MARVEL A-I-C: Sizing Up The X-Men's 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, Axel looks at the size of the world of the X-Men now that the full scope of post-"Schism" titles have been revealed. Is there such a thing as too many X-Men comics? How will incoming writers Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen rise to the challenge of wrapping five years of major storylines? What role does Editorial play in plotting out the biggest stories of the mutant world? For all that, plus new news on the future of Gambit, Ant-Man, Ghost Rider and more -- read on!

Kiel Phegley: Axel, we've just reached the end of a run of X-Men teasers from Marvel showing off at least one cast member from each book, and looking at the final lineup, I was reminded of how when Joe came on as E-i-C, he famously cut down the X-Men books to a much more lean animal with the idea that, creatively, those comics couldn't sustain that many monthlies. Over the past ten years, we've seen the line re-built up during your Editorial tenure in that office, and now that you're in the head spot, it's up to eight core monthlies in terms of teams. What's your view on the size of that line and the size of franchises in general? Is there a ceiling to be hit and is Marvel there yet?

Axel Alonso: It all depends upon timing and circumstance. When I came on as X-Men group editor, I wanted there to be a mission statement for each book. Looking at titles like "Uncanny X-Men" and "X-Men," I was left wondering, Who are the X-Men? What is the core book? As a result, "X-Men" became "X-Men: Legacy" and took on a very specific mandate -- examining specific aspects of X-Men mythology with a certain set of characters -- allowing "Uncanny X-Men" to be the undisputed core title of the line.

At the end of the day, we give fans what we think they want and what we think they'll buy. And if they don't buy it, we stop giving it to them. [Laughs] It's as simple as that. In the aftermath of "Schism," we have a fundamental split in the X-Men universe that gives us a launching pad for two very different monthly titles, each with their own mission statement.

The subtle standout for the teasers was the use of Blue and Gold as the colors for the logos, which is a call back to the '90s era when the team was split in two, as well. But back then, it was more a matter of who fit in what book while this will be drawn on story lines more. Working this out with Nick Lowe, what was the guiding principal for who went to which side?

Alonso: It all came down to character. For each character, we asked, who would their heart follow? Again, "Schism" is a deep philosophical divide that's driving these teams apart. When people ask, "Will it be possible there will be members of both teams?" the answer is: No. These aren't two camps divided by shadings of the same general philosophy. They're arguing about their very reason for being.

The follow-up to that idea is the way in which you determine how the talent comes on and takes the direction of the story. You've spoken to the fact that you've had several big ideas rolling in the X-books for years that are coming to a culmination soon. With the core book being passed from Ed Brubaker to Matt Fraction to Kieron Gillen and now having Jason Aaron in the mix, how do you ensure the big ideas carry and still let those guys make their own mark on these characters?

Alonso: Well, let's be clear: The writers write the books, not the editors. The most we do is confer on a general roadmap and a general destination that's rarely, if ever, a pinpoint landing. The story always evolves. Way back in "Messiah Complex," we had a sense of the arc of Cyclops' life for the next few years, but it's taken on new shadings with the influx of new writers, like Matt [Fraction], who worked with and took over from Ed [Brubaker] and Kieron [Gillen] who took over from Matt. Each new writer brings new shading to the evolving story.

So how did you determine which writer would take each side of the conflict? Was Jason really itching to write the Wolverine side of the equation after "Schism" and Kieron the Cyclops side?

Alonso: I'm pretty sure that Jason supports Wolverine's point of view -- he's a big hippie; As for Kieron, I'm not so sure that he supports Cyclops' P.O.V. That said, both positions are totally valid and defensible. I, for instance, tend to agree with Cyclops' P.O.V. I don't know what that says about me! [Laughter] But I do! Just remember: There's no villain here, no guy in a black hat. Just two philosophies of looking at the predicament of being a mutant. It's up to the reader to decide whom they agree with.

i think part of what we'll talk about regularly here in A-I-C is your editorial and story philosophy. I think a general take on you in the past is that you'd done a lot of "street level" books be they crime comics or very boiled down, practical takes on characters. At the same time, you've done big sci-fi stories like "Messiah CompleX" that have other elements people may not immediately think of when they think "Axel Alonso." How comfortable have you grown to feel in those big, broad superhero tales with their crazy sci-fi/fantasy trappings?

Alonso: Hey, I left Vertigo ten years ago! [Laughs] Since then, I've edited Straczynski's "Spider-Man" and "Incredible Hulk," "X-Men," "Deadpool," three -- count 'em -- "X-Force" re-launches. I love Spandex.

Truth is, editing big super hero titles is just a different challenge. Any trepidation I had about taking over the X-Men franchise was because, as a kid, I didn't respond to those characters the way I did to, say, the Hulk or Spider-Man. I was a bit intimidated to take control of a franchise that I had no deep affection for, and whose continuity was foreign to me. Obviously, my first task was to do my homework: I read all the seminal stories, and then took a good look at the landscape I'd inherited. The biggest thing I saw was the fallout from "House of M": a mutant population that had been decimated down to 198 survivors. That was my starting point. If there's only 198 of your species left in the universe, let's face it your species is dying -- and that's going to be on your brain 24/7. Every time you bury one of your friends, your species is one step closer to the grave. What does that do to your mindset? What does that do to your community? If that's the world you're living in, can you afford to let your people stand divided? I think not. Out of that discussion came the mindset of what the X-Men would become: A military model with one leader at the top -- Cyclops. The inciting incident that galvanized this was "Messiah CompleX."

