[SPOILER WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR “AVENGERS” #19, AVAILABLE NOW]
The cosmos of the Marvel Universe is a fantastic and wondrous place, but it’s governed by many of the same political philosophies and diplomatic principles found on Earth. The major difference is the scale — instead of nation states the players are interstellar empires and cultures. When a threat big enough to imperil the entire galaxy arises, the best way to tackle it is for all the galactic powers to come together, even those that haven’t expanded their influence beyond a single planet, such as Earth. Can such a diverse collection of beings hold together? Or will the alliance fall apart before it can make a decent stand against its shared enemy?
That’s one of the central questions of Marvel Comics’ “Infinity” event, a tale of cosmic war on two fronts. One of those fronts is outer space, which is under assault by the massive armada of the mysterious alien race known as the Builders. Standing in their way is the coalition of alien empires that make up the Galactic Council and their allies, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers.
In “Avengers” #19, the latest chapter of “Infinity” by writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Leinil Yu, readers saw the Avengers and their allies grapple with the size of the threat they’re facing, and were also given a major look into the culture of the Builders and how they operate. In today’s installment of THE INFINITE WAR REPORT, Comic Book Resources examines those events and more, as Hickman and Marvel Senior Vice President of Publishing and Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, who also edits “Infinity,” join us for some commentary and insight into “Avengers” #19.
CBR News: Tom and Jonathan, at the end of “Captain Marvel” #15 by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Joe Quinones we saw Carol Danvers’ Binary powers have returned to some degree, which was followed up on here in “Avengers” #19. Who came up with the idea to bring the Binary powers back during “Infinity?”
Tom Brevoort: This is something that Jonathan came up with as we were talking about the story that became “Infinity.” It fit together naturally with what was happening in “Captain Marvel,” so it became a reality.
Jonathan Hickman: I believe in my notes I said something like it would be cool if her Binary powers manifested in moments where she sort of “hulked” out. Also, I know everybody loves the current one, me too, but I’ve always felt that the Cockrum-designed Binary looked amazing. Plus it’s a cool power set that compliments how strong she is and some of her other characteristics.
So, I dunno, I just wanted to stick that in there. Rick Remender did a little bit with Binary as well during his “Secret Avengers” tie-in to “Avengers Vs. X-Men.” So this isn’t the only time we’ve seen this recently.
After that opening scene with Carol Danvers and her teammates we cut to the Behemoth Ringworld where the Avengers and their allies are regrouping after the Battle of the Corridor. In these scenes we see an alien that looks a lot like Howard the Duck caring for another alien that appears to be from Duckworld. From talking with Brian Bendis I know Leinil Yu has a fondness for drawing Howard into stuff. Is this something he did on his own? Or was it in the script?
Brevoort: That’s definitely something that came completely from Leinil.
Hickman: You were looking for Howard, right? You would have been disappointed if he hadn’t have stuck him in there somewhere [Laughs]. I love that. I think that’s cool.
We see Ex Nihilo helping out on Ringworld and I wanted to take a moment to chat about him. How long was this arc planned for Ex Nihilo? Did you guys know you wanted to take him on this journey from fighting the Avengers to becoming one with his first appearance?
Brevoort: All of this had been planned since the very beginning. None of this is improv, or has changed over time. From the first panel of the first page of “Avengers” #1 Ex Nihilo, Abyss and all these other characters were headed here, which you can kind of see if you look back on it all now. It’s a planned arc that is not yet finished. There is more to come.
It’s interesting, too, because compared to other Gardeners Ex Nihilo’s visual appearance is almost demonic. Was that the intention with the design of the character? To give him a sinister appearance, but have him eventually become heroic?
Brevoort: He was one of the heavies, so to speak, in the first storyline that we did. So he always had to look visually impressive. Jon had a basic notion of what he would look like back then and Jerome Opena designed the character. All the other Gardeners we’ve seen since have been derivations from that initial design.
