As the final lap in a veritable relay race of panels, Marvel’s Cup O’ Joe was a welcome respite, especially because Reedpop didn’t clear Empire Stage, saving me the stress of rushing onto a massive line for the same room. But while there was a feeling of relief, the room didn’t stay calm for long, for better and worse.
The panel was substantial, bringing together Charles Soule, Dan Slott, Kieron Gillen, Ed McGuinness, Al Ewing, Sana Amanat, Jordan White, Axel Alonso, and Nick Lowe under the moderation of Joe Quesada.
Big announcements included a Captain Marvel YA novel by Shannon Hale and the return of Joe Kelly and Ed McGuinness to the Merc With a Mouth in Spider-Man/Deadpool.
Al Ewing was talking about Contest of Champions, “Earth’s Fightiest Heroes,” as he put it. Ewing was quick to point out that this is a canonical series and that it would be aligned with the video game whose name it shares, with characters from the comic being integrated into the game.
Dan Slott Promised that Amazing Spider-Man won’t just be Peter Parker in a boardroom. Peter runs a company very differently from Tony Stark. With great corporate power comes great corporate responsibility, you see. The series will see Peter setting up Parker Industries all around the world and that will allow us to see a huge amount of the Marvel Universe. Slott was a little more tight lipped about Silver Surfer, but no less excited. He told the crowd that things would never be the same after what’s coming for the Surfer, claiming that it would be as integral to the character as his service of Galactus or his exile on Earth.
Charles Soule revealed that Matt Murdock would be returning to New York and regaining his secret identity in Daredevil, but that he would be changing his job in the court room. Matt is now a DA, meaning that he’s a prosecutor instead of a defense attorney. Soule also continued to be the best marketing plan the Inhuman franchise has ever had by describing where their series will wind up. According to he and Lowe, Black Bolt will be chasing Kang the Conqueror through time to rescue his son and this will lead to a cool, original form of time travel that they have never seen in fiction before.
Sana Amanat is so excited for Kamala Khan’s entrance into the Avengers, but that’s hardly all that’s on Kamala’s plate. Apparently the image of Ms. Marvel has become a symbol of gentrification in Jersey City against Kamala’s will and her relationships with her friends, especially Bruno, are changing. Speaking of awkward romance, Crystal will be returning as a lead in Uncanny Inhumans, having been on a secret mission for Queen Medusa, but she might not be happy to discover that her Queen is currently seeing her old flame, Johnny Storm…
Finally there’s Karnak. Nick Lowe said that he’s always pitching things to Warren Ellis and that he’s always getting turned down. He pitched him Karnak without any expectation of success, but, to his surprise, Ellis was excited. “The Mad Monk? The Mad Kung-Fu Monk? I’m in!” The book is reportedly crazy and Lowe frequently derails the entire office by reading funny or bizzare lines from the scripts out loud.
Turning to Star Wars, the panelists talked about the “Vader Down” crossover, which sees the Dark Lord of the Sith trapped behind enemy lines and facing down a seemingly endless Rebel army. Star Wars: Darth Vader writer Kieron Gillen promised that this would be simple and exhilerating but in no way superfluous, leading into the next stories in both his book and Jason Aaron’s Star Wars. He also mentioned that if fans are unsure, the Darth Vader Annual is a great pitch for the series.
Marvel also announced an expansion of the Star Wars line with Star Wars: Obi-Wan and Anakin. The series takes the now empty mini-series slot and retains the talents of Charles Soule. The series will take place in the ten year gap between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Anakin is thirteen and still in awe of Obi-Wan, who hasn’t settled into the close relationship depicted in Episode II and is still rather stern and quiet. Soule described Obi-Wan as having a samurai feel and told us that the series would follow suit. He was also really excited to show us what the Jedi Order looks like during peacetime and just how awesome they were.It was actually surprising how excited the room was for this, considering the prequels’ reputation, but I’m glad to see that fans are willing to let the best elements of the maligned installments revived and expanded.
The floor opened for questions and someone at the end of my row scrambled to the mic. Successful, they took their place at the front of the line. Unfolding a piece of paper, they asked the assembled panelists, “How many people listened to and approved the idea to make Captain America black and then immediately have him become violent and evil?”
