In his recent “Original Sin” tie-in to “Avengers” writer Jonathan Hickman took Earth’s Mightiest Heroes on a trip into the Marvel Universe’s far future. It was a strange and frightening trip, but one of the most terrifying eras was visited at the beginning of the journey when the team went 400 years into the future to discover a reality where their enemy, the robotic Ultron, not only controlled Earth, but its gods as well.
This April, the Avengers will fight that nightmarish possible future by doing some further time traveling and gathering a team comprised of heroes from throughout their history and unleashing them on Ultron. That battle will be chronicled in “Avengers: Ultron Forever” a three-part story by writer Al Ewing and artist Alan Davis which runs through special issues of “Avengers,” “New Avengers,” and “Uncanny Avengers.”
CBR News spoke with Ewing about the past, present, and future Avengers that will make up the titular team, the enormous threat future Ultron poses, and how intimidating it can be to craft a story for the legendary Alan Davis.
CBR News: Al, you currently write “Captain America & the Mighty Avengers,” and in the past you’ve written a number of other Avengers comics including some tied to “Age of Ultron.” Given that you have experience and fondness for all of the titular characters in this project, what can you tell us about the roots of this story? I understand it was inspired by Jonathan Hickman’s recent time hopping “Original Sin” arc in “Avengers,” but the title suggests a connection to an older Avengers project as well, the late ’90s “Avengers Forever” maxi-series by writers Kurt Busiek and Roger Stern. Is that correct?
Al Ewing: There is a definite connection there, in that we’re dealing with a group of Avengers formed from across time, which puts it squarely in the tradition of stories like “Avengers Forever” and “Captain America Corps.” Kurt Busiek and Roger Stern are always huge influences, no matter what I’m doing, but this story might be closer to the kind of wild ride “2000 A.D.” readers are used to from me — things get very crazy.
And yes, we are going back to Jonathan Hickman’s “Ultron wins” future! I don’t know if I’m doing it exactly the way he would have, but I can promise that some of the things he dropped — Ultron’s the All-Father? — will be picked up and run with.
Let’s talk about one of the draws of this series, the cast of characters you’re dealing with starting with the two modern day Avengers, who are both long time members, Black Widow and the Vision. Both have personal connections to Ultron — the homicidal robot is the Vision’s “father” and Black Widow experienced Ultron’s future world firsthand in the “Avengers” tie-in. How important is this mission to both characters? What’s their state of mind going into this?
Black Widow knows the territory, so she knows how bad this is — that knowledge comes in handy in a subtle way that leads to big things in the second chapter. Vision, meanwhile, has his own secret knowledge about the setup, which I won’t spoil. But they both know exactly how dangerous Ultron is and exactly how bad this future’s gotten, which helps the assembled Avengers team come to trust Doctor Doom, who’s brought them together to take the planet back.
“Ultron Forever” will also feature two incarnations of the Thunder God, Thor: the current female Thor, and the Thor from Walt Simonson’s legendary run. What’s it like writing these two different versions of the God of Thunder, and from what point in Simonson’s run does the Thor you’re dealing with hail from?
Two Thors is twice the fun of one! Simonson’s Thor comes from a point in the run near the end when Thor had a lot of hard-won wisdom — maybe it’s just the beard, but I remember him coming off as very wise and kingly — so from Now-Thor’s perspective, that’s a tragedy waiting to happen. This most worthy of Thors is going to become unworthy, and she can’t even warn him about it. Simonson-Thor, meanwhile, assumes that he’s died and the hammer’s passed to a new champion, which is fine by him, because presumably he died worthy.
Then they meet the Thor from the future. Who serves Ultron. Yeah.
You’re also dealing with two other Marvel Heroes from past points in their careers: James “Rhodey” Rhodes from his time wearing the Iron Man armor and the Hulk prior to his joining the Avengers. What do you find most interesting about these incarnations of the characters? Why did you want to include them in this story?
Jim Rhodes is a bit of a nostalgia pick — he was my first Iron Man, since I got into Marvel through the UK “Secret Wars” reprints, and for a long time Tony Stark was just this name, not really connected to anything. I found out later Rhodey had a brain thing at the time which was driving him crazy, which did make him incredibly fascinating. This hero who’d occasionally think, “I’ll show them! I’ll show them ALL!” — I wanted to know more! When I finally did find out, years later, it was a bit of a let-down if I’m honest.
