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, while Joe Quesada, Brian Michael Bendis and Matt Fraction head to see Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” get filmed, Brevoort takes his time to look at how all the recent Marvel movies from “Thor” and “X-Men: First Class” through “Captain America” have impacted how the comics are made. Plus, the internal editorial meetings at the House of Ideas turn towards the staff’s own classic comics, and in the course of answering a new wave of fan questions, the Marvel staff shares LOADS of exclusive art from upcoming releases. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Tom, I’m not sure where we’ll go from here, but this column may be entirely based on things I heard on Twitter. [Brevoort Laughs] We’ll just have to see where that leads! The first thing I wanted to ask about was that it seemed like Joe Quesada, Brian Bendis and a few other Marvel guys have headed out to the set of “The Avengers.” Is that right?
Tom Brevoort: Yes! At the top of this week they were all at the “Avengers” shoot. I haven’t heard anything about it beyond the things you’ve seen on Twitter, but by the time this sees print Joe will be back, and will give us all the details. But yes, they’re just out there watching them shoot “Avengers.”
Are they just there to create a little Marvel synergy, or as members of the Creative Committee that consults on the movies, do they have a specific task in aiding with the production?
Brevoort: Honestly I don’t know all the details, but my guess is that they’re down there for some Creative Committee business – not even necessarily related to the “Avengers” film but related to Marvel Studios in general. I think Matt Fraction is along as Brian’s “Plus One.” [Laughter] And he’s welcome and has dealt with the Studio guys before on things like the “Iron Man” video game. So this was an opportunity for them to go down there, see how the shoot is going, hob nob with all the stars, and maybe get some footage for DVD extras. It sounds like a fun excursion except for the fact that it’s apparently 120 degrees in New Mexico. Outside of that, though, and some difficulty with the flights, it sounds like a good time.
There is some influence back and forth between the movies in the comics. Everyone knows that the studios place a premium these days on “Getting it right” and including nods to comic stories and other Easter Eggs in the final film, but I was wondering how much that influence works back to what you do. With guys hitting the set and interacting with the filmmakers on a creative level, does that influence where the books go? We see a big push in product for, say, “Captain America” right now, but do you feel you’re getting something creatively in the books you didn’t have before because of the movies?
Brevoort: I think definitely so, yes. Although it’s sort of an abstract process. Part of that is because many of our key creators – Brian in particular is on the Creative Committee so he goes to a lot of meetings and sees a lot of stuff where either he vocalizes ideas he had in mind or takes on board ideas being kicked around in these rooms, to the point where I can’t tell from afar the difference between one or the other. There will be times where we’re talking and he’ll express an idea about a moment he’s planning for an “Avengers” story that’s pretty clearly come out of discussions he’s had in these meetings, but I literally can’t tell how much of those are ideas he had that he threw out to them and which are ideas he picked up from someone else in the room. In a sense, that’s probably the best way for it to work. If I could see the strings, everyone else could as well, so it’s best to just assume all of these are Brian brainstorms and just fold them into the book.
I think especially as the films get ready to come out and after they come out, we see a difference in how those characters get depicted in the books. I think that was definitely true of the X-Men. The most obvious example is that as soon as the X-Men movies opened, the way we visually represented and used Cerebro or Cerebra – while it still did the same thing, all the sudden it looked like a giant domed room with a gangplank in the center, similar to the films. That’s not necessarily anything that was mandated. It’s just that the artists who drew the books, as they’d seen the films and enjoyed them, tended to be influenced in the way they depicted that in the comics.
Certainly Matt came up with his approach to Iron Man at the same time the “Iron Man” film was being developed. He’d seen clips and previews but hadn’t seen the actual film. But still, between his own natural sensibilities and some good guesswork on his part about how they’d be treating the material, the Iron Man he writes every month is really very close to the movie version and to some degree influenced back by it. I think people in general tend to write Tony Stark today with a little more Robert Downey in his inflection and his tone and style than they did before the films. That’s an intangible. That’s just people having seen and loved those movies and now thinking Downey’s voice in their heads as they’re coming up with Iron Man dialogue. So I think it’s a fairly natural thing back and forth.
As we’ve talked about in the past, when we know we have a film coming up, we ramp up production on projects about those characters to make sure we have good, fresh, accessible collections out on bookstore shelves when that movie comes out. In addition to that, there’s the intangible of what that movie will mean to the character moving forward. I’ve seen no more of “Captain America” than the trailer that just came out, but let me say my God does that look like the best superhero movie of the summer to me, and possibly the best one in years. Every note of that trailer is pitch perfect. And I cannot help but suspect that the way they treat Captain America in this movie – Chris Evans’ performance, the physicality of the character and how he interacts, the themes of it – are going to find their way into how people treat Cap moving ahead. It’s almost inevitable, particularly if the movie is as good as the trailer makes it seem.
