Character Arcs, Solo Runs & Pricing Pages

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, with the current cycle of major Marvel events on the precipice of their conclusions, CBR talks to Axel about the story fallout for Cyclops in the wake of "Schism," how major character arcs are built in the House of Ideas, what the next, solo step is for major titles in the Avengers franchise and some direct talk on the hot button issue of price points versus page count. Plus, Axel tackles your questions on upcoming Marvel special releases, unseen X-Men characters and the potential for a digital move to the Android platform. Read on!

CBR News: Axel, we've talked a lot lately about the Editorial process at Marvel and how the nuts and bolts of certain events work, but this time out I thought it'd be best to start on the story side of things. This week, "Schism" #4 hit, and we got to see the core of where the fall out between Cyclops and Wolverine lies. But beyond the core argument in the plot of the issue, it stood out to me how quickly things devolved into them arguing about Jean Grey. It all came down to personal fights over a woman. How much discussion came about with Editorial and Jason Aaron about how to draw out that personal element?

Axel Alonso: The story that became "Schism" was one we work-shopped at one of our post-SDCC X-Men retreats, and went to that knowing that Jason [Aaron] would be the writer. The conflict between Cyclops and Wolverine is a philosophical one, but when two fellas get to the point of throwing punches, personal #$%# tends to emerge -- in the case of Scott and Logan, the dark undercurrents of a long and complicated relationship. Logan and Scott aren't fighting over Jean, of course, they're fighting over the future of the X-Men, but when Scott tells Logan, "[Jean] never loved you, you know. You always frightened her," he's not just stabbing his opponent, he's twisting the knife. That's something Scott probably thought for a long time -- now he's actually saying it. Ditto when Logan responds, "And if she were here right now, who do you think she'd be frightened of?"

Cyclops is the character you've talked about a lot and someone you've seen grow over the past five years at Marvel. He's really been built up both as a more personally confident solo character but also as the successful general of the mutant army in the face of some of the worst things the X-Men have gone through. What's the draw for you in seeing a character like that get knocked back down to some extent? So often, the point of superheroes is triumph, but does tragedy play an equally important role?

Alonso: If it's a good story, and it makes sense in the character's arc, sure -- why not? When we sat down and plotted out "Messiah CompleX" several years ago, we knew we were about to send Cyclops down a long, dark road that would start when he took the reins as the unquestioned leader of the X-Men. When that blip came up on Cerebra, signaling a possible mutant birth, the stakes couldn't have been higher for the mutant race, so our first question was. "Who will lead them?" And we realized it had to be Cyclops. It wouldn't be Logan or Emma or Colossus. And it couldn't be Professor X -- been there, done that! [Laughs] It had to be Cyclops.

Even back then, we saw the general shape of the road Cyclops would be traveling. We knew that the tough decisions he'd be forced to make would take a toll on him. We didn't know exactly what that toll would be until we were sculpting "Schism," but we were already asking questions like, "What does it do to your soul when your responsibility to your species compels you to do things you never thought you'd do?" Back then, it was a whole different group of writers at the table -- Ed Brubaker, Craig Kyle, Chris Yost, Mike Carey, Peter David. After that, the story continued to evolve under the direction of a new group of writers -- Matt Fraction, Zeb Wells, Kieron Gillen, etc. Eventually, Jason emerged as the writer with the clearest vision for what the final story could be. When he ad-libbed the "Jean never really loved you" line at the table, we were like, "Oh yeah!"

Whenever we get to the end of an event cycle like we are right now with "Schism" and "Fear Itself" both, the question always becomes what the impact on the status quo of the overall line will be. What is your conception of the state of the Marvel Universe and the backdrop that the characters will exist in over the coming months?

Alonso: After "Fear Itself," "Schism" and "The Children's Crusade" come to a close, all the various houses will be reorganized to some degree or another. We've already spoken about the X-Men, but without revealing any spoilers, I will say that the Avengers -- especially Cap, Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk, all of whom have huge crosses to bear after the events of "Fear Itself" -- will be profoundly affected by "Fear Itself." Those that survive the event -- and the shape they're in after they do -- will have great bearing on how the Avengers are able to respond to the next big challenge. "Fear Itself 7.1," "7.2," and "7.3" in stores in November, start the ball rolling.

While a book like "Fear Itself: The Fearless" takes the big mega-story of some of these events forward, it also functions like a road movie through the current Marvel U. The leads will check in on the solo status of the various franchises. Was it important to show an overall, broad picture of where all the characters are from the FF to the Avengers on down? In other words, are you setting all the pieces on the board for what's next?

Alonso: Yes, we are. We're headed toward something huge that we'll be teasing very soon. Until then, we'll use the post-"Fear Itself" and post-"Schism" status quo as an opportunity to keep the pedal to the metal on the core monthlies. After "Schism," the X-Men will be a house divided: With two monthly titles featuring two different -- and antagonistic -- teams: "Wolverine and the X-Men" and "Uncanny X-Men." And after "Fear Itself," Brian [Bendis], Matt [Fraction], Ed [Brubaker] will tell big stories that relate to the Avengers universe -- stories that get teed up in "Fear Itself 7.1," "7.2" and "7.3."

