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 Comics’ Editorial department earlier last 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, our ongoing all-star guest run continues as “Avengers Vs. X-Men” writer Matt Fraction joins the action. Below, Alonso and the writer discuss Fraction’s origins at Marvel in the wake of “Civil War,” his return to the world of the Immortal Iron Fist, the origins of his new “Defenders” series and new parts of the “Avengers Vs. X-Men” puzzle including how Hope Summers’ role was foretold long ago. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Welcome, Matt! As with a lot of these “AvX” conversations, there’s a lot of ground to cover both in terms of story and in terms of your shared history. Unlike some of the other guys on the writing team, Matt is one of the talents Axel initially brought in to Marvel. Axel, what do you recall about why you went after Matt, and Matt, what was your response to being brought in? Had you considered getting into Marvel at that point?
Alonso: I knew who Matt was because of “Last of the Independents,” a nifty one-shot he did with Kieron Dwyer. I loved it. The only problem with that story was that it ended — and I told Matt as much. The thing was, I was having a hard time figuring out how to cast him. From our few conversations, I saw we had a lot of similar taste in cinema, novels, comics and what have you, but I had no idea what his… proficiency with spandex was. [Laughter] Then “Civil War’ came along, and I decided to launch a new “Punisher” title — dead set in the Marvel Universe — out of it. I told Matt he was my guy, and said, “Look, I’m going with you, and I don’t have a backup plan, so don’t @#$% up.” [Laughter]
Matt Fraction: It was the most amazing green light of all time. When I was breaking in and would get stuff published or get work produced, I would always make sure to take it to conventions and give it to editors whose work I liked. And Axel edited kind of every comic I loved in the ’90s. It’s all been downhill since then, of course.
Alonso: [Laughs] No doubt!
Fraction: But that was one of those signs at the time that the Joe Quesada era of Marvel was going to be different. Just the fact that they brought you over said, “Hey! It’s that guy who did all the books you loved.” Clearly things were changing. Anyway, I always made sure to give people like Axel my stuff, and I’d been pitching ever since then, but I had a very satisfying day job, so if a pitch didn’t work, I’d be able to do something else and be happy doing it. We’d dance around stuff, and I think I did one X-Men short story. I was just in the process of pitching and waiting and pitching and waiting. I wrote a bunch of stuff that never saw the light of day, but I was getting a lot better at pitching, at how to talk to editors, at clarifying my ideas. And then, he suddenly calls and says, “Don’t fuck this up.” [Laughs]
I think you gave me Ed [Brubaker’s] number — we were sort of convention friendly and Internet friendly — and he and I talked about writing comics the Marvel way, for lack of a better word, and making the transition from indie world to Marvel world. Ed was a big help in getting my act together on those first issues of “Punisher.” But pages from that first “War Journal” pitch made it into the first issue, and we really hit the ground running. I haven’t had to slow down or look back since.
Alonso: And it was a challenge, too. As I recall, you had to write script #3 before you wrote #2 because more information was available to us about the events in the story at that point.
Fraction: I believe I wrote #1, 4, 5, 3 then 2 as the order. [Laughter] #4 and 5 were stand-alones, and that was easier, but everything was based on where Mark [Millar] was at and when specific “Civil War” moments were falling. The one thing I remember with one scene in particular was that the cast kept changing. The dominos were falling in other books, and we had to keep up. The five people in this one room kept changing. It was like diving into the deep end of event comics and how they work. It wasn’t like there was anything malicious going on. Any time you’ve got an event of that scale and size, there are going to be pieces that are moving and constant recalibrations. But 1, 4, 5, 3, 2 was the order.
I remember seeing you at the Comic Book Club live show in New York, and you were talking about your first big interaction with the Marvel guys at a summit. Was that around the “Civil War” time where you were pretty green and sitting in a room full of the veterans?
Fraction: No, the “Civil War” one was way before my time. My first summit was the week of that Comic Book Club where they were planning “Secret Invasion” I believe. I was still very green, all the same. I had “War Journal” and Ed and I had “Iron Fist.” Maybe “The Order” had been cancelled at that point — It was the sort of situation where I’d had a lot of great training in my other job, which was in advertising. I knew how to communicate ideas and how to sit in a room and not completely lose my shit. I was not particularly out of my element once I got into the big room. It was nerve-wracking for sure, but it was a nerve-wracking I recognized. Somehow that made it better.
In what ways does it help your writing to get thrown in on either end? On the Punisher book, you ended up working with greats like Howard Chaykin. That has to be a lot of pressure but also a lot of payoff.
