When it's time to make the big decisions on the nuts and bolts creation of Marvel Comics, people have to Talk to the Hat.
An outstanding industry vet and fashion forward editor, Marvel SVP of Publishing Tom Brevoort is back on CBR News for Marvel's TALK TO THE HAT. Our latest weekly look inside the minds at Marvel spotlights Tom along with his signature pork pie and loads of comics news, views and discussion. Anchored by regular question and answer rounds with the denizens of the CBR Message Boards, each week Brevoort will shake things up with special guest stars, exclusive art reveals and new interactive features.
This week, Tom carved out some time to talk directly to the readers with an all fan question column! Read on below as the editor extraordinaire reveals some of the key modern day action that will drive "Fear Itself" as well as the role classic Marvel characters will play in the incoming event, speaks to the challenge of crafting a killer tam book and takes a readers thoughts on directions for the Avengers line head on. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Tom, with C2E2 about to be in full swing as this column goes live, and I assume a ton of Marvel news hitting the web over the weekend, what better time is there to go to the well for some simmering fan questions? Let's start this week out with queries related to the "Fear Itself" event, beginning with board member West who asked, "Will Fear Itself reference previously established fears of the Marvel superheros? Like the Hulk's fear of becoming the Maestro, for example."
Brevoort: I think we've perhaps given you something of the wrong impression about "Fear Itself," West. I actually spoke to this very point on our recent liveblogged call with the comics press about the event. "Fear Itself" doesn't contain a lot of fantasy sequences of heroes confronting their own darkest nightmares or internal anguish or anything like that. It's about the state of the world now, today, and about putting our characters within a vice of a situation, then increasing the pressure on them to see whether they'll break, bend or endure. So if there's a specific reason why referencing the Maestro in the case of the Hulk is applicable then I wouldn't rule it out. But this isn't going to be somebody like Nightmare going to all of our heroes and creating images or fantasies within their minds of all the stuff they're afraid of. Rather, this is going to be the Marvel heroes having to cope with a world suddenly at war on a global scale. I'm glad you asked this, actually, as we've clearly not done a good enough job of getting this point across, so I'm happy for the opportunity to articulate it.
pharoahe22 was wondering about one of Marvel's biggest characters, asking "Wolverine had almost no role in the main book of two of the last 3 big crossovers (there was no Wolverine in 'Civil War' or 'Siege'). Does he do anything interesting in 'Fear itself'?"
Brevoort: Wolverine has plenty of cool stuff to do during "Fear Itself," both alone and alongside both the Avengers and X-Force. Most of those events, though, are going to play out more in the tie-in series than in the central book. That's the difficulty when you have so many cool characters and a limited number of pages to work with every month -- you need to constantly be focusing the story back on the characters who are at the center of it.
Frequent questioner CMBMOOL had two for you this time out, starting with "Any chances of some of the Demons of the Marvel universe being involved with Fear Itself, especially Mephisto?"
Brevoort: Up until yesterday I might have answered differently, but as it turns out Mephisto does have an interesting role to play within the scope of "Fear Itself," in "Journey Into Mystery," so look for him there.
He also had a question on a different note, wondering "Is Marvel doing anything to Honor the late Mr. Dwayne McDuffie and his work at the company?"
Brevoort: We just posted some nice reminiscences about Dwayne over at Marvel.com, including a particularly lengthy and lovely one from Greg Wright.
Beyond that, though, in terms of publishing stuff, I don't know that we're doing anything more specific. And to be honest, I think that's just as well. Suddenly releasing a bunch of new collections or something "in Dwayne's memory" would start to feel uncomfortably close to profiteering from his passing, for me.
James Hunter caught a note of interest, saying "I read, on your formspring site (a bit of promotion for you there!) that Thanos is coming back. What I would like to know is how likely it is either Nova or Starlord will be coming back with him? (personally, I'd like to see Rich back, especially if Nick Spencer were to decide he wants to re-use him in SECRET AVENGERS)"
Brevoort: Sorry, James, but at this point I'm afraid you're asking for spoilers, and I'm not typically going to give those out, sorry. As it is, I may have said too much just mentioning Thanos. So you're going to have to wait and see, I'm afraid.
But I'm guessing you're a cosmic fan, so here's a look at some of the cool stuff happening in "Annhilators" #2
Brevoort: You may rest assured, Personamanx, that if nothing else, we're going to be loading up Nick Spencer with all of the writing work he can handle now that he's signed exclusive with Marvel. He's already got a huge secret launch that he's working on, in addition to "Irom Man 2.0," his run on "Secret Avengers," and a myriad of other projects we've not yet discussed openly. And I think in the abstract, the idea of Nick doing "Runaways" does sound pretty cool and like a good fit to me -- but if we were going to go that route, I probably wouldn't reveal it without the appropriate amount of fanfare.
