FX International: Marvel's Dark Reign Panel

FX International: Dark Reign Panel

Hickman, McCann and Gage

Marvel’s first panel of the weekend at the FX International show dealt with the current Dark Reign story that has overtaken the Marvel Universe. In the wake of Secret Invasion, Norman Osborn and his cabal of evil have taken over the Marvel Universe in their Dark Reign, putting the heroes through their paces. Christos Gage (Avengers: The Initiative), Jonathan Hickman (Secret Warriors), and Jim McCann (New Avengers: The Reunion) revealed to a packed audience what the future holds for the heroes of the Marvel Universe.

Jim McCann opened the panel, introducing Hickman first, and then Gage, who showed up late to a round of applause. “Who’s reading Dark Reign?” McCann asked, to which most of the hands in the audience jumped in the air. McCann said that they will all be pleased to hear that there is a group of Cabal one shots coming out. Hickman’s one-shot involves Dr. Doom, or “Hickman Does Doom” as McCann referred to it.

Hickman said he wanted to do the backstory of the characters. Matt Fraction, who couldn’t make the FX Show due to an illness, is doing an Emma Frost one-shot, and Hickman is doing Dr. Doom, since he is going to be the new writer on Fantastic Four. He indicated that the one-shot will give him a chance to stretch his legs with the characters. He did reveal that the story in his one-shot occurs 5 minutes after the Cabal is formed, and takes place in Doom’s head.

Upon the mention of Fraction’s name, McCann mentioned that he believes Fraction is just chicken…or maybe drunk. (“No, Matt, I love ya, man!” he said with a laugh). He then went on to tell the audience that he is working on New Avengers: The Reunion, which includes the newly returned Mockingbird, while Gage is on the Avengers: Initiative, and Hickman is continuing his work on the Secret Warriors. “That’s us,” McCann said, staring into the audience. “Now, we dare you to question us!”

And question them is exactly what the audience did!

“Who is behind the door?”

McCann liked that question, jokingly saying that the guy over the loudspeaker in the convention hall who had a very bad habit of making announcements every time the panel wanted to say something important is behind the door! He then tossed the question back to the audience, asking them who did they think it might be. The answers ranged from Dormammu to the Void to Mephisto. McCann said they are all wrong - it’s really Howard the Duck! After the laughter died down, he told the fans that all will be revealed. Right now, though, Dark Reign is still in Act I of the tapestry of the story, so the panel couldn’t reveal a whole lot. “But we sure can tease,” McCann said with a smile. The X-Men/Dark Avengers crossover is pretty much the first chapter where things start to move faster. It’s going to be a fantastic story, and they all agreed that Fraction has crafted something that is jaw-dropping, particularly in how it ends. From there, things pick up velocity, and fans will finally figure out where this whole story is headed.

McCann said he read the first script the other day, and that it is very topical, much like Civil War, but there is so much crazy stuff happening in there. It will be a double-sized first issue, and on every page, McCann said he wondered how Fraction could top that. The second act, in which Hickman has a big role to play, is when the person behind the door is revealed, and once that happens, fans will understand why this story is so dangerous.

“How much fun are you having writing the darker side of comics? These are the people who typically knock over banks to eat infants? How much fun is that, rather than writing about people who are constantly saving lives?”

Christos spoke up, saying that the group was just discussing that yesterday. The Initiative – which will have a new artist with issue #26 in Rafa Sandoval (Incredible Hercules) – is currently facing something they like to call “Initiative Disassembled,” and that’s about the fall of the Initiative as fans knew it. But starting with issue #26, it will be the new Initiative under Norman Osborn, the Hood and the Taskmaster. Gage said he liked the fact that he got to pull out a lot of villains from big name guys, but at the same time, he got to search for obscure villains who weren’t in the handbooks – such as Johnny Guitar and Dr. Sax from the old Dazzler books. Gage said the fun part is writing the villains when they are put into a position where they have to act like heroes. What does a naturally selfish person do when they are put in a position where they have to save lives and risk their own lives in the process? I like exploring what happens to heroes and villains when the roles are switched. And for anyone who remembers when Tigra got a beating from the Hood, Christos said to pay attention, because now the shoe is on the other foot! “She’s coming out of the refrigerator, scratching, clawing, biting – been using my cat as research,” Christos joked, but McCann was quick to add that no cats were harmed in the making of Christos’ book. “I’ve always loved writing villains, like Deadshot for DC Comics,” Christos went on to say, “and Taskmaster is so much fun to write.”

Hickman took his turn, admitting his relative newness to the whole thing. His book, Secret Warriors, was born out of Civil War and Secret Invasion, and “it’s kind of like I’ve never written anything else,” he told the fans. “But I’m of the opinion that comics are sophisticated enough today that there are a lot of gray areas.”

