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, Axel welcomes special guest and head of Marvel TV Jeph Loeb! The writer behind series like “Ultimate X” and “Hulk” is here to talk about the creation of his latest series – the much discussed relaunch of “Nova” with artist Ed McGuinness. Below, Alonso and Loeb recall the long path from concept to Cosmic Universe anchor including facts about the comics relation to the “Ultimate Spider-Man” cartoon show that may surprise you. Plus, Axel teases new information on the incoming Marvel Free Comic Book Day issue that will lead to the publisher’s next big event and answers your fan questions. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Welcome, Jeph! To start at the beginning, the specifics of this new “Nova” title have been out there for a little while now, though I get the impression you were developing this long before Marvel NOW! Can each of you guys share your first memory of discussing this book and how that all snowballed to its final form?
Jeph Loeb: It was sort of a combination of two things. Once they knew that Abnett and Lanning were wrapping things up for the character and there was a desire to continue with these characters – including Guardians of the Galaxy – it became a similar situation to what we often see at Marvel. When there’s a project that becomes available, certain people get a chance to pitch. That’s what happened to me. It was a couple years ago now, even before “Ultimate Spider-Man” or my involvement with “Ultimate Spider-Man.” They knew Nova would be on the show, but that’s all they knew. He’d just been picked as a cast member.
Axel Alonso: Where to start? [Laughs] As you know, Kiel, there are lots of different subgenres of super hero comics. There’s straight superhero action (Spider-Man), science fiction (Iron Man), monsters (Hulk), magic (Dr. Strange), martial arts (Iron Fist), and, of course, space opera. Now, that last category has produced some classic stories, but a lot of today’s readers think these stories can be ignored because they don’t affect the Marvel Universe in the way that, say, Spider-Man, X-Men or Avengers do – in short, they don’t count. As a result, characters like Nova have got a rabidly loyal, but ultimately small, fan base. Our goal was to change that. We knew we had a goldmine of creative material in Nova, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Thanos. Our task was to find a way to mine that mythology – contributed to by so many writers and artists, most recently Dan and Andy – build on it, re-present it to the largest audience possible. Jeph started the ball rolling because, simply put, he had a plan – no, a vision – for Nova.
Loeb: So I went in to pitch, and they seemed to like it. I had to do a pitch document, and it went through the various editors. Tom Brevoort was enormously helpful. It kept being reshaped and reformed and we got it to a place where we felt pretty good about it. It then became a question of my schedule and Ed’s schedule of when we were going to be able to actually do it. Then things started to come together even before Marvel NOW! was final, so it seemed like everything was falling into place.
Along the way, the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie got announced and the importance of these characters was growing. Sam had now appeared in “Ultimate Spider-Man.” Though as I’ve said elsewhere, Sam on the show has been Nova for a while, but our story is the story of someone learning to be a hero. So it’s going to take a while before he becomes the Nova in the animated series.
Alonso: Jeph’s been crafting this story for a couple of years. It is anything but a first draft. To me, the title character, Sam, is Peter Parker crossed with Luke Skywalker. He’s a relatable kid with relatable problems that’s thrust into the center of a mind-boggling adventure he might not be ready for. And he’s got a very complicated relationship with his father. Jeph’s story is huge in scope, but it’s the small moments between characters that really makes the story sing. And it’s extremely respectful of what came before it. The Nova Corps you know existed; what you’ve read counts.
Well Jeph, what made you want to pitch on this character?
Loeb: I was a huge fan all the way through. The very basic idea of a young hero who was going to get the opportunity to go into outer space. That was really interesting to me and thrilling. “The Right Stuff” and the concept of men in space and how important that used to be…men like John Glenn, Scott Carpenter and Neil Armstrong were the celebrities of their day. And that was really interesting to me, how thrilling and how dangerous it is for a person to be out there in space. It’s amazing how the Avengers and the X-Men will go to the other end of the universe and it’s treated like, “Well, there’s danger out there. Let’s go after it!” [Laughs] I really like the idea of bringing a sense of wonder to that.
And that’s just the beginning. Particularly in Sam’s case, I was interested in the idea of the frustration of living in a small town and hoping that something was going to happen to you at some point in your life. That feeling like you’re never going to get anywhere beyond your own backyard. But what if you found out that your backyard was going to be the Marvel Universe? That’s a pretty cool place to start.
