If it’s Friday, it must be time to end your week with a little T&A!
CBR News is back again to present an open and honest Q&A with Marvel Comics Vice President Executive Editors Tom Brevoort and Axel Alonso for our regular MARVEL T&A. Aside from being the minds behind the biggest franchises at the House of Ideas, the pair have taken the reins of the editorial staff on day-to-day since the many changes that have upped the profile of both Marvel and the company’s senior staff in the past year. So who better to look inside the halls of Marvel and make some memorable reader Q&A?
Each Friday, in addition to our regular Cup O’ Joe installments, CBR presents a new interview with the T&A duo covering everything Marvel Comics, and this week we’ve got Alonso back after his “via San Diego” sojourn to Los Angeles for the annual X-Men Summit! After a week spent breaking story ideas with the likes of Matt Fraction and Jason Aaron, the Executive Editor behind Marvel’s X-line has plenty to say about how he balances the needs of story across many book, what changes in the new “Uncanny X-Force” mean for the mutant world, who you will and won’t be seeing in the months ahead and more! Plus, not to be outdone, Brevoort drops news of an all-new “Avengers” family miniseries starring two heroes out to prove they’re not small fries!
Kiel Phegley: Welcome back from sunny California, Axel! Tom mentioned this while you were away, but I guess I hadn’t realized before now that you’ve been doing the X-retreat as a post-San Diego event for a while now, right?
Axel Alonso: Correct. For the last three years.
I assume this got started originally because so many of the writers on the X-books a few years back were West Coast guys. Since then, have you had to juggle things to make sure the people you want in attendance are at San Diego?
Alonso: Perhaps a little bit more, but not that much. San Diego is a con that a lot of my writers attend. Some that do or don’t, like Craig Kyle, Chris Yost, Zeb Wells or Charlie Huston, live in L.A. so it’s easy for us to convene there. We either pile into a big van (“Don’t make me come back there, Zeb!”) or take the Coastliner train.
Who was in attendance this year? Is it just the three or four core writers, or do you draft as many people working on anything X as you can?
Alonso: Pretty much everyone who writes a title that ties in. In attendance were editors Nick Lowe and Jeanine Schaefer and C.B. Cebulski, who functions as a consultant to the X-office, and writers Matt Fraction (“Uncanny X-Men”), Zeb Wells (“New Mutants”), Jason Aaron (“Wolverine: Weapon X” and upcoming “Wolverine”), Marjorie Liu (“Dark Wolverine,” upcoming “X-23”), Daniel Way (“Deadpool,” “Dark Wolverine”), Victor Gischler (“X-Men”) and Kieron Gillen (the upcoming “Generation Hope”). We discussed the immediate future of the X-titles, including spinoff titles that come out of “Second Coming,” and the long term future of all things X, sketching a portrait of the future as the X-Men get more integrated into the Marvel Universe. You’ll start to see that connection develop in the coming months.
One thing we’ve talked about in the past is how X-Men and the Marvel U will be interacting, but one thing I’m curious about that’s not so far out is this idea that since you came on as the head of the X-group you were on a kind of specific story path. From “House of M” on, the marching orders were about stripping the mutant world of its comfortability and making it more dangerous through this specific story of there being no more mutants. That ran through the various “Messiah” stories of the past few years and is now closing out with “Second Coming.” What was the discussion at the summit like around what the mutant line will mean now that that long story cycle has completed?
Alonso: Certain plot threads have come to a conclusion with “Second Coming,” but others are still dangling. Their journey is far from finished – especially Cyclops’. As leader of the X-Men, he walked his species through a long, dark tunnel into what appears to be light, but at no small cost to himself. We’ve seeded clues over the last couple of months about his mental and spiritual fitness; we’ll continue to do in the future. We’re entering into an era marked by questions:
Is there a need for a new X-Force? Cyclops disbanded his black ops team after the conclusion of “Second Coming.” So who got the band back together and why? The answers can be found in “Uncanny X-Force,” by Rick Remender and Jerome Opena, launching this October.
