Just like the real world, time and space in the Marvel Universe is incredibly vast and full of mysteries. The big difference, however, is that through the lens of the Marvel U creators can explore the enigmas of time and space and enliven them with fantastic concepts. This often leads to line-wide events with massive scope and an even larger cast of characters.
Marvel’s latest event is the ten-issue “Age of Ultron” miniseries, by writer Brian Michael Bendis, time has run amok as the titular genocidal robot has used the future as a staging ground for an assault on the present and attempts to stop him have created a strange new present day. “Age of Ultron” wraps in June, and then in August writer Jonathan Hickman explores the mysteries and menaces of both Earth and deep space in the six-issue event miniseries “Infinity.” CBR News spoke with Marvel Executive Editor and Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort about the end of the “Age of Ultron” and the beginning of “Infinity,” as well as what both meant to the larger Marvel Universe.
CBR News: Tom, “Age of Ultron” and the current stories in both “Uncanny Avengers” and “All-New X-Men” all involve time travel. Then in the upcoming months we’ll have the X-Men event “Battle of the Atom” and a “Superior Spider-Man” story which also involves time travel. Are these current and upcoming stories the first hints of a larger story involving the space-time continuum in the Marvel Universe? And should readers be wondering how much more pressure the continuum can take?
Tom Brevoort: [Laughs] I think readers certainly should be wondering about how much more pressure the space-time continuum can take, and we’ll see more of that as “Age of Ultron” goes on. This is not the first hint of something. “Age of Ultron” is actually the last hint of something, and some big stuff will happen by the end of the series, which will have a ripple effect on your understanding of some of these other stories. That will also propel certain things forward into the future of the Marvel Universe.
â€¨So there will definitely be effects and connectivity between “Age of Ultron” and the story that’s been going on in the two X-Men books and some of the other stories going on across the Marvel Universe and the Marvel publishing line where we’ve seen a lot of time and dimension traveling activity as of late.
â€¨There’s a chain of causality and we’re closer now in “Age of Ultron” to showing you stuff than perhaps you think we are. So you’re on the right track. It’s just that we’re further down that track than you think we are.
Time got further altered in “Age of Ultron” #6 when Wolverine and Sue Richards of the Fantastic Four travelled back in time to kill Hank Pym in order to keep him from creating Ultron. Wolverine is, of course, a natural choice to do something messy that may seem necessary, but what made you want to use Sue Richards as his accomplice?
I don’t know if Sue is his accomplice as much as she is his fellow traveler in that particular story, but there were a couple of reasons. Wolverine was kind of the obvious character to make this sort of decision and embark on this journey. He’s sort of the most pragmatic and to some degree the most cynical of the Marvel heroes, especially after having gone through the events he witnessed in “Age of Ultron”: the death and destruction of most of his friends, his school, the kids he was supposed to be shepherding for the future, and pretty much the whole of human civilization.
Wolverine is the sort of practical man who will take a small evil onto himself to create a larger good for other people. That’s always been his driving ethos. So him deciding, “I’m going to go back and stop this thing before it even starts by killing Hank Pym” made all the sense in the world. If it was just Wolverine though it would feel too much like stories we’ve done before. Brian [Bendis] in particular was very conscious of the fact that he had done “House of M” several years ago, where the world was turned topsy turvy by the Scarlet Witch’s spell and Wolverine was the only one who remembered the original time line. So he had to get everyone back together and put things right.
Because it started to seem too much like the same sort of beat we cast around for other characters who could bring something interesting to the table, and Sue was an interesting counterpoint to Wolverine in this. They’re both long, storied Marvel characters who have been around for many years, but they haven’t spent a lot of time interacting with one another. So right there we have an interaction that’s new and different.
â€¨Sue’s always had a very different viewpoint than Wolverine has had, but she, too, has been through some fairly significant and awful things through the course of “Age of Ultron” that might push her to the point where she would see the benefits and truth in this course of action that Wolverine was proselytizing. I thought Matt Kindt did a really good job of getting into both characters’ heads in his “Wolverine & the X-Men” tie-in issue to “Age of Ultron.”
