In-Depth on "Avengers NOW!" and New Takes on Captain America, Thor and Iron Man

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 overseen both critically acclaimed and best-selling comics, Alonso stepped into the spot of Marvel's editorial department in early 2011, and has since worked 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!

It's been a notably busy news week for Marvel in the days leading up to Comic-Con International in San Diego, with the publisher first announcing via ABC's daytime talk show "The View" that an as-yet unrevealed female will step up as Thor, in a new series from Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman. Marvel followed that significant piece of news with word on "The Colbert Report" that Sam Wilson -- better known as The Falcon -- would take on the mantle of Captain America, given Steve Rogers' current Super-Soldier Serum-less status, in "All-New Captain America" by Rick Remender and Stuart Immonen. And Marvel didn't forget about Iron Man -- he's now the morally ambiguous "Superior Iron Man," in an upcoming title by Tom Taylor and Yildiray Cinar. It's all part of a new initiative titled "Avengers NOW!" -- and Alonso has plenty to say about all of it. Lots of ground to cover this week, but questions from the CBR Community will return next installment -- keep them coming!

Albert Ching: Axel, there has certainly been a lot of Marvel news breaking over the past few days, but you also held a creative retreat this week -- how did that go?

Axel Alonso: It went extremely well. Besides our usual crew, we were happy to welcome [writers] Gerry Duggan, James Robinson and [artist] Adam Kubert to the room -- to their first summit.

Adam created the most incredibly compelling sketchbook. We've got to find a way to publish it. A lot of the ideas that took traction, and some that didn't, ended up in his notepad. It was a gold mine of visuals.

And I saw that Brian Michael Bendis appeared via satellite during the retreat.

Alonso: Exactly. Ultron Brian -- pixilated one moment, frozen the next -- appeared via satellite.

To get right to it: The Avengers NOW! initiative was announced Wednesday night. Two years ago Marvel launched the original Marvel NOW!, last year was All-New Marvel NOW! -- is this now an annual thing? A refresh of some kind, or a big push to hit in the fall?

Alonso: I'm not sure I'd call it an annual thing, but hitting the refresh button every once in a while is healthy. All of these plans have been underway for months, and each of them came about independently. "All-New Captain America" came out of events in the core series, "Captain America." "Thor" was birthed by an event in "Original Sin." "Superior Iron Man" came about because of an event in "AXIS." None of this happened because of some sort of editorial edict; it all came about because writers had stories they wanted to tell, the sum total of these developments represented a seismic change for the core three Avengers, and we decided to wrap a red ribbon around all of it.

RELATED: "Superior Iron Man" and More Headline Marvel's Avengers NOW!

So it was more of a matter of, these ideas were out there at the same time, reached something of a critical mass, and it was decided, "Hey, let's make this into a coordinated effort!"?

Alonso: Yep. We just tried to work out the timing so all three would hit within a three-month window. We've got three compelling stories featuring the three core Avengers -- that's something that'd going to get fans' attentions. And at this week's summit we're already seeing how the lives and fates of these characters can overlap to make for compelling stories that no one anticipated.

That's the thing about telling stories in the Marvel Universe. You go to a retreat to discuss a particular story, but it's a detail of that story that gets traction, and an entirely new story gets born in the room. I'm was very excited to see what the the three writers were going to do in their own series; now I'm equally excited about how these stories overlap.

These moves have been getting a lot of attention -- some people are excited, some people are skeptical -- and it's three dramatic overhauls of three of Marvel's biggest -- if not Marvel's biggest, period, at this point -- characters. Internally, was this seen as something of a risk, doing all of this at the same time? Or was that part of what made the whole concept compelling?

Alonso: Whenever you do something that could be deemed controversial, there's always risk. And yes, people do come out the woodwork to tell you what they don't like -- like this one letter about the all-new "Thor" that broke the crazy-meter. But there's no amount of negative feedback we could get at this stage that would discourage us from doing these stories. We put a lot of faith in our writers, we have optics on their long-term plans, and we trust our collective gut.

