SPOILER WARNING: This interview contains spoilers for "Secret Wars" #7, on sale now.
"Secret Wars" began with writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Esad Ribic destroying the Marvel Universe, only to then have Doctor Doom use the Beyonders' god-like power to literally piece together its remnants and form a new planet known as Battleworld.
The problem is, even if Doom is now a god, his will is literally all that holds Battleworld together. In addition to the planet's fragile nature, its diverse population of scheming, duplicitous and heroic super-powered individuals makes the patchwork planet a powder keg waiting to explode.
The planet's fuse was lit by the emergence of several heroes and villains who survived the destruction of the Multiverse, and in "Secret Wars" #7 everything exploded as massive chaos broke out in a number of the planet's key domains and institutions. Hickman and Marvel Executive Editor and Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort spoke with CBR News about the twists and turns of the issue, the process of breaking what once a massive issue #7 into two jam-packed issues, and the decision to let Ribic handle the art on the epic series from start to finish with no assistance.
CBR News: Jonathan and Tom, last time we talked we discussed the fact that "Secret Wars" expanded to nine issues because Issue #7 was too big. What was the process like breaking it up into two issues, this one and #8? Was it as simple as looking for a clean break point in the action of the story? Or was it a little more involved?
Jonathan Hickman: Well, it was heartbreaking and there was a lot of drinking and crying. Tom was inconsolable for a long period of time. We pulled it together though. We made tough decisions and moved on.
Tom Brevoort: [Laughs] I got there in the end.
Yes, this was more than simply taking the issue and breaking it in half. The whole piece kind of had to be restructured. Scenes were moved around so the two issues worked as issues themselves. Because otherwise what you would have gotten was effectively half an issue. It wouldn't have built to a good place, and the issue wouldn't have closed in a good dramatic fashion. So Jon spent the better part of a week or two going back into them and reshuffling stuff. He and I talked about things a little bit like where we thought this issue should end and the next one should open, and how we navigate all of that. Hopefully we made the best choices that we could.
Hickman: When this thing comes out as one big cohesive tale in trade in the year 2017 [Laughs] I'll probably switch it all back to the way it was originally presented. I really, really liked that. We'll have to rework it and change a bit of lettering, but for now I am pretty happy with how this turned out.
There was a lot of action in "Secret Wars" #7 and all of it was done beautifully by artist Esad Ribic and colorist Ive Svorcina. Esad has been fantastic on all of these issues and I'm a firm believer of good things come to those who wait, but has there been any discussion about bringing in another artist to speed things up and help him complete the series?
Brevoort: There's constant talk about whether or not we should bring in other artists. If you look on the Internet there's nothing but conversation about that, and we've had some internally as well.
Let's call the thing what it is. This is not by any stretch of the imagination an ideal situation. This is not what was planned for. This is not the way we thought or hoped things would work out, but given all of that, as in every case where we run into a problem, we're looking at it and we're trying to make the best decision not just for right this second, but also for further down the line. What serves us? What serves the story? What serves the creators? What serves Marvel best in the long run?
And so far, having Esad be there and being able to do the entirety of the series, and for it to have the shape, scope and look that Jonathan had planned for it for now three or four years seemed like a better end strategy than bringing in some of the other excellent artists we have. They would not be Esad and they'd chop this thing up a little bit just to get it done more quickly. We've been struggling and striving not to have to do that because that effects everything. That affects the eventual collected edition with all those pages that will be in a different order, as Jonathan was talking about a few seconds ago. [Laughs] It also affects how the series is perceived and remembered into the future.
So we're getting down to the final nittty-gritty here and hopefully we'll be able to hold that line all the way until the end and the book will be what it was supposed to be. Plus, like you said good things come to those who wait.
Hickman: I just want to say I think I really could have used like 100 more pages. [Laughs]â€¨Brevoort: [Laughs]
Hickman: But we all have sacrifices to make. I think it's also important to note that Esad has really crushed it here the last month. He's done very, very well and the next issue is going to press the week before this issue shows up in stores. So right now, fingers crossed, we're looking okay.
Let's talk about the big battle that erupts this issue starting with Doom's generals. Why did you choose Apocalypse, the Maestro, Mister Sinister and the Goblin Queen to serve as Doom's generals in this conflict?
Hickman: In terms of the story I thought that those four represented the biggest, most important areas of the map when I was first coming up with the whole geography of Battleworld. Now, of course, stuff changed when other people started writing and those characters were used in other books. But for the most part, though, it was always going to be something close to that spread of bad dudes.
You mentioned that things changed when people started writing other books like "Age of Apocalypse" and "Future Imperfect." Given what happens to the Maestro and Apocalypse in those books, Tom, your quote from last time seems especially resonant. I believe you said it's up to the individual readers to decide when those two series happen in conjunction with "Secret Wars" and if in fact the versions of Apocalypse and the Maestro that appear in those book are the ones that appear here.
Brevoort: I think that is probably the best way to put it at this juncture, sure. We're still a little ways from the end so you never know what may happen.
That won't be a problem for some readers who enjoy being able to decide for themselves what happens, but there are others that feel for the story to be complete they need more concrete details.
