The Mixed Message of Manara's "Spider-Woman" Variant, Reason For No "Big Hero 6" Plans

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!

Following two weeks away from the column due to a trip to the Bucheon International Comics Festival in Bucheon, South Korea, Alonso returns -- and well, there's a lot to talk about. Alonso discusses in detail the negative reaction to legendary artist Milo Manara's "Spider-Woman" #1 variant cover -- which was criticized by multiple mainstream media outlets as depicting an overly sexualized take on a female superhero -- including how the cover differs from the content of the November-debuting series by Dennis Hopeless and Greg Land and what the future looks to fold for similar illustrations at Marvel. Alonso also shares a few reasons as to why Marvel isn't planning any "Big Hero 6" material to tie-in to the release of the Disney animated feature film, scheduled for release this November. This, plus insight into the ongoing Marvel prose line, next week's two big release -- "Death of Wolverine" #1 and "Original Sin" #8 -- and your questions, straight from the CBR Community!

Albert Ching: Axel, before we get into the Marvel matters of the week -- how was your time in Korea?

Axel Alonso: It was fantastic. I was a guest at the Bucheon International Comics Art Festival, and let me tell you, there's a lot of love in Korea for the Marvel characters. After one panel, I spent about an hour signing comics for a long line of fans. Some of them were shaking like I was Justin Bieber or something. Of course, it wasn't about me, it was about Marvel.

Marvel has had fans all over for decades, but the international reach and success of the Marvel movies must have a lot to do with that audience getting even more passionate -- is that what you found?

Alonso: Without a doubt. There's a lot of newfound love for the Marvel characters in that part of the world. The movies play a large role in that, of course, but there are a lot of hardcore fans who read our comics. My favorite fans were these two young women who sported "Cyclops Was Right" t-shirts.

It was educational to see how Koreans consume -- and make -- comics. There are traditional comics, but the most popular form is "webtoons," which are comics created for the digital platform. They're similar to our Infinite Comics, but they move on a vertical plane. Also, it was interesting to see how universal our problems are. Sitting on an international roundtable discussion, I learned that while piracy hurts the U.S. industry, we're partly protected by the collectability of comics and the American engrained respect for the graphic novel. Those are not characteristics of the Korean market. Piracy is an even bigger issue over there.

That's very interesting and, of course, upsetting -- before we move on from Korea, how was the food out there?

Alonso: Incredible. I will never get sick of kalbi, soju and Cass. I gained 10 pounds. [Laughs] My wife is Korean, so she knew all the right joints.

To get into the Marvel matters -- I definitely wanted to ask you about something that became a very big deal last week while you were away -- the negative response to Milo Manara's "Spider-Woman" #1 cover. I've got some specific questions about it, but can I first get your general reaction to the response that cover got?

Alonso: We always listen to fans' concerns so we can do better by them. We want everyone -- the widest breadth of fans -- to feel welcome to read "Spider-Woman." We apologize -- I apologize -- for the mixed messaging that this variant caused.

And that's what this cover is. It's a limited edition variant that is aimed at collectors. While we would not have published this as the main cover to the book, we were comfortable publishing this as a variant that represented one artist's vision of the character -- a world-renowned artist whose oeuvre is well-known to us, and to collectors. It is not the official cover for the issue. It is a collector's item that is set aside or special ordered by completists -- and it doesn't reflect the sensibility or tone of the series any more than the Skottie Young variant or Rocket and Groot "Spider-Woman" variants. If you open up the book, you'll see that this series has everything in common with recent launches we've done, like "Black Widow" and "Ms. Marvel" and "She-Hulk" and "Captain Marvel." It's about the adventures of two women that have complete agency over their lives, and that are defined by what they do, not how they look.

We're far from perfect, but we're trying. It's been a priority for me as EIC to make our line and our publishing team more inclusive. We're at an industry high of around 30 percent female in editorial group, about 20 percent of our line is comics starring women, and our Senior Manager of Talent, Jeanine Schaefer, actively looks to bring more female writers and artists into the fold each month. In fact, very soon we'll be announcing new series and creators that I'm very excited about.

Given that, since there has been a history the last couple years of Manara variant covers at Marvel, is that something you still see happening going forward -- or maybe giving extra consideration to in the future?

Alonso: Yes, we'll do more Manara variants. He is a world-renowned artist with a huge fan base, and his variants, like the Skottie Young variants, are aimed at people who appreciate his art and his style. But we are aware of the growing sensitivity to covers like this, and we will be extra-vigilant in policing their content and how we use them in our marketing.

There have been multiple Manara-illustrated variant covers in the past couple of years. Internally at Marvel, was there any more hesitation about this cover versus any of the other ones that he's done over the past couple of years?

Alonso: We thought it was consistent with Manara's oeuvre, but clearly, some people found it racier than the others. Art is a subjective thing. There have been critics, there have been fans who have defended Manara's art, and there have been fans who don't understand what the fuss is about. While opinions on the actual piece vary, we realize that the message this cover sent was not the one we meant to send. And we understand -- and respect -- the concerns of those who expressed a negative reaction to the cover, I want that to be clear.