It’s such a minor thing, but I’ve noticed in particular in “Fear Itself'” the last few issues how Thor has been running around without his helmet. It gets knocked off him very early on. I don’t know that that’s deliberately or specifically Stuart [Immonen] saying, “Well, he didn’t have it in the movie, so let’s take it off him” so much as it is collateral damage where, having lost it in the scuffle, it wouldn’t make sense for him to suddenly have it back on his head. In fact, Stuart had to do a patch of Thor’s helmet being dropped into the Oklahoma desert with him in FEAR ITSELF #4 so he could get it back. But I think that decision is all informed by the way Thor was portrayed in the film, and people are going to naturally lean to that depiction moving ahead. So it’s definitely a two-way street.
I’m no genius on what will sell in the marketplace, but after seeing “X-Men: First Class” if no freelancer has come in over the past few weeks to pitch a “Magneto: Nazi Hunter” mini series, then someone is messing up right now.
Brevoort: [Laughs] I think at this point, everybody in the world has come in to pitch that series. Even before that there was talk of doing a sequel to “Magneto: Testament” that would have essentially been exactly that. And we may still get around to doing that project at some point. Right this moment, Greg Pak is in the midst of doing “Red Skull,” which is the sort of counterpoint to “Magneto: Testament,” and I think that asking him to do another deeply researched, historically accurate book looking in depth at that dark period and those dark people would put him in the looney bin. That is some serious stuff to have to immerse yourself into to write a comic book. But it’s entirely likely we’ll see that at some point. The Fassbender material in “X-Men: First Class” was great. Everybody came out of that movie saying “Wow! We want to see that movie. We want to see that guy running around Europe and hunting down old Nazis and magnetically making knives fly at them!”
A twist on this topic came off the boards where marvell2100 was wondering “recently Marvel seems to be revolving the majority of it’s comics around characters and/or teams that have or will have movies out. It’s good to get exposure to these characters but sometimes it comes at the expense of other characters who may not get much of the spotlight. How can Marvel find a good balance between promoting it’s movie characters and still draw attention to the other characters that aren’t getting much page time?” Is that something you’re cognizant of with someone like, to pick a random example, Nova?
Brevoort: To a certain degree we are, but the reality is that not all characters are created equal. For all that we try and other people in the past have tried, you can’t force the readership to be interested in a character. You see all the time on the boards where one person or another will be complaining about “Why is Marvel forcing this character down our throats?” And that’s typically not what’s going on. What’s usually happening is that someone here – some editor or writer – is excited about a character. They like them and want to use them in their stories, and that more than anything drives what we do. In any given year, we’ll go off to a retreat, and the conversation will wheedle around to some character: Daredevil say, for the sake of argument. We’ll come up with two or three ideas for Daredevil and everybody will be supercharged on him. People suddenly want to write Daredevil and will put him in their books because suddenly they have all these ideas that they’re very enthusiastic about. So suddenly he shows up in five or six books. From the outside, it looks like “Marvel is pushing this character” and I guess is sort of is in that the ideas came up in a common forum where everybody had the same info and was excited by it. But while they all come at it from a similar angle, their individual stories might be different. The thing is, if we do all that stuff, and the readership as a whole responds with a collective yawn, eventually we’ll move our gunsights on to another character unless there’s some absolutely compelling reason why we must make a go of Daredevil that month. And I pulled Daredevil out of the air here, obviously.
When there’s some larger thing going on like the Captain America movie, there’s obviously not going to be any better time for Captain America stories than when people are on the cusp of discovering the character. He’s going to be on billboards and TV commercials, and he’s already in Dunkin Donuts — they already have Captain America-themed donuts at this point. That character’s got better exposure right now than he’s had at any point going all the way back to the ’40s. It would be foolish not to take advantage of that. It would have been foolish for DC not to push the heck out of Green Lantern when they had a “Green Lantern” movie opening. I was walking past monstrous, 60-foot billboards with him on it every day on my way to work. You couldn’t turn around without seeing Green Lantern and the Green Lantern characters everywhere. Earlier this summer, it was the same thing when everyone was swept up in this massive global marketing for the “Thor” movie. Those opportunities don’t come that often. None of these characters, with the possible exception of Cap, has ever had a platform like this before. It would be crazy not to act on it when something like that is going on – or even a smaller thing like an animated show or TV show or a Broadway production as is the case with Spider-Man.