After Wolverine and Sue kill Hank in the past they travel forward to a dramatically different present time line where they encounter a changed Tony Stark and America’s premier super team, The Defenders. I imagine we’ll learn more about this world in the next couple of issues, but it does seem like a place with a fascinating history. Is there a chance that world could be revisited later in the same way Marvel did several “House of M” miniseries after that event?
[Laughs] You’re putting the cart before the horse. Some of that depends on where we end up by the end of this thing. You still don’t know if it’s a place that can be revisited, or undone, or redone.
It’s comics. So on a certain level we can do anything that we want, but a lot of readers have gone into “Age of Ultron” with this sort of expectation that it’s all going to be wiped away at the end and none of it’s going to matter, even though they’re reading it every time it comes out. So I really don’t want to do anything to steer into that.
Right now it’s the world of the Marvel Universe present. It’s a bleak, chaotic, and fairly high strung place. Certainly a bunch of things have gone differently. The fact that there’s been no Hank Pym since whatever the Marvel Universe time equivalent of 1967 is has had a radical ripple effect on a lot of stuff.
Now Wolverine is faced with the tangible results of his course of action. So that begs the question, is this new present that came about because of Hank Pym’s death any better than the one that was undone where Ultron had over run everything? That’s one of the questions we’ll answer as we move into the subsequent issues. Wolverine will also come face to face with the fact that the people who warned him that time travel doesn’t work the way he believes it does were right, and an ends justify the means approach is not as simple as he might like it to be.
We haven’t seen Captain America and Nick Fury’s team who travelled forward in time to confront Ultron in the future since issue #6. At the end of that issue things seemed pretty grim for them. Can you comment at all on the fate of those characters?
It looks like the characters that we saw go into the future aren’t going to be doing much more than decomposing in the future [Laughs]. Will we get back around to see some of these characters by the end of “Age of Ultron?” Yes, but in exactly what context and how I can’t reveal. Technically though, we’ve already seen some of them in the context of the new present that Wolverine has brought about.
It’s a very different Captain America or Colonel America as he’s known here, but it’s still Steve Rogers. It’s just not the Steve Rogers that we left behind in the future being blasted by floating Ultron heads.
What else can you tells us about the plot of “Age of Ultron” #8-10? Which characters step into the spotlight in these final issues?
We’ll see more of the world of the new now and get a sense of how history has rewritten itself in the absence of Hank Pym and all the things he’s done over the years. So no Hank means things like no Ultron and no Vision. And really we’ll see Wolverine and Sue come face to face with the outcome of their actions.
This is certainly not what either character had in mind when they went back to deal with Hank in the past, but the question is what can be done about this at this point? On top of that, things in this new now are not in good shape and they’ll only get worse before they get better for the characters of the Marvel Universe and particularly for the time displaced Wolverine and Sue.
You’ve touched upon this a little bit already, but I wanted to dig a little deeper. As pop culture consumers we have seen time travel stories that create dystopian present day eras many times before. Usually those stories end with things getting reset to their former status quo and no one remembering what happened. I know you can’t talk about if and how things will be fixed and who will remember them, but can discuss the impact and consequences this story will have for its cast of characters?
Right, I’ve already indicated that this story will have consequences for the Marvel Universe as a whole and individual characters in it. Beyond that, I can’t get too specific obviously, but there are a couple of levels to a story like this. One is simply the enjoyment factor; you’re taking the ride and you’re going to experience an enjoyable story. That itself is the payoff to what you’re reading. You’re reading more in the service of the now than you are a week, month, or year from now.
That being said, this is a big Marvel event story and whether people liked the aftermaths or not I don’t think anybody can really argue that there hasn’t been any fallout from our previous events. So “Age of Ultron” is absolutely going to have some big effects on the Marvel Universe as a whole going forward, and it will be something that will continue to have impact on the characters that have experienced it.
