"This is a Q&A," began Babylon 5/Spider-Man and Fantastic Four writer J. Michael Straczynski Saturday afternoon at Wizard World Philly. "I provide the A. I'm the biggest A in town! You provide the Q. The cue for my leaving, probably."
For the next hour, he worked the room with practiced ease, answering questions, telling stories, and dishing the dirt about upcoming work.
Many of the questions concerned his plans for upcoming projects. Some could be answered with a simple "No." He has no plans to write the script for a Grimjack movie. He is not developing a new Star Trek project. There are no plans for another Babylon 5 movie or television project at the moment. While there had been plans, they have fallen through, and Straczynski showed little interest in pursuing the matter.
"I never set out to found a franchise." he said. "I wanted to tell a five-year story, and I did."
Similarly, there are no plans for further Babylon 5 books. However, a long-awaited Babylon 5 graphic novel is still in the works. What happened, he explained, was that every time a new movie came up, he stole plot elements from the graphic novel, and then when the time came to get back to work on the graphic novel, he had to come up with a new story. As a result, he's still working on the graphic novel.
Other future projects, or at least potential projects, include a Rising stars movie and a television show featuring Marvel Comics characters. The studio that had optioned a Rising Stars movie has let the option expire. Three different studios are now competing for the movie rights. Meanwhile, Marvel Productions has asked him to develop a show featuring some of their characters, but he declined to specify which ones. He also warned the audience not to get too excited about the project. They're putting together a budget now, but it's a long road ahead before anything happens.
"But it could be fun!"
One fan asked whether Straczynski thought Peter Parker should be with Gwen Stacey or Mary Jane.
"Gwen's dead," he responded. "If he was with Gwen it would be a very troubling story! ... She was dead before I got to her, I swear!"
Other questions concerned the craft of writing. When a budding writer in the crowd asked how he was able to maintain the proper frame of mind to work on multiple projects at once, Straczynski had a simple reply: "I write all the time, that's how."
He elaborated further on his method, explaining that he doesn't start writing until the story is complete in his head. When he sits down to write he's basically transcribing. Later, he added, "I can have equal amounts of fun playing in any universe!"
The point is to tell the stories you want to tell, regardless of the setting or the medium. When "New Avengers" writer Brian Michael Bendis added Spider-Man to the Avengers roster, Straczynski saw the development not as a barrier to the stories he'd planned, but as an opportunity for new and interesting interactions. Why stop at having Spider-Man join? Why not move him right in? So, they burned down the Parker house.
With the Fantastic Four, the interaction between the cosmic adventure on the one hand and the family dynamic on the other is the key to the book, and has been since Lee and Kirby were doing it.
"That should be sacrosanct." Straczynski is looking forward to exploring that family dynamic.
He told the story of his high school career day, when people of various professions spoke with students. By a fluke of scheduling, pioneering television writer Rod Serling read a story Straczynski had written. Serling considered him talented enough to give him some advice, the most important of which was "Never let them stop you from telling the story you want to tell." Straczynski has tried to live by this. Asked whether it's an uphill battle to break into television writing, he responded "Uphill? It's vertical, man!" Then he passed on Serling's advice: "Find the story you want to tell."
Finally, Straczynski revealed three out-and-out spoilers concerning upcoming issues of "Amazing Spider-Man," "Fantastic Four" and "New Avengers." If you don't want to know, this is the place to stop reading, because here come the
Many fans have expressed their disfavor about the inclusion of Wolverine in "The New Avengers." Straczynski revealed the secret joke behind this move. Writer Brian Michael Bendis wants Wolverine there, but doesn't ever want him to do anything. He eats, sleeps and talks, but he's not going to fight.
In "Fantastic Four," the Richards family will face a new threat from a surprisingly mundane source. Child Welfare will show up at the Baxter Building, concerned that Reed and Sue Richards are raising their children in an unsafe environment. What interests Straczynski about this development is that they'll be right.
People are going to notice Peter and family coming and going from Stark Tower. Mary Jane will be coming home from a performance late one night and get caught by a tabloid photographer going into the building. When asked what she's doing there at 2 a.m., she'll blurt out "I was going to see Tony Stark." It will be in all of the papers the next day, further complicating her and Peter's lives and relationship.
Finally, we've already seen a warm interaction between Peter Parker's Aunt May and Jarvis, the Avengers' butler. Somewhere down the road they're going to get together, and "Peter will WIG OUT!"