Launching "Black Panther," Bringing "Dead No More" to Life

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: Coates & Stelfreeze's "Black Panther" #1 Teases the Return of a Major Character

It was a big week for new Marvel releases, headlined by one of the publisher's highest-profile launches in recent memory: "Black Panther" #1, from first-time comics writer -- and National Book Award winner and recipient of the MacArthur "Genius Grant" -- Ta-Nehisi Coates and acclaimed veteran artist Brian Stelfreeze. Alonso talks about what makes him personally excited to be publishing this series, what Coates and Stelfreeze get right about Black Panther and the impact the run is set to have on T'Challa and his world. Alonso also talks another major new Marvel series that debuted this week -- Charles Soule and Phil Noto's "Star Wars: Poe Dameron" -- the freshly announced "Civil War II: Kingpin," why artist Jim Cheung is right for "Dead No More" and his thoughts on Mark Millar and Stuart Immonen's "Empress," the latest series in Marvel's creator-owned Icon line.

CBR News: Axel, this week, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze's "Black Panther" #1 arrived, and it's certainly a book you've been closely involved with and excited about from the start. Just looking at your Twitter, it's clear the enthusiasm you have now that this is out there in the world -- where does this rank for you in terms of proud moments during your time as editor-in-chief?

Axel Alonso: Way up there. We were very fortunate to cross paths with Ta-Nehisi when we did. He's one of most important voices of this era, and the fact that he has something to say through one of our characters is very gratifying. He and [artist] Brian [Stelfreeze] and [colorist] Laura [Martin] are creating a very special series.

With the profile of the creative team, even though Black Panther is a 50-year-old character well known to Marvel fans, this issue is likely the first exposure to T'Challa for some readers. Given that, what do you think Coates and Stelfreeze really got right in this first issue about what makes the Black Panther special within the Marvel roster?

Alonso: Ta-Nehisi and Brian are carving a new path for T'Challa that is based on a deep respect for his history and mythology. It all starts with a question: Does is make sense that Wakanda -- a society that has evolved to face all challenges in a hostile world, that is at the forefront of technological, artistic and spiritual advances in the Marvel Universe -- would abide a monarchy? "A Nation Under Our Feet" is Wakanda in the throes of a homegrown revolution that will test T'Challa like you've never seen before. There is no Klaw, no Doom, no Namor banging at the gates in this story -- no outside threat or mustache-twirling villain. This is just a Nation confronting its soul.

RELATED: Marvel's "Black Panther" #1 Tops 300K in Sales

In previous interviews, you've discussed how much of a long-term Marvel fan Coates is, and that's clear in this issue, as it's set very firmly in ongoing Marvel storylines. How important was it that not only was this "Black Panther" a good story, but a story that "mattered" in the Marvel Universe?

Alonso: Any time you launch a series, you want it to take the character to new places, to say something that matters about the character and, ideally, beyond. This one will. This is a widescreen adventure, but Ta-Nehisi didn't turn off the part of his writer's brain that excited us about him in the first place. He has something new to say about and through the Panther and his world. This story will reposition the Black Panther to a place of prominence in the Marvel Universe he's never seen.

While the reaction I've seen to "Black Panther" #1 has been unanimously positive, I have seen some rumblings online about the $4.99 cover price, which even with extras -- including an interview with Stelfreeze and bios of the creative team -- seems a bit steep for 22 story pages. What factored into that price point?

Alonso: The extras and extra story pages. We wanted to put together a bigger package and make more of an event out of the issue.

That said, [SVP for Sales] David Gabriel says he hasn't heard any negative reaction. It's all retailers reporting that they're thrilled they sold out issue #1 and they're getting more copies to sell. "Black Panther" #1 is bringing new readers and more foot traffic into stores -- my Twitter feed blew up with iPhone pics from people standing in line to buy the first issue -- and it's selling out everywhere. In fact, let me announce here that "Black Panther" #1 is officially sold out and has gone back to second print.

