Marvel T&A: San Diego Surprises

If it's Friday, it must be time to end 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 Editor Tom Brevoort while his partner in comics Axel Alonso travels America - the feature we like to call MARVEL T&A! An outspoken voice in the comic industry, Brevoort has plenty to share on his own including details on the ins and outs of comics creation at the House of Ideas!

Each Friday, in addition to our regular Cup O' Joe installments, CBR will present a new interview with the T&A duo covering everything Marvel Comics, and this week we're diving into some of the surprising news out of San Diego from Marvel's announcement of the return of CrossGen properties to the new plans for Jeph Loeb and his signature Marvel anti-hero in the Avengers franchise.

Kiel Phegley: Well, Tom. Here we are in another week where Axel's off in La-La Land, and you're still holding down the fort.

Tom Brevoort: Axel is completely lackadaisical! You get him to the West Coast, and there's just no prying him back.

At least we've got a lot of Marvel news that hit, and while CBR covered a lot of it, there were some things that seemed to creep up on the panels and catch us all by surprise a bit: primary amongst all that may be the news that Marvel will be working with the CrossGen properties. At what point since the Disney buyout did discussions of using those characters begin?

It came up very early. The initial conversations were had between Dan Buckley and whomever the appropriate person was in the Disney organization as all of the meet-and-greets were going on. But from the moment that Disney stepped up even to say that they were looking to buy Marvel, we thought about their catalogue of characters and all the properties they had - what would be useful and appropriate to our medium. We realized very early on that they had purchased the CrossGen catalogue, and there were decent properties and decent ideas in that line of books. It was a whole line of titles where even if not every single one was a shining gem, if there were two or three in there that we thought had merit - and in fact there are far, far more when you study it -then this would be a good way for us to build synergy between Marvel and the parent Disney. They bought all of these properties and had not done much publicly with them since that time. So here's a case where clearly our specialty beyond media in general is publishing comics, and being able to take these concepts, put them through our Marvel lens and use our Marvel brains on them to distill them down to their core ideas so we can put them back out into the marketplace and find new and lasting value in any number of ways - that's an interesting and exciting challenge.

Pretty much all of the CrossGen properties are not the kinds of things that we typically do. That is to say, they didn't publish anything that was a traditional super hero until the very, very end where they dabbled a little bit. Everything they did was "genre publishing" whether it was fantasy or science fiction or super-spy or western or barbarian or whatever. They did a wide range of material, not the kind of thing that Marvel has never done - but it's not what we typically do. So this also gives us the potential to try some different genres and to scratch an itch that people in our editorial group and amongst our creators may have had. It's an exciting possibility, and we don't know if these things are going to be incredibly successful or just mediumly successful or the biggest waste of time we've ever taken on. Hopefully not the latter, but you never know. But it's fun to have a whole toybox of new toys to play with on top of everything else in the Marvel line.

I've got to say that, even though people had been speculating this for months since the Disney deal, when I heard that this would finally happen and absorbed the idea of you guys taking a formerly popular line of comics and bringing them into your publishing line, my first thought was, "Gee, that sounds like a DC announcement."

[Laughs] Absolutely. Though I think the difference - and two years from now we'll come back and you'll throw this quote in my face, and I'll go "Well, that was then and this is now" - but I think the difference is that typically, not entirely, but typically, when DC has done this sort of thing, they've bought a line of characters or books and have tried to integrate them into their existing cosmos. So suddenly, there's Blue Beetle showing up and going, "Hey! I'm Blue Beetle, and I've been a member of the DC Universe for a very long time!" And the same with the Fawcett characters. And the same with the Quality characters like the Freedom Fighters. And the same more recently with stuff like the Milestone characters, and the Archie/Mighty Comics characters that they just took a stab at. The difference with how we're approaching it in the case of CrossGen - and it might be different if we were talking about a different slate of books or characters - is that we understand that the CrossGen characters are genre publishing and so they don't necessarily have to intersect with the Marvel Universe. There's no reason they couldn't, if the right story was there or if we chose to build them that way. But our approach going into this is to build the best new properties that we can, set apart from the Marvel Universe - to let this be its own imprint and its own thing and not try to mix it up too much with what we do on a regular basis. That could be the death of it. But hopefully it'll allow us to stretch some muscles and try some approaches that we don't typically get to do because everything is so connected and cross-pollinated into this one super hero aesthetic that we have.

