SPOILER WARNING: This interview contains spoilers for "Secret Wars" #6, on sale now.
Cunning and intelligent minds inhabit the Marvel Universe, but only one was shrewd and daring enough to save its inhabitants from total annihilation -- the armored Machiavellian mastermind known Doctor Doom. Writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Esad Ribic's current "Secret Wars" event series began with Doom seizing the power of a god-like alien race that destroyed the Multiverse and using his newfound omnipotence to forge the remnants of the various realities into a singe patchwork -- and very fragile -- planet known as Battleworld.
It was a solid plan, too. Doom and his allies came up with a number of rules to help them hold the various disparate realities together. What Doom couldn't plan for, however, a number of heroes and villains from the Marvel 616 and Ultimate Universes would survive the Multiverse's destruction, including two different incarnations of his arch-enemy, Reed Richards. The reappearance and actions of these survivors have caused chaos all over Battleworld, and "Secret Wars" #6 showed exactly how God Doom's planet was beginning to unravel.
Hickman and Marvel Executive Editor and Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort joined CBR News for a look at the chaotic events of the issue, the major players involved, and the reasons why "Secret Wars" needed to expand from eight to nine issues.
CBR News: Let's kick things off by once again chatting about the work being done by artist Esad Ribic. He does his usual great job again this issue, but I was especially impressed by his depiction of Project 42, the lair being used by the two Reed Richards. Are the two Reeds hiding in a Sentinel that's been turned to stone?
Jonathan Hickman: No. [Laughs] I'm pretty sure that the original intent goes back to, I guess, the second issue where we first saw the stuff underneath the world. It was all kind of petrified Celestials and stuff like that. It's one of those things where I think it's primary objective is to look super cool and it does.
If you want to pretend it's a Sentinel though, no one's going to jump all over you.
Tom Brevoort: Yeah, I think it's more likely a Celestial of some sort. They're definitely in somebody's abdomen.
Jonathan, in that scene it seems like you had a lot of fun writing the dialogue between 616 Reed Richards and his Ultimate Universe counterpart, the Maker. It also seems like that scene is all about the Maker trying to prove himself better than Reed. Is that how you see the character? Does he have a petty and vindictive streak?
Hickman: I don't think it's petty. He does think he's better than him. The Maker is a totally undistilled super genius without any of the societal moorings that 616 Reed has burdened himself with. He doesn't agree with the provincial right and wrong. He doesn't care about morality as a concept or what is and what's not acceptable behavior. He's just interested in the work, and the work is basically how much of playing God that he can get away with.
Brevoort: He's very much a Reed in the style and method of the council of Reeds that we saw many months ago back in "Fantastic Four."
Hickman: But even more sincere.
There were some interesting moments with Valeria Richards in this issue as well. It seems like she's become both an important and heroic character since she's willing to ask some difficult questions to get to the truth. That's especially interesting considering on this world her mother and Doom were big parts of her life, but not Reed.
Hickman: If you go back to classic "Fantastic Four" issues it's kind of difficult to separate Doom from Reed anyway. Doom's always been an integral part of her story. Wouldn't you agree with that, Tom?
Brevoort: Yeah, I would agree with that. In the main Marvel Universe Doom was her godfather. He delivered her. So Doom has always been a fairly central and profound influence on her.
Hickman: So I just think we're playing that stuff up, and I think she's in a situation on Battleworld where her precocious nature has an opportunity to be a little more pronounced because of the situation she's in.
The issue ended with some interesting moments between another Fantastic Four related character, Ben Grimm AKA the Shield Wall and Thanos. It seems like the reality of Battleworld is especially grating to Thanos. Why do you think that is? Is he simply jealous of what Doom has achieved?
Hickman: I think, and Tom, correct me if you think I'm wrong, it would grate on Thanos if anybody was playing god except for him. I think Thanos believes there's a natural order to the world and this is not it. [Laughs] So he finds all of this offensive and he knows it's a charade. So he had no problem pulling the curtain back on some of the stuff that Doom has created. Do you think that's right, Tom?
Brevoort: I think that's right. I would agree with that.
Also, I think it's worth pointing out that this scene with Thanos and the Thing at the Shield Wall is actually a sort of reiteration of a scene in the last issue of the "Siege" book. So people may want to read the "Siege" book. A lot of Kieron Gillen's work on that scene was incorporated into what we did here because he did his script first. We took our cues from that so that things would coordinate nicely. There's no credit for Kieron anywhere in this book, so I want to make sure he gets a special thanks on that particular piece.
Hickman: Thank you, Mister Sinister.
There were a number events in the issue we didn't see because it kicks off with an indication that three weeks of story time have passed. Apparently quite a lot happened off panel during that time: the capture of Corvus Glaive and Proxima Midnight; the rise of the Prophet; what's going on with Captain Marvel in Sinister's realm; and Namor and the Black Panther's journey. Will any of those events be seen in upcoming "Secret Wars" issues or elsewhere?
Brevoort: You might see bits and pieces of some of that, but certainly not all of it and maybe not really most of it. We kind of skipped ahead to get people where they needed to be.
You can sort of fill in the gaps yourself in most of the instances in terms of how somebody got to where they are. Like how Captain Marvel ended up in Bar Sinister or what Namor and Panther's journey to the Sanctum was like. There are probably stories that could have been told there, but I don't know if you'll see those in complete form because I don't know that they're that important to the overall narrative we're telling in the main book.
While we're on the topic of other books, some readers of the other "Secret Wars" titles might be confused by seeing the Maestro and Apocalypse in the scene in this issue where Doom is talking with his various Barons, given what happened to those characters in the "Future Imperfect" and "Age of Apocalypse" miniseries. Are the events of those stories sort of happening around or after this scene?
