MARVEL A-I-C: Following "Fear Itself" and "Schism"

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, Axel opens up on his approach to setting a new status quo after a major Marvel event. With "Fear Itself" about to wrap, the E-i-C revealed why "The Defenders" was a book that had to hit the stands, what changes lay in store for the Avengers during the upcoming "Shattered Heroes" branding, how "The Fearless" and "Battle Scars" work alongside "Wolverine And The X-Men" and the new "Uncanny X-Men" and what it'll take for Dracula to defeat the Hulk. Read on!

Kiel Phegley: Axel, this week let's talk about Marvel's current big event -- or rather what it's leading to. "Fear Itself" was the last big story that Joe was still at the helm for as E-i-C, but I get the impression that for the upcoming Shattered Heroes branding and the various new titles from "The Fearless" to "The Defenders," you've been involved in a much more direct way. What did you set for yourself in terms of goals for how to follow up this big series? Was there a model in some of the past events that you wanted to follow?

Axel Alonso: I'm actually looking to break the model with the event story we're unleashing in 2012 -- exactly how we'll reveal sometime soon. What I will say is, early in the planning of "Fear Itself" and "Schism," we saw the opportunity to line up our ducks so that the Avengers and the X-Men would dovetail into a story that encompassed both of them -- a story that we've been building toward for a decade. With that in mind, Tom [Brevoort] and I worked closely to ensure "Fear Itself" and "Schism" wound to a close at the same time.

"Shattered Heroes" is both an epilogue to "Fear Itself" and a prelude to where the Marvel Universe is headed in 2012. Ditto for the new X-Men books, "Uncanny X-Men" #1 and "Wolverine And The X-Men" #1. Both are epilogs to "Schism" that introduce a profound new status quo to the X-Men Universe and a prelude to where it's headed in the future. I've long wanted to see the X-Men more integrated into the Marvel Universe, to see them bumping shoulders with heroes like the Avengers, and this is our shot. When you see a bomb explode in "Avengers," you can see the mushroom cloud in "Uncanny X-Men." That's what we're building toward in 2012 -- an event that encompasses all the Marvel heroes, where they all have an equal role and stake in the outcome.

Let's talk about those explosions on the Avengers side. Sometimes when we get to the end of an event, it's a tightly-wrapped package. "Siege" was a happy ending for the most part, where what came after was a fresh start in The Heroic Age. I get the feeling that what's coming after "Fear Itself" is a bit more akin to hard times and harsh realities for the characters. We're ending on a down note. In storytelling terms, what's more satisfying or less satisfying about having the characters beaten down and needing to bring them back up?

What do readers want from an event? Huge stakes, a satisfying climax that brings about some sort of lasting change to the status quo and a few loose threads to keep them guessing where the ongoing story is headed. And let's face it, usually those threads come in the form of something bad looming on the horizon. If there's one certainty in comics, it's that victory always comes at a price. It's our job to find ways to keep the inertia going 24-7, to keep the pressure on our heroes.

Whatever type of victory the Avengers are able to secure at the end of "Fear Itself," be certain that it will come at a price. In "Shattered Heroes," each of the Avengers -- Cap, Thor, Iron Man and even the Hulk -- wrestles with a problem that cuts to the core of who he is and what he stands for. Their ability to face down their demons will determine which of them will be around to cope with the challenges of 2012, and what shape they're in -- mental and physical. Meanwhile, in the post-"Schism" X-Men Universe, mutants are divided into two teams with very different mission statements. These are not teams that kinda-sorta don't get along -- they're philosophically opposed. And that rift will have bearing on where we're headed in 2012.

As part and parcel of all this, we've got one-shot stories for Shattered Heroes starring Cap, Thor and Iron Man which are written by the regular monthly comics' writers, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction. As you were looking at the plans moving forward, why did you decide to make those stories part of the Fear Itself titling rather than just a part of the regular monthly title?

