A large crowd filled the Anaheim Convention Center arena floor at D23, Walt Disney’s fan expo, in order to hear Marvel Comics Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada talk about the company, Marvel’s upcoming projects and to get a sense of what the 2009 Disney purchase of Marvel means for the comic book publisher. Unlike other D23 panels, Quesada’s talk began with a video, a grainy “top secret transmission” from a S.H.I.E.L.D. underground bunker. The audience burst into applause as the “operative” in the video turned out to be none other than Stan Lee.
“This is Mighty Marvel’s very first appearance at Disney’s D23 Expo; I wish I could be there with you but I’m kind of busy protecting mankind as I tend to do!” quipped Lee as the audience laughed. Naming Quesada as his “most trusted agent” sent in his stead, the sound of explosions and alarms in the background told Lee it was time to go “scramble the Quinjet,” and he urged the audience to put their hands together in welcoming Quesada to the stage. “Until next we meet, Excelsior!” Lee shouted at the camera, signing off.
The video then cut to footage from Comic-Con International, displaying still images of the Marvel booth, Marvel panels, cosplayers posing on the “Thor” and “Iron Man” set pieces and crowds thronging around tables set up with Marvel merchandise. As the video faded to black, Quesada walked onstage to thunderous applause, welcoming everybody to the very first Cup ‘O Joe at D23. Recognizing many in the audience were not longtime Marvel comic book readers but Disney fans curious about the Marvel acquisition, Quesada explained that Cup ‘O Joe is his way of directly addressing fan questions and concerns.
“As a struggling artist I wished I had the opportunity to talk to the people running the biggest comic book publishers at the time, but of course, dressed like Simon Le Bon I wasn’t going to get much of an opportunity to do so,” said Quesada as a picture of him as a young man dressed like the member of Duran Duran flashed across screen. Allowing the audience laughter to die down, Quesada continued. “Now, I’m one of these guys, I’m really running the biggest superhero comic book company in the world and I started to think about how can I meet with people like this who want to know more about comics. So I created Cup ‘O Joe.”
Quesada then told the audience that what Marvel and Disney had in common was a dedication to storytelling. Explaining that since Stan Lee dubbed Marvel the “House Of Ideas” in the 1960s, Marvel has been dedicated to that moniker. Quesada pointed to the fact that = the company has over 8,000 characters to play with. “We are America’s storytellers, and now that we are part of the Disney family, we are world storytellers,” said Quesada.
The CCO tied his Cup ‘O Joe talks to the idea that Marvel is a company dedicated fan accessibility, a trend started again by Stan Lee who featured fan letter pages in all his books and wrote the weekly editorial address “Stan’s Soapbox,” a feature Quesada told the audience was his favorite growing up.
“Let me tell a secret about Stan Lee: Stan Lee is the world’s first and only Mutant,” said Quesada as the audience laughed again. “Stan Lee has this incredible superpower — Stan could write this 25 to 35 word Soapbox editorial and make it feel like he was talking to you, not to anyone else.”
Labeling this the True Believer experience, the Marvel CCO then jumped right into talking about the history of Marvel, beginning with the creation of Timely Comics in 1939 and Timely publisher Martin Goodman. “To call Martin and opportunistic publisher is not doing him justice,” laughed Quesada, describing Goodman as a guy, “who didn’t pride himself on being an innovator, he just prided himself on hitting on the next trend and capitalizing on it as soon as possible before moving onto the next one.”
Quesada told the D23 audience that the 1941 Captain America comic book started the “Marvel Comics revolution;” 1941 was also the year a 19-year-old Stanley Martin Lieber began working at Marvel changing his name to Stan Lee. Moving onto the 1960s, Quesada explained that Lee, still at the company, wanted to try something different with superheroes than had been done before.
“As legend has it, Martin [Goodman] was playing golf with two of the big leaguers from National Publications and these guys were telling Martin about a successful book they had called the ‘Justice League,’ which combined all their big icons into one title. Martin went back to the office and said ‘Stan, I want you to give me a superhero team,'” said Quesada. Thinking it over, Lee came back the next day with an idea for a superhero team that didn’t get along, had financial and romantic problems and had to deal with real world irritations: the Fantastic Four.
“Martin said, ‘What are you, crazy? Superheroes don’t have problems, they solve problems!'” said Quesada. Lee prevailed in the end and “Fantastic Four” went on to become a huge hit, launching what Quesada termed the “Marvel Age of Comics.” Comparing Marvel’s ’60s characters to the ’60s Superman and Batman, Quesada explained, while the Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne personas were the masks for the real Superman and Batman characters underneath, at Marvel, characters like Spider-Man were people first, superheroes second.
“I always say that every great Spider-Man story is actually a Peter Parker story, but we just call it Spider-Man because it sells better,” added Quesada.
Jumping to the ’70s and ’80s, Quesada displayed the 1971 cover for “Rolling Stone Magazine” featuring Marvel’s Hulk. During these two decades, Marvel began to receive wider mainstream press attention as its comic books swept through college campuses with stories and characters like Hulk being considered edgy and counter-culture.
While the next slide titled “The 1990s” got a huge cheer from the audience, Quesada named this the decade both, “The Gold Rush and the beginning of the end for Marvel.” In the ’90s, Marvel began to publish comics to attract speculators rather than readers and, like any speculator bubble, it eventually burst, leading Marvel to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1996.