It's kind of similar to what MAX has let us do and what Marvel Knights has let us do, but even more focused because it's so wholly unconnected. It's a natural outgrowth of what these books were in the first place. While they had their own mythos that tied them together in some loose fashion that never entirely got explored, none of them were connected in any way to anything like the Marvel Universe. And so there's an opportunity to let these things be what they are or what they could have been all along without having to necessarily figure out, "Gee, how does 'Scion' fit into the Marvel Universe? How does that sit against the Shi'ar Empire or the history of Atlantis years ago?" They'll get to be separate, and we'll be able to develop them as an entity unto themselves.

In the past few years at Marvel, specifically under Dan Buckley, you guys have made a few attempts at building out what Marvel publishing is known for, from the Stephen King stuff to the literary adaptations to the Dabel books. What's the challenge for editorial in trying to make those projects work, and is there a major difference in how you do that than with something like MAX?

I think the challenges are - and I think they're the same for every publisher out there, particularly in the Direct Market - getting enough critical mass and enough buy-in from retailers and readers that what you're doing is serious and will be lasting and worthy of attention. That whole picture starts to change once you open up things like digital distribution - the Marvel App and so forth. The possibility of exposure to a wider, more mainstream audience is there. The difficulty that most of the mainstream publishers have faced over the last couple of decades is that the Direct Market and the audience that goes into the comic shop every week tend as a group - not every single person within it - but tend as a group to want a certain thing.

You can see that for all that Vertigo has strong sales and sell-through as a bookstore publisher and as a collected edition publisher, the numbers on their serial individual comics are fairly miserable. And I think that's because the real audience for that sort of material is one that they've found a way to tap into through bookstore chains, and really the Direct Market is there to help underwrite the cost of putting together that book edition where the actual money is made. I think that's always been a problem with anything that is not a super hero book or directly connected to the interconnected superhero universe of whatever the company is. Like I said, now that we're moving into the 21st Century and the horizons are opening up with this new digital platform...I think it's much easier to try something that's a little more removed from the norm and not necessarily have to have it live or die just by the Direct Market numbers and what that very specialized audience and marketplace has an interest in and can absorb.

Certainly, there are exceptions for any number of publishers. "Scott Pilgrim" this past week - what an enormous thing! Monday night openings at midnight and people selling out. Some of that is the timing with the film being on the horizon and being in people's consciousness. But even beyond that, people have lived through five volumes of this series and are dying to get their hands on the sixth and the last. Yes, that sold well through the Direct Market, but it also went to outside bookstores and a wider audience than our market typically services. Really, I think the trick of it is that you're getting people to buy into the idea of what we're doing and the merit of it to the point where they'll support it long enough for it to catch fire and become successful.

With the CrossGen properties, we're leveraging a little bit of goodwill that was left behind by the publication of those series. People remember those books, and in general our fans seem to remember them fondly, [though]  not every one and not consistently. I think if you polled ten Marvel fans about their favorite CrossGen title, you'll probably get ten different answers. But there's generally a good feeling about those properties as a whole, and so hopefully that'll give us a slight leg up in trying to develop them because it brings a curiosity: "What will Marvel do with 'Ruse'? What will Marvel do with 'Way of the Rat'? How will this be different or the same? Will they destroy my childhood or save it?" That's a very valuable thing to have going into our core marketplace of the Direct Market. It means more people will be interested and will want to check it out.

Shifting to the Marvel Universe, word broke that Brian Bendis will be bringing the Red Hulk character into the "Avengers" title in the months ahead as a team member. This stood out to me in terms of how you manage this stuff, because the Hulk line over the past few years under Greg Pak and Jeph Loeb has grown into its own thing, kind of aside from some of the other series, but also, if you look in general at Marvel history, the Hulk character and concept has kind of sustained itself as being the thing that doesn't always play well with others. Even though the Avengers at its core is "all the big names in one spot," Hulk's never been much of a team player. With this new character in "Avengers" are we starting to see that pendulum swing back towards the Marvel U a bit?

