When it’s time to make the big decisions on the nuts and bolts creation of Marvel Comics, people have to Talk to the Hat.
An outstanding industry vet and fashion forward editor, Marvel SVP of Publishing Tom Brevoort is back on CBR News for Marvel’s TALK TO THE HAT. Our latest weekly look inside the minds at Marvel spotlights Tom along with his signature pork pie and loads of comics news, views and discussion. Anchored by regular question and answer rounds with the denizens of the CBR Message Boards, each week Brevoort will shake things up with special guest stars, exclusive art reveals and new interactive features.
This week, Brevoort speaks to two big endings in the Marvel Universe and one new beginning for the Distinguished Competition. After the surprise death in the pages of “Fear Itself” #3 last week and the surprise news that Marvel will end “Uncanny X-Men” this week, there’s plenty of shake ups at Marvel on the horizon. But to keep a fun feel going in the office, Brevoort and company have embarked on a little game about how DC Comics will be moving forward into 2012 while keeping a serious eye on how their recent big news impacts the market as a whole. For Tom’s opinions on all of this… read on!
Kiel Phegley: Tom, I wanted to start out this week by asking about something from last week that nobody knows about (because I dropped it from the transcript for clarity) and that may totally blow up in my face. But last week while you were speaking with Jud, at one point someone stepped into your office to deliver you some good news which you seemed quite pleased with. While I know you may not be available to spill all the beans, I got the hint that this was bigger news than simply “We got the inker we wanted for the next issue of ‘Avengers.'” Any comment on to whether this is a significantly different kind of thing for Marvel coming up?
Tom Brevoort: I think you’re leaping to conclusions a little bit.
Brevoort: I’m still not quite at the point where I can tell you what that was. It’ll take a couple of weeks probably, but it wasn’t anything quite like that. Once I say to you “It was this,” you’ll go “Oh, okay.” [Laughter] It won’t be quite as exciting to you as it was to me in the moment, but it was some nice news and news that everyone will know about in the coming weeks. It’s nothing that’ll make you jump over the moon. We haven’t suddenly found a whole bunch of unpublished Marvelman stories or anything. Todd McFarlane is not back drawing “Spider-Man.” It was good news. But I just can’t quite say it because it’s still proprietary information for a few more weeks.
Well, speaking about news that we do know has happened, I wanted to start the ball rolling by talking about “Fear Itself” #3 and Bucky’s fate. I’m having trouble saying “death” because that’s less than concrete in comics.
Brevoort: Bucky being the prime example of that! [Laughter]
Exactly. But when it comes to events like this, a big death seems to be part and parcel of the story. In “Civil War” it was Black Goliath. In “Secret Invasion” it was the Wasp. The raising of the stakes always seems to be justified by a character’s death. When you break out the story for a series like “Fear Itself,” do you look for opportunities to work in a turn like that and say, “Is there someone we can sacrifice to the immensity of this story?” or was it just that with Steve coming back as Cap, there was a bit of “What do we do with Bucky… how about this?”
Brevoort: It certainly wasn’t the latter. It was more the former, but I don’t like to make it sound like we have a checklist. I’ve talked about this in a couple of other places, but to reiterate what I said there, we don’t go into these things thinking that you have to have a death. What we do go in thinking is that you have to have a change. Something has got to change from the beginning of an event series to the end. The landscape in some way, shape of form needs to be different. That can involve any number of things. It can certainly involve characters perishing. It can involve characters being resurrected. It can involve characters ending up in different places around the universe or any number of other things. But you need a certain amount of legitimate change to give the event and its aftermath the necessary gravitas. Without that, it’s a big, fun adventure, but it doesn’t amount to very much.
In the situation of the Captain America fatality, it was a case of all roads leading to the same place. This was a point in his storyline that Ed [Brubaker] was going to get to around this time, and it synched up very nicely with “Fear Itself,” and doing it there rather than doing it within a “Captain America” book made it a bigger deal, made the event itself a bigger deal and created some connectivity within the titles of our line. The reality was, had there been no “Fear Itself” we wouldn’t have done that moment exactly the same way, but we would have gotten to it anyway. It’s really an instance where we had a larger stage on which to showcase this moment and hopefully surprise some people.
