2012 In Focus: FF, AvX, Cosmic & More!

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 earlier this year 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, we continue our broad look at Marvel in 2012. After last week's installment focusing on Spider-Man, the Hulk and other core franchises, today Axel digs into the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the X-Men and more. Below, the Editor-in-Chief details how writers like Jonathan Hickman, Brian Michael Bendis and Rick Remender will change key elements of the Marvel U on the way to the realization of their master plans, and he drops new hints on the future of Marvel Cosmic, the MAX imprint and the new participants in the battle that is "Avengers Vs. X-Men." Read on!

Kiel Phegley: So, last week we wrapped part one of our big look at the Marvel line in 2011 by talking about the impact of the staff's family life on the Marvel kids line, and I don't think there'd be a better place to start part two than in talking about Marvel's first family: the Fantastic Four! This year, FF is officially going as two monthly titles. I think in many ways, Jonathan Hickman seems to have revealed the majority of his master plan with the death and return of Johnny Storm. What can fans expect those two titles to be like now that they've hit a new status quo?

Axel Alonso: When Jonathan attended his first retreat as "Fantastic Four" writer, he came armed with a huge notebook full of copious notes, charts, diagrams and squiggles worthy of the Unabomber. [Laughs] Hell, yeah, he knew what he wanted to do! And he's done it. Jonathan, along with collaborators like Steve [Epting], has made FF one of our hottest franchises. I don't think any of us expected the death of Johnny Storm to hit such a nerve with the public, let alone sell the way it did. Jonathan's got plenty more to say about FF in 2012.

And I know I can't be the only one wondering whether or not his future plans for the FF will be linking up with "AvX." What say you on that front?

Alonso: The Fantastic Four don't really throw their hat into the ring in "AvX," but the Thing does. If memory serves, he clobbers someone.

Sticking with Tom Brevoort's office, while it's fair to say Spider-Man will always be Marvel's lead solo character, I think that for the first time, maybe ever, right now, the trinity of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor are giving Spidey a collective run for his money, both in terms of their regular comic output and in terms of the big movie and media franchise potential. Everybody knows who those characters are in a big way as well as who their main villains are. I'm sometimes surprised that with the movies, we don't see comics where it's Captain America Vs. the Red Skull or Thor Vs. Loki leading the charge for the monthlies, but using new villains and characters instead. Have you guys worked with Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction to focus the comics on taking regular readers and movie fans forward into the Marvel Universe rather than stay with the archnemesis bent?

Alonso: Sure. A few years ago, very few people knew who Captain America was -- and he's one of the easiest superheroes to understand at a glance: the red-white-and-blue costume, the shield! [Laughs]. "Captain America: The First Avenger" changed that. Going into 2012, Joe Public knows exactly who Steve Rogers is, what makes him tick. Ditto for Iron Man and Thor. That's a big development. And after "Marvel Studios' The Avengers," I'm willing to bet you'd have to live under a rock not to know who Thor, Cap and Iron Man are. For that matter, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Nick Fury

"AvX" is just one of the ways we're taking advantage of the spotlight "Marvel Studios' The Avengers" is shining on "Earth's Mightiest Heroes." This will be apparent in Bendis and Bagley's new ongoing, "Avengers Assemble," and in the stories that come out of "AvX." Also, I'm very excited about upcoming "Avengers" Civil War" novelization by Stuart Moore. When people see the spread for it at the bookstore, it'll have a different impact. Many of them will have seen the movie so it'll be so much easier to communicate with them. Saw the movie and want more? Here you go.

There are so many other series Marvel publishes. I don't want to call them smaller books, but they're ones that don't synch up with the big franchises so much. "The Twelve" is coming back. "Battle Scars" still has a lot of story to tell. "Defenders" is just getting going, and so on. Are there any discussions you're having right now in Editorial about those kinds of comics that you'd like to see them make a big splash outside of the tent pole events going on?

Alonso: As I've mentioned before, there are a few characters worthy of more recognition that we want to spotlight in 2012, Nova being one of them -- starting in "AvX." I'm excited about Ant-Man, too. Warren Ellis keeps begging me to write it, but I keep telling him, "Sorry, mate, I'm looking for someone with some imagination!" [Laughs] Oh man, he's gonna kill me for saying that. Can we delete that?

But to be honest, there's nothing particularly different about 2012. Every year, I'm interested in popping a character or five -- whether as an addition to a team, like Fantomex in "Uncanny X-Force," a guest-star in a monthly, like Hit-Monkey in "Deadpool," or the title character in a new ongoing series, like...can't say yet. The only difference is, as Editor-in-Chief, I can push my agenda a bit more.

Nova, for the past few years, has been so connected to what we call Marvel Cosmic, and from "Annihilation" on, that group of characters very much stuck together and had their own adventures and events. What's your take on that concept? Do you want to integrate it more with the rest of the line? Is Cosmic as its own corner of the Marvel U a bit played right now?