Fraction: But with the writing, you just try and write the books you want to read and do the best work you can on time. That’s kind of the miracle formula for success in comics. [Laughs] If not success, that’s the secret to continued employment in comics. And I love artists. I came from art school, I am obsessively doodling as we speak. I love talking to artists and learning how they think, so I always reinvent how I write for whom I’m writing for. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve only had one or two occasions where I didn’t know who was going to draw what I was writing. So when it came to working with someone like Howard — who is literally one of the great artistic influences in my life, and I was honored as a fan to work with him –Â I could go chapter and verse with Howard Chaykin’s work with anybody alive. I felt like, “I know how to write for this dude. I know Howard’s work better than Howard does at this point.” And from there, it was just a matter of writing the Howard Chaykin book you’d want to see or the Ariel Olivetti book you’d want to see or whomever. I’ve been very lucky.
Let’s talk about Iron Fist. Not only did the “Immortal Iron Fist” book come right on the heels of all this stuff we’re talking about, but it’s also a character who you’ll be returning to in the pages of “Avengers Vs. X-Men.” While Danny has been in “New Avengers” the past few years, I get the feeling talking to folks that everyone at Marvel has been looking for a way to keep him even higher in the action? Is that something you share?
Fraction: This question is probably better for Axel because my philosophy was that Iron Fist was sort of like an ex-girlfriend. I wished him well and wished him luck, but our dance was done. But now here he is, and I’m glad he’s back. I’m not quite remembering how that came about. Was it you and Jason [Aaron], Axel?
Alonso: Yeah. Iron Fist became a part of the story because it happened organically. As I recall, we were workshopping “AvX” in the broadest strokes when Jason suggested a link to K’un-L’un and its mythology. And you don’t go to K’un-L’un without involving Iron Fist. That’s how Iron Fist got into the mix. Since Matt and Ed [Brubaker] were two of the architects of “AvX,” and they’d spearheaded “Immortal Iron Fist,” they got deeply involved with that aspect of the story. I loves me some Iron Fist! “Marvel Premiere” #15 is, to this day, one of my top five comic books — a perfect comic. You know what I’m talking about, Matt. Robot ninjas with daggers that come out of their hand!
Fraction: And it’s all in the old midtown and Times Square from “Taxi Driver.” It’s kind of like the Travis Bickle section of New York. [Laughter]
Alonso: What Matt and Ed did with “Immortal Iron Fist” is a textbook example of how to revitalize a character who’s buried in our catalogs and turn him into something vital and viable. The fact that we’d even consider making Iron Fist a major player in “AvX” is predicated on the idea that he’s worth something, and that’s all because of “Immortal Iron Fist.”
What are the elements that you really wanted to tap into with “AvX” then, Matt? Were you there in the room at some point saying, “I want to go to the blue section of the Moon?”
Fraction: Not to put too fine a point on it, the Phoenix! I put a lot of my back into growing Hope as a character. I was very present in those early conversations figuring out what this little girl’s destiny was going to be — who she was and who she was going to become. And I became quite fond of her and what she represents. I have a daughter and we don’t have enough girl-heroes to go around. So the idea of being a part of telling this story where Hope and the Phoenix would encounter each other at long last? That was a huge payoff.
The Phoenix stuff, with the exception of being a red herring in one story arc, largely went untouched when I was on “Uncanny [X-Men].” I just used it to kind of foreshadow that this was coming, though at the time I didn’t know when or how it would play out. Even though the plans have changed, you can see foreshadowing for this back in the early #500s. In my first four or five issues of “Uncanny,” we were foreshadowing “Second Coming” and “AvX.” And then I left the book, but to be back and now be a part of it is like having my cake and eating it too. And there’s a bunch of other stuff. There’s another big location that the gang goes to that I don’t want to spoil, but in issue #7, I got to do a real big piece of the Marvel puzzle that I hadn’t had a chance to touch otherwise. The whole event has been a chance to play with all the toys at once in all these fun, new combinations.
Alonso: And don’t forget, Matt just wrote “Fear Itself,” starring the Avengers, as well as “Uncanny X-Men.” So he’s one of the few writers who’s worked on both sides of the battle lines. That said, Matt and Jason were the two writers most invested in Hope — who understood, out [of] the gate, who she is, what she means to the mutant race, and the mythology that surrounds her. And, Matt, you attended X-Men summits before Jason did, where we discussed the long road ahead for her. You knew where we’d started.
