Hickman Gets Epically Secretive in "Avengers" & "New Avengers"

When it comes to crises on an epic scale the Avengers are the first responders of the Marvel Universe. It doesn't matter if the danger is caused by rampaging super villains, power hungry aliens or malevolent cosmic beings -- the Avengers take on all comers. That doesn't mean, however, that they tackle every crisis in exactly the same way. Some threats need to be stopped by an overwhelming and public show of force from a large group of heroes, while others are best tackled by a small, elite, clandestine band of heroes.

In "Avengers" #1, on sale now, writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Jerome Opena begin telling stories that will often feature the latter approach. In January's "New Avengers" #1 Hickman reteams with his "Fantastic Four" collaborator, artist Steve Epting, to tell stories featuring the former approach. Comic Book Resources spoke with Hickman about his plans for both Marvel NOW! titles.

In the seventh issue of the first volume of "New Avengers" writer Brian Michael Bendis introduced the idea of a super powered "Illuminati" group composed of powerful and notable heroes from the various corners and communities of the Marvel Universe. When Hickman first started working with Marvel back in 2008 he began talking with editor Tom Brevoort about ways to revive the Illuminati.

"When I was presented with the opportunity to do the Avengers books I immediately knew that I was going to make 'New Avengers' the Illuminati. I wanted to do a massive story about these super heroes who are in the middle of what is essentially a no-win, super secret mission that no one else in the Marvel Universe can, or will, know about," Hickman told CBR News. "So they have a secret and they have to keep it, but it's different than with the previous incarnations that appeared in Brian Bendis' Illuminati stories because the point of most of that, especially the early stuff, was looking backwards at their influence during pivotal, historical points in the Marvel Universe. This is different, this starts today and goes forward. And what they're up to now will matter as much as any book in the Marvel Universe."

The structure and membership of the Illuminati of "New Avengers" will remain very similar to the original group. "I'm trying to be incredibly reverent to the origin that Brian and Alex [Maleev] put together when they first formed this. There aren't elections being held every four years where the various members of the Avengers, mutant and Inhuman communities vote new people in," Hickman explained. "These guys have an unwritten pact to come together to handle crises that are of a certain magnitude."

"They're not a team. They're not best friends. They don't live in the same house and they don't share the same lives. They just get together and 'do things,' which is an interesting dynamic," Hickman continued. "It means that Namor is not invested in what Captain America has going on in his life, and Tony Stark isn't invested in what's going on in Black Bolt's life. So there's always a certain amount of conflict and angst whenever they get together. They have competing time frames and agendas that will become more pronounced over time."

Namor, Tony Stark, Doctor Strange and Black Bolt have been part of the Illuminati since the group first gathered. Captain America is a new addition who joined when the group during the recent "Hood and the Infinity Gems" story line.

"Brian Bendis introduced Cap to the group in 'Avengers,'" Hickman said. "So he'll be there trying very hard to be team leader Captain America and I don't think that it will go incredibly well."

In "New Avengers" #1 Hickman brings a character that originally wanted nothing to do with the Illuminati back into their orbit. "The book starts in Wakanda," Hickman stated. "Something happens there, and if you remember the very first thing that Brian did with the Illuminati was when they all got together the Black Panther said, 'What you are doing is not only dangerous, but wrong.' It's not that he thought it was a bad idea, it was a wrong idea."

For him to call them together, something of a certain magnitude obviously happens that turns his world upside down. He's certainly not happy about having to call these guys together, especially considering one of the people he calls in is Namor," Hickman continued. "Namor attacked Wakanda in 'AvX', and Atlantis and Wakanda are now at war. So for him to weigh that war and the event and find in favor of the event, obviously this means we're talking about something that's pretty massive."

Like the original group, the new incarnation of the Illuminati that comes together in the introductory arc of "New Avengers" will be a clandestine force. "The line up will be constant for a reasonable amount of time, but that doesn't mean that the group won't grow or change and new people won't be needed and won't be brought in," Hickman explained. "That also doesn't mean that certain people won't get cast out or won't be found wanting, and that doesn't mean that they won't fail. The Illuminati as a 'group' might not even make it intact past the first six issues."

The scope and scale of the stories in "New Avengers" will range from the epic to the intimate. "We want the stories to have rhythm so that the book remains dynamic. The first issue is very wide and very action packed. The second issue is not at all. It's basically a bunch of dudes sitting around a room trying to figure out what happened in issue #1, until the floor drops out, and then issue #3 is probably one of the biggest things I've ever written," Hickman explained. "That's kind of the structure the book will have, moving back-and-forth between 'oh my god adventures' and then 'what does it all mean?'"

The size of the "New Avengers'" adventures may vary but the capability of their foes will not. Hickman has a whole host of adversaries lined up to test his protagonists' mettle, and some of them will know the New Avengers quite well. "We'll of course have new and traditional bad guys, but the ultimate adversaries for these guys are each other," Hickman said. "The danger is themselves. That's the whole point of the book."

