SPOILER WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for "Mighty Avengers" #21, on sale now.
The Marvel Universe is often a dark and dangerous place, but things usually turn out alright because Earth's Mightiest Heroes come together to defeat the threat of the day. Out of that assemblage, a new team of Avengers is usually born. But what happens when that day's threat is the end of the world? And what happens when that assemblage of Earth's Mightiest Heroes aere Earth's only remaining heroes? Writer Dan Slott and artist Khoi Pham began exploring these questions and in "Mighty Avengers" #21, which kicked off both Slott's run on the book and a new story arc titled "Earth's Mightiest" CBR News spoke with Slott about the series.
On sale now, "Mighty Avengers" #21 saw a mysterious wave of magical chaos sweep across the globe, destroying everything in its path. The former Avenger known as the Scarlet Witch appeared at various locales, using her powers to pluck a number of heroes from danger. Her goal was to create an army to stop both the violent "Chaos Cascade" that's ravaging Earth, as well as whatever sinister force is behind it. But every army needs a general, and the Scarlet Witch's army got theirs in the form of Hank Pym.
Now operating as The Wasp -- in honor of the memory of his late ex-wife, Janet Van Dyne -- Pym's new mantle is just one of the many identities Pym has adopted during his sordid history with the Avengers. As the original Ant-Man, Pym was one of the first heroes to become an Avenger, even though he wasn't exactly one of "Earth's Mightiest." "In the DC Universe, their heroes are like a pantheon of gods. They've got perfect teeth and they all stand in their Hall of Justice with arms akimbo and their capes flapping in the wind. In the Marvel Universe, though, our characters have feet of clay. They're not gods. They're guys you know and they're heroes that screw up," Dan Slott told CBR News. "But if any book breaks that rule, it's the Avengers. They're Earth's Mightiest Heroes! Their membership includes: Iron Man, a billionaire super genius who's great with chicks and has built himself a super suit! Then you've got Thor, the god of thunder! And Captain America, the living legend of World War II! And then you've got Hank Pym-- who's like, 'And I'm the schmuck who shrinks.' And that's what's great about Hank. He's the mortal man standing with all these Marvel gods."
Slott continued, "What you see in ['Mighty Avengers' #21] is that years ago, Hank had that moment where he thought, 'How do I measure up to the Avengers?' This was back when everybody thought Iron Man was still Tony Stark's body guard. So Hank Pym looks around and goes, 'I'm the smartest guy in the room. Whether they know it or not, I'm their leader. I'll have a very subtle hand, but I'll mobilize this army of gods because I'm the biggest brain here.' Then what we showed you was that one day when he saw Iron Man take off his mask and suddenly it was, 'Oh My God! That's Tony Stark! I have absolutely nothing to offer the Avengers."
Dan Slott sees that inferiority complex as the reason why Pym kept trying to reinvent himself over the years. "You look at 'Avengers' #1.5, which was this great story by Roger Stern and Bruce Timm from several years back, and in it Hank goes, 'I'm not going to be Ant-Man anymore! I'm going to be Giant-Man!' That's like a guy running out and buying a Ferrari or something," Slott remarked. "It's like, 'Look at me I'm GIANT-MAN! I'M IMPRESSIVE!' That was Hank Pym and it might as well have been a Viagra pill that he was taking instead of Pym Particles."
In "Mighty Avengers," Slott plans on making Hank Pym confront that inferiority complex as well as several of his other personal demons. "Hank's hero's quest is about finding his place in the Marvel Universe," the writer said. "How does he step up to this? You don't get to be in the Avengers without being one of the best, and one of my goals for this book is to elevate Hank Pym to that A-List. Is he there now? I don't know, but that's my goal, and it's up to the readers if we achieve it."
One of the ways Slott plans to elevate Pym to the A-List is by demonstrating that while Hank's genius intellect may make him a part of the Marvel U's fraternity of big brains, the perspective that comes with that intelligence is a distinct one. "You look at the geniuses of the Marvel Universe like Hank, Tony Stark, Reed Richards and Doctor Doom, and you wonder what makes them different," Slott said. "And when people see my take on Hank, they're going to go, 'Oh that's kind of cool.' Jocasta is going to get to make a speech in the near future and anybody who hasn't fallen in love with Hank yet, you'll go, 'I totally understand Hank Pym now and where he fits in. And damn it! He's one the most special characters in the Marvel U.'"
