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 Editors Tom Brevoort and Axel Alonso for our regular 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 day-to-day 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. After last week's open pitch to fans regarding the prevalence and purpose of events -Â large or small -Â in the Marvel Universe and how it affects you the reader, the week T&A present and extra-lengthy, extra-meaty discussion of your ideas and their opinions. What counts as an event? What qualifies as too much? Will anyone read small stories anymore? All this and a follow up to recent questions around the Black Panther as well as a special EXCLUSIVE reveal of a vital piece of the Avengers franchise future lie ahead. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Gentlemen, last week Tom kicked out a discussion for everyone to chime in on focusing on the current state of Marvel events. There's a lot to cover here, but I thought the most interesting theme in the discussion on the whole was the difference between what folks considered an event or not. Tom had mentioned things like the new "Avengers" arcs and "Three" in "Fantastic Four" as part of all this, but the feeling that I got was that big events within the books felt differently than separate mini series and specials. How do you view that difference internally? Is there a difference at all between the formats from an editorial point of view?
Tom Brevoort: I think it depends on the individual story and also the creative and editorial team that's putting it together. We use a whole slew of different models so as to try and not do the same thing over and over again. "Chaos War" is an outgrowth of story material that Greg Pak and Fred VanLente and Mark Paniccia, their editor, have been building up to in "Hercules" and "Hulk" and a couple of other books for a while, so that ended up being best put forward as its own series with assorted tie-ins, both within exiting titles and as limited series and one-shots. "Second Coming" was a storyline the X-Books had built up to for between 18 months and two years, and that ran through the pages of most if not all of the core X-Titles over the course of three months, hopping from one book to the next - and again, with the occasional tie-in story here or there. "Siege" was a dedicated major event crossover, so it had a main book, "Embedded" and a million tie-ins. The current Kang storyline in "Avengers" could have been something bigger maybe, but instead we stuck to six issues of that one series, self-contained.
All of these stories are different, but all of them in their own way are events, and they all fall into this category where people talk about "You have too many events." They're all significant, they all have a lasting effect on the status quo of certain characters, and they all add to the buzz -Â and almost the static - that's out in the world. It's "All this crazy stuff is happening, and I don't know where to turn first!"
Axel Alonso: I can think of three examples of mini-events that all came about in very different ways. The current "Punishment" storyline, which runs through issues of "Dark Wolverine" and "Frankencastle," came about when Rick Remender reasoned that since Frank Castle had cut to ribbons by Daken in "Punisher: The List," he might want some payback. So we asked if ["Dark Wolverine" writers] Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu wanted to get involved in telling that story, and they did. And we ended up with a story that spanned both titles.
The "Curse of the Mutants" arc came together after I walked around the halls asking for a major villain to launch "X-Men" #1 and then realized he was hiding in plain sight: Dracula. I'd been working with Victor Gischler on "Death Of Dracula," and we decided to accelerate the time table to get Vlad back in play.
And the "Wolverine Goes To Hell" story line came about when Jason Aaron pitched his idea for "Wolverine" #1, and suggested that it might be big enough to have repercussions for Logan's progeny - X-23 and Daken.
One comment I saw a lot on the message boards and comment threads was the idea that, what seems overwhelming - whether it's something you can quantify every time or if it just seems that way looking at the shelves -Â is the idea that you've got branded events like "Chaos War" or "Curse of the Mutants" or "Shadowland" where there are all these support one-shots and tie-ins. It feels like a lot of product, and maybe what Tom was hearing back on in Baltimore was the idea that you had spoken about having no more major events. While none of these stories have taken over the whole Marvel U, the amount of books is still very high. How do you respond to that idea?
Brevoort: We definitely do our share of tie-in books, but the one thing I would stress right away would be -Â and we've done this fairly consistently throughout -Â that when we have a project that has a central title, we try to structure it in such a way that if you just read the central book you get a complete story. If you just read "Shadowland" #1 through 5, that's all you need to follow the spine of the story. It's complete in-and-of itself. That having been said, it's not like there aren't important or connective elements happening in the other "Shadowland" tie-in books if you want a wider or greater experience. But even within those, you can pick and choose. You can read "Blood On The Streets" but not "Power Man." Or you can read the "Daredevil" tie-in issues but not the "Thunderbolts" ones -Â or vice versa.
I think that the difficulty that fans may have is, really, in accepting that. For many of our fans deciding to opt-in to an event, whether it be "Curse of the Mutants" or "Chaos War" or "Shadowland" or whatever, there's this Pokemon "Gotta Have 'Em All" feeling where "If I want to get into this story, I have to buy every single last piece of it." That's not necessarily the case. Certainly when people do that, we love it - assuming that they like the books and the stories they're getting. We don't actually want anybody to buy comics they don't like or don't want because they feel, "If I don't read these two issues of 'Thunderbolts' I won't understand 'Shadowland.'" That's not how we construct these things.
