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 overseen both critically acclaimed and best-selling comics, Alonso stepped into the spot of Marvel’s editorial department in early 2011, and has since worked 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!
After spending the first three days of the week at Marvel’s editorial retreat, Alonso talks about — in expectedly vague terms — what went down in the latest round of story planning, which creators were in attendance and his philosophy on how to run the sessions (which is not unlike how he coaches his son’s basketball team). Additionally, we discuss several new launches from the week — Kaare Andrews‘ “Iron Fist: The Living Weapon”, Peter Milligan and David Lafuente‘s “All-New Doop” and Michel Fiffe and Amilcar Pinna‘s “All-New Ultimates.” Plus, your questions, straight from the CBR forums!
Albert Ching: Axel, Marvel just wrapped their latest creative retreat, and those events have reached a nearly mythical status among fans that follow the business closely, since they seem both very secretive as to what’s discussed, and very significant to future storylines. How did this one go? Was it especially fruitful?
Axel Alonso: It went great, although I can’t recall a retreat where the conceptual stuff pretzeled my brain like this. [Laughs] It took a while for this one to come into focus, but when it did, it snapped into super-high definition. So much locked into place. I feel sorry for one writer — who will remain unnamed — because he had to be on-point for two full days.
Marvel has doing these for so long now, with much of the same talent involved, that I feel the process must be very efficient at this point — tell me if I’m wrong. But it seems that a lot of material comes out of the retreats, and for as intense as the individual days sound like, for only taking place over three days, a lot evidently gets done. Is it down to a science at this point?
Alonso: I wouldn’t call it a science. I try to manage the retreat kind of like I manage my boys’ basketball team! [Laughs] I do my best to manage the clock so we avoid going down rabbit holes for too long. I call time outs when things get too heated, or people need a break, or everyone’s just plain talked out. And, keeping that coaching analogy alive… [Laughs] I do my best to foster an environment where everyone is engaged and involved and understanding where they can fit in. One thing I’ve learned come game time is you shouldn’t over-coach.
How far in the future planned are things planned? 2015 and beyond?
Alonso: We’re penciled through summer of 2015, and we’re blue-line penciled a little bit beyond that. Obviously, when you’re dealing with stories that have line-wide ramifications, new stories emerge and connections can be made between characters or series after the retreat is over and everyone’s back at their writing table. So you want to be careful not to ink in too much, too soon.
To that point, is the focus at the retreats mainly the big line-wide events, or are arcs in individual titles also developed?
Alonso: At every retreat we discuss individual characters, families — like the X-titles or Spider-titles — and universe-wide stories that have been in development for some time. We definitely focus on stories where character’s stories overlap. Take Hulk and Iron Man, for instance: They are going to collide — literally — in the upcoming “Hulk vs. Iron Man” series that ties into “Original Sin.” While Mark [Waid] and Kieron [Gillen] know how that story ends, and know what they’re teeing up for the future, we spent a bit of time going over the possibilities with the rest of the guys in the room.
Based on Twitter, it appears much of the names one would expect were there — people like Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen. Were there any new faces in the group this time around?
Alonso: Dan Slott, Jonathan Hickman, Rick Remender, Mark Waid, Sam Humphries and Skottie Young were back, and Charles Soule attended his first retreat and laid down his plans for “Inhuman.” Oh, and our new X-Men Group Editor, Mike Marts, got his first taste of the room, too.
Not every creator can participate in something like this, for practical reasons alone. What does it mean to give a new creator that nod, and invite them into the big room? How much of a compliment is that to their work?
Alonso: If you’re writing a book that has line-wide ramifications, there’s a strong chance we will want you in the room. And you’ll want to be in the room so you can see other stories in formation, gets a heads-up on how they might affect your series. It’s not uncommon for two or three writers to get into a discussion about a story, and — blam — they’re suddenly concocting a story that cuts across their titles. Also, as hard as it can be to run the gauntlet of your peers, that can lead to a better story. If you’re challenged to defend the logic or truth of your story, it only hones your game.
Moving to this week’s new releases, “Iron Fist: The Living Weapon” by Kaare Andrews debuted, a book that you’ve expressed personal excitement about, and certainly a strikingly illustrated first issue. It definitely looks a lot different than your typical Marvel book — how happy are you with how this book has taken shape?
