Jason Aaron on 'Avengers Forever' and the Future of Earth's Mightiest Heroes
The Modern Marvel Master discusses his first 50 issues with the Avengers—and previews what lies ahead for Robbie Reyes and the rest!
While Black Panther may be the chairman of the Avengers as of this writing, the man really calling the shots for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes since 2018 has been veteran Marvel scribe Jason Aaron. Under the direction of the fan favorite writer, the team has weathered the likes of Namor threatening the surface world, Dracula and his vampire nation re-emerging, the return of the Phoenix, and the Squadron Supreme toying with reality itself, not to mention Mephisto lurking in the background.
We sat down with the bearded wonder to look back on what has come so far and ahead as the Avengers and their allies continue to confront escalating challenges and threats.
What were your favorite AVENGERS runs as a fan before coming on to write the book?
Jason Aaron: I don’t know that I have a specific favorite AVENGERS run. I suppose the beginning of Kurt Busiek’s run [as writer], especially the work he did with George Perez. I’ve always been a huge Perez mark and Kurt is amazing. One of my favorite moments from the last couple years, I think the last time I was in New York for New York Comic Con, I was at the Marvel party and I saw Kurt sitting in the back so I went over and sat down to talk with him. We got to chat for a little while as Avengers writers and Conan writers and it was really cool, I appreciated his thoughts and insights on things. I also loved Perez’s previous stint from back in the day, the early '80s, him and John Byrne—those were the first AVENGERS issues I ever read.
So moving into your own work on AVENGERS, what was your mission statement for the book and the team when starting out?
I looked at what the previous big runs on AVENGERS had done. Brian [Michael Bendis] did his part so well, how he wrote all those different characters and the different people he brought to the team who usually weren’t Avengers. Brian is so good at the dialogue and the conversation, people just hanging out. Then Jonathan Hickman’s AVENGERS run was very much this big interplay between the two books eventually leading to SECRET WARS. I loved what both of those guys did and wanted to do something a little bit different.
Initially I didn’t want to do everything building towards one big threat. I was more interested in setting up a lot of different ongoing threats. I didn’t want to do the Avengers beating a villain and then they go away, I wanted to set up spots around the globe that were ongoing hot spots. Kind of a throwback to the old days of Marvel where you knew if you went to Latveria, Doctor Doom was there, or if you went to Madripoor or wherever. I wanted more groups and places like that. Setting up the stuff with Atlantis, I wanted that to be an ongoing cold war standoff with the surface world. I wanted to play with the stuff with the Russian Winter Guard and have those set up so they could be there for a while. That was part of my mantra and then also I wanted each arc to feel like a big event, a threat big enough to warrant bringing in the Avengers. Even if it’s an event only in the pages of this book, I treat it like it’s an event.
How do you balance the idea of the standalone events with this ongoing thread with Mephisto building in the background (which is starting to pay off in AVENGERS #50)?
Yeah, initially I was looking not to build towards one big thing, like I said, but as I began to seed in the Mephisto stuff, I knew I wanted to get to a big Squadron Supreme story, and at some point along the way I realized that was just a warm up for an even bigger thing. It wasn’t initially the plan to build to one big thing, but when you set enough things in motion, they eventually begin to collide into one another. And over the course of these 50 issues, so much has changed about everything, about the world in general, and a lot has changed for the people who have worked on this book through that period of time. As it is with the Avengers themselves, you roll with the punches and things come together as they go. I don’t remember exactly when, but I shifted to the idea that we did have a big thing on the horizon, and that’s where AVENGERS FOREVER came from, which is the other piece of building toward whatever I’m building towards.
This is such a huge cast, with not only the Avengers, but also the Agents of Wakanda, the prehistoric Avengers, all the villains—how do you manage all these characters?
I always wanted there to be a big cast. I always thought this should be a book that reflects the Marvel Universe, not just me picking my five Avengers and this is them hanging out. The characters we have in there represent so many iconic parts of the Marvel Universe. If you only read one Marvel comic—not that you should ever read just one Marvel comic—it would give you a piece of what this world is like, show you all different corners, all different characters, even outside our group of Avengers. I always like throwing all different characters into the mix and getting to write all different characters. You see that [in AVENGERS] from the very beginning, and certainly in an arc like "Enter the Phoenix" where we do a Bloodsport tournament and I throw in all the characters you would expect and then some you wouldn’t expect.
Some of it is also that I work with amazing and super passionate artists. What characters did Ed McGuinness really want to draw? He did such a great job designing the Defenders of the Deep. It was Javier Garrón’s idea to put Howard the Duck in "Enter the Phoenix", because he really wanted to draw Phoenix-powered Howard the Duck. [Laughs] Hopefully it shows that those of us working on the book have been having fun on the series even when life itself is not fun. We’ve definitely all been having fun on AVENGERS.
You’ve introduced a lot of cool concepts in this book, but perhaps none that have resonated quite like the prehistoric Avengers. Where did that idea come from?
