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 earlier this year 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 have a special guest as Axel kicks off a special five-week run with all the writers of “Avengers Vs. X-Men” by welcoming “Wolverine & The X-Men” writer Jason Aaron! An acclaimed and award-winning comics scribe (not to mention a CBR columnist), Aaron’s rise to the top ranks of Marvel came over the past few years with a slow-boiling run on “Wolverine” and fan-favorite turn on “Ghost Rider,” and more recently, a major role in the fate of the X-Men with the event “Schism” and the subsequent “Wolverine & The X-Men.” With “AvX,” the writer has taken on the part of main X-Men writer for the series, breaking out the major beats for the 12-part event series with “Avengers” scribe Brian Michael Bendis, and this week, he joins Axel to talk about that collaboration, his history with Marvel and the man called Logan, his history as a comics fan, and much more. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Jason, welcome to A-i-C! Let’s start with your own start at Marvel, and I believe your first time working with Axel. Axel, you hired Jason on after reading his Vertigo work, right?
Axel Alonso: Yeah I did. I read “The Other Side” and loved it.
Jason Aaron: I think Axel likes to claim that he discovered me multiple times. [Alonso Laughs] I’m not sure how much I buy that. I did win the Marvel Talent Search contest, which was my first comic gig, and Axel says he helped get me that. But that may be just in retrospect.
Alonso: Revisionist history. [Laughs]
Aaron: Right. But then as soon as I started doing Vertigo books, I was sending my stuff to Axel. Even though I didn’t really know anything about the comic industry — I didn’t know anybody or how to pitch really — I did know that my driving force wasn’t just to write specific characters. I didn’t say “I really want to write Spider-Man” or “I really want to write Batman.” I looked at the industry and said, “I want to work with the editors whose stuff I really like.” I loved what Axel had done at Vertigo, and I loved the stuff he was doing at Marvel. I just knew I wanted to work with editors I thought I would be simpatico with, and so I pitched to him, and much to my surprise, he responded. The next thing I knew I was doing some “Wolverine” stuff and then “Ghost Rider” was the first big thing he offered me. So yeah, at the end of the day, I wouldn’t be at Marvel if it wasn’t for Axel.
Alonso: Well, for the record — no revisionist history — I did, in fact, vote for Jason, pushed him to the front of the stack on the Marvel Talent Search. Then I promptly forgot all about him, as he’s fond of reminding me. [Laughter] But to his credit, he hung in there and sent me “The Other Side” shortly after it came out. I flipped through it, started reading and kept reading — and that’s the true test. I kept reading, and I thought, “This guy’s really good.” Just talking about craft for a second, I loved his captions. Nothing reveals a writer’s ability to write prose like their captions, and his really flowed. I think the first thing we discussed was a “Wolverine” one-shot that you did with [Howard] Chaykin, correct, Jason?
Aaron: That’s right.
Alonso: And the rest is history. “Get Mystique,” “Ghost Rider”…
Axel, we’ve spoken in the past about how people have long associated your books with having an edge to them from the Vertigo crime comics on through “Punisher” and a lot of Marvel work. I get the feeling putting Jason on “Wolverine” fit very much in line with that style when you took over the X-Books. What was it about Jason’s work that made you want to make him a part of that specific corner of the Marvel U?
Alonso: When we first started talking, it became clear to me that Jason wasn’t one of those “alternative” guys who thinks they’re above superheroes. He had more than JUST superhero stories in his brain, of course, but he wasn’t a snob about spandex. He hit the local comic book store every Wednesday and had been reading comics for a long time and he didn’t really need an editor to hold his hand as far as continuity goes. “Wolverine” happened to be a title I was casting for and a character he liked, so we began with the story that became “Get Mystique.”
Aaron: Superhero comics were what got me reading comics in the first place. That was the gateway drug that got me addicted as a kid. I have to admit that growing up I was a much bigger DC guy. I started reading in the ’80s in the height of Wolfman and Perez on “New Teen Titans” and Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing.” That’s what got me hooked. “Atari Force,” “Blue Devil,” all that great 80s DC stuff, all plucked off spinner racks at my local drugstore. And then later in middle school I met the one other guy in the whole school who was into comics like I was, and he was a much bigger Marvel guy. He turned me on to “X-Men,” and I turned him on to “Teen Titans.” So I’ve been reading ever since then.
