2012 In Focus: Ultimates, Spider-Man & 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, it's a brand new year, and we've got a brand new look at Marvel Comics in 2012. After a 2011 that saw its share of ups and downs, the publisher is looking to branch out this year with new initiatives and events while strengthening its core franchises. In part one of our two-week look at the entire Marvel publishing line, Axel reveals what big moves are in store for the newly unified Ultimate Universe, reveals the secrets behind making hits out of "Amazing Spider-Man," "Daredevil" and "Punisher," shows off details on new initiatives like Marvel's incoming prose line and "Dexter" adaptations and much, much more. Read on!

Kiel Phegley: Axel, since the last big column we did focused on 2011 wrap up, I thought now would be the perfect time to do some 2012 "looking forward" talk. There's an awful lot of ground to cover in Marvel's publishing line, so let's start with an area we don't hear you speak about as often: Marvel's many licensed and adaptation books. This has become a big part of Marvel's business with "Halo," "Oz," "Ender's Game," Jane Austen, Stephen King, "Anita Blake" and now "John Carter" all coming out pretty regularly. We know "Dexter" is in the offing for this year. As Editor-in-Chief, what are your goals for that part of the line in 2012?

Alonso: To keep doing them. [Laughs] The third party titles have been a solid addition to our publishing plan -- they sell well and they allow us to communicate with a new audience -- so of course we're doing more. As a fan of "Dexter," I'm very excited about this opportunity -- what we're doing is a radical departure from the comics that appeared in the extra features of the DVDs. And, as I recently tweeted, we're in conversations with a living legend -- someone who literally changed the pop culture landscape and whose name will be familiar to all your readers -- about a future project that's just about making me pass out from geek convulsions.

We haven't had a chance to talk about this much yet, but Marvel is also launching a prose novel line starting with an adaptation of "Civil War." How do you build up an entirely new program at Marvel? We know, for example, that Tom Brevoort deals with Avengers-related material or Nick Lowe on the X-Men, but whether it be third party comics or the prose line, how do you work to keep those projects from getting lost in the 616 shuffle?

Alonso: With the third party titles, you look for the best possible material to publish and then you go about doing the best possible job of translating them to comics. Currently, Sana Amanat is the point editor for third party books, and she's doing a wonderful job. I'm loving what I'm seeing on "John Carter."

As for the prose novels, you pick the right stories to adapt and you find the right people to do the job, starting with the editor. Early on, [SVP Associate Publisher] Ruwan [Jayatilleke], and [VP Sales] David [Gabriel], and I agreed that we needed to find an editor for the line who had just the right qualifications -- someone who went to the comic store every Wednesday and possessed prose-editing experience. Which is why we went with former Marvel Knights editor Stuart Moore. To make sure these books are evergreen, there are questions we'll need to ask as we adapt these classic stories: What scenes stay and what goes? Who are the point-of-view characters? Which is why Stuart himself will adapt the first book, "Avengers: Civil War." After that, Stuart will function as the editor of future novelizations and we'll cast each book carefully. In all instances, Ruwan and I will do editorial passes at a couple stages: outline and text. This is an important initiative and with Marvel West blowing the Q-rating of our characters through the stratosphere, I can't wait to see "Avengers: Civil War" on bookstore shelves shortly after "Marvel Studios' The Avengers" has made its big screen premiere.

I know that you come from a newspaper background, but have you ever edited prose like this before?

Alonso: I edited two books for a book packager -- one fiction and one non-fiction -- but my prose editing has mostly been limited to journalism. And I did a lot of that.

Well, shifting gears back towards the full-tilt superhero stuff, let's start with the Ultimate office run by Mark Paniccia and Sana. That's a line you were very involved in for setting the books last year. So far, we've seen each of those three books establishing their own voice and stories, and while a lot of people have been focusing on Brian Bendis' work with Miles Morales in the press, is therea plan for the stories to synch up moving forward? Is a crossover between those books in the works for this year? More minis?