Have mutants entered a period of rebirth? Well, five dots suddenly appeared on Cerebra. The questions now are; Who are these new mutants? What are they? Are they the first of a wave, or just an anomaly? The answers can be found in the current arc of “Uncanny X-Men” and the upcoming “Generation Hope,” by Kieron Gillen and an artist we’ll announce soon.
A group editor must plan way ahead. That doesn’t mean you’re cementing ideas too soon, more like you’re drawing up a roadmap that allow everyone flexibility. Our long-term planning is paying off: There were occasions my group could have gone on a tangent and chased a shiny penny, but we didn’t because it didn’t feel consistent with the story we’ve building for our characters. As a result, we’ve put ourselves in place to take advantage of the backdrop of the larger Marvel Universe. We have a really exciting couple of years ahead as the X-Men become a bigger part of the Marvel Universe. That “Second Coming” came to a close at the same time as Dark Reign was no coincidence.
Something I was wondering about how both of you work is, when you’re managing a line with one lead series and writer – Fraction on “Uncanny” or Bendis on “Avengers” say -Â how do you balance their vision for how that one book works with how things have to spin out for other support titles and minis and such?
Alonso: Whoever’s writing “Uncanny X-Men” understands when they accept the assignment that they’re writing the main X-Men book. They’re writing the book that, for lack of a better word, “counts” the most. Major revelations and large plot threads always start from or intersect the title, so there’s a certain amount of responsibility – and flexibility — required of the writer.
Brevoort: In any line, I think anybody that’s writing the central book understands that we’ve built our machine in a certain way. We’ve done this for a while now, and the blueprint of how we run it is no secret to anyone who wants to study it. Within any particular franchise, for me, the key thing is making sure that each satellite book or tertiary book has a distinct identity and specific mission statement or reason for being other than just “more of this stuff.” As long as we’ve got that cemented, then there’s some specific ground for those satellite books to stand on that’s unique and complementary or substantive, and which also allows their creators room to grow and develop. Most of the guys who write the “spine series” of our assorted franchises tend to go into it now with the experience or understanding that that’s what they’re doing. There’s an expectation that comes with taking on that book and that position, that there are going to be plot elements that branch off from the ideas you’re laying out that will extend into other titles. And there may be things going on in other titles that will be of value to what you’re doing.
It’s really no surprise that Brian Bendis wound up writing two or three of our big events over the last couple of years, because Avengers was such a central title to begin with and those storylines grew organically and automatically out of material he was already working on. It made a lot more sense to approach it that way than to bring somebody else in completely from the outside to do it. But it’s a balancing act. You don’t want any one book to be so central and crucial and straight-jacketing that no other title can maneuver or have an identity or find a voice for itself in the larger pantheon. You want a whole bunch of flavors of ice cream, regardless of whether your stock-in-trade are chocolate and vanilla. It’s good to have a variety because readers like a whole different spectrum of stuff, and no two readers are exactly alike.
But again, the real key to me is making sure that all the satellite titles have a real mission statement and then making sure that everyone understands that architecture and coordinates on their story specifics so that natural and organic touch points or opportunities can be taken advantage of.
There is a lot of coordination, like you say, once the books get going, but with each summit I know that a lot of writers come in with their own ideas ready to pitch. How do you view your role in that process? Are you there just to give them notes on what they bring to the table, or do you also come in with a set idea of where you generally want the stories in each line to go?
Alonso: At the X-Summit, I make sure there’s lots of beer and snacks. [Laughter] Then I’ve got the upper hand!
