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, with the madness of San Diego behind us all, Axel digs deeper into the new series Marvel announced at the show. From how the “superheroes in his sights” plan of “Punisher War Zone” was born from Greg Rucka’s run with Frank Castle to the ’90s reinvention of “Minimum Carnage” to the super female butt kicking of “Red She-Hulk,” it’s all here! Plus, Axel looks at your questions on some of “AvX’s” biggest mystery characters including Doctor Strange and the Incredible Hulk! Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Axel, we’ve all made it back from San Diego, some of us worse for the wear. But now that the hustle and bustle of the show has worn down, I wanted to ask about some of the new projects Marvel announced across the weekend, starting with “Punisher: War Zone.” That series will serve as a capper on everything Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto with the character. When the latest “Punisher” volume started, we all knew that making Frank Castle a part of the Marvel U was in the mandate, but was a direct confrontation with the “big guns” of the Avengers in the cards from day one?
Axel Alonso: No, it evolved in the course of the story. When [Editor] Steve [Wacker] tapped Greg as a writer, my one note was that they continue to maintain a distance from “Punisher MAX.” “Punisher MAX” exists in a world that is devoid of superheroes so “Punisher” needs to be firmly planted in the Marvel U. Greg accepted that out the gate, and has maintained that throughout his run. What better way to remind readers that this is the Marvel Universe than to guest-star the Avengers?
Is it a challenge sometimes to make a character like Punisher — a guy with no powers or magnificent sci-fi trappings — to work in the Marvel Universe in a fully integrated way?
Alonso: I don’t think so. I think the fact that he doesn’t have super powers, that he isn’t a “super hero,” is what makes him unique. Frank isn’t a “good guy.” He has a moral code — he only kills those who deserve it, won’t risk any collateral damage, etc. — but when it comes to morality, there’s a Grand Canyon-sized crater between him and, say, Spider-Man. Frank Castle didn’t just look into the abyss — he dived right in. He knows he’s going to Hell and he’s just trying to take as many bad guys as he can with him.
The challenge with the Punisher is to attack him from an angle that you feel comfortable. Rick bent the Punisher as far as he could with “Franken-Castle” and the stories that preceded it: I mean, Frank used the Ant-Man helmet to shrink down and ride a pizza delivery into a criminal HQ. [Laughs] Greg, on the other hand, brought the tone and themes of a pure crime writer without losing sight of the Marvel Universe. I loved his Vulture! So damn creepy.
You said that this mini grew out of the story rather than being planned from the start. Generally, how often do writers come in and say, “I have a story for this character with a definitive end in mind” versus “Here’s a general pitch. Let’s get the ball rolling and see where it takes us”?
Alonso: It depends. There are times when a writer signs on for an arc or two — maybe that’s all they have in them — and there are times when they have infinite stories and a long-term plan.
I compare this to a book like “Uncanny X-Force” where it felt like Rick Remender had a definitive long story he wanted to tell with Apocalypse, but it also seemed that he got to further than he’d initially thought about in some ways. How much flexibility do you try to plan for in case they overshoot what they plan for or maybe even undershoot?
Alonso: It’s best for an editor and writer to focus on the first couple of story arcs and see what develops, but there are times that a writer has a long-term story that you just have to hear out. I remember Jonathan Hickman pitching years’ worth of stories for “Fantastic Four” — almost all of which have come to print — but it was really his ideas for his first couple arcs that got him the job. It’s best to focus on what’s right there in front of you, and don’t look too far onto the horizon. If your first few issues aren’t compelling, you probably won’t get the chance to realize your master plan. And all titles aren’t exactly equal. If you’re the new writer of, say, “Amazing Spider-Man,” you’ll have more time for your ideas to marinate than if you’re launching “Hit-Monkey.” [Laughs] Strike quickly.
Shifting gears, we’ve got “Minimum Carnage” coming in between “Scarlet Spider” and “Venom” and a few special issues. This is the latest “micro event” which Marvel had been doing exclusively for a while before “Fear Itself” came along. How many of those branded crossovers do you want to fit into the year?
Alonso: It depends on the line. The Spider-Man line benefits from doing at least one of these mini-events a year. “Spider-Island,” for instance, really caught fire with the fans, and got more eyes on sister titles, like “Venom.” These little events are fun and they’re useful to building lines and they don’t tax the reader’s wallet as much as the big events.
