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Inside Marvel’s Massive “Secret Wars” #1

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Inside Marvel’s Massive “Secret Wars” #1

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 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!

Hickman & Brevoort Unravel “Secret Wars” #1, Tease Event’s Future

First announced back in October, “Secret Wars” is finally here — the first issue of the eight-part event series, at least. Alonso provides a behind-the-scenes perspective of the opening salvo of the major Marvel event, which has been in development for years. Specifically, he speaks to the strengths of main series writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Esad Ribic, and discloses what he wanted to see from the opening issue. Additionally, Alonso responds to criticism that the first issue — which is filled with characters from two different Earths and drops the reader right in the middle of the action — may be hard to follow for new or lapsed fans. Alonso also shares some insight on this past week’s mysterious Marvel mini-retreat and answers your questions, straight from the CBR Community.

Albert Ching: Axel, obviously the big news this week is “Secret Wars” #1, but before we get into that — I’ve heard there was a top-secret mini-retreat earlier this week at Marvel. Anything you can hint at in regards to that?

Axel Alonso: At our last retreat, we touched upon some really cool ideas that we weren’t able to fully explore. The shot clock expired. We thought it was worth convening with a smaller group to explore them, and I’m glad we did. It was very productive.

It’s been more than six months since “Secret Wars” was first announced last October at New York Comic Con, and you and the rest of the team at Marvel have been working on it for literally years at this point. Is there a sense of relief that the first issue is finally out, and people can actually see what you’ve all been working on for so long?

Alonso: Of course. The release is what you live for. To see fans respond. To hear the debates. To know what’s in store for them.

By the way, “Secret Wars” has not only set new records in scale, but [SVP, Print & Digital Publishing] David Gabriel tells me that “Secret Wars” #1 has now set a new record for single day digital sales and downloads. “Secret Wars” #1 is now the best-selling single day Marvel digital comic book of all time.

For you as Editor-in-Chief, what was really important for this first issue to convey? Even compared to other recent Marvel events, it’s a big story — not just the end of the world, but the end of two worlds — with a lot of characters in play. Balancing all of that can be tricky. What did you really want to see from Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic here?

Alonso: Scale. We wanted that conveyed on every level — which is part of the reason that Esad is drawing it. “Secret Wars” #1 is the opening chapter on a Universe-changing event so we wanted to touch upon all aspects of the Marvel Universe — from the Avengers to the X-Men to the Fantastic Four to the Ultimates to the Punisher, who almost steals the show in his little scene. And that’s exactly what Jonathan and Esad do.

Given all of that, specifically the scope of the story, in a lot of ways Jonathan Hickman seems like the natural choice for this story, given his track record — and of course, this is something he’s been building to for years. Did you and the other editors at Marvel always see this kind of potential for him, telling a story this big, even before “Secret Wars” came to fruition?

Alonso: At his first Marvel editorial retreat, Jonathan came armed with a book filled to the edge with mind-bending ideas for “Fantastic Four.” So, no [Laughs], it didn’t come as a shock that he’d have an idea this expansive. Jonathan was planting the seeds of “Secret Wars” before we tapped him to write “Avengers”; it was a large part of the reason we wanted him for the job.

And there’s elements from that “Fantastic Four” run that are being touched on in “Secret Wars.”

Alonso: There are, indeed.

Then there’s Esad Ribic, another creator who’s been doing acclaimed work at Marvel for years, but this is a different type of challenge for him. There’s a lot to do as an artist — a lot to express, a lot of characters, a lot of scale and stakes to relay to the reader. What do you like about what he did in this first issue?

