Marvel Comics' top writers reveal the superheroes' next big challenge (and why Hulk's rocking a mustache)

This summer, Marvel's been putting its superheroes through the wringer in Fear Itself, a miniseries in which a nefarious Asgardian god called The Serpent has a bone to pick with Odin.

When Fear Itself wraps up this November, Marvel's next major story arc Shattered Heroes will subsequently kick off. In a conference call, Fear Itself author Matt Fraction, Captain America scribe Ed Brubaker, and Marvel editor Tom Brevoort divulged what this reconstruction period meant for the exhausted heroes. Spoilers ahead!

First up was Ed Brubaker, who discussed Fear Itself #7.1, a Captain America-centric coda to the miniseries. This issue will focus on the death of Bucky, who was recently killed by Skadi, The Serpent's henchwoman:

Marvel Comics' top writers reveal the superheroes' next big challenge (and why Hulk's rocking a mustache)

This is my chance to do what everyone's been complaining that I haven't been able to do yet, that is deal with the loss of Bucky, because obviously I wasn't able to deal with the end of Fear Itself four months before Fear Itself ended [...] This is not only the book people have been screaming at me to do for a few months now, but this is also the point where I get to set the stage for the next year of stories in Captain America...and secret stories we've been planning for a while now.

As a brawl-based incentive, Brubaker noted that "Steve Rogers punches Nick Fury." Next up was Matt Fraction, who's penning the other epilogue issues, Fear Itself #7.2 and #7.3. These issues are spotlights on Thor and Iron Man, respectively:

Marvel Comics' top writers reveal the superheroes' next big challenge (and why Hulk's rocking a mustache)

The first story is about the effects on Asgard and what comes next for the Asgardians, all of the revelations about the shape of their world and reality in the wake of The Serpent. With Iron Man, it was a chance to write Tony and Odin — the two biggest egos in the Marvel Universe finally getting on the stage and having it out — and it's the second half [of their story together]. It deals with [the destruction of Paris by Grey Gargoyle] and everything Tony's given up. It is the ultimate man of science standing toe-to-toe with the ultimate god and demanding to know how this will happen.

Next, Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort described the Marvel Universe's status quo post-Fear Itself:

Marvel Comics' top writers reveal the superheroes' next big challenge (and why Hulk's rocking a mustache)

Fear Itself was in itself every meaningful way a war, and our heroes have come through the crucible of this battlefield with their faiths tested, bodies shattered, and weary and fried, but still standing and still moving forward. They're all going to have to deal with the fallout of the choices that they made, the things that they did in order to succeed and survive.

Finally, Brevoort mentioned that a shadowy figure would play a major role in the Shattered Heroes story arc and individual miniseries by Fraction, Cullen Bunn, and Christopher Yost.

The death of a character will have major repercussions and cause this clandestine operator to reveal him-or-herself:

It starts with a death that turns into a murder, and you're peeling back the layers. Who was this person? Why were they killed? What does that lead us to? What new connections in the Marvel Universe will be revealed here? [...] I don't want to give away too much [about this character]. But people recognize him when he comes full into the light. People can't recognize him as he's standing in the shadowy corners of the Marvel promo images.

Despite these harrowing times for the superheroes, Marvel's master mavens still had plenty of time for mirth. Brubaker posited that Gwen Stacy was the mysterious puppet master behind Shattered Heroes and discussed his lost pitch for Dogman, a relaunched version of Catwoman who would surprise readers by A.) being a fellow; and B.) having no feline attributes. Brubaker further noted that Dogman would be a staunch ally of noted hippie superhero, Wundarr the Aquarian.

Marvel Comics' top writers reveal the superheroes' next big challenge (and why Hulk's rocking a mustache)

The writers were tight-lipped not to reveal any spoilers, but your correspondent was able to ask whether or not the Incredible Hulk was sporting a grief beard in the promotional artwork. Brevoort assured me, "It's redress for the Red Hulk. Everyone complained that the Red Hulk did not have a mustache and we're going to even the scales by giving the Hulk a mustache."

Ed Brubaker then chimed in, "It's this whole thing where Hulk and Red Hulk become California Highway motorcycle cops." Matt Fraction next added, "Red Hulk will begin sporting that weird "Michael Jordan Hitler-soulpatch-thing." Are any of these follicular spoilers true whatsoever? Will Hulked-Out Highway Patrolmen ever hit stands? We shall find out this November.