I can understand a hesitancy to get involved in a story where you feel like it’s all going to be erased or undone, but it really is only our medium that worries about that sort of thing. I guess it’s because we’re serialized fiction over such a huge tapestry. To me though it’s sort of like sitting through the first 20 minutes of “Back to the Future” and going, “None of this is going to matter.” [Laughs]
Since we’re talking about the end of the story, “Age of Ultron” #10 technically isn’t the end of this current tale. Writer Mark Waid will tell an additional story in “Age of Ultron” #10 A.I. What can you tell us about this book?
That’s an epilogue book in the same vein as past books like “Civil War: The Confession.” We do those books to deal more with more of the personal situations and set ups that have come out of the things that have happened in our event stories.
So “Age of Ultron” #10 A.I is really that. It will focus on Hank Pym. It’s an examination of his life and history and will reveal some stuff about his background and upbringing that you didn’t know before. Hank is clearly a character that Mark has got a lot of love for as witnessed by his recent appearances in “Daredevil.”
It will also set the stage for what’s going to be going on with Hank and his legacy as we move ahead into the next phase of the Marvel Universe.
Does the book also help set the stage for Sam Humphries’ upcoming “Avengers A.I.” series?
Yes there is stuff in there that will definitely springboard into Sam’s “Avengers A.I.” series, for sure.
I also understand there’s another sort of epilogue book, “Age of Ultron” #10 UC. Are you able to tell me anything more about this book?
I can’t say much about that. It’s perhaps a slightly more tangible epilogue book though. It will have an immediate effect and it’s a bridge into something else that’s going on in the aftershocks of “Age of Ultron.”
We’ll start to reveal more about the book and the creators involved with it in the next couple of weeks. Look for more info after a few more “Age of Ultron” issues hit stores.
With “Age of Ultron” rushing towards its conclusion, the ramp up to “Infinity” has begun. So let’s talk a little more about that. On Free Comic Book Day Marvel released an “Infinity” prelude and from that book it appears that, at least at the beginning, “Infinity” is going to be both a familiar and different Thanos story. Familiar in that he’s searching for something that I’m guessing will bring him power, but different in that he’s not acting alone. It looks like he’s created an army for himself. Is that correct?
Yeah, that’s actually really consistent with the way Thanos had been portrayed early on. When Jim Starlin was first setting the character up and putting him into play in those early Captain Marvel stories he had a whole crew of guys behind him. They were the scum of the universe, the reprobates and ne’er-do-wells of a thousand civilized worlds that he united into an army of followers. So he’s got that same sort of thing again.
We’ll see some of that and what it’s about in Jason Aaron and Simone Bianchi’s “Thanos Rising” miniseries, but Thanos is in a slightly different place perhaps than when we’ve seen him in recent years.
Can you talk about the type of army Thanos has raised? Is he the type that demands ideological unity among his troops? Or is he okay with his soldiers just seeking wealth and power?
Ultimately, Thanos tends to be fairly nihilistic in his outlook even when his attention has been drawn to the latest cosmic ephemera that’s out there. So from his foot soldiers and underlings he demands competence, obedience, and respect for the chain of command, but that having been said, he’s a marauder at the head of an army of marauders. So I think he expects them to maraud. And as long as they accomplish whatever goals he sets out for them, he’s not going to sweat over additional marauding done around the edges.
Thanos tends to like it best when things are being torn down and destroyed. That’s a landscape in which he feels very comfortable. So I don’t think he’s going to bat an eye at any atrocities that might be committed on his watch. Ultimately, he’s probably done far worse than anything any of his guys are going to be able to come up with.
For those wanting to follow “Infinity” as it develops where does the lead up go after the Free Comic Book Day issue? And where does the story officially begin? In a #1 issue? Or a book end?
