SPOILER WARNING: Some minor “Avengers” movie spoilers lie below for those who haven’t seen it yet.
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, the Marvel wedding of the year hits both “Astonishing X-Men” and New York City as Axel and the Marvel staff meet up with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, prompting a discussion of how the publisher reaches out to hardcore fans alongside their attempts at getting a new audience. Plus, Alonso points out some of the Marvel series he feels make the “more than 12 issues a year” format work for them and explains why more artists and shorter stories on a title work in concert for creativity. And don’t miss the latest round of CBR fan questions! Read on!
Kiel Phegley: This week, fans got a look at the much promoted “Astonishing X-Men” wedding issue, and beyond the news stories we saw hitting last month over the move, we saw several comic shops hosting their own weddings at spots like Midtown Comics and commitment ceremonies in states where gay marriage is not yet legal. Was this something Marvel expected might come along with the story?
Axel Alonso: You can’t anticipate something like this. [Laughs] I mean, given the social relevance of this story, it’s not a shock that it would inspire some celebration and theater, but there’s no way you can anticipate what shape that takes. I mean, the day “Astonishing X-Men” #51 was released, there were marriage ceremonies at comic stores across the country, and a few Marvel staff — [Senior Editor] Nick Lowe, [Editor] Jeanine Schaefer, [Associate Editor] Daniel Ketchum, [Sales & Communications Coordinator] James Viscardi, [Associate Publisher & Senior Vice President, Print, Animation and Digital Media] Ruwan Jayatilleke ,and [SVP Sales] David Gabriel — attended a backyard BBQ at Gracie Mansion as a guest of [New York City] Mayor [Mike] Bloomberg. The Mayor had lots of nice things to say about the issue, and made sure that everyone knew about his he cameo on page 19, panel 1 of the comic! [Laughs]
What was it like being there with the mayor after all the build up to this? He’s appeared in a Spider-Man comic in the past, and his office seemed very keen on the appearances. What was your experience like being there at the mansion?
Alonso: It was fun. A very diverse crowd, many of who were very intrigued by the story. I got to meet the two guys that got married at this week at Midtown Comics, too. It also happened to be the hottest day of the year.
Events in general aren’t rare for Marvel series. I remember Marvel held a fan-centric “MarvelFest” in NYC a few years back. We’ve talked a lot lately about your outreach to new or lapsed readers, but what do you feel is your roll in keeping bonds strong with the core fans?
Alonso: It starts by channeling your inner geek! [Laughs] Look, we’re all in this business because we love the characters. Strengthening our bonds with the core fans is all about staying true to the core of the characters, but not being frightened to take some risks and get yelled at. Perhaps the hardest variable is continuity; there will always be disagreement about what stories or development are “canon” or sacrosanct; you just have to trust your collective gut. For every fan that wants Gwen Stacy or Mar-Vell back, there’s 2 or 3 that don’t. Take Iron Man, for instance: a lot of fans voiced their displeasure at his role in “Civil War,” but we had a plan, and we stuck with it, and we ended up with an invigorated and more relevant character. Or Winter Solider: If we’d bowed to rumblings before he even debuted, we wouldn’t have one of the most compelling new characters of the last decade.
I always feel when I bump into you at conventions that you’re just about to or you just have taken a photo with someone in a Deadpool costume. [Alonso Laughs] Do you have a whole collection of photos where you’re geeking out with fans in cosplay?
Alonso: I do! I’m especially fond of Kidpools and Dogpools and, for some reason, Psylockes. [Laughs] Hey — my son’s first favorite superhero was Deadpool for the simple reason that he carries weapons. Five-year-olds want justice to be swift and final. They’re, like, “Stab that guy and he’ll never hurt anyone again!” The 5-year-old in me agrees.
The other thing I wanted to talk about this week is the stuff that’s not getting plastered across the front page of newspapers. We’ve talked a lot lately about “AvX” and other big events, but there are a ton of Marvel books really sticking to the monthly format and developing their own stories from “Punisher” to “Winter Soldier” and beyond. What do you feel are some of the titles you put out that maybe aren’t getting discussed enough in the press or with fans?
Alonso: I’m not sure any of the books I’m going to mention don’t get talked about enough, but I think “Daredevil” and “Uncanny X-Force” are two books that have become must-reads. Both have very distinct identities — from their tone, to the consistency of the art, to the way their covers blast off the racks. I think the buzz over “Amazing Spider-Man” and “Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man” is well deserved — and any Spider-Man fan who overlooks Brian [Bendis] and Sara [Pichelli]’s “Spider-Men” is going to kick themselves very soon. Put that caps. And let me tell you, Matt [Fraction] and David [Aja]’s upcoming “Hawkeye” series is insanely good. Those two have incredible chemistry. Issue #1 is as good a first issue as I’ve ever read.
As far as titles that I’d love to see more readers flock to, top of the list is Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov’s “Fury MAX.” If you loved their run on “Punisher MAX,” or you just love mature-themed comics, this series is for you. And “Space: Punsiher” is a hoot.
