Fridays on CBR mean Axel’s In Charge — well, except for this week.
With Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Axel Alonso in Austin, Texas for Marvel’s digital-centric presentations at the annual South By Southwest Interactive festival, Marvel senior vice president of publishing and executive editor Tom Brevoort has stepped in for a Total Tom Takeover of this week’s Axel-In-Charge. He’s no stranger to Q&As with CBR News — for much of 2011, he fielded questions in the “Talk to the Hat” column, for which we are recycling Skottie Young’s above art.
Brevoort is a veteran of Marvel’s line-wide events, and discusses the upcoming “Original Sin” in-depth — what he finds exciting about the story, the ever-evolving approach to tie-ins, the creative team of Jason Aaron and Mike Deodato and the eclectic mix of characters that comprise the main cast.
And that’s not all — check back with CBR on Monday for a Bonus Brevoort Boogaloo, talking more mighty Marvel topics. Alonso will return next Friday for your regularly scheduled Axel-In-Charge, addressing the news of the week and answering questions from the CBR forums.
Albert Ching: Tom, let’s talk “Original Sin” — as someone who has been so closely involved with the Marvel events over the years, what is it about “Original Sin” that is interesting to you, personally?
Tom Brevoort: “Original Sin” is a very different sort of story than the kind of story that we typically do in a big event. The hallmark of an event story tends to be, “It’s the biggest story ever,” at least until the next one. They’ve all been different, but looking back at “Infinity,” it was a vast, sweeping, interstellar epic that covered the scope of galaxies, and a cast of millions. “Age of Ultron” before that opened with the complete destruction and decimation of human civilization — characters crawling from the rubble, and piecing themselves vaguely back together so that they could time travel into the past, so that they could change the world into another alternate dystopia! That’s an enormous story. “Avengers vs. X-Men,” beyond the fact that it was all the Avengers fighting all the X-Men, there was all of the actual business involved — the Phoenix is coming, it’s come, it’s inhabited the five X-Men, it’s the Phoenix Five, they’re changing the world, now there’s this Highlander thing going on where they’re knocking one another off, and the remaining ones are getting more powerful. These are big stories with big stakes.
It’s not that the stakes are any less significant in “Original Sin,” but the aim of the bullseye is much more personal. We’ve been saying all along: “It’s a murder mystery.” But it’s a Marvel Universe murder mystery. The victim is The Watcher, which immediately puts you on a very different scale than the average stiff at the corner crime lab. It will play itself out through time, space, dimensions — all the kinds of things that you would think of in a Marvel event. But the stakes as it relates to our heroes and villains and bystanders are much more emotional and much more internal than they are external, for the first time in a good long while.
The manner in which we’ve set up the tie-ins in this instance is completely different from anything we’ve done in the past. Really, with maybe a tiny little exception here or there at the very outset, once the tie-ins stories begin, they can simply be followed as stories. So if you jump on the “Daredevil” tie-in, you don’t have to worry about “Original Sin” from that point on. You can just read what’s going on with Daredevil in “Daredevil.” All the stories that blossom out of “Original Sin” kind of vector off in their own directions — which isn’t to say that Daredevil won’t play a role in the core “Original Sin” book, but that those stories will develop independent of one another.
So there’s a core spine to “Original Sin,” and at a certain point all of these other stories trajectory off from it like the petals on a flower, and radiate outward. Each one of them has great meaning for the characters involved. It’s a very different structure than any of these that we’ve done before, and it’s got a very different feel to it.
It seems one of the biggest complaints readers can have with event tie-ins in general is that they aren’t necessarily meaningful to the series that’s tying-in — that they can be something of a disruption. With “Original Sin” it seems to almost be deliberately the opposite, and Marvel is saying they are very meaningful to the individual ongoing series. Is that a conscious response on Marvel’s part, or just how the story evolved?
Brevoort: It’s definitely something that we set out to do in brainstorming the overall story and structure of “Original Sin.” That was very deliberate; making this as critical an “Amazing Spider-Man” story — or “Hulk” or “Daredevil” or “Fantastic Four” story — as you could do, and putting those stories squarely in the hands of the creative teams that are on those titles. The question of tie-ins is a double-edged sword, because the two things that you hear are, “They don’t tie-in enough,” and “They tie-in too much.” So you’re constantly ping-ponging back and forth between the two extremes. One of the problems people had with “Infinity” past a certain point was that you really did need to read the “Avengers” and “New Avengers” issues to make sense of the core of it. Which we realized very early; it’s why we ran the flowchart in all of the issues. But that’s a case where that story was very intimately connected to at least some of its tie-ins, and that confused people, or made them unhappy if they just wanted to buy “Infinity” #1-#6.
Each time out, we do something a little different. We set up our dominoes in a different arrangement. This one, hopefully, should be a case where regardless of what book you’re reading — if you’re reading Gerry [Duggan] and Brian [Posehn]’s “Deadpool,” you can read that Deadpool story, and other than there being an inciting event that relates to something that’s going on over here, you’re on board for a seminal Deadpool story that’s going to have a massive impact on the life of Wade Wilson and the people around him, and his place in the world and his relationships.