If you go back to when I was doing [THOR: GOD OF THUNDER], I set up from the beginning of my run the idea of the Viking Age version of Thor, young Thor with the axe. At some point along the way we began to tease other heroes from his era; we introduced a big Viking version of the Hulk, this berserker who would Hulk out. Somewhere in there we had cave paintings where we teased a Ghost Rider and a Phoenix, some of the same legacy characters I ended up using in the prehistoric Avengers. So initially it was something I was thinking of for Thor, but then not long after, I got the Avengers job and realized it would be a better piece over there. You can see a lot of stuff from my Thor run that I pulled into AVENGERS, and you’ll be seeing more of it in the very near future.
How did you build the initial roster of the core team for AVENGERS, which has stayed fairly consistent over the first 50 issues?
Definitely everybody agreed that we wanted Cap, [Tony] and Thor in the book because we hadn’t seen the three of them on an Avengers team together in quite a while. We knew we wanted to bring them back together. Beyond that, a lot of it to me just seemed obvious, that these are characters who need to be there, like Black Panther and Captain Marvel absolutely need to be in there. Should we have a Hulk? I wasn’t really interested in doing [Bruce] Banner [as the Hulk] again, and this was before anybody had even heard about Al Ewing’s amazing IMMORTAL HULK plans. I was more interested in doing something with Jennifer Walters and where she was at that moment. I thought she was a good fit. In my head, I’d always for years had this idea of a Ghost Rider on the Avengers, even though as somebody who wrote GHOST RIDER I understand that sometimes he works better off in his own little corner. But I still, especially with Robbie Reyes, who is a brand-new Ghost Rider, I liked the idea of him being the new kid we threw into the mix. Also I just really liked the idea of an Avenger driving a car, a guy who just shows up to fight space gods in a muscle car.
Beyond that, how integral has Robbie as the point of view character experiencing a lot of this for the first time been to your run?
For sure one of his main purposes is to be the new guy who has never been in this space, who has never tangled with these types of threats. This is also a book where a lot of the characters have baggage with each other; we’ve done events based around some of the characters fighting each other. If they’re a family, they’re a dysfunctional family. They’re more than just co-workers. You don’t just clock in as an Avenger and then clock out. They’re not a family like the Fantastic Four or maybe the X-Men, but they’re definitely more than people who just work together. There’s so much history and connection and disconnection between these characters. Given all that, I still wanted it to be fun, for it to be fun to hang out with them, and Robbie is a big part of that; he’s the character who’s terrified because he’s never been a part of this stuff, but he’s also the one who thinks it’s amazing that he gets to do this.
I think we lose that sometimes in Super Hero comics. I’ve written plenty of those tortured characters, like in my previous GHOST RIDER stuff, where the characters are just cursed. I enjoy writing those characters, but it’s also nice writing characters who don’t see their powers as a constant burden to them, who can take some joy in getting to do the crazy stuff they get to do, and that is very much Robbie. He’s also been on a journey as a character who is pretty new and who hadn’t really gotten outside his corner of Los Angeles, and now he’s been all over the cosmos. As he goes into AVENGERS FOREVER, we’ll get to see a very different version of Robbie Reyes. He’s going to go through stuff that’s even bigger and darker than what he’s been through so far.
What has been your favorite thing about adding Blade to the team?
Just getting to write Blade. I’d never really gotten to write Blade before. I think he popped up in WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN at one point and that was the only chance I had gotten to write him. I kind of set up initially that there would be this rotating spot on the roster where Doctor Strange was at first, then he left and I brought in Blade and then he’s never really left. [Laughs] I didn’t want to rotate him out. He’s one of those characters I’ve always wanted to write and I’ve always wanted to see become a bigger part of the Marvel Universe. I like putting him in the midst of the Avengers without changing who he is. He has one purpose, one mission in life, and that’s to kill vampires. I wanted to bring him in in a big way doing what he does best but then have him stick around after that. And the vampire stuff is still there.
Like I said in the beginning, that’s about building a place you can go to. If you’re writing a Marvel book you know where the vampires are and what their status quo is, you can go there and have your characters punch them in the face and know that Blade is the sheriff. We’ll be seeing more of that too.
Yeah, they’re a big part of the arc that begins in AVENGERS #50. There’s a lot in issue #50. I wrote it all and then went back and asked [editor] Tom [Brevoort] for two more pages for a Gorilla Man scene, and then two more pages for a big layout of Avengers Mountain, and he just kept finding more pages for me. I love that two-page spread of Avengers Mountain by David Baldeón. I love it when we do stuff like that.
In addition to wrapping up "World War She-Hulk" and setting up AVENGERS FOREVER, AVENGERS #50 is also the beginning of the next arc with the coming of the Masters of Evil to Earth-616. Phoenix and Starbrand are both a big part of that arc. We’ll see the next big step of their stories. With Phoenix, she’s still trying to figure out what she is, but also her relationship with Thor because there is a lot of tension and a lot of questions there. We can’t just let this stuff simmer, we gotta figure it out now. Then with Starbrand, she’s been through a lot of changes. She was a baby when we introduced her, then as part of HEROES REBORN she aged up. She doesn’t know who she is and the Avengers don’t know who she is. Again we’ll see the Avengers take the reins to help this kid figure out who she was, where she came from, how she became the Starbrand and where does she go from here. That’s all part of the next arc and with both of those characters there will be some more surprises along the way.
