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Expanding The Marvel “Universe”

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Expanding The Marvel “Universe”

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, in the wake of announcements both big and small from New York Comic Con, Axel unpacks what’s in store for initiatives ranging from Marvel Cosmic to the continued collaborationwith “ESPN The Magazine.” Below, hear his thoughts on what Marvel’s space-bound heroes are expected to do in the Marvel U moving forward, why LeBron James is the ultimate supervillain and more on everything from “Deadpool” to “Punisher: Nightmare” and more. Read on!

Kiel Phegley: New York Comic Con just wrapped, and each year that show seems to have some very massive moving pieces. It’s solidly the #2 show in the country now, but it still hasn’t 100% settled in. Do you have an expectation for Marvel at that show?

Axel Alonso: New York Comic Con is impossible to predict because it grows every year. I was there Friday and Saturday, but I actually made it to the convention floor only once. There wasn’t enough time for me to get there between my other commitments, which took place in the adjoining conference rooms. But yes, NYCC has become a very big show, second only to SDCC.

Moving to some more under the radar announcements that came out of the show, I wanted to ask about the latest NBA comic that Marvel is doing with “ESPN The Magazine.” I can’t imagine that it was easy for you to work on a big story about LeBron James winning multiple NBA championships.

Alonso: That was my immediate reaction, yes. I’m one of the many NBA fans who view the Miami Heat as a super-villain team! [Laughs] ESPN Editor Otto Strong told us the concept of the story — What if LeBron James were to live up to his prediction that the Heat would win, “not one, not two, not three,” but seven or eight NBA titles? How would that happen? — and I was, of course, intrigued. Then [ESPN writer] Ty Wenger provided us with the story he’d written in a flu-induced fever dream, chock-full of comic book tropes — bionic limbs, clones, zombies, and a 70-year-old Dream Team — and I realized exactly how much fun this was going to be. Christos Gage turned Ty’s story into a comic book script, then Mike Deodato, Jr., Greg Land, Terry Dodson and Scot Eaton brought it to the page, and Adi Granov provided the cover. It’s called “LeBron: King of the Rings” and it’s on newsstands now. Go buy it!

It’s funny. I was reading someone the other day writing about the NBA who said it’s probably the sport that is more driven by narrative than any other in the U.S. Do you feel that part of the connection you can draw between comics and basketball ties into that — the idea that NBA fans follow these outsized personalities and personas?

Alonso: Absolutely. Again, when I say, “Miami assembled a super-villain team,” I mean it. LeBron could save a litter of puppies from a burning building on Monday, and I’d still root against him on Tuesday. [Laughs] That’s just how it goes.

All sports lend themselves to a narrative, but none more than the basketball. You’ve got five guys, playing offense and defense, no padding, helmets or hats. It’s very personal. And it’s very, very easy in basketball for one player to completely dominate a game — like Michael Jordan always did or LeBron sometimes does. That’s harder to do in other sports. It doesn’t matter how well [New England quarterback] Tom Brady plays if his defense can’t stop the opposing quarterback. In basketball, one person’s ineptitude can doom a team and one person’s heroism can save the day. Heroes are invented. And villains, too. And sometimes a hero becomes a villain…

In a way, what we’re saying here is that if the NBA was the Marvel U, LeBron would be the Wolverine who shows up on every cover.

Alonso: I think he’d be the Doctor Doom, but that’s me showing my bias. [Laughter] What can I say? I’m a Golden State Warriors/Chicago Bulls fan!

Another smaller project that came out over the weekend was “Punisher Nightmare” by Scott Gimple and Mark Texeira. This seems like the kind of title you’ve got your fingerprints on — a Punisher horror series. Gimple is a writer from “The Walking Dead” TV show, so he has some chops here. We’ve talked about “Punisher” as a crime book and as tongue-in-cheek horror, but do you see a wider range of flexibility in that concept when you approve a series like this?

Alonso: Without a doubt. The Punisher allows writers to do something in a superhero universe that virtually no other character allows because he’s the ultimate anti-hero. Whether you shade him light grey or black, Frank Castle isn’t a hero in the traditional sense. It’s no surprise that crime novelists like Gregg Hurwtiz, Charlie Huston, Victor Gischler, Duane Swierczynski and Thomas Picarelli have all taken a crack at him. He’s a guy in black leather surrounded by guys in bright spandex. “Punisher: Nightmare” has been a long time in the making. We held off publishing it to give Greg Rucka’s run some breathing room. It’s like a nuclear bomb we’ve been waiting to explode. Tex’s art is absolutely gorgeous.

