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, Tom is happy to open up the floor to fans in a bigger, crazier way than usual – that is to say he’s opened up the floor to one specific fan! Chosen from applicants during discussion after last week’s column, CBR Message Boarder Sighphi (AKA Omar Padilla) called in this week to grill Brevoort with his own personal question list. From concerns over Marvel’s pricing policies to the state of mutants in the Marvel U and from queries of Marvel’s submissions policies to the state of Spider-Man as a member of the Future Foundation, Sighphi didn’t hold back. So read on and see how one fan handles one of the top editors at Marvel Comics!
Tom Brevoort: Let me start things out this week. Before we get too deep into this, since nobody reading this is going to know a whole lot about you, Omar, tell us a little bit about yourself. When did you start reading the books? What are your past comic experiences?
Omar Padilla: I’ve essentially been reading comic books all my life. The first time I started reading Marvel titles specifically was in 1990 with the first issue of the “Ghost Rider” series with Danny Ketch, a “Wolverine” book where he was in the Savage Land that I don’t remember and a “Punisher” book. From those three books, I picked Ghost Rider and Wolverine as my favorite characters to follow. And I’ve never stopped.
Brevoort: So you’ve been reading consistently for the last 20 years? You’ve never stopped or given up?
Padilla: Well, during the late ’90s I sort of stopped for a bit and then came back.
Brevoort: What brought you back?
Padilla: What really brought me back was “Civil War.” I really liked that concept of hero versus hero over following the rules or doing what’s right. The 50-State Initiative and the “Avengers: The Initiative” book – I said it then, and I’ll say it now – that’s one of the best things that came out of “Civil War.” I liked that concept a lot.
Brevoort: Well, thank you. That’s very nice to hear on a couple of levels – not the least of which is that a thing I worked on helped to bring you back in and that you liked one of the books I edited coming out of it. This is all lovely…now you can tell me all the bad things. [Laughs] I look at this as us having a conversation. People on the message boards get to post comments and kind of get to interact with us, but it’s not the same thing as getting to a real one-on-one conversation about stuff. Hopefully, through this you’ll get some understanding as to why we make the choices we make, and it’ll be an enjoyable and enlightening experience for all. Or it will be a fantastic wreck! [Laughter] Either way, on to you. Where do you want to start.
Padilla: All right, the first topic I call “Lowering The Ceiling To $2.99.” You guys said a while back that you were probably thinking about lowering the pricing on certain books, but you never gave a complete plan. What I’m wondering now is whether we have any new information and what Marvel is going to do. I don’t want to know about what other companies are doing or not. I want to know what Marvel is doing right now.
Brevoort: What we’ve been doing steadily – and there’s a timeframe over which this stuff takes place because even if I decide something today it takes three to six months for it to be implemented since we’re that far ahead – is trying to do more books at $2.99. Particularly, we’re looking at limited series and some of our ongoing titles. The reality is that it’s just not fiscally feasible for us to bring all of our books down to $2.99 and keep them at the quality level that we’ve maintained up until now. We’ve run those numbers a million different ways, and it simply cannot be done without the books getting crummier. But we are trying to be conscious of the fact that guys like you only have so much disposable income to spend on the books. We’re trying to do fewer ancillary series. Right now we’re at the last gasp of a lot of Thor and Cap projects that are tied into the films. What you’ll see moving ahead is more emphasis on the core titles, and moving ahead you’ll see us ramp up production on those and potentially putting out more than 12 issues a year in many cases.
We never make a price increase “just because.” The only reason we raise our prices is because we get to a point where that’s necessary to keep the books at the quality level we think they need to be. We know it’s a tough thing for the people who have to put down money every month to follow this stuff and have to make choices as a result. But cutting corners on the quality is the most certain way to make sure nobody puts down money for the books. I don’t know if that quite answered your question completely because I don’t think we have a definitive “We’re going to make this many books $2.99 and this many books $3.99” plan. It’s not as definitive as that. In a general sense, I’m not sure what the percentage is between the two prices, but I know that we’re trying to get more books at $2.99 and add more value to the $3.99 books like the recent “Avengers” #10 where we gave readers as an added bonus the entirety of “Heroes For Hire” #1. We’re doing the same thing on an upcoming issue of “Uncanny X-Men,” and we’ll continue to experiment with this kind of thing in the days ahead.
