2012 In Review: "AvX" To Breakout Heroes

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 kick off the first of a special two-part "Year In Review" edition of A-i-C. 2012 started with the big bang that was the "Avengers Vs. X-Men" event and ended with the major linewide shakeup that is Marvel NOW! How did one lead to the other? And how did Marvel approach new series, new stories and old favorites while letting their two biggest franchises battle it out? Below, Alonso digs into all these questions, running down behind-the-scenes "AvX" stories never heard before and recalling what it took to make Ant-Man, Nova and Marcus Johnson stars in their own right this year. Read on!

Axel Alonso: Kiel, before we begin, I'm happy to announce a few well-deserved promotions here at the House of Ideas. In Editorial, Jordan White has been promoted to Associate Editor, Daniel Ketchum has been promoted to Editor, and Sana Amanat has been promoted to Editor. All three are top-notch editors, as anyone who's ever worked with them will attest, and I'm thrilled to see them get the recognition they deserve. I addition, in our Digital Media Group, Ben Morse has been promoted to Editor, and in Sales and Communication, James Viscardi has been promoted to Associate Manager. Both of these guys are an integral part of our success this year. They deserve it.

Kiel Phegley: Whoa! Congratulations to everyone! Talking about the work the staff did is actually the perfect intro to this week since we're talking about the year that was. Marvel's 2012 was pretty much launched by "Avengers Vs. X-Men." The series was announced almost exactly one year ago, and the ball on the story threads for the event really got rolling in January. What do you remember most about where you and the five architects were in crafting the story when everything was unveiled to the public?

Alonso: By the time we announced "AvX," we were well underway. We'd already laid down the foundation of the story, we had a clear sense of how the story would end, and what that would mean for the Marvel Universe, and we knew we were teeing up a big creative shift amongst the titles -- we just didn't know who'd land in what chair. So there was a lot of excitement and anticipation in the air because we knew we on the precipice of something big. All the writers of "AvX" -- Brian [Michael Bendis], Jason [Aaron], Matt [Fraction], Jonathan [Hickman] and Ed [Brubaker] -- knew we were headed for change, and they'd be laying down the foundation for that change.

Even though you knew all those broad strokes for the story before issue #1 was done, can you recall any moments that surprised you in the story once it was actually on the page? Was there anything that played differently than you expected?

Alonso: Let me think... We spent a lot of time sculpting the first act as a group, so there were fewer surprises in that act... I guess, the biggest surprise was Xavier's death at the end of act 2. At the initial summit at Casa de Bendis, we'd discussed a scene in which an X-Men character or characters - Xavier, Magneto or Beast -- made a last-ditch appeal to Cyclops before he succumbed to the full weight of the Phoenix Force, only to be stricken down permanently. Xavier was the logical choice -- you know, the whole son-kills-his-father thing -- but it didn't go down well when we brought it to the larger group. As we got deeper and deeper into "AvX," however, Brian called a small huddle -- me, Tom, Jason, Matt, Jonathan, Ed and him -- and said, "Guys, it's got to happen." And then he went about describing the architecture of the scene. And this time it went down like gangbusters. The scene is filled with gray area now. How much of it was Scott? How much of it was the Phoenix Force? Was there any element of self-defense to his actions? It's a wrenching moment that we have no intention of undoing.

One big focus when "AvX" was sold to readers and something that's been carried on to Marvel NOW! is the accessibility idea. These have been pitched as books that anyone can read, and in the case of "AvX" the actual name of that book is also the elevator pitch. How do you think that worked for the books, and is that new reader idea as much of a concern now that we're headed into 2013 with the line firmly in shape?

Alonso: Accessibility is always a priority. We take pains to make sure that when you pick up a book, you don't need a PhD in MU continuity. I think that's very clear when you pick up Brian's "All-New X-Men," Matt's "Fantastic Four," Jonathan's "Avengers" -- you name it. All those books feature ensemble casts, but the writers find a way to bring you into the story like you're sitting in a movie theater and fill you in on the backstory as everything unfolds. That's a skill. The goal for Marvel NOW! was to breathe wind into the sails of the monthly titles, to provide an entry-point for new, old and lapsed readers into the Marvel Universe, and judging from the response, we're off to a great start.

You mention that movie feeling to the new titles, and a major launch on that front in 2012 was "Avengers Assemble." Was the idea there always as simple as "Let's try to make the movie on paper" or is there a way that book needs to function differently to show off the comics medium?

Alonso: The goal of "Avengers Assemble" was simple: tell a rollicking "Avengers" story that's friendly and inviting to anyone who saw the movie. Over in the core title, Brian was deep into complex storylines of his own design, featuring a cast that went well beyond the cast in the movie, and we had no interest in mucking up his plans. That said, we figured there would be an audience for an in-continuity story featuring the six characters in the movie -- Cap, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye -- and who better than Brian and his old pal from "Ultimate Spider-Man," Mark Bagley, who'd recently come home to Marvel?

