As 2020 draws to a close, Marvel's Avengers ongoing title is about to embark on a new story for a new year, and with 'Enter the Phoenix' comes a new host for the titular cosmic entity - and what series writer Jason Aaron calls a "rebirth" for some aspects of Marvel Comics.
Along the way, he's enlisting Javier Garrón, who drew the preceding 'Age of Khonshu' arc, as the series' new ongoing artist, and pulling in over 20 Marvel characters to compete for the power of the Phoenix Force, all with their own newly designed Phoenix-ized costumes and powers.(opens in new tab)
Newsarama spoke with Aaron ahead of Avengers #40 (opens in new tab)'s December 30 release, which kicks off 'Enter the Phoenix,' digging into the writer's inspirations and aspirations for the ambitious story, including how it will bring back threads from 2012's Avengers vs. X-Men (opens in new tab), and how it fits into the plans he's had for Earth's Mightiest Heroes since his run began.
We've also got the debut of the cover of March 2021's Avengers #43 from Aaron and artist Luca Maresca ahead of the debut of Marvel's December 2021 solicitations.
"As the greatest heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe are trapped within the battle to decide the all-new Phoenix – a bloody battle that has narrowed to a handful of desperate combatants," reads Marvel's solicitation for the issue.
"Thor leads the rest of the Avengers in the fight to contain the Phoenix Force on Earth, in a quest complicated by the Thunder God's own mysterious connection to the cosmic firebird."
Nrama: Jason, we've spoken about the Avengers a few times since the start of your run, the most recent time being the start of this year – just before COVID. How has it been getting back into Avengers full-bore, with 'Age of Khonshu' and now 'Enter the Phoenix?' Did the altered schedule switch up any of your plans?
Jason Aaron: It didn't really switch anything up. We never really stopped working on Avengers, even though we did slow down. But I was already using this year to get ahead on Avengers.
I've been really busy, especially last year coming into this year I've been doing a lot less Marvel books so I could really focus on Avengers, working on multiple arcs at once.
Nothing really changed, though it pushed our schedule back a bit and gave us more time. But we're still rolling along on the same plan I had to begin with.
Nrama: 'Enter the Phoenix' is the next big arc, kicking off in December 30's Avengers #40. With 'Empyre' and 'Age of Khonshu' behind them, where's the team at going into this story?
Aaron: We saw them get their asses kicked by Moon Knight, some of the Avengers taken down, and the others have to rally to defeat the forces of Khonshu. And even in that story, there were deeper connections to some of the primordial powers of the Marvel Universe, including the Phoenix.
Phoenix came back in that Khonshu arc, and even before that we teased the Phoenix's return with Namor using his connection as a previous Phoenix Host to reach out. He wielded the Phoenix back during Avengers vs. X-Men, so he reached out for help because Atlantis is at odds with the surface world in a kind of escalating 'cold war.'
The Phoenix came, but not straight to Namor – it first took possession of Moon Knight, and then basically built a nest on Earth. It's got its own goals and plans, aside from what Namor wants.
Nrama: Speaking of the Phoenix's goals, 'Enter the Phoenix' focuses on a tournament hosted by the Phoenix Force to become its next host. From the preview art we've seen, it appears a bunch of Marvel characters will be imbued with a portion of its power and they'll duke it out. What can you tell us about how that works, and which characters we'll see?
Aaron: I like the idea of the Phoenix coming and calling a lot of people who have no choice but to answer, they're plucked out of their daily lives to fight each other so the Phoenix can decide who will be the new wielder of its power.
It's a mix of characters, some of the Avengers we've followed throughout this run, some characters we've seen in previous arcs, and some that are just coming into Avengers now.
And that includes some of the biggest villains from around the Marvel Universe. So as the heroes all come together and get their bearings, there are some people they can look around and recognize, 'We don't want the Pheonix to be that person.'
And yeah, as part of the fight, all the characters are imbued with a portion of the Phoenix. So it's not just Captain America doing his normal thing – we get to see what Captain America can do when he's imbued with the power of the Phoenix.
We've got Phoenix Black Panther, Phoenix Doctor Doom, all these different characters, who are designed by Javier Garrón. He put together maybe 20 designs for different characters, and they're all amazing.
Nrama: I'm glad you brought up Javier. Those designs are stellar. He's been doing great work on Avengers since he joined the book with 'Age of Khonshu,' which had its own heavy lifting design work. How has your partnership evolved going into your second arc?
Aaron: I love working with Javier. He came on board 'Age of Khonshu' and he was so excited and he had a ton of ideas that wound up on the page. All of that goes up a notch here in 'Enter the Phoenix.'(opens in new tab)
He's an incredibly talented artist that people may not have been familiar with. He was excellent on Miles Morales, before coming to Avengers. And now the plan is, he's gonna be on Avengers for the foreseeable future. I'm gonna keep doing more and more stuff with him.