So I can understand where, if you're looking on a retailer's shelf or thumbing through the Previews catalog, you'll go "Oh my God, there's a checklist for 'Shadowland!' There's a checklist for 'Chaos War!'" But that's really all about "Here are these books that are connected to the central spine of the story," like with 'Siege' or 'Secret Invasion' or 'Civil War'. With all these events, we really do strive to illustrate that if you're only buying the core title -Â "Chaos War" 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 or "Shadowland" 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 -Â you've got a beginning, middle and end. You can understand it all and enjoy it all, and from there everything else is additive. "I wonder what the Fantastic Four are doing in this event. What's Iron Man's take on this? That new Power Man sure looks interesting" -Â whatever the case may be. People can pick and choose and be selective. It's not all-or-nothing; I don't think we build events that way.
I think some of this is that we get tarred with the same brush as our competition. I really don't want to make this seem like a slam at them, but certainly the last two events they did, "Blackest Night" and "Final Crisis", seemed to have fairly central components of their core story taking place in comics that were not the central title. "Final Crisis" had the "Superman Beyond" chapters that were absolutely essential to figuring out what was going on at the end of that series. And "Blackest Night" had crucial plot elements being revealed in "Green Lantern." And this isn't a "Right or Wrong" thing. It's just a different approach. That's how they chose to set them up. That's just not how we tend to do things over here. But I think the readers see that and have the same concern about our events: "If I buy into 'Shadowland' I'm going to get three chapters in and be forced to buy 'Daredevil' To understand the ending."
Like I said, I can understand the shelf-shock of seeing a looming wall of titles bannered with whatever the event happens to be, but if we and our assorted editor colleagues do our jobs right, you can select what secondary points you want to get involved with and pick and chose amongst all these myriad tie-ins.
Alonso: Well, with "Curse of the Mutants," you're looking at a self-contained mini-event, the core story of which can be found in "X-Men" #1 through 6. You can read those six issues and have a full reading experience. That said, if you want to know little things like how Dracula was killed and by whom, you can go read the "Death of Dracula" one-shot. And if you'd like to find out how Dracula's head and body were recovered so the X-Men could put Humpty Dumpty back together again, you can read the two stories that tell those stories: "X-Men Curse of the Mutants: Namor The First Mutant" #1 for the head, and the one-shot "X-Men Curse of the Mutants: Storm And Gambit" #1 for the body. Are these complementary stories or essential stories? Well, you don't have to read them to get a full story in "X-Men" #1-6, but they definitely add to the reading experience if you do. So if you're interested in the concept of mutants vs. vampires, what we're offering up is a 6- to 9-issue commitment. Also, don't forget that there are plenty of fans of Blade or Namor out there who are dying to see these characters back in action.
Brevoort: It's no great surprise that there are a lot more eyeballs on us when we have a big story going on, so we will take advantage of that to try and position the characters or elements of our universe that we want to bring to greater prominence. It makes more sense to do it at that time than just to put out a Blade book randomly that might be excellent but is still more difficult to get both retailers and fans to take seriously and allocate their time and money to. And I can't think of a more natural touchpoint than "mutants vs. vampires" to put Blade back on the map in a major way that may thereafter may make the character more interesting and relevant to the readership, and allow us to do more things with him down the line.
One of the standout comments that came through was from a fan who goes by Brian From Canada, and he talked about how there's often a disconnect for readers when it comes to the hype. Fans can hear "You only need the main book to get the full story" at the same time as we're awash with previews and announcements and images telling them "This will change things forever!" It certainly feels like those things are essential even when the stories might not be built to make them essential for comprehension. Do you feel that can be an issue?
Brevoort: There are a lot of comic books being published every month, and there's a lot of static -Â a lot of white noise. But it's sort of a Marvel hallmark going back to the days of Stan Lee, where Stan would not put two blurbs on a cover telling you how great that issue was if he could fit in three. [Laughter] It's not exactly the best marketing tool we have to go out there and say "Here's this tie-in to 'Shadowland' that is absolutely inessential and you don't have to buy it!" That is the opposite of how we tend to present these things. Some of what we do is hype and hyperbole, but a lot of it is legitimate excitement for the work our creators are doing on all of these titles. And we can't expect the readers to get excited if we ourselves are not excited by the books we're putting out. From our point of view, every one is an essential read without which your life will not be complete.
So I can certainly understand readers looking at this and going, "I don't know where to start! I'm paralyzed! There are too many choices!" I don't entirely know how to fix that, because it's not like we're not going to promote our books to the fullest. We're never going to go out there and say, "This is an all right series that some people might be vaguely interested in." That's the surest way to erode confidence in everybody, including the creators who put a lot of mental and physical elbow grease into getting that book out and making it as good as it can be. I'm not entirely sure how to separate the wheat from the chaff beyond each individual reader's own tastes and instincts as to what appeals to them and what doesn't.
