C.B. Cebulski welcomed the Emerald City Comicon audience to what he called the "Marvel Panel Part 2, where we open this up as a Marvel Q and A." He explained that Joe Quesada, "The Chief Creative Officer of Marvel World Wide Inc started this so that you could pick our brains about Marvel. We're here to talk about what you want to talk about. It's your time to shine."
With this mission statement clearly in place he let the writers on the panel introduce themselves:
"I'm Ed Brubaker. I write 'Captain America,' I'm just wrapping up my work on 'Secret Avengers' and some other things that I can't talk about," said the writer. He informed the audience that, starting with the next issue of "Captain America" he will be writing a full 30 pages for each issue, so there will be no more back up stories. He hinted at some great storylines in #616 (the 70th anniversary issue) and doing "something experimental with the form, that we can play with" in all of those extra pages.
"At Icon" he added, "Sean and I are just wrapping up the 'Incognito' series 'Bad Influences' and in June will start 'Criminal: The Last of the Innocents.'"
Next up was Associate Editor Lauren Sankovitch. "Currently I'm working on 'Avengers,' 'Secret Avengers,' 'Children's Crusade,' 'Captain America,' 'FF,' 'Secret Warriors' and various other things."
Brian Michael Bendis introduced his work for Marvel like 'Avengers' and 'New Avengers' and the news that "Moon Knight" will be starting in May. "For Icon I co-created 'Powers,' 'Scarlet' and 'Takio'" and promised "a big Icon announcement in two weeks." Bendis then thanked the audience for supporting his work.
Matt Fraction introduced himself as the writer of books like "Avengers", "Invincible Iron Man", "Thor" and said that he is currently "architecting the shit out of 'Fear Itself,' which destroys everything you know and love."
Up last was Jonathan Hickman, the writer of "FF" (previously "Fantastic Four"), "Secret Warriors" and "S.H.I.E.L.D." With the introductions out of the way, C.B. Cebulski opened the floor up to the audience, asking "What's on your minds?"
The first question was a thought-provoking one. "With Death being thrown around, is there any line you won't cross?"
Matt Fraction answered first with a quick fire, "Killing babies." Bendis chucklingly added that "Millar will throw babies out of windows." Hickman continued, "I draw the line at infanticide. But really, the story is never about the death, it's about life about how the hero escapes death. You know Indiana Jones isn't going to die with the big boulder in the first four minutes of the film, but it's about the cliff hanger."
Fraction joked "I'm gonna kill John [Hickman] and see if he gets out of that," which elicited a fair amount of laughter.
An audience member yelled, "Why don't you make Peter Parker hook up with Flash Thomspon?"
Bendis fired back that, "It already happened, it was off panel."
As to the question of bringing back Nightcrawler, Matt Fraction said, "it's on the table. I can't tell you how sad the room was when we realized that we were going to have to do this."
"Nightcrawler's death has been special. There is someone out there who sends a postcard to Marvel every day. They have a tail and messages like 'Bring me back,'" said Cebluski. These have gone all the way up, from writers to editors to Editor-in-Chief." The suggestion was made that when Nightcrawler comes back "We should print these." And Bendis sarcastically added, "Yeah, you should encourage this behavior!"
Sankovitch joked that when another character died, a fan sent Marvel a cake requesting their revival, which worked. "He's back... so people like cake," she brightly suggested.
Fraction nervously asked about poisoned cake, but Sankovitch fired back "That's why we give it to the interns!" to much laughter.
It wasn't long before the topic of continuity came up. A fan asked, "Where is the sense of timeline? Back in the day, things made sense. Now it doesn't make sense."
"Here's the Joe [Quesada] answer," Bendis offered, and noted that the audience might not like it. "That's one of those things the fans remember as better than it was, but there were a lot of other things that didn't match up. You've just got to go with it." Bendis continued by using the example of Wolverine. "Yes, the day he's in my book, he's posessed by the Eye of Agamato, but it is not on the same day he's in hell. Even if you buy the books at the same time, it is not happening at the same time."
Fraction added that he had worked out how long would it take Wolverine to fly from East to West in the Blackbird, it would be about two hours. He added, "I had to put that in my head so that I could understand that."
