Marvel Reacts to Changing Tastes, In "Secret Wars" and Beyond

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!

"Secret Wars" Commences in Marvel's May 2015 Solicitations

Following the release of Marvel's May 2015 solicitations, Alonso addresses the broader implications of an unconventional Marvel lineup that doesn't currently contain flagships like "Avengers," "New Avengers" or "All-New X-Men," but does feature "Spider-Gwen," "Howard the Duck" and a number of unconventional "Secret Wars"-related series such as "Where Monsters Dwell," "Master of Kung Fu" and "M.O.D.O.K. Assassin." Additionally, Alonso shares his thoughts on various "Secret Wars" books, including "Old Man Logan," "Infinity Gauntlet" and "Ghost Racers," plus the recently launched "Silk," a new ongoing series featuring a rare instance of a female, Asian-American superhero. All that and more, including answers to your questions, straight from the CBR Community.

Albert Ching: Axel, good to be talking again after a week off -- you were at a Star Wars summit with Lucasfilm in the Bay Area, correct?

Axel Alonso: Yeah. "Star Wars" editor Jordan White, [Marvel Vice President of International Business Development & Brand Management] C.B. Cebulski, ["Darth Vader" writer] Kieron Gillen, ["Star Wars" writer] Jason Aaron and I traveled to San Francisco for a story conference with the Lucasfilm Story Group and editorial team. They shared some intel with us and together we workshopped a huge story for next year. Huge. It was a very productive meeting, even though we never got to visit La Taqueria.

That has to be a bit of a different experience than you've had before as Editor-in-Chief -- to work with a partner like Lucasfilm to this degree, and with that kind of regularity.

Alonso: Well, it's a team effort. They keep us abreast of plans across the media platforms and provide us with a great sounding board for our story ideas. They're kind of like an editor that helps us stay true to the spirit of the source material and the overall mythology.

SPIDER-MANDATE: Lowe Talks 'Surprise' Hit "Spider-Gwen," "Secret Wars'" Spidey Connections

Marvel's May 2015 solicitations came out on Tuesday, and while there weren't necessarily a ton of surprises -- most of the big news was announced in the days and weeks before -- when looking at them as a whole, it's striking to me that with "Secret Wars" beginning, we're seeing things that are staples of the Marvel lineup -- "Avengers," "New Avengers" -- not around for a bit, along with fewer X-books. Basically, fewer of the things that are seen as "sure things" at Marvel, and in their places are new concepts, and different takes on revisited concepts. What's the mindset at Marvel of the risk/reward of giving a rest to some of these tried and true concepts, and bringing out some different material -- has Marvel become confident that's a worthwhile risk to undertake?

Alonso: We have. And the proof that it's worth undertaking is in the numbers. Who could have predicted the response to "Spider-Gwen?" We've sold upwards of 250K. And the numbers on Jeff Lemire and Ramon Perez's "All-New Hawkeye" #1 and Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones' "Howard the Duck" #1 are also ridiculous. I think all of this is a symptom of a changing market -- the changing tastes and changing demographics of our readers. I also think it speaks to the confidence that retailers and fans have in the strength of our publishing line at this moment.

Let's talk some of the "Secret Wars"-related announcements from the last couple of weeks, starting with "Old Man Logan" by Brian Michael Bendis and Andrea Sorrentino. As someone who worked on the original "Old Man Logan" story as an editor, what has you excited about what the team is doing here, revisiting Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's story in a new way during Secret Wars?

Alonso: "Old Man Logan" is an incredible character, and the world he inhabits is equally fascinating. How he fits into Battleworld, I'm not going to say right now. What I will say is that there's a Logan-sized gap in the Marvel Universe right now, and if Old Man Logan does enough crunches, maybe he can fill it.

And it's exciting to see the first Bendis-related Marvel announcement since the news that he's leaving the X-books in May with "Uncanny X-Men" #600.

Alonso: That's just an appetizer.

