Starting "Civil War II," Ending "Darth Vader" and Introducing Grant Ward

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 in comics receiving 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!


This week, Alonso talks -- briefly, at least -- about the conclusion of the "Darth Vader" series with issue #25, and what it might mean for the future of the Star Wars comics line and for writer Kieron Gillen, as it was his only current project at Marvel. Alonso also discusses last week's "Civil War II" prelude story by Brian Michael Bendis and Jim Cheung released on Free Comic Book Day, which appeared to critically injure and perhaps kill two major Marvel characters: She-Hulk and War Machine. Also, Alonso addresses the Marvel Universe debut of "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." fan-favorite character Grant Ward, who is now a part of Marvel's comic book world as of this week's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." #5, by Marc Guggenheim and German Peralta. That and more, including Alonso's enthusiasm for acclaimed hip-hop duo Run the Jewels lending their music to the first installment of a new series of "Black Panther" recap videos.

Albert Ching: Axel, news broke just today that Marvel's "Darth Vader" series is ending with issue #25 -- clearly, that's a big hit, and it wouldn't be ending without a reason. It sounds like it's just a situation where the story has reached its natural conclusion?

Axel Alonso: Yep, it's the natural conclusion of the story we were telling.

"Darth Vader" was the other pillar of the Marvel Star Wars line, along with the main "Star Wars" book. Is the plan for another ongoing series to take that place?

Alonso: That's the plan, yes. Stay tuned.

Clearly a lot of this is still early to talk about, but I've got one last question on the subject -- "Darth Vader" was the last Marvel book Kieron Gillen was writing, as he's been primarily focused on creator-owned works like "The Wicked + The Divine." Post-"Darth Vader," does he have more Marvel work lined up, Star Wars or otherwise?

Alonso: Yes he does. Stay tuned. [Laughs]

Let's talk about something now a few days old -- the "Civil War II" Free Comic Book Day story. It was a rather eventful story -- maybe more eventful than people expected -- that ended with She-Hulk critically injured and War Machine possibly dead. Obviously there's more to come here, but how important was it to Marvel to start off this story with a big statement?

Alonso: The stakes are high in "Civil War II," and what happens to She-Hulk and War Machine demonstrates that. They are two beloved characters that have significant history with key players in this story, and what befalls them will have a profound ripple effect on everything that happens after. Are they really, truly done? Read and see.

The "Civil War II" solicitations have alluded to, heavily, a major character death. Is that something we've seen in this Free Comic Book Day story, or are there more twists to come?

Alonso: All I'll say is that there is at least one major death in this series, and plenty of twists, mayhem and reasons for tears to come. And there are a couple of big pivot-points in the story -- moments that will turn everything on its ear. Fans who've pledged their allegiance to "Team Iron Man" or "Team Captain Marvel" in advance of actually reading the story are going to have a thing or two coming to them. Yeah, we've revealed the broad strokes of Carol's position and Tony's position in regards to "Predictive Justice," but it's a very complex issue that's going to birth developments in the story that will shake the underpinnings of everyone's position. The issues that our heroes are fighting over are not trivial -- they reflect the key issues our society is grappling with today. The metaphor is right there. If events in the story don't compel readers to re-examine their position at least once, we haven't done our job.

Let's talk about the "Black Panther" recap video that hit online this week, featuring commentary from series writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and music from Run the Jewels, specifically their 2014 song "Oh My Darling (Don't Cry)" -- which is not something that comes cheaply or easily, surely. Between the variant covers and Killer Mike's introduction to the Hip-Hop Covers collection, it certainly looks like Run the Jewels and Marvel are friends -- so how did this particular collaboration take shape?

Alonso: The response to Ta-Nehisi and Brian [Stelfreeze]'s "Black Panther" exceeded our wildest expectations. This book is bringing new foot traffic into stores, people who might not be interested in reading a comic book under any other circumstances. A large part of this owes to the fact that Ta-Nehisi's star is so bright right now -- he's the foremost spokesman to one of the most pressing issues of the day and he won the National Book Award; part owes to the fact that general interest in the Panther is at an all-time high due to "Captain America: Civil War"; and part owes to the fact that it's just a damn good read.

That said, we wanted to do something different, something extra, to reach outside our normal audience. My boss, Dan Buckley, came up with the idea of doing a series of video recaps -- story-so-far vignettes set to a musical score -- and to go to an outside trailer production house to produce them. We wanted each of these videos to be an entertainment experience in and of itself; if you knew nothing about the Black Panther, it'd keep you watching 'til you'd want to know more.

We figured there were two things that would make these video compelling. First, we needed Ta-Nehisi involved. Everyone wants to hear him talk about the Panther and his process, so we asked if he'd be willing to do an in-depth, on-camera interview, he said yes, and [the production house] Bow and Arrow sent a film crew to Paris to shoot enough material for all the trailers. Second, we needed a musical score that wasn't just fitting or appropriate, but grabbed your ears, propelled the narrative, and sent a loud-and-clear message about the series. The first group that came to mind was Run the Jewels -- one of today's most respected and innovative Hip-Hop groups -- we reached out, they were game, and that was that. We selected "Oh My Darling (Don't Cry)" as the track, and Bow & Arrow built a video around it that did everything we wanted. It's gotten close to 86,000 views on YouTube in in just three days, and vast pickup across other media channels.

And different artists will be heard in future video installments?

Alonso: Yep. We've got some great stuff planned.

Some fairly surprising news hit this week with the announcement of four-issue miniseries "Marvel Tsum Tsum," from the creative team of writer Jacob Chabot and artist David Baldeon and based on the hit line of plush toys. Sure sounds like one of the quirkier projects aimed at a non-traditional audience, like the Disney Kingdoms line, but given how choosy Marvel typically has been with this type of Disney tie-in, what made "Marvel Tsum Tsum" something worth pursuing?

Alonso: The Marvel Tsum Tsum mobile game -- which launched just two months ago in Japan -- was a sensational hit; with over three million downloads, it consistently ranks as the country's #1 downloaded free game. Tsums Tsums are appealing to adults and kids because they pack everything you love about our characters into a pint-sized package -- one look and you instantly 'get' which one is Rocket, which one is Black Widow, etc. We thought it would be really cool to bring them into the Marvel Universe proper, taking on the form of our favorite heroes and villains, simple as that.

A big development in Marvel's comics this week was Grant Ward (Brett Dalton's character) being introduced in the "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." comic book, and thus the classic Marvel Universe, for the first time. How important was it for Marvel to bring in this character -- who is absolutely a fan favorite -- into the comic book continuity?

Alonso: "Important" isn't quite the right word. We've wanted to bring Ward into the Marvel Universe ever since we launched the previous "S.H.I.E.L.D." series. But at that point, his status in the TV series was in flux -- he was transitioning from dark good guy to full-on bad guy. So we worked with the folks on our TV side -- notably Jeph Loeb and Megan Thomas Bradner -- to make sure that when we did introduce Ward into the MU proper, his appearance would jibe properly with what viewers would be familiar with from "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD."

Let's wrap with a question from the CBR Community. Tracks wants to know something a lot of folks are curious about: "Any updates on that 'Blade' series? It's almost been a year since it was first announced." While I'm here, I'll throw in and pose another frequently asked question -- any update on "Gamora"?

Alonso: "Blade" is still in development; we want to nail it. "Gamora" is in production; scripted, the artist is at work, and we know our in-store date.

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