C2E2: Unlocking the Digital Secrets of Marvel Unlimited

At Day Three of the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo, Marvel Comics welcomed Marvel Unlimited Plus subscribers to an exclusive, members only event. Tickets were issued to invitees who had to show the tickets in line and once again passing through the doors into the panel room.

Prior to the panel's start, Ryan Penagos, Marvel's Executive Editorial Director of Digital Media, casually welcomed fans into the room as he sat on the front edge of the dais. A casual survey of the attendees revealed that "She-Hulk," "Ms. Marvel," "Nova" and "X-Force" were among the favorite current reads of the attendees. All attendees were given a swag bag as they sat down which included a print of Inferno from "Inhuman" autographed by writer Charles Soule, a variant cover copy of "Original Sin" #0 and a Watcher's eyeball bouncy ball.

The informal pre-panel discussion shifted to exclusive convention merchandise. The New York Comic Con Rocket Raccoon plushie was a test, and a very successful one, which may lead to additional Marvel plushies in the future.

As panelists filed into the room, Penagos introduces himself as the panel's moderator, aided by Senior Editor Nick Lowe, who currently edits the Spider-Man line of books, as his "Ed McMahon," roaming the floor, microphone in hand. Panelists included "Wolverine and the X-Men" writer Jason Latour, "Fantastic Four" and "All-New Invaders" writer James Robinson, "She-Hulk" and "Inhuman" writer Charles Soule, "The Punisher" artist Mitch Gerads, "Nightcrawler" Todd Nauck, "Original Sins" artist Mike Perkins, incoming "Inhuman" artist Ryan Stegman, and Jake Thomas, editor of "The Punisher" and "Iron Fist: The Living Weapon."

As the panel began, Penagos asked everyone to turn off their flows and refrain from taking photos of the art shown. "We actually have two wonderful, very friendly security guards here," Penagos smiled.

Penagos said the Unlimited Plus-exclusive Hasbro Marvel Legends Ultron figures had begun shipping and should be out to all members soon depending on when they signed up. The bonus items associated with joining (or renewing) the Marvel Unlimited Plus program will be updated in the near future and could possibly include items related to the next Marvel Studios feature films to be released. The key word here is "possibly," as Penagos said discussions have been ongoing since last October, but given that the refresh will occur in August, near the time of a Marvel Studios release, anything is possible.

Asked which fans were reading Robinson's "Fantastic Four" and "All-New Invaders," the majority replied with applause. One fan declared, "I will in six months!" Penagos then explained to the panel that the Marvel Unlimited model has a six-month lag before the issues hit the service. Some of the creators were clearly hearing this for the first time, while others were unfazed by the news.

The moderator then went through some prepared slides by way of introducing each panelist and ribbed "Inhuman" writer Soule about having to sign the many comics he writes each month as well as one of the panel's giveaway items.

"Yeah, my wrist almost fell off yesterday so I hope you like those prints," Soule told the audience.

Turning to Todd Nauck, Penagos said, "The first creator I ever had, like, a professional dinner with was Todd, back in San Diego in like, 2003. Really friendly, really cool. Lovely man."

"Agree," Lowe piped in in McMahon-like fashion.

Next for an introduction was Mike Perkins, "Who's your favorite character, Mike?"

"I think that would be Deathlok," Perkins responded.

"Deathlok, oh. It would be cool it we had some Deathlok stuff to show you guys," Penagos teased -- a tease that would pay off later in the panel.

Starting with "Inhuman," Penagos asked Soule to describe what he is doing with the new series. "I would love to talk about what I'm doing on the title. I am signing lithographs, apparently, for that title." Soule continued to explain that the Terrigen cloud from "Infinity" is still drifting around the Earth, affecting humans with a "twist of genetic code in their bloodline."

"Once you become Inhuman, you can't flip it back," Soule said. "You don't know what you're going to turn into. You might have sweet powers, you might have terrible powers." Soule said he's examining that from two angles, the first of which is a street-level examination. "You guys at this panel think you're going to have to go back to your jobs tomorrow or whatever you're going to do tomorrow, but instead, you grow wings and can fly. It's about what it would be like for ordinary people to have this change happen to them."