Part of the promise for much of these events is seeing creative teams take on this scale of story for the first time. Jason Aaron has written very big stories as part of the “AvX” team and in the X-Men books, but this is probably this biggest yet written solo at Marvel. How do you see him as uniquely suited to this story?
Brevoort: Part of it is that Jason has a really excellent command of the page — command of a scene, command of character. He’s very good at getting characters’ essence across in a very small amount of space, in a very economical fashion — which is incredibly helpful when you’re dealing with a crossover, because there are just so many players on the board. I think he’s got the sort of mind that works pretty well for what is a Marvel-scale procedural — it’s a murder investigation, and even though it’s a superhuman murder investigation, that’s something he can really wrap his mind around in a juicy way. And he’s got a certain deliciously bent side of him that enables him to come up with crazy, crackerjack action sequences, and some truly disturbing moments. Going from the initial outline to the actual scripts, and seeing how things have developed, it’s almost a little frightening at times, how well some of this stuff is firing. For all I know, he’s sitting in his writing room sweating over every syllable, but he really does make it seem very effortless, it flows so beautifully out of him.
On the visual side of things, from your perspective, what do Mike Deodato’s strengths bring to ‘Original Sin’?
Brevoort: There are a couple of things. One of it is that Deodato’s just been doing top-flight work for a bunch of years now. He’s sort of been, for lack of a better term, an undersung warhorse at Marvel. He’s done big books — he did “Dark Avengers,” “New Avengers,” “Wolverine”, “The Incredible Hulk,” “Spider-Man” — but has been maybe a little taken for granted simply because he was so steadfast. He was always there, he always hit the marks, and he was good at adapting and changing his approach from project to project to make it more appropriate for that thing. So when we started talking about this as a Marvel Universe murder mystery, he really keyed into that, even more so than usual. I think he’s bringing a lot of depth of shadow, and a lot of chiaroscuro to the page.
You can see the Jim Steranko of it all in what he’s doing on “Original Sin.” I don’t know if that’s just because Nick Fury’s in the story, but there are pages that he’s laying out that look like they’ve been inspired by things like Steranko’s “Outland” adaptation — the way he slices a page up, or the way he breaks time. Plus, he can do all of the big Marvel “bam pow” — he can draw any of the characters. His Avengers look like the Avengers, his X-Men look like the X-Men. And he’s a producer. He’s fast. He can actually get through the whole thing — fingers crossed — by himself. And we haven’t had that luxury in a while. It felt like this story especially, because it’s a larger mystery that starts with a murder mystery — the revelation of clues and secrets and watching the characters as they move through the story uncovering evidence is so important to what we’re doing, it seemed paramount for us to try to get a creative team into place who could be there the whole way through. Getting Jason to write the eight issues was not going to be a problem, but getting somebody who can draw eight issues that will ship twice a month, and will have a larger than ordinary sized #1 and in all likelihood a larger than ordinary sized #8? There aren’t that many guys who can do that anymore, given the time that we had to work on this, and Deo was definitely one of them.
It was a combination of all of these factors that made him a super-perfect choice for this, and you can tell he’s enjoying having a crack at one of these big events, because he’s really just throwing himself into it like a crazy person.
Past events have had fun with the mix of characters in the main roles — obviously there are going to be big ones, like Captain America, Iron Man and Thor, sure. But The Punisher, Ant-Man, Emma Frost and Doctor Strange have all also been named as playing a big part in “Original Sin.” How did all the cast come together? Was there much of a back and forth with Marvel, or did Aaron come with most of those ideas fully formed?
Brevoort: It was a series of conversations once Jason started breaking down the story, starting with the kinds of characters that he wanted. He wanted to build an eclectic group that would represent every corner of the Marvel Universe, and that would allow him to do unexpected pairings that would be fun to see. So we bounced names back and forth — I’m guessing 60 to 80 percent of that final list were guys that Jason suggested, and the other 20 to 40 percent were names that Axel and I threw off. Not in, “You must use the Ant-Man,” but, “How about Ant-Man, he’s cool, because he can do this, and that would factor in this way.” “What about Emma Frost?” “How about the Black Panther?”
At the early, formative stages, I’m sure we tossed around a dozen other character names that didn’t make it that far, or didn’t get as big a role in what was going on. Everybody that’s there is there for a reason. They’re part of a plan, and it is kind of interesting and fun to watch Ant-Man bounce off of Emma Frost, which I don’t think we’ve ever seen before. Or Dr. Strange going down into some dank warehouse where The Punisher is torturing some Mafiosi, because they have to go deal with something. For characters that have been around as long as the Marvel characters have, it’s always fun when you can find these relationships that haven’t ever really been played with, and just see what happens when you knock two of those characters, and their worlds, up against one another. There’s something just kind of weirdly fascinating about the Punisher talking about sniper nests and bullet trajectories when he’s standing in a crazy, metaphysical, Doctor Strange magic dimension. It’s so odd and yet at the same time, it’s the character being the character, and interacting with the world like the character. It’s fun. Gamora and Moon Knight are two names you would never have put together before, and now they will share panels. That’s kind of fun.
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!