The Marvel Universe is meant to reflect the world outside our window, so it has undergone and is going through many changes, but one thing that will always remain constant is its need for heroes. It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with present-day Earth or multiple planets in the 30th century — the fantastic nature of the Marvel U means it will always be imperiled by large-scale threats. This means there is a constant demand for diverse and elite teams of heroes.
RELATED: Abnett Returns to Prose for “Avengers: Everybody Wants to Rule the World”
â€¨Writer Dan Abnett is currently tackling the adventures of two such teams, in two different time periods, and using two different mediums to chronicle these adventures. In his upcoming original prose novel “Avengers: Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” Earth’s Mightiest Heroes must contend with multiple villains attacking the Earth all once, and in his “Guardians 3000” comic series, which begins in October, Abnett and artist Gerardo Sandoval pit the original future incarnation of the Guardians of the Galaxy against the might of the Badoon Empire and a mysterious enemy who is unravelling the fabric of time itself. CBR News spoke with Abnett about both projects and his adventures through the Marvel Universe.
CBR News: Dan, you penned Marvel’s first original prose novel, “Rocket Raccoon & Groot: Steal the Galaxy,” and now you’re coming back to write its second. What is it about exploring the Marvel Universe via prose that you find so compelling?
Dan Abnett: The paycheck. [Laughs] No, I was invited again. I really, really loved writing the Rocket and Groot novel. It was so much fun to do an original story rather than adapting something, and Marvel seemed to like it very much. I think it’s been very successful. So they came to me and said, “Would you like to do that again with the Avengers?” because obviously Avengers is the next big film on the blocks. Of course, I said yes.
Obviously the tone of this novel will be quite different from Rocket and Groot because an Avengers epic is going to be a little less comedic and more action-oriented. Still, it’s a wonderful opportunity to play with some of the greatest characters in the world. I’m trying to find a way of delivering that in prose form — that does justice to them when you’re lacking the art, as it were. So I’m really getting into that and really enjoying writing it. I hope it will go down really well with the fans.
You’ve written the West Coast Avengers, Iron Man and Thor — and the Avengers have popped up as supporting players in your books before — but have you written an actual “Avengers” story where the original New York-based team are the protagonists?
I wrote the very last issue of “West Coast Avengers,” which turned into “Force Works,” which was sort of an Avengers book, but wasn’t by name. So yes, certainly this is the first time I’ve grappled with them as a team proper with the classic characters in my own story. Considering they’re my favorite team and my favorite characters, it’s a long time coming.
Let’s talk about your cast of characters in this novel. You’re playing with the lineup that was featured in the movie, correct?
Marvel wanted a book that is squarely set in the comic version of the Marvel Universe. Even though the comic and the movie are closely linked, there are obvious differences, but they are companion pieces.
â€¨So the initial guideline was give them a story set in the comic universe, but feature the Avengers who appear in the movies. People who don’t know the comics and are coming to the novel from the movies will recognize the characters and essentially feel like they’re reading a novel that’s based on the movies rather than the comics. Comic fans will pick up all the comic references.
It’s just like the Rocket and Groot book, which featured the comic versions of those characters, but had enough connective tissue to the movie that somebody who’s only seen the movie could make perfect sense of it. So that’s essentially what I’m doing again.
What’s it like writing this group of Avengers? Are there any characters in this team that you have not written before?
There are certainly several that I haven’t written in this kind of detail. Hawkeye obviously, the Hulk, Black Widow — and I’m getting to put Vision and Scarlet Witch in the book, as well, because they’re going to be in the next “Avengers” film. So it is a good, big cast.
It’s interesting finding ways to portray them not just in terms of their personality characteristics, but portraying them in terms of their physicality and powers. For example, writing a great Captain America fight scene in a comic is a fantastic thing to do, but you know the artist will make the most of it because of the dynamism of what Cap does. To do that via the prose medium is, I don’t want to say more difficult, but it does present a different set of problems and obstacles to overcome.
That’s proven to be quite fun. I’m trying to make it work in a, I hate to use the word gritty, but I want it to feel real-world. I wanted to give a sense of what it would be like to actually encounter these characters in the flesh. I want to give the reader an experience in the novel that I think will replace the visual experience they get in the comic. It’s more about the atmosphere of seeing the characters and how they move than the dynamism, which obviously the comic does in a completely different way. It’s interesting, and I think it’s working. [Laughs] I hope it’s working.
It’s not just a matter of saying Captain America walks into a room, he hits this guy and then throws him through a window. That’s a comic script taken down to its basics and would obviously need the art to enhance it. So I’m trying to bring other things to it. I want to make the Marvel Earth a very real place with proper structure and play with that. I hope people get a kick out of it.