We talk a lot lately about shipping books more than 12 times a year, and the discussion around that has centered on whether a creative team can make a book feel consistent and really part of the same story month-to-month or arc to arc. With 14 or more issues in a year, Marvel is often leaning on three or four artists to contribute to a book a year. I think the books you mentioned have found a way to keep some consistency despite the change ups, but have you found that process to be a particularly new challenge?
Alonso: Hey, it’s a challenge to ship a monthly series on time! [Laughs] Look, the reality is that there are very few artists who can draw 12 issues a year. Guys like John Romita Jr., Salvador Larocca and Mark Bagley are the exception, not the rule. Fact is, most monthlies require at least one swing artist. That said, when you’re multi-shipping an ongoing series, it’s imperative that you have a solid rotation of artists, revolving around your core artist — kind of like a [baseball team’s] bullpen supports its ace. A stable of complementary artists builds a visual world for the reader. Two of the titles I mentioned before — “Uncanny X-Force” and “Daredevil” — excel because they have that.
I think this has also brought a bit of a chance in terms of the shape of the story. Up until very recently, we were on a kind of standardized path where five or six-issue arcs were done to match a trade paperback. Have you been working with writers on more two or three-issue arcs so that different artists can come in and draw that chunk of the narrative?
Alonso: We didn’t ask writers to shorten their arcs to accommodate artists’ schedule; we just wanted to mix things up a little. For a period of time, we purposefully structured stories in 4- to 6-issue increments because it made for a good trade. Recently, we started to wonder if we were in a rhythm that was too predictable and that changing it up a little — doing some one-offs, two-offs and three-offs — would be a good thing. The fact that it might make it easier to maintain artists’ schedules was secondary — kind of the icing on the cake.
You’ve edited many series in the past which trafficked in one-shot stories or even shorter pieces for anthologies. Do you think the ability to tell a single-issue tale is a prerequisite for a writer’s toolbox in comics?
Alonso: A one-shot or short story certainly is a great way for a writer to show off their craft and a great way for an editor to gage it for the simple reason that both provide a story with a beginning and an end. There’s no need to worry about subplots. I love both, and I wish the market were more supportive of the anthology or short story format. I got to know a lot of writers through the anthologies I did at Vertigo [“Gangland,” “Heart Throbs,” “Weird War Tales”] and “Spider-Man’s Tangled Web,” not to mention all those “Punisher MAX” one-shots. Take Jason Aaron, for instance — our first rodeo was a self-contained issue of “Wolverine” that Howard Chaykin drew: “The Man in the Pit” [“Wolverine: 56”]. I loved his Vertigo work [“Scalped” and “The Other Side”] and — even though he busts my @$!!$ about this — I voted for him in a Marvel talent contest a few years ago. But it was that story that proved he could really deliver the goods in a super hero story.
Yaggi_Rck had a few questions, including “Will Jane be appearing on ‘The Mighty Thor’ soon? With the movie having her as Thor’s main love interest, it seemed that she would actually get more development, but she hasn’t for a while.”
Alonso: Jane’s definitely got a history with the God of Thunder, Yaggi_Rck. Even though we won’t be seeing much of her in the near future, she’ll always going to be an important part of his Earthly experience.
He also wants to know, “What happened to the story by Brubaker and Pulido on ‘Marvel Point One’?? Where will we get some more development on that?”
Alonso: Maybe you already have, but haven’t realized it yet…
As you well know, sometimes the stories get readers riled up, and this week CHOX was one of the Captain Marvel contingent on the boards who has a particularly pointed query for you: “Why do you guys keep bringing back Mar-Vell, only to kill him again? He was teased during Secret Invasion, we got an evil one during Annihilation, he was temporarily brought back to life in Chaos War, and finally, brought back and killed in the most recent issue of Secret Avengers. While his ORIGINAL death was meaningful, it could be said that the past ten or so years have completely discredited his first death. Why are you guys tormenting us Mar-Vell fans?”â€¨Â â€¨Alonso: I respectfully disagree, CHOX. Â Thirty years after its publication, Jim Starlin’s “The Death of Captain Marvel” continues to be a meaningful story that generations of fans — myself included — relate to on a personal level. Â Mar-Vell wasn’t the victim of a super-villain plot or some other fanciful death; he succumbed to cancer. Â It would take a lot of convincing for us to overturn that original death story on a permanent basis. Â That doesn’t mean that it could never happen, but we feel a need to be extra-cautious and considerate when contemplating any real resurrection for that character.
To go out on a different note, here’s SpiderX wondering, “I just finished reading the latest Scarlet Spider and I really enjoy what Chris Yost is doing on that book. There seems to be an animal theme coming into play with the hunters, wolves, the serpent and spiders. Also with Madame Webs appearance the mystical part of the Spider-man mythos comes into play? Will we be seeing more of the mystical aspects previously introduced in the other storyline in the series?”
Alonso: Chris Yost and Khoi Pham really are playing in a side of the Marvel U that we don’t explore too much. While we don’t want to spoil too much, yes, Madame Web’s visions and the fate of the man named Kaine are intertwined; the characters, creatures and creeps he’s run into are coming at him for a reason. And if Kraven shows up, as he did in issue #6, you can bet a hunt is on the horizon. Â In the short term, he and a certain lethal protector will be dealing with something more Alien than mystical.
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!