Then there's the "Infinity Gauntlet" "Secret Wars" series by Gerry Duggan and Dustin Weaver. That one seems distinct from others announced so far that while it uses a familiar name, it looks to be telling a very different story than the original "Infinity Gauntlet" -- taking the name as a jumping off point and doing something unique. It that fair to say?

Alonso: The "Infinity Gauntlet" series is not a "What If?" story, it does not take place in the past or the future or in an alternate reality; it takes place on Battleworld, and will be laying down several important building blocks for the Marvel Universe moving forward. For example, remember the fact that all the Infinity gems are destroyed in the Marvel Universe? What Dustin and Gerry do in that series will have a lasting effect; they're not going to put the lid back on the jar. What exactly will come out of "Infinity Gauntlet"? Wait and see. But rest assured that you're going to see two storytellers at the top of their game, doing imaginative and inventive things with comics that haven't been done before.

Marvel's "Ghost Racers" Rev Up for "Secret Wars'" Battleworld Arena

Just announced today was "Ghost Racers," which unites multiple different Ghost Rider characters. Guessing you're personally excited about that, since you've been very open about your fondness for Robbie Reyes.

Alonso: Hey, I've wanted to see a Mexican-American hero who breathes on the page since I got here, so there's so much love for Robbie Reyes out there -- especially from my people. [Laughs] I get letters and Tweets all the time. What [writer] Felipe Smith has done with this character is incredible, and I think that "Ghost Racers" ups the ante for Robbie and for fans of that series. Look at "All-New Ghost Rider" as being season one, and "Ghost Racers" being season two of Robbie's story.

It's worthwhile to point out that sometimes there's a fear that a character like that, who is new and not the most visible, could easily get swept under the rug of "Secret Wars," with so many players and big name characters on the board, but this seems to be a powerful statement that isn't the case.

Alonso: It is. We brought these characters onto the playing field for a reason, and that was to further cement them as a part of the Marvel Universe. Editor Mark Paniccia initiated the concept and began working early with Felipe and new artist Juan Gedeon to plan for "Secret Wars" -- to decide what type of tie-in they'd like to do to turbo charge the series - and this is what they wanted to do. Wait till you see the designs. "Ghost Racers" is Next Level $#!#. Felipe stays true to Robbie's struggle in a whole new way and fans of other Ghost Riders will be very happy with the supporting cast.

Then there's "Where Monsters Dwell," which sounds very different than typical Marvel event stories. What does it mean to you to see Garth Ennis, someone you've worked with since "Preacher" at Vertigo, back at Marvel, and contributing to "Secret Wars" in this way?

Alonso: Garth's one of my favorite writers. To have him participate in this event, with a standalone story that leaves a big footprint on the Marvel Universe, is very exciting. The fact that he is participating speaks to the elasticity of the event and opportunities created by Battleworld. We basically told him that he could run wild with whatever genre -- or cross-pollination of genres -- excited him. He had visions of biplanes and dinosaurs in his head, and "Where Monsters Dwell" was born.

Bennett Assembles Battleworld's Mightiest Heroes in "A-Force"

We've talked before about the diversity of genres Marvel is rolling out given the opportunity created by "Secret Wars," and you're someone whose editing background is very diverse, rather than coming from strictly superhero comics. For you, as Editor-in-Chief, is this a uniquely creatively satisfying time?

Alonso: Without a doubt. Shortly after I became Editor-in-Chief, "Avengers vs. X-Men" set the table for Marvel NOW! -- a game of creator musical chairs that breathed new life into our entire line. "Secret Wars" allows us to do something much larger because it allows us to transform the Marvel Universe, opening up opportunities for new creative teams and series while also expanding into new creative territory and genres. And as some who grew up reading comics of all genres that excites me. Some of my favorite comics were modeled on the triple feature flicks I used to sneak into as a little kid -- "Master of Kung Fu," "Luke Cage," "Deathlok," "Werewolf By Night" -- and "Secret Wars" provides the oxygen for us to do anything we want. To be able to call Garth [Ennis], give him the broad strokes of the event, and hear back within days that, in fact, he does have an idea for a story -- that speaks volumes about the scope and elasticity of what we're doing.

