MARVEL T&A: Death Bags And X-Ages

It's Friday! Why not wrap your week with a little T&A!

CBR News is back again to present an open and honest Q&A with Marvel Comics Vice President Executive Editors Tom Brevoort and Axel Alonso for our regular column: MARVEL T&A! Aside from being the minds behind the biggest franchises at the House of Ideas, the pair have taken the reins of the editorial staff on a day-to-day basis since the many changes that have upped the profile of both Marvel and the company's senior staff in the past year. So who better to look inside the halls of Marvel and make some memorable reader Q&A?

Each Friday, in addition to our regular CUP O' JOE installments, CBR presents a new interview with the T&A duo covering everything Marvel Comics. This week Tom and Axel are juggling their regular editorial duties with the impending move of the Marvel home offices to a new New York City location, but they still had time to talk about the office culture at the House of Ideas, whether or not the incoming "Death Bag" for an issue of "Fantastic Four" is a call back to the '90s, early teases on the "Age of X" event and some notes on fan favorite characters including Hawkeye and Mockingbird. Read on!

Kiel Phegley: Gentlemen, I know that things are a bit in turnaround as it's moving time right now for the Marvel offices, which are relocating to a new Manhattan location. Am I speaking to you from the new location, the old homebase or are things literally in transit right now?

Tom Brevoort: You're speaking to us from the old location. In fact, we're sitting here in the refuse of Joe Quesada's office that's got stuff stacked up around us everywhere as we start to pack up.

Axel Alonso: I'm sitting on his refrigerator. [Laughter]

Brevoort: He is!!

You guys have moved a few times over the past ten or 15 years. Does it put any major crimps in the production of the books?

Brevoort: [Laughs wildly] Even in a normal month, a move like this would put us out of commission for easily a week if not longer, depending on how smoothly the process goes. We're not just going to be physically moving our stuff but also all of our computers, servers, our FTP - everything. And inevitably when we make a move like this, there are unforeseen difficulties of one sort or another. So yeah, this definitely puts an added strain on getting things done this week -and that's on top of having the New York Comic Con last week, and a couple of big editorial meetings as well. We're also losing a week of production time due to the Diamond shift to Tuesday delivery of books to stores-we need to get them all done a week earlier as a result. So it's been a very busy time.

Alonso: Remember when you were in school, and you had a test that was three essay questions and 100 multiple choice, and you had one hour to complete it? Well, imagine that you just got told you have half and hour and you're going to be graded on an hour curve, no excuses. Everything must go Wednesday!

Maybe fans don't know this, but at Marvel you guys keep somewhat close quarters. Everyone shares space. Is there any chance you two as the top of the editorial food chain will be getting your own offices with your own doors at the new space?

Brevoort: I haven't actually seen the new place yet, although we've already moved a couple departments over there last week and the week before. Editorial is Wave Three of the moving process. But while this is a nicer space and a slightly newer space, I don't know that it's necessarily a bigger space. The operating philosophy that Marvel runs under hasn't changed, which is "Get the max for the minimum." I certainly don't think Axel or I will get our own offices. The real question is how many people will be in those offices with us.

One thing I've heard from freelancers about how the Marvel offices operate is that the shared space makes for an almost force collaboration on things. It's hard to have a conversation on the phone without someone turning around and going, "Oh hey...don't forget this." With so many people stopping by these past few weeks, who's been stopping in and how has the office environment played into discussions and plans for the stories of late?

Brevoort: Well, I don't know if the office style necessarily helps the storytelling. [Laughs] Since we're in close quarters, there's not a lot of privacy, there aren't a lot of perks, and that is kind of a thing where if you're going to come work for Marvel, you need to understand that. You realize that very quickly and adjust and adapt to it - and you adapt like a solider on the battlefield. It's not like you want to live in a foxhole--it's that living in a foxhole is part of your job from now on.