The other side is the Royal Family. "Queen Medusa is trying to martial these people and teach them and help them, but there are also other people who think the Inhumans are a great resource, so they're trying to steal them all up and grab them, like Pokemons." Soule promised lots of new characters, some designed by Stegman, some designed by departing "Inhuman" artist, Joe Madureira. Some of the art shared depicted Medusa teaming with Thor and conversing with her handmaiden, Elejea in New Attilan.

The next slide showed the first page and a cover for "Inhuman" #4, Stegman's first issue on the book. Soule said the character on issue #4's cover is Reader, who has been an Inhuman for a while and that anything he reads becomes real; if he reads the word fire, there would be fire. Due to the dangerous nature of his powers, the community he lived in put his eyes out when he was young. As an adult, he has a ring of stamped tin sheets on his belt of things he would need in braille. "He basically fights with braille," Soule said, and has a trained dog, named Forey (short for four-eyes) that enables Reader to see. Penagos is already attached to the dog and said he would be very displeased if anything happened to him.

Clearly taken with the art, Robison asked who was providing the colors. Stegman said Marte Gracia is coloring his work, which has empowered him to go with more open line work. The next page shown featured an Inhuman bazar in which Medusa opens New Attilan up so people can see Inhumans aren't all bad.

"This is what happens when you just give Ryan a full opening. He always puts centaurs with horns, juggling," Lowe described, to the laughter of the audience. "Every opportunity, he puts them in. I don't know why. It's a little weird, but hey, we love you anyway, Ryan."

The panel kept the spotlight on Soule as the conversation shifted to "She-Hulk, which will see the titular character seeking out another Marvel Universe lawyer-by-day/hero-by night. "There is another prominent attorney in the Marvel Universe, so I thought they would certainly know each other and chat from time to time" Soule said of his plans to bring Matt Murdock AKA Daredevil into his series. Jen, in the middle of a tricky case, goes to San Francisco to seek out Matt Murdock. Naturally, their conversation happens on the top of the Golden Gate bridge -- because they're She-Hulk and Daredevil. Soule had nothing but praise for his artistic collaborator, Javier Pulido, who inserted She-Hulk's assistant into the page, flying a plane with the credits trailing behind on banners.

Running down everything that's been going on since the series began, Soule said that references to "the blue file," the one case Jen's previous employers allowed her to take when she was fired, would continue. That case comes from Dakota North, and somehow involved Tigra, Doctor Druid, Shocker and more, but no one can remember it. "The secret to what happened is a big Marvel Universe-changing thing," Soule teased. It will be played out through the first year of the series.

"She-Hulk" #5 will be drawn by guest artist Ron Wimberly, who will also color his work. Soule said it was important to find an artist who wouldn't just ape Pulido, but likewise be inventive and unique. The writer praised Wimberly's color sense and declared his work, "as inventive and beautiful," as Pulido's.

Other things coming up in "She-Hulk" include an appearance from Hank Pym in issue #7 and more Daredevil and Captain America appearances. Soule expressed his gratitude that Marvel would take a chance on such a, "weird series."

"But it's awesome," Penagos interjected, noting for the audience that in addition to being a comic book writer, Soule is also a practicing attorney.

The writer/lawyer said the book was refreshing for him because he can make readers see that "lawyers are fun. Because normally it's not. You don't hear that." Penagos stated for the record that he loves Marvel's lawyers.

Moving to "Nightcrawler," Nauck explained how fun it is to work with Chris Claremont, which he compared to a musician jamming with a Beatle. When Nick Lowe and editor Daniel Ketchum contacted Nauck about "Nightcrawler," it was, "just prior to Christmas. It felt like Christmas came early for me." He dug up all of his favorite Nightcrawler artists to capture the classic Nightcrawler feel. Nauck said the book was "a dream come true, like a thirteen year-old getting to draw Nightcrawler, but with the skills of a forty-year-old." The artist said the newly revived character has hooked back up with Amanda Sefton, his foster sister/girlfriend, "It's OK, it's comics."

"It's only weird to date your sister if you have blood relations," Lowe piped in, which was met with laughter. Nightcrawler and Sefton return to visit Germany to the circus Kurt came from in "Nightcrawler" #2. "It's like bargain basement Cirque du Soleil. Earl's Cirque du Soleil," Nauck said of designing the performers' costumes, and noted that Nightcrawler returns to the Jean Grey School in the book's third issue.

