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, Axel brings a guest and some news to the column in the form of Chris Yost and a rebranded “Superior Spider-Man Team-Up.” That’s the title that will take over the writer and artist Marco Checchetto’s “Avenging Spider-Man” starting this July. The move is part of a wider expansion of the “Superior Spider-Man” brand at Marvel that’s been announced this week as Dan Slott’s core series was joined by two villain-centric “Superior” books with Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber’s “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” ongong and Kevin Shinick and artist Stephen Segovia’s “Superior Carnage” mini series. Below, Yost describes the changes “Superior Spider-Man” #9 will cause in his title, how the new “Team-Up” will pit Doc Ock’s Spidey against the heroes of the Marvel U and his future animation work while Alonso digs into the wider effects Spider-Man will have on the Marvel line. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Welcome, Chris! I always like to start with our guests with a little bit of their working history with Axel. The first thing I recall you guys working on together in a big way was “Messiah CompleX” which seems to still be a standout crossover from the past ten years, and the “New X-Men” book of that era is still something people on the boards ask after regularly. What’s your memory of that time in the X-Office together?
Chris Yost: Honestly, the very first comic book I wrote was “X-23” #1 which was edited by Mr. Axel Alonso, and it was great. Both Craig Kyle and I had never written a comic book before. We had no idea what we were doing. And Axel just let us do our thing. It was great that he did that with us, but when he did step in with a note or a thought on a rare occasion, it was always weighty and good. It made us appreciate his editing style. “Messiah CompleX” was our first big X-event, and we came in not know what to expect. It was really the smoothest thing to date we’d worked on, and we had a pretty good run overall.
Axel Alonso: Yes, “X-23” was the first time we worked together, and it was a breeze. Both Chris and Craig really knew what they were doing; my input was more as a first reader — someone who anticipated the questions a reader would have. “Messiah CompleX” wasn’t until later, and it was an entirely different animal — a highly collaborative X-Men crossover event that picked up in the aftermath of “House of M,” a Marvel Universe event that had decimated the mutant population. We sat down as a group — [X-Men writers] Craig and Chris, Mike Carey, Ed Brubaker, Peter David and the [X-Men] editors –and nailed down an inciting incident: a baby is born and, just like that, mutants go from no hope to — literally and figuratively — some Hope. [Laughs] We beat out a three-act story over a couple of days, and laid down the seeds for a story that culminated in last year’s “Avengers Vs. X-Men.” It was a breeze.
Yost: It was. It felt really clean because I think you kept us focused on “What do they want?” Some people wanted to protect this baby. Some people wanted to destroy it. Some people wanted to control it. That kind of focus really helped lead the discussion and get us where we wanted to go.
Alonso: Exactly. Save the baby. Control the baby. Kill the baby. There were no other motivations. Wait — Eat the Baby: Predator X. [Laughs]
Yost: And we enjoyed the “Kill The Baby” part. [Laughter] But it was really good. I think it also probably spoiled us for any future events too.
You and Craig came from animation, and you ended up working on a lot of the younger characters in the line before jumping on to the black ops “X-Force” series. Were you looking to get into some more adult material, and was Axel pretty much the only person to pitch that kind of series to?
Yost: [Laughs] It’s true. Axel’s sensibilities obviously run a little more non-mainstream superhero. So coming in with “X-23” even, it wasn’t a standard superhero story at all, so that was a pretty good fit. And then with “New X-Men” coming out of “Decimation,” our marching orders were pretty much “This is the worst day of the mutants lives. This is as bad as it’s going to get.” And we took that to heart. Even though they were young characters, we put them through the wringer. That was always our goal — to show everyone how bad it was going to get before Hope came. And by the time Hope did get there, everyone legitimately thought this could well be the end. And we always enjoyed writing the underdog characters too. With any of those characters, you’re not talking about Beast and Cyclops. Any of them could have been on the chopping block, so our job was to make people care about those characters. And if people are still talking about them, hopefully we did our job.
