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, Marvel readers got their first peek at where the Marvel Universe is headed in the wake of “Avengers Vs. X-Men” as the publisher announced Marvel NOW! – a line-wide relaunch rolling out between October and February. With new titles, new #1s and new costumes for the iconic superheroes, fans may find some similarities with DC’s recent New 52 wave of comics. But below, Axel explains why this isn’t so in Marvel’s eyes from creative focus to shipping schedules. Plus, Alonso digs into the first three books announced as part of Marvel NOW! including Brian Bendis’ “All-New X-Men,” Jonathan Hickman’s “Avengers” and Rick Remender’s “Uncanny Avengers.” Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Axel, last week seemed a big one for Marvel. You finally got ready to announce the Marvel NOW relaunch that’s coming after “AvX,” and you had the core Marvel writers into the NYC offices for the latest retreat. Was this meeting a time to get together and hear the final plans from all the writers for October and beyond?
Axel Alonso: Yeah, that was the thrust of the summit. Each writer shared his plans for his title — or titles — so we could take a good hard look at the clay of the Marvel Universe post-“AvX” and start to mold it. It was an amazing meeting. There is not a weak link in the chain. The writers are very inspired by the opportunity ahead of them.
In the past, you’ve gone from an event to a rebranding on the titles. This seems much bigger than something like the Heroic Age launch but maybe still in the same wheelhouse. How has the size of Marvel NOW impacted how these books have been coming together?
Alonso: Marvel NOW! is different from anything we’ve done and the biggest initiative since the early days of “NuMarvel” when we reinvented the line employing the simple formula: great writer + great artist + great character + great hook = success. It is much, much bigger than “Heroic Age,” which was a banner treatment that didn’t promise anything close to the radical creative shifts we’re about to unveil.
Tell me about the origins of this move. Obviously, “AvX” was a story you guys shaped to shake things up. I know you’ve said this week, the new books started by asking writers for their dream pitches on various franchises, but at what point did that idea and the fact that Bendis was leaving Avengers, Brubaker leaving Cap, etc. really snowball into a line-wide relaunch?
Alonso: “AvX” is the perfect epilogue to stories that began with “House of M” and ended with the “AvX” prologue, “X-Sanction.” It capped eight years of stories and created the ideal launching pad for change, for us to shuffle the deck, creatively speaking. Since many of our writers have enjoyed long runs on core titles, they were very open to the idea of change and the challenge that comes with it. After a few weeks of back and forth, we had our game plan — and let me tell you, every single writer ended up with a title or two that they’re deeply invested in, paired with an artist they really want to collaborate with. I am personally excited by each and every one of these titles.
I have to ask: we all know that DC’s New 52 relaunch last year did very well for them. In any way, were you looking at them and saying, “We need to do something in response”? Are there ways their moves have shaped your strategy here?
Alonso: Well, one thing we did learn is that slapping a #1 on a bunch of cover sure gets you noticed! [Laughs] Look, DC does what it needs to do; we do what we need to do — and we’ve been building toward this for some time. Marvel NOW! hearkens back to 11 years ago, when “NuMarvel” employed the simple strategy of “Great writer, great artist, great character, great hook…GO!” Only this time, we’re embracing the #1 on the cover — and we’re determined that each issue is earns it — and we’re very conscious that these stories take place in one universe. We’re leaning into the concept of shared-universe; while each title tells an independent story, they’re part of a larger whole.
And a couple things I want to emphasize: Marvel NOW! starts with the creators, so don’t expect writer shake-ups across the line by the fourth or fifth issue, or half the titles to get cancelled and replaced by a new #1. We aren’t throwing $#!# at a wall, seeing what falls off and then replacing it with more $#!#. [Laughs] We’re building books we expect to last. Retailers that order them, and fans that read them, will be purchasing new ongoing titles, not limited series. Also, Marvel NOW! unfolds across four months, not one. Each week, we will be offering at least one new entry-point into the Marvel Universe for readers — old, lapsed and new. It’s a patient rollout that demonstrates respect for the fan and his wallet. [Laughs]
We’re still waiting to see which core titles will remain and which may fall to the wayside, but overall, do you anticipate that the size of Marvel’s line will grow, or overall do you think you’ll be putting out the same number of titles come March next year that you are now?
Alonso: I expect us to grow. I honestly can’t think of more than a couple titles that are going away, but I can think of a few new titles and at least one old title that gets a radically changed roster and new mission statement. Can’t wait to talk about that one! [Laughs] The line is expanding slightly, not contracting.
