It was a humid, cloudy morning when I arrived at Pier 94 for Special Edition: NYC 2015. I hurried to the ticket line to pick up my press badge and ran to the entrance to make it in time for Marvel’s Next Big Thing Panel.
I didn’t know what to expect. My New York con experiences had always been in the Javitz Center. Were the rooms smaller here? Were the lines handled differently? Would I be able to get in!? The terror of the unknown loomed large, but I needn’t have worried. Cordoned off with impassible sheets of black fabric, the twin panel theaters had no doors and eagerly welcomed attendees to enter at any point of the panel at any point of the day. I strolled right in and took an empty seat in the second row. And for all my fears of lateness, I was hardly the worst off. Charles Soule didn’t arrive until about ten minutes into the panel and Peter David never showed at all!
Still, we more than made due with Marvel’s talent relations manager Rickey Purdin, sale and communication manager Chris D’Lando, A-Force co-writer Marguerite Bennett, and Ultimate Spider-Man creator and Uncanny X-Men scribe Brian Michael Bendis, who were joined by Soule before too long. Purdin opened the panel with the announcement of some more variant cover promotions. August will see manga variants drawn by some of Japan’s most popular mangaka, while an unspecified month in fall will see cosplay covers, featuring real cosplayers. D’Lando brought a smile to my face by explaining that the latter set were essentially a thank you to a valuable section of Marvel’s fanbase.
Purdin also announced the True Believers program of $1 reprints of number 1 issues, which will include fan favorites like Jason Aaron’s Thor and G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel.
With that, Purdin turned to the panelists and began asking them about their current books, however, before long we received an unpleasant surprise. You see, it appears that no one considered the ramifications to building the panel rooms out of metal pipes and felt and when the “Where Do You Get Your Ideas” panel kicked off next door at 10:45 it began a mic level cold war that theater 1 had no chance of winning. This remained a problem throughout the convention, but it was never so pronounced as in this panel, something that I’m sure Marvel was none too pleased about, given it was their only panel of the day. By the question and answer session it had gotten so bad that fans were forced to kneel and use Marguerite Bennett’s mic, one of the only ones loud enough to be heard.
During the panel it was revealed that Loki is the apparent traitor on the cover of A-Force #4 and that The Maestro, the evil, brilliant Hulk of Peter David’s “Future Imperfect” would play a large role in the “All-New All-Different” Marvel Universe. Charles Soule also made a very compelling pitch for Inhumans: Attilan Rising. The series sees Medusa as the queen of Attilan and a Baron of Battleworld trying to put down an anti-Doom rebellion. Soule described it as a sort of ‘French resistance in WWII’ situation, conjuring up Casablanca with a cover of Black Bolt in a bar called The Quiet Room. Soule says that Medusa and Black Bolt have never met in this version of reality and that that opens up some really interesting storytelling options that simply wouldn’t be possible outside of “Secret Wars”. Perhaps the most obvious representation of this fact is the reveal that Black Bolt is actually an employee at The Quiet Room when he’s not engaged in secret rebellion, playing the role of the chatty bartender. Apparently this hasn’t leveled the bar just yet, so maybe we’ll get a rousing rendition of “As Time Goes By”.
Soule also mentioned the Lando mini-series, saying that it was a natural part of the Star Wars trilogy to explore. Soule set the series between Lando’s fabled loss of the Millennium Falcon and where we meet him in The Empire Strikes Back. Lando hasn’t yet become an administrator on Bespin and, in fact, he’s mostly chasing his losses. After all, despite his place as a member of the main cast of RotJ, we know very little about Lando, save that he’s a gambler and not a very good one. The series will see Calrissian put together a heist to clear his debts and introduce readers to Lobot. “Did you ever go to ToysR’Us and look at the Star Wars figures,” Soule asked us, “the one that was left…That was Lobot!” Familiar as the character might be to children of the 80s and 90s, Soule promises that Lobot will be acting very differently from how we see him in the films, acting as Lando’s closest friend.
Still the biggest news was the “All-New All Different” Marvel which received its first series announcement in the form of Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez’s Invincible Iron Man. Bendis spoke about really building Iron Man into the central figure that he’s become in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, promising new allies, a new girlfriend, and new villains alongside the new suit we’ve already seen. The suit, Bendis says, will render all others redundant by transforming into different armors to suit the situation. He did place one limit on it by implying that Tony has to choose which armors he’ll use before a mission, which I found to be an interesting little twist. He also thanked Kieron Gillen for the revelation that Tony was adopted and promised that we’d find out who Tony’s biological parents are.
