By Darren Franich
July 03, 2012 at 07:25 PM EDT

Marvel Comics is embroiled in Avengers vs. X-Men, a crossover event which follows an all-out war between the publisher’s iconic superteams. When Avengers vs. X-Men reaches its conclusion, the stage will be set for a massive restructuring of the Marvel Universe. “It’s not hype when we say that AvX is the culmination of a lot of stories we’ve done over the last several years,” says Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso. “Characters are redeemed or not. Characters are changed. The X-Men and the Avengers are both repositioned for the future. What better time to shake things up? “

And Marvel is shaking things up. Entertainment Weekly is excited to exclusively announce Marvel NOW!, a massive new initiative that will launch new titles and relaunch old ones starting in October. Some of the company’s top storytellers are leaping from one corner of the Marvel Universe to another. Brian Michael Bendis is leaving the Avengers for a new X-Men book; Jonathan Hickman will end his run on Fantastic Four before kick-starting a new twice-monthly, jampacked Avengers book; and Rick Remender will begin work on the flagship title of the new era, Uncanny Avengers, a book that will blend Avengers and X-Men characters into one superteam. “I’m excited about taking creators out of their relative comfort zones,” says Alonso.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that a major comics publisher has inaugurated a new era with new creative teams and new #1’s: Just last year, DC Comics relaunched their entire line with The New 52. But Alonso is quick to draw a sharp contrast between DC’s initiative and Marvel NOW! “This ain’t a reboot. It’s a new beginning.” Unlike New 52, Marvel NOW! will roll out gradually over a few months, with creators finishing off their runs and then starting new ones. “I feel that it’s a much more humane approach for retailers and fans to tell them: ‘Look. In the months of October through February, every week you can go into a comic book store and find a few new jumping-on points for the Marvel Universe, a place you’re going to like visiting. Or revisiting.”

We spoke exclusively to Remender, Hickman, and Bendis about three of the books that they’ll be rolling out for Marvel NOW! Read on for more, and be sure to check out our exclusive piece of art from Marvel CEO Joe Quesada.

Uncanny Avengers: Remender describes this as “a bridge book, something that can delve into both worlds. It has a natural purpose for existing after AvX, where we can focus on human-mutant relations. The broad strokes are: Captain America comes out of AvX and recognizes that he hasn’t done enough to help the mutants.” The book will be drawn by John Cassaday, and will include heavy-hitters like Cap, Thor, and Wolverine, but Remender is also excited to focus on some less well-known characters, like Cyclops’ little brother Havok. “Havok’s always been the black sheep rock-and-roller of the Summers family. He can’t do that anymore. You’re going to see Havok become one of the biggest players in the Marvel Universe.”

Perhaps appropriate for a team that comprises a vision for the Marvel Universe’s future, the Uncanny Avengers’ first villain will be, literally, a ghost of the past. “In 1943, Arnim Zola, who was this bio-fanatic engineer, recorded the Red Skull’s consciousness, and set it to wake up 70 years later. So the Red Skull [in Uncanny] is right out of 1943-44. Prime Nazi scumbag. In his mind, he’s taking that vitriol and hate and Nazi horror and methodology, and pointing it at the mutant species.” And Remender stresses that the mash-up philosophy of Uncanny extends beyond the team’s lineup. “I’m not just smashing the heroes together, I’m smashing the villains together. It becomes something unlike anything we’ve ever seen, with stakes that are so huge, it takes a team comprised of the best Avengers and the best X-Men to go take care of it.” (Starts in October)

Avengers: Jonathan Hickman tells big stories. During his run on Fantastic Four, the writer has become known for meticulously plotting out stories years in advance in what Alonso describes as “his Unabomber-sized notebook.” And he’ll bring that maximal aesthetic to Avengers. “It’s not six Avengers, it’s 18 or more,” he teases, promising a diverse mix of popular characters, B-listers, and new characters. (Jerome Opena will have his work cut out for him as the Avengers artist.)

Unsurprisingly, Hickman’s favorite Avengers stories veer toward the cosmics: the Korvac Saga, the Kree-Skrull War, and the time-scrambling Avengers Forever. Hickman’s first story arc on Avengers is called “Avengers World,” but even the term “world” sounds a bit too micro for Hickman’s ambitions. In the wake of AvX and a new era of Marvel, “The obvious solution is for the heroes to become something bigger and larger, a more appropriate response to an ever more dangerous time.” Avengers will be published twice a month, and Hickman is currently planning to mix together longer five-to-six-issue story arcs with one-off stories that focus on individual characters. As for those characters, Hickman is mostly keeping mum about the lineup right now, but he revealed one teammate to whet our appetite. Kids, we’ve got six words for you: Shang-Chi, master of Kung Motherf—ing Fu. (Starts in December)

Click forward to learn about the most intriguing (and sure to be controversial) Marvel NOW! books…featuring the return of Jean Grey!