So, the news of this week from Marvel has been a big push for “Superior Spider-Man” in July — not just that title but really a whole franchise is being built around Dan Slott’s book. We’ve got new “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” and “Superior Carnage” series on tap to fit the villain theme of the main book. Axel, in a broad sense, why make that villainous expansion now?
Alonso: Spider-Man has the greatest rogue’s gallery in all of comics — they’re diverse, wacky, crazy, dangerous, just plain ridiculous — and “Superior Spider-Man” is a hot book — in no small part due to the fact that Doc Ock is such a compelling character. He’s not a cookie-cutter villain. People have enjoyed seeing his story. We’ll see if they still like it after seeing the new status quo Dan’s come up with in “Superior” #9.
Yost: To me, the villains make the hero. The greater the challenge the hero faces, it’s not legitimate if you don’t build up your villains. If you as a reader don’t believe these guys are trouble or dangerous or whatever they’re supposed to be, Spider-Man means less. They’ve got to have a chance to win, and Doc Ock was the perfect example because he won. Dan put an amazing twist on it, but this has so far been essentially the story of a villain winning and what happens next.
Tell me about who you identify as your personal favorite Spider-Man villains. Is there someone you gravitated towards when you were younger or someone you gravitate towards now as a storyteller?
Yost: I always liked the idea of the Sinister Six. It was always that idea of a group of Spider-Man’s most dangerous villains. Each and every one of them are enough to defeat Spider-Man, but then you combine them, and Spider-Man just can’t win. If one of those guys will almost kill him, six of them together means he’s toast. The classic villains like Electro, Doc Ock and Mysterio are all great. Like Axel said, he’s got the best rogue’s gallery in the business. But I’ve got a special place in my heart for when they all get together and beat the hell out of them.
Alonso: Doc Ock occupies a special place in my heart because “Amazing Spider-Man” #131 was my first Spider-Man comic. Doc Ock and Aunt May almost got married in the middle of this huge mob war between Doc Ock and Hammerhead — I bought it off the rack at the local five-and-dime.
But another Spidey villains I love — even though he’s not the most layered character — is the Rhino. I just love the simplicity of the character: he’s a big, dumb lug who just runs into stuff and knocks it down. It couldn’t be more simple. I mean, he can’t even get out of costume! If he wants a cup of coffee at the local the diner, he has to put a baseball cap over that stupid horn. [Laughs] There’s a lot of comedy and pathos to Rhino.
Conversely, do either of you have a Spider-Man villain who you look at and go, “I can’t believe this has been published in one comic let alone multiple comics?”
Yost: That’s probably a long list if I sat down to think about it. [Laughter] Honestly, Mark Waid just changed my mind about this, but it’s the Spot. I remember reading that guy in “Spectacular Spider-Man” back in the day, and he was literally “The Spot…a guy with spots on him.” But the more I read about it, I loved it. And then with what Mark did in “Daredevil” #1, I think it was brilliant and it changed by tune. And I could say Big Wheel [is dumb], but then again, Dan just used him and it was totally fun. Or I remember looking at Razorback and going, “Really?” but ultimately I think there are no bad characters. There are some goofy ones, but there’s always a story hidden in them.
Alonso: I agree with Chris. In the right hands, even the goofiest villain can be compelling — it depends on what aspect of their character the artist leans into. That said… a villain I immediately took a disliking to was, the Tarantula. I’m Hispanic, and I remember seeing him for the first time as a little boy and thinking, “Zorro mask and pointy stinger-shoes? Really?” I didn’t like him at all. Has anyone done anything cool with him? [Laughs]
Yost: I remember this cool moment where they killed him. [Laughter]
Alonso: There you go. [Laughs]
So let’s talk about the transition from “Avenging Spider-Man” to “Superior Spider-Man Team-Up.” That’s a title that’s a callback to a classic Marvel book, but have you been shifting your approach on this comic along with the title change?
