past when we used the Illuminati in past volumes of “New Avengers.” In fact the limited series we did was titled “New Avengers: Illuminati.”
Given the kinds of characters that these heroes are it’s definitely got a different flavor than the average Avengers book. It’s bigger in the sense that all characters involved are chiefs — there aren’t a lot of foot soldiers. So in that regard it feels more like the Defenders. It might just be the best way for some people to grapple with it.
To me they feel more like the Grant Morrison “JLA.” It’s all the big characters in a room together doing big stuff, but that’s my interpretation and I think yours is equally valid.
I used the Defenders comparison because in this series we have Namor and Black Panther, who hate each other’s guts, working together as part of this group trying to save the world. It always felt like the Classic Defenders were a team that was ready to slug each other at a moment’s notice.
That’s true, but also if you go back and look at some classic Avengers stories, like the Cap’s Kookie Quartet era, you had a team of four characters that pretty much wanted to punch each other out in-between punching the bad guys. So it’s not as though the Avengers have always been harmonious in what they’ve done.
When I started reading “Avengers” in the late ’70s there was a big schism between Iron Man and Captain America where they were virtually coming to blows over leadership of the team. So we tend to think of these things as being in sort of a solid state, but Marvel characters have never been shy about wanting to knock one another on their backsides [Laughs].
Some of the “New Avengers” interactions in this initial arc came during their adventures on alternate Earths as they tried to stop Incursions. Is “New Avengers” a book with something to offer fans of alternate Marvel reality stories like “Exiles” or “X-Treme X-Men?”
We certainly see more of the alternate Earths and alternate universes as we move ahead, but not in quite the same way that we did in “Exiles” or “X-Treme X-Men.” “New Avengers” is a very different sort of series — our focus is not the same as with those titles. That being said, the fun of going to these worlds is seeing what various characters are like in those iterations when they’re applicable to the story or the situation that our New Avengers find themselves in during a particular Incursion.
So we see some of that, but it’s not the central motif of the series.
I imagine the time limit of Incursion Events makes in-depth exploration of these various worlds difficult.
Right. There’s eight hours until something has to happen. So the voyages to these world are definitely stop-overs at best [Laughs].
In this initial arc, Jonathan Hickman set up some of the main threats this team faces, including the Great Destroyer entity the Black Swan keeps talking about, Rabum Alal, who appears to be responsible for the Red Incursions. From what Black Swan has told us, Alal seems like a wrathful god people fear but also worship out of a sense of reverence and respect.
That’s certainly one interpretation. I have to be coy because I know where this stuff is going and I don’t want to reveal too much. The Black Swan has a very specific perspective on what’s going on. She views it as something halfway between a religion and the natural cycle of birth, death, testing and rebirth. So every bit of information she imparts is seen through the lens of her particular background, culture, upbringing and point of view.
So faced with the same situation — or the same circumstance or the same individual — Iron Man, the Panther and Reed Richards might have a very different interpretation of who this is, what it is going on and the engine that’s driving it all.
Since her perspective is colored by a religious belief system, I have to wonder about the Black Swan’s reliability as a narrator. Would she lie to the Illuminati?
I think every character in that room would lie [Laughs], not just her. We’ve certainly seen circumstances where almost all, if not every single one, of the Illuminati has told an untruth or lie of omission for the greater good.
What we know about the Black Swan is contained within those first six “New Avengers” issues. That’s the sum total of her fictional existence. So whether or not what she’s saying is absolutely true, partially true or filtered through her own perspective — and whether she’s telling everything or has a larger agenda for what she’s revealing — all remains to be seen.
She certainly hasn’t been that forthcoming over the course of those issues, but what she’s ultimately up to is something for the readers to determine for themselves… right now. They have to decide how much credence they want to give to anything she’s saying about what’s going on and how it all works, in the same way the Illuminati members themselves have to evaluate that information and draw their own conclusions.
So if a character tells us something in this book it’s not necessarily true?
I think that’s a general storytelling rule, particularly these days. It’s worth bearing in mind more often than not.
I certainly see cases online where in a particular comic book somebody said something like, “My repulsor rays can release X amounts of energy.” But in a later comic they did something else. Then fans say, “Well how can that be?” It could be the information that was given out in the previous comic book was not 100% accurate, not all encompassing or not correct. Or it could be any number of things.
