The Avengers: Chat with Marvel editors

May 04, 2012

The Avengers, Marvel Entertainment's latest superhero super-flick, premieres Friday.

While there's plenty of digital discussion of the film available today -- including Ann Hornaday's essay on the value of actors in superhero films -- this discussion features two of Marvel's top editors who are intimately familiar with the Avengers comic book. Alonso and Brevoort know the characters, their history, current plot lines, amenities at Avengers Mansion and more. They might even have an opinion or two about the movie ...

Alonso and Brevoort answered questions live on Friday, May 4.

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Hello, folks, and welcome to this special Marvel Avengers chat. I'm Tom Brevoort, SVP/Executive Editor for Marvel Comics, and I'll be one of the people answering your questions.

Axel Alonso, here.  Editor In Chief.  Basketball dad.  Hello, one an all.

By the nature of my job, I'm more suited to answer questions about the comics than the film--I saw it, but didn't really work on it. I have edited AVENGERS for more than a decade, though.

All right, so let's get started. Axel will be answering as we go as well.

Who did you get to play Emma Peel?

Scarlet Johansson, kinda. There's a certain similarlity between the Black Widow and Emma Peel. While the Widow was created earlier, when John Romita redesigned her costume to more or less what she wears in the movie, Diana Rigg in teh television series was a clear influence.

Janet van Dyne's been one of the few characters who has been on the team through the years, yet she's not in the movie. Do you think that is because it would have required too much CGI, or they couldn't find a way to introduce her character in Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and IM2?

I think it's maybe a combination of all of those factors. You can only focus on so many different characters in a film of this length, and there's definitely the question of the effects budget necessary to bring the Wasp's powers to the screen. Whereas a character like Hawkeye is much simpler both to convey to an audience and to realize in live action.

I grew up more with DC than with Marvel, and over the last decade or so, Marvel has focused more on live-action theatrical releases while DC has stuck largely to direct-to-video animation. The movie and TV versions of the DC heroes are created by other parts of the Warners empire. While I've liked Nolan's Batman films, I found Superman Returns deeply disappointing. Do think Marvel has done better by its characters by taking control of its movie output?

I e=didn't see "Green Lantern," but I did enjoy the Nolan "Batman" films.  I thought the second one was a reel or three too long, but I liked the mood of the film. That said, I think Marvel Studios' strategy has been brilliant.  Building four successful movie franchises and then throwing them all into one movie, building one universe.  It's freindly to adults and kids, hardcore fans and newbies.

Love the Animated Cartoon on Disney DXD channel. I worry because it is only shown on Sunday Mornings. Is it going to continue for awhile?

The second season just started airing on Disney XD recently, and it's doing well, so hopefully so.

One of the first comics I remember buying was Avengers #4 (Return of Captain America) which I sold 30 years ago to pay for a divorce (even then, it covered most of my costs!) My question: More often than not, movies based DC Comics aren't very good, but movies from Marvel Comics are quite good. What's your view on this?

I don't know that there's really enough evidence to draw this conclusion. Certainly it's flattering, and we have had some good fortune in this regard even with the films that weren't directly produced by Marvel. But there have been good films based on the properties of DC and other comics companies as well. I think the real difference at Marvel is that our films, the Marvel Studios-helmed ones, are put together by real Marvel people, who are part of our world and who understand our culture and have respect for the source material. That makes it easier to keep our batting average high.

What do you think the lasting influence or contribution of the original Avengers comic is? In other words, without the Avengers, we would not have ____ ?

"Slightly dysfnctionl super-team."  What the Avengers brought to the table was the concept of a groupf of mismatched heroes having to band together for the greater good: The man out of time, the god with daddy issues, the megalomaniac in the armored suit.  The movie really nails this down, too.

What is your view on the upcoming reboot of Spiderman? The Tobey Maguire ones were only a few years ago, so I'm wondering why the studio thinks it needs to be redone already. I get that Batman needed a reboot with Christian Bale (the revolving-door Batman series prior had gotten horrifically bad) but essentially doing the same thing just a decade after doing it the first time? That just seems like greed to me.