Yost: Well, in my heart when I say “Team-Up” for “Superior Spider-Man,” I probably mean “Versus.” In the latest “Avenging” issues, we’ve seen that he has a fairly contentious relationship with most of the heroes he’s encountered. And with “Superior Spider-Man Team Up,” that just gets bigger. I think in issue #1, he teams up with pretty much the entire Marvel Universe.
So you’re going to continue to see how Spidey —who up until now has been an incredibly arrogant a-hole –continues to deal with the rest off the Marvel after what has happened to his reputation in the first few issues of Superior.
Spidey-Ock’s been acting, in his own special way, heroically. To me, the joy of writing Avenging has been seeing how the other people react to him and also how Doc views these people. He’s always looking down his nose at the others — even guys like Thor and Hulk — because in the end he really, truly believes in his heart that he is better than all of them.
With the relaunch, as you’ll be seeing in the months to come starting in Superior #9, Spidey’s gone through some changes, and will expand his operations. He’s going to be the best Spider-Man that’s ever been, and he’s going to take it to the next level. “Superior Spider-Man Team Up” reflects that. You’re going to get bigger stories. Like I said, in the first issue he teams up with the Marvel Universe, and you’ll see him interacting in a much bigger way with everybody.
Axel, like I said, there are a lot of new “Superior” books coming. Was there an overriding goal for how all these should fit together with Dan’s core title?
Alonso: All I can say is, they had me at the title. I grew up loving “Marvel Team-Up.” Bought every issue I could get my hands on. Every month Spider-Man would team up with someone new. There was even an issue where Iceman teamed up with the Human Torch. I was like, “What the-!?” [Laughs] So it didn’t take much for me to sign off on the series.
Speaking of team ups, Chris, tell me about your artistic collaborators on the series?
Yost: With “Avenging,” we launched with Paco Medina who did an amazing job on the first three issues with us. Then our main artist has been Marco Checchetto, and he’s been amazing and is sticking on moving forward. He’s turned in some of the most amazing stuff I’ve ever seen for the new series. You can tell he’s bringing a lot of passion into it, and I turned in some script pages for an upcoming issue with the Hulk in it, and for various reasons, the Hulk gets taken out. Marco sends me this e-mail and is like, “He’s coming back, right?!” [Laughs] I think that Marco is just so excited to be drawing the whole Marvel Universe, and he’s already got Spider-Man down cold. He draws one of the best Spider-Mans I’ve ever seen. I think as an artist, to be able to put Spider-Man up against all the colorful characters of the Marvel U is just a joy, and that joy really comes through on his pages.
The “Avenging” series has always been a bit more focused on small arcs and bouncing Spider-Man off various characters for a moment here or there. As you’re making this shift, will that remain the going rate, or are you looking to build in some long-term story threads as well?
Yost: It’s for me the best of both worlds. Like Axel, I grew up on “Marvel Team-Up,” and there was always some kind of ongoing story. You’d have these characters come in and out of the bigger story. What we’ve been trying to do is craft a book that you can pick up at any time and enjoy on an issue-by-issue basis. But if you read it monthly, you’ll start to pick up these seeds we’re laying for bigger things. There’s an ongoing thread throughout the book that will continue from “Avenging” into “Superior Spider-Man Team-Up.” All the seeds we’ve been laying will start exploding…because they’re those kinds of seeds. I’m a big fan of the big story. I love done-in-ones, and I’ve written a number for this book already, but you’re going to see the big story as well. If you think it doesn’t matter, you’re wrong. We’ve got big stuff coming up, and we’ll see if reflected in “Superior Spider-Man” as well. You’ll see some of the fallout from my title go into “Superior” in the months ahead.
The last big thing here is the overarching change that we’ve been promised. Marvel has been teasing a shift in “Superior Spider-Man” #9 that people will be more upset by than they were for “Amazing” #700. I frankly find that hard to believe, but what can you say about the spark that lights the fuse for all these new series?