But not every character is going to get that. I think it’s more important that you do your best to stay true to the character. People have stories to tell about these guys, and once someone comes in with a good take or approach, we’ll elevate them. Every character out there has fans, every character is somebody’s favorite. And all those fans wonder, “Why don’t you do more with Nova? Why don’t you do more with Daredevil? Why don’t you do more with Doctor Strange or Iron Fist or the Blue Marvel?” And it’s all the same thing. “I really like that character and want to see more.” We’re all for that as long as there’re enough people who feel that way or who accumulate over time as we’re telling these stories that will make doing projects centered on these characters fiscally viable. But if we don’t have a good idea for a Nova/Daredevil/Dr. Strange/Iron Fist/Blue Marvel story, or as we develop a series if it doesn’t sell well, then we’re going to turn our attention elsewhere to what will sell.
The way our business works, the fan expectation is that characters will just be in print forever. That’s the grand and glorious goal. But the reality is, if you’re Nova you had a series in the ’70s, and then you came back for a bit in the ’80s and had another series in the ’90s, and then there was a series in the 2000s. Each of those series ran their course, did well or less well and eventually faded out. That’s Darwinism, because at the same time you had that, there was a Daredevil series and a handful of Doctor Strange series and Iron Fist series. Blue Marvel is too new to have that kind of history yet. [Laughs] But in theory, someone someday will walk in with a great pitch for a Blue Marvel series and we’ll do a new story with Adam. And it will either work or not work. Every once in a while, you find the confluence of events to take a character like that and make them work.
I think Deadpool is a great example of that. Right now, it’s clear that there was a sudden zeitgeist, a sudden interest in Deadpool whereas in the years before, there was not so much interest. He went from being a character who had his own title to sharing a title with Cable, which was a lower-selling title. Then in 2008 we had Daniel Way and Paco Medina refresh the character for audiences with Deadpool #1, and between the timing of that, his appearance in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” the talk of a movie for the character and the particular way Daniel, Paco and Carlo Barberi hit that character at the launch before the film, events worked out where there was a period that we could do five or six Deadpool projects a month and find an audience for them. And at least for the moment, there’s no end in sight for a “Deadpool” series. It’s great when we can do those kinds of things.
Certainly, there were moments in the ’80s and ’90s where you’d look at a book and go, “That’s going to run forever.” But eventually they run their course. “Silver Surfer” had a 146 issues, which is a pretty staggering run especially for a character they weren’t as able to keep going with in the ’60s and ’70s. At that point, you’d look at that and say “‘Silver Surfer’ is going to run forever.” But somehow, it didn’t. Somehow, whether it was the stories not being right or the zeitgeist moving away from it, that series ran its course and ended. It doesn’t mean we won’t start another Silver Surfer series if we find the right pitch for it. It doesn’t mean we won’t use the character in other places like “Thor” or in “Fear Itself: The Deep” or in “Daredevil” – much to the horror of people who read about our press conference last week. [Phegley Laughs]
I have gotten more FormSpring questions in the last week – and it’s all from one guy as far as I can tell – that are just aghast at the notion that we’d team up the Silver Surfer and Daredevil. He’s making crazy statements like “How can street thugs present a threat to the Silver Surfer? It doesn’t make any sense!” or “Marvel’s love affair with street-level characters is going too far!” This is a phenomenon that you see every once in a while if you look at comics’ internet presence. You announce anything – and this wasn’t even an announcement, it was just Steve Wacker saying in a press call “Hey! Remember that conversation about the Silver Surfer we had, Mark? That would be cool to do at some point.” It wasn’t them saying, “This is the story you’ll see in issue #7.” But some readers imagine the worst possible way in which that story could be done, and then act out on their imaginations like that comic actually exists and that they’ve already read it. [Laughter]
This happens so often also in the world of films. The first photograph of any super hero film character in their costume is going to inspire page upon page upon page of negative reactions, as if everyone had already seen the movie. Part of the reason for this is that absolutely no one looks good in a super hero costume in real life. That’s part of the fantasy–they just don’t work as well in real life, particularly when you’re talking about a posed promotional shot of the actor in the duds. They look dopey. But that’s not the movie. It’s not the movie, and you’re overreacting. And it’s because you love this stuff so much and you want to see it respected and to enjoy it. But ultimately, I would argue that there are Daredevil/Silver Surfer stories that are worth telling. And hopefully, if we do A DD/Surfer tale, we’ll be able to execute it well. And if we don’t, there will be plenty of time to tell us that we’re monkeys, but getting so heated ahead of time seems like an overreaction to me.