Fraction: And there’s something very unique about the opportunity to come back and say, “Well, we were thinking about doing it like this.” And a couple of the beats in the book came from those years of X-Men retreats after [Comic-Con International:] San Diego where the whole X-Office would hop on a train and go to LA, and then we’d have a day or two of X-Editorial meetings. That was where “Second Coming” came together and all that stuff. We’re still playing out beats from those meetings here because we’d all had them in our minds in some weird way. It allowed us to be really present when asking, “What is this story? Who is Hope, and where are we going with her?” It’s really nice to be a part of the gang finally telling that story.
Something we haven’t talked about much is that long simmering nature of the X-Men line the past few years. When you guys assembled to plot this series out, did you all immediately take out all your old notes from “Uncanny” or was it more of a pleasant surprise that this all worked out?
Fraction: Once it started, I don’t think it was ever articulated, but it just made sense. You’d get excited because these were ideas that at some point in your life you were mentally pregnant with anyway. And the opportunity too to sit down and have it not be one dude and Axel and Tom [Brevoort] and Nick [Lowe] but five dudes and Axel and Tom and Nick, that was like, “Oh, right!” It’s as close as I’ve ever gotten to working in television where you have the writer’s room. And hey, if Jason Aaron and Brian Bendis want to workshop my story, I’ll take those notes.
Alonso: Honestly, this event is a culmination of seven years’ worth of stories, stretching back to “House of M,” which was for all intents and purposes the first Marvel event done by the current editorial team, through “Messiah CompleX,” “Secret Invasion,” “Second Coming” — all of it. It really does feel like “AvX” emphatically wraps up those stories and provides a clean entry point into the next decade’s worth of stories. That’s not hype — that’s the truth. And the event is totally accessible to new readers. Take, for instance, Christopher Galanis, who is counting the days ’til issue #1 hits the stands. ‘Sup, Chris!?
Fraction: Realistically, it’s the bookend to almost a decade of stories. And with the plans for beyond, it’s just as revolutionary. It looks like we planned it! But I think between smartly leaving seeds for ourselves and keeping an eye on possibilities and leaving doors open, you can link these books together into one massive Marvel story. And I think “AvX” is a completely satisfying conclusion to all of it somehow. On top of looking amazing and having more gangbuster, over-the-top set pieces as humanly possible, there’s something to be said for a book where you’re getting pages from John Romita, Jr. and Olivier Coipel all at once, and it’s clear that they’re trying to outdo each other.
Moving into some of the monthly titles, I wanted to talk about “Defenders” because for so long when Axel and Tom both were doing the Friday column here, that was a book they’d said over and over again Marvel was waiting for the right pitch and the right team to do it. How did it come to be that Matt was the person to finally make that happen?
Fraction: It was Axel. I wasn’t a fan of the book when I was a kid. I had no particular nostalgic pull to it. It was a book I was familiar with, but it wasn’t one I grew up loving because you just can’t read every comic in the world when you’re a kid. So I was kind of mezzo/mezzo on it, but it was Axel who said, “Think of this as the book starring everybody that you would pitch anyway. It’s all the characters you’d want to write. Just put them together.” I’d had several conniption fits about Doctor Strange at Editorial retreats and the Surfer, and it all became clear. “Oh yeah, I do love these guys!” I loved writing Namor in “Uncanny” and quickly developed a fondness for Betty Banner as She-Hulk, and because of scenes in “Fear Itself” I started to realize I could maybe go back and do some Iron Fist again. So armed with that take on it and with Axel handing me the book in that fashion, it let me build and think and be free to turn the book into something that most of all I’d want to read.
Alonso: The main thing is, we knew “Defenders” couldn’t be “Avengers Lite.” There had to be a reason for them to exist. Matt found a way to take this quirky cast of powerful but oddball characters, for whom there’s a lot of affection, and give them a compelling mission statement. He found a way to link them to something larger. Their mission statement wasn’t redundant. “Aliens are ready to kill the world — looks like a job for the Defenders!” [Laughter]
Honestly, Matt’s at his best at the retreats when his butt isn’t in the seat. When he’s standing on it and gesticulating with his hands. [Laughter] I’m not kidding. That’s when he uncorks it and lets the ideas rip. Stuff hits the wall, and what sticks, you just go, “Wow.” So [SVP — Publishing] Tom [Brevoort] and I said, let’s have Matt take a swing at “Defenders.” And the moment Matt got his hands on it, he ran wild with it. He’s laying down stuff that will reverberate throughout the Marvel Universe for a long time.
Overall, has “AvX” kind of consumed a lot of the work you’re doing on a day to day basis? With the amount of issues and coordination to be done, has this event turned into its own full time job?
