Fridays on CBR mean Axel’s In Charge.
Welcome to MARVEL A-I-C: AXEL-IN-CHARGE, CBR’s regular interview feature with Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso!
An editor with years of experience who’s brought out comics to both critical acclaim and best-selling status, Alonso stepped into the chair at the top of Marvel’s Editorial department earlier this year and since then has been working to bring his signature stylings to the entire Marvel U. Anchored by regular question and answer rounds with the denizens of the CBR Message Boards, each week Alonso will shake things up with special guest stars, exclusive art reveals and more!
This week, Axel celebrates the launch of “Avengers Vs. X-Men” #1. The first full issue of the event marks a major turning point in the year for Marvel and a major event in his tenure as Editor-in-Chief. From the midnight release parties (and in some cases the week-early releases) to the battles building up towards “AvX: Versus,” Alonso goes over everything important this week to the event, and he answers fan questions on Rachel Summers, Gambit, First Fallen and much more. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: We’re finally here! “Avengers Vs. X-Men” #1 hit stores this week and came out on the top of the sales charts. I know that you’ve been making a lot of press rounds outside the regular Axel-in-Charge talk. On a week like this are you pretty much just talking about the comics all week long rather than making them?
Alonso: [Laughs] No, it’s just a portion of what we do. But you’re right: there has been a lot of press. Last week, I went on the Howard Stern/Sirius “GeekTime” [radio] show with Ralph Cirella and his crew, and let me tell you, those guys really know their comics. We gave them advance copies of [“AvX”] #1, and they Tweeted about how much they loved it. And a couple days ago, I was at the Midtown Comics midnight launch party with Tom Brevoort, Nick Lowe and Adam Kubert, where we signed copies for a line of fans that went down the block. They had to cap the line. I asked every single fan who they were rooting for and you know what? It was pretty much right down the middle.
When we first spoke about “AvX,” you were relieved to finally be able to talk about the event in public. Where are you at now that the book is finally in people’s hands? It seems like this is the moment more than any other that you built towards.
Alonso: Absolutely. The weeks before a book comes out are kind of like the torturous moments before a big game. You’re happy to finally get onto the playing field. So, yeah, I’m relieved. And the response to “AvX” #0 has been overwhelmingly positive — initial orders were the most we’ve ever had for an event prologue and the second print is already sold out. “AvX” #1 is, of course, the number one book in April. And “AvX” #3 and #4 are shaping up to have even higher sales than issue #0. So it’s safe to say, “Avengers Vs. X-Men” has momentum unlike anything else we’ve ever seen. Besides the writers and artists, colorist and letters, and [editor] Tom Brevoort and his crew, there are a lot of people behind the scenes who deserve a lot of credit: David Gabriel [SVP – Sales], Arune Singh [Director of Communications, Publishing & Digital Media], Tim Dillon [Director of Merchandising & Promotions ], James Viscardi [Sales & Communications Coordinator], James Nausedas [Director of Sales], Ruwan Jayatilleke [SVP & Associate Publisher], John Cerilli [VP Of Content, Digital Media], Peter Phillips [SVP & GM — Digital Media]. And the bi-weekly shipping schedule sure doesn’t hurt either.
I predict that a lot of people are going to complain that we’re not doing enough tie-ins for this event — probably the same people who complain that we do too many tie-ins. [Laughter] But we made a decision to pare back the amount of tie-ins and make it more manageable, and we’re sticking to it.
With that momentum, we know we’re getting “AvX” every other week. Are you shipping “Versus” on the weeks in between to create something of a weekly serial?
Alonso: That’s the goal, yes.Â What’s better to fill the weekly gap than a book that’s wall-to-wall fight scenes?Â There’s a lot of action and fighting in “AvX,” jut there were still those moments when we said, “If only we had a few more pages for this fight?”Â So we gave ourselves those pages and handed them over to some of our best writers and artists: Jeph Loeb, Adam Kubert, Jason Aaron, Steve McNiven, Kieron Gillen, Ed McGuinness, Stuart Immonen, Rick Remender, Kathryn Immonen, Kaare Andrews, Chris Yost…
We hear often about big comic book launches being compared to tentpole movie openings. If a studio wants to make a movie really work, they’ve got to win their opening weekend and have a huge initial number in ticket sales. Is the same true for a project like “AvX?” How important is the sales level for #1, and how do you plan to keep that momentum from there on out?
