"Secret Wars" Jam Session Talking "A-Force," "Ultimate End" and More

Fridays on CBR mean Axel's In Charge -- almost always. This week, though, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso is away from the office, but that doesn't mean this column is taking an early vacation day.

In place of Alonso, CBR has recruited five of Marvel's top editors -- Daniel Ketchum, Mark Paniccia, Nick Lowe, Jake Thomas and Jon Moisan -- for a jam session talking six freshly launched "Secret Wars" companion series: "A-Force" by G. Willow Wilson, Marguerite Bennett and Jorge Molina; "Ultimate End" by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley; "Planet Hulk" by Sam Humphries and Marc Laming; "Spider-Verse" by Mike Costa and Andre Lima Araujo; "Master of Kung Fu" by Haden Blackman and Dalibor Talajic; and "Secret Wars: Battleworld" by a variety of creators, with a first issue featuring stories by Joshua Williamson & Mike Henderson and Ed Brisson & Scott Hepburn.

In this multi-person chat, each editor speaks to their respective books and what makes them unique within the large Battleworld landscape of Marvel's currently unfolding "Secret Wars" event. Next week, Alonso -- and your questions, straight from the CBR Community -- will return.

Daniel, for a lot of people the fun of "A-Force" is seeing characters from across Marvel's roster -- She-Hulk to Captain Marvel to Dazzler to Ms. America to Sister Grimm and more -- together in one book. What do you personally like about this team? Were there any characters you were pushing to include?

Daniel Ketchum: While it seems like almost every woman in the Marvel Universe pops up at some point or another in the pages of "A-Force," it quickly became apparent as we were sketching out the story that we needed to select a precious few to follow in order to keep the story focused and not overwhelm the reader. I love where we ended up, creating a core cast consisting of Marvel's most notable female heroes, each from a different corner of the Marvel Universe. I mean, who'd have thought we'd ever see the mutant queen of disco slinging lasers next to our favorite witch-y Runaway? Lots of room for fun character interactions that may not have happened any other way.

Also, it should be noted that I only narrowly resisted the temptation to strong-arm Marguerite Bennett and Willow Wilson into making "A-Force" a team of every version of my favorite character -- Storm. The struggle was real. I mean, imagine a book featuring Goddess Storm, Mohawk Storm, Thor Storm and '90s Shoulderpads Storm teaming up to beat villains up with weather. Ugh. "S-Force," take all of my money now...

"A-Force" was introduced with a lot of high-profile advance promotion, and attracted a lot of people excited about the prospect of an all-female Avengers team. That's obviously a positive thing, but it also set up expectations pretty high, which sometimes means unrealistically high -- are you pleased with the reception to "A-Force" thus far?

Ketchum: Such a big question! But I'll simply answer it by saying there's a lot of love and excitement being shared online for "A-Force" and that's incredibly rewarding to experience after months of wondering whether or not the book would deliver on people's expectations.

Mark, Axel Alonso said last week in this column that "Ultimate End," for anyone who may be skeptical, is viewed internally as the last Ultimate Universe story. As editor, what kind of responsibility is that for you -- wrapping 15 years of Marvel storytelling in one miniseries? And in that, doing justice to a section of Marvel that has obviously has a huge influence not only on the classic Marvel Universe, but many film and TV adaptations? (Obviously having Bendis and Bagley on board helps.)

Mark Paniccia: I consider myself one of the luckiest comic book editors in the world that Brian Bendis and Mark Bagley are the ones that are working on this, because it makes my job all the more easier and honestly, there's no one else who could be or should be attached to a project like this. These guys have been here from the beginning and they are here at the end to turn the lights off. And while we say goodbye to the Ultimate U for good, there's a feeling of great pride amongst all who've contributed to see so much of it inspire elements of the movies, TV shows, games and Marvel Proper.

"Ultimate End" is a story not only tied in to "Secret Wars," but stems from years of history in the Ultimate Universe. As editor, what kind of challenge is telling a story like that -- not only appealing to the hardcore fans that have been following these storylines, but also keeping things open and accessible in a story detailing such a distinct point in Marvel history?

