Pushing Infinite Comics Further, Ultimate Deaths

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 overseen both critically acclaimed and best-selling comics, Alonso stepped into the spot of Marvel's editorial department in early 2011, and has since worked 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!

Following a newsworthy week for Marvel's digital-first Infinite Comics line -- with both big developments in "Deadpool: The Gauntlet" and the stealth release of an Infinite Comics prelude to the upcoming "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" film -- we discuss the format and the current state of digital initiatives with Alonso and special guest Ron Perazza, Marvel's director of digital publishing innovation. Additionally, we explore the latest major change to the Ultimate Universe, the end of "Uncanny X-Force" and "Cable and X-Force," and answer your questions!

Albert Ching: Axel, it's been a big week for Infinite Comics news -- both word that Deadpool's future bride, Shiklah, will first be seen in "Deadpool: The Gauntlet" and the stealth release of the "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" Infinite Comic. The Infinite Comics have tied into major storylines since the beginning -- the first one was an "Avengers vs. X-Men" prelude -- but introducing a character already known to play a major role in the main "Deadpool" series in "The Gauntlet" seems to send a powerful message. Is it a deliberate move to draw more attention to Infinite Comics, and create more synergy between them and the rest of Marvel's books?

Axel Alonso: It sure is. While our other Infinite Comics have been in continuity -- "Wolverine: Japan's Most Wanted" ties into Jason [Aaron]'s "Wolverine and the X-Men," "Iron Man: Fatal Frontier" ties into Kieron [Gillen]'s "Iron Man," and the upcoming "Daredevil: Road Warrior" ties into Mark [Waid]'s launch of the [new] "Daredevil" #1 -- we wanted do something more... aggressive here. Deadpool has a unique hold on fans, and performs extremely well in the digital arena. Deadpool comics, Deadpool trades, Deapool shorts -- anything Deadpool -- is devoured in digital form. So we thought, what better character to draw more attention to the unique storytelling of Infinite Comics? And what better way to get their attention than a story that's deeply woven into current continuity and sets up big things for the future. We tasked ["Deadpool" writers] Gerry [Duggan] and Brian [Posehn] to tell a story that would be as relevant to the continuity of the character as any issue of "Deadpool" on stands, and we got the message out there that fans wouldn't want to miss it. It worked.

So readers can expect to see more direct correlation between Infinite Comics and mainline ongoing series?

Alonso: Yes. We see the digital arena as an important factor in growing our readership, a complement to print publishing that will grow awareness of the stories we're telling and drive people to stores. And Infinite Comics -- by changing the way they are created and read -- are new way to communicate with readers, old and new. Anything we can do to create new readers, we're going to do.

The "Winter Soldier" Infinite Comic got a "stealth release," something becoming increasingly popular in media. Is that taking advantage of the digital format, since there's maybe less of a turnaround time than with print? What are the advantages of that kind of rollout with this story?

Alonso: Actually, Infinite Comics are every bit as production-intensive as print comics, if not more so because we're still learning how to do them. The production process for Infinite Comics is still something we're still building. So it wasn't like this was easier to do or anything.

That said, we held promotion for this Infinite Comics is because we weren't trying to drum up orders in advance as we do for print comics. By releasing the news on the book and offering it for sale at the same time, we do have immediate sales, as consumers instantly have something to purchase.

We're getting close to nearly two years of Infinite Comics -- one of the interesting things about it is that it still continues to hold a lot of promise in terms of how it'll be utilized in the future. Technology wise, how would you rate their progression at this point?

Alonso: There have been advances, without a doubt. Things we couldn't do in the beginning, now we can do, and things that we can't do now, I'm sure we'll soon be able to do. But I think I'll bring in [Director of Digital Publishing Innovation] Ron Perazza to talk specifics.

Ron Perazza: As Axel mentioned, some of the most significant advances have been in our approach to using the technology to tell compelling stories. Infinite Comics is far more than distributing static pages so the technology must be in service to the story. I know process isn't always flashy, but the more our creators and editors understand about how the technology works, the more they can push those boundaries in creative ways -- and we've done that through the creation of style guides, specs, templates and the like. On the technical side, we can then innovate to add value to the stories they want to tell instead of simply layering technology on as a gimmick. We've learned a lot in the last year through "Wolverine: Japan's Most Wanted," "Iron Man: Fatal Frontier," and now "Deadpool: The Gauntlet," and there are some game-changing announcements in the very near future about where we're taking Infinite Comics that I think are really exciting.

In terms of publishing and their place in Marvel's line, as noted, readers are seeing Infinite Comics grow in importance. Are you looking to perhaps do even more in the future? Obviously it's already weekly, but is there still more there to be done with Infinite Comics, storyline-wise?

