TALK TO THE HAT: The Great Renumbering Debate

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 tackles a subject that's very near and dear to the heart of longtime comics readers: renumbering. With rumors swirling that DC Comics will soon kick portions of their line back to new #1s, the Marvel exec digs into why the House of Ideas has so wholly embraced the startovers on their own long-running books, and he addresses the one outlier to the trend: "Uncanny X-Men." Before that, Tom gives a sneak peek inside the latest Marvel Creative Summit which didn't take place in the company's Manhattan offices, and he answers reader mail on pricing, pagecounts, crossovers and more. Read on!

Kiel Phegley: Tom, readers may not know this, but you guys just wrapped another Marvel Creative Summit, and this time you were in Portland, OR, right?

Tom Brevoort: Yes, we were out there last week. There were only three of us that went out, and with the number of creators involved, it seemed more expedient and fiscally responsible to fly us -- Axel Alonso, Nick Lowe and myself -- out to Portland than it would have been to fly a whole bunch of creators to New York.

Had you ever been out there before? Did you ride a bike everywhere and eat food off a cart?

Brevoort: [Laughs] Well, we didn't ride bikes, but we did eat from food carts one of the days. It was quite nice. Brian Bendis and his wife Alisa were lovely hosts and provided everything. We sampled some of the more novel eateries, including Voodoo Doughnuts, which is a boutique doughnut place that makes a bevy of specialty doughnuts that are covered with assorted breakfast cereals and bacon. We also went to a place called Slappy Cakes, which is an all-day breakfast place where you cook your own pancakes at the table. They have a hot plate built into each tabletop, and they bring you batter and various toppings, and you make your own meal. It was nice. It was also good to get away from the office for a while and sit down with those guys in what amounts to -- for us -- a remote location so we could concentrate on the business at hand.

We talk about these Summits whenever they happen, and I'm always trying to get you to let slip some vital piece of information. [Brevoort Laughs] But whenever you have such a meeting, there's a focus on one specific part of the line. What was the focus this time out, and how do you think you did on accomplishing your goals?

Brevoort: The focus this time out was next summer and specifically breaking down and beating out our big storyline for next year. So the folks involved included all the various Architects -- the guys we've recently tagged with that label. This is the big project that they're working on that earns them their Architect merit badges. It went really well. Everybody was more or less on the same page and pulling in the same direction. We would argue story beats back and forth a little bit, but generally speaking, everybody was on the same page in terms of what we were doing. There was very little drama. And it came together, we think, pretty well. It's going to be a huge summer next year -- even bigger than what we have going on right now with "Fear Itself" and "Spider-Island" and "Schism" and so forth. All of those storylines are arrows pointing towards our thing for next year, which we've now built a superstructure for.

One thing that's occurred to me is that as we're in the middle of "Fear Itself" right now, and part of the launch of that series was because there's a "Thor" movie out now and a "Cap" movie just around the corner. Next year, there's this little film I'm not sure you've heard of. It's called "The Avengers." [Brevoort Laughs] But considering that is a key franchise for Marvel, has there been a prominence placed on Brian's plans there for everything to connect with the movie next summer?

Brevoort: Certainly, Avengers is critically important to our publishing plan, and it's going to be over the course of the next year as well. But if you look back over the last couple of years, Avengers has been at the center of almost everything that we've done. While "Fear Itself" is at its core a Thor and Cap event, it's also really kind of an Avengers event. And before that, "Siege" was really an Avengers event, and "Secret Invasion" was a Marvel U event centered on the Avengers, and "Civil War" was really an Avengers event. So the Avengers are the centerpiece of the Marvel Universe. They're the thing that touches and connects everything else.

So yes, absolutely going into next year we have big Avengers plans, and we're just as cognizant of the fact that there's an "Avengers" movie coming as we were this year of "Thor" and "Cap." The thing is, it's not much of a change in the way we do business since the Avengers have been very much at the forefront of our publishing line at least since "Avengers Disassembled" and "New Avengers" started. So the short answer is "Yes, but it's not as big a difference as you might imagine."