Marvel Studios didn't produce the new Spider-Man movie so I can't really answer why.  From what I've seen of the trailer, it looks like a lot of fun, though.  I like the guy who plays Peter Parker; saw him one of the movies in the "Red Riding" trilogy and he was fantastic.  Down the road, what I'd like to see is Miles Morales on the silver screen!!!

Axel and Tom, thanks for being on this chat! I was at the midnight show and somehow managed to get to work today. Question is, how do you manage the expectations of kids who see the movie and then read the comics? AVENGERS ASSEMBLE is the viewer-friendly version of those characters, but do you see planting any other ties between Marvel's comics universe and Marvel's film universe? All best, DB

We try to keep most of our titles accessable to a new reader--it's the reason we have a recap page in all of our books, for example. And we're very much aware from a storytelling point of view that the majroity of people are going to be familiar with these characters from the movies. So while we don't necessarily take all of our cues from the films, we do keep those factors in mind as we craft our stories. Ideally, moving from the movies into the print world of Marvel gives readers an even wider canvas to experience, since we're not hampered by the limitations of budget. Anything we can dream up we can execute.

[From a Post staffer]: In an essay today, film critic Ann Hornaday argues that of all genres, comic book movies -- with films like The Avengers and Iron Man and stars  like Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. -- have proven to Hollywood that actors still matter. 

She writes, "It’s the humans, not whiz-bang effects or lavish set pieces, who resuscitate [the genre] with verve, warmth and invention. "

How do you react to that?

Sure,.  Just like comics need great writers and artists, movies need great directors and actors.

Marvel recently published a series, 'Battle Scars,' the whole point of which seemed to be to replace the Nick Fury that's existed in the Marvel Universe for 50 years with one that matches the version in the movies. Do you worry that these kinds of changes, with the movies now driving the source material, are going to viewed by fans as contrived or clumsy?

Only if we don't execute them well and follow through on them well. Fans of our books clearly have a strong loyalty to the overarching super-story that has been going on for 50+ years. By that same token, more people know Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury, and that's reflected in our animation as well--it only makes sense to close that loop into the world of publishng as well. The trick to acceptance is in making the stories compelling to the readers.

[From a Post staffer]: Is it difficult at all for you when movie studios make changes to a comic book character to fit the movie? Obviously it can bother fans ... but you're even closer to the product. 

I've loved what Marvel Studios has done so far -- especially in the case of Captain America.  The viewer never, ever loses track of the 98-poudn weakling with the heart of gold.  That is who they fall in love with.  The important thing, when tyou translate a character with so much history, is that tyou stay true to their core truths.  Captain America is a hero, but he's not Clint Eastwood or Schwartzenegger.

[From a Post staffer]: If there are Avengers sequels, which team members do you hope get to join in the action? Why?

The Black Panther is a must, I think, both because he's an excellent character in his own right and to create a greater sense of diversity and inclusion among the Avengers. I'd also like to see the Vision, but that's just me.

[From a Post staffer]: What do superhero comic books and graphic novels do better than movies? What (other than the obvious -- live action) do the movies do that print can't compete with?

Comic books and movies are just different experiences.  Neither is "better."  The comic book-reading experience is a unique one -- different from the passive experience of watching a movie, but also different from the more active experience of reading prose.  Part of the joy of reading a comic book is that you -- the reader -- control the pace of your experience.

I watched a trailer for the latest Spider-Man movie, and it has the same thing that kind of bugged me about the Tobey Maguire movies where they are constantly having Spider-man take off his mask. I guess it makes sense since they hired a good-looking actor so they might as well use his face, but it's a bit silly since what's the point of wearing a mask if he's just going to take it off all the time.? Haven't these people ever heard of a radio drama? An audience can be into a character's emotions without seeing his or her face.

There are two components to this, I think. One is that, as you say, if you've got an actor in the role you want to see him--I'm sure that's why there are so many in-helmet camera shots of Downey in the IRON MAN and AVENGERS films. But secondly, most actors really use their faces to emote, and that's just impossible in a full face mask like Spider-Man wears. It's great for hiding your identity, not so wonderful for getting across a credible performance. So I agree that it can sometimes get to be a little bit much, but I'm all for doing whatever makes the movie work best.

