[SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains MAJOR SPOILERS for “Infinity” #1, on sale now.]
The Avengers were brought together to battle the threats no hero could fight on his own. When a seemingly unstoppable cosmic army starts destroying planets in the Marvel Universe on a journey to Earth it’s up to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to venture into space and confront that force head on. But what happens when the intergalactic mass murderer known as Thanos and his legion of followers invade the planet while the Avengers are gone? And just how will the space-bound Avengers survive the onslaught of the mysterious Builders, a race hellbent on destroying planets as they sweep across the galaxy?
Writer Jonathan Hickman and an all-star team of Marvel Comics creators will answer those questions and more in the latest Marvel event storyline, “Infinity.” Today, Comic Book Resources kicks off its weekly coverage of “Infinity” in the THE INFINITE WAR REPORT featuring a chat about the debut issue of the titular miniseries by Hickman and artist Jim Cheung, with Hickman and Marvel Senior Vice President of Publishing and “Infinity” editor Tom Brevoort joining us for the initial discussion.
CBR News: Tom and Jonathan, I’d like to begin by talking about how the events of this issue and “Infinity” as a whole came together. From talking with each of you separately it sounds like Jonathan always planned for the Avengers to have a confrontation with the Builders over in their titular series, and the ideas to turn that confrontation into an event and have Thanos invade Earth while it’s going on were introduced at a Marvel retreat. Is that correct?
Jonathan Hickman: Yeah, that’s pretty much accurate, right?
Tom Brevoort: Yeah, that’s exactly right. The story with the Builders was really our first plateau in Jonathan’s “Avengers” and “New Avengers” runs. So we would have been doing something big here anyway. It probably would have been smaller than what we’re trying to do here, but it did expand and get crazier during one of the retreats.
“Infinity” #1 opens with Jim Cheung’s rendition of the events that happened at the end of “New Avengers” #6. Why did you choose to open with this?
Hickman: I think there were a couple of reasons. One, after everybody looked at my first draft for “Infinity” #1 they said, “Hey we should put some Marvel Universe heroes in here!”
Hickman: Then I also felt like thematically, because of how “Infinity” will end and where we jump to right after, starting that way and ending that way puts a nice bow on the entire event and the tie-in issues. So it just felt right.
You’ve been building toward “Infinity” in both “New Avengers” and “Avengers” for awhile now. So now that it’s here you have two groups of readers: those that have quite a bit of prior information and new readers who are coming to the book cold. Is it a challenge writing for both of those groups?
Hickman: I knew going into this that there would be people reading “Infinity” that haven’t read the other stuff that I had done. So of course we tried very, very hard to make the book something where you could read all six issues of the event and get a single story, but I’m also doing this larger thing in the Avengers books that’s going to continue on for a couple of years. As Tom said, this is sort of the first plateau of that.
So I feel like I’d be doing a disservice if we made it a completely stand alone piece, because it’s happening against the backdrop of all this huge stuff that we’re doing and I think people will get a lot of joy out of that going forward from this point. The stuff in “Avengers and “New Avengers” is going to accelerate rapidly and huge things are going to follow.
So I think we’re trying to serve two masters, but I do think we’re not always going to be able to pull that off.
Brevoort: One of the reasons that first issue is as large as it is, is that we knew we had to provide enough context for someone who hasn’t been following “Avengers” and “New Avengers” to get into the story smoothly, and that was going to take some space. Also, it’s not too late to get into those books. There are wonderful collections of the first chunk of “New Avengers” and the first two chunks of “Avengers” that are available at your local retailer, who would love to sell them to you.
After the opening we get a chapter break, and several appear throughout the issue. What made you guys want to include these? And will we see them in the “Avengers” and “New Avengers” tie-in issues as well?
Hickman: Yeah. They’ll be in the other books. This is really one big, long story and we wanted to tell it in a way that you could break it into smaller pieces, like any other bigger work. Inserting those breaks allows us to say this is a chunk about this and that’s a chunk about that. Plus Tom is absolutely crazy for white pages in the book.
Brevoort: [Laughs] Those are the easiest pages to get done — you would think. Those pages are all part of the overall design aesthetic. People have seen things like this on other books that Jonathan has done, not just for Marvel but in his creator-owned work as well. He thinks beyond just the story and the narrative. He also thinks a lot about the design aesthetic and the overall package design. So those pages are there to set a tone and convey a certain ambiance about what you’re reading. They kind of contextualize the scope and the scale of the story; inter-galactic, star spanning, almost operatic. They set the scene and give you a sense that what you’re reading is not your average super hero story.
