If he's penning the continuing adventures of "Earth's mightiest heroes," does that make Avengers scribe Jonathan Hickman Earth's mightiest comic-book writer?
At the very least he's South Carolina's.
Since his Image Comics debut The Nightly News in 2006, Hickman has spent the past seven years creating works known for their thought-provoking nature and big ideas such as the dystopian quasi-Western East of West and The Manhattan Projects, which features very different alternate versions of Oppenheimer, Einstein and others from history textbooks. (The first collected volume of East of West is out Sept. 11, while two are now available for Manhattan Projects.)
He's brought similarly grand themes to his Marvel Comics superhero fare. A gig on Secret Warriors led to a dazzling run on Fantastic Four, and earlier this year he was handed the keys to two key Avengers books: Avengers, which boasts a cast of 20-plus characters plus illustrator Leinil Yu, and New Avengers, about the secret Illuminati group of heroes — drawn by Mike Deodato — who work to keep the world safe by any means necessary.
A 41-year-old father of two, Hickman takes his next big step in the industry this week as the primary architect of the six-part Marvel event series Infinity, launching on Wednesday and featuring art by Jim Cheung, Jerome Opena and Dustin Weaver.
The Avengers head to space to stop an ancient race called The Builder from razing our world, while back on Earth the cosmic villain Thanos — whom movie fans will recognize from his memorable cameo in last year's The Avengers film — arrives with his minions and a secret agenda in hand. They're met by various superheroes as well as by the enigmatic Black Bolt and the Inhumans, and the conflict will lead directly into the next all-out Marvel extravaganza, Matt Fraction's Inhumanity.
Hickman's worklife has been pretty inhuman itself lately, but he talks with USA TODAY about the appeal of Thanos, who's at the center of his new Avatar Press book God is Dead (debuting in September), and being a teenage sci-fi nerd back in the day.
Q. What's going to be most surprising about Infinity for comic fans?
A. The structure's really going to catch their attention. It's very different than what we've seen in the past four or five Marvel events where you cold open on a big thing and then that big thing spirals into the story and it's a single track.
This is a dual-track event — it's big, Brian. You can read the six issues of Infinity and get a comprehensive story, but to get the whole thing you need to read Avengers and New Avengers as well, and it's like 400 pages.
Q. You've been seeding a lot of important threads in recent issues. Before we knew what Infinity was, you were seemingly setting the table for a sizable feast.
A. With the other books that I do, I come into this knowing how it's going to end. I've always been building toward a story called "Avengers Universe" that was going to be a big space thing — it's one half of what the event is, the stuff going on in Avengers. That's the first big chunk of a three-chunk plan in 2013, 2014 and 2015, building toward something.
But when I got asked to do the event, the Earth side, New Avengers side, the Illuminati side, the Thanos of it all, that all perfectly meshed together with what I was doing in Avengers. It just became this big thing. And because I have no self-restraint or self-control, we have what we have. (Laughs)
Q. Thanos has been a mainstay in comics since 1973, but mainstream audiences were introduced to him more recently. What do you most enjoy about a guy like that?
A. This is one of those instances where Thanos was up for two minutes in a movie, and (sales of) Infinity Gauntlet books go through the roof. To no one's surprise, we all get together and say, "Hey! So we're thinking about doing a bunch of stuff with this Thanos character." (Laughs)
Jason Aaron just finished a Thanos Rising miniseries that reintroduces him to the Marvel Universe in a new and fresh way, and this is just an extension of that. Thanos is a universal nihilist and genocidal space terrorist — the baddest of bad dudes. This is a story about him coming to earth to do a thing, and at the same time he is planning on doing that thing, there also happens to be a story that has taken some of the Marvel Universe's best heroes off the planet. Calamity ensues.
Q. Are we going to learn something about Thanos that we've never known before?
A. Yes, we absolutely will. No, I cannot tell you what it is. (Laughs)
Q. Dang it! So who can you talk about playing important roles in Infinity?
Infinity is a big Thor comic book in a lot of ways. There's a lot of Thor in there having big Thor moments and dispensing wisdom to the younger Avengers.
It's a big Captain America story, surprising no one, showing that while he is not the most powerful guy, he remains arguably the most important figure in the Marvel Universe.
On the Earth side, this is a big Black Bolt story. This is a big thing for the Inhumans, which is another thing we're really pushing at Marvel and we're super excited about. There's a lot of Black Bolt and Inhumans in Infinity for a very good reason.