It’s Friday! Why not wrap 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 column: 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 a day-to-day basis 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. This week Tom and Axel speak to their roles when other editors launch major Marvel storylines from “Chaos War” to “Big Time” to the incoming “Age of X,” dig into what characters will appear in the latter Mike Carey-penned X-series, discuss the impact fans have on character revivals and answer your questions on everything from the future of X-Statix to the fate of Rikki Barnes. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Gentlemen, at the risk of jinxing myself here, I thought I’d start this week with the observation that from the point of view of the comics buyer, it seems a bit quiet out there these days. We’ve spoken before about how you guys at Marvel try to build the line in a way where big news and big stories hit at key times around things like the con season and San Diego. Is there a calmer time of year where you’re focusing more on the nuts and bolts of monthly comics while steeling up for the next wave of big promotion and big events?
Tom Brevoort: Um…no. [Laughs] Not really. It’s funny that you say that, because it shows the difference between where you are in your perception of the process and where we are in the process. Axel and I just had an incredibly busy, incredibly frantic week pulling a whole bunch of stuff together for the next nine to twelve months and figuring out some elements that are crucial to our publishing plan going forward. We couldn’t be any more pressured and stressed right now, and there couldn’t have any more going on than we have right now. You don’t see that just yet, but you’ll start to see it over the next two to four months as announcements start to get out. You may not have heard about it all yet, but that doesn’t mean we’re not working on it.
Axel Alonso: What Tom said. We’ve got some big announcements coming, but we have been busy bees.
I think part of how things are perceived by readers is that a number of bigger event-style stories, from “Chaos War”about to bring back all the dead characters to “Children’s Crusade” ramping up to “Big Time” landing for Spider-Man, they’re all in the middle of their runs. I know you guys don’t edit a lot of those titles directly, but what role do you play in overseeing those bigger stories at their inception and as they play out?
Brevoort: I hope that we don’t take a heavy hand with anything edited by other people. We take a hand, certainly. We were involved with the overall planning for and particularly the first issue of “Chaos War,” for example, giving feedback to Mark Paniccia as he laid out what that story was going to be, and what characters it would involve. Especially as he planned “Dead Avengers” he talked a lot to me, and as he planned “Dead X-Men” he talked a lot with Axel. He made sure that the characters he wanted to use were actually dead and that he wouldn’t be stepping on any plans we might have had in the ongoings. But the day-to-day bulk of and credit for what happens in the story is really Mark’s. That’s his baby.
In the same way, you mentioned Spider-Man and “Big Time,” and certainly Steve [Wacker] and I talk often, and I look at any scripts he wants to get my input on. But he runs Spider-Man. That’s his job, his gig, his responsibility. For the most part, I will back his play unless I have a very strong reaction to it, and even at that point it becomes a conversation between he and I to figure out what we think is the best course of action. But any editorial credit for “Amazing Spider-Man” is completely his.
“Crusade” I edit, so that’s directly in my own hands.
Alonso: “Shadowland” is Steve [Wacker]’s baby; “Chaos War” is Panic’s [Mark Paniccia]. It doesn’t matter where you are in the editorial food chain; when you are editing a multi-character book that affects the tapestry of the Marvel U, you are talking with another editor – be it Tom or me – about where you’re going with your title. If I’m working on something X-related that has any kind of ramifications for the Marvel U, I talk to Tom. If he’s editing something in the Marvel U that affects X-Men, he touches base with me. It’s just the way we do things because it’s a shared universe.
One of the next big pieces of Marvel that has been hitting hard on this week is the teaser for “Age of X.” It’s a book where you’re keeping some things close to the vest, but from the characters involved, it seems like Mike Carey is running the show here, breaking out some characters and threads that have been building with “Legacy” for a while. Axel, how has this story been an outgrowth of Mike’s work, and how will it hook up with the rest of the X-line?
Alonso: This is an instance where a writer – Mike Carey – had an idea big enough that his editor – Daniel Ketchum – thought we should huddle up to discuss it. Upon review, David Gabriel and I realized we were looking at a tight and focused event, more along the lines of “Curse of the Mutants” than, say, “Second Coming.” It’s a big story, but it doesn’t cut across lot of titles and it definitely won’t outstay its welcome.
