Fridays on CBR mean Axel’s In Charge — most every week! Not this one, though, as Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso is out of the office.
So CBR turns to Marvel veteran editor and Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort to step in and anchor the weekly AXEL-IN-CHARGE Q&A column. As anyone who follows his Tumblr knows, Brevoort is no strange to A’ing Qs, and he once hosted his own regular Friday afternoon chat on CBR, TALK TO THE HAT. He’s been with the company since starting as an intern in 1989, and as executive editor oversees some of Marvel’s biggest books and its major event stories — including the currently unfolding “Avengers & X-Men: AXIS”.
With both “All-New Captain America” by Rick Remender & Stuart Immonen and “Superior Iron Man” by Tom Taylor & Yildiray Cinar launching this past Wednesday, Brevoort discusses the two new “Avengers NOW!” series. As someone who has seen plenty of character take on different famous Marvel guises over the years, Brevoort shares his thoughts on what makes “All-New Captain America” different than previous identity switches, and responds to skeptics who see Sam Wilson as Cap as a stunt. With “Superior Iron Man,” Brevoort gives his take that it’s the “most Marvel-y Marvel Comic” he’s seen recently, and comments on what he thinks makes the book stand out among the more publicized “All-New Captain America” and recent “Thor” relaunch. Brevoort also expands a bit on how the upcoming new “Secret Wars” relates to “Time Runs Out” and the rest of the Marvel Universe, plus opines on the imminent end (at least for now) of “Fantastic Four.”
Albert Ching: Tom, this week saw the release of “All-New Captain America” #1, the first full issue of Sam Wilson as Cap. In your time at Marvel, you’ve seen a lot of changes to characters, a lot of different identities being taken on, heroes taking on different mantles — what makes this especially meaningful to you? And meaningful in a different way than say, when Bucky was Cap?
Tom Brevoort: Well, there are two aspects to it, I think. There’s the in-story aspect, and there’s the larger, real-world aspect. The in-story aspect is that Sam becoming Captain America is due to the fact that Steve chose him. Steve handed the shield to him and said, “You carry on the fight.” In the past, whether it was Bucky or the U.S. Agent or any of the other people who have served as Captain America over the years, none of them have been selected by Steve himself. That says something about Steve’s belief in Sam’s abilities and character and the respect he has for him. So to me, that’s the fundamental in-world difference. It’s like Elvis saying, “Now you be the King,” as opposed to somebody else saying, “That guy’s the King now.”
From a larger standpoint, obviously, it was a potent image for a whole strata of people. The idea — and it really shouldn’t be such a controversy-stirring idea in the year 2014, but I guess with some people it still is — that there could be an African-American Captain America who can live up those ideals, and can fight as well, and champion the fundamental principles that the nation is supposed to represent and uphold. That’s a compelling thing to an entire segment of the audience, some of whom have never necessarily seen themselves reflected that directly in the character. It’s a little different because it’s Captain America, as opposed to when Jim Rhodes was Iron Man or when John Stewart was Green Lantern, because Captain America comes with the added weight that he is wearing the colors of the nation. It is more akin to Barack Obama become the President, and what that means to people, than merely putting on the super hero costume that another guy used to wear.
I think it’s a potent thing. I think it’s long in coming. We’ve seen Sam as Captain America temporarily once before, in a story Mark Waid wrote about 15 years ago. But even in that story, he was never “the” Captain America. He was Cap in that story, and that was cool, but putting him in a position where he can actually live the role and be the guy — I think that’s pretty exciting and pretty compelling, and hopefully other people will feel the same.
The LA Times Hero Complex published an article this week that quotes Christopher Priest, the former writer of “Captain America and The Falcon,” and it’s apparent he’s skeptical, and I’ve seen similar notions out there. The idea that it feels like a stunt, especially given the seeming inevitability that Steve Rogers will come back to the role. How would you respond to that notion — that it’s a stunt, and that the inherent temporary nature of it weakens it somewhat?