There tend to be periods where certain books kind of go off and do their own thing, and then eventually kind of braid back into the spine of whatever's going on in the Marvel Universe. Certainly over the last two years or so, Hulk and the various Hulk titles have been off doing their own thing, and it feels in some intangible way that it's time to bring the Hulk back towards the center of the Marvel Universe.

Everything that you're saying in terms of the Hulk is correct and accurate, but the caveat I'd put on it is that we're not dealing with the traditional Hulk in this case. We're dealing with the Red Hulk, who is a different character, who will be motivated by different things and be in a different place by the end of the current "World War Hulks" arc and by the end of the following arc Jeff Parker is writing on "Hulk." Hopefully, he'll be an interesting addition to the Avengers that'll be just as volatile, but in different ways than the Bruce Banner Hulk was, and who will create interesting friction and an interesting dynamic amongst all the characters in that book. On top of everything else, for all that people have sworn up and down about him or disparaged him, this is a character that's gotten a ton of attention and gotten a lot of people emotionally invested - even if that emotion is pure, unbridled hate. [Laughs] We'd like to harness that emotion. Any character that's gotten that kind of a reaction is intrinsically valuable to us, and as you say, in the Avengers line as a whole, they're pretty much the central trading post of the Marvel Universe. Stuff from all the rest of the Marvel publishing line will congregate and pass through the Avengers books in one way, shape or form. So it feels like time for the Hulk, who's been off for a little while, to come back home and be a little more connected with everything else that's going on.

And the real story here is that Jeph and Brian had a conversation at one of our retreats, off to the side, and Jeph said, "I'm going to be finishing my arc on 'Hulk' and I'm going to leave the Red Hulk here" and Brian said, "That's interesting. I'd like to do stuff with that." So they pitched it back out to the rest of the group, and everyone said, "Sounds neat. Let's do that." That's typically how stories tend to evolve over here. It wasn't a case of us sitting and going "What are we going to do with Red Hulk now?" It was a natural outgrowth of two guys talking about their plans and finding that there was a natural touch point where a character could segue from one place to another place and have some added value across the boards.

The other announcement on that front that works in the opposite way is the fact that Loeb and Ed McGuinness will be doing an "Avengers 3" miniseries. That seems to fall in line with the Astonishing idea you've built out lately where creators who are taxed on time can create stories outside the monthly grind, and with Loeb on the TV job now that's as good a reason as one can think of to give him a book that stands alone. Are you looking at those initial Astonishing books that have hit as proof positive that the model will continue to work in other circumstances?

We've always said that we're going to continue to pursue projects of an Astonishing type moving ahead. Not every single one of those will be called Astonishing -- I'd argue that "Avengers Prime" is another good example of this, largely because it's coming out bi-monthly. The engine that makes any of the Astonishing projects go is the idea that excellent talent make for stories that people want to read. I don't think anybody except for the most bent out of shape fans in the world can look at the equation of Jeph Loeb plus Ed McGuinness plus Cap plus Thor plus Iron Man and not have an interest in reading that story.

As you say, there are realities. Jeph is heading up a major division for Marvel, and I have a feeling that not even he's going to know what that'll do to his day-to-day time for weeks if not months yet - particularly if it takes off as everybody hopes it will. That's going to be a little more limiting in terms of just how many hours he has to devote to writing comic book projects. Putting him on something like this that's not on such a tight schedule, that allows him some breathing room and yet pairs him with an artist that he's clearly very fond of and works very well with to produce a story that hopefully a lot of people will be interested in - that seems a win no matter how you slice it. We could pretend and play the confidence game of, "Oh yeah, we started early. Don't worry because it's ALL going to come out on time and it'll be monthly." But it seems more sensible all around to say "These are the circumstances. These are the creators. We know we won't be able to hit a monthly deadline or exactly that. Let's try and schedule it slightly more intelligently, and in the end it'll be a good series and a good collected edition that'll sit on a shelf as a hardcover forever." I don't see a lot of drawbacks in that. I think it would be a problem if every single book in the line was like that, but so long as we maintain the bedrock that is our ongoing monthlies - this will just be additive. This will be a cool Avengers story that Jeph and Ed tell that people will enjoy and get into and will count down on the last few days of that two months until the next issue comes out.