In terms of the characters that have been revealed, we see folks Mike has been playing with like Rogue, Gambit and Cannonball, but Magneto seems like he’ll be a real key piece of that cast. The character has been around a lot of late, from “Uncanny” to “Children’s Crusade,” and he’s not been filling his traditional villainous role in any of those books. Is there a key point in developing who he is for today’s books, or is everyone having fun playing with his role where they can?
Alonso: I’ll let Tom speak to the specific time line of “Children’s Crusade.” As for Magneto – about a year ago, he showed up in Utopia and took a knee in front of Scott. He recognized Cyclops had achieved something that neither he nor his rival, Xavier, had been able to achieve: he’d unified the mutant race under one flag. Magneto paid his respects, pledged his unity and, after demonstrating his commitment, became a consiglieri to Scott. This, of course, doesn’t sit too well with certain X-Men who remember their past skirmishes with Magneto, but given the high stakes of the moment, Scott deemed Magneto a better ally than foe. So these days Magneto is playing less the role of a villain than a wild card. Oh – and it’s not lost on us that Cyclops’s inner circle consists of Emma Frost, Magneto and Namor, all of whom have played the role of villain in the Marvel Universe.
Brevoort: In terms of “Crusade,” Allan [Heinberg] is taking his cues from what’s been transpiring in the X-titles. He’s involved in “Children’s Crusade” for a very personal reason, which is uncovering the whereabouts of his daughter Wanda, the Scarlet Witch. And certainly, he’s still a dangerous enemy should you get on the wrong side of him or stand between him and his goal. But in terms of his place in the world, it’s right in step with the way he’s been appearing in the core X-books, which Axel has been guiding.
Another standout character from the “Age of X” cast is Hellion, whose inclusion reminded me how more often than almost any other characters, the cast of “New X-Men” get asked after on the boards. They’re very popular with some fans, and I wondered, both in this case specifically and in general, how much that groundswell interest affects how you look at bringing back certain characters or ideas and how the writers decide who to play with.
Alonso: We pay close attention to the fact that there are people that want to see Hellion in his own series. It means there’s passion for the character. That said, we don’t want to trot something out there unless we think we can find an audience. I mean, there’s a lot of folks out there that clamor for Westerns – myself, included – but that doesn’t mean they burn up the sales charts. [Laughter] At the X-Men summits, Gambit, Hellion and my personal favorite Psylocke always come up in discussion. I mean, I love Psylocke and I love Mystique – I would love to do a substantial series featuring them as leads, but before I do, I’ve got to know I can really deliver the goods.
Brevoort: I think it’s a real truism that there are fans of every single character – often very vocal fans. The character that I’ve seen a lot of chatter about over the last six months, which has put him even more on my radar than he had been, is Adam the Blue Marvel. Based on the chatter, you’d expect that the limited series we did with him would have been an extraordinary selling project, when in fact that was just not the case. However, the fact that there are a bunch of people interested in him means that when we’re doing something like the “Age of Heroes” anthology, I’ll go, “Let’s do a short Blue Marvel story, put him back on the canvas and see if we can’t spark something.” I’m sure, too. that as our writers are looking around for characters to use, if there is a lot of chatter about a particular character, then they’re more likely to have their interest piqued and see a role for that guy down the line. It’s always good. It’s just that the sad reality is that all the talking in the world doesn’t always add up to people buying.
Alonso: One last point; Lots of chatter about a character minimally influences us to pump up their roles in ongoing series or feature them prominently in anthologies.
Sometimes we hear, in movies or other media, people discuss a slow burn success. I know with the “Kick-Ass” movie, it built in box office over its months in theatrical release and then did very well on DVD. In comics, can you think of a character or book that seemed to grow in sales in terms of trades, where you found a market reason for bringing them back from the brink?
Brevoort: I’m sure there must be some example somewhere, but I’m just not coming up with it at this moment. I’m scratching my head, honestly.
Alonso: Iron Fist certainly benefitted from the “Immortal Iron Fist” run, which put him back on the map. Charlie Huston and David Finch’s run on Moon Knight put him back in play for others – including Mike Benson, Gregg Hurwitz, and now Brian Bendis to play with. And Garth Ennis’ “Welcome Back Frank” redefined the character for the modern era. “PunisherMAX” may be a mid-seller at the periodical stage, but its trade paperback sales are always healthy. There seems to be an audience that waits for the trade.
