From here on out, Fridays on CBR mean Axel’s In Charge.
Welcome to MARVEL A-I-C: AXEL-IN-CHARGE, our new 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 new interactive features — and fans of TALK TO THE HAT, worry not! Tom Brevoort’s still around too!
This week, Axel kicks things off with an announcement concerning one of the most dedicated Marvel Editorial staffers, digs into his role in the reinvention of the Ultimate Comics line from the launch of Miles Morales to the cohesive trio of titles at its core, shares what’s next for the Fantastic Four under writer Jonathan Hickman and shares some details about the next step for Matt Fraction and Terry Dodson’s “Defenders” as well as new work from Alan Davis. Take some time to enjoy the ever-awesome Skottie Young’s art to the right, here, and then read on!
Kiel Phegley: Welcome, Axel! Now, there’s plenty to dig into in terms of your own outlook as E-i-C, but as I understand it, before we get into what you’ve been up to of late, there’s a bit of news regarding Marvel Editorial, no?
Axel Alonso: After 35 years of distinctive service, Senior Editor Ralph Macchio is retiring. Ralph’s a living legend who’s edited some of the most important titles we’ve ever published — from Frank Miller’s “Daredevil” to Walter Simonson’s “Thor” to the early Ultimate line to the Stephen King series. He’s also one of the world’s true gentlemen — and I mean that from the bottom of my heart — and a master impersonator whose “Tom Brevoort” has to be seen to be believed. While Ralph’s closing the door on his editing work, he’s opening the door to another — expect to see him back behind the writer’s desk, soon.
Congratulations, Ralph! I anticipate my issues of “X-Men Adventures” will accrue in value any minute now! But on to the conversation at hand…Axel, it’s been about eight months since you took over the E-i-C job. What’s that learning curve been like? Do you feel as though you have a better grasp on what you want to do with the job than when you first took on the position?
Alonso: Without a doubt. Eight months ago, I presided over my first Marvel Universe creative summit and laid out my arguments for doing the big event story that we are currently sculpting. Seeing the results is quite a load off. Just as important, I’ve gotten more comfortable with the one aspect of the job I was intimidated by: being a public figure. The massive reaction to the announcement of the new Ultimate Comics Spider-Man — Miles Morales — fast-tracked me on that one. It was a hectic week of TV and radio appearances, with everyone from Jon Stewart to Glen Beck to NBC Sports weighing in on the new, biracial Spider-Man. The fact that I’m so invested in that story helped me get over my on-camera jitters.
I was at the Ultimate panel at San Diego that you were on, and there were two things you said that really stood out to me as being very Editor-in-Chief-like. First of all, you continued the proud tradition of taking a good-natured shot at DC in public. [Alonso Laughs] But more importantly, you had said that the idea of keeping the Ultimate line very focused, limited in number and cohesive as a one story universe was something you made a priority. Starting there, what was it for you, knowing Miles was coming into “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man,” that made you feel the Ultimate line in particular needed to feel more like a whole?
Alonso: Ten years ago, “NuMarvel,” as we were called back then, unveiled the Ultimate line. The goal was to boldly re-imagine the Marvel Universe as a reflection of the 21st Century, and emerging writers like Brian Bendis and Mark Millar, guys who were at the cusp of superstardom, did just that. Brian and Mark challenged readers to look at characters they loved through new eyes — and each book wrote a book with its own distinct vibe and swagger.
That said, the sensibilities and aesthetic that drove both those books was very different. “Ultimate Spider-Man” was a brightly colored and somewhat optimistic book that featured a young protagonist who was easy to root for; “The Ultimates” displayed a much darker world view and was populated by the type of flawed anti-heroes that Mark [Millar] excels at writing. As I said, two very different books. Both excellent, but for different reasons. When you factor in Bendis and Bagley’s supernaturally prolific output — how many issues were they putting out a year, 18 to 20? — you can see why it was so hard to create a connection between the titles, to build a cohesive universe where the impact of one book could be felt in another like it is in the Marvel Universe.
That’s something we’re looking to change with the relaunch. We’re well aware that fans crave stories that “count,” for each reading experience to fit into a greater puzzle — if a bomb explodes in one title, fans want to see the mushroom cloud in another. Under our current game plan, we’re going to do just that. Three great writers — Bendis, Hickman and Spencer — are going to create one Ultimate Universe where the heroes fight for the same world. Each book will have a distinct voice and provide an independent reading experience, but the characters will clearly live in the same universe. A crossover between the titles [“Ultimate Comics Spider-Man,” “Ultimate Comics The Ultimates” and “Ultimate Comics X-Men”] is inevitable.
