Writer Al Ewing on bringing the ROYALS saga to a close in the upcoming one-shot.
The Progenitors grow closer to Earth and with them, the possibility of the end of all that is. And Al Ewing could not be prouder.
The writer brings his universe spanning ROYALS saga to a close in INHUMANS: JUDGMENT DAY January 24, 2018 with the Royals racing back to Earth and reuniting with Black Bolt in the vain hope they may derail the apocalyptic future glimpsed by Maximus. Ewing chatted with us to remind us of the fleeting nature of human life.
Marvel.com: This is where you have been driving to, essentially, since ROYALS launched. Now that you are here, did it go the way you expected? Any surprises along the way, any time you realized the plot or the characters demanded a different route to this moment?
Al Ewing: ROYALS was probably the most freewheeling book I’ve done. There was a lot going on behind the scenes, and JUDGMENT DAY probably wouldn’t have existed had things gone as originally planned. But the essential outline of things hasn’t changed so much; we’ve gone out into the furthest reaches of Marvel space, we’ve reinvigorated the Kree, looked in on the Universal Inhumans, added a whole new alien species to the Marvel cosmos, and we told our parallel story of a quest through a destroyed future world.
So the essentials are as they were originally conceived, but at the same time, JUDGMENT DAY, as well as being a one-off tale in its own right, is the ending for the series ROYALS became. It’s very much exploring the themes that crept in from the edges as we went along. You never quite know what a book’s about until you’ve finished writing it, after all.
Marvel.com: From a creative standpoint, what was the importance of taking the story a kind of full circle—into space and back to Earth? How did that structure aid your storytelling?
Al Ewing: Again, that was always the plan. From the start, I knew we were going to go out into the depths of space, and then bring the cast back to Earth, having changed, and bringing the knowledge they’d gained along the way with them. It’s the difference between a journey and an exile. I don’t know how happy Inhumans fans would have been if I’d shot them into the void between the galaxies and then left them there.
As well as that, part of the reason for doing JUDGMENT DAY was to leave everyone somewhere other writers could pick up from. There’s a rough status quo in place for this book that the next writer on the franchise can adopt, adapt and improve, if they want to. And, as is my wont, there’s at least one ball I throw in the air and leave for the next person to catch.
Marvel.com: One entirely new aspect of the story for you is you get to write the real Black Bolt after it turned out the King who went into space with the ROYALS was none other than Maximus. How was it to deal with the wordless former ruler? Did you talk to or coordinate with Saladin Ahmed at all to make sure to nail the Midnight King at this stage of his life?
Al Ewing: I coordinated over email, and since we had the opportunity at NYCC, I went for a coffee with him so we could get it all straight in person. It’s still my story, but I gave Saladin final approval at every stage and made sure it fitted in with what he was doing and his own thoughts on Black Bolt, because I felt it was very important not to step on his toes at all. BLACK BOLT is one of the greatest books to come out in 2017 and as a debut it’s a stunning achievement, so the last thing I wanted was to wade in and stomp all over it.
So we ended up with a kind of crossover between the two titles – I think BLACK BOLT #10 comes out after JUDGMENT DAY, and shows things from his point of view, and then BLACK BOLT carries on from there. And this process—not wanting to get in BLACK BOLT’s way, or present a situation where the remainder of BLACK BOLT is telling a story we’ve already seen the end of—ended up making JUDGMENT DAY something very special and very unlike anything else out there. It has explosions and action beats and suchlike, but all in service to emotion and the inner lives of the characters. I think Inhumans fans will dig it, especially if they’ve been enjoying the psychedelic scenes from the recent ROYALS arc.
Marvel.com: The Medusa we last see in ROYALS #12 is grief-stricken but no longer broken. She’s angry and ready to, to paraphrase her, cheat to win. When we pick up with her in JUDGMENT DAY is she in a similar place?
Al Ewing: The same place.
The Royals went between the galaxies and faced down the creators of the Kree in order to get Primagen, the primal substance that Terrigen is just a copy of. Medusa was, on some level, hoping it might cure her, but so far it hasn’t. At the start of JUDGMENT DAY, she’s still suffering—her hair is gray, short and dead, and her heart is dead in her chest. She’s in a bad place, and no poetical super-crystal can help. So what can?
Marvel.com: What of the rest of the ROYALS? Emotionally, where are they?
Al Ewing: They’re beaten, battered, and coming to terms with the changes in them. Some of them—like Maximus and Flint—have expanded powers and perceptions. Some are dealing with the aftermath of terrible injuries; Marvel Boy, in particular, is healed up on the outside to an extent, thanks to those super-survivor genes of his, but maybe not so much on the inside. He’s someone I’d be interested in doing more with at some point, if the time comes. And nobody’s really had any time to mourn or take stock, they’re on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop and the Progenitors to come to Earth for the final battle. So it’s a tense time.
Marvel.com: Without giving away too much, do the King and Queen recognize they are both different when they reunite?
Al Ewing: The reunion between them is a big part of all this—it became, quite literally, the center of the book, and the hub it all revolves around. It’s where all the themes we’ve been building come to a head. Obviously it would be a major spoiler to say how it all resolves, but there are some beats in there that I’m very proud of and happy with. It’ll be interesting to see where other writers take things from here.
Marvel.com: Forgive me if I am wrong, but I believe this is your first collaboration with Michael Del Mundo. What does he bring to this story? What elements did he help you to realize, to emphasize?
Al Ewing: Mike gets the emotional beats absolutely spot on. As soon as I knew I’d be working with him, I knew the kind of thing I wanted to do with him—vast, beautiful, melancholy vistas and landscapes, essentially—but there are dozens of tiny, human moments in there as well that he just knocks out of the park. Also, there are a couple of double-page spreads that I think would have pride of place in any museum gallery you’d care to name.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Kevin Libranda, as well—he’s been our superhero on this series, the backbone of the book, and he gets some great action and character beats here. The book works in such a way that the two artists, with their different styles, fit together absolutely naturally, as you’ll see when you read it. I wasn’t lying when I said it was something special, and packed with the kind of wonderful weirdness and ambition Inhumans readers have come to expect.
Marvel.com: With this, although a one-shot, your ROYALS run draws to a close. What will you miss about the characters, the story? What makes this a satisfying ending for you?
Al Ewing: I’d have liked a little longer, but at the same time, it’s nice to move on. I feel like the important things got said, and the important moments were shown. I think what makes this ending satisfying is that the Inhumans, not just in my book but in BLACK BOLT and SECRET WARRIORS as well, have grown and pushed forward a little.
We inherited a franchise that was in the process of transforming, we were entrusted with a couple of in-progress plots like the skyspears, and I feel like we did right by that spirit of transformation and forward motion. We didn’t do the expected thing. And now, in turn, we entrust our own plots and characters to others, in the hope that whatever is done with them, it’ll be interesting, exciting and different. Because if “interesting, exciting and different” doesn’t define the Inhumans, what does?