While Marvel recently destroyed its many universes in order to rebuild them in an All-New, All-Different Marvel Universe via Secret Wars, they're already working on their next mega-event: Civil War II. The first Civil War crossover (from 2006) is the basis for the new Captain America: Civil War film, but this time, instead of Iron Man and Captain America locking horns, it's Iron Man and Captain Marvel, and the stakes are VERY high.
We got a chance to sit down with current Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso to discuss the thought behind Civil War II, the upcoming Ta-Nehish Coates-penned Black Panther series, and their awesome string of Hip Hop Variants. Marvel was even gracious enough to lace us with the exclusive on the first three Civil War II-related Hip Hop Variants covers. And we even got into the feels of that reveal from the latest Captain America: Civil War trailer.
First up, let's talk about Civil War II. I read that it took you guys three to four months to craft this story, as opposed to normal Marvel events, which might take years to craft. What was it like coming up with Civil War II in a shorter time frame?
It was a challenge. It sort of started with a hypothetical conversation I had with my boss Dan Buckley over lunch; we were saying, "What was it about Civil War that captured everyone’s imagination?" And we realized it was that it captured the zeitgeist of the day. So we just began shooting the shit about well, what is the zeitgeist now? We began to throw out some ideas of what we thought that was, and at that point I widened the circle to include Tom Brevoortand Brian Bendis. We just began to sculpt it a bit more, and at that point, you know, Dan turned to me and said, "Well you realize what we got? It’s Civil War II." And he was right. So, at that point then, we said, "Well the good news is we got a great story, the bad news is that we don’t have a hell of a lot of time to plan this." Total disclosure: if we had wanted to do a Civil War II tie-in into the movie window, we would have started about a year ago. [Laughs.]
I figured that!
We would not have started that quickly! There’s just no way, we’re too methodical and we plan too far in advance. But this was just an opportunity we just could not pass up.
And, I think it’s a very important story, you know, if you look back to [the first] Civil War, the reason that it captured the imagination of people beyond the comic book readers is that it used the vocabulary of superheroes to comment on the most pressing issue of the day. They tapped into the 9/11 anxiety and fears, understandable fears, and asked the question: How much of your freedom are you willing to give up for more security? In much the same way, Civil War II is going to ask a comparable question, and in fact more than one question.
Now when you say what’s going on in the world, I automatically think about the election season, with very strong opinions about Trump or Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Is that what you’re referring to?
No, actually the election is [going to be covered in] a series coming up that we’ve already teased about Loki that–
Exactly, VOTE LOKI. That series will in some way, shape or form, weave into Civil War II as a tie-in. I would say that’s going to be much more about electoral politics and the state of our union, and our political process and how far it’s fallen, perhaps?
Here at the office, we've been loving the info regarding Ta-Nehisi Coates' Black Panther series, which is due out in April. Will there be a situation where the ripples of Civil War II find their way into his story arc?
No. The story he wrote, he outlined about a year ago for us, and we have no interest in messing with that. It’s a beautiful, pure story. Now, it’s possible, you know Wil and Ta-Nehisi were talking about—he may have a Civil War story that he would tell during that time. It would likely function as a one-shot, an annual, something like that, or just a tie-in special.
What was it like working with Ta-Nehisi on this project?
It was effortless. I just want to point out that we, we were talking with Ta-Nehisi before Between the World and Me dropped and he became the National Book Award nominee and then eventual winner; before he got the MacArthur Genius grant. We were casting [for Black Panther], and we asked if he was interested in writing comics. I think he was actually surprised we were interested, [but] it seemed like perfect casting.
As far as scripting goes, he devoured the script we provided him. We showed him the format, and he wrote his first script. It was very, very good, and it got even better when he was working with the artist, Brian Stelfreeze. He just learned along the way how comics are written. And he’s bringing his voice. You’re going to definitely know it’s Ta-Nehisi writing this, you know?
Now you guys also cooked up three new Hip Hop Variants for Civil War II, and it was interesting to see that these were more old school with Naughty By Nature, Ultramagnetic MCs and Onyx. Were those covers picked for a specific reason?
You know, it’s a coincidence that they’re all old school. If you’ve seen the initiative itself, it spans everything from Schooly D to A$AP Rocky and Vince Staples—stuff that my son turned me on to. The long and short is that, no, it was coincidence.
I was absolutely determined to do an Ultramagnetic MCs cover. Massive Kool Keith fan; I’ve been listening to hip-hop since I was 11, you know, Sugarhill Gang! I was hunting for the perfect cover; we had Onyx on the back burner as well; Naughty By Nature, they all lent themselves to team books, and we wanted our first two Civil War covers to give people a peek at the potential rosters for these teams.
What's the feedback from the rappers who have been featured?
It’s crazy. We have been endorsed by and gotten love from Run the Jewels—Killer Mike was one of the first people to shout out his appreciation for what we’re doing. Posdnuos of De La Soul has become a friend at this point, he’s so into these things; Pete Rock, who already was a friend. We’ve gotten shout outs from Wale; Eminem gave a very, very nice shout out to us; God parted the clouds and Nas reached out [to say] how much he loved them. Lil B reached out, Kool Keith retweeted his; we got nothing but love from the hip hop community and I think they they get it. We’re two art forms communicating with one another, and it’s also an attempt to increase this dialogue that needs to be louder. The line between hip hop and comic books is razor thin, and it needs to be broken down completely, you know?
The bigger question is, is there any end in sight in terms of the Hip Hop Variants series?
No. They’re here to stay. The response to them has been huge. The mandate with this series originally was that every single "All-New, All-Different" Marvel launch would have a Hip Hop Variant, so we were very selective. We decided that every recording artist would get one cover, we would avoid the temptation to give A Tribe Called Quest five covers, or do seventeen different versions of Illmatic. We would just make sure every artist [got a variant] so that way you’d get a wide ranging variety: old school, new school, West Coast, East Coast, you know, trap lords, what have you. That was the goal, and it was so successful that now we’re at the point where we’re going take the first seventy covers [and make] a beautiful oversized coffee table book. That'll be volume one.
And the stuff that we’re doing now for Civil War II, and stuff we haven’t announced yet, will be volume two.
Finally, the trailer for Captain America: Civil War came out last week—what was it like to finally see Spider-Man make his appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
That footage touched my 12-year-old soul, because you know you’re looking at trailer, and you see the list of familiar characters pop up, and it’s stirring, it’s moving, it’s dramatic. Then you see Spider-Man arrive, and even though I knew he was in the movie, seeing him arrive like that, holding Cap’s shield and that kid’s voice, it just—I’ve been waiting to see a Spider-Man film tap into that awkward teenager thing that is suggested by that voice. So yeah, I was thrilled.