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, Alonso looks at the dueling prospects of launching and relaunching a series to long term success. With the release of Al Ewing and Greg Land’s “Mighty Avengers” on the horizon next week as a new “Infinity” event tie-in, Axel discusses what makes for a good team launch regardless of whether or not a big summer story comes crashing into its pages. Then, he addresses the gap in publishing for fan favorite Kelly Sue DeConnick series “Captain Marvel,” revealing that no November issues doesn’t mean an end for Carol Danvers is down for the count. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Axel, this week I wanted to talk about the challenge of launching a series and also the challenge of relaunching a series. On the former, we’re about to see the debut of “Mighty Avengers” #1, which in some ways reminded me of the first issue of “New Warriors” from the ’90s. Both saw a big threat hitting a populated area and a somewhat random assembly of heroes joining to stop the threat. The only real change in hook was that “Mighty’s” big threat spun from an event. When you’re launching a new series like that — whether it’s tied to an event or not — what do you impress to the writers is most important to make the story connect with the readers?
Axel Alonso: If you want readers to connect with your story, you’ve got to entertain them in an accessible manner. You’ve got to treat them like someone in the audience at your movie premiere: You want to grab their attention after the lights go down and entertain them until the final credits. If you get bogged down in explaining the minutia of pre-existing continuity, it’s going to make them feel like they came into the movie 30 minutes late, and you’re going to lose them. So it’s all about craft: Setting the stage, importing compelling characters onto that stage, establishing conflict or the threat of conflict, and making readers care about what happens.
That said, not all new launches set out to woo new reads in exactly the same manner. A series like “Mighty Avengers” is more akin to a summer blockbuster — it’s a big budget title that telegraphs its relevance to ongoing continuity because it’s launched in the context of a big event. Conversely, a book like “Hawkeye,” is more like a Fall/Winter release — it relies on the distinct voodoo of its creative team and, while not irrelevant to continuity, mostly plays in its own sandbox. That freedom is its oxygen. But the same standard holds true for both types of books: You’ve got to find a way to make that first issue an experience the reader wants to repeat.
One of the things that’s tough in an event book is that accessibility. Do you find that you’ve still got to work on reintroducing these characters so someone can pick this up cold?
Alonso: I think it’s important that you provide enough backstory that the reader can make general sense of the world they’ve stepped into, but you don’t need to explain everything right out the gate. If someone reading “Mighty Avengers” #1 doesn’t know who Luke Cage is, then Cage’s words and deeds should slowly define who he is; he doesn’t need to be fully explained, he just needs to be interesting — his backstory can reveal itself over time.
I’ve never been a big fan using narrative captions as exposition dumps. You know, the first panel you see Luke Cage, there’s a caption that reads, “Lucas Cage, AKA Hero for Hire, AKA Power Man, Husband, Father, Ex-Con, Steel-hard skin,” etc. I think it’s more satisfying to fill in the picture over time. I mean, the first time you saw Tony Soprano, he wasn’t accompanied by an omniscient narrator voice-over explaining: “Tony Soprano, embattled capo in the DiMeo crime family, husband, father of two, depressive sociopath prone to panic attacks,” etc. Those details revealed themselves over time and illuminated his character.
Of course, an ensemble book like “Mighty Avengers” presents a somewhat bigger challenge because the cast is larger. It’s not only what each character says and does, but also the interpersonal dynamics between the players that defines the book.
One of the other unique things about “Mighty Avengers” — which I think Editor Tom Brevoort talked about when the series was announced — is that it seems to be the response from Marvel to the discussion we were having for a while about the best way to diversify the Marvel U. For whatever reason, titles starring minority character seem to have a tougher time in the marketplace, and this book seemed like your best shot at adding that diversity quotient in a way that also hits the mark as a big commercial launch. Do you feel like you’re getting better at cracking that nut, which I’m sure has been a frustrating proposition at times?
Alonso: I think fans crave diversity. Take a look at the way they’ve embraced Miles Morales or the all-female “X-Men.” No doubt, diversity is an ingredient of “Mighty Avengers,” one of the elements that give the series shading, but its success will come down to how compelling its stories are. I’d expect that a team led by Luke Cage that includes a few wildcards, like the Superior Spider-Man, will make for a…unique dynamic. And as I teased in last week’s A-i-C, the team roster is going over the next few months, creating new relationships and, yes, conflict. Expect Falcon to play a big role on the team down the road.
