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 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, Alonso takes a look at some of the titles in the Marvel Universe ready for a major shift. On one hand, there’s “Avengers Arena” — the teen battle book set to wrap its run in the near future as its cast is harrowingly winnowed down. Then on the other side of the equation is “Captain America” where writer Rick Remender is preparing to bring Steve Rogers back to the mainstream Marvel U. And then, the format of anthology title “A+X” switches up a bit as writer Gerry Duggan is welcomed on to write an ongoing serial feature. Axel looks at all these changes as well as the return of Spider-Man 2099, your fan questions and more. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: This week, let’s take a look at some titles we haven’t discussed in a while — starting with “Avengers Arena.” That’s a book that launched with some anxiety for fans over its premise but seems to have grown on people in the telling. Now it’s ending its run, and I get the feeling that the book had a bit of a time clock on it from the beginning. Did you discuss with the creative team from the beginning that this book would have to end at some point?
Axel Alonso: Hell yeah we knew that that story had a time clock! [Laughs] That said, while “Avengers Arena” comes to a close, the characters that survive the experience — there’s a high body count — will move on to new adventures that are… well, shaped by their ordeal in Murderworld.
It’s very rare in comics to see a series that begins, runs for a while and then intentionally ends. It reminds me of British TV versus American. In the UK, “The Office” runs two short seasons. In America, it goes for nine years. Do we see less of those controlled runs here because that serial, soap opera nature of superheroes is so strong?
Alonso: Perhaps. It’s definitely true that we’re used to reading comics as an ongoing, serialized experience. The story is never over.
We wanted the experience of reading “Avengers Arena” to be like watching a movie; when the story is over, you’re free to ponder what happens next, but there is closure. Of course, we’re choosing to explore what happens next — how the survivors come to terms with what they did, who they became on that island — in a new series that should offer a similar experience for the reader, but that’s a new movie. The “controlled format” worked to tell this particular story featuring this particular group of characters.
That said, we don’t go into most series launches with a strategy like this in mind. We’re more likely to stamp an ongoing series with a new issue #1 because a massive creative change — story hook, new creative team or both — warrants it. It just sort of… happens. What will we do when “Superior Spider-Man” comes to a conclusion in 2024? Don’t know yet.
But with this specific kind of format of a monthly title that runs a year or two and then reaches a definitive end, do you think that’s a format Marvel might return to more regularly if creators pitch that kind of serial?
Alonso: Without a doubt. And we’ve been doing this for some time. Take Warren Ellis and Adi Granov’s “Iron Man: Extremis” story — that was conceptualized as a self-contained story that would achieve a very specific objective. Warren and Adi had a story to tell, and when they were done, they rode off into the sunset, and we picked up from there. Hey, if a writer and artist come to us with a self-contained story that contributes so much to a character’s mythology, we’d be foolish not to bite.
In terms of a different kind of change, we talked to Rick Remender on CBR this week about “Captain America,” which was very intentionally set off the board from the rest of the Marvel U for its first ten issues in Marvel NOW! With that story done, it feels like Cap is coming back to the main flow of Marvel U stories in a huge way, but what do you recall about discussions around the perceived strength of setting “Cap” aside for a while?
Alonso: That was all Rick. Like every creator at the retreat, he laid out his plans for “Captain America” for the group to absorb and critique. His only marching order was, “Be you.” Rick wasn’t likely to do anything that vaguely resembled what Ed Brubaker did before him because they’re very different storytellers with very different passions and reference points. We were right. He pitched a story with twists and turns and plenty of cool new characters set in an alternate reality that just might be a second glacier for Cap. We loved it. If we didn’t, he wouldn’t be writing the book right now.
Next up in “Cap” is an arc with Nuke — a character who has a certain pedigree thanks to his history with Frank Miller. I feel he doesn’t get taken off the shelf as much as someone like, say, the Wrecking Crew. Do you have a certain rule about how those characters so highly connected with past creators and past stories get used at Marvel?
Alonso: Only rule is don’t mess them up! [Laughs] Nuke was part of Rick’s original pitch. We loved the way Rick used him.
