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 earlier this year 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 provides a full commentary track for Marvel's most important one-shot of the year: "Point One"! With interlocking stories teasing the future of the Avengers, the X-Men, the Phoenix Force, Nova and more, the anthology title that hit this week provides a roadmap for Marvel's biggest launches going in to 2012. Below, Alonso reveals the origins of the one-shot and notes what pieces of the book will reverberate across the Marvel U next year from Ed Brubaker's cosmic connection to the Watcher to Jeph Loeb's rebirth of Nova and from Brian Bendis' ultimate "Avengers" story to Matt Fraction's reimagined "Defenders." Read on!
SPOILER WARNING: Some details from inside Marvel's "Point One" lie ahead!
Kiel Phegley: Axel, before we dig in to all that's here in this issue, I wanted to start with the genesis of "Point One." Obviously lots of these stories and concepts had been in the works for the Marvel U for a while. At one point did it become the game plan to bring them all under one banner?
Axel Alonso: “Point One” was all Tom Brevoort. He’s the one who proposed a year-end giant-sized sneak peek at some of 2012’s biggest projects, and he did the legwork to make it happen – like engineering Jeph [Loeb] and Ed [McGuinness]’s Nova story, which is a big tease what’s in store for the Marvel Universe very soon.
The book is framed by this very spacey Watcher story by Ed Brubaker and Javier Pulido, which was a trip both because we don't often get to see Ed stretch these sci-fi muscles nor do we see books that start with the old school "I Am The Watcher" kind of frame like we used to. Why couch all these stories in this reinvented idea of that classic frame?
Alonso: People forget that Ed wrote "X-Men" for many years and one of the highlights was a fantastic space opera, “The Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire” [“Uncanny X-Men” #475-486], featuring Havok, Polaris, Vulcan, Gladiator… Ed’s not just a crime noir guy. Anyway, the way it happened is, Tom suggested that a framing sequence for “Point One” that would underscore the interconnectedness of the stories and figured who better to do that than the Watcher? He tapped Ed to write the story because – spoiler alert – the two of them had recently been talking about the Watcher. Hmmmmmm….what could that mean? Don't be surprised if we come back to that story at some point in the near future.
One of the standout lines to me about the Watcher sequence is the idea that he sees all realities and all times. Is there a chance that some of the stories we've seen here aren't 100% set in stone in terms of how they'll impact the Marvel Universe or that their fates might yet be avoided?
Alonso: Obviously there's a difference between the Nova story, which is tease for next year’s big event, and the “Age of Apocalypse” story, which is set in an alternate reality and spins out of the popular "Uncanny X-Force." They don’t impact the Marvel Universe in exactly the same way. Whether the “AoA” story impacts the Marvel Universe proper down the road, I'm not going to say, but everything in “Point One” is relevant to next year’s publishing. Chris[topher Yost] and Ryan [Stegman]’s “Scarlet Spider” preview should excite Spider-Man fans the same way Rick [Remender] and Tony [Moore]’s "Venom" series did. Matt [Fraction] and Terry [Dodson]’s “Defenders” prolog tees them up as a team that’s distinct from all the other superhero teams on the market. And the Bendis/Hitch Ultron story, well, I don’t need to say much about that.
And while we’re talking about the importance of the stories, it’s worth noting that we’ve really worked on great incentives to get this book into the hands of as many fans as possible. David Gabriel, our SVP of Sales, made sure that retailers had some great incentives for the book. And for every copy they ordered, he provided a second copy free of charge, to meet what we expect will be long-time demand for this book. Not only does this Nova story play largely into the future of the Marvel U, but the Defenders story reveals some pretty shocking secrets, and Scarlet Spider is one of next year’s major launches. This is where you get your first look at our biggest launches and it’s going to be something we point fans to for months.
Looking at the stories on their own, you've been talking for a while about the impending important role of Nova. At the same time, Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness have really cemented their partnership in a way that makes it feel like they're never not working on something together. At what point did that team and the idea of Nova's reinvention cross over?
Alonso: Jeph and Ed are like Jordan and Pippen, Stockton and Malone! [Laughter] That’s a basketball reference. Yeah, those two have strong chemistry, no doubt. Jeph has a strong vision for who Nova should be in the Marvel Universe, and Ed is the perfect artist because he has power that can’t be contained on the page – kinda like Nova himself. I’m not going to say much more about our future plans for Nova, but I will say that [the “Point One” story] is a glimpse of the character as you’ll see him in 2012 [Laughter] and it includes a nifty two-page spread should give you a loud-and-clear idea what type of $%#$storm is headed to the Marvel Universe.
