Connecting With Readers Across The Marvel U

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, Axel gets into the nature of Marvel's relationship with fans both online and in person. Does the House of Ideas hear readers who speak out against controversial storylines, and do readers really quit comics as often as they claim to online? These questions and more about what kind of debate makes the biggest impact on the monthly Marvel line are discussed along with some historical perspectives on stories like "The Other," the rampages of the Incredible Hulk and modern events like "AvX." Plus, Alonso takes on a new slew of fan questions about Ant-Man, The Ultimates, the next Infinite Comic and more. Read on!

Kiel Phegley: Axel, every week we talk a bit with the readers via our message board Q&A, and often we talk about the relationship Marvel works on building with its fans. But at C2E2, there was a moment at a Marvel panel that referenced the back-and-forth of the comics internet when a fan stood up and said that he hadn't bought a Marvel comic since Nightcrawler was killed. And you seemed really surprised by that. Was that the first time you'd had someone come up to you and say, "This isn't just complaining on the internet. I've actually put my money where my mouth is"?

Alonso: I'm always a bit skeptical when people say they've dropped a series, yet they seem to know everything that's occurred in it over the last few months. [Laughs] I mean, a lot of people announced they were dropping "Amazing Spider-Man" after "One More Day," but the book is going through a renaissance under Dan Slott that wouldn't have been possible without it. Case in point: I remember one guy at a con begging me to retcon "One More Day." I asked him if he was currently enjoying the series, and he said, emphatically, "Yes!" and then he went on to explain how much he liked so many of the subplots and characters that, again, wouldn't have been possible if we hadn't done "One More Day." And I said, "Mission accomplished."

So yes, I'm still a bit skeptical when someone says they're boycotting all Marvel Comics because of a story in one book. I guess it's possible, but I don't understand the mindset. I can't imagine denying myself one of my passions because of one story development - and let's face it, one that will probably be rectified in the future.

I think it's always interesting to watch the difference between the kind of talk we hear online and the way I see fans interact with creators on person at conventions. Have you found a big shift there, and to what do you attribute that?

Alonso: Without a doubt. At conventions, it's all fans that say how much they love what's going on at Marvel. At C2E2, it was all about how everyone's loving "AvX." But that's to be expected, I think. There's plenty of reasonable discourse on the message boards, but it gets droned out by whoever yells loudest. Anonymity emboldens people.

Obviously, there's a lot of "If I'm faceless, I can say anything" kind of insults lobbed on the internet, but there's also a lot of good discussion that happens that we can't ignore either. What do you feel is the most useful discourse from web? What kinds of feedback do you get that's helpful to Marvel Editorial?

Alonso: The worst response to any announcement is a small amount of feedback that's all positive. That means you're dead. [Laughs] The best sign is when you get lots of feedback from fans - positive AND negative. That means you've gotten people excited, you've inspired debate - and that energy will drive them into stores.

As for what I "get" from individual commentary, it all comes down to how thoughtful and articulate the feedback is. There are people who I just don't pay attention to because the tone and tenor of their feedback show they've got an axe to grind. But there are plenty of occasions when I take to heart a reader's thoughtful criticism. Plenty of times.

We talk a lot about this idea that "any kind of feedback is good feedback" where it's better to have people say they hate an idea than it is for them to remain silent. And with things like Brian Bendis' famous "this is going to break the internet in half" joke, it seems you're all very aware of how people might respond when you're putting together stories. Does a certain level where the stories you create need to get the readers worked up in one way or another?

Alonso: You don't go into a project looking to "work up" readers. But there does come a time after your story has taken shape that you put on your marketing cap and consider what you've got to make people pay attention to that story. Take "Avengers Vs. X-Men," for instance. There's a big, fat marketing hook built right into the title of the series: I mean, we're taking our two biggest super-teams - two huge movie franchises - and throwing them at one another for a battle royal. That said, the reason we did this event was because we had a real story to tell - a story about hard choices made in the crucible of a global crisis, filled with moments of sacrifice, disgrace, and redemption. The selling point, of course, is that it's...AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN.

What do you make of stories that get written in response to debate or perception. Like, when a writer comes in and says, "This story from a few years ago really screwed up this character's continuity, and now my story will fix it!" Are you wary of ideas that get pitched for those reasons in terms of their actual story potential?

Alonso: You've got to tread very carefully. Whenever a writer wants to "fix" a story that already, you've just got to consider a lot of factors, not the least of which is how important that story is in the overall canon of the series. If we're going to play with the very foundation upon which a character is built, we're going to need very compelling arguments to go that route, and feel what we're getting out of this move really helps us move into the future. There is no "one size fits all" analysis or standard we use. For instance: When J. Michael Straczynski introduced the concept of totemic mythology to Spider-Man's origin, I approved the move because it added another layer to Spider-Man's legend. It enriched the origin. But it someone were to assert that, say, Peter Parker didn't get his powers from a radioactive spider-bite, but from a gypsy witch who was off-panel outside the museum...that wouldn't fly.

There are certain foundational stories for the Marvel Universe - mostly the Lee/Kirby and Lee/Ditko stories. Do you have a certain list of things where you say "These stories are sacrosanct, and I'm not going to contradict them no matter what"?