Another thing from the past couple weeks -- last week, Marvel's November 2014 solicitations arrived, and it's been pointed out that's the same month the "Big Hero 6" Disney animated film is scheduled for release, and there was no tie-in material listed. It left people wondering if there are plans for the characters -- so I thought I'd put that question to you. Are there any plans for "Big Hero 6"?

Alonso: There are no plans.

Any particular reason why?

Alonso: The characters and stories that have appeared in our comics are very different from what they are in the film. Releasing material that would be viewed as movie tie-in product would be a disservice to filmgoers. We wanted the Disney folks to be able to create their own unique style and story, unencumbered by those older stories.

Marvel did do some reprints a while ago, when the movie was first being talked about.

Alonso: Yeah, we have a catalog of stuff that we can reprint, but we have no intention of doing anything related to the movie.

Or anything new with those characters?

Alonso: At this stage, no.

Moving on to this Thursday's announcement that there's a new Marvel prose novel coming, written by Dan Abnett, titled "Avengers: Everybody Wants to Rule the World." This prose novel line has been going for a couple years now, with the first one an adaptation of "Civil War" written by Stuart Moore. It doesn't get a lot of talk compared to most Marvel efforts, but presumably it's doing well if it's still going. What can you say about that line -- the purpose it serves and its importance within Marvel?

Alonso: Well, it's one more way of providing a doorway into the Marvel Universe for fans who come out of the multiplex or watch, say, "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." When we started the Marvel Prose line, [SVP - Sales] David Gabriel and I discussed our goals with Stuart Moore, who we brought in to edit the line, and Senior Editor Jeff Youngquist and agreed we wanted to create a self-contained Marvel Prose Universe. We'd start with adaptations of seminal Marvel comic book stories, like "Civil War" and "Iron Man: Extremis," and expand to include all-new stories, and all these stories would slowly interlock like a puzzle. The adaptations would be tweaked to emphasize accessibility and ensure evergreen status; the new novels would just need to be exciting and accessible. So far, the novels have been a hit. We gain momentum with each one we do so we're going to keep doing them.

Next week looks to be a big one for Marvel. "Death of Wolverine" #1 is out, the start of a series Marvel has been talking about for months. Do you feel the fan base has grasped that this is as big of a deal as Marvel has been treating it?

Alonso: Sales are outstanding, so yeah. This is an epic story by two creators at the height of their powers -- Charles Soule and Steve McNiven -- doing their best work, it's fast and furious and it ships weekly so you don't have to wait too long for those cliffhangers to resolve. When readers get a glimpse of Steve's art, I think we'll be looking at sellouts of issue #1 and beyond. And like I've said before in this column, we don't have an extraction plan. Though the aftermath will be explored in "The Logan Legacy" and "The Weapon X Program," we're staring at a Wolverine-free publishing plan for the foreseeable future.

Even "Savage Wolverine," which is an anthology title and generally outside of current continuity, is ending too, right? It's been absent from solicitations for a couple months.

Alonso: Yeah, we're going to a Wolverine-free zone. He's dead. People complained there was too much Wolverine. We listened! [Laughs]

Next week also brings "Original Sin" #8, the finale of that event series. The story has certainly taken some surprising directions thus far -- is there anything you wanted fans to know heading into the finale?

Alonso: More surprises to come. I'm so happy that a story that hatched at a retreat years ago but never matured, found suitable parents in Jason Aaron and Mike Deodato, whose father passed this week -- I wish him my best. Jason turned the inciting incident into exactly the story we'd hope for: a murder mystery, a psychodrama and a superhero action epic rolled into one that allows us to re-position some cool characters -- Winter Soldier, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Ant-Man -- for the future. Some of this will be revealed in issue #8.

Definitely want to extend our best wishes to the Deodato family, as well. Let's end with a few fan questions from the CBR Community, starting with a fun one from Reed Beebe: "With 'Edge of Spider-Verse' coming up, could you let us know your favorite alternate universe version of Spider-Man?"

Alonso: Miles Morales. No contest!

Then the irrepressible Spidey616 asks, "The appearance of Amadeus Cho in the "Avengers" #35 preview, set eight months in the future, sees him on the wrong side of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Between this and his debut on the Ultimate Spidey cartoon, what can you tell us about Cho's role in the Marvel U going into 2015?

Alonso: Nothing for eight months! But "Avengers" #35 and "New Avengers" #24 might provide you with a few early clues!

Finally, HouseFrost asks, "With 'Avengers Undercover' ending soon, the younger heroes on the Avengers side of the Marvel U will soon be without a title. Is there any chance of a 'Young Avengers' revival, or another 'Avengers Academy' run?

Alonso: We do have something along these lines planned for the future, though it won't quite be either "Young Avengers" or "Avengers Academy." But it won't be happening until after the reb --

I've said too much.

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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