A veteran of the British comics scene, Al Ewing has kind of conquered America over the last few years. With series like Iron Man: Fatal Frontier, Mighty Avengers, and Loki: Agent of Asgard, Ewing has made his mark on Marvel and distinguished himself through his humor and thoughtful examinations of complex issues like identity, class, and race. Loki, in particular, struck me immediately, and I knew that I had to talk to this writer if the opportunity presented itself. Thankfully it did at C2E2 this year and Mr. Ewing gave some wonderful insight into his views on storytelling, heroism, and plenty more.
WCBR: I’m here with Al Ewing, the writer of Loki: Agent of Asgard, Captain America and the Mighty Avengers, Doctor Who and Judge Dredd. Is there anything I’m forgetting?
Al Ewing: After that, I don’t think so. It’s Marvel, Doctor Who, Judge Dredd, that’s about it comics-wise.
Good. Let’s start with something a little silly first, because I reread Loki on the way down here and I couldn’t help but notice there were a good number of Beatles references in there in different places.
Well, at least I thought there were.
There’s at least one.
I saw “Doom” and, at least, I took “It is not dying” from-
Yeah, that’s more of- I’m going to the same source as The Beatles for that one.
A lot of people online have gone to Joseph Campbell for that one, but it’s all from Terence McKenna. There’s a lot from Terence McKenna’s stuff that’s found it’s way into Loki. And it’s just that I kind of wanted to take from a source that- It’s sort of kind of approaching it in a way that those before me haven’t really done, so if you look at- I mean, issue #13 was meant to be a lot more…psychedelic than it eventually became. But, yeah, the ‘it is not dying’ thing, that’s from McKenna. That’s where The Beatles got it. And I’m pretty sure McKenna got it from The [Tibetan] Book of the Dead, but, y’know, you go back and back and back through cultural shifts. But I did listen to “Tomorrow Never Dies” a lot while writing #13, so, yeah.
I’m not a huge fan of The Beatles, but they’ve done many, many good songs. I mean, I wouldn’t- I guess their ubiquitousness is what works against them. Because I like a lot of their stuff, but I don’t tend to think of them as one of my tops bands, just because they’re almost part of the background of culture at this point.
You mentioned already Terence McKenna, The Book of the Dead…
In Loki #3 you did a kind of a very interesting version of the legend of Fafnir and Sigurd.
Especially as a writer working with a character like Loki, do you like going back to the original myths or does that feel like it kind of gets in the way sometimes?
Well, I liked going back to that one. I’ve had a look back at some of the myths and some of them are easier to go back to than others. I mean, obviously “The Builder and His Horse”, that is not one that I think Marvel would let me explicitly go back to. Although I can reference it.
There’s a few things, like Loki getting his mouth sown. I mean other people have already trod this ground. With the Fafnir thing, I think the only thing people who’ve done it previously were Stan and Jack, they basically had this guy dipping in a magic pool, which is quicker, but I felt like the original was such a good kind of myth and such a good story that it was worth doing as a retelling. And I think since then we’ve almost sort of shied away from the- We’ve kind of gone in a different direction from those early days.
That was part of the original pitch was like ‘we’re gonna go back and do the myth of Fafnir’. And originally that was going to be a two episode thing, but we cut it down to one.
Yeah, I really had fun with that issue #3. And I’ve sort of kind of tried to keep the level of mythologicalness since, but I think that might end up being the only one of it’s kind, at least up ‘til the end of the “Last Days”.
Although, we’re putting in little bits and pieces, like a reference to Balder only being able to be harmed by mistletoe, which will make more sense in a little while. But, y’know, there’s stuff we’re putting in. I don’t think we’re diving in to that extent in the near future.
You mentioned at the back of the first issue there’s a classic panel where Odin, Thor, and Loki each declare what they’re fighting for and Loki declares “for myself”.
Yeah, we sort of turned that around a little bit. ‘Cause in the original panel it was very, ‘Ho ho, the joke is he’s very selfish’. But I was thinking at the time that actually being for yourself, if you take that in terms of not being against yourself, that’s quite a sort of good goal to have. And Kieron left Loki in a place where he was kind of against himself and, even in this book, we’ve made him his own enemy.
