Fridays on CBR mean Axel’s In Charge.
Welcome to MARVEL A-I-C: AXEL-IN-CHARGE, CBR’s regular interview feature with Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso!
An editor with years of experience who’s brought out comics to both critical acclaim and best-selling status, Alonso stepped into the chair at the top of Marvel’s Editorial department and since then has been working to bring his signature stylings to the entire Marvel U. Anchored by regular question and answer rounds with the denizens of the CBR Message Boards, each week Alonso will shake things up with special guest stars, exclusive art reveals and more!
This week, Marvel’s summer event “Infinity” has hit, and in the wake of Jonathan Hickman and Jimm Cheung’s first issue of the story that spans earth to the cosmos and back again, Axel explains some of the hidden elements of the story. From the new goals driving Thanos to the return of the Spaceknights and from the long term role for the Inhumans to the themes of the story, it’s all here. Plus, Alonso looks at the recent discussion of the role of the artist in mainstream comics from an Editorial standpoint, explaining how Marvel builds a series from writer to artist, from artist to writer and all points in between. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Axel, “Infinity” #1 shipped this week, and in terms of the big characters like the Avengers, the story unfolded in a way that the high concept led readers to expect. But with some of the supporting cast and villains, there were a number of surprise turns worth a second look. Let’s start with Thanos. For years, that character was known for lusting after power while trying to please his lady Death. Here, between bargaining for a tribute of alien children and assembling the Black Order, we’re getting a different side of the villain. As this story was being built by Jonathan and things like “Thanos Rising” were planned, what did you all view as the central motivation that had changed for the Mad Titan?
Axel Alonso: Jim Starlin created a very rich and complex history for the character across countless titles over several decades. What Jason Aaron and Simone Bianchi did [in “Thanos Rising”] was distill that mythology into one streamlined story that would be inviting to a new generation. They were very reverent of the source material, and they explored some of the darker nooks and crannies of what Jim laid down to add another layer to Thanos’ backstory — one that will reveal itself in “Infinity.”
So, yeah, you’re correct to assume that Thanos’ motivations are different from what we’ve seen in the past — and there are clues to be found in “Thanos Rising” as to what’ driving him in “Infinity.” Buried clues. Thanos isn’t looking for a sixth gauntlet — his motivations are complex, they’re sinister, and they speak volumes about who he is at his very core. If anyone was born bad, it’s Thanos. I mean, his own mother tried to kill him right after drew his first breath! She knew exactly what he was.
You hit on something there that I want to come back to, but before that, I wanted to talk about Spaceknights. We get a major, if tragic, scene for those characters in “Infinity” #1, and this comes after years of writers and artists online talking about a desire to return to the world of Marvel’s classic “ROM” series. It’s been difficult because Marvel doesn’t own ROM yet you own everything else from that book. What was the thing that pushed you guys to folding that mythology back into the Marvel U in a big way?
Alonso: There’s lots of love for the Spaceknights and ROM at Marvel — you won’t find a bigger ROM fan than Brian Michael Bendis — but there are limits to what we can do. That said, we figured there would be a place for that part we can use — the Spaceknights — in our cosmic plans, and we just waited for that to naturally evolve. Turns out they fit perfectly into Jonathan [Hickman]’s plans for “Infinity” because it’s truly a Marvel Universe event.
And like the Spaceknights, are there more opportunities to pull up some of those cosmic diamonds in the rough as the story goes on?
Alonso: Without a doubt. “Infinity” is an all-hands-on-deck crisis that’s going to require earthbound and cosmic super heroes to fight side by side like they never have before. Hell, it’s more an all-hand-and-paws-on-deck crisis if you factor in Rocket Raccoon, who, I predict, will be a breakout character in the next couple years. A lot of the people scratching those heads, saying, “Wait — a Raccoon with a ray gun?” — they’ll be getting tattoos of him. [Laughs]
The third thing that really jumped out to me — tying in to what you were saying about Thanos’ birth — was this idea running throughout this first issue of predetermination. The Outrider has been programmed to serve his master until death. The Builders and their people are very much set on a path with blinders. How did that theme of fate via science fiction grow as this story was planned out?
Alonso: “Fate” is certainly a theme in the story. Another is “secrets.” Much of “Infinity” will turn on the revelation of two dark secrets harbored by two key players in the story that will have a ripple effect across the Marvel Universe.
We’ve talked a lot about the idea that these events are meant to stand on their own while also teeing up whatever the next big story will be. Here, we’re getting a spotlight on the Inhumans for the first time in a long time, but we also know that eventually Matt Fraction will come along and write “Inhumanity.” Is it a tough balancing act to make their role in “Infinity” dramatic when you know you’ve got to shake up the cast in the next big thing to come?
Alonso: The beauty of comic books is that the story is never over. All events offer closure on the larger story, but leave ragged edges for the reader to ponder — questions, problems, revelations and new relationships that set up stories for the future. While “Infinity” set up the Inhumans as a major force in the Marvel Universe, and they will play a huge role in the outcome of the story, their full story — who they are, why they are and what they’ll mean for the Marvel Universe in the long-term — will be revealed over time, starting with “Inhumanity.”