The divisive dangers of "New Avengers" will be brought to life by Hickman's former "Fantastic Four" collaborator Steve Epting. "Steve's great. He's tonally perfect for this, and he's getting to draw a lot of stuff that he really digs," Hickman remarked. "He obviously can draw Captain America. He's wild about Doctor Strange, loves Black Panther, has drawn Black Bolt plenty of times, and he draws a great Namor. So Steve is fantastic. I love working with him. He knows how I feel about him and his work."

While Hickman and Epting have teamed before, "Avengers" marks the first time the writer has collaborated with Jerome Opena. "Jerome, what's is there to say? There's a pretty good reason he's getting the push he is from Marvel. Look at what he's done in the last bit, he basically built a new world in X-Force, and I'm happy to say it's no different here in 'Avengers.'"

The Avengers are already are one of the biggest teams in the Marvel Universe, but in the debut issue of this latest volume Hickman kicks off a set of plans to make the team and the threats they face even larger. There will be some similarities to the stories Hickman told in "Ultimate Comics Ultimates," which feature the Ultimate Universe's version of the Avengers, but the nature of the Marvel U and the tone of the story means overall the book will be very different.

"I think some of that velocity and scale will translate, but the characters are very different and I, of course, can't do a lot of the things I was able to do with a book in the Ultimate line," Hickman said. "On top of that, 'Ultimate Comics Ultimates' was really a story about everything going wrong. So tonally this will be radically different. 'Avengers' is a book about a better tomorrow. It's really the utopian Avengers. I've said in other interviews that thematically 'New Avengers' and 'Avengers' are two sides of the same coin. The 'Avengers' is about life, and 'New Avengers' is about death. One book is about day and the other is about night. One is about light the other is about darkness.

"There's a very real contrast to the kinds of stories we're telling between the two," Hickman continued. "'New Avengers' is a heavy, heavy book. 'Avengers' is very hopeful, very positive. They're both big books, but certainly if you're looking for a more 'Fantastic Four' kind of vibe in regards to the type of stories I'm doing, 'Avengers' is certainly more that book."

In "Avengers" #1 Hickman starts of with a cast of characters who also appeared in the recent "The Avengers" feature film: Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor, and the Hulk. As the action escalates, the ranks of the Avengers will increase dramatically, because they'll be up against several god-like, cosmic beings.

"They're up against a group called The Garden, which is composed of beings that are all avatars of creation myths. They were made to do a certain job in the universe, and one of those things is to prepare worlds to become better worlds. So they're not necessarily black hat bad guys. They're doing what they think is right, unfortunately that's not good for Earth," Hickman said with a laugh. "So the Avengers have to contend with untraditional villains. A threat that's much more evolved, which means they have to evolve themselves."

Hickman's initial "Avengers" arc spans three issues and sets up the new status quo for the team. "It's told through the eyes of the new characters joining the Avengers, but it's a book about Captain America having an idea and how he, along with Tony Stark, went about doing it," Hickman stated.

Art from "Avengers" #2 by Jerome Opena

"Avengers" #3-6 will be separate done-in-one stories that continue to set up the immense world Hickman is building in the book. "There's just so much going on in those first six issues. It feels like the first day on a new job where you're just trying to keep up with all the new stuff that you're learning." Hickman remarked. " I'm not worried about people not being interested or not enjoying the book. It's a lot of fun. I worry that the velocity -- how quickly books are coming out -- creates a different reading experience than the fans are used to. So, I'm not sure how they're going to take it, but hey, that's what's cool about trying new things. Who knows what's going to happen?"

"We certainly wanted it to be a different from a normal comics experience where you read a book and you wait a month or whatever," Hickman continued. "We wanted to use the double shipping plus the 'New Avengers' story going on in the background of Avengers to create this big, almost weekly, Marvel comic. So, we'll see. I do think it's going to be a different experience."

Hickman knows not every reader will be able to afford both "Avengers" and "New Avengers," especially with them shipping twice a month, which is one of the reasons why both books will be able to be read on their own. Readers who do take the time and money to invest in both books will be rewarded with glimpses at the connective tissue that binds both "Avengers and "New Avengers" together.

"They really are both two sides of the same story. You don't need to read one to get what's going on the other, but you get a little extra if you do. By the end of January four issues of 'Avengers' and two issues of 'New Avengers' will be out. Everybody will understand what's going on at that point, and then we'll see what happens," Hickman said. "It certainly feels like everything is coming together really, really well. It's a really cool gig. And I'll close with why I love writing 'Avengers,' I think 'New Avengers' is probably the most fun I've had on any Marvel book. It's just insane."

"Avengers" #1 is on sale now. "New Avengers" #1 debuts in January.

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