CUP O' JOE: Thor, X-Factor, Punisher MAX

Welcome back to CUP O' JOE, the internet home of Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, exclusively on CBR. This is where Joe answers your questions in our weekly CUP O' Q&A segment, publishes a number of sketches and artwork in our ongoing CUP O' DOODES feature (check back on Wednesday for a new edition), and asks you to participate in a series of polls in CLICK JOE'S POLL.

In addition to these regular features, CBR staffers routinely speak with Quesada about the latest Marvel Comics news and announcements, and today's update is just one of those occasions.

Just on the heels of Natalie Portman's confirmed role in Kenneth Branagh's film based on the classic hero Thor, Quesada discusses the conclusion of writer J. Michael Straczynski's run on the eponymous Marvel series - a development prompted by an approaching line-wide crossover event whose existence Quesada confirms in this exclusive interview.

Additionally, Joe answers Rob Liefeld's disapproval of an "X-Factor" story in which Shatterstar, a character Liefeld created, was shown to be a homosexual.

CUP O' JOE is Executive Produced by Jonah Weiland and Produced by Kiel Phegley.

Joe Quesada: Hey guys, before we begin today, I need to send out another big thanks. On Friday when we spoke about the Ultimate Universe post-"Ultimatum," I forgot to also thank Allan Heinberg, who also consulted along with Damon Lindeloff and sat in on our mini Ultimates Creative Summit. Allan's insight and ideas were instrumental in helping us create "Ultimatum" and what comes directly afterwards. My apologies to Allan, if he even reads this column. Between a ton of artwork with impending deadlines and Comic-Con on the horizon, I rushed through the answer and neglected giving credit where credit's due.

Kiel Phegley: Joe, since we last spoke, J. Michael Straczynski announced right here on CBR that he'll be leaving "Thor" pretty soon and that the reason is because he didn't want to participate in an upcoming crossover event he called "Siege of Asgard." JMS was of course very kind and calm as he explained his reasons and did not put down or speak ill of anyone at Marvel.

That said, there was a public creative disagreement between the two of you over "One More Day," the Spider-Man story in which Peter Parker and Mary Jane's marriage was undone.

How would you characterize the working relationship between JMS and Marvel these days?

Joe Quesada: As far as I'm aware, JMS has publicly said he would be pitching other projects in the future. There's certainly no problem between Marvel and JMS and remember, he's still working on "The Twelve" for us.

Kiel Phegley: What can you tell us about "Siege of Asgard?" If it wasn't a story that originated with JMS' take on Thor, who pitched this idea to Marvel? When might we see it and who might work on it? Will it end the status quo of Asgard being situated in Oklahoma?

Joe Quesada: Well, lets keep in mind that Marvel has never put out any news about a project with that name. So it's something that I can't really comment on.

Jonah Weiland: Can you tell us if "Siege of Asgard" is a working title or an actual title?

Joe Quesada: I can't tell you one way or the other.

Kiel Phegley: How aware were you that JMS was opposed to writing crossovers, or at least this crossover? Did you know that pulling the trigger on "Siege of Asgard" would result in JMS leaving?

Joe Quesada: Again, I can't comment on what our next big project is at Marvel, but more to the point, you never really know how someone will react to different ideas. However, all that said and disclaimers aside, when we came to JMS with the idea for our next big storyline we knew there was a possibility that he wouldn't want to be a part of it, but that's a risk we run with anyone.

But let me digress for a second. Back in the day when JMS said he wanted to write "Thor" he asked me one specific thing in order for him to take on the title. The agreement between JMS and myself - and forgive me because it's been over two years since this happened- but basically he wanted eight issues undisturbed without getting involved in a line-wide crossover, he wanted eight clean issues where he could develop the character and the world. Looking at it logically, while I knew Thor had to eventually come back to play with the rest of the MU, I thought that eight months in our publishing schedule really wasn't a lot to ask for or to sacrifice in order to let JMS work his magic, so I agreed and we held true to that and beyond. We literally avoided having Thor appear in any crossovers in a way that would disrupt the story. In fact, we actually gave JMS way beyond the eight issues, giving him what will eventually be 17 issues and well over two years when it's all said and done.

Let me add that through that time period our commitment to the title has been incredibly strong, always providing JMS with top flight artists like Olivier Coipel and Marko Djurdjevic, who have simply made the title a thing of beauty.

