“I don’t want this to be a selling panel,” said Marvel Comics editor Tom Brevoort at Sunday’s Marvel: Your Universe panel at Baltimore Comic Con. “I want this to be a talking panel.” Joined by Dan Slott, Brian Bendis, C.B. Cebulski and a crowded room of fans, the editor led an hour-long discussion of Marvel Comics — what we love, and what we hate.
Brevoort opened with the perennial subject of company-wide events. Are there too many? Is there event fatigue? Several fans said they liked the events, but they follow too soon one after the other. There are too many books to buy. “How about some breathing room?” said one fan.
Bendis said there’s some breathing room after Secret Invasion.
Another fan complained that other books often don’t acknowledge what’s going on in the big events. Brevoort said they try to promote event participation a volunteer basis, in terms of creators. They send out a position statement on what’s going on, and the individual writers can join in to the extent they want. “You don’t want to get in the way of whatever story they’re trying to tell,” Brevoort said.
Another fan said he quit comics in the nineties because of big splash pages and lack of content, but that he’s now loving the big events because of all the story content.
The discussion turned to the reusing of old ideas, with some fans saying it occurs to often in superhero comics. Bendis countered with a story of taking his daughter to see “The Incredible Hulk” movie. “She was blown to the back of the theater!” he said. “For those of us who‘ve been reading comics all our lives, ‘Hulk Smash!’ is a simple concept and we’re all used to it, but the audience is still there that want to see that.”
On the other hand, comics can’t be stagnant. “We have to keep moving.” said Brevoort. “We can‘t just have guys punching each other for twenty pages, and then they have cake!”
“Thanks for blowing the end of ‘New Ways to Die!’” joked Slott.
A fan asked about balancing creative and business decisions, triggering a long discussion. “Well-done stories will sell!” declared Brevoort. “So we just try to find the best people who can tell the best stories and put out the best books we can.
“We’re kind of shielded from the business end,” added Cebulski.
“You can’t chase the sales,” said Bendis. “It’s a very freeing moment for you when you realize you can never make everybody happy. I just write a book I would buy. Beyond that, man, it’s out of my hands!”
An audience member quoted Peter David as saying that every time there was a change in “Hulk” while he was writing the title, it was because sales were dropping. “That led to some of my weaker She-Hulk stories,” Slott said. “I listened to what people were saying online.” Some fans said they hated “the lawyer stuff” and wanted to see She-Hulk “punching people,” so Slott acquiesced. Then people said, “What happened to the lawyer stuff? Why’s she punching people?”
“On the other hand,” said Bendis, “We put Wolverine and Spider-Man on the cover of ‘New Avengers’ as often as possible. We’re not stupid!”
Regarding work ethic, Bendis related a personal anecdote. “If I ever feel like not writing, I remember working at McDonalds in college,” he explained. “There was a woman working there who’d been there 25 years, and one day I knew I had to get out. On my last day, my manager told me, ‘Brian, you’ll always have a place at McDonalds.’ To this day, that sentence echoes in my head: ‘Always Have A Place at McDonalds.’ So I sit down and write my ass off.”
Bendis said he often asks himself, “Why do I want to tell this story?” “What am I hoping to accomplish?” He’d planned for Ronin to be Matt Murdock in “New Avengers,” but ultimately decided it wasn’t the time. Bedis said he’d love to put Daredevil in the Avengers, but not now.
That led into a discussion of how Daredevil seems removed from the rest of the Marvel Universe, which led to the subject of continuity. “Continuity is a double-edged sword,” said Brevoort. “It can keep out people who don’t follow this stuff, but it’s the ultimate catnip for those of us who do.”
“You don’t have to mention the continuity all the time, “ said Slott, “but you shouldn’t contradict it. Continuity can’t be the be-all and end-all of the story.” This statement won Slott a round of applause.
A fan called for the return of footnotes in comics, giving an example of a recent event in “New Avengers” that confused him and made him wish for some exposition. Bendis pointed out that the footnotes have been replaced by Wikipedia. “Back when Stan Lee was writing, we didn’t have the internet,” Bendis said. “Now, you can find out anything you want to know in a few minutes.”
As the hour drew to a close, Brevoort went into Lightning Round mode, asking what Marvel could be doing better. “Be honest but not mean, because we’re not sturdy,” he said.
One fan called for more recap books to bring latecomers up to speed on the big events. Brevoort said they do that when the situation seems to call for it, but didn’t see them ever doing a monthly recap book. He suggested online recaps, which seemed to satisfy the fans who wanted recaps.
A fan said that DC is doing great books for little kids while Marvel isn’t. Brevoort mentioned the Marvel Adventures line, and said there’s got more kids’ stuff on the way.
Finally, a fan asked for more magic characters and magic stories. Bendis said Dr. Strange is no longer the Master of the Mystic Arts, which begs the question: “Who is?”
“Luke Cage!” said Brevoort.
The identity of Marvel’s new Master of the Mystic Arts will be explored in the pages of “New Avengers” next year.
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