MARVEL T&A: Starting Points And Goblin Tats

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 discuss the challenge of making one and done comics that work for new readers as well as how Marvel's trade program stacks up in terms of perennial hits to bring in new readers, look inside upcoming major stories from "Osborn" to "Chaos War" and share their thoughts on your suggestions for the next Marvel centennial renumbering. Read on!

Kiel Phegley: Gents, since we last spoke, Halloween came and went. What did each of you dress as?

Tom Brevoort: I dressed as a grown man.

Axel Alonso: I wore a Samurai wig.

I figured with a young one in the house, you must have been doing something fun this weekend, Axel.

Alonso: My son was Perseus from "Clash of the Titans" - the remake, not the original. [Laughter]

Do you guys have a lot of the staff dressing up in the office, or because it fell on a weekend, did no one break out their Spider-Man underoos?

Brevoort: A number of people dressed up on Friday.

T to R: Marvel staffers Emma, Chris Baker, Will Corona, Shaun Avnet and Ryan Gallego

Alonso: Half our office is at the new place, so there weren't as many costumes as usual.

Brevoort: Yeah, there weren't as many as in years past because half the staff was uptown at the new address, but there were people walking around here in garb - a bunch of interns and some of the folks in the trade department.

Alonso: Joe's naughty nurse outfit definitely raised some eyebrows. [Laughter] Who would have thought he'd shave his legs? That's commitment. That's why he's the Chief!

Earlier this week, you guys spoke with the press about Marvel's "Point One" initiative featuring standalone, jumping on issues by most of the creative regular teams on the monthlies. You spoke there about the reasons for doing this kind of initiative, but as we don't often see today's creators doing "one and done" comics, I was wondering if there's been any challenges to shifting away from bigger, broader storylines to something more compact?

Alonso: Nope. All my writers were really excited by the prospect of writing a pared-down story with a beginning, middle and an end.

Brevoort: Yeah. I think this type of thinking is overblown in a sense where we're putting out books these days that are intended to be collected as trades. But even within those trades, there can be individual issues. A trade doesn't necessarily have to be a six-issue story. It can be a one and a five. It can be a two, a three and a one. It can be a four and two. Or what-have-you-it doesn't need to be limited to six issues, either. So most of our guys have a predilection for doing single-issue stories. People talk about Brian Bendis as one of the poster boys for what they call "decompression," but some of Brian's best issues over the years have been one-offs - and often one-offs within the larger context of a series run. When people talk about things like the "Ultimate Spider-Man" issue where Peter reveals his secret to Mary Jane - that's a single-issue story. And Brian does those very often in that book. Almost every time between an arc, he'll drop in a little one or two-parter that's a character-focused piece. He does the same with "Avengers," although not as frequently because it's a bigger cast.

So I think all of our writers understand and kind of relish the challenge of doing something that's 22-pages with a beginning, middle and end that is a new story connected to what's going on in the series that propels things forward and gives you some flavor for what that book is all about.

Alonso: With all the talk about how stories need to be "big," need to "count," perhaps that's influenced writers to always think in terms of bringing their biggest ideas to create the largest possible canvas. Come to think of it, most of the one-offs in series that I edit or supervise usually function as the second issue in a double ship or the pallete cleanser after a big story. It's food for thought.

Brevoort: You tend to do a lot of single-issue stuff just in terms of "Wolverine" one-shots or "Punisher" one-shots that are typically stories with a nice strong concept hook executed over 22 or 30 pages. That feels like something you like to do a lot, Axel, so it's hardly an alien thing to you.

This brought up an idea for me that we hear often, and that's of having a backlist that draws in new readers all the time. People cite as a feather in DC's cap these perennial books like "Watchmen" and "Dark Knight Returns" on through books like "Preacher," and the counter-argument says that Marvel doesn't have as many books in that camp for that market. Do you think that's a fair perception of how things are, and what are some of the books you consider that Marvel carries that have a long shelf life?

Brevoort: I think the perception that's there is slightly incorrect, and it has more to do with the specific nature of Vertigo and the kind of audience that that line has typically attracted, which is one of the reasons why people notice it. It's a real outreach line. But saying that we don't have a perennial back catalog that goes back years is a little bit absurd. It may not be of the same kind of pedigree that one associates with "Sandman." I wouldn't argue that at all. But you need to take a look at how many copies of "The Dark Phoenix Saga" we've sold over the years or how many "Daredevil Born Again" or "Secret Wars" or "Marvels" we've sold. These are all titles that have been in print in collected form going back to at least the early '90s if not the '80s and have sold copy upon copy upon copy. They tend to be downgraded because they're basically entertaining, strong, well put together superhero comics, whereas particularly as Vertigo was created and evolved, they kind of moved on to a more specific type of genre fiction that has the veneer of being more adult or more sophisticated than guys in costumes beating each other about the head.

