Day & Dating, X-Men Revving & Winter Soldiering

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, we're delving in to some of Marvel's most surprising recent news and their biggest publishing pushes of the year as Axel goes in depth on everything that hit this week. Below, look for specifics on why this Spring was the time to shift the entire Marvel Universe line to day and date digital availability, what the new X-Men series hold in store for their own corner of the Marvel U as well as the whole line and what the secret is to launching new books like Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice's "Winter Soldier." Plus, Axel answers your questions on "Alpha Flight," Norman Osborn and more. Read on!

Kiel Phegley: Welcome back, sir. I feel like I'm still recovering from Halloween. How did yours go? Did your son Tito dress up as a Marvel character this year?

Axel Alonso: Tito actually had two costumes this year -- one for a Halloween party -- War Machine -- and one for trick or treating: his favorite basketball player, Dirk Nowitzki. For that one, all he needed to do was rub some ash on his cheeks to simulate stubble. [Laughter] He had the headband, too!

Awesome! On the business side of things, there was a lot of Marvel news that hit this week, including word that the Marvel Universe and other superhero titles will be going day and date digital starting in April. While a lot of hay has been made in the press over DC's day and date plans this year, Marvel has had plenty of digital offerings, heading back a few years to when you launched the web-based Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited service. After all the different programs you've started and trial runs you've done, why was April the month that a full digital synch up became a reality?

Alonso: We've been building up the "same day as print" digital comics for a year now. The point of the story wasn't, "Hey we're going day and date in April!" It was to let everyone know that with the buildup we've had, and the careful selection of titles and timing through events and launches, we'll finally have the whole line of Marvel Universe titles on sale in the app the same day as the print books. We took it slow so we could measure what was happening with the print side of the business. Only when we were certain that there would not be catastrophic results to our direct market retail partners by going digital with our entire line, were we comfortable making the switch.

I know that part of the day and date challenge for Editorial is the production end of things, where you have to worry about submitting the digital files on a time clock that runs a bit different from when you're getting things ready to head to print. Is that something you feel can work into the system pretty easily, or is there going to be an adjustment there?

Alonso: This does require editors to get the digital files in a week early, so it does present a challenge. Will it be easy? No. But we feel we're ready.

I ask, because one thing I've been seeing folks ask aloud is with a premium being placed on hitting ship dates for both print and digital now, is there a chance that we'll see the return of the inventory issue? The idea of a guest issue ready to run sort of died out in the age of story arcs and trade paperbacks, but could it make a necessary comeback?

Alonso: We don't commission inventory issues the way we used to. There are a lot of factors: So many of our monthly writers -- Bendis, Brubaker, Fraction, Aaron -- write so far ahead, weaving layered macro-stories, that it's harder to plop these in. Readers are clamoring for stories that are relevant and timely so it's a lot harder to build evergreens that hit those notes. And the fact that many of our core monthlies ship more than 12 issues per year means our writers need to plan further ahead.

That's not to say we don't do them. But it's a lot easier for a book like "Deadpool," which kind of dances to its own drumbeat and only occasionally ties into the calendar of the wider Marvel Universe, to plan for the occasional one-off than a book like "Uncanny X-Men."

On the stands this week, the big news for Marvel was that both the core X-Men titles -- "Wolverine And The X-Men" and now "Uncanny X-Men" -- are finally in the hands of fans after some significant groundwork being laid through "Schism" with an eye on the next phase of stories for 2012. What's your expectation for the line now that the "Regenesis" launch is in full effect?

