Security for the Marvel Unlimited Plus Member Event at Special Edition: NYC was tight. Even with a media badge, getting past the guards proved to be difficult. But eventually, I — a Marvel Unlimited member — made it into the event. In the tradition of past Plus Member events, no photos and recording devices were allowed. Two security guards — possibly S.H.I.E.L.D. agents? — were on hand to make sure none of the top secret artwork and clips shown leaked online. If you want the full Plus Member Event experience, you gotta become a member. And if you want unlimited access on your laptop or mobile device to thousands of Marvel comics spanning the company’s 75 year history, Marvel Unlimited’s the thing for you.
Agent M himself, Ryan Penagos, took questions from the elite group of Plus members attending at the early morning panel, beginning by answering a question about what books are being added to the service. Penagos said they have to take into consideration budget and the size of the team handling the vast library. The big series — “Amazing Spider-Man,” “Uncanny X-Men,” “Incredible Hulk,” “Iron Man,” etc. — are slated to have any holes in their runs filled first. Penagos urged those in attendance to email firstname.lastname@example.org with requests for issues to include in the service. Yes, they do keep a spreadsheet of requests.
With a little more time to kill before the panel’s start, fans tried their hardest to pump Ryan for information regarding his mysterious trip to London — where he may or may not have visited the set of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” He did reveal he has read the “incredible” script, and that it took him four hours to do so.
The panel officially began by Penagos introducing the audience to four artists: Simone Bianchi (“Thor & Loki: The Tenth Realm”), Mike Del Mundo (“Elektra”), Will Sliney (“Spider-Man 2099”) and Kris Anka (“Wolverine” and “Uncanny X-Men”). Agent M started with information pertaining to members of the Marvel Unlimited Plus program, calling things like these secret panels an experiment, done to enhance the Plus program’s already fun, club-like vibe. He revealed the new art for the 2014 Gift Box, featuring Guardians of the Galaxy art by Sara Pichelli. Penagos couldn’t go into specifics about what the box would contain, but he did say it would probably have a variant comic as well as something “one hundred percent exclusive for Marvel Unlimited Plus members.”
Attention turned to the artists as Ryan introduced them all by way of a slideshow featuring photos taken at the artist boot camp held earlier in the week. Sliney explained that a group of rising Marvel stars had come into New York City in order to attend a workshop on comic book storytelling taught by legends Howard Chaykin and Walt Simonson. He called the experience incredibly invaluable, saying that the artists also learned from each other as well as the two instructors.
The panel then shifted into Reveal Mode as the presentation slides changed to share art from the upcoming “Death of Wolverine” storyline. Interior pages from “Wolverine” #8 by Anka were shown for the first time, depicting Wolverine teaming up with Shang-Chi and Iron Fist to fend off an attacking squad of ninjas. Anka explained that the storyline takes place on an island near Japan where Death herself goes on vacation. Anka summed up the theme of the story very succinctly, stating, “Wolverine is just really sad.”
The focus stayed on Anka as art from the next arc of “Uncanny X-Men,” titled “The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier,” was displayed. The story kicks off with She-Hulk delivering the late Xavier’s will to his students, bringing characters from the various X-Men books together in one room. “Scott’s really sad,” said Anka, adding Cyclops to the growing list of bummed out heroes. Dazzler, who makes her return in the story, is more mad than sad after finding out that no one noticed Mystique switching places with her.
The covers to issues #3-5 of “Thor and Loki: The Tenth Realm” by Simone Bianchi were shown next, featuring Thor squaring off against his newfound sister Angela in a truly epic manner. Bianchi discussed how he created the covers, revealing that they were painted on large, 20- by 30-inch canvases. He even shot a video of himself creating one of the covers, from start to finish, and he hopes to release it soon. “Of course, it’s sped up,” said Bianchi, prompting Penagos to joke that Simone should instead push the limits of YouTube by uploading a four-day long video. The interior pages from “The Tenth Realm” shown contained a lot of large-scale action, something Simone was happy to illustrate. The pages also included a glimpse at a new character, The Queen of Angels, no doubt an inhabitant of the titular Tenth Realm.
By the time the presentation arrived at “Guardians of the Galaxy” #18 and #19, incoming “GOTG” artist Ed McGuinness had arrived at the panel. McGuinness teased that readers will finally learn what happened to Richard “Nova” Rider, Star-Lord and Thanos immediately following the final pages of the “Thanos Imperative” limited series. Proving that, a double-page spread of McGuinness’ pencils showing the three characters all charging towards each other filled the screen. “I got to draw Thanos, which was just awesome,” McGuinness added.
Interior pages from Del Mundo’s “Elektra” #3 appeared next, with the artist’s complex double-page spread illustration of the inner workings of a number of villainous characters’ minds stunning pretty much everyone on the panel. Del Mundo talked about the page, which contains elements from the memories of Scalphunter, Bullseye, Lady Bullseye, and Elektra’s minds. They also showed off another spread of a huge underwater vista, which led Penagos to ask Mike if series writer Haden Blackman specifically includes so many double-page spreads. Del Mundo said that yes, that’s something the writer had brought over from his previous work on DC Comics’ “Batwoman,” and that it’s challenging him as an artist and make him better.
Last up were interior pages from “Spider-Man 2099,” featuring the returned Miguel O’Hara flying over a highly-detailed Manhattan skyline. In the opening arc, written by Peter David, future Spidey will go up against a time traveling cop out to fix the timestream by any means necessary. That, of course, means clashing with O’Hara. The fully-colored pages contained the amount of detail we’ve seen in Sliney’s previous work, as well as a number of intriguing new character designs.
Penagos then moved on to a couple of video clips: One was an upcoming scene from the “Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.” cartoon featuring the cast of brawlers stranded on the alien planet Sakaar, and the other was the completed test footage for next year’s “Ant-Man” feature film. Ryan mentioned that this test footage featured the finalized special effects and sound that did not get screened at last year’s conventions; Ant-Man’s Darth Vader-esque breathing apparatus helped make the diminutive hero feel more imposing.
With the exclusive reveals out of the way, the floor opened up to questions from the Plus members. The first question dealt with the future of Marvel’s cartoons, to which Penagos responded by saying that there’s plenty of new cartoons coming soon. “We shipped [former Marvel editor] Steve Wacker off to animation to help provide his experience and knowledge and storytelling ability to the animation department, to do different things with them.”
After a question was asked about the comic book creation process, Bianchi explained that he’s working with writer Al Ewing on “Thor and Loki” using a slightly more detailed version of the classic Marvel method. Instead of just providing an issue synopsis for the artist Marvel Method style, Ewing has broken the action down into pages — but he hasn’t broken them down into panels. This lets Simone determine how many panels he wants to use to tell the story, a process he says is more creative, but also more time-consuming.
Lastly, when a fan asked if there were any characters — Marvel characters, Agent M was quick to specify — that they still wanted to illustrate, the artists all provided varied answers. Bianchi wants to draw the Inhumans, Del Mundo hopes to get to draw more X-Men characters, Sliney wants to draw fellow Irishman Banshee, and Anka just wants to do a straight-up Captain America and Bucky story. McGuinness said he just received his wish by getting to draw Nightcrawler in “Amazing X-Men.”