[SPOILER WARNING: THIS INTERVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR “AVENGERS” #20, AVAILABLE NOW]
Waging war isn’t entirely about winning battles. It’s also about knowing where and when not to fight them. Outnumbered and outgunned by a force with superior technology, do you keep fighting and hope for the best? Or would surrendering and asking for peace be a better way to protect your people? And how much exploitation and abuse will a group endure before they stand up and say “no more”? These are especially important questions in the Marvel Universe right now, with the Avengers and other heroes currently in the grip of the “Infinity” event; a massive two front cosmic war unfolding in deep space and on Earth.
In “Avengers” #20, writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Leinil Yu gave the war in space some major twists and turns as the Avengers and their allies, the Galactic Council, wrestled with some difficult truths about their seemingly unstoppable enemy, the alien race known as the Builders. While that was occuring, on a secret conclave of the Builders’ agents, the Gardeners, decided they were done being exploited and abused by their masters. In today’s installment of THE INFINITE WAR REPORT, Comic Book Resources examines those events and more as Marvel Senior Vice President of Publishing and Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, who also edits “Infinity,” joins us for some commentary and insight into “Avengers” #20.
CBR News: Tom, let’s start by talking about the work Leinil Yu did on this issue. It really felt like he had his work cut out for him here because we’ve got a tiny action set piece at the beginning and most of the issue is some emotionally intense conversations between several characters.
Tom Brevoort: I don’t think any of the issues of “Avengers” that Leinil has draw have been easy. Because he’s dealing with a cast of thousands if not millions, he’s dealing with a mountain of reference on characters, most of whom are not of this Earth, and even within that there’s often a lot to fit in to each page and each panel. So he has proven himself to be the master of many figures and is able to condense a great deal of information clearly into a relatively small amount of space. Plus he makes it all look kinetic, exciting, and interesting.
I don’t know that the fact that there wasn’t really an action set piece made it more challenging or less. It might have been less because in a talkier scene you can focus more on the specific characters who are speaking. Leinil could comment on that a little more concretely. Different artists have different things that they find easier to compose.
Really, though, none of these “Infinity” tie-in issues he’s been doing have been a cakewalk, and they’re not going to get any easier from here on in.
It felt like one of his biggest challenges this issue would have been getting all the aliens with non-human facial structures to emote.
That can be a difficult thing. It relies a lot more on body language and acting, so to speak; making the characters emote through their physicality rather than the quirk of an eyebrow or the twitch of an expression line.
Let’s move into story and character beats. This issue went in an unexpected way. When we last left the Avengers and their allies they had scored their first major victory over the Builders, but in this issue they primarily discuss the wisdom of surrendering to their foes. Can you talk about why this is? Is this a case of them being forced to rationally evaluate the reality of the situation they’re in? It’s an interesting change in tone.
I don’t know if I saw it as a particular change in tone, in that things haven’t been too great for our heroes all along and are still not too great. They may have had a good day or good encounter, but they’re still outnumbered and they’re generally outmatched. There is a certain amount of fatalism that’s endemic to the situation.
For me the Star Brand opening fire and “sending a message” made it feel that the tide of the war was turning and the Avengers and their allies might have a chance. It turns out though all that victory allowed them to do was sort of secure their planets’ right to survive. Is that correct?
Right, they had a good day and it was nice to get a sense of what the Star Brand is capable of. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re on the road to victory so much as they’re no longer in immediate danger of being annihilated.
Captain America came to grips with that in this issue and Leinil’s art suggested that was a very painful and difficult realization for the Sentinel of Liberty. That leads him to support the idea of surrendering even though he admits he doesn’t really trust the Builders. So can you talk about what’s running through Cap’s mind at that moment?
Cap has been at the forefront of other super hero battles in the past, particularly during the days of “Fear Itself” where he was the head of the Avengers and the Earth’s top cop, but this situation is much more akin to when Cap was a soldier in World War II, except now he’s in the room with all the generals and making decisions that ultimately could lead to the deaths of men who are directly and indirectly under his command, and worlds and territories full of innocent beings under his remit. They could also lead to the deaths of the enemy — and while a lot of them are robotic Alephs, so maybe that’s not quite as much a concern, not all of them are. This is a wartime experience.
This is Cap back in country in essence for the first time in perhaps decades, and in a way that he never had to be during the days of World War II. He’s in a place where his choices and decisions have major consequences.