The last time we saw some form of Nova, he was presumed dead in a collapsed pocket universe. These things happen. What can you say about the appearance of this Nova? Can we assume this is Rich Rider? If not, what's the status of the Xandar Worldmind and the Nova Corps?
Alonso: My lips are sealed.
The Phoenix is the other really big piece of this puzzle. We've seen some vague teases as to how that force ties to the next big event, but what's the nature of that story? Is it primarily an X-Men story? A cosmic story? Something in between?
Alonso: All I’ll say is that the Phoenix story is not part of a cosmic event, but a Marvel Universe event.
One thing we can talk about is the nature of the Phoenix entity. We see in this story that it destroys an entire planet...but something grows from it. What have your guys' discussions been about the role and purpose of Phoenix? It doesn't seem like it's a black and white kind of a thing.
Alonso: The Phoenix is the spirit of destruction and rebirth. It razes worlds to grow something new. It's bad news if you happen to be part of that ecosystem; good news if you're the next stage. And, as everyone knows, the Phoenix is nothing without a host. So, the question emerges: If the Phoenix is headed somewhere, where is that? And if it needs a host, who is that host? Because we all know what happened the last time it found a host!
That idea of not know whether something is evil or good really reminds me of David Lapham's story in this issue. For so long, the metaphor for mutants have been that they are the oppressed minority, and this Age of Apocalypse world flips that on its head. Reading this story, I thought for a minute that maybe I'm supposed to be rooting for the Red Prophet in a sense before that last page revealed that his team are some of the greatest bigots in the X-Men's history. How do you view this team of the worst of the worst now recontextualized?
Alonso: When Rick [Remender] did the Age of Apocalypse arc in "Uncanny X-Force," he created a universe we really thought was worth revisiting because it flipped the paradigm, forcing you to rethink characters that were synonymous with evil deeds. Are the villains actually the heroes of this story? That remains to be seen. That said, as you can see from that closing splash, this is a wide-screen superhero story where almost anything can – and will – happen. And it can't be dismissed as an alternate reality story because it has its roots in "Uncanny X-Force”; events in this story could very well cause a ripple effect in the Marvel Universe in the future.
Lapham is a guy you've worked with a lot, and like Ed Brubaker, after "Stray Bullets" and all his early work, people directly think of him as a crime comics guy first and foremost. Is this another chance to let someone play with a different set of skills in their toolbox to flip reader expectations?
Alonso: First, let me say David Lapham created one of the finest crime comics of all time: "Stray Bullets." It’s a masterpiece. If you haven’t read it, you’re missing out. That said, when David’s doing a work-for-hire assignment, he's at his best when he can, shall we say, test the parameters of the material he’s working on. And this material begs for that kind of writer. [Former editor] Jody LeHeup made the right choice when he cast David for this.
"Scarlet Spider" is a story where we knew the book was coming and who the team on it was. Was part of the challenge of launching all these books at once trying to not tease too much about how all this stuff plays out so the excitement remains on the page?
Alonso: Yeah. As they say, the proof's in the pudding. When you organize a preview like this, you’d better be ready to back it up with quality material. Take the "Scarlet Spider" story for example: When your news series is written by Chris Yost and drawn by Ryan Stegman, who’s turning in career-defining artwork, odds are good that people will like what they see enough to come back for more. This book is unlike any Spider-Man title we’ve offered in the last few years. Like “Uncanny X-Force,” it’s got swagger that’s evident when you flip through the preview.
It's also great that according to Stegman, Stan Lee is cameoing in the comics just as often as he is in the movies.
Alonso: [Laughs] No doubt. It's better than my cameo in “Punisher” as a snarky hairdresser. Hey, Rucka. For the record: My girlfriend cuts my hair with electric shears set to one. It takes three minutes.
Fred Van Lente on Coldmoon and Dragonfire is that rare feet of a brand new, full on origin story for new characters in the Marvel U. What can you say about the next step for these two moving forward?
Alonso: I can’t really say anything about where these two will appear next without spoiling future announcements.
With Matt Fraction and the Dodson's story, I think we not only see the building blocks for what "Defenders" will be, but it seemed like they took pains to make this a true Doctor Strange solo story. As you've mentioned, that's a team you wanted to get off the ground for a while. But is part of that goal also repositioning some of the heroes on their own terms?