Alonso: There’s nothing Esad can’t draw. When I started working with Esad back at Vertigo/DC Comics, close to 18 years ago, he only did painted art — covers and interiors, and you waited for each of his pages with bated breath. One of my first projects when I came to Marvel was the “Loki” limited series that he painted, and it took him almost a year to complete. So to see Esad shift a gear and bring the power an immediacy of his painted work into his line art, is amazing. Especially because he is drawing our biggest event ever. And no one’s more deserving of the attention than Esad. You won’t find a nicer, more generous guy. And he is the first guy you want to back you up in a bar fight — I know from experience. [Laughs]

Hickman Sets the Stage for His “Avengers” Finale & Marvel’s “Secret Wars”

There’s a bit of a reaction out there to “Secret Wars” from some fans that since it is such a big story, and so dense, that it all equals to it not being the most new reader friendly first issue of an event series. It does stem from stories that have been building for a while. How do you respond to the notion that this might be tough for newer or lapsed readers to get into?

Alonso: You’ve had the experience of seeing a movie that is better the second time around — where details you didn’t notice, connections you didn’t make suddenly became clear, right? “Secret Wars” #1 is kind like that. Some fiction requires extra work, extra thought on the reader’s part; the key is to reward them for it.

“Secret Wars” is a dense story. Jonathan and Esad have to establish a lot of pieces — a lot of characters — on the playing field with issue #1 before they blow it up. When the smoke clears at the beginning of issue #2, that’s when things get really interesting.

To an extent, even for people who have been reading all of the material leading up to “Secret Wars,” it appears that the events are supposed to be intentionally mysterious at the onset — as further seen in that the solicitation text has been minimal, and there aren’t a lot of preview pages out there.

Alonso: Absolutely. “Secret Wars” is a different type of event than anything we’ve ever done. It isn’t just going to change the status quo of a corner of the Marvel Universe, it’s going to transform the entire Marvel Universe, and you’re going to see that transformation in the next issue.

Touching on the status quo of the Marvel Universe, in one of Marvel’s Free Comic Book Day releases from this past Saturday, the combined “All-New All-Different Avengers” and “Uncanny Inhumans” issue, it’s clear that both of those stories take place after “Secret Wars.” Of course, that was available four days before “Secret Wars” had even officially started. What was the strategy behind the timing of releasing a story set in that time frame?

Alonso: We wanted to give people a glimpse of the future. There was really no point to doing a story based in the Marvel Universe that exists prior to “Secret Wars.”

We’ll end the week with a few fan questions from the CBR Community. Cmbmool appears, like all of us, to be eagerly anticipating Paul Rudd’s superhero debut and asks, “What are Marvel plans to promote and celebrate Ant-Man’s movie in July?”

Alonso: Let’s see… In no particular order there’s:

  • “Ant-Man: Last Days” #1, a one-shot from the regular team —
    [Nick] Spencer and [Ramon] Rosanas — that deals with Ant-Man on the day of the final incursion.
  • “Ant-Man Annual,” a new story dealing with the fallout from the “Avengers: Rage of Ultron” OGN. Hank Pym left something behind before becoming united with Ultron and Scott Lang has to track it down. Dual narrative of present and in the past to an adventure where Scott and Hank had to team-up.
  • “Ant-Man: Larger than Life” #1, is a fun-one shot of Hank Pym from his days as Ant-Man, squaring off against the villain known as the Bullet Ant That’s written by Will Corona Pilgrim, creative director for Marvel Studios, and drawn by artist Andrea di Vito.

And then there’s the Ant-sized variants we’re doing in June and July.

Prince Of Orphans asks, “What’s the status of Moon Knight post Cullen Bunn’s tenure? Will it be continuing?”

Alonso: Yes. New writer and artist.

Then we’ll end with Chief Jon, who asks, “Axel, I just finished off ‘Secret Wars’ #1 and all I can say is, “Wow”. I can’t wait to see what’s next, but I’ve noticed that only one issue is slated for release in July. Will the pace be slowing down for the remainder of the summer? Or can we expect things to pick up again in August?”

Alonso: The pace won’t be slowing down, but given the sheer number of releases and the scope of the overall “Secret Wars” storyline, the main series will come out less frequently the deeper we get into the event.

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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