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, we wrap our regular fully formed interviews for 2012 (don't worry, we'll be back next week with some more fan Q&A) with a special look inside Axel's first year as Marvel Editor-in-Chief. From the first goals he had when he stepped into the job last January for both the regular line to the Ultimate U on through to his expectations for the market moving forward, Axel digs in on what's been easy, what's been hard and what's been fun. Plus, the man in charge explains his feelings on accelerated shipping for Marvel's biggest titles, the possible return of more mini series and the impact of the incoming "Avengers Vs. X-Men" event on it all. Plus, looks at the future of "Uncanny X-Men," "X-Men Legacy" and "X-Factor." Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Axel, we're here at the end of 2011, and I think it's pretty fair to say this has been a big year for you. Almost a year out from your stepping into the role of Editor-in-Chief, how are you feeling about where Marvel Editorial is? Do you have things running in a way that feels like everything is where you want it to be?
Axel Alonso: This has been a challenging year for comic book publishing, but the recent rebound [in sales] is very encouraging. Needless to say, I'm very relieved to finally be able to talk about "Avengers Vs. X-Men." It anchors our 2012 publishing plan and it was my #1 priority when I started as Editor-in-Chief. Seeing fans already squaring off on opposite sides of the battle-lines -- hearing then speculate on who's going to kicks whose butt -- is a lot of fun. They're already passionate -- and they don't know the half of it!
One of the quotes I saw kicked around a lot was the idea that so many people who have stepped into the E-i-C role at Marvel have come in cold -- whoever had the job before them has been let go or leaves a line that's more broken up. With Joe moving over to CCO and West Coast concerns full time, you had a very different transition than anyone else had, and the whole line didn't need to be reinvented soup to nuts. Was that a benefit for you, or did it make your job more challenging to decide what stays as is and what gets made over?
Alonso: The challenge was to determine what was working and wasn't in the current market. Over the past year, we'd seen the market stop supporting what we call "stranded" limited series -- meaning limited series that were a part of continuity, but for some reason were discounted by readers as perhaps inessential reads -- so we initiated multiple-ships of most of our core Marvel Universe titles. Looking across the line, I wondered if we could do the same thing with the Ultimate Comics line -- if emphasizing the shared universe and sticking to a reliable shipping schedule would help the line. Through the excellent work of [Senior Editor] Mark Paniccia and [Associate Editor] Sana Amanat, we've accomplished that goal, and sales are very encouraging.
That said, going into my first summit as EIC, my top priority was getting us to pull the trigger on the big daddy of all events, "Avengers vs. X-Men." We'd flirted with the idea several times, but we'd never quite had the story, the inciting incident -- the stars hadn't aligned. With "Fear Itself," "Schism" and "Avengers: The Children's Crusade" all dovetailing to a close and the Avengers movie on the immediate horizon, it was kind of like, if not now, when? And given the scope of the story -- it's a truly Universe-spanning event -- we figured it would benefit from the combined might of some of our best writers, all of whom are retreat attendees: Brian [Bendis], Jason [Aaron], Matt [Fraction], Jonathan [Hickman], and Ed [Brubaker.] In the course, of our initial discussion, Jeph [Loeb]'s concept for "Avengers" X-Sanction" emerged, as well as the one dedicated tie-in series we'll be announcing soon. Gold star on the collar of Tom Brevoort.
I think there are definitely X-Men people out there and Avengers people out there, and each of those camps will be rooting for their side in this. Since you were with the X-Men for so long and Brian has written the Avengers for seven years or so, was it tough for each of you to not have a dog in this race, so to speak?
Alonso: I love the X-Men, but I never went into this with an agenda that they should be the victor of this battle. As always, I figured the story would take us to a logical conclusion. Going in, we knew there were a lot of things to factor into the equation: One of them was the fact that the post-"Schism" rift in the X-Men: Who would Wolverine and his crew side with? Another was the two great wild cards that played key roles in "House of M" and recent X-Men events like "Messiah CompleX" and "Second Coming": Hope and Wanda. These are two incredibly powerful characters that function as yin and yang -- seemingly contrary forces that are interconnected and interdependent. One was the responsible for the destruction of the mutant race; the other jump-started their future. Where do they fit in to the equation?
So, for me -- even though there will be a winner in this story -- "AvX" was never about who would win, but about how they could win, why they would win, and what they would win. It's an epic story that will move fast: Each act takes place in two months and ends with a game-changing moment that will knock readers on their butts. And like out most successful events, there will be big moments -- big revelations: In "Civil War," there was Spider-Man unmasking. This story's got even bigger moments. [Laughs] It'll be interesting to see how people respond.
One thing people have noticed over the past few months at Marvel is some importance being placed on shipping books regularly and always on time. We hear a lot of talk around the fact that fans are continuing to buy the same things they have been for the past five to ten years -- stories that "count" and big events -- but don't you see some changes coming to that platform in the shipping and buying habits at play alone? How has that impacted what you do?