So he was always meant to be somewhat imposing and threatening looking — he did a lot of creepy smiling. [Laughs] We didn’t set out though to specifically design a character that would be a villain and become one of our Avengers. We did a design specifically for that character.
Hickman: Sure, I think it’s all there. He does these long monologues in the first couple issues of “Avengers” [Laughs] where he’s trying really, really hard to explain to you that he’s about creating new life and is a net positive force. He’s done that for thousands and thousands of years. He just screwed up a little bit with Earth. Everybody makes mistakes. So you’ve got to cut the guy some slack. So what if he looks like the Devil.
As Tom said, all the other Gardeners are derivative of Jerome’s initial design, and he did such a great job of making Ex Nihilo look cool. I had doodled out what I kind of wanted him to look like, but Jerome Opena knows Rock N Roll, right? Leinil knows jazz. It’s just talented people being talented.
Absolutely. Ringworld is also where we see the various members of the Galactic Council debating their next course of action now that they know the true extent of the Builders fleet. It seems like all the leaders on the council except J-Son of the Spartax want to fight. Why is that? The Kree, the Shi’ar, the Skrulls and the Annihilation Wave have all been impacted by the recent intergalactic wars in the Marvel Universe, and the Spartax have not really played a presence in any of those wars.
Brevoort: I think some of that comes down to the personalities and personas of the various galactic powers to begin with. A choice between fighting and not fighting is really no choice to someone like Annihilus, and the guys that are under him are pretty much just bugs that do what he says. The Skrulls are a little more duplicitous, but they have always been a martial race. The Kree are definitely a very spartan and militaristic race, and to a certain degree the Shi’ar are as well. They’re a little less so than the Kree, but with Gladiator at the helm, who was the head of the Imperial Guard for so long, I think it’s sort of in their nature to meet a situation head on. Whereas, one of the reasons perhaps the Spartax have not had to get involved in a lot of things recently is because they’re smarter than that.
â€¨Maybe they don’t go looking for a fight that they feel they can’t win or don’t necessarily need to fight? We’ll know if that’s the case as future issues come out. J-Son has less warrior’s pride on the table perhaps than some of these other guys who are more easily lead into combat.
J-Son also seems to have a pretty negative view towards humanity in this issue, especially for someone who fathered a half human son. Can you comment at all on why that is?
Brevoort: That’s something that I think will be addressed more in Brian Bendis’ “Guardians of the Galaxy.” We followed Brian’s lead in terms of what he established there for our characterization of J-Son and the set up of the Spartax. Hopefully what we’ve done here with him has been consistent with that. So J-Son’s view on humanity will be a story for Brian and the folks who are working with him to tell.
Let’s move onto the scenes in the Builder armada where we get our first real glimpse into Builder culture. That’s an Engineer that doing most of the talking, correct?
Brevoort: That’s correct. If he’s got ear-like appendages he’s an Engineer. If he doesn’t he’s a Creator.
Are the Builders an individualistic society? Do the Creators and Engineers have ranks? Does any one force or individual have more influence than others?
Hickman: No, there are just two kinds and they do two different kinds of jobs as their titles indicate. There’s a pretty good argument to be made for species homogeny across the board. So the idea here is that a society has distilled itself down to these sexless, ageless beings with very highly defined binary roles for their entire race. They collectively speak with one voice.
Over millions of years they’ve basically developed their society to a point where they’ve asked all the hard questions, progressed beyond environmental evolution, and have figured out, and agreed upon, many of the major answers to universal questions. So if you ask them a specific question they would probably all give the same answer. That’s kind of the basics, but there’s a lot more there.
So this attack fleet that’s scouring the universe doesn’t have a central authority figure that’s in charge of everything, like an Admiral?
Hickman: They’re highly adaptive so they can, of course, change their minds, and they’re not a hive mind or anything like that. It’s just that there’s not a lot of dissent. They all basically agree on the best way to handle a particular problem, and this is a very singular problem that they’re dealing with.