I was going back through the archives, and I wanted to read you something you said in a T&A column with Axel from last July. Speaking on the summit you'd had that summer, you said, "We hit on a story that we thought was only going to be of a certain scale and by the end of the retreat had grown to a much larger scale...we'll build to a big idea that became a bigger idea as seven or eight of us sat down to talk about it. And what was nice surprise that it dovetailed very smoothly into the planning on the X-side of the equation so we could lace things together here and there. We put them together, and they formed a nice chain of events where every book gets its own beat and every beat builds on the one that came before it." I'm going to go ahead and assume that we were talking about "Fear Itself" there.

Brevoort: It was probably "Fear Itself," yes, but also the thing we're working on for next year. We tend to plan these things not just in terms of what's coming up next, but also what comes after it. So July of 2010 probably would have been "Fear Itself" planning and also probably "Schism" as well, which is what Axel meant on the X-side.

That's one of the things I wanted to follow up on. For a while we've been hearing about the X-Men line and the rest of the Marvel U hooking up, and while we've seen some of that in the monthly "X-Men" title, the two areas seem to be running on parallel tracks in some ways. With "Fear Itself" and "Schism" each providing some status quo shifts, can we assume some more back and forth between the two in the future?

Brevoort: There will definitely be more connectivity between the two areas as we move into 2012. There's no question about that. I don't know if it will come immediately after "Fear Itself" wraps and immediately after "Schism" ends. But as we move deeper and deeper into 2012, those two franchises are going to mix up into one larger Marvel Universe stew in what is hopefully a very exciting and satisfying way. So yes, that's all still in the cards. And it's all still cooking along just as it should be at this point.

It's funny that you ask about this, because I was going through some old e-mails and correspondence and such this week. We tend to use a lot of planning sheets and charts here at Marvel, and I came across an old one for Avengers that dated back to when we were in the midst of "Utopia" and were coming up on "Siege" and then into the Heroic Age -- including some stuff things didn't quite develop the way they had been plotted out here. I found this document and thought it might be interesting for people to see how we grid some of this stuff out. It's limited to the Avengers family of books, things like Thor, Cap, Iron Man and titles like Thunderbolts that are in that orbit. But if you look at it, you can see just how far out we were blocking stuff out in a concrete way at that point. The current iteration of that chart exists today, and I refer to it on a day-to-day basis. It's much larger than it was then because I'm doing more stuff now and keeping track of more beyond the Avengers material.

Shifting tracks for a minute, everyone has been hearing about DC Comics' plans to relaunch a significant chunk of their line come September. While Marvel has gotten very adept at relaunching single books tied to specific moments, this seems to be a more wholesale reinvention of the line. What is your experience on how successful moves like that can be? Heroic Age was similar in that you had a wide range of new launches hitting at the same time. Does upending your line as whole really succeed over the long term?

Brevoort: Like you, I've heard the same rumors and speculation about DC's future plans, though I don't really have any hard details about what they're doing. It seems like, from what we can suss out from what's being said out there, that rather than being something like The Heroic Age, this is closer to a Heroes Reborn or what was rumored to be happening 25 years ago with "Crisis." The idea was that they'd somehow remake the DC line, and everything would start over fresh as a new entry point. In terms of the reason why we'd do a coordinated launch such as Heroic Age, it's because releasing a number of titles at once around a common theme gives you a certain amount of critical mass. It gets some attention for what's going on both in the hobby market and out in the larger world. The more stuff you have going on at once, the bigger and more important it all seems to be.

