The first panel of the 2010 Emerald City ComiCon marked another kind of first for one of the con’s major guests – Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada. “This is my very first panel anywhere near the Seattle area,” he told the packed convention room who broke into applause.
On the dais, the head of Marvel was surrounded by a wealth of talent, which included writers Matt Fraction, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Kieron Gillen, Joe Kelly, C.B. Cebulski, Rick Remender, Jeff Parker, and Paul Tobin. Quesada told the enthusiastic crowd that this was their panel, and quickly opened up the floor to questions. Unfortunately, the first fan to the microphone opted not to pitch a softball…
“To what level do I have to debase myself to get Spider-Man and Mary Jane back together?” The fan then threw out a couple of suggestions, including “I’ll even take a guest spot on ‘Heroes.’”
Quesada smiled and acknowledged the controversial un-marrying of the couple; however, he added that they have no plans to undo the undone. The EIC explained, “We worked too hard to get Peter to this point. I can understand why some of you want to see the characters grow old, but we have to manage these characters for the future – a future beyond you and me. A married Peter Parker – as cool as that may seem – from a creative standpoint, it handcuffs the character. It’s a very problematic thing for Peter because it cuts him off and makes Peter the oldest person in the book.
“It’s very tough to write because you want to see Peter and M.J. happy, and in a book where, really at its crust, is a soap opera about Peter’s life, the minute he gets everything he wants and life is happy, the stories get boring. So how do you create [the conflict the drama needs]? You have Mary Jane and Peter butt heads. But now you’re dealing with a marriage that isn’t a very happy marriage and they’re constantly bickering. From a story standpoint, you’ve gotta trust me on this, it sucked writing.”
The fan then countered that reading current stories of a single Peter Parker feels like treading over territory readers have been through before. Quesada responded, “I totally understand. But while it may feel like a retread to you, if I talked to a ten-year-old right now who just started reading Spider-Man a year and a half ago, this is totally brand new. And when you look at every iteration of Spider-Man out now – the movies, the cartoons – he’s a single guy.”
One of the next questions tossed to the Marvel crew involved the coming of the next “big thing”…or, more accurately, the lack of a next big thing. The attendee at the microphone asked, “How do you feel about the coming of the Heroic Age? How will it be different than all these events that have come before it?”
Joe Quesada answered, “The Heroic Age started with a manifesto that came from doing a lot of big company-wide crossovers…and we just needed to get off that treadmill. It felt like we were just feeding the beast: one big event, then another big one, and then it became a matter of diminishing returns. So the challenge was to take the individual books and see each of them as an individual franchise. The idea is that while we may not have one big tentpole event, we'll give you ten great stories to choose from. It gives our talent a chance to breathe a little bit, too.”
The fan then followed up this by asking the writers, “The heroes have had to act as heroes in secret for so long, how will it be to write them with the world at their back instead of against them?”
Bendis hopped on this query and said, “I love it…but now, just because they’re all together, just because the world isn’t in danger, doesn’t mean that [there’s nothing left to do]. Blue sky and happiness is a wonderful thing, but must be defended and avenged…and that is a blast to write.”
On the topic of events and stories, the next attendee up wanted to know more about the creative process in developing these larger stories and the value gained from Marvel’s creative retreats. Bendis answered again and said he loved springboarding ideas. He also said that “if an idea can’t survive a creative summit, it won’t survive the internet. And it’s got to survive Jeph Loeb…”
The crowd laughed in response, while the next fan stepped up to ask about another of Marvel’s creators who wasn’t present at the con. The person at the microphone wanted to know if readers will be seeing more work from writer Dan Slott – outside of “Amazing Spider-Man” – now that “Mighty Avengers” is ending. Quesada seemed to smile knowingly and assured the individual that he would be seeing more from Slott before adding, “Stay tuned.”
Another pending item that a fan wanted to know more about was Fraction’s upcoming run on “Thor.” The writer jokingly told the attendee it would be “Spacy, big, and Jewish.” He then clarified and added that he loved the end of the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby run on “Thor.” Fraction said he had a feeling Kirby was more of a guiding hand in the title toward the end of the duo’s run as the book was dealing with things like the Fourth World and the Eternals' home. He fondly reminisced, “There’s literally an issue where Thor and Galactus sit on the moon and talk about how hard it is to be Galactus.”
Since the subject of Thor came up, naturally a fan was curious about the character’s movie which is currently in production. Quesada and Bendis grinned, but told the audience that they couldn’t reveal any secrets. That said, Quesada did say that he’s seen the lead actor in some of the costume tests and offered, “If you’re a fan of classic Thor, you’ll love it.” Bendis also teased that seen a smidgen of Sif (played by actress Jaimie Alexander) and said she’s going to “rock that movie.”
