Embracing the "Star Wars" Prequels, "Uncanny X-Men's" Killer Lineup

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 in comics receiving 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!

RELATED: Axel Alonso Reflects on Marvel Comics in 2015

In the first AXEL-IN-CHARGE of 2016, Alonso talks a big week of new Marvel launches -- headlined by the Joe Kelly & Ed McGuinness reunion in "Spider-Man/Deadpool," Cullen Bunn & Greg Land relaunching "Uncanny X-Men," Charles Soule & Marco Checchetto pairing Star Wars Jedis "Obi-Wan & Anakin," the new volume of "A-Force" from G. Willow Wilson & Jorge Molina and Skottie Young & Filipe Andrade's return to the Guardians of the Galaxy world in "Rocket Raccoon and Groot." Plus, a "Karnak" update, Alonso's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" thoughts and more, including your questions, direct from the CBR Community.

Albert Ching: Axel, Happy New Year -- and it occurs to me we haven't yet talked about "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" since you've seen it. What did you think?

Axel Alonso: Lots of fun. Not what I expected. Would have liked a couple more lightsaber duels, but apart from that, a real nice way to get back into that universe. I'm also excited about getting a clearer picture about what we can do in the future.

Being such a big part of Marvel's Star Wars comics, and meeting with Lucasfilm regularly, I'm guessing you already kind of knew what was going to happen in the film?

Alonso: Yeah. But it's a whole different thing [to see it in live-action].

This week saw the release of Marvel's Hip-Hop Variant Sampler, free in comic shops. There are more of those covers forthcoming beyond what was initially expected -- is the plan going forward to keep doing them for as long as it makes sense?

Alonso: The response to this initiative exceeded our wildest expectations. So, like the Skottie Young or Deadpool variants, they're going to be a regular part of our variant programs moving forth. And that free Hip-Hop sampler was just a taste. At some point, I hope to collect the first round of 50-60 covers into one volume.

How did Killer Mike come on board to write the intro? Obviously the Run the Jewels homages were the original hip-hop variant covers at Marvel.

Alonso: I asked him and he said he'd love to do it. His intro is great, very heartfelt, very personal, and it's clear he's a true fan.

In last week's column, we talked a little about 2016 stuff, but I wanted to ask this -- in 2015, fans saw multiple areas of Marvel's publishing line grow, notably the Spider-Man extended family, female-led titles and humor-leaning books. Now that it's 2016, is there a section of the line that you're looking to similarly grow and nurture?

Alonso: I think everything you described -- the rise of diverse superheroes that increasingly reflect our growing audience, comedic titles, new genres and genre-hybrids -- helps our medium grow and find new readers. So it's not really a matter of focusing on one thing so much as continuing to water all the seeds we've planted.

Marvel seems to be just starting to scratch the surface of exploring different genres, with books like "Red Wolf" and "Weirdworld."

Alonso: Or "Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur." Or "Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat." Or "The Vision." There's nothing conventional about the way Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta approached that series -- it's a quirky book with a very off-center POV -- and it has really connected with fans. Our approach to making comics is anything but meat and potatoes. Our consistent message -- and it dates back years -- is that we don't believe there's one way to do a great comic book. We don't believe that there is a winning formula to making a comic book that can be replicated over and over again, and you won't see us trumpeting a completely new philosophy guiding our publishing line every few months. Everything comes down to a writer and artist working with an editor to unleash the potential of a character.

RELATED: Kelly & McGuiness Unsheathe Razor Sharp Wits in "Spider-Man/Deadpool"

It was another big week for new #1s at Marvel. Let's start with "Spider-Man/Deadpool" -- personally, the Joe Kelly and Ed McGuiness run on "Deadpool" was one of the most formative comic books of my youth, but that was very nearly 20 years ago. It can be hard for creators to recapture that magic after that long, but based on the first issue, it seems like it was natural for that pair to rekindle their dynamic. What are your thoughts on the reunion pulled off in this book?

Alonso: There really was only one creative team for this book: Joe and Ed. All due respect to everyone else out there, but it was kind of a steep drop to option #2. And full disclosure: Part of the reason we wanted this team is that in an era of kinda out-there books like "Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat" and "Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur," Joe [Kelly] and Ed [McGuinness] doing "Spider-Man/Deadpool" is a great counter-balance. It feels familiar... but unpredictable. A shout-out to old-school fans that wouldn't come at the expense of wooing new fans.

The latest Star Wars miniseries, "Obi-Wan and Anakin," started this week. It feels like it could have been tricky to put together, since it's the first Marvel comic series set during the prequel era, which is something that conjures very mixed feelings among Star Wars fans. The book feels in line with the last year of Marvel's Star Wars books set during the Original Trilogy, though, down to featuring a first-string team with writer Charles Soule and artist Marco Checchetto. What was the approach to this one, and what went into the decision that this was the right time to set a series in that era?