Alonso: Again: Peter Parker meets Luke Skywalker! [Laughs]
From some early art and notes I’ve seen from the series, you seem to be drawing an influence from not just the recent Marvel Cosmic books but some more classic space-faring stories. What kinds of books have you been looking to draw inspiration from?
Loeb:The easy answer is “Anything that has the word ‘Nova’ on it.” In the more immediate, there’s all the Abnett and Lanning stuff, which is super cool. But that doesn’t mean I don’t go all the way back to John Buscema. He and Stan Lee’s run on the first issues of “Silver Surfer” were enormously impactful just in terms of the look, the size and the scope of things. They’re thrilling, and the artwork is beautiful. Anytime I can bring John Buscema into a conversation with Ed, he gets out of his mind happy.
So what happens when Bendis walks into the room? You guys had been crafting this story and this character for a while it seems. How does having Brian decide to take on “Guardians” and Starlord impact what happened with Nova and the cosmic characters as a whole?
Loeb: From my point of view, the two books sit together. Brian knew what I was doing, and I don’t think he changed anything about his story along the way. There were a couple of moments where even though the books were being developed simultaneously, when we sent our first scripts to each other we found these really curious moments – which people will have to read to see – that were very close completely by coincidence. In terms of choices as storytellers, there were quintessential moments for Peter Quill as a boy that felt very much like Sam growing up. So Brian and I got on the phone together and said, “So should we change this? Because there are moments where we’re intersecting.” And then we just decided, “Neither one of us knew we were doing this. Maybe the Cosmic universe is speaking to us and saying, ‘This is how these stories need to be told.’ There may be some similarities that are super cool.” From there, it just took off.
Alonso: Jeph and Brian’s scripts do hit some similar notes, but the journey their characters take is very different. To answer your question, though: Having Jeph, Brian and Jason [Aaron], along with [artists] Ed [McGuiness}, Steve [McNiven] and Simone [Bianchi] on board for this creative initiative speaks volumes about our commitment to doing this right. Come summer, readers that missed “Nova,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Thanos Rising” will wish they hadn’t. Not only are these books rollicking and accessible adventures; together, they offer a prelude to where the Marvel Universe is going in 2013 and beyond. As the gap between Earth and space grows smaller and smaller, these characters will be real power-players.
Marvel’s early ads for 2013’s Free Comic Book Day offering have seemed very Cosmic in nature. Can we assume that that’s a place where the full picture will start to come together?
Alonso: I can’t tell you too much now, but I can say that in two weeks we’re going to reveal the cover and suddenly the light bulbs will go off around the CBR message boards. We’ve said how “Nova,” “Thanos Rising,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and Jonathan Hickman’s “Avengers” are all shaping the future of the Marvel Universe – this image will very specifically answer the question of “How?” Our FCBD issue features an all-new story that leads into a huge epic later in the year, along with a heavily demanded reprint of a character’s first solo story and a beautiful new cover by one of our top cover artists. This same cover will be on FCBD t-shirts this year so that gives you an idea of the scale and importance of what we’re bringing you this year.
Jeph, Axel has seemed to respond quite strongly to this opening arc as he’s told me in the past. What are the important grace notes you’re trying to hit just in this opening arc that are essential for making a new Marvel hero work?
Loeb: First of all, it’s really interesting to me that both Axel and Steve Wacker responded to the scripts so strongly, I think, because they’re both dads and they both have boys. There’s that kind of magic in the world that I certainly wanted to be able to work with. I wanted to tell a story about how a son sees his father and how a boy comes to terms with the responsibilities he owes his family. Those were very real things that I haven’t really covered as a writer.
Simultaneously, one of the things that’s really challenging and fun is that in all the years I’ve worked with Ed, we’ve tended to go with larger-than-life characters. It’s the Hulk or Cable or Superman. This was a kind of skinny kid! And Ed has gone in and from his magic box of tricks came up with some beautiful stuff to portray that. He’s also a dad, and I don’t know if people realize this, but most of the state of Maine is actually a ward of Ed McGuinness. [Laughter] But as a dad, I think he’s bringing something new in terms of the quiet moments in the story. It lets me stretch my writing muscles more in the way that people know me from the “Color” books and “Superman For All Seasons” with Tim Sale. Those quieter moments I’d write for Tim. And you couldn’t think of two artists less similar than Tim Sale and Ed McGuinness, but Ed is really bringing something spectacular to that part of it. And you know he’s got the stuff to then bring the giant face off that is to come.
