The New "Fantastic Four" and the Diversity Challenge

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 Message Boards, each week Alonso will shake things up with special guest stars, exclusive art reveals and more!

This week sees a strong focus on Marvel's First Family, as Alonso weighs in on the casting of African-American actor Michael B. Jordan as the traditionally white Human Torch in Fox's "Fantastic Four" reboot, along with the freshly launched new "Fantastic Four" series from writer James Robinson and artist Leonard Kirk. Plus, the editor-in-chief reflects on the impact recently concluded miniseries "Cataclysm: The Ultimates' Last Stand" had on the Ultimate Universe, gives insight on the impact of "Uncanny Avengers" and talks the new ongoing series starring Marvel's "huggable, mini-Wolverine," Rocket Raccoon.

Albert Ching: Axel, first thing I wanted to get your opinion on, even though I know it's outside of Marvel's purview -- what's your take on the much-discussed news that Michael B. Jordan has been cast as the Human Torch in Fox's "Fantastic Four" reboot?

Axel Alonso: Speaking as someone who wasn't consulted, I think it's great. It gives the story an additional layer, another nuance, and puts forth another definition of "family." People of all shapes, sizes and colors go to the multiplex, and it's important that they see themselves projected on the big screen. That's why I'm a huge Danny Trejo fan! [Laughs] The Marvel Universe is everybody's story.

Oh -- and Michael B. Jordan rocks. Loved him since "The Wire." Great actor. He's definitely my second favorite Michael Jordan!

RELATED: Fox Casts Its "Fantastic Four": Jordan, Bell, Mara and Teller

Adding diversity like that in such an iconic character is something you can't really do in Marvel publishing; to introduce more diversity, it has to be something like the Ultimate line, or a new character like Kamala Khan. Is it frustrating, because you don't have those same options?

Alonso: We face a very different challenge than the Studio does. Editors are the current caretakers of a mythology that dates back 50-60 years, and a large portion of our audience has been around for a decade or more. Our challenge is to be respectful of them while keeping the characters relevant to the times so we can bring in new readers. Characters like the new Ms. Marvel and the All-New Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes, help. We can reshape the clay, pick off small pieces, but we can't just replace clay the way you can when you're making a movie.

In the first "Iron Man" film, no one blinked when Tony Stark's origin took place in an underground Iraqi bunker because the vast majority of the audience was being exposed to Iron Man for the first time. That's not true in comics; the core audience has been around for a while, and they notice all change. That's the lay of the land, and that's our challenge.

Let's take the natural transition and talk about the new "Fantastic Four" series, which started this week from Marvel. It's the second launch of the book in about a year and a half -- the previous Matt Fraction-written story was a finite one, but what made James Robinson and Leonard Kirk's vision of "Fantastic Four" the right one for right now?

Alonso: James is a gifted writer who's got something to say. He pitched [Senior Editor] Mark Paniccia a [Fantastic Four] story that was decidedly different in tone and flavor from anything that had preceded it. It was dark and, terrifying and it put the Fantastic Four through the wringer in ways we hadn't seen before. So we said, "Yeah, that'll do."

James Robinson is obviously a prolific writer with many years and many well-regarded stories under his belt, but he hadn't done anything at Marvel in recent years until the past few months -- and now he's got "Fantastic Four," "All-New Invaders," and is co-writing the Spider-Man graphic novel, "Family Business." What are you liking about what he's bringing to Marvel right now, and having the perspective of a veteran writer returning to Marvel fresh after time spent elsewhere?

Alonso: Back when I was at Vertigo, James' star was exploding on "Starman" -- was that a pun? -- and I loved the "Golden Age," so I was always open to having him here. Panic thought he'd be an interesting fit for "All-New Invaders" because of his track record with Golden Age characters, and we all know how that pitch went, so Panic asked him to pitch for "Fantastic Four," and that worked out, too. James is very serious about writing comics, very serious about being in the thick of it. We spoke about that just this morning. Maybe we'll see him in the big room at one of the editorial retreats sometime soon? [Laughs]

REVIEW: Robinson & Kirk's "Fantastic Four" #1

Let's talk about a few of the books out this week -- the last issue of Cataclysm: The Ultimates' Last Stand" arrived, and we know that three new Ultimate series are debuting in the next couple of months -- but the original tease behind "Cataclysm" was that the Ultimate line could be ending as a result of this story. That's an interesting thing to tease, because Marvel wouldn't do that that unless they thought at least some readers might believe that's the case. When you think about the Ultimate line, do you see that there could be an end to it? Or do you view it as just as much here to stay as the main Marvel Universe?

