Fridays on CBR mean Axel’s In Charge — but not this week, as Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso is currently at the Bucheon International Comics Festival in Bucheon, South Korea.
So in Alonso’s absence, CBR turns to Marvel senior vice president of publishing Tom Brevoort to step in and anchor the weekly AXEL-IN-CHARGE Q&A column. As anyone who follows his Tumblr knows, Brevoort is no strange to A’ing Qs, and in fact he once hosted his own regular Friday afternoon chat on CBR, TALK TO THE HAT. He’s been with the company since starting as an intern in 1989, and as executive editor oversees some of Marvel’s biggest books and its big event stories — including the current “Original Sin” and the upcoming “AXIS”.
For this week’s super-sized special column, Brevoort gives his take on the unlikely global success of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which started as a cult-favorite Marvel comic book series and spawned a massively popular film just six years later. He also gives some insight into the development of “Original Sin” and the major role of Nick Fury in that story, and the realities of coordinating two major events in a year (with the October-debuting “AXIS” soon approaching). Brevoort also shares thoughts on the Mark Waid-written “S.H.I.E.L.D.” series scheduled to start this December, and the fan reaction to the major “Avengers NOW!” initiative last month — which revealed that Sam Wilson will take over as the “All-New Captain America,” a female “Thor” will become worthy to wield Mjolnir and that Tony Stark will take on the new role of “Superior Iron Man.”
Another surprise guest (or two?) next week for A-I-C, then, a fortnight from now — Alonso returns!
Albert Ching: Tom, let’s talk about something very much still on fans’ minds — “Guardians of the Galaxy.” You were involved in the development of the comics that inspired that team, including the “Annihilation” events that preceded the 2008 “Guardians of the Galaxy” series. Obviously a lot of people have been making a big deal out of how surprising it is that a movie based on these characters got made at all, let alone that it’s a huge hit. Given your perspective as someone who’s been at Marvel for a while now, where does this rank on your list of surprising things?
Tom Brevoort: I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say “surprising,” after all the stuff that has come before it. The Marvel Studios crew has a really good track record at this point of being able to make stuff work that all the pundits, on the face of it, were skeptical could ever work. People forget now, because it’s been a bunch of years and there’s been such a track record of success, all of those news articles, opinion pieces and business section pieces that went out when Marvel first started talking about founding a studio. “All they have left is all the crummy characters, they licensed all the good stuff out to other people, there’s no way this is ever going to work.” “If you’ve got any Marvel stock, boy, you better dump it now, because this is going to be a black hole.” As it turns out, things didn’t work out that way — which is a testament to all the folks that were involved with making those films, with getting them done, and getting them done with the level of quality and the attention to the essence of the source material, without being slavish to the source material.
It’s still pretty astonishing that there’s a movie out in the world that’s doing enormous business that’s based on a virtually random assortment of Marvel space characters that were created in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Not even all as one thing. Again, that’s a testament to the talent and skill of the cast, and James Gunn, and the Studios guys, and Marvel’s creative committee — all the folks that made the film. And it’s indicative of the fact that for all that were skeptical about a lot of these properties, there’s a reason that most of this stuff is still around, years, decades, after it was first created. Which is not something you’re often able to say about things that originated in other mediums. On that level, I kind of go, “Of course.”
The Marvel stuff is cool, and it’s just finding a way of tapping into that in a 2014 mindset, and making people understand what is cool, or interesting, or relatable or fun about these characters. With every success, it seems to me that Marvel Studios has been emboldened to try bigger and broader and more seemingly ridiculous things. My hope is that the success of “Guardians” will lead them to be able to do stuff that’s just as outside the box, if not further outside the box. In the 75 years we’ve been making comics there are hundreds — thousands — of interesting characters and interesting stories, any of which might make an excellent film, an excellent TV series, an excellent whatever, with the right attention given to it. And the fact that people are now starting to understand this, and realize the depth of creativity that is the bedrock and wellspring of the Marvel Universe — it’s really just everybody else in the world catching up to what the comic book people, readers and creators alike, have known forever.
Do you think that will have an affect on Marvel publishing? At the time — 2007 2008 — when this Guardians team was coming together, the cosmic books were an obscure corner of the Marvel Universe even among hardcore fans. Now that it’s evolved to this point, do you see that as further emboldening Marvel in seeing that the potential for these properties are huge, even for things that among comic book fans, aren’t necessarily seen as a big deal?
