The Modern Face of The X-Men

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 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, Axel waxes philosophical on the current position of the X-Men line within Marvel's broader publishing schemes. While the mutant team may not be strictly tied to "Age of Ultron" or "Infinity," the X-Men have plenty of Marvel U connections coming up including Dazzler, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Meanwhile, Alonso tells how "Wolverine & The X-Men" fits comfortably in Jason Aaron's body of work as well as in the history of teen mutant comics, and he reveals the behind the scenes story of Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel's incoming "X-Men" series. Read on!

Kiel Phegley: Axel, this week let's put our focus on the X-Men line. "Avengers Vs. X-Men" brought the core characters from the mutant world closer to the rest of the Marvel U than they've been in a while, but they still remain able to stand apart some as we're seeing with the current books by Brian Bendis and Jason Aaron which are doing their own thing outside events like "Age of Ultron" and "Infinity." How do you view the task right now of balancing the X-books' uniqueness and solo popularity with the need to keep them a part of Marvel as a whole?

Axel Alonso: The X-Men tend to gravitate toward stories whose themes need their own breathing space, but that doesn't make them unique from, say, the Avengers or Spider-Man. The challenge with the X-titles is to tell stories they are uniquely qualified to tell without losing sight of the fact that mutants live in -- and fight for the stakes of -- the same universe as the rest of the Marvel heroes. Before "AvX," when a big event came along, the stakes never seemed as important to mutants as the rest of the Marvel Universe. Emma brokered a deal that had them sit out "Civil War," they pretty just defended their patch of land in "Secret Invasion," and they didn't play a central role in "Fear Itself." One of the goals of "AvX" was to remind everyone that the Marvel Universe is their universe, too, and it worked. The threats posed by "Infinity" -- and the aftershocks of that story -- will affect the X-Men.

One of the standouts this week in the pages of "Uncanny X-Men" was the introduction of Dazzler as an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. But she also seems like a character that inspires a lot of love from her diehard fans. Did you get a lot of pitches on Dazzler over your time in charge of the X-Office?

Alonso: The roller-rink is paved with rejected "Dazzler" pitches! [Laughs] Look, there's a lot of love out there for the X-Men Universe's Lady Ga Ga -- indeed, no one's a bigger champion than [SVP of Sales] David Gabriel. Every X-Men character has got a rabid fan base, and it's our job is to find the right window of opportunity to make them shine. Brian has done just that.

Covers by Chris Bachalo (L) and Frazer Irving

And in this specific take, I feel like she really serves that role as both connective tissue between the X-Men and the rest of the Marvel U, but it also gives her a place to stand as a solo character, which she originally was when she was introduced. How much of getting the character right is a matter of platforming her in a way that plays to those strengths?

Alonso: It's always about that. This harkens back to a question from last week. Ninety-nine percent of the characters in the Marvel Universe have the potential to be cool -- it's just a matter of finding the right creative angle and window of opportunity to tap that potential. This is an instance where a writer -- Brian -- found just the right alchemy to use Dazzler in one of our biggest and best-selling titles. I expect she will be to a big player moving forward, and that David Gabriel will give this his full support. [Laughs]

Looking across the X-line, Brian is doing very much like his own take on the classic X-Men concept and world in his two books, but on the other side of the equation Jason Aaron has a much more lighthearted take in the form of "Wolverine & The X-Men." We'll see how lighthearted that remains with the new "Hellfire Saga" arc, but it does stand apart in a big way from the line and Jason's stuff. As someone who's worked with Jason, what about his writing do you think makes such a different book for him come together?

Alonso: Jason is an extremely versatile writer. His run on "Wolverine" was dark and gritty, especially at first, but as the series moved along, it took on the madcap flavor of a B-movie -- especially the kung-fu arc. Very fun.

That said, somewhere toward the end of his runs on "Wolverine" and "Punisher MAX," Jason told me he was eager to skew in a different direction and flex a different set of creative muscles. When the opportunity to launch "Wolverine and the X-Men" emerged at an editorial summit, he immediately leapt on the opportunity to position it as the unique book it eventually became. It's much more lighthearted, fun and, well, bouncy -- and it's really connected with X-Men fans. When I'm at cons, people always come up to me and tell me it's their favorite book.