Cap, Thor and Iron Man are the central players in "Fear Itself," and the players who come through it the most changed by the experience.  Combining the "Fear Itself" logo with the ".1" brand so it's Fear Itself 7.1, 7.2, 7.3 allows us to shine a spotlight on each one of them, highlighting how this event impacted each of them while bridging the gap back to their own ongoing titles.
We're also getting a lot of teases these days as to which series are going to carry some of that "it counts" story significance you've spoken about. In San Diego, it was announced that the new "Battle Scars" book drawn by Scot Eaton will introduce a new character and some major twists. We've recently seen teases for a new Thunder god set to appear in "Thor." What did you discuss for the next phase of the Marvel U in terms of which story ideas and plot points needed to be right out front and which characters needed to be front and center?

We discussed what characters could play a role in the Marvel Universe post-"Fear Itself." I've been pushing for a new "Defenders" book for a while, and Tom [Brevoort] had always been on my side. We both see the potential of building a team with a strong mission statement that could anchor a franchise. What we needed was a writer with a killer high concept -- we found that with Matt [Fraction] -- and a launching pad -- we found that in the post "Fear Itself" landscape, loose strands from that story that the Defenders could deal with. The Defenders are not the Avengers. They're called "The Defenders" for a reason. And you'll see why immediately.

Ditto for "Fear Itself: The Fearless." Tom Brevoort came up with a very cool idea that really took shape after he spoke with a couple writers.

But how do you put together projects with confidence that they'll light a fire in the market?

There is no such thing as 100 percent certainty. You're always playing a hunch. It's just that some hunches are better than others. That said, if you're trying to launch a series like "Defenders," which features some cool characters but has been out of play for some time, you have to make sure you have a rock solid mission statement, killer opening arc and a creative team that can deliver. Even better if they have established credibility with fans, like Matt and Terry have.

That said, Marvel has an incredible catalog of characters -- almost all of which are viable, if put in the rights hands. Not all of them have the potential to be Top Ten books, but most of them have the potential to find a respectable audience, if only for a limited series. However, if you're looking to launch, say, a new Ant-Man ongoing series, it behooves you to find some connection to current events in the Marvel Universe -- to find a way for him to play a significant role in a larger story -- or people will think the series doesn't "count" and pass on it. It's also a good idea to plan the occasional tie-in to keep eyes on that title.

I guess what I'm wondering about overall is, because Marvel plans so many of its stories and events so far in advance of their making it to the printer, isn't it harder to launch something out of the back pocket after an event than it would be to see what ideas have gone over well with readers and then build on them in response to that?

In this current market, readers are looking -- first and foremost -- for connectivity. They want their reading experience to fit into a larger puzzle. We see evidence of it in feedback and the ordering patterns. That's not to say we can't launch a new series that completely stands on its own two legs -- we do so all the time -- but it's a lot harder.

One character we'll see again in a few weeks is Dracula in "Fear Itself: Hulk Vs. Dracula." Things started for that villain in his own story, but since then, he's been bouncing to different corners of the Marvel U, mixing things up. How did you approach the particular challenge of threading that character into the larger story in a way that felt significant?

Ah, Dracula... There are lots of hardcore Gene Colan Dracula fans - I'm one of them -- but his aesthetic is so rooted in the gothic-style Hammer films of the era he was created, it's hard to find an audience for him now. [Laughs] I expect that there'll be a thousand responses to this when the column goes up...

So: Victor Gischler was writing a little story, appropriately called "The Death of Dracula," that redefined Marvel's Vampire-verse, and we were wondering, "What next?" It just so happened that I was searching for a suitable villain for my upcoming "X-Men #1" launch that wasn't one of the usual X-Men threats. I wanted a heavy-hitter, but Dr. Doom wasn't available, or Loki, and it hit me -- what about Dracula? Mutants versus vampires seemed like a pretty cool idea. And "Curse of the Mutants" was born,

Then we got to thinking, "What next?" Over in "Fear Itself," we had seven Hammer-wielders wreaking havoc around the globe, one of which was the Hulk, amped up and destroying everything in his sight. This presented a bit of a problem; f the Hulk killed anyone during the story -- and it was impossible he wouldn't, right? -- he'd have to be held accountable afterwards, right? I mean, no one would buy "Uhm -- those 10,000 people I killed. Not my fault -- mind control" as an excuse. [Laughter] So we got to thinking, what if the Hulk were to land in Dracula's backyard and the Lord of the Vampires had to rally his Vampire Army against him? That'd be an interesting place to put a guy who's usually the frontrunner -- squaring off against a seemingly unbeatable foe. And if the Hulk killed 10,000 vampires, well, that'd be a little easier for him to reconcile.

