The mythological bird known as the Phoenix is renown for its long life and fantastic death. The Phoenix dies by a spectacular fire and from its ashes a whole new animal emerges, making it a powerful symbol of rebirth and renewal.
For Marvel Comics fans the Phoenix has a whole other meaning. It's a powerful cosmic force capable of wiping out and changing whole galaxies, and Marvel's current event miniseries "Avengers Vs. X-Men" it has designs on Earth. The Phoenix's ultimate plan for and effect on Earth is still unclear, but one thing is certain: there will be fire and from the ashes of that fire a changed Marvel Universe and a changed Marvel Comics will arise.
Those changes will be documented in the new Marvel NOW! initiative which begins in October and features new titles, new creators, new jumping on points for existing titles, and a new way of looking at an interacting with Marvel Comics. CBR News spoke with Marvel Editor in Chief Axel Alonso and Senior Vice President of Publishing and Executive Editor Tom Brevoort about the initiative.
Alonso and Brevoort view Marvel NOW! as a chance to tell new stories in the Marvel Universe. That opportunity arose because many of the ongoing stories they've been building over the last several years come to a natural conclusion in "Avengers Vs. X-Men."
"'AvX' is very much an epilogue for the stories that we've been telling for the last 8-9 years. It effectively wraps a red ribbon around the era that more or less started with 'Avengers Disassembled' and 'House of M' and then carried through 'Messiah CompleX' and all of the big stories we've done since then," Axel Alonso told CBR News. "So when the story comes to a conclusion you'll see how it book ends and wraps up all these previous stories and leaves the Marvel Universe changed and ready for the future. So in that sense it's both an epilogue and a perfect prologue to what we want to do now. It kicks off our next decade's worth of stories."
Alonso believes the best way to begin the next decade of stories was to continue to follow the simple formula he and his colleagues have been employing since their early days at Marvel. "The idea is that you take a great writer and artist that want to work together, give them some great characters and allow them to tell some great stories," Alonso explained. "So seeing the way that 'AvX' changes the Marvel U we decided we wanted to spice things up a bit and take some of our creators out of the comfort zones they've built for themselves over the last several years. We wanted to challenge them with taking possession of a title that people may not have thought they would write and partner them with a great artist and see what happens.
"A lot of our writers have been on books for several years or more and a lot of good comes from change and mixing things up," Alonso continued. "So we told our creators, 'Don't answer us now, but start thinking about what books you would love to write and what books you really think you could knock out of the park and why.' When people came back with their answers we ended up with a really fantastic mix of talent on the right books."
Giving creators their dream assignments was only one part of setting the stage for the next phase of Marvel stories. They also had to decide if these tales would build upon what's come before or start fresh.
"I think it starts with our core readers because the long and short of it is that this is not a reboot. We don't transform our world. We don't go back in time. This is all taking place in the Marvel Universe that readers are already invested in. It's characters that they already know and the important thing is that the Marvel Universe is entering into a new era, where among other things the line between mutant super hero and other super heroes might not be as big as it was before," Alonso remarked. "'New Avengers' had seismic impact when Spider-Man and Wolverine joined the team, and you'll see a similar impact here. You're going to be looking at a very different reorganization of our teams."
The core Marvel readers are the base audience for the Marvel NOW! initiative, but Alonso and his colleagues hope to build upon that base by making the books accessible to new and lapsed comic book readers. "We want to create stories that embrace the old fan but aren't inaccessible to the new fan or the lapsed reader, who I think can get lost in the shuffle; the reader who likes Spider-Man, but hasn't been reading it in a few years and doesn't know where to pick the book up again," Alonso said. "We're offering an opportunity to them to rediscover a book. Plus it offers people who follow certain writers a chance to get to know or rediscover some Marvel characters they may not be familiar with."
DC Comics famously made the attempt to reach out to new readers in the wake of their "Flashpoint" event by rebooting and resetting much of their continuity with the New 52. When Alonso and his colleagues were crafting the Marvel NOW! initiative a reboot was never seriously discussed. They felt that a new era or "season" approach would better serve their current and potential readers.