This brought Quesada neatly to his own role in the company as he and a whole new creative management team came on after the bankruptcy. Titling their efforts “Project Rebirth,” Quesada said he and his fellow creative and executive colleagues at Marvel decided to return to their roots, focusing on getting good writers rather than big name artists and returning to the idea that every Marvel character was just a person wearing a mask rather than vice versa.
“To rebuild the House Of Ideas, we really started at the foundation,” said Quesada, repeating the mantra of the time; “Content is king!”
This also brought Quesada to Marvel’s forays into the digital realm. Stating that while he did not have Stan Lee’s Mutant powers, “I have the Internet!” laughed Quesada. Pointing to the slideshow where images of the Cup ‘O Joe Comic Book Resources column and Marvel.com logo were cycling through, Quesada told the crowd that Marvel tried to recreate the True Believer Experience by reaching out to their fans online. Quesada then touched on the lighter side of Marvel, playing his video response to the TV show “30 Rock”, tearing up a copy of “Avengers” on camera, as well as a “Marvel Superheroes What The–?!” parody of the Isaiah Mustafa Old Spice commercials, featuring Mustafa as a Luke Cage action figure. Quesada also named Marvel’s Black Panther as one of the industry’s first black superheroes and told the audience that as a Hispanic kid growing up, Marvel’s diversity deeply appealed to him.
Jumping from comics to movies, Quesada enthusiastically praised the 1998 movie “Blade” as the movie that jump-started the rise of the superhero film. Explaining that Marvel wanted to retain firmer control over their characters, Quesada moved onto the creation of Marvel Studios, adding that part of the goal of the studio was to create “interconnectivity” among the movies in the same way Marvel’s books did: a movie continuity and shared universe, just like the comics. The crowd went wild when Quesada played all the Marvel Studios Nick Fury end credit buttons in a row. He also highlighted Marvel Television, giving the audience an exclusive first look at a teaser reel for the upcoming “Ultimate Spider-Man” TV show.
“Hi, I’m Peter Parker!” a voiceover chirped as an animated Spider-Man web slung across New York City, a glowing Green Goblin hot in pursuit. Showing quick images of villains Dr. Doom and Venom, the teaser emphasized the comedy aspects of the show, the audience cracking up as the Parker voiceover complained, “Suits don’t sew themselves you know,” before cutting to a scene of Parker stitching his costume by hand. The watchers lost it again when, in the middle of a fight, Spider-Man answers his cell phone and starts talking to Mary Jane. Featuring an animation style that looks like a cross between the classic Japanese animation of Marvel’s ’90s cartoons and the anime-lite style of modern shows like “Ben Ten,” Quesada told the audience that the series would debut in 2012. The Marvel CCO also showed a minute of the motion comic “Thor And Loki: Blood Brothers” and said that the company was dedicated to creating more motion comics, especially as the animation technology improved.
Touching on Disney’s acquisition of Marvel in 2009, Quesada assured the crowd that Marvel would retain its current level of autonomy, stating that their orders from Disney were, “Just be Marvel: do what you guys do and allow us to use the Disney muscle to leverage you guys and just make the Disney family that much bigger.”
He then ended his talk by divulging the Marvel “secret” for creating outstanding characters, as related to him by Stan Lee: “I called up Stan…and he says, ‘Joe, When you see Spider-Man on the precipice of the building about to jump off, the reality is it’s just a red and blue suit. But if you tell us who’s inside that suit, if you tell us about Peter Parker’s love life, his family, the people who don’t like him, then when he leaps from the precipice of the building — we are him,'” Quesada said, doing his best Lee impression.
In another departure from the panels at D23, Quesada then opened the floor to audience questions. With most questions focusing on aspects of the Disney/Marvel merge, an audience member wanted to know if the Disney purchase meant that Marvel would create more theatrical productions like “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.” Quesada said there were no planed, adding that “Turn Off The Dark” was a case of Spider-Man being licensed out to a different company. Quesada also said there were talks about incorporating Marvel into the Disney theme parks, but for the time being the Marvel-themed rides at Universal would remain in where they are, unaffected by the Disney purchase.
Another audience member wanted to know if there were any plans to incorporate Spider-Man or the X-Men into “Avengers” or future Marvel Studios movies. While he admitting he never knows what the future holds, on that issue, “I wouldn’t hold my breath” said Quesada.
Several fans wanted to know whether Marvel Comics would begin to publish Disney comics like “Darkwing Duck” or “Uncle Scrooge,” which are currently published by BOOM! Studios. Quesada honestly told the audience he had no idea, but there was a possibility of that happening when the contracts with BOOM! run out. Quesada also told multiple disappointed fans that he had no idea why there was no Marvel booth at D23 and said he hoped to have one for the next expo.
Both Quesada and the audience cracked up as the next person to the microphone asked if Marvel was going to revive Howard the Duck and, since they are now part of Disney, if it will be revealed that Howard is related to Donald Duck. “We are coming upon the twenty-fifth anniversary of the [“Howard the Duck”] movie, so maybe — there might be something there, stand by,” answered Quesada.
Another audience member wanted to know if there was a Deadpool movie in the works. Quesada said that decision lay with Marvel’s partners at Fox before adding, to the delight of the crowd, “Ryan Reynolds would make a great Deadpool, better than Green Lantern.”
Ending with an audience member who self-identified as a fan of the Marvel animated TV series and wanted to know if any of the shows would be similar to Marvel’s “Black Panther,” Quesada said it was too early to announce any other Marvel Television projects before exiting the stage amid cheers and wild applause.