Navigating the "Secret Wars" Landscape, Responding to a Challenging Week

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 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 Community, each week Alonso will shake things up with special guest stars, exclusive art reveals and more!

Gabriel Clarifies "Secret Wars" Effect on Marvel's Publishing Line

Following the release of Marvel's June 2015 solicitations and further clarification of what the company's publishing lineup will look like as a result of "Secret Wars," Alonso talks how Marvel became motivated to go without series as iconic as "Avengers" and "Uncanny X-Men" during the course of the event. Additionally, Alonso shares insight as to what "Secret Wars" means for major recent publishing initiatives like the debut of the female Thor, and how it affects newer launches like "Howard the Duck," "All-New Hawkeye" and "Spider-Gwen." Plus, following a week with multiple significant situations that developed within the comic book industry, Alonso responds to two of them involving Marvel -- the public attention given to ComicsAlliance writer and "X-Men '92" co-writer Chris Sims' online bullying of Valerie D'Orazio from 2007 to 2010, and artist Ronald Wimberly's comic strip that alleged Marvel asked him to lighten the skin tone of a character. All that and more, including "Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows" talk and answers to your questions, direct from the CBR Community.

Albert Ching: Axel, let's talk some of the bigger picture issues with what's coming at Marvel in the next few months. There's a bit of a clearer sense of what's happening now that Marvel's June 2015 solicitations are out, of the books that are coming -- and some of the books that are missing. There's a list of 33 titles in an interview David Gabriel did on ComicBook.com of books reaching their "616 finale." That includes many of the very biggest series at Marvel, even if some are getting fairly direct "Secret Wars" equivalents. Since the idea for this event was at Marvel for a while, at what point did the publisher become so confident in the concept that the decision was made to go without these staples of the lineup, like "Avengers" or "Uncanny X-Men"?

Axel Alonso: We decided that "Secret Wars" would be an all-in event, an all-or-nothing gamble. We knew we had the high concept to justify it. We laid down the gauntlet in front of creators -- told them that "Secret Wars" was going to transform the entire Marvel Universe, and challenged to take full advantage of the canvas it provided. We asked them, "What are your ideas to shape this world and your character?" They answered.

On the other side of that, there are books, mainly the newest ones, that at least so far, don't seem to be affected -- at least not nearly as profoundly. "Howard the Duck," "All-New Hawkeye," "Spider-Gwen" and others seem to be going on business as usual, from what we can tell right now. It's been said that every Marvel Universe book will tie into "Secret Wars" in some ways -- is it still the case that these books will be affected by "Secret Wars," just maybe not in an overt way -- at least not at first?

Alonso: Yes. "Secret Wars" is set in the Marvel Universe, so every Marvel Universe series will be affected by it. If you're a fan of "Howard the Duck" or "All-New Hawkeye" or "Spider-Gwen," all of which have been massive hits, know that the creators on all these series are excited about what the future holds. No one's moping around, muttering, "Well, that totally #$@#ed up my plans?" "Howard the Duck" #1 and "All-New Hawkeye" #1 both went back to a second print this week, and all the creators have solid plans for the future of their books. I have always put a premium on individual titles carving their own space on the shelf, having their own identity, and "Secret Wars" will do nothing to change that. Books like "Ms. Marvel," "Black Widow," "Squirrel Girl," "Howard the Duck" and "All-New Hawkeye" will continue to dance to their own distinct drumbeat.

Another thing I'm curious about with "Secret Wars" incoming and a lot of changes happening, reality-shifting -- it was just a few months ago that we started seeing all these big changes within the classic Marvel Universe, including female Thor, Falcon as Captain America, Wolverine dying and Superior Iron Man. It's not clear how all of those stories will progress, but "All-New Captain America" and "Superior Iron Man" are both set to end soon. Did "Secret Wars" cut those stories short at all, or lessen the impact of those stories at all -- with this coming and seemingly supplanting what was going on before?

