Punk on "Drax," Bringing "Avengers" and "Fantastic Four" to a Close

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!

REVIEW: "Avengers: Age of Ultron" is a Lot of Fun, a Little Flawed, and Whedon All the Way

This week, with Marvel Studios' "Avengers: Age of Ultron" freshly arrived in theaters, Alonso gives his take on what he liked about the sequel, which is already well on its way to massive worldwide box office success. Focusing on the publishing slate, Alonso gives insight into Marvel's major announcements from C2E2 -- including CM Punk co-writing a "Drax" ongoing series, the arrival of "Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham" in September, and upcoming "Secret Wars"-related one-shots "Howard the Human" and "Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra." Plus, Alonso talks the end of writer Jonathan Hickman's runs on "Avengers" and "New Avengers," the for-now close of "Fantastic Four" and shares his thoughts on the importance of Marvel's offerings for this year's Free Comic Book Day, happening tomorrow, May 2.

Albert Ching: Axel, first things first: Are you still holding out hope for a Nets upset against the Hawks?

Axel Alonso: You know, [Wednesday] was their chance. The Nets squeaked into the playoffs and the Hawks have no superstar, but so many weapons. I mean, the last time an 8 [seed] beat a 1 [seed] was when my [Golden State] Warriors upset the [Dallas] Mavericks back in 2007. It's a tough feat.

Clearly you must be happy with the Warriors so far, though.

Alonso: Yeah. This is our year. Memphis is a really tough matchup -- they can pound it down low, they play excellent defense and I've been a Mike Conley Jr. fan since he took Ohio State to the NCAA Finals. But the Warriors are so damn deep. I see them closing it out in five games.

Of course, today is the official release date of "Avengers Age of Ultron" -- have you seen it yet? If so, any thoughts you'd like to share?

Alonso: It's a lot of fun. Ultron has gotta be my favorite Marvel movie villain so far; his philosophy and mission statement and, of course, [James] Spader gave him incredible depth. That Hulkbuster versus Hulk scene was just crazy. And the movie positions the Avengers for such great stuff in the future.

C2E2: CM Punk talks "Drax" Ongoing, UFC Training and Frank Castle

Let's catch up on some of the projects announced at C2E2 last weekend in Chicago -- the biggest news likely being that former WWE Champion and current UFC fighter CM Punk is co-writing a "Drax" ongoing series. We saw CM Punk's Marvel debut earlier this year with a short story in the "Thor Annual," and doing an ongoing series with a Guardian of the Galaxy is a big step up for him. What can you share about how he landed this high-profile gig?

Alonso: Credit goes to [Marvel Editor] Jon Moisan, who's a big wrestling fan. He reeled in CM Punk. With Guardians being an expanding franchise in publishing -- Rocket, Star-Lord already have their own solo series, with Groot and Gamora soon to follow -- we saw enormous potential for a Drax ongoing, and we kind of figured CM would have a thing or two to say about and through the character. Turns out he did, and the story he's going to tell fits beautifully into... let's just say the larger puzzle of our Guardians publishing plan. You'll understand what I mean by that soon.

This puts it at what, seven monthly "Guardians" titles when all the currently announced ones get up and running?

Alonso: Yeah, we're up around there.

Also at C2E2, Marvel officially announced the time frame for the start of Marvel's reprints of Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham's "Miracleman," run, which will start in September and culminate with new material, specifically that story finally being finished after more than 20 years. Marvel also announced that it'll be arriving with a new #1 -- what prompted that change in focus, since that's a shift from how the series was originally released?

Alonso: We look at this as a jumping-on point for new readers, supported by three great hardcover volumes that provide the backstory. And I'm personally excited that after all these years, Marvel gets to be the one that finally bring this important story to you. There are so many stories that never got finished for some reason or another, that left readers dangling in anticipation, and this is definitely one of them.

C2E2 also included word of a couple of off-kilter one-shots that seems up your alley. First, there's "Howard the Human" by Skottie Young and Jim Mahfood. Readers are just now seeing Howard the Duck re-introduced in Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones' story -- what inspired this alternate take on the character?

Alonso: This was actually before we started developing the Howard series with Chip and Joe: While we were at a retreat discussing potential "Secret Wars" tie-ins Tom Brevoort said, "Howard the Human," and Skottie Young jumped on it. And Skottie's actually the one who suggested Jim Mahfood. It's a project that just kind of took on a life of its own. Skottie and Jim are having a lot of fun, I'll just say that much.