“Infinity” proper begins with “Infinity” #1, but in the months leading up to it the build-up will happen, and has already started happening, in Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers titles. So “Avengers” and “New Avengers.” You’ll see over the next couple of months that we’ll actually be blurbing a bunch of those issues as preludes to “Infinity” as we set some very specific story dominoes set up.
â€¨Really though, everything started with Jon’s “Avengers” #1 and “New Avengers” #1. Those books began our trajectory towards “Infinity” in the same sort of way that “Secret Invasion” grew out of planning that Brian Bendis was doing for “New Avengers” and it sort of ballooned into a bigger thing. So like “Secret Invasion,” “Infinity” was a story that Jon was building to in “Avengers” and the scope of it became so massive that it became a larger thing. So if you been following either “Avengers” or “New Avengers” you’ve already been picking up the seeds, bread crumbs and trails to “Infinity” whether you realized it or not. That’s going to ramp up in a big way over the next couple of months leading to August.
When I talked with Jonathan about “Infinity” he said it could almost be seen as a “choose your own event” style story. Could you tell us a little more about how that will work?
It’s a little more complicated than that. Because Jonathan has such a clockwork mind and has such a good understanding of the story he makes something that’s actually fairly complex sound a lot simpler.
So to try and boil this down to its simplest iteration, within “Infinity,” much like in World War II, there are different fronts of activity. In World War II you had the Pacific and European Theaters and within “Infinity” there are different spheres of activity. Different things are going on in different places that involve different characters; all of which are part of this larger tapestry. If they’re more interested though in a certain plot line or characters readers will be able to follow those lines through certain titles and still be able to put the pieces together, by the time they get to the climax.
I remember then Marvel editor Andy Schmidt using the World War II analogy when we talked about the first Marvel Cosmic event, “Annihilation.” So is “Infinity” comparable to “Annihilation in terms of structure?
It’s not quite [the same] in that in “Annihilation” there was effectively one threat and that one threat was the Annihilation Wave that was tearing through stuff. There were different fronts while they battled the soldiers of this massive army, but it was all ultimately one thing. In “Infinity” we’ve seen that Thanos and his guys are going to play a pretty big role, but they’re not the only players in the story. In fact they represent at most 50 percent of the problems and threats that our heroes are going to be facing.
So the Marvel heroes are going to be besieged on more than one side by more than one threat happening at the same time. So they’ll have to deal with and juggle multiple problems that are all happening simultaneously.
I’m trying not to make it sound too complex, but it’s a little more complex than something like “Annihilation” simply because in “Annihilation” there was a big monstrous wave of bugs that started at one point and advanced across the cosmos. That sort of thing is happening in “Infinity,” but a bunch of other catastrophes and threats are emerging at the same time.
For readers who like larger stories, can you talk in general terms about the number of tie-ins we’ll see for “Infinity?”
There are essentially two sets of tie-ins. One is that “Avengers” and “New Avengers” will tie in to the story all during “Infinity” proper. They’ll be the tightest and most important of the connected tie-ins. They’ll almost be like sister titles or chapters. That’s evidenced by the fact that Jonathan is writing them all. So they’re all part of the same tapestry.
Now as [Hickman] was saying in terms of the choose your own event of it all you could just read “Avengers” or “New Avengers.” In terms of the larger tie-ins those two books are the most critical to the core story that he is telling.
Beyond that, there will be a number of tie-ins in other titles up and down the Marvel publishing line. In terms of depth it will certainly be more than we saw for “Age of Ultron” and it will probably be more than what we saw for “Avengers Vs. X-Men.” So I would say somewhere within the realm of the number of tie-in books we did for “Fear Itself.” It’s a pretty significant footprint. So it’s definitely a bigger and wider spanning situation than we’ve seen in the Marvel publishing line in a little while.
Will there be some special miniseries and one-shots as well?
There will be a couple, but most of our tie-in material is going to take place within the actual ongoing core books. We may have one or two aside things, but really as we have been doing the last couple of years we’re trying not to increase our title count too heavily. We’re trying to keep things lean and mean and make our core titles really be the place where as much of this stuff happens as physically possible.