We've got a few issues of "Fear Itself" and "Schism" left, so there's still a lot for readers to discover as far as how all these plans will roll out. However, at this stage in the game, who are the characters you think will come out of these events as the breakout ones to watch moving into the end of the year?

I'm bound to forget someone, but for now, II'll say keep an eye on:

  • The Defenders: They're going to be a force in the Marvel U, and you'll see why when you see what Matt and Terry are planning. While the team has a core group, there'll be lots of opportunities for some cool guest-stars that fit more easily into the Defenders roster and mandate than, say, an Avengers story.
  • Miles Morales -- aka Ultimate Comics Spider-Man: Couldn't be more excited about what Brian [Bendis] and Sara [Pichelli] are doing with this series. Fans are going to fall in love with Miles the same way they did Peter Parker.
  • Hope: Look for the so-called "Mutant Messiah" -- with her green eyes and red hair -- to be a pivotal character in 2012. The scope of her powers and her place in the universe will be revealed.
  • Hawkeye: Clint Barton fans, I am one of you.  And I will prove it in 2012.
  • Iron Fist: Another key character in 2012.
  • Nova: Ditto. Save the questions, folks -- my lips are sealed.
  • Dracula and the Vampire-verse: Dracula could become our supernatural Doctor Doom. And his nemesis, Raizo - the vampire whose origin was told in "Tomb of Dracula: Throne of Blood" and who'll play a key role in "Fear Itself; Hulk" tie-in -- represents a clear challenge to Dracula's authority -- a vampire who has chosen to walk a very different path.
  • The Forgiven: Who are they? Find out in "Fear Itself: Hulk vs Dracula."

  • Moon Knight: Brian [Bendis] and Alex [Maleev] are doing something special with this book.
  • Ant-Man: Size does matter.
  • I'll admit that I laughed pretty hard at the moment in "Generation Hope" #10 this week where Oya comments that Hope looks like Rachel Summers and Transonic jumped in with, "They've both just got red hair!" It's almost as if you guys were teasing readers who have been waiting for that answer.

    We've been teasing readers for the last few years, and in 2012 answers will be revealed -- and it'll be a surprise.

    Looking at some fan questions for this week, Board Member robcastor729 had a follow-up to last week's Ultimate discussion: "I've been reading since the Ultimate Line started. I really like the idea that if you buy all the books, you will get the whole picture of the Ultimate World. Does that mean when there's a threat so big, it will show up in the other books?"

    What we're looking to do is create a cohesive universe. It will become immediately apparent that they share the same backdrop. It's only a matter of time before we do an event and move them onto the same stage.

    And while we spoke a lot this week on the marquee characters in the wake of the current events, Drew Mathieu wanted to know about a few of the fan favorites for next year: "I know 2012 is a big year for Marvel's major franchises, but are some of the smaller corners of the Marvel U gonna get a chance to shine. Anything big happening with the Young Avengers post Children's Crusade? How about Avengers Academy or some the younger X-Men?"

    Sorry, Drew, we don't want to say anything about the Young Avengers beyond "Children's Crusade" at this point. But a few of the Avengers Academy kids are featured in "Avengers Solo."

    Finally, following up on some of those ideas, James Hunter asked after one of Marvel's classic franchises: "With Alex Power in the Future Foundation and Julie Power about to join the cast of 'Avengers Academy' (as announced at San Diego) are there any plans to see what Jack and Katie Power are up to as well?"
Editor Bill Rosemann informs me that we have no plans to reveal yet for Jack and Katie, Hunter -- but we can show you this beautiful double-page spread by Sean Chen, which happens to be Julie's first appearance in "Avengers Academy" #21.

    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!

    Tags: marvel comics, captain america, x-men, iron man, hawkeye, thor, avengers, axel alonso, defenders, axel-in-charge, the hulk, battle scars, fear itself, schism, shattered heroes, the forgiven

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