SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for “Captain America: Steve Rogers” #1 and “DC Universe: Rebirth” #1, both on sale now.
This past Friday, Marvel Senior Vice President of Publishing and Executive Editor Tom Brevoort filled in for Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso on CBR’s weekly Q&A column, AXEL-IN-CHARGE. The timing couldn’t have been better, given that it was days after a firestorm of controversy erupted over the surprise ending of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” #1 by Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz, which revealed that Captain America was somehow an agent of Hydra — and, the story implies, may have been one all along.
Of course, there was a lot more ground to cover, as you’ll see in the second half of CBR’s interview with Brevoort, in which he discusses “Civil War II” by David Marquez — issue #1 is out this Wednesday — the recently teased new Marvel NOW! publishing initiative scheduled for the fall, and DC Comics’ “DC Universe: Rebirth” #1 one-shot; which was released last week and kicked off a new publishing era for Marvel’s primary competition.
CBR News: Tom, “Civil War II” #1 is out this week — of course, you’re a veteran of quite a few big Marvel events at this point.
Tom Brevoort: I’m a veteran of many wars, both Civil and Secret.
What has you personally excited about this story, and what Brian and Dave are doing here?
Brevoort: I like the fact that it’s a storyline that comes out of the zeitgeist of the moment, so it’s not the same story as [the original] “Civil War.” It’s a different story, but it’s a story that shares some DNA with [the original] “Civil War” in that, that too was a story that grew out of the dialogue about what was happening in the country, and what was happening in the world in that period. I like that. I like the fact that it’s Brian, and not Mark [Millar] — not to say that Mark wouldn’t do a fine job on a sequel to “Civil War,” but it’s a different writer with a different perspective and a different point of view, who’s going to come at this from a different angle. And it’s David and Brian, who have a tight working relationship from “Ultimate Spider-Man” and then “Invincible Iron Man” — they’re working hand in glove.
As much as I’m a veteran of a bunch of these things, Brian is too. So it’s a very comfortable, very well-oiled relationship and interaction in terms of making this happen. When we geared up for “Civil War II” — and we kind of got to it relatively late in terms of how our planning process goes — the fact that it was Brian, and the fact that it’s me, we were able to slide into that very comfortable gear, and get a lot of work done very quickly to make this happen, in a way that maybe it wouldn’t have been as easy to do with somebody else. Brian is a veteran, Brian knows how big events work, and Brian understands the needs of them as much as I do. There are always a lot more voices, a lot more opinions and a lot more moving parts on one of these, because you have all the other creators who are shepherding their own individual characters and stories, the editors of those titles — there are a lot more voices involved when it comes to building a big story like this, at least at the crafting stage. Brian is more used to that, having done it so often, so he was able to roll into things very smoothly. And it’s been a pretty easy process all the way through.
People will see it next week. It’s a beautiful looking book. In particular — and we don’t give our color artists enough credit in general — Justin Ponsor and the work he’s doing, both on the #0 and the Free Comic Book Day people have already seen, but particularly as we get into David’s stuff on issue #1 — he is phenomenally good, and he takes pages that are A pages and makes them A+ pages, just by sheer force of will and talent. He’s great. He’s at the top of the game. I want to particularly call him out, because I think it’s very easy to lose sight of that.
You mentioned the original “Civil War” — this story is different in terms of the conflict, the circumstances, the characters involved, but it is called “Civil War II,” which implies there’s at least some resonance of the first one. How much does that original story affect this one in the approach and construction of the story?
Brevoort: It does in term of the characters. As you’ll see, it gets referenced pretty directly right in issue #1, as a difference of opinion begins to boil up among the Marvel heroes about what the situation is, and how to handle it. Characters like Iron Man and Steve Rogers, obviously, have been through this kind of conflict before, and they’re not really looking to repeat it. They’re not looking to make the mistakes of the past again. They’re looking for a way around it, and that’s one of the things that’s definitely an ongoing subplot in everything Tony Stark does in the course of “Civil War II.'” He’s been down this road before, a bunch of times, and he’s trying not to go down it again. That’s not his goal. He would do anything to not have to do it, except not do the right thing as he understands it.
Readers got the first indication on Wednesday of another Marvel NOW! publishing initiative coming this fall. The details are still to come, but it’s clear that it’s some extent of a line-wide refresh, as we’ve seen fairly regularly in the past few years at Marvel — I know Axel is a big proponent of moving towards something of a seasonal model for comics, but what’s your perspective, and how do these refreshes guide Marvel’s long-term thinking?
Brevoort: The reaction and the response of the marketplace determines what we do moving forward. Every time you do a big event story, one of the things that’s become very clear is that how they’re regarded after the fact and what they’re really remembered for are the things that come out of them. The way they make an impact and leave a crater on the Marvel Universe going forward. So it’s become almost a necessity — if you’re going to do a big story, it’s got to change things up. Also, we live in a world of much shorter attention spans, and many more options for someone’s entertainment time and entertainment dollar. My sense of it is that, in general, most comic book readers can’t afford to buy all the books they want to begin with, so they’re constantly weighing every purchase — not actively looking to drop books, but because there are so many other delicious candies on the shelf, if a book starts to look like it’s slowing down or it doesn’t feel exciting or new anymore, people are much quicker to drop a title and sample something else in its place. So there’s a constant churn towards the new — whatever the new shiny things are, those are the things that are more well-regarded.