Padilla: So for the $2.99 books that don’t get high enough sales to avoid being cancelled, do the $3.99 books affect where that line is a little bit? Essentially, do they get a longer chance because the bigger books bring in more?
Brevoort: Certainly the fact that we tend to price our bigger books at $3.99 provides us with a little bit of a cushion, but as a general rule at Marvel, the way we operate our business is that every title has to pull its own weight. So a high-selling Avengers book at $3.99 doesn’t necessarily make up for a low-selling “Howard The Duck” book at $2.99 or at $3.99. Every project has to pay its own way and make its own money. That having been said, getting a little extra on the bigger books makes it more likely that we’ll take chances on something we want to publish that may not sell as well, and maybe keep them alive a little longer. But really, every title that we publish has to find its audience and succeed to a certain level if we’re going to continue to put it out.
Padilla: On finding the audience, the $2.99 books that have trouble have it from the start, and then issue #3 we get news that by issue #5 “It’s cancelled!” Don’t those books get no real chance to find an audience?
Brevoort: To be honest – and I’ve done this a long time and have seen a lot of books come and go – if a book doesn’t come out of the gate with a certain amount of “audience velocity”, the odds that it will start to find that audience and grow are very small. I’m not saying it doesn’t ever happen, but 98% of the time, it does not happen. That being the case, there are instances where there are titles we’ve felt strongly about where we’ve seen some ancillary reason to keep them around. I was thinking about this the other night, how when we launched Dan Slott and Juan Bobillo’s “She-Hulk,” it came out at not the best time in the world. So we ran it for 12 issues, and the numbers were not that great, but we put it on hiatus and brought it back nine or ten months later with a little more fanfare. It had gotten some critical buzz if not commercial success, and when it came back we were able to market it better so that it lasted another 35 or 36 issues. We did the same kind of thing with “Runaways” and a few other titles.
So we do attempt this sort of thing, but really, if a book comes out and the numbers are atrocious, unless we do something magical with it like kill a major character and don’t tell anyone beforehand in issue #3 or reveal Spider-Man’s identity to the world and don’t tell anybody beforehand in issue #4, the odds statistically are that the numbers are going to continue to slide down. There’s a point where we’ve got to make a certain amount of bank to keep our lights on. It’s very Darwinistic. In a sense, all books are created equal in that all books have the same chance of being shown to the audience once they’re out there in that enormous “Previews” catalog. There’s stuff that catches on with people that gets to survive, and then there’s stuff that we like, that you like and that some readers really, really love that just can’t attract enough of an audience. That stinks, but if there’s a lot of good will or good memories surrounding it, we may find a way to make it work down the line. A creator ten years later may say, “I really loved that story or that character. Let me find a way to bring that back into what I’m doing now.” But ever title has to carry its water, and it’s not just a matter of “If you build it, they will come.” It’s more “If you build it and nobody shows up, you’re better off planting wheat.”
Padilla: My next question is on submissions. You guys pretty much have closed that down. Now with Disney, are you going to make that tighter, or are you going to use some of their resources like a talent development or an associates program to build a new generation of artists and writers?
Brevoort: I think that in general, we do a pretty good job of finding the next wave of talented artists and writers. We have a whole division of guys in what we call our creative development group headed up by C.B. Cebulski where one of their main jobs, on the art side especially, is to find guys who are at the level where they can work for Marvel. And every year, you see a bunch of these guys get a shot to do a Marvel comic or two and establish that they have the chops to do this on a regular basis. The same kind of thing is true on the writing side. We’re always out there looking for guys working in the comics field or guys working in related fields who are interesting and who have a unique voice.
The thing that’s changed is that as we’ve gotten bigger and have our own movie studio now and are expanding into television as part of Disney, there’s much greater opportunity for what I can only describe as legal entanglements. I’m sure this has happened to you without even sending stuff in. You have a great idea for a Thor story. “Wow, it would be great if Thor could fight the Absorbing Man on the moon!” And then a few months later, we put out a story where Thor fights the Absorbing Man on the moon. And you think, “Damn! They stole my idea!” That kind of thing gets very common when we get so many submissions coming in. So from a legal standpoint, we simply can’t even look at that stuff because we can’t open the door to the possibility of any entanglement from people who might feel that we’ve ripped something off. But we’re constantly on the prowl ourselves, and that’s why submissions are by invitation only. If I run across somebody who seems like they have the credentials and have what it takes, I can say to them “Pitch me a story.” If you impressed me, Omar, and I felt like you were a great new writing talent, I could say “Pitch me something.” So our doors are not absolutely closed, but it is a one-way street. It’s who we reach out to based on our own barometer for who’s at a professional level to work at Marvel.