Alonso: I agree with everything Tom said, but also bottom line: When I put out something like "Curse of the Mutants," my primary responsibility is that you get something satisfying from the experience of reading the core series - found in "X-Men" #1-6. And if you like it and want to read more, that there will be tie-ins that enrich your reading experience. If you're a Blade fan, there's an opportunity for you to see your guy back in action. If you're a Namor fan, you can see him throwing punches and getting involved in the Marvel U. There's no way any editor is going to brand a book as non-essential. That's just not the way the game is played. [Laughs]
It feels like part of the trend these days is that there are fewer places where one creative team comes on a book and tells stories with that character only in that book for two, three, four years at a time. Instead, for a lot of these characters the going rate is that, like with Hercules, books will get launched, moved into miniseries, relaunched again and then end up as an event. As editors, do you feel the books are functioning differently in a story sense because some of these things are more fractured as you sit down with creators to craft the stories?
Brevoort: I think that depends entirely on which creators you're talking about. It's very easy to point fingers at this guy or that guy who wasn't around for six issues, but a lot of the creators I work with -Â Ed Brubaker has been on "Captain America" for years. Brian Bendis has been on multiple Avengers titles even longer, and on "Ultimate Spider-Man" far longer. We're going into "Three" on "Fantastic Four," and Jonathan Hickman walked in on issue #570 with a plan for thirty issues of material. It's case by case. There are guys who do shorter runs and guys who do longer runs, and honestly I think we're in a world where readers don't tend to appreciate the longer runs as much-at least in terms of showing their support with their wallet. Daniel Way can do 50 issues of "Wolverine Origins" and nobody takes notice of the fact that he was there every month putting that book out and building this super-story around Daken and Romulus and the Weapon X program.
I think that we're now in a culture that moves faster and wants the excitement now, now, now! And that's honestly why there ends up being this much emphasis on event story telling. "What's the event? What's the next big thing?" Doing an issue that's just a regular issue of "Iron Man" where he has a fight, you find out things about his character, he faces a new foe and there are some personal complications -Â we put those issues out, and what we hear back from the constituency is, "That was filler. That was just marking time until the important stuff happens." It's a different mindset we're facing in the world today, and that means that just as the world has accelerated and the taste of our readers has accelerated, the way we tell stories must accelerate as well. That's not to say we can't do a perfectly nice issue of "Iron Man." It's just got to be contextualized in such a way that you understand how it fits into the greater whole. Maybe now that story is just one chapter of "Iron Man: Resilient," and it's a stepping stone in the road that will bring you to the explosive climax happening in issue #33 in December when "Resilient" wraps up.
It's a very different world from the days when Axel or I would go down to the corner store and buy a random issue of "Marvel Team-Up" because it starred Spider-Man and Valkyrie. "Oh, Valkyrie's cool! Who are they fighting?" It's just a different world now.
To wrap this phase of the discussion, there was also a thread of people saying "We'd like to see more stories like the recent 'Hawkeye & Mockingbird'/'Black Widow' story arc 'Widow Maker' where it's two books having characters crossover." There does seem a desire for more old school "crossovers" like that. What are you looking for in terms of suggestions from fans that you can take back and work with? Is it as simple as formats like that which they'd want more often?
Brevoort: Honestly, it's really just taking the temperature of the readership as a whole. Any individual reader will tell you exactly what they feel about stuff. It they're an enormous fan of Quasar, then the big problem is that we're not publishing enough Quasar comics. Cast widely enough, and you can begin to discern larger patterns. If you're talking about a few thousand readers or 10,000 readers and they have a consensus, that's information that you can do something with. Really, I don't have a specific goal where I expect somebody to walk in and put a lightbulb over my head. We're generally pretty good at what we do. But we can always be better informed, so we make better choices. So this is about finding out what the takeaway people have from what we've been doing recently, both in terms of the actual content of the stories we've been creating and the marketing and promotion of them - and then understanding what that takeaway means so we can make our future endeavors a little better at getting the message across that we want to project.
I'm sure we'll do more little two-book or three-book crossovers like "Frankencastle/Dark Wolverine" and the Hawkeye/Mockingbird/Black Widow one you mentioned, but by the same token, we're doing A LOT of different things. Part of the reason I asked that question is because I feel readers took the wrong message away from what we were saying a year or nine months ago. "Siege" was the last enormous, massive, line-wide crossover we've planned...and even that compared to "Secret Invasion" was much more Avengers centric than earlier crossovers, more focused on that family of titles. And at that time, we said that that was going to be the last line-wide event we did for a while, that we were going to be cutting back and endeavoring to make each individual book or line of books its own event. Since then, "Shadowland" has been pretty well confined to the street-level characters and titles. "Chaos War" is confined to a fairly concise block of books mostly in Mark Paniccia's hands and some things we haven't been publishing for a while - "Alpha Flight" and so forth. And "Curse of the Mutants" is pretty contained to the X-World and titles within that world. "Wolverine Goes To Hell" is three titles.