I don’t know that we’re any more emboldened. I think we’ve been — especially over the last couple of years — relatively courageous in terms of expanding the style of books that we do, the kind of books, the tone, the sensibility. The days where there was sort of an almost “house style,” middle-of-the-road Marvel comic are, if not gone, something of a dim memory. You look at our line right now, and I think it’s very diverse in terms of the characters, and the concepts, and the kinds of stories, and the art styles, and the approaches — I think that’s only going to continue as we move forward.
The understanding that any of this stuff could go on to be a big deal thing? That goes back to the second Marvel movie, which was “Blade.” The character had never even headlined his own comic before. Wonder of wonders, it did good business, good enough to have two sequels and to really begin the new cycle of superhero films. From the very first step, it wasn’t a Spider-Man or an X-Men or a Fantastic Four or an Avengers — it was “Blade” that started all of this. And the latest thing is “Guardians.” They’re kinda of a piece. They show you what the potential is for any of the characters that are kicking around.
We’ve been pretty steadily emboldened just in general with the audience and the marketplace’s response to the range of styles and the range of approaches that we’ve taken on the books that we’ve launched. I think that we’ll continue to explore a variety of approaches, and a variety of styles, and maybe some of them will be the big-ticket films of years to come. Kevin Feige’s only projected out to 2028. He’s going to need something in 2029! It’s up to us to figure out what that could be.
Something of that has been noticeable in Marvel’s publishing line last year or so, quite a few not-so big name characters getting their own titles.
Just look at “Rocket Raccoon” #1. An overwhelming hit. Certainly being a hit this month, with a movie coming out, isn’t hard — you have the benefit of that promotion. But even apart from that — the style of it. People love what Skottie Young does. They have going back certainly to “Oz,” and all the “kid” covers he’s been doing. But the style Skottie uses there is certainly not what you think of as that generic Marvel house style. It’s anything but, but he really tapped into a nerve with people, and they dig it. They dig the style, and the tone of the adventures that he tells with Rocket, in that style. That’s a hugely positive step, and a real nice payout on giving a talent a platform to shine on, and to build the career up from assigning to assignment. I expect that we’ll do more — not in the same tone, but using the same methodology.
“Original Sin #7” was out this week, and it’s striking me more and more with each issue: From the start, “Original Sin” was advertised as not being a typical Marvel event, and more of a murder mystery. it’s becoming clear that it really is something very different. even though it involves many characters and the states are big, it really seems, more than any event in recent history, abut one character. It’s a Nick Fury story at its core. Was that always the plan for the story and how it was envisioned, or did it evolve along the way to this point?
That was certainly the intent for the story from the point that Jason [Aaron] began working on it. Before that, when it was just being talked about in a general sense, and we had a couple of different pieces and other different creators had talked about tackling it in the past — Ed Brubaker was one, Allan Heinberg another — that story wasn’t really formed yet. What we had more than anything was the idea that somebody would get their hands on all the secrets of the Marvel Universe, and that would spill out into all the books, and each of the books would have some juicy secret behind the past of one of the character’s in the book, and that would create a storyline that would send guys off in different directions.
That evolved. We had different writers’ retreats, and tossed a variety of ideas around. Joe Quesada wrote, over the course of years, like three or four different big long memos outlining his ideas for what could be “Original Sin.” It was constantly evolving and changing, but nobody had quite claimed ownership of it, and nobody had quite defined it, until Jason at one of the retreats said, “I’d like to take a crack at that.” He went away with the pieces that we then had, and threw a bunch of them out, and added a bunch of his own in, and came back with the structure for the eight issues. That’s pretty much the eight issues that we did. If you went back to his original outline, the very first one that he sent in, even before it came back with comments from me and Axel and all the other editors, you’d be able to map it against the eight comics that we put out pretty closely. There might be some specific events that moved from one issue to the next, and some things that weren’t there quite yet, but in essence this was very much a story of a few characters, and Nick is certainly one of them, and certainly central. And I think one of the things that attracted Jason to doing the story. He’s clearly got a great love for Fury, and this is giving him a story on the scale that he hasn’t had in many, many years — probably since “Secret War,” maybe.
Speaking of events, in just a couple of months “AXIS” is starting out — this is at least the second year in a row that Marvel has had two big event stories in one year. Last year it was “Age of Ultron” and “Infinity.” in both years there’s been one more atypical event and one more conventional Marvel event, as we know them. I know from talking to you over the years how much work and coordination all these events take. Is it more difficult coordinating two of these events a year?