“Christos, G.I. Joe Cobra No. 1 was amazing – are we going to see that kind of stuff – undercover, espionage – in your Avengers book?”

Christos replied in the affirmative, indicating that some of the people who were in the Initiative will leave and form the resistance, while others will be forced to stay on the team because Osborne has something on them. There will be double-agents who feed info to the resistance. So yes, there will be some similarities to G.I. Joe Cobra. “I’ve always enjoyed writing stories about people who have to face up to their ideals,” Chris said. “Do the labels of hero and villain change what you do – what lines will Tigra cross to get back at the people who attacked her, but also to bring down the Cabal?”

“Jonathan, how do you feel about being compared to Alan Moore?”

The panel laughed, with McCann pointing out that Hickman will have to grow a lot more facial hair. Hickman, on the other hand, said that while people have said a lot of good things about his work, for which he is very appreciative, he has only put out about 20 or so books, so wait until he has 100 or more under his belt, then ask him again. But he thanks the fans for the comparison, but he respectfully disagreed.

“Jim, what’s your next writing project?”

“I’d like to know that, too!” Jim laughed, telling fans that he has a couple of things that by the end of July, he’ll be able to announce. He and David want to keep doing things with the crazy cast of characters they are working with in New Avengers: The Reunion, and he also has a What If? issue coming up. If New Avengers: The Reunion keeps going, Jim said he would want to do more stuff with the WCA (World Counter-terrorist Association, not the West Coast Avengers). Jim joked that he wanted to call it West Coast Avengers, but they wouldn’t let him. He did say he wants to do the book with WCA, which would focus on a black ops, off-the-books kind of thing, and throw in some romance! Or even bromance (depending on who’s guest starring)!

“Why does it seem like Marvel is treating Dr. Doom like such a pansy sometimes? Is he actually going to take over? Will there be an actual battle among the inside of the dark Illuminati?”

McCann replied that fans will see a lot of the inner-workings of the Cabal in upcoming months. He compared it with Warren Ellis’ run on Thunderbolts. One of the things everyone was waiting for in Thunderbolts was to see it implode; but surprisingly, it didn’t, as they have now become the Dark Avengers. He said that Dr. Doom isn’t a pansy, and by the third issue, fans will see proof of that. He also assured fans that they will see Dr. Doom kick-ass in an upcoming Fantastic Four.

McCann looked out in the audience and asked a fan dressed as Wonder Woman if she had any questions. When she replied no, he said they would gladly talk about “her” book – even throw out some spoilers for Gail (Simone)! Needless to say, this brought about some laughs.

“Are there any plans to bring back the Counterforce (n/k/a The New Warriors)?”

There are plans, the panel indicated, and they will be the core of the resistance, joined by Tigra (since her leaving the Initiative is no longer a secret). But no more could be revealed, since none of them wanted to give away who would be leaving the Initiative and who would be staying. They did hint, though, that those who are old school New Warriors fans should keep an eye on the Initiative, as there will be some possible intriguing appearances that those fans might just recognize. “And ignore the rumors on the internet,” Christos said. “The Initiative is not going to be cancelled. Just keep buying it, and we’ll keep it that way!”

“Can you expand on Norman Obsorn becoming the Steel Patriot? How does he deal with the tech?”

All the panelists agreed that Norman already has the smarts for it, since he built his own suit when he was Green Goblin. He’s a genius, so he definitely knows how to use his brain. And when he inherited Tony Stark’s empire, Stark’s vault was opened and he got to play with all the toys. “Osborne plays better mind games than Tony,” McCann pointed out.

“What about No-Var? He’s the new Captain Marvel – he seems more passive than the rest of the Dark Avengers?”

There is a storyline that Brian Bendis is doing coming up in the summer, somewhere around June or July, where fans will see what’s been going on with No-Var. He has taken a back seat in the story recently because he doesn’t eat people or shoot them in the eye, but No-Var will step up, and Brian has a great story coming up with him.

Hickman told fans they haven’t seen the last of Marvel Boy. A ton of people have tried to pitch that book, but Marvel is waiting for the right pitch. When it’s right, we’ll see it. “Can we say Grant Morrison is writing even if it’s not true?” McCann asked, following up rather quickly with, “Just kidding! Don’t put that in print!”

“Is there going to be a one shot with the Sentry?”

There is something bigger being planned, they revealed. Something bigger than a one-shot, but smaller than an elephant.

“Will we see any more villain/hero hybrids like Hawkeye? Or are we going to see heroes doppleganging as villains to try and topple the Cabal?”

“How do you know you haven’t already seen it?” McCann asked. He went on to say that the recently announced Dark X-Men will mess with the fans’ minds in a good way. Dark X-Men is to the X-Men as Dark Avengers is to the Avengers.

“Do you need to read X-Men to read and understand the story of Dark X-Men?”