Brevoort: I’d say a couple of things. I haven’t spoken to Priest about any of this, but he and I have worked together in the past, and I have a lot of respect for him, and vice versa. He’s completely entitled to his opinion.
That having been said, he gave that quote without ever having read any of the material. To me, that’s not necessarily a fair judgment, That’s an off-handed judgment. That’s like the people right now who are very upset because of what they’re hearing about how Doctor Doom is portrayed in the “Fantastic Four” movie. It’s legitimate to hear about something and form an initial opinion of it, but you can’t form a genuine, informed opinion until you’ve read the material.
In terms of it being a temporary thing and not being a stunt, everything we do is storytelling. Everything we do, on a certain level, is a stunt. [Laughs] It’s all stories. Is it likely that at some point Steve Rogers will be Captain America again? The tide of history tells us that’s probably the case, but that didn’t make it any less of a stunt when Bucky was Captain America. And the people that loved Bucky in that role weren’t any less served because of the fact that, at some point, the day might come when the original guy would pick the shield up again. To me, it’s not about having that office forever, it’s about what you do when you’re the guy. In just a few years, we’re going to have another election, and it’s a certainty that Barack Obama will not be President. Somebody else will. And who that somebody else is, at this point, is completely speculative, but that doesn’t change the impact or meaning that that guy in that job had for people.
I go back to the actual contents of the stories that we’re telling. If we’re telling stories that are great, that are exciting, that are compelling, that have heart — it’s not a stunt. It’s storytelling. It’s what we do. It’s no different than any other story we’ve done over the years where a character goes through a change, a trial, some tribulations, and comes out the other side. I’m not making any promises for tomorrow — I don’t do that with any of our characters. Spider-Man was Doc Ock for 18 months. Was that a stunt? Yeah, but it was a story. It’s all a stunt.
I understand the cynicism, and I think it’s very easy — particularly these days — to be cynical about any announcement about any story in any comic, because to some degree we’ve let the audience in behind the curtain so much. It’s a more transparent era. Our readers have a lot more of an idea of how the sausage is actually made than they did in the days when it was Stan and the Bullpen Bulletins, and what you really got was Stan’s very sanitized, very rah-rah versions of what working in comics was like at that period. And it’s true of any other creative media right now as well — it’s easy to be cynical about a “Fantastic Four” movie or a “Constantine” TV show, or whatever the thing may be. At the end of the day, though, quality will win out. If we do good stories, people will like them, people will respond to them. The promise isn’t that nothing is ever going to change — if anything, the promise of Marvel Comics is that everything is going to change constantly.
Speaking of storytelling — now that we’ve gotten a taste of Sam as Captain America, in a general sense, what do you see as the types of stories that Marvel can tell now, that wouldn’t be possible with Steve Rogers as Cap?
Brevoort: I think it’s less about stories that you can do that you can’t do with Steve, so much as it is the perspective on stories that you would do is different. For all that Sam stands for and champions the same sort of basic, fundamental human rights and human decent that Steve Rogers does, he is a man of a different era. He did not grow up in the depression, he did not fight in World War II, he is not a soldier. He is, however, a guy that’s devoted very much of his life to making a difference in a very ground-level, one-to-one, human being to human being sort of way. I think he’s got the stuff to be Captain America, but a Captain America that’s got a slightly different set of priorities, and who will react to situations in a different manner than Steve might.
He’s also got, and this is the case whenever you have a character step into the mantle of some other character, big boots to fill. And seeing him fill them, and how he goes about filling them, is part of what’s interesting about that journey. The first issue includes a big throwdown between the new Cap and Batroc. And certainly we’ve seen Steve Rogers battle Batroc before many times. So much so that doing another issue that had a fight between Steve and Batroc is maybe by itself not all that interesting. But immediately, it’s a different thing in that it’s Sam. It’s a different guy with different capabilities with a different perspective on things. And this is the most basic sort of difference, because there are really no issues involved with fighting Batroc other than he’s French and he will sneer at you. [Laughs] But in any situation in which Captain America now finds himself, he may be more likely to go left where Steve might go right, or he might be more likely to go two degrees more or less left than Steve might go. That is, at least to me, the interesting thing.