Hickman: I also wanted to include those pages as a way of offering a hard break so people don’t barrel into the next scene. I think it’s really useful to add an intentional pause there.
Brevoort: It definitely affects the rhythm of how you read it. I’ve seen it both ways because the initial version of lettering that we went through didn’t have those pages dropped in, and it’s a different reading experience when you’ve got them in there. It does give you a moment to pause on where you are and what just happened.
After the initial chapter break we get some scenes that give us some more information about Thanos and it appears he’s set up a base of operations on his old home world, Titan?
Brevoort: That seems to be at least one of Thanos’ spheres of influence, yes. He is up on Titan at the beginning of “Infinity.”
Thanos has assembled a number of followers on Titan including the several generals that make up his “Black Order.” In this initial sequence we get to see one of them in action, Corvus Glaive who appears to have a position of authority in the Black Order. Is there a hierarchy among Thanos’ generals? Or does it just feel that way because we see Glaive in action?
Hickman: I think it’s obvious that Corvus Glaive is the most important. He’s sort of first among equals in the Black Order. Like any group of really shady characters though the internal machinations of how much they distrust each other and how much they can’t help but be the awful people they are have lead to secret alliances between members. Plus certain members have their own agendas. All of that will play out over the course of “Infinity” and perhaps even after that.
In the scenes with Glaive we see some blue-skinned, horned aliens assisting him. Then later in the issue we see several more different aliens among Thanos’ legions. It would appear Thanos has a diverse group of foot soldiers and followers. Is that correct?Brevoort: We’ve seen in other places, most recently the “Thanos Rising” miniseries from Jason Aaron and Simone Bianchi, that Thanos traditionally leads a very motley assortment of intergalactic freebooters, criminals, psychotics, and ne’er do wells. They used to be called “Thanos-Thralls”, but I suspect that only [Thanos creator] Jim Starlin and myself remember that. That’s pretty much what he has assembled around him as “Infinity” #1 opens up.
The Black Order, his lieutenants, are the five fingers of his hand. Underneath them there’s a whole crew of hundreds and perhaps even thousands of space nasties.
Following the prologue with Thanos and his army we move right into the main action which kicks off with the destruction of Galador. I imagine “Rom” and Space Knights fans are probably wondering, why Galador?
Hickman: Well there were a couple of reasons. Number one was that I wanted to include the Space Knights and I thought it was a really cool set piece. Then on top of that, is an answer that I don’t really want to reveal, but I’m happy to. I have an idea kicking around in the back of my head that I think would be super cool coming out of “Infinity” that deals with the Space Knights that have lost their planet. We’ll see the survivors of Galador later on in “Infinity.”
So there are several reasons behind it, but probably the most honest and obvious answer is that we wanted to show what our bad guys were capable of.
The Builders’ agents that take part in this destruction are an Aleph and a Gardner that looks a lot like Ex Nihilo. So Ex Nihilo’s team that appered in your opening “Avengers” arc weren’t a unique body? The Builders actually field many groups like that one?
Hickman: Yeah and we very clearly said in “Avengers” that those guys weren’t the only ones that were out there. I’m almost positive that we even showed there were a lot of Alephs that went out into the universe to seed new planets. We didn’t show the other Ex Nihili and the other characters, but yes very clearly there are multiple instances of the Builders creating these guys.
Some stuff has happened over the millions of years since they sent them out, and you’ll get all of that in the “Avengers” portion of “Infinity.”
After that, Abigail Brand, the head of S.W.O.R.D, comes into the story. I’m curious about the role she plays in “Infinity” and sort of the larger Marvel Universe. In a lot of ways it feels like she’s become the Nick Fury of outer space. Is that a valid comparison?
Brevoort: That’s kind of the way that Joss Whedon and John Cassaday set her up in the first place. If you go back to her earliest appearances in “Astonishing X-Men” when S.W.O.R.D. was first introduced she pretty much was the Nick Fury of outer space.
Nick wasn’t around much at that time because he went underground during “Secret War,” but she very clearly was his opposite number in the hierarchy of S.W.O.R.D. So she’s not the same character by any means, but she very much fills that sort of role in the set-up of S.W.O.R.D.
