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, our ongoing all-star guest run wraps up as "Avengers Vs. X-Men" writer Ed Brubaker joins the action. Below, Alonso and the writer discuss their early history as newbies to the professional comics world, why they always team up at Marvel creative retreats, what Brubaker will be doing with Wolverine in the pages of "AvX" and the full, untold story of how Bucky was resurrected, promoted, killed and resurrected again beyond anyone's wildest expectations. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Ed, thanks for rounding out our month-long guest run of the "AvX" writing team. You've been working adjacent to Axel for a long time dating back to your Vertigo days, but did you two ever work together that much back then?
Ed Brubaker: I think I was Axel's first phone call when he was an assistant editor at Vertigo or at least one of them.
Axel Alonso: You were definitely one of them. I'd really enjoyed [your self-published comic] "Lowlife.”
Brubaker: At the time, I was writing "Prez" for Lou Stathis, and halfway through, whoever his previous assistant had been was gone, and Axel was the new guy. So we've known each other the entire time I've been getting paid to write comics.
Alonso: That short story for "Gangland” was the first time we worked together. Eric Shanower drew it and it was based on something you witnessed as a kid living on a military base as a kid, right?
Brubaker: Yeah. It was when I'd lived in a condo complex right next to the military base. I'd forgotten about that! That was the first time we worked together where you were the editor. Weird. [Laughs] Whatever happened to that story?
Alonso: Whatever happened to those crazy kids? [Laughter]
Axel and I have talked in the past about growing up a superhero reader but eventually coming in to comics making material that's vastly different from that stuff only to come back full circle during your time at Marvel. Ed, that's a similar journey to your stuff. Do you think that shared experience has made you guys continue to bounce ideas off each other at Marvel even at times when you haven't been working together directly as writer/editor?
Brubaker: I don't know, actually. Axel and I worked together a bit at the first, and then I was like a "Shelly writer" at Vertigo so Axel was forbidden from working with me.
Alonso: [Laughs] He's not joking!
Brubaker: And I love Shelly Bond, but that’s how it was back then. Then he went over to Marvel at a time when I was still under exclusive at DC. By the time I got over there, he was already a big Editorial overseer more so than a hands on editor. It wasn't until I was in the X-Office when Axel took over that office after I'd been there a while that we actually worked together. But I think the fact that we'd both been around so long meant that when we were in those rooms together [at creative retreats] we could trust each other to know what they hell we were talking about. We'd been doing this for 15 or 16 years at that point. I always trusted Axel's instincts. I can remember 12 or 13 years ago going out to lunch with Axel and having him tell me that if he ever left DC, he'd go over to Marvel, and he listed like five characters he'd take and do something cool with. And he did all of that! So I always felt like Axel knew what the fuck he was doing.
Alonso: I was a big advocate for getting Ed over to Marvel. The big question was, What character would play to his strengths? And then we thought "Captain America,” and the rest is history.
Brubaker: Yeah, if Joe hadn't had that giant fight with Tom Brevoort about bringing Bucky back then I don't think my first call with Joe would have gone as well. Joe was like, "What do you want to do?" and I said, "I was thinking of bringing Bucky back" and he went, "Interestingly enough, we just had a screaming match about that last week." [Laughter]
Alonso: All true. We'd had a lot of fights about bringing back Bucky. We were leaning heavily toward doing it, and Ed pushed us over the edge. It was one of those serendipitous moments. And once we decided we were going to do it, the first thing we said to Ed was, "Brace yourself. The moment word gets out what we’re doing, the first thousand of fans are going to crucify you." And Ed said, "I'm used to hearing a lot from fans..." And we were like, "No, Ed. This is completely different." Remember that?
Brubaker: Yeah I do. My first year at Marvel was a complete eye-opener. I worked on "Batman" and on "Catwoman," but other than that, "Gotham Central" was a book that only people in the industry were reading, it appeared. So I wasn't used to that kind of microscope. The mantra of "Don't read the comments" I believe comes from Marvel. [Laughter]
After speaking with Matt Fraction last week, he mentioned that I should ask you – now that everything is said and done and Captain America died and came back and Bucky was Cap and then died and then came back and the whole shebang – what's the full story there? It feels like that entire saga started as something a bit smaller and seemed to grow and grow with each new Editorial twist and turn. Is there a story behind the story that takes us up to finally having the Winter Solider in his own series?