The other thing that I’ll tell you having done portfolio reviews for 20 years is that everybody who’s ever read a comic thinks that they’ve got a comic book story and are good enough to write comics. And most of them aren’t. Most of them just are not at that level. And that’s a harsh reality, but the guys who get there are the one who not only have the innate talent but also the drive to succeed and follow their dream and better themselves and take every opportunity they can to get their work into print. They work their ass off to the point where they can actually get in the door at Marvel or DC or Image or wherever. Most of the people you run into go “I’ve got this great idea for a comic, but I have a day job and I don’t really have the time to develop it. If you only gave me the gig, I’m sure it’d be as good as anything you’ve ever had.” Unfortunately, that’s a crock. That’s a pipe dream. We all want to believe that, but it is not in fact true. So what our system also does is eliminate the mountain of submissions that are in no way, shape or form at the level that they’d need to be for us to put these people in a Marvel comic. Like it or not, Marvel is the top of this field, and to play in the majors you have to be at least this good. That’s unfair on the one hand, but on the other hand, if I want to play major league ball I’ve got a lot of work to do because I’ve been sitting on my ass behind this desk for a long time and am in no way in shape enough to go out there and hit and field at the level of a pro-and in fact, I’ve never been, no matter how much I may have wanted to.
In terms of programs that Disney has in place, I’m sure some of our people have talked to their people. I don’t know for sure what the sum and substance of those conversations are, because as I’m sure you can appreciate, Disney is a massive company. They have dozens of divisions under the Disney umbrella, and over the months that we’ve been part of Disney our guys have been having a lot of conversations with a lot of different people about a lot of different things. It’s a bevy of topics. If Disney has something that works extremely well for them in terms of developing talent, we’ll no doubt try to pick up that model and adapt it to what we do. And the reverse is true as well. If they find there’s stuff that Marvel does well, I’m sure they’ll adapt it to their businesses. But I’m not aware of any specifics concerning Disney’s talent development program-I’ve been too busy putting out my comics.
Padilla: Let’s talk about “No More Mutants.” One of the reasons it was done was to make mutants more unique and so that writers wouldn’t default to coming up with new characters saying “The origin of this guy is that he is a mutant!” Fast forward to now where we’ve got a lot of characters like CLoud 9 where we have no explanation of how they got their powers, and some of the new kids from “Avengers Academy” have vague origins where they’re not mutants but we don’t know how they got their powers.
Brevoort: Well, I think there’s a difference there, which is to say that they’re not mutants and we haven’t yet revealed how they got their powers. That is slightly different than not knowing how they got their powers. In the case of Cloud 9, we never actually showed this, but within “The Initiative” somewhere in the first few issues we mentioned that she came in contact with this extraterrestrial, unearthly gas that metabolized into her body and allows her to create her flying cloud.
Padilla: That’s in there? What issue?
Brevoort: Yeah! I could not have made that up off the top of my head. [Laughter] It would have been in one of the early issues. If I had Dan Slott standing here, he’d tell me which one. I’m betting it’s within the first three, but I really haven’t read those books since I got done putting them out. So most of those characters do have origins. All of the “Academy” characters have origins whether or not those have completely come out on the page just yet. That’s part of what getting into every issue of “Academy” and delving into these kids lives is all about. The mystery is part of the intrigue. The one thing you can be fairly certain of is that none of them are mutants.
The reason that we took the “No More Mutants” step in “House of M” was that, particularly coming off the few years before that, it felt like there were so many mutants that there was a mutant on every street corner. Rather than representing a small minority, they became almost a majority. It was as though there were more mutants in the Marvel Universe than anything else. And that kind of stands to reason because for ten years before that, X-Men was the most popular franchise we published, and in every issue of “X-Men” or “X-Force” or “X-Factor” or “X-Whatever” we’d require new mutants to be created, either for their cast or for them to battle. The sheer number of mutant characters was out of whack, and in doing “House of M” we were trying to get the mutants back to a place where they were a literal minority – down to the point where there were only 200 or so of them left. It might be 198 or 205 or 230 because people didn’t necessarily take an accurate census as to every single mutant. But it dealt with the fact that the X-Men metaphor is all about being persecuted, being ostracized, being different and having to find your way in a world that fears and hates you. All of that is easier to accept if you’re not the dominant species on the planet or in the publishing line.