It’s kind of funny to get e-mails saying, “How dare you kill Bucky? You can’t kill Bucky!” which was sort of the exact opposite of what we got seven years ago. [Laughs] Back then it was “How could you bring back Bucky? You can’t bring him back!” That is the best testament to all the work Ed put into that character and really made him of interest to readers today and not just a footnote or a taboo-that-must-not-be-broken simply because it was there. So this wasn’t done lightly, and it’s all still a part of Ed’s larger grand tapestry plan. We’ll be doing some aftermath books after “Fear Itself” is over, and one of them will be written by Ed where he’ll get into Bucky’s demise a little more specifically. In fact, I read the first half of that script just this morning, and you’ll see how it very neatly dovetails into what Ed’s had going on in the series for years and where things are going in the future.
And it’s not the only fatality we’ll have by the end, so there’s more change of that nature to come in the pages of “Fear Itself.”
Following up on this, did you get the feeling from Ed that he was maybe a little gunshy about doing another “Death of Captain America” comic after the last one’s reception?
Brevoort: I don’t know. I mean, ultimately in that he didn’t end up doing it, this may have all worked out wonderfully. [Laughs] To recall how it all went down, we were at one of our summits where we were first discussing “Fear Itself’ in terms of turning this idea for a Cap and Thor story into a larger event. And at some point, Ed just threw out the notion of “Is this where the Red Skull kills Bucky?” and Matt [Fraction] grabbed it with both hands and went, “YES! It absolutely happens here!” and wouldn’t allow Ed to take it back or change his mind. He jumped on it whole hog. But I think it works out for all involved.
I don’t think it’s a case where Ed would have shied away from doing it in the “Cap” book. It’s where he was heading all along, though he would have done it much differently and in a story with many fewer characters. It certainly wouldn’t have been as large scale as it was, though it did seem like it flew under the radar of a lot of people. More people were shocked and surprised by “Fear Itself” #3 than I would have anticipated. So it’s great that we can still surprise people.
I know that when you guys go all in on shaping events where everyone chips in ideas to make the things stronger, but at the same time, I know that a book like “Captain America” is something that stands very well on its own and many readers come to it in trade form without the rest of the Marvel Universe content being right alongside. When you move a story from a monthly to an event, do you worry that you’re going to impact those readers and that book negatively, or is it just the challenge of finding a way for Ed to reference “Fear Itself” and Bucky’s death without having it feel jammed in?
Brevoort: I think we’re pretty good about doing that sort of thing, honestly. Like I said, having read the first half of Ed’s aftermath script already, I think that somebody who just reads the “Cap” book but not “Fear Itself” will still see and understand exactly what happened. They won’t be left out in the cold or feel like there was a sudden left turn in that series. That having been said, all of our characters exist in this communal Marvel Universe, and certainly since “Secret Wars” was done in the ’80s -Â and with increasing frequency since then -Â from time to time there are big stories that affect a lot of things. Suddenly, in the next issue Spider-Man has a new black costume. “Oh, my God…how did that happen? Well, to find out you’d better read ‘Secret Wars.'” There’s nothing new there, not only to our readership today but to comics readers going back decades.
And particularly when you’re talking about our lead creators, our crew is pretty good about talking and working together on these things. Matt wouldn’t have done the Bucky death in “Fear Itself” if Ed wasn’t on board with it. Ultimately, Ed offered it up, and for all that I joked about how Matt wouldn’t let him take it back, if Ed legitimately wanted to take it back he could have taken it back. I think we’re pretty good about not only individually crafting and protecting our monthly titles but also working together for the common good as a whole. It’s no surprise that events in the big event books are going to have an impact on other characters, whether it’s Spider-Man unmasking in “Civil War” rather than “Amazing Spider-Man” or something like this. That’s the purpose of a big event series. Big things happen there as a requirement.
And yes, if you’re just reading “Captain America” in the collections -Â trade paperbacks, hardcovers, omnibuses, what have you -Â I believe there will be enough connectivity there between the last issue of “Gulag” and this aftermath issue that it will all work together nicely. It won’t be as in depth as if you’d read “Fear Itself” itself, but it’ll be good enough that you could approach it that way and be satisfied. I don’t think it’s a case of “one or the other.” We try to serve both, and sometimes it’s 80/20 and sometimes it’s 50/50.
