Course-Correcting Diversity Problems, Bendis' Iron Man Expansion

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 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 Community, each week Alonso will shake things up with special guest stars, exclusive art reveals and more!

Following last week's discussion of Marvel's hip-hop variant covers and the subsequent criticisms the publisher received -- that, given its lack of Black creators contributing to its ongoing titles, the covers equaled Marvel appropriating Black culture -- Alonso talks further on the issue of diversity, saying the current lack of Black writers at Marvel is temporary, and that new series announcements will soon prove that. Alonso also discusses the work of Marvel's editorial staff to "course-correct" when there are diversity issues that need to be addressed.

RELATED: Alonso Responds to Marvel's Hip-Hop Variant Cover Criticism

Alonso also confirms that, as hinted earlier this week, there are plans in the works for a second Brian Michael Bendis-written "Iron Man" series, and talks the freshly announced "Spidey" and "Hercules" titles -- including the question on whether or not Hercules' implied bisexuality will play a role in the series. That and more, including your questions, direct from the CBR Community.

Albert Ching: Axel, I wanted to start this week by following up a bit on last week's conversation -- namely, the issue of seeking broader diversity in the creators of Marvel's ongoing series. You mentioned that readers will see greater diversity in the "All-New, All-Different Marvel" initiative as it continues through February, but 50 or so books have been announced so far, and, to use one point of reference, there's still a noticeable lack of Black creators, and specifically Black writers, represented. Is that something readers can expect to see shift in the next month? Two months?

Axel Alonso: The "All-New, All-Different Marvel" announcements encompass books that arrive in stores between October through February. We have incredibly exciting stuff to announce in the next few months -- titles, artists and writers -- building to a crescendo for Black History Month.

It's interesting that, around 2007, Marvel had Black writers like Dwayne McDuffie, Reggie Hudlin and Kevin Grevioux all on ongoing series. Do you think there's almost been a step back on that front? And if so, what can be done to counter it?

Alonso: Actions speak louder than words. We are experiencing a lull in African-American writers at this moment, but it is temporary. We will be announcing new series very soon that will prove that. I'm talking about new voices, familiar voices and one writer whose voice is heard round the world. [Laughs]

Since you mention, Dwayne, Reggie and Kevin... Comics lost a major talent when it lost Dwayne McDuffie. I've got to wonder how he -- who had a close relationship with [SVP for Publishing] Tom Brevoort -- might have contributed to Marvel. The same thing is true of the late Robert Morales, with whom I was very close. I edited his brilliant "Truth: Red, White and Black" limited series and his run on "Captain America," and looked forward to working with him again before he passed.

As for Kevin Grevioux and Reggie Hudlin? All I know is Kevin talks with us regularly and Reggie is always welcome here. I edited his five-year run on "Black Panther" and his year-long run on "Spider-Man," and we're good friends. If he ever comes up for air from his multiple commitments, maybe he can dip a toe in the "Star Wars" pool or something?

Last week, you stated that Marvel's "doors are open" to diverse creators, but is there also a proactive push for more diversity within Marvel's creative pool? If so, what can you say about the approach to that?

Alonso: We are always looking for the best new talent -- male, female, White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Straight, Gay. A perusal of the writers and artists who've become regular contributors in just the last 2-3 years shows that: Felipe Smith ("All-New Ghost Rider"), Stacy Lee ("Silk"), Mahmud Asrar, ("All-New X-Men"), Robbi Rodriguez ("Spider-Gwen"), Sanford Greene ("Runaways"), Damion Scott ("All-New Ghost Rider"), Mike Del Mundo ("Weirdworld"), Joe Quinones ("Howard the Duck"), Ramón Perez ("All-New Hawkeye"), Ramon Rosanas ("Ant-Man"), Erica Henderson ("Squirrel Girl"), Jorge Molina ("A-Force"), and there's an exciting new artist I'm dying to talk about whose new series will be announced in the next two weeks. All of these creators work for Marvel because they were working hard and we were looking, and they are joining a talent pool that already includes mainstay contributors like Olivier Coipel, Humberto Ramos and Frank Cho.

How does a publishing line diversify? It starts with an editorial staff that is diverse -- and there has never been a more diverse editorial staff at Marvel -- and that is willing to have tough internal conversations and course-correct when there's a problem. A few years ago, when we cancelled "X-23," leaving us with no solo titles featuring a female lead, we considered that a problem. We took a good look in the mirror, course-corrected and the result was a wealth of solo female titles -- "Ms. Marvel," "Black Widow," "Captain Marvel" -- and a influx of female writers -- Kelly Sue DeConnick, G. Willow Wilson, Marguerite Bennett, Noelle Stevenson -- that have enriched our line, paving the road for other writers like Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas, Nicole Perlman, who will make their debuts soon. I have no doubt that we are continuing down that path on every front.

Bendis Hints at Second "Iron Man" Series, Debuts Pichelli Variant

Moving to some Marvel news from this week -- Brian Michael Bendis broadly hinted on Tumblr that he may be working on a second "Iron Man" title. Can you confirm anything regarding that at this point?

