Fan Expo: Marvel's Next Big Thing

Marvel Comics certainly didn't mess around during its Next Big Thing panel at Fan Expo in Toronto as the publisher brought out its big guns for the one-hour showcase.

Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso was joined on stage by Senior Vice-President of Creator & Content Development C.B. Cebulski, Marvel Architect Jonathan Hickman ("FF"), fan-favorite writer Kelly Sue DeConnick ("Richard Castle: Deadly Storm"), up-and-comer Dennis Hopeless ("X-Men: Season One") and recently promoted Associate Editor Sana Amanat. Arune Singh, Marvel's Director of Communications, was also on hand, serving as emcee.

Singh and Hickman opened the proceedings by re-confirming the return of "Fantastic Four" later this year with a special 600th issue. "FF" will also continue, with Hickman writing both titles. Hickman then revealed he is writing the entire super-sized milestone.

"On these anniversary issues, we usually put out really big books, and Marvel was kind enough to let me write every page, so it's 96 pages of new story," said Hickman, who also mentioned that "Fantastic Four" #600 would be drawn by a "fantastic" lineup including Steve Epting, Carmine Di Giamenico, Ming Doyle, Leinil Yu and Farel Dalrymple.

"The book feels kind of special, and getting to be the guy that is writing the Fiftieth Anniversary is an incredibly humbling and rewarding experience," said Hickman to a chorus of applause. "So, thank you guys for following the book and making it what it is. I appreciate it."

Hickman also shared a "S.H.I.E.L.D." update, stating the six issues which make up the first volume were primarily a vehicle for introducing all the characters while the second volume will feature more of the story, not unlike the Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," which was spilt into two halves following a similar approach.

Highlighting Marvel's new "Season One" line, Singh explained that while the graphic novels will feature in-continuity origin tales, there may be some slight tweaks. "If you love the origins of these characters, we're not mucking with them. We're not going to 52 them."

"It's kind of like co-writing with Stan Lee, because I get to take those first few issues of those Lee/Kirby issues and tell a story within what happened there," said Hopeless, who is working on "X-Men: Season One" with artist Jamie McKelvie.

"We're focusing on the X-Men as teenagers in the school, coming together as a team and how they went from the characterization that they had in the early issues to growing into the people they become."

The other announced projects in the line include "Fantastic Four: Season One" by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and David Marquez, "Daredevil: Season One" by Antony Johnston and Wellinton Alves and "Spider-Man: Season One" by Cullen Bunn and Neil Edwards.

Next up, DeConnick shared her thoughts on "Richard Castle: Deadly Storm," which she co-wrote with Brian Michael Bendis. The September 28 release, a graphic novel "adaptation" of a novel written by Nathan Fillion's fictional character from the popular TV series, features art by Lan Medina and a cover from Carlo Pagulayan.

"We have written the graphic novel adaptation of the original Derrick Storm novel, which is called, 'Deadly Storm' -- and doesn't actually exist," laughed DeConnick. "This is the novel where Storm goes from being Jim Rockford -- television like it was meant to be people, masculinity like it was meant to be -- to being Jason Bourne."

Before Singh moved to questions from the audience, he revealed Marvel's Next Big Thing, which was two new titles in the publisher's newly launched CrossGen imprint: "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" and "Route 666."

"Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," a four-issue miniseries coming in December from writer Peter Milligan and artist by Roman Rosanas, is a spy book "somewhere between John le Carre and Ian Fleming," said Singh. He also clarified the title was not connected to the original series except for sharing the name.

Amanat, who is the editor on "Route 666," said the Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa/Peter Nguyen project is a horror/crime/mystery set against the infamous Route 66 Highway, which stretches from Chicago to Los Angeles.

"It follows two deputies that are investigating supernatural mysteries and crimes," said Amanat. "It has a little bit of 'X-Files' to it, a little bit of 'Happy Days' to it. It's set on Earth as opposed to the original CrossGen series. It's actually set here but in the fifties."

During the audience participation period, Alonso teased a possible X-centric, line-wide event for 2012 coming out of the currently ongoing "X-Men: Schism" series.

"We want the X-Men to be far more integrated into the Marvel Universe," said Alsonso. "The idea is that if something big happens in the X-Men, you can feel it in other books. We're actually in the midst of talking about an actual plan for 2012, which will have a huge story that will have equal ramifications for everyone in the Marvel Universe from the Avengers to Spider-Man to X-Men to Hit Monkey. So the long and the short of it is that it should be a big year for X-Men fans."

Hickman said those who love the Space Knight known as Rom should keep reading "FF" as he snuck a plandanium neutralizer into an upcoming issue.

DeConnick shared that she is closing in on writing a new project featuring one of her favorite female characters in the Marvel U, estimating her chances as approximately 60:40.

Following a question about getting comics into the hands of new readers, Cebulski closed the panel by praising Disney's acquisition of Marvel, which was announced a day after the 2009 Fan Expo.

"Look at what Disney is doing for us," Cebuslki told the audience. "You've seen us in the Disney stores. You've seen us get expansion in ways like you've never seen before into the mainstream market. They're just taking what we do so well, putting it into the Disney machine and expanding the Marvel brand beyond belief."

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