Alonso: You always shoot for the moon with a launch. But our strategy this time has been to not only launch strong, but stay strong. That’s why we enlisted the dream team of talent, committed to a biweekly shipping schedule, and unleashed all the added-value features — AR apps and Infinite Comics: to send a loud-and-clear message that this is an all-in Marvel event. We aren’t fooling around.
One of the standouts for me looking at #1 was just looking at John Romita, Jr.’s art. When it came to balancing art duties on the series, why did you move towards John as the kickoff?
Alonso: The fact that John is Marvel royalty certainly had something to do with [him getting job]. Truth be told, we were lucky that it fit into his schedule. Had that not been the case, either Olivier Coipel or Adam Kubert could easily have been the artist to open “AvX.” I’m just happy we have all three of these great artists contributing to the event. Hell, each issue is an event, which is why we refer to them as “Round 1,” “Round 2,” and “Round 3.” Act 1 ends with a game-changing moment that’s going to leave people gasping to see where we’re headed in the next act.
Structurally, there are three big acts to this story and three big artists on it. How do the two halves of this discussion — keeping reader interest and finding top talent who can hit the mark — walk hand in hand sometimes?
Alonso: An event is only as good as the story it presents, but part of the challenge of “keeping reader interest” is, of course, getting readers interested in the first place. And that’s where marketing comes in. With an event of this scope and length, part of the challenge is coming up with a marketing strategy that drives readers into stores well after the event is underway.
That said, the story drives the marketing campaign, never the other way around. You start with the story. Where does it begin and what road does it take you down? As details emerge, you break the story down into acts, and big moments emerge. In the case of “AvX,” we came up with some big moments that ended up signaling act breaks, oh-$#!% moments that changed the trajectory of the story so each act became, in its own way, its own story.
Our marketing efforts will focus on this aspect of the event: Each act challenges the reader in a new way. A while back, I said I wondered how many readers would stick with their side once the story unfolded, and I wasn’t joking.
Well, before we get to the end of this first act, let’s look a little bit about the end of this first issue. Marvel has been tracking who within the readership supports which side, and I wonder how much that will change as the story goes on. For now, we know that Cyclops drew first blood. It was a classic “Don’t tell me what to do” kind of Scott Summers moment. As a big X-Men supporter yourself, what did you make of how this battle got underway?
Alonso: The beauty of this event is that both sides have a defensible position. Cyclops believes what he’s doing is right, Captain America believes he’s doing what’s right, and both men understand why the other is taking the position he does. As the leader of their respective clans, both men have a responsibility to put aside lingering doubts and act decisively. The stakes are too high to waffle.
So, imagine you’re Cyclops and Captain America shows up on your doorstep and asks you to turn over one of you clan — someone you’re deeply invested in. What would you do? Me, I’d figure Cap isn’t really asking and I’d know he didn’t come alone. I’d see this as his attempt at diplomacy, his attempt to talk me into doing what he wants me to do, and I’d sure as hell know that Avengers Quincarrier’s going to swoop down out of the clouds if I say no. So, yeah, I’d blast Cap, too. I’d want to send a loud-and-clear message to my troops that it’s time to man up, time to go to war.
One element of the launch that has nothing to do with the story, but which was much talked about, was the advance shipping to stores the week before on sale. We have reports from across the web including the CBR forums and Twitter that copies of “AvX” #1 went on sale a week early. Is that just a necessary evil when coordinating these kinds of midnight events now, or is there some kind of follow-up or repercussion from Marvel and Diamond on that front?
