TALK TO THE HAT: Talking "Avengers" with Brevoort

When it's time to make the big decisions on the nuts and bolts creation of Marvel Comics, people have to Talk to the Hat.

An outstanding industry vet and fashion forward editor, Marvel SVP of Publishing Tom Brevoort is back on CBR News for Marvel's TALK TO THE HAT. Our latest weekly look inside the minds at Marvel spotlights Tom along with his signature pork pie and loads of comics news, views and discussion. Anchored by regular question and answer rounds with the denizens of the CBR Message Boards, each week Brevoort will shake things up with special guest stars, exclusive art reveals and new interactive features.

This week, Brevoort breaks out the big guns with CBR News in an all-Avengers Q&A! Since 2004's "Avengers Disassembled," Marvel's franchise focusing on Earth's Mightiest team of heroes has worked its way to be the industry's #1 selling line with the help of writer Brian Michael Bendis -- an ascent driven by some massive shake-ups to the A-list team. Below, Tom explains what he feels keeps the Avengers books "Avengery," how Bendis' writing voice has changed the game for the comics, what lies ahead for characters from Luke Cage to Bendis and Chaykin's 1950's team and shares loads of art from Avengers series including "Avengers Academy" and "Secret Avengers." Read on!

Kiel Phegley: Tom, we spend an awful lot of time in this column talking about some of the smaller, fan favorite corners of the Marvel Universe from the Blue Marvel to the many multiple mini series supporting events like "Fear Itself." This week, I want to get away from all of that. This week, I want to talk about the #@$%ing Avengers, man.

Tom Brevoort: [Laughs] Okay! They've got a movie coming out. I don't if you'd heard about that. It's going to be a big deal. Starts shooting any day now.

Well, the way some folks ask after it on the boards, I almost assumed it had finished production at this point. But in terms of the comics franchise, I was wondering how you felt things have changed over the past few years since those books have become the biggest things going at Marvel. With some franchises -- like, say, Spider-Man -- you always know what the core of the character is: power and responsibility, down on his luck hero, etc. The Avengers were always known for two things: being the place where the big name heroes were and the infighting amongst the team from Cap and Hawkeye to romantic complications. Since Bendis took over the books, do you feel like some of those core things have changed about the Avengers?

Brevoort: Yes. It's funny because I was answering a question about this just this morning on my FormSpring page, where there's been a little back-and-forth about, of all things, "Justice League." I was opining -- not that I mean to talk about DC's books too much -- about how the current Justice League line-up doesn't feel to me like the Justice League. For all that it's got a crew of cool and relatively perennial DC characters, they just don't feel like the Justice League to me. The kind of ridiculous example I gave was that if you were in Gotham or Metropolis and some awful thing was going on and you sent out the signal for the Justice League and then these guys showed up...would you feel worried? [Laughs] Would you look at them with some trepidation and go, "Where's Green Lantern? Where is Superman? Where is the Flash?" These guys don't have the gravitas of the Justice League. And I think that has to do with, at least in my estimation, the fact that you need to have -- and I don't have a firm number here, but you need to have enough team members that feel like they're really -- no B.S., no sideliners -- core DC heroes. That's what makes it feel like the Justice League. I don't think you need the Grant Morrison "Big Seven" necessarily, but you need something. I'd point to the Brad Meltzer run as the right sort of combination. He brought in some newer and younger and less storied heroes in contrast to the big characters, but you had Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman too. That felt like the Justice League.

With Avengers -- and thank goodness we're now talking about a Marvel book -- the conversation wheedled around to, "How do you reconcile that idea with something like Secret Avengers?" And I think "Secret Avengers" is positioned far enough out from the core title that I don't feel the same weight with it as I do the core Avengers book. For that core book, whether it be "Avengers" or "New Avengers," depending on when you're talking about, I think it's the same kind of thing. For a good long my rule of thumb was that to feel like "Avengers," you needed at least two of the founders around -- the founders being any of the first six characters because I would count Captain America in there, even though he didn't show up until issue #4. If you had two founders, it felt like the Avengers. If you look at those earliest issues of "New Avengers," it felt like the Avengers because Cap and Iron Man were there. And sure they're standing next to Spider-Man, Wolverine, Luke Cage, Spider-Woman and so forth, but if you put that group together in one image, it feels like the Avengers.

