Axel Alonso, vice president-executive editor of Marvel Comics, held court at WonderCon on Sunday, in a panel that was billed in the program as discussing everything from Black Panther and "DoomWar" to Deadpool, MAX and Marvel Knights. But the topics ended up being much wider-ranged than that, as Alonso answered fan questions about everything Marvel-related for an hour, including movies, X-Men, event comics, comic pricing and his favorite taqueria in San Francisco.
Before taking questions from fans, Alonso had a question of his own - "Is Elektra good or bad?" He said his seven-year-old son and seven-year-old nephew were having a heated debate on the topic and had texted him for an answer. Alonso polled the audience, and "bad" won the day. "For seven year olds, you're either good or you're bad," he said, saying there was no grey area as he sent the text.
He also mentioned several of Marvel's big events, including "Siege" and "X-Men: Second Coming," noting that both of them wrapped up stories Marvel had been telling for a number of years. With regards to "Second Coming," he said to expect "two major deaths and not a dry eye in the house."
"At the end of this, we'll have a Marvel Universe where you'll see more interaction between the Avengers, the Marvel Universe and the X-Men, and lots of it," Alonso said. "If you're a fan of both universes, this is a good time to be jumping on board."
Alonso was joined by artists Shawn Crystal ("Deadpool Team-Up") and Nick Dragotta ("Marvel Zombies Return"). Both artists went to work on sketches as the panel began, and Alonso noted he'd give Crystal's Deadpool sketch to the person who asked the best question and Dragotta's Doop sketch to the person who asked the worst question.
The first fan asked what happened to the Cloak and Dagger miniseries Val D'Orazio was supposed to write. "Valerie got run over by a train, editorially," Alonso said, noting that the story she wanted to tell didn't line up with what they had planned for Cloak and Dagger in the X-Men books. He said D'Orazio was a "terrific writer" who just did a Punisher one-shot and is working on an Emma Frost one-shot. As for Cloak and Dagger, "We'll be doing something more with them," Alonso said.
Another fan asked about Squirrel Girl. "If Dan Slot were here, he'd talk with you for an hour about her," Alonso joked. "Maybe [she'll appear] in the ‘Deadpool Team-up.'"
In terms of the long-running disagreement between Cable and Bishop on the messiah status of the character Hope, Alonso said, "The big question is, are both right?" Cable believes she's the messiah for mutantkind, while Bishop thinks she's the "Antichrist."
What "Second Coming" is going to do, Alonso said, is introduce Hope "for the first time fully, to understand who she is, what she can do with her powers, and there will be some big answers at that stage. Whether they're good or bad, you'll have to read ‘Second Coming' [to find out]"
Another fan asked what kind of challenges Alonso faces when working with writers who come from outside comics. "A lot of writers who write prose are terrific, but writing a comic book is like writing a screenplay," Alonso replied. "It's different; it's a more visual medium. Certain writers have written screenplays because they aspire to write movies and such, but you control time very differently in comics. You have to make hard decisions about what goes on a page, what fits on a page."
He said some writers learn quickly, particularly after Alonso sends them sample scripts from people like Garth Ennis or Jason Aaron "who really know how to control a comic book page. If they are smart, they'll pick it up. It's like practicing piano or practicing basketball, past a certain point."
However, some writers have a hard time making the transition."Something doesn't click, and they don't get the rhythm of a comic book page," Alonso explained.
In regards to Disney buying Marvel, Alonso seemed almost ecstatic. "I tell you, as a Marvel stockholder, I love it. I am recently separated from my wife, my life fell apart, and Disney saved my ass. So yeah, Mickey!" Alonso joked. "Disney knows what they bought. Boy, do they know what they bought, as they did all sorts of research. Disney knows exactly who we are and what we do. They did not come in to change us."
He added that Disney can help inject Marvel with more capital and reach a larger audience. "And more importantly, we'll have Deadpool fight Goofy at some point," Alonso joked.
An intelligent young woman who may or may not write for the Robot 6 blog here at Comic Book Resources wanted to know if, since "Second Coming" is the culmination of the "No More Mutants" story that's been told since "House of M," will Scarlet Witch or Quicksilver be involved.
