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 Mark Waid to the proceedings for a look inside the growing contingent of Marvel titles under his pen. An industry vet with damn near any character you can name under his belt, Waid is currently working away at “Daredevil” with artist Chris Samnee and “Indestructible Hulk” with artist Walt Simonson (soon to welcome new ongoing penciler Matteo Scalera). But in addition to the blind swashbuckler and the newly S.H.I.E.L.D. affiliated Hulk, Waid will also be spinning a new tale of Hank “Ant-Man” Pym in July’s “Age of Ultron” #10A.I. — a follow up to Brian Bendis and company’s current apocalyptic event. Teaming with artist Andre Araujo, Waid will take Ultron’s creator from the wastelands of his evil android’s takeover to his new role in “Avengers A.I.” Below, the writer and Alonso discuss Waid’s award-winning run on “Daredevil,” the time-shattering future ahead of Hulk, the trick to getting Ant-Man right and much more. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Welcome, Mark! You’ve got so much Marvel stuff coming up in the months ahead, and it feels as though a lot of those projects are linking up in small story ways. Where do you feel you’re at with all your Marvel work? Do those connections just come out of the writing, or is there a larger plan you’re building to?
Mark Waid: I think it really did happen spontaneously, but as I got into it, I kind of liked this idea of building up my own little corner of the Marvel Universe over here that’s self-feeding but not separate or apart from the larger Universe. If I can have Daredevil and Hulk have more adventures together, if I can have Hank Pym swing in on both books from time to time to create some connective tissue, all the better. Marvel has been great about letting me play with the toys I’m most attracted to rather than trying to keep things out of my hands. That flexibility makes it a lot of fun, and it helps that little corner of the Marvel Universe — this super science corner — feel like a place.
Let’s look at each part of that world within a world in its own time. Axel, when Mark started up on “Daredevil,” you and I spoke a lot about how much you enjoyed his general approach, and you certainly weren’t alone. How do you view the challenge of keeping momentum going on a title like that as it gets into its second and third year of publication?
Axel Alonso:Â More than anything, you do your best to preserve what makes the book unique — you don’t mess with that formula.Â “Daredevil’s” unique flavor is telegraphed right from the start with Paolo [Rivera]’s bold, graphic covers that don’t look like anything else on the shelf, and Chris Samnee’s art style. Â So, let’s just say a “hot” artist suddenly becomes available to do an arc — but his art style represents a departure from what makes the book tick — do you pull the trigger? Â Likewise, while Mark has created a detailed and insular world for his characters, does it make sense to strive for an event tie-in? Â These are the types of questions you have to ask yourself.
Waid: The first answer to the question “How do you continue?” has a lot of night sweats involved. There’s a lot of panic because you get up to this level of expectation from fans and go, “Now that I’m up here, I’ve got to stay up here,” But Marvel has been incredibly supportive in every way. As Axel alluded to, it would have been very easy to mandate that we restart with a new #1 with the Marvel NOW! initiative. It’s something we discussed. But we all agreed that you don’t fix what ain’t broke. We did sort of rebrand with Marvel NOW! and did what felt like a first issue to me.
But it’s really a matter of keeping the consistency of the work where it is and not losing sight of what makes it work. Don’t fall into the temptation of wanting to do something drastic with the character just to create a “moment” without first thinking through how it works out down the road. Don’t write Daredevil out of the book uncharacteristically and create a new Daredevil simply as a marketing stunt. Don’t fall prey to those tricks that have worked sometimes in the past to goose sales. Well, I say that now, but interview me in a year when we’re debuting the all-new, all-deadly, all-sharp-edges-on-the-suit Daredevil who is an Asian woman. [Alonso Laughs] At that point we’ll have bowed to pressure, and we’ll have six #1s. But right now, this is where we are.
Alonso: Mark, maybe we should ditch our plans to make Batroc the Leaper into Daredevil next year. [Laughter]
Waid: Now more than ever! It’s the year of Batroc, man.
This week’s “Daredevil” #25 was a milestone for the book, introducing a new villain called Ikari who is influenced by DD’s past. Where early in the book, you focused on the swashbuckling elements of the character, is this a sign that we’re taking a turn towards the ninja elements that the book’s been famous for?
Waid: Matt needed a beatdown. Matt has had 24 fairly casualty-free issues, and he needed to be taken down a bit. That’s what happens with this issue. What we’ve done is given him an opponent who has all his powers and abilities — and then some. It’s not so much the ninja stuff as it is us needing somebody who’s the reverse Daredevil, if you will. We needed a player on the other side who could just smack him up and down. And Chris Samnee did all the heavy lifting on that extended fight sequence just from some notes and conversations. You like the fight? Credit Chris.