All of the older-time fans sort of lament, “Oh, we don’t get long runs anymore.” And that’s not, rigidly speaking, true. There are a bunch of titles and a bunch of creators who have done long runs on titles. Certainly Brian Bendis on anything, and more recently, guys like Jonathan Hickman — the page count on all the Avengers work leading up to “Secret Wars,” and if you go back even further and count “Fantastic Four” and “Secret Warriors,” all the stuff that contributed to “Secret Wars” — that’s a big, long run, but that tends to be more the exception than the rule, because the burn rate on every title that we put out now is much greater, because there are so many more options than there had been in the past. There’s more of a need both to hit the ground running and to really make every release count — you don’t get to have a downtime issue anymore, because it’s not 30 cents and it’s not one of 18 comic books — you have to be out there singing your heart out every issue. And, that means creative teams roll through the whole of their run, every basic idea they had to do, in a shorter amount of time. And it means the marketplace is more unforgiving. If people don’t like the song you’re singing, they go away faster, and then you go away.
“Seasonal model” is a good analogy to use in that you say that and people can kind of understand it in a television sense. I don’t personally literally think of it as a seasonal model. I always think of it as a “run,” but a run can be 100 issues, or a run can be 12 issues, or a run can be 4 issues, depending on the stories and the response to them, and what the needs are. If something’s not connecting, we’re going to change things up. Even if something is connecting, there are times when it comes to a natural end, and once again, you have to make a switch. That’s just the difference between publishing comics in 2016 and publishing them in whatever past era you might be talking about.
No matter what, it seems like the days of series getting up to really high numbers is, for now, over — though of course, that could change.
Brevoort: The thing that tends to happen is the ping-pong ball effect of, you do this relaunching, but then you keep enough of a count that you get to a centennial issue, and you restore the numbering. We’re releasing “Silver Surfer” #6 in a few months, and that’s “Silver Surfer” #200. We’re going to celebrate that, because we know that people like that and respond to that. We’ve done that on other titles before. We’ve gone back to the original numbering on “Fantastic Four” two or three times. And then, at a certain point, it cycles the other way, a new “season” begins, and then there’s a new #1 and a new creative run. One doesn’t take away from the other necessarily; it’s just how that process works.
It’s also — and there’s no denying the evidence, it is irrefutable — far easier for even established readers, but certainly newer readers, to feel comfortable coming in at a #1. It just is. I understand that older readers would just say, “In my day, we started with issue #29 and we liked it.” That was the way it was for me, too. My first comic was “Superman” #268. I didn’t have 267 of them, and it didn’t trouble me. But that was then and this is now, and I have to react to the world we’re in today, and the experiences of readers today. Virtually universally — the percentage rate is phenomenal, high 90 percent — people will tell you, it’s just easier to go, “That’s #1, that’s where I start.” Having #1s for even the key titles, it’s sort of critical to the publishing, and to giving people the feeling that, here’s a place they can jump on board and get into a story with one of the characters they’re seeing in the cineplex. There’s some place they can instantly go when they make the trek to the comic shop, or they open up whichever app they’re using to buy digital comics. “Where do I start?” Particularly for an older reader who has never read comics. Just the wall of new releases in a comic shop can be daunting to know where to begin. There’s so much, there’s so many. People learn the lay of the land and they get it fairly quickly, but to start out, it’s very difficult. Way more difficult than starting on a TV show.
And these days, you don’t start on TV shows the way you used to. If you hear that, “Hey, this ‘Better Call Saul’ show is pretty cool,” you typically don’t just watch the next episode that’s on. You go to Netflix and start at the beginning and binge the first season, or you go out and buy the DVDs, or you get a season pass from iTunes and you start at the beginning. You don’t start this week. Or even if you do, you happen to catch one episode, and go, “That was pretty interesting, I wonder what that’s about,” you probably don’t just start watching from that point, you go back and you binge all the stuff that’s been there. Now imagine that was the case, except there were four “Saul” shows, and one of them doesn’t take place in the same continuity. It can be a daunting thing to figure out if you’re somebody just coming in from the outside.
It definitely can streamline that experience. Tom, I know you’re a fan of all comics — did you read the “DC Universe: Rebirth” one-shot yet, and if so, do you have any thoughts you’d like to share about what they’re doing?
Brevoort: I did read it, and I will say that I thought it was — and I mean this in a good way — the most “DC” comic that I’d read in a long while. I’m kind of conflicted in terms of the central twist that is revealed there, because philosophically as a fan, I kind of feel like that work is a complete work, and I’ve liked the fact that people have stayed away from it, except in really recent memory, and let it be its own thing. On the flipside of that, as the guy that does all this publishing for Marvel, I know that if that book was in our back catalogue, there would definitely have been interaction by this point, and it probably would have happened much sooner. So I can’t fault them for doing exactly what I would do, at least in the abstract, if I had the publishing rights. The real proof for me is going to be, “OK, what happens now in terms of all their new launches?” and how much of the spirit and the promise of the kickoff book is carried out into all those individual books. But it’s good. It got a lot of people into the stores to read “Captain America” Tuesday night. [Laughs]
Right, it’s pretty wild that on day where DC integrated “Watchmen” into the DC Universe, people were talking so much about Marvel — thought the “Rebirth” leak several days prior must have had a lot to do with it.
Brevoort: That was a total fluke. We did not plan that. I feel some sympathy for them — it’s two bad bounces. Bad bounce No. 1, their story leaked a couple of days earlier, so people had those conversations beforehand. The second part was, people just responded to this “Captain America” twist, even to a greater degree than we had anticipated. We knew it would be big, we knew it would get readers’ eyebrows arching; we did not anticipate this kind of a response. I feel sorry for them at least on that level. I’m sure the book sold well, and it seems like it’s getting a good response. It’s not like it hurt them particularly, it just means the conversation moved away from them for a day. I would do it again in a heartbeat. [Laughs] But it’s not like it was any Machiavellian planning on our part, it was just the way the chips happened to fall.