"We've been having a lot of conversations about long form storytelling in other media and one of the things we discussed was television seasons and that's what this boils down to. It really feels like a new season of a TV show," Alonso stated. "We never seriously discussed a reboot, but that doesn't mean we'd be dead set against something like that in the future. You always want to keep an open mind. Never just toss out an idea; argue through it and see where it takes you. If someone asked me, 'Would you ever bring Gwen Stacy back?' I would say, 'Odds are no. I can't think of a compelling argument to bring her back.' I would never say that wouldn't be possible though. I would just need the most compelling reason. I look at reboots the same way. There are no reboot plans. Nor can I imagine an instance where a reboot would be the thing to do. You never know down the road though."
Because the Marvel NOW! initiative builds on previously established continuity one of the things creators will be able to do is examine old concepts in new ways. One of the big concepts that will be explored in the first wave of titles will be the idea of mutant and human relations.
"This is a world where people don't make quite the same distinctions between mutant super hero and scientifically endowed super hero or between them and a hero who is from another planet. The gap between theses three hero archetypes isn't going to be as big as it was before," Alonso explained. "That doesn't mean that there will be people out there who aren't inclined to hate mutants or destroy the world. It just means that super heroes as a community will feel different.
"The mutant predicament won't truly be over. It will just evolve in different ways," Alonso continued. "The X-Men might have to ask themselves different questions and their enemies might not look the way they used to. They might find friends they never expected to have as well as enemies that manifest themselves in new and insidious ways."
The evolution of the mutant predicament will allow creators to plunge the X-Men into the thick of future non-mutant specific Marvel Universe events. "As a former X-Men group editor I learned firsthand how segregated the X-Men were from the rest of the Marvel Universe," Alonso said. "It wasn't a surprise to me to learn that 99% of their stories were about the X-Men confronting yet another threat to their existence. That makes for interesting stories, but what about the story when they go and save the world? Or where they stop a villain from blowing a building up? So we asked ourselves, how can the X-Men be integrated into this universe and what are the limitations of that integration?"
Tom Brevoort added, "At some point in the '90s the X-Men books sort of skewed off from the rest of the line, sitting technically in the same world, but feeling very much at a remove from the rest of the Marvel U. That's something that we're going to be looking to change going forward."
One of the ways Marvel is looking to change that is by joining a number of X-Men with members of the super team that's found themselves at the center of almost every Marvel event, the Avengers. This merging of the two squads happens in October when writer Rick Remender and artist John Cassaday launch a new ongoing series titled "Uncanny Avengers."
"Back in 'AvX' #1, Captain America and Cyclops had a pointed conversation before fists started flying about how, whenever a threat to mutants has arisen, the Avengers have seemed pretty remote. Cap articulated his position -- but in the fallout from 'AVX,' Cap and the Avengers, having gone through a bunch of stuff and having walked a mile in the X-Men's shoes, are feeling like there's some truth in what Cyclops had to say," Brevoort told CBR News. "So the Uncanny Avengers squad is being put together as a direct response to that, as a proactive attempt to provide support of the civil rights of the world's mutant citizens, and to provide physical and superhuman aid in those circumstances where either mutants are threatened by non-mutants, regular humans are threatened by mutants, and every other iteration in-between.
"In essence, as we attempt to bridge the divide between the Avengers and the X-Men as entities within our publishing world, 'Uncanny Avengers' will be the primary bridging book, a place where the team is as likely to battle Apocalypse as the Red Skull, and where long-established X-characters will stand side-by-side with long-established Avengers characters, in a very public manner," Brevoort continued. "Among the characters who'll make up the team are Captain America, Wolverine, Thor, the Scarlet Witch, Rogue and Havok, with a few other surprises waiting in the wings."
While some mutants will be happy to see the X-Men and the Avengers work side by side as one team, others will be alarmed. In November's "All-New X-Men" writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Stuart Immonen will examine the perspective of one group that's particularly concerned by what's happening with mutants -- Professor Charles Xavier's original five X-Men who have been mysteriously transported to the present.