Next up was "Wolverine and the X-Men" writer Jason Latour, whom Penagos said "had some big shoes to fill with Jason Aaron leaving, but he has knocked it out of the park already and we're really excited."

While Aaron's run was about Wolverine building a school, Latour's run will focus on how he's going to make it work. "Change is kind of at the core of what the X-Men is all about," Latour said, which empowers Latour and artist Mahmud Asrar to give Quentin Quire mentally projected visuals in addition to traditional dialogue.

As an "All-New Invaders" image came across the screen, Robinson began describing it. "That is them on Hala, the Kree homeworld." He thanked the readers that read the book, but felt that the characters needed to move away from World War II stories or stories with Baron Strucker, or Hydra, or Baron Blood, "although I do have a good Baron Blood story in my head." He wanted to make "Invaders" a compelling must-read, and said he sees the Marvel Universe as always being invaded. In the case of his series, a Kree invasion leads to the Invaders invading the Kree back.

"At the end of this arc there is a really good cliffhanger for later on," Robinson said of a story that will feature the Kree, the Eternals and more. The next slide showed that very cliffhanger, which arrives at the end of "All-New Invaders" #5. Robinson said this is a part of a Kree-Eternals war that he is building toward way, way down the line.

The next slide showed a manga-esque character labeled as Radiance and designed Retsu Tateo, artist of "Full Metal Panic." Robinson said she was the granddaughter of Golden Girl (prompting Betty White and Rue McClanahan jokes at Robinson's expense), and shares her powers. One-quarter Japanese, this new character returned to Japan and became a J-Pop sensation with a perfume line and everything else. The next slide showed Radiance in slightly more formal attire as she meets with Johnny Storm's manager to begin her transition to American pop star. Robinson said will be involved in "Original Sin," and what she discovers is that the Invaders could have stopped the atom bomb.

Jim Hammond will be further integrated into the Marvel Universe, with Robinson doing his best to give him a bigger role. Jim Hammond will become an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and it will also tie into his "Fantastic Four" work a bit, leading to a larger crossover. Hammond will be in charge of the Playground, which is Camp Hammond. The Future Foundation kids will be brought there to be studied as Hammond tries to find the key to his own humanity. The first element of crossover arrives in "Fantastic Four" #5.

"All-New Invaders" #8-10 will have a story that re-introduces Toro. Readers will discover that he is not a mutant -- but is an Inhuman. Hammond, Winter Soldier, Cap and Namor will try save him and ultimately have to fight every single Deathlok in the Marvel Universe.

Soule asked if he could use Toro in "Inhuman," to which Robinson replied, "When it's the right time, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, that would be a great idea, actually."

"See? That just happened, right here, for you guys," Penagos said of the exchange.

Robinson mentioned a story following that would involve the World War I era Invaders and Killraven.

Switching over to "Fantastic Four," Robinson said artist Leonard Kirk was doing a fantastic job on the series. The person pulling the strings of Fantastic Four's downfall will continue to throw iterations of the Frightful Four. Included in that group is a new Bulldozer, whom Robinson revealed is the daughter of the original Bulldozer. "I wanted to put a female character in, because the Frightful Four always has one," said Robinson. "It was fun to have this rebellious little girl who still says, 'Yes, sir!' only to the Wizard."

Realizing he forgot to mention his collaborator on "All-New Invaders," Robinson backtracked to praise his artist. "I'm honored to be working with Steve Pugh in the 'Invaders'." He also added that the "Original Sin" issues of "All-New Invaders" are by Marc Laming, who will be making his Marvel debut with the series. and whom Robinson called "a star of the future."

"Fantastic Four" #5 puts the Four on trial and will be an oversized issue with courtroom scenes by Leonard Kirk and a host of guest artists on flashback pages: Chris Samnee, Mike Allred, Jerry Ordway, Jim Starlin, Paul Rivoche, Phil Jimenez, and June Brigman, who draws a six-page sequence about the Future Foundation. Robinson called it a "real feast for the eye."

Images of "The Punisher" then arrived on the screen, as artist Mitch Gerads and his editor Jake Thomas were there to discuss the book. Thomas said the current series takes Punisher out of New York and sends him to Los Angeles where Frank is following, "a trail of drugs and terror and violence and, as those trails tend to do, it led to L.A." The new city leads to new enemies for Punisher to face as well as new friends, or acquaintances, as Thomas preferred to call them. "Punisher has a hard time making friends," the editor said.

