In the cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe, one thing leads to another, usually in the most dangerous of ways. The most recent string of events began several years ago when the inter-dimensional despot Annihilus led an invasion from the Negative Zone. It was a conflict that came to be known as the first “Annihilation War” and it utterly decimated many of the Marvel U’s intergalactic races. While the galaxy was trying to clean up the wreckage from the first Annihilation War, the techno organic beings known as the Phalanx launched a sneak attack as detailed in the “Annihilation: Conquest” storyline.
In the wake of “Annihilation: Conquest,” a number of Marvel’s cosmic champions like Nova, Star-Lord and his group the Guardians of the Galaxy became concerned about how these galactic wars were affecting the stability of their universe, working hard to prevent any more conflagrations from breaking out. Unfortunately, thanks to the machinations of the Skrull Empire, they failed. As part of their “Secret Invasion” of Earth, the Skrulls attacked the Inhumans in their home on Earth’s moon, causing the isolationist Inhumans to respond by becoming aggressively proactive in intergalactic affairs, attacking and conquering their old enemies, the Kree empire. After that, the Inhuman-Kree Empire was attacked by another galactic great power, the Shi’Ar Imperium. This conflict was detailed in “War of Kings,” and its climax saw the Guardians of the Galaxy’s worst nightmares come true as a hole in time and space was ripped open. This hole was dubbed The Fault and readers soon learned that on the other side is another universe, where life has run amok.
In the current “Realm of Kings” event, the cosmic champions of the Marvel U are exploring that other universe and have discovered that it is home to sinister and powerful entities; entities which have filled their universe with unchecked growth and now crave domination over ours. Waiting to ally with them in our universe is Adam Magus, the villainous doppelganger of Adam Warlock, who is head of the heavily armed Universal Church of Truth. It’s a desperate time for the heroes of Marvel Comics, and this spring, desperate measures will be implemented as Magus’ deceased arch enemy, Thanos, is resurrected in the hope of using him in the coming battle against Magus and his extra-dimensional allies.
The next cosmic event launches in the one-shot “Thanos Imperative: Ignition” by writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning and artist Brad Walker (“Guardians of the Galaxy”). Events escalate in June with the launch of the six -issue ” The Thanos Imperative” miniseries by Abnett and Lanning and artist Miguel Sepulveda (“Thunderbolts”). CBR News spoke with the writers, who are collectively known to their fans as DnA, and editor Bill Rosemann about the project.
CBR News: You’re laying the final groundwork for “The Thanos Imperative” in the “Realm of Kings” storyline that’s currently running through the “Nova” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” ongoings and the two miniseries: “Realm of Kings: Imperial Guard” and “Realm of Kings: Inhumans.” Do events in all of these books set “The Thanos Imperative” into motion, or are certain books more important than others?
Dan Abnett: Everything thing points to ” The Thanos Imperative: Ignition” one-shot, which is a singular event that will gather in threads from “Guardians,” “Nova,” “Inhumans,” “Imperial Guard” and the “Realm of Kings” one-shot, which seemed like a fun, self-contained thing at the time and now has greater and greater significance as we run into this event.
Andy Lanning: We’ve built upon all these cool little things that we’ve been dropping into the books over the past couple of years. “Nova,” “Guardians,” “War of Kings” and the “Realm of Kings” stuff have all had these little hanging threads that we’ve picked up and woven into this greater story. Of course, if you look behind the curtain, things weren’t so ingrained from the get go [Laughs]. There was a certain amount of throwing things out there because they were cool and intriguing and that’s part of the fun of doing something like this.
You’ve got this great stuff and if you get an idea or a direction, you really turn it up based on the direction the story ends up taking. So this is where it’s all kind of lead up to. In “Realm of Kings,” we’re dealing with the Cthulhu-verse – or Cancer-verse – a universe where life has run rampant. And now the inhabitants of that universe are coming into our universe, where death and entropy are the ruling aspects. There’s a collision course happening. We looked for the biggest advocate of death we could find, and that’s Thanos and that made it his story. Hence the title, “The Thanos Imperative.”
So “The Thanos Imperative” is not only a natural direction for the overall story you’re telling, but it’s also a way for you guys to fulfill a desire to write Thanos, who died back in the first “Annihilation” storyline?
DA: We wanted to bring Thanos back, mainly because he’s an enormously compelling character to write about. He’s a big favorite of ours. Anybody who loves Marvel Cosmic like we do can’t fail to love Thanos for everything he represents. He’s a great looking, marvelously interesting and complicated character who has featured in some great cosmic stories.
