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 look at Marvel's impending relaunch – AKA Marvel NOW! – of some of its biggest books continue. Fans now know that everyone from Mark Waid to Matt Fraction and from John Romita, Jr. to Tony Moore have landed on some of the biggest relaunched titles, so we asked Axel to expand on the creative and publishing decisions behind books like "Thor: God of Thunder," "Indestructible Hulk," "Fantastic Four," "Deadpool" and more. Plus, some of your fan questions on "The Dark Tower," "The Defenders" and..."The Walking Dead?" Read on!
Kiel Phegley: With all the Marvel NOW! announcements that have been hitting, there's plenty to talk about, but I wanted to start with how the division of titles actually broke down. To hear some of the creator's tell it, it almost sounds like books broke out at the table at one of the big summits with everyone calling their picks.
Axel Alonso: It didn't happen like that. The conclusion to "AvX" presented the perfect place for a creative change that had been in the air for some time. Many of our writers –
Brian [Bendis], Ed [Brubaker], Matt [Fraction] –
had enjoyed long runs on their titles, it was inevitable that they'd move on to new challenges, and this was the time to do it.
The transition was very organic. Early on, Brian expressed a deep interest in the young Lee/Kirby X-Men – and this was extremely appealing because it put Brian in the driver’s seat of another big franchise that would play to his strengths: providing a ground’s eye view of the Marvel Universe through the eyes of young kids. So that piece fell into place very quickly.
As for the other pieces? It was important that each creative team bring a unique stamp to their series – that each issue #1 be a “hostile takeover” of what preceded it, as opposed to a Xerox. Matt writing “Fantastic Four” was very intriguing because he excels at brain-twisting, Lee & Kirby-flavored science fiction – that's evident in everything he's done – and because he's a two-time “Number #1 Papa” winner (an honor I held in 2003). And everyone knows those are the perfect ingredients for the FF.
Jason [Aaron] was also a candidate for "Fantastic Four," but in the end, he was just TOO right for Thor. And his pitch blew everyone away. Given his work on “Journey into Mystery,” Kieron [Gillen] was, of course, a very attractive candidate for Thor, but his ideas about where to take Iron Man after “AvX” were just too damn good to pass up. And Jonathan’s vision for Avengers…well, you know what he did with FF.
Honestly, there were no major traffic jams when it came to writers. Those came more when we were lining up artists! [Laughs]
I'm a little disappointed. I was really looking forward to some kind of Thunderdome scenario. Two men enter. One book leaves.
Alonso: There were no “very special Rose Ceremonies,” no. Look, it sounds like I'm in spin mode and I’m not! Truth is, we argue all the time. You should see us in the editorial summits! It’s like mental MMA for nerds! [Laughs] But this was just one of those moments where everything fell into place. Would Kieron Gillen have written an amazing Thor? Would Matt Fraction have written an amazing Captain America? Would Jason have written an amazing Fantastic Four? Somewhere down the road, you might find out. But I couldn’t be happier with our line-up. We’re rolling out creators that are deeply invested in their titles, and that are coming in strong with new ideas. Rick [Remender] and John [Romita Jr.]’s "Captain America" won’t walk down the road paved by Ed [Brubaker.] They're going to bring a new voice and sensibility to the series, and that's what I love. Everyone's coming in with big, bold ideas to really own their title.
On the visual side of things, part of this relaunch has been a ground up redesign for a lot of the characters. So far we've seen new designs on Cap from Jerome Opeña and John Cassaday and the final version of everyone in the initial image from Joe Quesada. How did that level of the relaunch get put together from design to final artists?
Alonso: This is a huge move, and we wanted the look of the books to reflect it.
That started with the artists. We wanted each to bring a new visual style to their book – Esad Ribic on “Thor: God of Thunder,” for example. We were also intrigued by artists drawing series that they hadn't before – John Romita, Jr. on “Captain America,” for example. Believe it or not, he’s never done a run on the solo series.
That's what's exciting to me about Marvel NOW! Mark Bagley on “Fantastic Four”; Mike Allred on “FF” -- those guys bring such different things to the table, but they’re both able to capture both the subtle human moments and the incredible sci-fi backdrops that are essential to that title. I'm so excited to see Mike back in the fold with Marvel where he belongs. I missed him.
As for the redesigns of some character’s costumes – it’s just one more sign that this is all-new. Once artists we lined up, we asked them to play a little with the costumes, contemporize them, add some personal touches.
Let's talk a few specifics. Recently, we spoke about how the shape of some comic stories are changing and how single issues are coming back into their own. Now we've heard that on "Iron Man" Kieron Gillen will be writing all stand-alone issues. Is that a direction you've all discussed when together as a group, or is Kieron's approach just his own take that links up a bit with what we were discussing before?
Alonso: We didn't lay down any rules. Kieron’s first arc revolved around single-issue stories that form one interlinked story. You might see a similar approach in a couple other titles, but you're not going to see it line-wide. There is only one rule: "Do what works best for your story?"
The other book I wanted to get into was Mark Waid and Leinil Yu on "Indestructible Hulk." We've had so much talk over the past year of what Mark has done to redefine "Daredevil." What does this take on "Hulk" do that separates it from versions we've seen in the past?
