When the dust settles on "Civil War II," Marvel's heroes will stand divided. The publishers teases for their new Marvel NOW! initiative have shown that the divisions forged during war might not heal any time soon. Editor-in-chief Axel Alonso, director of content & character development Sana Amanat, and writers Jason Aaron ("Mighty Thor"), Ryan North ("Unbeatable Squirrel Girl"), David Walker ("Nighthawk") and Jim Zub ("Thunderbolts"), and artist Reilly Brown ("Slapstick") gathered at San Diego's Comic-Con International to further discuss and tease the series and events on the horizon as part of Marvel NOW!.
Alonso kicked off the panel by pointing to the "Divided We Stand" teaser image by Mike Deodato, which shows many of Marvel heroes aligned on opposing sides. "Mighty Thor" was the first book discussed, with writer Jason Aaron teasing the next big arc -- the "Asgard/Shi'ar War." He described the story as "Lord of the Rings" vs. "Star Trek." "It's got all the Shi'ar Imperial Guard, like Gladiator, it has a huge cast of characters," said Aaron, praising his art team of Russell Dauterman and Matt Wilson. Aaron the talked about his upcoming second "Thor" book, called "The Unworthy Thor" which will star Thor Odinson. The book will focus on Ultimate Thor's hammer, and Odinson finding out there's another hammer out there. "He's desperate to prove himself worthy again and he sets out on a quest to get the hammer," said Aaron. The series will be illustrated by Olivier Coipel.
Upcoming book "Slapstick" came up next; writer and artist Reilly Brown talked about him, saying that he's not been in the spotlight for a long time. "He's basically a Looney Toons style cartoon character," said Brown. "It's real Roger Rabbit-style juxtaposition of a cartoon character in a realistic world, as realistic as Marvel gets. He uses Looney Toons style physics to fight crime. If you read 'Deadpool' and think he's a little too highbrow, 'Slapstick' is where it's at." Alonso said it was like Roger Rabbit meets the Punisher.
"Unbeatable Squirrel Girl" came up next, to a round of applause from the audience. "It seems some of you know about Doreen Green," said writer Ryan North. The cover of issue #16 shows Squirrel Girl's flying squirrel girl suit. "There are also Australian giant squirrels but we haven't done that yet," said North, teasing other types of squirrels that could end up influencing the book. Amanat then talked up the young readers Squirrel Girl novel that will be coming out soon.
Alonso then jokingly revealed, "full disclosure," that he only barely greenlit "Unbeatable Squirrel Girl" a few years ago. "We're very proud of this book, specifically where it performs in trades phenomenally." North said artist Erica Henderson is at the con, but she's in the hotel room actually working on "Squirrel Girl" right now -- specifically the upcoming "Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats up the Marvel Universe" OGN that she and North are working on in addition to the monthly series.
Alonso talked about "Champions," a book that's coming out of "Civil War II." Alonso said that after the event, there will be "rifts, and 'Champions' is the flagship book of this 'Divided We Stand' universe." The roster includes Ms. Marvel. Amadeus Cho, Miles Morales, Cyclops and Viv Vision. "You'll have to learn why they formed this team and what they stand for. This is a book to watch."
Walker talked about "Occupy Avengers," another series spinning out of "Civil War II." The book will be written by Walker with art by Gabriel Walta. "Occupy Avengers take place in the aftermath and part of it is about Clint trying to find personal redemption, so he hits the road and goes across America with a team of Avengers that we haven't revealed yet," said Walker. "They're on an A-Team sort of mission. They're not a sanctioned Avengers and they're doing things regular Avengers wouldn't do. It's a street-level team and they're going to the states that we fly over when we go across the country." It's also a team of Avengers that have no super powers, Walker revealed, and rely on their skills as opposed to superhuman abilities. Amanat added that there will also be a "Hawkeye" series, but it will star Kate Bishop.
Jim Zub talked about "Thunderbolts," running through the new set-up which spun out of the "Standoff" event earlier this year. "This is a team of people that try to do heroic things but don't always have heroic answers, and they're led by Bucky," said Zub. Bucky's using this team to keep Earth safe whether or not they realize it, and they "go to lengths other teams won't go because they have morally compromised backgrounds." The book also features Kobik, a teenage girl that's built from a Cosmic Cube. She's being protected by Bucky, who has no idea that Kobik also is responsible for making Captain America believe he's always been a HYDRA agent. "It's a cool character interaction along with ass-kicking action and bits of the Marvel Universe we get to play with," said Zub. The post-"Civil War II" arc will see Bucky incarcerated and coming face to face with Steve Rogers.
