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 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, Axel welcomes writer Jason Aaron back to A-i-C. After participating in the melee that was “Avengers Vs. X-Men” as one of Marvel’s Architects, Aaron was the only writer to keep a hold one of his own Marvel ongoings with “Wolverine & The X-Men.” Since then, he’s also expanded into Marvel NOW! with a trio of thunder gods across time in “Thor: God of Thunder” and will soon be leading the charge into Marvel’s upcoming cosmic event with the origin series “Thanos Rising.” Below, the wrier shares his own origins with the Mad Titan and how he’ll build on Jim Starlin’s classic Thanos stories, explains his plans to bring back Dog Logan in “Wolverine & The X-Men” as one part of a series of ideas that could lead to “Origin 2” and reveals how his Thor story grew across time and pages in the telling. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Welcome back, Jason! I wanted to start this week with “Thanos Rising.” I feel like this series is one Marvel took the time to launch in a way and at a time that had the biggest impact on the rest of the line. From your point of view as you saw all the things building around the character, how did you get tapped for the gig, and what was your “in” to the story?
Jason Aaron: Obviously, there’s a lot of eyes on Thanos right now. Those two seconds at the end of “Avengers” put a spotlight on the character like never before. But this was something Axel had to kind of talk me into. I wasn’t sure if the timing was right for me or if I was the right writer to do it, but the more he told me about it and how he saw this story, the more excited I got until I realized it was something I had to do. I’ve been wanting to do a cosmic story for a while – really since I did those couple of issues of “Black Panther” which wasn’t really a cosmic story because it took place on earth but was a big war story with Wakandans fighting Skrulls. At the time, I thought it would be cool to do a big cosmic story that was like that – something dark and gritty. This series is definitely that. It’s some of the darkest, weirdest stuff I’ve written for Marvel. At times I look at the scripts and say, “Really? Are they letting me do this?” Because it’s not a superhero story, there are no good guys in this. Certainly, the good guys don’t win in the end. Spoiler alert! This is a story about a really bad dude, but it’s also a really grand tragedy. It’s sort of a Shakespearean, cosmic space opera where a lot of people get killed.
Axel Alonso: Like Jason said, “Thanos Rising” is a very Shakespearean story. For us, it was about distilling the source material – which is pretty darn intimidating – down to its essence. Once we had a handle on the core elements of Thanos’ journey, we knew this was a story that Jason was born to write. “Thanos Rising” is a tragic tale. It tells the origin of a villain who’ll make you quake in your boots, but you will feel sympathy for how he became who he is.
Explain to me what ideas you really wanted to pull from Thanos. I think so often when he’s shown up as a big bad, the character has been known for killing people with a smile on his face. Beyond that direct hook, what did you really want to define about him with this series?
Aaron: I think the main thing was to lay down his origin, which we’d never really seen soup-to-nuts before. Jim Starlin obviously did a lot with the character over the years, and his origin is there – much of it in pieces in several different stories. But there was never one story that laid it all out, so this is that story. This is Thanos from day one. The story opens with the day of his birth, and things quickly start to go wrong right from the get-go. This breaks down his family history – where he came from, who he is and why he became who he is today. It fills in a lot of the gaps that we’ve had over the years.
To me, that was the most exciting part – to tell the story of this guy. How did he become the monster we know? You’re right. We see him these days as he swoops in as a big powerful figure. He’s a cosmic conqueror and a mass murderer. How did he get started down that path? That’s the interesting question. Did he get born out of the womb like this? Did he start out as a monster? Did something happen along the way to turn him into this figure? If so, what? Who’s responsible? There are a lot of questions to answer along the way, and what I’m doing uses all that mythology that Starlin established, but some of it is used in a different sort of way.
Axel has talked a lot about the challenge being to make these cosmic characters more and more involved with earth and our superheroes. As an origin story, do you have to keep that at a distance for now? There are a lot of characters from his past we know from other stories – the Eternals for example. Will they factor in, or is most of the broader universe stuff being held off for Jonathan Hickman’s “Infinity” story on Free Comic Book Day?