So I don't know that we have as many - I haven't literally sat down and counted - but we have a decent back catalog of material that's been kept in print over the past 20 years that finds new audiences as people discover these characters. The people that saw "Iron Man" and went into the bookstore market read "Demon In A Bottle" - a story that was told in 1980 that's been in collected form at least since 1983 or 84. There's a reason that's such a perennial story and casts such a long shadow even today. When people talk about the Michelinie/Layton "Iron Man," part of the reason is that the story is so readily available.

Alonso: Marvel has plenty of perennials in its catalog. You mentioned "Preacher" earlier. I edited it - very proud of that - but in terms of pure craft, I think Garth's run on "Punisher MAX" measures up to it - he brought the same passion to Frank Castle as he did to Jesse Custer, said as much about the human condition in that series as anyone ever has in a comic book. Also, I'd put Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's "Ultimates" up against anything that's ever been published with a super hero in it - and I'm not just saying that because Mark paid me to say that any time I'm interviewed. [Laughter] And don't forget Peter Milligan and Mike Allred's "X-Force/X-Statix" - a hostile takeover of the X-Men paradigm that was first super hero comic book to get reviewed - glowingly - by the "New York Times Book Review," and the reason Marvel abandoned the Comics Code. Then there's Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona's "Runaways," one of the freshest high concepts in years, perfectly executed. And Bendis' "Daredevil" run. And Brubaker's Cap.

Brevoort: You can say the same things about "Ultimate Spider-Man." It's not quite as long-lived as some others - it's been around as long as something like "Y: The Last Man" - but it's ungodly the number of copies of that first collection that are out there in the world, and people continue to come to it. I expect that if they are going to be going back to a high school Peter Parker in the next film - I don't know that they are, I'm just reading the same reports everyone else is - then I imagine you're going to see more interest in that story again. So I think we have just as formidable a back catalog, though we have our emphasis in some slightly different places. We have no dearth of perennial comic stories that get sold year after year after year to old and new readers.

Are there occasions where you guys try to remove stories further from continuity and "big picture" stuff to make it more accessible for the book store market? I guess that's part of the goal of the Astonishing line.

Brevoort: I think for the book stores, you want to be more accessible, but that being said, there are stories we do that are steeped in the history of these characters. "One Moment In Time," that Joe Quesada just did with Paolo Rivera - that's a story that's really about the history of Spider-Man, and you kind of need an understanding of previous stories to get the full experience out of that. Even with that, though, we paid a tremendous amount of attention to making it so that if someone picked up those four issues without having read the previous 600 - or eventually when the hardcover comes out if they pick it up - they'll be able to get into the characters and understand what's going on. They may not understand every shading and nuance in the same way experienced, longtime readers will, but they've got a fighting chance of getting their entertainment value out of it. So even in the cases where we're doing these things that are aimed more at an established, more died-in-the-wool audience -

I think of even the "Chaos War" tie-ins such as "Dead Avengers" and "Dead X-Men" as being two really good examples, where those are books that really revolve around a bunch of characters who haven't been in print in almost two decades and where the people who really care about Banshee or the Swordsman are the hardcores - but the trick within the 22, 44 or 66 pages the creators have to tell their story is that if you don't know about Banshee or the Swordsman, make me care about them. Make me interested. Give me a good story about a hero back from the dead and faced with the conflict and crisis of that and how he or she reacts to that. These stories can and should do double duty.

I think there are a lot of comics - this is a point of view I've really come around to over the last ten years - there are a lot of comics that do a very good job of talking to old men like me who love comics. And that's fine. If you make a comic for me, I'll enjoy it, but it would be nice if a comic made for me could be as easily handed to somebody who's not as steeped in the stuff and they could get a similar entertainment experience out of it - not exactly the same, but similar. And so that's the kind of balance we strive to achieve. We don't always succeed, but we try.

Alonso: What Tom said. [Laughter]

Brevoort: The tattoo itself - not the temporary tattoo but the notion of the Goblin tattoo - came out of a conversation we had at one of the creative retreats. After "Siege" was done and after Norman was clearly behind bars, part of what the conversation revolved around was "What's going to happen next?" I don't want to say too much about that, but the question of what becomes of a guy who's been that huge and has fallen so far from where, at his height, he had a tremendous amount of popular support. He wasn't in that position because he seized power so much as he'd been the right man in the right place at the right time with the right point of view, and the world had elevated him to power. That power base wouldn't disintegrate or fall apart immediately, if at all. So the idea of the Goblin tattoos came out of that discussion. It's being followed up on in a significant way in "Amazing Spider-Man" and obviously in the "Osborn" series that Kelly Sue DeConnick is writing. You'll see more about them as the months go by, but it's hard to talk about it without anyone having seen either of those books yet. In terms of who exactly came up with it, I'm not certain...

Alonso: As I recall, we were work-shopping story when it came up, and I remember the context in which it was brought up.

We talk a lot about how you guys try to anticipate what folks want and occasionally lean off of bigger event stories, but it also feels like some of these threads continue to bubble under the surface with the creators whether it's the focus of the line or not. Do these more connective story elements force their way back in naturally in some sense?