Alonso: All I can say is that ["Thor" writer] Jason Aaron has had a lot of time to prepare for "Secret Wars" and for what it would mean for that character. He's got a plan and he's very excited. And he's not alone. "Secret Wars" gave "Deadpool" writer Gerry Duggan the opportunity to not only cut loose on "Mrs. Deadpool," but carve a new slice of the Marvel Universe with the Western-themed "1872." James Robinson, who just wound up "Fantastic Four," is ready to cut loose on "Armor Wars" and some stuff we haven't yet announced. Brian Bendis, who is bringing his run on X-Men to an end, is cutting loose on "Old Man Logan" as well as a series or two we can't wait to announce, stuff that could only have happened because of "Secret Wars." Whether you're a fan of the core titles that drive the Marvel Universe, like "Avengers" and "Amazing Spider-Man," or a fan of more quirky, esoteric stuff like "All-New Hawkeye," "Howard the Duck" or even "Spider-Gwen, " there is fun stuff ahead.

Bendis Explains Importance of "Old Man Logan" to "Secret Wars," Marvel Universe

One thing that strikes me after seeing all of these announcements of "Secret Wars"-related books is that it seems -- and I think this is deliberate, but you tell me -- that it's still a little mysterious as to what the actual plot of the main "Secret Wars" series, by Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic, is, and how things like "Weirdworld" and "Age of Ulton vs. Marvel Zombies" fit together and how it all spins out of one event story. Is that deliberate, to still keep the main series shrouded in a bit of secrecy?

Alonso: Yes. We want you interested and intrigued. Jonathan and Esad are going to deliver an incredible mind-bending experience that will explain how everything happened.

Last question on this subject -- in the David Gabriel interview mentioned earlier, "Secret Wars" is a little bit compared to "Age of Apocalypse" in how transformative it is. But once you put that out there, some fans may conclude that things will get put back together the way they were at the end of this, given the outcome of "Age of Apocalypse," where some characters carried over but mostly things went back to normal. How would you respond?

Alonso: I'd just say, this is different. I'm sticking to my "two-pizzas-smashed-together" analogy. [Laughs] The Marvel Universe as you know it is being transformed. All of the series that we're doing -- all of them -- are slices of the pie or toppings on the pie. Things will definitely not go back to normal.

And it's sort of a uniquely comic book thing to be wondering about the conclusion of a story that doesn't start until two months from now.

Alonso: It is. Why would you want to know the ending? "Secret Wars" is a mystery, wrapped in enigma, shrouded in a haiku.

As many great stories are. Wanted to touch on a couple specific things from the past week -- Monday was the official announcement of the "Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows," something people were certainly waiting for after that first teaser was released several months back. Dan Slott has done so much with Spider-Man over the years, but a married Peter Parker with a child is new for him. What are you looking forward to when fans get their hands on that one?

Alonso: Dan Slott's entered the comic book equivalent of the Michael Jordan Zone: He's on a scoring avalanche, hitting nothing but net from uptown, downtown, all angles. "Renew Your Vows" is the story he came up with, and it is going to break the Internet. [Laughs]

This week also saw the announcement of the "Age of Apocalypse" "Secret Wars" series written by Fabian Nicieza, a veteran writer, and someone who has a long history of Marvel but who we haven't seen at the publisher recently. What do you like about what he has going on in this story?

Alonso: Well, the fact that Fabian was instrumental in laying down the groundwork of the original "AoA" event certainly factored into it. [Laughs] Look, "Secret Wars" gave my editors a wide open field. Mike Marts tapped Fabian, Fabian delivered a great pitch, and that was that.

Stuart Immonen is Marvel's New "Star Wars" Artist

This week also saw Stuart Immonen named as the artist taking over for John Cassaday on the flagship "Star Wars" series. His work speaks for himself, but for you, what made him the right choice to take over such a high-profile book?

Alonso: If you ask comic artists who of their peers they most admire, Stuart is the first guy who comes up. His draftsmanship, storytelling, dynamism, versatility and -- let's face it -- his ability to draw a high quality comic book every month amazes other comic book artists. He's such a professional, so incredibly easy to work with, and he elevates any script he works on. A writer once told me that in comics, the writer is the director, but the artist is the cinematographer, set designer, costume designer, all the actors, everything down to the key grip. Well, Stuart is a master at all those skills.

That said, the plan was always that John would draw the first arc, and Stuart would take over after that. But let's just say "Star Wars" #6 won't be John's last visit to this galaxy far, far away! I can't elaborate for now.

