Bendis Brings Avenging into the Heroic Age

The Marvel Universe's new Heroic Age means that many of its heroes can stop living in fear and get back to the business of trying to help their fellow man. However, that doesn't necessarily mean things will automatically be easier for the costumed champions of justice, because the Heroic Age brings with it many new challenges, especially for the Avengers. For instance: after years of separation and bad blood, can the team's trinity of former Captain America Steve Rogers, Thor and Iron Man get past their differences and work together? And while the New Avengers team is used to moving in the shadows of the Marvel Universe, what will they do now that they can walk in the sunlight?

Writer Brian Michael Bendis will answer all these questions - and more - in two upcoming projects that begin in June. In the five issue miniseries "Avengers Prime," Bendis and artist Alan Davis thrust Steve Rogers, Iron Man and Thor into an adventure that will force them to reexamine their relationships with each other. Then, in New Avengers #1, Bendis and returning artist Stuart Immonen launch a new volume of the best selling series with the team attempting to find its place in the Heroic Age. We spoke with Bendis about both series.

In the current event miniseries "Siege," by Bendis and artist Olivier Copiel, Steve Rogers, Thor and Tony Stark are fighting together for the first time in nearly a decade. While Bendis felt that the events of "Siege" might be the first step towards healing the rift between the three characters, the writer didn't believe that it would completely repair the damage done to their friendship by events like "Civil War." "Avengers Prime" came about as a way of addressing the problems the Avengers triumvirate have with each other.

"Bad stuff happened, and you can't just have them hug it out. It's got to be dealt with. So this story had to be told and it had to be told right away, but it was like, 'Should I bog down the Avengers books, particularly the John Romita Jr. title, with them giving each other dirty looks?' And I didn't think that was the proper way for that book to be right now," Bendis told CBR News. "Not that it will be ignored. If you buy 'Avengers,' you'll see that Tony and Steve know that they have some stuff to work out, but for 'Avengers Prime,' they needed to go away.

"Some of my favorite moments of my Avengers stuff has been the aftermath or prologues to the events, whether I wrote them or not, like with ' Civil War: The Confession.' I wanted to do the opposite of 'The Confession' with this," Bendis continued. "'The Confession' has Tony and Steve letting each other have it in as brutal a fashion as possible. And I thought that they should let each other have it, but with the idea that they get over it. That they learn to live with each other, or don't. So initially, it was going to be a one act play like that, where they just let each other have it. Then I called up Editor Tom Brevoort and said, 'I actually think they need to go out and have an adventure together to remind them why they love each other so much.'"

After hearing Bendis' initial pitch Brevoort made "Avengers Prime" a reality by offering the writer a chance to collaborate with artist Alan Davis. "The highlight of this is Alan Davis. Now, I'm not just talking in theory. I've seen the first issue and it is stunning," Bendis remarked. "What a good looking book! What an honor it is to have written a book for this man! He's got everything, and I studied to make sure I delivered the right kind of script for him, one that plays to his strengths. And boy, oh boy! Did he deliver. What a pleasure."

When "Avengers Prime" begins, the events of "Siege" have come to a close and Steve Rogers, Iron Man, and Thor have nothing else to distract them from the way they truly feel about each other. "I thought that they should start as bad off as they were after 'Civil War,' and they should go on an adventure that brings them together. And at the end of that, they're reminded of how good they are together," Bendis explained. "Using the broken ruins of Asgard as a starting point seemed perfect. So they will be transported accidentally off the map and put into an Asgardian adventure that puts the three of them off their game, without the use of armor or shield. It's almost like a superhero couples retreat [Laughs]. They're either going to work things out or not."

In "Avengers Prime," Thor and Steve Rogers will have a simpler time working out their issues with each other than those that they each have with Iron Man. "It might seem like Steve and Thor have worked out any issues they had between each other already. And remember, regardless of whatever Thor and Steve's problem was, Steve showed up to help Thor during 'Siege.' Steve picked up the van and drove it to Asgard and fought for him without any question. So Thor, regardless of how bad he's feeling about what happened to Asgard, he can't help but look across the room and say, 'That was cool man. Screw whatever shit we we're fighting about - you're the man.'"

The complicated dynamic between the trio won't be the only thing Thor, Iron Man and Steve Rogers have to worry about during "Avengers Prime" - they'll also have to contend with several dangerous supporting characters. "The main adversary is an established villain," Bendis revealed. "Plus, we're going to see quite a few Asgardian bits of business; The Enchantress, Hela and Fafnir back from the dead. You heard me: Fafnir!"