We've talked about how you've wanted to control the growth of the Avengers line in a story specific way, so from a story standpoint, what is this title's reason for coming about right now?

Honestly, it's hard to say without talking about the actual story. All I can really say at this point is that Jeph had an idea for a story, and he and Ed got very excited about it. It's the two of them doing Cap, Thor and Iron Man in a story that's fairly central to a particular element of the Cap/Thor/Iron Man mythos that seems to make sense for it and is interesting. And that's really all I needed hear to say, "Okay! Go off and make a book." It's also a little different for something like this because it's a limited series. It's not another Avengers ongoing. With the Avengers ongoings, as you say, I tend to be very conservative about not wanting to go to that well too deeply and stretch things beyond the natural bounds, but I'm a little more liberal when it comes to a limited series. With those, they're bottle stories. They have a beginning, middle and end. They happen and then go away. As long as you're not doing too many of those one on top of the next, you're perfectly fine. It didn't hurt anything in the world that "Avengers: The Origin" was coming out. People that liked it had a good time and enjoyed it, and people that didn't don't even think about there being another Avengers title out for five months. The same kind of things is true of "Avengers Prime" though that's a little different because Brian is writing it and it dovetails with the end of the "New Avengers" era and the start of the "Heroic Age" era. But again, it sits by itself, comes out at its own pace and if you choose not to pay attention to it - well, you're a fool, but at least it's not another monthly! There are always going to be projects that operate that way, and it's not the same kind of commitment that it is to build an entirely new Avengers book out of whole cloth.

Clearly there's been a lot of chatter over the idea of "Cosmic Avengers" since we released that teaser from "Thanos Imperative," and in that case, if we were going to do an ongoing series around a Cosmic Avengers, I would need a very good reason for why that book exists and what defines it and makes it different from all of the other books that we have. And yet, we'd have to make it an Avengers book and not a Starmasters book or a "guys in space" book. With a limited series, all I need is a good story. That's always worth doing.

Finally for me this week, I wanted to pick your brain on Comic-Con from a movie standpoint because there's certainly a lot of Avengers news on that front. Is that something you've been privy to, or are you looking online for pictures of Cap's shield like everyone else who wasn't at the show?

I think it depends on who you're talking about. Joe and Dan are intimately involved and are out on the West Coast on a week-by-week basis. So they're far more plugged into everything that happens with all the films and the animation and other media operations than the rank and file in editorial. I hadn't seen the Cap shield until people took photos of it in the booth. I assumed that it was going to look like Cap's shield, and there is was, and it did! [Laughs] So for the most part I get to see a lot of this stuff and I think Axel gets to see a lot of this stuff at the same time as the fans - except in instances where it might connect to characters that we're working on or things where there might be a need for us to consult or contribute on something. I tend to think I'll see more Captain America stuff because I'm directly editing the "Captain America" monthly, than I would on "Thor," which is under my domain but is directly edited by Ralph Macchio. Ralph's been out to the set and has a cameo in the film, so he's probably much more up on the look and feel of that more than most of us.

Marvel Studios did arrange a special screening of all of the footage they showed in their San Diego presentations for the staff this past week, which was awesome, and is always greatly appreciated, so thanks to Kevin Feige and his team for that..

I'm sort of sad that I missed the moment - and that panel was apparently righteously attended, and a crime scene - but that moment where they brought everyone out and said, "Here they are. The Avengers for the first time!" Reading the after the fact transcripts and the live blogs and seeing the photos and all, that's a pretty cool moment from afar, but I kind of wish I had been there to see that happen because I've been so much a part of the Avengers for so long.