So getting to the point at the end of the issue, where by his analysis the only move left to them is surrender; to sue for some sort of peace or compromise, that’s got to be a tough pill for Cap to swallow down. He’s the ultimate, “There’s always a way” character who will fight on even if there seems to be no hope; in the hopes that he can pull a rabbit of out the hat and win an unobtainable victory through sheer force of will. For him to be the one that says, “We’re out of options here” is not an easy thing for that character to do.
Cap’s words seem to hit his fellow Avengers and their allies on the Galactic Council pretty hard. We do know that there are members of the council like Annihilus who see nothing wrong with fighting and dying. So are you able to talk about the status of the Galactic Council on the final page of this issue? Is it fracturing here?
You’re kind of asking me what happens next issue, and I need to duck around that a little bit. We’ve seen some fracturing though up to this point. Spartax removed itself in large measure from what’s going on, and it’s not unlikely that other parties may believe or feel differently about what their next move should be.
This is certainly an alliance of necessity rather than an alliance that any of the folks involved would have sought out under other circumstances. These are all galactic powers that one point or another have been at each other’s throats. So they’re only united in this instance because of the thing that’s been arrayed against them. I don’t know if there’s any great common ground that binds all these characters and the people beneath them together beyond simple survival. So it’s a fairly fragile thing, this Galactic Council that’s united their destinies in outer space through the “Infinity” process.
So essentially at the end of the issue they’re on the edge of a proverbial knife and could go one way or the other?
Yes, at least. There might even be four or five different ways to go.
Let’s talk about another character that had to cope with some bad news in this issue, Ronan the Accuser. How hard has it been for him and the Kree people in general to accept surrender to the Builders?
I think that’s got to be a fairly tough thing even though we’ve seen stories in the past where the Kree were under the Shi’ar or had dealt with other intergalactic powers. They’re a martial race. They’re fighters and warriors sort of first and foremost. It’s less of a vocation and more of a culture to them. So having to surrender and face a situation that they could not overcome is very hard to deal with.
They’re also very dogmatic about their racial purity. So the idea that other beings would come along, trounce them, and they would have to submit themselves to those beings is not something that even culturally goes down that well I think.
The Supreme Intelligence though, by virtue of the fact that it’s made up of the brains of millions of the greatest Kree intellects that ever walked the face of Kree-Lar, plays the long game. It does what it thinks is in the best interest of the people for the long haul as opposed to right now. So I think left to their own devices, Ronan, his fellow Accusers, and the rest of the rank and file military would just continue to throw themselves at the Builders until there was nothing left to throw, but the Supreme Intelligence, looking out for the good of the people and the long haul, has gotten to a point where it realizes that’s an exercise in futility. So they’ve got to find another way even if it means swallowing down some humble pie that they don’t like the taste of.
It’s interesting to see that duality with the Kree, a martial race that often acts upon guts and instinct ruled by a being of pure logic. Why do you think that is? Why does the Supreme Intelligence have so much sway over the Kree people?
For all that the Kree are a martial race, they’re not a backward race. They’re highly intelligent. They’re super scientific, and the Supreme Intelligence was created as a way of preserving and maintaining the intellect and wisdom of all the greatest Kree minds.
To become part of the Supreme Intelligence is a great honor for anybody that attains that level of esteem. So it’s a revered part of their culture and typically for cause, because in any room on Hala it’s the smartest being in the room. It was designed and built to be that. Plus it’s got within it the voices of countless intellects from thousands of years of Kree culture and evolution, going all the way back to when it was first created with around four or five minds.
So it’s got a lot of aggregate wisdom and experience and has a different perspective on things. It’s much more long lived than any of the individual Kree. It’s got a different perspective and point of view on this stuff. Plus, it’s essentially the sum total of their cultural evolution, an evolution that stalled out a certain point, but it’s still a being they respect and revere for its history, abilities, and what it represents.
The way the Supreme Intelligence influences Ronan and the bad news Cap has to deal with suggest to me that the theme for this issue is the battle between listening to your head or your heart when it come to waging war.
I think you could certainly say that. For sure.
Cap and Ronan weren’t the only guys dealing with bad news in this issue. Ex Nihilo got some horrifying news about what’s been happening to his people, the Gardeners. It’s here where he learns that the Builders kept the Gardeners from seeding life on worlds after all their Abysses died out. Since the Gardeners and the Abysses worked together to sort of seed and judge life, is this another example of the break down in the sort of cycle of life and death that we’ve seen throughout Jonathan’s run in “Avengers” and “New Avengers?”
Yes, I think you can say that with some certainty.
This sort of begs the question of just how important the Abysses were to the Builders? Will we learn soon how the Abysses died and why the Builders reacted the way they did? Is this sort of the key to understanding exactly why they’ve been doing what they’re doing?