Alonso: I’m really proud of the wide array of talent on our All-New Marvel NOW! launches. Just this week, we had “All-New Doop” by Peter Milligan and Dave Lafuente, “Nightcrawler” by Chris Claremont and Todd Nauck, and “Iron Fist: The Living Weapon” by Kaare Andrews — all of which are series driven by very different visions, that hit very different musical notes.
And Kaare Andrews — he’s #@$%#$@ amazing. One of my personal favorite creators to work with, dating back to his legendary run on “Hulk” covers and “Spider-Man: Reign.” He’s a true writer/artist who has something unique to say. The raw energy of “Iron Fist: The Living Weapon” is different than anything we’ve put out in a while. It’s a mystical Kung Fu epic that digs deep into the mythology of the character, and it’s going to leave him in a very intriguing place for the future.
And it’s been a while since Kaare Andrews did interior pages anywhere.
Alonso: The last interior work I recall Kaare drawing for us, was an arc of “Astonishing X-Men” [“Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis”] with Warren Ellis. And he developed a distinct style for that series. What he’s doing with “Iron Fist” is again different, in large part due to the unique color palette. It’s very visceral. Rarely do you see colors create emotion and dissonance like this.
You mentioned “All-New Doop” — how proud are you to see that Doop is starring in his own miniseries, 13 years after the Peter Milligan and Mike Allred takeover of “X-Force”?
Alonso: It’s fantastic. Back in my earliest days at Marvel, when the Milligan/Allred “X-Force” was just in development, I had a character sketch by Mike [Allred] tacked to my wall, where he just spit-balled characters — some of whom never came to exist. People would drop by all the time to see what I was cooking up, and everyone — especially [then-EIC, current chief creative officer] Joe Quesada — would take a look at it, zero in on this little blob with a four-letter name, and go, “Doop! Doop! Doop!” I knew then that we’d tapped into something. So Peter, Mike and I decided that Doop would be, well, pretty much whatever the reader wanted him to be. [Laughs] Doop is country and hip-hop. Metal and classical. Doop is the first post-modern super hero to reject the concept of “post-modernism.”
I really love this new series. Positioning Doop as a key character in all of the major X-events — only you didn’t notice him because he was off-panel left — is a brilliant high concept. And Dave Lafuente is a worthy successor to Mike Allred. In their review of “Doop” #1, the Onion A.V. Club calls Doop “the 21st Century’s most important super hero comics creation.” [Laughs] Hey, I’ll take it!
And that’s not an easy task for Lafuente, taking on a character with such a distinct visual legacy.
Alonso: Besides Mike, who co-created the team, the artists who’ve drawn “X-Force” and “X-Statix” form a real murderer’s row: Paul Pope, Nick Dragotta and Darwyn Cooke, who also drew the 2-issue “Wolverine/Doop” series.
One more new release I’d like to get your thoughts on is “All-New Ultimates” #1 by Michel Fiffe and Amilcar Pinna, which is certainly a different take on the now 12-year-old “Ultimates” concept. It’s a younger cast, and feels like a similar spirit to what Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie did on “Young Avengers.” What do you like about this new version of “The Ultimates”? And is Marvel specifically targeting a younger demographic with the new Ultimate line?
Alonso: Brian Bendis and [Ultimates Editor] Mark Paniccia wanted to see Miles Morales take that next step and be part of a super hero team. Since Brian had developed an interesting cast of super teens in the pages of “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” — with characters like Spider-Woman, Bombshell and the ultimate versions of Cloak & Dagger — we thought this would be a great opportunity to change the face of “The Ultimates.” And since Miles has a big following of both long-time fans and new readers, we figured a lot of people would be interested in the new take.
Let’s end with a couple of fan questions: The unsinkable Spidey616 asks, “Has there been any discussion about a new Jessica Jones-related mini in anticipation for the upcoming Netflix series?”
Alonso: Jessica Jones has been a topic of discussion, but I can’t say more beyond that.
And Reed Beebe sees a potential connection between some of Marvel’s recent launches: “Are there any plans for crossovers with Marvel’s espionage comics (Black Widow, Loki: Agent of Asgard, Secret Avengers)?”
Alonso: There has been some discussion, Reed Beebe.
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!