The Ultimate line has always been controlled in terms of the number of comics coming out. It’s never ballooned to ten or 12 titles. Marvel has certain lines like “Avengers” or “X-Men” that have plenty of titles on the racks. For you, what’s the barometer for how fast you expand and how big you let it get?
Alonso: We’re going to cap it at three monthly titles per month, plus complementary miniseries. We want readers to be able to purchase one universe each month for the price of three-plus titles per month, not 52. [Laughs] When something works, there’s a natural tendency to expand, expand and expand, but I think we’re going to exhibit self-control. This is an instance where I disagree with Gordon Gecko [from Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street”]: Greed is not good. Keeping the line tight and focused will benefit everyone.
You mention “NuMarvel” and the first years you came over to Marvel. You were known for so long — going back to your time at Vertigo, really — as being an editor who was a bit of a rule breaker and who shook things up with some left field content. When you were promoted, a lot of people wondered aloud whether your time as E-i-C would be marked by some similar shake-ups. Have you thought of this job in those terms at all? Have you looked at certain properties or characters as if to say, “What can we do with them that’s drastically different?”
Alonso: As I’ve said before, me coming in after Joe Q isn’t like a Democrat replacing a Republican in the White House. I came to Marvel the same time as Joe, and over the last decade, we fought a lot of wars, side by side. I’m not looking to right the ship, just steer it. That said, I do have goals as E-i-C, some of which are easily implemented, others that will require patience in the current market.
Coming in as E-i-C, I had two priorities. The first was to create an event for 2012 that would blow away existing fans, entice new readers to the stores, and pump money into retailer’s hands — we’re well underway on doing just that. The second was to shape the Ultimate Comics Universe into a cohesive line of true monthly titles that inspired the same sort of water-cooler talk as “The Death of Spider-Man” or the new Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Miles Morales — we’ve got the momentum to do just that.
With those plans cementing fast, it’s going to be easier for me to focus on smaller publishing initiatives, like the MAX line, and contemplate the changing role of the limited series in our publishing plan. We’re examining small successes like Peter Milligan’s “Five Ronin,” which re-imagined superheroes against the backdrop of the samurai epic, to see what they teach us. That series sold above expectations, one of the most heavily reordered comic series of its kind, but even more interesting, when it went digital, it was one of the higher performing new titles on the Marvel App. This tells us that there certainly is a life for these types of series — it’s up to us to market them and format them in order to get the most eyes on them.
Speaking of things that have been in the works for a while, after a week of teasers we’ve learned that the plan for the Fantastic Four under Jonathan Hickman’s guidance will be both a return of the original title with “Fantastic Four” #600 and a continuation of the “FF” series come November. This hits just on the heels of the actual 50th anniversary of “Fantastic Four” #1. What can you say about the dual titles for this milestone and how each book will earn its place on the stands?
Alonso: Between the scale of Jonathan’s plans and the stories he’s building to, and the way that the new “FF” series has been received by fans and retailers, we saw the opportunity to plus-up the franchise and give Jonathan an even larger canvas to design across. Plus, it’s the 50th anniversary both of “Fantastic Four” and of Marvel, and it didn’t seem right to have that milestone pass without a “Fantastic Four” book.
This sounds like it all originated with Hickman, but when you come up on a big event for the publisher — and 50 years of “Fantastic Four” is pretty big — what do you feel about your confidence going to the creators and saying, “You’re doing fine work, but we still need to change things here to make a big deal out of this” — whether its FF or another franchise, how do you approach that overarching control of the line?
Alonso: Make no mistake: We are in the business of selling books, and we listen carefully to what fans want. We are amply motivated to produce more “Fantastic Four” books for an audience that’s craving them! [Laughs] That said, we don’t move forward on something until we’ve got the story to do it. Trotting out a sister title that’s got no real reason to exist only cannibalizes your existing audience.
It’s the whole Aesop’s fable of the little boy whose hand gets stuck in the peanut jar. Take “Amazing Spider-Man,” for instance: Under Dan Slott’s steady hand, that series is a solid performer that ships twice a month. Could we try to milk out an extra issue per month, like we did when [editor] Steve Wacker utilized a three-writer rotation to create a weekly-shipping “Amazing Spider-Man”? Probably. But not without diluting the quality of the book.