I think over the course of the last six or seven years, that may have changed in that the definition may have become more elastic. I don't know for certain, because I haven't weighed it and measured it, but certainly during "Dark Reign," I don't think we had two founders in "New Avengers" at the same time. We may have had the one in the person of Cap, and even that was BuckyCap because he was Captain America at that point. He counted. And yet, because there were enough other characters who are of a similar stature -- and I think Spider-Man and Wolverine are still the two characters who people are the most out of sorts about having on Avengers team, but because they stand at a similar level to Iron Man or Cap, they take up some of that slack. If you have a team that has Cap and Wolverine or Cap and Spider-Man and three other guys who aren't total left-fielders, it can feel like Avengers. So on that level, I think it's changed.

Other than that, I think the things you said at the beginning about what you want or what you expect to see in an Avengers book remain the same. I don't know if there needs to be infighting per se, but personalities interacting in interesting ways. I think that's definitely true of "Avengers" now. It's just that there are different personalities interacting than there were five or ten years ago. But people seem just as invested in Luke Cage and Jessica Jones getting a nanny as they might have been at one point in Hawkeye and the Vision vying for Scarlet Witch. Once you accept these characters -- particularly Luke, who I think has been embraced as an actual, no fooling around Avenger -- then that aspect of his personal life and its impact on the book feels legitimate. On that level, nothing much has changed. What I think has changed is that the base of the book has grown wider. And as long as you have...what I'll say right now is at least two characters of major stature, which is vague and maybe too broad, but I'm making this up as I go along [Laughter] then you can make it feel like Avengers.

One thing I think does stand out for people -- and some would make this a complaint, though I don't think that's always or even majorly the case -- is that Brian Bendis has really put the stamp of his voice on the book. To pick a classic comparison point, when you read the '90s Busiek/Perez "Avengers" relaunch, it felt exactly like Avengers books had always read -- though it was done very, very well. Bendis has changed that tone in terms of his pacing, his dialogue strengths and other tonal shifts. Can you think of other times where a creator has kind of pulled the course of an entire series in a different direction like that?

Brevoort: The most obvious example I can give is Chris Claremont on "X-Men." And granted, that was almost an entirely new team of characters created almost the day before he came on. And he worked with a bunch of excellent illustrators and storytellers when he worked on that title, but when you think of "X-Men" in terms of classic, quintessential X-Men stories, you think of Chris Claremont in a way that wasn't true before 1976. The tropes of X-Men that people still think of -- and that I think we've gotten away from to a certain degree, though we'll come back to them now and again -- whether it's "The best there is at what I do" or "Professor X is a jerk" or any of those standard phrases that because almost a cliche after a while -- "She reaches her limits...and exceeds them!" -- all of that was Chris' voice and Chris' point of view. It was a point of view that evolved and adapted during the 17 years he wrote that book, but really it was Chris' work that defined X-Men to the point where most of the guys that came after him for almost ten years in some way tried to take their cues from him if not out and out mimic and match Chris' voice. I think it wasn't really until Grant Morrison came in that the voice on "X-Men" substantially shifted. And it's not like Grant wasn't inspired by Chris' stuff as well. He's just a different writer and was more inspired by the individual stories than the style in which they were written.

I think you could point to other examples potentially. Walt Simonson's "Thor" did a lot to reinterpret even the language that was used in "Thor." That having been said, once Walt's run was over, the positioning for Thor vacillated back and forth between the kind of thing he did and the kind of thing Stan and Jack did -- at least until Warren Ellis came in to write his "World Engine" storyline and approached things differently. Then the book went away and came back and went away and came back. But outside of those two...there may be other examples. Actually, another one is Frank Miller on "Daredevil." That was exactly the same strip and yet a completely different strip after Frank started not just drawing it but writing it. And more or less everybody from that point forward channeled the Frank Miller worldview. Before Frank, it's not like Daredevil still wasn't a Manhattan urban vigilante, but it wasn't the same kind of hard-boiled, noirish strip with the same Catholic overtones. It was much more in the vein of Spider-Man -- lighter and bouncier and swash-buckling. Everybody after Frank pretty much tried to do it in Frank's idiom.

