Traditionally speaking, the weird and fantastic menaces of the Marvel Universe have had a habit of converging on New York City more often than not, so it makes sense that the majority of hero teams have found themselves headquartered there over the decades. But despite having their home base located in the Big Apple, the mandate of groups like the Avengers is to protect the entire planet from fantastic crises, wherever and whenever they arise.
In “Avengers World” #1, writers Nick Spencer & Jonathan Hickman and artist Stefano Caselli recommitted Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to this mission statement by entering the team into a working partnership with the UN intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D.. The Avengers’ role is to assist S.H.I.E.L.D. in its management of global catastrophes. CBR News spoke with Spencer about the current crop of fantastic calamities the Avengers are dealing with and his and Hickman’s plans for the book in the months ahead.
CBR News: One of the elements we saw put in place in the “All New Marvel NOW! Point One” anthology and then elaborated on in “Avengers World” #1 was the working relationship between the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. That had me wondering about something you don’t see a lot of these days, the question of who the Avengers are answerable to. S.H.I.E.L.D. is overseen by the UN, but in their current form, are the Avengers run by a governmental body?
Nick Spencer: Not currently. The Avengers are freelance, and that’s some of the appeal for S.H.I.E.L.D. director Maria Hill. We touched upon this a bit in the “Point One” short, but what’s nice for Maria about an alliance with the Avengers is that they have a degree of plausible deniability; because they operate at sort of an arm’s length from S.H.I.E.L.D. and the UN they can go places and do things that S.H.I.E.L.D. can’t.
Over the past year in “Secret Avengers,” we’ve seen that A.I.M. in particular has been very effective in using the UN against S.H.I.E.L.D. They’ve been able to box Maria and company in, to a certain degree. So forging a relationship with Cap and the Avengers has become a high priority for Maria. She needs people who can operate off the board a bit more.
So the Avengers are operating without any authority? A world government could say to them, “We don’t want you here: Please leave.” Or even arrest them?
That’s exactly some of the stuff that we’re going to be exploring here, especially down the road. The Avengers made a big, bold statement during “Infinity,” that Earth was an Avengers world. It falls under their jurisdiction and protection, which is a statement that a lot of folks, both good and bad, might take issue with. It’s a statement that some other voices might want to be heard on.
You’re definitely going to see some opposing viewpoints on that in this book. It’s sort of by happenstance that the Avengers are where they are. In terms of legality, it’s a bit of a post-“Civil War,” post-“Siege” Wild West again, where things that had become very structured have existed in a bit of a looser framework since those events. A desire not to interfere and not to make the same mistakes that were made with Norman Osborn and H.A.M.M.E.R. has led to a looser-working framework and situations. We’re definitely going to get into the good and bad of that.
Will S.H.I.E.L.D. missions be the standard mechanism to launch “Avengers World” stories?
Yeah. What you see in this first issue really lays the groundwork for our entire first year of stories. As soon as this new working partnership begins, things around the world start to go very wrong. Over the course of this very bad day, the “Trouble Map” gets a lot of new hot spots. Dealing with those and the ramifications of them is really the primary focus of our book.
“Avengers World” sounds similar to what you did on “Secret Avengers,” just on a much larger scale and out in the daylight instead of hiding in the shadows.
Exactly. This is a continuation of a lot of the stuff we set up in “Secret Avengers.” It also builds on a lot of the things that Jonathan [Hickman] has been doing in “Avengers” for the past year.
It takes a lot of the things we’ve been working on, together and separately, for a while now and spins that out into the open and into the next stages. A lot of those stories have been slow simmering boils, and this is everything suddenly blowing up.
In the first issue, the Avengers broke up into smaller teams to investigate the hotspots on the Trouble Map. That’s something that’s often done with larger casts in order to make the action flow smoothly and develop and spotlight characters. I’m guessin “Avengers World” will be just as much about the individual members of the team as it is about the team as a whole.
That’s exactly right. One of the big mission statements that we had for this book was that we were going to do a lot of character-based stories. We were going to spend some time with cast members that we haven’t be able to spend as much time getting to know as we’d like in the core “Avengers” book, where events are moving at such a fast and furious pace. This book definitely focuses on letting new readers know more about what makes these members tick. We’ll address and look at some of the things in their past, and offer some direction for their future. As we move out of this first issue, which sets the groundwork for what’s ahead, we’ll start to spend some time with these individual members and see how they respond to these situations that we’ve thrown them into.
Issue #2 is all about Smasher. Our third issue is about Shang-Chi, and our fourth issue is all about Star Brand. Then we circle back a bit for a couple of issues, and then we’ll do that again.
â€¨When we were figuring the book out structurally, the idea was to tell a big interconnected story, but to set it up in such a way that the individual chapters provide a healthy amount of character development and character reflection on an individual level. I’m excited to get into that. It’s a big part of what the book is that might not have been immediately apparent in issue #1.
So this initial arc is a larger tale featuring smaller stories starring different characters, which means readers can appreciate the story on a number of different levels. They can just read about the characters they want to read about, or they can read the whole thing.