I’m reminded while talking about this of Dan Slott and Ryan Stegman’s reintroduction of Spider-Man 2099, which hasn’t been used in quite a while. With potentially valuable pieces of the Marvel U like that, how often would you say folks in Editorial are actively looking for a way to work them back in versus how much you just have to wait for a creator to come to you?
Alonso: It’s just part of an ongoing dialog between writer and editor. Sometimes an editor makes a suggestion; sometime it’s the writer. Dan had a very good reason to dust off Spider-Man 2099 and bring him back onto the playing field, and it fit into his long-term Spider-Man plans. By the time Dan’s worked his magic, who knows — maybe Spider-Man 2099 could anchor his own monthly series?
Lastly, I wanted to ask about “A+X” which is experience not an ending of any kind but a slight shift in format. It’s been a stand-alone anthology for short stories up until now, but coming up soon it will add an ongoing serial to the mix written by Gerry Duggan. I know anthologies can often be a tough sell in the market. Did that precipitate the shift here?
Alonso: Let me say, I love anthologies. I grew up reading them — everything from “Weird War Tales” to the “Creepy” and “Eerie” books — and when I was an editor at Vertigo, I edited a bunch of them. They’re like Dim Sum — so many flavors at one sitting. That said, anthologies always present a challenge, regardless of their quality, because they don’t offer a serialized story that keeps you coming back for more. When we launched “A + X”, we knew we could deliver quality content — the artistic roll call is an great mix of A-list creators [Jeph Loeb, Dan Slott, Dale Keown, Chris Bachalo, Kaare Andrews, Salvador Larroca, Kieron Gillen] and up-and-comers we’re excited about [Kris Anka, Nathan Edmondson, Jai Nitz, Jason Latour, Mike Del Mundo], but we knew we’d have to come up with a crafty way to combat standard attrition. That’s where the serialized story comes in. [Editor] Nick Lowe strategized with [“Deadpool” co-writer] Gerry Duggan so that each issue now provides one chapter of a serialized story that’s an homage to one of my all-tome favorite buddy flicks. Think “Midnight Run,” with Captain America and Cyclops playing the [Robert] DeNiro and [Charles] Grodin roles. The story is illustrated by David Yardin and starts in October, in issues #13-18.
Let’s talk a bit more about that idea of anthologies as a testing ground for new talent. I know writers like James Asmus got their start working on anthologies in the past, and Max Bemis is coming up in the new “A+X” to do his first Marvel work. Why is that the right testing ground for people?
Alonso: There are few easier ways to gauge a new writer or artist than to work with them on a short story. It gives you a quick glimpse at how they approach their craft because they have to structure a story with a beginning, middle and end without occupying lots of real estate. There’s room for nouns, verbs and the occasional adjective, but leave your adverbs at home! [Laughs] In a perfect world, all writers transitioning to comics could cut their teeth on a short story.
Looking at fan questions for the week, Spidergreen12 asks, “Hey Axel, huge fan of Silver Surfer, probably my second favorite Cosmic hero right behind Starlord. I noticed he’s on the “Inhumanity” teaser. Care to drop any hints of what’s to come with him?”
Alonso: The Surfer is presently starring in the “Infinity” Infinite Comic, Spidergreen12. The first installment is available free with either the digital code in “Infinity” #1, or if you purchase “Infinity” #1 digitally — or it can be purchased as a stand-alone item all on its own. Where the Surfer fits into the future, stay tuned.
Seems mithiama has been following “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” when he asks, “Do you guys plan on using all out villains rather than small time criminals or anti heroes for lead characters in an ongoing series?”
Alonso: We just wrapped up “Thanos Rising,” which starred one of Marvel’s biggest villains, mithiama. If you missed it, go find it. And don’t be surprised if you see some characters that blur the line between hero and villain in some new launches down the road.
Lastly, we’ll let Legion_Quest give up our “character in a drawer” question of the week with: “I’m a big fan of X-Man, Nate Grey, any chance he’ll be popping up somewhere soon?”
Alonso: He’s been mentioned by a few writers recently, Legion_Quest, but there’s nothing solid planned for our friend from the AOA universe.
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!