And now I think we’ve drifted way away from where we started. [Laughter]
That’s okay! You said something earlier though that reminds me of the other thing I saw on Twitter. Fans know that each week you run a reading circle on various comics with the Assistant and Associate Editors at Marvel to discuss the craft, and from what I’ve read on Alejandro Arbona’s Twitter, this week you’re having the guys and gals bring in their very first comic?
Brevoort: That is correct! It hasn’t happened yet as we speak, but this is an outgrowth of the fact that for the last couple of weeks, rather than talking about one specific book, I’ve been mixing things up. We did a couple of weeks on scripts where we just read and dissected scripts, because I felt like our younger editors who were perhaps not getting enough hands-on training as to what we look for in a script. So I said, “Here’s the script for a single-issue story. Let’s discuss it as though we were editing this story and were going to be giving comments and thoughts back to the writer.” We did that for a couple of weeks, and then over the last two weeks, we did a week where I asked everyone to bring in a “good comic” – not ones they’d necessarily edited or ones that even came out of Marvel, but just comics coming out that we think are good. Since these meetings can so easily become a hub of negativity, what do we actually do well? Then last week, in counterpoint to that, I asked people to bring in a crummy comic. [Laughs] All of these were recent comics, and not everybody but most everybody brought in books that they had worked on. They discussed why things had gone off the rails or where decisions had been made which they wished they’d made differently. That was pretty illuminating.
And this week at the suggestion of Spidey Assistant Editor Ellie Pyle, everyone is bringing in – or talking about at least because I suspect a lot of people don’t have it right to hand – the first comics they read. We’re talking about where people first found them, how you came to them, what attracted you to them and what there was in them that made you pick up another book. We’re definitely and eternally focused on making our stories as accessible to the widest audience possible, but seeing what actually worked and actually drew people in to the degree to which they’re making a career doing this, I think there’s value to that. And we’ll see how it goes.
Not to add a negative spin to what I’m sure will be folks looking at stuff they really enjoyed, but what jumped into my mind here was the idea of viewing things under glass to some extent. Just like you find fans who once read, again to use a random example, the Erik Larsen “Nova” book back in the day and loved it and who now always say, “Why can’t they make a Nova book like this one?”, do you ever find that in the editorial role you have to fight against their own nostalgia to find a better way to make comics now?
Brevoort: I think that’s tough for anybody, but certainly it’s tough for the editorial staff. We all have strong opinions on what we like, but hopefully we’re also all very analytical in what we do, and there are enough voices to shake you out of complacency. The comics that meant the most to you and the first stories you read with these characters that left an impact on you are always going to be more affecting and a guidepost in terms of how you relate to comics in general and the characters in particular. Nothing in the world can make you eight, nine, ten or eleven years old again and connecting to this stuff the way you did the first time. It’s the cry of the 30-year-old fan: “Why is this stuff not as good as it was years ago?” Some of that may be absolutely accurate and justified, but a big part of it is that you’re not the person you were back then. You’ve read a lot of comics since then, and now something that seemed fresh and exciting when you first encountered it – whether that was in 2000 or 1990 or 1980 or 1970 – was maybe not as fresh when you first encountered it as you thought. But because it was your first time, it felt that way.
I think in these conversations, we try to boil characters down to their essence, which tends to work beyond the moment. But we also try to deal with the zeitgeist. What about the world of the 21st Century changes how you deal with these characters? It goes back to one of Bill Jemas’ points when they were building the Ultimate line. In 1962, Peter Parker being a science nerd who sat with his home chemistry set and played with test tubes was of its era. But in the year 2000, that was an antiquated and dated version of a kid who was science savvy. That kid in the modern era will not be dealing with bubbling test tubes. He’ll probably be dealing with computers and genetics and DNA sequencing and yada yada yada. The way you depict that character in the modern idiom is different in how it relates to the audience today.
It’s very difficult, particularly in our world where we have stories from 50 years ago if not 70 years ago still being relevant to our modern stories, to avoid that pull of nostalgia. Nostalgia is powerful and potent, and it’s one of the things, particularly for the longtime audience, that makes things go. If you can drop in a reference or do a twist or bounce some story point off a comic we fondly remember, we as an audience like it. It works for us. It rewards the investment in the material and the time spent, and it creates a larger sense of involvement than is typically possible in a single TV show or a movie or a novel. It’s one of the things that comics can do with their serial storytelling style that many other forms of entertainment can’t. The danger there is that if you rely on it too much, you’re telling stories only for people who have been reading for 30 years or who are willing to put in the hard work to understand whatever it is you’re talking about – the particular language you’re speaking. That’s the balancing act.