The last major plank for the show was the news that you were expanding the “Season One” line with three new entries. I thought it was interesting that for the first wave of titles, you didn’t do Marvel’s current big ticket franchises like Iron Man or Captain America and instead focused on Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, the Hulk and the like. Now we’re getting into Wolverine and some others. How has that publishing program grown? I get the feeling that it first it was more of a trial to see if you could do it, but things have been successful and shored up. Where is that whole OGN idea at now?

Alonso: That’s a pretty big question. The “Season One” initiative was a Hail Mary pass — OGNs to reintroduce these characters in a modern setting — that scored. And you’re right. We did choose to include a few characters from deeper down the catalog, like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange, because their stories are cool and they’d benefit from a re-telling. It’s really as simple as that. I’m thrilled it worked out and that we’re doing more.

I also get the impression that these books have become a good testing ground for talent who haven’t worked on the traditional Marvel books. A guy like Dennis Hopeless had no Marvel work when he started on the “X-Men: Season One” project, and now he’s writing a few Marvel NOW! titles. Is that something we could see become a more regular thing?

Alonso: We didn’t green-light “Season One” to be a testing ground for new writers. We green-lit it because we thought we could sell some books. [Laughter] Look, we produce books for which we think there’s an audience, and do our best to hire the right talent to do them right, plain and simple. If we make an offbeat casting decision, like we did with Dennis, that’s because we believe he can deliver the goods. With “Season One,” we’re not relying on creator name-recognition to sell books, we’re relying on quality of product and word of mouth. And if someone like Dennis rises to the challenge and produces something memorable, he’s positioned himself for more work.

Let’s start fan questions with an NYCC follow up as Drew@616 asks, “First off let give congratulations for Marvel Now and NYCC was Awesome! you told Friday at NYCC that there will be more plans for female characters in the future ( solo series a team etc) Any Chance that Spider-Woman could be part of those plans?”

Alonso: No immediate plans for another Spider-Woman series, Drew@616, but she’ll continue to be featured regularly in “Avengers” and “Avengers Assemble,” and may turn up in other places down the line.

Next, I wanted to follow on the “Nova” announcement as we saw a lot of people demanding to know why the new Nova isn’t Richard Rider. But then, there was new board member SpandexAvenger who instead asks, “I absolutely love Richard Rider as Nova. Especially everything from Annihilation to the bittersweet ending in Thanos Imperative. He has had a great story and really got to grow up to be the Hero. That being said, will you please keep him “dead” for a very long time. He deserves it. Let the story of Nova move on to a new generation with a Sam Alexander. Afterall, the book is called Nova, not Dick Rider.”

Alonso: Aww, come on! We love Richard Rider! All of us were fans of the DnA’s long-running Nova comic and we’re excited to bring you the next stage in Nova’s history. Jeph and Ed have pursed themselves into this book in a way that I haven’t seen since “Hulk’ and I think you’re going to love it. And just to whet your appetite a bit more, check out this great variant cover for Nova #1 by Marcos Martin.

Swinging the pendulum back to broader post-NYCC questions, nsiops asks, “One concern of mine with Marvel NOW! is that I am not seeing many African American characters taking the spotlight, particularly in leadership roles. It always felt good to see characters like Luke Cage and Patriot play a big part in the way the Marvel Universe was being shaped. I know there are probably more series that have yet to be revealed, will any of them feature an African American lead?”

Alonso: Nsiops, we’re going to continue to feature characters of every stripe throughout the Marvel line, as has historically been our policy. Whether it’s Black Panther at the forefront of “New Avengers,” Nick Fury at the head of “Secret Avengers,” the Falcon, Sunspot and a few surprises featured in “Avengers,” Storm in “Wolverine and the X-Men,” “Uncanny X-Force,” and a series I can’t talk about yet, Miles Morales as the one-and-only Spider-Man of the Ultimate universe, there’s a variety of African American, African and Afro-Hispanic characters playing important roles in our books. Oh, [X-Men Group Editor] Nick Lowe is frantically urging me not to forgot Oya, who’ll continue to be one of the main characters in “Wolverine and the X-Men,” or a certain formerly Jheri-curled mutant who’s bound to turn up somewhere sooner or later.

And finally, Comicbookfan has a two-parter: “One of the Books that i am really exited for is Cable and X-Force, will we see Bishop in that book? And in which comic will we see Cyclops’ story unfold? i must say that in the wake of AvX i have never been more intrigued with the character and i hope to see more of him.”

Alonso: Like I just said, keep your eyes peeled. Can’t say where or when. As for Cyclops — his story is already underway in “AXV: Consequences,” and will continue in Brian Bendis and Stuart Immonen’s “All-New X-Men.”

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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