"This title came about because of of an observation: in X-Men lore, the X-Men have regularly been confronted by visions of 'Days of Future Past' in which, if they're unsuccessful in maintaining the peace and defeating their enemies and so forth, the world will become a dark and horrifying place for mutants. And it occurred to us: if you picked up the original X-Men right at the start and dropped them down today, 2012 would seem like 'Days of Future Past' from their perspective," Brevoort explained. "So it'll be interesting to see what these very young heroes with very big dreams and aspirations make of where they ended up, the choices they made along the way, and the fallout of their actions. And that dynamic is what will be driving that story in a very personal way."
While the X-Men from the past are haunted by the present, the Avengers will struggle to build a bigger and better future. That struggle begins in December with "Avengers #1 by writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Jerome Opena.
"We're not ready to tell you any more about it, but Jonathan will also be writing 'New Avengers' as well as 'Avengers. I mention that because the second thing you need to know is that, like 'Amazing Spider-Man,' 'Avengers' is going to be shipping twice a month. So there'll be three Hickman-written Avengers comics coming out every 30 days -- two issues of 'Avengers' and one issue of 'New Avengers,'" Brevoort explained. "And that's important because while Jerome Opena is launching the series and drawing the opening story, Adam Kubert will be the second artist, Dustin Weaver will be the third, and Mike Deodato will be the fourth. I'm sure as we get deeper into the series other guys will be contributing as well, but this powerhouse line-up of illustrators will take us through the first six months of the title.
"The main imperative for the Avengers coming out of 'AvX' is a need to think bigger. Had the Avengers been better prepared, better manned, better equipped, the events of 'AvX' might have been dealt with in a much shorter order," Brevoort continued. "So we'll be fielding a very large core team comprised of 18 or so characters -- spanning the key players in the 'Avengers' film, mainstays of the current team such as Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) and Spider-Woman, classic Avengers of the past such as the Falcon, some established Marvel characters of note that have never been Avengers before, and a number of completely new, though familiar, characters as well. And we'll be keeping things in motion--not every hero will be featured in every issue--there'll be smaller groups tasked to deal with rising situations as they crop up."
The situations the Avengers must face will crop up quite frequently and build upon each other. "In typical fashion, Jonathan has laid out plans for literally years of stories -- at our recent Editorial Retreat, I worked out that he'd broadly plotted through issue #63 at this point. And like his work on 'Fantastic Four' and 'Secret Warriors,' the scale just gets bigger and bigger and bigger as you go, with payoff leading to payoff leading to payoff," Brevoort said of Hickman's grand plans, "'Avengers' is the crown jewel of the Marvel publishing line, especially after the juggernaut success of the movie, so we're going to be treating it as such--with the best characters, drawn by the best artists, coming out on a frequency that will help to propel story velocity and that will reward readers month after month after month in a big way."
"Avengers," "All-New X-Men," and "Uncanny Avengers" will feature some of the biggest Marvel characters, but lesser known fan favorite characters will be part of these books as well and subsequent books in the Marvel NOW! line. Fans of Marvel's cosmic and science fiction characters will notice that both Rocket Raccoon and Nova are featured in the first promotional image for the Marvel NOW! Initiative.
"Much like the change in outlook we're trying to bring about in uniting the disparate worlds of the X-Men and the Avengers, we're not looking at the 'cosmic' books as being separate from the rest of the line. We're approaching these titles and characters as Marvel titles and characters," Brevoort stated. "While by the nature of what they do and who they are guys like Nova and Rocket Raccoon will journey all over the universe, the same can be said of the X-Men or the Avengers, both of whom have spent plenty of time among the sea of stars in the past. So we're looking to unify that aspect of the Marvel pantheon as well, to integrate them more fully into the primary focus of the world and the publishing line, and not treat them like a separate entity so much. So yes, you'll be seeing more of Nova and Rocket and guys like that in the days to come."
Alonso added, "We've been saying for some time that we have a plan for the cosmic characters and Nova. So you'll start to see what we meant very soon."
The cosmic character aren't the only genre oriented characters that will appear in the Marvel NOW! books. Since these titles are about reinvigorating the core of the Marvel Universe by bringing different characters and ideas into it it's possible readers will see characters from other genre corners popping up as well like espionage and horror. That variety and the sheer number of books involved in the line means there won't just be one or two editors overseeing the entire initiative.