I’m not sure if this came up in a past column or on FormSpring or somewhere else, but somebody asked me about a recent interview in which Paul Levitz was talking about writing “Legion” now and how he handled it differently than he did years ago. He was writing a scene and made some oblique reference to something in the past, being cognizant of the fact that there’s an internet out there now so people who don’t know what that is and understand it can look it up. And they can look it up easily because the internet is something they’re carrying around with them on their phone in their pocket. And there’s definitely some truth to that. But I don’t like to rely on that a whole lot and would rather have my information be in the stories rather than have people needing to look it up. But that doesn’t change the fact that there’s a distinct difference between how people relate to their comics today than they did even ten years ago. So I’ve got to take that into account as well as we’re doing things.
Wrapping up the week with a few more fan questions, Hypestyle is back wondering “What are the chances of Marvel facilitating a revival of a humor title like Crazy Magazine?”
Brevoort: I don’t know that it’s completely out of the question, Hype, but it’s not something that’s in the cards at the moment. The market for a humor magazine like “Crazy” really isn’t what it once was – heck, the market for any magazine these days is pretty cutthroat – and even perennials like “MAD” and “Cracked” seem to be moving to more of a digital online model. But you never know, we might get inspired in some manner and let the “Crazy” fly.
Speaking of old titles, Prince Of Orphans wanted to know, “Since Journey into Mystery was brought back, will Tales of Suspense take over any title? Will Captain America and Bucky ever change its title to Tales of Suspense?”
Brevoort: This kind of goes back to one of the points I was talking about earlier, Prince. The name “Tales Of Suspense” has some specific relevance to us, because we remember it as the series in which Iron Man debuted and Cap got his first Marvel-era series. That’s nostalgia. But as an actual title, unless you were doing a series that was dedicated to telling tales providing suspense specifically, it’s not a title that means anything to anybody today.
The same thing is really true of “Journey Into Myster,” though writer Kieron Gillen took it as his personal challenge to make that title relevant to the stories he’s telling within that series. But it’s a nostalgia play, nothing more. So I don’t think it’s especially likely that you’ll see us transform “Cap And Bucky” into “Tales Of Suspense.” It’s not unlikely that we might transform it into something else at a certain point, but it’d have to be a title that got across the concept of the series to the audience today.
On that very same topic, CMBMOOL asked, “Outside telling readers the stories of Bucky’s past, just what is the true purpose for the upcoming Captain America and Bucky series, if Bucky’s already dead?”
Brevoort: Way to bring the snark, CMB! But rather than give it back to you, let me turn this over to Associate Editor Lauren Sankovitch, who’ll be editing “Cap And Bucky.”
Lauren Sankovitch: Well…he’s not the ONLY Bucky. Read and see, my friend. Disappointment is not an option.
That Random Guy is checking in on some new talent coming to Marvel by asking, “If Chris Hastings does a great job on Fear Itself: Deadpool, will he be sticking around at Marvel to write other books (I have been a fan of his for a while)?”
Brevoort: Jordan White is now editing our various Deadpool projects, so let me kick this over to him.
Jordan White: As with most things, it’s a little more complicated than that, but we hope so. Assuming Chris does a great job for us (which he has), then of course we’d like to work with him more. There is the small matter of finding a product that is a good match for his style, and making sure that is a story the readers will be willing to support with their hard-earned dollars. But we’re certainly hoping to make that connection and get another story out with Chris, and the same for any writer we feel does good work for us.
Finally, strathcona In the wake of Schism we know Uncanny is being canceled and relaunched, but what of X-Men, Astonishing, Legacy, Uncanny X-Force, and even New Mutants and Generation Hope? I can see the last two continuing, but I don’t see how the others can if Schism is going to be as important an event as it’s being sold as.
Brevoort: On this one, let’s turn to X-Men Senior Editor Nick Lowe for the “Lowe-down.”
Nick Lowe: No X-book is going to go untouched coming out of “Schism.” We’ve got announcements coming up about how books are getting shaken up, but I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag yet. One that has been discussed a little already is “Uncanny X-Force” so it will help illustrate one sort of Post-Schism effect. Once the “Dark Angel” saga finishes, you will see the effects of Schism. It will affect the characters and the mission of that book. But it isn’t going to radically change creative hands. Rick Remender rocks SO HARD and he’s not going anywhere. Rick, Jerome, Esad, Mark, editor Jody Leheup and the great unsung hero of X-Force, coloring legend Dean White, have made it one of the strongest X-Books and Marvel books period. There will be changes to the characters and to who is on the team, but that creative team is amazing and we don’t want to shake that up any more than necessary.
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!