It’s interesting to me that you refer to your corner of Marvel as the super science corner, as that’s never been an area “Daredevil” dipped too much into. But the mystery villain behind everything here is playing with the toxic chemicals that made Matt who he is, in a very sci-fi way. In a broad sense, how do you each approach the task of making sci-fi work in this mash-up of pulp tropes, crime and adventure stories and fantasy archetypes that are superhero comics?
Waid: My answer is that I never start with the notion, “This couldn’t work in the real world.” That’s a very cynical way to look at the Marvel Universe. Instead, I say, “Let’s presume there’s a way to science this out that makes some sort of sense. How can we do that in a way that retains the suspension of disbelief and also adds a sense of fun and adventure to these books?” You use science the same way you use anything else — as a tool for storytelling. You don’t use it in a way that makes your heroes look absurdly banal.
Alonso: The best thing you can do is to avoid treating science like magic. It can’t be a Deus Ex Machina. If your science isn’t rooted in some semblance of logic, something the reader can wrap his mind around, then it’s going to be unsatisfying.
Waid: I think that gives it the verisimilitude it needs. You can do even the craziest thing in the Marvel Universe with science, so long as there’s a little bit of underpinning there. So long as you have Reed Richards or Hank Pym give one little sentence, even if it’s kind of baloney, it at least makes it feel more real. That’s the difference between the Marvel Universe and other universes. It still feels like the world outside your window…except Galactus shows up. [Laughter]
Let’s pivot to Hank Pym, since you mention him. He’s become a very unlikely supporting character in “Daredevil,” and now you’re writing him in this “Age of Ultron” #10A.I. one-shot. How do you each view the character? I feel as though there’s been so much baggage attached to him, through his personal life and with his creation of Ultron, that every few years, he gets sent through another redemption arc. It’s hard for writers to get a handle on who he is. How are you guys dealing with that?
Alonso: Hank is definitely a hornet’s nest — he’s done some bad things in his day, and he needs to own up to them. That said, he’s unequivocally one of the few superheroes that really brings my geek out — dating back to “Avengers #93.” Mark knows the one. [Laughter]
Waid: Issue 93!
Alonso: What differentiates what we’re about to do with Hank from what we’ve done in the past is that, creatively speaking, we’re “all in.” We’ve been planning this story for a while, and we’ve devoted our best talent to tell it. Just like with Marvel NOW! — or, more specific, “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Nova” — we have a clear plan for Ant-Man. He has a place in the Marvel Universe that we really believe in. Wouldn’t you agree, Mark?
Waid: Exactly. I think probably the place Hank has suffered over the decades is that in a world with Reed Richards and Tony Stark, it’s hard to find what makes Hank unique. We’ve rarely said, “This is what separates him from the other uber-geniuses of the Marvel U.” So when the idea of doing a Hank Pym one-shot in the aftermath of “Age of Ultron” was thrown on the table at a conference, I leapt on that like black on a bowling ball. I love that character and had a really clear vision in my head of what that character could be. If you take that Matt Murdock/Bruce Banner approach and go, “All right, we’re not going to deny what happened in the past, and we’re not going to screw with continuity to set him up. We’re going to give you a character who realizes he’s hit bottom and has to find a new way to face his challenges” — I find all of that a very heroic way to approach a life. I really do. To wake up one morning, look at your past and go, “Well that didn’t work. What do I have to do different to not be seen as a laughing stock or a monster?”
Alonso: Yeah. It’s someone owning his mistake. That’s what this is.
Waid: You can’t change time or rewrite history. You can’t do a mind wipe. You just need to put one foot in front of the other and go. It really came down to what made Hank different and unique. And I think — without revealing too much about what comes out of “Age of Ultron” — we really hit upon something here.
When “Age of Ultron” was announced, we had a lot of fans asking where Hank was in all the action, but I got the feeling that this wasn’t another story where Ultron comes back with a goal of getting back at his “father.” Hank for once sat on the sidelines while his creation did something terrible. Is that part of what your in to this story is — the idea that Hank had to watch what he wrought and it amps up how he feels about it?