Brevoort: I understand that way of thinking and the logic of that, which is pretty sound. By the same token, this is an undertaking with a lot more moving parts to it than anything we've done before; particularly with the sheer number of creators involved, and with our overall desire to let each of our creators tell the stories that they want to tell within the confines of whatever domain or whatever series they happened to be doing. That meant that some allowances had to be made in some places.
So again, as I said before, in each of those instances we made what we hope is the best choice that we could make. People will either agree or disagree with that depending on who they are and how they feel about it all.
Mister Sinister fought side by side with Captain Marvel in this issue. Jonathan, can you comment on the relationship and dynamic between the two of them? To my mind, Carol Danvers seemed to beat Sinister at his own game and endured some agonies in order to use him against Doom. Is that a fair description of what happened?
Hickman: Yeah, that's not bad. I think he thought he had caught a big fish, but it turns out that fish was a shark who took a bite out of his domain. [Laughs]
It also felt like there was more to the scenes with the Thors in "Secret Wars" #7. Will we see some of that in Jason Aaron's final issue of "Thors," which is also on sale now?
Brevoort: It's very much like what we talked about last time with "Siege," Kieron Gillen, and "Secret Wars" #6. The end of "Thors" #4, which Jason Aaron wrote, sort of feeds directly into this issue of "Secret Wars" to the point where there's a scene in common, where again, we sort of picked up, adapted and used a bunch of the dialogue that Jason had first set down. We adapted it to our needs here in "Secret Wars," but it's done in such a way that if you read both books. You'll find that connectivity and commonality. So again, like we did last month with Kieron we should probably give a shout out to Jason because he doesn't have any kind of credit on this issue of "Secret Wars" and at least some of the words in that sequence were his or suggested by him.
Hickman: Yes! Thank you, Jason! You're an awesome bearded man; my second favorite bearded man. [Laughs]
Brevoort: [Laughs] I was going to be sad again, but you pulled that one out.
Another player in the big battle in this issue was the Prophet, later revealed to be Maximus. He didn't play a huge role in this issue, but Jonathan it seemed like you had a fun time writing him here and whenever he appeared in your books. What do you enjoy most about Maximus?
Hickman: I kind of enjoy anyone who has a really, really dark heart and general contempt for their fellow man. [Laughs] That's like my sweet spot in terms of the Marvel characters.
I think Maximus is great because, and it may not continue to be this way, but for a long time he was a perfect foil to a guy who can't say anything. So at some point that character is basically talking to himself all the time, which is a very fun way to write a character with his attributes.
Let's move away from the big battle to the final scenes of the issue with Black Panther and Namor. Over the last several years you explored the idea of kings losing their kingdoms, but here when all hell is breaking loose on Battleworld Black Panther appears to have found and embraced a new kingdom. Jonathan, do you consider this is a big payoff to the story you began with T'Challa back during your "Fantastic Four" run?
Hickman: Yeah, all the Black Panther stuff pays off here at the end. This is the conclusion of all of the "King of the Dead" story we've been doing.
Brevoort: Yeah, boy there's a payoff that took a long time to come, but it actually came. I believe you're right that line does first get talked about in "Fantastic Four." [Laughs] Here's what it meant and here's what it's been about the whole time. I hope nobody saw it coming despite the fact that there's an entire map area filled with dead zombies. I hope no one put two and two together and said, "All right! The Black Panther can go down there and get an army!"
I think that's a supremely cool moment. I love it to death.
Hickman: Yeah, it further underscores the working theory that I'm just writing one big comic and this is like issue #178 of Jonathan Hickman's "Marvel Comics." [Laughs]
[Laughs] So it looks like the Black Panther is in place to be one of the most significant figures in the endgame of this story.
Brevoort: Or he gets killed in the next panel! [Laughs] That's been known to happen, too.
Hickman: [Laughs] This is true.
[Laughs] Fair enough. We're now two issues from the end of "Secret Wars." What can you tell us about what to expect from Issue #8?
Brevoort: [Laughs] It's like Issue #7 only more intense and crazier. We've now released the Alex Ross cover for "Secret Wars" #8, which shows the SHIELD-sized Thing punching Franklin's Galactus in the face. That's something that I think people have looked forward to for a very long time, and I think that gives you a sense of the flavor of what goes on in the issue.â€¨Again, if things escalated in a big action way in Issue #7 they just escalate greater and faster in #8 because, as we mentioned this was originally all one issue. It was all one, smooth, enormous, 45-page build up and cacophony of violence and an uncorking of all the tension that's been building up over the course of the series. Nobody is going to accuse any of these issues of being the "talky" ones.
Hickman: So they were easily my least favorite. [Laughs]
Hickman: Issue #8 has what I thought was easily everybody's favorite moment in the pitch from when I presented "Secret Wars" to the room at the Marvel summit.
Brevoort: We want to finish by thanking everybody again for sticking with us on "Secret Wars." As I said at the top, I know the situation is not ideal. And it's certainly bugging a bunch of people that the All-New, All-Different Marvel books have started to come out and "Secret Wars" is still not done. Hopefully the work we do in issues #7-9 will be spectacular enough and satisfying enough that when all is said and done you will feel like it was worth the wait and you'll feel like you got your money's worth.
If not, you can always write to Jonathan's Tumblr page.
Brevoort: He answers questions from the fans there and would love to hear from you.
Hickman: [Laughs] Yes! Here's a link: http://pronea.tumblr.com/ask
"Secret Wars" #7 is on sale now.