So right from the word go, we wanted to do a Thanos story. However, we started working on the cosmic books around the time of “Annihilation” with Nova, and at that point Keith Giffen was busy writing a brilliant death for Thanos. So we didn’t want to bring him back willy nilly. We didn’t want to just plop him back out again, because it felt like it would be short changing the readers and spoiling Keith’s story. However, Thanos is a comic book character, and we knew that he would come back eventually. So our plan was that we would do a Thanos story, but we would hold off on doing it. We would build up to it. It would be a slow burn thing – a sort of holy grail that we would work to over a period of time.
The storylines that have taken us to our Thanos tale have evolved over time. We’ve been very good at thinking on our feet and moving things about. So that was our plan. We wanted to bring him back because he was very interesting, but we didn’t want to just rush into it. So I think his return is a big punctuation point, a big, decisive moment. It’s not just that he’s back, but he’s back at the right moment. That’s really what we wanted to do. It’s a story that pays off a lot of the stuff that we’ve been doing for three years. Not just because we’ve been moving towards it, but because we’ve been moving everything together
AL: Picking up from what Dan said, Thanos is one of the tentpole cosmic characters in the Marvel Universe, and to have an opportunity to bring him back to life is actually brilliant. Having him die right as Dan and I took over was a bit of a drawback, but that also gave us story potential, because if you’re going to bring a character back, you want to A) leave a decent amount of time for their death to have some sort of meaning, and B) bring them back in a creative way that comes out of a story rather than someone pointing their fingers and, lo and behold: Thanos is back as a cool gimmick or a sales point.
From day one of “Guardians,” we’ve been dealing with these strange creatures from another universe, and now two years down the line we’ve sort of polished that idea into the Cancer-verse. So that sets up a proper opportunity for us to bring Thanos back within a story that makes sense, and to weave a massive event around.
We’ve only really seen Thanos a few times since his death, and it looked like he was at peace since he was standing side-by-side with his lover, the Marvel U’s physical embodiment of Death. What’s his mental state like upon his revival in “The Thanos Imperative?”
AL: I think one word can describe his personality, and that’s pissed!
DA: Andy is right. One of the things we wanted to make sure we didn’t do with Thanos was bring him back and have him rehearse again all the things we’ve seen him do before. We were trying to think of things that we could do with him that would be significantly different so it wasn’t just the same old Thanos. Although he’s capable of enormous violence and has superhuman strength, Thanos often seems to be a great master plotter who sits there and thinks up these plans of enormous conspiratorial intrigue. So in this, when we first bring him back, you’ll see he’s frighteningly dangerous for different reasons.
AL: Like Dan said, Thanos is normally the master plotter, so what we thought might be another interesting way to use the character in our story is that he’s been brought back as part of somebody else’s plan, which is obviously a very dangerous game to play. You don’t uncork a genie in the bottle like Thanos and then hope to have him dance to your tune.
Who are some of the other central characters that we’ll be seeing in “The Thanos Imperative?”
DA: At the beginning of this story there are two particular camps, and Thanos is slammed down in the middle of everything. On the one side you’ve got Adam Magus, who is just as potent of a villain [as Thanos]. Some of the great Jim Starlin stories of old have been Thanos versus Magus. There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that Magus can go toe-to-toe with Thanos, and we’ve had great fun with him. He’s a fantastic character. So he’s there with the Universal Church of Truth; an ecclesiastical empire that stretches across the stars. Plus, there is whatever it is that is lurking on the other side of the Fault, which we’re going to reveal more about as we go into the story. They’re facing off against basically all our good guys.
Our key characters are going to be Nova and Star-Lord, who will have the Guardians with him. We’re going to focus on Nova and Star-Lord particularly, though, because we’ve been following their adventures since “Annihilation.” They’re two war buddies who have been through these wars together and have a slightly different take on the way things work. Nova, in particular, in the last few years has really accelerated into the premier division of cosmic superheroes. He’s got the power and the experience, whereas Star-Lord is still this sort of comparatively low-powered maverick. He’s got the wisdom and the experience, but he has to sort of look to others for the serious cosmic clout.
This story also brings in as co-stars some of the cosmic big guns that we haven’t written much about before, like Quasar and the Silver Surfer. This is probably our biggest story, because it requires some of the biggest characters around to get involved. And as such, we’re not leaving behind any of the threads that we set up in the other “Realm of Kings” books.
What can you tell us about the overall plot and themes of “The Thanos Imperative?” Is this a war story in the vein of “War of Kings,” or should readers be expecting a different type of tale?
AL: In the “Realm of Kings” one-shot, we showed how the Cancer-verse is now linked to our universe via The Fault. The inhabitants of the Cancer-Verse filled their own universe up, and now they’re spilling out into our universe like a sucking chest wound. So in that respect, it’s like an invasion story where we’ve got all of the factions on our side of the universe united by Medusa and Gladiator. Their stories in “Realm of Kings” have given them warnings of this impending invasion, and they’ve created a defensive line to repel these invaders.