My suspicion is that right now DC feels like they have an opportunity and a need to make a big splash in their publishing world, and they're going to hit that as hard as they possibly can and make as much noise with it as they can. And that's great because I'm perfectly happy to compete with them on the racks. I'll happily put our Marvel books up against the DC books and let the consumers decide what they want to buy. If they want to buy DC books, that's great. If they want to buy our books, that's great. If they want to buy both, that's great. Anything that gets people into the stores and into the marketplace can only help everybody. I'd much rather DC be out there shaking the tree and trying to do big things and making some noise than just kind of puttering along staying below the radar. Sight unseen, I'm in favor of DC trying to do some big crazy thing. If they raise their game and raise the level of competition between us, then we'll have to respond in kind. That kind of brass band playing can be good for everyone so long as the actual proof is in the pudding.

Pulling that idea out on a bigger scale, I think it can be beneficial to reset the clocks every so often. Comics can be a pretty insular world that relies heavily on what's already known by insiders. With much of the senior staff at Marvel having been around at least ten years at this point, do you struggle with the idea of the books being too self-involved? Is it good to tear everything down sometimes?

Brevoort: I think there's definitely value in doing that, or at least keeping your eyes open towards it. I don't think of it in terms of "tearing things down," though. I think that's more of a DC thing than a Marvel thing in that DC, a couple of times over the last 25 years, has done a story that restructures their continuity to the point where almost on a month-by-month or year-by-year basis, you can't be sure what the bedrock of these characters is. For years, the founding members of the Justice League were slightly different people. Wonder Woman was one of them or not, depending on where you happened to be in the flow of things. They've managed that as well as they could. They were dealing with whatever the particular need was at that moment, but in the long-term, it kind of makes it difficult to trust the veracity of the stories you're reading.

For the most part, I think Heroes Reborn is the only major hiccup we've had in terms of our overall continuity and history. I know the people on the message boards will correct me on that, but the Marvel bedrock pretty much remains as it always has been. What's important, though, is resetting the accessibility and keeping your eye on the more casual and more neophyte reader to these books. As much as we struggle mightily every month to make sure that as many of our books as possible are as entry level and reader friendly as they can be, we get caught up in our own material as well. We fall in love with our own stories and are just as involved in these tales as anyone else, and we practice a certain amount of self-deception in saying, "This stuff is accessible...it is!" when in fact it's all kind of tied up in our own continuity.

We talk about this a lot amongst ourselves, how to balance this when you're telling stories that go back a number of years. As we deal with stuff like the Heroic Age and "Fear Itself," we're still making references to "Civil War." And the reality is that we published "Civil War" six years ago. Six years is potentially a lifetime to the youngest portion of our readership. So expecting them to be not only conversant with it but invested when we suddenly go, "Here we are back in 'Civil War' again," is asking a lot. It's the same thing that caused us to go "We need to get back to accessible storytelling" in the first place. So we can fall into that trap on our own storytelling as well, and the only way to hedge against that is to be vigilant about it. I think there is a constant need to go back to ground and give people some manner of entry point -- certainly at the beginning of every story arc and definitely at the launch of every series.

Hopefully we don't relaunch things too willy-nilly. Depending on the reader, they may argue that we do. And there's the argument out there that we never should have relaunched anything and the number the books are on now should be what we would have been on had we never done any of it and that would have been a better world. I don't even necessarily argue with that. The place where I do argue is "Yes, but Heroes Reborn did happen, and at this point all bets are off." You can't just go back and pretend like nothing had happened. Something did happen, and that set the stage for a lot of the renumbering and relaunching that we still do today. At some point, 40 years of unbroken publication of all these titles was broken, and once that's broken, you can pretend it's still all there, but it's never quite going to be seamless again. Combine that with the fact that our marketplace is more welcoming to a #1 than a #183, and it means that if you're going to do something big, attention-getting and outreach-based, a #1 is only going to help you. Even the most casual potential comic book reader understands that a #1 is the beginning and that a #1 is the comic you save for your kids' college fund. That's important when you're trying to get people into the stores.

The fact of the matter is that renumber is inviting to people even in terms of the dyed-in-the-wool fan. It says, "Here's something important that's going on. Here's the beginning. Here's absolutely the easiest way in that you could possibly get." And hopefully the content reflects that and is accessible enough and engaging enough that somebody picks up that first issue and says, "I like this. Let me read more." But it's just the fact of life at this point.

