"Superior" Twists & "Thunderbolt" Team-Ups

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 earlier this year 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, a string of changes both expected and unexpected has hit the Marvel Universe including a surprise revelation in "Superior Spider-Man" #1 (so SPOILER WARNINGS are in effect). Meanwhile, multiple Marvel NOW! titles are seeing new artistic teams sign on for their second arcs, and the ensuing teasers open up questions about the long term creative moves on books like "Thunderbolts." Axel dishes on all that, plus he discusses the potential of incoming Disney crossovers at Marvel including the Star Wars line. Read on!

Kiel Phegley: There were two pieces of Marvel news that hit this week, and I think both of them deserve a little digging at. First up is "Superior Spider-Man" #1 where -- spoiler warning -- we learn that Peter Parker is still in the picture up in Doc Ock's head. That comes after a lot of hair tearing from certain fans. Were you waiting for this moment to hit just for a little vindication on the story as a whole?

Axel Alonso: With bated breath! [Laughs] We knew this was a seismic reveal. Peter's dead, but exactly what that means for the future of Spider-Man? Read and find out. [Laughs] But I wouldn't say we feel so much vindicated as relieved and amused. There will always be those people who rush to judge something before they've read it, but if they waited just...a few...more...days...?

One of the real signatures of this whole story has been the fact that each issue from #698 had some big reveal or some big moment to carry things along. That's kept people online reacting and complaining and guessing. Do you think about that immediate response from readers when crafting a story? Do things need to happen much more quickly in comics in this day and age?

Alonso: They sure do. We get immediate feedback on everything we do, sometimes before we've actually done it! [Laughs] In this market, fans want their comic book-reading experience to be chock-full of twists and turns and dramatic reveals they can immediately debate with their friends at the comic store. A core comic like "Amazing" -- I mean "Superior -- Spider-Man" is a lot like a must-see TV show that's become appointment viewing, so we work extra hard to keep the pedal to the metal so reader are constantly buzzing about some new development in the story.

Maybe ten years ago, we were having such a big reaction to the idea of "writing to the trade" where all the stories were shaped to fit five or six issues rather than just one. Do you think the trends in that sense swing on a bit of a pendulum? Right now are we in a more monthly-focused market?

Alonso: We don't let trends greatly influence what we do. We're aware of them, we tap into them once in a while, but we don't let them form the basis for a line-wide mandate. For all the hollering about "decompressed" stories over the past few years -- some of it fair -- many of the titles that were singled as offenders were actually huge critical and financial successes. That's why we prefer to let the story determine the length. In certain cases, a writers and editor might hash out a game plan that divvies up stories in bite-sized increments that form a larger story -- like Kieron [Gillen] is doing with "Iron Man" or Matt [Fraction] is doing with "Fantastic Four" -- in others, the plan is a long-form story with twists and cliffhangers -- like Brian [Michael Bendis] is doing with "All-New X-Men" or Jonathan [Hickman] is doing with "Avengers." Again: the story determines the length.

I think it's very important that the line be diverse -- that there isn't a cookie-cutter "house style" or sensibility. A Marvel Comics shouldn't feel like it came off an assembly line. When I look at the line now -- from "Avengers" to "All-New X-Men," "Savage Wolverine" to "Deadpool," "Fantastic Four" to "Thor: God of Thunder," "Avengers Arena" to "Hawkeye" to "Young Avengers," I see plenty of diversity, and I think that's great.

You've had a number of teasers hitting this week about some upcoming events and art changes on the titles, and I think it's worthwhile to turn to the Spider-Man one for a second. The keyword here is "Fired," which is a concept Peter Parker is used to but maybe the Superior Spider-Man isn't. What do you think is the longer term potential of this set-up and how that plays into the story as Humberto Ramos joins the book?

Alonso: What I will say is that the teaser word -- "Fired" --applies directly to the new Spider-Man -- Otto Octavious -- not the "ghost" of Peter Parker who's whispering in his ear. Oh -- and readers shouldn't jump to conclusions that's a "ghost" either.

