When you're one of the Marvel Universe's busiest super teams, odds are, you're having as many harrowing adventures and exploits off panel as on. Jonathan Hickman showed how true that was with the kick off of "Time Runs Out" in "Avengers" #35, a storyline that jumped that book and its sister title, "New Avengers," eight months into the future.
Readers were introduced to a future where the Incursion phenomenon that threatens to destroy the myriad Earths of the Multiverse had led to the rise of a number of different factions: A team of Avengers allied with S.H.I.E.L.D.; the Illuminati, a renegade think tank of super scientists being hunted by the S.H.I.E.L.D. affiliated Avengers; another Avengers team looking for their own solution to the Incursions; and the Cabal, a ruthless team of villains that wards off Incursions by destroying alternate Earths. The individual issues of "Time Runs Out" have offered hints and clues as to what led to the rise of these various coteries, but neither series will flashback to show readers how these events came to be.
Rewinding the clock and chronicling the events that lead to the Avengers' looming, dark future is a task that falls to the "Avengers World" creative team of writer Frank J. Barbiere and artist Marco Checchetto in "Before Time Runs Out," a five-part arc that begins in "Avengers World" #17. We spoke with Barbiere about the arc, the characters it features, and what it's like to expand upon a storyline featured in his favorite Marvel books.
CBR News: Frank, when we spoke about your work on this year's "New Avengers Annual" you mentioned that you were a fan of Jonathan Hickman's Avengers books. So how does it feel to return to Marvel and the world of the Avengers for a chance to tell some larger multi issue stories?
Frank Barbiere: I'm very excited and very happy. As you mentioned, I am a huge fan of Jonathan's run and my run on "Avengers World," after the issues I did with Nick, are kind of the missing puzzle pieces from that run. They jumped ahead eight months and there's a lot of stuff that's alluded to that we don't get to see, but we will get to see those plot threads come together in "Avengers World."
For me, again as a huge fan of that story, it's very exciting. I get to get in there and be a part of it now.
"Avengers World" has been a book where individual team members get a bit more spotlight. It that part of the book's appeal for you?
Absolutely. I mean, anything even tangentially involved would be amazing. So I'm so happy we're getting to do stuff that fits so perfectly in. It is a really nice chance to take that huge Avengers cast from Hickman's run and explore more about them rather than just featuring them in meeting rooms or in the background.
The first issue of "Before Time Runs Out," "Avengers World," #17 is all about Cannonball and Smasher who we saw when the recent time jump happened were living on the Shi'ar home world with their child. So the first story we're exploring is what happened there, how they got to the home world and other details about their situation. It was a really fun story to tell. I think people are going to be surprised to see some of the stuff we threw in there. â€¨When you play in this world, there's so much that you're able to texture and put in. That's what makes writing any kind of shared universe book so fun. There's always a million pieces to play with. If you need to move the plot a certain way, you've got all these ways to do it involving other characters, something from a bigger story, and lots of other different elements.
It's challenging in a lot of ways, but every problem in the Marvel Universe has a fun answer. So I'm really excited at how we kick it off with that.
For "Before Time Runs Out," you've got predetermined beginning and end points, but where the story goes in between is up to you.
Absolutely. It's interesting as a writer to approach it. At first, I was like, "Oh crap! What are we going to do here?" Because we've seen all the resolutions already, eight months later. So to find these exciting stories, I really had to push a little further.â€¨Editorial has been wonderful in helping to keep everything coherent across this whole line, but it was really fun to find what made these stories exciting even though we know the outcomes. I think we got a lot of cool, surprising stuff in there that will hopefully have people thinking, "I knew what happened, but how it happened was a lot more interesting than I initially assumed."
I think Jonathan Hickman did a fantastic job of planting a lot of interesting ideas after that eight month jump, so I think a lot of readers are going to want to know what happened. Plus, collaborating with him has been really exciting because he has a really big road map of where everything's going. He's a very organized writer and has quite a plan.
Writing these stories has been a lot of fun. I get to put the pieces together in a meaningful way and find new and exciting ways to present information that might have been insinuated. I get to really get in there and show what happened and why all these stories were as exciting as they were.
Let's back things up a bit, and talk about the kick off arc to your "Avengers World" run, which you co-wrote with Nick Spencer and tied into Marvel's "Avengers & X-Men: AXIS" event. I believe this was your first Marvel event tie-in.
Yeah. [Laughs] It was definitely a fun one to jump into. It was cool because we really had to coordinate with where it fit in with "AXIS." So I got to read all of that miniseries up front. I forget it's still going on because I read all of it so long ago, but it's awesome, and working with Nick was awesome. He really let me throw some ideas out there, and the first one has come out so I can talk about one of them, which was putting Valeria Richards in the Doom power armor. She's a character I really love, and I feel like Jonathan Hickman did such a great job expanding her and giving her such a personality. I really wanted to see her taking initiative and being more involved.
I figured putting her in the armor would be a cool, fun visual and allow her to take an active role in the battle. Marco Checchetto, who is still working with me on my "Avengers World" run, has been doing such an amazing job. I think he rendered that scene really wonderfully.
Marco has shown time and time again on "Avengers World" that he's capable of drawing anything and drawing it spectacularly.
He does so much great design work on the fly. If you look in issue #15, when Scarlet Witch summons those robots, they're actually combinations of both Ultron and Vision. Marco sent me this detailed design and said, "I think it would be really cool to take these two prominent robots and meld them together."
He's a collaborator who really cares about and knows the source material. I think that's part of what makes him such a strong artist to have on the book, and with the new storyline, I'm throwing all kinds of crazy stuff at him. He's just diving right in. There's certainly a lot of Shi'ar stuff and he was really excited to do some space stuff.