Alonso: Well, I certainly don't see us cutting back. Infinite Comics are another way of telling comic book stories and another way of reading them. Readers are responding to them, and we're committed to perfecting them. New developments in how we tell these stories, how we are able to tell these stories, are going to really open up the form. The writers and artists who have done them have all enjoyed the experience, the challenge, and the additional latitude that the format brings them.

When you look at all of Marvel's digital efforts, and formats Marvel is experimenting in, are things right around where you'd like them to be? Do you think there's more room for what can be done, or are you happy with how things have progressed thus far?

Alonso: I'm happy with how things have progressed. When we started these, it was like jumping off a cliff. [Laughs] We had no idea how readers would respond, how the creative community would respond, if we'd fall flat on our face right out the gate. But people have embraced it. If it weren't working, we wouldn't be doing it. On that, we are very consistent.

For us, it's all about building the biggest comic book audience possible, fostering a generation that is trained to read and enjoys reading comics. The more formats available, the better.

Marvel introduced multiple digital efforts a year ago at South by Southwest, and one hasn't yet surfaced -- Project Gamma, the adaptive audio soundtrack to digital comics. Is there any update on that?

Alonso: Coming soon. We made advances, and it's imminent. It's great stuff. It's so much fun.

Let's touch on a couple things from this week's books -- "Cataclysm: The Ultimates' Last Stand" #4 contained what certainly appears to be the death of Ultimate Captain America. It's been well-established that "dead is dead" in the Ultimate Universe -- how significant do you see this event to the Ultimate Universe? They're not only losing their Captain America, but also a former president!

Alonso: It's significant. Dead is dead so the Ultimate Universe will have to get used to the fact that Cap no longer exists. Will someone fill the void or inherit the mantle? Wait and see.

The Ultimate Universe is almost distinguished at this point by the characters who aren't there -- so many big ones have died, from Peter Parker to Wolverine, and many new ones have stepped up, whether they're completely new like Miles Morales, or stepping up to bigger roles, like Cloak and Dagger. Do you see these icons are no longer being around as a major defining aspect of the Ultimate line?

Alonso: The Ultimate Universe is extra-elastic, but when it snaps -- it's broken for good. When someone dies, they're dead. We move that piece off the board for good. If we replace it, we replace it with something new. We exploit the creative opportunity that's created by the void. Whether or not the void created by Captain America's absence will be filled or not, whether or not there will be a new Captain America or something to replace it, that's the fun and the challenge of the Ultimate Universe.

This week also saw the final issue of "Uncanny X-Force," the wrap-up of the "Vendetta" crossover with the also-ending "Cable and X-Force." Those books were written by two of the biggest rising stars at Marvel, Sam Humphries and Dennis Hopeless -- with "Avengers A.I." and "Avengers Undercover," respectively, they have one book at Marvel each now, but can fans look forward to even more from both of them in the nearish future?

Alonso: Without a doubt. They're both really talented guys, with great futures ahead. I was just talking with Sam yesterday about another series that he's rigorously researching right now.

Turning to fan questions, shellhead85 has a question not about Iron Man, but his armored ally: "Really looking forward to Ales Kot and Garry Brown's "Iron Patriot" series, as Rhodey has always been one of my favorites, and it's great to see him getting his due. Will this lead to an increased presence in other titles? It would be great to see him getting the attention some of the other Marvel Cinematic characters get."

Alonso: Not right away, Shellhead. In fact, Rhodey will be leaving the pages of "Secret Avengers" -- also written by Ales Kot -- in order to focus on his solo adventures. Once the series establishes itself, I'm sure you'll be able to find Rhodey in his new role in some other places.

THANOSRULES asks a very timely question, following last week's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." announcement: "With the TV news, any plans to revive Deathlok in the comics?"

Alonso: I wouldn't be surprised. Rick Remender plans for an Abomination Deathlok to appear in "Uncanny Avengers" some time soon, and James Robinson has seeded clues in "All-New Invaders" #2 that a Deathlok might pop up in that series, as well.

Wrapping up with TsaiMeLemoni, who wants to know, "Will we have some sort of more permanent artist rotation on "Thunderbolts"? We've been gifted with some great, fun artists, but I do wonder if we could have at least one artist that stays on the book every other arc or so.

Alonso: We've been very happy with the great work we've gotten from all the writers and artists who've made "Thunderbolts" so much fun. That said, Carlo Barberi is scheduled to come back for another arc of the series -- a very surprising story -- so keep your eyes peeled for announcements about it in the next month or two.

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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