I went many years — all the way into my 30s — before I ever thought, “Hey, maybe I could make a living writing comics.” I knew I wanted to write, but comic books seemed like such a ridiculously hard industry to break into. But I’ve always been reading them. I wasn’t a guy who read for a while and then dropped out. I’ve had a pull list at one store or another for years and years now. And I have the long boxes stacked in my basement to prove it. But now at least I can say it’s my research library! [Laughter]
Alonso: I should try that!
Your first “Wolverine” arc was the four-part “Get Mystique,” which in a lot of ways sewed the seeds for what you’d be doing with the character full time over the next few years even though you weren’t the regular writer yet. Starting out with a one-shot, then an arc, then a series, how did you eventually come to the end of this run? Did things just wrap of their own accord, or did you really have a definitive note you wanted to put on the book?
Aaron: I never said “I’m going to get to this one story that will wrap up everything.” I always had other ideas, and things change and grow as you go along. But like you said, I’ve done one-shots and minis and two different ongoing series, so it’s been a lot of different Wolverine stuff. For me, the idea was always to mix it up from arc to arc, doing different tones and genres each time. That was my plan, and I probably could’ve just continued on doing that for a while longer, but things certainly changed when the idea for “Wolverine & The X-Men” came along. When that sprung out of “Schism” and I jumped at the chance to write it, we all kind of realized that I couldn’t go on writing “Wolverine” and “Wolverine & The X-Men” forever, so this seemed like a natural time to bow out of “Wolverine.” I still get to handle the character in the X-Men book, and take him in what I feel is an exciting new direction. So it was just the right time. I’ve been writing Wolverine for quite literally as long as I’ve been in comics. My very first story as a Talent Search winner was a Wolverine story. The first thing I did for Axel was a Wolverine story. And I’ve been doing it in some form or another the entire time since then. So it definitely feels weird to be moving away from that. But I quite honestly couldn’t be more excited about what I’ve got coming down the pike.
Axel, let’s you and I talk about Jason like he’s not in the room, but what were the defining characteristics you think he brought to that character and by extension the franchise?
Alonso: That’s a good question. Wolverine is a character that provides a lot of latitude to a writer. There’s more creative crawlspace in Logan than there is in, say, Peter Parker. Wolverine is a moral person who oftentimes does immoral things; whereas Spider-Man adheres to a strict moral code that he doesn’t break under any circumstance. And Wolverine’s been around the block over many decades, so he’s got so much history to cull from. As a result, I think writers are able to inject more of their personal passions into Wolverine. Jason’s wide-ranging influences — from Japanese cinema to schlocky Kung-Fu films to Spaghetti Westerns to Hemingway — all came into play in his stories. It wasn’t a surprise to me that Jason would like Wolverine. I think he likes him more than I do. I’m more a Cyclops guy. [Laughter]
Aaron: That’s the wrong answer to that question. You’re supposed to say it’s because I’m such a scary bad ass. [Laughter] One of the nicest things Axel’s ever said to me was when you told me how sometimes when you meet people, you size them up and wonder, “If it comes down to it, can I kick this guy’s ass?” And with me, you told me you weren’t sure, which made my day.
Alonso: No. I told you you’d WIN! [Laughs] And for the record, I ALWAYS do that, not just “sometimes.” I told Jason, “In a fight to the death, you and me, no holds barred, I think you’d win.” And he said, “No way.” And I said, “Are you kidding? That beard? Those tats? Forget it.” I’m still convinced Jason would kill me in a fight where anything is permissible.
The nice thing about the beard is that you can hide things in it.
Aaron: Brass knuckles, guns, a baseball bat…
Alonso: I’m not going down this road…
So let’s talk about “Schism” and how it informs “AvX.” As you just mentioned, each of you fell on a different side for who you were rooting for between Cyclops and Wolverine in the former story, and that mindset seems to have led to “AvX.” Jason is serving as “the X-Men guy” on the incoming event. What was it about how he handled “Schism” that set him up as the mutant’s advocate in this new battle?
