The Marvel Universe is home myriad alien empires that have played roles in the evolution of life on Earth and other planets, but could there be cosmic forces behind those intergalactic powers? If so, what's their agenda? Why have they stayed hidden for so long? The former Royal Family of the Inhumans, which recently set off a journey to discover the secrets of the Terrigen that imbues its race with superhuman abilities, is about to discover the answers, which will cost one of them their life.
Those answers, and a cast member's doom, start to come into play this fall in Royals #9, by writer Al Ewing and artist Javier Rodriguez, which kicks off a Marvel Legacy arc in which the title characters' cosmic quest brings them face to face with the Progenitors, an ancient alien race with connections to both the Inhumans and their creators, the Kree Empire.
Ewing spoke exclusively with CBR about how encountering the Progenitors will affect the cast, and the cosmic chaos that will unfold before the Royals have their fateful encounter with the aliens.
CBR: In Royals your title characters have begun a journey out into space that will reveal secrets about their people, their creators and perhaps even the larger Marvel Universe. It looks like one of the big secrets they'll be dealing with come Royals #9 is the Progenitors. What can you tell us about them and their connections to both the Kree and the Inhumans? What inspired their creation?
Al Ewing: Right. Up until now, the Progenitors have just been a mysterious name in the solicits, and they haven't been mentioned in the book at all. So I hope you'll understand if I give out a few MASSIVE SPOILER WARNINGS. I'm going to do my level best to give a good interview without spoiling too much, but readers who are already reading the book and want everything unspoiled should read no further. Also, maybe avoid solicits that give the game away until Issue 5 is in your hands. Blimey, it's the Doctor Who finale all over again ...
I've been brewing this story, and the Progenitors, since I started working on the book. They were one of the first things to come out of the big bubbling soup of what Royals was going to be. Essentially, the goal here is to gift Marvel with a brand-spanking-new alien species, with the potential to get as big and nasty as the Skrulls or, yes, the Kree. (What's their terrible connection to the Kree? Even now, when the two is hanging next to the two, waiting to be added together, I can't quite bear to spoil it -- but it's revealed in Issue 5.)
And this is me jamming my science fiction hat on so far there's just a little pair of feet poking out of it. The reason to be excited about the Progenitors isn't because of their continuity connections, or the earth-shattering revelations they embody that will change the entirety of Marvel Space forever - I've pushed that button before, and it doesn't bring the boys to the yard. The reason to be excited by these dudes is because they are incredibly awesome. They're a brand-new alien threat to the Marvel Universe, beautifully designed by Javier Rodriguez, and they are a Type IV Civilization on the Kardashev scale. Working with Javier on this lets me map out their whole way of being to correspond with his amazing art - he's inspiring me to take things to the next level and beyond.
Javier has done some beautiful and amazing work on Daredevil, Spider-Woman, and Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme. What do you enjoy most about his style?
Javier is absolutely brilliant; he just elevates all this to another level. There's a certain type of artist who you pray for on a book -- someone who's mastered character design, page and panel design, storytelling, atmosphere, emotion -- and Javier is that type of artist. He's a master craftsman, to the extent that his beautiful art style is almost the cherry on top. And I do love his style. He's got a lovely clean, clear line, which makes everything wonderfully readable, and that always butters a lot of parsnips with me. Oh, and he also takes the panel breakdowns I give him and gives them wonderful tweaks that always work, so he's mastered pacing as well. (I have a tendency to specify panels per page, but that's more for my own benefit; I don't make it a hard-and-fast rule.)
What can you tell us about the action and events of Royals #9? What's the emotional status and dynamic of your cast when you pick up with them in that issue?