It's a great time to be Editor-in-Chief. Now more than ever, our line is filled with series that would be must-reads for me personally. And before some people latch onto that last statement, let me clarify: An editor's job is not to create series that appeal to them personally; an editor's job is to create series that speak to an audience. It can't always be about your personal tastes. That said, I love to live in a world where Marvel has expanded to publish books like "Ms. Marvel," "Hawkeye," "Howard the Duck," "Unbeatable Squirrel Girl," "All-New Ghost Rider," "Ant-Man," "Spider-Gwen," "Silk"... I'm out of breath and I haven't even begun to mention the stuff that's further down the horizon.

Speaking of that new release from this week -- ">"Silk" has debuted in her own ongoing series from Robbie Thompson and Stacey Lee. Silk is not only a female character, not only an Asian-American superhero, but a relatively rare instance of a new character and a new concept that has quickly been elevated to ongoing series status. She's connected to Spider-Man, obviously, but she's her own identity rather than filling an existing role. How significant do you see this book within Marvel's current line?

Alonso: Well, let me start by saying that my wife is Korean-American, so I scored a lot of points with this book! [Laughs] And it better be good! [Laughs] Look, like Kamala Khan before her, Cindy Moon is a fascinating character that will connect with all sorts of readers because her story is universal. Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos painstakingly built her in the pages of "Amazing Spider-Man" to be a three-dimensional character whose background should make for fascinating story opportunities. And Robbie and Stacey are fleshing out the details of her backstory as they move forward. While Silk is tied to the Spider-Man mythology, and shares some of his powers, she stands on her own two feet as a character, and this will become more and more apparent as the series progresses.

Thompson Untangles "Silk" #1's Post-"Spider-Verse" Secrets

Before we get to fan questions, wanted to address Marvel releasing a Spanish translation of their Free Comic Book Day release this year -- it certainly seems like a natural move. What do you see as the importance of releasing a Spanish-language FCBD issue?

Alonso: I think the reasons are self-evident. This is one more reflection of our commitment to building as diverse and audience as we possibly can.

Let's call it a week with a few fan questions from the CBR Community. The razor-sharp robreedwrites stretches all the way back to September, and asks, "A while ago -- in regards to future plans -- you said, 'Let's see. A water-fowl, a tree rat and a jungle cat just might factor into our plans.' With the water-fowl and tree rat revealed as ongoings for Howard the Duck and Squirrel Girl, respectively, could you tell us when we might expect to hear about the jungle cat?"

Alonso: Nope.

mrjinjin has picked up on the "Secret Wars" genre diversity talk and asks, "Will there be a sword and sorcery and/or fantasy book coming out of 'Secret Wars'? Any chance we will see the Black Knight involved in something in or after 'Secret Wars'?"

Alonso: Oh, you definitely want to keep your ears peeled for an announcement over the next few weeks.

We'll wrap with SpiderX, who wonders about Marvel's digital-first platform: "I remember asking you a while back about Miles Morales receiving an Infinite Comics treatment and you hinted at the possibility. Is there any more you can add about that or the Infinite Comics line in general? Things have been quite quiet since 'Captain America: Fear Him.'"

Alonso: We've also been using Infinite Comics as a platform to tell some untold stories in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. "Avengers: Age of Ultron Prelude -- This Sceptre'd Isle" -- which went live February 3 -- focuses on Baron Strucker and what happened to Loki's scepter between the Avengers and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." We also see how Pietro and Wanda Maximoff ended up with their powers. And on March 3, "Marvel's Ant-Man - Scott Lang: Small Time" MCU Infinite Comic drops. Set before the upcoming film, it fleshes out Scott Lang's backstory -- mainly why he's in the predicament that he's found himself in in the movie. Will Corona Pilgrim, Creative Director, R&D at Marvel Studios, wrote both stories, so they're firmly grounded in MCU canon.

On February 24 -- that's just four days from now -- we've got "Avengers: Millennium," written by Mike Costa and illustrated by Carmine DiGiandomenico and Paco Diaz. It's six installments of the Avengers battling Hydra through time.

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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