Lowe, once more on the ball, added, "He's very shy."

Thomas countered with, "He's got social anxiety. Which fuels his rage."

The writer of the series, Nathan Edmondson, is really invested in Frank's history as a Marine. A new version of the Howling Commandos will be chasing Frank down. "Mitch and I were both actually geeking out about that yesterday. We're so excited about where this book's going. I can't wait," Thomas said.

Gerads added that the book is focusing on Frank being a regular guy in a universe filled with super powers. The artist described Punisher's coyote pal, who recently befriended Frank. Robinson again asked about a book's colors, inquiring who worked with Gerads on the book. Thomas answered that it's "Mitch soup-to-nuts art-wise on this book," drawing applause from the audience. Penagos thanked Thomas for making "soup-to-nuts" one of the phrases for the panel.

"Original Sins" was next. This is a tie-in book to the main "Original Sin" title that will have, "tons and tons of stories," according to Penagos, who turned the floor over to artist Mike Perkins to talk about the Deathlok story in "Original Sins." "I'm a huge Deathlok fan. Massive. And when they announced they were gonna bring him over to 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,' I got in touch with [Marvel editor-in-chief] Axel Alonso, probably the second biggest Deathlok fan," Perkins said, adding that he told Alonso, "'If you give this to somebody else, I will debag them.' So implied violence goes a long way.

"We're using the Michael Collins Deathlok, but we're still very aware that people will know Deathlok from ['Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.']." He has four different modes, including a visually familiar combat mode. Collins doesn't know he's Deathlok in the story written by "Punisher's" Nathan Edmondson. Perkins declared it to be a fantastic ten-page story with a lot going on. The creators "really wanted to focus on atmosphere for this ten-page story."

"All these people here need to write letters to Marvel saying 'We want Mike Perkins to do a Deathlok series'" Perkins added.

"When you guys like stuff, tell us. When you don't like stuff tell us," Penagos said to the audience.

At this point, all recording devices from journalists were shut off as Penagos shared a set of video hellos from the cast of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." They featured each character thanking the members of Marvel Unlimited Plus in their own special way. Chloe Bennet (Skye) included Marvel Universe co-creator Stan Lee in hers. Following those hellos was a scene from an upcoming episode of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." featuring Ming-Na Wen and Cobie Smulders. The video portion of the panel ended with a full scene of the test footage used for "Ant-Man," which ended with "It's a Small World" playing in the background.

RELATED: C2E2: "Original Sin" Brings Spidey Face to Face with the Mysterious Silk

After that was complete, Penagos opened up the floor for questions from the audience. The first was about whether the Marvel U would be welcoming any new female villains. The panelists shared that there will be a witch in "Nightcrawler"; Tanalth the Pursuer has been quite prominent in "All-New Invaders"; Black Cat has been outed in the Spider-Man titles and may have an axe to grind. A new character, Silk, will be coming up in the "Original Sin" Spider-Man stories as well as a new female villain in "Spider-Verse." Electric Ghost in "Winter Soldier" was also mentioned and Perkins added a bit of humor by saying, "And in the Deathlok ten-pager, Michael Collins calls his wife on the phone."

When asked for news about "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s" fate at ABC, Penagos said that they haven't heard anything from the network yet. Marvel's first television effort will be followed up with new shows stemming from its recent deal with Netlfix -- "Daredevil," "Iron Fist," "Luke Cage," "Jessica Jones," and "Defenders." Seeking to make things easier for Marvel, Soule said, "I would love to write a 'She-Hulk' show."

An audience member wondered about any potential crossover or conflict between the X-Men and Inhumans, or even advice, like, "Hey, here's how not to be feared."

"Queen Medusa is very sure of herself," Soule said, and she and doesn't go looking for advice, but the writer did admit that was a good idea.

The panel was rounded out with a fan wondering if She-Hulk was going to run into Juggernaut. Soule told the attendees Juggernaut is on the list, but was not sure if it'll be the first season (which Soule views as the first twelve issues of the series), but maybe in the second.

The panel concluded with Penagos thanking everyone for subscribing to Marvel Unlimited Plus and joining the creators in Chicago.

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