Brubaker: Yeah. I mean, it was one of those things where it was something I'd wanted to do since I was a little kid. And Joe and Axel had cowed Tom into thinking that bringing back Bucky was a good idea – or at least an acceptable idea. It was really a case where Joe said to me, "If you can convince Tom Brevoort this is a good idea, then we're going to do it." Remember, Tom was like the proto-fan. [Laughter] He and Ralph [Macchio] were always the guys that you had to clear things with if you wanted to make sure you weren't gonna get crucified.
But in our first conversation, Tom had four or five in-depth questions, some pretty serious questions about "If he's been around this whole time, how come he's not this old man? Why haven't we seen him? Why is he still young?" A lot of Tom's questions went into shaping the origin of the Winter Solider. We knew we didn't want him to come back as a teenager. That was Stan's major complaint to begin with about why he didn't want Bucky back at all was because he didn't want teen sidekicks at Marvel. So we knew we wanted to do this in a way that didn't disregard what Jack Kirby and Stan Lee had done with the death of Bucky. Bucky still had to have died, and we had to dance between those raindrops. It was a lot of answering Tom's questions that led to the origin of the Winter Soldier combined with my idea of him being captured by the Russians and turned into an enemy of America during the Cold War.
Then there was the day issue #6 came out when I wrote to Tom and said, "Did we really make a mistake?" I kind of felt like, "Oh God. My career's just starting to take off and this could be the end of it. I could be off 'Captain America' in two months if people hate this." And yeah, there was a small angry contingent, but there was a much larger group who had been digging the book and felt like, "This has been cool so far. Let's stick with it and see where it goes." And those people fairly quickly became Bucky fans, which was pretty lucky for me, as he fairly quickly took over the book, when Steve got shot in Cap 25.
It wasn't until after the "Death of Cap" story – and we were almost a year into it – when Jeph Loeb said, "Hey, shouldn't someone be wearing a Captain America outfit in 'Captain America'?" We'd gone almost a full year with no Captain America, and I'd been really resistant to replacing him. Some people pushed for the Falcon, and some people pushed for U.S. Agent. Once it occurred to me that this was something everyone felt needed to happen, I felt that this could be the next step in Bucky's evolution, his path to redemption. In the back of my head, I'd thought, "Bucky has become this really popular Marvel character as the Winter Soldier. He should have his own series." My hope was that it would get to that point. And once he became Captain America, suddenly the regular monthly sales were higher than ever. [Laughter] Readers really dug the guy we always referred to as "BuckyCap."
Then when "Siege" was gearing up, and we knew Steve was coming back into the book, I still felt I hadn't done enough with Bucky as Cap. That was one of the reasons Steve didn't take back the mantle right away. I wanted to let it play out. I knew the only way to launch a Winter Soldier book was to put Bucky on trial and have him be sent back to Russia and really dig into his history before launching him into his own series. As we were planning "Fear Itself," I was sitting next to Matt as he was outlining some stuff, and I said, "Well, if Sin is the new Red Skull, wouldn't it be awesome if she killed Bucky?" And then I thought, "Oh shit, what am I saying?" [Laughter] But everyone loved it. Then the plan immediately became that she'd kill him, and we could play it as a fake-out death where Nick Fury had always planned it, and Bucky would be given his life back so he could spin off into his own series.
The hardest part was keeping all that a secret. I had thought, "I'll have him fake his death in 'Captain America' at the end of the 'Gulag' storyline, and then the very next issue, we'll reveal he's still alive." It would be a one-month freakout for the readers. But then we had to sit on it for what felt like a year. It was difficult to answer questions about it and not pretend that I was mad at Matt Fraction. I felt bad for Matt because he was getting all this heat, and he'd only done what we'd planned. He sort of did me a favor by enraging my fanbase over this character before we could launch him into his own series. Matt took a ton of heat for that. But he owed me for getting him that sweet Iron Fist gig. [Laughs]
Axel, you weren't editing "Cap" through all this, but you obviously had feelings on Bucky coming back. When things like Loeb's pitch to get someone in the Cap suit came up, did you pick sides, or were you happy to just watch it all play out?
Alonso: I think my gut said, “Bucky.”
Brubaker: I remember that you voted for Bucky.
Alonso: Yeah, I drew a straight line from Bucky to Cap’s costume because he'd shouldered the title for so long without it. It just seemed like the smart play. He’d earned it.