At this point, this is playing out like the normal cycle: We announce something, the cynics come our in full force, then the debate broadens to include supporters of the move and those who don't judge before they've read, and then we wait to see what people think when they have actually read the book. Hey, if early Internet reaction to the announcement of "Superior Spider-Man" had been an indicator, Dan Slott would have been a dead man walking. Of course, it wasn't. "Superior Spider-Man" was a monster hit.

It's interesting because these are significant moves for these three characters. There's a perception among some fans that Marvel was willing to do "Superior Spider-Man," because they didn't have the film rights to that. They were willing to do something crazy with the X-Men like having Cyclops become the Phoenix and kill Professor X, because Fox controls those movies. So would you say this is a testament to the notion that no character is safe?

Alonso: I would. Look, whether we own the media rights to a character informs so little of what we do in editorial. Our job -- my job -- is to tell stories that sell comics. And we want all our comics to sell. To the whole society of fans that think that we're trying to bury or kill the X-Men, that's just plain crazy. [Laughs] There's a reason that Brian Michael Bendis is writing "All-New X-Men." There's a reason we're doing "Death of Wolverine," and promoting the hell out of it. Because we want them to sell. It's important that we maintain and grow the popularity of characters that are already popular, and that we elevate characters we want to make popular -- like Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Inhumans and Doctor Strange.

The timing is notable, with the "Avengers" movie sequel arriving in less than 10 months -- this is not necessarily the time that fans would expect Marvel was going to dramatically reinvent three of the biggest Avengers characters.

Alonso: Without a doubt. At my very first summit as Marvel editor-in-chief, the one that birthed "Avengers vs. X-Men," we seriously considered a plot twist that would have killed the Avengers -- taking them completely off the table. Certain people advocated for that hard -- I was not one of them! [Laughs] --- and we were staring at an event that would overlap the first movie. Of course, that idea didn't end up winning -- thank God! -- but it was on the table.

I wanted to touch a little bit on the three individual announcements between Thor, Cap and Iron Man -- with "Thor," there's still a lot to be revealed about how the character gets to this place. What do you like about what writer Jason Aaron and artist Russell Dauterman are doing on this book?

Alonso: It's a fascinating story. Everybody knows that to wield Mjolnir, you have to be "worthy." And that's where we start.

In "Original Sin," something's going to happen that will mean Thor won't be able pick up the hammer again. But someone's got to, and someone will. Someone close to Thor. We're not going to reveal who that is right away, that's something we're going to tease out, but I will say that it's one of the many women in Thor's life that will become the new Thor. Who they are, why they're worthy, what they do when they become Thor, that's what you're going to learn.

We're aware the "all-new" Thor is powerful statement. It's a completely different statement than bringing a tough new Asgardian female hero onto the stage because, at this point, everyone knows who Thor is. We're challenging readers to embrace a female character that is replacing one of the strongest heroes in the Marvel Universe, the masculine epitome. And it's not a gimmick; it's a great story.

RELATED: Jason Aaron Explains "Thor's" New, Female God of Thunder

The female representation aspect is a major chunk of this -- Marvel has launched solo titles for multiple existing female characters in the past year -- with this the next natural step? Making a character as iconic as Thor a female?

Alonso: This is coincidence, not editorial edict. Jason had an idea for "Thor," and Rick had ideas for both "Captain America" and an event he was planning -- "AXIS" -- that would profoundly affect Iron Man. They came to their ideas independently and they had to sell their editors first, then me, before we got my boss, Dan Buckley's approval. The fact that these three events happened at more or less the same time was a pleasant coincidence that allowed us to wrap a promotional ribbon around them. In the specific case of Thor, "All-New Thor" puts an exclamation point on the recent launches featuring female leads that have helped us diversify our line, and maybe our readers.

