EXCLUSIVE: Hickman Assembles a New Era For Marvel Comics' "Avengers"

When you're a member of Marvel's Avengers, you can't have an "off" day. Earth's Mightiest Heroes take on the biggest threats the Marvel Universe has to offer on a regular basis, so if one of them doesn't have their head in the game, countless people could die and entire planets could be destroyed.

The large-scale nature of the threats the team faces also means that the Avengers are always looking for bigger and better ways to protect the planet from situations no hero could face alone. This winter, a new era begins for the team as writer Jonathan Hickman takes over the main books of the Avengers franchise, expanding the team's roster and the way they operate. We spoke with Hickman about his plans for his and artist Jerome Opeña's "Avengers," which will launch with a new, twice-monthly shipping series in December, and "New Avengers," which kicks off a new series in January.

During his tenure at Marvel, Hickman has worked on some high profile projects, including the current "Avengers Vs. X-Men" event and his highly-acclaimed run on "Fantastic Four," which will end in October. "Avengers" is his biggest project for Marvel to date, and the writer couldn't be more excited about taking over the company's flagship franchise.

"I was pretty honored to be asked. Obviously, with everything that's gone on this summer with the movie and the track record [departing "Avengers" writer] Brian Michael Bendis has had over the past, oh, countless number of years, it's a big responsibility, but one I'm pretty excited about," Hickman told CBR News. "I know what I want to do and everyone seems to be onboard with it. It feels big. It feels ambitious. We're positioning it as the next logical step of the Avengers, which is both pretty interesting and what I think what we should be doing -- figuring out what's next, right? What comes after a billion dollar franchise?"

When asked how this compares to his experience taking over Marvel's "Fantastic Four" several years back, Hickman said the two situations weren't terribly similar. "Oh, this is a radically different proposition," the writer said. "That title was struggling. People were ridiculously asking if it could even be relevant again. This is obviously not the case with 'Avengers.' There's a whole different level of expectation because 'Avengers' has a certain density and importance to the company that, for various reasons, no other books have. It's a big deal, but I think I'm ready for it."

Hickman's "Avengers" run begins shortly after the events of "Avengers Vs. X-Men," which presents a unique opportunity for the writer. As a part of the Marvel NOW! line, the Avengers titles will be new reader-friendly, but they will be informed by the Avengers' experiences during 'AvX' where they confronted the colossal threat of the Phoenix. Becasue of that, in"Avengers" #1 the team will be looking to expand their roster and the way they protect people in order to be better prepared should another threat like the Phoenix arise.

"The idea is that the Avengers have to get bigger," Hickman told CBR. "That means bigger in every sense. That means the roster has to be bigger, and the missions have to be bigger, and the adversaries and scenarios they find themselves in have to be larger. I've played with this stuff a little bit over in the Ultimate Universe. Obviously, it's a completely different weight class here, but in a lot of ways that's the kind of velocity that the book should have. We (Tom Brevoort and I) also felt like that if the book was going to be about an Avengers world, it should look more like the world. Of course there are complications starting out when the necessary movie characters are five white dudes and a white lady, but, you know, bigger roster. Frankly, I'm really, really excited at how we address that. The lineup is killer."

By expanding their ranks, the core Avengers team will grow to 18 members. While this may seem like a huge cast to juggle, Hickman has structured the series in a way that will give almost all his characters equal time in the spotlight. "The way I've set this up is we'll do bigger stories where our entire cast or almost all of our cast take part in a really big adventure.We'll do around three-issue arcs of bigger stories, and then we'll do three done-in-one issues where we focus on a smaller group of characters," Hickman explained. "It's not a problem getting to everyone, and it's not a problem making it feel like everybody's important."