Paniccia: Very challenging when it was first presented. And, to a degree, emotional. There've been many long nights of blood sweat and tears that have gone into this universe. We faced a lot of challenges as talent and story elements transitioned to mainline Marvel. I think there are a lot of people here who would agree that our biggest competition was ourselves. So once we knew it was going to be the end, I talked to Brian and we agreed that we would have as much fun with this as possible. We knew it would be as sad for the fans as it was for us to say goodbye but the thing about Brian is he never runs out of great ideas. He had an approach as to how to handle this story that would push a lot of buttons and tug a lot of heart strings. I think many readers will get a kick out of the character moments Brian explores and everyone will be blown away by Bagley's art.

Mark, let's also talk "Planet Hulk" -- the star of #1 is Sam Humphries and Marc Laming's very cool, very different take on Captain America, as a gladiator type in a fantasy realm. What can you share about how that interpretation of Steve Rogers developed? What do you like about the different opportunity it provides to explore the character?

Paniccia: Besides such a rad character design compliments of Marc Laming readers will be totally surprised at what kind of statement is being made in this story. This thing is a real psychological study in what -- on the surface -- may look like a very cool gladiator hero tale (colored with an impeccable palette by Jordan Boyd). I can only say that it's more complex than it appears and that what's been done so far couldn't have come out any better. This is potentially one of the great explorations of character in modern comics. Sorry, no pressure Sam! [Laughs]

"Planet Hulk" also has back-up stories by Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa. How important was it for Marvel to include Pak, the writer of the original "Planet Hulk" story, in this series?

Paniccia: Way back when we got all this stuff on the board I had an itch to reach out to Greg to contribute to it somehow -- but I needed to see where this was going to take us first. After Sam's outline came in I sent it over to Greg and asked him to read it. I wanted to do an origin of the domain of Greenland and told him what Sam's original idea was for the backstory -- that this territory was from a world where the Gamma Bomb went off over a populated area. Maybe it was because Sam had mentioned Arizona at one point (and I was born there) that I was so determined to tell this tale. Arizona never gets any comic book love. Greg and I chatted a bit and thought it would be fun to include Amadeus Cho because he, too, is from Arizona.

But who to draw? Why not Takeshi Miyazawa since he was the first person to draw Amadeus? Well, that was the hardest part because he had a tight deadline on "Ms. Marvel" and I didn't want to mess that schedule up (or tick off "Ms. Marvel" editor Sana Amanat). But Tak came through like a pro. He finished up Sana's assignment and jumped onto our tight deadline and it all came together with Rachelle Rosenberg's beautiful colors, Travis Lanham's great typography and a great faux cover of "Amazing Science" #15 featuring "The Smartest Heroes of Earth." To that wonderful little touch I owe much thanks to Leonard Kirk, Chris Eliopoulos and Tamra Bonvillain for turning an editor's last second idea around in a snap.

So it was fantastic to not only have a great main story but to have the opportunity to work with Greg and Tak again. Sometimes everything falls into place just beautifully.

And as a fellow former Arizonan, those efforts are appreciated. Turning to Nick -- many of the "Secret Wars"-related series hearken back to past events from several years to decades ago. "Spider-Verse," of course, just wrapped up a few months ago. Thus, was there a strong motivation to make this one even more different than the original, to distinguish it further from what readers saw recently?

Nick Lowe: First, hi everybody! Glad to help pitch in while Axel's getting tan. For "Spider-Verse," it was actually a different beast altogether and picks up not long after the end of the original "Spider-Verse" in "Amazing Spider-Man" #15. "But how? Everything is Battleworld!" Keep reading, believers and non-believers alike!

The ever-popular Spider-Gwen is the main focus of issue #1 -- what can you share about how, out of the many different Spider-characters we've seen recently, this cast was chosen for the series? And will we see more Spider-characters as the series continues, or does the book retain focus on the team established in the first issue?

Lowe: Good questions. The choice of the characters came for various reasons. Mike Costa and I made a list that was embarrassingly long and we had to trim it down mercilessly. Anya Corazon, Spider-Girl, and Spider-UK were who we saw setting this story up in "ASM" #15. So they were a must (also, I just dig them and [Dan] Slott would never forgive me if I didn't put UK on this team). Spider-Gwen is the best and I knew fans would never forgive me if "Spider-Gwen" #5 was the last place they got to see Gwen-zell. For Spider-Man: India, it was the scene Dan wrote in "ASM" #13 coupled with sentimentality as I actually worked on the original. Spider-Man Noir, because he's the best. And Ham! How can you do this book without Spider-Ham? You can't.