"Boy, I'd love to answer that, but I think it's a little bit of a spoiler," Alonso said, adding, "The characters involved with this will have to atone for this in some way, shape or form in the Marvel Universe, whether that's in "Second Coming" or after that, you'll have to see for yourself."
Another woman said she was a big fan of Hitmonkey and wanted to know if he'd be back. "You have not seen the last of Hitmonkey," Alonso replied.
With regards to the "Avengers" movie, Alonso said, "It's going to be really good," noting that Marvel editorial has been involved in the Captain America, Thor and Avengers films. "Everything I've seen in the early stages on all of these movies is positive. They really are respecting the source material. If you liked Iron man, I think you'll like Thor. The stuff I've seen on Thor, whoa, forget it. It's just sick. It's just insane."
X-Factor will have a role in "Second Coming," Alonso told the audience, switching gears back to Marvel's mutants. "All mutants are affected by the events of ‘Second Coming," he said, adding that the ones in San Francisco will be most directly affected, as "hell comes to San Francisco."
He also said Marvel plans to keep the X-Men in the Northwest. "The X-Men are going to become more and more entrenched in San Francisco," he said. "They're there to stay, until further notice or until I get fired. The long and short of it is that they live in San Francisco, this is their patch of land."
When asked about the possibility of a Luke Cage feature film, Alonso said that although he's read drafts of a script, "there is nothing immediate." He added that he loves Luke Cage and he loves Brian Michael Bendis, but "that's not my Luke Cage. I'm sorry," noting that he loves the yellow shirt and tiara.
Another fan asked about the possibility of Marvel releasing comics for the iPad at the same time they're released in retail stores. "I think you'll see that," Alonso replied. "I'm low enough on the food chain that I can't speak with full authority, but I can't imagine we'd dismiss these possibilities. We have to be careful here, because we work in a partnership with retailers as well, so we want to make sure we grow that market without affecting the direct market, so it's a bit of a tightrope walk, obviously. But the long and short of it is, it's great technology. The collectability of comics is one of the things that makes them unique, the fact that you can hold them in your hands. I'm enough of a geek that I'd want to read ‘Hitmonkey' - in stores now! - as a webcomic, but I'd also want a copy for my shelf."
He noted it's an interesting entry point for people who may not go to comic shops. "It's a wild west, but we're very optimistic."
When asked why Marvel does one-shots, Alonso said, "They are practical." One-shots plug holes in schedules, he explained, saying they could fill a hole when an editor realizes they're a unit short one month. "They tend to perform well, rarely phenomenally, but always well."
"He tends to work better as a bachelor," Alonso said, when asked if Deadpool would ever have a steady girlfriend. "Getting lucky and steady dating are two different things. Trust me."
The next fan wanted to know what happened to the Black Panther animated series for BET. "I honestly do not know the answer to that question," Alonso said. He noted the show is done and that he saw the entire thing in his hotel room last year at the Comic-Con International. "I actually will call Reggie [Hudlin] to find out."
Another fan asked all three creators on the panel how they broke into comics.
Dragotta said he was discovered by Axel six years after graduating from The Savannah College of Art and Design, noting that he tried to stay true "to what I was. I didn't try to be someone else, and Axel dug my stuff." He said young artists need to find an editor with their same tastes, noting that the DC Comics editor he also showed his samples to the same day passed on him. Alonso hired him to fill in on Peter Milligan and Michael Allred's "X-Statix."
Crystal said he was also discovered by Axel. "I'm just like Nick," he said. "We're kind of obscure, indie/mainstream, somewhere in limbo artists, so finding that niche where we fit was tricky. But once it happened, it happened. So, patience."
Dragotta also said he showed Axel 60 pages of a creator-owned comic he was working on, noting if he didn't get mainstream work, he was going to publish it anyway. "So I would highly suggest you just make your own comics. If it's good, I'll read it, Axel will read it, and he'll give you work," Dragotta said.
Axel said he liked Crystal's work a long time before he gave him work; he just had to find the right project for the artist. "I didn't have a book that had that element of humor to it," Alonso said. "The moment Deadpool was revitalized, bam! There was a place for him, and it was the right thing where he could flex his muscles."