Alonso: When I came in as Editor-in-Chief, a lot of folks asked me, a lot of people maybe expected me to go a little crazy, perhaps remembering the kinds of projects I edited the first few years at Marvel -- "X-Statix," "Truth," "Banner." Thing is, I've inherited an extremely conservative market. Retailers are having a lot harder time moving dedicated limited series and one-shots -- what I called "stranded" series -- than they have in the past. A series that might have debuted at, say, 40K three years ago, now debuts in the mid- to high-20K range. As a result, we've had to recalibrate and give retailers more of what they can sell -- core monthlies -- and be more selective and strategic about the limited series we do. They need to scratch a different itch, like Peter Milligan's "5 Ronin" series or Jonathan Maberry's "Punisher vs. the Marvel Universe."
Do I like this trend? As an editor and a reader, I do not. In an ideal world, people would be drawn solely to what they deem good material; whether or not that material counts would be less relevant than whether it was good -- not irrelevant, just less relevant. Case in point: Not too long ago, I had a conversation with an editor who asserted that, faced with a choice between reading an excellent Hulk story that was set outside of continuity or a merely adequate Hulk story that was set firmly in continuity, he would always choose the latter. His reasoning: the latter provided a reading experience that folded into everything he'd read before and everything he would read in the future. That was more relevant to him than a good reading experience that didn't fit into that library, that wouldn't count toward his future reading experiences. I understand what he's saying, but I don't understand it. [Laughter] For me, the reading experience is paramount. Faced with a choice, I'd much rather discover the first chapter of the next great science fiction epic than watch the underwhelming chapter of the ongoing "Star Wars" saga. But I'm weird like that.
One question that's come up frequently on the message boards when it comes to the increased frequency of the marquee titles is the perceived downside for readers. Some wonder whether they can afford to pick up 16 books of one kind of title in a year without having to drop from elsewhere in comics or even from within the Marvel line, and more than a few wonder about their ability to buy two issues of a monthly at the $3.99 price point in one month. Is that at all a concern for Marvel in making these moves? How do you expect to keep that balance even over the coming months?â€¨
Alonso: It is a concern. Of course, part of the risk is ours: We realize that someone who is buying four extra issues of "Deadpool" in a calendar year might, as a result, pass over a 4-issue limited series that we publish. But keep in mind, those four issues probably replaced a Deadpool limited series or something similar. At the end of the day, we're just doing our best to give retailers what they can sell, and all signs point to the fact that they're able to sell additional issues of popular core titles better than ancillary limited series. Of course, that doesn't mean we can just phone in those extra issues -- far from it. If we're going to publish 24 issues of "Amazing Spider-Man," it's our job to make sure every issue is worth buying. The accelerated shipping schedule certainly hasn't hurt that title and that's because it's a damn good read; people can't wait for the next issue -- and it comes out in two weeks, not four.â€¨Moving forward, do you expect the market to have a rebound soon? You mention your numbers trending up some, and we all know that DC has had a very successful first few months with the New 52 books as well as other publishers like Image and Dark Horse being steady enough to launch new initiatives. But for your part alone, do you fell like "Avengers Vs. X-Men" and all Marvel's 2012 plans will push things back in a direction where new ideas and stand alone books can work better?
Alonso: It very well might. Look, if the DC reboot had tanked, it would have been bad for everybody. With the talent associated with that reboot, the unprecedented investment they made in promoting it and the incentives they provided to retailers to order deep, they had to hit big. They got a strong launch and I give them credit. I enjoyed several of their titles -- especially the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo "Batman" and Jeff Lemire & Travel Foreman's "Animal Man."
Our industry needs Marvel and DC to be healthy and competitive. While DC's recent moves won't inspire us to veer off course with our publishing plan, they do inspire us to bring our A-game. I'm not only excited about "AvX," but where it leaves the Marvel Universe -- the creative opportunities it creates. There's been a lot of speculation online as to whether this will lead to a reboot, and I'm not going to fuel that one way or another! [Laughter], but I will say that, just like "Civil War" transformed the Marvel Universe, so too will "AvX."
We talk every week, and even though I think that everyone in this industry -- professional or fan -- has moments where they can get down on comics, it seems like you've been very hungry for comics lately if that makes any sense. What has got you pumped about where the medium and your work is going in the next year?
Alonso: One of the things I've never understood is the doomsayers who claim to love the medium. When I first came to Marvel, I worked under a constant cloud of speculation that Marvel would either fold or be bought; my first exposure to the internet was people who actively rooted for the demise of Marvel Comics and the fall of the industry that they ostensibly love. Like this one guy -- "Loren," I think his name was -- who hinted he was a financial analyst and predicted, with 99 percent certainly, our downfall in the next few weeks -- hell, he couldn't wait for it! It was...weird. I don't understand that mindset. I love comics -- all sort of comics. Hey, I don't understand why there are readers who hate Marvel or DC. As a young boy, I read a little bit of everything: Spider-Man, Hulk, Unknown Soldier, "Kamandi," "Creepy," "Eerie," Shang Chi, Luke Cage, "Yang" -- hey, give it up for "Yang!" [Laughter]. It was all about the read. It all came down to the strange alchemy of character + writer + artist. That's what got me to love comics. That's what keeps me loving comics.