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!
For the final AXEL-IN-CHARGE of the year, Alonso takes a look back at the year that was for Marvel — and it certainly was an eventful one, between Sam Wilson taking on the Captain America legacy, a mysterious new female Thor, a “Superior” Iron Man and Wolverine shuffling off the (fictional) mortal coil. Alonso discusses why 2014 was the right year to make such major changes, and looks back on event series “Original Sin” and “Avengers & X-Men: AXIS,” talks the “All-New Marvel NOW!” launches like “Ms. Marvel” and reflects on the impact the two very successful Marvel Studios films of the year — “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” — had on the publishing side of the company. Next week, we start 2015 right by looking ahead at Marvel’s plans for the new year, including the soon-to-debut new “Star Wars” comics line, “Secret Wars” and more.
Albert Ching: Axel, it’s year-end wrap-up season everywhere you turn online, and when thinking up questions for this week, I remembered something I heard you say multiple times in 2014, both at cons and in this column: That Marvel’s current output proved that the company’s not afraid of change, with evidence ranging from a female Thor to a dead Wolverine. What is it about the current climate that made it the right time to bring so many significant changes to iconic characters?
Axel Alonso: I think the most significant factor is that we now live in a world where the Marvel brand is at such a high and the average person knows who Cap, Thor, Iron Man and Black Widow are. That gives publishing a lot of oxygen. When you say “Thor,” the average person has an immediate mind’s eye picture and it’s Chris Hemsworth. So when you unveil the new Thor, and the image doesn’t jibe, they have an immediate reaction — elation, anger, curiosity — and you’ve got their attention. And if what you back it up with is a good story — like Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman are doing right now — that translates into a real boost for the series.
Let’s look at some of those big changes individually: Avengers NOW! brought a female Thor, a Black Captain America and an Iron Man that if not quite a bad guy, certainly isn’t as heroic as fans are used to seeing him. Those are three characters very prominent in pop culture consciousness now, played very famously in very successful live-action films. Conventional wisdom would dictate that a publisher may want to keep those characters as iconic as possible — has there been a satisfaction in effectively doing the opposite of that, and exploring possibilities that really can only happen in publishing?
Alonso: Can they only happen in publishing? Only a few years ago, fandom cried bloody murder when they found out we were bringing back Bucky Barnes — and that ended up driving one of the biggest movies of 2014 [“Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier”]. Look, the great thing about Marvel publishing, is that we are allowed to make omelets at the same time Marvel Studios is serving up the best damned eggs you’ve ever eaten. And, who knows, maybe they’ll cook up an omelet down the road?
Well, now I’m hungry. “Death of Wolverine” was certainly a major event in Marvel’s 2014. Though there are still folks out there figuring his return must be around the cover, the Marvel Universe is, for now, a Logan-less place — a few months into that status quo, what are you enjoying about the storyline possibilities that have arisen from the absence of Wolverine?
Alonso: I like the wide-open space created by Logan’s absence. Our conversation about that void was very lively at our last retreat.
Marvel launched many new series this year as part of the “All-New Marvel NOW!” initiative — as is inevitable, some have taken hold, and some didn’t find the audience they needed to survive. Overall, how pleased have you been with the output of new books this year? What has Marvel learned from launching that many new series in a relatively short time frame?
Alonso: I’ve been very happy. Look, we knew going in that not all the new series would stick long-term — the road is littered with quality series that didn’t make it. The goal was simply to make each book unique and good — that kind that would be dearly missed if it were cancelled. “Elektra” is a great series; it did a lot of good for the character and the profile of the creative team — Haden Blackman and Mike Del Mundo — and we’re listening close to its fans as we plan the future.
“Ms. Marvel,” one of those All-New Marvel NOW! titles, has proven to be a unique success for the company — the kind of mainstream attention it’s gotten, the fact that it’s been a major digital sales success and that it’s an unconventional superhero that still fits the Marvel mold. From your perspective, how significant has “Ms. Marvel” been to the company this past year?
Alonso: It’s the flagship series of “All-New Marvel NOW!” I look at Kamala Khan as a direct descendent of Peter Parker; she’s a first-generation American kid from Jersey City who peers across the river at the fabulous city — and fabulous super heroes — just out of her reach, and daydreams. And then she is granted great power and the great responsibility that comes with it, and — thanks the creative talents of G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona — responds in a manner that is appealing and, above all, emotionally true. The success of “Ms. Marvel” underscores the fact that people embrace characters whose stories are universal.
Speaking of the Ms. Marvel success — it seems fairly unanimous that 2014 has been a pivotal year for women in comics, with awareness of important issues being raised, and greater attention paid to both female creators and characters. Marvel has been a part of that conversation, with its number of books starring female characters rising sharply this past year. How satisfied are you with the strides made this year, and how much do you still see as left to go?
Alonso: We’ve made strides, but we’ve got a ways to go. The industry as a whole has a long way to go. As more females embrace comic book culture — and part of that is creating material that makes them feel welcome — we’ll see more of them creating comics.
Also launched in 2014: Two big line-wide Marvel events, “Original Sin” and “Avengers & X-Men: AXIS.” Both a little different types of stories compared to typical events, but both ambitious and told at a very large scale. Since “Secret Wars” has been brewing in the background for a few years now, has that allowed Marvel a little more freedom to experiment in the structure, rollout and storyline of these event series?
Alonso: This was an uncommon year because we had “Original Sin” on deck, with “Secret Wars” standing at the top of the dugout steps — our publishing schedule was set — and then Rick Remender came to a retreat with a story for “Uncanny Avengers” that grew into something larger. So we pivoted a little. I don’t think we’re likely to do two events quite so close to each other in the future — mainly because it made for a truly grueling schedule — but who knows?
Two very popular Marvel Studios were released this year — “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” I think those are significant because one is primarily based on a 2004-2005 story, and another from a then-obscure team first introduced with that cast in 2008. What has that meant for the publishing side — seeing these ideas from the relatively recent past not only make the big screen, but become two of the three top grossing films of the year?
Alonso: It hasn’t sucked! [Laughs] Look, Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios have done an incredible job producing films that strip-mine decades worth of stories to create one enjoyable movie experience. So when they pick stories that bear our fresh fingerprints, it reminds us that we’re doing good stories in the first place.
OK, let’s wrap 2014 with a little non-comics year-end fun: What are your picks for your favorite film, TV show and album of the year?
Alonso: The movie that stuck with me the most was “Out of the Furnace.” Christian Bale plays a Rust Belt steel worker seeking revenge against the sociopathic drug hillbilly dealer that killed his brother. Sounds like an action flick, but it isn’t. It’s about a normal man, plagued by bad luck and fueled by deep desperation, who travels deep into backwoods territory to do something he simply has to do.
My favorite TV? “Fargo” narrowly edged “True Detective.” Both were great, but “Fargo” was a total surprise. I also loved “Derek,” which was Ricky Gervais’ latest miniseries. Funny and poignant, as usual.
Favorite album: “Run The Jewels 2” [by Killer Mike and El-P]. Perfect record. I also loved 100s’ free EP, “Ivry.” [San Francisco] Bay Area rapper with sick beats that blend g-funk and disco.
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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