"Marvel NOW! is a line-spanning initiative, so there'll be titles involved in it that will stem from just about every editorial office, and that will be handled by the full breadth of our editorial staff, including Steve Wacker and Mark Paniccia, as well as Lauren Sankovitch, Jeanine Schaefer, Jordan White, Sana Amanat, Daniel Ketchum, and Bill Rosemann," Brevoort said. "Pretty much the full staff is involved with Marvel NOW! in some respect, but the first three books we're talking about here are being edited either by Nick Lowe or myself."
A large number of titles will be part of the Marvel NOW! initiative, but that doesn't mean that every book Marvel publishes will be restarted with a new #1 issue. "Anything that has a story hook tied into this initiative will be branded Marvel NOW!" Alonso explained. "So there will be a lot of new #1 issues including 'Thor' #1, an 'Iron Man' #1, and a 'Captain America' #1, but there might be some other titles, like 'Daredevil' for instance, which won't go through a creative change or have a new #1. Mark Waid is doing a fantastic job on that book and his run is still very new. So we have no interest in interrupting that book. Of course, if Mark and Steve Wacker come up with a great hook that legitimizes things the book would become part of the Marvel NOW! line up."
The Marvel NOW! initiative doesn't have a set number of books to it and will be comprised almost entirely of ongoing series. That means there will be quite a few new volumes and new Marvel titles coming in the months ahead, but no existing Marvel titles are being phased out to make room for the Marvel NOW! books.
"'Uncanny Avengers' is a completely new series. Brian's 'All-New X-Men' replaces or succeeds 'Uncanny X-Men' in the same way that 'New Avengers' succeeded 'Avengers.' And speaking of 'Avengers,' that book simply passed from Brian to Jonathan, and increases its frequency to twice-a-month," Brevoort explained. "For the most part, there'll be a one-to-one ratio with a lot of these titles, though there will be some other new entries launched as part of Marvel NOW! as well. And while one or two titles may be ending during this same period, that's an unconnected phenomenon."
The price of Marvel's comics will also be unaffected by the Marvel NOW! initiative "My understanding is that price points will remain what they are," Alonso said. "There shouldn't be any unpleasant surprises on that front."
Readers may be surprised by the look of the books in Marvel NOW! The initiative marks the next stage of the Marvel ReEVolution designed to change and evolve the way readers interact with their comics. One of the ways Marvel will do that is by rethinking their approach to the way covers are usually done in comics.
"In the past covers have always been designed with the news stand in mind with the logo placed at the top of the cover 95 percent of the time and indicia at the bottom. We're taking a more holistic view now with covers in understanding the logo and everything are all part of the overall design, much the same way as they are in movie posters or book covers," Alonso explained. "So we're trying to think progressively in terms of how we approach covers."
The new covers will also make use of the digital technology Marvel began employing during "AvX," specifically the Marvel AR app. "We're hoping that lapsed readers and new fans will visit their local comic stores after hearing about how accessible the books in the Marvel NOW! initiative are. Once they're there they'll be able to take their iPhone or iPad and scan a book's cover and that will give them the full bit of information about the book, a 'trailer,' so to speak, that will sum things up and get you in.
"That will be just one of the ways we use the AR app," Alonso continued. "You can look for us to continue doing the type of AR app that we rolled out under 'AvX' and getting more innovative with the content and more efficient with what we do as well. When you compare the apps we're doing now with what we'll be doing in the future it will be like comparing 'Pong' to 'Red Dead Redemption.' Over the next few years you'll see improvements that will blow away everything we've done."
Ultimately, Digital apps, redesigned covers, and new #1s are all tools to help implement the true purpose of Marvel NOW!, which is to show core readers what the new era of Marvel Comics will be like and give new and lapsed readers a grand welcoming point to that era. "Between the months of October and February we are going to be wheeling out new issue #1s on a nearly weekly basis that will be accessible to new and lapsed readers. It's our goal in those months that anyone who picks up a #1 or hears about what's going on be reminded that new #1 issues will be available throughout that four month span. Whether it's 'All-New X-Men,' 'Avengers,' or 'Captain America' there will be new issue ones that function as their own sort of entry points into the Marvel Universe."
Stay tuned to CBR News for information on Marvel NOW!