Alonso: Yes. There are "core truths" to every character. Indeed, part of Marvel Studios' success, I think, has been due to its ability to hold to those truths - to flush the bathwater and keep the baby. Captain America's pirate boots: bathwater. His shield: baby. [Laughs]

Let me think of a more concrete example...

Okay: Many years ago, under a different publisher, I was given the latitude to have the Hulk actually kill someone in a berserker rage - you know, this time the soldiers don't get out the tossed tank. Even though this would have give the series the "oh-$#!% moment that every editor lusts for, I elected not to go that route because I felt it opened up a Pandora's box that could never be closed. The moment Bruce Banner wakes up in a stretched-out pair of purple pants and covered in blood, he's going to have to realize he is responsible for whatever happened and do everything in his power to (a) atone for it, and (b) make sure his never, ever happens again. From that moment forward, every moment Banner walks the earth a free man, he is putting the value of his own life above others, and he becomes un-heroic, even unsympathetic. That's a place the Hulk shouldn't go. One of the eternal truths of the Hulk is that he lives in a world that's very elastic - tanks don't break, they bounce - and he doesn't become what he would in the read world: a mass murderer.

Taking this discussion back out to the interaction with fans, can you think of any occasion where you've gotten feedback from a reader that you've taken right back into Editorial and changed a story because of it?

Alonso: Not really. At least not that I can remember. I've had fans say they want a certain character back, and that's influenced me.

So "AvX" is underway, and we've spoken a little bit about the kinds of changes it's brining to the Marvel U, but do you have a moment or an issue coming up where you're personally expecting it to make waves with readers and lead to one of those 500-message threads on the boards?

Alonso: Hell yeah. There are so many moments because there are so many characters doing so much stuff in such a volatile setting. But I think it's the act breaks - the game-changing moments - that are going to get the biggest reaction. People will be, like, "I can't believe they did that." Hey, there's Round 1, Round 2 and Round 3 for a reason: each act is really it's own event. We've never done an event book that's so compressed. Every page, every panel is precious space to drive the story forward. That's part of the reason why we created "AvX: Versus." As much fighting as there is in "AvX," there were enough moments we wanted more pages to expand on a fight, we finally just made a book that would give us those pages!

Oh yeah: And there's one dramatic moment - let's just say it involves sacrifice - that is going to make a lot of people mad and even more people cry.

Moving into fan questions, SpiderX was one of a few people who asked about the Ultimate U this week, and he had a very specific reason for it: "I just finished reading 'Ultimates' #9. Wow, I was blown away by this issue. Hickman is doing a phenomenal job. Without spoiling what happened in the issue I would like to ask a question. How will what happened affect of the Ultimate Line going forward? I know Miles is still dealing with Uncle Aaron and learning his super hero ropes and mutants have to deal with their own problems but will the repercussions be seen immediately in 'Ultimate Spider-Man' and 'Ultimate X-Men'?"

Alonso: Spidey X, I ask, how something that huge would NOT affect the rest of the books. There will absolutely be EXTREME shockwaves from the end of "Ultimate Comics Ultimates" #9 that will ripple through "Ultimate Comics X-Men" and "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man." Three words...DIVIDED WE FALL!!!

He follows up on a different recent Marvel release, asking, "Will we see the Marvel AR app used in other books outside of AvX soon? How about Spider-Men, Divided We Fall, or any of the other Spidey 50th Anniversary books?"

Alonso: We'll definitely be spreading the AR love around further in the coming months, though we're not quite in position to tell you exactly where just yet. But expect to be seeing a lot more AR in the books before too long.

On a similar front, joshtylen wanted to know, "Hi Axel will we get more info on the next infinite comic #2 soon?"

Alonso: How about right now? The second Infinite Comic will be released concurrent with "Avengers Vs. X-Men" #6, the beginning of the second act of the series-and while we can't yet tell you which character it focuses on (it's not Nova in this case), it is somebody absolutely central to the "AvX" storyline, and the story will give you new insights into their mindset and point of view-while also providing fans for one or two of the things they've been asking for in "AvX" the most!

Spidey616 is back to follow up on something you've been talking about over the past year when he asks, "For awhile you've been hinting that Ant-Man is a character to watch out for, and the return of Scott Lang and the most recent issue of Secret Avengers seems to confirm that the time of Eric O'Grady's stint as the Irredeemable Ant-Man has come to an end. Has the idea of replacing the current Ant-Man been building for some time, and besides Defenders, when can we expect to see more of Ant-Man interacting with the rest of the Marvel U?"

Alonso: If you've continued to follow Rick Remender's wild work on "Secret Avengers," Spidey, you'll have seen that rumors of Eric O'Grady's demise may have been premature. That said, there are big plans in the offing concerning Scott Lang as well-and which of them, if either, might be Ant-Man in the near future remains to be seen.

The crimson had one covering a bit of the Spidey universe: "With Miles Morales meeting 616 Peter Parker, is there any chance of a cross-over featuring the Spider-Man of 2099? A comic series set in the original 2099 universe would be even better."

Alonso: No plans for that.

And on a simila front, let's wrap with Filip asking, "Is there any chance or plans for Spider-Man Noir 3?"

Alonso: We're glad you liked the first two volumes, but as of right now, there are no current plans, Filip.

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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