And you know...Chris Claremont, Walt Simonson and Frank Miller. That's not bad company to be associated with. [Laughter]

We've talked in the past about how you as the editor of the Avengers line wanted to be careful about expanding the number of titles out too quickly. Some books, like "Young Avengers," have obviously fit into the franchise because of their pitch and cast, but others like "Avengers Academy," which has proven popular, have less of a one-to-one connection to what we identify as being "Avengery." As this process has gone on, are there certain qualities you keep in mind that you have to have to call a book "Avengers," and are there any pitches for Avengers books that you've moved to other titles because they didn't quite fit?

Brevoort: To answer all that in the most broad way: yes. [Laughs]

Certainly, both Brian and I were very protective and very reticent to start expanding the Avengers line crazily. It took us a couple of years, up until the aftermath of "Civil War," to start doing more than one Avengers book. In essence, today we're kind of victims of our own success because Avengers is monstrously popular. It's now the biggest franchise in the industry, so there's always going to be a compelling fan and financial drive for more and greater Avengers titles. That said, I think in general -- and I could be fooling myself -- that we've held it to a more manageable level than "X-Men" has over the years. Part of that is that X-Men had 20 more years being the predominant franchise in comics, so they've had a lot more characters and a lot more time to build up a wider library of X-titles.

In terms of what and how much, sometimes it's a matter of rotating titles in and out. For all that we've started "Secret Avengers" and "Avengers Academy" last year, we also ended "Dark Avengers" and "Mighty Avengers." So to some degree, that's a zero sum game. There are cases where an individual title lives out its lifespan. "Avengers: The Initiative" grew directly out of "Civil War," had a concept that ran for about 35 issues or three solid years, did a bunch of cool stories and ended less because it wasn't selling well -- it was selling perfectly fine -- and more because the landscape of the Marvel Universe had changed enough that it didn't make a whole lot of sense to continue it in its current form. That kind of led to the creation of "Avengers Academy." My inspiration for "Avengers Academy" is very direct: I look at it as being the "New Mutants" of the Avengers. It's that kind of book -- young heroes in training, but not in military boot camp as in "The Initiative." It's more along the line of "New Mutants" without just being "New Mutants" with a coat of paint. It's got its own point of view and driving elements to it. But starting out, the kind of thing we were thinking was something along the lines of "New Mutants" for the Avengers. That hadn't quite been done. It's not what "Young Avengers" or what "The Initiative" had been. And even if they had, "Young Avengers" was held up because of Allan [Heinberg's] other commitments and "The Initiative" as we said earlier was getting to the end of its natural lifespan.

Over the years, I can think of two books where we either did the project but called it something different than Avengers, or in at least one case we didn't even do the project. Actually, it's three now that I think about it. First off, initially when it was pitched, "Agents of Atlas" was called "Secret Avengers" (ironically enough) because it grew out of that "What If" issue from the '70s. "What If The Avengers Had Started In The '50s?" -- '50s nostalgia was big in the '70s. So "Secret Avengers" was pitched, and it was a good, interesting idea, and there was a lot of takeaway from it, but I felt and we felt -- whoever was there at the time between Joe, Axel, Dan and myself -- that there wasn't enough legitimate connectivity to the concept of "Avengers." Calling it "Avengers" might have made "Agents of Atlas" sell a little better, but it would have been at the cost of watering down the "Avengers" concept. It would have been a sleazy sales grab. And now every "Agents of Atlas" fan in the world is ready to crucify me because I did not give it that leg up along the way, but other than that it came out of this old "What If?" that was labeled as Avengers, there was no tangible connection that I could find to what makes Avengers "Avengers." We thought the project was good. We thought the characters were great and Jeff [Parker's] take on them was pretty good. And we've gone around with them a few times to where they're now appearing in "Fear Itself: Home Front" because we think they're great, interesting characters. But they just weren't Avengers, so Jeff and Mark Paniccia had to go off and come up with another take, and that ended up being "Agents of Atlas."