“New Avengers” #11 will give you a big glimpse at the mechanics behind the Builders, which is a weird place for that to be. I concede that I probably shouldn’t do that [Laughs], but once again we’re sort of breaking the rules on how these things are structured and laid out.
So no, there’s not one leader or general in charge. They don’t have a Doctor Doom or a Thanos.
One of the things we discover in this scene is that Builders have not employed an agent like Abyss in quite some time. So Ex-Nihilo’s team that appeared in “Avengers” #1, or at least the Aleph that raised them, were dispatched out into the universe a long time ago?
Brevoort: You’ll find out a little bit more about that in “Avengers” #20, out next month.
The Builders appear to be a very scientific race but their reverence toward Captain Universe and use of the term heretical in this issue suggest that they have a religion as well. Is that true?
Hickman: They used to. In our first “Avengers” arc we talked about how they used to worship the idea behind Captain Universe and they stopped. They still acknowledge Captain Universe’s existence, but they no longer acknowledge its superiority.
We also get some indication that they’re a very emotional race. Is that anger they’re showing when they talk about Earth?
Hickman: Yes it is.
The Builders are wiping out other planets on their trek toward Earth, which appears to be the focus of their ire. I’m not sure if you can answer this question yet, but are they only destroying planets that have had some dealings with Earth in the past? Is that a good question to be asking right now?
Brevoort: That’s certainly a fine question to be asking, and the only answer I can give you is that there are more issues to come. So it’s a completely valid question, but not one that I can give you an answer to right away. We’ll learn more about what the Builders are doing and why before this is all wrapped up.
Let’s start to wrap up by talking about the art in “Avengers” #19. We’ve discussed Leinil’s work before, and it feels like the best way to describe it is that he brings so much detail to both the large scenes that are jam packed with characters and the smaller scenes with just a handful of characters, and he does all of that very quickly. Is that a fair summary?
Brevoort: Definitely. Leinil also has what I would call an organic line. His characters, his figures, and even his technology all seem very organic. They seem very grown as opposed to hard lined, machined, and clinical. I think that’s a value when he’s dealing with characters like the Builders and some of these other alien races who could seem to just be sort of cold, remote, and distant. They get some extra life though because of the way they’re depicted on the page.
I also want to praise the work of our colorist Sunny Gho as well. I think Sunny is great at fully realizing the images that Leinil puts together.
Hickman: I hate that we talk about the art last in these things, especially considering the fact that some of the stuff is a little abstract, and a lot of what Leinil and the other artists working on “Infinity” are drawing is unquestionably cinematic. They’re telling a story that’s very difficult to tell in American mainstream comics because we have a very limited number of pages. It’s not like Manga where we can do a story about aerial dog fights in World War II and have a plane battle for 20 pages.
So these guys are selling the action in a very finite amount of space. Leinil has the bulk of the cosmic stuff going on in “Avengers,” and it’s very difficult, heavy load, lots of sweating work. I’m so lucky that he’s drawing these books. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Leinil is the most impressive guy I’ve worked with because of how good he is and how fast he is.
Finally, can you offer up any hints or teases for the next major chapter of the “Infinity” event, “Infinity” #3?
Brevoort: Someone was asking me this morning if Thanos was ever going to get out of his ship. The answer is yes, he will! [Laughs] It happens in “Infinity” #3. He leaves his ship to attend the tribute.
Hickman: Issue #3 has some really cool developments for our space story as well with the Builders and the Avengers. There are big moments for a couple of characters.
“Infinity” #3 is probably the pivot point for the entire series. It sets up the stuff that happens in “Infinity” #4, which swings the balance of both our space story and our Earthbound story in a very dramatic and personal way for a couple of characters. So it’s a cool issue. I’m pretty proud of it and, again, it’s obviously beautiful.
“Infinity” #3 goes on sale September 18.