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 opens up on a subject near and dear to many fans hearts: expanding the scope of the Marvel U through new series. Using the Brian Michael Bendis and company’s “Age of Ultron” event as a starting point, the E-i-C explains what it will take for the magical and cosmic characters of Marvel to break out into their own series and how Editorial matches talent to idea with projects like the just-confirmed “Hunger” from Joshua Hale Fialkov and Leonard Kirk. Plus, the heart of Kieron Gillen’s “Iron Man” is explored. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: “Age of Ultron” #8 hit this week, and it had the super Bendis action touch of crashing not one but two Hellicarriers at the same time! As fun as that is, it got me thinking about the stakes in a story like this. With an alternate reality story, the assumption fans always make about things is that somehow a reset button will get pushed and everything will go back to normal. How do you keep the dramatic tension high when playing with this kind time travel/parallel universe conceit?
Axel Alonso: A reminder: “Age of Ultron” doesn’t take place in a parallel universe. It takes place in the Marvel Universe in the aftermath of a war that the bad guy won and chronicles our heroes’ struggle to survive the world, beat the villain and save whatever they can of the Marvel Universe. Will the entire Marvel Universe be restored to its former glory? Can it? That’s something you’ll learn at the end of the story.
Now, in regards to your question: Whenever you tell a story that involves something like time travel, it’s especially important that the stakes are understandable and real and the internal logic of the story holds water. You don’t want readers scratching their heads and saying, “I don’t get it.” The best time travel stories — from “Terminator” to the upcoming “X-Men: Battle of the Atom” event — have a very tangible impact on the present.
The other big twist from this week was the appearance of Morgan Le Fay and this full-on magical battle with superheroes and dragons and the whole nine yards. One of the most frequent questions we get on the boards are about the magic realm of the Marvel U from Doctor Strange on down and when that will break out into its own group of titles. What do you think Brian’s interest is in playing with those pieces of the Marvel U, and what are the odds of more magical books coming out?
Alonso: I can’t really speak to Brian’s interest in magic, but I can say that we’ve spent countless hours discussing magic in the Marvel Universe, we’re coming to a better understanding of its rules, and this might mean something big in our publishing plan very soon. Magic needs rules. When it’s used as a deus ex machina — the hero suddenly conjures a spell that saves the day: BAM! Problem solved — that’s very unsatisfying to the reader. It’s important that magic be governed by rules that the reader can understand or it’s just a lot of, well, hocus-pocus.
Fans often ask, “If you like character X so much, why not just make a series for them?” but I get the feeling it’s a tough balance between identifying a diamond in the rough and finding the right pitch and moment to launch a series. How does that process often work itself out for you?
Alonso: With the right high concept, or creative team, I think almost any character can anchor a limited series. Launching an ongoing is more of a challenge, of course, but I think most of the characters in our catalog have a swinger’s chance of sustaining a monthly. Sometimes it comes down to finding the right creative team, sometimes it’s nailing the high concept, and timing is always a big factor. Tying a series launch into a Universe-wide event gives it a nice springboard. We are constantly strategizing new launches, learning from our successes and our failures. We have a bunch more launches ahead that I’ll be talking about soon. People on this forum who’ve been asking “When are we going to see a book with so and so?” might be surprised.
Can you think of a time in the past that didn’t quite hit but you learned a lesson from it on how a particular character works?
Alonso: I’m reluctant to single out any series as a lesson learned because it could be interpreted as an indictment of the talent involved. What I can say is that, yeah, there have been plenty of great series that didn’t stick for reasons other than their month-to-month quality — series that just didn’t find the audience they needed to survive, and are still being mourned by loyal fans. Sometimes failure was a matter of timing: they get stranded in the publishing plan, get droned out by other big launches or events, or were just launched at a time when retailers were being cautious. We learn as much from those cancellations as we do from books that we’re not so surprised didn’t make it.
Swinging back to where we started, we learned this week that the mysterious “Age of Ultron” #10U.C is set to be a four-issue mini series called “Hunger” by Josh Fialkov and Leonard Kirk. People have been off theorizing whether this can be connected to Galactus, but in general terms, is this one of those series where you saw a story opportunity but had to find the right team to take the ball creatively and run with it?
Alonso: This harkens back to your first question. There are two big questions posed by “Age of Ultron”: Can the heroes restore the Marvel Universe — or at least part of it — back to its former glory? And what is the price of victory? “Age of Ultron” #10U.C is a big@$$ clue.
Fialkov has been picking up more work with Marvel, and this kind of sci-fi cosmic thing seems different than what you’ve tapped him for on either “Alpha” or “The Ultimates.” Was there something about the concept here he seemed a good fit for?
Alonso: Yeah. We thought this story was definitely in Josh’s wheelhouse, and what he’s turned in so far proves we were right. Luck favors the prepared, and Josh was especially prepared for this project. Look, the goal — always — is to pair writers with stories they’ll do well, and provide just enough guidance and non-arbitrary editing for them to thrive. Once, Josh knew the parameters of this story, he hit the ground running. Oh — and this is important — Josh he knew he could turn us down if it wasn’t in his wheelhouse. It’s not like other assignments wouldn’t come along.
The last thing to talk about this week is that this week saw the release of the first part of “Iron Man’s” secret origin of Tony Stark. Reading the issue I thought of “Iron Man 3” which may be partially because I just saw the movie, but it also had this thread of a very personal fear haunting Tony Stark. You’ve spoken before about Kieron selling his run on this pitch. What about his take on not only Tony’s origin but also breaking him down a bit made this a compelling story for you?
Alonso: This story adds a wrinkle to Stark’s origin that is profound and permanent — that affects him on a physical and spiritual level. The secret is deeply woven into his history. Kieron actually pitched the story as part of his overall plan for the series, and it’s a large part of the reason he’s writing this series. The only reason we waited this long to tell it is, well, strategic: We knew Iron Man was becoming a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy so we wanted to focus on that first. I’ve no doubt people will be debating this and discussing this for some time, and its rippled effects are imminent.
But do you feel that Iron Man — in the same way that Spider-Man always goes back to the ideas of power and responsibility — always goes back to this idea of Tony being damaged somehow. Isn’t that the overarching metaphor for the character?
Alonso: I don’t think you need to find new flaws in Tony; you just need to be aware of his existing flaws. Tony’s warts are part of his appeal. He’s fueled by hubris and he’s constantly on the verge of being undone by his vices, but his winning combo of brains and heart redeems him. Heart he’s embarrassed he possesses. Tony is the nothing like Peter Parker: he’s woken up in strange beds, ingested things he shouldn’t have — he’s lived! [Laughs] And when Tony walks into a room, he knows he’s the smartest guy in it. Well, unless Reed Richards or Hank Pym are there. [Laughs]
Looking at fan questions, TsaiMeLemoni was looking to the next Marvel event asking, “While we now know that the Thunderbolts will have at least one tie-in issue for Infinity, will they be appearing in any capacity in the core event? (I know you probably can’t/won’t answer, but I have to try!)”
Alonso: If I told you, TsaiMeLemoni, the T-Bolts would have to kill you.
And keeping with our Iron Man talk, shellhead85 wants to know, “Any plans to use War Machine? With Iron Man 3 out, it seems like we would be seeing more of him.”
Alonso: Rhodey just showed up in “Secret Avengers” this past issue, shellhead85.
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!
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