I think I'm right in assuming this, but is "Uncanny X-Men" the only Marvel book that's stayed consistent all the way through?

Brevoort: In terms of the real progenitor titles, yes. "Uncanny" is the only book with an unbroken run. Although "Uncanny" is funny because it was canceled in the late '60s/early '70s for a few months and then came back as a reprint title. So there are about six months between the last issue of "Uncanny" with the old X-Men and the first issue of the reprint book. Then, when the New X-Men debuted there's about a three-month period between the last reprint issue, #93, and the New X-Men #94. The reason for that was "X-Men" was only going to be a giant-size book at that point. The story in #95 and 96 was originally going to be "Giant-Size X-Men" #2. It was going to be a quarterly. But they launched that book right at the end of the life cycle of those Giant-Sizes and decided it made more sense as a bi-monthly book in the X-Men title. So it is an unbroken run, but there are hiccups in there. It happened early enough that nobody's really bothered by it, so "Uncanny" is the only mainstay Marvel title that hasn't had any crazy renumbering scheme over its life.

So is it fair to assume that "Uncanny" will remain safe from a relaunch in the future?

Brevoort: I would not assume that it's safe. Maybe that makes it a little less likely because it's the one title we've got that maintains continuity all the way back to the '60s. But again, in terms of publishing today in 2011, 2012, 2013 -- the need of right now is probably going to outweigh the need of "it's nice that we have this thing that goes back to the '60s." If there's a benefit to there being an "Uncanny X-Men" #1 because we're building something in a substantial way and we want to give people that entry point, maybe we'd hesitate a fraction of a second longer, but I think it'd be only a fraction. If the plan still makes sense in our marketplace today, I suspect we'd go ahead and do it and wouldn't blink at the fact that this is the one title we've got that goes all the way back to the '60s with an unbroken string of numbers. That's just my sense of it. So...there's no safety for "Uncanny X-Men!" It too could fall prey to early number syndrome! [Laughter]

On the fan front this week, let's start with the perennial point of debate: pricing and page counts! DownInAHole asked, "Tom, can you address the price and page count of Amazing Spider-Man #667 and 668? When Big Time started and the price jumped to $3.99 readers were told that we would be getting eight additional story pages. It looks like those pages are disappearing but the price is staying at $3.99. Will Amazing Spider-Man now be a $3.99 book with just 22 story pages?"

Brevoort: I'm afraid so, Hole. We kept up the twice-a-month "Amazing" for nine months at the larger page count, but we're at the point now where we need to consolidate it back down to the typical size. The same kind of thing is happening with the Avengers titles, which have wrapped up the "Oral History of the Avengers" feature that has been running since the books started.

On the in-story front of the Spider-Man world, Jabare wondered, "Will Black Panther appear in Spider-Island now that he is situated in New York City?"

Brevoort: Kicked this over to "Black Panther" editor Bill Rosemann, who said:

Bill Rosemann: We're glad you asked, Jabre, and we're glad to answer that "Black Panther: The Man Without Fear" #524 will be a Spider-Island tie-in issue! But after the events of "Fear Itself," who will be fighting the infestation? Will it be the "urban guerilla" protector of Hell's Kitchen, or is American Panther on the prowl? David Liss and Francesco Francavilla deliver all the answers in October!

Finally, Drew Mathieu had a question (seconded by Skaddix) asking, "I was very excited to read that Spider-Girl and X-23, along with Power Man and Thunderstrike, were going to be appearing in Fear Itself: The Home Front #5. I was wondering why these four particular characters, who to my knowledge have had no prior interaction, were grouped together for this story? (Not that I'm complaining one bit!)"

Brevoort: "Fear Itself: The Home Front" is Lauren Sankovitch's baby, so...

Lauren Sankovitch: Hey Drew! Associate Editor Lauren Sankovitch here! As for your curious query, let's just say they are The CHOsen...if you catch my drift.

<1>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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