There are plenty of people who've come through the offices of late. Two weeks ago we held an Ultimate retreat that included [Brian Michael] Bendis, Mark Millar, Jeph Loeb and Jonathan Hickman talking with Mark Paniccia and the senior staff about upcoming plans in the Ultimate camp. Last week, we had a big meeting with Matt Fraction about a secret project he's working on that was an all-day affair. And in between that, pretty much everybody under the sun - just look at the New York Comic Con guest list - all of those people passed through our halls on their way to the show or after the show. They wanted to grab lunch or grab dinner or grab five minutes with us or their individual editors. I don't think either of us saw absolutely everybody, but between everybody here in editorial, all the creators got some love and attention.

Alonso: It's no surprise that Joe, Tom and I all got con flu after the show. It was a perfect storm. Between wrapping up the ESPN thing, the con, packing for the move and the accelerated schedule to get things to the printer, it's a miracle books went out.

There were a pair of announcements from the con that we didn't get to discuss during our T&A video interview, and I wanted to get into them a bit here. The first is the whole "death bag" promotion for "Fantastic Four" #587. Who in the office came up with that idea, and how did it take root with everyone to become a reality?

Brevoort: As he was quick to remind us, the idea of the "Death Bag" originated with David Gabriel, our SVP of Sales Arune Singh, Manager of Sales Communications and it came up for two reasons. One, the story features a death, and when it comes to death in comics, everybody thinks about the death of Superman, which was bagged 15 years ago. But the real reason it came up was that we were talking about how we wanted to hang on to the story secret of who our casualty actually is until as late in the game as possible. How do we do that in a world where these books get scanned and posted online within two seconds of them dropping - in some cases before they actually go on sale because they've shipped out of the printer through Diamond to the stores with someone along the way getting ahold of a copy and having a scanner or a phone camera nearby to take pictures of the appropriate pages? In the course of that conversation, and recalling the earlier story, we thought, "Wouldn't it be funny to put this in a bag? Then at least it'll be a little more painful for someone to crack open that bag to scan it." And honestly, I don't really expect that to deter somebody who's already taking the illegal step of scanning our comics. But the whims and feelings of hardcore comic book fans are a strange and mysterious thing.

This became an idea that caught fire. We haven't done anything like this in a while, and it was always an effective thing to do in the past to spotlight a particular release. Eventually, of course, back in the '90s it became overkill, having a crazy hopped-up cover on virtually every single release. But that doesn't change the fact that it was very effective at bringing attention to a particular book. We just figured, "What the hell. They're going to hate us anyway for killing off one of the Fantastic Four. We might as well go all-in and bag the hell out of it."

Alonso: It looks cool.

It's a nice touch, but I'm wondering if you're going to throw any trading cards in there.

Brevoort: [Laughs] Not this time! Maybe next time, though. If only we had thought of that when Nightcrawler bit it. [Laughter]

This is one of those things, though, where after the downturn in the market a decade or so back where there was the boom and bust in the speculator market, we had all these sales gimmicks: chromium covers, die-cut covers, bags, cards, etc. In the years after that, so many people loved to say, "That's what was wrong with comics!" and for years those practices were looked down on. Today, it seems publishers are more willing to play with variant covers and specialty promotions and formats. Is that a change in the culture where things aren't allowed to get out of hand now? Is it a change where with the advent of digital, there need to be more things that are unique to comic shop buying?

Brevoort: I think that saying the excesses of the '90s were caused by enhanced covers is a very simplistic view of history. It's a total shorthand for a very complicated series of events and a complex series of perfect storm occurrences that caused the industry to boom and bust - not the least of which was trading card speculators coming into the market in a big way and trying to take a fiscal position on new release comics. Certainly those excesses led to one cool, good-selling thing - "Hey, we did a cool fifth color ink on the Hulk! It looks nice!" - turning into "Hey, we're going to do one of these every month!" and then "Hey, we're going to do ten of these every month!" It was because there was gold in them thar hills, and everybody in those days was fighting for a piece of that same gold. None of that changes the fact that that original cover was kind of cool.

