SDCC '13: MARVEL 50th Anniversaries: AVENGERS, X-MEN & More

Credit: Marvel Comics

Official panel description:

"Marvel Comics's first wave of superhero creations in the 1960s have proven to have remarkable staying power and worldwide appeal. The Avengers, X-Men, Dr. Strange, and Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos (which introduced Nick Fury) all celebrate their 50th anniversaries this year. When Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko created the characters half a century ago, little did they know what they brought into the comics world. Since then numerous writers and artists have told the tales of these heroes, including Comic-Con special guests Brian Michael Bendis (Avengers and X-Men), Frank Brunner (Dr. Strange), John Romita, Jr. (just about every Marvel hero), and Roy Thomas, who was there almost at the beginning with Stan, Jack and Steve and contributed his own memorable takes on the Avengers and X-Men. Sunday July 21, 2013 1:45pm - 2:45pm"

Starting now! The panel is moderated by Mark Waid, joined by Brian Michael Bendis, John Romita Jr. and Roy Thomas. Frank Brunner is expected to join in progress.

Waid starts by mentioning Marvel Studios' Hall H panel last night, and saying that the comic book creators joining him on the panel have been integral in making those movies possible.

Thomas starts by talking about the early days of his career, saying that he didn't think it would be possible for him to write at Marvel, since Stan Lee seemingly wrote everything himself. Thomas says he tried working at DC, but didn't enjoy it, and then had a meeting with Marvel and was given a "writing test" — which led to a job offer. Thomas wanted to give DC proper notice, but upon telling them that he was leaving for Marvel, he says he was told, "You're a spy for Stan Lee — get out!" and was back at Marvel 20 minutes later.

Waid asks where Thomas made his stamp on mainstream characters. Thomas says after writing issues of books like Millie the Model, then wrote a couple of Steve Ditko-illustrated Doctor Strange issues. His first regular series was Sgt. Fury with artist Dick Ayers, which led to him taking on X-Men.

Bendis says he think Thomas was one of the first writers at Marvel to take on a book like Avengers and "really evolve the concept." "As soon a I got in, I was trying to get Thor and Iron Man in again," Thomas says of moving the series past the "Cap's Kooky Quartet" era. He says that Lee initially objected to Thor and Iron Man's re-inclusion, but eventually resisted.

Speaking of the introduction of The Vision, Thomas says he had interest with the original, Golden Age Vision, and was given a mandate to include an android on the Avengers — so he combined both ideas. "It was just a bunch of happy accidents," Thomas says.

Thomas discloses that though he likes Spider-Man as a character, he never had interest in writing the character.

Bendis asks Thomas about John Buscema. Thomas says that Buscema didn't like drawing the popular characters, and was reluctant to illustrate superheroes. "Sometimes I think he really did hate comic books as much as he said," Thomas says.

Waid asks at what point did Romita, growing up with his father John Romita as one of the most prominent early Marvel artists, realize something "interesting" was going on at Marvel? Romita says it was Daredevil #12, guest-starring Ka-Zar. "I didn't know what a superhero was, because [my father] was doing romance books," Romita answers. "He explained to me that Daredevil is surrounded by all these bad guys. And there's this Tarzan guy, and he's going to help him out. And his friend isn't a chimpanzee, it's a sabre-toothed tiger."

What were the characters that Romita really wanted to sink his teeth into, Waid asks? "Daredevil and Spider-Man, because that's what my father had done," the artist answers.

Bendis asks how old Romita was when he was first published by Marvel. "18." What comic was it? "I don't know, but boy oh boy, it's lining someone's birdcage right now," he says.

Romita discusses his father stepping away from the business in 1996. "Most artists need art," Romita says. "It's therapeutic. He didn't. He was a depression baby. He saw it as a job and quit, and was happy he quit."

Waid turns to Bendis, who says that he feels that like him, Bendis would have "written this stuff for free" as a kid. "My wife, who runs our business, has asked me not to say that out loud anymore," Bendis quips.

"I've been die-hard since birth," Bendis says of his long-term comic book fandom, sharing an early memory of drawing Spider-Man at the Passover table around age 4 or 5.

Waid asks what attracted Bendis to Marvel characters. "I know now, having looked back further, that it certainly has something to do with father issues," Bendis says. "My parents were divorced. I had a relationship with my dad that only reminded me of, 'Oh, that's why she divorced you.' You read every Marvel comic, and the dad is either dead, or a bad guy. These were my role models. There was a consistency. There was a lot of love. Even Captain America and Hawkeye were fighting, but they loved each other."

Waid turns to the panel, asking what they think each other's greatest contributions to Marvel were. "With John, I have a lot of love for his work, I think even more than I expressed when we worked together," Bendis says, adding that he felt that he wasn't "worthy" to work with him. Bendis calls Romita's work as "sculpture come to life on the page."

Bendis calls Thomas the first creator to "take the torch and start running" from the original Marvel creators, which he says is a significant achievement given the Marvel tradition of keeping their iconic characters alive.

Audience Q&A time. Was there any awareness at Marvel in the early days that they were reaching remote areas of the country that didn't have a lot of entertainment? Thomas says they were aware the comics had a wide reach, and that the idea for Wolverine was inspired by the number of Canadian fans they have. "'Call him Wolverine. He's Canadian, he's short and he's feisty. The rest is up to you,'" Thomas relates.

A fan who didn't like Civil War asks the panel what they thought of "heroes fighting heroes"? "They weren't fighting over a girl or a candy bar, they were fighting over civil liberties, and what they thought was the future of America," Bendis answers. "It was, 'What is our world like, and what are people worried about?'" Romita adds that "superheroes have been fighting each other for years."

Next question concerns Doctor Strange — "Is there a particular run of Doctor Strange that would be your recommendation for someone getting into the character?" Romita: Ditko's run. Bendis: Brian K. Vaughan's The Oath. Waid: Steve Englehart's material.

Thomas tells a fan that Lee was very interested in civil rights, but didn't want to take sides during the Vietnam War (other than supporting active servicemembers), because it would be a no-win proposition. "You even want to sell to bigots. You don't want to pander to them, but you wouldn't mind if you spend their dimes."

An audience member asks what Doctor Strange's "role" is. "I always look at him like a magic fireman," Bendis says. "If magic shows up, he shows up. Sometimes it can come across like a deus ex machina, but I think he's one of the best characters in Marvel Comics."

Last question: What was the hardest job someone on the panel had in succeeding someone else on a book? "The toughest follow-up was being on Daredevil after everybody that was on Daredevil," Bendis says. "Don't be the guy that tanks it. I was relieved that we didn't."

Romita says he's been in a few tough spots — following his father on Spider-Man, David Mazzucchelli on Daredevil, and John Byrne and Paul Smith on X-Men. "I got death threats. And that was from my mother alone."

Thomas says that many of his first gigs was being the writer to follow Stan Lee, which he compares to following Frank Sinatra at a concert. Thomas says he was relieved when Marvel got the license to Conan the Barbarian, because there was no real model in the comic book format, and he could deviate as he saw fit.

That's it! Thanks for reading all of our live coverage from Comic-Con International in San Diego!

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