Fridays on CBR mean Axel’s In Charge. Almost always.
This week, though, Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso is on a well-earned vacation, so CBR contacted the man who formerly inhabited the Friday afternoon slot on this site — Joe Quesada, Marvel’s chief creative officer and Alonso’s predecessor in the EiC chair.
As chief creative officer, Quesada’s involved in the many aspects of Marvel’s multifaceted operations, from live-action TV to animation to movies to comics to video games. Quesada discussed nearly all of the above in a wide-ranging chat, including the “Daredevil” Netflix series slated to debut in 2015, the soon-to-wrap first season of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and the recently announced “Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes” video game scheduled for release this fall.
The chat was so wide-ranging, in fact, that the second half — including copious comic book talk and his insight into the upcoming touring production “Marvel Universe LIVE!” — will be published Monday on CBR. Alonso will return next Friday for your regularly scheduled Axel-In-Charge, addressing the news of the week and answering questions from the CBR Community.
Albert Ching: Joe, by the nature of your position, you’ve got your hands in all of the creative sides at Marvel, but is there any one thing in particular that’s demanded most of your attention recently?
Joe Quesada: I think right now the focal point for me is the upcoming Netflix stuff. That’s really where a lot of my attention is being directed. It’s also a hard question to answer with any degree of accuracy because I’m always being pulled in a bunch of different directions. It’s always a matter of what day you’re asking.
The frustrating part of the nature of my job — in publishing, we worked with long lead times, but we could generally talk about stuff within a three months window. With the stuff that I work on now, we work with excruciatingly long lead times that are years out. It makes it very, very difficult for me to get out there publicly and start talking about things, or even hinting about things, because they are so far out and there are so many moving pieces. So these days my stance has to be a little quieter than usual — maybe that’s why people don’t quite know exactly where I am or what I’m doing, because it is all very covert. I’m like a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. unit that’s out there in the wind. [Laughs] Even here at Marvel, sometimes the staffers don’t know if I’m in New York or LA because I get called out last minute or I may be going out for stuff that’s of a sensitive nature. While it’s all amazingly exciting, for someone like me who loves to talk about all things Marvel, it’s the hardest part of my job not being able to talk about all the cool stuff in the pipeline.
With the Netflix shows, we know a little bit about it at this point — the list of shows, that “Daredevil” is the first one going into production, and that Drew Goddard is heading that series up as showrunner. Have you been working closely with the writers on that one? What’s your level of involvement with “Daredevil”?
Quesada: I’ve been working very, very closely with the entire team on all levels of the show. I think everybody knows my relationship with the character of Daredevil, and how important the character is to me — not just on an emotional front, but on a professional front. How DD brought me back here to Marvel, and how instrumental he was to even me being in this particular position I’m in today. I’m very involved with the show, as well as everything that we’re doing with the Netflix shows. I’m incredibly excited, plus the dark and gritty noir world of DD and the Netflix characters, it’s kind of where I live so it naturally attracts me to begin with.
It’s fair to say a lot of people weren’t satisfied with the last live-action “Daredevil.” How much is the goal to really get it right this time, and maybe erase some of the negative thoughts people had with the past live-action Daredevil?
Quesada: Let me be clear, we’re not going into this show with the idea of trying to erase the memory of anything that came before or really any preconceived notions whatsoever. We’re going into the show trying to create something that’s incredibly exciting, incredibly engaging, and will give our fans something that they love, something that’s unexpected, something that’s going to keep them coming back for more. That’s really, ultimately, the goal of this: How do we produce a “Daredevil” TV show on Netflix, that’s going to be viewed the way that people view content on Netflix, in a way that’s going to be compelling, feels unique, while bringing something that is not only true to the character, but providing something unexpected as well.
Right now Marvel has both a show on a traditional network, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” and multiple Netflix series in the works. What do you see from the creative side as some of the advantages of the Netflix format, and the “everything all at once” rollout that their shows get?
Quesada: One of the advantages is really from the planning stage — obviously it’s much easier to work with a smaller number of episodes than it is with a larger number of episodes. We can sit there and look at 13 episodes and plan it out as a very large movie. It makes seeing the bigger picture a little bit easier.