Aside from that, there have been a few points where various people have pitched "Cosmic Avengers" because it's a very simple idea. But again, all that really amounts to is, "Here's how we can sell a cosmic book". And again, there didn't seem to be enough genuine connectivity to the franchise, even when people started to scrape around and say, "Well, it could have Quasar in it and maybe Vance Astro and a couple of other guys who were Avengers for a little while." That still doesn't make it feel like Avengers. Right now we're doing "Annihilators," which is a similar idea, using all the powerhouse cosmic characters in one team. And you could have called that "Cosmic Avengers" and had it sell a little better, but it still feels to me like a copout. It's not genuinely the Avengers -- at least not to me. Calling it "Annihilators" doesn't give it the same leg up, but it feels more honest about what the series legitimately is.

The third one I can remember -- and at least two different people pitched this at two different times -- was an idea that never got as far as an official title, but it was essentially "Black Avengers." It was "Let's put all the African or African-American heroes together on a team for an adventure," and in those cases too, there was nothing about the idea beyond "It's a bunch of super heroes together" that said "Avengers" beyond the fact that "Avengers" is a term that's salable. I think there's something very specific about what "Avengers" means to the Marvel Universe. They're the varsity. They're the A-list. They're the Man. They're not about being super heroes because of demographics or ethnicity. They stand for something specific and occupy a certain role. If you don't have some degree of that, then it doesn't feel like Avengers.

Oddly enough, the current "Secret Avengers" feels like the Avengers to me. Most of that is that the book was built around Steve Rogers, but also there are other characters like The Beast, who's not associated with Avengers anymore, but he was for long enough where I can look at him and go, "Yeah, Avenger." War Machine has never been associated with Avengers very much, but even in terms of his silhouette, he looks like he fits. Valkyrie is storied, having been around since the '70s, so she's close enough. She feels legitimate because she's got history. Ant-Man may be a different guy in the suit, but the silhouette looks right. "Avenger!" There's enough aggregate there that it feels like an Avengers group. I think if you took Steve Rogers out, it wouldn't. And at least in setting up that title, Steve was the lynchpin around which the book was built in the same way that when they did "West Coast Avengers" in the '80s, they needed to put Iron Man in it to make it feel like Avengers. Even Hawkeye and Wonder Man were not enough to make it really feel like an Avengers book by themselves. But once you put Iron Man in there with Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Wonder Man and Tigra, it suddenly felt enough like the Avengers standing there -- whether it was Rhodey in the red and gold suit or Tony in the red and silver.

Tom, I think we're going to get some interesting responses to all that behind-the-scenes info.

Brevoort: They're going to hate me for not doing "Black Cosmic Secret Avengers"! [Laughter] Yes, they will. And I will once again be reading on the Cosmic message boards about how we hate Cosmic and want to see it destroyed. There's been a lot of chatter about that over the last couple of weeks. And I'm not surprised that they're unhappy "Nova" ended and "Guardians of the Galaxy" ended. But I am surprised because...who do they think made the decision to do those books in the first place? It's always been Joe and me and Axel and the guys beneath us. Andy Schmidt, when he started "Annihilation," worked directly for me as my immediate Associate Editor. That was his initiative, he spearheaded it. And he did a great job. And then when he left, Bill Rosemann took it on. And Bill was also in my department and expanded it out in "Annihilation Conquest" and all the other various things that have come since. But because readers don't quite understand the what and the why of "Why did you do this to 'Nova' and 'Guardians'?" they're very upset with us. "You hate Cosmic and you always have...why?"

The truth is, we don't hate Cosmic. We have big plans for "Nova" and "Guardians," but we're just not quite at the point where we're able to tell you about them yet. Sometimes this stuff takes time. And we'd love to be at the point where we could tell you so you'd stop beating us up about it, but we can't do that until all of the pieces involved are properly in place. Cosmic fans can rest easy that there are plans down the line involving Nova and the Guardians in a major, massive, significant way. And as soon as we're in position to reveal what they are, we will. I know this will do nothing to stop them from pillaring me even further, but at least I've said my piece.

Well, speaking of a 1950s Avengers team, that's actually in the cards for the current "New Avengers" storyline. As you were putting that idea together, did you learn things from the original "Agents of Atlas" pitch in terms of who you had to use or how you had to play this idea to make it work?