A newcomer to the boards named Gijimu has been wondering after the status of some of the Dark X-Men characters, saying, "Since characters like Mystique(Wolverine), X-Man(New Mutants), and Dark Beast(Uncanny X-Force) are showing up in current and future story lines, any plans involving the other mutant members of the Dark X-Men, Omega and Mimic in the X-Universe?"
Brevoort: Let me kick this question over to X-Men senior editor Nick Lowe:
Nick Lowe: As of right now, there's no solid plans for either Omega or Mimic right now. But you'll be seeing a lot of the first three you mention!
And finally on the character-by-character segment of this Fan Friday, I think the recent teasers hadn't hit when Potty-Man asked this question, but I wonder if there's any change on a bit more for him when he asks, "Are there any plans for a solo Ghost Rider book anytime soon? He's a character I can't get enough of."
Brevoort: There might be some news out of C2E2 this weekend, Potty-Man, that will make you happy.
Moving into some bigger theoretical territory, the aptly named ComicsAreForFun wanted to know: "Tom, violence to comic books is not new at all but the level of violence has increased exponentially in recent years. Example: Wolverine, X-Force, Deadpool, etc. How do you view this in your position? Is this a creative thing or is it a natural progression of storytelling being that long time readers are older now? Change of society perhaps? I personally think that the violence makes reading much more realistic and believable and I think Marvel does a good job with keeping violence in line with the story and not going overboard just for the sake of shock value. Thanks for your time!"
Brevoort: I think that this is an issue for which each individual is going to have a slightly different response, Comics. There's no question that the acceptable levels of violence that are permitted to be depicted in all forms of media have increased steadily over the years, so on that level comics are just keeping pace with the rest of the world. But even there, so much of this is personal bias. There have been things we've allowed in our books that I thought were too much -Â that "Wolverine" cover during "Old Man Logan" with a close-up of Wolverine's blood-drenched face being an example -Â but there have also been things that I let through in my books that other people have felt crossed the line.
So we've got a general overall standard that governs what we can show in titles within each of our assorted label-ranges, but we try to both be flexible and to deal with each instance on a case-by-case basis. Since each Marvel book is read out by a minimum of three different people, if something strikes any of those people as potentially being dicey it'll be flagged and kicked up the chain of command as far as is necessary in that particular case for a ruling. I've weighed in on a number of these situations as they've come up, and in each instance we try to preserve the artistic integrity of the story and the intent of the creative team in reflecting the realities of violence that exist in the world, without abdicating our responsibilities as publishers towards the common good and a defensible standard. If that makes any sense.
mummra the ever living asked "What do you think it takes to really make a brand new team book work? In recent years lots of really great team books have launched and been cancelled within a few arcs- The Order and Captain Britain and MI13 being prime examples of this. Both have a pretty strong following on various boards, and in the case of the latter, was extremely critically acclaimed. Obviously there are some exceptions to this- such as Secret Warriors- and I'm not ignoring those. But it seems that for the most part a team book has to come under the Avengers or X banners for them to last."
Brevoort: I think the problem with new team books in the Marvel Universe, mummra, is that there already so many other team titles occupying assorted portions of the landscape, and that makes it difficult for a new team concept to really be able to carve out a distinctive niche for itself that's both unique and commercial. Within the Marvel U, the Avengers are the varsity, so if your team concept is in any way relating to your new guys being the varsity, the best they can hope to be is the junior varsity, because the Avengers already have that role locked up. If your new team is focused on exploration or family, then the Fantastic Four already have a leg up. And so on.
I believe that for a series to have a fighting chance at sustaining a long-term run, it needs to have a distinct "core concept", some patch of ground that it occupies within the Marvel Universe that it stands on that makes it unique and different and special -- and the tough part is that it needs to be both simple to understand and it needs to be commercial. And that's extremely difficult to do. This has always been one of the difficulties with Alpha Flight, for example. Traditionally, Alpha Flight has been defined by two interlocking concepts: they're "The Avengers of Canada." Now, to me, for a sustaining series, that's not a strong enough core concept. For one thing, the Avengers are the Avengers of Canada, since they're the Avengers of everywhere. So that part doesn't really hold water. And thereafter, the book's identity comes down to geography, and that's not a universal-enough thing for the majority of readers to care about. I suspect the same kind of thing is true of Captain Britain and MI:13. Doesn't mean that these characters or the stories they've appeared in aren't cool and haven't been done well - but it does mean that over the long haul, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep a series like this relevant to the audience.