For a while, we were discussing the idea that X-Men fans love a good teenage-focused book, but the last few before this didn't seem to catch fire. Has this series solved that problem or scratched that itch in the line?

Alonso: It absolutely has. When we launched "Wolverine and the X-Men," we were very conscious that the road was littered with cancelled X-Men series that focused on young mutants and/or the school. The one strategic advantage this series enjoyed was the fact that it represented one of the philosophical paths that emerged out of [the X-Men event] "Schism" -- Wolverine's school of thought -- so we knew we could position it as something more than just a satellite book. Long-term success came down to the quality of the storytelling, and Jason and Chris Bachalo and then [artist] Nick Bradshaw have delivered in spades. It's the place to be for young mutants who aren't named Scott, Jean, Bobby or Hank.

Previously, the X-Men line always had two core books, and now we've got three between "All-New," "Uncanny" and "Wolverine And." But I get the sense that Brian Wood's incoming "X-Men" title is meant to serve as another face of the core concept too.

Alonso: It is. It all came down to the fact that Brian and [editor] Jeanine [Schaefer] were brainstorming ways to liven up the X-Men universe, and they came up with the very simple concept of an all-female team -- and this came at a time when we were discussing the need for more female-driven series. Once they proposed their roster, we knew we were looking at a team that could anchor an ongoing. And when Olivier Coipel -- who's quite possibly the biggest Storm fan on the face of the earth -- said he'd like to draw it, we knew we were looking at a hit book. Months ago, in this column, I predicted that we would launch a top 10 book featuring a female lead; based on the sales, we just might be looking at the #1 book for May.

Marvel revealed that the book will have a few different artists stepping onto the book soon as Olivier moves on to other projects. David Lopez and Terry Dodson will both be working on the series, and they seem to have different styles from what Olivier has been doing there. How are you working to keep some visual continuity on this series?

Alonso: I think you'll be surprised by what David Lopez does on this book. It's a quantum leap from what he's done in the past. As always, the goal is to create a book that has a certain visual identity, and I think "X-Men" will. We're managing it the same way we are another hit new series, "Uncanny Avengers": Put a really good artist on each arc, and trust that the craft will keep readers coming back for more.

Following up what you were saying a moment ago, I know that "Red She-Hulk" was cancelled this month, but as you bring up Marvel's desire for more female-centric books, do you think "X-Men" as a team book and things like "Fearless Defenders" alongside it have a chance of better success in regards to that diversity?

Alonso: Right now, "Captain Marvel," "Fearless Defenders" and "X-Men" are all series that are anchored by female leads, and we've got plenty more coming in 2014.

Overall for the X-Men line, these core books all seem to have their own mission statements and tones, but Brian, Brian and Jason will soon be teaming up for the "Battle of the Atom" event. Do these X-Men events run differently from things like "Infinity" where one writer is calling the shots overall? Does the X-line necessitate a different kind of collaboration there?

Alonso: You'd be shocked at how smooth the collaboration is. It starts with [X-Men Group Editor] Nick Lowe, who is a veteran of X-Men events, who elected to structure "X-Men: Battle of the Atom" just like two previously successful X-Men events, "Messiah CompleX" and "Second Coming." The story will kick off in the oversized "X-Men: Battle of the Atom #1", weave through consecutive issues of "All-New X-Men," "Uncanny X-Men," "Wolverine and the X-Men" and "X-Men" over two months, then conclude in the oversized "X-Men: Battle of the Atom" #2.

The process in a nutshell: The three writers workshopped the story with Nick and his crew, then worked up a rough outline for each issue, then went back to their desks to work their individual magic.  Because the story weaves its way through multiple titles on an accelerated shipping schedule, it will feature multiple artists, and Art Adams will do all the covers to give it an identity on the racks.  The rapid shipping schedule will give the story momentum and urgency.  "X-Men: Battle of the Atom" will deliver the goods, and deliver them quickly.

Looking at some X-specific fan questions, chemicalx may be as big a Storm fan as Olivier Coipel as he asks, "I've been thinking a lot about storm and her recent changes it doesn't seem like her character has changed much beyond a spiffy hair cut and a new outfit. Is there a plan to do any storm focused stories in the near future? Although Logan was ultimately shown to be the keeper of Xavier's dream it seems that Storm was his closest second and is the most supportive of his dream and goals. Will we deal with her feelings about scotts direction and the current delema with the O5 especially since she and Jean were so close. Any chance of another Storm Mini or an on going?"