Padilla: Well, that’s the point. They’re the majority in the publishing line, but in the world there were only three or four million.
Brevoort: [Laughs] “Only” three or four million guys who can shoot beams out of their eyes or lift a car!
Padilla: Sure, but people have tanks too…I mean, a lot of tanks.
Brevoort: Yeah, but you see how from a fictional standpoint, that’s not a good thing either. We chose to bring it back down to the 200 number that we picked, but even if it would have been 2,000 you’d get the same idea. We wanted mutants to be special again. After “House of M,” the fact that mutants see themselves as an endangered species has driven every plotline over the past four or five years. Hopefully, you like at least some of those. Maybe not, maybe you think that’s what’s wrong with the X-Titles right now, but I hope not. I think this has given the line a focus as a whole where before it didn’t have as much of one. Being a mutant was pretty good. You got to live in a swanky mansion and not work for a living. You got to hang out with all these beautiful people. And sure, every once in a while someone would come along and try to kill you, but that happens to Spider-Man too. So putting mutants back on a footing where they were a little more beleaguered and had to fight to survive in a fatalistic universe seemed like a worthwhile thing. Now we’ve come to the end of “Second Coming” and in the “Generation Hope” series, we’ve seen these five lights representing five new mutants, and it puts things on a track where maybe there might be more. But the reason we went down that path was to make the mutants a little more special than they were when there were so many running around.
Padilla: On the idea of keeping them special, one problem I think that we’ve got today is that we’ve got a lot of superpowered kids of people like the Secret Warriors. So mutants really don’t matter much anymore when Iron Man can have a kid that’s a cyborg or Captain America can create Lady America or whatever. Doesn’t that take away the idea of mutants being a threat when right now the line has basically make the world about “Normal Vs. Superpowered”?
Brevoort: I think the problem created by all these people having kids is a different one than what you’re pointing to. To me, having all these characters with offspring and particularly villains having kids who gain their powers and are old enough to be 20-year-old villains themselves means that all the characters are really old. I mean, chronologically old. If Spider-Man fought Electro in high school and Electro since then was able to have a kid who’s now 20 years old who can fight Spider-Man, then Spider-Man is now a 45 or 50-year-old man. There’s no way the math doesn’t add up that way. The same goes for Iron Man or Cap or Thor. That portion of it I stare at, and it’s a little troubling to me. It’s bothersome in the same sort of way that – and I’m sorry to have to use a DC example here – Batman has now had four Robins. Batman has been Batman long enough that his son is now old enough to be Robin. Batman is a middle aged man! And somehow that is not as compelling or appealing and certainly not how they’re going to cast him in the next Batman film. To me, that’s one of the problems with the compression of time we have to deal when we have characters that have been around for 50 years.
In terms of the question of “Does having these other super-powered kids make mutants seem like less of an individual threat”…I guess maybe? It certainly makes those kids as much of a danger whether they got sired by somebody like Electro who got powers accidentally versus mutants who just spawned up. I think the difference as I’ve always looked at it – and it is a little different when looking at their kids – but most super heroes and super villains get their powers by some freak accident. It just happens. Something crazy went down regarding rogue science or an alien artifact or whatever it may be, and this was the freak result. But mutants are scarier because mutants are evolutionary. That means on some level the time for regular human beings is coming to an end. And that’s scary. And the fact that any kid could be a mutant – that your child at the age of 12 could start shooting beams out of their eyes – is scary. That’s scarier in a more direct way than the son of a villain or hero gaining powers. It’s a slightly different reading on why this stuff is scary to people, but it’s one I’ve always been able to understand in terms of why the mutant paranoia involved mutants like the X-Men and not Captain America or Thor. Captain America is on our side. We made him that way using the super-soldier serum, and as long as we don’t use it on anybody else, there won’t be masses of people to come wipe us out and replace us.
Padilla: I mention the kid stuff because I remember a storyline where somebody wanted to pass a law to sterilize mutants, but I thought that ignored everyone else with powers. It’s like, “Why not sterilize them?”