Brevoort: All of the various "Secret Wars" stories are happening at different points. They're not all necessarily happening contiguously. You can see that as different characters move from one book to the next or when a character from the main "Secret Wars" book shows up in another book. Some of these stories are set earlier, certainly all the "Last Days" stories are set when there still was a Marvel Universe. Those are a little more overt, but yes things can be going on at different points.
Also there's nothing necessarily that says absolutely that the Maestro that's in this "Secret Wars" book has to be the Maestro that is in "Future Imperfect" or the Apocalypse that's here needs to be the one in "Age of Apocalypse." There's a lot of realms on Battleworld and a lot of different iterations of different characters as well. So there's also that to consider.
The Fantastic Four loomed large in this issue. We got a different take on their origin, moments with the two Reeds, Doom, Valeria, Ben, and characters like the Molecule Man and Black Panther who made their debuts in "Fantastic Four." So in a way, is "Secret Wars" intended to be, at least for now, a swan song to the FF's adventures as a team and a family?
Brevoort: I don't know about a swan song for now. I just think it's that Jonathan wrote "Fantastic Four" for a long time [Laughs] and it's embedded in his DNA at this point. Correct me if I'm wrong Jon, but I don't know if he can do a big Marvel Universe story without certainly building on the foundations he laid down in that book, and other projects as well. A lot of this stuff grows out of the work he did on "Fantastic Four." So it's kind of no surprise that those characters and the world they inhabit are a big part of what's going on in "Secret Wars."
Hickman: It's my swan song. That's what it is. The Hickman epilogue occurs in "Secret Wars Too."
The other big thing about this issue is the dominos are starting to fall. The life raft survivors have discovered Doom's power source, Valeria is starting to suspect Doom played a role in the death of Stephen Strange, Black Panther has an Infinity Gauntlet, the Battleworld Barons are revolting, and part of the Shield Wall is gone. So I take it from here on out things are going to get really crazy?
Brevoort: Yes, they would have gotten extremely crazy really fast when there was only two issues left. Now there are three issues left so they'll still get crazy pretty quick. It will just take longer to actually get there.
Let's touch on the fact that "Secret Wars" will now go nine issues instead of eight. Tom, what does the extra issue mean for the launch of the All-New, All-Different Marvel books? Should readers who don't want the end of "Secret Wars" spoiled hold off on reading the new books for a couple months?
Brevoort: There's no good way that people aren't going to see some of what happens before the end simply because we're going to be in a new Marvel Universe and there isn't a Marvel Universe in "Secret Wars." So some of this stuff is absolutely going to come out and I think it's going to be difficult to avoid.â€¨That having been said, and Jonathan and I talked about this a bunch as we sat down and worked the schedule and so forth, hopefully there are still enough story questions about why and how and about other specific secret story beats that we've got up our sleeves to make all the remaining issues interesting and worthwhile to people even if they've seen some comics that take place in the restored Marvel Universe before hand.
Hickman: In my opinion, and knowing what's coming next and what the big surprises are, there's only one thing that's going to get spoiled by the new books. And I don't think it matters that much. It's not really a spoiler because the interesting stuff is how we get there.â€¨So I know people are playing fantasy football about whether or not Marvel can run their business properly, but I think at the end of the day Marvel does those things okay. [Laughs] So the only real concerns are, "Is the story still going to matter? And are we going to stick the landing?" I think the answer to those questions is yes. I'm not concerned about it at all.
You've got to remember, too, that the books that are coming out all take place eight months from now. So the way those books are constructed is a lot of stuff has happened in that dead time, and as they unfold, mysteries are revealed about what's happened to a bunch of those characters. So the structure of it works.â€¨We wish we weren't shipping later, but we did plan for the need for some flexibility.
Brevoort: Yes, we were either very smart or very lucky, and probably a little of both, in that we made the decision that when we came back out of "Secret Wars" that we would have that eight-month gap. We'd jump ahead eight months and pick up all the books so new status quos could be in place and characters could be in new and interesting situations. Because that also means for all the characters eight months of time have passed since the end of "Secret Wars" and all of the first issues don't have to be all the characters turning to one another and going, "Wow! That was a really crazy ending to 'Secret Wars' that we all just went through."
They can be about their business and new stories. The fall out from what's happened to them and how they got to these new places can be explored. All of that can be peeled back as months pass and stories get cold. So fortunately for us that means that most of those books aren't spending a lot of time in their initial issues dwelling on the "Secret Wars" resolution. They're taking off and telling stories in this new Marvel Universe. That gives us a little bit of much appreciated elbow room.
So is "Secret Wars" #9 a way to let the climax breathe and not have everything be compressed?
Brevoort: It's not entirely that. The problem wasn't issue #9, which originally was issue #8. The problem was issue #7. There was enough stuff to do that Jonathan's first draft of issue #7 was like 45 pages long. So at a certain point it just became unwieldy. I can stretch things a little bit by doing a couple extra pages. That's fine, but I can't do a book that's more than double the normal size at the normal price without it being a problem. Plus, every one of those pages is a page that Esad has to draw. There's a time factor as well.â€¨So at a certain point we all huddled here and looked at our options. What we decided was that we would take what was issue #7 and restructure it, but effectively break it in half. We'd turn it into two issues #7 and #8. Then the original #8 is now #9. That hasn't changed at all. It's just got a shiny new number.
It just came down to the big pay off and big climax of all of this stuff was bigger and required more pages than we had estimated at the outset. It just got big and we needed the space. So we decided to take it.
Hickman: Yeah, the choice was basically do we want to make people wait two months for the big #7 to come out or do we want to put out a book each month? It was a no-brainer especially with how our schedules looked. So it is what it is. It was always going to be a bit bigger, but I turned in a monster.
"Secret Wars" #7 is scheduled for release November 11, 2015.