This is the first time in a long time that we’ve had a Carnage story that — even though it’s very tongue-in-cheek — has an explicit reference to the character’s major coming out party in the ’90s event “Maximum Carnage.” In the past, I remember talking to Tom Brevoort about how the ’90s have come back around a bit because some of the younger writers and editors at Marvel now grew up reading those comics. What do you make of that convergence happening today?
Alonso: How did “Minimum Carnage” come about? Steve [Wacker] and [Associate Editor] Tom Brennan came up with the title, tossed it to Christopher Yost and Cullen Bunn, and said, “What can you come up with?” And the writers took it from there. [Laughter] And you’re right: Writers and artists and editors tend to revisit characters with whom the have a strong emotional connection. It’s only natural that you’d want to play with the toys that made you salivate outside the store window.
Lastly, we’ve got “Red She-Hulk” which is a re-branding of the “Hulk” title to focus on Betty Ross’ alter ego over General Ross’ alter ego — still handled by Jeff Parker. This stands out in a few ways, firstly because we’re turning the page on the Red Hulk saga that started with Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness. That character has moved on to the broader Marvel U with a membership in the Avengers and animated appearances. What was the thinking behind moving him off the book?
Alonso: It just seemed like the right move. Jeff’s enthusiasm for the story was infectious. It’s the kind of super-heroine book [Senior Editor] Mark Paniccia always wanted to do: a high-octane, 100-mph action series that will stand up to any male super-hero comic. Also, we have big plans for Red Hulk that we’ll be revealing some time soon that require him to be…elsewhere.
When you create a new character for the Marvel Universe, you can’t predict where they’ll end up. You just have to see where the road takes you — and this is one of those cases. That said, when Jeph came up with the idea of a red-skinned Hulk, the look in my son Tito’s eyes told me all I needed to know that this idea had legs. It inspired one of his first super hero drawings.
Jeff Parker has written a bit on his blog about how he’s recasting this series in a way as the ultimate female action power fantasy. A while back, you and I were talking about the role of women characters in solo books at Marvel, and I was wondering if those discussions had helped in the creation of this book, or if those status quo-busting themes are something that Jeff keeps in mind as a writer while delivering the head on story pitches to you guys?
Alonso: I can’t speak for Jeff, but I can say that Marvel editorial is committed to having strong female participation in the Marvel Universe. That includes monthly titles featuring female leads, female participation in team books, and titles like “The Fearless” that were driven by a strong female lead — Valkyrie — whose name did not appear in the cover. We want diversity in our comics — we’d be boneheads not to. Look for plenty of announcements in the near future that will demonstrate our commitment. We await the verdict of their fans.
Getting into fan questions this week, we’ve had a few on the ranks of soldiers in “AvX” starting with chariset, who asks, “Is Doctor Strange going to have a significant role to play in AvX? He was Sorcerer Supreme; he’s still Master of the Mystic Arts. Five years ago the Phoenix returning to Earth would be a crisis he would be expected to handle on his own, but now he’s so deep in Wanda’s shadow it’s not funny. Will he get a moment of glory?”
Alonso: I don’t know that the Phoenix was ever something that Doctor Strange would have been expected to handle on his own, chariset — it’s not really a mystic threat, after all. That said, Doctor Strange will have his moments to shine during AVX, but he’s going to be sharing the stage with a ton of other characters, each of which will have their own moment in the spotlight.
Meanwhile, AnonymousMC wants to know, “Where is good old green Hulk in AvX? There were promos of him up against Frost. What gives?!”
Alonso: The story is far from over, AnonymousMC.
We’ve had some redesign talk around the web of late due to Marvel NOW!, but reader 5cents had a question about costumes in the Ultimate U, saying, “I was wondering if the rest of the former x-men members in the ultimate world be getting new costumes too? (Jean, Storm etc)”
Alonso: Yes, 5cents, just as we rolled out new designs for Kitty, Ice Man, Jimmy Hudson and Rogue, you’ll be seeing Storm, Jean and others in new duds soon.
He follows up with this, “With Divided We Fall and the fall out of it taking up the rest of the year and more in the Ultimate Universe I was wondering if there would be a one shot or mini dwelling more into the Tian situation or even what Ultimate X is doing while Divided We Fall is happening?”
Alonso: Tian will be playing a very important role in a future arc of the X-Men, the seeds of which are being planted in issue 17.
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!