We'll draw all this back to "AvX" in a moment, but the one piece that we need to talk about before that is the X-Men side of Ed's Marvel career. In your run on "Uncanny," you did a lot with space and the Shi'ar Empire and with Rachel Summers and the Phoenix. In a way, that feels a lot like the building blocks of what we'll be dealing with in this next crossover. Ed, what do you feel like having started this snowball down the hill with stories like "Messiah CompleX" now that you're coming back to watch those stories finally bear down on the Marvel U?
Brubaker: I certainly wouldn't say that I started the ball rolling. I was just one of the people in the van driving at the ball. I remember when we were doing "Messiah Complex" and planning who Hope would be, Axel pitched the idea for the "Cable" series with her in it. And I said, "Can I quit 'Uncanny' and write that?" [Laughs] And I wasn't allowed to do that. But I remember Duane Swierczynski saying, "Axel said you wanted to write this book" and I was like, "Yeah yeah." I've been kind of amazed watching the last several years of X-Men and seeing the evolution of her character.
The stuff that I did setup that I've gotten to watch was all the outer space stuff with Emperor Vulcan. That was a lot of fun to plant a seed and see what other people do with it.
Alonso: Ed was the "Uncanny" writer as I took over the X-Men office, and he was there at the first X-Men summit I presided over. At the time, mutant race had been culled down to the 198 and I reasoned that this should be on every mutant’s mind 24/7 and this anxiety would be the seeds of our first event. We pulled together a retreat attended by all the X-Men editors and writers – Ed ("Uncanny X-Men," Craig Kyle and Christ Yost ("New X-Men”), Peter David ("X-Factor") and Mike Carey ("X-Men") – and work-shopped the story that became "Messiah CompleX." We came up with a simple inciting incident – a mutant baby is born and BAM! the mutant race goes from no hope to some hope – and that was that. And I think it's safe to say [the retreat] went incredibly, right, Ed? By the end, we knew the ending of "Messiah CompleX" AND had a roadmap of Hope’s future – short-term and long-term.
Brubaker: Yeah. We sat there and were able to say, "So she'll be in 'Cable' where we'll see bits and pieces of her life until she can come back and actually be old enough to join the X-Men." It was like "Wow! She'll actually be the hope of these people." It was kind of amazing that it went from...wasn't it Joe's idea? I can't remember, but I think it was Joe who came up with a moment where we all said "Oh God!" with Emma holding the baby and it looking up at her and thinking something in her mind. It was just too freaky. [Laughs] But it's so funny how we've been going to these meetings for seven years now, and ideas that we've talked about at them sometimes take three or four years to get around to doing. And people think we make this stuff up every month.
Let's talk about how that all comes together in "AvX." Ed, you've spoken in the past around the launch of "Secret Avengers" about trying to find a way in that book to mesh the espionage stuff you're known for more with big superheroics We've heard that all the "AvX" writers are keeping their voices on the event issues they're doing. Is there a way in which your part of this big story still hits those kinds of grace notes?
Brubaker: Mostly it's just that I have an issue with two people in it. [Laughter] I'm sort of kidding. I think one of the things I learned while writing "X-Men" and "Secret Avengers" is that I work best when I don't have to include every person from a team in every issue. I suffer – I don't know what it is, but I had the same trouble on "Batman" where he was in so many books that I felt hamstrung. It wasn't a problem on "Catwoman" because she was only in one book. The same thing happens with "Captain America." I can have eight supporting characters, but so long as I know that they don't all have to get a scene, then I'm able to just write the story. That's what I've brought into my "Avengers Vs. X-Men" issue.
I'm obviously picking up where #2 left off. So I have a couple of scenes where there are way more characters in them than John Romita, Jr. probably would have drawn under normal circumstances. But really the story was all about finding the right character moments and following the plot of the story rather than worrying about "Do we have enough X-Men here? Do we have enough Avengers?" And I got to tee up one of the coolest fights that I've ever gotten to write. I hope what I brought to this was refining the story. It's not as sprawling as the first two issues in terms of characters, but thankfully, Brian [Bendis] and Jason [Aaron] did all the setup, and I was just writing the issue where the plot starts moving and splitting apart. I was able to follow two or three characters throughout the story. In some ways, Wolverine is the main character in my issue.
We've talked with the other guys about their allegiances to X-Men or Avengers as a concept or franchise. You've played in both sandboxes, so was there a natural place for you to fit into this story? Or Axel, did you have something you wanted to see out of Ed when you asked him to come onto the series?
Alonso: I wanted Ed involved for a couple of reasons. One: he wrote X "Uncanny X-Men. Two: Ed and I tend to agree on story points, and I wanted to someone in the room who tended to agree with me! [Laughter]
Brubaker: That's true!