So, now here we found ourselves moving towards what I've been considering the third act of the macro story that was started in Civil War and because of the magnitude of Civil War and how it affected our biggest character, it was imperative and there was no way that we could not have Thor involved in this story. So it was at that point where we approached JMS - I believe it was editor Warren Simons who talked to Joe and told him that we needed to do this storyline and we needed Thor and it was going to certainly impact his title for the months that this larger story was running. We needed all the big gun characters so it was unavoidable and it was at this point that JMS wanted to think about it but his ultimate decision was to opt out and to leave the title.

Like I said, we knew it was a possibility that this would happen, but at the end of the day it was unavoidable and would have happened at some point. Thor is an integral part of the Marvel U and there was going to come a time when he was going to have to get involved in bigger stories. At the end of the day, while we were sorry to hear JMS's decision, I do feel that we upheld our end of the bargain and then some. These are just things that happen in publishing when you work within a shared universe. There comes a time when you have to make a decision. To JMS' credit, he did give us plenty of notice, as he announced his resignation from the title long before announcing it on CBR, so it helped us get our ducks in a row for the future and allowed us to come up with a logical landing pad for JMS and the end of his story.

Ironically enough, this particular storyline is the final large, line-wide-style crossover for at least the next year or so as we're going back to smaller inter-family style stories that will allow our creators the luxury to tell more self-contained stories or stories with at least fewer moving parts. As I've mentioned right here on CBR in previous columns, for the next year we're going to be doing less of these line-wide crossovers in favor of "in-family" events within books. So it was just going to be this one last bang for a bit, but ultimately JMS didn't want to be involved and that's perfectly cool.

Kiel Phegley: How do you balance the creative opinions of a creator carving out their own corner of the Marvel Universe to some acclaim with the huge amount of interconnectedness of Marvel Universe stories these days? How possible is it to have a solo book that takes place in the Marvel Universe but doesn't sync up with things like Civil War or Dark Reign anymore?

Joe Quesada: It's always a balancing act, and there's never any easy road to take. Ultimately, as a creator myself, I understand that I don't own these characters. I don't own Spider-Man. I don't own Captain America. So if I'm writing any one of those characters, and Marvel needs to shift them creatively, it is very clear to me and I'm under no illusions that this can happen at any time. JMS is aware of this as well, that's why he asked for the eight-issue window. Of course on our end, we do out best not to upset everyone's applecart, but it's a shared universe, so there are times that we have to do things creatively that may not appease everyone. Those are the Solomon-like decisions that we make here on a daily basis.

Jonah Weiland: What's Straczynski's last issue of "Thor?" Who will pick up the series once he leaves?

Joe Quesada: We do know when the last issue will be. After issue #603, JMS's story wraps up in "Giant-Size Thor: Defining Moments," which I believe we're looking at September as a possible ship date but that may move. We cannot say who's next, but a writer and artist have been chosen.

Kiel Phegley: The other big Marvel news of the past week or so was Peter David's outing of Shatterstar and Rictor as gay, in the pages of "X-Factor." Although Marvel's dealt with the rollout of gay characters in the past -- from the high-profile MAX take on Rawhide Kid to the relatively low-key creation of Robert Kirkman's Freedom Ring character - fan reaction to this story was pretty big. There's a ROBOT 6 story on this that's already pushed on to around 250 comments. What was your reaction when you first learned of Peter David's plans for "X-Factor?"

Joe Quesada: I thought it was totally cool. As long as it works within the story and it makes for a good story and character development, I have no issues whatsoever.

Kiel Phegley: Did you know about the history of hints between the characters that past X-writers had played with, or did you talk to PAD about some of that as the story was being written?

Joe Quesada: I didn't speak to Peter directly about it but I don't understand why people make such a big deal about it? There are all these myths about "Oh my God! A character's Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual!" so we run around Marvel like it's a five-alarm fire. No. It's just another story. It's not even anything people need to bring to my desk and say, "Is this Okay?" Sure, way back in the day before we took steps like this it was something that had to be discussed internally, but even back then it felt stupid to me. So, ultimately, I don't understand why it's a big deal? And more importantly, don't understand why people want to make it into a big deal. It's just silly.

Kiel Phegley: Do you think people getting up in arms about something like a superhero's sexuality hurts a book, helps a book, or doesn't have much of an impact at all?

