Published November 13, 2017

Royals Puts the Far Future of the Inhumans in the Spotlight

Al Ewing on Maximus, Marvel Boy and what else awaits 5,000 years from now.

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Writer Al Ewing plans for the long-term in ROYALS; the 5,000 years in the future long-term, to be clear. On December 13, that future finally arrives in full in ROYALS #12.

With only Maximus and Marvel Boy of the Royals left, all hope may be lost as the Progenitors returns to the 71st Century.

We got writer Al Ewing to tell us more about what we’ll see in ROYALS #12. The “5000 Years From Now” future of the Inhumans has been nibbling around the edges of ROYALS for a little while. For those not in the know or late to the book, what are Maximus and Marvel Boy about to face?

Al Ewing: There have been two ongoing stories in ROYALS since the very start. We’ve obviously had Medusa and her crew on a voyage deeper and deeper into space in the main body of each issue, but we’ve always started with a flash-forward to 5000 years on, showing the progress of the Last Inhuman – an extremely aged Maximus – as he journeys across the ruined planet Earth, after getting a signal from a long-forgotten warning system that something ancient and terrible is coming back to Earth after almost destroying the world. Along the way he awoke Marvel Boy – now the Kree Accuser – from a cryogenic sleep. And the goal of the journey was the wake the Moon King, another extremely altered Royal, who’d been building up his power since the original battle with the enemy.

That enemy being the Progenitors. They’re coming back to Earth, to do who knows what – though we’ll find out what – and the only people who can stop them are old, broken and a little weird. And now we get a whole issue of them. Given that you’ve included it in your story, one imagines issue #12 will somehow play into the present day as well as 5000 years ahead in the future. Without spoiling, can you point to some possible connections between ROYALS present and future?

Al Ewing: There’s a big connection, in that present-day Maximus, at this point, has access to the Prima Materia, the mysterious Primagen he’s been chasing his whole life, as we revealed in #3. Now, the last time he was exposed to this stuff—in the womb—it drastically altered him, and arguably provided him with glimpses of his entire timeline [which was] exacerbated by Black Bolt yelling into his ear, years later.

So what happens when he gets another dose? We’ll find out. Creatively, why did Maximus and Marvel Boy make sense to you as the two last Royals, if you will; the ones still around in 5000 years to face down this momentous event?

Al Ewing: Not quite the last—the Moon King is a Royal too. But those two kind of suggested themselves. There are things I plan out right from the start—the last issue was always going to be set 5000 years on, and Maximus was always going to be the Last Inhuman. If you cast your mind back, I was pretending early on that Black Bolt came along on the voyage, when in reality it was Maximus in disguise. The Last Inhuman could have been any of the cast, really, but I made it Maximus to play some more with that fake-out, in the first couple of issues, it could well be Black Bolt under that hood.

As well as the things I plan out from the beginning, I try to allow myself room to let the story dictate things, and that’s where Marvel Boy as the Accuser came from. I knew, after #3, roughly where the Last Inhuman was going, if not who he’d find when he got there, and I knew he’d need help on the way—and someone to talk to. Marvel Boy was the obvious choice. For one thing, he had an obvious possible future path, in that I knew he was going to reboot the Kree Empire in a new peace-and-love incarnation—although I’d be surprised if karma didn’t come out of the barrel of a space gun with those guys—so him becoming the Accuser at some point in the future made a degree of sense.

Secondly, I knew I wasn’t going to kill him. I like him too much, and it’s a cop-out if the Inhuman who doesn’t come back isn’t even an Inhuman. And him not being an Inhuman meant Maximus could still be the Last Inhuman, not the Penultimate Inhuman or whatever. How do the two credited artists, Kevin Libranda and Javier Rodriguez, combine to help you realize the look of ROYALS, especially in reference to the future? When conceiving of what 5000 years in the future would look, what kind of inspirations did you draw from? How would you describe the “feel” of the universe at that future date?

Al Ewing: Well, we should credit Jonboy Meyers here as well—he was the one who came up with the original look of the Last Inhuman, the Pterolith Riders, Arctillan, the Sleepers and a whole bunch of other things that generally set the tone. But it was Kevin Libranda who designed the Accuser; I forget exactly what I gave as a brief, but I suspect it was Marvel Boy at sixty, having lived through some extremely hard times and gotten further into depressing country music. And Kevin came back with this wonderful grizzled space cowboy, who I’ve taken a lot of pleasure in showing in action. And then Javier Rodriguez, for his part, ended up designing the Moon King, this third member of our final trio, starting with the image of the upside-down skeleton in the Hanged Man position that I started off #9 with, and then kind of going from there into some wonderfully weird, non-human territory. I’ve seen readers get very disturbed by the idea that a human being could metamorphose into this thing, which is a testament to Javier’s skill.

So we’ve ended up with a trio of three characters, created by three artists, who all nevertheless kind of mesh together in a wonderfully organic way. And I had no idea when we started that we were going to get here. It’s one of the nice things about working this way, that you give yourself room to surprise yourself. And Kevin and Javier—and Álvaro López on inks—have been an absolute treat to work with, every step of the way. Maximus is not widely known for being a good partner and Marvel Boy has also had a history of being…reactive at times. How, if at all, has 5000 years matured them a bit? What is their relationship to each other in that future?

Al Ewing: Maximus is still pretty awful. He seems very wise and regal when he’s living alone, but as soon as he links back up with the Accuser, he starts showing his true colors. He’s either aloof or snarky most of the time, and he doesn’t particularly care when the Rider, his human taxi service, dies on the quest. I liked the idea that he could attain enlightenment and still be a terrible person afterwards.

There’s a bit I enjoyed writing where the Accuser, well, accuses him; Maximus did something awful to Marvel Boy, and hasn’t apologized for 5000 years. And Kevin drew this wonderful beatific smirk on his face, because he’s never going to apologize, ever. So he hasn’t matured, exactly.

Noh-Varr’s gotten gruffer and tougher over the years, but he’s not really changed either. But even with Noh-Varr’s time in suspended animation, these two have had decades to bond, and at this point it’s turned into a weird odd-couple-friendship-slash-codependency. What are you most excited for in issue #12? What really gets your blood pumping when you imagine fans reading?

Al Ewing: There’s a bit in #12 that’s horrible—just horrible, one of the most awful horrors I’ve ever written. A terrible fate for two characters who absolutely do not deserve it. And that doesn’t exactly get my blood pumping—I don’t enjoy putting readers through these things—but at the same time, it’s the path we have to go through to get somewhere much more hopeful.

After issue #12 comes the JUDGEMENT DAY special, which is kind of a bookend with the PRIME special that started all this off, and also links up with the continuing BLACK BOLT series—I’ve been in consultation with Saladin Ahmed to make sure I get Black Bolt entirely correct, and he’s made a couple of suggestions to keep me on the right path.

And while there’s an ending in #12—the future plot comes to a close, and the Royals begin their journey home—JUDGEMENT DAY is where things wrap up and we tie a bow on a couple of the long-running themes.