Then there's "Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra," illustrated by Michael Walsh and written by "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" vet David Mandel. How did Mandel get involved with Marvel for this project?

Alonso: David actually pitched this story to me about a month after I started at Marvel back in 2001. I really wanted to do it, he really wanted to do it, but for some reason, we just couldn't find a place for it in the publishing line. Fourteen years later, we're in the process of putting together Battleworld, and David drops by the Marvel office, and we're like... "Hey, remember that 'Hank Johnson' pitch...?" That's the great thing about comics: Nothing is ever dead.

Hickman Ends the "Avengers" & "New Avengers," Prepares for Battle in "Secret Wars"

Also, clearly, patience can pay off! Moving from comics that won't be out for months to ones out this past Wednesday, this week saw the last issues of both Jonathan Hickman's "Avengers" run and his "New Avengers" run. Now, the story isn't over, because it continues directly in "Secret Wars," but his runs on both of those books are done. It may be too soon to reflect too much, but as Editor-in-Chief, what are you most proud of with what he did on those books? It was a very unique run on both of those titles, with a long-term plan, as he's known for, and a very singular vision.

Alonso: I think what sets Jonathan's run apart more than anything is the scale he brought to the series. In an era where Marvel Studios is filling the widescreens with eye-popping visuals that no one could have dreamed about back when these characters were created, comic books are at their best when they constantly remind you why they're unique -- what they're uniquely qualified to do. And what we can do is use the unlimited special effects budget of our medium and the creative latitude of our publisher to "go big" on every level: big stories, mind-blowing concepts, a cast of millions, big risks. Jonathan wasn't just world-building during his run on "Avengers"; he was universe-building. And everything he brought to the series culminates in "Secret Wars."

REVIEW: "Fantastic Four" #645 is "a Beautiful Conclusion to a Remarkable Run"

This week also saw the last issue -- for now -- of "Fantastic Four." Of course, the book isn't likely to be gone forever, but this is an end for now, and it looks like Marvel had that attitude at least to an extent, by making #645 a sendoff. It had an upbeat ending, it was an extra-sized issue -- what can you say about Marvel's approach behind the scenes, in making "Fantastic Four" #645 a proper goodbye for that series?

Alonso: James [Robinson], Leonard [Kirk] and crew are bringing "Fantastic Four" to an elegant close that you won't want to miss. [Editor] Mark Paniccia assembled a murderer's row of creators -- past and present -- to tie a bow on this iteration of the FF. His goal was to give "The World's Greatest Comics Magazine" the world's greatest last issue and the reaction so far confirms the creative team's efforts were appreciated.

Beyond that, all I can say is that the FF's role in "Secret Wars" is not inconsequential, and it's certain to get fans' hearts racing. To say anything more, I'd have to navigate a minefield of spoilers, so I won't.

Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, and Marvel has two books out: "Secret Wars" #0, and "All-New All-Different Avengers" #1. A lot of times, at various publishers, FCBD releases are often stand-alones, fun, introductory stories -- not saying these aren't new reader friendly, but they appear to be consequential stories for Marvel's existing fan base. What can you say about that strategy -- and should Marvel hardcore fans not sleep in on Saturday morning?

Alonso: Without a doubt. We always want these stories to be exciting and accessible to new fans and old fans. And we want these stories to tease readers about the future -- and I think that Avengers roster says a lot about the future. Remember, we now live in a world where the vast majority of people actually know who the Avengers are -- Cap, Thor, Iron Man, etc. -- so when you hit them with a roster that includes a character in black Spider-Man tights, a female Thor, a kid in a Lone Ranger mask with a big lightning bolt on her chest -- they're going to ask, "Who are these guys?" It's like when we hit the world with that first image of the all-new Thor -- it resonated far and wide because everyone knows who classic Thor is and what he looks like. I think that's really cool.

And it's in the Avengers tradition, since the lineups have always been changing.

Alonso: Absolutely.

Let's wrap with a fan question from the CBR Community, from TheStrongestOne: "In 'Hulk' #15, we witnessed the demise of Red Hulk. Big Red has garnered a lot of fans especially after Jeff Parker's great run, so please tell us we haven't seen the last of Rulk!"

Alonso: Well, you'll see a completely different version of Ross in "Secret Wars: Battleworld #4", which might hint at his post-"Secret Wars" status quo. Then again, maybe it won't.

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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