Alonso: When I read Jeph’s first two scripts for “Nova,” it was like reading the script to…well…a really great movie. The story is sweeping, but accessible; action-packed, but poignant. You immediately know these characters and care about them. And yes, the father-son story is riveting. This is different from anything Jeph has written for Marvel. The story is very…personal.
To wrap up with a long view, we know that this first arc is just going to be getting to know Sam and his story. What can you say about how you guys are striking that balance between that idea and the promised long view of a bigger Marvel Universe story to come?
Alonso: We’re deploying all our creative resources to remind readers that our sandbox is called the Marvel Universe for a reason. The first stage is telling the individual stories. Who is Nova? Who are the Guardians? Who is Thanos? Our first priority is to answer those questions with these new series. The second stage is showing how these characters snap into the puzzle of the Marvel Universe – and you’ll be hearing more about that very soon. This is about expanding the Marvel Universe. As “Marvel Studios’ The Avengers” showed, the stakes have never been just Earth.
Loeb:We hope that readers will give all the books a chance. There are very passionate and loyal fans of both Nova and GOTG, and Brian and I have worked closely to bring that sense of wonder and magic that our heroes like Jim Starlin brought to these stories. The best thing that could happen is that fans and readers start to think about these characters not as part of a “Cosmic Universe,” but more as part of the Marvel Universe. If you’re a Spider-Man, Avengers, or X-Men reader, you’ll add these to your pile.
Digging into a few fan questions for the week, Spidey616 had a query that fits well with our discussion: “The upcoming Nova series as well as the Season 2 release of the Ultimate Spidey cartoon has me wondering if we’ll be seeing the latest incarnation of the White Tiger, Ava Ayala, in the comics again? What about the Victor Alvarez version of Power Man introduced by Fred Van Lente?”
Alonso: There are no current plans for Ava Ayala or Victor Alvarez, Spidey616, but it you’re looking for a Hispanic character to root for, there are always America Chavez – AKA Miss America — in “Young Avengers,” Julio Esteban Richter — AKA Rictor — in “X-Factor,” Roberto da Costa — AKA Sunspot — in “Avenger,” and Iara Dos Santos — AKA Sharkgirl – from “Wolverine and the X-Men,” and, of course, Miles Morales in “Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man.” Oh yeah, and last time I spoke with Dan Slott – hint-hint, nudge-nudge — he said he could easily see Spider-Man bumping shoulders with my favorite Mexican super heroes: The Zapata Brothers.
In what he labels “an important question about the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon,” carloshll726 asks: “Why does Ultimate Rhino look freakier than Ultimate Hulk? “
Loeb: The fun of animation and in particular Ultimate Spider-man is being able to bring these characters to life. When the Man of Action guys (Joe Kelly, Joe Casey, Steve Seagal and Duncan Rouleau) first pitch their take on Ultimate Rhino, the entire gang — Paul Dini, Joe Quesada, Steve Wacker, Cort Lane, Harrison Wilcox and Brian Michael Bendis — thought it was super cool. It spoke to the idea of “What if the Rhino were created TODAY and not back in the early days?” We then brought it to our Head of Animation Production Eric Radomski who is responsible for some of the most life-changing animated series like “Batman: The Animated Series” and “Spawn,” and this was his first take on the new look. We think it rocks and hope you do too when you catch it this Sunday at 11:00 AM on Disney XD!
Prince of Orphans had a pretty straightforward one: “The Monkey King. We haven’t heard from him since Fear Itself. Any upcoming news?”
Alonso: No plans that I know of.
Let’s wrap with Shingen who’s looking to expand the Marvel U in a way that’s a bit closer to home: “Axel, like me you come from the best state in the Union and the best coast on the continent. Are we going to get any more heroes based in California? The Marvel Universe moves a lot more and includes more places lately, but it still rotates around New York – and we all know California is the center of the world. Any chances of heroes setting up shop there?”
Alonso: With the X-Men’s move from San Francisco back to Westchester, the only super hero who’s taken up official residence out there right now is Moon Knight, whose home base is L.A. Sounds like we need more, Shingen. And as a born-and-bred Left Coaster – go 49ers! – I have a vested interest in making this happen. Over in the Ultimates universe, however, the second part of Sam Humphries’ “Reconstruction” arc features new twisted versions of some familiar characters: Introducing the West Coast Ultimates, a secret side-project of Nick Fury and Monica Chang that’s now come to bite them in the @$$.
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!