Alonso: Yep. The Defenders are a fantastic team. As a boy, I loved them because they’re all outcasts who march to their own drumbeat; none of them are easily assimilated onto a team like the Avengers. And each of them – Dr. Strange, Silver Surfer, Namor, Iron Fist – provides a portal into a different cosmology or pocket universe of the Marvel U. We’ve been waiting for the right platform to reunite the team with a new mission statement and Matt’s the one who nailed it, positioning them as the “Planetary” of the Marvel Universe. Driving the series – as revealed over time – is a deep mystery at the heart of the Marvel U that only Defenders can solve. And they’d better because if they don’t, bad #$%$’s gonna happen. Sometimes the best offense is a good defense.
Speaking of things long in the works, Brian Bendis and Bryan Hitch's Ultron story is something that's been creeping at the edges of the Avengers for a long time. Bendis does a lot to mesh well with whichever artist he's working with. What kinds of adjustments has he been making to his style and his larger plans because Hitch is the collaborator here?
Alonso: One of the reasons the Marvel movies have been so damn good is that technology finally caught up with the medium. It’s possible to put the Avengers up there on the big screen and make them look really cool. Well, Brian's had this story percolating in his brain for years and the stars aligned for [Bryan] Hitch – with his patented unlimited special effects budget style – to draw it. This preview is crazy. I don't know how a Marvel fan couldn’t get excited about Hitch and Bendis collaborating on anything, let alone a huge Avengers story set squarely in the Marvel Universe.
Overall, there's a lot of teases in here, a lot of new product rolling out on the back of this issue and a lot of bigger Marvel U pieces fitting into the big picture of 2012. How do you look at this project as a whole? In what ways do you feel "Point One" is unique and puts Marvel's best foot forward?
Alonso: “Point One” gives us a platform to showcase the stuff that we're most excited about, or, in the case of the Nova story, to provide a lead in to the next big event. Judging from the orders, I’m optimistic that we continue to do this sort of thing. I love anthologies – it's my eternal frustration that anthology titles are such a hard-sell in the market since I grew up on “Creepy” and “Eerie.” Which is why, at Vertigo, I did those anthologies – "Gangland," "Heartthrobs," “Strange Adventures” – as 4-issue limited series.
Alonso: “Flinch” was an ongoing, and it only lasted about 14 issues. The rest were minis and my game plan was simple: In four issues, you could tell 12 to 16 stories that explore a theme from a variety of angles, wrap it up and move onto the next theme. So you didn’t fight attrition, you just moved on.
This strategy has served as lot of the X-Men anthologies well. Tell a few theme-related stories over 3 to 4 issues and get out. The healthy orders for “Point One” lead me to believe we can do more of these things, and we can come up with new approaches to them. Kudos to Tom [Brevoort] for putting one more hefty project on his plate.
To wrap this week, we've got two questions about series spinning from "Point One" regarding some characters we haven't seen yet. New questioner Spiderkihl asked, "With Kaine being introduced as the Scarlet Spider this week i guess my question is what went into the process of deciding to bring Kaine back and make him the Scarlet Spider over Ben Reilly? Ben Reilly is still my favorite character and I'm just sad we haven't seen him brought back yet. It just feels like Kaine has been turned into Ben lite and i just wish we had the real thing. Any chance on bringing Ben back in the future?"
Alonso: Hey, Spiderkihl, where you been? Kaine has been a supporting player in “Amazing Spider-Man” for the past couple years and played a massive role in Dan [Slott]’s “Spider-Island” epic. And hopefully, Chris [Yost] and Ryan [Stegman]’s plans for Kaine will prove that Kaine is anything but a stand-in for Ben Reilly. As for Reilly, let me turn this over to Spider-Man editor Steve Wacker:
Wacker: Sorry, Spider-Kihl, but there are no plans for Ben Reilly. My belief is that his story was told completely during the 100+ issues of the “Clone Sage” 15 years ago. Bringing him back just to appease a few fans doesn’t seem to be doing any service to that character. He had a complete, highly emotional and final journey and it’s better to leave that story told.
Lastly, Prince of Orphans wanted to know, "Can we expect appearances by any of the Immortal Weapons in Fraction's new Defenders series, seeing how much he loves the IF mythos and he essentially created them?"
Alonso: Yes, the Immortal Weapons will play a role in “Defenders” #6, to be drawn by a special guest artist we can’t tell you about just yet.
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!