May Sales Swing Towards "Spider-Men"

SPOILER WARNING: Some minor "Avengers" movie spoilers lie below for those who haven't seen it yet.

Fridays on CBR mean Axel's In Charge.

Welcome to MARVEL A-I-C: AXEL-IN-CHARGE, CBR's regular interview feature with Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso!

An editor with years of experience who's brought out comics to both critical acclaim and best-selling status, Alonso stepped into the chair at the top of Marvel's Editorial department earlier this year and since then has been working to bring his signature stylings to the entire Marvel U. Anchored by regular question and answer rounds with the denizens of the CBR Message Boards, each week Alonso will shake things up with special guest stars, exclusive art reveals and more!

This week, Axel digs into the impact of the May sales numbers on Marvel. That month saw a huge boost across the Direct Market of comic retail shops, and with "Avengers Vs. X-Men" leading the charge and growing its audience, the question of what Marvel will do in response is begged. Plus, he dives into the first issue of "Spider-Men" revealing how Brian Bendis placed a focus on Peter Parker and why. And don't miss the latest round of CBR fan questions! Read on!

Kiel Phegley: Axel, I wanted to start this week with a little sales talk. The May numbers were extremely strong overall for the market, and aside from nabbing the top two spots, the issues of "AvX" for the month showed that initial orders were actually higher on #4 than for #3. Were you expecting that kind of bump after tracking the early issues, or were you as surprised as most of us?

Axel Alonso: An upward trend in sales is always something to celebrate. And actually, Kiel, the jump from issue #5 to issue #6 was even more significant, which is especially great since issue #6 starts the second act. But hey, we figured that if we delivered the goods, and we communicated clearly to retailers and fans why they want to read this story, we'd gain momentum with sales.

One thing we've heard a lot between events like "AvX" and the New 52 launch is that a rising tide lifts all boats. A year ago, we were talking more often about being in a down market, and this month seems historically huge for sales. But when the sales lift at the top in this significant kind of a way, do you see the ripples affecting titles further down the line?

Alonso: I do believe in the rising tide theory. When a reader goes into a store excited about some new book - whether it's a new issue #1 or an event or just a story that he or she HAS to read now - they're just going to notice the other stuff on the shelves. And not just from the same publisher, I would think. [SVP Sales, Publishing] David Gabriel, and [Director of Sales, Publishing] James Nausedas report that the success of "Avengers Vs. X-Men" has spread line-wide, even across titles not related to the event. On almost all titles, we've seen little to no attrition from previous issues, and in many cases, titles' sales are increasing with each issue. Not bad.

So how does Editorial respond to moves like this. In the past, we've discussed how things like mini series can drop off in a down time. When you have a big hit like "AvX," how do you work to capitalize on that interest? Do you feel Marvel will be putting the pedal to the metal?

Alonso: In my years at Marvel, that's been true. Commercial success creates the oxygen for experimentation. Look, when "AvX" #1 goes into a sixth printing, it crates the crawlspace for us to take a few wilder swings at bat. I mean, a number of the projects we're greenlighting right now wouldn't have happened without the success of "AvX." Just this week, I Tweeted about a Mike Allred image that would only work in the post-"AvX" world. [Laughs]

Well, that's just it, right? We often view books out of the top 50 or so as "the little book that could," but in the superhero mainstream, there's no reason for the expectation on this stuff to be anything but critically well received AND commercially successful, is there?

Alonso: Well, we always strive to hit a certain margin. We will roll the dice on occasion, but we're very selective. We have to really believe in the project. Take [Frank Tieri and Mark Texeria's] "Space: Punisher," for instance. It's not tethered to any ongoing series or event, and it's set outside of continuity; the reason we're doing it is because, well, it's just a hell of a lot of fun. I mean, Dirty Harry meets Buck Rogers, set in an outer-space universe that's a funhouse mirror the Marvel Universe. Or take [Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov's] "Fury MAX" - it's the pedigree of the team and the driving high concept that enticed us to publish it. That series is as fun, thoughtful and literate as anything that could be put up for an award in 2012-2013.