Waid: Kind of. I mean, there’s only so many times you can cut to Hank Pym crying into his palms because he feels guilty about Ultron. We’ve seen that a million times. So here’s a better idea: how about he figures out how not to let this happen again? How about that, Hank? That’s more of the attitude that we’re taking here. It’s less the self-pitying, “Oh, what have I done?” Hank and more of, “All right, let’s stop this from being a problem from here on out.”
Another thing I realized that’s worked to Ant-Man’s detriment as I was writing this story — actually writer Tom Peyer pointed this out — has nothing to do with his history or past characterization. I think it has to do with the fact that tiny characters like Ant-Man or the Atom — characters who shrink to microscopic size — are guys who we love when we’re kids. We loved them back then because they saw the world the same way we did — full of big, giant adults roaming around and bossing us around. They were these huge, monolithic figures. But I think as you get older, and as our base audience gets older, as we’re selling books to teenagers and college students, there’s no longer that emotional, primal affection for the small characters. I don’t think a guy who starts reading Marvel Comics when he’s 15 gets why a super tiny character is relatable in the same way that a 6-year-old does.
Alonso: Absolutely. I think that as adult comic fans, we tend to treat Ant-Man with affection, but maybe not with respect. It’s this whole “size matters” thing. The very thing that made him cool to us as kids — he’s so damn tiny — is why, as adults, we relegate to B-list status. But if you think about it, a character like Hank — someone who’s able to operate on a subatomic level — is arguably one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe. And if you compare his intellect to that of Reed Richards or T’Challa or Tony Stark, it’s arguable he has an edge on all of them because he’s able to go much deeper into the connective tissue between all things. Maybe this gives him insight into the universe that no one else has.
Look, like I said, my affection for Ant-Man goes way back to that double-sized issue of “Avengers” that Neal Adams drew. Hank shrinks down and goes into the Vision’s body — “Fantastic Voyage”-style — navigating a hostile alien world to save the Vision’s life. I was blown away by that story because there was no other character in the Marvel Universe that could have done that job but Ant-Man. The challenge before us now is to tap the wonder of that moment and bring it to readers in 2013.
As we look at “Indestructible Hulk,” the connecting thread is that you’re writing another story of a super genius. What does it take to write a character who’s so much smarter than you?
Waid: I spend a lot of time on the internet. [Laughter] I’ve got to do a loooooot of homework. Even if I’m just focusing on one line of dialogue, sometimes I can spend an hour online trying to find the right scientific journal or the right citation that helps me make these characters speak in ways that make sense. But beyond that, there’s a commonality to super geniuses. And I’m the furthest thing from a genius you can find, just ask my family, butÂ I do feel the thing I have in common with all of them is a curiosity. It’s a desire to want to know what happens next and why and how. If you approach that idea from an emotional standpoint, then the rest of it is just window dressing. You’ve got to understand what makes a scientist tick.
The Hulk story that’s coming immediately in the wake of the current story drawn by Walt Simonson is a crossover between “Indestructible” and “Daredevil.” I’m not sure I can name one story where those two characters have teamed up that’s not some giant spread of 45 heroes in some event. What’s the draw or the in to getting these two personalities together in a logical way?
Waid: Well, there is a commonality. I think we’ve hinted at this, but the two of them have been in communcation for quite some time, and this two-parter is the next step in something big happening between the two series.
Alonso: Hulk will become Daredevil!
Waid: Aw, you blew it, Axel! [Laughter]
Speaking of “Age of Ultron” as we were a minute ago, the next big Hulk arc follows up on the event where the Hulk gets some crazy time-powered armor of sorts. What’s the deal there? If you’ve been playing with super science and “Age of Ultron” is a super science event, what did you draw from it to press on forward in this book?
Waid: Part of the aftermath of “Age of Ultron” is while Hulk is the strongest there is, the question is going to be whether he’s strong enough to hold all of the space-time continuum together.
Moving into fan questions, I wanted to start with Tekkaman Blade as he had a query that could have just as easily come from my own list. He asks, “Your run on Ka-Zar with Andy Kubert was awesome and is my favorite era featuring the Lord of the Savage Land. In ‘Urban Jungle’ you had Ka-Zar square off against Thanos, which may have been perceived by some fans as a villain far beyond Ka-Zar’s league to handle. What led you to select Thanos for this story?”