Sure there a zillion and one, but just some of your top comic book heroes who have never made it so far to the silver screen?

I would love to see Black Panther or Luke Cage on the silver screen.  I also love Ant-Man.

It seems that with the current special effects technology, that almost anything is possible to include in a movie. Are there any superhero/villain powers that you think still can't be done justice by CGI? 

They did their best in FANTASTIC FOUR 2, but I think the more cosmic characters such as Galactus are difficult to make convincing on film still. It's a design and a concept that just works so much better as lines on paper.

What has been done in Marvel comics that you don't think would work (i.e. make money) in movies (even though you wish it would)?

I think anything done right can find an audience and make money -- it's just that some material lends itself to summer blockbsuter more.  I think a "Black Panther" movie done right could rule a summer, but I think a "Rawhide Kid" movie done right could be a sleeper hit.

What is your response to people who are boycotting the movie?

Link: Why I'm Boycotting The Avengers -- Jack Kirby has never been given the credit he’s due.

I think that people should follow their hearts and their consciences and do what they think is right. I haven't read the piece you linked to, but I know a bit about this controversy. Kirby does have a credit in the AVENGERS film, though.

You wrote that Marvel Studios didn't produce the new Spider-man movie. What was Marvel's role in that film, then? If Marvel's experience is that the film is better when Marvel people are deeply involved, why does a film like this get made?

The rights to the Spider-Man films are still with Sony, who've had them for many years going back to the first Tobey Maguire movie. And while we'd certainly be happy to have those rights back in house with Marvel Studios, the folks at Sony have done a pretty great job with the character and that franchise so far. No real complaints!

It seems like most superheros have been included in the comics, cartoons, tv series, and even movies. They all have powers and a variety of enemies. Is the goal of the current superhero movie to recreate the established characters or to start fresh with new stories and only keep the basic information?

I think the "goal" of Marvel Studios is to bring these great characters to the big screen in as faithful a manner as possible.  To do that, we have to cherry pick the best stories over several decades.

There are so many stories and iterations of comic books, it's hard to know where a newbie like myself should start. What's a good entry point into the Avengers comics?

Start with "Avengers vs X-Men #1."  We designed this story to be accessible to all.  The setup is simple,  the stakes are clear, and the action is as widescreeen as it gets.  Another option is "Avengers Assemble #1," by Brian Bendis and Mark Bagley, also desgiend to be accessibel to the new reader, and featuting the cast of the movie.

Comics today are $2.99 or $3.99. I don't know how kids can afford them. When Dinosaurs Roamed the Earth I paid 12 or 15 cents. Can't you cut back on fancy inks and pape rstock and produce a dollar comic?

It's nowhere near as simple as you would think. First off, the price of crummier paper isn't really much of a savings. As newspapers will tell you, circulations are down across the board, so the demand for cheap newsprint isn't as high, and so the cost to produce it is greater. Beyond that, comics these days need to compete with cutting edge media, and they can only do that by graphically being on a similar footing. The nostalgia for a dollar comic is wonderful, but today's kids aren't going to pick up a comic even for that price if it doesn't look appealing to them.

Catch me up: Marvel was in the news a few years ago for "killing" Captain America. Is he still "dead?" Are either of you responsible for killing or resurrecting  Cap? ;)

Captain America is alive.  And Tom and I are both responsivble for that.  I'm responsbile for the good stuff; he's responsible for the bad stuff.

Settle the debate once and for all. Who's stronger, Thor or the Hulk?

Maybe the AVENGERS film will hold the answer! (Or, maybe it won't! Why spoil a good thing?)

How many heroes have been in Avengers comics over time? Is there a complete list somewhere? Has anyone turned them down? 

There is a complete roster list, yes. I haven't looked at it as such in a while, but I'd estimate that around 65 characters have been Avengers at one point or another--this includes mainstays such as Captain America and more obscure and short-stay characters as Rage or Quasar. And yes, at different times heroes have turned down membership in the Avengers. for years, Spider-Man wasn't into the idea despite being offered it.

Does Marvel's comics and movie divisions ever find themselves at odds with each other in terms of battling for dominance or presence at events such as San Diego Comic-Con? It seems like the movies get more exposure there, given the changing nature of the con, than the comics do...

