FAN EXPO: DC All Access Friday

Friday afternoon at Fan Expo in Toronto, DC Comics talent sat down for the first of a series of All Access panels to touch base with the DC Universe one year after the launch of the New 52. The panel proved to be popular and standing room only, as fans were eager to ask panelists Jason Fabok, Francis Manapul, Jimmy Palmiotti, Yanick Paquette, Jeff Lemire and Marcus To about current titles one year after the New 52 shake up.

Ironically, "The Flash" writer/artist Francis Manapul was late to the panel. Getting from Artist Alley to the convention meeting rooms is no easy task.

The panel began with a preview of Yanick Paquette's cover for "Swamp Thing" #13 written by Scott Snyder. "As a reflection for the past year when I started to do 'Swamp Thing,' I was as very excited," Paquette said. "To me it was a passion of love, I could do nature and basically do things you'd never do in comics like frogs.

"But still this book was not a 'Batman' book or a major character well known to the public," he continued. "This year, I was totally overwhelmed by the reception of that book. It did, not as well as 'Batman' obviously, but it was a lot better than I think a lot of people expected."

Paquette said he was only supposed to handle "Swamp Thing" for about a year and then go on to another adventure, but he got so excited about the book, he can't leave now. He jokes, in a deep voice, "Animal Man and Swamp Thing? That's just too good to pass up. I really like to do it."

"But I sign up to do nature and I'm ending up doing a lot of rotten, disgusting, things in the end. Year two is going to be even more in that vain," Paquette teased. "I'm drawing destruction and post-apocalyptic humanity with so much monsters, everywhere." He kept the panel very casual and cracked jokes about the "Swamp Thing" #14 cover character meeting a monster with a mouth full of teeth in a leaf boat on an adventure out of city.

Paquette called the DC Universe fragile, characterizing it as a subtle mix of moods and characters that carry a balance. However, this doesn't mean there isn't room to take risks.

This smoothly led to the display of Steve Pugh's cover for "Animal Man" #13 written by Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder. Lemire discussed "Animal Man," explaining Rotworld came to be during a sounding board session with Snyder.

"Scott got 'Swamp Thing' before I got 'Animal Man' and he was sort of bouncing his idea's for that series off of me," he said. "So, when I got 'Animal Man,' it just seemed logical for us to approach them as a shared little micro-universe within the bigger DC Universe. The adversary that he created for the first arc of 'Swamp Thing' and the adversaries I created for 'Animal Man,' it became really clear we could tie them together and make them represent a force that is sort of the anti-thesis of the Red and the Green. So, that's how The Rot was created and from there the story just grew and grew each month."

The next arc will be a big story tied through issues #13 to #17. "It really does encompass everyone in the entire DC Universe, you'll see everyone in there in some form, maybe not the way you're used to seeing them," Lemire said.

Lemire added the heroes left to fight alongside Swamp Thing and Animal Man won't be who you might expect. "Characters like Beast Boy from 'Teen Titans,' and Black Orchid from 'Justice League Dark' and Poison Ivy and Swamp Thing," Lemire said. "Those are the kind of characters who rise up as the new champions of this world."

Lemire has strong ties to Black Orchid as he re-created the character for "Justice League Dark" and he said he purposely kept her powers and origin a mystery to this point. "In 'Rotworld,' we'll really see her come out and learn a lot more about how she is connected to the world and that's going to set up a big story for post-'Rotworld.'"

The connecting piece between the two titles is of course the villain, Arcane. Lemire said since Animal Man never really had an arch-nemesis and Swamp Thing only had Arcane, Snyder and Lemire chose Arcane to connect the plot to the long history of the characters. Also in Snyder's "Swamp Thing" #0, readers will get to see the secret history of Arcane unfold.

The panel swiftly moved on from 'Animal Man' and 'Swamp Thing' to the "Justice League Dark: Annual" #1.

According to Lemire, a goal for "Justice League Dark" was to make the annual issue a vital part of the story. Therefore, the double size issue will serve as a conclusion to the current arc and set up the next. In between, readers can expect some really fun stand-alone titles.

Lemire's creator-owned "Sweet Tooth" is also coming to an end, and the creator said while it's gratifying to see it conclude, it is also bittersweet to let those characters go.

Another cover shown was Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey's "All-Star Western" #13, featuring homicidal clowns taking on Jonah Hex. Palmiotti admits, when the New 52 launch was announced, he and Grey immediately thought they were doomed. "We were on '[Jonah] Hex' for over 60 issues at that point and we were saying, 'How are we going to fit in there?'" Palmiotti said.

However, the idea to put Jonah in Gotham made things interesting. Palmiotti said with "All-Star Western" #1, they went through some of the history. "We had no idea what to expect," he said. "And it exceeded our expectations on every level."

In issues #14 and #15 of "All-Star Western," everyone appears a little crazy and Palmiotti promised to get into why, stating there's going to be a lot of madness going on. "Because of the time we're in, we are able to have Dr. Jekyll bring his formula over to our side of the world," Palmiotti said. "And since the title is called "All-Star Western" we figure it's our responsibility to get as many stars in there as we can. We're having a blast with the book."

On the digital front, DC releases 99 cent books every single day of the week via comiXology. "For me it's great, 'cause I can download a lot of this stuff and then I can read it for like eight hours. On the plane I can read like eight thousand comics, it's awesome," Palmiotti said, his smooth New York accent really coming through on the awe-some.

Palmiotti said he really enjoys how the books in the DC Universe have come together in a cohesive manner over the past year. "For me it used to feel like I read a bunch of books and they were over there, and this one was over there. It's not the case anymore," he said.

The cover for "Batwing" #13 was also revealed during the panel, which Marcus To said is a brand new story arc featuring the introduction of new characters and a new villain. Having slipped in during the "Batwing" preview, Francis Manapul, who previewed "The Flash" #14, quickly segues into what's next for the Scarlet Speedster.

"The annual essentially wraps up the current storyline in issue #12. I'm going to speak frankly with you and tell you there is no ending in the annual because we have a gorilla war coming up," Manapul said. Essentially, readers who have been patient with the title and reading it all along, things that felt inconsequential many issues ago will have a grander meaning in coming plot points.

"We've established in this current history that the gorillas were the first to instruct by the Speed Force. Essentially, they are very much tied together in the way the Speed Force courses through their body," Manapul said. "With Gorilla City in decline, it's now man's turn to be the next evolution. That's why Barry Allen was eventually struck by lightning. Gorilla Grodd will not accept that, he feels he was the one that was wronged, so he's coming back to take what's his, which he believes is the Speed Force. It's literally evolve or die."

There wasn't much time left for Q&A with fans, but the panel still found time to take a few questions and give away some prizes. During the question and answer session, the majority of the panel revealed they all harbor a great love for Batman, and many revealed they would love to write the character one day. Except for To, who would prefer to do some work on Teen Titans.

Ending the panel on a laugh, when asked what they would do if they didn't work in comics, Paquette admitted to having a love for creating classical music in his spare time, while Palmiotti admitted his inner desire to do strictly nudes.

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