Waid: [Laughs] It was purely an accident! It was never meant to be Thanos. It was meant to be, like, three different villains, but other editorial offices kept changing who was available. A new issue of “Ka-Zar” would come out, and some other editor in another office would go “Oh no, we’re using the Shaper of Worlds,” so we’d decide it was Korvac, and then the next issue would come out and someone would say “Oh no, we’re using Korvac.” It eventually ended up being Thanos because he was literally the only guy left who fit the silhouette we’d drawn. I do think we made a hell of a convincing story about it–Thanos was at a point in his life when he was weak and rebuilding–but then I had to spend the next 15 years of my life being yelled at by Jim Starlin at every convention he sees me at. [Laughter]
He follows up with, “Would you ever consider a return to Ka-Zar or even want to feature him as a guest-star in Daredevil or Indestructible Hulk?”
Waid: Sure. You know, it didn’t occur to me to use him as a guest star in “Daredevil,” but when you think about it, there’s Shanna and Daredevil’s history. She named the kid Matt after Matt Murdock. That’s a good idea! So thanks for the question and look for your special “Thanks to” credit in issue #35 of “Daredevil.”
Let’s fire off some Daredevil questions as thumbs up or down as TsaiMeLemoni asks, “Are there any plans for Elektra to show up in Daredevil?”
Waid: Thumbs down until I can think of a new hook.
And rogerio follows up with “…and Black Widow?”
Waid: Thumbs…down? [Laughter]
Spidey616 notes how he’s “Amazed at the fact that you’re one of the few writers who knows Matt Murdock pretended to have an imaginary twin brother named Mike. Gotta know if you’re still seriously thinking about revisiting the concept?”
Waid: Yes. Because it really was a brilliant concept unjustly mocked. Seriously, no kidding, if you had a longtime friend who was blind, who you knew unequivocally was blind, and then one day out of the blue his “twin brother” showed up and was clearly, unequivocally NOT blind, you’d think “How did I not know about this guy before?” not “This is a trick.” How could it be a trick? One can see, one can’t. At least, that’s the illusion that makes the trick work….
We had a ton of questions on the world of “Indestructible Hulk.” Let’s start with CMBMOOL who wants to know, “I enjoy seeing the Hulk taking on science mission/big threats for S.H.I.E.L.D. Given that the Hulk’s a member of the Secret Avengers, any chance of you having story in the future featuring Hulk teaming up with Nick Fury Jr.?”
Waid: At some point, yeah. We’ve talked about in year two using more of the S.H.I.E.L.D. cast, actually…including Agent Coulson.
He continues, “I’m also curious about your upcoming Hulk/Daredevil team up and it makes me wonder why doesn’t Matt go to the likes of Bruce Banner or Hank Pym or even Reed Richards to help out with Foggy’s cancer problem?”
Waid: It’s because we have to assume that they’ve had this conversation before. I hate, hate, hate superhero comics where two grown crimefighters turn to each other and one explains to the other why superheroes can’t fix cancer. It trivializes cancer. It trivializes the suffering of cancer patients. I understand the impulse to ask the question in a universe full of superscience and Cosmic Cubes, but Starlin covered this ground well enough in “The Death of Captain Marvel” and that was like 30 years ago. I’d rather handle it with an off-hand line of Ant-Man saying to Matt, “There’s just some things we can’t do anything about.” like they both already know this, because there is no good answer to that question that doesn’t make Reed Richards look like a jerk. And then when do you stop? Why don’t you cure AIDs, Reed? Why don’t you cure diabetes? Why don’t you cure world hunger? Everything becomes about what the superheroes can’t do. Trivializing real-world problems is not their function. Their function is to inspire and to catch bank robbers and stop Ultron.
A number of people asked about the other Hulks of the Marvel U showing up. Any word on that?
Waid: Yeah, we’re talking about that for year two. I’m just trying not to make it “The War of the Rainbow Hulks.”
GreenScar1990 was one of the people on the boards asking about some other classic Hulk tropes and villains, including Maestro-like stories with the time travel angle coming up?
Waid: Some of the Hulk-centric villains we’ll be doing more with. I think the Abomination is overdue for a reintroduction. As far as other versions of Hulk, this is something Jason Aaron is doing really well with his “Thor: God of Thunder” book right now, and so I’m really nervous about treading on that ground.
Last one from him is, “What future artists can we expect on Indestructible and is there any that you’d like to work with? I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see Paul Pelletier, Dale Keown and Olivier Coipel do some issues and a few story arcs.”
Waid: I love a lot of those guys, but for now we’re really happy with Matteo Scalera. He’s doing great work, and he’s doing it on time, and he’s really talented. But if for some reason Matteo needed some time off, I would not be averse to knocking on Howard Chaykin’s door and asking him to come visit. I think Chaykin’s Hulk would just be a massive force of nature.
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!