Brevoort: We live with and think about these characters for months, if not years on end. So there are always going to be conversations about what happens next. When and where should a particular character resurface? What would be most interesting to do? These characters all take on a life of their own as they exist in our mindspace, and we talk these things out. And not every thought gets used. People have different ideas as they come into the room, and that sparks lively conversations where a piece from over here gets connected to a piece from over there. It's all a fairly organic process. Sometimes it's people running things in the background. Certainly Brian built the backstory of what became "Secret Invasion" in "New Avengers" over the course of a year or two. But once the conversation about what was coming started, it became readily apparent, despite the fact that it wasn't what he was thinking or what I was thinking, that this was going to end up becoming a bigger, line-wide. We had just been thinking about it as an Avengers story. That happens with a fair amount of regularity. We get excited about different ideas, and they monopolize the conversation for two, three or four hours until hopefully at the end we've got something that will equally excite the readership at large. It's all very organic.

Alonso: You live with these characters in your head 24/7. Take Moon Knight, for instance. You just know there's a commercial hook and/or creative team that could make that character an essential piece of the Marvel Universe - boom - someone like Bendis will give you his high concept, and that's it.

Or Dracula. Throughout the course of "Curse of the Mutants," I've been looking for the best landing pad for the next stage in the evolution of the character. I'd penciled in potential places for him to land, but didn't commit to any of them because I knew the perfect story would eventually reveal itself. And it did. Dracula's next move will further position him as a power broker in the Marvel Universe.

Alonso: Uh-uh. "Bye-bye, Moon Knight!" [Laughter] I love what Brian's going to do with the book.

Brevoort: I'm actually editing "Moon Knight" with Brian and Alex.

With that book still a bit off in the schedule, have you guys been trying to keep an extra tight lid on it to not get ahead of yourselves?

Brevoort: Yeah. Without talking about any of the specifics of "Moon Knight," the obvious analogy to draw is with a book I was an enormous fan of: Brian and Alex's "Daredevil." I think that was a superlative run. Obviously, Moon Knight is not the same character as Daredevil. He's going to be in a completely different place doing completely different things. He's got a different outlook on the world and his own demons that are different than the ones that drive Matt Murdock. But my hope and the hope of everyone here is to tap a little bit into the spirit and energy and anarchy that made their "Daredevil" run so exciting and enthralling on a month-to-month basis. We'll be able to tell you a little more about the specifics as we get closer, but I'm excited just to play with these guys and this character.

To wrap our part by coming a bit full circle, coming up next week we've got "Iron Man: The Rapture," which meets a lot of these goals for having a book that anyone can pick up. Axel, how did that series come together creatively, and was it any different for you to come on to a character like Iron Man who, unlike Spider-Man or Moon Knight, you haven't had a long connection to?

Alonso: First, let me say, I loves me some Iron Man. Long ago, I quipped that he's the only super hero who ever snorted #$@# off a #$%#@$'s back - and it was determined that I would never, ever, ever edit "Iron Man." [Brevoort Laughs] "Iron Man: The Rapture" is a Marvel Knights series that - like "Loki" or "Sub Mariner: The Depths" - plays with the mythology of the character. The basic high concept is: You're Tony Stark - billionaire playboy and certified genius. The world is yours. But you've got a bad ticker that almost kills you. So you take matters into your own hands - literally - and replace it - not doctors, you. And you discover that you feel better than ever. So you figure, Why stop there? That's when the problems start.

Moving on to some fan questions, we've got some stuff on number this week I wanted to pick your brains with. icemanjeff79 had two such questions, starting with, "In less than two years, we'll hit issue 21 of the current Wolverine series, which is the series 300th consecutive issue (189+74+16 of the first three ongoings brought us to 279 issues). Any chance for the 300th issue you'll restore the classic numbering and celebrate the anniversary like you did in the last few years for Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Iron Man and Thunderbolts?"

Alonso: It's like you read Jason Aaron's mind. Yes, that math is something we're keeping close track of.

And he follows with: "Similar question for the Punisher: an eventual (hopefully) issue 66 of the current Punisher/Franken-Castle will be the 300th issue of his main solo title (104+18+37+75+ the 12-issue maxiseries brought us to 234). Would you consider a restoring the classic numbering for Frank as well? I sure hope so!"

Alonso:My count is a bit different, but yes, we're aware of the math.

Brevoort: I think we'd consider the MAX series a separate title, not included in the main count at all.


KryptonSite has one that I'm almost loathe to include because I think if nothing else it'll be giving Axel more wacky Deadpool ideas when he asks, "On that note about the "retro-numbering," "Deadpool" has had some ridiculous numbering schemes, getting a #900, #1000, and don't get me started on Team-Up's backwards issue numbering... but with all that, was there any temptation to make issue #31 of the current series the big #100?"

Alonso:Absolutely not. We would never, ever, ever consider a cheap stunt like tha-

Wait, did you say number one-hundred?

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!

Tags: marvel comics, spider-man, axel alonso, tom brevoort, x-statix, chaos war, osborn, t&a

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