Is it more difficult? Yeah, of course it is. [Laughs] Especially when they’re as close together as some of these things are. “Age of Ultron” was difficult, but not as difficult maybe because so much of it had been worked on and completed even before we finally scheduled it and set it down to where it was going to actually come out. From the real jump as opposed to when we started working on it, we were kind of ahead of the curve as it comes to these things.
“Original Sin” #8 comes out, and I think it’s like a month later “AXIS” #1 comes out. And then “AXIS” #2 comes out a week later. And then “AXIS” #3 comes out another week later, maybe two weeks later. Doing “AXIS” by itself would have been challenging. As opposed to two issues a month, it’s three issues a month. That’s a difficult thing to do under the best circumstances. And I’m also working on next year’s event. There’s been a period here where I’ve been juggling three of these at once. It is not the easiest thing to do, but hopefully we’ve done it well enough, and all the creators involved have put their best foot forward enough that people dig ’em, and are on for the ride and what happens in the aftermath, and are excited to come back for the next one.
Even when you talk about, “we had two events,” that’s not really true. Because during the same period, we had a Spider-Man event. And we had an X-Men event. And those were staggered in and around “Age of Ultron” and “Infinity.” There really are three or four. The Spidey ones tends to be more Spider-Man-centric, with most of the other ground-level characters, maybe. And the X-Men ones tend to be very X-centric. The Avengers ones, for lack of a better term, tend to be much more all-encompassing, simply because that’s what the Avengers are. They are a little different, but we haven’t had a lot of downtime months where there’s nothing going on. The quiet months of the Marvel Universe where people are just fighting bank robbers. Maybe we’ll do that next year! “Bank Robber Month.” [Laughs] Everybody’s gotten into white collar crime. Quiet day on the streets.
Can definitely explore crimes like embezzlement. Very visually dynamic.
Hawkeye’s 401K has been stolen. He’s in trouble. No retirement for him! That’s it, we’ve cracked it.
Also wanted to ask about a book that you’re editing that was announced late last month at Comic-Con — “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” written by Mark Waid, with a variety of artists joining him. Why is now the right time to do a book like this? Since it’s in part, at least, inspired by the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” TV show, did Marvel become more confident when the show was renewed for a second season?
I think it was less about the show being renewed — we’re all very confident, except on the days we’re not. I think for the most part, people felt pretty secure that show was not going to be taken off the schedule. So it was less to do with whether or not the show was coming back as, what was the right timing for publishing? It’s an interesting conundrum in a sense — and you see it right now amongst our fans — there’re sort of two camps, and the same guy can be in both camps depending on what the issue is. There’s the, “Why are you making everything like the movies?” camp, and then there’s the, “Why don’t you make some stuff more like the movies?” camp. You tend to vacillate between the two of them depending on what you like and what you care about. People have been asking, ever since “Guardians” opened, “When’s Nebula coming back?” That really just means, “I thought Karen Gillan was pretty cool in that movie, when are we going to see more of that character?” By the same token, that same person might bitch about, “Do you really have to make Sam Jackson Nick Fury?” It just depends on where you sit along that bell curve on any given thing.
In terms of “S.H.I.E.L.D.” itself, we got to a point within the Marvel Universe, within publishing, where doing the book made sense. And it happened to be at a point where the show had run through their first season. So that pretty much put you at a point where you have a decent understanding as to who and what all of those characters are about.
Now, the “S.H.I.E.L.D.” book that we’re doing isn’t the TV show. We’ll use some of those characters — we won’t necessarily use all of them every issue. We will also use characters that are from the Marvel Universe exclusively, powered and non-powered. We will use characters that they may turn around and put into the TV show. We’re certainly going to take advantage of the fact that we have no budgetary restrictions. Those guys do a phenomenally good job at presenting the kinds of high-octane, spy, science-fiction, superhero story that we do, on a television drama budget. Which is not easy!
But in comics, I don’t have that. [Laughs] I can go anywhere that my artist can draw, and I can bring in as many guest stars as I want, whenever I want them. There are no agents, there are no schedules. I can have it all. These are all elements that we will use to do the “S.H.I.E.L.D.” comic. Not as an adjunct to the TV show, and not as a remedy to the TV show, but if you’ve seen the show, and you like the show, and you like the characters and the cast that are on the show, and you’re looking for, “Where can I find more about them, where can I find more stuff like that in the publishing line?” — there’s some amount of similarity that allows you to go, “OK, I can draw a line between that and that.” In the same sort of way that you can draw a line between Jeremy Renner in the “Avengers” movie and the “Hawkeye” book that Matt Fraction and David Aja do. They’re not necessarily writing exactly the same characters, they’re doing their version of Hawkeye, but somebody who’s only experience with Hawkeye is watching that “Avengers” film can read that comic and go, “I get it, it’s the same dude.”