I also wanted to ask about the other “Avengers Now” launch of this week, “Superior Iron Man.” I thought the first issue was really cool, but given that the change there is not as outwardly different — it’s not an different character in the role — it hasn’t gotten as much attention as “Thor” or “All-New Captain America.” Tom Taylor is certainly a rising star, but he’s not as big of a name at this point to fans as Rick Remender or Jason Aaron. It seems like the book may get a bit lost in the shuffle among the other two — is there any concern within Marvel of that kind of notion?
Brevoort: I don’t think there’s any concern. I think if anything, our feeling is if it’s not going to be as huge of a success right out of the gate, it’ll be a sleeper. Tom Taylor certainly brings a quality of craft to the table, and I think Yildiray is doing some beautiful work in it. In some ways, it’s the most Marvel-y Marvel Comic I’ve seen in a while. Just thumbing through the first issue, and seeing how many big, splashy images there are — it really feels like a genuine, old-school Marvel Comic on that level.
And it’s just got this nice, wry, vaguely nasty undertone of the fact that Tony Stark is much more like the Tony Stark he was before he went into that cave and came out as Iron Man. And that’s immediately interesting. He begins to have interactions with people around him, and we see him with Pepper in this issue, and we see him with Daredevil in this issue — these are only things that are going to get bigger and wilder and crazier as things go.
It’s sort of taking this character and pushing him outside of his comfort zone. Many people have pointed to the fact that Tony drinks, both in this issue and in “AXIS,” and have even said, “It’s undercutting everything this character has been through.” I don’t think it’s undercutting. It’s certainly challenging. It’s moving the character outside of his comfort zone, and to some degree the reader outside of their comfort zone, and hopefully getting to a point where you want to see what happens next. Where is this going? What’s going to be the fallout of it? The fact that anybody who’s an alcoholic struggles with substance addiction, taking a sip of alcohol is an enormous deal, and can send you into a tremendous spiral, back into some fairly dark places. So this is not something that we take lightly, or something that’s not going to have a world of effect on Tony Stark.
It’s taking these characters — especially because of their increased presence in the films and animation and whatnot — who are more iconic than they’ve ever been, and finding new wrinkles, new avenues, new ways to explore what it means to be Captain America, or to be Thor, or to be Iron Man. I think these are interesting and hopefully exciting times for our readers. The sense that you don’t necessarily know exactly what’s going to happen next, that’s vital. That’s fundamental.
Pivoting over to the subject of next year’s “Secret Wars,” it’s been established that’s what the current “Avengers” and “New Avengers” arc “Time Runs Out” is leading to, but are there other places in the Marvel line that readers should maybe look towards that are headed directly to “Secret Wars” — since it’s been said that story is so expansive?
Brevoort: Everything is heading towards “Secret Wars.” It’s just that “Avengers” and “New Avengers” are a little bit ahead of the curve, because we’ve jumped eight months into the future. We’re effectively publishing the “Avengers” and “New Avengers” issues that we would be publishing in May. We’re just doing it earlier. But before that, everything that’s going on — whether it’s “AXIS,” whether it’s “Spider-Verse,” whether it’s “Black Vortex”; I’m pointing to the big things, there are smaller things as well — everything in the Marvel Universe is heading towards one concrete point, and that point is “Secret Wars.” I said in one of the early interviews for “Secret Wars” that not only is it the biggest thing we’ve ever done, but imagine the biggest thing you can come up with, and that’s the first issue. And then we get bigger beyond that. It really is not hyperbole.