We started this call with me swinging and missing on prognosticating a piece of Marvel news, but I want to note that I do have my moments as after we discussed renumbering a few weeks back, you did in fact announce an end to “Uncanny X-Men” this week, with what we can only assume is an eye towards an eventual #1 of some kind. In the case where those titles aren’t directly under your purview, is it you who offers up the idea of a relauch to the X-Office, is it David Gabriel, or is it something that builds internally with the regular editorial staff on those books?
Brevoort: That sort of idea can come from any number of places, and in this specific instance I’m not entirely certain exactly where that came from. My guess is that it came out of the particular story being told. If we’re creating this schism and building to a world where there may be separate but equal X-Men books, it makes sense to start books that with #1 rather than books that starting at #1 with one that starts at #580-something. That would not seem to begin things equally.
Certainly, there’s all the commercial considerations that we talked about a week or two back, It’s a big ol’ #1, and big ol’ #1s work. But even beyond that, within the story being told it seemed relevant to start those series at the same point so one was not ascendant over the other. My guess is that the idea probably originated with Nick [Lowe] and the guys on the X-titles rather than David and the guys in Sales. Having said that, once they came up with the idea, they’d have gone to Sales and asked, “David, what do you think of this?” and he’d have articulated his point of view, and possibly thrown out an alternative idea or approach. And in a case like this, Joe [Quesada] or Dan [Buckley] or Axel [Alonso] who’s still heavily enmeshed in the X-plans would have weighed in too.
But anybody could have put the idea forth. I feel no hesitancy to throw an idea at anyone if I’ve got one, and I don’t feel a hesitancy to not argue against an idea if someone’s proposing an idea that I don’t think makes any sense. That holds true of all our senior guys. You don’t always win those arguments, but the guys with the best overall arguments and cumulative points come out on top. And I’m happy to get ideas and thoughts from other people. If someone has a great idea for “Avengers,” I don’t care where it comes from, I’m happy to use it so long as it’s an idea that gets me excited to create some great comics and make some money as a result. I don’t tend to keep track of where all those ideas come from. So we try and promote an environment in which people can speak up about their point of view. There’s a point beyond that where the ref makes a call, and that’s where we’re going. After that, continuing to argue about it two degrees this way or that then becomes counterproductive. But up to that point, it’s a very open environment. We like to engender a staff and an editorial team that a can all put their point of view forward in a convincing manner to guide what we’re doing, which is a little bit of a digression from where we began. [Laughs] But the real answer is “Success has many masters.”
But you led me to where I’m going, which is that while you don’t have as strong a hand in the X-Men’s world, everyone has seen how there have been some real tentpoll moments that have guided those books. From “No More Mutants” and the 198 on through to “Second Coming” where it felt like some of those ideas were wrapped on through to the Five Lights and “Generation Hope” and Utopia, there have been a number of big status quo shifts effecting the line. When it came to “Schism,” how did Nick Lowe and the X-Office team pitch you and the other guys internally who weren’t as involved on why “Schism” had to be the next big tent pole for the X-Men line?
Brevoort: Well, I think you’ve pointed to a differentiation that doesn’t really exist. I don’t think “Second Coming” was ever really meant as the end of anything, and we’ve known that we’re going to get to “Schism” for a very long time. And in fact, we know what’s coming next -Â at least two chess moves ahead maybe even three at this point. This wasn’t a new thing that was suddenly dropped on us. It wasn’t like we finished “Second Coming” and then went “What’s next?” In fact, this came up a week or two back, and I couldn’t quite tell about it then because we hadn’t fully announced all of the post-Schism plans. But when we were talking about the column you did with Axel and I 18 months ago coming out of a summit with a crossover and events in the X-books lining up [with the rest of the Marvel U], the event we had lining up timing-wise was “Schism,” which dovetails really well with “Fear Itself” to set the stage for the next thing that is to come. There’s a thing we will build to after these stories that we talked about a little then and have talked about a lot more since.
So there wasn’t a difficult buy in for us, and certainly it wouldn’t have been a pitch from Nick. It would have been from Axel when he was editing the X-Books, and it would have gone back maybe two years or even three years. Getting to this confrontation and this struggle for leadership and direction was always a part of that larger master plan that began with moving the X-Men to San Francisco and then Utopia, and building this concentrated mutant community.
