A post from my decade-old Marvel blog concerning how we coordinated character appearances across different titles.
Spent a bit too much of my time today dealing with a tempest-in-a-teapot involving multiple creators all wanting to use the same characters, and the inevitable personality clashes that resulted. We like to pass the characters around relatively freely, and have them turn up in all sorts of interesting places. But that does mean that we sometimes run into conflicts, where writer A wants to use a character that writer B has just killed off, or put in the hospital, or changed into a slug. Conversely, you sometimes get one writer who wants to do a storyline revealing that character A is a hard-line right-winger, while another writer just finished up a tale in which that same character is a left-leaning lefty.
So we’ve got some guidelines about how this all works out. Principle among them is that each character has a home title or a home office, through which their appearances should all be coordinated, so as to minimize conflicts. At a level above that are the Executive Editors, Axel Alonso and myself, keeping a broader eye on the various goings-on in our divisions. And above that is Joe Q as EIC and Dan Buckley as Publisher. Book and office assignments can change, however, as the titles we’re publishing change or the direction we’re planning or hoping to take certain characters in changes. To use an example close to home, once upon a time, in order to have Wolverine guest star in AVENGERS, I would have had to run every script past the X-office. But since Wolverine is now a regular fixture in NEW AVENGERS, that criteria is lessened, provided that I’m keeping up with the major events in the X-titles as regards Wolverine, and don’t do anything to massively conflict with them. And because of the success of NEW AVENGERS, it would take a larger consensus to pull him out of the series permanently-it’s no longer something that the X-editor could do unilaterally. It’s the same thing with the Kingpin, who started life as a Spider-Man villain, and then transitioned into being more important to Daredevil’s world. (None of today’s faux-drama had anything to do with these two examples, by the way.)
The writers and the editors have different responsibilities when it comes to the characters. This isn’t as absolute as I’m about to make it sound, but as a broad guideline it breaks up this way: the writer’s first loyalty is to the story he or she is trying to tell. It’s a short-term viewpoint, even if you’re talking about a writer who may remain on a given title for years. The editor’s first loyalty, on the other hand, is to the book (or the property, if you choose to view it that way.) This will inevitably lead to occasions where a given creator won’t be able to do precisely what they’d like to do with a character in a given situation-kill them, turn them into an axe murderer, give them a sex-change operation-regardless of how good that final story might be. On the other hand, the guidelines aren’t absolute-there are times when killing a given character seems exciting, when making somebody an axe murderer opens up new storytelling possibilities, and giving somebody a sex change brings new energy or insight or attention to a moribund character. So there’s never any harm in making your play and stating your case. Whenever possible, we’d rather say yes than say no. Especially since nothing kills the long-term quicker than a character or a book going stale, so there’s always a need for new, fresh, exciting approaches to shake things up. We just can’t always do all of them all at the same time.
PS: on another note entirely, the first round of competition in the Make-Your-Own-Motion-Comic competition closed today over at Aniboom.com/marvel, and a bunch of the entries are really something to see. But don’t take my word for it–click the link and take a look for yourself!