The unfortunate part for people who are afraid or intimidated by it is, if you’re following Marvel Comics, you’re not going to be able to get away from it. This is a profound and huge moment in the history of Marvel, and it’s going to reverberate throughout the entire line, except maybe Star Wars.
Apropos of nothing, I read the first issue of the Jason Aaron/John Cassaday “Star Wars” about a week back, to put another set of eyes on it, to do what we call a “read out” — while I’m of the age to have been around to watch the original Star Wars movies when they first came out, they never loomed terribly large in my life. I liked them, but they weren’t this enormous touchstone for me like they were for so many other people. So taking all of that into account, I thought the first issue was great. I thought it was tremendous, and it made me want to come back and read the next one. Jason and John are two guys on the top of their craft. Make of that what you will — “Star Wars” #1 gets my personal endorsement as good comics.
One thing I’m curious to get your opinion on — you were the editor on “Fantastic Four” for many years, before passing the reigns to Mark Paniccia for the most current run. We now know the book is ending, at least temporarily, in early 2015. The fact that it’s coming to an end at this point is interesting to me, because there was a real outcry at just the notion that it might end a few months back — as I’m sure you were aware. Yet it also seems that no matter the quality of the book, or the type of high-profile creators working on it — just looking at writers alone, the series has seen James Robinson, Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman, Mark Millar in recent years — the sales haven’t necessarily translated in a huge way. Is that a source of some internal frustration or vexation within Marvel, in that it does seem to be something of a tough nut to crack?
Brevoort: I don’t know if it’s a source of vexation, per se. All it really means in the final analysis is we didn’t come up with the story and the hook that galvanized enough people. All through the runs that you’ve talked about, we’ve had good sales, up and down, all the way through that. It’s not like anybody has been terribly disappointed by them. But in terms of “Fantastic Four” being “the” book that it was in the ’60s, it hasn’t been that in a very long time. It seems like there could be a time where any other book can become that. “Guardians of the Galaxy” is suddenly a top book, and has not only one spinoff title, but a whole Whitman’s Sampler of spinoff books, because that just happens to be the zeitgeist of those characters.
I think all it means for “Fantastic Four” is that for all the talented people involved — and I’ll include myself in that — we just haven’t found an idea that connects with a massive audience yet. And that’s fine. That happens. In the ’60s, “X-Men” was a cancelled title, and in the ’90s, “X-Men” was 34 books and the biggest selling thing in comics. Everything goes through cycles of up and down. The Fantastic Four, the characters and the concept, is plenty excellent. There’s nothing wrong with it. We just need to find the right approach, the right creators, the right story, that really makes people sit up and take notice.
In terms of what you were talking about in the beginning, about people reacting to it going away, I see it as very akin — I remember this firsthand — to the chatter when it came out in the ’80s that “The Flash” was going to die in “Crisis,” and his book was going to be canceled. There wasn’t an Internet then, but everybody in what was then fandom bemoaned this and was horrified by it, and was upset by it, and you would ask them — “When was the last time you bought ‘The Flash’?” And it would be, “Well, I haven’t bought ‘The Flash’ in like six years, but I was always really comforted by the fact that it was still there.” Well, that’s kind of your answer. You like the comfort of a thing being there, but you’re not engaging with it. That may mean that a lot of other people aren’t engaging with it as well, and it may be time for it to take a rest until you can make it shine again.
Certainly, it did not hurt Thor. There was no “Thor” book for a couple of years. And when Thor came back, it was a big event. Granted, he came back on the cusp of the wave of “Civil War,” but really, JMS and Olivier Coipel but that character back on the map in a big way, and the sales showed it. The same sort of thing is true of anybody’s characters, really. And “Fantastic Four” is no different.
Have some questions for Marvel’s AXEL-IN-CHARGE? Please visit the AXEL-IN-CHARGE Q&A thread in CBR’s Marvel Comics community. It’s the dedicated thread that CBR will pull questions for next week’s installment of our weekly fan-supported question-and-answer column! Do it to it!
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