You can’t deny that there will be binge-viewing. You know that there are going to be some Marvel fans that when this show premieres, they are going to go on to Netflix, and they are going to sit there for 12 to 13-plus hours, and watch the entire thing all the way through. It’s going to happen. The Netflix model offers us the advantage of being able to construct the show in a manner that is very different than a weekly network TV show. Even the way that you parse out information and reveals within the show can be different than you would on weekly TV. With weekly TV, you sit there and go, “The audience may not want to wait two or three weeks to get this particular bit of information.” Whereas with Netflix, we might be able to hold onto a particular piece of information, because they may just watch it two hours later.
It’s a different kind of construction. The simplest way to put it in comic book terms is that it’s the difference between writing a monthly comic series as opposed to writing a graphic novel. You can tell the same story within the same page count in both formats, but you may parse out that information or construct your story differently because of how it’s going to be delivered and consumed.
We’re talking about comic book-based TV shows, which really exploded this past development cycle. There have been an unprecedented number of comic book-based shows from a variety of publishers in development — just this past Thursday came the news that The CW picked up “The Flash” and “iZombie,” and NBC picked up “Constantine.” Marvel has multiple shows in the works, and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on the air — as someone closely involved with comics and Hollywood, are you surprised at all to see this seemingly exponential increased interest from TV networks in comic-based material?
Quesada: No, not at all. It’s something that I predicted and hoped would happen a long time ago, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that this is where we are today. As I said many, many years ago when I used to do these columns for you guys on Fridays, it’s just a matter of the rest of the world catching up to realizing just how cool the material that’s being produced in comics has been for decades now.
And a lot of that has to do with so many amazing writers and directors who were weaned on comics, saying, “You know what? I want to work in this world. I want to produce these shows. I want to work with these characters.” They know how great the material is. And guess what, they’ve proven to be amazingly popular, and they make money on a worldwide basis– when they’re done well, of course. So, yeah. It doesn’t surprise me at all.
Ever since 2000 and the “X-Men” movie taking off and creating a wave that we’re still riding of comic book-based movies having major success, people have wondered, is there a ceiling for this? Is there a burnout point? It seems there definitely hasn’t been yet. TV is a different world, though. Do you see there being as much room for comic book-based television shows to thrive as much as there has been in movies?
Quesada: I think there’s tons of room. It’s all a matter of variety. By the way, you bring up the “X-Men” movie — I would say it happened before this. I think that “Blade” was the real eye-opener for a lot of people, because “Blade” was a comic book-based movie that did incredibly well, but it was a movie that did incredibly well based on a character that wasn’t all that popular or remotely iconic. What he was was a great character who was perfect for reinterpretation. I think people looked at that and said, “Wow, there is stuff to be mined here.” Imagine you take a character like this, who wasn’t immensely popular, but you did a little bit of a twist here and there, and it worked for the big screen. What happens when you take something that’s already immensely popular and iconic?
I just think it’s a matter of approach, making sure that the material is great. Our fans view them as comic book-based movies, but I think a lot of people in the general public don’t necessarily view them as, “I’m going to the next big comic book movie.” They look at them as, “I’m going to the next big action-adventure summer blockbuster.”
This is something I’ve been hearing now for over 10-plus years. “When is the wave going to die? When are people going to say, ‘I’m sick of comic book movies’?” You know what? I’m sick of people saying that. Because it’s enough already. We’re always looking for the other shoe to drop. Everybody who is in our industry, everybody who loves what we do, from the creative side to fandom, we’ve been here forever, and we keep coming back for more, as long as the books are good, as long as the stories are great, regardless of whether they are Marvel, DC, Image, Dynamite, superheroes, alternative, indie, corporate-owned, creator-owned, licensed, paper, digital — it doesn’t matter where they’re coming from. People just want great stories.
We’re not the western. I don’t think that’s going to happen. As long as people want action-adventure blockbuster movies, comic book movies will be here. If someday, the temperament of the world changes, and people decide, “You know what? All we want are small, indie, low-budget movies,” then yeah, maybe we’ll have a dry period for the big-budget comic book-style movie. But it won’t just be comic book movies that will be suffering, it will be everybody who does those big blockbuster kind of movies. I think the sky’s really the limit for us, as long as we as a collective industry continue to produce great material.
And let’s not forget that our industry produces smaller stories, too. It’s not all big muscles and giants robots and lizards. As far as I’m concerned the best creative minds on the planet are working in our industry and I keep seeing more and more brilliantly creative kids jumping on board — and not just at Marvel — and that bodes incredibly well for our future. So if there’s a ceiling, I certainly can’t see it.