It's emotion all the way, true believer! Two of the Royals have hooked up, which is causing tension. One Royal is undergoing a strange transformation -- a kind of accelerated secondary Terrigenesis which might make them more alien than even Inhuman society can cope with. The Astarion [the Royals' spaceship] is lost in the space between galaxies, a great black void that might be their tomb ... or might be the calm before the storm. And it's a hell of a storm. The Progenitors are here to greet the reader with a bang, and the Inhumans' arms are definitely too short to box with their gods. This is a trip to Mount Olympus to steal thunderbolts from the quiver of Zeus (except not literally,because in the Marvel Universe that could literally be a thing), and "Zeus" is not happy. And this Zeus could end the Royals with a gesture ...
Speaking of endings, you've been teasing that one of the Royals will die on their cosmic journey since Issue 1. So how dangerous will things get for your cast come Issue 9?
Someone doesn't make it back; we always said so. It's a means of building tension. Say "anyone could die" and that's a normal Thursday in a superhero universe, but say "one WILL die," make it a promise, and suddenly there are real stakes. That's one I learned from the cover of Alpha Flight #12, and it's still good today. Readers are going to be making a lot of guesses as to who's going to end their journey on the Progenitor planet based on the character's beats going into this, and I hate to say it, but at least one of those guesses is going to be right ...
The Royals will come across the Progenitors as they search for the "Prima Materia," the original Terrigen. The Inhumans believe they're searching for an element, but I have to wonder is the Prima Materia more than a mystical element. The way Noh-Varr talks in Issue 2 about Terrigen getting an almost poetic revenge on Medusa has me wondering if it's perhaps sentient? Can you comment on that at all?
I kind of got into alchemy a little bit with this story, which is where "Prima Materia" came from. I feel like that fits with the Inhumans' whole deal. They're an ancient civilization that runs of science that existed before we even knew what science was. They don't obey our physical laws -- Reader's power just defies explanation, although if you're a quantum physicist please tell me if that helps -- but they're not magic, either. They live in a strange zone of poetic, magical thinking, where a human being can become a door that takes you where you need to be, or commune with his ancestors by summoning them into his flesh.
Of course, alchemy is important. In the Marvel Universe, it might even have grown from the half-remembered scraps of knowledge humanity gleamed from Inhumanity. But I'm wandering off the point: Is Terrigen sentient? "Sentient" is a big, woolly word. I don't know if Terrigen can be quantified as having sentience, but I would say it has poetry. Maybe that's a consequence of it being one of the big, primal elements of a narrative fictional universe. Everything in the Marvel Universe has poetry in at least some small way, everything was created and set in motion by storytellers. Which I guess is a more involved way of saying "I don't know."
What I do know is that the Prima Materia is the purest form of this solid poetry, this magical-scientific-alchemical super-substance. It's Terrigen Plus, and carrying that fire from the vaults of heaven is going to have consequences.
The coming revelations about the Progenitors and the Prima Materia of course raises the question if the Kree's other attempts at creating super-soldiers, the Universal Inhumans, will play a larger role in Royals. It looks like they enter your narrative in Issue 6. What can you tell us about the role they'll play in the series moving forward?
The Universal Inhumans are a stop along the way to the outer reaches. The structure of Royals is essentially moving further and further outside the known reaches of Marvel until we get to something completely new. But they're a vital stop; it's all part of the pattern. They're going to be important right through Issue 8, and I should mention here that issues 6-8 have some absolutely gorgeous Kevin Libranda art on them that's an absolute delight to dialogue and will make readers very happy.
Anyway, back to the Universal Inhumans. I see them as being closer to the Inhumans as was, before the NuHumans entered the picture -- outside of common society, secluded. They've formed a community together in a secluded region of Centauri-IV, in their own version of Attilan, New Hala, and they're trying to continue with the grand destiny they set themselves -- except it's difficult, because the Earth contingent seems to have wandered off the trail. The four Queens of the Universal Inhumans are especially aggravated when they find out that Medusa sentenced their husband, the Midnight King, Black Bolt, the prophesied one, to an inescapable prison, and that she's no longer even a Queen, but seems to be becoming ... something else. In between dying of Terrigen poisoning. So basically, they don't like her much, and she definitely doesn't like them.