Yost: It’s a pretty legitimate turn. I remember reading the plot for “Amazing” #700 and going, “You really did that?” And then when I read the plot for the upcoming “Superior” issue we’re talking about, I was in even further disbelief. You think it’s going one way, and then it’s goes the other way. It’s a global change for a series that’s built on global change, and it’s absolutely going to be reflected in “Superior Team-Up.” In fact, “Superior Team-Up” is coming at the perfect time based on the events in “Superior.” It’ll be quite a change, and people are going to freak out.
Getting into fan questions for Chris, E. Wilson was wondering, “Of all the character adaptations you’ve had to do for television, which one did you feel you had to do the most re-vamping for? Why?”
Yost: That’s a good question! It’s funny, because we had a ton of guest stars in “Avengers” — specifically in that show — but all the guest stars I really tried to keep as true to the comics as possible. A lot of the great things that have been happening over the past ten years at Marvel has been about making those characters shine. Like, with what Abnett and Lanning had done for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” I didn’t have to do a lot to make those characters work on the show. It was more about picking and choosing who we’d use. Power Man and Iron Fist were the same way. War Machine was the same way. They’re all in a really good place right now, so I didn’t feel like any of them were a tricky adaptation. There were characters that I didn’t necessarily have a lot of love for — like the Leader. I never knew a lot about the Leader, so that was a matter of finding what the core of his character was. But the Marvel Universe is a pretty great place, so I just looked to the comics for inspiration, and it turned out all right.
You worked too in the early episodes on “Iron Man: Armored Adventures,” and even though the characters were made teenagers there, I get the feeling there was a certain amount of “return them to their roots” in how the superheroing was done. Is that the guiding principal behind all these shows?
Yost: Yeah. For me, absolutely. The bottom line is that I’m a huge comic book guy and a huge fan of what’s been done. And with “Armored Adventures,” it definitely went in a different direction because Tony Stark was 16, and when you make that change, you need to look at everything and reevaluate. But we still tried to keep everything as close to the comics as possible except with like the Mandarin where it necessitated a much bigger change. We played a little bit with the mythology of Fing Fang Foom or some of the villains like Firebrand. But if there’s a big change in a show like that, you do have to play with stuff.
But even with the “Fantastic Four” show, even though it was a comedy, we tried to keep it “as is” with the comics material. It just had a more comedic bent. Terminus we obviously made an idiot and things like that. The biggest change that I made that I can think of was having Galactus arrive to earth without the Silver Surfer. To me, the Silver Surfer’s intro was a real Fantastic Four story, and we wanted to go a different way with the heralds. But I think Galactus himself we kept pretty true to his core.
CyberHubbs asked, “Can we expect to see a sequel to your creator-owned work, ‘Killer of Demons’?”
Yost: You know what, there’s definitely an idea for a second and a third mini series. It’s just kind of on hold right now. Scott [Wegener] is pumping out “Atomic Robo” left and right, and if you haven’t checked out “Atomic Robo,” you should because it’s amazing. And I’ve been swamped with Marvel work for a while now. So a sequel won’t happen anytime soon, but we’re always thinking about it.
Finally, I’ve got a trio of questions from Spidey616 starting with, “Lot of great writers like yourself who have written for both animation and regular monthly comics such as Paul Dini and Dwayne McDuffie. Curious if you have a preference and/or if one comes more naturally than the other?”
Yost: I love them both, honestly… I don’t write one differently in tone than the other, although comics offers a little more freedom in certain ways. The structures are different, most animated shows these days are a little less serial in nature… but my theory for children’s TV is that if I like it, then kids will like it. I never try to ‘write down’ to kids because they’re young — kids are smart. This is something comics have done since the beginning.
The medium of comics in some ways takes a little more thought and care, because the storytelling is different structurally. But I love them both. Comics was my first love, though.
And lastly, “Love how much of Bendis’ Avengers run you included in Avengers: EMH like Daisy Johnson, Secret Invasion, etc. Curious if Bendis himself has had a chance to see it and give his thoughts to you, most especially Officer Bendis cameo?”
Yost: I’m not sure if Brian watched the show or not, he’s a busy guy. I talked to him once asking a random question about Maria Hill, but beyond that, not sure.
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!