I understand Nick Fury is also part of this story. Is this Nick Fury Sr., the former director of S.H.I.E.L.D., or his son who is currently a high-level agent of the intelligence organization?
This is the Nick Fury who is currently part of S.H.I.E.L.D. I’ll also include a lot of other supporting characters.
â€¨The other thing about the novel is that it has more than one villain in it. The cast of recognizable Marvel characters both heroic and villainous is big, and deliberately so. It’s big enough that I looked at my plot and went, “Really? Can you do that?” [Laughs]
The idea is rather than pitting them against one classic foe they’re up against half a dozen of their classic enemies. Not only is that a desperate problem for the world and the Avengers, but it also suggests that this can’t possibly be a coincidence. The big question is: Why is this all happening at once? So we have some really fun things to play with.
With the villains I have to answer the same question I did with the heroes: How do you find ways to portray them effectively in prose when part of their impact in comics is their visual appearance and the dynamism in the way they’re presented? So again I hope I’m doing that in a fun and interesting way.
With all those villains, I take it the sub-title of the book, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” is more than just a Tears for Fears homage?
[Laughs] Yes, it is quite literal.
Can you reveal any of the villains readers will encounter in the novel?
We’re dealing with classic Marvel villains, so you can bet that HYDRA will appear with some of its more notorious leaders. You can bet that A.I.M. will appear, as well. I was quite tempted by the High Evolutionary. I wanted him to make an appearance to offset what the others are doing, a contrast of villain types and methods. I also think that as a nod to the new film, Ultron will appear, as well. So it will be a proper gallery of A-class villains.
You’re juggling a huge cast of characters, but anybody who’s read your “Warhammer 40,000” novels knows you thrive in those situations. Do you enjoy writing stories with huge casts?
Yes, this was quite deliberate.
I have sounded like I’ve been denigrating novels, but novels can do things that no other medium can do in terms of portraying things in your imagination. Comics are an amazingly powerful visual medium, so a novel set in a comics world needs some meat and substance. That’s why I went for quite an ambitious plot where there’s a lot going on. So there’s not a danger at any point of it slowing down and people going, “Oh that’s the boring bit that I’m going to skip.” Everything matters, and there’s loads of big set pieces and big adventurous things happening.
Where exactly are these adventurous things happening? What can you tell us about the settings of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World?”
Locations will also be a large part of the story. I want the beginning of the book to feel like a great Bond movie or an Indiana Jones film where the pre-credits are almost like the end of the film you haven’t seen and then it picks up where the story is going to go.
This novel starts at the end of six Avengers films that you haven’t seen, and all the characters are spread across the world tackling different foes. So you’re dropped right in the middle of multiple actions, which then leads you through the main part of the book. So I’m hopefully choosing some really interesting locations, both real and Marvel-world locations.
â€¨Cap is going to be in Berlin, Iron Man is going to be in Washington, and Hawkeye is going to be in the Savage Land. So we’ll have a great mix of environments to explore.
The novel sounds like a global action thriller, but is it also a mystery in terms of who’s behind all of these crises happening at the same time?
Yes, the questions are: Who? Why? How are they manipulating things? And what is their ultimate goal? Also there’s also the problem that when you manipulate a bunch of A-class villains, they’re probably not going to stick to the script. It’s like herding cats. Once you’ve set them loose, there is a chaos factor. They might actually end up doing things that you didn’t predict they were going to do. Therefore, they become not just the threats you hoped they were going to be, but threats in a greater sense. So the Avengers are beset from all sides, and have to make sense of everything while they’re fighting off and stopping these terrible threats.
The other thing about all these threats happening at the same time is it divides the Avengers. What do the Avengers do? They assemble. So how do you distract the Avengers? You make them fight multiple foes. So at the beginning of this story they are mostly on their own, and I believe there are two pairings where we’ve got Avengers side-by-side. Basically they’re not at team strength because they’re having to go out and deal with different things in different places. So there’s this question: Will they prevail when they are divided by fortune?
Whose perspective will the events of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” be viewed from? In your Rocket and Groot novel, you had an interesting narrator in the form of a Rigellian Recorder. Will you be doing something similar with a narrator here?
For what I’ve written so far, no. It’s much more of a conventional third-person narrative because I’m moving between people and places. So it has that sense of a sort of global, high-tech, action thriller. It suits it.
â€¨Overall, the narrative is going to be more conventional than the Rocket and Groot novel, which was really being playful. There may be moments though that we can diverge from that for story reasons. Like perhaps a Watcher might show up and give their perspective on things?
Let’s move to the other Marvel project that’s keeping you busy these days, “Guardians 3000.” Last time we chatted about the book you hinted how there would be a couple female characters joining the book’s cast. The one female Guardians member that readers seemed to be most curious about was Nikki. Can you comment at all on her possibly appearing in the book?