Alonso: I'm thrilled. We've been building toward "Regenesis" for so long and now it's finally happened. Sales are great, fan response to UNCANNY X-MEN #1 and WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #1 is overwhelmingly positive, and what's really cool is that fans are choosing sides in the ideological divide -- Cyclops or Wolverine. And Marvel's editorial staff is divided: SVP for Publishing Tom Brevoort, Talent Scout C.B. Cebulski, Associate Editors Sana Amanat, Lauren Sankovich, Daniel Ketchum and Tom Brennan, and Assistant Editors Sebastian Girner, Jordan White, John Denning, Elizabeth Pyle and Jon Moisan back Wolverine. Senior Editors Steve Wacker, Mark Paniccia and Nick Lowe, Editor Jeanine Schaefer and I back Cyclops. So basically all the level-headed realists back Cyclops and the free-love hippies back Wolverine! [Laughter]

It's great. At NYCC, so many fans came up to me and said, "I'm down with Logan" or "I'm down with Cyclops" -- that's exactly what we wanted to hear. And fans, you have absolutely no idea where we're headed. We've got big stuff coming.

Each book is working hard to establish its own tone and voice with those first issues. How do you feel they've responded to the challenge of being both a piece of the bigger universe while trying to build themselves up as strong titles all their own? Overall, how do you keep the pedal to the metal after a big event like "Fear Itself" while the books take on their own life?

Alonso: Events remind readers of the shared universe and shared stakes, the interconnectedness of our character's lives, which is probably why they're so successful. They provide an all-in experience for the reader. That said, it's important that there are stretches of time for writers and artists to focus on individual character's stories -- for Ed [Brubaker] to explore Captain America in his distinct corner of the Marvel Universe, or Jason [Aaron] to come up with a fresh story for the Hulk. The stories that Kieron [Gillen] and Jason are telling in "Regenesis" were set up by "Schism"; the stories that Ed, Matt [Fraction] and Jason are now telling in "Captain America," "Iron Man," "Thor" and "Incredible Hulk" were set up by "Fear Itself." And the stories they're currently telling feed into the next big event. It's all part of the ongoing narrative that makes our medium different from everything else.

In comics, you're always competing for the attention of the fans, so it's important that you never take the pedal off the metal. But you can't crowd the stage all year long. A good Western film doesn't start and end with the High Noon showdown between the sheriff and his posse and the banditos; it establishes who the players are, what they stand for and why they're shooting at each other. It lets the tension build to a boil so it actually means something when they open fire.

Speaking of Ed and Cap, the other big piece of news this week is a new "Winter Soldier" series coming, and the stand out here is that when Bucky seemingly died in "Fear Itself," there was a visceral reaction of "How could they let this happen when Ed's not writing the book!" When all that was happening, you obviously knew this final beat was coming in issue #7.1. What did that change about the rollout if anything?

Alonso: This isn't our first rodeo. We knew there would be righteous indignation that Ed wouldn't write that scene. [Laughter] But [the death of the Winter Soldier in "Fear Itself"] was a story-beat that emerged out of an editorial summit. Matt [Fraction] was working the group through his outline, and Ed [Brubaker] was in the room when we decided to do it. It was a compelling beat in the story -- the final straw that compelled Steve Rogers to take center stage in his old costume -- and it teed up Ed to do the "Winter Soldier" series that he wanted to write.

Let's talk about that character and what he means to Marvel. So much of what we've talked about in this column is the return of older characters or franchises, but despite Bucky having been around since the '40s technically, the Winter Soldier is very much a new character and idea for the Marvel U. Have you been wanting to bring up some series that we haven't seen a version of before while you're also scratching that itch of "bring back my favorite"?

Alonso: Sure. There's a short list of characters deserving of wider recognition that we're looking to make into major players in the Marvel Universe next year -- like Nova and Hawkeye. We continue to discuss the best way to get these characters in play, how to platform them.

Since you bring up Bucky -- when we decided to resurrect him, we absolutely, positively anticipated a firestorm of controversy. And when word got out what we were planning to do, a lot of fans said it was sacrilege. In the end, Ed won people over the old-fashioned way: By writing a helluva good story. The Winter Soldier has emerged as one of Marvel's most compelling new characters. He wouldn't even exist if we'd bowed to public pressure.

Which goes to show: You can't be afraid to do is take creative chances that make people yell at you. That's been Marvel's mantra for the last decade and counting.

We get so many questions on the board from one guy or another who, say, just really wants Captain Marvel back in action. Can you think of an example like that, where it's taken a while to position an idea or a franchise right but then it paid off?

