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, the only thing any Marvel fan anywhere will be talking about is “The Avengers.” And so to help prep comic readers for the film, Axel digs into the way in which publishing has impacted the final form of Joss Whedon’s big screen epic from the original contributions of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to the impact of charcters from SHIELD like Hawkeye and the Scarlet Witch. Plus, Alonso teases the comic futures of the Avengers and the X-Men in the wake of the film and answers your questions on “AvX” and more. Read on!
CBR News: Axel, “The Avengers” is coming out this weekend – as if anyone in comics didn’t already know. I know Marvel staffers do a screening together for every one of the Marvel Studios films. What was the experience like this time out seeing something that’s the culmination of years of work on this?
Axel Alonso: It’s always exciting to see that Marvel logo up on the big screen, but this time it’s excited times 10. What we’re doing is unprecedented in movie history. We’ve taken four successful movie franchises – Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk – and fused them into one cinematic experience, creating a new universe for the movie-going public. Those of use who’ve been reading comics for years, we’re used to it, but for most people, this is all new. George Lucas presented a new universe to movie-goers with “Star Wars,” and built up that universe over five more films. Marvel Studios presented four distinct movies, suggested a shared universe between them, and then revealed that shared universe in one film.
That said, I actually had to leave the premiere halfway through because my son, Tito, 9, got a bad stomachache that, [of course], stopped the moment we were 2 blocks from home in our taxi. [Laughs] I promised to take him opening weekend.
You had a chance to read the screenplay in advance of the movie, and so you knew the tone Joss Whedon was bringing to this and all the twists and turns of the story. At the same time, I know there’s a huge difference that can happen between the script phase and the final creation in both comics and film. Are there things about the final movie that surprised you or felt different
Alonso: Yeah. When you’re editing a comic book script, you can’t help but form a mind’s eye picture of events that don’t always line up with what the artist draws. Ditto when you’re reading a screenplay. Directors, cinematographers and actors bring stuff to scenes that you can’t predict. Take Robert Downey, Jr., for instance – from what I’ve heard he largely improvises on his script. So, yeah, there were differences between my mind’s-eye picture of the script and the movie itself.
That said, I’m amazed how much of Joss’ script remained intact. Like the Black Widow introduction scene – one of my favorite scenes in the script – I prayed it wouldn’t lose something in translation to the screen. Well, it didn’t. Joss deconstructs the “James Bond intro.” I mean, wow.
One of the discussions that’s really been blowing up of late surrounding the movie has been Jack Kirby’s role as co-creator of the characters. I know you’re not able speak on the legal issues driving that conversation, but I wonder in a pure creative sense you guys looked to the original Lee/Kirby issues of “Avengers” when planning this movie? It seems like with Loki as the villain, that first story may have had an impact in this in the same way that “Captain America” #1 kind of guided the Cap movie.
Alonso: Well, the earliest works almost always cement into canon. There are details of Captain America’s origin that it would be sacrilege to mess with. The early source material is something we take very seriously in publishing, and I think it’s pretty clear from Marvel Studios’ track record that [Marvel Studios’ head] Kevin [Feige] and his crew do, as well. Their ability to cherry pick and blend the best material from decades of stories is why they’re drawing such a huge audience. They care about the source material, and they take the necessary steps to make sure it translates to a new audience decades later.
One of the big changes coming in this movie is that Ant-Man and the Wasp have been swapped out as foundational members for Hawkeye and the Black Widow. What drove that choice for the movie? Was it a matter of SHIELD being more central to the Marvel U and the Marvel films these days?
Alonso: First, let me say, there couldn’t be anyone more thrilled that SHIELD is such a major player in all of our movies. I’ve loved SHIELD and Nick Fury since I was a little boy that picked up dog-eared back issues of the Steranko series from a flea market in San Francisco. [Laughs] A global-spanning, quasi-military entity like SHIELD is the perfect device to bring the heroes together. I mean, the Avengers are a set of mismatched parts: a man out of time, a “god” with daddy issues, a billionaire playboy in an iron suit, a 98-lbs geek who turns into an engine of destruction when he gets upset, and two humans who’s unenviable task is to measure up to them – Black Widow and Hawkeye. All these characters are forced to form a team, to form a family. Who else but SHIELD could put them together?
That said, I’d guess that Hawkeye and the Black Widow were subbed in for Ant-Man and Wasp because they are human. They weren’t powered up by science; they aren’t from another world. They give you a ground’s eye view of the action.
Marvel Comics Editorial has a stronger hand in story planning for these Marvel Studios pictures than the average comic book movie. Was there anything that was central for you to see on screen with “The Avengers” that you were glad made it through?
