Bendis, Bagley & Brevoort on "Avengers Assemble"

Marvel Comics week of reveals has been largely dominated thus far by "Avengers vs. X-Men", with a seven page preview of "Avengers vs. X-Men" #1 and a first look at Sara Pichelli's variant cover for "Avengers vs. X-Men" #3. Today, the publisher set its sights solely on Earth's Mightiest Heroes with a special live conference call on "Avengers Assemble," the new Avengers ongoing series by the "Ultimate Spider-Man" creative team of Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley in mainstream Marvel continuity starring the heroes featured in Joss Whedon's "Avengers" film. Now, in a special live press conference call, Bendis, Bagley and editor Tom Brevoort discuss the new ongoing and what fans should expect from Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow as they come together to battle evil in a brand new adventure.

The call began slightly late as the panel waited for Brevoort -- but moderator and Sales & Communications Coordinator James Viscardi was on hand to introduce the panel and set the stage for "Avengers Assemble" and kicked things off with Bendis' origin of involvement in the series.

"I've had an interesting experience working on the creative committee helping consult with all the Marvel movies," said Bendis who has been on the committee for "The Avengers" since day one. "It's been interesting to watch Joss do the impossible and create this movie we thought we'd never see. ... Six years ago it looked like an impossibility." Bendis, who has seen the film, mentioned the plethora of ways to show these characters in this environment.

"I believe Tom came to me and said it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a book out that had these characters in print," Bendis recalled. "Because you're involved in what's going on in the creative committee, you're probably the perfect guy to do it. ... [I thought] what we need is a book like this in continuity that matters that's really huge."

"It isn't just the movie, it's a completely new story with completely different stakes," the writer said. According to Bendis, "Avengers Assemble" will also slightly spin out of "Avengers vs. X-Men." "We have an opportunity to debut something that's completely new in this series that Marvel is going to debut in 'AvX' and one of the places I'll end up in for my post-Avengers career."

"These have always been my favorite characters, aside from Spider-Man," said Bagley. "The idea of working with Brian on this -- I got to do 'Mighty Avengers' with him and draw a thousand symbiotes." Bagley also mentioned what an honor it was to come back to Marvel with "Avengers Assemble" following "Death of Spider-Man."

In terms of story, Bendis plans to get things kicked off right away with a new Zodiac. "Who they are and how they got their powers and what their agenda is starts to formulate over issue one," he said. "Over the course of reveals ... they reveals themselves as huge threats to the Avengers. They are Thor-level villains. To watch Iron Man and Thor really challenge themselves on a physical level and challenge Iron Man on a mental level was a lot of fun."

Bagley also spoke to the design of the new characters. "Doing the Zodiac, it was what [symbols] they were based on. ... Immediately, images jump to your mind. ... I came up with some designs for a military look and Brian wanted something less like that, so I strapped on a Legion of Superheroes look." According to Bagley, the costumes relate to the zodiac sign each villain is named after and described the powered-up versions of the villains as "energized, giant-sized versions of these creatures."

"We haven't done the Zodiac," said Bendis. "They haven't been done in a long, long time, so it was cool to get an A-List villain to do this book with."

Bagley expressed a lot of excitement not only for "Avengers Assemble," but for drawing comics in general. "When you're working with someone you really, really appreciate and you're working with someone you really trust and you've got A-List characters, what's not to like about that?" he said.

Bendis also teased Bagley's Hulk sequence in the first issue as one of his favorites.

The creative duo joked about Bendis' sense of numbers, with Bagley mentioning one mix-up in Bendis' "Brilliant" script. "The first issue of 'Brilliant' was scripted for 25 pages, it was 36 pages long because he had three 19s..." said Bagley.

"Numbers are an abstract concept and you need to stop being so literal," joked Bendis.

Bagley also mentioned the difficulty of one particular Avenger. "Iron Man's armor is a pain in the ass," Bagley said. "It's got so many curves -- it's giving me nightmares!"

In terms of guest stars, Bendis said more than just the "movie team" shows up in the first issue and there will be other guest appearance as the series goes on. "We're getting a brand new Avengers Tower in the first issue," he said. "We'll be getting some very exciting guest stars and cameos."

Bagley reiterated that "Avengers Assemble" is not actually related to the film beyond the characters on the core team and there's no current effort to make the characters look like their actor counterparts. "Even if there was an effort, it wouldn't look anything like them," said Bagley. "I'm drawing the comics version of these guys. The only real relation to the movie is the fact that it's the same characters. You don't want to see me draw Scarlett Johansson."