One of your cast members dealing with the revelations in Royals is Maximus the Mad. You've shown his connection to the events unfolding in the series continues into the far future. So can you talk a little more about Maximus' role in the series and how he views his position with the Royals?
Maximus wants what's best for the Inhumans. Usually he assumes that means him in charge, but he'll often take a subordinate role if he agrees with the plan and doesn't see any downside for himself. That said, I'm not sure he cares about individual Inhumans. I don't think there's any member of his family he feels close to, except his brother in a perverse way - the guiding principle behind most of his villainy over the years has been that Black Bolt is not fit for the throne, and that he could do better. That, and the occasional flashes he gets of his future life and the general bigger picture, might be why he picked this exact moment to take his brother's place and stow away on a suicide quest to the furthest stars. From his point of view, this is definitely where he needs to be, and if Black Bolt was in his place he'd only mess everything up.
That said, he doesn't play well with others, he doesn't like any of the other crew people (apart from Swain, because she can block his powers and that makes life more interesting), none of them like him, and he'd be a nasty piece of work even if he wasn't "mad.” He's the Avon, basically, a little Blake's 7 reference there.
I understand Maximus has a significant role to play to play in a mystery from Charles Soule and James Asmus' Inhumans runs, the Skyspears. That appears to happen in September's Royals #7. What can you tell us about the issue? What's it like addressing the mystery of the Skyspears?
It's a bit of a responsibility. I know Charles had some plans of his own, and I made sure to run mine past him to see if they fit with what he had in mind, and I'm happy to report they pretty much do. The Skyspears are all part of the bigger picture, and one of the things we find out over the course of issues 7-8 is where they came from. Maximus, as the Astarion's self-appointed "science officer," is the one to really investigate the Skyspears - and as we saw in the brief flash-forward in Issue 3, he's the one to find out exactly what they are. But it's a different Inhuman who's the most affected by them. We're going to see some big changes happening to the crew over the course of the mission, and the Skyspear is one of the main catalysts.
Finally, you're also going to have some fun in Royals with some of the established lesser known alien empires of the Marvel Universe; in particular the reptilian Snarks, who appear in Issue 8. What made you want to bring these characters into the book? And it's been awhile since someone has checked in with the Snarks. How have they weathered the many cosmic crises that have plagued the cosmic corners of the Marvel Universe these last several years?
I was casting about for an alien race that we haven't really seen in a while. The original plan was to have a civil war among the Universal Inhumans, but as I got closer to the story, that didn't really fit in with my larger plans. Hence aggression from an outside force - and since one branch of the Universal Inhumans is the Kymellian White Room, who better than their old enemies the Snarks?
The Snarks are a fab species because they're not just "evil aliens" - they make war in a specific way, for a specific reason, that reason being the regular civil wars between their prince-caste whenever a monarch is close to death. It's been out of the intergalactic news, but that time is coming around again - and, as usual, the Snark princes are looking for ways to make their factions stronger. That means stealing and beefing themselves up with weapons stolen from other species - and Prince Hyinar, a new offshoot of the royal family tree, is looking into using the perfected science of Power Transfer to steal the "weapons" from the Universal Inhumans. And since the Royals are visiting... they get the treatment too.
Now I come to think of it, there are a lot of royals in this book, aren't there? It's almost like that's the title. [Laughs]
I should mention the future arc - as in, the ongoing arc set five thousand years in the future, in a Eurocomix-inspired eco-apocalyptic world of strange beasts and mysterious post-human societies - because ordinarily, that would be a whole comic of its own, but with Royals,you get a little piece of it free with every episode, and we're building up to a shocking climax there, too. Who says this isn't the Marvel Age of far-out futuristic fiction, true believers?
And I'll end this interview the way I always do, with a big THANK YOU to everyone buying and reading this book - or, indeed, any of my books. And a warm welcome to future readers - because, come on, take a look at the preview art attached to this article! We've got a jumping-on point at #6, another at #9... do you really want to be left behind?