No.  We try to complement each other.  We're one company.  Movies -- by virtue of what they are -- tend to get lots of attention. But we benefit from it.  Just like they benefit from the stories we tell.

What's the biggest challenge for Marvel in keeping The Avengers comic book fresh and interesting?

The same thing as with any of these characters that have been around for so may years--finding new angles and new wrinkles on their stories, new and relevant conflicts that speak to the audience today, and new situations to deal with.

Sometimes I think the near-constant rebooting of comic book hero movies are because Hollywood just can't seem to move more then two or three movies before having to go back and do the origin story yet again.

I don't think that's just true of super hero movies, though. How many film series have had more than two or three good entries in a row?

You mentioned characters you'd like to see in a Avengers sequel ... but, *will* there be a sequel? We need to know!

I would love to see Black Panther!!!

We can't really state that for certain--that's teh purview of Marvel Studios top kick Kevin Feige. But with the enormous success the movie has had worldwide so far, I'd be extremely surprised if we didn't do an AVENGERS 2.

Does the advent of digital comics -- comics to read on Nook, iPad, etc. -- have any impact on comics' design for print? Do you ever have to ask yourselves: How will that will translate on a screen, where you can magnify panels and such?

The answer to that question can be found like this.  Go buy "Avengers vs. X-Men #1."  Then go download the Marvel App FOR FREE on your iPhone or Mobile Device.  Then point your decvice at a comic book page with the AR symbol.  And you'll be treated to a glimpse of assorted added-value features that give a hint of the future of digital comics -- including "Infinite Comics," which is a comic story written and drawn for the tablet.  The screen is the canvas, and digital tools are the paintbrush.

Since this is the Washington Post, my friend told me this since I'm not the comic book fan I pretend to be. During the Watergate era, Captain American had a major story changed which sounded really interesting and the kind of comic book movie I would love to watch.

I think you're referring to the period where a disgruntled Captain America took of the red-white-and-blue uniform and put down the shield and wandered the country as "Nomad," right?  That was a good story.  I think I was 5 or 6.

I think that such a storyline could definitely become the basis of a CAPTAIN AMERICA 2 or 3, but the references would need to be updated and modernized. That was a pretty cool and relevant story. I read one of the issues when I was 6 years old and it confused the hell out of me.

Has the success of the Marvel related movies translated in increased sales for the comics themselves?

Yes, but much more in the realms of collected book editions and now the world of digital. Those are formats that today's new audiences seem much more comfortable with.

There is a period of time during a movie release where comics experience the "halo effect" of a big movie release.  The big impact of the movies, I think, is how they affect the sales of trade paperbacks and hardcovers.

Might we ever see Moon Knight menacing the big screen?

I'd love it.  He is a wonderful character -- one of my favorites. 

I think that would be pretty cool--although I suspect he might work better on television.

James Bond and Harry Potter. That's all I got.

Godfather 1 and 2.  Piranha 3D and Piranha 3DD.

Even there, though, you got to Godfather 3 (and, for all I know, Pirahna 3DDD)

What does a comic book editor read when he's not reading comics? What specifically are you guys reading now? What's the best (non-Avengers) movie you have seen lately?

Right this moment I'm erading a book on the history and maing of the televison series I SPY, but I typically have two or three books working at any particular time. I've got David Liss's latest book and one of the Parker novels waiting in my queue as well. And I don't really get out to the movies as often as I would like these days--it's difficult with a family, as I'm sure you can understand.

I'm currently reading an advance copy of Greg Hurwitz's "The Survivor."  And I'm a religious reader of the columns at my favorite website/magazine,

Real people grow older... the comics characters have been around for decades. Times and technologies in the real world have changed since many of the characters were introduced. How do you deal with keeping a character the same age while the world the readers live in changes?

It's tricky.  Our responsibility, I think, is to find a way to keep the characters alive and fresh for our kids. Granted,  I say that as the father of a 9-year-old whose favorite super hero is Dallas Mavericks power forward, Dirk Nowitzki.