We’ll get more into that. “New Avengers” #11 should give readers great insight into what is driving the Builders to do what they’re doing. It will give the characters themselves much bigger insight too.
It’s actually very obvious to me, even though we haven’t really said it out loud or put a spotlight on it. I’m surprised more people haven’t caught on, but that’s good though. “New Avengers” #11 will be here before anybody knows it and hopefully after reading that people will be like, “Okay, I see that now.” So perhaps what’s compelling the Builders to do what they’re doing is hidden in plain sight.
We know from his dialogue that Ex Nihilo is angry about how his people have been treated and what they’ve become, but can you talk about what’s happening to him physically in that scene? It looked like his color scheme actually reversed with his skin turning black and the symbol on his chest turning yellow?
We’ve seen him do that before in the first three-part arc of “Avengers” where he was introduced. It is an effect that will happen when he’s using his powers under certain circumstances. So here it’s used much more as a visual punctuation rather than him blasting anybody or doing anything like that.
Is this sort of Ex Nihilo’s version of “Hulking Out?”
Yeah. I think it is his version of hitting a moment of extreme emotion that gets him riled up on a very profound level.
So with these scenes with Ex Nihilo and the Gardeners what we’re essentially seeing i0s a group of exploited people rallying around a charismatic leader and deciding to stand up for themselves. Is that correct?
Yeah, I’d say that’s an acceptable analysis.
But what standing up for themselves means isn’t exactly clear yet, right? Do we know if they’re going to openly rebel against their masters? Or perhaps peacefully protest?
We don’t know what that means yet and what form their resistance to the Builders will take. Even if they did decide to stand up against the Builders, though, it’s not like we don’t already have a Kree Empire, a Shi’ar Empire, all the surviving Skrulls, the Annihilation Wave, and several other powers already arrayed against the Builders. So I don’t know if that in and of itself is enough to tip the scales.
It’s interesting to see the evolution of Ex Nihilo and the Gardeners from antagonists into sympathetic underdog figures. As someone who was there from the beginning and helped Jonathan develop that journey, how does it feel to finally have this part of the Gardeners’ story finally available for readers?
It feels like the culmination, or the momentary culmination because the stories aren’t over yet, of things that were set up at the very beginning. As we’ve said before and has been pointed out on previous assignments, Jonathan tends to plot for the long haul and there’s very little that he does that’s not for some reason.
You’re starting to see some of the underlying weave and patterns of events that have been laid down now over 20 issues of “Avengers” and 10 issues of “New Avengers,” and that’s only going to continue through “Infinity” and as we head on into future of both of those titles. There’s a larger road map. All of these things build to different culminations, climaxes, and results that will inform the stories yet to come.
So on that level it’s good. We’ve reached a point where characters are starting to shift and people’s perspectives on those characters are starting to shift, and that’s good, too.
So there’s a sense of, to quote “The A-Team,” “I love it when a plan comes together?”
A little bit, yeah. At this point I don’t have a lot of fear about the plans coming together. I’ve done a couple of these with Jonathan and it’s really just a question of waiting for the clock to tick down and enough issues to come out for people to be able to go, “Okay. I get it now.”
Then it tends to be people either rereading their back issues to see how it all fits together or going out and grabbing all the back issues because they had dropped off reading at a certain point or didn’t get into reading the book in the first place, but now there’s enough to make them want to go out and see how these plot lines developed.
Finally, no new issues of “Infinity,” “Avengers” or “New Avengers” hit next week. So next week’s INFINITE WAR REPORT will shine a spotlight on “Mighty Avengers,” the second issue of which is out October 2. Can you offer up any hints, or teases about that issue?
In “Mighty Avengers” #2 things kind of go from bad to worse for Luke Cage and the ad hoc group that has assembled around him in the wake of Proxima Midnight’s attack on Manhattan. There’s another figure from the past of the Marvel Universe that will be rearing up in a big way before the issue is closed.
We’ll also check in and get a sense of what’s been going on with another character that people have been asking a lot for, that being Adam Brashear the Blue Marvel. So the Blue Marvel will make his first appearance in “Mighty Avengers” #2 and we’ll see our guys begin to get together and deal with what’s going on. Plus, somebody will get a brick in the face! That is my guarantee to you. Somebody gets a brick in the face in “Mighty Avengers” #2! It’s a brick in the face kind of comic. [Laughs]
“Mighty Avengers” #2 goes on sale October 2, and “Infinity” #4 follows October 9.