Alonso: The extent of my input was to sit on a committee that was involved in discussions of the core truths of the characters – what’s baby and what’s bath water about each character? You know, the difference between Captain America’s pirate boots and his shield. We discussed what makes each character tick, and what people love about them. I’m pretty sure my take on Iron Man pretty much cemented that I’ll never be allowed to edit “Iron Man”! [Laughs] Hey, no regrets. I stand by my analysis. Tony Stark is NOT Peter Parker.
On the comics side, the long journey to this film has been matched with an ascent of “The Avengers” titles to the top of Marvel’s best-sellers. It’s been that way from “Avengers Disassembled” all the way through to “AvX” now. But Marvel also has to work to match the broad public interest in the movie with the core comic stories. We see that in a title like “Avengers Assemble” in a very direct way, but how much are you guys discussing how to prep movie people for the comic world moving into the next year – especially considering the fact that Brian Michael Bendis is leaving the franchise soon?
Alonso: We decided to do “Avengers Vs. X-Men” because we had a good story and what better year to tell it than the year everyone knows who they are. Coming out of this story, we’re aware that we have a terrific platform to elevate both franchises, and we’re taking that very seriously. I’m very excited about our plans for Avengers and for the X-Men after “AvX” concludes. This event will change the world in which these characters live and how they interact. We’re not rebooting – this is the continuation of the stories we’ve been telling for years – and I’m very excited about the spotlight we’ll have on those franchises and others post-“AvX.”
The other big event this weekend which is an unofficial tie-in for “The Avengers” is Free Comic Book Day since Diamond has always organized the event to tie-in with a big May superhero movie. This year, Marvel has two reprint books available – “Spider-Man Season One” and “Avengers” #12.1 – and I was wondering what the guiding principal was in putting these specific books out as opposed to some past years when you’ve done original one-shots/
Alonso: Quality and accessibility, at a time of year when people would be more aware of both of those franchises. We specifically picked those projects so someone who went into the store on Free Comic Book Day would find something that would inspire them to keep reading, to keep buying.
It’s as simple as that.
We’ll catch up with what went down on FCBD next week, but for now, let’s start fan questions with this one from Comicbookfan: “I wanted to know what the long term plans for the Season One original graphic novels is? Can we expect sequels, or an on going self contained story line to spring from these or are they just a one off type of thing?”
Alonso: More volumes/characters are in the works for 2013. There’s been some talk of Season Two, but we’re still in the early stages of watching the sales.
With recent talk of Jean Grey spreading around the web, Scents showed up to ask: “Since there is a lack of Jean Grey in 616 right now I was wondering about making Ultimate Jean Grey more prominent in the Ultimate Universe. She’s in a position right now where the road ahead is wide open and there are lots of possibilities. I hope you guys will give her that chance. Thank you.”
Alonso: Jean is currently “undercover” in the Twin Cities of Tian, but Brian Wood has some pretty huge stuff planned with her after “Divided We Fall.” Stay tuned.
Following up on another Marvel mainstay who’s been off to the side for a big, Prince Of Orphans asked: “Are there any upcoming plans for Ghost Rider in the works?”
Alonso: Nope. I love “Ghost Rider,” but right now the last series just wound to a close.
We had some questions from new folks this week, including Cozzy, who wanted to know: “Is there any particular reason why Beast is recently portrayed in his ape-like form instead of the feline-like one? I’ve noticed this in Secret Avengers at first, but now the trend seams to be spreading on other books.”
Alonso: Let’s ask X-Men Group Editor Nick Lowe. Nick?
Nick Lowe: There hasn’t been a change to Beast’s physicality, this comes down more to differing artists’ styles. Our friend Dr. Hank McCoy is still very feline in nature and you can see that in “Wolverine and the X-Men.” It is interesting that several artists in a certain Executive Editor’s books seem to downplay the feline aspects [cough, cough] but there hasn’t been a change.
On a similar front, ian23 logged on with this: “In the first New Avengers AVX tie-in we see the Avengers jumping out the helicarrier after a speech from Hulk. In AVX #2, we see Colossus attack the ship and everyone scatter with no speech from Hulk. Now I don’t have a continuity fetish. I’m more of a Grant Morrisson-style ‘build your own canon’ sort of guy. But small details like this kind of irritate me, especially as part of such a major event. Why does it happen? Shouldn’t the editor be keeping blocking out events to prevent it? Sorry to winge – loving Marvel at the moment.”
Alonso: Hey, it wouldn’t be a Marvel event without some kind of foul-up, Ian23! And with five writers and three pencilers, if that’s the worst thing that you’re able to find, we’ll be pretty happy. That said, the Red Hulk’s speech happens as the Avengers are assembling on the deck of the Helicarrier, as seen at the end of “AvX” #1 – they’re coming from within the ship to the deck-top. And I bet if you squint at it just right, you can make that last page shot of the Avengers leaping off the Helicarrier look more like the Avengers leaping off the Helicarrier because it’s been struck by Colossus.
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!