The Marvel Universe has been to unique and strange places under Al Ewing’s pen. He’s shown the grounded Heroes being Mighty Avengers, made the premiere Marvel Superhero Team with The Ultimates, and made Sunspot a super spy inside the pages of New Avengers and evolved his adventures into U.S. Avengers.
Suffice it to say, Ewing has traveled far and wide and even outside of the known Marvel Universe, so I thought it best to interview the man behind U.S. Avengers, Royals, The Ultimates2, and the newly released Rocket comic for information on the titles are going and what’s coming next for these cast of characters big and small.
Terrence Sage: Your work at Marvel usually leads into a sequel or spiritual successor series, what’s fun about reinventing Marvel characters into something different?
Al Ewing: I’m of the opinion that there’s no such thing as a “D-list” character. Every character in a shared universe has something about them that’s cool, or interesting, or worthy of re-examination, which is why my team books so far have tended to feature the less-hyped heroes. So it’s not so much that I want to turn them into something different – the idea is to find something about them that makes me want to tell stories about them, and bring it out. And every character has that something – there’s really no such thing as a bad character in a superhero universe.
The spiritual successor thing is separate, but related. I’ll often get into a place with a character where I enjoy writing them so much that I’m not done yet. To be brutally honest, I’m never fully done, but there comes a point where you have to set a character down and hope you’ve got them in a place where other writers will want to use them. And if they don’t, you can always come back eventually.
TS: How do you handle writing large teams with clashing personalities and characters that could headline their own book if they aren’t already?
AE: It’s difficult! In some ways, I prefer solo series – there’s a difference between a book like Loki or Rocket, where you’ve got a main character with a supporting cast as you’ve got all the room in the world to really get in deep, and a team book, where space is more limited. I try and give each character something relatively meaty to do or have happen to them every so often, but if the cast gets too big, there are going to be people who lose out. It’s actually a relief when characters have their own solo books – it means I don’t feel so bad if I give them a couple of issues out of the spotlight, because I know they have their own adventures out every month for their fans. The “clashing personalities” thing helps too – being able to put any two characters in a room together and knowing they’ll spark off each other is a very useful thing. If anything, my big regret is that I don’t give myself more room for that – I don’t think I’ve ever done a “bottle episode” story in a team book, now I think about it…
TS: You’re writing Ultimates2, U.S.Avengers, Royals and the new Rocket series, how do you keep the distinction between the four together?
AE: Well, they’re all at different points of the compass in terms of things I like to do. U.S.Avengers is straight-ahead superhero action-adventure – there’s some commentary in there, but it’s the most “normal” of the four, and the one most connected to the current happenings in the Marvel superhero world.
Ultimates2 and Royals are two sides of the same coin – two kinds of “deep cosmic” book – with one dealing very heavily with the kind of giant cosmic archetypes of Marvel, and one based much more in physical space and sci-fi adventure, but still speaking in metaphors and trying to mine out some gigantic new concepts from “out there” and bring them back “in here”. Part of it is working out where my head is at the moment – there are various themes that come up again and again, if you look – but part of it is wanting to grow this fictional space I’ve found myself working in, to grow some of the ideas further, remix a couple, and carve out a few entirely new ones, and then hopefully some writer in the future will remember this stuff, and build on top of it. It’s not the only goal, but it’d be nice.
And Rocket is action-adventure again, but much more sci-fi, with a lot of formalism. It’s me pretty much forgetting superheroes entirely – aside from weird alien superheroes, and Deadpool – and going back to my roots, doing sci-fi crime and weirdness stories with a lot of playfulness and some deadpan jokes. The thing it’s closest to is probably Zombo – whereas, if I ever do Zombo again, the think that’ll be closest to will be the Ultimates…
TS: Since the start of Ultimates it’s proven itself as one of the most important Marvel Titles out, what’s it like rewriting and telling a story of the Cosmic Marvel Hierarchy?
