Marvel Comics has recently launched a line of prose novels dedicated to adapting some of their most popular storylines including “Civil War,” “New Avengers: Breakout,” “Iron Man: Extremis” and “Astonishing X-Men: Gifted.” On hand at New York Comic Con to discuss Marvel’s prose line and their contributions to it were writers Peter David, Alisa Kwitney and Marie Javins, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso and line editor and “Civil War” prose writer Stuart Moore. Sales & Communications Coordinator James Viscardi moderated the panel.
According to Alonso, the initial idea for the prose novel line came from Marvel’s Senior Vice-President for Sales, David Gabriel. From there, they developed the notion to create a shared universe throughout the prose novels themselves, though they emphasized the continuity between novels is loose. The universe was described by Moore as “sort of a hybrid of the comics and movie universes.” This frees up writers to do different things with the stories they are adapting, making them different from the source material; for instance, Spider-Man will not be married during “Civil War,” changing many of his motivations as a result.
As to why, as the editor, Moore chose to write “Civil War” himself, he explained that with its huge cast of characters the story would be difficult adapt. “It had to be done, so I did it myself,” he said.
Alonso stated Peter David was one of the first people thought of for the prose line, due to his extensive experience in writing novelizations of stories from other media and for his work on the series “X-Factor.” This experience gave him the familiarity with mutants necessary to adapt Joss Whedon’s “Astonishing X-Men: Gifted” storyline. David added that his writing style is a lot like Whedon’s, joking, “Since I started writing first, you could say his writing style is a lot like mine.” David explained his natural tendency with adaptations is to be as faithful to the original text as possible, but Moore urged him to go beyond what Whedon wrote and add his own take to the story.
Alisa Kwitney is writing “New Avengers: Breakout” and when asked about changes she made to the story, she joked “I did it to piss everyone off!” Kwitney compared writing these adaptations to being part of Reform Judaism. “Sometimes you have to have a little bacon,” she said. To that end, Hawkeye, who was dead at the time of the comics storyline, will appear in her book. She mentioned she found it strange that on superhero teams there is often only one woman. “Like we’re some sort of strange mutant offshoot.” To balance things out, Kwitney added the familiar Black Widow to the mix, portraying her as coming to the United States from Russia for the first time. She also wants to add balance to the portrayals of the female characters, saying, “It’s not like you’re going to see them in a pillow fight.” In response, David referenced a tale of walking into the lobby of DragonCon and upon seeing a dozen Slave Leias in a massive pillowfight, asked himself, “Didn’t I have this dream when I was 22?”
Marie Javins is still working on her “Iron Man: Extremis” novel, stating one major change from the original storyline is Tony Stark’s identity will already be public knowledge. Javins shared her approach to writing Tony Stark, commenting she’s channeling a mix of “Extremis” writer Warren Ellis and Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr..
Alonso emphasized Marvel is working hard to make the novels both accessible to new readers as well as adding something new for those who have already read the comic versions. Echoing this point, Moore mentioned the first chapter of “Civil War’s” prose edition contains completely new scenes, added to bridge the gap left by the absence of the months-long build-up to the event in comic book form.
The panelists fielded questions from the audience, including what the writers are enjoying most when writing the novels. Kwitney said her biggest surprise in writing “New Avengers: Breakout” is how much she’s enjoyed working with Spider-Man. Javins joked that she comes from hillbilly roots and has therefore enjoyed writing the villain of her “Extremis” novel whom she describes as a “drug-addled hillbilly.” Moore said he took pride in following through with “Civil War” in terms of finding a political balance, admitting he and most of the readers personally felt Captain America was right in his opposition to the Super-Hero Registration Act.
David mentioned a scene in his “Astonishing X-Men” story where Kitty Pryde is agonizing with what he described as “Jewish guilt” over whether to accept Emma Frost’s offer to teach at Xavier’s mutant school. She resolves to annoy Frost by calling at 3 AM to accept the offer, only to have the phone answered on the other end with Frost saying, “I’ve been expecting your call,” much to Kitty’s frustration. David also fielded a question on the weirdest research he ever had to do for a writing assignment and described having come up with a Japanese female version of the Punisher, prompting him to look up “Japanese punishment” on Google. This led him to discover some very peculiar images.
Out of nowhere a fan posed a puzzling question to the panel — she wanted advice on how to adapt Marvel characters for theme park rides. David pointed out with the X-Men one could look at the villain Arcade; his entire modus operandi is to invent amusement park themed death traps. “You might want to leave out the whole ‘killing your customers’ thing,” David advised. Another fan asked for advice about adapting a comic book to a novel, which she admitted to doing pro bono. David frankly said, “Don’t do it. If you write an adaptation to pitch it, you have only one outlet to pitch to. If you write your own stuff, you’ll own it.”
When asked “Why are you doing this?” David once again had a quick answer, saying “You’ll find in most instances the answer to that question is ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time.'” David fielded one last question — if he would be writing any “Hulk” prose novels. He answered, “If Marvel wanted me to do a ‘Hulk’ prose novel, I would humbly suggest they reprint the ‘Hulk’ prose novel I’ve already done; ‘What Savage Beast.'”