The lights dimmed upon a packed house as a special montage of Marvel animation clips flickered onto the projector of one of Comic-Con's largest discussion rooms. Images from "Wolverine and the X-Men," "Iron Man: Armored Adventures" the upcoming "Superhero Squad" and BET's "Black Panther" plus past shows and direct-to-video releases such as "Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes" and the recent "Hulk Vs," shot across the screen to the cheers of each series' fans.
Moderating the panel was Josh Fine, Marvel Animation writer and producer, who introduced Eric Rollman, President of Animation for Marvel Studios; Keith Dawkins, general manager of Nicktoons Network; Cort Lane, producer of "Iron Man: Armored Adventures;" Craig Kyle, writer of "Wolverine and the X-Men;" Greg Johnson, writer of "Wolverine and the X-Men;" Jamie Simone, voice director fpr Marvel's direct-to-video films; Nolan North, the voice of Deadpool; Steve Blum, the voice of Wolverine; Masao Maruyama, head of Mad House Studios; Alex Yeh, chief operating office of Mad House; and comics author Warren Ellis, who will write the upcoming Marvel anime.
"We're really pushing to make this the greatest decade of Marvel Animation you've ever seen," said Fine as he introduced Rollman and Dawkins to discuss Marvel's latest animated projects.
Dawkins began by describing his love of Marvel animation, which he initially thought began in his childhood, but later culminated during his college years in the '90s when "X-Men" and "Spider-Man" aired. "I'm excited as fan with being in charge of bringing these things to fans.
When asked about how Marvel's animated properties compare with their predecessors from the past decade, Rollman pointed out that while animation technology has improved, a lot of creative talent has stayed on in since the '90s, making the biggest change an internal one. "Marvel is really a fully synergized company now and the animation has been produced to compliment our robust film slate.”
Fine proceeded to walk the audience through Marvel's continued summer and fall programming with an update on "Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes," which is moving from Cartoon Network to Nicktoons to join Iron Man and Wolverine this fall in its full 26-episode format, including episodes that have never aired in the United States.
Next up was "Iron Man Armored Adventures," which the panel noted had the biggest premier of any show ever on Nicktoons network. "When we create these shows, we look at them like the comics, each one of these worlds has their own unique tone and feel and we like to give you the widest breadth of the experience, with Iron man it's one of the biggest reinventions we've done in awhile," said Kyle, describing why the show had to abandon some of the adult themes from the Robert Downey Jr. film, "It's a great way to translate the hero we love that allow the kids on the couch next to you to enjoy these shows."
The team continued to discuss the Iron Man series, previewing a clip of the teenage Tony Stark battling a new version of the Black Panther, who will appear in an upcoming episode. New villains will also appear in the new episodes, including the giant robot Ultimo, Ghost, the Controller, Living Laser, MODOK and more, who will eventually all crossover in an all out war with Iron Man and SHIELD.
Iron Man will also debut some familiar suits in new episodes, including his stealth armor, arctic armor, space armor and a giant suit to battle a certain jade giant.
"Wolverine and the X-Men" was next on the agenda with a sentinel battle previewed on the screen. The panel addressed the continuity differences between the animated series other incarnations of the team and also had their voice actors comment on performing for the show. "It was amazing, a little kid's dream come true for me – as a comic fan, what could be better. Just sitting in the room listening to those voices come alive was just amazing," said Blum.
"It's a wonderful cast and a pleasure to work with them," said North.
Kyle added, "[Making the show] was about putting Wolverine in a place where he can't solve problems just with his claws, taking a character who never wanted to be a leader…"
“Yes I did," Blum interrupted in the voice of Wolverine, to audience laughter.
The show will venture into darker territory soon with Angel becoming Archangel after making a deal with Sinister. Wolverine will get captured and copied by the sentinels, who will build laser-clawed "Tracker" sentinels. Also, new characters will debut in season two including Havok, Magik, and Deadpool.
The panel then transitioned to Marvel Animation's upcoming anime projects from Mad House studios, but not before closing with a sneak peek of "Planet Hulk," based on Greg Pak's comic book storyline, which will hit stores in February.
Maruyama, Yeh and Ellis were called up and took the stage to applause. "Shut up," said Ellis with a smile.
The panel described the anime as a reimagining of key characters from the Marvel Universe intended for both American anime fans as well as cultures from other parts of the world that may be more familiar with Eastern animation. The short Wolverine teaser showed a somewhat handsome version of the character killing ninjas with glimmering claws with long hair that flowed across the screen. The climax occurred as Wolverine tore apart a Japanese demon before landing atop cherry blossom petals as his foe disintegrated into ravens. A 2010 release date appeared on the screen.
Maruyama was asked about his take on Marvel's characters, which Yeh translated from Japanese, "He loves everything, he just can't decide."
Fine asked Ellis how he's gauged fan reaction since the news broke about his involvement with the anime. "I've got no idea. What's the fan reaction been?" Ellis asked a cheering crowd. "Three people like the idea and the rest of them are drunk.”
"What if we're both?" asked a fan.
"Then you're special," Ellis responded.
The Iron Man anime was shown next, featuring a suit similar to the Iron Man film, with mecha-style moving parts popping out and rotating as the suit powered up. Iron Man took flight, engaging black armored assailants, swirling missiles and a repulsor ray confrontation with an armored villain.
"That is one of the most ridiculously awesome pieces of animation I've ever seen," said Fine, who followed up asking Maruyama his vision for the property.
"The biggest challenge is how we came to a perfect marriage of Marvel properties and anime," Yeh translated. "If you guys don't like it, probably I will get fired after this? Can I stay here?" The crowd laughed, enjoying his modesty.
Ellis was asked the difference between working in anime and comics books, which he responded to in a cryptic fashion, sighing, "The money is better. It's actually a lot better. I could actually buy you. If I've got my Blackberry, I could sell you to medical science." The writer explained that he liked the kind of visuals that can only work in animation. Ellis also clarified that the animation fans were seeing was just test animation to show the look of the film, and does not depict scenes from his scripts.
Ellis went on to clarify his vision for the stories: Iron Man is set in Japan and centers on an unexpected clash of eastern and western cultures and history, particularly the history of weapons design. Wolverine will partly be based on older Chris Claremont and Frank Miller Wolverine series. Ellis also leaked that in addition to Wolverine and Iron Man movies, there's been talk of Blade and X-Men anime adaptations.
To round out the anime news, Kline asked Maruyama when American audiences could expect the movies to arrive. Maruyama responded via Yeh, "That's kind of a very challenging project, if you guys don't approve I am relieved that I can retire, but if you guys do like it, it's coming out in 2010."
The panel explained that they'd have more info on the upcoming “Super Hero Squad” at its own panel on Saturday with voice talent Tom Kenny ("Sponge Bob Squarepants") and Stan Lee, who will voice the Mayor of Super Hero City.
The panel concluded with a preview of an upcoming Thor cartoon set in the Thunder God's pre-Mjolnir days as a teen Asgardian. Dressed in vest similar to Thunderstrike, Thor teams up with Loki to capture the sword of the fire demon Surthur, inadvertently stirring up a war between Asgard and the frost giants. "Thor: Tales of Asgard" will arrive on DVD and Blu-ray in 2011.