Then we come to some foreshadowing that suggests Black Bolt and the Inhumans will have a large role to play in “Infinity.” Jonathan, you’ve been interested in Black Bolt and the Inhumans since your days writing “Fantastic Four” and you continued to develop them in recent issues of “New Avengers.” What is it about this group of character that has captured your imagination? And how important is “Infinity” to the larger story of the Inhumans?
Hickman: I love the hell out of those characters. I think they’re wonderful and I think aesthetically they’re some of the best looking characters that Marvel has. Let me be clear though, it’s not my infatuation with the Inhumans or just things coming out of books that I’m doing. Marvel is very invested in the Inhumans as a concept and a property.
I think you’re going to see a really big push on the Inhumans front going forward that emerges from things that happen inside of “Infinity.” Going forward, and Tom can speak to this a little more, I think that everybody is really excited about what’s going to be happening with the Inhumans.
Brevoort: Right, we’ve already announced and done some press about the fact that after “Infinity” comes the landscape of “Inhumanity.” So the Inhumans are going to be characters that play pretty big roles in what’s going on in the Marvel Universe, not just over the course of the next year but over the course of many years to come.
So one of the things that “Infinity” is going to do is to put those characters, their society, and their backgrounds back on the Marvel map in a big, big way. It’s not dissimilar from what we just did with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova, and some of the other cosmic stuff during Marvel NOW!
In our Johnny Appleseed quest to make everything in the Marvel Universe exciting and relevant to people again we’re moving from character group to character group and seeing if we can’t shine them up and make them more interesting, special, and give them a role to play. The time is now right for the Inhumans and there will be a lot of stuff around them coming out of “Infinity” that you’ll hear more about in the weeks and months to come.
Near the end of the issue Agent Brand shows Ex Nihilo the footage of the Builders’ attacks on other worlds. His reaction to that footage suggests to me that one of the big mysteries of “Infinity” is why a group called the Builders are suddenly so intent on tearing everything down?
Hickman: You’re of course going to get the answer to that in this story, but I think the reaction that Ex Nihilo has is that he sees himself as a life creating agent. He makes life. He doesn’t destroy it. He may judge life, but he doesn’t kill. That’s something that other people do.
So when he sees the destruction of an entire planet, that completely spins against the axis of who he is. It’s very disturbing to him and as we move further into the series you’ll see that it’s very possible that Ex Nihilo has a huge problem with his ex-masters out there in space. It’s quite possible since he’s an Avenger now that he may end up in conflict with them.
Of course the other large mystery of “Infinity” is what exactly Thanos wants. The section with the tribute and the Outrider’s discovery suggest that he’s not invading the Earth just to invade, he’s after something specific. Is that correct? Does Thanos have a larger scheme?
Brevoort: Yes, Thanos definitely has a very specific goal in mind. We don’t learn too much about that in “Infinity” #1, but you’ll begin to learn more about it in a few weeks in “Infinity” #2.
Let’s start to wrap up by looking at this issue as a whole. Any final thoughts you would like to share about “Infinity” #1?
Hickman: I think Jim Cheung can draw! His work is very beautiful. I think that we’re incredibly lucky and fortunate to have the artists on the books that we do, and I think Jim did an amazing job with this first issue.
Brevoort: I would have to agree with that.
Hickman: It feels really, really big because of how great the art is.
Brevoort: Also, to play defense for a second as I’m wont to do because I pay way too much attention to what people chatter about, yes there are a bunch of design pages in the book and yes a chunk of it was in the Free Comic Book Day issue that people saw months ago. But even taking all of those pages aside, there are still 35 absolutely breathtaking brand new Jim Cheung-illustrated pages of story. It’s a big, big issue! And beyond that, with the digital code in the print copy also comes the first “Infinity” Infinite Comics, starring the Silver Surfer, by Jason Latour and Agustin Alessio. That also comes free with the digital copy of the book, or you can purchase it as a digital stand-alone for $1.99. And that’s a completely new, fully-painted story. So I feel like we’re giving readers a heck of a lot of value in “Infinity” #1.
Finally, can you offer up any hints or teases about next week’s “Avengers” #18 by Jonathan and artist Leinil Yu, which ties into “Infinity” in a major way?
Brevoort: We’ll visit with the Galactic Council, as seen in recent issues of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and see how the intelligent races of the cosmos are coping with the Builders’ advance. And we’ll also witness the Battle of the Corridor, the first major engagement between the Avengers and the forces of the Builders (which will also spill over into “Avengers Assemble” and “Captain Marvel” and some of the other tie-in books).
“Infinity” #1 is on sale now from Marvel Comics.