It sounds like "Before Time Runs Out" will be a storyline that allows you to play with multiple genres.
Yeah, it's very cool to jump into this world, no pun intended, and tackle these storylines. #17 really is just a Cannonball and Smasher story -- they really warranted their own issue. But then, going forward with the next four we're returning to a structure that's a little similar to how Nick and Jonathan started with "Avengers World," where they had three different plots going.
I feel like the big character hooks in those issues are seeing the rise of Sunspot as he takes command and becomes a leader figure for the Avengers and also seeing Namor's quest to get the Cabal together and fully commit to destroying worlds. For me, that's a huge draw. Writing both those characters was really fun and exciting.
So you'll be exploring not just "Avengers" based threads, but some "New Avengers" Illuminati inspired ones as well.
We're going to be staying away from most of the Illuminati characters since Jonathan has plans for each of them, but we are texturing here and there with them and seeing most of that cast that's not with the Illuminati. Namor, of course, is the one exception since we know he's been off with Thanos and the Cabal. We're going to explore that and give people more of the cool stuff that Jonathan planted.
He had this wonderful beat with Thanos killing Professor X on an alternate world. So we're examining that stuff, and seeing Namor lose control is what hooked me as a reader and what I want to get at in our run.
Who are some of the other characters you enjoyed writing in "Avengers World?"
Really, the whole cast. Exploring Hyperion more has been very enjoyable. I thought the issue that Al Ewing did, "Avengers" #34.1, which focused on him as a Superman style figure was really great. That issue gave a lot more depth to him and showed what he was about. So we'll certainly see what he's up to and Thor as well. Even thought it's Thor Odinson, the unworthy Thor, he's still a thrill to write because along with Doom he's one of the biggest characters I've gotten to tackle.
It certainly was fun to try to find what the hook of the story was. I like that we're seeing this rise of Sunspot and fall of Namor at the same time.
I'd like to say being a reader of the books has helped. I'm invested in the story and know the payoffs I want to see, but we have been careful to keep things from just being fan service. They're very balanced as their own stand alone stories. And as I said, my editors on the project, Wil Moss and Jake Thomas, who have been on "Avengers World" since Wil came over to Marvel, are awesome collaborators. They bring so much of their knowledge to the book.
It's really great to work at a company where my editors really know and care about these characters. They protect me by making sure I don't do anything too outside of cannon when, for instance, talking about X-Men characters that I may not be too familiar with like the Shi'ar. There's so much going on with the Shi'ar that I wasn't aware of. I did a lot of reading about them
Would you be up for telling more "Avengers World" stories once "Before Time Runs Out" is complete?
Absolutely. I would love to do anything with these characters. It's really just a gift as a writer to be able to play in this universe. I, as well as everyone, am very curious to see what the Marvel Universe looks like after "Secret Wars." Because I know some major stuff is happening. Really, I would love to do this book forever if I could. [Laughs] That's my fanboyish answer, but it's the truth. Again, it's been wonderful to work outside of an arc that I really appreciate and feel took a lot of these characters to new places.
Jumping in with the "New Avengers Annual" to work with a character like Doctor Strange was a blast. I liked him and knew what he was about, but I never really tried to get into his head, and I feel like with a lot of these characters in our "Avengers World" arc, Jonathan has done such a good job giving them such new motivations and situations where you know how they would act and what they're all about.
In that way, I feel like what I'm doing now is a large extension of the leg work I did in preparation for that; knowing what the status quo is, how these characters are reacting, and what their motivations really are at this point.
So it's been a lot of fun. I've been reading the arc, and now I get a chance to get be part of it.
Your work on "Avengers World" is bound to make some readers curious about your creator-owned books and your work for other companies. If they like your "Avengers World" work, what are some other books by you that you would recommend?
If you're into the superhero type stuff I would certainly recommend "Solar: Man of the Atom" from Dynamite. I've been telling a nice, long form story there. It's an ongoing series that has a cool interplay with what I'm doing here. I feel like writing that book really prepared me to work in these bigger super hero universes.
Plus, there's my creator-owned book "Five Ghosts" from Image. We're back on the shelves after a little bit of a break. That's really the book that brought me into comics. It will always hold a special spot for me seeing as how it is my first work and continues to be a passion project through and through.
There will be a lot of stuff coming down the line in 2015. I'm not exactly sure what I can and can not talk about, but I do have a lot of creator-owned stuff in the works that I'm very excited to be bringing out.
It's a really great time for comics now. I feel like so many creators are doing amazing work at bigger companies, but also having their creator-owned books on the side is a really nice balance. For me, especially as a writer, it's cool to get those two kinds of mentalities and work in those different spaces.
It's like actors who do both blockbuster and indy pictures.
Exactly, and it's great because you learn from everything. You're using different aspects of your brain. Writing in the Marvel Universe is great because you're not really inventing these characters. Readers have already bought into them. They know who these people are, and they're interested in them innately. That takes a little bit of the edge off for me, because even with "Five Ghosts" #14, I feel like we're just really starting to get to know these characters and readers are finally ready to give them a shot. The Avengers cast has such a history with readers already. They know who they are and are ready to be excited and told new stories.
"Avengers World" is definitely going to have a lot of surprises. If you enjoyed Jon's run, this is not going to just be more of it -- it's a new exploration of it. We're really going to see some sides of the story that haven't been brought out, and there's definitely a spotlight for a lot more of the characters who I think people really like, but haven't been seen take the lead in the book. It's a really fun time to explore each of those more tangential characters and show what they're all about.