"Avengers Prime" will have a classic Marvel Comics tone and feel. "It's funny - I think of all the Avengers books, this is the most Avengery of the four. For those looking for that old school Avengers fun, I think this might be the book. There is the 'Avengers' title I'm doing with John Romita Jr. that has Kang and the team coming together, but I think at this point, a great many comic readers have a lot of emotion invested in the relationships between these three characters," Bendis stated. "And on that level. you can't miss this book. This is the real juicy payoff for those that have been hanging in there with it. And by the way, I'm not saying it's going to be all hugs and kisses at the end of it, but there will be an understanding of some sort."

While Steve Rogers, Iron Man and Thor try to repair their relationships in "Avengers Prime," the cast of "New Avengers" will attempt to readjust their successful working relationship to the new heroic paradigm of the Marvel Universe. "This entire book is really about how the New Avengers as a team have been in hiding. Cap put them together, but Cap left and they've been hiding together out of the inability to leave each others' sights because one of them might try and kill the others because they're a Skrull," Bendis explained. "Now they've earned the right to be a team because they want to; because they choose to. The battle of 'Civil War' is over. This is who they are by choice, and that's what this book is about. It's about what happens when you get what you want."

After spending so much time in the shadows due to the Skrull "Secret Invasion" conspiracy and Norman Osborn's Dark Reign over the Marvel Universe, some team members will have a difficult time adjusting to the fact that they can once again walk in the sunlight as heroes. "Some of them think they want this, and then they'll start to think, 'Hey, I was actually more comfortable the other way,'" Bendis remarked, "And let's just say that Luke Cage might be the Sean Penn to the paparazzi of the Marvel Universe. You don't want to take a picture of Luke Cage's kid."

A recent series of teaser ads revealed that Cage, Spider-Man and Wolverine, who have all been members of the "New Avengers" since the beginning, will continue to be part of the team when the second volume of "New Avengers" launches in June. Jessica Jones, who has ties to the team through her husband Luke Cage, was also revealed to be part of the group, while the final teaser ad hinted that there will be some new blood injected into the team in the form of The Thing.

"The Thing guest starred recently in 'New Avengers' because he's got a great history with Luke Cage. I wanted a group of characters that really owed Luke Cage a favor to show up to do him a favor. So, you turn the page and there's the group. It was a sort of a, 'Luke Cage: this is your life' moment, and there is the Thing," Bendis said "Stuart [Immonen] drew this great looking Thing, and I was like, 'He looks great on this team! That's the flavor that this team needs.' Then I said to Tom Brevoort, 'Look at that! Doesn't that look cool?' He goes, 'Yeah, it kind of does, but I don't think Jon ["Fantastic Four" writer Jonathan Hickman] is going to want to share the character though.'

"So I called Jon up and there are a couple characters I wanted from Jon. One, which I thought he would say no problem to and the other was the Thing. He said okay to the Thing, because that was an easy sell," Bendis continued. "All I had to do was remind him that the entire time "The Fantastic Four" was in its first heyday, Ben Grimm starred in 'Marvel Two-In-One' for 150 issues and it never bothered the book. So that was my pitch to that. He said okay, which I was surprised about. I thought it would be a harder sell, but he said yes...and he said, 'Absolutely no.' to my other one."

The Thing, Luke Cage, Wolverine, Spider-Man and Jessica Jones aren't the only members of the "New Avengers," even if they were the only members to receive the teaser treatment. "There are more characters coming. You'll see a few of them in 'New Avengers' #1, but the team will coalesce throughout the first storyline," Bendis revealed. "In the 'Avengers' series I'm doing with John Romita Jr., the team of Avengers comes together in the first issue, except for one or two members. In 'New Avengers,' you'll meet the whole cast of characters in the first storyline. You will see reinventions of a couple characters. Some iconic characters will have makeovers in their personal style and the mandate of what they're like as a superhero. I think it's going to be a lot of fun.

"A big part of what the first issue is about is, 'Okay the world is what it is. Now what? What should we do? And what should that represent?'" Bendis said about the new series' tone. "Steve Rogers offers Luke Cage and the gang something that they just couldn't turn down. That's what you'll see in the very first issue. It's a very funny bit of business.