"You know that movie 'Up in the Air?'" asked a smiling Bendis. "I wanted Clooney to go to the [frequent flyer] club and the only other guy that's there is Logan."
Jonathan Hickman quietly said he "created a timeline to find out when things would happen" when he first began working at Marvel and concluded "there is no proportional, divisible amount that you can come up with a solid, constructable timeline that you can create in the Marvel Universe." His colleagues chuckled and responded, "Of course you did."
"Never confuse publishing schedules with continuity (to quote Bendis)," Brubaker warned. Fraction backed him up asking, "What war did the Punisher fight in? If it is Vietnam, are people really afraid of a 63 year-old man."
When the next questioner began his question with the words "Agents of Atlas..." C.B. Cebulski leapt in, finishing the thought for him with, "Why did you cancel it?"
"Actually if you read 'Fear Itself: The Homefront,' you will see the 'Agents of Atlas.' They're still around," answered Sankovitch. "And they've got a flying saucer."
Another questioner said "I asked this last year and it's really stupid, but would anyone be open to using Mr. Fixit?" C.B. Cebulski was quick to point out that Mr. Fixit had already been used in either the second or third volume of the Loeb "Hulk" collection.
Asked about whether Marvel has an official policy regarding thought balloons, Cebulski advised the questioner to "Read one of Ed [Brubaker]'s books and it's there," positing that the way that narrative captions and speech bubbles are currently being used "is basicaly the same as a thought balloon. It's a tool that we still use, but in a different way."
"I used them in 'Mighty Avengers' to think about the language and see why they went away..." Bendis added. Citing Wolverine again as an example, "We remembered them at their worst... There's a twenty line word balloon over his head while he's slicing something. It grinds the action down to nothing, so we got rid of this. But I had them be almost like subtitles, like in 'Annie Hall' where you know what they're thinking while they talk, but I found that it cluttered up the page."
When the audience member suggested the trend was somehow associated with a need to make comic books more similar to movies, Brubaker disagreed. "We do still have narration, more than you would get in a movie" and chalked it up to personal taste. "When I was working with Bryan Hitch, he doesn't like to use sound effects except for stuff happening off-panel." To which C.B. Cebulski added, "Or like Frank Quitely, where the sound effects are really integrated into the art."
Cebulski brought the discussion back to the original question, saying "[Mark] Waid on 'Impulse' was my favorite use of thought ballooons. There's a place for it." Bendis reminisced, "On 'Mighty Avengers,' I thought I might end it with an all thought balloon issue." but that he had to stop using thought balloons because of the "Secret Invasion" event.
Asked for examples of good and bad death in comics, Cebulski was quick off the mark, congratulating Ed Brubaker for his work on the death of Captain America. "Ed explored his story organically, said Cebulski. "We told Ed to bring him back, but he didn't know when he would. He had to go where the story was going."
Brubaker began to offer a bad example of death in comic books "Oh yeah, the death of Superma-" but stopped short of saying the character's name to much laughter adding, "I probably shouldn't talk about bad examples, eh?"
"You know what the best was? The death of Elektra," said Bendis. "There was no marketing, no event, it just happened."
Brubaker sheepishly added, "There's no bad way to do it, really."
Next a fan asked about the changing art teams on "Ultimate Spider-Man." "You had Mark Bagley. Why did you switch to the other guy? I see Stuart [Immonen], and I see Mark and I see this guy who... I don't want to say sucks, but I don't like him."
"I was lucky enough to have that run wtih Mark Bagley," replied Bendis, "but he was originally scheduled to be off the book by issue #6... From #6 to #111 I got him to stay. Then Stuart [Immonen]... Stuart is one of my all-time favorite artists. He showed that he was about to hit his peak of awesomeoness, and I knew we needed him on 'Avengers,' so we moved him on to that."
"David LaFuente is amazing; a Spanish, Manga-influenced artist. Where else do you find that?" continued Bendis. "The only downside is that he's not able to do a monthly. I have a wide berth of things that I like on comics. I just adore the work that he did and I saw the comments, but people have comments on everyone." He reminisced about reading the letter columns in old copies of the "Fantastic Four" which were "filled with hate mail for Jack Kirby, even calling him lazy for only working on three monthly comics!"