Let’s flip to the other side of the coin. Like I said, I think with a new team book tying into an event, readers have a certain expectation for how that launch can go. But at the same time as all the “Infinity” books are gearing up, I know there’s an absence in November for books like “Captain Marvel” and “Venom.” While Venom has been confirmed as cancelled in October, we’ve been told “Captain Marvel” has some plans in the offing. When you’re looking at books that have been going for a while that you want to draw more eyes to, how do you relaunch or jump start interest best?
Alonso: Attrition is just a fact of life in this medium. Even with the most popular titles, you’re always looking for ways to spike interest — either through big story hooks, tie-ins to big events or creative shake-ups. And there are occasions when a creative team comes to the end of a run, and you say, “Well, that story’s over.” And the new story — whether it features a new creative team, a fresh new direction or both — simply warrants a new #1 on the cover. Like we did with Marvel NOW! The game of musical chairs we played with our creators demanded new #1’s across the line, with a few notable exceptions, of course.
“Captain Marvel” in particular really seems to have caught fire with a very vocal, passionate segment of the readership. But there seems to also be a little bit of extra work in particular to expand that brand beyond what it’s currently delivering.
Alonso: Boy is there! At the Marvel booth at Toronto Fan Expo, shortly after the launch of that title, I was approached by a little girl — maybe five years old — who was wearing a hand-made Captain Marvel uniform, her hair all moussed up, and — BAM! — just like that, I totally got the need for this character. Captain Marvel scratches an itch that no one else does. Just the fact that her name is Captain Marvel is important. So yeah, there’s just something about her that people connect to, we’re aware of that, and we’re committed to growing her popularity and to investing in her potential. There are big things coming up for her, so keep your eyes peeled!
One last piece of news worth discussing that we only were able to touch on last week is the creative handoff happening on the Fantastic Four titles. As we understand it, Matt Fraction has a lot of work on his hands getting in to “Inhumanity” and so Karl Kesel and Lee Allred will be taking over writing duties based on his notes on “Fantastic Four” and “FF” respectively. I know a lot of people were particularly excited to see Karl back on the franchise as well as seeing a full-on Allred Family jam for “FF,” but I was wondering whether that’s opened up discussions on whether these teams will take over the books on any kind of long term basis?
Alonso: It’s too early to talk about what happens next, but I will say we have a plan that we’re very excited about — and part of our excitement is that Matt’s run will come to a close with him involved. When we launched Marvel NOW!, Matt had a plan for a 16- to 18-issue run across both Fantastic Four titles and that story will be told. The new writers — Karl Kesel on “Fantastic Four” and Lee Allred on “FF” — are working from Matt’s outline notes, and he will be acting as a consultant on the scripts.
The simple fact is, we were all caught by surprise by how much work “Inhumanity” was going to require from Matt. An initiative this big, a series this big — requires an inordinate amount of prep work before the writer ever writes an actual script. I’m talking about world-building, creating a “bible” that will serve as reference for other writers. As much as it pained Matt to take that smaller role with the FF titles, it was necessary, and this is not an instance where he is being replaced by other writers. His fingerprints are all over this.
Jumping into some fan questions for the week, gambitaab asks, “with ‘Gambit’ and ‘Astonishing X-Men’ ending, where can Gambit finds expect to see him next? I feel like he would be a great fit in Aaron’s new Amazing X-Men book.”
Alonso: We have big plans for Gambit, gambitaab — and they involve a team he’s never been a member of before.
Speaking to event tie-ins, Spidey616 has this: “I’ve always dug the Frontline mini tie-ins with the big Marvel events that began with Civil War in 2006. Hasn’t been a new Frontline series for the last few events, curious if there’s been discussion about bringing it back or for the time being is Frontline over?”
Alonso: We’ve discussed “Frontline”-type books for many of our events, Spidey616. We only pull the trigger when we think we’ve got enough content to justify that.
Finally, Tracks gets right to the point with his query: “Where’s the love for Blade???”
Alonso: No current plans, Tracks, but he is the subject of a lot of discussion.
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!