One last question on this topic: we see from the September solicits for this week that "AvX" will be wrapping then. In the past, events have led to line-wide brandings and series changes. Will October be bringing a bit of a breather, or should we be looking for a shake-up next month?

Alonso: There will be no breather, but we won't be going into another universe-spanning event. When "AvX" ends in September, it will have changed the Marvel Universe in a significant way, and that will be reflected in the stories that come out of it. But fear not, we won't be unveiling an alternate universe or time-line, it will be the Marvel Universe that readers recognize and are invested in. I expect that October will be huge.

The other big happening for the week for Marvel is the release of "Spider-Men" #1. Reading the issue, it stood out to me how Bendis was kind of writing an "Ultimate Spider-Man" comic in its pacing but starring the 616 Peter Parker. Why was it important to ground this story fully in what that character was experiencing?

Alonso: That was Brian's idea. I suspect he wanted to write this an accessible evergreen story, and figured the best way to do that would be to let events unfold through the eyes of Peter Parker. For those who've wondered what Brian would do when he finally got his chance to write the Marvel Universe Peter Parker as a solo character, this is their first glimpse. And it doesn't disappoint. Issue #1 is one of the best-reviewed issues of the year.

At the same time, I've got to imagine that opting not to use details like Horizon Labs from Dan Slott's "Amazing Spider-Man" run was a choice made to avoid the pitfalls of the current continuity taking anyone out of this story whether they're new readers or Spidey veterans.

Alonso: I'm not the editor of the series - [Senior Editor] Mark Paniccia is - but I suspect that Brian just wanted to steer clear of plot-threads and development in Dan Slott's "Amazing Spider-Man" so "Spider-Men" could stay evergreen, which was smart. And I think Brian made a wise strategic choice to have that story unfold through the eyes of Peter Parker so readers could really feel the "oh-$#!# moment when he crosses paths with Miles Morales for the first time. "Spider-Men" is a very character-driven story. It's about two Spider-Men from different universes - one, a war-hardened veteran; the other, a novice - that cross paths in a mind-shattering adventure that's going to profoundly affect both of them.

On fan questions this week, mummra the ever living popped up with this query: "I am loving AvX! So far this has been my favourite event book, and on that note; Luke Cage has been a major player with the Avengers for ove half a decade now, yet he has never had a significant role in any of the event book, with the spotlight always falling on Cap, Iron Man & Thor (for the Avengers)- will we see Luke have a larger role to play in future events?"

Alonso: Glad you're enjoying Luke's role in the world of Avengers, Mummra, but we're not ready to talk about the role of one of my all-time favorite characters. All I can say is that after "AvX," the Marvel Universe will be a very different place. Keep reading.

Shifting to all things Spidey, KurtW95 wants to know, "I was wondering, with the Amazing Spider-Man coming out in a few weeks, if there was a chance of Gwen Stacy returning in the 616 universe?"

Alonso: Gwen Stacy is dead, KurtW95. D. E. A. D.

RLAAMJR. spotted an unfamiliar face in a recent cover revealed on CBR and asks, "Who is that character with white hair on this cover?"

Alonso: Dude! That's Storm! [Laughs]

In a one-two Young Avengers punch, carloshll726 asks "Will Captain America team up with his Young Avengers sidekick Patriot in the future of this series?"

Alonso: Patriot's never really been Captain America's sidekick, carloshill726 - more like somebody he happens to know. And as we saw in the final issue of "Avengers: The Children's Crusade," Eli has given up his role as a costumed hero and moved to the Midwest. So, for the time being, he's not going to be teaming up with anybody.

While Legion_Quest follows up with, "What is next for the Young Avengers? Hulkling and Wiccan are characters that are wasted in not being used!"

Alonso: We have plans, but we're not ready to talk about them, Legion_Quest.

Have some questions for Marvel's AXEL-IN-CHARGE? 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!

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