Phoenix Five & Readership Drives

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 follows up on this week's turning point issue of Marvel's summer event "Avengers Vs. X-Men." With issue #5, the series' first John Romita Jr.-drawn act came to a close, and the story of "AvX" took a major turn as five X-Men were imbued with the powers of the Phoenix. Below, Alonso discusses the creative moves behind the issue, and delves into recent talk of comics-to-movie fan outreach sparked by a much debated Wall Street Journal article. Aside from discussing recent news of Thanos, "Spider-Men" and digital sales, Axel also answers your questions on Olivier Coipel, Karma and more. Read on!

Kiel Phegley: So this week we got introduced to what I keep calling the Phoenix Force Five -- Phoenix because they're empowered by it, Force because they're a force to be reckoned with and five because there's one, two, three, four, five of them...

Axel Alonso: We're calling them the Phoenix Five, Kiel.

Okay! For a while, you've been talking about how the end of each act will be a turning point in the story that shakes the action up in a major way. How does these characters getting empowered like this change the course of the event?

Alonso: The most immediate question is, "Can the Phoenix Force be controlled?" Are these five individuals -- any one of them or all five collectively -- capable of controlling it? The Phoenix Force is destruction and rebirth, so it's safe top say they're going define exactly what that means. And as the teaser suggests, they have a chance to remake the word in their image. But what does that mean? You might be surprised.

The Phoenix Five from "Avengers Vs. X-Men" #6. Cover by Jim Cheung, interior art by Olivier Coipel

How did the discussions go around who would be members of the five? Leaders like Cyclops and Emma seems like obvious picks, though I look at someone like Magik and wonder what specific role she'll have to play.

Alonso: We carefully picked these five characters -- Cyclops, Emma, Colossus, Magik and Namor -- because of their personalities, their power sets, and the windows they offer into pockets of the Marvel Universe -- hint, hint. Namor, for instance -- you'll see why we picked him, as Act 2 unfolds.

So far, the core argument of the series has been that question of whether the Phoenix will be a force of destruction or rebirth. The Avengers have had one idea and the X-Men another. Now it feels like the Phoenix Force has its own ideas and its own agenda for where to go next. How does that concept change the series? Can it contradict what either side expected up to this point?

Alonso: It's possible that both sides are right. I mean...I can't say anymore, man! [Laughter] That's the beauty of the Phoenix Force -- within it resides the potential for good and bad.

Like you said, we've had this "No More Avengers" teaser out for Act 2. Is that now the rallying cry for the Phoenix Force and the Phoenix Five? Does that force know the Avengers are the people hellbent on destroying it?

Alonso: All I can say is that the world might not be big enough for the Phoenix Five and the Avengers. If you think of Act 1 ["AvX" #1-5] as a boxing match, it's safe to say the early rounds went to the Avengers, but the last round ended with a game-changing punch that sent the Avengers staggering to the ropes. That's where we pick up with issue #6. Cap, Iron Man, Thor and the gang have got to shake it off and figure out just who their opponent is now, and what their next move should be. And let me make one thing perfectly clear: Do not assume the Avengers are the good guys and the X-Men are suddenly the bad guys. I'd wager that the Phoenix Five are going to earn some fans -- including people who rooted for the Avengers in round 1.

Shifting topics to some real world talk, last week a lot of hay was made over a Wall Street Journal book review by Tim Marchman that veered into some broad industry criticism curbed in a few outright insults. In general, what was your takeaway from all this?

Alonso: To be honest, I felt bad for Christopher Irving, the guy who edited the book ["Leaping Tall Buildings"] that was supposed to be the subject of the review! [Laughter] Hey, I was just surprised that the Journal ran it. It wasn't a book review, it was an editorial about the comic book industry filled with sloppy business analysis and cultural commentary.

One of the issues raised here was the question of why, with superhero movies dominating the box office, superhero comics don't seem to be expanding their sales base as much. That's a goal for Marvel that we talk about here often. Overall, do you think that comic sales have been bolstered by movies, and have the bonds between the two continued to be strengthened as we hit decade two of superhero movie dominance?