We’ll use everybody in the show, but our Melinda May be a little bit different than their Melinda May — particularly since the show’s going to continue going on, doing episodes and doing stories, and we’re going to be doing the same. We’re not going to be walking in such lockstep that either of us are going to be coercing or tripping over the other one. If there’s something that’s big that’s coming up that I need to know about, they’ll let me know. It’s a good thing, for example, we didn’t do the book six months earlier, or we might have had all these great Agent Ward stories that wouldn’t have necessarily been any less valid, but would be a little confusing to people now that he’s been revealed in the show to be a Hydra plant. There will be the usual back and forth in terms of sharing information and such, and I’ll do the same with the show people, as we get our plots and our outlines and things together. I’ll share with them just so they have a sense as to where we’re going, so that we can kind of run parallel without tripping over one another.
But as for why now? S.H.I.E.L.D. is one of those Marvel things that everybody knows. Particularly since the show came on, all those fans, causal or otherwise, that we were talking about at the top of this question have been asking — “Where’s the S.H.I.E.L.D. comic?” So, here it is! Come and get it!
I remember we talked about “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” possibilities for publishing about a year ago, before the show started — then it was much more vague, but it definitely seems like something that Marvel has had the time to think about how to do in the right way.
Yeah. We have a good feeling. I think Mark is going to do great things with this. We’ve got a pretty powerhouse art team lined up for the first bunch of issues. If it goes over well, hopefully it will run for a good, long time.
Last thing I wanted to ask about — about a month ago Marvel made the major announcements in the “Avengers NOW!” umbrella.: “All-New Captain America,” “Superior Iron Man” and obviously the new, female “Thor.” it seems to me — and you’ll have to correct me if I’m wrong, as I’m sure you’d know — that as massive as those changes to those characters are, that the reaction — and I know there’s been exceptions — has been largely positive, especially when compared to something like “Superior Spider-Man,” which happened less than two years earlier, it seems that fans are possibly more receptive to these changes. Have you noticed that at all? And if so, why do you think that might be?
I think the difference is that we didn’t announce “Superior Spider-Man” first. We said, “There’s going to be a new book, it’s going to be called “Superior Spider-Man,” but we didn’t say what it was about. So for many people, reading that story, read those issues that Dan and Humberto did, where first Peter’s stuck in Doc Ock’s body, and then he gets out, and then Doc Ock in Spidey’s body kills him, and he takes over as Spider-Man. I think the shock of that was so extreme to people that they went a little berserk on it.
In these cases, months ahead, you know that some woman is going to be Thor, and you know that Sam Wilson is going to be Captain America. It’s a slightly different thing to grapple with. The reaction has been largely positive — there certainly have been people who have been negative about it. But overwhelmingly, a lot of voices have shown up to say, “That sounds cool.” “That sounds interesting.” “Can’t wait.” “Think it’s great that you’re taking these crazy chances.” That’s pretty terrific.
The proof, in the end, is in the pudding. It’s all going to really come down to how good are the stories that we tell with the All-New Cap, and the all-new Thor, and the all-new Iron Man, and so forth, as to whether any of them have real staying power — where they can last the test of time, and whether people, for all of their excitement about them now, will actually come out and want to read about those characters month in and month out. But we’ll see.
I think the thing about “Superior Spider-Man” is that even though a lot of people were very upset about it, they read, and they kept reading. They were on the roller coaster ride, even if they were terrified going up or down a particular hill, and especially when they got to the end, and suddenly felt like, “Phew, the ground is under my feet again. Peter’s back to being Spider-Man… Man, I wish that had gone on a little longer.” I think that’s the best outcome you could hope for. Sticking around for exactly the right amount of time, and not overstaying your welcome, and not getting to the point where people are just sick of whatever new iteration that you’ve got, but are left wanting more. That’s exactly where you want to hit it, particularly in terms of setting up the next thing.
Maybe because in the end, that story executed so well, people are more intrigued by what Jason’s going to do with Thor, what Tom Taylor’s going to do with Iron Man, and what Rick’s going to do with Cap. The hope and the promise that stories can provide a similar experience to what people got out of “Superior Spider-Man.”
Have some questions for Marvel’s AXEL-IN-CHARGE? Please visit the AXEL-IN-CHARGE Q&A thread in CBR’s Marvel Comics community. It’s the dedicated thread that CBR will pull questions for next week’s installment of our weekly fan-supported question-and-answer column! Do it to it!