Alonso said he was a journalist before being hired at Vertigo, and that he wrote a story that made former "High Times" editor Steve Hagar look "idiotic." Hagar had "stolen" the girlfriend of Alonso's hiring manager at Vertigo who remembered the story and Alonso's name on it, so he was hired on the spot.
Another fan wanted to know if new Marvelman stories are coming soon, and when Marvel will reprint Alan Moore's run on the book. "I'm not at liberty to talk about that," Alonso said. "There will be an announcement soon about the reprint."
He added that "there will be new Marvelman stuff. We will be meeting en masse, all the right people, to talk about how to do it, We've already begun some of those conversations. We're very excited about this, very excited about it. We want to make sure we have the appropriate game plan to roll forth."
He said Moore's work on the title was "seminal" and "revolutionary," and "we need to find the right way to platform it and do it right. And we have to have the right creatives, absolutely."
An older fan asked about "event fatigue," and listed all the events in Marvel's recent publishing history, including "Second Coming," "Fall of the Hulks," "Siege," "DoomWar," "Spider-Man: Gaunlet" and the return of Captain America. He asked if it was too much or if it was "overload."
"Bottom line is, right now I'll be honest and say that I was the last person who expected either to be involved in or interested in doing events. It took me a while to even care about a shared universe," Alonso said. "I was kind of like a blue states editor in a red states company."
Alonso noted that there was no evidence that fans had peaked on events yet, as far as sales numbers go. He also noted DC's biggest success of late was "Blackest Night," another event book. "The market seems to support the stuff right now," Alonso said. "I personally don't think it's a good long-term strategy. I think it sort of boils down the market to the fan faithful. It is inaccessible to new readers."
The person who asked the question said he'd been buying comics since they were 12 cents and distributed them when they cost 60 cents. He said he felt very fatigued and there were some books he stopped buying for time and financial reasons. He also "went off on a little bit of a tear" about the rising cost of comics from $3 to $4.
"People vote with their wallets," Alonso said, and the fan noted he was doing precisely that.
"As editor of Black Panther, I watched how the book sold around 24,000," Alonso said. "When that story that could have been told in ‘Black Panther' was turned into ‘DoomWar' it sold more than two and half times as much." The fan went on about pricing and eventually Alonso had to cut him off and move to the next question, noting "I have heard you. Certainly, people understand you don't want to be spending too much money."
The next fan noted that Deadpool was darker when written by Joe Kelly, but now the series focuses more on the comedic elements. The fan asked if there would be a "life-altering event" that would make him reevaluate his existence and change his direction.
"We're aware of how we've tonally shifted him, but we feel its an extension of who he was in the natural progression," Alonso said, noting there are times when you have to "change it up" with a character. He said when he canceled the "Cable/Deadpool" series, fans wanted to kill him, but he wanted to take a book that had two characters in it and was selling 20,000 copies and turn it into two books that sold 50,000 copies or more - "which is what we got out of Cable and Deadpool. In Deadpool's case, we got seven books. [Deadpool] scratches an itch that I don't think any other character is scratching. There is an element of humor you can bring to that book that can't be found elsewhere."
Alonso said there may come a time when Deadpool would be darker, and "believe it or not, I have more Deadpool stuff down the road that may scratch that itch." He added that characters needed to "change and evolve. If you keep them static, that's when they die."
A Bay Area resident asked if Marvel would consider opening a second office in California, maybe close to Pixar's office in Emoryville. "I will take a pay cut to work there," Alonso said. He added there were no plans, but he thought "it would be great." He also mentioned that his favorite taqueria in the world was located at 25th and Mission in San Francisco.
Another fan who wanted to write comics asked how a writer could enter the business. All three panelists said they should do their own book. "It's punk rock," Alonso said, noting that writers like Rick Remender and Fred Van Lente spent time doing independent comics before breaking in at Marvel.
The final fan of the panel, wearing a Captain America shirt, said he had just gotten back into comics and was looking for something accessible with a "beginning and an end." Alonso recommended "Hitmonkey" and Jason Aaron's "PunisherMAX."
At the end of the panel, Alonso awarded the Deadpool sketch to the fan who asked about the evolution of Deadpool's character, and the Doop drawing to the older fan who asked about event fatigue and pricing, noting that he wanted the fan to know he had heard him and appreciated what he had to say.