So honestly, it’s been so long since this began that I can’t quite remember how it was pitched except as being part of this larger landscape. It was something that Axel and Nick and the guys who were working on X-Men then -Â and it might have even been a different group of creators in some cases than the guys who are now bringing this to fruition -Â probably first discussed with Joe at the time and then brought it up to the whole group as we were discussing the various lines and where we were all going with them.
But while I don’t remember exactly how it was pitched, it’s a fairly simple idea. In the evolution away from having Professor X as the unquestioned leader of good guy mutantdom, it seems almost inevitable that you’d end up with some sort of philosophical divide. And it’s not like we’ve never seen this kind of thing before. Certainly in the ’90s, Cable had a very different point of view on mutant/human relations and what mutants should be doing than Professor X or Cyclops did at that point. In this case, with this group being a smaller crew and more like a tribe as an endangered species all in one place, it’s inevitable that everything can’t always break in Cyclops’ favor. No matter how far-sighted he is and how strong of a leader he is, eventually conflicts come up. You get to some sort of a tipping point as we have now in “Schism.”
As a reader, I mention the idea of one idea cycling down for another, because I think as readers sometimes we lose track of the main thread you guys seem to have a hold of. We talked about this recently with the Ultimate Universe being a tougher place to lock into after ten years of stories. For you, if you feel there’s a strong thread from “No more mutants” on through to “Schism,” is it really all an exploration of the idea of “How can we make being a mutant more dangerous?” or has the core idea for the line mutated itself in linking up all these stories?
Brevoort: I think it’s definitely an outgrowth of all the stories we’ve been telling since “House of M.” It’s not like you couldn’t have gotten there some other way or like the basic core idea wouldn’t work if you were doing it somewhat differently. A conflict over leadership within the X-Men and mutants in general over how they should be operating as a species. That works even if it was just 40 mutants hanging out in the mansion at Westchester. On that level, I think it works whether or not you’ve been following stories all the way back to “House of M.” But if you have, then you’ll have seen the foundational work that’s been laid down over the course of years in setting the characters up to this point.
Really, my answer is unfortunately “both.” This does have its roots in all of the things that spun out of “House of M,” but it’s also a simple and direct enough idea that you can come into “Schism” #1 and understand what it’s about. Honestly, those are the best kind of stories because they play to both audiences. If you’ve been reading the X-Men for years and wondering “What happens next?” like we hope you’ve been, the answer is “This is the thing that happens next” and hopefully you go, “That is a natural outgrowth of what I’ve been reading for years.” But if someone is coming to this fresh, it’s simple and direct enough that without all that background, they still can get it. They can understand it and get on board with it. Maybe you get more out of it or see different angles and gravitas to it if you’ve read the series this long, but anyone can still read it.
The last thing I wanted to ask about this week is a little silly, but we’ve all been following the DC relaunches, which Robot 6 rounded up some of your responses, but I also saw something on Twitter about this…are you running a pool in the Marvel offices to see who can guess the most of DC’s 52 books correctly?
Brevoort: [Laughs] It’s not so much a pool as it is a little game that’s been amusing a few of us on the side. There are about ten of us who have filled out what amounts to a 52-square bingo card that predicts the various new DC #1s they’re launching in order to see who can get the most right.
And are you winning?
Brevoort: I think that, as of this morning after they announced their quasi-Vertigo DC Universe books, I’m in third. I think I’ve guessed ten, and there are a couple of people who have guessed 11 titles so far. That’s on top of the initial 11 titles that they announced, which everybody had gridded in. But it’s not over yet! [Laughs] And honestly, there’s really no prize other than the very ridiculous bragging rights of “I was able to guess more of these than you.” It’s not like we put any cash into a pool…although I was willing to. It’s really just something to have a little bit of fun with at this particular moment when DC is rolling out so many #1s at once. It’s not so much a list of what we would do so much as it is a list of what we think they will do.
FRIDAY UPDATE: The winner of our little game was Marvel.com Associate Editor Ben Morse, who scored something like 22 correct books plus the 11 gimme titles. I came in third, I believe.
Now, I tried myself to sit down and think about what kinds of titles they’d be doing, and I’ll admit that by the time I got into the high 40s, I was having trouble thinking of what they all could be. What were your picks #51 and 52?