The questioner was refering to the “Axis” event where many of Marvel’s heroes, including the newly appointed Captain America, were left with inverted personalities. The awkward implications of the move had not gone unnoticed, even Al Ewing, writer of story, mentioned the oddity of the timing in our interview with him earlier this year. But while this was a pointed question, it didn’t stop there. The questioner immediately demanded to know why Marvel would remove five Jewish characters from their universe by retconning the Maximoff twins’ parentage. Without missing a beat, the speech turned to bi-erasure and a trend of forced outing in Marvel’s work, citing the young Jean Grey and Bobby Drake and America Chavez and Kate Bishop. There was clearly more but Kieron Gillen interjected at this point, saying that he doesn’t think that Kate is necessarily queer and that America’s statements were made as a joke. The questioner clearly didn’t buy that and angrily informed him that it didn’t read that way and that, as a queer person, they didn’t appreciate sexual orientation being a joke. This question was quickly becoming a fillibuster.
Before long the panel had to end it and respond. Axel Alonso, obviously unable to respond to each point, stated that Marvel has never been more diverse in its characters, in its stories, in its tone or in its staff and that “the rest is just conversation.” The crowd, who had already begun to boo the questioner, broke into applause and Joe Quesada insisted that they move on to other questions.
I honestly found Marvel’s response to be incredibly weak. Gillen’s attempt to clear up an error was the closest to consideration that they offered the questioner, essentially lecturing them on their own experience. The idea that a crowd of superhero fans would boo someone demanding basic empathy from the people who create our cultural heroes was shocking and disgraceful.
That said, the questioner did nothing to endear themselves to the crowd. They deprived people of time to ask their questions and spoke dismissively to everyone regardless of how they were being treated. More importantly, they seemed to lack a goal. If they were hoping for an apology or to open a dialogue, they would have needed to allow a response. I doubt they thought that Marvel was entirely ignorant of these issues and if they wanted to show the extent of the fandom’s discontent with these repeated failures it would have mattered to them that the crowd was turning against them. It seemed like anger for anger’s sake at worst and an attempt to derail the panel in protest at best.
Other questions included whether we’d see more of America Chavez’s backstory – kind of, where we’ll see the Richards family if Ben and Johnny are on other teams – you’ll have to read Secret Wars, and who would be the core of the All-New All-Different Marvel world – keep an eye on Iron Man.
The most interesting question came from an apparent compatriot of the initial questioner. They asked about the portrayal of mental health, particularly in the case of Wanda Maximoff. Both panel and questioner were more respectful this time around, with Axel Alonso insisting that Wanda is entirely sane, responsible, and agentive in the upcoming Scarlet Witch series. A brief digression also revealed that the series would be a “magical mystery tour of magic” in the marvel universe, exploring how it works and the different forms it takes. Nick Lowe also added that attempts to depict disabilities respectfully are important to the company and clued interested fans in to the Original Sins: Daredevil tie-in, which was made in conjunction with an organization specualizing in disability advocasy.
One fan prefaced his question by apologizing on behalf of the room for booing a fellow reader, reminding us that we’re all here because we love these characters and this medium. It brought a smile to my face, but it didn’t last long. Joe Quesada misunderstood and thought he was apologizing to the panelists. He launched into a story about a fan who was upset about how a Latino character was treated. He told the audience that we have to treat minority characters like everyone else, that they have to suffer and struggle and triumph in the same proportions, lest they become “too precious” to use.
It was an abysmal digression that was utterly irrelevant, more than a little patronizing, and deeply ignorant of the concerns of minority communities. Not only would that naturally ease if Marvel created even a few more characters to represent readers, but it ignores that, particularly in the cases that were mentioned earlier, there is a consistent pattern of these characters being treated badly and in ways that are hurtful to Marvel’s fans.
The room was quieter after that first question. The panelists looked jumpy, the fans bristled uncomfortably. On some level the panel clearly knew that these were legitimate questons, but together we’d killed the chance to make something good out of it.
The panel concluded with a screening of an alternate take from episode 2 that was pretty cool. As we left I said hi to Nick Lowe and thanked him for trying to be constructive when things got awkward and then I passed out of the hall and into a sea of people.