Alonso: We've already begun conversations about an event that unites the three monthly titles sometime in 2012. And there's a top-secret project Brian is working on about which I can say nothing. Nada. Also, [Ultimate Comics editor] Mark Paniccia tells me that plot threads from the "Ultimate Comics Hawkeye" miniseries are going to start playing out in "Ultimates" and "Ultimates Comics X-Men" in a big way.

The whole new era for the Ultimate line started out with a big summit with Bendis, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer. Do you just automatically put another creative retreat for those three on the books each year, or is the planning for how to coordinate ongoing stories more needs based?

Alonso: Don't have to. While the "Ultimates" Universe is huge, the line itself is much smaller -- three ongoing series plus the occasional limited series -- so we can manage it via phone conference and e-mail. The three writers [Brian Bendis, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer] only need to coordinate with each other and their editors -- their plans don't impact dozens of other titles.

Like I said, Miles has a lot of heat on him these days, and that follows how the original Bendis/Mark Bagley Spidey book set the tone for the Ultimate line a decade ago. But at the same time, any Spider-Man by his nature is a bit of an outsider. Do you see any characters in "Ultimates" or "Ultimate X-Men" that might have a bit more impact across the line in 2012?

Alonso: Miles Morales to have an increasingly...interactive role with the rest of the Ultimate U as we move into 2012. And there are characters from "The Ultimates" and "Ultimate X-Men" that will have a great impact on the Ultimate Universe in 2012 -- some heroes, others villains. The whole world is changing at a fiercely rapid pace with the imminent fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the two new, growing power bases overseas. This will force some characters to do things that are guaranteed to shock readers.

Next up, we have the Hulk. When "AvX" was announced, I think the #1 question people had was how Bruce Banner would fit into the proceedings. So far, the new "Incredible Hulk" title by Jason Aaron has been very much focused on Bruce's battling his inner demons far afield from the rest of the Marvel U. What's the next step for that character and both the Hulk books?

Alonso: With "Marvel Studios' The Avengers," the Hulk's profile is going to go through the roof, so we have a plan to make sure he gets the attention he deserves. For one thing, he's a big part of Brian Bendis and Mark Bagley's new ongoing series, "Avengers Assemble." Beyond that, look forward to some eye-popping surprises in 2012.

Around the corner from Panic's office is Steve Wacker's "New York Office" for the Marvel U. The headliner here is "Amazing Spider-Man," which we already know is kicking off the year with Dan Slott's "Ends of the Earth" story. This is another major storyline, launching quickly after "Spider-Island." Does the twice-monthly nature of "Amazing" and the opportunity for more one-off stories here and there make it easier to do those kinds of epic arcs? Or will there be some changes coming even for that title as "AvX" rolls in later this year?

Alonso: With "Amazing Spider-Man," we've caught lightning in a bottle: A double-shipping title with a lot of lots of buzz and tons of momentum that [Editor] Steve [Wacker] and [writer] Dan [Slott] have capitalized on in spades. "Amazing Spider-Man" is the perfect combination of superhero action and soap opera it should be -- and readers recognize this. Dan's got a firm handle on the story and Steve has such a firm handle on the aesthetic he wants for the book. I mean...dang.

We've talked in the past about your desire to balance big event stories and interconnected Marvel U stories with titles that can stand alone and be read solo. It seems the Spider-Man line is really working that angle with comics like "Avenging Spider-Man" and now "Scarlet Spider." Is that part of the larger plan for that line, to have your cake and eat it too?

Alonso: Without a doubt. Steve and [writer] Rick Remender cooked up something different for "Venom." It has a very distinct voice, vibe and aesthetic. Steve's employing the same strategy with [Chris Yost and Ryan Stegman's] "Scarlet Spider." He's found a way to tap into the nostalgia some old fans feel for certain characters without alienating new readers.

"Venom" also has the "Circle of Four" event about to hit, and I get the feeling that on the back of "Uncanny X-Force" and "The Dark Angel Saga," Remender is someone who seems to come into a comic with very long-term plans. How does this mini event for Venom help expand what he's been doing with Flash since issue #1?

