This October, Marvel Comics Avengers team will confront the cold reality of "Endless Wartime" - a brand new original graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Mike McKone. A first for modern Marvel, the hardcover volume will take place in the modern continuity of the superteam's world.
Ellis joined Executive Editor Tom Brevoort and Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso for the publisher's latest "Next Big Thing" call, and things got started with an explanation of the book's story.
"In the Eastern nation of Slorinia, a threat arises - a mysterious threat that is tied not only to a tech company that is providing hostile weapons to folks who shouldn't have them but also that ties back to experiences Captain America has had in his past as well as Thor's history," Brevoort said of the story which he pitched as a "movie-like" adventure for the team.
"It occurs to me that my one contribution to the world of comics over the past 20 years will be the term OGN," the writer joked, though he added that he was no responsible for the term "pamphlet." Ellis said that he took the job because he'd been bugging staff at Marvel to do original graphic novels for years. "When they came to me and said they actually wanted to do this, it seemed silly to turn them down," he said.
Ellis also took on the question of whether this counts as Marvel's first original graphic novel, saying that no slight is meant to the longer works of the '80s like Jim Starlin's "Dreadstar" in the branding of this book as the first original graphic novel. Instead, this is the first fully fledged book as defined by the modern marketplace and the conventions of storytelling today. "There's no faking it on this," he said. "You either get it right or you don't go the distance."
Talking about his collaborator, Ellis said of McKone, "He stays out of my way, and he doesn't know where I live" which was the ideal state for an artist on a project like this. Brevoort and Ellis recalled that the artist joined Marvel around the same time as the writer, who recalled McKone's early X-Men work fondly. "I noticed the quality of his line - how good he was at staging and lighting." The writer said he wanted to avoid an assembly line feel for the project with an artist who could do most of the heavy listing by himself. "You can also tell by his work that he was interested in the performance of the characters, so I knew I could get that work out of him."
The call also said that Rian Hughes was brought on as the designer for the project on the whole at Ellis' request. "Normally I get quite involved in the design of a thing, and I sort of mentioned Rian's name thinking we wouldn't get him," he said. The acclaimed designer's inclusion meant that Ellis could take a more hands off approach to that aspect of the book and feel confident it would look great.
Ellis said that his "in" to the story was drone warfare. "It's something that's been on my mind," he said. "Without getting in too deep, drones and warfare."
Despite the popularity of the "Avengers" film, Ellis said he wasn't going to rely too heavily on the public's knowledge of the team from that source. In fact, the writer went out of his way to play with characters and ideas that could not make it to screen. "They've never seen an Avengers film with Wolverine in it," he said as an example of what he wanted. Carol Danvers' Captain Marvel will also play a role to keep the book in line with the the modern Marvel U in a way that will keep movie fans on their toes.
As to why the format is now working for Marvel, Brevoort said, "The book format...just seems to be more and more the preferred format," he said, noting digital's new dominance as well. For years, Marvel had trouble making the financials work, but with some new distribution models available thanks both to Disney ownership and movie popularity, the publisher is able to do something "that we probably should have been doing earlier."
Sales and Communications Manager James Viscardi noted that the book will be available globally when it hits in October -Â distributed overseas by Pannini - so the distribution channel is bigger than anything Marvel normally does.
Asked whether the story fit into modern Marvel continuity, Brevoort said the story will "walk between the raindrops" of Jonathan Hickman's run while being "absolutely standalone...it's about as beautiful an entry point...as you can hope to have. It's a very inviting piece of work."
As for the intended audience, Brevoort said he hoped for any and all sentient beings to be coming to the project. "There is something in this story for readers of ever stripe," he said, noting that it should work equally for first time comic readers as well as diehard fans. The selling point for any reader will be the reading experience of a story that doesn't break every 20 pages for cliffhangers and shifts.
Alonso said that the differentiating factor between this and Marvel's "Season One" graphic novels is the fact that they're tapping A-list talent to tell very modern stories of the characters rather than working on revisiting the origins of the heroes. "It's forward looking rather than backwards looking," Brevoort added. Alonso said "Season One's" success laid the groundwork for this coming into being.
Ellis noted that the preview pages seen come about 15 pages into the graphic novel after a more expansive cold open. Over the course of the book, he found he enjoyed writing Bruce Banner later in the story. "If I'd had my time again, I probably would have had longer sections of that," he said before saying indulging too much in that might come off as fan service. Brevoort spoke to Ellis' capturing Captain Marvel's voice, to which the writer said, "Carol was fun because she's always a bit spiky. The really hard one for me is Captain America. I have a really hard time getting into that character's head enough so that the dialogue stands true."
Wrapping up, the call was asked if a sequel could be in the works if this volume sells well enough. Marvel quickly chimed in with "Absolutely!" before Ellis expressed doubt in that outcome, though he said it wasn't likely up to him or likely even his gig. Alonso joked that they'd just tap Si Spurrier to write the sequel, which led to a final plug for that writer's "Crossed" web comic through Avatar Press.
"Avengers: Endless Wartime" ships this October from Marvel Comics.