Alonso: Brian and David are playing the long game with "Invincible Iron Man." When Brian pitched us, he said there was an idea for a sister-title that would spin out of the first germinating in his brain.

What does it say, to you, that Iron Man is a character that Marvel now has enough faith in to handle two series from a top writer? Clearly, he's become huge over the past few years, largely due to the Marvel Studios films, but within comics, it' still surprising to see him at a Spider-Man or Batman level in supporting multiple titles. What convinced Marvel that Iron Man merited a second book?

Alonso: Brian did. [Laughs] I can't say much, but I will say this: The reveal on the last page of "Invincible Iron Man" #1 is big enough that it might need an entire series just to deal with. Retailers -- plan accordingly!

Thompson, Bradshaw's "Spidey" Series Sends Peter Parker Back to School

Also this week, the "Spidey" series, first discussed at Comic-Con International earlier this month, was made official. It's been a while since we've seen an in-continuity ongoing series of a teenage Spider-Man -- "Untold Tales of Spider-Man" in the mid-'90s comes to mind -- what type of need did Marvel see in the market for "Spidey"?

Alonso: "Spidey" is the world's most popular super hero at his most iconic incarnation. In most other forms of media whether it's TV, film or video games, Spider-Man is in high school. So it'll be perfect for fans looking for a comics entry point to a younger version of the character. That said, "Spidey" is great whether you've never read a Spider-Man comic or you've been reading for years: A high-school age Peter Parker, new to the game, learning to be a hero is exciting, plain and simple. Spider-Man [before] he was amazing. [Series Editor] Nick Lowe pointed out that although it seems like he was in high school forever, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko really only had 30 or so issues before Peter graduated and moved on. There's still plenty of story potential in those early years.

It's interesting that this appears to be a family-friendly series, but Marvel isn't using the phrase "all-ages" in its marketing. What type of distinction is being made there?

Alonso: Well, most of our titles are family-friendly but the term "all-ages" means something very specific to comic fans that doesn't really apply in the case of "Spidey." It means "outside of continuity kiddie comics" -- and that's not what this series is at all. As I mentioned before, the series works whether it's your first Spider-Man comic or your 1,000th.

The creative team, Robbie Thompson and Nick Bradshaw, shows that Marvel is serious about getting behind this book. What can you say about what made them the right choice for this?

Alonso: Robbie really made everyone sit up and take notice with "Silk." He showed he had a real grasp on an inexperienced hero struggling to learn what it takes to [be] a hero. And Nick Bradshaw is one of the most dynamic artists in the business. His Spidey pages are going to blow everyone away. We've chosen a big creative team on this title for a reason. We want to make certain this is viewed as an important companion title to the current Spider-Man mythos.

EXCLUSIVE: "Hercules" Returns in New Marvel Series by Abnett & Ross

CBR announced a new "Hercules" series from Dan Abnett and Luke Ross earlier this week. That's a character that had success as a solo character in some cult-favorite books a few years ago co-written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, but he hasn't been seen too much lately. What made the time right for him to get another solo spotlight?

Alonso: Dan Abnett pitched the idea of a new Hercules series with a fresh new take that excited us, and so we decided to go with it.

Also, a lot of fans have been curious if the character's sexuality -- it's been strongly suggested Hercules is bisexual, and in "X-Treme X-Men" an alternate Hercules was in a relationship with Wolverine -- will play a part in the series. Is there any insight you can provide at this point?

Alonso: Hercules and James Howlett's relationship in "X-Treme X-Men" took place in a unique alternate universe, similar to how Colossus was gay in the Ultimate Universe, but is straight in the 616. Same goes for Hercules here.

[Editor's note: Marvel declined a follow-up question on this subject.]

Let's wrap with some fan questions. Darthkostis asks, "Any news on the new Moon Knight series that you teased a while back?"

Alonso: No news, but I'm not above teasing. Art has started coming in and it is the best work of the artist's career. All of us up here and the writer have been drooling all week since we saw it.

MVP question-asker Spidey616 asks, "One character from the All-New All-Different Marvel teaser we haven't seen in the recent title announcements is Citizen V. Don't know how much you can reveal now, but don't suppose we can expect to see Baron Zemo playing a large role once again in the Marvel U, especially with his appearance in the "Captain America: Civil War" film?

Alonso: As you surmise, there's only a limited amount that we can reveal right now, but I'd expect to see Zemo again soon, both in the pages of "Captain America" and elsewhere.

We'll wrap with true_believer616: "I'm looking forward the new Jessica Jones show. Are there any chances to see a new book dedicated to her?"

Alonso: Aside from the re-release of the Bendis/Gaydos "Alias" run...? [Laughs] Expect another great female star to be announced shortly.

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!

Is The Mandalorian REALLY Teasing a Major Star Wars Character's Return?

More in CBR Exclusives