The Importance of Humor, From "Spider-Man & The X-Men" to "Guardians"

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 overseen both critically acclaimed and best-selling comics, Alonso stepped into the spot of Marvel's editorial department in early 2011, and has since worked 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!

After one week away (and if you haven't read our Q&A with head of Marvel Television Jeph Loeb, what are you waiting for?), Alonso returns to his namesake column to discuss a couple of Marvel's recently announced books debuting in December 2014, writer Elliott Kalan and artist Marco Failla's "Spider-Man & the X-Men" and Jim Starlin's "Thanos vs. Hulk." Alonso also focuses on the important of humor in the Marvel formula, as seen from the work of Kalan -- who is also head writer of "The Daily Show" -- this week's "Deadpool Bi-Annual" written by Paul Scheer and Nick Giovannetti and the massive worldwide appeal of "Guardians of the Galaxy." Plus, Alonso talks interaction between the Ultimate and Marvel Universes (as seen in this week's "All-New X-Men" #32 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mahmud Asrar, the "Time Runs Out" eight-month jump in "Avengers" and "New Avengers" and more -- including your questions, straight from the CBR Community!

Albert Ching: Axel, before we get too far into it, have to ask up front -- as a major NBA fan and someone who was openly rooting for the Spurs against the Heat in last season's NBA Finals, how pleased are you to see Tim Duncan on a retailer variant "Punisher" #11 cover?

Axel Alonso: It's very cool. Duncan not only sported a Punisher skull logo on his knee brace for a while, he dressed up as the character for Halloween. So apparently he's a fan. This October, he's featured on retailer variant for the San Antonio comic shop Heroes & Fantasies, drawn by Mike Choi. He's handing Frank Castle the keys to a brand-new Punisher car. I'm told a physical version of the car was made and will be auctioned off to benefit a local San Antonio charity.

Let's start with a couple of Marvel's announcements from the past couple of weeks -- including the new December-debuting series "Spider-Man & the X-Men." The series has evolved, now at this point a great deal, since it started three years ago with "Wolverine and the X-Men" -- different creative teams, and now even the main character has changed. Yet it still seems to retain the same basic spirit of the book that started years ago. What makes it important for Marvel to keep the series going, albeit in altered forms?

Alonso: Both Jason Aaron and Jason Latour laid down a great foundation and template for a mutant school book that's equal parts action drama and soap opera. The newest wrinkle is that schoolmaster Logan isn't around anymore -- on account of he's dead -- and he's left big shoes to fill. Turns out that Spidey owes a debt to his old friend Logan and as a result he takes a stab at teaching. Peter is still young enough to relate to kids, or at least think he can. He'll soon find out if he's right.

Also wanted to talk about the writer, Elliott Kalan -- he's done a few short stories for Marvel, but this is his first ongoing. He's also the head writer of "The Daily Show," which is obviously a significant and exciting part of this. What are you looking forward to seeing from him as he takes this step into his first ongoing series?

Alonso: Humor. Fans are really embracing humor in comics like never before. Fans come for a dramatic story, but they like to laugh along the way. Elliott's crafting a dramatic story with heart and lots of laughs along the way. I mean, he's the head writer for "The Daily Show" -- how's he not going to find humor in this situation? Elliott's a triple-threat in that he writes scripts fast and well, he knows the Marvel Universe like the back of his hand and his day job's only a few blocks away, which allows him to hash out story ideas with [X-Men Group Editor] Mike Marts and [series editor] Katie Kubert over lunch.

Humor always seems to be a fundamental part of the Marvel formula.

Alonso: I think so. A comic book doesn't need to be pee-your-pants funny, but it should make you laugh or smile. And the darker the story, the more you need to counter-balance with moments of levity.

Take one of my favorite writers, Garth Ennis: He'll ratchet up a story to maximum tension or sear your eyeballs with an explosion of horrific violence, but then he'll cut the tension with a memorable line that allows you to exhale.

And humor is clearly a big reason for why the Marvel movies have succeeded on such a large scale.

Alonso: Absolutely. Humor reveals humanity better than anything else. Whether it's Tony Stark asserting his Alpha Male status with his rat-a-tat wit, Steve Rogers leaning waaaaaay into his goody-two-shoes image, or Black Widow yawning her way through an insanely dangerous op -- the Avengers are defined by, and loved for, their personalities, not their powers. And no Marvel Studios film proves the power of humor more than "Guardians of the Galaxy." Is there a more heartwarming bromance than Rocket and Groot?

Then there's the news that Jim Starlin's "Thanos vs. Hulk," which originally was slated to be part of the "Savage Hulk" anthology series, will now be released as its own miniseries. What motivated the decision to present the story in that fashion?

Alonso: Let's see. Jim presented us with these amazing pages featuring Thanos fighting the Hulk, and his "Thanos: The Infinity Revelation" just, uhm, revealed itself to be the #1 Graphic Novel on the New York Times Bestseller List. The math was easy.

Will the "Savage Hulk" series continue?

Alonso: Keep reading Marvel Previews for answers to this question.

Let's look at some of the big releases in a busy week for Marvel: "Avengers #35" saw the first installment of "Time Runs Out," showing the Marvel Universe eight months later than where things are currently. Not in a "maybe" future, but readers have been told this is "the" future. What inspired going that route?

Alonso: What inspired us? Jonathan [Hickman]. He had a long-term plan for the Marvel Universe right after we tapped him to write "Avengers." He's always been building to this point, to this endgame, and this time-jump is one of the narrative devices he needs. You'll learn why in about... oh... eight months...

What kind of coordination does that eight month jump take, to not spoil anything that may be coming up elsewhere in the interim?