It also had to be a forward-looking book too, between the appearance of Thanos and then the Guardians of the Galaxy in the book, doesn't it? Were you trying in some sense to key things up for the filmmakers in terms of characterization or feel?

Alonso: We were aware that Thanos was going to be in the epilogue of the "Avengers" film -- Tom [Brevoort] and I had read different iterations of the script -- so we seized the opportunity. Thanos is a unique and exciting villain, with a long and complicated history filled with murder, betrayal and longing that is downright... Shakespearean. We figured that once moviegoers -- many of whom would be comic readers -- got their first glimpse of him on the silver screen, there'd be a... resurgence of interest in him. And we were right. After "Marvel Studios The Avengers" premiered, everyone wanted to know more about the creepy guy with the chin dimples. [Laughs]

On a similar track, I made a list of characters that were breakout heroes in the Marvel U, starting with... are we calling him Marcus Johnson still? Or is it just Nick Fury, Jr. now? New Nick Fury?

Alonso: I refer to him as "Black Fury" because it sounds like a cool Blaxploitation flick. But around here, we haven't really settled on one moniker for him, maybe because the Nick Fury we grew up with -- the guy with the eye patch and graying temples -- is always going to have a place in the Marvel Universe. But Marcus Johnson figures big in the future of the Marvel Universe for sure.

You knew that part of putting this character in play was getting someone in the books that visually synched up with Samuel L. Jackson in the movies. When you were working on "Battle Scars" with Chris Yost and company, what were the ways in which you wanted to make him unique from the movie character as well?

Alonso: Marcus is not the Samuel L. Jackson Nick Fury. That guy exists already in the Ultimate Universe. He's a new character with a direct blood tie to classic Nick Fury and a role in the Marvel Universe that will come more into focus this year. Yes, his appearance will be friendly to those who gravitate toward the Sam Jackson Fury, but to me what's exciting is that we've got another African American power player in the Marvel Universe.

We've spoken before about how anyone talking about the books is a good thing for sales, and now "Avengers Arena" has set off quite a bit of debate as many fans (including several here on the boards) are unhappy with the idea of killing off so many characters they like. I hear some are even petitioning you to change what's happening in the book. Do you still think all this talk is good for the series? Is there a point where that fan dissatisfaction becomes a negative on sales?

Alonso: I tell you one thing, Kiel: I love the passion of our fans. But let me reiterate: High stakes forge true character -- and the stakes have never been higher for these young super heroes than in "Avengers Arena." If you're a fan of any of them, you're going to want to be there when they make the big decisions that determine whether they live or die, and, indeed, set the trajectory of the rest of their lives, or when they make their last stand. Because whoever walks out of this alive is going to have to live with the decisions they made in this story.

For a long while in 2012 (and I think going back to 2011), the one character you kept talking up as one to watch was Ant-Man. Now with Matt Fraction and Mike Allred's "FF" series, we know where that excitement led. What was the journey that it took to find his role in the modern Marvel U? What was the first piece you had in place that took him toward this book?

Alonso: The first piece was the fact that we've got a character called "Ant-Man!" [Laughs] A character that's uniquely equipped to tell a certain kind of story. Matt totally gets it, and that's why he pulled him into "FF." And let me tell you, fans will be chattering about Ant-Man in 2013. Part of the discussion will revolve around what Matt's doing with him in "FF," but part of the discussion will be about something else we're building.

I've been saying the same thing about Nova for the past year. His role in "AvX" foreshadowed his larger involvement in -- and relevance to -- the Marvel Universe. In 2013, fans will have good reason to look at the so-called "Cosmic" characters in a new light. It's called the "Marvel Universe" for a reason: the stakes have never been just Earth.

With Nova, the Rich Rider version of the character has a very loyal and very vocal fan base. In his interviews on the book Jeph Loeb has been working hard to tell people how they're being respectful of what's come before. How do you view that kind of challenge with a character who's never had huge sales before? Do you relish having to win people over to Sam Alexander's side?

Alonso: Absolutely. I sincerely think that "Nova" is career-defining work for Jeph. He's writing this one from the heart, and it shows. Sam Alexander, the whole story, has been percolating for a very long time. Jeph never settled for a "first draft idea" -- he workshopped his ideas, slept on 'em, threw a bunch to the curb -- and he's produced one of the most heartfelt, moving stories we've produced since, well, since I've been here. It's probably worth noting that Jeph's plans for Nova predated our plans for the Guardians, so in a sense, he laid down the first brush-strokes for our overall plan to reinvigorate Marvel's cosmic characters. When the fans of Rich Rider see what he and [artist] Ed [McGuinness] are doing with "Nova" -- see the deep respect they have for the history and legacy of that character and their vision for the universe he inhabits -- I have no doubt they'll embrace Sam. Someone else is wearing the helmet. It's his responsibility now.

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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