‘Defenders: Beyond’ Kicks Off a New Lineup of the Super-Team This July
Al Ewing and Javier Rodríguez speak to the unique alchemy behind their second Defenders series, ‘Defenders: Beyond’!
The Defenders have always occupied a particularly unique position in even such a far-out construct as the Marvel Universe. Whereas the Avengers stake their claim as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the X-Men protect a world that hates and fears them, and the Fantastic Four represents the Super Hero family at its finest. The Defenders? The mission statement has never been so clear.
Last summer into fall, storytellers Al Ewing and Javier Rodríguez took their shot with a dizzying DEFENDERS limited series that pushed the boundaries of the aforementioned Marvel U and led familiar faces like Doctor Strange and the Silver Surfer into entirely new territory. This July, the two titan creators reunite for DEFENDERS: BEYOND (2022), the logical next step in their tour de force.
In between their traverse across space and time, Sirs Ewing and Rodríguez favored us with their perspective on what goes into an effort like DEFENDERS: BEYOND…
If anybody missed last year’s DEFENDERS (2021), what do they need to know going into “Beyond”?
AL EWING: Hopefully they can pick it all up—all you really need to know from the previous [limited series] is that Doctor Strange used a mystical pack of tarot cards to summon the Defenders to deal with a threat. But everybody explains who and where they are on the page, and there are even handy editorial captions here and there to tell you where to look if you want to know more.
There are also elements from Al’s past works on this series, from LOKI: AGENT OF ASGARD (2014) to ULTIMATES (2015). Was this always a plan in the back of your mind, to tell this larger story?
AL EWING: Not so much—there was a plan to explore some of the elements I laid down previously, but that was all taken care of in the first DEFENDERS series, so this is us heading off in a new direction with some old friends. Kind of a road trip. We thought we were only getting the five issues originally, so when people wanted more it was a welcome surprise. But, of course, that means we have to go even bigger.
Where your first adventure featured a mix of classic characters and some newbies, this go-around has a cast that has almost entirely never been Defenders. Why the switch?
AL EWING: DEFENDERS: BEYOND should surprise you. If it's not doing something out of the ordinary, it's not DEFENDERS. More than that—last time we very consciously picked a cast made of old-school Defenders. Everybody in there, bar the Masked Raider, had been a Defender in the past. And that was great, that was a lot of fun, but this time we really wanted to just pick a bunch of cool characters to write and draw. I think Javier was the one who suggested America Chavez, for example, and obviously I've got history with her, and that suggested Adam Brashear [Blue Marvel], and so on. Which is the thing about DEFENDERS—they can be anyone. We kind of establish that that they're not a team, more a Multiversal process that looks like a team. More of a state of mind. So the Defenders can be anyone.
Javier, what kind of design work did you do on these characters?
JAVIER RODRÍGUEZ: Before the script, after reading the pitch from Al, usually I start thinking about the whole thing. Not only the characters’ appeal but the whole visual look of the book. The tone and the mood are important issues to me that affect not only the character design, the level of detail implicated or even the art style. More caricature? More realistic? These are questions I have before drawing a single line. Let me say that this should be a fast process—you know, time in monthly comics is precious. I am always looking for clean and simple designs that make the reading experience easy to follow on the page. We have a diverse team of Super Heroes traveling through dimensions, a lot of backgrounds, and an important amount of narrative solutions. You know, the read must be easy to follow. Keeping it simple is my main concern. And I really think that most of the times “classic” means that! I try to work with the main design of these characters as a starting point and then look for what will be interesting to add to tell our story.
Al, Adam Brashear has been a recurring figure for you through many different books you’ve written—why the affection for the Blue Marvel?
AL EWING: He's a genius scientist and anti-matter powerhouse with a secret science fortress at the bottom of the ocean. What's not to like? He should be a much bigger deal in the Marvel Universe than he is, and the idea that someone like that is spending all this time off-panel just twiddling his thumbs and waiting for the phone to ring feels completely insane, so obviously he must be keeping busy. And if we're not hearing about what he's up to on the front page of every paper, then he must be investigating strange and mysterious things on the fringes of weird science that ordinary people don't hear about. Which makes him pretty ideal for leadership of the Defenders. Also, I want to finally have him punch a cosmic being in the face—that was missing from ULTIMATES (2015), so we're doing it now.
Loki is a character who seemingly changes with each use by a new creative team. What can we expect from this incarnation of the God of Stories?
AL EWING: Well, I haven't touched Loki in nearly 10 years! And I'm pulling them right out of the last story I did with them—kind of a time-travel deal, maybe something more metaphorical, we'll see how it plays. So Loki hasn't changed at all, it's the world around them that's changed. I'm kind of the opposite—I feel like I've changed massively and I'm not done changing yet. Maybe part of this is just meeting back up with an old friend to compare notes.
Talk to us about the work that went into creating “The Mystery Map,” and how crucial it is to this series?
AL EWING: “The Mystery” is a term I've coined for the realms outside, above, beyond the Marvel Universe we know—from that old Mark Waid line he has God say, "The mystery intrigues me." Like I said, it occurred to me that we had a lot of heaven-type spaces, and I saw how three or four of them could fit together and how they might map onto parts of the Tree of Life. And what I ended up doing was plotting out how that journey up the middle pillar would go, which realms the Defenders would pass through, before I actually wrote the nuts and bolts of the plot. And I sent that in to Javier along with a bunch of reference panels, correspondences, and so on. There's a bunch of continuity baked into that, too—it's a book for readers to really sit back and chill out with and dig into.
Given that this is the second time you two are working together in recent memory, what can you say about the highlights of your collaboration?
AL EWING: Every page is a highlight, really. We've tweaked the working method a few times—right now it's a kind of screenplay model so Javier can get a clear idea of what the dialogue will be, but I don't tie him down to "X panels on this page" or anything like that, and he has total freedom to interpret the story however he wants. It's always a pure joy seeing what choices he makes—every issue is this wonderful exercise in storytelling. My favorite issue of all is probably still DEFENDERS (2021) #4 of the original series. That was a plot-first method, where I came up with dialogue after the art, and it was tougher on both of us but in that instance I think it created something truly magical. It might be the most personal thing I ever had a hand in for Marvel.
JAVIER RODRÍGUEZ: Totally agree. I love the projects where you not only enjoy the process but you learn a lot about comic language. Since my first collaboration with Al this has happened constantly. And it’s true, issue #4 of the past series was very special. It’s a joy to work with Al’s scripts because you have a lot of space to develop the story. Lots of options, knowing that the structure, the main tale are pretty solid. And it’s so cool to see how diverse the voices of each character are and how fun it is to pass that to “paper.”
What else can we look forward in DEFENDERS: BEYOND?
AL EWING: I'll try not to repeat any previous nebulous hints—but we're going to get a callback to a DEFENDERS series that technically never happened. We're getting guest appearances from my favorite childhood toys. We're finding out what's outside the White Hot Room, and who lives there. We're getting the promised return of Cloud. And at the end of the trail…a terrible secret that can only be seen from behind God's back. This one's going to be quite a ride.
The ride begins on July 20 in DEFENDERS: BEYOND #1 from Al Ewing and Javier Rodríguez! Pick it up in digital and print comic shops near you!
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