Joe Quesada: You know what, it actually helps the book. What's unfortunate is that this is even a controversy and that in this day and age, this is the discussion we're having.

Kiel Phegley: Phase two of this controversy comes from Rob Liefeld, logged on to Twitter and "As the guy that created, designed and wrote his first dozen appearances, Shatterstar is not gay. Sorry. Can't wait to someday undo this. Seems totally contrived."

As the Editor-in-Chief, how do you respond to that? It's one thing to have disagreements internally at Marvel creative summits, but do matters change when those internal debates become public?

Joe Quesada: I've got to be honest with you, this is the first I've heard about Rob's comments, so I can only react to what you're telling me here, but there really isn't much I can say about it except scratch my head. I like Rob, but Peter is the creator who's writing the book, and ultimately while Rob is one of the guys who created Shatterstar, Shatterstar is a Marvel character and not a Rob Liefeld character. If this was done to a character in "Youngblood," then Rob has every right to do what he wants to with it.

I hate to be that cold-blooded about it, but I've created characters for Marvel as well and at the end of the day, they're Marvel's and not mine. What Marvel wants to do with them is what Marvel wants to do with them. That's my clear understanding of how things work when I do work-for-hire, to claim otherwise would be silly. It is work-for-hire. The characters are Marvel's, and if that's the way the characters are written, then that's the way the character is. If Rob wants to publicly disagree with that, that's his right, and I respect that. But if Rob is intending on flipping what Peter has written, he will have to wait to discuss that with the next Editor-in-Chief.

Kiel Phegley: After last week's CUP O' JOE about Marvel's pricing sparked discussion of what gets published under the MAX banner, you're back with some MAX news this week on the Punisher front?

Joe Quesada: Yup. "Punisher: Frank Castle" #75 is a double-sized special with stories by Charlie Huston ("Moon Knight"), Gregg Hurwitz ("Vengeance of Moon Knight"), Peter Milligan, Duane Swierczynski and a great crime novelist, Thomas Piccirilli with art by Ken Lashley ("Black Panther"), Laurence Cambpell ("Punisher"), Das Pastoras ("Wolverine") and more.

All the stories take a hard look at that fateful day in Central Park when Frank Castle's family was slaughtered in a mob crossfire, and the Punisher was born.

And stay tuned for Punisher MAX news coming out of San Diego Comic-Con.

Kiel Phegley: Is issue #75 the end of the MAX Punisher as we know him?

Joe Quesada: It will be bittersweet, let me just leave it at that.

Kiel Phegley: Now called "Punisher: Frank Castle," "Punisher MAX" was the first really big book in the MAX line. When Garth Ennis wrapped his run on the title, did you and editor Axel Alonso have a debate on whether or not the book could be kept alive without him?

Joe Quesada: It was absolutely a concern, but I think what happened was that we started to develop a readership in MAX product because of both Garth and what Axel does. Axel has a great sensibility for that kind of material. So I think when people purchase a MAX title, they really know what to expect. They do get their money's worth, they're very smart, sharp-edged adult comics beautifully drawn and wonderfully written. So I think really the line has established a real feel to it and a sensibility that attracts a certain kind of reader, and those readers are really incredibly faithful to that imprint in comic shops and bookstores.

And that's another reason why we don't expand on the imprint. I often get letters from people saying, "Hey, you should turn MAX into Vertigo and expand the titles." But that's not the way it works for us. We'd rather keep the title count low and the quality high. If we can manage that, in the end it services the imprint a lot better.

Kiel Phegley: One of the more interesting things about the MAX line is Alonso's building up of a stable of contemporary crime novelists who've taken the reins of the imprint. Do you find that having the MAX imrprint draws a certain kind of talent that Marvel didn't have before?

Joe Quesada: Yeah. And that's a real tribute to Axel, who I consider to be the best story editor in comics. Probably the best since Archie Goodwin. It's also a great training ground for these particular crime writers to cut their teeth in comics and then start working on other books in the Marvel Universe. So MAX has been a really great place for us and a tremendous imprint.

Have some questions for Joe Quesada? Please visit the CUP O' Q&A thread in CBR's Marvel Universe forum. It is from this dedicated thread that CBR's staff will pull questions for our weekly fan-generated question-and-answer session with Joe, which will be this Friday.

Discussion about today's feature may take place at the link immediately below.

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