AE: It’s “important” in certain ways. I feel like it’s been interesting playing a little with the definitions of what’s “important”, what “matters”, etc – on the one hand, Ultimates is about literally everything that has ever been in the Marvel Universe, but at the same time it’s not about Iron Man. And I’m allowed to wander off and grow this cosmic garden and make wonderful things out of it because I can do that without stepping on too many toes. We’re operating on such a big scale that it’s almost like when particle physicists reveal that actually the universe is a hologram and all the information of our lives is encoded on the outer walls of spacetime, or whatever it is this week. It’s great, and it blows your mind, and it’s wonderful to know that human beings are able to come together and explore this territory… but it doesn’t pay your bills or fix your car, at least not in a way you can immediately see. So, yeah, we now have an idea that Marvel’s multiversal history is much bigger and broader than we thought – but at the same time, that’s not likely to pop up in a Daredevil story.
Essentially, though, I’m just adding another brick to a wall that’s been being built since before I was born. That whole History of Everything was all based on stuff that was there – I don’t think it contradicts anything entirely, though I could be wrong. I’m just adding my own ingredients to this big conceptual stew, and like I said, when I’m off doing something else in ten years, hopefully a new writer will come along and add more, and some of those will be new ideas based on their own fixations, and some will be building on whatever structures or rubble we left behind us.
TS: Your work is very character driven with specific mission statements defined at the start, does that help you chart the type of adventures you plot out?
AE: Kind of, yeah. The trouble is that the mission statement is only the starting point, and quite often I find that the series tells me where to go while I’m doing it. I generally have rough endings in mind when I start, but they can change, or the meaning they have can change. I like that – I wouldn’t want to have a big idea and feel like I couldn’t include it. So when I look back at a lot of my old pitches for things, sometimes they don’t have that much relation to where things ended up, and while I love that, it often means that any interview I give, or solicit, is only a marker of where I am in that particular moment. I’ve come to the conclusion that “Word Of God” – as in, an explanation given by the author in a tweet or what-have-you, rather than the text – is essentially meaningless, whereas the “no-prize” – the explanation a reader comes up with in their own mind – is more valid, at least to that particular reader. But it’s an evolving thing.
TS: U.S. Avengers is at the heart of Secret Empire, how will the team and A.I.M as a whole make it through Hydra Cap’s takeover?
AE: It’s certainly lodged in a ventricle of Secret Empire, yes. How the team will make it through – they won’t, not in their current form. If they did, it wouldn’t be much of an arc, because there’d be no consequences. So not all the team members who come out of this particular crucible are going to be exactly the same as when they went in. And they might not all come out! Cannonball, for example, is a hundred per cent dead. I would never lie about something like that to promote a surprise reveal where he turns out to actually be alive. Never. And I would also never lie about lying about that, or lie about lying about lying about that, so I hope anyone reading this knows exactly how trustworthy I am when it comes to Cannonball’s unfortunate, and definite, death. And if this interview comes out after U.S.Avengers #7 – which features a SHOCK TWIST that nobody will see coming – then I want readers to know I stand by these statements even more, if anything.
One thing I should mention before we go any further – Paco Medina and Juan Vlasco are doing phenomenal work on this book. They’re one of the best teams I know for delivering strong storytelling with big, fun hero moments, and they’ve made the book what it is today.
TS: Between Ultimates2, U.S.Avengers, and Royals will their be any team additions or losses in the coming months?
AE: We’re really getting into spoiler territory at this point – that said, I can confirm that we’re going to see some big – and I do mean big – additions to the Ultimates cast. If I were to talk about “The Eternity Watch”, would that be too much? We should run it past the spoiler people. If it comes back as a big ol’ [REDACTED], readers will know I said too much there. Travel Foreman draws the heck out of them, obviously, as he does with everything. He’s been an a pillar of strength on this book and I owe him a gift basket for everything he’s put in and continues to put in on every page. He’s a cosmic being in his own right. Also, we’ve got one more issue with Koch, and she’s got an absolutely wonderful take on Galactus that we’re going to be spending a whole issue with, so that’s good.