The Q&A revealed that Bendis has not forgotten the mysterious discovery at the end of Spider-Men, that Spider-Gwen’s supporting cast will likely survive in some form after “Secret Wars”, and that Charles Soule is indeed a lawyer and can weasel, out of any question he doesn’t want to answer.
My favorite question, however came from a woman who wanted to ask Marguerite Bennett if there was anything she wanted to say to girls who want to work in comics. An absolutely resolute Bennett answered, “Don’t be scared.” With an impressive fire in her eyes she told the audience, “I had one of the worst weeks of my life with hate mail, and it doesn’t matter. I will prove to those people through my work that I’m not scared. I’m not going anywhere.” It was a reminder, to paraphrase Alan Moore, that Bennett is not stuck in a sexist industry, there are sexists who are stuck in hers.
After the panel I decided to explore a little bit. I was surprised how toy heavy the show was. There were a lot of booths selling some great toys and clothing, but relatively few selling comics, at least compared to other shows of this prestige. Even so, that wasn’t really the core of the show, this con was all about Artist Alley.
The creators themselves were really the focus of the show, which is actually rather nice for a high profile convention like this. I spoke to James Tynion IV at his booth about his latest issue of The Woods and saw some fantastic, psychedelic line art for upcoming issues, courtesy of Michael Dialynas. Tynion also confirmed my suspicion that this arc is something he’s been looking forward to for a while.
It look me a little while to get to Tynion because of the line, but, while I’m used to the Batman Eternal architect drawing a crowd, it turns out that, while more than one stopped along the way, the line was really for his neighbor, Ms. Marguerite Bennett. Bennett is one of the nicest people I know in a particularly kind industry and a really interesting writer. It was nice to see her getting the attention she deserved, but kind of surprising to see her suddenly heading a line one tier below the con heavyweights like Jason Latour. Never underestimate the power of A-Force.
I also talked to Steve Orlando about Vertigo’s quarterly series of anthologies and stopped by Joe Quinones’s booth. I even managed to snag a good deal on a couple of trades of Scalped and tracked down the first volume of Marc Andreyko’s Manhunter, so I can’t say I didn’t have some luck.
Needing a break from the show floor, I headed back towards the panel rooms, in time to catch the beginning of the Black Comics Month panel. It was quite a sight, a massive line of panelists. Our moderator, MizCaramelVixen spent a little time introducing each of the panelist’s work and talking to them about it briefly. MizCaramelVixen did her best but, more than once, her frustration with the current state of comics shone through. It was more than a little endearing, if sad in its necessity.
One thing that was really nice about the panel was how Brian Michael Bendis handled speaking on it. It could have been weird if he showed up but didn’t speak or if the lone white guy overshadowed the other panelists, but that’s not how it played out at all. Bendis, ever self-aware and self-effacing, spoke with confidence, but the other panelists made it clear that his words came from consideration and time spent listening. Asked what made him create Miles Morales, Bendis answered that it was a lot of things, but mostly the more he looked at it, the most Spider-Man’s origin story felt like a person of color’s story in the modern world. I’m sure you could have a long and fascinating – or miserable depending on how you want to play it – conversation about the truth and implications of that idea, but what made it work was the almost visible release of tension and frustration as he said so. You could feel shoulders imperceptibly relaxing as silent choruses of ‘you understand’ danced through minds up on the stage.
It was also interesting to hear from Darryl McDaniels, a very different kind of superstar but an even bigger one than Bendis. Speaking of his childhood, McDaniels describes his life as being composed of “school work and Marvel comics.” Comics, he said, helped give him the confidence to pursue hip-hop.
The panel was well attended and full of energy. I was particularly glad to see the huge slate of creators getting a chance to talk about their work. That’s a lot of creators getting a rather impressive platform to share their stories and a lot of people suddenly without an excuse for not reading comics by people of color.
As that panel wound down I headed over to DC’s Batman panel. The entire Gotham Academy team was in attendance and were super excited to talk about Helen Chen’s art in issue 7. They also revealed that one Dr. Kirk Langstrom would be taking a position as a science teacher at Gotham Academy.