Tom Brevoort then explained the goal of "Avengers Assemble" in terms of greater Marvel continuity. "It sits right at the forefront of Marvel continuity," he said. "One of the reasons we launched the book was at the same time as 'The Avengers' movie is that we're about to launch into 'AvX.' ... This is just by the luck of the draw, the most complicated time to bring somebody in. Not only do you have a whole cast of Avengers, but they're fighting a whole other franchise." While there will soon be four ongoing "Avengers" books, Brevoort explained there are so many of Earth's Mightiest Heroes that it won't be difficult to fill three books with them.

Bendis spoke to the challenge of writing both for new readers coming from "The Avengers" movie and longtime fans of the Marvel U. "I've had an inordinate amount of experience launching 'Avengers' titles, so this time, I think I get it right," said Bendis, mentioning the introduction of a new Avengers Tower would afford the team a chance to get to know each other all over again. "There's a very smooth transition introducing all these elements in the context of the story that doesn't feel very expositiony."

The writer also expounded on writing the Hulk on an Avengers team for the first time. "I've decided to go for more of a Yiddish Hulk," he joked. "I was actually thrilled with what Jason [Aaron] had set up with the character because it gave me the level of voice and intelligence I needed for the series itself." Bendis said the Hulk would face down the Zodiac and is intelligent enough to go for help the fight. "He's smart enough to say, 'I should go to Captain America with this.' We have a great Hulk battle scene against the Zodiac ... and he has enough information to engage Captain America and the Avengers in this story."

Bagley further explained his design of the Zodiac. "Most of them are fun little designs I had fun incorporating into a uniform/costume," said Bagley. "When they power up, I can just start whacking away at it. Aquarius is a huge water form and Paul Mounts just colored the crap out of it. It looks awesome. ... Virgo might be a little challenging, but I think it'll work out okay."

Speaking of the main antagonist of "Avengers Assemble," Bendis' episode of the upcoming "Ultimate Spider-Man" cartoon also involves the classic Zodiac. "I did it specifically so Spider-Man could goof on their costumes for 22 minutes," he said. "When we came to this, I was happy to see Joe Casey had murdered the original Zodiac to make his Zodiac look cool.

"It's hard to put a giant ram's head on your head and go into a fight."

The writer spoke again on maintaining the balance appealing to both new readers and longtime fans. "You just try to write it well and it will appeal to as many people as you hope for," he said. "As I said before, it was very easy to engage the characters from a fresh place because of where they are in the story organically put together where the Hulk is. You don't have to mention every single thing that's happened to these characters to get to this place, just enough to recognize them. Just don't do anything to contradict continuity. ... Hawkeye and Black Widow have a conversation that's very clear they have a long history together. They know each other. That's all you need to know."

Brevoort also mentioned the possibility of the team roster rotating during the book's run. "Moving ahead, I don't think we've made any absolute determination," he said. "I would imagine it's going to be a bit of a mix and match between all the Avengers books. I would imagine we're going to have the movie cast more often than not." Brevoort did note "the sky is the limit," saying the cast could be shifted to fit the story being told.

Brevoort and Viscardi also stated "Avengers Assemble" will have many of the same marketing initiatives as fellow movie-launching books "Invincible Iron Man," "Captain America" and "Mighty Thor" including a bevy of variant covers and retailer incentives.

Bendis teased whether readers will find out what's behind the door in "Avengers" #26 during the run of "Avengers Assemble." "If what's behind that door is what's powering the Zodiac, then yes. If not, then no. ... There are quite a few things that are going to be wrapped up in my tie-in issues of 'Avengers' and 'New Avengers.' After that, we'll be doing finale stories that wrap up and complete a lot of the things we've been working on."

According to Bendis, he and Bagley will be around on "Avengers Assemble" at least through the summer, describing their collaboration as "a substantial meal."

Bendis, throughout the call, continued to reiterate that he had seen "The Avengers," saying he thought it was "the best thing [Joss Whedon] has ever done."

In terms of leadership and relationships of the "Avengers Assemble" team, Bendis likened the relationship between Cap and Iron Man as the same as King Arthur and Lancelot. "That's what we're going into here. Captain America is definitely the guy to make the plan to figure this out and Iron Man is the guy to turn to and ask, 'What do you think of that?'"

With that, the call wrapped. "Avengers Assemble" is on sale in March.

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