Brevoort: Well, certainly if it's going to be in "Avengers," it's got to relate to the Avengers. I think right this moment readers are a little bit confused, and probably will be until we get to the last chapter of this current "New Avengers" story, by what Nick Fury and his Nazi-hunting team have to do with what's going on with H.A.M.M.E.R. and Mockingbird being shot in the present. The reality is that these two stories will dovetail by issue #13, and you'll be able to go "Ah, I now see what that had to do with this!" If the Brian/Howard [Chaykin] material would have been taken out of the book and run by itself, I would have probably argued against calling it "Avengers" because that wouldn't have had enough connectivity on its own. But as a component of a story within the Avengers titles, it does. It connects with what's going on with the modern day Avengers, and it's by the guy who's writing the modern day Avengers.

It's entirely possible, and in fact probable, that when we're done here, we'll do an "Avengers 1959" project of some sort because we've now set the table for these characters and have given them a nice big spotlight. I know there are one or two ideas that Howard has had and that Brian has had for follow-ups. And because it's an outgrowth of what's happened and not just painting "Avengers" on the side of the thing so that people don't notice it doesn't have anything to do with anything, we can use the Avengers name. But it's all subjective about what feels right or feels legitimate. And I am probably the loudest voice when it comes to making those calls. And the fact that it happens to be these characters in 1959 is somewhat a fluke as compared to "Atlas," although both stories have Namora in common. I don't think that when Brian and Howard were coming up with their thing -- which started life as a completely separate project that over the course of literally years morphed into this -- they had any knowledge of or awareness of Agents of Atlas. It's just parallel development, but there's obviously a similarity. If you're dealing in that period, there're only so many characters to draw upon.

The last thing I wanted to ask about on this whole topic is what it's been like for you the past few years in terms of paying the piper on keeping the solo books for the cast running somewhat independent of the main title or having the main title reflect those solo books. It's always been the case with Avengers that Cap or Iron Man or Thor have solo books to work into the proceedings, but since Brian came on with his "All A-List" take on the franchise, it seems those kinds of concerns must have grown. How have you adapted to that challenge?

Brevoort: I think it's the same challenge that it's always been, but maybe now there's just more of it. Like you said, rather than being just Thor, Cap and Iron Man having their own books, now there are more members who do. You have to worry about what's going on in the Spidey books or what's going on in "X-Men" and "Wolverine." But it's really no different. We all coordinate back and forth. Quite honestly, the strength and appeal of "Avengers" is one of the real benefits that it has to the creators working on those characters as well. While you might want to go off and do your own thing and not be bothered by anyone, if you want to sell more copies of your book, you probably want it tied to "Avengers." If Avengers was selling in the midlist, that might not be the case, and we might have more of a problem.

I think that's part of the difficulty with "Justice League" now. Certainly when Grant was doing it, it was a monster hit, and people basically got out of its way. Before that, for ten years you couldn't get Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Green Lantern into the same book because their solo titles were selling well, and those creators and editors didn't feel like having to coordinate. I think today it's the same thing. DC has plans for Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, so consequently, "Justice League" is out of luck. It has to do the best it can with whatever characters it can get. I think that could happen to "Avengers" too if the Avengers' star declines and doesn't remain as popular. Then suddenly, it'd be more important that Thor or Iron Man or Wolverine or whomever not be involved with the team.

But even with all of Avengers' popularity, we killed Captain America, and were able to reflect that in "Avengers." It meant he wasn't in "Avengers" for that period, but at a certain point Bucky came in as Cap. Tony Stark being on the run affected "Avengers," but that just meant there were certain times he couldn't be in the book. And Thor not being around -- being dead and gone -- meant he couldn't be in the Avengers, until he could. That's what "Avengers" has always been like, but now maybe it's just a little more difficult because there are more characters to coordinate.