Well, I guess all that’s left is for some of the fans out there to hope “Alpha Flight” trades experience a massive spike in the year ahead.
Brevoort: [Laughs] We’ve been waiting patiently, but the day will soon come. I’m sure of it.
One last thing I have to hit you two up on this week is the cover to Marvel’s February “Preview” catalog, which includes a logo for something called “Death of Spider-Man.” I guess the obvious question here is…um…are you going to kill Spider-Man?
Brevoort: [Laughs] Some people have claimed for months that “One More Day” represented the death of Spider-Man, so maybe we’re just getting caught up. But seriously, we’re not ready to say anything more about it quite yet, other than that it’s obviously going to be the first of the massive bombshells we’re going to be releasing over the next couple of months, all of the stuff Axel and I were alluding to at the beginning of this conversation. It’s simply the first salvo.
Looking at questions from the fans for this week, we’ve got forwardnotion following up on a book Axel spoke about last week, asking “I have a question about Milligan and Allred’s X-Force/X-Statix. If it is, indeed, a book that got such a glowing review, why not keep the trade paperbacks in print? I’d kill for a 2-3 volume Ultimate Collection, even. I’ve spent the past few years hearing about how awesome this series is, and back-issue hunting (with the prices put on those issues sometimes, especially) isn’t for me. Any chance you can get your collections folks on the horn?”
Alonso: No immediate plans, but when we do, we’ll tie it to new X-Statix stories by Milligan and Allred.
But…is that Doopsday on the horizon?
theXfactor keeps things in supporting X-teams, wondering “Any chances of an Excalibur revival? I really miss the light-hearted tone of the first series and I think it’s something that’s lacking in the X-line and even Marvel as a whole.”
Alonso: I brought this question up to editor Nick Lowe and he immediately broke down in tears, muttering things like “Captain Britain,” “MI13”, “canceled,” “no one loves me” over and over again. No clue what that means, but there aren’t any immediate plans for an “Excalibur” revival.
bkdane’s name may be a good indicator for who he’s rooting for even before you see his question: “Tom, Anything in the works for the Dane Whitman Black Knight?”
Brevoort: Sorry, bkdane, but I don’t think so, not right at this very moment. Wish I had better news for you.
Finally, Fluffy6079 is checking in on a character currently in the spotlight a bit despite the loss of the ongoing “Young Allies” title, saying “I’ve been a fan of Rikki Barnes since her Nomad: Girl Without a World mini and have really enjoyed the back-ups in Captain America. I hate that Young Allies has been canceled, but I understand. Is there anything coming up for Rikki after Onslaught Unleashed other than a few appearances in Spider-Girl? Are we ever going to get a face-to-face with Rikki and Bucky now that he’s been outed to the world? Considering how they’re ‘related’ it could be interesting.”
Brevoort: I quite like Rikki too, Fluffy, and as you already know, she’ll be a centerpiece character in “Onslaught Unleashed.” Beyond that, though, it’s too soon to say, but we have no intentions of letting her fade away completely in the months ahead. And it’s not out of the question at all that a meeting with Bucky Barnes might not be in the cards.
Brevoort: Before we wrap up this week, I wanted to once again put a question to the readership. I’ve been checking out the reader response to our T & A column these last few weeks, and even factoring in the general snark of the internet, there seems to be a whole parcel of negative reaction to what we’ve been doing here. Sometimes this can be as simple as people reading an exchange in a different tone in cold type than it had when Axel or I said it aloud. But either way, I wouldn’t mind getting some feedback from the folks out there. We’ve been doing this for a couple of months now, and intend to keep carrying on for the foreseeable future. What is there that we could be doing better? What are you dissatisfied with concerning these weekly chats? We’re never going to make everybody happy, of course, but if we can up our game in some way, we’d like to be able to do that.
I have been told that the best and most interesting parts of the column are when Axel and I don’t agree on stuff, so next week I plan on refuting everything he says.
Alonso: Then I am going to only say nice things about you and your books.
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!