If we’re talking about comic book-based TV shows, we have to talk about “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” which wraps its first season next week and really was something new for Marvel in a lot of ways.
Quesada: Yeah, and I think it was something unique for television as well — a TV show that played within a universe that was set up in a cinematic world, and that reflected that cinematic world. In that sense, it’s also a very, very unique television show, and a very unique way of constructing a television show. It’s very, very special in those regards, as well and I couldn’t be happier that today it was finally announced that we were renewed for a second season. Coulson lives, baby!
As a part of that process, what was it like putting that together, and then watching this first season unfold? At least in terms of people’s perceptions of it, it’s been something of a roller coaster — starting with huge ratings and a lot of excitement, then something of a backlash from a lot of critics and fans, and now it’s seemed to turn around and a lot of people are saying, “I changed my mind, I like it now!”
Quesada: That’s just the essence of making anything in the entertainment business. People are going to like what you do, they’re not going to like what you do — you put out the best product you can, and hope for the best. We knew exactly where the show was going, we knew exactly where it was going to end, we knew the events of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” — the actors didn’t know, but we internally did know exactly what was going to happen, and how it was going to all be flipped on its ear. It was just a matter of getting to that point. I’m glad that people are picking up on what the big picture was and how we were setting it up from the beginning. It’s going to be a fantastic season finale that’s going to turn things on its ear, again.
With what the show has been able to accomplish in its first season, is there anything you’re particularly proud of?
Quesada: I’m proud of everything about the show — the writing staff, the cast, the crew, everything we’ve been able to do to integrate into the Marvel Universe. Remember, it’s a very difficult assignment because the Cinematic Universe, like the comics universe, is constantly growing and changing and our show has to grow along with it and reflect those changes. But I’m also proud of how we’ve been able to keep the secrets, and keep everything about not just what was going to happen with “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” but the secrets of what was going to happen in “Cap: The Winter Soldier” out of the reach of prying eyes and noses. That could very easily have leaked out, and it never did. I’m very, very happy with the way that the show has turned out, the way the show is wrapping up, and more importantly what we’re setting up for season two which brings us right back to an earlier point in this interview. I’m bursting inside to talk about all the cool things that are coming up, all the changes and twists and turns, but now I have to sit here for the next several months biting through my lip.
Moving on to some other aspects of Marvel, at the “Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes” announcement last week, you described the game as another “evolutionary leap” for Marvel. From your perspective, what makes that game such a big deal for the company?
Quesada: First of all, I think it’s a great game. I really do. I think the game is so inviting to not just kids, but also to parents and adult fans. It is definitely going to be an immersive experience in which mom and dad can play with their daughter or son. It really is an all-encompassing thing. That’s a big part of it.
There’s the “Toy Box” feature in which you can get really creative with the game, which I think is really a great, great function. It allows you to have an interactivity with the Marvel Universe, which is always something that’s been very, very important to us, whether it’s been from the early days when Stan had his letters page, and the Soapbox, where there was a lot of fan interactivity, telling us how they felt about the universe, and what they wanted to see in the universe up to today where we still have that same relationship with our fans — this is just another extension of that. The characters of the Marvel Universe live in the real world, so any time we can get our fans to interact with them on any level, to me, is a perfect scenario. There are a lot of things about “Infinity” that are really, really attractive. It encompasses all age groups, a lot of playability in so many different ways and tons of creativity.
And also, the actual figures themselves are so darn cool that there’s a collectible aspect to them, as well. I used to be a gamer. I have to stay away from games because I need to keep my job. Yes, I have a problem, I’d rather not talk about it. So for me, I told the “Infinity” crew — “Hey, I’m just going to buy the figures, because they’re so darn cool.” If you were to visit my home office, I’ve got tons of Hot Toys Marvel collectibles, Randy Bowen statues, stuff like that. That’s my sort of comic book fetish. These toys are so cool that I’m going to be buying them just to put them on display along with the rest of my stuff. I think the “Infinity” team did a great job capturing the Marvel characters and even giving a sense of movement and attitude to the figures that makes them look like they’re going to spring to life.
Check back with CBR next Monday for the second part of our Q&A with Joe Quesada! Next Friday, Axel Alonso returns to AIC! Got questions for him? 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!