And yes, this is the status quo. When we killed Captain America and put the Winter Soldier in his red, white and blue uniform, sales were good, readers dug it, and it became a real buzz book. It got to the point that we had to ask, "Do we even need Steve Rogers?" [Laughs] Same could happen here. There's a new guy in the red-and-blue tights who's going have a lot easier time embracing the "power" than the "responsibility" -- and that's going to make for a riveting story.

Like I said, the teasers have been calling to a number of new art teams on the books, and the way the "Thunderbolts" one hit -- declaring "new artist" Phil Noto -- it made me think of how much you talked about keeping teams together for the long term. With these new artists coming into the picture on the books, can we expect to see the likes of Steve Dillon coming back to the books they helped launch?

Alonso: It's due to the accelerated shipping schedule. Phil is also going to come on for an important arc, and afterwards, maybe Steve will come back. You've seen the teaser: Elektra and the Punisher, limbs entwined in a passionate kiss. Let me tell you, "Thunderbolts" is headed is into dangerous and unexpected territory that will redefine the term "battlefield romance." Frank Castle and Elektra Natchios are two of the Marvel Universe's most lethal anti-heroes. Can anything good possibly come of this relationship? [Laughs] How will this affect the team? How will it affect a horndog like Deadpool? Pity the Thunderbolts.

Is Editorial on the whole working to develop two ongoing art teams for the books who can trade off, or is it more that there will be the "core" team and then every so often some other people will come to fill in?

Alonso: It's nothing new. We build all our accelerated-shipping series with a core artist and a complementary swing artist. It's an inexact science, but we work with the writer to make it as seamless as possible. Speaking from experience, when I edited "Deadpool," Paco Medina and Carlo Barberi -- fantastic artists whose styles were complimentary -- were my rotation. It was so fluid I could sometimes split up one arc between them without the readers feeling that the "actors" had changed mid-story. While this is standard operating procedure, I do want to stress that the books are firmly in the hands of one writer, whose long-term vision for the title -- and whose involvement in the art assignments -- anchors the series. We're not playing musical chairs. We have faith in our writers.

We haven't talked too much about "Thunderbolts" here in A-i-C, but it strikes me that that book is now made up of characters who have at one point held their own series but largely don't now except for Deadpool. Was part of the plan there to give Dan a space to call the shots on folks like Punisher and Elektra without having to worry about stepping on the toes of their monthlies?

Alonso: It was easier than that. We were in an editorial summit, the topic was the Thunderbolts, and somebody -- Jeph Loeb, I'm pretty sure -- said, "How about Thunderbolt Ross leads the Thunderbolts?" And it was like lightning bolt struck.

It was downhill running from there: What if Ross assembled his Marvel Universe wet works team? And it all fell into place: Punisher, Elektra, Deadpool, Venom -- all the hard-hitting #$@#$%$ers who'll put you down for good. It went without saying that this team would have a very different M.O. -- a very different inter-team dynamic -- than any other team that's out there.

[Writer] Daniel [Way] is building some fascinating subplots, and the budding romance -- if that's the right word -- between the Punisher and Elektra is just one aspect of that. This is a very volatile team, filled with deep fissures and unexpected bonds. Does Ross have a contingency plan for the Punisher if he steps out of line? Can Venom abide the methods of his teammates? And Deadpool -- readers are going to look at him in a whole new light. Let's just say, Wade isn't going to like Frank and Eleltra's relationship at all.

Another hot topic now is Star Wars. LucasFilm's absorption into Disney is underway now. Any comment on the possibility of Marvel doing something with those characters in a few years as rumored?

Alonso: No comment. But would it shock you if I told you there are a lot of "Star Wars" fan up and down these halls?

Alonso: Can't predict. But if we ever do get the chance to do "GvD," I'm gonna edit it myself. Jason Aaron will write it. Frank Cho will draw it...

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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