Alonso: We're very simpatico on story. At retreats, it's very common for us to huddle on the sidelines and verify each other’s instincts. So, truth be told, I thought it'd be really nice to have someone who thinks like me in the room! [Laughter]. Ed attacks story from less of a – how do I put this? – "mainstream" point of view. Do you think that's fair, Ed?
Brubaker: Yeah, I'd agree. I have trouble figuring out where to put fights in sometimes.
Alonso: I figured you'd look at that clay taking shape from different angle. Ditto for Jonathan and Matt. Going in, I figured Brian [Bendis] and Jason [Aaron] would play foreground roles in the event because of their current involvement in Avengers and X-Men, but I figured Ed, Matt and Jonathan would give the story additional substance and texture because of the breadth of their experience and how they individually approach story.
Brubaker: I've been looking at all the pages coming in, and with all the stuff from Act 2, I feel different than with Act 1 where we were all so intimately involved in breaking it down, and I wrote a script for Act 1. I don't have a script in Act 2, and so now I'm looking at it as a reader, and every time I get new pages for it I'm blown away by how good they are. There's a part of me that wished I hadn't been involved so I could just read the whole thing. I have to say, one of the things I think getting us all involved did is that most event books would be made up of just what happens in our Act 1. Then Act 2 and 3 would be the next year or two of every Marvel comic. Instead, we did something much bigger. This is the biggest, most sprawling event comic I can think of, really. Act 2 really could be a year of Marvel comics, but instead it's five issues of our thing. It's a big story on its own, and those pages are some of the most amazing stuff Olivier Coipel has ever done.
One last thing to catch up with is your work on the "Point One" one-shot, which had a lot of teases for incoming Marvel books including a framing sequence by you involving the Watcher. Again, I don't think "We're doing a cosmic story involving the Watcher...let's get Brubaker!" is a common thing we hear. [Brubaker Laughs] Axel said there is more to come with that thread. What can you tell us about it moving forward?
Brubaker: Well, that's something where I don't know if we can really talk about yet. Some of that is still up in the air, though it's definitely planting seeds for something after "AvX." But for me, I just wrote to Javier Pulido and said, "Hey, wanna get your Ditko on?" I just wrote the whole thing as if it were an old Marvel monster story – seeing the Watcher from the point of view of tiny people and how terrifying that would be. He's the Fing Fang Foom of guys who can see all realities. [Laughter] But that was a lot of fun to do, and I like doing stuff that people don't expect me to do. Axel knows I've been trying to write romance comics for over a decade.
Alonso: [Laughs] Romance comics for guys!
Brubaker: Exactly. But seriously, my only unpublished Vertigo story is a romance thing for one of Axel’s anthologies.
Moving in to some fan questions, rogerio wanted to know: "Any chances to see more soviet/russian characters in 'Winter Soldier'?"
Brubaker: Yes. Probably. Maybe.
He followed up with: "Do you still have plans to do a Black Widow solo story someday?"
Brubaker: More like a desire than specific plans. She’s in "Winter Soldier" a lot, so I’m still getting to write her.
The aptly named Songbird/Diamondback asked, "What's this I hear about Diamondback possibly showing up in Captain America soon?"
Brubaker: It’s possible that Diamondback may be showing up in "Captain America’s" next arc. But we’ll see…
KurtW95 was one of many people asking, "I was wondering if Bucky will be participating in 'AvX'?"
Brubaker: Since his series just launched, it felt better to keep the book its own thing for now, to really establish it. So not this time, no.
Sticking with "AvX," Prince Of Orphans wanted to say: "I was just wondering that since we know Iron Fist will be a major player in AvX, will that mean we'll be seeing the Immortal Weapons during the event as well? And if so, will you be writing them?"
Brubaker: I can’t answer that. We have a no spoiler policy in place.
He added on the Bucky front: "Also, Winter Soldier has quickly become one of my favourite books on the stands. Will we be seeing Bucky cross paths with any other well known assassins also active the in MU anytime soon?"
Brubaker: Probably, yes.
Finally, Spidey616 will close things out asking: "Since some time has passed and with Bucky now back as the Winter Soldier, are we any closer to learning more about the apocalyptic vision Steve Rogers had at the end of 'Captain America: Reborn'?
Brubaker: I think so, yeah. That vision was the DC reboot.
Thanks, Ed! And thanks once again to Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction for pitching in these past few weeks! We'll be back next time with an all-Axel affair!
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!