As for Hulk — more nostalgia, I’m afraid. I’m really leaning into all the instincts I don’t normally indulge on this one, but it’s making for good comics! Anyway, when I was a kid, we had this reprint of the very earliest “Hulk” comics in the school library — I had an understanding of who the Hulk was by that point, and reading these things, where they seemingly couldn’t decide what he was from one issue to the next, just blew me away. By the end, he’s growing a Banner head instead of his real head and has to wear a mask of himself, and then at the end he’s patting kids on the shoulder and they’re all going “gee whiz, Hulk, you’re the best!” — it blew my tiny little mind. So, yeah, I wanted to get a spoonful of that craziness in there — the Hulk with three toes, who calls people “palookas.”
I’m making this sound like it’s aimed squarely at British people in their late thirties who’ve read all the reprints. It’s not, I promise — if this is the first Marvel comic you ever read, you’ll love it.
You’re not just dealing with past incarnations of Avengers in this story you’re also creating new future ones like the female Captain America who hails from a later period of the 21st century. How did it feel to create a new Captain America? What can you tell us about this new character?
It’s Danielle Cage! Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ daughter, for those not in the know. She’s inherited her Mum and Dad’s powers, so she’s incredibly strong and bulletproof, and instead of throwing the shield she fires it out from her arm and guides it with thought-controlled anti-gravity. It’s basically that time when Captain America had magnets in his shield — I’ve been telling everybody this. And she’s representing a future Avengers, with Madame Natasha as a kind of Nick Fury/Steve Rogers guiding force. So maybe we’ll go back to the far-off year of 20XX sometime, if people like it.
Needless to say, it felt great.
Your cast of characters isn’t the only draw for these specials, another has to be the chance to work with legendary artist Alan Davis. What’s it like writing scripts that Alan will bring to life? I assume you’re a fan?
You assume rightly — I’m a huge fan, and have been for years. I’ve seen the pages that have come in already, and they’re absolutely beautiful on all levels — gorgeous work. Writing plots for Alan is slightly intimidating, but I’m definitely amping up the epic side of my writing — I want to put things in the plots that are worthy of Alan Davis art! And I think I pretty much have. I’ve just sent the plot for Chapter Two, and it’s wilder and weirder than anything I’ve done for Marvel before — so far.
Let’s talk a little bit more about story details starting with the titular threat. Earlier you mentioned you would be exploring the ‘Ultron as All-Father of Asgard’ aspect that the future Thor hinted at in the “Original Sin” tie-in. Just how dangerous is Ultron in this future world where he controls both Earth and its “heavens?” What is he ultimately after in “Ultron Forever?”
He’s after nothing! He’s already got it all! The question is, for someone like Ultron, who’s in a sense programmed himself for conquest and the destruction and enslavement of humanity — what do you do once you’ve conquered everything, and humanity is entirely destroyed and enslaved, including their gods? Does Ultron take on a new goal, or does he just sit there, program complete, going gradually more and more insane? (Hint: it’s the second one.)
So yeah, he’s incredibly dangerous. What could be more dangerous than a mad
All-Father Ultron? And if we answered that question, how could the Avengers possibly defeat it?
The Avengers battle against the future Ultron is being chronicled in three specials “Avengers: Ultron Forever” #1, “New Avengers: Ultron Forever” #2, and “Uncanny Avengers: Ultron Forever” #3. What sort of hints or teases can you offer up about the plot and flow of the story? Are the titles significant in that they’ll focus more on characters and aspects usually found in that title like say the Illuminati or mutant Avengers?
It’s your basic three-act structure, so the titles probably aren’t that significant. Although we will have Avengers who are New, and things are going to get pretty Uncanny by the time we’re done, so it fits. There’s a whole special’s worth of KABOOM in each one of these, but everything ramps up to a finish that will hopefully make readers’ eyes pop out of their sockets. I firmly believe that the reason this story is divided into three specials is because if you were to try to read it all in one go, you’d die of astonishment. It’s like eating three Shredded Wheat.
[Laughs] Finally, given that this story spans both Avengers history, takes place 400 years from now and runs through three different titles, just how big is the scope of “Avengers: Ultron Forever?” Are you dealing with just the time period introduced in “Avengers” #31, or is this a story that spans
thousands of years?
We pretty much stick to the one far-future time period, but within that period we go huge. The story rampages all over Ultron-Earth, with twists, reveals, epic confrontations and surprise special guests — I don’t think anyone’s going to put the last issue down and think “that wasn’t big enough for me.” Not to say they won’t want MORE! IMMEDIATELY!
I just want to close out by saying how much fun this has been to write, how fantastic it’s been to see Alan turn it into beautiful art, and how good a time you, the reader, are going to have reading it. Seriously, bring popcorn. It’s going to be a blast.
“Avengers: Ultron Forever” begins in April.