|Tom Brevoort and Jim McCann at the Marvel: Your Universe panel|
More a campfire session than a panel, the "Marvel: Your Universe" event at New York Comic Con found comic book fans in an open discussion of all things related to Marvel Comics. Executive editor Tom Brevoort hosted the panel, and as it was the last panel of NYCC, he told the attendees to cram all of the chairs towards the front of the room and gather around for an intimate conversation. Also attending the panel were writers Dan Slott ("Mighty Avengers"), Jim McCann ("New Avengers: The Reunion") and C.B. Cebulski ("X-Infernus").
One of the biggest topics of conversation focused on "event fatigue." Fans complained that Marvel's unrelenting barrage of event comics and tie-ins made it impossible to afford a regular comic book habit in the midst of a recession.
"My job is to make you wanna read comics every month," Brevoort replied. "And sort of what you're saying is, 'You're making the comics too good! They're too exciting! I have to buy them every month!' I'm very happy about this! This is what it's supposed to be!"
A fan complained that events are too predictable, going so far as to say that he could predict exactly how Dark Reign will end. Dan Slott laughed the claim off. "One of the things I like to hear is when people go, 'Oh, Spider-Man's gonna make it through that!' Of course he's gonna make it through it! We're putting out a lot of [Spider-Man] books!"
"I do like to see [Marvel's heroes] put through the ringer, but they've pretty much been in the ringer since 'House of M,'" another fan responded.
Slott sympathized, likening the phenomenon to one of his favorite shows, "Battlestar Galactica." He'll often shout at the screen, "C'mon! Just win one!"
|Tom Brevoort talking with Maevel fans|
Another example Slott used was "Die Hard," where Bruce Willis is constantly getting abused throughout the film. "And then you get to that one moment where he's got the gun, and he's right there with Hans, and you get to that moment where you're at the top of the roller coaster and you go… ahh!" Slott feigned a sigh of relief. "He's in control! He's in control for just that one little minute and it gives you that breather. I think you're gonna see stuff like that in lots of different books. Even though there's Dark Reign, one of the things we're selling 'Mighty Avengers' on is they're the light in the Dark Reign. They're going to have Avengery victories even though Dark Reign's going on."
Despite the back-and-forth, a fan put the situation in perspective, saying modern geekdom is a paradise when compared to the '90s. "Remember seeing 'Batman and Robin?'" he asked the crowd to a myriad of groans. "Remember just wanting to die?"
When one fan offered his gratitude for Marvel treating their characters with more respect, citing Grant Morrison's "New X-Men" and Bendis's "Daredevil" as examples, Jim McCann was quick to attribute that to Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada. The room applauded in agreement.
But the love was ended quickly with the dreaded topic of character deaths. "It seems like someone dies and they come back in two years," one fan complained.
"Right, like Batman," Brevoort agreed to laughs.
When asked how fans felt about superhero deaths in general, a few attendees clamored for the return of Steve Rogers. One fan retorted, "Let Steve rest, he's been Cap for sixty years!"
|Event fatigue was a hot topic at the Marvel: Your Universe panel|
Another fan evoked a line from Brian K. Vaughan's second volume of "Runaways," where a character mentioned, "Nobody cared about Hawkeye until he died."
"I feel like that's true," the fan continued. "I was never a big Wasp fan, but I appreciate her contribution to the story [of 'Secret Invasion'] now that she is dead. Sometimes it's necessary. And as long as it's well written, keep doing what you're doing." The audience applauded in agreement.
Many fans in the room expressed their distaste for Jeph Loeb's writing on "Hulk" and "Ultimatum." One person referred to Loeb as the "800-pound gorilla in the room," later asking if the writer only had a job at Marvel because his books sell well but "aren't that good."
Brevoort came to Loeb's defense, citing The Kid's Comic Book Reviews, a blog featuring comic reviews from a 7-year-old child. "He loves Jeph's stuff! He loves 'Hulk' [because] every issue the Hulk fights somebody, there's a big smash-up and he throws somebody into the moon! This kid can't get enough of that! And that excitement and energy … there's a place for that."
One audience member seemed to think that Marvel was headed for another breakdown period ala the '90s. He praised the company for roping in old readers but argued that they aren't doing enough to appeal to new buyers.
"We've got a huge digital comic outreach program," Brevoort defended. "We've got the whole 'Marvel Adventures' line that we distribute through Scholastic and book stores … we're doing pretty good."
|Jeph Loeb works like "Hulk" and "Ultimatum," though often criticized, continue to be top-sellers for Marvel|
Jim McCann pointed to the success of Marvel's "Dark Tower" series as an example of expanding its audience. "[Retailers] are seeing people come [into their stores] that they've never seen come in. That book is consistently in the top 10 or 20, and it's not a lot of people in this room. We're getting new people in comics."
The questioner insisted that Marvel should take one of its core books – "New Avengers" was an example – and to use that as a window into the world of comics for potential buyers outside of the direct market.