Brevoort: I think if you got to the point in that storyline where that was an actual thing – in a “Civil War” sort of fashion – I think that plot wouldn’t stop with “just sterilize the mutants.” I think that’s an idea that would concern all the Marvel characters. “Well, maybe Spider-Man’s a mutant and maybe he’s not…we’d better sterilize him just in case.” [Laughs] But you’re right. I don’t think that story got to the point where they were actually sterilizing anyone. It was legislation that was proposed by Senator Kelly and Graydon Creed and so forth. It never got to the point where it was law and there were clinics to sterilize mutants. But if it had gotten that far, absolutely it would have impacted other characters and not just the mutants. Maybe it will happen in a story we do in the future.
Padilla: “Civil War 2.”
Brevoort: “Civil War 2!” There you go! [Laughter]
Padilla: I want to talk about “The Wolverine Effect” – Wolverine being in every book everywhere. And that makes some sense because all he does is be a hero. He wakes up, eats some breakfast, does Avengers…wakes up the next day, does X-Force. But now with Spider-Man joining the Future Foundation, he has a life outside all that and is trying to be a normal man. When things come up like finding a place to live or having a new job to go to or whatever, it kind of stretches out that storyline when he has access the Avengers tower, Avengers mansion, and the Future Foundation Building. When you stretch out a character like that on the top and the bottom, do you worry about how it’ll affect those kinds of stories for him?
Brevoort: We worry about this stuff all the time. We even worry about this with Wolverine, even though you say he’s a hero all the time, with the X-Men out on the West Coast now, and the Avengers still on the East Coast. And in fact, during “Siege” and the lead up to “Siege” he was out of the Avengers books for six to nine months, and nobody noticed. [Laughs] We just couldn’t find a way for him to do all this X-Men stuff and then go back over to New Avengers. We didn’t make a big deal out of it. He just wasn’t there, and nobody noticed it. People kept saying, “Wolverine is in all these books” but he hadn’t been in Avengers in four months. People were so used to him being part o that team that nobody noticed.
Padilla: I think people did notice that, but go ahead…
Brevoort: Well, we certainly worry about this stuff, but things need to be balanced between those worries and what’s a good/interesting story. Quite honestly, it’s a question of who are the characters that people want to read about. Certainly Wolverine is as popular now, maybe more popular now, than he’s ever been. So he keeps popping up in different places. Spidey has been popular since the ’60s, and right now there’s a situation going on that calls for him to be in “FF.” I kind of have to ask you to wait until the Future Foundation stuff hits before you make any hard decisions in terms of what this is going to do to Peter Parker’s life. Without giving away too much, this is all in keeping with how things in Spidey’s life have been going for the last few months. He got his new gig at Horizon Labs. It’s sort of a consulting science gig, which is to say that he doesn’t have regular hours so long as he can produce results. And that gives him a certain amount of money and a certain amount of comfort. He’s allowed to exercise his scientific side, and being a part of the Future Foundation is an extension of that idea. If he comes up with a wing-ding gizmo in an “FF” story, he can turn around and use the science of that in a Spidey story and go “See? I’ve made my monthly contribution to Horizon, and everything is fine.”
I think it’d be a little more worrisome if the Future Foundation had their headquarters on the moon or in Detroit or somewhere that stretched those boundaries a little more. But at least at this particular moment, since Spidey’s life is on a bit of an upswing, the fact that he’s working with the Future Foundation and still on the Avengers doesn’t stretch him too much in terms of geography. But honestly, in terms of Spider-Man one of the things you want to see him do is try and juggle everything so he can struggle with the weight of the world and have it all come crashing down around him before he starts picking up the blocks and building again. Is it stretching him too thin? Maybe. And if so, maybe that’s something that will bite him on the behind later on.
But as answer to your larger question…yeah, we try to track this stuff and not to just throw a character willy-nilly in every single place. We try to make some sense of it. That being said, you started reading the books in 1990, and I swear around ’92 or ’93 Wolverine was in a lot of books as a guest star – and a crazy guest star at that. Often it just amounted to “Hey, we want to sell some copies of this month’s ‘West Coast Avengers’ so let’s have Wolvie guest star.” In that sense, this is nothing new, but at least we’re trying to do it a little more sensibly now. And we tried to do it sensibly back then too, but sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong. Hopefully we learn from that and do that less.
Padilla: That was one of the problems I was looking at – working at Horizon and being with the Future Foundation.