Turning to "All-New Captain America," seeing a character like Falcon, who has been around for 45 years now, step up in this major way is obviously a big deal. What has you excited about this new series?

Alonso: For starters, one of my favorite runs on comic books is the Steve Englehart/Sal Buscema run of "Captain America and The Falcon," particularly the story arc when the Cap from the past came to battle the Cap from the present.

As a little boy I connected more with the Falcon than Cap. Sam wasn't just Cap's sidekick, he was his partner and conscience. He gave Steve Rogers the street-level perspective; he was the guy who -- to quote "Jerry Maguire" -- completed Cap. To see Sam wield the shield is welcome and maybe a little bit overdue. An African-American man dressed in red, white and blue is, I think, both a very powerful and potent symbol about our country, and where we are at this moment in history, and a vehicle to tell very different types of stories.

But it all starts with Sam Wilson. This isn't about just finding an African-American guy and putting him in the red, white and blue tights. It's about Sam Wilson.

RELATED: Remender Discusses Redefining a Legend in "All-New Captain America"

So I presume this is similar case, as you were saying with Thor, where it wasn't a matter of "let's get a black Captain America out there."

Alonso: Absolutely not. [Remender] had an idea, and it stuck. I don't think he really pitched this as a retreat -- I think this was pitched offline, with him and Tom [Brevoort]. As long as there was a good story, I needed no convincing.

Having Stuart Immonen drawing the book had to help.

Alonso: Having Stuart draw this demonstrates our commitment to it.

Then there's "Superior Iron Man," which is tricky to talk too much about because it involves "AXIS," a story that doesn't start for another few months. It's not quite as obvious up front of a reinvention, but appears significant. What's interesting to you about this take on the character?

Alonso: Well, the first clue is the suit that he's wearing. Remember what happened the last time we announced that a Marvel character was going to go "Superior"? Well, Tony Stark is probably one of the more flawed superheroes out there. He's vice-prone, egotistical and bit vain, and he knows he's the smartest guy in any room he walks into. He's a complicated genius. So what happens when that genius is completely let loose? When he taps into it in ways that he hasn't before? The "superior" Iron Man is Tony Stark like you've never seen him before, succumbing to his id and his enormous ego -- with great ramifications for the world. Tom Taylor, who's done great work on the DC series "Injustice" is writing it, it's bound to be debated, and it's going to put Tony at odds with some of his peers.

RELATED: Taylor Spills Details on Marvel's New "Superior Iron Man" Title

Including Daredevil, right?

Alonso: Yep. The story will take place in San Francisco. Tony is going to offer the gift of Extremis as a download. It's going to be an ambitious and well-intentioned plan that will have its supporters and opponents.

This is Tom Taylor's first Marvel comic -- and it sounds like he's someone Marvel has been looking to bring into the fold for a while now?

Alonso: This was an opportunity for Tom to land on something big and juicy and own it. And he is.

Not to spoil anything, but how long term is the thinking for all of this? It's positioned as a major initiative, with mainstream promotional pushes out the gate. It certainly seems like something Marvel has a lot of confidence in, and is putting a lot of thought and effort behind. Is it fair to say that we won't see, say, Steve Rogers back as Cap in a few months?

Alonso: Each plan is different. In the case of "All-New Captain America," I will say that there is no exit plan. In the case of "Thor," Jason has a long-term plan, but any time I ask about the specifics of the exit plan, he runs out of the room. That said, I think this female Thor is going to stick; if anything, we're going to find ourselves in a quandary like the one we faced with Superior Spider-Man and Bucky as Captain America. Fans may very well respond to this character strongly enough that we won't be incentivized to think of way to put things back the way they were.

Bucky as Cap is an interesting example, because that ended up lasting longer than most people probably thought it would.

Alonso: Yeah, that was a long run. Ditto for "Superior Spider-Man" -- that lasted 31 issues. If we'd been single-shipping, that's almost three years worth of publishing.

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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