Before we get to fan questions -- it's been an interesting and challenging week in the comics industry, starting with Monday night's news that DC Comics pulled a highly criticized "Batgirl" variant cover, along with a couple of sensitive Marvel-related issues that subsequently surfaced.

It came to public attention that Chris Sims, co-writer on the recently announced "X-Men '92" series, had a history of harassing and bullying Valerie D'Orazio, an industry veteran who has written several stories for Marvel in the past. It's a situation that has sparked debate and discussion among fans and industry pros. Given that Sims is about to make his Marvel debut, do you have any response or comment on the situation, and if his standing on "X-Men '92" is affected?

Alonso: We had no knowledge of what transpired on the Internet between Chris and Valerie. We have since come to understand that several years ago both were active voices in the comics community -- both were bloggers and Valerie wrote a couple of stories for Marvel, including a "Punisher" one-shot that I edited -- that some sort of bad blood developed between them, and that Chris crossed lines in his treatment of Valerie that were indefensible, as he himself acknowledged. In his formal public apology, Chris took full responsibility for his actions. Some believe Chris is sincere -- Comics Alliance wrote an editorial supporting him -- and some don't. While we condemn Chris' past actions, we see his strongly worded apology as evidence that he now understands that verbal bullying and harassment of anyone is totally, unequivocally wrong.

Another controversial topic: The Nib published a comic strip this week by artist Ronald Wimberly that described Marvel editorial requesting he lighten the skin color of the character Melita Garner in a recent "Wolverine and the X-Men" story. Does Marvel have any response to that comic, and the sequence of events described in it?

Alonso: In his Nib cartoon, Ron posed a question, "Is this racist?", casting a shadow over his editor and, by extension, Marvel. Here's what happened: The issue in question was "Wolverine and the X-Men" #10, a jam book that featured 8 different artists -- 14, if you include colorists -- one of whom was Ron Wimberly. The editor simply asked Ron to match the skin-tone that had been established for the character -- Melita Garner, a Latina -- on previous pages. She would have done the same if Ron had made Melita's skin too light.

To suggest that the editor or Marvel was uncomfortable with the character having dark or darker skin flies in the face of who we are and our history. Just last night, Sana Amanat, Marvel's Director of Content & Character development appeared on Comedy Central's "The Nightly Show" to speak about the growing diversity of our publishing efforts. We are the home to Storm, the Black Panther, Miles Morales [Ultimate Spider-Man], Sam Wilson [the All-New Captain America], Robbie Reyes [the All-New Ghost Rider] and Kamala Khan [Ms. Marvel], and our ethnically diverse staff of editors spans the color chart Ron cites in his Nib cartoon. I am Mexican-American, so that makes me #caa468.

Let's get into some fan questions. Chief Jon asks, "The recently relaunched 'Uncanny Avengers' is unexpectedly absent from the June Solicitations as are the new 'Ant-Man' and 'All-New Captain America' series. I'm sure there are a few others I'm missing as well. Are these books on hiatus as a result of 'Secret Wars'?" Now, "All-New Captain America" is one of the "616 finale" books, but what about the other two?

Alonso: All we can say at the moment, Chief Jon, is wait and see. But as far as "Ant-Man" goes, expect some big (or small) things to come in July and August from Nick Spencer.

The venerable Spidey616 asks, "Just realized besides a #0 issue coming out in April, the new 'Uncanny Inhumans' title by Charles Soule and Steve McNiven hasn't been solicited. Is it simply a delay during Secret Wars or have there been new developments regarding the addition of a new ongoing Inhumans title?"

Alonso: When you read "Uncanny Inhumans" #0, some of this will become clearer. I can't say much more than "Secret Wars" affects everything.

We'll wrap with piepeloe: "Hey Axel, I love Ales Kot's 'Secret Avengers' and I'm so sad it's ending soon. There have been other installments of SA, so will there be more?"

Alonso: Is the series "ending"? Or is "Secret Wars" the beginning?

Have some questions for Marvel's AXEL-IN-CHARGE? Please visit the AXEL-IN-CHARGE Q&A thread in CBR's Marvel Comics community. It's the dedicated thread that CBR will pull questions for next week's installment of our weekly fan-supported question-and-answer column! Do it to it!

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