Next up, an attendee asked if Disney’s purchase of Marvel was going to change the inner workings of the company. Quesada replied that, “Marvel runs as Marvel runs.” Although, Bendis did admit to the crowd, “We’re now getting paid in Mickey Mouse-shaped Rice Krispies treats.”
The fan then went for broke and asked, “Any chance of a Darkwing Duck team-up?” From the panel’s laughter, it’s pretty clear that a “Darkwing/Deadpool” team-up isn’t in the offing…
Another person at the microphone asked Bendis how he was going to bring “New Avengers” to a close in light of the upcoming relaunch. The writer said he couldn’t reveal too much because he couldn’t give away the ending of “Siege,” but stated that “coming up is the ‘New Avengers Finale’ which is going to be drawn by Bryan Hitch and it’s triple-sized and it’s awesome. Then in June, ‘New Avengers’ is back with a new #1 with art by Stuart Immonen and it’s going to be great.”
Quesada suddenly looked at all the people on the dais with him and noticed that a few of them seemed to be laughing a bit too hard. He asked what they were doing. Brubaker pointed out that, in addition to water and snacks, the con had provided them paper pads and pens. Knowing that the DC panel followed them, they were leaving some playful messages for the distinguished competition, such as…
“Captain America could kick Superman’s ass.”
“You know what the world needs? More plastic rings…”
Quesada chuckled, but shook his head and said, “The worst part is they’re going to think I asked you guys to do that.”
To get back on track, Bendis then answered a question about his upcoming “Avengers” series which follows “Siege.” He explained that the first villain they fight is Kang, and it’s “going to be awesome.” The writer then brought up the fact that every story dealing with Kang has characters worrying about the space-time continuum. “Well, Kang breaks it,” Bendis said with a grin. He added that as a result of this break, readers are going to see characters like Maestro, Next Avengers from the “Avengers” cartoon, Spider-Girl, and folks from the Age of Apocalypse.
The fan that came after this said he wanted to know more about “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man.” Luckily, Bendis had news on that front as well. He said that in the upcoming issue #9, the government comes to Peter’s high school to take Kitty away as part of the mutant registration going on in the Ultimate Marvel Universe. In addition, an “Ultimate Chameleon-like character” comes and pretty much destroys Peter’s life. And if all that weren’t enough, Bendis said he’s written the scene fans have been waiting for: Peter gets a haircut!
The next person to approach the microphone introduced himself as a U.S. soldier who had served two tours in Iraq. The crowd and panelists applauded as he looked to Quesada and asked the following: “I’m here and I’ve brought issue #602 of ‘Captain America.’ As a military serviceman, I’ve signed away my freedom of speech. And I kind of rely on those who have it to use it responsibly. What do you think the responsibility of comic books is when it comes to touchy political subjects, and…this is a great issue. Why did you apologize for it?”
The audience clapped again, and Quesada nodded his head, as he was familiar with the “Tea Bag” controversy from the issue. He then asked the soldier if he had read Quesada’s response to the criticism the issue received. Marvel’s EIC explained, “What I said was that we made a mistake in identifying a group as an actual existing group in America…and that’s really the truth. It’s a complete accident what we did. And if we had used an ACORN or a Moveon.org sign, people from the other side of the spectrum would’ve been offended and it would’ve been just as wrong. So, in that sense, I did apologize, because we made a mistake – we screwed up. And that’s the truth.
“But then…the person who made these claims and said we had nefarious motives behind this claimed that we were calling him a racist and all these sorts of things, and that’s where I really drew the line. I said I think you’ve gone way too far. And I didn’t hear him apologize for those claims, because there’s nothing in that book that says that.
“The truth of the matter is we didn’t mean to single out any particular group. But the thing that upset me was that when the media ran with it, it was like ‘EIC of Marvel Apologizes” but they didn’t read the remainder of the apology.”
Ed Brubaker (the writer of the issue in question) added, “I grew up on military bases, and the first place I bought ‘Captain America’ was at the PX in Gitmo. I grew up in the ‘70s reading ‘Captain America’ comics, where Captain America and the Falcon were always talking about race relations – I don't know if we could do that today with the way the media works. For me, I just try to write the characters the way that I perceive them. I just wanted to show that the mood in the country has shifted this way. That's all I wanted to say.”
Brubaker then signed the soldier’s issue of “Captain America” and shook his hand.
The last query of the panel was from a fan wanting to know about various teams in the Marvel Universe that hadn’t been heard from in awhile. Cebulski was happy to jump on this query and answer about the teams in question. He said that the Young Avengers would be seen “sooner than later,” the Loners didn’t have plans but were “always a possibility,” and with regards to the New Warriors, fans should “wait and see…”
With that, fans gave a warm round of applause for the Marvel panelists and headed out of the room with the “Heroic Age” on their minds…and possibly a patriotic feeling in their hearts.