Alonso: One of the things Rick set up in "Venom" -- along with Slott in "Amazing Spider-Man" -- is a man who wanted nothing more than becoming a hero finally getting his shot -- and paying a terrible cost. At the start of our series, Flash had turned his personal tragedy into a personal triumph, but Flash has more demons than a city in Hell and in "Circle of Fire," the path he started down in issue #1 has really hit a dead end. Whether he can find himself out of that cul de sac is part of the through-line of that arc. Also part of the through line are kick ass pages like these with Venom, Ghost Rider, hulk and X-23 smashing stuff!

Exciting stuff is ahead. At the last Spider-Man retreat, Rick and Zeb [Wells] and physically acted out a lot of the big scenes from what they've got planned for later this year, and it was amazing stuff. Who'd a thunk those two were so limber! [Laughs]

Speaking of things that were big last year, both "Daredevil" and "Punisher" were big critical successes. When you have books with buzz and well known writers and a unique point of view, how do you maintain that steam when you step into the new year?

Alonso: First and foremost, you maintain the quality of the title -- that's the one variable that's most under your control. Positive word of mouth helps sales. And you do what you can to promote new story arcs as jumping on points for new readers. Look, [writer] Mark [Waid] did what he promised to do: he moved "Daredevil" out from under the shadow of Frank Miller, where it's been for many years and where so many writers -- Bendis, Brubaker, Kevin Smith -- have excelled. The book's vibe now reminds me of a John Romita Sr-drawn "Daredevil" I read at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk when I was seven.

Ditto for "Punisher." When Steve suggested Greg Rucka for "Punisher," I had no objections. Greg's delivering a rock-solid Punisher story that people really like and we're doing our best to make sure people notice it.

Jumping into some fan questions for the week, let's start on the Marvel prose line as Board Moderator Expletive Deleted wondered, "As a bit of a long shot, is there any chance of getting some of the older Marvel novels back into print, in either paper or electronic form? I'd love to see new editions of Jim Butcher's Spider-Man novel, Christopher Golden's X-Men trilogy, or Kurt Busiek's Untold Tales anthology."

Alonso: Anything's possible, Expletive Deleted. We're not against it, but we just don't have anything scheduled.

On the Spidey front, whiteshark asked, "Will there be Spider-Man stories in 2012 featuring the black costume?"

Alonso: I can't answer that, whiteshark, but Dan Slott sure seems to love new Spider-Man costumes. So do our toy designers!

On the Ultimate Spidey front, SpiderX had two queries, starting with, "Now that Miles has finally donned his costume, I'm sure we will see a lot of heroic antics. I'm curious as to when we will see Miles interact with his family more? He had a very touching scene with his father in issue 2, but we haven't really seen him interact with his mother outside of issue 1. Also I noticed they weren't wearing wedding rings. Are his parents married?"

Alonso: Yes, SpiderX, Miles' parents are married. And family relationships will play heavy in this series -- they're one of the things [writer] Brian [Bendis] does best. There's a great scene with Miles' mom in issue #6 (in stores Jan 18th), stuff with Miles' dad on the near-horizon, and some really intense stuff building up with another family member you've already been introduced to.

He followed up with, "My next question is about Miles' super powers. So far we have seen he has some differing abilities to Peter such as his "Spider Stealth" camouflage and his "Venom Blast." Are there any other abilities we have yet to see? I noticed up to this point he doesn't have any webs. I know he will eventually have them but I wonder will they be organically or mechanically based."

Alonso: You're right. Much to his dismay, Miles doesn't have webs. Will he get them or any other strange new powers? All I can say is, you'll find out the same time he does.

Finally, Hypestyle has a creative question that doesn't fit any particular book but is perfectly rad to ask anyway: "Dear Mr. Alonso: What are the chances that Berni Wrightson will be invited back to Marvel to work on some new projects in 2012? "

Alonso: Of course. I've loved Berni's works since "Creepy" and "Eerie." If the right project comes along, and the schedule works...

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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