As for Catwoman, she’s not entirely sure she buys the idea that Batman could be dead and she’s going to get to the bottom of it. Genevieve Valentine, whose name sounds more and more like one of Catwoman’s aliases the more I hear it, said that the next few issues will really deal with the precarious position that Selina is in, not only with the rest of Gotham’s underworld but with the police as well. She also showed off the covers for the next few issues, all of which we’ve seen in some fashion before, but that did little to make them less stunning.
Turning to the more horror-filled side of the DCU, Ray Fawkes revealed that James Gordon’s departure from the role of police commissioner would put the Midnight Shift in a particularly awkward place as they try to convince Gotham City to repent its evil ways. Good luck with that. He also got into a brief argument with Brenden Fletcher about how Gotham by Midnight and Batgirl co-exist, which ended with them agreeing that the ghosts and spirits that make Gotham their home stay on one side of the river. There is no haunting in Burnside. James Tynion spoke about his modern reinvention of classic Hellblazer, promising that the update would remain true to core and that John Constantine remains dangerous, dickish, and bisexual. “John’s flirting with dudes in the first issue”.
Questions proved a great way for Brenden Fletcher to drop some big surprises. Asked about cameos in Black Canary, he told the panel that, while he was going to try to build up Dinah’s world first, a certain member of the Gotham Academy cast was going to be moving over to Black Canary. He also answered a fan who spoke about the value of LGBTQ issues in Catwoman by revealing that October will see a big story for Alysia Yeoh over in Batgirl.
The most interesting question of the panel was probably from the fan who asked what the panelists’ dream character would be at DC. Fletcher won points with me for saying he’d like a Vixen solo series while Ray Fawkes became the patron saint of the Poison Ivy League. James Tynion shocked no one but pleased everyone by admitting that he still yearns to write Tim Drake. Still the best answers came from Fletcher (having thought of a new idea) and Becky Cloonan who suggested a comic about Bruce Wayne’s dating life and teenage Alfred respectively.
The panel reminded me of how great Tynion’s Divergence: Constantine: The Hellblazer sneak peek was so, after grabbing a couple of recent issues I’d missed, I headed over to his table to tell him how psyched I was. A bit of a line formed while I was waiting as one particularly dedicated fan brought most of Batman: Eternal to be signed. As such, I kept my gushing brief, but I headed over to Ming Doyle’s table to tell her the same. I had never met Doyle, but, based on the couple of minutes I spent talking to her, I have come to the conclusion that she is super nice. I also realized that writing for WCBR has calibrated my brain not to give spoilers when discussing the plot of a comic whether there’s a reason or not. Like, I’m pretty sure Ming Doyle knows the plot of her Constantine comic, but every time I reminded myself of that I ended up speaking in code. If you haven’t read the short, it’s available for free online. Check it out.
At last!Not long after I checked out the Dark Horse Builds Character panel. A number of panelists were missing in action, but that left a nice, intimate panel consisting of moderator Alex Cox of the CBLDF, Alex de Campi, and Jim Zub. As Zub’s most recent work for Dark Horse is Conan/Red Sonja, the panel quickly and rather charmingly descended into a Robert E. Howard geek session. The two were very much of one mind, discussing the weirdness of Conan’s history, the interchangeability of Howard protagonists, and the bizarre fun of the strange and Lovecraftian elements of Howard’s writing. Zub also discussed some of the more interesting elements of his recent crossover, saying that the opposing paths that Conan and Sonja’s lives took makes for some really interesting interactions in two time periods. Moving to de Campi’s Grindhouse, de Campi gave some loving recommendations of great Italian exploitation films. She also told the audience that they’ve either seen John Carpenter’s work or that this is the best day of their lives because they’re about to. Explaining where her love of the gory, often problematic genre came from, de Campi was quite clear, “I had to watch a lot of sleazy movies to see heroes who looked like me.”
In short, I learned a lot about Conan and, more importantly, I learned that Alex de Campi is probably awesome at parties.
I spent the rest of the day talking to people, looking for great indie comics that might have slipped by me, and generally circulating. It was nice. It was chill. But, for the first time, I felt like I’d seen everything I wasn’t explicitly planning to do the next day. I’ve never had that happen at a con before.
When I stepped out of Pier 94 it was brilliantly sunny and I walked away ,chatting with a friend, another day of SE: NYC ahead of me.