I think people are somehow losing sight of the actual message amongst the chafe of so many things going on. I look at all those events, and to me they're very different from a "Secret Invasion" or a "Civil War" in that they're much more contained. They're smaller. The fact is that there are more of them because we have things going on everywhere - including in "Avengers" #1 through 6 and "Fantastic Four: Three" and stories with only a single book to their name. So I'm trying to get a sense as to what people are feeling. The impression I got was "You guys lied to us! You're not doing fewer events, you're doing more events!" My response to that would be that we're doing precisely what we said we would. "Shadowland" is not "Siege" is not "Secret Invasion." These events are smaller and tighter, and you as a reader will have an easier time deciding whether you want to jump on board that train or not. And if you do, the buy-in will be lighter. But if we're not getting that message across effectively or if we're creating other problems, we want to figure out what they are and change our approach. That's all I was looking for, and I'm happy to get the feedback from everybody.
Alonso: Right now I'm working on a number of small, self-contained projects that don't tie into anything: Jason Aaron's "PunisherMAX," Robert Rodi and Simone Bianchi's "Thor: For Asgard," Jonathan Maberry and Goran Parlov's "Marvel Universe Vs. The Punisher," Ron Zimmerman and Howard Chaykin's "Rawhide Kid: The Sensational Seven." There are probably dozens more. Yes, there are things like "Curse of the Mutants," which is an event that takes place within the microcosm of the X-Men world and doesn't have ramifications for Iron Man or Thor or Rawhide Kid or Hit-Monkey -Â I can't believe I forgot "Hit-Monkey!" [Brevoort Laughs] So we're not only going to "slam dunk" books or series that require you to have a PhD in current Marvel continuity.
Someone had said to me -Â and I know that there were a lot of in-series tie-ins for "Siege" with "Dark Avengers" on down playing a role -Â but someone pointed out to me that with "Siege" there were maybe 15 or 16 comics specific to that event, and with "Shadowland" there are 25 or 26. I think the biggest part of this may be just an issue of metrics and perception, and part of that is on people with my job to help readers be informed about what role each series plays there rather than let the whole of the publishing line overtake the issue.
Brevoort: Yeah, but that's really because the bulk of the "Siege" tie-ins were done in the actual ongoing books, whereas "Shadowland" has more tie-ins that are separate limited series. If you're counting "Thor" tie-ins to "Siege" and "Avengers" tie-ins, there were far more books than just those called "Siege" or "Siege: Embedded" We had tie-in issues of "New," "Dark" and "Mighty Avengers" along with "Avengers: The Initiative" and right there is 16 tie-in comics. So some of it, as you say, is perception.
When you're talking about the street level characters, there are relatively few of them that have ongoing titles, but fans are interested in a number of those characters, seeing Shang-Chi back in the Marvel Universe again and so forth. So if we've got a story, we're absolutely going to use the Shadowland name to help leverage against and get people to read a Spider-Man/Shang-Chi story. It's a lot easier to do than to just throw out a "Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu" series and hope the audience comes. It depends on what weight that banner has. In the case of "Chaos War," they're doing a lot of books around one of the conceits of that story, which is "dead characters." There is no "Alpha Flight" series right now, so "Chaos War: Alpha Flight" has to kind of fold under that Chaos War umbrella. There are fewer "Chaos War" tie-ins in ongoing titles -Â "Incredible Hulks" and some others - but we've got "Chaos War: Ares" because Ares doesn't have a title, but he clearly has a role to play in the story.
Again, no two of these events are built exactly the same, and consequently whatever we learn from what we're doing now, nine months from now we'll be doing something else wrong because whatever corrections we've made will set something off in some other place.
Alonso: It's great when you get an e-mail saying, "Thank you, thank you, thank you for bringing back Master of Kung Fu or Deathlok." There are lots of people out there who geek out over a certain character and who can't wait to see them in action again. Take, for instance, "Ghost Rider." I edited that character for a number of years, so I know the challenges on floating a "Ghost Rider" monthly, but there are hardcore Ghost Rider fans out there - folks who love him enough to get him tattooed on their backs - so it's nice to feed their hunger whenever you can. What better place to get him back on the bike than something like "Shadowland." Contrary to what some might think, we're not cynical - we don't forget that people love their characters, and we like giving them their characters.