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, we start our traditional look back on the year that was in Marvel. Axel revisits his expectations for 2013 from combining the Cosmic and Earthbound sides of the Marvel U to making sure Marvel NOW! could continue its pace into All-New territory. Plus, he revisits the big events of the year from “Infinity’s” plan to keep high on ambition but low on spinoffs while “Age of Ultron” revealed the morphing model for Marvel event comics. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Axel, let’s look back at the year that was. Early in 2013, you said that your big goal for the Marvel line was to bring the Cosmic stuff closer to earth and connect the books up overall. How do you feel that went across the year? Any surprises along the way?
Axel Alonso: Well, from a story planning point of view I’m really happy with where we landed. I think we accomplished all our goals and that “Infinity” did a lot to narrow the gap between the earthbound and the Cosmic heroes. It also laid the seeds for “Inhumanity!” which will continue to do that. The goal of reminding people that it’s called the Marvel Universe and not just the Marvel world is something we achieved, and I think we’ll continue to hammer that point home.
I’m also very happy with the solidification of the Marvel Universe under Marvel NOW! It’s laid the bedrock, I think, for us to be able to take a lot of creative chances that I wanted to take and I’m sure a lot of my editors wanted. That’s resulted in this second round of “All-New Marvel NOW!” launches. From “Black Widow” to “Ghost Rider” to “Ms. Marvel” to “All-New Invaders,” I’m thrilled by the way my editors have dug into the catalog and found these characters, and they’ve really found the right creative teams to bring these guys into the spotlight. I’ve been Tweeting over the last couple of weeks a lot of the preview pages because I’m so excited personally — not even professionally but personally — for the variety of art styles we’ve got on these titles. So I’m very happy with what we’ve done this year and very proud of my Editorial staff.
It’s strange because at the beginning of 2013, you were at a place where all the Marvel NOW! titles had launched and were deep into their first arcs or beyond. Now you’re starting 2014 with a bunch of books about to launch with #1s, so it’s been a bit more then a year in between waves. Is that a result of some growing room for the books, the events like “Infinity” and “Battle of the Atom”?
Alonso: Yeah, it all comes down to timing. With most of our books, we wanted that first wave to have some breathing room so we could see what stuck, what creative teams gelled, what people were liking and what was selling. We didn’t want to rush the next wave in. I think the timing of “Infinity” as a big event definitely contributed as well, but it would have always been easy for us to launch a wave of titles out of that event. I think strategically, that’s not something we wanted to do. Whereas we looked at “Mighty Avengers” and saw an opportunity to spring that out of the event, I think we all agreed that we wanted these new launches to have autonomy. They really needed to run on high concept. If we were going to do a “Ghost Rider” or a “Moon Knight,” we have to give the creative teams free reign and let them do their “movie” as opposed to tying them to an event. In that sense, I think it was a combination of the fact that we wanted the first wave of titles to breathe and the fact that we wanted this second wave to stand on its own, so we were able to punt them back a little bit.
One of the things we’ve seen happen with All-New Marvel NOW! is that it’s very different from the original Marvel NOW! in terms of creators being tapped to take up books. With the first wave, there was a shuffling of the deck of some of Marvel’s biggest names and in particular a lot best-selling artists who did the launch arcs but in some cases have become less involved since then. Were there lessons learned about what kind of talent best fit this model over the first year?
Alonso: In all honesty, the goal and the plan for Marvel NOW! and All-New Marvel NOW! was very different. Marvel NOW! was about playing a game of musical chairs with some of the talent on our core titles. It was writers who had been working on books for years taking on the challenge of taking over new franchises. Peripheral to that were some smaller titles that could take advantage of that, and then of course there were books like “Daredevil” which were not a part of it because they were already underway, and it would have been false advertising to label them as part of the relaunch. So the overall goal was to shake up the line, and it involved a lot of familiar faces with the addition of a few new faces.
But All-New Marvel NOW! is of course very different. The goal of that initiative was first to challenge the people already working on Wave 1 books to come up with an exciting and accessible story for new readers to jump onto if they’d missed previous issues and then second to broaden the line to find new ways to launch new titles new fans and retailers who we think have come to trust the branding. This is very different because what you’re seeing in All-New Marvel NOW! is the bedrock of the line — from “Avengers” to “X-Men” — taking advantage of this opportunity to find new readers and just up their game alongside the addition of some new titles that we’re very excited about like “Black Widow” or “Moon Knight” or “Ms. Marvel.” We think readers will be more excited for those series thanks to the success of the main line.
Looking back at that Wave 1 musical chairs experiment, what do you think were the most surprising or successful switches?
Alonso: I wouldn’t call this the biggest surprise, but I’d say the most pleasant surprise was how quickly Brian Michael Bendis took to the X-Men. I’d always suspected that the franchise would play to his strengths. He really enjoys writing young characters, and he’s very good at ground’s eye point of view character work. He’s great at ensemble dramas as well, though I guess when you’ve written “Avengers” as long as he did you would gain an appreciation for a book with a lot of characters. But I think Brian really took the ball and ran with it there, and the response from readers has been tremendous. The sales speak for themselves, and I think that the X-Men line has been revitalized by his arrival.
“Battle of the Atom” seemed like an event that merged the old school of the X-Men and the new since Brian wrote so much of it but Jason Aaron broke a lot of the initial story pitch after years in the X-Men world. I’m not sure if you were in the room for a lot of that discussion, but did you get a sense for how Jason’s take on the characters informed Bendis’ work?
Alonso: I wouldn’t know. Jason and Brian were co-writers of “AvX” in a big way — the two guys representing the “A” and the “X” of the series at the time. We had the larger group at the summits, but when it got to the nitty gritty of doing the outlines it was Jason, Brian, myself and X-Men Group Editor Nick Lowe who rolled up our sleeves. So this wasn’t their first rodeo together. What I know about “Battle of the Atom” is that Jason was the one who came up with the big idea, and then they played with it like a ball of silly putty.
The other event that wrapped its run in 2013 was “Age of Ultron,” which has a future ahead of it as a title alone in that Joss Whedon is using the name for his “Avengers” movie sequel. That was a big surprise for everyone in the audience. Did it surprise you as well?
Alonso: It did! They were paying attention to what we were doing, I guess. [Laughs]
In a weird way, I felt like “Age of Ultron” as an event long in the making was also the last event styled in the “Civil War” model where it pulled in a lot of the line and had a lot spinning out of it. Did you view that story as a chance to turn the page and start doing events a little differently with “Infinity” and “Inhumanity!”?
Alonso: If there was a page turned, I think the first page was turned when we did “Civil War” and saw the effectiveness of the tie-ins and how profound a status quo change could be achieved if you really took risk. You could set up a beloved character like Iron Man in a Machiavellian arc and have a meaningful role for him to land into afterwards. I think with “AvX” we learned that we could do big, macro, universe-spanning stories — in this case one that spanned not just the Avengers Universe but also the X-Men Universe — that utilized multiple writers and achieve a success. The change to me in “Age of Ultron” was that it was a story Brian had worked on a while before but left open a very flexible ending. We realized that the elasticity he was giving us allowed us to place it wherever we wanted to in order to get the ripple effects that we wanted at the end. So the big lesson learned there was “timing is everything.”
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!