"Not every comic is for every reader," Brevoort said. "Thinking that I can make an outreach to everyone in the world with just 'New Avengers' is, I think, a fairly narrow point of view. I think that we should make comics for everybody. For young kids, for 80-year-old people, we should make comics of every size, shape and type that we can sell. We're making every effort that we can to do that."
He pointed to Marvel's Free Comic Book Day offering, an Avengers story featuring Thor by Brian Bendis and Jimmy Cheung, as an example of using their big guns to lure people in.
"In a comic book store," the detractor retorted. "It's a free comic book in a comic book store. My girlfriend doesn't go to a comic book store."
"Then you should get a new girlfriend!" shouted another fan, effectively ending the intelligent debate.
Another type of fatigue came up, that of Wolverine. "That's been going on since I was just a reader back in the '80s," said Brevoort. "You look back now and it was like, 'Wow, he's in two books! That's crazy! How can he possibly be in two books!' It's always the sort of thing that we say: we give you want you want and what you ask for, and people like to read about Wolverine. We publish a lot of books every month and books that Wolverine stars in tend to do better … you vote with your wallet."
|"Spider-Man: One More Day" continues to be a contentious subject for Marvel fans|
Brevoort then posed a question to the audience that he described as a potentially difficult topic: "What are the other guys doing better than we are?"
Obviously referring to DC Comics, one person felt that Marvel has taken continuity for granted. "I think [DC] did a better job of things making sense, not slapping people in the face. I really didn't like the 'Spider-Man' retcon … I left because of that," he said, referring to the “One More Day” storyline where Spider-Man’s marriage was magically erased.
"DC keeps their characters true," another fan stated. "I don't mind that you grow a character like Peter Parker through 'Civil War' as he matured. And then Aunt May [is shot] and he gets darker and everything, and then it's the Brand New Day."
McCann posed a scenario: if Spidey had followed through on his promise to suffocate the Kingpin by webbing up his throat in the "Back in Black" arc, would that have been true to the character? Some fans seemed to think yes, given the direction of Parker at the time.
"Taking Spidey apart like that would be as crazy as making Barry Allen The Flash again," Brevoort joked.
One female audience member felt insulted by Brand New Day, saying it essentially told her that married characters couldn't be interesting. "I'm a woman. I want to get married some day. I don't like being told that I'm going to be boring when I'm married."
Brevoort argued that some characters work as being married, and Spidey just wasn't one of them. Still, there are characters that'll stay married and even more characters that will get married in the future. "Daredevil will get married again and again and again until we get it right," Brevoort joked.
|Jim McCann and Marvel fans credit Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada for bringing visionary creators like Grant Morrison and Brian Michael Bendis to books like "New X-Men" and "Daredevil"|
"DC also has stronger female characters," the woman continued. "Marvel has Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman, which you were building up but it turned out she was a Skrull!" However, she did admit that the Runaways have a solid female roster.
"What happened to Jessica Jones?" another woman asked. "She was the best character in the universe, and then she got married and it was like, 'My baby, my baby, my baby!' Nobody gives a shit!" Fans were then alerted of an in-development new "Alias" series from Brian Bendis and Michael Gaydos as announced at the Cup O' Joe panel earlier.
Another plus for DC was their graphic novel work and their Vertigo line, which Brevoort and McCann agreed put out excellent books such as "Y: The Last Man" and "Fables." Cebulski pointed out Marvel's "Criminal" and "Powers" as competition for Vertigo.
"I think DC will do riskier things than you'll do sometimes," said one fan, citing the psychadellic "Final Crisis" versus the easily accessible "Secret Invasion," though he admitted that the bold choice "didn't work out for them."
"A lot of the time, [DC] will go out on limbs," he continued. "And they'll crash and burn spectacularly."
Brevoort prefaced his next comment with his desire to not turn the panel into a DC bashing. "I think so much of that has to do with [DC] just flailing around randomly," he hypothesized. "And if you flail around randomly, eventually you're gonna hit something. [Sometimes] they hit something and it works."
|Acclaimed Icon books like "Powers" and "Criminal" are Marvel's answer to Vertigo|
Other fans clamored for Marvel to beef up their animated universe, pointing to Bruce Timm's DC-based cartoons "Justice League" and "Batman: The Animated Series" as examples. There was a general sense of longing for the days of the '90s "X-Men" series, though one fan conceded that "The Spectacular Spider-Man" was a good show.
Finally, a fan denounced Marvel due to its thrashing of the Ultimate line in "Ultimatum." "I started reading Marvel with the Ultimate universe, and I will end reading it with Jeph Loeb's bullshit!"
"At the end of the day, that's fair," Brevoort offered. "If what we're doing is not to your taste – if you don't like it – not reading it is a good alternative."
It was a surprisingly refreshing answer that seemed to disarm the questioner, so much so that Jim McCann was able to convince him to give the line another shot with "Ultimate Avengers" and "Ultimate Spider-Man" later in the year.
By the end of the panel, the original population of the room was reduced significantly. Those who remained were treated to a complimentary variant printing of the newly released "Black Panther" #1.