"We really don't have a slideshow or any announcements," Marvel talent scout and executive editor C.B. Cebulski admitted at the beginning of Saturday's "Marvel: Next Big Thing" panel at Emerald City Comicon in Seattle. Given the creators joining Cebulski on the panel, it was a good bet some quality conversation would ensue despite a lack of news: the "Power Man and Iron Fist" team of David Walker & Sanford Greene, "Star Wars: Darth Vader" writer Kieron Gillen and "Civil War II" writer Brian Michael Bendis.
Walker briefly talked about his soon-to-debut "Nighthawk" series. "It's not for the younger readers," Walker said. "The best note we've gotten from editorial is, 'You can't have bones sticking out.'"
Cebulski asked about Walker and Greene's collaboration on "Power Man and Iron Fist." Walker said he was grocery shopping when he got the call from Marvel editor Jake Thomas about working on the book. "I literally just walked away from my cart and left it there," Walker said. "'When you say Power Man, do you mean Luke Cage Power Man, or the poseur Power Man?' 'No, Luke Cage. How do you feel about Sanford Greene?' 'Am I being pranked? This has got to be a joke.'"
Gillen talked the latest "Darth Vader" happenings. "We're just about to finish an arc," Gillen said. "My urge was to put Darth Vader in a big battle." The next arc will pull together several long-simmering plotlines. "It's all set around the 'Executor,'" the writer said. "I couldn't imagine a better 'Darth Vader' book," Bendis said, also complimenting the Jason Aaron-written "Star Wars" series.
"The first movie I saw in a cinema was 'Empire,'" Gillen said. "It's a weird meta thing, but I'm kind of writing my own prologue to geekdom."
Turning quickly to fan questions, Gillen fielded a query about incorporating the Star Wars prequels into his series. "I'm aware they have a polarizing response," Gillen said, answering that the strategy is, "Touching on them without annoying the people who hate them."
Another Star Wars questions asked about whether or not the former Expanded Universe continuity would have any impact on Marvel's Star Wars comics. Cebulski explained to the fan how those stories are now considered "Star Wars Legends," and non-canon. "There are definitely conversations," Gillen said. "You never know," he said, if some elements might be reintroduced. Cebulski said they're big fans of much of the Expanded Universe, and that, "Ultimately the decision doesn't rest with us."
Walker spoke on his goals for the larger cast of "Power Man and Iron Fist." "I want to start introducing some really strong black female villains into the Marvel Universe, because there's not very many of them," "We're going to see Black Mariah really evolve throughout 'Power Man and Iron Fist.'"
"There's never been a more creatively fertile time for comic books," Cebulski commented, saying that the internet has helped make the comics world "smaller," which helps for talent discovery. Cebulski called the upcoming "Civil War II: Choosing Sides" anthology as something of a "new talent showcase" for Marvel.
Will there be a follow-up to "Alias"? "This isn't an official announcement, but I'll tell you, in lieu of it -- yes," Bendis answered, saying that he's waiting for Michael Gaydos to finish a graphic novel, as he thinks that if Jessica Jones were to return to "do her thing," it should be with the original team (including David Mack on covers). "After 'Civil War II' you can look for a return. I genuinely think you'll be surprised by what we do in the first issue. I pitched it actually to Melissa Rosenberg, who runs the TV show, at WonderCon and she said, 'Really?' But wait for the official announcement, because this is not it."
A fan asked Walker if the "Luke Cage" TV show will influence the "Power Man and Iron Fist" comic book. Walker said he hasn't received any direction to line up the comic with the show, and he uses the character's 40-year history in comics as inspiration. "I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy 'Luke Cage' as a show," Walker said. "I don't need the TV shows to inspire me. The shows are going to entertain me."
Bendis added that the "Comics should come first," and that the comics should inspire the movies and TV shows, while the comics should continue to be forward-thinking.
Gillen and Bendis talked the difference between writing work-for-hire and creator-owned comics. "I treat every book that I write like it's a creator-owned book," Bendis said. "The mindset I write Miles Morales or Jessica Jones with isn't much different than how I write 'Scarlet' or 'Powers.'" Gillen said he was once on a panel with Scott Snyder that stuck with him -- for creator-owned, you're working on characters you really care about, and have to convince other people to care about them. For work-for-hire, you're writing characters a lot of people really care about, and you have to discover what makes you care about them. "All the characters in work-for-hire, you have to find a way to really give a damn," Gillen said.
How did Bendis react to the end of the Ultimate Universe? "I'm still dealing with the emotions," Bendis said, adding that he's "immensely proud." "Most imprints, at any company, last two years," Bendis commented, naming Vertigo as one of the few imprints with a longer lifespan. "It's hard not to be really proud. I'm not built to be proud of things, so it's a lonely feeling in my head. And out on the other side pops Miles Morales, who I'm immensely proud of. Nothing but happiness and love."
In the last question of the panel, a fan asked why 2016 was the year of "heroes versus heroes" -- which prompted Bendis to crack a not-so-thinly veiled joke at the expense of "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." "You should look at as not heroes versus heroes, but ideals versus ideals," Bendis said. "If done well, there's nothing better. If done poorly, it runs for 2 hours and 30 minutes and there's five dream sequences."