Alonso: It wasn’t really planned. At the X-Men retreat where we first discussed “Schism” — the story itself and how it should be told — we quickly agreed that it should be one series, told by one writer, as opposed to a crossover between multiple titles. The story was just too…intimate. Jason quickly emerged as the writer. Just like that, he stepped into the broader world of the X-Men. And when we realized that “Schism” would divide the X-Men into two teams with two entirely different philosophies, we realized we were looking at two monthly titles: “Uncanny X-Men” and the book that became “Wolverine and the X-Men.” That’s the way it happened: Jason was just in position and ready to seize the opportunities that emerged.
Aaron: “Schism” is one of those things that shows the different ways you can get a gig when you’re writing comics and the different ways you have to pitch. I’ve done books with Axel like the “Black Panther: Secret Invasion” issues where he just came to me and said, “The Skrulls invade Wakanda. It’s “300,” starring the Black Panther. Do whatever you want with that.” Then with “Get Mystique,” he came to me and said “Let’s do a story where Wolverine’s chasing after Mystique.” Even with that first Wolverine one-shot we did, Axel had this idea for Wolverine trapped in a pit, being shot with a machine gun, and he gave me the challenge of figuring out “How does he get out?” Sometimes an editor comes to you with that kernel of an idea.
“Schism” was the same way. That was a story that had been talked about for a while at the X-Retreats, and there were a few ideas for some scenes floating around and a general theme, but it was out there for whoever wanted to grab it and run with it. I wrote up a pitch, and that’s how I got the gig. That’s just the way it goes. Sometimes it’s you bringing in an idea whole cloth and saying, “This is what I want to do,” and other times it’s an idea that a lot of people have a hand in generating.
We’re going to be talking to all the “AvX” writing team over the next few weeks, and one thing I’d like to get into with all of you is your perception or memory of breaking the story out at the creative summits over the past year. I know that there were some retreats in New York and one at Bendis’ house in Portland. What moment stands out to you as being significant turn in the writing of the event?
Aaron: Well, to me the highlight was the bacon maple Voodoo Donuts at Brian’s house. [Alonso Laughs] That was definitely memorable. In terms of story stuff, it feels like we’ve been talking about this for so long at so many retreats that it all blurs together. But in a good way. Because there are so many big and awesome moments in this story. There was one moment at the most recent retreat though where we nailed down one important part of the ending. It’s not the last beat of the story, but it’s one of the last ones that I think everybody really seized on and got excited about.
Alonso: The three-day Portland summit at Brian’s was a great bonding experience and the pivotal moment when “AVX” became real. Fueled by delicious donuts, we managed to put together a cool skeletal outline for the story. It was also where we were said, “Five fingers make a fist. We are more than the sum of our parts.” Every once in a while, when I was using a hokey sports analogy, Brian [Bendis] would say, “Can you explain it in ‘Star Wars’ terms?” [Laughs]
Aaron: That’s what I think is really cool about this event. All five guys have contributed to this. Everybody has thrown in ideas. This is not just one guy running the show and four other guys sitting around listening. It’s five very different, very independent writers all writing a story together, and you can look at it and see pieces from everybody.
Alonso: Brian and Jason functioned as the core Avengers and X-Men guys and put in the most work at the outline stage. Matt and Ed both had stints on “X-Men” so they had lots to say about the Phoenix Force and other X-Men-related matters, and Matt was extremely helpful when the subject was Iron Fist and Kun Lun. And Jonathan was the wild card, having not written Avengers or X-Men, but he brought lots of outside-the-box ideas to the story. This was an instance where the five writers all really brought something different to the table. Brian brought ideas AND donuts.
Aaron: And that’s the other cool part of this: you get to see Jonathan writing the Avengers and the X-Men in a big way. You get to see Brian writing the X-Men, which you haven’t seen before. Ed writing Wolverine, Matt writing Cap, me writing Iron Fist. We’re all doing things we’ve never done before, which is great.
As the longtime “Wolverine” writer, do you end up playing advocate for that character’s point of view in the story? Do you take his side and the mutant’s side while writing, or do those considerations fall away once you’re into it?
Aaron: I think there has been a lot of arguing the different perspectives. Since I’m probably a bigger X-Men guy, and Brian’s a bigger Avengers guy, we’d argue one point versus the other — “This guy looks like a bad guy here” or whatever. It was the same way with “Schism,” and I think that’s good. You find that both sides have credible arguments, and that’s exactly what we want. I think that’s exactly the sort of dynamic we have in “AvX.” It’s not a book where we come in making either the Avengers or the X-Men into mustache-twirling villains. The fans of either franchise can look at the story and feel that their guys are doing things the right way. That said, this story does ultimately go to some crazy places that I don’t think fans will be expecting.