All-New X-Men: “The X-Men is a tough nut to crack,” says Brian Michael Bendis. “It’s the Robert Altman movie of comics. There’s thousands of characters, all of which have a website dedicated just to them. I wanted to make sure I had a take that was unique.” So when it came time to plan for Marvel NOW!, Bendis — who’s been Marvel’s go-to Avengers guy for close to eight years — remembered an idea that had been floating around the Marvel writers’ retreats for a long time. “It was about the original X-Men. If they saw what the Marvel universe was now…well, it’s so much worse than the Days of Future Past that they’re always worried about. This would scare the crap out of them.

Thus: All-New X-Men, a time-travel story with the original X-Men jumping to the present. We’re talking Cyclops, Iceman, Beast, Angel, and Marvel Girl. They’re teenagers. They’re wearing blue-and-yellow outfits. They’re seeing their older selves, and they don’t all like what they see.

Bendis is literally drawing the teenaged X-Men from a specific panel in the original Stan Lee/Jack Kirby X-Men series, “a moment where they’re at their most feisty.” And although he can’t talk too much about the mechanics that get the old-school X-Men into the present, he promises this is not a dream sequence. “No Danger Room, no imaginary story. This is actually happening.” (In a statement guaranteed to calm at least some of the skeptics, Bendis swears: “The space-time continuum is of utmost importance to me.”)

Bendis stresses that All-New X-Men is most of all a character story: the tale of young, idealistic people who are suddenly faced with a bleak vision of their own future. “Here’s the big question that the original X-Men are gonna be faced with: We’re gonna grow up, and this is what we’re going to get? That is not acceptable.”

And of course, the time-travel shenanigans at the center of All-New X-Men will bring fan-favorite character Jean Grey back to the mainstream comics continuity for the first time since her (second) death in 2004. “It’s the one thing X-Men fans have always asked for is: They want Jean Grey back. But they want Jean Grey. Not reincarnated Jean, or the ghost of Jean. Well, you’re getting Jean back. And Jean is gonna be looking at a world that rattles her.” And Bendis brings up an intriguing personal connection when he talks about writing the beloved character: “I love feisty redheads. I’ve been married for many years to a very feisty redhead. But I’ve never applied that to writing before. I didn’t even realize what I was doing, but Stuart Immonen is drawing the book, and looking at it I realized: ‘Ha ha, I’m doing my wife!'” (November)

Excited? Us, too! To further whet your appetite for Marvel NOW!, click forward for an exclusive piece of art by Marvel CEO Joe Quesada.

Marvel CEO Joe Quesada illustrated this exclusive piece of art for EW, showing 13 characters who will be key to Marvel NOW! Some people, like Cyclops and Iron Man, have new costumes. Thor is rocking a couple of swords. And then there’s Rocket Raccoon, of Guardians of the Galaxy. Quesada describes this piece of original art as “the tip of the iceberg.” As part of Marvel NOW!, characters from throughout the Marvel lineup will change. “There are some costume changes. There are some new character attitudes. Some characters may be changing their identities altogether.” Click on the image below for a bigger look!

Clockwise from top: Spider-Man, Hulk, Marvel Girl (Jean Grey), Nova, Iron Man, Nick Fury, Captain America, Rocket Raccoon, Wolverine, Cyclops, Invisible Woman, Cable, and Thor.

“There’s a reason Sue Storm is there,” says Quesada. “And why there’s a floating robot near Hulk. We’re trying a lot of fun and new different things, we’re exposing characters who we’ve had in our toy chest for a long time.” But Quesada has a quick answer when you ask him who was the most fun to draw. “Before I was into comic books, I was really into cartooning, and I had a blast with Rocket Raccoon.” Quesada promises big things in store for Rocket Raccoon — and considering that news recently leaked that Marvel is moving forward on a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, don’t be surprised if Rocket Raccoon is headlining his own billion-dollar franchise soon.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Read More:

A gunslinging raccoon? Marvel moving forward on ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

Gay X-Man’s wedding announced, while execs promise a ‘major iconic DC character’ will come out of the closet

New ‘Iron Man 3′ behind-the-scenes photo

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