â€¨So you’ll be seeing stuff happen within the core books more. We’ve already revealed that “Thunderbolts” will tie in fairly extensively for a couple of months in that book. There will be others as well.
We’ve talked in depth about these two stories, let’s conclude by discussing more about the art on both “Age of Ultron” and “Infinity.” What made you want to choose the teams that you did?
[Laughs] I don’t know if there’s anything I can say that won’t sound like cheerleading or fist pumping. Having put these guys together I don’t think there’s a stinker in the bunch.
Because of the way “Age of Ultron” was structured we were able to primarily use three different artists: Bryan Hitch, Carlos Pacheco, and Brandon Peterson. There are a couple of additional artists on “Age of Ultron” #10 and again they’re all divided up along story lines in a way that you can sort of see now that you’ve seen six or seven issues of “Age of Ultron.”
Bryan Hitch drew the present that was destroyed by Ultron. Then as our heroes travelled through time and space Brandon Peterson dealt with the future and Carlos Pacheco dealt with the 1967-style past. So you can sort of see the lines along which the art assignments were based.
â€¨That’s going to be true again with “Age of Ultron” #10. There’s a story reason why individual guys have done individual sequences. We already talked about how Joe Quesada is going to be doing the sequence that brings Angela into the Marvel Universe as a part of all of this.
In the same kind of way, although the structure is a little different, “Infinity” will have three artists. Jim Cheung, whose work you’ve already seen in the Free Comic Book Day issue, is one of them. Then also Dustin Weaver, and Jerome Opena, both of whom most recently worked with Jon on “Avengers” issues.
Every single one of these guys is a world beater. They are master class artists and they’re all part of the same event. As they complete pages and they get shuttled back and forth, so everybody has reference and knows what’s going on, they’re all sort of challenging one another. [Laughs] Everybody’s pride is on the line. Nobody wants to be the third best artist on this event.
â€¨So I think they’re all bringing out the best in one another. Certainly the scope and the scale of “Infinity” is the vastest we’ve done for an event story in ages. It perhaps harkens back to something like the “Infinity Trilogy [“Infinity Gauntlet,” Infinity War” and “Infinity Crusade”] that its name evokes. It’s huge and the three artists we’ve got are all guys that can deliver that in a really tangible way.
Will all three of the artists be working on each issue?
It’s a little less precise than that. Right now Jim is doing all of issue #1. Then Jerome and Dustin are splitting issues #2-5. Then theoretically Jim will come back to do issue #6 — although I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some material from Jerome and Dustin in issue #6 as well.
â€¨Again, once you get into “Infinity,” much like with “Age of Ultron,” you’ll see that these story assignments represent certain trajectories in the story. So once you’re able to read the story you’ll see how we divided up the work load and why a certain guy is doing a certain set of pages and another is doing a different set.
So the sections of the story they’re doing deal specifically with their strengths as artists?
Yes, and the fact that I referenced earlier that there are multiple things going on at the same time. So different artists will be following different story tracks.
What else can you share with us about the end of “Age of Ultron” and the upcoming “Infinity” event?
I want to thank the readers who have been following “Age of Ultron.” The remaining three issues just get crazier and crazier. We haven’t even reached the apex of just how mad and insane these events can get. Hopefully people will enjoy them and the fallout and the aftermath that follows.
Then, I want to thank everybody for coming out and supporting “Infinity.” From what I’ve heard, the Free Comic Book Day books flew off the shelf pretty quick. I’ve heard from a bunch of people that weren’t able to get them because they got to their comic shop around three o’clock in the afternoon on Free Comic Book Day, and the books were all gone. So that certainly bodes well. We’re glad everybody is super excited about the book and August will be here before you know it.
“Age of Ultron” #8 is on sale now, with #9 expected June 5. “Infinity” #1 goes on sale in August.