"Now, the storylines that happen, that's the good news for fans of the first volume of 'New Avengers' who are looking for a continued version of what they've been seeing in the book," Bendis continued. "This year in 'New Avengers,' Damion Hellstrom said, 'Listen, this dimension is being weakened by all the bullshit you guys are up to. There's trouble afoot.' Every time there are major battles, every time the Sorcerer Supreme has to step down, or events occur like what happened in Doctor Voodoo's book, our dimension weakens and it's ripe for takeover. Well, in issue #1 of this book, it gets taken over. By a character that is both brand new and old at the same time."

Fans of the first volume of "New Avengers" can also expect some consistency in the book's visuals as well. Artist Stuart Immonen will continue to collaborate with Bendis on the latest volume of "New Avengers."

"This is another book that I don't have to talk about in the abstract, because I have seen the first issue. Stuart is already on the second issue, so I've seen the first issue, and it's very good. Stuart seems very challenged by the fact there are these other Avengers books and he wants this to be the best looking one. He really wants to buckle down and deliver a kinetic, extremely well drawn and well acted book," Bendis said. "So it's him, and our new artistic cast member is Laura Martin, who is coming from 'Siege' to this book, which guarantees that it's colored by an A-List, awesome, beautiful storyteller. I think Laura is amazing and is the unsung hero of 'Siege' and 'Secret Invasion.'"

The tone and feel of "New Avengers" during the eras of "Secret Invasion" and Dark Reign was dark and often grim but in the Heroic Age, things will lighten a bit and the book will feature a variety of tones including horror, high stakes adventure and some stories will even have a humorous feel to them.

"'New Avengers' has almost been a conspiracy thriller as a superhero story. So what this book will turn into, now that they can walk around in the open, is a superhero book starring these characters who have struggled so hard to be superheroes. With that, though, comes at every a turn a force of nature that's willing to knock them down," Bendis explained. "There's also going to be some fun stuff in here, too. I think it's going to be the book that waffles back and forth between the utterly horrific apocalyptic event style stories, and then the next story will be something that's hopefully funny as hell. I do that a little bit in 'Ultimate Spider-Man.' We'll go from very serious arcs to whimsical ones. These characters inherently have funny back stories, characters within them and interactions. So I'm going to enjoy that a lot.

"The other thing that I think will be fun, too, is that out of all the Avengers teams, this team ends up with the coolest hang out," Bendis continued "So there will be a lot of people coming and going out of the book just because they want to hang out there. It's going to have a nice clubhouse feel to it, which it's never had before."

Unfortunately, Bendis couldn't reveal many more details about the New Avengers' home base or supporting cast. "The base of operations is a big part of the book, and I don't want to give that away," the writer stated. "There is a Dark Avengers character that is in this book. There is a unique set of supporting characters surrounding it. It is very tied into the plan, the way of life after 'Siege' #4. Of all the books, 'New Avengers' carries on from that. The last page of 'Siege' #4 is the first page of 'New Avengers' #1."

While the new volume will be closely tied into the Marvel Universe and the other Avengers books, it will be in a way that is very reader friendly. "All the Avengers books are going to have a lot of shared characters, and even the Avengers teams themselves will have a lot of shared characters," Bendis revealed. "That doesn't mean you're going to have to run around and buy every book, though. In fact, we're going to be pretty fucking careful about that. We're going to make you want to buy every book, but we're not going to try and force you to. That's bullshitty.

"So there will be a lot of shared characters, and the plus of that is a lot of opportunity for new kinds of stories and new kinds of interactions. We've got Jessica Jones' quest to be the best version of herself and Luke Cage and his struggles with fatherhood and whether or not he is and should even be a leader of a group," Bendis continued. "We've got the magic characters that are coming into this book that we haven't announced yet. Everyone has got huge agendas. Like Ms. Marvel - her book is canceled, so she's here too. You've seen her on the cover."

For Bendis, "New Avengers" #1, volume two means two things. "What I try to do is to make sure that this is a legitimate, brand-new #1, but at the same time, this book was probably the most successful ongoing Marvel book over the last few years, and those readers need to be honored and respected. I think this story does both things," the writer remarked. "A new #1 to me means a new chapter, and I think that's what we deliver, legitimately. I know some people online get really angry about new #1 issues and I'm aware of that, but those are only valid critiques if it's a bullshit #1...and this is not a bullshit #1."

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