Also springing from the pages of “Infinity” will be a newly-reconstituted Mighty Avengers team, comprised of Luke Cage, the Superior Spider-Man, Monica Rambeau (who’s now known as Spectrum), Power Man, White Tiger and a mysterious figure in an unlicensed knock-off “Spider Hero” costume. This is Cage’s team — Cage’s vision — so it’s a very community-oriented, aspirational, make-a-difference-in-the-lives-of-regular-people-focused group. While the Mighty Avengers have the firepower to square off against the legions of Thanos, as they do in “Infinity” #1 — with the Avengers off in space, someone’s got to! — the primary mission statement of the team is going to be to affect change, to inspire, and to make a difference. They’re the Home Front team. Future issues will see their ranks swell to include Blue Marvel, She-Hulk and…wait for it, wait for it…the Falcon! The series is written by Al Ewing, who is best known for his work on “2000AD,” where he masterminded their recent stealth crossover “The Cold Deck/Trifecta” and also created Zombo with Henry Flint. For us, he did the “Age of Ultron” tie-in issues of “Avengers Assemble” that got a lot of attention. It is drawn by Greg Land, whose work speaks for itself. Let’s show you some pages. “Mighty Avengers” #1 is in stores 9/11.
Shifting off the books and onto some topical talk, I wanted to pick your brain on comics recent discussions of artists and the credit they receive in modern mainstream comics. A lot of this has centered on how folks in my position or reviewers approach our writing about comics, but I wonder if there’s not some challenges that come in the modern, writer-driven focus of Editorial as well. When you build a book most often from a writer’s pitch and then look for an artist to match the series, can that make a smooth collaboration a bit tougher?
Alonso: We cast our books carefully, with an eye toward lining up artists with projects where they’re the best creative and commercial fit. It’s as simple as that. Sometimes an artist accepts an assignment; sometimes he rejects it. If an artist says, “I don’t feel it,” we move on and find someone who does want to draw it. We want desire, we want chemistry. Sometimes an artist has a certain mojo that you tap into: Like Frank Cho, who was put on this earth to draw bad girls and dinosaurs, but also has a jones for zombies, horror and pulp science fiction. You just try to turn him loose on what he loves — like his arc on “Savage Wolverine.” Sometimes an artist has a favorite character or characters — like Chris Bachalo loves X-Men, or Joe Quesada loves Daredevil, or John Romita Jr. loves Spider-Man.
Actually — case in point: At the San Diego panel “John Romita Jr.: Living Legend” — which I moderated — Johnny expressed his desire to draw a “Doctor Strange” ongoing series. That did not fall on deaf ears. When John Romita, Jr. says he’s jonesing to draw a particular character, you listen. The challenge, of course, is to find a way to make that happen. First, you need to take a look at what plans are already in motion for the character — and if the artist is a good fit for those plans. Second, you’ve got to take a good hard look at the numbers you’re expecting for that title, and if that artists fits the budget. Then you’ve got to take a look at the schedule, and if the artist is available. So a lot of stars need to align. And if they don’t align, you’ve got to see if you can make them align! [Laughs]
I know also that you’ve started to work “Marvel-style” in the creation of comics these days where the writer will only initially work up a plot for an artist to work from. Does that weight the influence of the artist in an overall sense a little more than folks might expect? I know, as a for instance, that Matt Fraction was just announced as stepping back from the FF books, but while Lee Allred is taking over the scripting duties on “FF,” Mike Allred is also being credited now as co-writer for one issue as well.
Alonso: There’s certainly more of Marvel-style scripting [where the writer writes general art direction and loose dialog, the artist breaks it down into panels and page, and the writer then provides dialog] happening than when I first came to Marvel and we switched entirely to “full script” [where the writer proscribes all the art direction and dialog in panel-by-panel description]. Most of our series are still rendered in full script-style, a few are rendered in pure Marvel-style, and a few are rendered in a more hybrid style, where the artist is granted extra-latitude in certain scenes.
But understand, even 12 years ago, when we made the shift to full script, it wasn’t always etched in stone. Peter Milligan and Mike Allred definitely blurred the line on “X-Force/X-Statix.” And while Joe [J. Michael] Staczynski wrote full scripts for John Romita, Jr. on “Amazing Spider-Man,” they developed enough trust in their collaboration that Johnny took latitude with panel-count, settings, even staging at times. But John never substantively changed the intent of JMS’s script. There was never a point at which JMS said, “Wait! That’s not what I wrote!” [Laughs]
Like I said, we often hear about writers coming in and pitching a series and all work flowing from that. Is it a different process when someone like Romita comes and says, “I want to do a Doctor Strange book”? Or is there a certain thing to determine — like when Lee Weeks came on “Daredevil: Dark Nights” to write his own script — where you’ll let an artist work fully on their own?
Alonso: Well, honestly, it all comes down to whether or not you think you can sell the book they want to draw and/or get it out in the window of time that will allow you to find a good audience. So John Romita, Jr. wants to draw “Doctor Strange”? Like I said, there’s a lot of variables that go into making that happen, but if we think we’re onto something, we’ll do our very best to make it happen. I’m very proud of the Editorial staff and Talent Management staff’s ability to find ways to put artist on series that allow them to excel.
Like “Infinity.” This is as beautiful a series as I’ve Marvel has ever produced. Jimmy Cheung, Jerome Opeña and Dustin Weaver are delivering some of the most dynamic and dense work of their careers. We offered them the gig for a reason.
Have some questions for Marvel’s AXEL-IN-CHARGE? Please visit the CUP O’ Q&A thread in CBR’s Marvel Universe forum. It’s now the dedicated thread for all connections between Board Members and the Marvel Executive staff that CBR will pull questions for next week’s installment of our weekly fan-generated question-and-answer column! Do it to it!