The main thing that fuels the summits is trust and cooperation. And the one rule is, best idea wins. We debate through a lot of twists and turns, and, at the end of the day, we may leave with a general blueprint, but there’s lots of room for the writers to go back to their desks and reshape the clay, so to speak. The main thing we try to do is cover the Big Picture. At the summit that produced “Messiah CompleX,” we knew what the end of that story would be – that Cable would escape with the Messiah Child -Â a baby with green eyes and red hair – into the time stream, and that he would eventually be pursued by Bishop. We knew that Cyclops and the X-Men would enter into a period of cautious hope – and we loved what that gave us for stories. At the summit that produced “Second Comics,” we knew we’d end with those five dots on Cerebra – the reaction that would inspire in the reader, the X-Men and, of course, Scott. Going into this retreat, we had similar points on the horizon we were aiming at, and we hit them.
Brevoort: Going into a retreat, I never go in without some sense of where I want to end up, but I’m hopefully not so locked into that one outcome or one eventuality that we can’t completely overturn all those plans to go in a new direction if it proves to be a better direction.
Brevoort: I think it’s crucial not to come in rudderless, because as the person running one of these things, if everybody turns to you and goes, “Well, what do you think we should do?” it’s pretty beneficial to have some kind of answer -Â even if it’s an answer that nobody likes at that moment, and so works twice as hard to come up with a better approach. The other hand of that is that you can try to hold onto the reins so tightly where you’ve fallen so in love with one idea that it can actually stifle creativity as you go, “No! We must get to the point where Hawkeye has a sandwich!” And you don’t get the best results out of that. There have been plenty of times over the years at assorted companies -Â ours included -Â where that sort of editorial direction has been employed. And the material is never the better for it.
So it really is walking a tightrope of having some kind of a vision or a thought on a direction, but realizing that your creative people are there to be creative. It’s what you hired them for, and they theoretically will walk in the door with better ideas than you have. If not, they should be editing the books and we should be writing them (which is not recommended.)
One question that came up this week both on the boards and online was a very specific thing that I think highlights a divide in how you guys talk about the books. Simply put, sometimes when the creators interact with the fans, we get an earlier set of ideas or teases that don’t always pay off as we expect. Some fans have been wondering after Fred Van Lente Tweeted about doing an Avengers book whether or not his just announced “Power Man & Iron Fist” series is what that referred to or whether there was some more new forthcoming…
Brevoort: Are you asking what Fred Van Lente’s workload is? Is that what this is all about? [Laughter]
People want to know!
Brevoort: Yes, Fred is working on something other than “Power Man & Iron Fist” that you’ll hear about very soon. And yeah, there are occasions where information gets out ahead of time. But all of our creators hopefully know and understand that it’s in everybody’s best interest to release information about what’s coming up in their assorted titles at the time at which we get the best PR bump from it and consequently the best sales bump. Everyone gets excited and wants to talk about the things they’re working on immediately, but talking about things a year ahead of time means that when you actually get to the point when that comic is going on sale, it’s kind of old hat. It’s kind of played.
That having been said, we’re happy to tickle and tease and tantalize the audience -Â our audience as individuals, as each creator has their own fan club or following, and as a group. It’s fine that Fred tweeted what he did, in that it’s gotten people talking. It’s just a part of that game. But this wasn’t a lone hand activity. The guys that do talk about things without checking first tend to be newcomers who don’t really understand what they’re doing, and they tend to get schooled on the fact that talking out of turn doesn’t get them the best returns when the book actually ships. But by and large, that doesn’t tend to be the kind of creator that works at Marvel. The guys who I think of as our home team -Â our core contracted creators -Â have some understanding of how our machine works and how the PR is timed to get the most attention, the most eyeballs, the most intrigue in terms of accomplishing what the actual goal is which is getting people to buy these actual comics.
Alonso: And as sort of a penance for his act of extreme insubordination, Fred must incorporate a mime into every story he writes for the next six months. [Laughter] First up, “Silentest Knight” in “Deadpool” #1000 -Â in stores now! [Laughter] Hey I have to pimp me some Deadpool.
