Marvel in the ’00s was a barren place, unless you were a regular at your local comic shop. The company was in the doldrums following the speculation bubble bursting in the mid ’90s, not to mention a slew of constantly questionable business decisions that led to a long battle with bankruptcy. This battle saw Marvel, already depleted, continuing to sell most of their A-list character licences to other studios, the early 90s’ sale of the X-Men to Fox followed by 1999’s licensing of Spider-Man to Sony.
These decisions shaped the company’s future and still haunt them to this day. Taking over the reigns from Bob Harras in 2000, the Marvel Comics of the twenty-first century was helmed by EiC Joe Quesada—who was seen as a fresh and exciting addition to the company, bringing a whole bunch of indie creators who would’ve never otherwise looked twice at the Big Two. Alongside Quesada stood publisher by any other name, “Vice President” Bill Jemas, who was the captain of Marvel’s directionless ship until 2003 when he was replaced by Dan Buckley.
It was a tumultuous time at the House of (bad) Ideas, one which was a galaxy away from the invigorating 2008 release of Iron Man and the Disney acquisition of Marvel less than two years later, which re-cemented the company as a pop culture powerhouse. At this point, though, they were barely scraping by and it was in the year 2000 when a DC editor jumped ship to Marvel and quickly began climbing the Jacob’s ladder of existential doom that leads you to the Editor-in-Chief position of Marvel Comics. That man’s name was Axel Alonso.
If you haven’t heard of Axel Alonso, it shouldn’t be that surprising. The role of editorial at the Big Two is an enigmatic thing, and for many comics fans you might’ve only come across Alonso earlier this month when he unceremoniously left the role of Marvel EiC. The news was delivered via an announcement of the publisher’s new EiC, C.B. Cebulski, who (if you follow comics Twitter) you’ve likely heard a lot about in the last couple of days. Alonso leaving seemed like a shock move by Marvel, who’ve seemingly been happy to protect his—and his top tier Marvel buds—bad behavior throughout the last couple of years. But Alonso wasn’t always the problematic company man he became in later years; at one point he was seen as the progressive face of the publisher.
Axel was the second person of color to take on the role of EiC at Marvel following Joe Q, who became Chief Creative Officer of Marvel Entertainment at the same time that Alonso took on the EiC position in 2011. During Axel Alonso’s earlier years at Marvel, he oversaw X-Statix (nee X-Force), Truth: Red, White & Black, and Reginald Hudlin/John Romita, Jr.’s Black Panther relaunch. When he took on the EiC role, the company soon produced the popular Marvel NOW! line that reimagined a number of classic characters and introduced diverse smash hits like Young Avengers, Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel, and Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel. Even during his later years, the company hit firsts they’d never bothered to rectify in the 70 years previous, like finally hiring some black women to write their books. This happened for the first time in 2016 with Nilah Magruder’s Rocket Raccoon story in A Year of Marvels. Obviously this was also the year of Alonso’s dearly beloved Secret Empire event, so it’s hard to give him full credit. But we can at least say it happened whilst he was there.
How do you balance the legacy of an EiC whose tenure saw such highs and such lows? In a world where comics are slowly descending, alongside everything else, into a pit of reactionary fascist horror, Alonso’s good moments will likely be lost in the mistakes of his last few years. These years were defined by a belligerent self-righteousness in the face of thoughtful critique (a Marvel classic move). Years filled with lies, badly thought out line-wide relaunches, and a commitment to Nick Spencer’s racist and offensive catalogue. It was all topped off, of course, with Secret Empire. Alonso and Marvel’s Senior Vice President of Publishing, Tom Brevoort, oversaw some of Marvel’s lowest ever sales and flagging titles during the SE crossover as they luxuriated in the most derided and divisive event book that the company had seen in years. Alonso was also guilty of seeming to constantly work at making the racist, misogynist comics trolls plaguing the Marvel audience feel at home at Marvel Comics. His last big moment was the much maligned Legacy relaunch, which saw all the characters revert back to their whitest, most male versions—a low point to end on for a man who had seen his own legacy slowly dim over the latter years of his career.
One of most resounding questions left after Axel’s departure is why did Alonso’s legacy end here, with a non-resignation hidden in an announcement of the incoming EiC? Marvel has a history of loudly celebrating anyone who leaves on good terms. I would love to link you to some of their former announcements, but they’ve recently deleted anything older than Legacy announcements from the Marvel site. Axel’s strange non-departure leaves a lot of questions in it’s wake. Especially since it’s become clear that his replacement CB Cebulski was a far from perfect choice, what with his history double dipping the company as an editor, whilst also writing under a Japanese pseudonym and giving false interviews pretending to be a Japanese man. Axel took great pleasure in highlighting by spite—liking lots of tweets that were critical of Cebulski and Sana Amanat who was the first at Marvel to publically defend him. It almost makes one wonder what Axel did that was so bad that replacing him with an unrepentant Cebulski seemed like the safer PR option.
So then what should we make of the timing of his departure, happening when the entertainment industry is purging successful men who’ve fostered legacies of abuse and assault in secret for decades? It’s impossible to say why Axel left the company, with Marvel only offering the same announcement of Cebulski as a statement when we reached out to them for comment. There have been many rumors as to why Alonoso left, so close to the Berganza fall out at DC. Maybe he left because his good friend Bendis finally jumped ship, and Alonso will soon reappear at DC or Vertigo too? Answers on a postcard fair readers, if you have an insight into why Axel left we’re always open to exploring new avenues.
At first it seemed like Axel Alonso leaving Marvel might signal a positive change for the struggling company. But after last week’s fallout over Cebulski and Marvel’s subsequent silence, Alonso’s mysterious departure it looks like business as usual at the House of Questionable Ideas.