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 shakes things up with special guest stars, exclusive art reveals and more!
This week, Axel is back after spending a week bunkered up with some of Marvel’s biggest names from Brian Bendis and Matt Fraction to Ed Brubaker and Jeph Loeb at the latest Marvel Creative Summit. These regular retreats are where the biggest Marvel stories are broken down and vetted by all the big minds at the House of Ideas, and Alonso shares how rough and tumble back and forths and tough questions combine to make the stories better. Beyond that, the E-i-C opens up on key Marvel stories to come, from Cable’s return in “Avengers: X-Sanction” to “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” as well as sharing his thoughts on the sales success of DC Comics New 52 launch and much more. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Welcome back! While the column had some time off last week, you were in the thick of one of the busiest times of the year at Marvel: a fully staffed creative summit. How’d it go this time out?
Axel Alonso: It went great. Got a few bruises along the way, but we got to where we needed to. On Wednesday, I was ready to kill myself. [Laughs] But on Friday, I was ready for a celebratory beer.
I know you guys keep a lot of this on lockdown, but I’m assuming this meeting largely involved planning for the next big event. While you’ve had big summits planning big events before, this particular story has been teased by y’all to involve a lot more working pieces than some others as it brings in both the Avengers world and the X-Men. Did that make things a bit more complicated than in summits past?
Yeah. This event is the culmination of some of the biggest stories we’ve told over the past decade. It spans the entire Marvel Universe in a way that no recent event has — the X-Men sat out “Civil War” and were only tangentially involved in “Secret Invasion,” “Siege” and “Fear Itself.” And the way this event is structured, well — it’s very different.
What becomes the focus of the group as a whole? Since you guys plan things out so far in advance, are a lot of the big, broad story strokes set in place at the start of the proceedings, or does the work of the week involve generating some of the big, overarching ideas?
For this retreat, we prepared a document that provided an outline of the event’s three-act structure. The first act is 90% locked and already being drawn, but the second and third acts — well, they’re still flexible. We know their general shape — and the “oh @#$%” act breaks — but they’re like silly putty — you can squeeze them, stretch them, add or replace some putty. And that’s what we do at the summit.
You’ve got this big group of guys in for the week — Bendis, Fraction, Brubaker, Loeb and so on. Do they each kind of latch on to certain story elements to spin off on their own work — Brubaker seeing a “Captain America” piece and Fraction seeing an “Iron Man” tie-in — or does most of the spinoff and tie-in material get generated after the initial creative burst?
Good question. We always focus on the core story. Going in, we know that tie-ins will develop in the course of the discussion, but we agree to avoid discussing them in great detail. A writer might say, “Iron Man plays such a big role here, there might be interesting story to do with Rhodey and Pepper,” but he won’t attempt to plot it out at the summit. That’s something for the writer and editor to huddle on.
Do you have moments from this summit that stand out in your head — a creator who really stepped up or an idea that will stick with you on the job for a while?
I learned a lot from this retreat — not the least of which is that I have to be more patient on Day One [Laughs], when the ideas are free-flowing and the critique is a little bit sharper. If you’re invested in the story, it can be daunting to withstand the barrage of questions that come your way. Your brain becomes a pretzel. Truth be told, though, it’s the question you least like hearing — the one that takes you out of your comfort zone — that’s usually most valuable. It forces you to sharpen the logic of your story.
On Wednesday, a major creator who will remain nameless [Laughs] tossed out a couple of big grenades, and I wanted to run across the room and punch him. But by the time Friday rolled around, and we’d addressed his questions, I wanted to hug him. That’s the dynamic I’m talking about. We’re like boxers that beat the hell out of each other for fifteen rounds then embrace when the final bell rings. A witness might say, “What in the Hell? They just tried to knock each other’s blocks off!” But the reason is, those boxers really challenged each other, they put on a great show, they brought out the best in each other. That’s what happens with us — except there are 30 boxers in the ring. [Laughs]
Let’s switch gears and talk about Jeph Loeb’s next project. This week, we learned that the new Cable series will be called “Avengers: X-Sanction” and will involve a big chunk of the Marvel U that the character doesn’t often interact with. When you have someone like Jeph, who’s so involved with other parts of Marvel’s media output, how much do you work with him on a big comics project like this versus letting him and Ed McGuinness break out all their story specifics with the project editor?
Any writer doing a big book interacts, first and foremost, with his editor, who is usually a Senior Editor. If it’s an Avengers title, that’ll be Tom [Brevoort]; if it’s an X-Men title, it’ll be Nick Lowe. Since “X-Sanction” deals with a little of both, Jeph is consulting with Tom and Nick.