I think the trick of it is to not fall off the cliff. It's easy to say that now, of course, and a year from now I'll probably be regretting that we ever got into the business of bagging comics as we bag every single thing that we do. But there's no denying the cool factor of any number of those enhancements used in the past - foil covers or embossed covers or whatnot. As long as the actual content inside the books is good - which is another thing that fell down in the '90s, as there was a gold rush with everybody who could rub two nickels together starting their own line of super hero comics, leaving the talent pool stretching very thin - but as long as the material is strong, then doing something that draws more eyeballs and more attention to what we're doing in an economy that isn't in great shape, where we compete for eyeballs against everything everybody's doing including other media...I don't know that there's anything wrong with that. It becomes wrong if we go too far. Then everybody goes too far, and then there's a plastic diamond glued to every cover on every store shelf.

But enough time has passed that hopefully palates have been cleansed. Certainly the older readers and those who have just been listening to the cliff notes version of history hear "it's an enhancement, a bag, a foil cover" and think the sky is falling. The sky is not falling. There's a cool factor to these things. There was then, which is why they were successful and became overused, and there still is today. As long as we don't overdo it, I don't think there's anything wrong with playing with this stuff.

Alonso: The operative word is "moderation." The black bag is fun and it delivers a message about what's inside. That said, here at Marvel, we live and die by the content so let's face it: We're going to be judged based on what goes on between the covers.

Brevoort: And there are actually one or two additional wrinkles on that issue of "Fantastic Four" that we're not able to talk about yet. But that information'll come out over the next couple of weeks as we closer to the final order cutoff. That stuff will set people back on their heels a little bit as well, as there are a couple of other stunts up our sleeves on which we haven't turned the cards over yet. But as Axel says, what's really going to be the proof in the pudding is the story in that book. We have a lot of confidence in what Jonathan Hickman has been doing on "FF" and a lot of confidence in the great artwork Steve Epting has been providing. This is going to be a great reading, great looking comic and the culmination of about two years of storytelling as well as the kickoff to the next era of "Fantastic Four" or what comes next. Putting a big spotlight on it is perfectly appropriate from my point of view.

Alonso: For the record, the upcoming "Dogpool: Scratch N' Sniff" one-shot is story-driven. [Brevoort Laughs] To really appreciate the story, the olfactory extra features are crucial.

The other thing to ask about coming out of the con was the tease of the "Age of X" story, which I think a lot of people will automatically connect with the "Age of Apocalypse" story. That was a different kind of gimmick where the entire X-Men line was replaced on the publishing schedule by an alternate reality of titles for a time. Are those associations to that older story and that publishing stunt fair to be in fans minds with whatever "Age of X" is?

Alonso: We certainly don't mind you making those connections - "Age of Apocalypse" is a classic series. All I'll say is, Apocalypse is featured in "Uncanny X-Force" - in stores now - so...Hopefully, the recent track record of the X-Office will lend retailers confidence. From "Messiah CompleX" to "Second Coming" to "Curse of the Mutants," we've taken careful stock of our storylines, trumpeting them as events only when we think they ARE events. You can expect some pretty shocking imagery in the next couple of weeks.

We've spoken in the past about how the whole story cycle that kind of started with "Messiah CompleX" had wound its way through to "Second Coming" and how with the discovery of the new mutants from "The Five Lights," it feels like we're entering a new phase in the X-Men saga. Is this story the ramp up to a different chapter? Will it take things in a new direction than what we've seen in recent years?

Alonso: Yes. The return of Hope and the birth of five new mutants are big building blocks for the future of mutantkind. That's why we're launching "Generation Hope" and putting such stock in it. And current leadership for the team - with Cyclops flanked by Emma, Magneto, Namor and, of course, Logan - bears more than a passing resemblance to, say, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. So there's a lot going on. The X-Men are looking into the future, but they're scarred by the past. You don't endure what they have gone through and not be changed by it - especially if you wear the crown, like Cyclops does. Scott proved to be an extremely good wartime general; the question now is, what type of leader can he be in times of (relative) peace? This is very much a new chapter in X-Men history, with Cyclops at the center of it.

Brevoort: And look for it in a Ruby Quartz bag in a comic store near you! [Laughter]

On to fan questions, we've got Tracks coming back with "With all of the supernatural threats plaguing what seems to be all corners of the marvel universe currently, any chance of seeing the Night Stalkers or the Midnight Sons resurface?"

