Marvel's Next Big Thing: The Avengers

The most recent entry in Marvel Comics' series of "Next Big Thing" press conference calls brought superstar writer Brian Michael Bendis and editor supreme Tom Brevoort together to discuss the impending arrival of Red Hulk and the Hood's quest for the Infinity Gems in the upcoming story arcs in both "Avengers" and "New Avengers." CBR News was there to get the scoop.

In "Avengers" #7, in stores next week, Red Hulk joins the squad. Bendis said that it's been fun to watch the character develop from Jeph Loeb's initial idea to where he is now. He felt strongly that Red Hulk shouldn't go away now that Loeb's run with the character is over, leading him to the idea to include him on "Avengers." "The team needs a Hulk," Not only do we get a Hulk, but a smart Hulk, a feisty Hulk, a Hulk with some legitimate issues and drama with the other members. It just hit me like a wall, all these great stories that could come out of it. It was the closest that Jeph Loeb ever came to hugging me."

The Hood is another character re-emerging in "Avengers," and Bendis said we would see how he got from jail to the quest for the Infinite Gems very quickly. The Hood is armed with a lot of money and a drive to regain his power now that it's been lost, and Bendis said fans would learn how the character would go from maximum security prison to learning how the Illuminati would even have the Infinity Gems.

"The Hood makes a fairly significant appearance in 'Avengers Academy' #7 and #8," added Brevoort, saying the story would deal with the fallout of his beatdown on Tigra. Bendis joked that the story would be about Christos Gage channeling his anger towards Bendis for writing the abuse of Tigra in the first place.

Bendis added that the existence of the Illuminati would come to light in the near future, with Steve Rogers and Tony Stark butting heads over the existence of the secret society.

In "New Avengers" #7, Squirrel Girl becomes the new nanny for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones' child. Bendis said he was thrilled by the support for Squirrel Girl at New York Comic Con, recalling how the announcement practically blew the roof. "We're thrilled that people are as excited as we are about it," he said. "We're having a lot of fun with this behind the scenes as well." As a requirement for the incoming nanny was that he or she had to have super powers, Bendis said that there were several great candidates -- some silly ones as well -- but Squirrel Girl got the vote almost unanimously. "She has some history with some of the characters, so we'll have a lot of fun with her over the course of the year."

Brevoort jokes that Squirrel Girl's involvement instantly makes the New Avengers the strongest team of the Avengers lineup.

But there are some shakeups coming to the New Avengers roster, Bendis warned. "I'm happy to say that issues #6 and 7 will set up what kind of book 'New Avengers' is in the Heroic Age," he said, adding that a character is going to die soon. "There's a brand new villain [coming] that they have no way of fighting against."

Issue #7 takes a few steps back and allows the team to examine who they are, who they're going to be and what their roles have to be going forward.

The conversation turned back to the map that was revealed at the end of "Avengers" #5. Bendis was asked to point to one thing on the map that fans should be out on the look for -- and, unsurprisingly, he passed the question over to Brevoort. "That map is absolutely littered with sign posts and portents of stories to come," the editor said, adding that he has two items to point out: "There's a big Ultron conflict coming down the pike," and the line "Who Is Worthy?"

"Those three words will have a massive impact on the Marvel Universe throughout 2011, starting sooner than I would like," warned Brevoort.

"Just knowing what I know, and not having anything to do with the crafting of the map, the smaller the text, the more interesting it is," said Bendis. "The ones that are tiny are the ones you should pay attention to."

Asked what made now the right time to bring the Infinity Gems back into the Marvel Universe, Bendis said that he initially wanted to bring them into the first "Avengers" storyline. "Truthfully, it was a great story for the Hulk to enter," he said. "It's a reason for the Hulk to interact with the Avengers, and you'll need a big one -- his interactions with them haven't been very positive."

"It's a good reason for the Avengers to need a Hulk," Brevoort stressed.

Bendis said that the Illuminati had to know that there would eventually be a price to pay for their secrecy. "Anytime anyone holds a secret in, you know it's going to blow up in your face," he said, "though they didn't know that there would be seventeen Avengers teams staring at them when it happens."

Bendis said that the rosters would be 80% solid while leaving some room for characters to float back and forth between "Avengers" and "New Avengers," arguing that this fluidity has precedent in the history of the Avengers. "These people are here out of love and respect for each other more than any other team," he said. "But there will be elements that make some people uncomfortable -- not everyone is going to be thriller that Hulk is on the team, and maybe they'll leave... there's something fun about making a promise to Captain America, but up to a point. I like when a team has a cohesive feel to it, so we'll keep to that as much as possible, but if there's drama to be had, I'll take that drama."

Asked if he has any plans to kill Bucky, Bendis said no -- but Brevoort said he might!

Bendis assessed the heroic potential of Red Hulk: "This is a man with very specific military experience, someone who's dealt with very powerful super elements in the Marvel Universe over the course of his career, so having someone like that on the team with a plan who can execute it with a high level of power, that sounds pretty good."

"The Avengers are really good at rehabilitating people if they really want it," he added.

Back to the subject of Squirrel Girl, Bendis said: "You can look forward to every dumb Squirrel Girl joke I could come up with." He added that her ability to protect the baby is definitely going to come to the test. "She'll have a lot of face time and some surprising interactions with members of the team."

In terms of what keeps "Avengers" fresh for him, Bendis said that it's simply a dream come true and he hasn't ceased thinking, "Holy crap, I'm writing 'The Avengers.'" He said that his work on "The Avengers" film fuels him even further. "It's the most comic booky of comic book ideas," he said. It also helps that he's looking at each storyline as its own event propelling the story forward, taking readers to various corners of the Marvel Universe including magic, spies, space and more.

"It's never-endingly challenging for me," he continued. "On a basic of basic days, it's so much fun having characters who would never interact with each other interact. That's fun on its own -- the playwright in me gets excited about that."

"I like when a name is synonymous with a character, even if they didn't create it," Bendis said when asked why he's stuck around with titles like "Ultimate Spider-Man" and the "Avengers" franchise for so long. "If I die, the words on my tombstone will read: 'Ultimate Spider-Man writer.' I like that. I'm not going to break a record, but I love the opportunity ... to go the distance."

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