RELATED: "Star Wars: Poe Dameron" #1 Answers One of "The Force Awakens'" Big Questions

Also out this week was "Star Wars: Poe Dameron" #1 from Charles Soule and Phil Noto. That book seemed like something of a unique challenge, because not only did the team have to capture the essence of a character who very quickly became very beloved with millions and millions of people, but also wasn't really seen on screen that much in "The Force Awakens," so there's not a ton of material to draw from. What did you like about the way Soule and Noto approached "Poe Dameron" #1?

Alonso: You said it yourself -- they absolutely channel the essence of Oscar Isaac's performance in the movie. From the "Listen, pal" bravado in his dialog, to the twinkle in his eyes, the Poe Dameron on the page feels just like the helluva pilot we saw on the screen.

And you're right: Poe wasn't in the movie as much as we would've liked. That's why we're thrilled to get to bring the world the Dameron fix they've been craving.

Earlier this week, readers found out that artist Jim Cheung will join Dan Slott on the much-teased "Dead No More" arc. Cheung is best known at Marvel on various Avengers titles, and hasn't really drawn Spidey solo in the past -- what's intriguing to you about seeing him on "Amazing Spider-Man," and this arc specifically?

Alonso: Up in the Marvel offices, our conference rooms are character-themed -- Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America -- and the walls are covered in murals of art from the comics. Fifty-percent of the art is by Jim Cheung.

There's just something about Jim's art that is so purely Marvel. But a meticulous style of art like his takes time, so we try to deploy him on big events where he can get a good head start. So when it was time to pick an artist for our next "Amazing Spider-Man" event, knowing that Dan Slott is such a long-term planner, [Editor] Nick Lowe saw an opportunity, set up a realistic schedule, and set up a match made in heaven. Jim's deep into the first issue already and you are going to be blown away. In fact, here's a one-panel tease:

Also announced this week was "Civil War II: Kingpin" from Matthew Rosenberg and Ricardo López Ortiz. This is only the second time Kingpin has headlined a book, outside of a 2003 series by Bruce Jones and Sean Phillips -- edited, I believe, by one Axel Alonso. What inspired putting him into this spotlight during "Civil War II"? Did his recent visibility (and the excellent performance by Vincent D'Onofrio) influence things at all?

Alonso: That doesn't hurt, but our decision to spotlight Kingpin here was really more about us thinking about who among our stable of villains would be the most interesting story-wise to feature during this period where there's such a crackdown on crime thanks to the precog in "Civil War II." Wilson Fisk seems like he'd be able to make the most of such a situation, and as you'll see in Matthew and Ricardo's story, he absolutely does make the most of it.

Rosenberg and Ortiz are both fairly new to Marvel. What made them the right choice to tell this Kingpin story?

Alonso: Matthew has been on our radar for a while now due to his "We Can Never Go Home" series, and he's done a little work with us in the past year or so as a result. But it was reading an advance copy of the first issue of Matthew's new series, "4 Kids Walk Into a Bank," that sealed the deal on "Kingpin" for editor Wil Moss. As for Ricardo -- Wil's been itching to work with him or a while, and this look into the criminal underbelly of the MU seemed like the perfect venue for Ricardo's art style.

Mark Millar and Stuart Immonen's "Empress" debuted this week, the latest in Marvel's Icon line. Much of the discussion around the book has centered around readers being surprised by a brighter, kinder, gentler work from Millar than his output over the past few years. As someone who edited quite a few Millar-written books back in the day, what was your response to "Empress?"

Alonso: "Brighter, kinder, gentler"...? Did we read the same book! [Laughs]

I love it. Yeah, I suppose "Empress" is a bit brighter in tone than, say, "Kick-Ass," but Mark's trademark dark humor lurks right under the surface. He and [artist] Stuart [Immonen] are deconstructing the space opera in high style. It's a great adventure that will keep you on your toes -- plenty of twists and turns and genre bending. And for anyone who loved Stuart's artwork on "Star Wars," brace yourself.

Let's wrap with a question from the CBR Community. Captain Britain super-fan The Sword is Drawn asks, "This October marks the 40th anniversary of the first ever issue of Captain Britain, written by Chris Claremont and with artwork from the late Herb Trimpe. Are there any plans to mark the occasion?"

Alonso: No current plans, but that could change.

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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