Brevoort: We've definitely brought both those names up in meetings recently and, if you look closely, we're doing a lot with the supernatural now. Ghost Rider has a big role in "Shadowland" and "Heroes For Hire," magic is ruling in "New Avengers" and there's something come down the pike that'll leave you speechless.

I think you'll see the same approach with Nightstalkers and Midnight Sons that you see with any revival - we want to do it right, with the right creators and right mission statement.

Fluffy6079 had a question on the practicality of Marvel's digital plans when he asked, "I've been a long time reader of this column, but this is the first time I've posted a question. My wife and I have been making some cutbacks recently so that we can buy a house. I read a good deal of comics on a weekly basis so it's definitely our biggest nonessential item on the budget. I've had to cut some titles from my pull list, but I may have to go further.

"My wife has recommended that I just get a digital subscription, but after looking at the content I noticed that your online library is at best a year behind some of the titles I read, which has basically narrowed that option out.

"I understand the idea behind the delay being to benefit retailers. I love my LCS, but I don't know if I can keep it up. Has there been any discussion about bringing the online library up to current or at least narrowing the gap between when comics are released and when they're put online?"

Brevoort: First off, Fluffy, I feel your pain. It can be a tough world out there in the current economic clime, and hard choices sometimes have to be made. But it's never easy.

We're experimenting constantly with the lag time between when we offer an issue in print and when it becomes available digitally, whether that's through the Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited site or the Marvel App. We've been trying different strategies with different books, up to and including releasing certain titles on the same Day-and-Date as the print editions, such as the "Invincible Iron Man Annual" and "Ultimate Thor." But as you indicate, we've also got a responsibility to our retailer partners to make sure that whatever decisions we make in this arena won't have a detrimental effect on their businesses, which are suffering just like everybody else. So yes, those discussions are happening and will continue into the foreseeable future, but I'd have to say that I think we're still a ways away from a time when a Day-and-Date release schedule for even the majority of Marvel titles is happening on a regular basis.

On the other hand (and I know it may be small consolation), there are thousands of older issues of assorted Marvel titles already available through the MDCU, with more added every week. So while it's not lockstep quite yet with our print release program, it is growing by leaps and bounds all the time.

Good luck with the house!

LastManStanding wanted to know, "Will there be an Eternals series in the near future?"

Brevoort: Sorry, Last, no plans for a new "Eternals" book at the moment. But at the very least Sersi is getting some play in "Chaos War."

BartonisHawkeye88 had a series of questions surrounding the Avengers titles, including: "First and foremost: Is there any reason for us fans of "Hawkeye & Mockingbird" to be worried about the state of the book post-Widowmaker?"

Brevoort: Yes, Barton, absolutely, there totally is. After "Widowmaker," "Hawkeye & Mockingbrid" won't be coming back in its current form. However, there will be a project following up on the events of "Widowmaker" that will hopefully scratch your "Hawkeye & Mockingbird" itch.

"Any chance we could see the likes of Jack of Hearts, Wasp, Ant-Man (Lang), or Vision 1.0 returned for good?"

Brevoort: In the wonderful world of comics, there's always a chance, though I think that bringing back all of these characters would be a bit much. However, you'll see one of the above-listed heroes in action again in the next few months, how about that?

"Also, any chance we could see Black Knight or Scarlet Witch come back as full-time Avengers?"

Brevoort: The Black Knight is always a possibility. As for Wanda, it all depends on how the events of "Avengers: The Children's Crusade" shake out. Thanks, by the way, for the reception we've been getting on that series. I'm told that the first issue (as well as the first issue of "Avengers Prime") will be going back for a Third Printing, which is pretty amazing!

"And Finally, when is Victor Mancha ever going to meet his Grandpa (Pym)? Any chance it could happen in Avengers Academy?"

Brevoort: I wouldn't rule it out, but there aren't any plans for this to happen just yet.

But we've got some art from Tom Raney, who's drawing the return of Giant Man in December's issue of "Avengers Academy."

Have some questions for Marvel T&A? 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 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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