Alonso: Storm is a key part of "X-Men," "Uncanny X-Force" -- edited by the second biggest Storm fan in the world, Daniel Ketchum -- and "Wolverine and the X-Men," chemicalx, so those are the places for Storm character stuff.  No plans for a solo series of any sort right now, though.

jameszahra is thinking about some characters getting drawn into the mutant world (from beyond the grave even) when he asks, "Looking at the solicit for uncanny avengers issue 10, it Shows apocalypse new 4 horseman, is there the slightest chance that these guys will continue on and be brought back to normal after remender has finished with them? or are they destined to be slaves or worse, dead after the arcs over?"

Alonso: You're kind of asking how the story will end, jameszhara! Read the book!

On a more philosophical front, jjk1901 says, "I'm over Wolverine being the go-to guy in the Marvel U. I get that others love him, but I think of him as mostly a badass with the ASS in all caps. Post AvX and Schism I don't get why other characters don't call Wolverine out for his hypocrisy. Beast blasted Cyclops for X-Force and left Utopia, but he gives Wolvie a pass after making a second X-Force team? Meanwhile Wolvie's solution to Ultron is to freaking kill Hank Pym in premeditated murder, yet he's going to maintain Cyke should be in jail for killing Xavier while he was possessed by the Phoenix? Granted we haven't yet seen the ramifications of Wolvie's decision, but I just wish someone (Storm, Kitty) would actually hold Wolverine accountable for being a killer rather than just give him a pass for 'being the best at what he does.'"

Alonso: Is that a question? Your argument is a little jumbled, jjk1901, but I'll try and hit the two major points.

1) Regarding your contention that Wolverine killing Hank Pym is no different from Cyclops killing Charles Xavier -- I disagree. Cyclops' act was a loss-of-control freak-out on the battlefield; Wolverine's act was a calculated choice to save millions of lives.  Killing Hank Pym was not an easy decision for Wolverine, but he was willing to do it to save millions, and he will deal with the ramifications of his world-changing decision for some time. SWAT teams have to make tough decisions like this every day. Wolverine is willing to use lethal force, but he doesn't use it recklessly. Simply put, he sees it as an unfortunate but necessary option in extreme circumstances. He's got morals and a code of ethics that he tries to stick to, like the rest of us, and when he takes a life, he truly believes it will make the world a safer place, and he full knows he might have to answer to a higher power some day. Is Wolverine right? Hard to judge. And I'd say that Beast, Kitty, Storm and the rest aren't quick to judge because on some level they understand this moral gray area.

2) As for Beast's alleged double-standard in regards to Cyclops and Logan -- Beast's problem with Scott goes way deeper than just the fact that X-Force killed people. There was the secrecy, the betrayal, the huge personality change from one of his oldest and dearest friends. Part of the reason Beast cuts Wolverine slack is that Wolverine owns up to his mistakes.

Finally, Mr MajestiK was one a few guys thinking about Black Panther's recent representation in the X-books. He says, "I just wanted to ask you how closely the various editorial teams at Marvel work especially in relation to characters interacting within the shared 616 MU. This question is born out of the fact that I'm trying to understand how and why some of the writers handling the X-related books seem to be oblivious as to what Jonathan Hickman is doing with T'Challa as a central character within the New Avengers book.

"Mr Hickman has T'Challa and the rest of the Illuminati dealing with the Incursion threats as chronicled within the aforementioned pages of New Avengers but for some unknown reason writers like Jason aaron and a few others currently penning X-titles featuring Storm and Wolverine seem to be unaware of this fact which in turn, has led to them mischaracterising T'Challa as someone who has time to waste on the soap opera antics that seem to be all the rage in the X-verse.

"None of these writers seemed to be keen about positively including T'Challa in any of their storylines when he was written as being married to Storm so I find their writing about him now that the two characters are no longer together somewhat jarring and to a large extent, quite hypocritical. Can you shed any light on these discrepancies?"

Alonso: The activities of the Illuminati are carried out in secret, Mr MajestiK - nobody is aware of them outside of the characters involved. So it's not surprising that such matters wouldn't come up when the Panther was interacting elsewhere with Storm. And it's not like there's an incursion happening every single day.

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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