TS: How is charting Rocket’s high stakes spy thriller different from the human and cosmic stories that you find yourself writing?
AE: It’s easier in some ways, harder than others. I’m deliberately doing some different things with Rocket – readers of issue #1 will know we’re playing some formal tricks with narration, including the “prose gutter”. That’s very different to any other book I’m doing, and locks things down to a certain extent in terms of the storytelling. The other thing we’re doing with that book is trying to make each issue nice and dense and a reasonable package in and of itself, which means telling some big, twisty-turny heists, breakouts and capers in quite a smallish space. Weirdly, though, it’s one of the more emotional books we’re doing, even if we’re sometimes playing the noir tropes for some deadpan yuks. This is a good point to mention how perfect Adam Gorham is on the art side – he really gets what we’re going for, and he’s been invaluable in terms of suggestions and input.
TS: What will the Inhuman Royal Family be dealing with in their hopes to discover their Inhumanity in the stars?
AE: It’s a romance book! I’m not even joking. In terms of upcoming story lines – we’re doing an arc featuring the Universal Inhumans. The Universal Inhumans, for those who don’t know, are alien species that the Kree experimented on, the same way that they did with the human race, to create super-powered offshoots like the Inhumans. Without spoiling some upcoming twists too much, that digs very deeply into what the book’s about. It’s probably a big spoiler to say that one of the things the Royals investigate with the Universal Inhumans is the arrival of the mysterious Skyspears – crystal shafts that affect Inhumans going near them in strange ways, that Charles Soule created as a big mystery during his run. (I’ve had chats with Charles, and he approves of my take on them, by the way.) It’s also going to bring in yet another alien race – one that Marvelites of old will remember with deep fondness. I’m pretty sure new readers will enjoy them, too. Art there by Kevin Libranda – he’s been wonderful so far, and he draws a lovely… actually, that character’s a spoiler. But he draws a lovely [REDACTED].
And after that, the Royals fling themselves fully into the void, the immense gulf between galaxies, and things start getting epic, and weird, and – yes – a little bit sexy in places. I think Inhumans fans – especially the ones who like when the Inhumans go deep into their sci-fi side – are going to enjoy where we go with this. I don’t know if I can reveal who the artist is yet on that arc, and going forward from there? It may be a “reveal” sort of thing. But I can say that they’re spectacular.
TS: What will be some of the things Ultimates2, U.S.Avengers, Royals, and Rocket experience in their books for the rest of 2017?
AE: Ultimates2 – we’ve got some big guests in for the #100 issue, which is going to be extra-sized. Right now it’s a 30-page story, and I’m going to need every single page of that, I’m afraid – not only do we have the Eternity War blowing the roof off everything, we have the Ultimate Universe involved, Counter-Earth, those BIG guests I mentioned earlier – it’s going to be immense. I only hope I can pull it off.
U.S.Avengers – did I mention Cannonball was dead? Because he is, absolutely, completely dead, and that’s not a lie and anyone who says it is is quite wrong in my opinion. Anyway, we’re going to come out of Secret Empire into a story which I’m provisionally calling “The Search For Sam”.
Royals – well, I’ve already been into the upcoming stories there. Oh wait, I haven’t really mentioned the return of Ronan, in post-Black-Vortex mode. That’s going to be a fun one – he’s got some new cosmic powers, and he might possible have gone a bit mad. Thony Silas is doing art on those issues, and he draws a very imposing Ronan indeed.
And finally, Rocket – we’ve got courtroom drama, a prison breakout – that probably spoils how the courtroom drama goes – and bursting out of a cake with a tommy gun, and that’s before we even get to evil corporate Beaver, Castor Gnawbarque III. So that’ll be fun.
I’ll finish with a “thank you” to everyone picking up these books – it’s a treat to have you on board, and I hope you get as much out of the upcoming stories as I do!