Zeroing in on "Original Sin," Covers vs. Creators

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!

RELATED: Brevoort Brings Marvel's "Avengers" to a Point of Convergence

With "Original Sin" #0 now on stands, Alonso talks about the need for a prelude issue to Marvel's 2014 event, and why Mark Waid and Jim Cheung were the right team for the task. Alonso discusses the numbering strategy for the event, and the motivation behind Marvel's recent tendency towards decimal points. The Marvel E-i-C also gives his thoughts on DC Comics' recent much-discussed release of advance solicitations for their September 2014 "Futures End" event month slate -- their second September in a row to feature motion covers on dozens of titles -- which did not list creative teams. Plus, your questions, straight from the CBR forums!

Albert Ching: Axel, "Original Sin" is effectively officially here with the #0 prelude issue now out. It's something of a primer on The Watcher -- what motivated that as the right way to set the table for the larger story?

Axel Alonso: Everything that happens in "Original Sin" hinges upon the death of the Watcher, but you don't know anything about Uatu before you pick up issue #1 to understand the story. Just like we did with "Avengers Vs. X-Men" -- where one didn't need to have read any X-Men stories to understand the significance of the Phoenix Force -- we'll make sure that this story is accessible to everyone.

Why does it all hinge on the Watcher? Because Uatu has been witness to all of the Marvel Universe's secrets -- and if only a few of those secrets were to leak after his murder, there'd be hell to pay in the Marvel Universe. It's like WikiLeaks with superheroes. And let me say, the identity and the motive of the killer -- or killers -- is, in and of itself, an "Original Sin" story, a dark secret that is sure to shock fans.

"Original Sin" #0 certainly has a high-profile creative team with Mark Waid and Jim Cheung. Waid wrote a similar prelude to "Avengers vs. X-Men" that was also the first Infinite Comic, and he did the wrap-up to "Age of Ultron" last year. In your mind, what makes Waid the right candidate to write this type of story that's introducing things to a new audience?

Alonso: Because he raised his hand! [Laughs] We were a retreat, discussing the overall structure of the event and its tie-ins, and Mark shot up his hand and said, "I want to write a Watcher primer!" And let's face it, Mark has forgotten more about Marvel continuity than most of us will ever learn, so we weren't about to say no. "Original Sin" #0 a prelude to the event, a deep dive primer on The Watcher and his significance to the Marvel Universe.

Getting into Original Sin itself -- some of the numbering for the tie-ins, like the story that Waid and Kieron Gillen are doing with Hulk and Iron Man running through #3.1-#3.4 of Original Sin -- I could see people viewing that as difficult to follow. Do you see that at all, or does it seem fairly straightforward in your mind?

Alonso: I only bought into this program when I understood the advantages it presented for positioning in the catalog, for the clarity it would provide to retailers. There are lessons you learn about the way retailers order, and how they look at projects in the catalog, and where you need to position them. What we've come up with is the best strategy for retailers to understand exactly what they're ordering, but fans to understand exactly what they're buying. This numbering strategy won't be confusing to fans when they go to the store.

When [Marvel SVP, Sales and Marketing] David Gabriel unveiled his numbering strategy for the "Original Sin" tie-ins, I was skeptical and so was Tom [Brevoort], who edits the series. But David adequately addressed our questions and concerns, and we now understand the logic of the plan. The "OS 3.1" etcetera numbering keeps it easier for the retailer to order from Diamond. But when fans go to the store, what they'll see on the stands is "Hulk vs. Iron Man" #1.

This week, DC Comics released partial solicitations for September 2014, with no creative teams, as of yet, listed. It certainly sparked discussion online -- what was your reaction when you saw that?

Alonso: I think it's dangerous to tell retailers and fans, "Hey, check out this cool lenticular cover! Who's writing and drawing it, you ask? Nevermind, check out this cool lenticular cover!" If I were the writer or artist of that issue, I'd wonder why my involvement is being concealed. And if I were a retailer or a fan, I'd be skeptical that I'm being asked to literally buy a book for its cover. I'd assume the enhanced cover is camouflage for a fill-in issue.

At Marvel, the important thing is story and the talent that bring you that story; covers are a selling tool that should wrap around a good story -- they are not what we are selling. The fact that it's Stan Lee and Jack Kirby doing "Fantastic Four," Frank Miller doing "Daredevil," hell, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo doing "Batman" is extremely relevant. It's the creative teams that mine the gold of our characters. That's the driving philosophy behind Marvel NOW!: Find the best creators to tell the best story. "Elektra" #1 has cool variant covers by Paolo Rivera, Bill Sienkiewicz and Skottie Young, but they're meant to shine a spotlight on the story by Haden Blackman and Mike Del Mundo.