Well, to follow up on that idea of what is or isn’t an Avengers title, I hear you’ve got a new book on tap that involves some of those cast members…
Brevoort: Coming out in November, we’re doing a limited series devoted to Ant-Man and the Wasp – that being the Eric O’Grady Ant-Man currently featured in “Secret Avengers” and Hank Pym, The Wasp who is currently featured in “Avengers Academy.” It’s written and drawn by Tim Seeley, and it’s sort of an anti-buddy adventure story in that we have two guys who don’t see eye-to-eye and who come from different places but have similar powers and are thrust into a situation that involves the both of them. But they really don’t get along too well and are thrown together by fate to have, literally, a big adventure because they are the tiniest things in it. It’s being edited by young Jordan D. White. Jordan, what can you tell us about this project?
Jordan D. White: You called it – taking a look around the Marvel Universe, we saw what an interesting situation Ant-Man and Wasp were in right now. One of Marvel’s classic super-hero duos, we’ve got the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym, going by the Wasp moniker, while the current Ant-Man is a (semi-)unrepentant jerk who originally stole the power and used it to spy on ladies. What better time to get the duo back together and watch sparks fly? I am thrilled to be working with Tim Seeley on the project, whose work I’ve long been a fan of on his creator-owned book, “Hack/Slash.” Tim came up with a story that forced the two heroes to knock their heads together to confront some of the dubious decisions they’ve made in the past. Guest-starring a few of Pym’s comrades from “Avengers Academy,” Ant-Man and Wasp are going up against A.I.M., who’ve managed to get their hands on one of Hank’s most ingenious inventions…one that has big implications for a certain deceased size-changing hero. It’s going to be a really sweet three-issue ride – I hope you all hop aboard!
With that, let’s hop into some fan questions. One of the people on the boards pointed out that we got an awful lot of “what’s up with this character?” questions this week, and in the interest of getting as many people covered as possible, I thought I’d ask for you guys to give me one sentence on each of the following character questions, starting with FiddleFaddle’s query of “Any plans for Songbird?”
Brevoort: Songbird continues to be a crucial player in Jeff Parker and Kev Walker’s “Thunderbolts.”
Skaddix jumped in with “What are the plans for Storm?”
Alonso: Storm will be showing up in several different X-Men titles. “Uncanny X-Men” #528 in a big way, the current arc of “X-Men,” “Curse of the Mutants” and the upcoming “Storm & Gambit: Curse of the Mutants.”
And swinging out to space, tunasammiches asked “Any major plans for Rachel Summers/Grey???”
Alonso: Right now she’s cultivating a space garden. She has wonderfully ripe space-tomatoes.
Finally, the aptly named Icefanatic wondered, “What are the plans for Iceman?”
Alonso: Look for Iceman in “Uncanny X-Men” and scattered throughout other X-books.
On that same front, CMBMOOL asked in two threads after the crossover plans between the X-Books and the Marvel U, specifically saying, “What I mean is that beyond Wolverine and Beast in the Avengers and Storm in the Black Panther, when are we ever going to see other fan-favorites X-men beyond the X-titles….like Iceman in the New Avengers or even Nightcrawler back to life as the new Daredevil?
“I mean it would be nice to see some new mutant blood, no pun intended, within some of Marvel premier teams, is that so wrong to ask?”
Brevoort: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it at all per se, and I don’t typically assemble Avengers teams or what-have-you along “party lines”. That all having been said, though, there comes a point where mutants become so divorced from the larger mutant experience, so integrated into the rest of the Marvel Universe, that there isn’t any conflict left. Like it or not, the commonality that all of the X-Men characters share that makes them unique is that they are a demographic. There’s something more specific to that experience than simply gaining super-powers. Thematically, “X-Men” is about the shared experiences of a minority. If you mix those characters too much into the rest of the Universe, they start to become just generic super heroes, and lose the very thing that makes them unique.
Alonso: First things first, did you see the Gambit as the Man Without Fear image? Have you ever seen Gambit show fear?
