Revitalizing Marvel's Marquee Heroes

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

This week, Axel gets creative in exploring how the long-running titles of the Marvel Universe remain engaging to readers. From his first Marvel gig placing J. Michael Straczynski with John Romita, Jr. on "Amazing Spider-Man" on to the current creative risks of Marvel NOW! titles like "Superior Spider-Man," Alonso explains what it takes to keep monthly series at a creative peak. Plus, he answers your questions on Big Hero 6, Juggernaut, "What If...?" and more. Read on!

Kiel Phegley: Axel, like a lot of folks, I've spent the past few weeks catching up on things I missed at Comic-Con, and from what I've read, it seems like you got to go pretty deep with John Romita, Jr. while leading his spotlight panel at the show.

Axel Alonso: It was a lot of fun. I was honored to do it, and I really enjoyed doing it. I even ambushed Johnny with two of his previous collaborators ["Black Panther" writer] Reggie Hudlin and [inker/artist] Klaus Janson, who discussed what it's like to work with him. Reggie -- who's written comics and directed TV and movies, and was a producer on [Quentin Tarantino'] "Django Unchained" -- talked about his reaction to seeing his first script pages realized as art by Johnny -- the impact it had on him. And Klaus -- a legendary inker and artist in his own right -- talked about the rewards of their longtime collaboration. Johnny was actually tongue-tied a couple times, which, if you know Johnny, doesn't happen often.

What stood out to me in the discussion was your talking about coming on to "Amazing Spider-Man" and realizing that things had to be shaken up but knowing John wasn't one of the elements that needed to change. So let's talk a bit about coming to a title with an eye on revising it.

Alonso: I was tapped to revitalize the series, in a down market, which almost always means cleaning house and getting new talent on board. I knew Joe [J. Michael] Straczynski was going to be my writer, but I hadn't locked down my artist. The safest play would have been to go to someone from my Rolodex who I had a strong relationship with -- like Frank Quitely, who ended up doing "New X-Men," or ["100 Bullets" artist] Eduardo Risso. As I pored over at Johnny's work, though, it became so clear that he wasn't the problem with how the book was performing. It occurred to me that a new inker and colorist and an inspired script from the new writer might be enough to do the trick. And, of course, John proved me right and rose to the challenge -- including adjusting to working from "full script," after years of drawing only "Marvel-style" -- and delivered some of the best work of his career.

The Marvel of a decade ago is very different from the Marvel of the day, but how often does that necessary rebuilding of a book from square one come up with the marquee characters at the company who always have a title?

Alonso: There are two paths to a successful ongoing series. The first is to find a creative team that has a long story to tell and trust that they'll find their find a groove that stems the natural attrition that comes with the territory. Ed Brubaker's run on "Captain America" is a good example of that: Launched strong, held respectable numbers, then blasted into the stratosphere with the "Death of Cap" and arrival of the Winter Soldier.

The other path is to structure your series in seasons or "mini-events." Mark Millar's "Enemy of the State" arc in "Wolverine" is a good example of that: A mini-event that folded into -- and revitalized -- the monthly series. In other words, the way to keep numbers up is to give readers big stories and/or bold new creative directions. With Marvel NOW!, we mostly took the first path: new writers with long- term stories to tell, paired with the best possible artist to tell that story, with a few notable exceptions, like the bold new direction of Dan Slott's "Superior Spider-Man."

Well, we talk often in this column about finding a diamond in the rough like Ant-Man or Nova and making them shine. But with the big characters like Spider-Man, Cap or the Fantastic Four, whether the story is a quick burst or a big epic, can it be even harder to find a pitch that keeps them fresh and relevant?

Alonso: If there's a point at which an editor feels there's no way to revitalize Spidey, Hulk, Iron Man or the FF, he or she should just quit! [Laughs] I mean, c'mon! Every Marvel series goes through a low period now and then -- that comes with the territory when you're publishing each and every month -- but the creative highs -- the perennial stories -- are what you strive for, what you do the job for.

Speaking of "Superior Spider-Man," I think that's a title some people have continued to watch with a feeling of "This can't keep going forever!" all the while Dan Slott and company seem to be trying for new ways to say "Yes, it can!" It reminds me in a way of how JMS kept finding ways to tweak the character and change expectations over his run. When you've got a three or four or five year plan, how can you keep interest peaked long term?

Alonso: Oh yeah, Dan sure as heck knew that fans would be skeptical, so he dug the biggest hole possible for Peter Parker. What do I mean? Someone told me -- and I don't know it's 100 percent true -- that the Coen Brothers oftentimes sculpt the worst possible predicament for their protagonist -- the unwinnable situation -- and then figure out how he got there and if he can get out of that predicament. Again, don't know if it's true, but it's it's a pretty cool way to go about storytelling! [Laughs] Dangle your protagonist by his fingertips from a greased ledge, then clamp a ball and chain around his ankles, then put a pack of feral dogs on the ledge in case he actually does manage to pull himself up, and say, "How the heck can he get out of this?"

Dan pretty much did the same thing -- for Peter and Otto. He continued to up the stakes and ratchet up the tension and put both men on that greased ledge with the ball and chain below, and the feral dogs above. For fans, the question "When will Peter Parker return?" was replaced by "Given all the damage that Otto's done to his life, how can Peter return?"

With Marvel NOW!'s goal being that long term game for the creators, as you prepare a second wave of books is there any way in which the books of wave one will be shaking things up to keep eyeballs there as well?

Alonso: We're employing the strategy and approach we did for Marvel NOW! Creators that are launching new series -- some familiar faces, some new -- have been challenged to bring their A-game, and they've done just that; I'm certain they're going to hit the target more often than not. Creators that are currently enjoying round-one successes -- from Brian [Michael Bendis] on "All-New X-Men" to Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn on "Deadpool" -- have been challenged to provide great stories offer points of entry for new readers. And they've done just that. The vast majority of Marvel NOW! series were successful; they don't require course corrections. We've got exciting stuff planned, both in the series that already exist and the new launches.

Looking forward to fan questions, Gpack3 wonders, "In the next few years we can expect to see movies for Ant Man and Big Hero 6, but neither currently have ongoing series. Any plans to change that?"

Alonso: Well, Gpack3, there are no current plans for "Big Hero 6," but Ant-Man is featured every month in Matt Fraction and Michael Allred's "FF."

Meanwhile, mithiama had a number of good questions, starting with, "Do you guys intend to revisit Juggernaut at any point in Marvel NOW?"

Alonso: Juggernaut will appear in a flagship X-Men title, mithiama.

He follows with, "Do you guys intend on revisiting Excalibur or the Exiles at any point? I was hoping for a series where alternate universes are constantly visited and more famous alternate universe characters can show up."

Alonso: There are no plans for either series right now, but there will be some X-Men traveling to another dimension next year.

And we'll wrap with his query, "Any chance of more What If's now that Avengers VS X-Men by Jimmy Palmiotti is over?"

Alonso: No immediate plans, but we never go too long between "What If?" series, do we?

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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