Alonso: This is a long story with three HUGE acts, each of which ends with a game-changing moment. A character’s alliance — a reader’s alliance — might change in the course of the story. If you check out the message boards, you’ll see how X-Men fans and Avengers fans are already pledging their allegiance to their team. It’ll be interesting to see how many of them stay on their side of the battle lines.
One thing about this event — and I trust retailers realize this: “Avengers Vs. X-Men” is the first Marvel Universe event that X-Men fans can’t afford to sit out. The X-Men are equal players in this story and have an equal stake it its outcome — something they weren’t in “Civil War,” “Secret Invasion,” “Siege” or “Fear Itself.” With those events, X-Men fans could read the X-Men tie in and wait for the next X-Men event; with “AvX,” they CAN’T. “AvX” IS the X-Men story for six months — it determines their future. So this event is going to attract two audiences that don’t always overlap: fans that traditionally flock to big Marvel events AND X-Men fans that don’t. There’s some overlap, sure, but if you think they’re the same readers, check out the message boards. “AvX” is “Yankees versus Red Sox,” it’s “Lakers versus Celtics,” it’s — Brian, if you’re reading this — “Jedi versus Sith.” [Alonso Laughs]
Speaking of the X-Men’s influence on this story. After “Schism,” obviously, the X-Men have been divided — both on the issues there and on two sides of the country even. Is the return of the Phoenix something that can bring Cyclops and Wolverine back together some, or are they going to be cold to each other even as they have to fight on the same side?
Aaron: I would just say, don’t make assumptions about who will be where or how Logan will feel about the Phoenix Force. What you’re asking is a big question that will be answered pretty quickly in the series. But Logan’s role will also change and grow as things go forward.
And you’re writing some tie-in material in “Wolverine & The X-Men” where from the solicits it seems like we’ll get a focus on the position Wolverine is put in as an X-Man and an Avenger. After you and Brian had broken out the main book, how did you decide what moment to zero in on for that story in the monthly title?
Aaron: Even though this is a 12-issue series, just look at the sheer number of characters that will be involved. You’re not going to be able to give everybody their own time in the spotlight in the main book. The main book will focus on Cap, Cyclops, Wolverine and a few other main characters, but there’s going to be plenty of room for, say, Iceman somewhere else. With “Wolverine & The X-Men” there’s lots of connective tissue for me to play with. Wolverine is obviously in a unique position where he’s on the outs with Cyclops still, but which way is he going to go when this battle takes off? Certainly, that won’t be an easy position no matter what side he goes with. And just because he goes one way, what about the rest of the X-Men at the school? Will they go the same way? There’s a lot there, including some stuff that flows directly out of some of the new characters that have already been introduced in “Wolverine & The X-Men.” I don’t want people who are already reading “Wolverine & The X-Men” to feel like the book they’ve been reading has suddenly stopped and changed to something else for six months. I’m trying to make it all as organic as possible, and continue to grow and develop the characters and setting I’ve really just started introducing.
And with the AvX tie-ins, there really aren’t that many. They’re confined to just the main X-Men books and the main Avengers books. Everybody wanted good, meaty tie-ins, and I think they’ll get them.
You’re also writing “The Incredible Hulk” right now, and fans have been wondering what’s up with him appearing in some “AvX” teasers. I don’t know if you’re familiar with this phrase, but I was always under the impression that the Hulk wanted to be left alone. How does he play in here?
Aaron: In terms of “The Incredible Hulk” as a series, it will continue on with the same story. This is one big story I’m trying to tell of the battle between Hulk and Banner. In terms of Hulk in “AvX,” Axel would you like to handle this?
Alonso: Spoiler alert: Does anyone really think the Hulk could sit this one out? [Laughter]
Well, let’s see if the fans on the CBR Message Boards can get some more details out of you. wolvie616 starts things off asking: “Does Wolverine still have Possession of The Phoenix Gun from the fantastic Astonishing Wolverine and Spider-Man? If so, will it come into play during The 616’s Phoenix returning in AvX?”