Nrama: I talked to Javier over the summer, before 'Age of Khonshu' kicked off, and he talked about focusing not just on each character's body language, but on accurately depicting their fighting styles. And of course, the name 'Enter the Phoenix' calls to mind classic Kung Fu movies. How does that aesthetic inform this story?
Aaron: I think just in general Javier does really amazing fight scenes, as you saw throughout 'Age of Khonshu.' The first issue of that story kicks off with this incredible Moon Knight/Iron Fist fight, which I loved. And later there's a huge Moon Knight versus Black Panther fight, which Javier also just killed.
This arc is a lot of that – it's pretty much fighting from beginning to end. We jump right into the midst of the tournament where everybody's fighting everybody every issue.
But they're also different kinds of confrontations; they're not just two people standing there punching each other in the face. We see all different versions of how these characters can battle. Part of it is showing the different ways characters use the Phoenix Force – not everyone is gonna fly around and shoot fireballs from their hands. I wanna see how each character uses it individually.
Nrama: Is there a character gets the Phoenix Force either that we've already seen or that we haven't seen who is your favorite, in design or in how they use the Phoenix powers?
Aaron: I think Black Panther might be my favorite of Javier's designs. He takes his mask off and gave him this kinda fiery crown. I think Shang-Chi is really cool and I'm having a lot of fun using him in 'Enter the Phoenix.'
Diving into Captain America's head in this story has been really fun too. This is not a situation he's particularly comfortable with. The last time he had any involvement with the Phoenix, it was fighting a battle to keep it from coming to Earth and to keep someone from wielding it, and now he's part of a tournament where he could wind up the host of the Phoenix Force. It's not a situation he relishes.
I think that stuff is fun, putting all these different characters together, some of whom will be surprises, who all view the situation differently.
Namor embraces it in a way that few others do, and Shang-Chi's view on it is completely different, as is Jane Foster's.
Nrama: You brought up Avengers vs. X-Men, which centered on the two teams fighting over the Phoenix Force. Last time we spoke, we talked about Jonathan Hickman's then-burgeoning X-Men line, and you hinted that the X-Men and Avengers would cross paths again. We've seen Wolverine and Jean Grey show up in the pages of Avengers on the trail of the Phoenix Force already. How will the X-Men factor in here? Could this be the start of something bigger between the Avengers and X-Men?
Aaron: For one thing, Wolverine is a big part of it, and of course AvX comes up. 'Enter the Phoenix' deals with the legacy of Avengers Vs. X-Men and the current situation with the X-Men – that's all very much a part of this, through Wolverine.(opens in new tab)
I wanted someone from the X-Men represented in the story, but again, this is also about doing something new with the Phoenix. Not having it go back to Jean Grey or one of the characters we've seen become the Phoenix host in the past, but something new.
A lot of the story is about showing how all different characters from around the Marvel Universe wield the power and how they'd be the Phoenix – and through that, one of them will emerge from this arc as the all-new Phoenix.
Nrama: On that note, how long can we expect the Phoenix Force to stick around for its new host, whoever that is?
Aaron: The idea is it'll be an ongoing thing – it's not just one arc and done. Coming out of this arc, we'll have a new status quo for the Phoenix, and for the character that becomes the host.
You've had a roadmap for Avengers in place since you took over as writer, and a lot of the big milestones you've spoken to me about over the years have now come into the pages of the title. Are you still working off that same blueprint? What's changed since you started Avengers?
Aaron: The roadmap's been in place for a while, and we've been working ahead for a bit, so the arc after 'Enter the Phoenix' has been underway for a while now.
I don't know how much I can say about that, but it's something Marvel has sort of been teasing already, just in terms of some sort of 'rebirth' coming – I think that's all I can say.
Nrama: And of course nothing says 'rebirth' like a Phoenix…
Aaron. I've enjoyed getting a lot of plates spinning in Avengers, showing a whole world of threats instead of just bringing in one villain, knocking 'em down, and moving on. So I'm still trying to keep all those plates spinning at once, seeing more of those storylines coming to a head, and everything building toward a common point.
There are more big stories and surprises to come. The arc after 'Enter the Phoenix' is a part of that, and then as we move toward Avengers #50, there will be more big surprises in the mix.(opens in new tab)
Nrama: On that note, 'Enter the Phoenix' kicks off in December 30's Avengers #40, it's not just a new arc for the Avengers but the start of a whole new year for your run and for the team. What are the themes you're looking to explore with the team this year? What's your philosophy for 2021?
Aaron: My philosophy has always been to make every arc feel like an event, cause that's the level of threat the Avengers demand, and the kind of stories the team deserves.
I want Avengers to feel sweeping, like you're getting a taste of all different corners of the Marvel Universe, both with the characters we're bringing in and with the actual places the team visits across the Marvel landscape. And I want it to be fun – like this is a group of characters who generally like to hang out with each other, and as a result, you want to hang out with them too.
And of course to keep building, giving the characters in the mix their due, but also shaking things up and bringing in new characters and ideas.
Before the Avengers fight to become the new Phoenix host, learn about the best Phoenix hosts of all time.