Alonso: It takes lots of coordination. [Laughs] But we've been working with a lot of lead-time. No one was surprised by this jump. So the main headache is coordinating writers' and artists' schedules. It can feel like you're jumping from rock to rock across a pond filled with alligators. One slip, one miscalculation and...[Laughs]

Then there's "All-New X-Men" #32, which sees the All-New X-Men interacting with Miles Morales in the Ultimate Universe. When "Spider-Men" came out a couple years ago, that was the first crossover between the two worlds, but between "Cataclysm" and now this, it seems the door is a little more open than it was before. What's the current philosophy at Marvel in the amount of interaction that is possible or prudent between the Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe?

Alonso: We cracked the door open with "Spider-Men," and we're opening it wide with "All-New X-Men." Does that mean we're going to blow it off the hinges later? Look, what's going in "All-New X-Men," and what's going on in Jonathan's "Avengers" -- all of this is relevant to the future of the Marvel Universe, and a lot of these stories, while independent roads, eventually dovetail onto the same path. We could have had Miles Morales interact with the All-New X-Men a long time ago; there's a reason we're doing that now.

One thing that hasn't happened yet is Ultimate characters in the proper Marvel Universe -- is that a possibility?

Alonso: A possibility? Yes.

Also this week saw the release of the "Deadpool Bi-Annual," written by "The League" actor and comedian Paul Scheer and Nick Giovannetti. I saw you tweeting about it a few days back -- what has you excited about this issue, which some people may overlook if it's not already on their radar?

Alonso: It's crazy funny. Made me laugh out loud. Some scenes are just plain... wrong. And it features the Animal Kingdom's "A-team," Brute Force: Lionheart, Loudmouth, Soar, Bear and Dr. Echo, definitely the smartest dolphin and possibly the smartest being on the planet! They're scientifically augmented commandoes fighting a war for animal rights, and Deadpool is hired to stop them from completing their latest mission.

Look, Deadpool scratches an itch that no other character can, so it's not a shock that comedians would be draw to him. Brian Posehn has all sorts of new fans at his comedy gigs because of "Deadpool." [Laughs]

News came out on Wednesday that Marvel will receive a Vanguard Award in November from the Los Angeles LGBT Center, honoring the publisher for its LGBT characters and storylines supporting diversity. What does that type of recognition mean to you? And do you see it as a responsibility to keep moving forward further in a more diverse, representative direction?

Alonso: It's an honor... and of course it's nice to be recognized. Marvel Comics should reflect the outside world in all its diversity. The writers who came up with the ideas for "Young Avengers," "Hawkeye" and the titles that represent other forms of diversity -- "Ms. Marvel," "All-New Ghost Rider," "Inhuman," "Thor" and "All-New Captain America" heard that message loud and clear.

One last thing I wanted to talk about -- we've talked about the movie before, but the success of the "Guardians of the Galaxy" film has continued to snowball. It became the highest grossing movie of the summer a couple weeks ago, and now it's the highest grossing movie of the year, period, thus far -- beating "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." How surprised are you to see that level of success, and does that motivate Marvel publishing even further to capitalize on this obvious popularity of the franchise?

Alonso: Our confidence in "Guardians of the Galaxy" was high. Remember -- we announced that sequel at Comic-Con [International in San Diego this past July], a long time before final ticket stubs had been tallied -- but no one could predict this level of success. Does this motivate us to capitalize on the popularity of the franchise? Of course it does. [Laughs]

For me, the success of "Guardians of the Galaxy" speaks to both the efficiency of Marvel Studios and the depth of the Marvel catalog. There were plenty of people that predicted that "Guardians" would be a flop, that said Marvel Studios had made a grave mistake even picking those characters top anchor a summer blockbuster. Too obscure, they said. No one knows who they are. Clearly, they were wrong.

Executed right, any character in the Marvel catalog can sing to a broad audience. Marvel Studios' success owes to its ability to respect the source material, skillfully cast directors and actors, and always start with the solid foundation of a good script. And the same holds true in publishing. Cast the right creative team on the right character, and anything can happen. The mantra that drove "All-New Marvel NOW!" and resulted in series like "Ms. Marvel," "Black Widow," "Iron Fist: The Living Weapon," "Silver Surfer" and "All-New Ghost Rider," still drives us.

As for the "Guardians of the Galaxy" themselves? The success of the core series, "Rocket Raccoon," and "The Legendary Star-Lord" certainly doesn't discourage us from expanding the franchise. Show of hands for a Gamora series? [Laughs] How about a Groot one-shot?

Let's dip into a couple of fan question from the CBR Community: And speaking of confidence in lesser-known characters, THANOSRULES asks, "I'm hooked on B-listers (or below) and was wanting to know if you had any plans for more wild card teams of lesser used characters like DnA's GOTG or older Thunderbolts lineups?"

Alonso: Let's see. A water-fowl, a tree rat and a jungle cat just might factor into our plans.

Intriguing! macroblaster1999 noticed a few omissions from Marvel's latest round of solicitations: "Why were 'Ms. Marvel,' 'Silver Surfer,' 'All-New Ghost Rider,' 'Iron Fist: The Living Weapon' and 'Uncanny Avengers' missing from the December solicits?"

Alonso: Fear not, macroblaster19999, "Ms. Marvel," "All-New Ghost Rider," "Silver Surfer" and "Iron Fist: The Living Weapon" were moved out of December for scheduling reasons, but they will all resume in January. As for "Uncanny Avengers" -- that series is on hiatus through the duration of our "AXIS" event.

Let's wrap with Bionder, who asks, "Is there plans for the Punisher 40th anniversary this year?

Alonso: Yes.

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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