And for the record, the same notion of a core concept goes for solo character titles as well. If your book doesn't have a strong enough core concept, you're likely to eventually be ground away by the tide of time.
And let's wrap this week with one of the questions I think may cover some of the more contentious points brought up over the past few months on the boards while (hopefully) opening up some interesting discussion. I'll leave the floor to Sabrewulf: "Hi Tom. In response to some fans complaints about you overlooking the response to your earlier question regarding creative teams. Namely that many people suggested Bendis be only on one Avengers book. I ran a poll to ask whether the board members would prefer Busiek and Stern (The Avengers Forever team) over Bendis on the main Avengers title.
It led me to thinking, how much market survey to Marvel perform in regards to fans needs. Also what do you consider valid data? Do you feel that message board opinions consist of a vocal minority? If so where do you look for valid feedback. Comic book shop owners? Have you ever considered having those same owners run surveys for you as to better supply the fans with what they are looking for.
I understand Bendis sells. As a long time Avengers fan though who has collected Avengers from the Jean Grey returns issue until the end of the first Bendis arc, wouldn't it be prudent to offer options for different kinds of fans. I have been an Avengers fan for over 20 years and I would love to buy an Avengers books. Sadly outside of Avengers Academy which really isn't an Avengers book as such (but a joy to read) I struggle to find an Avengers book that appeals to me."
Brevoort: This is definitely a complex series of questions and concerns, Sabrewulf, and I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do them all justice here. But let me take a stab at it, and you guys can always come back at me with follow-ups in the weeks ahead.
I didn't see the specific poll you ran, but based on similar polls I've seen both at CBR and elsewhere, where the total number of respondents was given, I would guess that fewer than 500 people weighed in. And while the response you got may or may not be indicative of the opinions of the majority, that's a statistically tiny percentage of the readership of the title as it stands, well under 1%. So I don't believe you can take that at face value. I also don't think you can put too much stock in these kinds of polls, in that it's very easy to click a button to show your displeasure, and another matter entirely to put your money down on your comic dealer's counter for that mythical Busiek/Stern "Avengers" title. That's a credibility gap that any pollster would have to take into account in their findings -- how strongly do those who responded feel about this issue.
As an alternative, from my point of view, I get information back from a much wider spectrum of the overall audience -- both directly, in the case of people who might send inan e-mail complaining or complimenting something, to all of the chatter on the internet and the various assorted reviews of a particular issue or series, to the direct one-to-one encounters I have with fans at conventions and in stores, to most importantly the regular feedback we get from our assorted retailers about what is and is not doing well within their stores, and what their clientele is communicating to them about what they do and do not want (and not merely verbally, but in where they choose to spend their money.) From a practical standpoint, this information is invaluable in helping to guide the decisions I make about a given title. So a poll like yours does contribute, but it's not the entirety of the picture.
We're constantly trying to do different things within all of our lines of titles -- and then we continue to do more of whatever seems to work best, and discard the stuff that doesn't. So over the years, we've done "Mighty Avengers" in at least two iterations, we did "Dark Avengers," we did "Secret Avengers," we did "Avengers: The Initiative," we did "Avengers Academy," we did "Avengers: The Origin," we did the two "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" projects, and so on and so on. A veritable cornucopia of assorted Avengers publications in addition to the central "Avengers/New Avengers" series that Brian has been writing. I'm all for offering variety, but these different flavors all need to be self-supporting. And I suspect the intangible that's being left out of this equation is that you and the other like-minded fans don't simply want a "Busiek/Stern" Avengers title or project, you want the main book, the core series, to be that. Anything else feels like an extraneous project, secondary. And when that's the case, then some of the people who expressed that they'd love to have a "Busiek/Stern" Avengers title don't go so far as to buy in on it. Similarly, there may be people who want a more general "classic" Avengers title, but this can mean different things to different people. Some want a Busiek book, some want a Stern book, some want a Geoff Johns book, some want a Roy Thomas book, some want a Steve Englehart book. But they all use the same overall shorthand for their desires, even though they're not really as much a unified front as it seems at first blush.
I certainly want to put out an Avengers title that you want to read, Sabrewulf, but even more so, I want to put out Avengers projects that the majority of comic book readers want to read. Sometimes that's the same thing, sometimes it's not. I cannot narrowcast down to the individual tastes of each one of our readers, unfortunately. The best I can do, the best I can hope for, is to do the most good for the greatest number of readers in this regard.
Have some questions for Marvel's Talk To The Hat? 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 Executive staff that CBR will pull questions for next week's installment of our weekly fan-generated question-and-answer column! Do it to it!