Saving "Storm" and Taking "Howard the Duck" Seriously

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!

After a week away due to the Thanksgiving holiday (thanks again for Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada for stepping in to talk the upcoming "All-New Miracleman Annual"), Alonso is back, and he weighs in on how the new "Howard the Duck" series from writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Joe Quinones has the "scale" of "Avengers," if not the tone. He also weighs on Al Ewing and Alan Davis' upcoming "Ultron Forever," and the "#SaveStorm" hashtag campaign that has galvanized fans of Greg Pak and your questions, directly from the CBR Community!

Albert Ching: Axel, a lot of times we start this column by talking sports, but now it's actually on topic: Marvel released earlier this week the first look at a series of ESPN-themed variant covers promoting the College Football Playoff. It's a notable example of some corporate synergy -- what's your take on those covers, and what do you see in the potential future of cross-promoting between Marvel and ESPN?

Axel Alonso: I don't look at it as corporate synergy, I look at it as creative synergy. This is our fourth collaboration with ESPN, dating back to the 2010 ESPN magazine NBA Preview issue. The overlap between Marvel Comics and ESPN is immense, and we're going to continue to explore that zone. Professional athletes are the closest things to real-world superhumans. They're genetically bestowed with great power, they learn to use that power, and then they square off against equally powerful opponents on a playing field. To see Spider-Man, the All-New Captain America and Punisher posed on these "IN" variants underscores that parallel.

The fact that these are actual variant covers rather than, say, an ESPN the Magazine piece, seems to imply that there could be more done in the future.

Alonso: We're just doing eight variants, and they're tied to books that are in stores on Jan. 7 because that's right in the heart of the NCAA football playoffs. A couple days ago, Jason Aaron -- who's a huge Alabama Crimson Tide fan -- Tweeted, "Why doesn't 'Thor' get one?" First off, Jason, Thor is an Auburn fan, but the reason is that her book doesn't ship that week.

I think the covers look fantastic. Chris Fondacaro and his team in the Creative Services Department designed them, based on the template ESPN used for its own "IN" ads, and they're starkly graphic posters that'll look great on your wall. And by "your wall," I mean my wall.

RELATED: Marvel Teams with ESPN for College Football Playoff "IN" Variant Covers

I just wish, say, the Punisher was actually doing something football related.

Alonso: I wouldn't be surprised if Frank Castle played free safety in high school before he turned into, well, the Punisher.

We didn't talk last week because of the holiday, so let's cover this now: There's a new "Howard the Duck" ongoing series on the way this March from Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones. There are a few things that are noteworthy there, between the creative team and just the fact that there is a Howard the Duck ongoing series for the first time in years. What are you excited about for fans to discover in that one?

Alonso: What timing. The sketch for the variant cover for "Howard the Duck" #2 just popped up in my i-box, showing Howard standing next to a very special guest-star in a pose that's sure to light up the Internet. I love it so much I'm going to see if the artist will sell it to me.

Look, I'm thrilled that we live in an era where there's oxygen for books like "Howard the Duck." Chip is hilarious -- I love his work on "Sex Criminals" -- and he proves he's much more than just an artist. And Joe Quinones is a fantastic artist who excels with humor. These guys really get what Howard is about -- the anarchic spirit that drove the original series -- and they're bringing a thoroughly modern touch to the series. "Howard the Duck" isn't going to be a little book off to the side. Big stuff will happen, and there is a huge surprise on the last page of issue #1 that's going to make that very clear. If you saw a little film called "Guardians of the Galaxy," you're going to enjoy this. So for now, I'll say, "Order high on issue #1, people!" Quote me, underline it, bold it. [Laughs]

It's notable that there's a new "Howard the Duck" series and while I'm sure it'll be humorous, it's being taken seriously -- it's not being treated as a joke.

Alonso: Sure, "Howard the Duck" will be humorous -- the same way that Marvel Studios' "Guardians of the Galaxy" was humorous. It will have the scale of "Avengers," but it's not looking to scratch the same itch as "Avengers" -- it's got more in common with "Deadpool" or "Rocket Raccoon." It's going to be a huge adventure with a lot of laughs and lots of cameos -- big and small. And some guest-stars who are big and small.

RELATED: Zdarsky & Quinones Open "Howard the Duck" Investigations

Another announcement from last week -- "Ultron Forever" is coming in April from Al Ewing and Alan Davis. What's intriguing to you about that story? Obviously getting three oversized issues of Alan Davis in one month is pretty intriguing itself. What do you like about why that story is doing, leading up to Ultron's major role in the "Avengers" sequel film?

Alonso: For starters, the creative team, turned loose on big characters and big villains. It really starts with that. [Senior Vice President, Publishing] Tom Brevoort put it together and he didn't need to sell me on the team. For Al Ewing -- who's done great work on "Mighty Avengers" and "Loki" -- it's the great opportunity to tell an even bigger story featuring characters who's Q-rating is off the charts squaring off against a villain whose Q-rating will be off the charts very, very soon. And Alan Davis -- what can you say? The eyes don't lie. He's amazing.