We’re trying to do what was done with “Annihilation” and “Annihilation: Conquest,” where you set personal stories against the backdrop of some huge cosmic event and you follow these individuals and their struggles. You concentrate on how a small team can make a big difference in a larger scale conflict.
DA: There’s also no particular telling which way Thanos will go, as it were. Just because he has a long association with Death it doesn’t mean that he’ll thematically side against life. As we said, he’s coming into this story incredibly angry and probably very vengeful. He might just want to get his own back. It’s very likely that he’ll turn on the Marvel Universe and the characters in it simply to satisfy his lust to get his own back. Of course, there’s a more archetypical opponent for him spilling through The Fault. So, as ever, he’s as dangerous as can be.
How is the overall story of “The Thanos Imperative” structured? Will this just be a story that unfolds in the miniseries? Or will it also flow into the “Nova” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” ongoings?
Bill Rosemann: Both “Nova” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” will both be going on hiatus in April, with all the action zooming right into “The Thanos Imperative: Ignition” in May, and then the six-issue saga in June. DnA are the masters at crafting stories that both build upon years of character development and also stand on their own – providing you all the “101” info you need to enjoy the adventure. So all you cash-strapped readers rejoice – whether you’ve read “Annihilation,” “Conquest,” “War of Kings,” “Nova” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” – or whether you’re just a fan who digs characters like Thanos and Surfer – you can just pick up “The Thanos Imperative” and enjoy a self-contained, satisfying, galaxy-rocking adventure.
Over the course of your various cosmic epics, you’ve worked with different artists on wide range of types of stories. What was it about Miguel Sepulveda that made him the right artist for “The Thanos Imperative?”
BR: Month after month, Miguel has been impressing readers of “Thunderbolts” by delivering his unique brand of dynamic action, gritty realism and breath-taking environments. All of those elements will be on display in “The Thanos Imperative,” and I hope a host of new readers discover and enjoy the amazing art of this rapidly rising star.
DA: We’re really looking forward to seeing him get to work. The decision to offer him the assignment was made not just on the basis that he was very talented, but his style has a gritty, dark look and we thought that was preferable for this story.
Dan and Andy, as you said “The Thanos Imperative” is probably the biggest Marvel Cosmic story that you guys have ever told in terms of scope and stakes, which may leave some readers wondering what comes next? How will you top a story as ambitious as this?
DA: You can always go “one louder,” and that doesn’t necessarily mean “one more dramatic.” There are many different types of stories we can tell. I was thinking about this today. The last sort of event story we did for the cosmic books was “War of Kings,” and while that was huge, compared to “Annihilation” it was smaller. It was two great cultures at war rather than an inter-dimensional invasion. The scope was still vast, but not quite as vast. You can go into different levels, and “War of Kings” is more about the intrigue of two great royal lines going head to head. So they both have enormous scopes, but they’re different kinds of stories, all of which have that cosmic “wow” factor. They just work on different levels of magnitude. And the “The Thanos Imperative” will have the greatest amount of magnitude that we’ve attempted yet.
AL: We’re playing with the collisions of two universes here. It’s pretty large. And to follow up on what Dan said, the Marvel Cosmic Universe is filled with such interesting characters, and we’ve had such fun over the last three years playing with all of these supposed B and C list characters; dusting them off for people to see. People have seemed to pick up on that. Just looking at all the different alien races, cultures and cosmic entities that are hopping around, we can keep going and going. We don’t have to look far for potential story inspirations.
DA: We’ve had such great response with the cosmic readership – you couldn’t possibly imagine a more loyal bunch of readers. It’s been a real pleasure, so far, writing stories that seem to get them excited. I have great faith that this story will, and I hope that this story not only serves as the next episode in an exciting story for them, but they also really relish the sense of payoff on storylines that they may not even have been aware were out there smoldering in the background and are now suddenly flaring up to come together in this big thing. You seldom get a chance to do these kinds of story payoffs with a comic, and that’s really a thing to be relished.
AL: I think Marvel has really given us a great opportunity to play with these toys. We have some fun with our favorite characters. We’re huge fans of Jim Starlin, who created many of these characters. We’re huge Keith Giffen fans and we’re huge Marvel Cosmic fans. So to have a chance to write these characters for the period of time that we have, and have the fun that we have had, has just been brilliant. I think people who are fans of the cosmic stuff will see the parallels and get the in-jokes. New readers we’ll see it at as a different type of story than your average earthbound tale, and hopefully they’ll get to see how cool some of these cosmic characters, who they might not normally read about, really are.
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