Digging into the fan questions for this week, I've got one from question asker supreme Spidey616 who wonders, "Now that Dan Slott is writing Spidey solo do the other Web Heads writers have any other upcoming projects specifically Joe Kelly?"

Buried in a shallow grave, they'll all be. And good riddance!

No, you'll be seeing more from the various members of the Spider-Man Web-Heads in the months to come, both in projects we've announced such as the just-announced "Captain America: Man Out of Time" limited series that Mark Waid is writing, or the "Power Man And Iron Fist" project that Fred Van Lente is doing, or the "Carnage" story that Zeb Wells is putting together, as well as a couple of other things that haven't been unveiled yet. As for Joe Kelly in particular, here's what Spidey editor Steve Wacker had to say:

Steve Wacker: Joe has a story in ASM #647, and also has some worked lined up in Marvel Animation with the rest of his Man of Action crew.  Beyond that we're talking but Joe has a pretty hectic schedule. When there's something solid to report, you'll hear me crowing.

I would be interested to hear what the fans think he should be working on next.

Thanks, Steve! IllegalPAP asked, "I was just catching up on some reading I had been putting off for volunteer work, and I got through the Atlas v Thunderbolts issues. I want to know if you guys have Miguel Sepulveda on tap for some more MU work. I really liked his art and was hoping to see it on some other main Marvel titles. Please tell me this is happening."

Brevoort: Glad you enjoyed it, PAP! Probably the best person to respond to your question is "Thunderbolts" and Cosmic editor Bill Rosemann:

Bill Rosemann: Superstar-in-the-making Miguel Sepulveda is currently drawing "The Thanos Imperative" #4. And if he survives the wrath of Thanos, he'll soon be working on more big projects!

Radical, Bill! Next up is thepowell who wanted to know "I have a Marvel Cosmic question for you, regarding my favorite super hero. When are we next going to be seeing more of Darkhawk, or at least the Fraternity of Raptors? We saw them running around all over the place during 'Realm of Kings,' but with DH going out of commission in the lead-in to 'Thanos Imperative,' us Hawk-fans are getting concerned that DnA might not have any further use of him. Can we expect to see him - or at least his evil 'brothers' - any time soon? Thanks!

Brevoort: Sounds like another good question to kick over to Bill Rosemann:

Wacker: Off-panel death. Sorry, Danny.

Brevoort: Sorry, that was Wacker again.

Rosemann: Darkhawk was last seen in the pages of "Nova" #36, where, in the course of defending Project: Pegasus, he suffered serious injuries - including having his mysterious amulet embedded into his chest! Will he rise again and once again hunt down the cosmic assassins that make up the evil Raptor brotherhood? And will he ever prove that he didn't assassinate the former Shi'Ar Majestrix Lilandra? Look to the stars!

Finally, I've got one from B. Kuwanger for Tom, asking "When a character like Namorita is brought back, and a character like Namor gets his own ongoing or Namora gets a spot in a team book, is there space automatically given to writers like Jeff Parker or Stuart Moore for input or character use? I remember a one-shot where Quicksilver came back and looked like he was going to appear in X-Factor, but then time went by and he ended up in Avengers, instead. Was there some sort of priority issue there?"

Brevoort: Well, B., all of the characters within the Marvel Universe exist in a shared space, which means that, in theory, any character can turn up anywhere. But by that same token, most characters tend to have a "home title" or at least a "home office" in which their activities are typically centralized. Sometimes characters will migrate from one "home office" to another - Namor is a good example of this, as he's now appearing regularly in "X-Men," so it makes sense that his activities are all coordinated through the X-Office. But every writer who's using a character gets some say in how they're depicted. And in the case of extension characters such as Namora, she doesn't necessarily fall under the same jurisdiction as Namor does. (I think her "home title" would tend to be "Atlas".) In Quicksilver's case, for a time following "House Of M" and the "Son Of M" follow-up, he was a regular part of "X-Factor," not just in that special, he was in the series for a year or more before that. But eventually, it made sense to bring him back to "Avengers," especially as he's got strong historical ties there.

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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