You’ve mentioned so many new creative teams on the titles. Can you think of any books that will be sticking with the current creators through the Marvel NOW process?
Alonso: The majority of core titles are involved in this shift, but there is one big title — and I won’t what it is — that will remain with the current creative team because their plans for the immediate future include a massive story hook that legitimizes it being a Marvel NOW! title, without the creative change.
Let’s talk about the pieces we know about coming in, starting with Brian Bendis on “All-New X-Men.” He’s been working with the Avengers for so long, what was it about his pitch on the X-Men that made you as a person invested in that franchise say, “Yes, this is what we want”?
Alonso: When we first entertained a story that would bring the Lee/Kirby X-Men into the present, Brian was the one who immediately latched onto it. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who reads Brian’s work because he has a special gift for writing compelling, nuanced stories featuring young characters that either come to terms with new powers or deal with strange new situations, or both. No one tells a better ground-level story that introduces readers to a world through a young person’s eyes — and that’s apparent from the first two scripts Brian’s already written — yep, already written! [Laughs] This is young Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman and Angel traveling into the future and seeing what happened to Xavier’s dream. And some of them will find out they didn’t even make it this far! [Laughs] Imagine you’re 17-year-old Jean Gray and you crash-land in the present. It’d be, like, “Why is everyone looking at me so strange…?”
And let me be very clear: Once the Lee & Kirby X-Men come into the present, they’re here for the long haul. They’re here for the foreseeable future, and that’s something they — and the rest of the Marvel Universe — will have to come to terms with.
Next up is Jonathan Hickman on “Avengers,” and I’m sure many fans are expecting a big, interconnected plan from the get go. But with that team being Marvel’s biggest franchise, what did Jonathan bring to the table that made you want to give that real estate over to such a big idea guy?
Alonso: Jonathan thinks as big as any writer who’s worked here, and that’s exactly what a book featuring “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” needs. Coming out of “AvX,” the Avengers will have learned some lessons that will prompt some big questions about who they are, how they’re composed, and what they’re here to do. Where-do-we-fit-into-the universe?-level questions. Add to that the departure of one prominent team member who’ll embark on an urgent mission elsewhere, and, well, they’ll be dealing with a lot.
Finally, Rick Remender coming on to “Uncanny Avengers” as a new piece on the board, and when I think of Rick’s work — maybe unfairly on my part — I think of how dark a lot of it can be. “Uncanny X-Force” is a very dark book, and even projects like “Frankencastle” have a very somber streak to them. How does he bring those facets of his writing to a big franchise title like this?
Alonso: Well, I don’t look at “Uncanny Avengers” as being a dark book at all. What it is, is a book that offers readers their first glimpse of the Marvel Universe post-AvX — of a team made of X-Men and Avengers that’s been put together to deal with a very specific threat, but ends up being so much more. What Rick brings to the table is his warped brain — and I mean that as a complement [Laughs] — and his uncanny ability to mine the relationships between characters. And John Cassaday’s credentials go without saying. His work on “Astonishing X-Men” with Joss Whedon is one for the time capsule. Few words have brought a bigger smile to my face than when John called me and said, “Hey, I read the pitch. I’m in.”
A couple more reasons why I think this book is big. First, a few years ago, we asked why a team that called itself “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” didn’t include Wolverine and Spider-Man. It was a seismic move that made the Avengers into Marvel’s top-selling franchise long before they appeared on the silver screen. I suspect that a team composed of X-Men and Avengers — or as Tom Brevoort puts it: “It’s cats and dogs TOGETHER!” — will have the same kind of impact.
Second, part of the success of “AvX” owes to the fact that the Avengers and the X-Men had an equal stake in the story and its outcome. The same will be true for “Uncanny Avengers,” which will be a compelling read for both Avengers fans and X-Men fans that, let’s face it, are not the same group. Go to any message board that’s discussing “AvX,” and see for yourself. They are loyal to their set. [Laughs] This book is kind of like a truce.
Finally, you’ve been using the “AvX” books as a test kitchen of sorts for things like the Marvel ReEvolution AR app and free digital downloads with purchase of a print comic. That’s going wide with Marvel NOW. Do you have some kind of metric on how often things like the AR app have been downloaded and used? Does it seem like this program is adding the value you wanted to?
Alonso: While we don’t share exact metrics, we can certainly classify this as a success and let you know that the download volume is a 6-figure number. It’s adding value by providing the additional insights we wanted into the books and driving further uptake of the series.
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!