That said, this September, amidst the sea of lenticular covers, [Laughs] you'll find a comic book that tells a huge Marvel story. We'll be unveiling details about it this weekend at C2E2, and the draw, as always, is the story and the exciting team that will bring it to you. I am very excited about this series.

[Editor's note: This interview was conducted before Marvel announced the "Death of Wolverine" story running weekly in September.]

In this instance, it could be that the creative teams have not been completely determined yet.

Alonso: I find that really hard to believe. For one or two titles, maybe, but for the whole line? From a production standpoint alone, each of those issues should be in outline form, at the very least, just in order to hit deadline. No, it's a strategic move to put up big numbers in the month of September, and don't think anyone benefits from it in the long-term.

It hasn't been this exact circumstance with Marvel, but Marvel has obviously employed different cover gimmicks, also.

Alonso: We use enhanced covers to create theater and drive sales for new series, but they are always used to support content -- to support the story that's being told. They are not used to camouflage content. The acetate covers on "Origin II" announce that the book is special, but the book is special because it's a big story, brought to you by two top creators.

And look, this is not part of the ongoing discussion of the tactical use of variants. Used in moderation, variants help publishers launch books and they put money in retailers' pockets. That's not what we're talking about here; we're talking about selling covers, not comics.

For you personally, how closely do you pay attention to what DC does on a daily basis? I imagine obviously you have to keep a pretty close eye as it is a direct competitor, but of course you can't focus on it too much, since you have to spend your time doing your own thing. What's that balance?

Alonso: I take stock of what all publishers, large and small, are doing, it's part of the job. I don't read all the DC books, or even peruse all of them, but I keep an eye on what DC is doing. I see things I like, things I don't like, and I take note of their successes, failures and mistakes.

But Marvel doesn't follow anyone's lead. There are creative and business moves made by other publishers that we fundamentally disagree with, and would never copy, no matter how financially lucrative they might be.

Moving into another new release, we've talked about it here and there in the past, but "Elektra" #1 debuted this week -- a book I know you've been especially excited about. What can you say about watching that series take shape, and what makes it special?

Alonso: Like "All-New Ghost Rider," "Elektra" caught me by surprise. When [originally announced writer] Zeb Wells bowed out at the 12th hour due to a schedule conflict, we had to scramble, and I was very concerned. You never like to see a book speed wobble like that. Then-editor Steve Wacker came up with the brilliant idea of approaching Haden Blackman, who, of course, co-wrote "Batwoman," and everything turned around. Haden is the perfect collaborator for [artist] Mike Del Mundo. Those two are taking Elektra into brand-new territory that evokes some of her best stories, but clearly focuses on the horizon. And every page is a work of art. Mike has always been one of my favorite cover artists, but he's fast become one of my favorite interior artists. A truly unique artistic voice.

Let's end with a few fan questions: Following up on the July 2014 Marvel solicitations, Icey1999 asks, "Ed McGuinness, who was confirmed to be back on drawing 'Amazing X-Men' starting with #8, is now working on 'Guardians of the Galaxy' #17, and being replaced on the X-book with Carlo Barberi. Does this mean he is no longer working on the book, or is this shift temporary?"

Alonso: The shift isn't temporary, Icey1999. "Amazing X-Men" is Carlo Barberi's book now.

With the Toronto Raptors in the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2008, this question seems timely -- shellhead85 wants to know, "Any chance we'll see Alpha Flight popping up in the near future? I miss seeing Sasquatch, Guardian, Snowbird, and the rest of the gang..."

Alonso: Alpha Flight has been the subject of several discussions -- both here at the office and at the editorial retreats, Shellhead. While some very interesting ideas have emerged, nothing concrete has formed. That could change.

That said, if the Raptors beat the [Brooklyn] Nets, who knows how I'll feel about green-lighting an "Alpha Flight" series? [Laughs]

Finally, rsreed13 asks, "Any tidbits on Black Panther's role in 'Original Sin?' A lot of the recent discussion seems to be focused on the other players. I'm curious to see what T'Challa's part in it all will be. Any possibility for a solo BP book post-'Original Sin'?

Alonso: Well, rsreed13, that depends on whether or not he killed the Watcher, doesn't it?

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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