RELATED: Ewing & The Avengers Fight to Break Ultron's Grip on "Forever"

Something else that's surfaced in the past couple of weeks is the #SaveStorm campaign, which you yourself have acknowledged on Twitter. I was intrigued to get your thoughts on it, because the old conventional wisdom seems to be efforts like that weren't necessarily fruitful, both because by the time readers notice sales on a book, it may be too late, because of the way advance orders work -- and because fans don't get the whole picture when it comes to sales, just the estimates on the Diamond charts. Do you see #SaveStorm as something that could potentially be working and turning things around for that series?

Alonso: This all started with rumor. Conjecture based on sales figures and conventional wisdom. There will always be Internet reporters that can't wait to declare the patient dead based on the vital signs -- or what they perceive to be the vital signs -- and they aren't doing the creators or consumers any favors by doing so. They don't have the full picture, and we can't respond to every rumor they start.

We haven't announced that "Storm" is ending. Maybe it is, maybe it's not. Maybe digital sales factor into the picture, maybe we have a plan to boost sales, maybe something is coming up in the story arc that will transform the title character or the series itself, or maybe there's something coming down the road -- like, say, "Secret Wars" -- that's going to make all of the speculation irrelevant.

In response to the "SaveStorm campaign, we made issue #1 available for free as a digital comic:

Shortly after that, I Tweeted something like "#SaveAvengers #SaveSpiderMan "#SaveMsMarvel" -- and that was a clue, people. "Secret Wars" is going to change the Marvel Universe. Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming Previews.


To move away from Marvel publishing entirely, wanted to ask about a couple reasonably on-topic things from the past week -- since "Star Wars" comics are now a big part of Marvel's publishing line, what did you think of the teaser trailer for "The Force Awakens"?

Alonso: Loved the Stormtrooper in the opening shot. I was 7 or 8 when "Star Wars" hit theaters. Stood in line for nine hours at the Coronet Theatre in San Francisco the week it came out. My mom let me go only because I was going with a crew of a dozen or so boys, aged 7 to 13, so I guess she figured no one would #$%@ with us. The impact of the title scroll and that first spaceship gliding down the screen still resonate with me. So this recent teaser -- I'm all in. And it makes me even more excited about the comic books we have planned. [Laughs]

RELATED: PREVIEW: Aaron & Cassaday's "Star Wars" #1

Also wanted to get your initial reaction on the prospects of a live-action "Preacher" adaptation -- a book you edited for years -- from Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg and Breaking Bad's Sam Catlin, which received a pilot order at AMC this week.

Alonso: Love it. It's long overdue. I miss editing that book. Don't miss wondering if I still had a job after an issue came out, though. [Laughs]

It feels like almost since when the book first started, there's been talk of a live-action adaptation.

Alonso: Yeah, it's been talked about for some time -- both as a feature film and TV series, which it's much better suited to. I'm really curious to see how the story gets adapted, because there's only so much that you can tone down the source material before you destroy it. On the surface, it's a macabre spaghetti western, but it's got a lot to say about the society, organized religion, and just how plain #$%#$ed up people can be. The network that does it needs to be brave.

AMC has had a pretty good track record of late.

Alonso: No doubt.

Speaking of adapting... Elsewhere, Garth [Ennis] is crowd-funding webisodes based on "Crossed," a series he started over at Avatar Press. Now there's a story that doesn't pull any punches. [Laughs] Garth wants to film it his way, and this is the only way to get it done. I'd love to see it happen.

Let's get to a few fan questions since we didn't get a chance to last week: Hypestyle is curious about the multi-universal madness of "Secret Wars," asking, "Will any of the original New Universe characters get to join in the fun of 'Secret Wars'?"

Alonso: Well, a few of them can be found in the promotional poster by Alex Ross so...

Reviresco has been scouring the "Secret Wars" Battleworld map, and wonders, "I just saw the labeled Battleworld map, and there are definitely some surprises, like nothing in the oceans?! Marville has a role in 'Secret Wars,' but Atlantis, Lemuria and the underwater civilizations of 'Atlantis Attacks' don't? Say it isn't so! "

Alonso: Underwater civilizations are underwater -- they don't show up on a map.

RELATED: Take an Advance Look at New Battleworld for Marvel's "Secret Wars"

MARVELous Memories asks: Any chance Mark Brooks will be doing interior work for Marvel soon?

Alonso: No current plans, but we'd love that. Mark's covers always rock.

We'll wrap for the week with Sasquatch by Night, who asks, "2014 has been a great year for Moon Knight fans, with first Ellis and Shalvey and now Wood and Smallwood redefining the character. How would you describe what 2015 has in store for Moon Knight?"

Alonso: We'll be announcing the team for the next chapter of "Moon Knight" very soon...

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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