It's the last day of Comic-Con International in San Diego, but Marvel ended the show in a big way -- with a crowded and high-profile "Women of Marvel" panel, hosted by Marvel digital producer Judy Stephens and including Director of Character and Content Development Sana Amanat, Marvel social media manager Adri Cowan, Marvel live host Lorraine Cink, "Ms. Marvel" writer G. Willow Wilson, upcoming "Captain Marvel" writer Margaret Stohl, "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." costume designer Ann Foley and "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." cast members Chloe Bennet, Ming-Na Wen and Elizabeth Henstridge.
The panel started with the announcement that Marvel would be doing new cosplay variant covers -- more details on that here. Cink briefly talked the book she's co-writing, "Marvel Absolutely Everything You Need to Know." Amanat stated that Marvel currently has 20 female-led titles, and recapped the announcement from earlier in the show, that writers Roxane Gay and Yona Harvey will contribute to the upcoming "Black Panther: World of Wakanda" series.
Wilson talked about the latest happenings in "Ms. Marvel," and how shes affected by the ongoing event series "Civil War II." "Kamala got to fulfill one of her all-time greatest dreams and join the Avengers," Wilson told the crowd. "Sometimes, part of growing up, is finding out your idols have feet of clay. That's really been at the center of 'Civil War II' for Ms. Marvel -- trying to figure out where she fits in this conflict between two people she really admires, Carol Danvers and Tony Stark."
Wilson said soon readers will also learn the origin of the gold bracelet Ms. Marvel wears.
Stohl called the Black Widow Young Adult novels she's writing -- the new one is "Red Vengeance," out in the fall -- as the "job of her life," and pointed out that she's starting another one of those, writing Marvel's "Captain Marvel" comic book series.
Foley talked briefly about the upcoming fourth season of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," saying that May will get "a bit of an upgrade."
"You're not going to see a lot of cleavage," Foley said of her approach to the show's costume design. "I'm not trying to sexualize the girls, I'm empowering them."
Bennet said she has a "secret Pinterest" page to help inspire Daisy's look.
"You still recognize who they are, but there's such a great change, there's such a great arc," Foley said, speaking specifically of Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker's characters.
Bennet on her favorite aspects of her character: "She's so empathetic, she cares about people so much, she's maternal in her own weird way."
Henstridge said she likes how her character's outfits, though they have evolved, remain practical: She's not a character who's in the lab all day but forced to wear heels. On her character's time trapped on the planet Maveth, Henstridge said she enjoyed that her character was able to show that she was "scrappy."
Bennet talked about the experience filming the show. "It really isn't glamorous. It's a wonderful job, but it's a lot of hard work."
Henstridge credited the work of the show's executive producers, specifically naming Maurissa Tancharoen. "It's really important to them that women are portrayed positively. And also we have flaws, and that's fine. The men have flaws; we're human." Wen also praised Tancharoen: "She's always calm, but she gets her message across, because she's intelligent and confident. It's incredible how powerful she is."
Bennet acknowledged the pressure women have to look a certain way, and stated that the show never forces characters to be "sexy" in inappropriate ways -- if a character is dressed sexy, it's for them, not for anyone else, and not for anyone at the network. Foley said it was important that in scenes like with Simmons in a club, she wasn't wearing a short dress and heels, because that wouldn't make sense for the character. "You can be sexy in a different way."
A young fan dressed as Squirrel Girl asked the panel what their favorite thing about being a "Woman of Marvel" was. Stephens said it was the family she's gained through her work. "I think it's really amazing that we're able to engage with this audience in a real way," Amanat said. Cink said she used to attend the panel as fan, and used that to inspire people in this crowd wtih the notion that they could potentially join them in the future. Wilson said it's "coming to the source" of the stories she loved when she was younger. "It does feel almost like you're stepping into the painting on the wall," she said.
Stohl expressed her enthusiasm for working with women who make her proud; Foley echoed similar sentiments.
"I never saw anyone on TV who looked like me," Bennet said. "I thought I had to have blonde hair and blue eyes to be an actor. And now I'm a superhero. When I came to Hollywood, I was told I wasn't white enough to be the lead and I wasn't Asian enough to be the best friend. It's a dream come true. And I work with Mulan!" (A reference to Ming-Na Wen, the voice of Mulan, natch.)
Wen said she "grew up a geek girl," and was the president of her science-fiction club. "At my age, being a mom, and now continuing to live this fantastic life, being in the Marvel world, and still inspiring and elevating the image of what a woman can be -- that's what Marvel allows for. I don't think any other comic company can do the stuff that Marvel does for women. I'm really thankful."
"Just the title 'Women of Marvel,'" Henstridge said. "It's more than one woman. We help each other. So often we're pitted against each other." Henstridge said that in her original meeting with Joss Whedon on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," he said that it was very important that Simmons and Skye were never pitted against each other.
Is Bennet whose character is a hacker, "really into computers"? "I'm horrible with computers," Bennet said. "I got into the Apple Store and say, 'How do I turn this on?'"
Would Ming-Na Wen be interested in playing Mulan's mother on "Once Upon a Time"? She said that would be fun, but she'd prefer being a part of the in-development "Mulan" live-action feature.
The last person to ask a question at the panel asked where the panel thought things would be in another five years, given that a few years ago Marvel had no female-led titles (and now has 20). Amanat said she hopes that Marvel will be in a place where the number of female-led books no longer needs to be countered, and different genders and sexual orientations are "completely normalized."