This type of story -- I loved editing it as much as editing a small crime comic book, like "PunisherMAX." Hell, my one contribution to that book came at the planning stages when I suggested that Jason redefine some Marvel staples in its pages, and he ran with it. I just got the hell out of his way. "X-Men" was a challenge that I embraced. I love the X-Men now. I didn't when I started, but now I do. Cyclops is now one of my favorite characters in the Marvel Universe.

Do you feel like part of what good comics editing is finding the right challenge or the right question to set a writer off on their title?

Alonso: No. The first thing you do is listen to and converse with your writer, see what evolves. Bottom line: An editor's job is to know when they're needed and when they're not. A bad editor is one who feels that they need to see his fingerprints on everything he edits or he hasn't done his job. That's foolish. Sometimes, an editor's job is as simple as saying, "Wow, that's great. Send it to the artist."

The relationship between an editor and a writer is delicate thing, and the best ones are built on chemistry and mutual trust. There are times when a writer brings a fully-formed idea to you, and you just block for them to run down the field. There are times when they bring an idea that takes on more shape due to the critical questions you bring to bear on it as the first reader. And, of course, there are times when you inherit a runaway train, and have to do your best to steer it away from innocent civilians. [Laughs] Your track record for dealing with all of those scenarios determines your effectiveness and how long you stay in the business.

I think that's a great note to move on to some fan questions, starting with some X-Men-centric ideas. Whalers77 had this to say, "Axel, congrats and I look forward to the weekly Q&As going forward! Could you let everyone know your thoughts on Gambit and where you see him in Marvel's future? For such a popular character amongst fans (not sure about Marvel staff), you'd expect to see a little more of him, maybe even beyond the X-Men but in something like Secret Avengers (?).

Alonso: Let me turn this over to X-Men Group editor/gangsta rapper, Nick Lowe. Nick?

Lowe: Gambit will continue to play a big role in "X-Men: Legacy," but he's also been showing up in Marjorie Liu's "X-23" as well! So don't fret Whalers77, you'll have a monthly dose of our Cajun card slinger!

I'm sure you've seen already how many folks are wondering what's next for the story and cast of "Avengers: The Children's Crusade," but this week CMBMOOL asked after that book with a new twist to his question: "I must ask if any one knows the answer to this question -- Will the events of 'Avengers Children's Crusade' affect the main X-men titles in any way when that series is finish?"

Alonso: Let me turn this over to VP-Publishing, the Yin to my Yang, the Woody to my Hawkowl, the Oates to my Hall, Tom Brevoort. Tom?

Brevoort: Huge effect. Massive effect. On both the main X-titles and the Marvel Universe as a whole. As I think Axel has mentioned in the past, it's no coincidence that "Fear Itself," "Schism" and "Children's Crusade" are all drawing to a close at about the same time. The events of "Crusade" tee things up for everything that is to come in 2012. I can honestly say, if you haven't been following the series, now is the time to start -- or in a few months, you may find yourself starting a bit behind the curve.

Following up on some of your character teases from last week, joshc167 was one of the readers who wanted some more info on a certain small hero. He said, "Big fan of Scott Lang here, Was sad when the character was killed of in '04. I'm super stoked to see he is back. We will get to see more of Scott Lang in the Ultimate Universe? Also I read that Ant-Man will be a big part of 2012. Which Ant-Man are you guys talking about?"

Alonso: Well joshc167, Scott Lang is currently back among the living in the Marvel Universe in the pages of "Avengers: The Children's Crusade"...at least for the moment. Do the fates have his long term stay in their cards? Well you'll have to read the rest of the series to find out! But, in terms of Scott Lang in the Ultimate Comics Universe, this is one best answered by Ultimate Comics Editor Mark Paniccia -- also known as "Panic" on account of, he tends to. Panic?

Paniccia: More like strike Panic in the hearts of others (especially Tom Brevoort)!!! For all those Scott Lang fans out there, Ultimate S.C. last showed up in Mark Millar's insane superhero epic "Ultimate Avengers Vs. New Ultimates." Both Jonathan Hickman ("Ultimates"/"Ultimate Hawkeye") and Nick Spencer ("Ultimate X-Men") have expressed interest in using him in upcoming stories, and it's very possible he might show up at the end of the year in the pages of "Ultimates." Oh, gotta go. I just saw Tom Brevoort walking towards the elevator. Time to try out this new, all-purpose remote control. (heh)

TalonJay echoed that sentiment about knowing which Ant-Man we'd see next year, but he also had this on one of his favorite artists: "I am a huge fan of Skottie Young and all his work, including the Oz books being put out lately. Is there any chance of him returning to superhero books on the horizon?"

Alonso: Skottie has a pretty full schedule, but don't see why not.

On a different topic entirely, Tracks wondered, "Can we expect to see a surge in Ghost Rider material with the movie coming out in February?"

Alonso: This is best answered by Marvel's prettiest editor, Steve Wacker.

Wacker: Can't talk much about it yet, but hopefully you'll be happy with some of the stuff we have going on. The movie is looking terrific from what I've seen and in the comics the Spirit of Vengeance is in good hands right now with Rob Williams and Matt Clark.

Here's a hint at one thing coming up: Burning Skulls vs. Purple Arrows!

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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