It is not my intention to leave out any classic Guardians character. I deliberately started with the initial four plus Starhawk, who I consider virtually a founding member because he was the first key addition to the team. I want to add people though both new and old. Not always necessarily to the team, but to the group around them — as allies and people they encounter. And to be perfectly honest with you, I want to put Nikki in there as early as possible. I’m still trying to work out the best way to introduce her into the book.
I’m not leaving her out because I don’t like her as a character. I don’t want to throw her into the mix carelessly. “Guardians 3000” will have a cumulative effect as a series. People like you and me know the characters, so we can start on page one with all of them there and not be confused, but I feel a kind of duty to reintroduce these long standing characters to the new audience. I want to give them some time to breathe, interact and establish themselves rather than giving you a dozen people and having you make sense of that. There’s a sort of deliberate episodic drip feed of, “now we introduce this character, and now we introduce that character” as the momentum builds in the story.
The art is fantastic by the way. Really amazing stuff from Gerardo. So I’m getting very excited about that.
The book is more than just the Guardians. They have a larger Rebel Alliance-style resistance network around them. I imagine that allows you tell stories with and spotlight characters outside of the core group?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s a matter of expanding the Marvel Universe of 3000 — showing what the universe looks like, who’s left around, which races and which characters have survived a thousand years, and who’s descended from whom. There’s a lot to play with and I hope some of those things will come as clever surprises where you realize the character you’ve just been reading about has a resonance that you didn’t immediately pick up on. Where you go, “Ah, now I see how that connects to the modern-day Marvel Universe.”
The Guardians and their allies are battling the Badoon, but they’ve also become aware of a problem with time. I imagine when you’re dealing with something like that — where time suddenly stops and restarts, or resets things — can become especially new-reader friendly.
Yes, it seems to be something I’m doing quite a lot of lately. It’s similar to what I’m doing with the novels in that I want it to be friendly to new readers, but I also want it to do all the things that existing fans want it to do.
The plot of the story does have to do with time collapsing and the need to repair it, and that means I can absorb all 40 years of continuity. I can even embrace contradictions of that. I can say, “Those contradictions are because time is fracturing and therefore we can allow all of these things to happen at the same time.” It is sort of distilled down into this version now that embraces everything that came before. So I’m not leaving anybody out.
I’m not saying the ’70s stories where they travelled back in time didn’t happen. I’m not saying that the Jim Valentino era didn’t happen. I’m not even saying the Vance Astro that turned up in my run of “Guardians of the Galaxy” was an aberration or an alternate version. They are all real. That’s part of the story. So if you’re a fan of “Guardians” from whatever era in their history you are not getting rebooted. You’re just getting redefined or recontextualized. We’re not junking anything.
Will we see some surreal effects from what’s going on with time? In Jim Starlin’s “Thanos: The Infinity Revelation” graphic novel we had characters in one outfit in one panel and then in a different one the next. Will we see anything like that?
Not quite as psychedelic as that. I remember that. That was brilliant. There are two or three things that I do where there are some subtle changes.
There are moments where time will reset and you will realize that a character is not the same as they were five minutes ago, but nobody except Geena [Drake, a young resistance member whose name is an homage to Gene Colan and Arnold Drake, the creators of the original Guardians of the Galaxy] notices the differences. That’s why Geena is so important. She’s the one who is aware of the rupturing of time.
I’m going to play with repeats as well. Particularly in the first issue. I think there’s a very effective bit where I start the first issue and when something has happened you essentially get a bit of the same scene again and you realize we have gone back. That’s deliberately played to anchor to the reader and to say, “Remember this? It’s happening again, but it’s different this time.”
Let’s move to the initial arc of “Guardians 3000.” What sort of hints or teases can you offer up about it?
The first issue is essentially a stupendous raid by the Badoon heavy battle troops on a secret peace conference that’s going on. So there’s massive action there with some great guest stars in the form of some of the other delegates that have turned up. They’re all trying desperately to get out from under the yoke of the Brotherhood.
Then an immediate threat is introduced in issue #2. It’s a new threat that I think people will be very pleased to see. That threat becomes the focus of some fairly serious action in issue #3.
So as I said, there’s a progressive thing of not only building up the characters, their interrelations, and introducing new ones, but also there’s a lot of threats piling up. Everybody has an agenda. Not everyone they have to fight is necessary a villain, but they are people who have different ideas about how to solve the problem and what needs to be done. So it’s quite a tense situation all around.
I’m enjoying the hell out of writing both this and the “Avengers” novel. They’re both really great projects to work on. I’m looking forward to getting them out there. I hope people enjoy reading them as much as I’m enjoying writing them.
“Guardians 300” debuts in October; “Avengers: Everybody Wants to Rule the World” arrives in 2015.
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