Fraction: It’s part of a full time job. Everybody’s got good internal communication to help the guys coming in next. I just turned in #7, but Brian’s writing #8, so he’s asking me where certain things will fall or how this will turn out. You’ll realize that “Wait, we had this thing in #4, but if we tweak it, these two dudes can do this.” It’s just a constant executional refinement. So it’s certainly like writing another book even if you’re not scripting it that month, but we’ve all got our spot in the hot seat when it’s time to do our own issue.
Alonso: We may be deeply immersed in “AvX” in our day-to-day, but our last retreat was actually to discuss the post-“AvX” Marvel Universe. I’m very excited about stuff that Matt’s writing in 2013 — none of which has been announced. As you close any story, let alone a story of this scope, you’re always opening a door for other stories. And the stories we’ve got coming out of “AvX” are significant.
Fraction: The last retreat had to be — well, I’ve never been to a retreat like that. It was one of the most invigorating experiences I’ve had at Marvel.
Alonso: You said it. I was ecstatic about the last retreat. There was just enough arguing to keep the process honest, but we landed on so many “oh $#!%t” moments. We justified the expense budget in the first hour.
It sounds like there’s going to be a bit of a shuffling of the deck after “AvX” wraps. Is that by design in terms of the desires of the staff, a byproduct of this event being a capper on the past ten years or a combination of both?
Alonso: Depends on what you mean by “shuffle.” All we’ve officially said is that “AvX” transforms the Marvel Universe. We haven’t said how. I don’t want to get too into the specifics of what’s planned or what’s coming — who’s writing what, who’s drawing what.
Fraction: I’ve heard that Brian Bendis is joining the X-Men — costume, powers, and all.
Alonso: I’ve heard the rumors. He’s being measured for his tights right now. [Laughs]
Fraction: We’re just going to make him “The X-Man.”
Alonso: That’s my nickname! Actually “Ax” or the super-creepy “Axe-Man.”
Moving on to fan questions for Matt, carloshll726 had a very specific question/request: “Will fans ever see Cyclops temporarily leave the X-Men and join Doctor Strange’s Defenders with a new version of his old blue & white X-Factor uniform?”
Fraction: [Laughs] It’s certainly not happening in the Defenders’ first year, but I love those costumes! They’re so great. But he’s got a pretty big slate of things coming up. “AvX” puts Cyclops maybe in a whole new costume. We’ll see.
Spidey616 is back to ask: “On the subject of Marvel films concepts appearing in the comics, I really liked seeing the JARVIS AI as part of Pepper Potts’ Rescue armor, but haven’t seen it in awhile. Have you pretty much dropped the JARVIS AI, or will it be popping up again?”
Fraction: We just haven’t had much Rescue time lately, but whenever she shows up, he’ll be there. Definitely JARVIS is not going away, nor is the Rescue suit, but it’s been so Tony-driven through “Fear Itself.” I think we had one JARVIS appearance there but no Rescue. She’ll be back in it soon enough, though. So JARVIS is still a part of it, including something where we see him be, perhaps, an unreliable witness for Pepper. That’s a very deliberate thread I’m not done with. What if your AI lied to you?
He continues with: “Kid Loki seems to be a character you enjoy writing and to have become a favorite of readers in both your ‘Thor’ title and ‘Journey Into Mystery.’ Curious though if you think we’ll be seeing the return of the classic adult Loki, or something similar to his film counterpart?”
Fraction: We had 49 years of the adult Loki, and as we’re approaching Thor’s 50th year, we’ve got something very special planned for Thor and Loki both. I think there’s value in giving everybody a character where — we never really understood why Thor would view Loki as evil anyway. He might as well be Absorbing Man as we saw him. We never got to see what they were like together or to see the brother that Thor loved. We never got to feel his heartbreak at the betrayal of who and what Loki became. So it’s exciting to play up the trickster a bit more rather than the malevolent, evil side of him. There are giant plans coming up for those two books and giant plans for Thor and Loki. We’re not quite to the announcement phase yet, but Kieron [Gillen] and I have been talking, and we’ve got very big plans for next summer and fall.
Finally, we’ve got CMBMOOL back again to ask: “Given that you were the writer that wrote Beast out of the team during your run… and now that you’re writing him again in this event, although he is away at space in the first act, will there be a final physical confrontation between him and Cyclops when he returns?”
Fraction: Keep reading. There’s a confrontation between EVERYBODY in “AvX,” but there are far more important concerns to deal with in the short term than their beef, but their beef is far from settled.
He follows with: “You’re currently writing Dr. Strange in ‘Defenders,’ will that title tie-into the ‘Avengers vs X-Men’ event?”
Fraction: It’s not going to explicitly impact “Defenders” because the book is so new that I think doing a crossover in the first year isn’t the big strategy, but I think most of the characters show up in “AvX” at some point in some fashion.
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!