There's definitely an elasticity to it, similar to the stretch and pull of a soap opera. There's a danger in allowing the characters to move too far away from the elements that made them popular in the first place, but there's also a danger in them becoming static and stagnant. You can definitely reap dividens by being bold and taking some risks--you just need to keep the essence of the character in mind when you do so.

About 8-10 years ago, I was addicted to PC game Freedom Force, which seemed really reverent of classic comics (and had a real Avengers feel). Have you guys seen it/played it? What did you think?

I saw it, but never played it apart from one short demo.

Does "The Avengers" finally solve the problem of the stretchy pants? How does his shirt rip off yet his pants stretch?

Ah, those pants. If I were Bruce Banner, I'd always wear size 60 waist pants.  Back when I edited "Hulk," I art directed a scene where Banner, seeing trouble on the horizon, calmly takes off his shirt socks and shoes, pulls off his belt, and then goes walking toward the problem, holding up his sixze-60 pants with his hands.  A lot of people liked that scene.

She's probably been the most abused character in the entire series. I even have the Avengers #200 issue where she gets "seduced" by the son of Immortus and then gives birth to the same guy. Do you think sometimes that the writers need a redemption arc?

The writers or the characters? As in any other entertainment media, not everything that you do or try is going to be a winner, and there can be some collateral damage along the way. But almost any character is only one great story away from becoming relevant and viable again.

Get Tim Burton!!!

Tim Burton's "Inhumans."

Obviously Keanu Reeves is one, but would Neo be considered a "superhero"?

By certain definitions, certainly. He's got superhuman powers and a costume of a sort, and he fights for a set of admirable ideals. But exactly what makes a given character a super hero is one of those things that fans will argue forever.

I'd say usually, or at least lately... but the Fantastic Four movies weren't very impressive despite (mostly) good casting.

Well, those movies were made by Fox rather than Marvel proper, so like the Spider-Man and X-Men films, they'er at least one step away from the core fo Marvel. But Fox mentioned taking another stab at the FF recently, so who knows what might come down the pike?

How much of a lead time do you have to publish a comic, from drawing the art/writing the story to publication?

Not enough! And not as much as you would thnk. While we plan things out broadly 18 months to two years ahead of time, we're more typically starting to work on a given issue 8-10 weeks before it hits the racks.

Since Marvel is owned by Disney, will Disney want to end Marvel's association with Universal (Orlando amusement park) to get Marvel across town to Disneyworld?

Couldn't tell you. That's not really our area.

Am taking the 11- and 9-year-olds for a 3 p.m. showing today... and they are interested in the current comic version and Spidey's association with the group... any chance in the future that a crossover event could happen theatrically?

It might be possible down the line at some point, but not while the film rights to Spidey reside with another company--unless some maner of arrangement could be brokered.

Who are your top three favorite superheroes ansd super-villains?

My favorite super heroes are Black Panther, Hulk and Deathlok.  Shang Chi and Luke Cage get edged because they're more "genre" character than super heroes.  As for villains, ny favorites are Bullseye, Kingpin and Dr. #$%$# Doom!  Modok just misses the top 3.

I'm a heretic, but my favorite super hero is the Flash. Fave Marvel hero would be the Thing. Favorite villain would be Doctor Doom.

Jonah Hex, and Cowboys & Aliens

Yeah, but our "Rawhide Kid" is JUST FABULOUS.

We should be glad the Sam Jackson one is the memorable one, not the Hasselhoff.

Can't wait to see Sam Jackson in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained."  I read the script and it is amazing.

Have the Krees and Skrulls settled things down or will that hotbed of controversy fire up anytime soon ?

The Skrulls were pretty decimated a few years ago during SECRET INVASION. But the Kree have been kicking around a lot lately, both in FANTASTIC FOUR and in current issue of AVENGERS that tie into the big AVENGERS VS X-MEN event.

Like most folks my age (i.e., old), I grew up reading Disney comics, especially the Duck stories written and drawn by Carl Barks. Why doesn't Marvel put out a line of comics (following up on the Gladstone / Gemstone series) using those characters? Isn't that a good way to build a new audience? As you say, you're competing against so many other forms of entertainment now, so you really do need to get kids in the habit of **reading**.