Alonso: "Avengers Vs. X-Men" is tracking to be our biggest event ever -- mostly due to craft, but the halo effect of "Marvel Studios' The Avengers" probably didn't hurt. So, yeah, I think the bonds are extremely strong, but they're not just limited to print and film. Marvel's continued success is all about cross-pollination. The cross-pollination of publishing, movies, merchandising, and new developments in digital media is what's going to grow the audience for Marvel characters -- across all media platforms. Everyone knows that Marvel Studios success owes to its uncanny ability to translate the spirit of the comics to the big screen, but they also give back to publishing in unexpected ways. Case in point: Thanos. The interest in him is off the charts right now. Everybody wants to know who the creepy guy from the movie epilog is. Just like that a fairly obscure "cosmic" character becomes a buzz character on the internet and an explosion on our backlist. Will Marvel Comics take advantage of this? Of course. Thanks, Joss and Kevin!

That said, the halo effect of a movie only really lasts for a couple months. The biggest challenge is making our stories physically accessible to new readers -- getting it into the hands of the guy in Nome, Alaska, whose nearest comic store is a zillion miles away and who read about this cool comic called "AvX" on the internet or in the local newspaper. That's why we're exploring digital media as a compliment to print; among other things, it allows "AvX" to be the impulse buy that inspires him to drive to the store when the "AvX" deluxe hardcover comes out months later.

Speaking of digital, you've got "Spider-Men" #1 coming out next week, which is running with a promotion incentivizing digital buyers to come into comic shops by giving them a $5.00 coupon. This is the third time Marvel has done one of these, so it looks as though there's value in the program. Have you seen any direct impact on prints sales as a result?

Alonso: The goal of the program wasn't so much to increase Marvel print sales, but to send digital customers into comics shops and bring new foot-traffic into stores. What we've seen over the first two test programs is a huge increase in redemptions of the codes from direct market retailers, which means the coupons are definitely achieving a small measure of success. That's why we keep doing it.

Returning to that question of bringing people in who aren't traditional comics readers, we've learned to this point that digital sales don't seem to be chipping away at the DM sales as some feared. But have you seen any evidence or have any metrics that the people who are buying digital are brand new buyers?

Alonso: While we don't know the specific answer to this question, we do know is that 33% of Marvel Comics app users are buying comics featuring characters they don't normally follow. Also, the unprecedented sales, support, and engagement of our digital products portfolio - and Marvel's continued investments and innovations in them - are showing, qualitatively, that new, old, and lapsed readers have an insatiable appetite for Marvel digital comic book content and collections. 
 Wrapping with a few fan questions, Time_to_Zap returned to the hot to pic of last week, asking, "Now that Northstar is/soon to be married, I was wondering about one of the other gay X-Men. Karma's been openly gay for awhile now, but she hasn't really gotten a relationship with another woman yet. Is this a possibility over in "Astonishing?" I hope so!"

Alonso: It's something Marjorie has been working on since she took over the book, TtZ. As we closely follow the ups and downs of Marvel's newest Newlyweds, it seems only fair that we turn our sights to messing with someone else's love life! Without getting too "spoilery," Karma is about to be pushed to the forefront of "Astonishing X-Men" as we start to unravel exactly what she saw in Chimera's mind in issue #49 and where she was in issue 50.  Make sure you check out issue #52 in particular, as we start to lay the seeds for her ongoing arc.

He follows up with, "Is Olivier Coipel going to be working on anything else in the Marvel Universe after his run on Avengers vs. X-Men? He's one of my favorite artists and I can't wait for those issues!"

Alonso: Good question, but we're not ready to talk about that yet. Needless to say, it will be big. In the meantime, feast your eyes on these preview pages from "AvX" #6.

vin31 popped up to ask, "We will have a chance to see in AvX or in another Avengers story the powerful family (vision,scarlet witch,wiccan,speed) fighting together?"

Alonso: Not in "AvX." None of the Young Avengers are in it. But beyond that, somewhere down the line...who knows...?

Finally, Spidey161 brought up an interesting idea, asking, "As everyone who's been paying attention to news from Iron Man 3 filming has heard, it appears we can expect the Iron Patriot or armor similar to it to appear. Curious if we can expect a new character to don the Iron Patriot armor next year in the same way the new Whiplash was introduced around the release of Iron Man 2?"

Alonso: You're going to have to wait and see, Spidey161. But I wouldn't be surprised.

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!

Tags: marvel comics, thanos, the avengers, axel-in-charge, spider-men, avx, phoenix five

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