Looking at the December solicits, it feels like books like "Invincible Iron Man" can focus back on the long simmering elements to that comic like the return of the Mandarin or Detroit Steel. Do you talk to the writers in a way to say, "Here's the space to go wild in your own corner and do your own thing"?

Alonso: The writer of any core title knows that there'll be stretches where he's doing his own thing -- which is most of the time -- and moments when he's called upon to be part of something larger. And he knows that the title he's writing will benefit from this. Sales figures show that fans look forward to the occasional "summer blockbuster" that brings all the characters together for a story with universe-wide ramifications. It's because they support these things that we give it to them.

Shifting onto a more businessy topic, last week there was a minor revolt on the comment thread for the column on the issue of pricing versus page count. I've seen questions about this on the boards for a little while, but as they bubbled up in a big way, I thought we'd take some time to tackle the issue overall. From what I've heard from Marvel in the past, the idea seems to be that the books come in the length they come in, and prices have been decided upon earlier and somewhat independently of that. But in your experience, is that a common occurrence for a creator working with an editor? I mean, do writers send in scripts that were expected to be at 22 pages where they've instead cut them down to 20 or pumped them up to 24?

Alonso: There are occasions when a writer requests additional pages for an issue, and if it doesn't imperil the ship date, we try to accommodate -- though we're more frugal in soft economic times like these. Conversely, there are occasions when a writer, knowing that his book's behind schedule and looking to fend off the possibility of a fill-in artist on the arc, shaves down a script a little to help the artist hit their deadline and move on to the next issue. If they do this, they usually balance it out later, with an extra page in a subsequent issue.

I think part of the confusion here is that readers are looking for a policy. They assume or want a broad policy to be declared on what things will be and what they will cost, but then the final product doesn't hold up to that expectation. In these economic times, is it impossible to have a mold that fits the whole Marvel line?

Alonso: Hey, if a comic book doesn't hold up to expectation, that's because it wasn't an enjoyable reading experience -- doesn't matter if it's 21 pages or 23 pages. That said, it is impossible to have a one-size-fits-all mold for the entire line.

It's no secret that we have to put out books that sell -- our job security hinges on it -- but we also want to produce diverse material. I mean, if all we were looking to do was make money, we'd only back winning horses -- core titles like Avengers and X-Men -- we wouldn't even try stuff like the CrossGen initiative or, say, "DeadpoolMAX." That said, our ability to publish lower-circling titles hinges upon our ability to put together a well-balanced publishing plan, and to manage the costs of those books so they stay viable. If shaving "DeadpoolMAX" down to 20 pages allows us to keep the book afloat, and to keep two talented and worthy guys like David Lapham and Kyle Baker working, that's something we'll consider doing. It's up to readers to decide it they want to buy it.

Some people want to dismiss Marvel as a soulless corporation, but that's far from the truth. It's people who love the medium working overtime to keep their freelancers employed in the medium they also love. Truth is, there are plenty of writers and artists and even characters that our editors are just plain invested in -- whether they put butts in seats or not -- and they come up with creative ways to keep them in the mix.

Moving into fan questions, one particular question came up quite a bit over the past few days (so much so that I feel the askers may have planned this elsewhere on the boards), but I'll let That Random Guy be the one to offer his specific phrasing: "Hi Axel, will there be a Marvel Android app soon? Your entertainment division did a great job with the Captain America live wallpaper, I thought that you guys might make a comic download app."

Alonso: Right now, our digital comics app is doing fantastic on iOS. Let's just say that we always strive to give the fans what they want -- as soon as possible -- so keep a lookout.

On a much more old school release front, aquafanatic wanted to know if Marvel was planning on continuing one of it's more research-heavy initiatives. He asked: "m a huge fan of the Marvel Index series you have been releasing the past 3(ish) years. There is still alot of material to cover and can only imagine small sales. After the current Wolverine/Punisher/Ghost Rider are there plans to continue? Major books that need indexed are FF, Incredible Hulk, and Daredevil. Even though Amazing Spider-Man was done, what are the chances of Spectacular/Sensational/Web of Spider-Man? Defenders? West Coast Avengers? Thnx for the time!"

Alonso: Sorry to say, aquafanatic, but there are no plans for more Marvel Index series after the Wolverine/Punisher/Ghost Rider series.

We've had a lot of folks asking after their favorite X-Characters since the final "Regenesis" teasers were revealed. Let's start with coolbeans74 who asked, "The new X-Men Regenesis teams have been revealed, but no sign of the newly restored Chamber?!? Say it ain't so!"

Alonso: Well, he's not dead, coolbeans74. He doesn't have a prominent role in the Regenesis books yet, but Chamber co-creator Chris Bachalo is drawing "Wolverine and the X-Men" so I wouldn't be shocked if he showed up there.

And let's wrap with The Big G who's wondering after a group that has quite the following online: "The New X-Men seem to once again have gotten the short end of the stick in the recent teasers for the upcoming roster changes? Any hint on where we'll be able to see fan favorites: Hellion, Surge, Dust, Mercury, Rockslide, Prodigy, Anole and the rest of the NXM crew?"

Alonso: All of them show up in "X-Men: Regenesis" #1 and then in the books that are on each side of the "Schism." No one's a bigger NXM fan than Senior Editor Nick Lowe.

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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