Now that “Second Coming” is over, look for the X-Men to play a larger role in the Marvel Universe- specifically look for more team-ups between your favorite mutants and your favorite super heroes. For starters, Blade becomes an unofficial X-Man in “X-Men” #1-6, the “Curse of the Mutants” arc – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
There were honestly too many folks asking after Psylocke’s costume, so I went with psycwave’s specific wording with “Hey Axel, are the covers for Uncanny X-Force temporary as most seem to be just recolored outfits, namely Psylocke’s? It just seems like the character is cursed to wear the thong outfit for all eternity never to be updated or the like, especially when many of the X-men go through costume revamps on a regular basis.”
Alonso: They are not temporary. Pyslocke is sporting her regulation X-Force silver-and-black tho – I mean, uniform. With it’s streamlined aerodynamic design, and splatterproof material, it’s the perfect outfit for bringing the fight to the doorstep of anyone who’d mess with mutants.
Moving into current X-Men storyline territory, Regino wondered, “after the vampire arc in adjectiveless, do they plan to expand to werewolves also? If so, are the lupines from Loeb’s incandescent run in ‘Wolverine’ the werewolves? Is Wolfsbane going to play a major role in the vampire arc because she is a werewolf?”
Alonso: No plans for werewolves, but starting with issue #7 this January, the X-Men will have to contend with a sharp-toothed threat in New York City. And they’ll need some help from one of the city’s most popular residents.
Speaking of characters who may or may not show up in the coming months, Skaddix again had a query saying, “if we will see any other members of Generation X during the Vampire Event in X-men since Jubilee is being turned, I know Husk is around.” And I should note that Dani Justice also wondered if Generation X members would pop up in “Generation Hope” hoping that Synch and Skin might not have been returned to death after Necrosha.
Alonso: Be sure to keep a watchful eye on the “Curse of the Mutants” tie-in books – you might not recognize her at first.
Finally, we got more questions after the X-Summit about the connection between Jean Grey and Hope than I can even count, ranging from whether characters would note the similarities in the two to much more specific questisons. But for my money, the most thorough one came from someone called MarvelMaster616 who has some evidence to cite you guys:
“At SDCC, when Nick Lowe was asked about Jean Grey’s return he said ‘She’s Dead.’ Is this confirmation that there is no Hope/Jean Grey connection even if there is a Hope/Phoenix connection? It seems to be a change from previous responses like Matt Fraction’s a year ago at Wondercon where he said ‘There’s a little girl with red hair and green eyes in the future that you should keep your eyes on’ when asked about Jean Grey. Joe Quesada has said something similar. You yourself have dropped hints such as:
‘and don’t forget that girl with green eyes and red hair!’
‘there’s more than a faint flicker of danger. Red hair, green eyes. Say no more.’
‘And don’t forget: She’s got red hair and green eyes!’
Even if Hope just has a connection to the Phoenix, Phoenix Endsong established that Jean and Phoenix were one in the same. I also thought that Jean was still at work as recently as the Kingbreaker story where Rachel says “Not now, Mom” when the Phoenix unexpectedly left her. The same happened to the Cuckoos in Uncanny. Plus, there was that brief appearance she had (or so it seemed) in Uncanny X-men 510 (which was an awesome issue by the way). How can she be “dead” if she still has an active hand in these events?
So what gives? What’s the story about Jean Grey and why did Nick Lowe say that after so many hints were dropped connecting Hope and Jean?”
Brevoort: The problem with wanting a definitive answer on a question such as this, Master616, is that the real answer is next month’s comics, and the month after that, and the month after that. We’ll be perfectly up front about the fact that, in cases like this, we’re teasing you with something. But asking to know the identity of the killer before you read the murder mystery isn’t productive, and knowing it won’t enhance your reading experience, it will only lessen it. So relax -Â maybe there’s a connection between Hope and Jean Grey, and maybe there isn’t. The fun is in finding out!
Alonso: What Tom said. Also, two things:
(1) Everyone knows that Nick Lowe is a certified knucklehead.
I rest my case.
(2) Remember, here at Marvel: Once dead, always dead. Right?
Have some questions for Marvel T&A? 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 staff that CBR will pull questions for next week’s installment of our weekly fan-generated question-and-answer column! Do it to it!