In this first stretch of 50-plus issues, what are the big revelations you’ve had about the more traditional Avengers team members?
That’s a good question. With Thor I came in feeling like I knew the character, I had written him so much in so many places. I really love what Donny Cates is doing right now in the pages of THOR, that book has been amazing. Doctor Strange I had certainly come off just having written him a bunch. I had written only a few issues of BLACK PANTHER and loved getting back to writing him again.
I didn’t really realize how much I would enjoy writing Captain America because he had never really been the focus of anything I’ve written, he’d always just pop up occasionally. I feel like if you shook the first 50 issues of AVENGERS so just the Captain America scenes fell out, I’m really proud of those moments. There’s another big moment coming up in I think issue #52. Cap is the through line, he’s the stable one; I don’t want to call him “the dad” because that makes him sound like an old man, but he’s the one trying to be a consistent force for this team. Cap is not the leader, Panther is very much the chairman, but Panther has also been through a lot with the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda and what he’s about to be going through in his new series. Cap is the stable force. He’s not really the one who gets the big swings in this book, but you get little gems of moments that show who this guy is. I don’t think there’s another character in Marvel who is quite like Captain America, to me. I think that has been the biggest surprise: how much I enjoy writing and being able to find those moments in different stories [with Captain America].
What can you say about the plans spinning out of AVENGERS #50, both in the book and with AVENGERS FOREVER launching?
I said a few months ago with our Free Comic Book Day issue that a lot of what was coming was teased there, and that was our first glimpse at these new Masters of Evil. We also got a look at this mysterious Avengers Tower with one lone Avenger standing in the midst of a place called the God Quarry, which is basically the bedrock of all creation. It’s one mysterious Avenger and a whole bunch of Deathloks. We begin to see some of that mystery revealed with AVENGERS #51 as we learn more about these Masters of Evil and see them against our Avengers.
Meanwhile, Robbie Reyes spins off into AVENGERS FOREVER, sent through the Multiverse to an Earth that has been rewritten by what the Masters of Evil have done. They’re going around killing the prehistoric Avengers. The prehistoric Avengers as we’ve come to understand them their basic function is to protect the Marvel Universe in its crib. This is the world just starting to become the Marvel Earth that we know, a world teeming with heroes, Spider-Men, mutants, Hulks and all that sort of stuff. It’s not that yet in 1,000,000 BC, but we see the first flowers starting to bloom. Every week there’s some Super Villain coming from the future who is tired of getting his ass kicked by a world full of heroes who wants to travel back to a time before all that so he can rewrite things whatever way he wants. Every week the prehistoric Avengers are having to fight off Kang or Doom or Thanos or whoever is trying to strangle the Marvel Universe in its crib. Eventually these villains realize to team up and kill off the prehistoric Avengers so they can rewrite these Earths. The Marvel age of heroes never happens. So Robbie winds up on one of those Earths, which still has a couple of ragtag heroes who have come together, one of which is Tony Stark as Ant-Man. That book will take us to countless different worlds around the Multiverse with versions of characters we have never seen before and some characters that we do know. It will really be an Avengers book unlike any other. Again, the through line will be Robbie Reyes’ journey. He’s not standing beside Thor, Captain America and Iron Man anymore; he’s very much on his own and going through some really dark waters.
We’ll have AVENGERS and AVENGERS FOREVER coming out monthly, side by side. You can read each one separately, but you’ll be able to see how they dovetail at times. Definitely everything is building towards one big final story with these two books as two different sides of the same coin. As I’ve said, this is not just me pulling together everything I’ve done in those first 50 issues of AVENGERS, it’s me pulling major threads from my seven years on Thor, from kind of every major point of my career at Marvel, going back to when I first started writing GHOST RIDER, which was my first ongoing series [at Marvel]. I wrote Wolverine for six years, I did Thanos’ origin story [in THANOS RISING], my DOCTOR STRANGE—all that stuff is getting pulled into this. If you feel like the first 50 issues of AVENGERS had a lot of characters and a lot of crazy ideas all thrown into the mix together, it’s definitely turning up to 11 from here on out.
In the first 50 issues and change you’ve been writing AVENGERS, do you have a single favorite moment?
I don’t know if I can pick just one moment. It’s technically not issues of AVENGERS, but certainly the whole HEROES REBORN story that I did, getting to work with all those different amazing artists on each issue of that book. Every issue of that made me laugh out loud with what we were getting to do.
I guess, spoilers, but if you haven’t read AVENGERS #50, the Orb dies, he dies at the end, and the Orb and I go way way back, back to that GHOST RIDER run, I wrote the Orb there and he has popped up in so many things I’ve done since then. [Laughs] He was in ASTONISHING SPIDER-MAN AND WOLVERINE, he was in WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN, he was a big part of ORIGINAL SIN, he was in DOCTOR STRANGE; now he’s dead. That’s partly to show you that things are getting serious, because if I’m willing to kill the Orb then nobody is safe. His death scene hearkens back to bits and pieces of what we know about the Orb going all the way back to GHOST RIDER. I guess I’d pick that moment.
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