That being said, there are advantages, too. For the longest time, it was absolutely impossible to get the Beast for any length of time in "Avengers." He was in "X-Men" and was a founding X-Man, and he's important to that line of titles. So he was always enmeshed in stuff, and sure, you could get him as a guest star from time to time, but it was impossible to get him on an Avengers team regularly. Now Avengers is the better-selling franchise, and so it's easier to justify having the Beast in "Secret Avengers." And that doesn't mean he can't be in the X-Men titles as well, clearly. One of the other things we've done is loosen up who can be where when. I know this kind of thing bothers some fans, who are irritated by Wolverine or Spider-Man being in so many books. And maybe there comes a point where we've gone too far, and we'll need to pull it back. But it allows us a situation where the Beast can be on an Avengers team and appear in "X-Men" when he needs to, so long as those two appearances aren't mutually contradictory. There are a lot of days in the week, and if that means Wolverine is in the Avengers on Tuesdays and with the X-Men on Thursdays and battling his way out of Hell in his own title on Fridays...well, that's kind of the way it works. And the same is true of Spider-Man or any of these characters.

To wrap with some fan questions, the always timely Spidey616 had one tied to our very topic of conversation this week: "Bendis recently mentioned his next big Avengers storyline will be drawn by Bryan Hitch and can be glimpsed in the Point One issue. At this time can you say whether the story will be featured in the Avengers ongoing title or a separate mini?"

Brevoort: Honestly, Spidey, it's too soon to tell. At the moment, we're proceeding under the assumption that this will be something that happens in the main Avengers books -- but then, we did that during the lead-up to "Secret Invasion" as well, and look how that turned out. Given the pedigree of the talent involved, and the scale of what they're talking about doing, I wouldn't be surprised if we seize on the opportunity to plus things up as we get closer to go-time. But at the moment, it's a story within the Avengers titles.

And ZachC had a question from the Spidey world that connects a bit with our discussion of balancing ideas between books: "I really enjoyed the last two issues of Amazing Spiderman and wanted to know if Spiderman's 'no one dies' policy will become a permanent part of his character. Clearly Spidey has never been a murder happy fellow and has always been against killing but judging by the recent storyline, it feels like he's going to be a lot more proactive about it. To be blunt: Spidey is paired with Wolverine A LOT and Wolverine is a guy who does his share of killing. I'd hate to see him bust JJJ's chops about wanting to kill a bad guy in one title and then just have him let Wolverine do his thing in another. So I guess my question is, are you going to watch out for this? Is that an editor's job? Spidey has made a powerful decision, and I'm hoping other writers when they use him will stick by the foundation Slott's laid."

Brevoort: A couple things on this question, Zach. First off, while Wolverine isn't averse to killing people, I don't think he typically does so while in the company of the other Avengers. He doesn't seem to employ more lethal force than anyone else on the team in most situations. So even before Spidey made this oath, it's not like it was going on all the time anyway. Secondly, Spidey's position is, I think, ultimately untenable. That's the kind of overachieving oath that somebody like Peter Parker would make, but it's also the kind of thing that's likely to run him into the ground with guilt and anxiety because of all his power. Spider-Man isn't God, and there are going to be some circumstances which are beyond even his control. Which, I think, is very much the point in a broader sense. Will there come a point where Spidey has to confront Wolverine about being so casual about killing people, and wanting to do so in his presence? I don't know -- but that certainly sounds like a good story hook to me...

Finally, to go out with a question on the Avenger we all accept as one of the team now is Hypestyle who's query made me laugh out loud: "Dear Mr. Brevoort: I see Luke Cage occasionally depicted with an earring.. so is it safe to presume that it is a clip-on, or he got a piercing done with a vibranium needle?"

Brevoort: I don't think a vibranium needle would have done the job, Hypestyle -- it would have had to have been adamantium at least. (Or Luke may have had his ears pierced before he got his steel-hard skin -- that works, too.)

And before we head out this week, I think it's pertinent to mention that next time, we'll have another new special guest to the column in the form of Tom's Mighty Associate Editor Lauren Sankovitch! So if anyone out there has questions about incoming events in "Fear Itself" #2, life inside Marvel's bullpen or what it's like to have to be Tom's assistant, take to the boards...

Brevoort: There's also a number of projects Lauren is editing directly as well as working on all of my books and pretty much doing all of my work, and those include "Fear Itself: The Home Front," "Fear Itself: Youth In Revolt," "Onslaught Unleased," "Secret Warriors," "Avengers Academy Giant-Size" and "Captain America And Bucky."

Well put, Tom. So think up some queries on those comics, and we'll see you next week!

Have some questions for Marvel's Talk To The Hat? 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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