Alonso: It is a necessary evil. In order to pull off the monumental number of stores participating in the launch parties, we had to ship the books to all retailers one week early. Retailers were notified in multiple spots that the books could not be put on sale prior to the on sale date. Â Some missed those notices, some perhaps disregarded them. Â But any retailer who was found to be selling early was contacted by Diamond and, as long as they stopped, there were no punitive measures taken against them, as I’ve heard. In nearly every case, when a retailer realized their error, he or she was quick to stop selling.
Moving into some fan questions for the week, Tracks had a query about the broader Marvel U in the wake of the new event: “Are non-x-men/avengers going to get put the back burner for a while amidst this huge event? I myself am worrying about Marvel’s vampires/foreign characters.”
Alonso: No. We publish a lot of books, and most of them aren’t connected to “AvX.” For example, a number of international characters are involved in “Spider-Man: Ends of the Earth.”
Board member jjk1901 asked after one piece of the Phoenix Force puzzle that’s been waiting on the sidelines for a while: “I know the aim of big events like AvX is to always make it accessible to new readers. I am a big Rachel Grey/Summers fan though. She obviously has a lot of history with the Phoenix Force, and she has a lot of history with her brother from another (cloned) mother and Hope’s dad, Cable. That makes her Hope’s aunt of sorts. Will we see a reunion between Rachel and Cable following X-Sanction? Will Rachel have any interaction with Hope as the Phoenix closes in? It would seem like Cyclops would want someone with experience using the Phoenix power on hand. Not to mention I thought it was particularly touching after the Age of X story when Cyke told the psychic remnant of Rachel that he’d find her out in space, and it seemed like they had reconciled. If that’s truly the case I’d love to see how her decision to follow Wolverine affected Cyke.”
Alonso: Those are a lot of questions, jjk1901! Regarding Rachel: you’ll see her in “AvX” proper, but even more in the “AvX” issues of “Wolverine & the X-Men.” She takes center stage in several of the issues and Jason Aaron does some really cool stuff with her and her powers. As for whether she meets Hope, no comment.
Similarly, Nissus wanted to know: “During AvX, will the polar opposite of the Phoenix Force, First Fallen, appear or at least be mentioned?”
Alonso: Wow! I think this is the first time the First Fallen has been mentioned in the A-I-C column. No, Nissus, First Fallen won’t appear or be mentioned in “AvX.”
Gambit superfan red eyes showed up to ask: “I know you mentioned in your last column that b- listers like Warpath need to bump shoulders with the Cyclopses etc to keep vital, but what about a character like Gambit, who is just as popular as the Cyclops is but hasn’t had as much of a role in recent Marvel wide events , will he have a good role in the Avengers vs X-Men book?”
Alonso: Okeydokey. Putting aside the debatable assertion that Gambit is as popular as Cyclops, there’s a good reason Cyclops plays a bigger roles in X-Men events: He is the leader of the X-Men. That said, Gambit will show up in “AvX,” but not in a huge way. It’s not that we don’t love Gambit — we have big stuff planned for him soon — but the core ideas and conflict of “AvX” don’t concern him as much as some other X-Men.
Finally, beta-ray popped in to say, “Regarding AvX… I’m not that invested as to which side Wolverine and Storm will fall into. What I really want to know is…Will Lockheed side with Bill the Lobster and Eany & Meany against his fellow Pet Avengers? True Marvel fans surely find this the most pressing question. P.S. Bring back The Pet Avengers!!!”
Alonso: Question of the week! Not only did you mention the Pet Avengers, but Bill the Lobster, the Unsung Crustacean. We really dropped the ball in not having a “Pet X-Men Vs. Pet Avengers” comic. We probably could have sold, like, three hundred copies.
Have some questions for Marvel’s AXEL-IN-CHARGE? Please visit the CUP O’ Q&A thread in CBR’s Marvel Universe forum. It’s now the dedicated thread for all connections between Board Members and the Marvel Executive staff that CBR will pull questions for next week’s installment of our weekly fan-generated question-and-answer column! Do it to it!