On the whole, how does this series impact the rest of what you guys have been planning for the characters? It’s rarely a small thing when Cable comes through a book, but can readers expect some of the pieces you’ve been teasing about Hope’s full role in the Marvel U to appear here or is something else afoot?
Oh, Cable coming back is no small thing. And yes, it does have something to do with Hope’s place in the Marvel Universe. Cable went from being Hope’s bodyguard to being her father. Their bond is thicker than blood. He’d do anything for her. Any. Thing.
The big release for Marvel of the week is the new “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” #1. In general, when you’re introducing a new character or concept with a lot of attention on it like that, what do you want to see from an issue #1? What are your marching orders for making that book hit big with readers?
With the Ultimate launch, all three writers knew that accessibility was of utmost importance. If you’re going to do a launch, you want to open that story in a cinematic fashion. When the curtain rolls up, you want the experience to please two audiences: the casual reader who took up the invitation of the big #1 on the cover, and the long-term reader who feels rewarded for their investment in that story. “Accessibility” doesn’t mean all the questions are answered through clunky exposition and endless captions — just that the reader can wrap their mind around the universe of that story enough to keep reading.
With Ultimate Spider-Man in particular, you must have known there would be attention on the book because of Miles Morales — though probably not as much attention as you ended up getting. Did you talk to Brian Bendis about the particulars of that story or more about the kind of tone and feel that book should have to keep it a Spider-Man story even though it’s a new face under the mask?
No. If those discussions took place, they were between [Ultimate Comics Editor] Mark [Paniccia] and Brian. I didn’t need to get involved. I knew what Brian was intending to do with this first arc, I read the script and I loved it. That was my level of involvement. After we’d committed to Miles Morales as our new Spider-Man and Brian had supplied us with the larger details — his powers, back story and the broad strokes of his origin — Brian just started writing. He knows the Ultimate Comics Spider-Man better than anyone.
The last big topic of the week is what’s going on over at DC Comics. This is their big launch month, and it seems to be a very big hit overall out the gate. If this success holds out in a big way, does that all impact how Marvel approaches its stories? We’ve heard Tom talk a bit in the public sphere to DC’s role in the market, but is your approach at all synchronistic with theirs?
A strong DC is good for the industry and good for Marvel. In a flat economy like this, I’d be foolish to hope that their September relaunch would fail.
That said, DC is doing what they felt they needed to do — it’s not what we need to do. Any success that DC has with their line-wide reboot might inspire us to up our game, but it doesn’t inspire us to rethink our publishing plan. We have a plan and we’re sticking to it. “Fear Itself” and “Schism” set up big things in the Marvel Universe, all of which will come to a head in the event we’ve planned for 2012. A reboot is not on the menu.
Kicking off our fan questions for the week is Gaastra, who has a query about Marvel adapting a platform from other media companies. He explains, “Disney, WB and others have ‘burn on demand’ type programs for DVDs. Any chance you guys could do a “print on demand” where you print small 48 page trades (or comics on dvds) of about 4 issues folks can choose from your library? You could list issues on your site and folks can choose 4 or 6 of the comics you have on the site and you can print them in a small trade or on a DVD. Any chances of this?”
There’s always a chance of this happening, and we’ve had companies that do this type of thing pitch ideas to us. Â We just haven’t seen anything that excites us, yet.
Next up, countryfan2004 is looking into Marvel’s biggest franchise and wondering, “I’m glad to see an increase in females in the Avengers. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Echo. Will she pop up anytime soon, especially now that Daredevil’s joining the New Avengers?”
Echo has been regularly appearing in Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev’s excellent “Moon Knight” – where’ve you been, countryfan2004?
The gloriously named Potty-Man is checking on one of his favorites who’s been getting some spotlight time, saying, “With Silver Surfer getting a lot of exposure recently – in ‘Annihilators,’ ‘Fantastic Four,’ ‘The Mighty Thor’ and the upcoming ‘Defenders’ book – is there a chance we’ll see a solo Surfer series? The only thing sweeter than that would be a Surfer series written by Jonathan Hick
We have no plans for another “Silver Surfer” series at the moment. But you can find him in Matt Fractions and Terry Dodson’s forthcoming “Defenders” ongoing.
Finally, ian33407 has a taste for horror and asks, “Is there a chance to see more of your horror-line of characters following the ‘Legion of Monsters’ mini? I absolutely loved the ‘Werewolf By Night’ short-story in the last ‘Tomb of Terror,’ and I wanted to know if there was a chance to see again the same creative team again onto the adventures of Jack Russell. AND, since I’ve read a PAD joke on Man-Thing in a late CBR interview, I also can’t help raving for him to write about this character.
All I can say is we do have a Man-Thing project coming out soon that is older than some of Marvel’s assistant editors and well worth the wait.
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!