Alonso: For "cosmic" to matter, it has to be relatable. For Nova to compete with Spider-Man, Captain America and Wolverine -- and we'd love him to -- his story has to touch your heart and it has to be grounded in things you can recognize and understand. If the stakes of a Nova story only matter "out there" in space or on some far-flung planet, then no amount of good craft is going to help us reach an audience larger the hardcore cosmic fans. The challenge, of course, is to make a story that appeals to new fans and embraces old fans, and I think we've cracked that nut.

One last piece of the Marvel publishing puzzle to address before we get to the very big franchises is one that's close to your heart for sure: Marvel MAX. We know "PunisherMAX" is about to wrap its run and "Deadpool MAX" is getting ready for round two. Have you discussed what's next there?

Alonso: Of course. We'll continue to do MAX titles whenever we've got the right formula -- the right story and the right creative team. "PunisherMAX" is winding towards a riveting close -- you don't want to miss it. "Deadpool MAX" is one of our best-reviewed titles and just wound up its second volume. And we'll soon be providing more details about Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov's "FuryMAX" series. And -- I'm dying to say more, but I can't. [Laughs]

So let's talk about "AvX" but not just in terms of the event but in terms of each of these franchises on their own. With "Avengers," Brian Michael Bendis announced that he'll leave the franchise while building up to this new event, and the first question from fans with that is always "Who's next?" But while I'm sure you can't answer that, what have been the discussions between you, Tom and Brian about how to put a cap on this giant thing Brian's done with the franchise? What's the cherry on the Sunday of this Avengers era?

Alonso: All I can say is that there will be one. "AvX" did not derail Brian's plans; he's been down for this event since day one -- which is why he, along with Jason Aaron, is one of the core plotters of the event. Brian will be wrapping up his Avengers run the way he wants to -- we wouldn't have it any other way. Who'll follow him on "Avengers" and where he'll land in the future is going to blow readers away.

What's it been like putting together the "Avengers Assemble" book? I know that the plan has been to keep that free to be there for movie fans coming into comic shops for the first time. How has it hit the same tone for the adventure we'll be seeing on the screen?

Alonso: "Avengers Assemble" was designed to be an easy jumping-on point for anyone whose seen the Marvel Studios films. I mean, the roster is Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow. Bendis and Mark Bagley bring a pedigree to the series that means we're taking it seriously. It does count. I was on a phone conference with Brian and [SVP - Publishing] Tom [Brevoort] just yesterday about a storyline that will be setting up something huge for the future. Huge.

The one book we do know that is experiencing a change of creative teams before the event is "Secret Avengers," again with Rick Remender at the helm. What kind of major plans has he got for this book considering what fans have seen him do long term on "Uncanny X-Force" and now "Venom"?

Alonso: Rick's track record speaks for itself. As the launch editor for "Uncanny X-Force," I was blown away by the scope of his super-story for the series -- and, judging by the way it sells, fans were, too. Ditto for "Venom." So yes, I think you can expect Rick to do some big things on "Secret Avengers." Get to the store late and -- well, you'll probably be waiting for the second print.

Finally, with the X-Men franchise I know that train has been running on its own track for a number of years with solo summits out in Los Angeles every summer to plan the fate of the line. With "AvX" coming along, will the way things have been done for those books essentially have to be shaken up in a big way as the mutants get brought closer into the Marvel U than they've been in a long time?

Alonso: Yes. For the past few years, we've been striving to bring the X-Men closer to the Marvel Universe, with "AvX" being the goal line. "AvX" is a game-changer for the X-Men and the Avengers. In the past, hardcore X-Men fans could afford to sit out the big Marvel Universe event; now they can't. The X-Men not only have an equal stake -- and role -- in this event, they are profoundly changed by it. The future of the X-Men universe start there.

One of the most fun things about the X-Men line over the past five years or so is that no matter what kind of X-Men fan you are, there's a flavor out there for you. Victor Gischler on "X-Men" is a different book than Kieron Gillen on "Uncanny X-Men" is a different book than Peter David on "X-Factor," and there are enough characters across those titles to make each unique in terms of cast too. For the ongoing stories and relationships across all those books, have you been working to steward those ideas towards some conclusion as this event looms?

Alonso: Yep. All the stories told between "Messiah CompleX" and "Second Coming" introduced Hope to the X-Men universe and laid the groundwork for the rift between Cyclops and Wolverine that come to a head in "Schism," which, in turn, positioned a divided X-Men rolling into "AvX." Everyone was on board -- all the writers. Not only do we know how things end for the X-Men in "AvX"; we have a strong sense of what happens next. That's what we'll be discussing at the retreat.

Looking at some forward-looking fan questions for the week, Northstar! wanted to know, "With Avengers: The Children's Crusade wrapping up soon can we expect the Young Avengers to play a role in AvX? Might the team be appearing in any other books in 2012?"

Alonso: I can't say what the future holds for the Young Avengers who happen to survive "The Children's Crusade" before that series wraps up, Northstar. I mean, did you see the shock ending of issue #8?

Also on the character front, Drew@616 asked, "Will Spider-Woman play a role in the upcoming AvX?"

Alonso: Yep. If memory serves, she zaps someone.

Finally, let's ring in the new year one last time with a question fans have been asking the past few. chrissama200 wondered, "Marvelman in 2012?"

Alonso: Sit tight. We'll have some additional news soon.

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!

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