Alonso: Our goal was to explain to anyone who’s never heard of Thanos who he is and why you should be scared s***less by him. [Laughter] Jason accomplishes that. “Thanos Rising” takes full measure of the source material. This is not a retcon or reboot of Thanos’ origin. This is Thanos’ origin boiled down to its essential core. Was it nature or nurture – or a little bit of both – that made him who he is?
Aaron: My objective going in was two-fold. For one, I wanted to create a story where if you saw the “Avengers” movie, and you walked out thinking “Who in the hell was that purple guy with the weird chin?” this is the book for you. You can pick it right up and get into it. You don’t need to now the history of the Eternals or Deviants or Marvel’s cosmic space opera. You can just pick this book up, and it will tell you who this guy is. On the other hand, if you’re a longtime fan of Marvel Cosmic and you’ve read the Starlin stuff and know Thanos from back in the ’70s, there are still pieces of that origin that get worked into this with some surprises along the way…even if you think you know how the story is going to go. This is a story that appeals to new readers and old time fans alike.
Simone Bianchi is drawing this book with what looks like a real eye on that dark tone you were talking about. What does he bring to the table as a collaborator that helps you get your vision of the story across?Aaron: I think he’s got that great combination where he can handle gorgeous otherworldly landscapes and amazing science fiction settings, but his work still has this grittiness and ugliness to it. And he loves designing wacked-out sci-fi costumes, so of course he gets to do plenty of that in this book.
On the other side of your Marvel work, we’ve got “Wolverine & The X-Men.” Whenever I’ve spoken to other writers in Marvel NOW! for this column, I’ve asked about how they came to take on their new title, but you’re in a unique spot continuing your story here. Why was this the book you couldn’t let go while everyone else was relaunching?
Aaron: We started talking about the Marvel NOW! even before “Wolverine & The X-Men” was coming out, but I already felt it was something special with the stuff Chris Bachalo and Nick Bradshaw were doing. And it was also the kind of book I’d been wanting to write for a while – something a little more light-hearted and fun. So I certainly didn’t want to lose that in the Marvel NOW! mix up even as I was a part of it. My stuff was in a different spot than a lot of the other guys in that I’d just come off “Wolverine” after working on that for a long time, and I was also coming off “Punisher MAX” while I was getting ready for “Hulk” and “Wolverine & The X-Men.” I jumped at the chance to get on board “Thor,” and between the two books I’m doing, it gives me a chance to stretch a lot of different creative muscles. I couldn’t be happier with how everything worked out for me.
Alonso: “Wolverine & The X-Men” was one of a few books that didn’t fit the criteria for a relaunch. “All-New X-Men,” “Uncanny X-Men,” “X-Men Legacy” and the “X-Force” were all titles that were naturally upended by the events in “Avengers Vs. X-Men,” but that wasn’t the case with Jason’s series.
We talked a while back about all the X-Men books needing to have their own mission statement and reason for being. How does “Wolverine & The X-Men” meet that goal? It seems to share a lot of characters with other series but also is set apart by tone. Was that what let it stand without any change-ups?
Alonso: The way the X-Universe transformed after “AvX” didn’t require us to fundamentally rethink the mission statement of “Wolverine and the X-Men.” With Logan returning the Jean Grey School, to more or less the same role, a Marvel NOW! relaunch would have been false advertising. There was no hostile takeover of the series. That said, if Wolverine had walked a different path after “AvX,” one that sent him away from the Jean Grey School, we’d probably be having a very different conversation now – and Jason might be writing the Power Pack MAX series he’s always angling for.
Look, it would’ve been easy for us to slap a #1 on the cover and screw with the chemistry and/or the creative team for a short spike in sales, but we’re playing the long game.
Aaron: And from a mandate standpoint, if you go back to “Schism” which was where Wolverine and Cyclops first started going their own ways, we got these two specific camps of X-Men there, and that’s all been exacerbated by “AvX.” As we’ve see Cyclops continue down his dark, troubled path, he becomes more like the Magneto of the equation. And it makes more sense for Wolverine to have the school in his camp. We need to lean into the idea of Wolverine as the new Professor X. So I think the reason and the mandate for “Wolverine & The X-Men” is stronger than it’s ever been.
Next up in this series is the return of Dog Logan, Wolverine’s brother from the “Origin” series. That’s a very serious threat to Wolverine’s life. Does that have to lead to a tonal shift of some sorts for the book?