When a fan asked how Marvel could kill the Sentry, essentially the Marvel version of Superman, Bendis saracstically replied, "Superman wouldn't last two minutes in the Marvel Universe" to much laughter from the audience.â€¨Matt Fraction was asked what "Fear Itself" is actually about. "The Red Skull discovers that Odin isn't the All Father. She frees him and is transformed into a deity for it," said the writer. The rest of the panel took comedic issue at this uncharacteristic news item in the Q and A session and chuckled at Fraction's choice.
A very obvious question from one gentleman was, "Are there any creators interested in taking a crack at 'Miracle Man?'" "All of us!" replied the panel in unison, moving quickly on.
"What about the villains?" asked the next audience member. "You broke up H.A.M.M.E.R., but I was excited to see where Norman Osborn was going."
Cebulski reminded him there was currently an 'Osborn' series before Bendis chimed in on H.A.M.M.E.R. "This newest series of the 'Avengers' has him in jail, but that, doesn't mean he's gone," said Bendis. "His followers are still there... in 'Dark Reign,' he was everywhere, we got to a zenith with it. Now you've got to chill with it and then see what's going on."
Matt Fraction commented that "the ending was a stunner."
The questioner continued "Did anyone every decide what H.A.M.M.E.R. stands for?" eliciting catcalls and laughter from the crowd.
A straight-faced Bendis answered, "I totally forgot to do that." Brubaker quipped, "Hair... apples... monkey... monkey..." trailing off into laughter.
Asked why there were less stories centered around new characters, Brubaker explained that the choice was financial. "The market doesn't support [new characters]." Hickman added, "We'd love to though..."
On the other hand, Bendis advised "Take a look at what is going on in the creator-owned world," where he suggested more risks are being taken.
"I've done nothing but [work with new characters] for years, but even if you look at 'Secret Warriors,' as soon as I started the book I knew that it wasn't going to last... With that little bit of rope we started that new book "S.H.I.E.L.D." with Tony Stark's dad and Reed Richard's dad."
"Finally, dads!" Fraction fired back.
"Sometimes it just takes a while for these new characters to ease into prominence. So be patient," Bendis said.
Noting some of the changes to Peter Parker's character, a fan asked if there would be more of the scientist Parker in his future. "We saw that in 'Iron Man,' so yes, that's going to happen more and more," Fraction said. Brubaker added that the lab he works at would also be cropping up more often in the Marvel Universe.
Up next was a popular question with the audience: "Are you going to introduce any gay, lesbian or transgender characters?"
Fraction noted that there was a gay character in 'Iron Man' #502, trailing off as he questioningly added, "and in X-Men...?" Brubaker noted that J.M. DeMatteis made Captain America's best friend gay and that "Children's Crusade" features gay characters who will be absorbed into the rest of the Marvel Universe.
"I would love to see some transgender characters," continued the questioner. Fraction countered by saying, "I'd love to see some transgender writers... there's really only so much I can do."
The next fan asked about the decision-making process when planning an event. He wanted to know how heroes were chosen, and how the effects of an event would ripple through the rest of the Marvel U. Cebulski was clear that "It happens in the room and is dissemenated to the writers." He added that it's "a very orgainic process and there's a lot of communication."
"There may be some characters that have a larger role, but we're always thinking, 'So how does this affect my character, how can we best get into the story, and make sure it is a worthwhile event for the readers,'" added Sankovitch.
"It is a teamwork kind of atmosphere," Hickman said. "We send art back and forth, see what we're working on for the next few months."
The final question was a loaded one, implying that comic books aren't as successful as film or video games because of the way they're released on a monthly basis, episodically, "and then you wait for the trade to come out. Don't you think that is why you don't have the big events that other mediums have?"
"There are original graphic novels," said Bendis, and Cebulski noted the mediums are different. "Video games have years of hype."
The questioner responded, "But the [monthly event] issue comes out, and you can't get new comic fans to buy it without buying all the others."
"This way it hits on all fronts," Bendis explained.
"It's a completely different medium, "Said Brubaker. "For example, 'The Bourne Identity' book came out years before the films. You aren't talking about that."
"Ultimately, we sell apples not oranges." countered Cebulski. With that defining comment on the medium, the panel was out of time and the animated audience filed out.