“No,” McCann answered, “but you should.” Dark X-Men will be born in Uncanny X-Men #513, as well as in the Dark Avengers/X-Men: Utopia one-shot. “Okay, so I guess yes, you do,” McCann laughed. Dark X-Men will be a six issue crossover between Dark Avengers and Uncanny X-Men, with still more developments to come. Dark X-Men will have really long-term ramifications on the X-Men. People have complained that X-Men are in their own bubble over on the west coast, but this will bring them back into the full tapestry of the Marvel Universe.

“Will Dark X-Men have its own series?”

Fans were told to check out Uncanny X-Men #513. Also, a Jae Lee cover that is being released on Monday should get fans excited about the story. McCann indicated that is going to be the cover to Dark Avengers/X-Men: Utopia one-shot. It’s an important thing to the whole Dark Reign event, and when it happens it will be seismic, and stuff will come out of it. “We’ve been building this house of cards,” he said. “An elaborate domino maze – we’ve been putting pieces into place, and now we are ready to make those pieces fall! Dark Avengers/X-Men: Utopia is the first flick of the dominos.”

“Is this the new direction where X-Men Legacy is being said to be going?”

The answer was a clear “No,” as X-Men Legacy will still be its own thing. Mike Carey has his own plans for that, and for fans who like Rogue and a couple of old-school heroes and villains, you’ll like X-Men Legacy.

“In the New Avengers, whose idea was it to have Spider-Man reveal his identity to the team, and how did you come to terms with the effect of One More Day?

The idea was Brian (Bendis), and no one at Marvel felt that it discounted the One More Day story (which put Spidey’s identity back in the box for the general populace). It was simply that within the story, Peter thought he could trust these people. There have been heroes in the past who knew that Peter Parker was Spider-Man, so it’s not unlike that. The reveal this time is only staying within the group, but it will definitely have some ramifications for him. Despite that, Peter feels he can trust this group. “Plus,” interjected McCann, “it’s easier for him to eat around them with his mask off.”

“Ms. Marvel is pretty important in Avengers Universe, yet she has been shunned with the start of Dark Reign, and now she was allegedly killed off. What’s going on?”

Fans were directed to look at issue #41 of Ms. Marvel, which will start “the War of the Marvels.” The cover has the Moonstar version of Ms. Marvel with her foot on Carol Danvers’ neck. Brian Reed is crafting a really good Ms. Marvel / Dark Reign story involving Moonstone and…someone. Ms. Marvel has a big role to play in Dark Reign, and in issue #51 of New Avengers, she was used really well. Fans will eventually see everyone get their spotlight in the New Avengers title, but for now, issue #41 of Ms. Marvel’s own title is the one to watch.

“What happened with Ms. Marvel in Mighty Avengers?”

She’s in New Avengers now. She still has kind of the same role as she did in Mighty Avengers, where she led in the field. But now she’ll be doing a similar role, but only as second in command.

“You mentioned the tapestry of the books over the next year, but with the economy the way it is, people can’t buy all your books. Which ones would you say are most integral?”

“Buy they ones with our names!” McCann, Hickman, and Gage all cried out, which brought laughter from the audience. Kidding aside, McCann assured fans there will be Dark Reign logos on the titles. Hickman suggested that fans should read the books about the characters they like. “It all depends on the characters you are interested in,” he said. “There is no one thing that encompasses the entire Dark Reign. It’s how each group or individual deals with the whole problem of Dark Reign. There are some books that are important to the overall story, such as the X-Men/Dark Avengers crossover, but whatever happens in those books, they will be reflected or recapping in other books without saying, ‘This story is now continued in __________’ which fans of another comic company have been complaining about happening there. I think we are doing a good recap in our books so that people won’t have to buy every book. We communicate and work together.”

Gage added that what he thinks is cool about the Marvel Universe is that the writers and artists can play off each other and the numerous story elements without forcing people to buy every book.

McCann went on to say that when writers are using certain characters, they are respectful of one another, letting each other know what is going on with characters when they want to use them.

Hickman piped back up and reiterated that with the economy, fans should buy what they want to read. The only thing they ask is that when they throw out a first issue (like Dark X-Men), give it a try. If you like it, then hang around, and it may be your new favorite book. The entire panel agreed that Fraction’s going to knock it out of the park with his story. Fans will to love it, because the writing is done really well. But above all else, buy what you like, don’t buy what you don’t like.

“Doesn’t this whole villains united thing seem very similar to the Acts of Vengeance crossover done some years back? What would you call the difference?”

“This one is better,” was the quick response. Once the laughter died down again, Christos said the obvious answer is that in this story, the villains won! Norman is actually in charge. McCann explained that in Dark Reign, fans get to see how heroes react to the situation when they actually lose. Dark Reign also shows how you can take someone to the public and present them as a hero, when all of the readers know they are really a villain. How long until the heroes win? In Acts of Vengeance, the villains just had an aggressive attack, but they didn’t win. This is more like the real world – sometimes the villains win. And when they win, what happens? Do the heroes fight back? Do the heroes become villains? Do they move to Canada?