Brevoort: And Jon Hickman is writing “FF,” and Dan Slott is writing “Amazing,” and those two have been in close contact as we’ve been gearing up to this point. You’re going to see FF stuff in “Amazing” and Spidey stuff in “FF” to whatever degree it’s applicable. Hopefully it won’t be a huge conflict. If it is though, there’s a whole internet’s worth of message boards for you to tell me about it. [Laughter]
Padilla: Next is continuity. And I’m not talking about the “S.H.I.E.L.D.” book where you purposefully want to rewrite the world or even mistakes like Area 51 being in New Mexico or saying that Mach-5 is 300 miles an hour. Those are little mistakes…
Brevoort: Mach-5 being 300 miles an hour is a pretty big mistake. [Laughs]
Padilla: Well, maybe they missed one zero or something. But I mean stuff in between. Venom right now has been turned into some kind of alien Hulk where he’s always trying to take over the host and eat people’s brains. That happened in Warren Ellis’ “Thunderbolts” where it was for a specific reason – it was mind control. But after that, the writers continued on without an explanation. When you write a story, do you just go with what was done last, or do the editors say “I like it. Go with it”?
Brevoort: I think it happens on a case-by-case basis. With Venom, I think you can look earlier than Warren’s “Thunderbolts” run for cases where Venom has threatened to eat people’s brains if not actually having eaten them.
Padilla: But now we get these stories where he’s constantly trying to eat people when originally it was one story where there was a specific brain chemical missing from Brock’s brain that brought it out.
Brevoort: I remember that. I edited that Venom story, actually.
Padilla: Yeah, so there was a reason to it. But now he’s just like “Grrrrrrr!” even though the mind control story is over.
Brevoort: As with anything, it’s not like there’s a hard and fast rule. Certainly we want our writers to understand the characters that they work on. That having been said – particular with characters who have been around for 40 or 50 years – it’s impossible for every writer to have read everything and have every story at their fingertips. I, who have read almost everything, will goof up where Area 51 is from time to time just because of the crush of putting out so many books so rapidly. Or I’ll goof up which Infinity Gem which guy got. We didn’t double check it. We just assumed Brian had it right and moved ahead. Oops. We foul up in the same sort of way that back in the day Stan would foul up and the way that everyone who’s come since has fouled up. We are, sadly not perfect. We’re pretty good. We catch and fix tons of stuff, but you only get to see the goofs that make it to the page, and you can still take us to task when we drop the ball.
When you work with these characters that have been around for so long, you want to be able to take them in new directions and do new things with them. You don’t want to tell the same stories you’ve told before over and over again. And in the course of doing that, you find new stuff that works. Even though all that’s come out so far is the Point-1 issue of Spidey, I think you’ll find that the new “Venom” book is taking the idea of Venom and the guy who’s bonded with the symbiote going out and threatening to eat people’s brains – whether he does it or not – and doing something different with it. Hopefully it’ll be interesting and entertaining and cool and over the top and crazy in that Rick Remender way. But Rick is going to pull from the elements from past Venom stories that speak most to him. So as long as he’s not completely overturning everything and as long as what he’s doing is consistent with the general feel of Venom, I think that’s fine. I could fix your complaint with a line of dialogue tomorrow…
Padilla: That’s what I’m saying!
Brevoort: [Laughs] See, there you go! And if there’s a point at which that’s relevant to the story, then we do it. We spent a lot of years trying to be all things to all people – trying to keep everything absolutely consistent and addressing every issue that came up-sometimes doing whole stories to explain a two-panel goof-up. And A) we never accomplished it, and B) the return on that effort not only made everyone crazy but it made the stories crummier because the creators often felt like they were operating in a straightjacket. They didn’t want to do anything that might conflict with someone somewhere. The books didn’t read that well, and it wasn’t that great a return on all that effort.
So if there’s a story reason, if there’s a need to explain something…this conversation, Omar, is the first time anybody has come to me and said “I have this particular problem with Venom and how he’s been behaving.” That’s not to say that you’re wrong, but it is to say of the 50,000 to 100,000 people who are reading Venom’s appearances, fewer than 1% are concerned about this. Consequently, if I can do something to appease that 1% that fits with the story of the book I will. But I’ve got to focus my guns and the majority of my storytelling at the most people possible and be entertaining to the widest amount of people I can. If I can service everybody, terrific. But if I have to make a choice, I’m going to go with the majority most of the time. You have that one point: “I wish you could clarify this one thing about why Venom behaves in this cannibalistic fashion for this specific brain chemical?” And two doors down from you there’s a fan with another very specific Venom question, and two doors down from him is another one. And probably they’ve got points that are completely irrelevant to you or are something you hear and go “Oh, I never thought of that.” There are a million questions, and if you’re not careful these stories turn into “Marvel Universe Handbook” entries. That’s the reason we have the “Marvel Universe Handbook” – so people who are interested in how everything fits together have a place they can turn where there’s a dedicated team who work very hard to figure all this stuff out.