So, I guess if this seventeen issue run- ‘Cause face it, I mean, I don’t think it’s a big spoiler to say that we’re coming towards the end of the King Loki story, the end of one of the Lokis. This is the final battle. We’ve had the penultimate battle and now we’re into the final battle and this is the final final, the final proper battle, y’know, we’ve had the bit where the hero’s beaten down and now we’re coming to the end of this story. And I think I was probably right in that issue #1 when I said that it was about being for yourself and maybe not against yourself, and sort of how that might work. But we’ll see what happens when we get to issue #17 and then we’ll see what happens after that.
I’m pretty sure that these seventeen issues will be out as three trades, plus the Tenth Realm in between – so that’s a good block of story. And then we’ll see what comes after and I can’t talk about that. I can only talk about up to #17, but, y’know, I will say that people, at the end of #17, will be satisfied, I think, with where it finishes.
One of the things that I really have loved all throughout Loki is the way that you’ve been dealing with magic. And, in fact, not just in Loki, you also had, y’know, Power Man kind of dealing with stories and magic in all the Mighty Avengers books and, actually, about midway through the first Mighty Avengers, the White Tiger kind of-
Gets a big moment where she-
A big power upgrade-
Yeah. Kind of…
I guess the question is, in a world where we don’t have literal magic from it, what do you think is the power of story?
Well, what- in this? In the actual real world?
In the real world.
I think it’s probably the closest thing we have to magic. I mean, it is something out of nothing. And we can see the power of narrative ‘cause we’re coming up to a general election back home. So, obviously, the power of narrative: we’ve got a dozen different narratives doing battle in the street and you guys are going to have the same thing next year. This time next year you’re going to be just getting right into the thick of it. But right now that’s where we are. And I think we’ve just about a week to go. And right now we’ve got all manner of toxic and weird…yeah, at this point pretty much all politics has been reduced to battling stories- battling narratives.
Y’know, when the police want to cover something up they sort of create a convenient ordering of events. When someone wants to cover something up, when someone wants to push an agenda, they’ll do it in the form of trying to tell a narrative, so, yeah, I think stories are extremely powerful and maybe a little more powerful than we admit. And, maybe we should take them seriously ‘cause they’ve been weaponized by the great and the rich and the powerful against us.
So, really, if anything, stories are sort of less powerful than in the Marvel Universe because they’re just used for spells and magic and stuff. And the Marvel Universe is more of a universe where narrative is like the underpinning of physics whereas here it’s the main weapon of control.
Our brains are hardwired for it. We love it- we all eat it up. If we’re told a story we’re going to believe it. Stories are extremely powerful.
Yeah, if anything, I’ve been very nice about them then. I’ve talked them up as quite a benign thing. But, y’know. I wrote a book called The Fictional Man which was a little bit about fictions, how they work and how they operate and there were a bunch of metaphors in there as well from various experiences. So it’s something to think about a lot. The idea of the weaponization of narrative is something that should probably go in Loki pretty soon. So, I’ll try for that, but we’ve got a lot of stuff to do with the last four issues, so we might not have time for a speech about that.
The other book you have for Marvel is Mighty Avengers which just switched over-
Yep, to Captain American and the Mighty Avengers.
What are we, five issues in?
I think #7 just came out.
Did it really? That’s right, ‘cause it’s-
Issue #7 and then issues #8 and #9 are “Last Days” and then the book goes away to make room for Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders!
Which is very different, obviously.
So, a lot of people, when you talk about Sam Wilson being the new Captain America people who are very much for that idea and very much against that both like to talk about the impermanence of that kind of a change that they perceive, at least.
I think the trouble is- well, we’re back to stories at this point ‘cause it’s like the old stuff has a lot of weight, a lot of gravity and I could see how people could be cynical about it. For what it’s worth, I don’t think there’s an end baked in. I mean, I remember when Dick Grayson was Batman for a while, which was a different situation, but then I remember when Wally West was the Flash and that was, like, most of my comic reading life up until very recently. A good what? 86 to- more than twenty years? So these changes can go on. And I mean, Kyle Rayner is another example.
And the thing is I’m a child of the Wally West generation. And this is something I bring up again and again is like Wally West is the Flash to me. And I grew up with him. I was like “this is the Flash, the Flash is this guy”. He’s the guy who went through all these changes, and he evolved and grew and learned stuff, and I think all of us felt very betrayed when Barry Allen came back again. It was like ‘okay’…
Like you thought you’d escaped that [gravity]-
Yeah, cause we remember Barry Allen as being really dull and boring and, y’know, it’s like when there were two Batmen running around and it was like, “oh, this is really cool” and then they go and reboot the universe and we’ve got to put everything back in their proper place and it’s like, “Why? Why?”