Alonso: Well, let me start by saying that we don't fret at all about fans' "mixed feelings" about the prequel era movies. What we focus on is the characters themselves, and the stories we can tell with them in a particular period of Star Wars continuity. That said, more than a year ago, we knew there would be a pivot point where we'd move out of one time period into another, so we planned carefully with the Lucasfilm story group. What character or characters would work best, what creative team would have the right mojo.

"Obi-Wan and Anakin" seemed like the perfect choice, and Charles [Soule] and Marco [Chechetto] seemed like the perfect team. This is a part of the saga that remains fairly untouched in the current canon -- there's a 10-year span between Episodes I and II where Obi-Wan was training Anakin that we know very little about aside from a few brief mentions at the start of "Attack of the Clones." It was ripe to explore.

The new "A-Force" #1 premiered this week. The book was originally a very specific part of "Secret Wars" and Battleworld, and it's not clear yet what this new version of the team is going to look like, exactly. How do you see "A-Force" fitting in to the landscape of the larger Marvel Universe?

Alonso: They're Marvel's most powerful female super heroes, joining forces to do something they're uniquely qualified to do. The team is being assembled -- or reassembled -- because they are the best heroes for the mission at hand -- not because they're all women, but because their specific skill sets, their unknown history together, and their unique superpowers are the only hope in stopping the threat they've been tasked to stop. They'll be traveling all over the Marvel Universe in search of key pieces necessary to defeat that threat -- that villain -- adding heroes to the team as they go, and giving readers a front row seat to exactly how this story fits into the larger MU.

RELATED: "Uncanny X-Men" #1 Teases Mystery of Archangel's Return

Also out this week was the latest "Uncanny X-Men" #1, which is a very different kind of "Uncanny X-Men." It's an outgrowth of what Cullen Bunn was doing on "Magneto," and a very harder-edged type of X-book all around. You're obviously very familiar with the X-Men world -- what was intriguing to you about this take from Bunn and Land?

Alonso: The badass team roster -- killers all -- and the fact that Magneto's right at the core of it. I'm a huge fan of what Cullen did on "Magneto." This is the next stage in that story. This team makes the "X-Force" look like a church choir. Everyone is a wildcard. How long before the seams start to show, or shred?

The goal we planned post-"Secret Wars," in the landscape of the X-Men universe, is that we would only do team books that were guided by a strong mission statement and team roster. And we found three.

The last of the new series I wanted to ask about this week is "Rocket Raccoon and Groot" #1, which sees Skottie Young back on Rocket -- now along with Groot, and with Filipe Andrade on board for art, as he was for part of Young's "Rocket Raccoon" series. This seems like something of a no-brainer, to keep that momentum going with what Skottie was doing on "Rocket Raccoon." What's fun for you about this series?

Alonso: It's a bromance buddy comedy that brings something new to the Guardians of the Galaxy line. Correct me if I'm wrong, but every character has or will soon have -- in the case of "Gamora" -- a solo series. We figured that we've had a "Rocket" series, we've had a "Groot" series, so why not put them together in a buddy book? And I tell you, if Skottie Young doesn't have time to draw his own script, Filipe Andrade is the perfect person to do it. [Laughs]

Curious about the status of Warren Ellis and Gerardo Zaffino's "Karnak" -- it was one of the first All-New, All-Different Marvel titles out the gate back in October, but issue #2 has been pushed back multiple times, and is now scheduled for release in February. What caused these bumps in scheduling? And is the book back on track for #3 and beyond? Alonso: There were some unforeseen complications in Gerardo's life. But we're committed to continuing the book and everyone is working hard to get the next issue out for fans as quickly as possible. Our creators have lives outside of comics, and sometimes those lives have difficulties that can get in the way of writing or drawing. Right now, issue #2 should ship in February and will hopefully come out more regularly beyond that. In the meantime, here is a new page from issue #2 to whet your appetite.

Marvel's latest variant initiative was announced this week: "The Story Thus Far," with illustrative recaps on covers. How did that get going?

Alonso: David Gabriel's idea. We wanted to underscore the importance of staying with the stories in progress and this seemed like a really good way of doing that. "All-New, All-Different Marvel" has been a great jumping-on point for new readers, and we want to do everything we can to keep people talking about the books.

Earlier this week, Sana Amanat was on "Late Night with Seth Meyers," a show that's compiling a very nice track record of comic book industry guests. How proud of a moment for you was it to see someone from Marvel editorial interviewed on national TV?

Alonso: It was great. Sana handled the question about [Donald] Trump -- what would Kamala Khan say to him? -- with grace and humor. I was very proud of her. I kinda want her autograph.

Let's wrap with a couple of questions from the CBR Community, for the first time in 2016. Barton616 asks about a character I know you're personally fond of: "'All-New Ghost Rider' really exceeded my expectations for it, it was really a fantastic book. Any plans to see Robbie Reyes in this new Marvel initiative?"

Alonso: No one wants that more than me, writer Felipe Smith and Senior Editor Mark Paniccia, ese. There are some wheels spinning in regards to Robbie's future, but nothing we can reveal just yet.

We'll wrap with Tracks, who asks about a book announced a few months back: "Any updates on the 'Blade' series?"

Alonso: Not yet. But soon.

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!

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