That’s exactly right. Hopefully, the approach gives us a best of both worlds scenario. We want people to feel they’re getting a story that “matters” — a larger narrative that’s building towards a big moment. We also want to give them a story where they get the character work and the look at the individual personalities and the relationships between the members of this team; that they get to spend some quality time with these characters. I want to tell stories that do all of that, all at once.
Let’s talk about the characters we’ll get a deeper look at in these first few issues: Smasher, Shang-Chi, and Star Brand. What do you find most interesting about these characters? Which aspects of their personality are you especially interested in exploring?
Smasher has quickly become my favorite member of the cast. I really loved the way Jonathan introduced her in the core “Avengers” book. I’ve really been looking forward to writing her. I got to do that a little bit in the “Avengers” issues I co-wrote with Jonathan, but there’s a reason why she’s the first of these characters in the spotlight.
â€¨She’s a fantastic character, because of her bravery and her indomitable spirit. I love the fact that she’s the granddaughter of Captain Terror and she has this legacy of heroism that she didn’t even know about. There’s just something innately heroic, bold and courageous about the character that I just can’t help but be drawn to. To get to build on that and explore that relationship between her and her grandfather a little bit, and provide a counterpoint to all the courage and resilience that she’s shown is something that I’m really looking forward to people seeing.
With Shang-Chi? Come on, he’s Shang-Chi! He gives you an opportunity to write a great kung fu story, and that’s something I’ve been wanting to do. Issue #3 is literally 20 pages of him and Gorgon fighting. There’s no breaks. I wanted to do a 20-page fight scene, and that was an absolute blast.
With Star Brand, it’s great because he’s the new guy. He’s the neophyte. He’s the voice of inexperience and insecurity, and it’s great to play with that in this team of big time heroes. It’s nice to get a normal kid into that mix and explore how he responds to these situations, which is very differently from your seasoned Avengers.
Shang-Chi is facing off against Gorgon and his faction of the Hand. Is this faction associated with Sabretooth’s Japan based group, or are they more of a rogue sect now that Shadowland, the Kingpin’s base of power for the Hand, was destroyed in “Superior Spider-Man?”
They’re their own sect, and this sort of builds off some of the stuff that Jonathan has been doing in “Avengers.” We know that there’s some connection between the Hand and the Origin Bombs, and we’re going to see a little bit more of that going forward. This is Gorgon’s own chapter of the Hand, and he’s obviously taking some very big steps here to make it a major player. Madripoor rising up out of the water on the back of a gigantic dragon is a big moment and a statement that the entire world is going to take note of. I’ve wanted to tell a story with Gorgon for some time; hopefully we’ll get some great things out of it.
Over at A.I.M. Island, the Avengers were confronted by a flying figure that looked a lot like the Scientist Supreme of A.I.M., Andrew Forson. Was that him greeting Cannonball, Smasher and Sunspot with an energy blast?
It was somebody else. What you’re seeing now is a reflection of the massive changes that have occurred on A.I.M. Island, pretty much overnight. Your average, lowly “beekeeper” has become something else. We hint a bit more at this in issue #2, but as we get into issues #5 and #6, you’ll find out a lot more about what exactly has happened here on A.I.M. Island. It means big things for the entire organization and they’re things Jonathan and I have been working on building up now for a couple of years.
Between A.I.M. Island and their Security Council status, the new High Council, and into this next step, A.I.M. keeps getting bigger and the organization has become something else entirely. It’s a big moment for them, and it’s going to lead to a lot of new challenges for the Avengers.
What can you tell us about the obstacles and adversaries awaiting Star Brand’s group in Italy?
I think this is our most mysterious setting, Vellatai, Italy and the City of the Dead that sits underneath it. This is fun because it’s the opportunity to do a magic-based story and something a little closer to horror within an Avengers context. It’s something a little different than a lot of what we’ve seen lately.
Particular members of this group are haunted by some deaths, and this is a place where they’re going to have to confront that. Once we get into the city, we’re going to find out more about what it is and what its purpose is. It will be fun to do a slightly scarier Avengers story.
Talking about the City of the Dead and the other locales in your current story illustrates the variety of genres we’re seeing in “Avengers World.” I imagine that variety is making your artistic collaborator, Stefano Caselli, a happy man.
Yeah, I think so. Stefano is doing incredible work on this book. I got to work with him last year when I was helping out Jonathan on “Avengers,” and he’s an absolute blast to work with. He’s got so much energy and enthusiasm for the work, and it really shows on the page. He’s one of those quintessential Marvel artists in that he really delivers a book that feels big and explosive. It’s fun to work with somebody that can go that big, yet still nail the character moments, humor and relationship dynamics. He’s an enormously versatile artist. I’m so happy to be working with him again.
Finally, this first arc ends in March. What comes after that and which Avengers will see the spotlight? The solicits suggest that Manifold will get some time in April’s “Avengers World”#5.
Yes, Manifold is one of my favorites, and we’ll be spending some time with him. Then, looking forward to the second arc, you’re going to see a lot of new faces and we’re going to continue to build out the globe a little more. A big part of this book is making sure it has an international flair and that geography is a key component, as it should be in a book called “Avengers World.” We’re going to use some of our favorite cast members to open doors to new faces in the Marvel Universe that we haven’t seen before. I’m really excited about that.