Alonso: Well, we've been really clear that death is final in the Ultimate Universe, so if we do kill it, we're gonna kill it dead. [Laughs] Look, if we ever do decide to blow up the Ultimate Universe, it'll be because we have a massive story to tell.

That's interesting to hear, and it's also interesting how the Ultimate Universe seems almost defined by upheaval, with major events leading to new series being launched -- is that a byproduct of what you can do with the Ultimate Universe, and taking advantage of the fact that you can more easily bend and break things?

Alonso: There's a flexibility to the Ultimate Universe that's different than anything out there. It's the place for us to explore, bend and even break characters -- the place where you can tell the story of Peter Parker's last stand and then see Spider-Man reborn as Miles Morales. It's also the perfect place for independent, progressive-minded writers, like Sam Humphries, Josh Fialkov or Brian Wood, to test Marvel's waters with their toe.

"Cataclysm" was all about the Marvel Universe Galactus coming to the Ultimate Universe, the culmination of interaction between the two worlds that started with "Spider-Men" -- "Cataclysm" #5 looks to close that door, somewhat literally, so is that the last interaction between the two readers can expect to see for a while?

Alonso: I don't want to tip our hat but there's bound to be repercussions. Look for an Easter egg in issue 5 of "All-New Invaders."

RELATED: Bendis & Quinones Help Heroes "Survive" the Ultimate Cataclysm

"Uncanny Avengers" #17 contained some major events -- "major" as in, Captain America dying and the Earth breaking apart -- but for a book that was billed as a flagship when it launched, readers haven't seen it touched upon elsewhere. Will the impact of "Uncanny Avengers" soon be seen in the rest of the Marvel books?

Alonso: Yes. The relevance of "Uncanny Avengers" to the Marvel Universe will become very apparent in 2014. Rick has lit the fuse for a big explosion.

Rick Remender is known as a long-term planner -- was it always the plan for "Uncanny Avengers" to build within itself before spilling out to the rest of the Marvel Universe?

Alonso: You nailed it. Rick is a long-term planner. His best stories... ripen.

Last book from this week that I wanted to touch on is "Wolverine and the X-Men" #42. Though the book is continuing with a new volume -- starting next week, even -- it's still a close of a chapter, and Jason Aaron's last issue of the series. A lot of people enjoyed that book due to its uniqueness, because of the lighthearted and imaginative touch it brought. What did you like about the series?

Alonso: The light touch. There's very little death and dismemberment, souls going to hell...

It's a long way from "Scalped."

Alonso: Or "Wolverine," or "Punisher MAX." I didn't know Jason had this gear. To write a book this light and bouncy, featuring an ensemble cast of young characters? I imagine that it was "Jason Aaron: Father" who came to the foreground with this book. The optimism at the core of the series really made it shine. That, and incredibly crazy weirdness. I think this series surprised a lot of people, and I'm sure that Jason Latour and Mahmud Asrar are going to continue to surprise its fans -- in a good way.

X-POSITION: Aaron Closes the Door on "Wolverine and the X-Men"

This week brought the news of a new "Rocket Raccoon" ongoing series written and illustrated by Skottie Young. How strange is it that there's a "Rocket Raccoon" ongoing series starting in July, and it's actually not a strange thing? The character has gotten to a place where an ongoing series makes sense in 2014.

Alonso: If you told me that we'd be launching an ongoing "Rocket Raccoon" series a few years ago, I'd have said you're crazy. It's no surprise now. I have no doubt that Marvel Studios' "Guardians of the Galaxy" is going to be huge, and that Rocket Raccoon will be the movie's breakout character. He's like a huggable, mini-Wolverine, and his "bromance" with Groot is amazing, hilarious, nuanced -- it makes your eyes moist. [Laughs]

And how excited are you to see Skottie Young again contributing to the Marvel Universe after so many years doing the "Oz" books?

Alonso: To see Skottie bring his mojo to Rocket Raccoon is perfect casting. It's creative voodoo. He was born to do this. Skottie Young's "Rocket Raccoon" -- if you don't get it, I feel sorry for you. [Laughs]

RELATED: Young Sends "Rocket Raccoon on an Intergalactic Romp

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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