Yeah, that’s very interesting. I suppose the thing that’s sticking with me is — even though it feels like this didn’t happen with FF — there are going to be times where you’re dealing with creators who are doing successful work on one level but that you’ll still need to shift or reassign or readjust because of bigger Marvel plans…
Alonso: Sure that happens. Any time we do a story that has universe-spanning ramifications, whether it’s an event book or a tie-in or a new launch, there’s a large amount of cross-communication that needs to be done. All of our writers understand that. It’s part and parcel of the “One Universe” thing. And sometimes, a writer gets to a point where he’s like a great starting pitcher who’s thrown eight shut-out innings and it’s time to get his arm ready for the next game. Most of our seasoned writers understand that, too. There’s no shame in that.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Friday Marvel column without questions from the CBR Message Boards, and we’ve got one this week that I think follows pretty well on what we were just discussing. ian33407 asked, “I have a question about the up-coming ‘Defenders’ book by Matt Fraction and the Dodsons. Having seen Axel Alonso on CBR TV, I’m very glad the whole crew involved seems to have really great expectations for this book, and I’m definitely glad with it.
In fact, what worries me already is when Matt Fraction will leave the title once he’d have done what he has to. I wanted to know if the concern for a ‘Defenders’ book goes so far that you already have a plan B, or something further already considered. I know it may sounds childish but we have sometimes the feeling that a book is launching based on the very names that are attached to it, and sometimes (sometimes) it falls apart once they left. All in all, I could have ask the same question about ‘Moon Knight.’ If the wonderful combo (to me at last) of BMB and Alex Maleev fails -or just simply goes to the goals they had fixed themselves — is there something already planned in the way like we, MK’fans, will have a consistent creative team that we think the character deserve?”
Alonso: Our goal is to make both “Defenders” a vital and permanent part of the Marvel publishing line, but its fate will really be in the hands of you readers. If “Defenders” does as well as we expect it will, and continues to perform at a high level, we’ll definitely be looking to line up the next great creative team when Matt and Terry — either separately or together — decide it’s time to move on. That said, if “Defenders” finds a healthy audience, I’d expect Matt and Terry to stick around for a while — there’s a lot of meat on the bone of the concept driving this relaunch, lots of cool stores to tell. This is not “Extra-Top Secret Avengers” — this is a team of heavy-hitters with a real reason for being and a fascinating through-line that’s certain to hook readers. Ditto for Brian and Alex’s “Moon Knight.” They’re crafting a great book that’s found a healthy audience; if we reach a point where they’re ready to move on, we’ll reevaluate then.
Sticking with Moon Knight, Prince Of Orphans wondered, “Are Marlene or Frenchie set to appear in Moon Knight’s series anytime soon? It seems they were put on the back burner without an explanation to make way for Captain Spiderine and i just wanted to know if there are future plans for them or not.”
Alonso: Brian [Bendis] and [series editor] Tom [Brevoort] made very specific choice to make a break with the past in the new “Moon Knight” series, Prince, which is why we moved Marc to a new coast, set him up with a new job and a new way of operating as Moon Knight, and gave him a new outlet for his…mental issues. We wanted readers to be able to come to the book and get into the series without feeling like they’d missed the first act. That said, Tom tells me you’ll see Marlene again before long — probably around issue #8.
Finally, Colduo is looking for some news on a favorite Marvel creator. “I have just picked up the Killraven mini series that Alan Davis did a few years back and thoroughly enjoyed it, great story. It reminded me of how much I enjoy his work and the fantastic talent he is. Are there any plans for Alan to have him write and draw another mini-series? Anything would be great especially anything with Captain Britain or Clandestine?”
Alonso: I’ll turn this one over to the dulcet tones of Tom Brevoort. I’ve gotta get my hair done.
Tom Brevoort: It’s a good time to be an Alan Davis fan, Colduo! Not only has Alan illustrated “X-Men: Schism” #4, the climactic issue of that mutant-dividing series, not only will he be joining Ed Brubaker for a storyline in “Captain America” in a few short months, but Alan has also written and illustrated a trio of connected Annuals that will be hitting the stands in January and February! They feature, respectively, the FF, Daredevil and Wolverine, and while each one can be read individually, they also connect to one another to form a larger mosaic. And Alan’s ClanDestine characters play a major role in all three stories, which together serve to reveal one of the most long-wondered secrets in the Clan’s recorded history: what became of Vincent?
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!