Long time Avengers fans know Jocasta as an advanced female robot with the brain patterns of Janet Van Dyne, created by the Avengers villain known as Ultron. Slott included her on the team because he wanted his run on "Mighty Avengers" to have both a classic and contemporary feel. "When Brian Michael Bendis did 'Avengers Disassembled,' he was doing a story that let him carve out a 'New Avengers' team with characters that had never been full-fledged Avengers before, like Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Spider-Woman," Slott explained. "And when he and Frank Cho launched 'Mighty Avengers,' there really was a feeling of 'Avengers Reassembled' because you had big Avengers icons like Iron Man, Wonder Man, The Wasp, Ms. Marvel and the Black Widow. So I thought, what if Khoi and I took that and ran with it, and tried to create a book that's home for characters that are the Avenger-iest of the Avengers?
"That's why I put Jocasta in 'Avengers: The Initiative'. I wanted to put a lock on her. I looked at her and went, there's a character for the heart of this because when I think of Avengers the first characters that pop into my mind aren't the obvious ones like Cap, Iron Man, and Thor. When I was a kid, those were the guys with their own title and if anything cool happened to them it would be in those books. So to me the guys that were the coolest were ones like Jocasta, Hawkeye, the Vision and the Scarlet Witch. They were so firmly Avengers, but life-scarring and life-changing things would happen to them. So one of my goals was to get a team of JUST those guys. And now that Janet Van Dyne is gone, boy, did I want Jocasta."
Dan Slott had simple criteria for determining the type of Avengers he wanted in "Mighty Avengers." "In my mind, if George Perez has drawn you, Jarvis has waited on you, Captain America has trained you, or Starfox has slept with you, you're an Avenger," he laughed. "Seriously though, Jarvis was very important to me. Once I was sure that I had Hank in the book, the next important character to me was Jarvis. The second you have Edwin Jarvis in your book, you've got an Avengers book!"
Not all of the characters that appeared in "Mighty Avengers" #21 are without solo titles. Iron Man was part of the action, and so was long time Avenger Hercules and his teen sidekick Amadeus Cho, who are the stars of the monthly "Incredible Hercules," written by Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente. "Fred and Greg have been awesome about this and anyone who's read my stuff knows I use Hercules all the time," Slott said. "I love Herc and I'm a big supporter of what Fred and Greg are doing with him in 'Incredible' and I want to make sure I do justice to what they're doing in their book. Plus I've worked with Greg before on crossover stuff, so it's really easy and fun to work with those guys.
"I don't want to tip my hand about whether or not Hercules is going to be in the final line-up but if he and Cho are-- that would be all kinds of awesome. Because they're both a kick to write."
Slott was unable to confirm the identities of any of the characters in his team's final line-up. "I learned my lesson from 'Avengers: The Initiative.' There were times our recap pages had 15 different headshots! So I'm keeping the team to a reasonable size and when you look at the triptych covers of the first three issues, you see that's nine characters right there and that's not even including Cho and Jarvis," Slott said. "Not everyone on the cover is going to be on the team-- And not everyone on the team is on the cover. We've got some surprises for you."
"Mighty Avengers" will be similar to "Uncanny X-Men" in that readers will see key characters from the Avengers legacy. "Real full-blooded Avengers, showing up every now and then to round out the team, which is what they used to do in ye olde days," Slott confirmed. "Under writers like David Micheline and Roger Stern, you'd see characters rotate in for three or four issues of 'Avengers' and then rotate out. So it's going to have that kind of feel."
At the end of "Mighty Avengers" #21, Hank Pym, Jarvis, Hercules, Jocasta and Cho met up with the Scarlet Witch and her army of heroes. The Witch's assemblage includes the U.S. Agent, Vision, Stature and the Hulk. And with Iron Man about to become part of the mix, the dynamic between the initial lineup of Slott's Mighty Avengers will be a little less than friendly. "Just look at the tension between Vision, the Scarlet Witch and Stature. That's not a good mix," Slott remarked. "And we've also got U.S. Agent, who is very law-and-order side by side with Hercules, who's resisted the will of the U.S. government and is on the run with a teenager with a very punkish attitude towards authority and the law. And we've got Iron Man and the Hulk for Pete's sake! So far there's lots of bad mojo on the team. You could almost say it's rife with... chaos."