Brevoort: Literally, I got to square 52, and wrote “Free Space” [Laughs] because I had some trouble coming up with them all myself. My last two books were “Jonah Hex/Western” and “Sgt. Rock/War Book.” That was as deep as I went in. And we’re not doing this in a total vacuum, so we’ve seen the assorted rumors and announcements swirling around in the press for months, so part of the game is just remembering what people have said recently.
And it’s not too hard to come up with 52 books once you just take the titles at the top -Â you know they’re going to do Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman. And from there, you can look down the Batman family of books. Are they going to do a Robin book? Are they going to do a Nightwing book? Are they going to do a Batgirl book? You go down the whole line and do the same thing with the other DC lines. Once you’ve done that, you just start projecting. What stuff are they likely to do? What do they have in their back catalog that they’re likely to pull out, and particularly with the opportunity to reboot it from the top, what will they try to get some traction with? What properties historically have Dan or Jim or Geoff or Bob Harras liked? And some of it is just taking a flier on stuff. “Maybe they’ll do THIS!”
On a more serious note, there’s been a lot of talk on how 52 books and how it’ll affect the market, but I haven’t heard you speak about how you think day-and-date will run for everyone. I think sometimes in comics, unlike other business, competitors don’t see what works for the other side and then try to replicate it. In fact, we often see each DC and Marvel taking totally opposite viewpoints on the market just to have done so. Is there anything about DC’s moves from the 52 #1s to the digital stuff that you guys are watching with an eye towards “Maybe if it works for them, it could work for us?”
Brevoort: There are big issues and small issues here. Let me deal with the biggest issues first. Obviously, we’re watching all of this carefully and how it could impact our business in terms of the communal pool of retailers we all share. If this is an enormous bust for DC -Â if they tie up a lot of cash and can’t move books -Â that will have an impact on our retailers and their ability to stay in business. So for sure, we’re keeping an eye on this, and we’re going to adjust as we feel we need to in order to offset any risk this potentially holds.
In the abstract -Â aside from the fact that we always want to do better than them – this is the sort of thing that, if it makes a big splash and brings a lot of people into the stores, great. I have said a bunch of times that I am perfectly happy to contend with them on the racks. Get people in, and I will put X-Men books and Avengers books and Spider-Man books and Ultimate books up against the entire DC line as we do every month. If they make a lot of noise and get some more people into the stores, that’s great. Let those people buy Batman and Spider-Man and X-Men, and we’ll be very happy.
In terms of digital day-and-date, it’s nothing that new to us. We’ve been exploring our digital model and trying different approaches out for some time. This is a big leap for DC, and to say it plainly, I don’t know if they’re going to have the wherewithal and the manpower to release that many titles day-and-date, month in and month out. There are complications that arise when funneling this material through a pipeline that you do not control, and I don’t know that they’ve sufficiently taken that into account. But if they have and they figure it out, great. And whatever happens with that, it’ll either be a huge success, a middling success or an abject failure. That will just inform all the things we’re already doing. If, like a prospector, they happen to strike gold, that doesn’t mean we couldn’t immediately turn around and go, “Hey, there’s gold in them there hills!” Because at the end of the day, we still have Spider-Man and the X-Men and the Avengers and Thor and all of these characters that you can not get anywhere else from anybody else.
If it doesn’t work out for them, that doesn’t mean we won’t do more digital stuff. It just means that we may avoid some of the particular pitfalls and potholes they fall into along the way. We’re not at all resistant to the idea. We just announced that the entire Ultimate line is going day-and-date. It’s only a finite number of books, admittedly, but we think that’s a much more manageable rollout in terms of balancing the needs of our retailers in print and the needs of growing our digital business. This seems like a real all or nothing maneuver on DC’s part, and it’s anybody’s guess where it will shake out. But it’s not having any real effect on how we make our choices about expanding into that world. We’ve been relatively aggressive on this front all along, and in essence this is DC attempting to leapfrog us by going “All our stuff’s out there now!” That strikes me as a fairly shotgun approach to things and makes for a good sound byte – technically two news stories depending on if it does well or does really poorly-but not necessarily a sound strategy. Only time will tell.
Have some questions for Marvel’s Talk To The Hat? 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!