Alonso: Moon Knight. That character had been out of play for a while when I was developing him. I spoke with any number of writers, but it was Charlie Huston who really nailed the pitch -- starting with, "What type of super hero wears a gleaming white uniform? The kind who wants you to see him coming." Charlie got the ball rolling, Mike Benson and Gregg Hurwitz kept it rolling, and now Brian [Bendis] and Alex [Maleev] are working their unique brand of magic with the character.

Another character that comes to mind, believe it or not, is Deadpool. When I made the decision to cancel "Cable & Deadpool" and break it into two solo books, it was controversial; that series had a small but passionate and extremely vocal fan base. Launching a Deadpool solo book was not a sure thing. Launching it out of "Secret Invasion" helped us generate some interest; the craft of Daniel [Way] and the "Mexicutioners" -- Paco Medina and Carlo Barberi -- kept them coming back. We just solicited the 50th issue of the ongoing series.

That's one of the most fun aspects of the job -- watching a character you love find an audience. Who's gonna be big in 2012? Nova. Pick up the "Point One" giant-sized one-shot for a clue why.

On to fan questions for the week, I've got to admit that even with the high levels of "Alpha Flight" supporters on the boards, I was surprised at how many folks asked after the series cancellation. Predabot had probably summed up folks the best when he asked, "Alpha Flight recently got down-graded from an ongoing back to a limited series again. Was there a significant drop-off in orders and sales that took you unawares, inbetween issues, there? Also, can we hope to see some more Alpha Flight appearances after the series ends? It might certainly help to build their appeal and help get fans interested in them, much like it helped Agents of Atlas."

Alonso: It's no secret "Alpha Flight" has a strong and vocal following, and is a favorite of many here in the Marvel offices. [Writers] Fred [Van Lente] and Greg [Pak] had a really interesting approach for a maxi-series. And the fan response to the "point one" and debut issues was encouraging enough for us to take a chance with making it monthly...until new budgetary mandates forced us to rethink the strategy.  As for seeing those characters in other places, absolutely. Look for one of cast to get closer to the X-Men and undergo a life-changing moment in 2012 that's sure to get fans talking.

Playing comic book cold case investigator, bjmorga wondered, "I'm a fan of the Dark Tower series at Marvel (something that doesn't get talked about much anywhere!). I have a quick and easy question for you regarding that series. Whatever happened to the Sheemie's Tale one-shot? It was solicited last year and then fell off the map. There were some rumblings recently that it would end up in the Little Sisters of Eluria hardcover, but it was apparently absent from there as well. I'm assuming it got cancelled, but I don't think there was official confirmation."

Alonso: It did not get canceled -- we're just figuring out where to place it on the calendar. Richard has been working on it.

On the creative side of things, we've got a few questions as to where creators will be popping up soon as well as the stories from their books. Let's start with Potty-Man who had two questions about an up-and-coming writer. He said, "I just finished reading Kelly Sue DeConnick's brilliant Osborn mini series (I know, I'm a bit late - it's been sitting in my read pile for months...) Please add my vote for an ongoing Osborn title! My questions: 1. With Osborn's return to the pages of the Avengers, can we expect Brian Michael Bendis to resolve or address the lingering plot threads from the mini? (Especially what was in Osborn's safety deposit box...)

Alonso: Brian will be picking up on some threads from Kelly Sue's "Osborn" limited series, but he won't be getting to things such as Osborn's safety deposit box -- he'll be telling his own story.

And he followed up with: "2. Does Ms. DeConnick have any projects lined up for the near future? I need me some more of that devilish, twisted, funny and utterly unique style! "

Alonso: We're talking about something marvelous but nothing is set in stone. [Senior Editor] Steve Wacker's office loves her writing, though, so who knows...? 
 Finally, a simple query from FiddleFaddle who asked, "Will we see any work from J. M. Ken Niimura in the future?"

Alonso: We have nothing scheduled, but who knows...?

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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