So, I mean, I would hope – and I’m not 100% in the loop on this, and what I am in the loop on I can’t talk about – but I would hope that Sam Wilson is Cap for a long time to come. And I’m very hopeful of that. But then, y’know, what’s a long time in comics these days, so, I don’t want to be sitting here and some bit of news that I’m not privy to comes down the pipe. I think Sam Wilson’s going to be Cap for a while, but, y’know, I’m not an authority on that sort of thing.
Sure. I mean, the hope is that he will have his shot, but particularly for people who are not certain about the change, what do you think is the defining Like you actually kind of got into it a little bit, ‘this is what makes Wally West my Flash-’
What do you think is the hook of the Sam Wilson Cap? What distinguishes him from Steve?
Well, this is where I do know a couple of things that I can’t talk about. So, I have to be fairly careful about answering. I think it’s going to become apparent in the future what marks him out and what he stands for. But I think right now, based on what we’ve got leading up to “Secret Wars”… I could say how I write him which is the sort of that he’s very conscious of the responsibility of being Captain America and that Captain America has to be for everybody and for all the people and he’s sort of there to stand alongside all Americans and, like, to be with– to be with you- to stand alongside you- to stand up with you and kind of be a captain amongst you. So the idea of Captain America’s somebody ‘over’- and again, y’know, if you talked to Rick Remender you might get a different answer, but this is how I’m seeing him for the themes of my book. The thing is I also remember when, like, this might be a difference between not so much Sam and Steve, but between two different ways of playing Captain America. So, remember when Steve had his hotline that people could call at any point – y’know, it’s a familiar thing for anyone reading Mighty Avengers – and he would just travel and come to you on this motor bike and just, like, turn up when he was needed and he’d help people out. I feel like, more recently, there is a sense that superheroes are over the top of the rest of us, they’re sort of the top of a hierarchy. And I think the idea of Captain America as the top of a hierarchy is maybe where- It might be the fact that Sam is just starting out as Captain America. It’s like, a way of sort of removing that barrier between the people and Cap. That thing where it’s like, yeah, that’s just somebody who- who’s put on the shield and he’s got the suit and he’s taken on the role and the responsibility of that role, because it’s a massive responsibility. It’s a huge, like- Captain America is almost the public face- it’s like the top superhero job, y’know. It’s the superhero equivalent of being the president. And you’ve got this massive responsibility. He’s taking that on. And I think that’s very meaningful if he’s not putting a distance between himself and the average person on the street. So, I’ve had a lot of scenes where he’ll talk to people, be amongst people…
And, y’know, we’ve only been able to do a little bit of that because now “Secret Wars” has come right down, but uh-
Yeah, you had “Axis” at the beginning.
Yeah, which was…an odd thing. That was a lot of things conflating at once. And there’s a couple of things I’d do differently if I had to do it through again. I think that was a fairly powerful first issue, so, on that level, y’know. It would have made a really great issue #15. But it was like, ‘yeah, Captain America’s evil and you’re starting off with that’, so I just went into it. I steered into it. And a lot of the rhetoric evil Sam was thinking, that’s straight from guys like the Punisher. A lot of it came from some political parties back home,what they were saying; all the anti-human rights stuff, there’s people actually saying that.
I know a lot of people were very upset, quite angry about that and, yeah, rightly so, but, hopefully with issue #4 we managed to, have a start and an end so, we could have a kind of closure to that. It wasn’t just completely forgotten about.
I remember I saw an interview with you some time ago where you talked about the idea of, like, ‘A-list’ superheroes.
Yeah, I hate that idea.
What do you think we can do, as either creators or fans, to kind of break down that idea?
Oh, just buy stuff that’s not- ‘Cause, thing is, I think this is happening. I think we’re starting to lose the idea of what the A-list is almost, because I think things like The Guardians of the Galaxy, for example, who are just like- If you had said, like, the year before the movie came out or before the movie was announced, if you had said the Guardians of the Galaxy are going to be the A-List Marvel superstars, people would have gone, “Are you insane? What’s wrong with you? They’re not even C-list, they’re D-list.” So this whole idea of lists is nonsense. It’s what sells, it’s what is popular. But the whole idea of a kind of superhero hierarchy…I feel like we’re moving away from that.
