"Look out, everybody! The old farts are here!" declared writer Chris Claremont as he and fellow Marvel stalwart Peter David took the stage Sunday at Special Edition NYC for the "75 Years of Marvel" panel. MCing the gathering was Marvel Senior Editor Nick Lowe, who welcomed the crowd with hope for an eventual appearance from "New Mutants" artist Bob McLeod.
The discussion started with some official Marvel business as Lowe encouraged readers to give their two cents for the incoming Marvel 75th Anniversary Omnibus – a part of which will contain stories suggested by fans via the web. Artist Paolo Rivera also created a special Marvel 75 cover/poster, as Alex Ross also continues his streak of anniversary covers with a "Death of Wolverine" variant.
On the new story front, Lowe talked up the "Marvel 100th Anniversary" issues coming later in the summer, particularly setting aside time to praise Kathryn Immonen and Joanna Estep's "Fantastic Four" one-shot, which was just sent to the printer this week.
From there on, talk was firmly about the history of Marvel from the creators who were on the inside of the stories. Claremont said his two key Marvel experiences were picking up a copy of "Fantastic Four" #48 when he was in high school, in which Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the Watcher during "The Coming of Galactus," and then being hired to work at Marvel shortly after getting out of college. He said that for years, he was cribbing script style off that Galactus story, which not only threw tons of new characters on the table in three issues, but then wrapped the action within the first 12 pages of the final issue in order to shift to character subplots like Johnny Storm going to college. That lack of wasted story space in service of story beats guided Claremont.
"That's why 'Days of Future Past' only runs two issues – because that's all it needed," said the writer, adding that the difference between his comic and the recent film was that "one cost $25,000 and one cost $250 million." The legendary X-Men writer went on to say that the influence of that story stretched farther than he ever imagined.
The free-wheeling nature of the panel allowed for storytelling and joke making, as Claremont's description of how to pronounce "M'Kraan" (something like Micron with a Scottish brogue) led to David telling a story about how after teaching a fan to pronounce "Sienkiewicz" and "Nicieza," he told the youngster that the "K" in "Moon Knight" had to be said aloud because of the old Egyptian pronunciation.
For his own Marvel history, David said for years he wasn't allowed to read Marvel books because his father perceived them as being monster comics and inappropriate. Only later at a cousin's house did he ever read a Marvel book – a Lee/Kirby "FF" annual in which almost the entire Marvel Universe made an appearance. David said that the creator's craft in setting up even that giant issue with dozens of characters as one where a first-time reader could follow the action plainly stuck with him. As such, he's always worked to make every issue he writes open for a first timer while also not being repetitive in how he continually reintroduces the characters.
Asked if they had a favorite Marvel character that they didn't create, Claremont folded his hands behind his head and said, "Well, I guess I'm out!" to laughter. David picked his signature character in the Hulk, whose adventures he wrote for 12 years. "Things would go on in 'The Hulk' that I was not planning or developing, and things would transpire that led me there...it continually surprised me." David then went on to explain to the crowd that the exact number of Marvel characters Claremont had created was 703. The X-Men writer joked, "Fox owes me a lot."
The conversation turned to a humorous comparison of who between David and Claremont would talk more on a panel (David seemed to be winning), which then turned into a story about a panel years ago both were on with Tom DeFalco and Jim Owsley. Every single question was about the X-Men, to the point where David and Owsley read the paper as DeFalco dealt with the one fan who had a question about his "Team America" series. The question: What are you going to do to make "Team America" more like the X-Men?
On a modern front, when discussing favorite all-time artists, the pair of writers turned to an appreciation of Claremont's current "Nightcrawler" collaborator Todd Nauck. David recalled that the reason the artist got his start at Marvel was because David pitched him as a fill-in artist on "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man," and he's continued to be one of Marvel's fastest artists who doesn't lose his chops when hitting tight deadlines.
Speaking on their current work, Claremont joked, "Nightcrawler is back from the dead, and that almost never happens...he's renewing his age-old best friendship with Logan...he's reconnected with his old girlfriend about which I can say no more because you have to read the dramatic conclusion in issue #4. He and I are having a wonderful time seeing what characters and stories we can delicately step in front of."
David explained that his "All-New X-Factor" was inspired by the idea that in the real world, every corporation would want their own personal superheroes. The team now works for Serval Industries as a mix of old and new characters are occupying the franchise – though, of course, shakeups are expected as the book rounds out its first 12 issues and heads beyond into an incoming X-Men crossover.
Fan questions started out with a reader asking whether the new villain in "X-Factor" will be the overarching big bad for the rest of the series or just for a short time. David said that Memento Mori will only appear for the next three issues, with a door left open if there's a story later that he can come back for.
A young lady brought up the seeming influence the X-Men character Rogue had on the Disney hit "Frozen." Claremont said he didn't see that immediately when he saw the film.
With "Spider-Man 2099" on the way, David told a reader that more of Tiberius Stone's back story will be explored as Miguel O'Hara undertakes a mission to change the early years of his future father Tyler Stone.
A fan wanted to know if Claremont preferred Cyclops with Emma Frost or with Jean Grey. His response was to describe a recent moment he had seeing a panel from a modern X-Men comic that made Cyclops seem ineffectual. Claremont immediately thought Scott should be given more agency and confidence to save himself rather than wallow in self-pity.
A questioner asked what it was like for Claremont to come back to the X-Men's world after so many creators had changed the world, and the writer expressed satisfaction at playing with Nightcrawler as a character that is very flexible. "He's a person of extraordinary emotional depth trying to be as normal as a person can be, which is a challenge when you look like him," he said. "And it's just fun to play in the universe...it's a new world, and exploring a new world is quite an adventure, as it should be." It was quite humorous later on when Lowe had to explain to Claremont that Professor Xavier is still dead.