Jake, a major theme running through many of the "Secret Wars" tie-ins in seeing Marvel delve into genres beyond superheroes, and "Master of Kung Fu" is certainly an example of that. As editor, how did you take advantage of that opportunity to push the boundaries of what fans may expect a Marvel book to look and feel like? What's planned for "Master of Kung Fu" that isn't possible elsewhere in Marvel's line?

Jake Thomas: What Haden and Dalibor have done here is completely build a world from the ground up. It's got pieces of the Marvel Universe in it, but it has just as much Shaw Brothers, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Maybe even a touch of the Western. In that sense, what they're doing is the comics equivalent of the kind of genre pastiche that Quentin Tarantino does in film. That kind of freedom to reinterpret and play has led to some incredible characterizations and moments that wouldn't be possible within the confines of the main universe Marvel continuity, from Shang-Chi and Iron Fist's rivalry to the awesome redesign of Lockheed!

I think the best example of what we're doing is the "legends" at the beginning of each issue that explain both how the world of K'un Lun operates and provides some character insight and motivation. Haden's built a sort of folklore that feels very real and lived in for this world, and Dalibor found the perfect approach artistically to get across exactly where and how these legends exist in K'Un Lun.

Shang-Chi is a character that hasn't had too much of a spotlight in recent years. What kind of potential do you see in him as a lead character?

Thomas: Shang-Chi is one of those characters that a lot of people, both fans and creators, simply can't get enough of. While it feels like he hasn't had much of a spotlight recently he had some great moments in Warren Ellis's "Secret Avengers," Jonathan Hickman's "Avengers," Nick Spencer's "Avengers World," and he had his own miniseries last year, "Deadly Hands of Kung Fu," which I worked on with Mike Benson and Tan Eng Huat. He's largely been portrayed as the strong, silent type, but he's also just crazy cool. He's a smooth operator, smart, capable and always in control (well, maybe not always... certainly not in our story!). He may be the best, closest analogue we have to James Bond in the Marvel U. There's a lot of intrigue you can build out of that kind of character. A kung fu James Bond? Who wouldn't want to read that?

Jon, the lineups of "Secret Wars: Battleworld" show that, like many Marvel anthology series, creative teams not seen in the traditional monthly books are getting a shot here. How much fun for you is that aspect -- exploring talent outside of Marvel's traditional lineup, and seeing what they can do in decidedly non-traditional takes on Marvel characters?

Jon Moisan: For me, anthology books are usually the most fun to put together out of everything I work on. While I love doing miniseries and ongoing books, an anthology is a great place to try out talent you've always wanted to see working at Marvel and proving that they can fit in here without the pressures of regular books as well as giving established talent a chance to do something completely different than their regular books. For "Battleworld," I made it my unofficial mission statement to pull in writers and artists that I've been trying to get in the door and just couldn't find the right project. All and all, I'm pretty happy with my cast on the book and stories we're telling.

Sometimes with a book like this, it can be hard to present definitive winners of conflicts, since both characters have a lot invested into them. But for this, dealing with alternate -- often obscure -- versions of characters, is it easier to have a for-sure winner or loser? Can readers expect clear outcomes from this series?

Moisan: Oh yeah, it can definitely be hard to have a clear-cut winner in any of these fights. I like to keep in mind the old comic book adage that "every character is someone's favorite character." With that, it means you that I need to make every character look strong, no matter how silly or crazy they are. For instance, in issue #2 we have a fight between Howard the Duck and Blade written by David Walker that I think people will be pleasantly surprised to see shows both characters in a favorable light.

But that doesn't mean there won't be definitive winners. For anyone that read issue #1, they definitely saw that there was a winner between the Punisher Supreme and the new Fantastic Four. So it's definitely not a problem to have winners, you just need to keep anyone from looking like a chump.

Next week, Axel Alonso returns! 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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