The new "Invincible Iron Man" series was revealed, with Alonso talking about the new lead character Riri Williams. "We had editorial meetings for 'Civil War II' and Brian Bendis had already created Riri, but the plans got even bigger as we discussed the story," said Alonso. He then showed off Riri's armor, and moved on to the book's sister title, "Infamous Iron Man." That book will star Victor Von Doom as Iron Man and is also written by Brian Michael Bendis.
Jason Aaron spoke about "Doctor Strange," saying "he's busy getting his butt kicked by new enemies, the Empirical. By the end of that story, we get a a new Doctor Strange and he can't do the stuff he used to do. He has to work a lot harder. That's a perfect time for his old bad guys to show up and try to kick his butt even more. All the classic Doctor Strange villains are coming back, including Baron Mordo. You get to see Chris Bachalo's take on those weird villains." A Doctor Strange team book, "Sorcerers Supreme," will come soon. New characters will be included in the book.
"The Unstoppable Wasp" came up next, with Amanat talking about the book's status quo. It will focus on her escape from the Red Room and her using all her skills to become a superhero like her father, Hank Pym. "It's her journey towards becoming a hero," said Amanat. "Along the way she will meet interesting characters and fight villains from the Red Room that are after her. It's the story of the new Wasp as we want to see her." The series is written by Jeremy Whitely and features art by Elsa Charretier.
The floor opened up to questions. A fan asked about seeing all of Marvel's new teen characters teaming up, and Alonso mentioned "Champions," which sees a lot of the new young heroes on the same group. "Maybe Robbie Reyes will show up down the road, spoiler alert," teased Alonso.
A fan asked about all the double heroes running around the Marvel Universe (two Hawkeye, two Captain Americas, two Thors, two Spider-Men, etc.) and if it dilutes their brand. The panel talked about how this conceit works because each version of the character is so different. "It's not about dilution, it's about expanding the possibilities of who can be a hero," said Amanat.
The panel talked about how they come up with major storylines like "Civil War II." "We have retreats at Marvel a few times a year where a bunch of writers sit in a room and talk about comics for eight hours a day for three days, but we talk about all these stories," said Aaron. "I'd go in and pitch here's what I want to do with 'Thor' for the next few years and everyone throws out ideas. With 'Civil War II' it affects everyone's books, so we talk about that and it can sometimes go for multiple retreats."
Amanat talked about how they created Ms. Marvel in retreats, saying that initially she had other code names and powers, like exploding powers -- but Amanat didn't want to give a Muslim superhero exploding powers. "We realized that if she's fans of all these celebrity heroes, she'd want to be exactly like them. And her picking up the mantle of Ms. Marvel and defining her own version of it -- it took us a while to get there but when we got there, it was like, that's the story. It was very organic."
The panel talked about the decision to kill War Machine/James Rhodes in the early chapters of "Civil War II." "This was a decision that wasn't made lightly," said Alonso. "It would've been Brian suggesting this be the scene and there was pushback. We were well aware of the ramifications and arguments were made. It's not always my way or the highway as the editor in chief. If the momentum's going one way and it makes more sense, it goes that way. I think ultimately one of the things is that we already Riri Williams in place for all these incredible things that it was able to offset some of the damage of losing Rhodey -- who will never be resurrected because this is comics. We love Rhodey and we miss him as much as you."
"For us it was ultimately not about giving other characters purpose but more about what Rhodey would do and what he would fight for and how that influences the way both Carol and Tony perceive this entire event," said Amanat. "They react very differently. They perceive Rhodey in distinct ways. The intention of the story, it works for his character, and then I think people [at the writers' summit] were sold."
A fan asked about international concerns and how much Marvel wonders how their comics will play across the world when they're making decisions. "When I'm writing anything, your worst critic is yourself. I can't imagine writing something wondering if something will play here, here and here," said North.
Alonso added a personal story about how "Totally Awesome Hulk" came to be. "We were talking about the post-'Secret Wars' landscape and we were wondering what we could do new with the Hulk. There was nothing we could do with Banner. And senior editor Mark Paniccia suggested we have Amadeus Cho be the new Hulk." Alonso said that his wife is Korean, so this was also personally important to him and his family. And he said that when his nephew heard that a Korean boy was going to become the Hulk, he thought that meant he would turn into the Hulk. Alonso had to call him and calm him down and explain that Amadeus wanted to be the Hulk -- and that there could only be one, so his nephew wouldn't be Hulking out anytime soon.
Amanat added that "there's universal truth to some of these stories that don't have to be limited by international context, it's just the human experience. That's the stories we strive to tell, about the vulnerabilities and challenges of ordinary people even when they have to become powerful. That's something, regardless of background, that people can connect with."