Aaron: Hey, wolvie616. I believe the Phoenix Gun was last seen being used by Logan to blow up a talking planet at some point in the far future. It won’t be showing up in “AvX.” But you will start to see some other aspects of my “Astonishing” mini bleeding into my Wolverine work in the near future. Stay tuned.
You piqued manymade1’s interest early with the new ongoing series, and they asked: “Do you think you could give us some insight into the future arcs coming that we got a look at in the 1st issue?”
Aaron: I assume we’re talking about “Wolverine & the X-Men” here, yeah? And the two page splash of “Things To Come” at the end of issue #1. Let me just flip that open real quick and have a look. Hmmm, I see Kitty Pryde in some sort of serious medical trouble, a story that’s actually just kicked off in the recently released issue #5. I see some big scary alien guy with some Brood on leashes. We’ll learn that guy’s name and his surprising mission in issue #7, and it won’t bode well for one of our cast. I see a wheelchair. Wonder who’s supposed to be sitting in that? Read issue #8 for the answer. I see what looks like Frankenstein’s Monster. Wonder what business he could have with the X-Men? I see Cyclops, looking a bit angry. Maybe that’s because he’s just gotten his first look at the Jean Grey School, which happens in issue #10. I see a big fiery Phoenix bird. I think we know what’s going on there. And I see the Shi’ar Death Commandoes. Shi’ar + Phoenix = big big trouble. And dare I say, it only gets crazier after that?
Askani’s Flame followed up on one of the members of the Summers clan, asking: “Rachel Grey: I know it has been mentioned she’ll play a role in AvX, but as one of the longest wielders of the Phoenix Force will she play more than a background character during this huge event?”
Aaron: She’ll play a big role in the “Wolverine & The X-Men” tie-in issues, and yes, considering her past connection to the Phoenix Force, I would imagine she’ll have some pretty strong opinions on this whole ordeal.
Frodo-X was wondering: “In the past, you’d indicated that you had plans for Dr. Rot to return and plague Wolverine another day. Now that you’re done with his solo book, does that mean you’ve abandoned that plan, or can we expect him to show up some time in ‘Wolverine & The X-Men’?”
Aaron: Expect him to show up soon. That’s all I can say.
countryfan2004 wanted to know: “I noticed that Husk, in both Wolvie and Legacy, has been in charge of evacuating and protecting the students. What was your reasoning behind incorporating her as the protector of the children? Other than this, how do you see her role within the team and within the staff? When might we be seeing a storyline revolving around her?”
Aaron: We’ll be seeing more of Husk later this year. Something’s going on with her that she doesn’t wanna talk about. Her skin’s always peeling off, and her personality seems to change at the drop of a hat. Those can’t be good signs, can they?
red eyes was also one of a few folks who saw connections between “WATXM” and “Legacy” and asked: “I’m loving WATXM so far, but not all the school staff have been shown yet, in particular Gambit and Rogue. They’re always missing whenever the school is being attacked etc, any plans for the last two members of the senior staff to appear?”
Aaron: The cast I put together for the series was pretty huge from the get-go, so I’ve just never had room to focus on everyone who’s meant to be at the school. Rogue and Gambit will both have big roles elsewhere. That doesn’t mean though that they won’t pop up in “Wolverine & The X-Men” at some point.
Mikey Brown had two food for thought questions, starting with: “Which character in ‘WATXM’ do you think is most challenging to write and why?”
Aaron: Maybe Quentin Quire, just because of my love of Grant Morrison’s X-Men. I want to tell a story for Quentin that honors what Grant did with the character, but also starts to grow and develop Quentin and take somewhere he’s never gone before. Needless to say, there are big big plans for Mr. Quire. Assuming he can stay out of detention.
And he’ll wrap our talk with: “Finally, if you could pick any obscure character or franchise to revive and have a solo comic, who would it be and what artist would you chose?”
Aaron: Either me and Tony Moore doing “US-1” (Trucker comics. We could all use more trucker comics) or me and Jason Latour doing “Nth Man The Ultimate Ninja” (nuff said).
Thanks, Jason! And for everyone following along at home, next week we’ll have the one and only Brian Michael Bendis joining us for AXEL-IN-CHARGE, so head on over to the boards if you have any questions you’d like Mr. Avengers himself to look at!
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!