The team isn't going to have much of choice about working together, though, because they're the only ones left to stop the Chaos Cascade devastating Earth. And to do that, they'll have to defeat the unstoppable might of the Elder God Chthon, who broke free from his extra-dimensional prison and possessed the body of former Avengers member, Quicksilver.
"One of the things I wanted to do with 'Mighty' is not just bring back the legacy of the Avengers heroes but to really bring back the A-List Avengers villains," Slott explained. "With the exception of Ultron, you really haven't seen them around that much in 'Mighty Avengers'. So I want to get to the big powerful Avengers threats. Your Kangs, your Immortuses, your Count Nefarias. You think about some of your classic Avengers run and they kick off with these really big threats. So I was like, hmm-- Chthon, God of Chaos. That merits it. You look at that opening sequence in 'Mighty Avengers' #21 and it's like a disaster movie times a thousand. It's like, 'We're in big trouble! We need the Avengers with a capital A!'"
Chthon's escape was assisted by Mordred the Mystic, a centuries old sorcerer who's been the Elder God's pawn in a number of schemes. Mordred and Chthon's fates were intertwined back in the sixth century, when the sorcerer began to study the infamous Darkhold, a tome of black magic and forbidden lore penned by Chthon millions of years earlier. "Mordred has had many different motivations. Over the years he's been both a good guy and a bad guy. If you read his older appearances, he's really all over the map in terms of who he is, what he wants, and what he's doing," Slott explained. "But one of the guiding forces in his life has always been the Darkhold. So on some level he's a zealot and this is his religion. He's had so many different relationships with the Darkhold: he's both worshiped it and tried to destroy it and now he's such a student of it that he has become it. He's become the thing that he's both feared and loved."
As readers saw in "Mighty Avengers" #21, Mordred became the Darkhold by burning the text of the book onto his skin. "He's made it part of him," Slott confirmed. "He's become his own holy scripture. It's very creepy-- and I really think Khoi Pham sold it in the art."
The remaining chapters of the "Earth's Mightiest" arc feature a clash between Hank Pym's Avengers and the deadly duo of Mordred and Chthon. Slott also hinted that by the story's end, readers will know why the Scarlet Witch is back. "Many questions that people have been asking about the Scarlet Witch will be answered by the final chapter of this story," the writer promised. "And, okay I'll confirm it here: She's on the team."
Following "Earth's Mightiest," Dan Slott plans to explore what Norman Osborn's Dark Reign means for his cast, as well as look at the Mighty Avengers' place in a world that already includes two other Avengers teams. "Osborn and the forces of H.A.M.M.E.R. aren't going to be happy, and you'll see some ramifications in issue #24," Slott said. "Then in issue #25 and issue #26, the Mighty Avengers will go up against a mainstream Marvel team, and by the end of that story you'll see how the Mighty Avengers are going to work in the world of Dark Reign."
The first issue of Slott and Pham's "Mighty Avengers" clocked in at 36 pages, but this won't be the norm. "If we kept making 'em that big, it'd kill us," Slott sighed. "After this issue, we go back to 22 pages and our regular price of $2.99. Also, just like my work on Spidey, Initiative, and She-Hulk, I'm going to have arcs of different sizes: done-in-ones, two-parters, three-parters, whatever the story needs."
For Dan Slott, working on "Mighty Avengers" is a nice place to be. "I'm really happy with the way we have this Avengers corner of the Marvel Universe. Much like the X-titles, you're going to have four very distinct Avengers books, each with their own personalities. 'New Avengers,' which is the flagship of the Marvel Universe; the Dark Reign-centric 'Dark Avengers;' 'Mighty Avengers,' an Avengers legacy book; and the ever evolving 'Avengers: The Initiative.' And I'm very excited to play around in the creepy new status quo of Dark Reign."
"Mighty Avengers" #2 goes on sale February 18 from Marvel Comics.