Another element that will help Hickman balance his large cast of characters is the fact that several of the team members will have their own, solo titles. "I think the writers of the 'Thor,' 'Iron Man,' 'Captain America,' etc. should be writing whatever stories they want to write for those characters," Hickman stated. "'Avengers' isn't the place where Thor is going to have a huge character arc. That's not how it works. That stuff happens in 'Thor.' 'Avengers' should be a reflection of that.

"The book very quickly becomes about all the characters that surround the big guns of the Marvel Universe," Hickman continued. "Once people see how the issues work, it will become very clear. This isn't about a random group of characters I just decided to put together. This is about a bunch of heroes who feel the same way about the main Avengers as we do. You want to see Thor? So do these guys."

While Hickman is able to talk about how the cast of "Avengers" relate to each other, for now, at lesst, he has to keep his plans for "New Avengers" a little more mysterious. The author could reveal, however, that he's redefining the team and their mandate; they'll no longer be an independent team of Avengers that exist alongside the primary team and do their own thing.

"It's not like that at all. There's one big massive Avengers team that is the Avengers, and there's this other thing that's going on in 'New Avengers.' When we announce exactly what 'New Avengers' is, it will make perfect sense and everybody will like, 'Oh yeah! Of course,'" Hickman explained. "'Avengers' and 'New Avengers' are the same book -- just from two different sides of the world."

Hickman has become somewhat famous for his long-term plans for the Marvel titles he writes, and "Avengers" and "New Avengers" are no exceptions. At a recent editorial retreat, Tom Brevoort calculated that the writer's current outlines for the titles would take him all the way up to issue #63 of "Avengers."

"Since 'New Avengers' and 'Avengers' are closely related, we've got this kind of super-structure for where we're going down the road," Hickman said. "Where I was going to end up was always a fixed point. One of the first things I pitched was where we end up. That's how it works for me. I understand the end point, and I work backwards from there. So the fact that I know where I'm going to be at in issue #63 is not unnatural or odd for the way I do these things. At this point, I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do for the bulk of the 'Avengers' and 'New Avengers' issues, but I'm leaving myself a lot of room to play, for things to grow, for me to fall in love with different characters and let them shine and to just have a really good time."

Hickman's plans link the destinies of "Avengers" and "New Avengers," but the writer has already had different experiences penning the first issues of each series. "Specifics about about the story in 'New Avengers' had been percolating in the back of my head for a while, so the first issue of that series was a monster and way too big. It would have ended up being over 40 pages," Hickman said. "We had to split it into two issues -- I had been working on it, thinking about it for so long, it grew out of control. With 'Avengers,' I knew the theme and I knew what I wanted to happen. I hadn't obsessed about it like when I was writing 'New Avengers.' Actually, I believe there was just one little tweak we did, and then it went off to Jerome Opeña. Oh, and 'Avengers' pages are already coming in and they are so gorgeous."

Indeed, "Uncanny X-Force" artist Jerome Opeña will pencil the opening arc of Hickman's "Avengers," and the writer is excited to have Opena helping him launch the latest volume of Marvel's blockbuster franchise. "This is all about giving Jerome a really big push and marking him as one of the top talents in the industry. And while the latter is obviously true, it's always great for a creator when Marvel gets behind you. I think being put on what is arguably the flagship book is a great move for Jerome. He deserves it, and I'm incredibly fortunate to get to work with him. He's fantastic."

"Avengers" #1 is still five months away and "New Avengers" #1 is six months from debuting, but Hickman is already hard at work on both titles and very enthusiastic about what he's accomplished with them so far. Fans of Hickman's writing and the Avengers still have a long wait, but the writer promises it it will be totally worth it.

"I'm pretty much done with everything else, so this is the only place my head is at. I can tell you that, right now, it feels much stronger than 'Fantastic Four' or anything else I've ever done at Marvel," Hickman said. "And while I'm very excited about 'Avengers' -- that it's a very strong book, and I don't think I could have started it off any better than the first issue, and I love where it's going -- I think 'New Avengers' is going to be the sleeper hit of the year when people see what it is."

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