When an omniscient narrator tells you something, you have to accept it as factual because that’s the purpose of an omniscient narrator. When a character tells you something, you have to consider the point of view of that character. Even if that character is attempting to be truthful, they’re telling the truth as they understand it from their perspective.
We’ve been calling her Black Swan, but the character revealed in issue #5 the Black Swan name is actually part of a larger order she belongs to. So she’s actually one of many, correct?
Yes, there is more than one and they are an Order.
We were given shadowy glimpses of three members in “New Avengers” #5 — should readers have been able to deduce any concrete details about those characters from their quick appearances? One looked to be a member of the alien race known as the Shi’ar.
My answer to that question is you tell me [Laughs]. Are you able to deduce some details from those characters? Possibly. We certainly didn’t create those images haphazardly. I imagine what you’re really asking though is there more there than meets the eye to these characters? My answer to that is yes of course.
The Black Swan, the order of the Black Swans, what’s going on with them and what role they play beyond what we’ve already shown and explained is delved into deeper as the story gets further along.
In terms of what deductions you can make? Deduce away!
Lets switch focus to the threat introduced in “New Avengers” #6, the Blue Incursions, which meant the Sidera Maris, AKA the Mapmakers, had arrived at a particular world. What can you tell us about the culture of the Sidera Maris? They seem like high-tech marauding nomads.
That’s pretty much right. It says in that issue the Mapmakers use incursions to travel from one universe to the next; eating, consuming, pillaging and plundering as they go, then exiting out the back door before it closes on them.
So they’re a ravenous band of marauding entities who’ll no doubt pose a threat to the New Avengers and the safety of our universe in the days to come. Even apart from the Incursions they would be a problem, but the Incursions make them an even bigger threat because it gives them a way into new worlds.
How significant are the colors associated with the Incursions? The red and blue ones had me thinking about the astronomical concepts of Red Shifts and Blue Shifts.
I don’t think there’s anything writer Jonathan Hickman does without some purpose to it. As we’ve already seen, a Blue Incursion is a portent of something different than a Red Incursion. Maybe we’ll see Yellow Incursions? Or White Ones?
As to whether or not the Red and Blue incursions have anything to do with Red Shifts and Blue Shifts? I forget which is which. I know one is an object coming closer to you and the other is an object moving away, but in both cases here we’re dealing with another Universe coming towards us.
So I don’t think the colors are significant on that level necessarily, but there’s probably a pattern or scheme behind those choices.
Issue #6 introduced another threat to the team — they’ve caught the attention of Doctor Doom. At the end of the issue how much did Doom know and how curious was he about the Incursion Event that just happened in his country?
The real answer to that is “New Avengers” #7. Doom knows as much as he was able to ascertain from the couple of hours that Incursion Event took place and what he was able to observe for himself. He also presumably has the fragment of matter that fell from the other universe, and Doom being a scientist on par with Reed, Tony and T’Challa is able to garner a lot of information from the study of that artifact; what it is, what it could be used for, where it comes from and how to get more of it.
The introduction of Doom to the proceedings is not a one off, minor thing. We’ll see him again immediately in “New Avengers #7, so he’s definitely a player on the chessboard at this point.
Issue #7 kicks off a new story arc — what can you tell us about the plot and themes of this story? Is it a prelude to “Infinity?”
Yes it is a prelude, although it’s shorter than the upcoming “Signal” arc in “Avengers” #14 because it’s only two issues rather than four. Then we’re into “Infinity” proper and the “New Avengers” side of “Infinity.” So going into that we see a big throwdown between T’Challa and Namor, and by extension Wakanda and Atlantis.
As things get worse over there, we see problems develop on the Inhumans side as well. Black Bolt — beyond the fact that he’s not the most verbose person to begin with — is clearly keeping a secret from Medusa, his other wives and the rest of the Inhumans. That causes some strife, and perhaps leads to him working with folks that it might be ill advisable to work with.
At the beginning of “New Avengers” #7, we immediately get caught up with the rest of the Marvel Universe. Iron Man is in space, Reed Richards is off on his extradimensional healing field trip. The Beast is now apelike and furry as opposed to catlike and furry, and all the other little things that happened over the course of that time period are addressed straight out of the gate in issue #7. We’re on a quick hop to “Infinity” which hits in August.