Chris spoke up, referring to the fact that he had just written a scene in his title where two heroes were arguing - one broke the law to get information, and when the other hero condemns him for it, he argued that they are all breaking the law by not submitting themselves to Norman. So where do they draw the line? It’s a matter of moral ambiguity.

“With Civil War, Marvel put out cards that showed all the books and crossovers and which titles to buy – do they have that now for Dark Reign?”

With Civil War>, the cards were put out because there were assorted mini-series attached to it. The only part of Dark Reign that will have anything similar is when Fraction’s Utopia story comes out. This is not a massive crossover event, but rather, it is really a shared universe, and the books show how things are affecting each character. This is not just one linear story. There are Dark Reign banners on the books, and in Marvel Previews, you’ll see what we have Dark Reign titles separated from the rest, and other books will still be doing their own things. Not every book is forced to deal with Norman being in charge – they are still telling their own stories. Runaways is an example – it has nothing to do with Dark Reign, but it’s still a great story.

Hickman stated that Marvel doesn’t have really heavy editorial baggage. As writers, they like where the books are at right now, and they have cool stories to tell.

Chris said that if you are writing something you don’t want to be writing, it won’t be any good. If you don’t like it, no one else will either. He believes that they are very fortunate that they are all excited about what’s going on.

“Is Baby Cage going to be revealed as a Skrull?”

This caused the panel to laugh, but they confirmed that definitely, all the Skrulls have been revealed. Even though they showed Baby Cage with green eyes, he is not a Skrull. The one thing about Secret Invasion was that they had a definite list beforehand as to who was a Skrull and who was not. This was so writers couldn’t come back four or five years down the road, write themselves into a corner with a character, and use the “Oh, well, he/she was really a Skrull” line to get out of it.

“Since Mockingbird was shown in hell after she died, how is that hell related to a Skrull’s hell, since it was revealed the Mockingbird that died was a Skrull?”

McCann felt this was less of a comic book question and more of a question of what does a Skrull soul look like in hell? He thought he had addressed it enough in the dialogue in issue #3 without coming out and hammering the fans over the head with it. In his mind, the soul was either the Skrull or perhaps even Bobbie at a different time in hell (who can tell how time goes in hell?). He even suggested that perhaps when you really, really, really want to see someone, and you are in the afterlife realm, maybe they take on whatever form you want them to. McCann laughed, saying if Bobbie died, she would definitely not want to spend eternity in a one-piece bathing suit with winged sleeves. There have been tons of stories where people are shown to be dead, and yet they weren’t, specifically pointing out that Bucky and Mockingbird were both shown rising from the dead when villains brought them back to fight, yet now we find out they were never really dead to begin with.

“Will we be seeing more of Nick Fury’s old supporting characters showing up?”

Hickman gave an affirmative answer, reminding fans that Dum-Dum is already back. The cool thing about Secret Warriors, he said, is that Marvel is currently letting him do anything he wants as far as Nick Fury’s past goes. It seems no one is too interested in using people from Fury’s past, such as the Howling Commandos. He said they have been able to get everyone they wanted into the book so far. He also went on to say that Brian taking Fury off the table for two years was a good thing, as Fury was becoming too easy of a plot device for writers to use anytime they needed to send their hero off on mission – have Fury tell them to do it. Now, however, Hickman is able to tell an older Nick Fury story, and it’s a better book because of it . Hickman said he initially laid out a 5-year plan for the book, at the same time knowing it would have to be flexible as other ideas popped up. Because he laid out such a comprehensive plan, Marvel could see where he was going with certain characters.

“Since Fraction isn’t here, did you have any Casanova spoilers that you can pass on?”

McCann smirked and said that everyone dies, and then moves to San Francisco.

The last question before the panel ended involved the new She-Hulk mini-series and the cancellation of the ongoing title. McCann encouraged fans to pick it up, saying the concept was something he thought was really cool. He said it’s a flip on the “madder is stronger for the Hulk” concept. The new She-Hulk has a different future (being the daughter of Tundra and a future Hulk), so she has a different approach to the power. Marvel is trying to build the Hulk family. Jennifer Walters is still out there and will be used – she’s not going to just sit in a trailer park and wonder whether she’s going to be a bounty hunter or a lawyer. But the new Savage She-Hulk will become a part of the “Marvel Tapestry,” and as Bruce comes back, as does Skaar, it’s time for Marvel to let Hulk be more than just Bruce Banner. “Who knows,” McCann said, wrapping up the panel, “perhaps we’ll have a battle for the torn purple pants!”

After thanking all their fans, they reminded everyone come back Sunday for the Mondo Marvel panel.

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