I think doing a line of kids comics inspired by the example of Barks' ducks would be worthwhile, but those characters really aren't a part of the experiences of kids today in the same way that, for example, the Pixar characters are. So if we were to attempt something like this--and we'd need to navigate the internal rights and approvals to do so of course--I'd be more inclined to look towards properties such as those.

As I think about it, you and your team must have more in common with the people who run a TV series (thinking Mad Men or Lost) rather than a movie production unit. True?  What TV series (if any) inspires/inspired you? 

Absolutely true!  Only we are managing multiple shows that have been running for decades and are all connected! Easy as pie!!!  The show that's inspring me right now is "Game of Thrones."  I really don't like that genre, but the series is riveting.  The charcters are faascinating and I love  how the writers and producers skillfully work around the limitations of their budget.

Man, we have totally blown through all the questions!

That's how we roll, yo.


Disclaimer: I work for neither company but followed this story very closely. My understanding is that Universal's licensing rights to particular characters still stand as long as they do not develop new attractions. Disney can wait for Universal to make a misstep and claim breach of contract, or try to buy back characters individually, or build up lower-string characters in their theme parks instead, or develop attractions in non-Florida parks (Universal's park rights are specified east of the Mississippi).

Okay, you could be right about this, I don't really know.

[From a Post staffer]: What's your favorite thing about The Avengers (movie)? 

It's got heart and humanity to it, the characters are all relatable. It's also got a lot of fun and wonder in it, which sometimes gets lost in super hero films. Also, at every point where you think the story has gotten as big as it possibly can, it finds a way to get bigger.

Is in in every Marvel Movie contract that he gets a cameo? Or is it just Tradition?

I believe it's mostly a tradition. Stan didn't have a cameo in X-MEN FIRST CLASS, I don't think.

Have you ever written yourself into a corner and not realized it until it's too late? What do you do then?

Blow up the corner.

I've worked with a writer or two who's written himself into a corner, yes.  It's tricky to navigate out of.  Usually, if I get a sense that this might occure, I have a backup strategy for a way to fix it. That's the best I can do.

They were a treat to see in Capt America movie. Anything more in store for them? Neil McDonough (DumDum) is a great actor

I'm completely blanking on the name of the show a few years back in which he played the D.A. who had once been a boxer. Agreed, he was pretty great in CAP--but no idea if we'll see him or the other Howlers again. I kind of doubt it since we've moved to the present day--Dum Dum would be eighty or ninety years old by now.

The Thing should be CGI, or at least get an actor taller than 5 foot 5

Maybe. I thought Michael Chiklis was well-cast, but not really given a whole lot to do in the two films they made.

Great questions and great answers! Thanks for being here, guys!

Sure thing! Thanks for reading--and enjoy the AVENGERS film! (I'm told it's even better if you see it more than once...)

Thanks, all.  Go see "Marvel Studios' The Avengers" and read "Avengers Vs. X-Men" in stores now.

Who do you think is the most underrated (or under-utilized) character in the Marvel Universe? Who do you think has a great story in them that just hasn't been explored yet?

Black Panther.  He has been in many great stories but iconic status has eluded him.  I'd love that to change. And I think it could.

How do you assemble (no pun intended) your talent? Do you pair writers and illustrators together? Do they pick who they want to work with?

It's alchemy, figuring out through experience and instinct which creators might pair well with each other and become soemthing greater than the sum of the parts. It's very much like casting a film in that regard.

I would buy an "Incredibles" comic book.

We've put out a few, mostly repurposing material that was done for other publishers who had the rights before Disney purchased Marvel.

Thanks for your questions, everybody!

In This Chat
Axel Alonso
Axel Alonso is editor-in-chief of the publishing division of Marvel Entertainment. A native of San Francisco and a graduate of the University of California-Santa Cruz and Columbia University, Alonso's 15-plus-year tenure editing comics has established him as a pioneer in the industry.
Tom Brevoort
Tom Brevoort is the senior vice president and executive editor at Marvel Entertainment. A lifelong fan of the medium and a graduate of the University of Delaware, Brevoort has overseen most the company's major publishing initiatives and is currently the head editor of the company's blockbuster summer event, Avengers VS. X-Men.
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