Aaron: In my mind it doesn’t change anything, certainly not in terms of tone. Even though the book is light-hearted, it’s definitely not a kids book. There’s still the occasional issue where one of our characters gets shot in the head. It’s always been a book with real consequences – a book that can veer from being silly and fun to dark and serious. That’s not going to change. And certainly, I’m digging a lot into “Wolverine: Origin” during the second issue of this arc, which is gorgeously painted by Ramon Perez (with awesome colors by Laura Martin). It really looks at the whole “Origin” story from Dog’s perspective because he was kind of the forgotten man in that story. It really looks at him as a powerful, tragic figure.
And in terms of how this fits into what “Wolverine & The X-Men” has always been about, in my mind this book has always been about family. It’s about kids coming of age. It’s about parents coming of age. So certainly having Wolverine’s brother stumble into the middle of all of that ties into that theme. We’ve got a lot of warped family relationships among the characters in this book, so this is just another one to throw into the mix.
Axel, how do you view that original “Origin” series and how it’s impacted Wolverine long term since you’ve now worked as an editor on Wolverine for so long?
Alonso: “Origin” provided some answers to questions about Logan’s origin, but also asked new questions that opened doors to new stories. That said, the reason we haven’t announced an “Origin 2” in the past 12 years is that we won’t until we know we have THE story to warrant that title.
At my first editorial summit, one week after I was hired, one of the big questions we tackled there was, “Why can’t we tell Logan’s origin?” The operating logic was that we couldn’t, because, well, we shouldn’t. And so we asked, Why? And we didn’t have a good answer, apart from, well, we shouldn’t. Once we opened up the floor for hypothetical discussion, it was like dam broke and ideas flowed. And of course, shortly after that [writers] Paul [Jenkins], Joe [Quesada] and [then Marvel President] Bill [Jemas] and [artist] Andy [Kubert] made comics history.
Last on the plate is “Thor,” and the whole run to this point has led to the introduction of this villain Gorr. The pitch on this book was the story of three Thors through time, and that really led to this character’s origin. Now that we’ve reached that point, can you keep spinning the plates of balancing all three takes on our hero moving forward?
Aaron: That’s the plan. Certainly each arc in the book moving forward won’t have all three versions of Thor in it, but the idea is that as long as I’m on the series, I’ll go back and forth between these three versions. Every once in a while I’ll do a young Thor story or a King Thor story, but I like the idea of this first big arc of the book weaving together the three different eras in a story that was big and epic enough that it demanded the story take place over thousands of years. It’s the kind of stuff you can only do with a character like Thor given how long he’s been around.
But I like working with all three versions of that character, and as you can see from the first arc, we’ve now got two of them standing together. Going into the next arc, we’ll get to see a real Thor and Thor team-up.
So far, Esad Ribic has been able to draw a lot of this series and seems on tap for a lot of issues moving forward. I know that some of the double-shipping books have necessitated that the core artists do shorter arcs and have some bigger gaps in between. That doesn’t seem the case here. Are you working to having him do as much of this as possible?Alonso: Esad is the core artist. The schedule allowed for that, and he’s in the mix on “Thor: God of Thunder” for the foreseeable future. Oh, and he was was born to draw this book. [Laughs] And he loves working with Jason.
“Thor” more than some other Marvel books is really running with that “new pitch on its own” idea behind Marvel NOW! We’re seeing some of the other books getting ready to crossover with each other or hit events in some ways. With Thor in “Avengers” as well, what’s the long term plan for keeping this book in its own world versus folding it back into the line at some point?
Aaron: This is still really one big story going on right now. The first two arcs are one story. And initially my first pitch had this as one five-issue arc, and Axel was the first one to say, “I think you’ve got more than five issues of story there.” And he was right. There’s no way I could have done all this in five issues. That was crazy. [Laughs] So these two arcs are one story, and for that, Thor is kind of off in his own corner of the Marvel Universe. But right after that, yes, I think you can expect to see first Thor come back to earth in a very big way, and then around that time I believe there’s a Thor motion picture coming to theaters, so you can expect him to come back into the Marvel Universe in a big way around about then.
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!