How big a role do the New Avengers play in “Infinity?” How important is the tie-in arc to the ongoing story of the Incursions?
The role the New Avengers play in “Infinity” is massive! The entirety of “Infinity” is intrinsically linked with the larger story that’s going on in both “Avengers” and “New Avengers.” It’s no exaggeration to say that in addition to the six issues of “Infinity,” the six “Avengers” issues and four “New Avengers” issues are required reading in order to get the full picture of what’s going on.
We’re structuring this so you could just read the core “Infinity” series, but the “Avengers” and “New Avengers” issues are so important to the overall story — it’s something that comes out of those pages. Their importance cannot be overestimated. For the duration of “Infinity,” we’re giving both books the same cover treatment as the main event series. The other various tie-ins, which are all important in their own right, have a slightly different trade dress reflecting their place as an “Infinity” tie-in. “Avengers” and “New Avengers” though look like what they are — issues of “Infinity.”
Issue #7 marks the debut of new regular series artist Mike Deodato. What does he bring to the book?
Deo, as he’s proven over the last five to six years on the previous volumes of “Avengers” and “New Avengers,” can draw anything. When the story calls for it he brings the same kind of darkness to his palette as Steve Epting.
He does things that are big in scale, which you have to be able to do in order to draw “New Avengers,” because we’re talking about events on a scale larger than the universe. He also handles all the interpersonal stuff and the smaller moments that really make the larger moments sing. He’s a super versatile A-List super hero artist, and we’re happy to have him on “New Avengers.”
You mentioned how “New Avengers,” “Avengers” and the “Infinity” event series all combine to form the complete “Infinity” saga. So should “New Avengers” readers check out “Avengers” because it compliments and adds to the larger story Hickman is telling?
Yes. From the beginning, the stories in these new volumes of “Avengers” and “New Avengers” are two sides of the same coin. We said that at the outset and I think people may have overlooked or lost sight of it because at first they didn’t know what to make of “New Avengers.” Now they don’t quite know what to make of “Avengers.”
It’s very interesting to watch that happen, but what we’re really seeing here are two approaches to the same larger story that is going on. Eventually there comes a point down the line where all these story beats and machinations crash together in a big way, and the larger pattern is revealed. Then people will go, “AH! I really should have read those issues of ‘Avengers.’ I should go out and buy those collections now to get caught up, or download them digitally.”
You can absolutely read either of the books separately, but eventually we get to a point where you’ll want to know about the stuff that’s going on in “Avengers” and “New Avengers” if you’re just following the other title.
That begs the question of is “Infinity” the place where all these storylines start to intersect and crash together?
It’s the tip of the iceberg, but not completely. Certainly “Avengers” and “New Avengers” intersect heavily in “Infinity,” but even there the “Avengers” track and the “New Avengers” track are separate. They’re doing what they’re doing independently at the same time within the context of “Infinity.”
After “Infinity” we come back to the status quo. The Avengers are doing their thing over here, and the New Avengers are secretly dealing with the Incursions and all those matters over there. So the books are still separate entities. Then down the line there’s a point where all that stuff smacks together.
So yes, there’s definitely much more connectivity during “Infinity” than there has been, but not to the point where in the aftermath it’s going to be one book that comes out three times a month.
So “Infinity” is where we start to get answers about the larger interlinked mysteries in both books?
You’ll definitely get more clues, but I don’t know how many answers you’ll get. There is a big rousing space adventure on many fronts with the kind of scale that we’ve not often attempted.
“Infinity” is really like two events in one — there’s a lot going on. Much as with “Avengers” and “New Avengers” it’s very thick with substance; a story of consequence, scale and importance, and a very different event than the ones we’ve done in the past. Hopefully people are up for it and are intrigued by it.
I want to thank everybody for getting on board with “New Avengers.” As I said, people didn’t seem to know quite what to make of it at the outset. I remember after the first issue came out, which was almost entirely focused on T’Challa, people were very confused. They were saying things like, “What is this?,” “I wish you would have gotten into the story faster” and “What is going on?” Now, six issues deep, people seem to have their minds wrapped around it and are really into it, which is very gratifying.
New Avengers” #7 goes on sale June 19