Alonso: What Bruce Banner does in issue #1 is both a long overdue and an "oh $#!%!" moment. It sets a trajectory for years worth of stories that are different from anything we've done in the past. The Hulk is my personal favorite of the big-league super heroes – which, I guess, says a lot about me since he's all about anger management issues [Laughs] – and I’m personally excited to see how Mark and Leinil’s story unfolds. I’m confident that anyone who reads issue #1 is going to stick around for the long haul.
"Thor: God of Thunder" with Jason and Esad is another book that matches a creator with a specific style to a character with a specific world. When Jason first came to Marvel, he made his name for a cranked up, grindhouse style of story in things like "Ghost Rider." How do his sensibilities fit with the world of Asgard?
Alonso: As a young boy, what excited me about Marvel Comics was how each series offered its own unique flavor and vibe. It was unique. The teen angst of "Amazing Spider-Man," the big monster action of "Incredible Hulk," the kung-fu action of "Shang Chi, Master of Kung-Fu." Picking through comics at the five-and-dime was kind of like sneaking into a grindhouse movie theater on [San Francisco’s] Market Street to sample flicks of all types of genres: martial arts, Blaxploitation, science fiction, western. That’s what I loved about comics – there were so many unique flavors. When Captain America took off his red, white and blue costume and became Nomad, I didn’t really understand that this was social commentary on the Watergate era, but I did understand that Captain America existed to tell a particular type of story, and that story was different from Spider-Man, Hulk or Thor.
That’s what excites me about Marvel NOW! We’re going to remind readers why these characters are unique, what stories they are unique to tell. I’m personally psyched to see the Fantastic Four’s road trip and what happens to the crew that hold down the fort at the Baxter Building, I can’t wait to see how Captain America survives Dimension Z, or to FINALLY get to your question, how Thor fares against the God Butcher.
“Thor: God of Thunder” is dream casting because Jason and Esad dig deep into the fantasy story that Thor is unique to tell while keeping it firmly grounded in the Marvel Universe. Esad's visuals bring a sense of majesty and scale to Jason's story that is going to blow people away. His Asgard is both familiar and unlike anything you've seen before.
The last book I wanted to ask about, which I think we can appropriately say stands far out from the others, is "Deadpool." I'm surprised that we haven't had guys with a specific background in writing comedy come onto the book before like Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan. We know they've done comics work elsewhere. How did that team come onto Marvel's radar to get this gig?
Alonso: Well, I'll start by saying that Gerry Duggan is much more than a comedian. "The Infinite Horizon,” which he did with [artist] Phil Noto, was nominated for an Eisner. Now Posehn's comedy background speaks for itself and Gerry is a hilarious guy, but we haven’t hired a comedy duo, we’ve hired a writing team.
How did it happen? We have mutual friends – Rick Remender and Phil Noto - so we got to talking at SDCC a couple years back and I asked "What would you do with Deadpool?" I hooked them up with ["Deadpool" Editor] Jordan White, with whom they hatched a pitch for the story they’re going to open with – "Dead Presidents" – and, before you knew it, Tony Moore had signed on to draw it, and Geof Darrow had agreed to draw covers.
The beauty is that this all about the old winning formula: Put an inspired creative team on a great character and task them to tell a story that’s unique to that character. That’s what Gerry, Brian and Tony are doing and the high concept that drives the first arc is SO Deadpool.
Let's branch out for a few fan questions this week starting with DownInAHole who asks, "I'm wondering what you think of the massive success of The Walking Dead #100? It is not a Marvel book but this is a huge success for comics in general and it is one of a very few titles that gains readers from month to month and is selling much better now than when it launched several years ago. As you are well aware the trend is that first issues are the most successful and the vast majority of titles slowly lose readers month after month. Do you have any thoughts about why the book has been able to grow its audience and is there anything you think you can learn and apply to Marvel's titles to make your readership grow?"
Alonso: Let me start by saying that I've been a fan of “Walking Dead” since issue #1 — as I've told Robert [Kirkman], Tony [Moore] and Charlie [Adlard] for years. Of course, I'm a huge zombiephile so I'm the ideal demographic for that book! The genius of "Walking Dead" is that it acknowledges that in the George Romero zombie apocalypse, the story is never over, and the only bad thing about any good zombie flick is that it ends! [Laughs]
That said, this is one of those instances where the creators caught lightning in a bottle. They delivered a high-quality launch that got some buzz, and kept the pedal to the metal to keep that buzz — making sure an issue came our each and every month, fostering a sense of community through an extended letters column, aggressively promoting the collections as an entry-point into the world, etc. Factor in a Frank Darabont-produced cable TV series and you can see why sales have gone up.
I'm thrilled — as a reader, an industry professional and a zombiephile — about the success of the series, and the possibilities it represents for genre-based comics. It's been my hope from day one at Marvel that we could diversify the line, and series like this prove that there is an audience for comics that don't tie into the superhero paradigm.
In a different corner of Marvel's own publishing, mushroom2703 wonders, "Not exactly a MU question but I figure [you] could answer what's next for The Dark Tower, after The Man In Black. Is that it done or are they even further with the series?"
Alonso: We’re still discussing where we hope to take “Dark Tower” next. After that, we’ll talk with Mr. King and his representatives to see if they’re on board, and discuss the timing.
Finally, chariset was likely one of many readers who was let down by own piece of news this week when he asks, "Defenders -- why??"
Alonso: Well, chariset, the good news is that Matt will be flexing his sci-fi muscles in two titles this December: “Fantastic Four,” with Mark Bagley, and “FF,” with Mike Allred. And you probably haven’t seen the last of the team.
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!