In the course of telling stories month in and month out, I’m focused on what makes for the best story. I certainly don’t go out of my way to invalidate a story from 1994 or whatever, but if it’s a choice between three panels in a story from 1994 that’s not been reprinted and a great story for today, I’m going to opt for the great story today. And eventually at some point later I’ll try and find a way to reconcile the two. That’s how the Marvel Universe grows into the future. The history should not be handcuffs. The quip I use with creators and sometimes in the public is that the continuity is there to serve the stories. The stories are not there to serve the continuity. One is the cart and one is the horse, and we need to put the right one in front.
Padilla: But I’m not saying you should change Venom or Venom’s series. I’m saying explain this storyline because it’s not finished without an explanation. his also happened with the Skrulls all being religious now. The last story with the Skrulls was “Secret Invasion” which made them religious, but it ignores everything that’s happening around the whole Marvel Universe where not all Skrulls are religious – just the sect that invaded earth. I’m just looking for a bridge to connect these things.
Brevoort: Well, even in the case of the Skrulls, I don’t think we’ve seen a lot of them since “Secret Invasion” except for a few hanging out in “War of Kings” and one in the Savage Land in “Hawkeye & Mockingbird.” And it’s entirely possible and even likely that the next time someone does a Skrull story, the Skrulls involved won’t be particularly religious. Or if they are, they won’t be on the kind of jihad they were on in “Secret Invasion.” Like any character, all these various races are multifaceted. They’re not one single thing. So I don’t feel the need to explain all of them unless there’s a specific story reason – unless it’s a cause for concern and comment. Otherwise, it’s the Skrulls who are shape-changing aliens from outer space who are doing some nefarious thing our heroes are going to combat.
If there’s an opportunity to clarify it or it’s relevant to the story involved, then yeah. Absolutely. I’ll say “Do that.” But I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. “Secret Invasion” is a story that’s now three or four years past, but my audience is the audience of today. And sure, the majority of the audience today was around for that story, and there’s a portion of the audience who was around for stories 13 or 14 years ago. But the further back you go the smaller the percentage gets. So if it’s relevant to the story at hand, we’ll mention it. But it’s not the be-all, end-all of my story.
Padilla: And one sentence is too much?
Brevoort: Well…yeah. Because I can do it for you in one sentence, but for the 99% of people who don’t care, I have to explain what that one sentence means. I think that’s an unfair thing to ask of an audience. You were talking before about the $2.99 books versus the $3.99 books. For the cost of the books today, you should be able to pick up a book and have a fighting chance of understanding it. You shouldn’t have to go, “Wow…I didn’t read that other comic from three or four years ago, and now I’m in the dark.”
It’s funny. I had a meeting just last week with a couple of guys from one of Disney’s divisions. We were talking about Marvel and what Marvel means to our fans. They’re trying to understand all the aspects of Marveldom in the same way that we’re trying to understand the Disney of it all. And one of the guys was saying how his partner was a huge Marvel fan, but he had never started reading the books. A couple of times he wanted to, but he always felt like in order to get into them he’d have to know so much background that it was daunting to him. And this was before he had read a single comic! It was just that vibe of “I’ll have to do crazy amounts of homework before I can expect to truly understand this month’s ‘Captain America'” that he didn’t even want to make the attempt. And that’s the exact opposite of the vibe that I want our books to put across. I want you to feel like you can pick up “Captain America” any month and dive right in.
Padilla: All right. Last question. When is my favorite character, Adam X The X-Treme, going to get his own comic book?
Brevoort: [Laughs] Wow! You’re the guy! You’re the fan of Adam X!
Kiel Phegley: I think it’s actually Omar and Marvel.com Associate Editor Ben Morse.
Brevoort: Okay, then there are two. Somewhere Fabian Nicieza is very happy. [Laughter]
Padilla: When he appeared in the “Dark Avengers/ Uncanny X-Men Utopia” tie-in, I was like “YEAH!”
Brevoort: I’ll mention it to the X-editors. You’ll probably have to get in line behind all the X-Man fans, but maybe at some point.
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!