And I think what the readers can do is just take chances on stuff they wouldn’t normally do and think less about what ‘counts’ and more about what’s a good story. Because kind of everything counts to one extent or another. And I mean, they’re not mutually exclusive. Things that count are, y’know, they’re not not good stories, it’s just that there may be other good stories that you don’t maybe notice. But I think if people have a title that they feel like, “Uh, this isn’t very good, but I’ve got to get it,” just stop getting it.
But, to be honest, though, I think we’re coming to the end of the rigid hierarchy. I think now we’re getting into a place where good stuff becomes popular and what’s popular begins to matter more in the context of the universe, so we’re getting something where, for the characters, it’s a little more of a meritocracy, maybe? Where we don’t get so much things where, “Oh, this character’s been around since the 1940s, therefore they’re very important”, we get more things like, “This character’s really fun and amazing and then their comic’s really good and it’s being read by lots of people”, things like Ms. Marvel, Spider-Gwen, Squirrel Girl, all these titles that are doing really well.
But one thing I probably should stress is that I think there are very few- I really don’t think there are very many bad comics at all. I think there’re couple I personally don’t like out of all the ones I know of, but it’s like narrow, narrow. Everything is like, such a high-standard, just absolutely everything, so…
Y’know popularity is becoming king and that’s a good thing. I think it’s a good thing that what the new readers are liking and jumping on board for is becoming pretty important.
So, the other thing I wanted to ask was that earlier we were kind of discussing a little bit about what makes Sam Wilson Captain America and I was curious, with Mighty Avengers becoming Mighty Defenders for a couple of issues, what do you see as the mission statement for that series since it was so clearly defined on Mighty Avengers?
I reckon the mission statement’s much more of a- Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders is much more of a short piece, so it’s not an ongoing mission statement. I’m sort of setting up this thing where these two, almost two different styles of comics- I mean Captain Britain’s technically the only British character in the book – but there’s these two different styles of British comics going to war. And you’ve got this very Judge Dredd-like universe that was originally created as a kind of a pastiche of Judge Dredd going to war against this universe, which is very light and pleasant and utopian and kind of fun and charming, almost cartoonish. So it’s basically these two things going to war and it’s like what wins? What makes a better comic? What should win when these two things come together? And I think maybe the answer to the question would end up a little bit different if this were a story taking place in 2000 AD. But I think really the themes will come out as you read it. I don’t really like to tell people what the theme is in advance ‘cause I kind of like it when they find it themselves a little bit.
I was curious, defining it however you like – do you have any advice that you wish you could give yourself when- when you were starting out in the comics industry?
Yeah, don’t be a dick on the internet. It’s extremely tempting during the naughties, don’t do that. Work hard. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t do things that don’t appeal; if you don’t want to do something, don’t do it. That’s a very important one. I mean, a couple of times I’ve done things that I haven’t really felt that enthused about and the results weren’t that good.
Yeah, so, that’s pretty good advice I think, don’t do anything you don’t want to do is a really important one because there’ll come a point when you’re offered something you have reservations about and it’s better not to go for that. And don’t be a dick on the internet, which isn’t the same as don’t have an opinion.
The last question I have for you is just is- I know you can’t talk about anything about “Secret Wars”-
Is there anything-
Upcoming that people should be on the lookout for?
Well, the stuff that’s in “Secret Wars”, but we’ve gone over that. Uh, The “Last Days” stuff…
I’ve got stuff coming out. I think at this point it’s not a big secret that I am going to continue working on Marvel, but what any of that stuff is, I can’t mention any of it. But I can tell you that it’s good and it’s in my wheelhouse and it’s kind of continuing some of my themes and it’s sort of- Yeah, if people have been happy with the themes they’ve been reading from me, I think they’re gonna be happy with what comes next. But what that is, I can say nothing.
I mean, I’ve probably said, like, just hinting that I know what things are coming up- And I’ve been saying this all weekend, it’s like people will be, “Hey, what’s happening,” y’know “Is Mighty Avengers continuing”, “What’re you doing next?” There’s nothing after “Secret Wars” or there might as well be nothing after “Secret Wars”. Imagine “Secret Wars” is the end. Everything after that will be a wonderful surprise.
Well, thank you so much for talking to me.
Yeah, no. No problem.