The Bendis vs. Johns panel at Wizard World Chicago turned into more than just a "battle" between two of the most prolific comics writers, who jokingly wrestled when they first got on stage. It turned into the first Marvel and DC panel ever, as Bendis and Johns invited their friends to take the stage.
After their pretend brawl, Bendis said he first communicated with Johns way back when he wrote a fan letter for Powers #4. He said they have a lot in common and compared their "parallel career" and "similar philosophies" about superheroes.
"But we come at the material in such different ways," Bendis said. "And quite often, someone who I'm annoying the shit out of has Geoff to rely on to give him the kind of comics he wants and vice versa. So we thought when this panel turned into a 'versus' panel, it inspired another idea.
"So we're about to hijacked our own panel. We're going to call out some names, and if you're in the room, please come on the stage," Bendis said.
Johns and Bendis then called to the stage Gail Simone, David Finch, Ethan Van Sciver, C.B. Cebulski, Khoi Pham, Oliver Coipel and Brian Reed.
As the creators went to the stage, they sat on one side or the other of the podium depending on whether or not they worked for DC or Marvel. As the Marvel side started to fill up to the point where there were no chairs, Reed sat down with the DC guys, right next to Van Sciver.
When there were complaints the sides were uneven, Johns joked: "We asked Greg Rucka to come but he was grumpy."
"We thought there was so much crap online about Marvel vs. DC, and we kind of hate it, to be honest with you," Bendis explained. "We're all friends, and we all have the same goals and needs and things that we want to do in the business..."
"Lies!" Simone deadpanned to laughs.
"So we thought, you know what?" Bendis continued. “Let's have a Marvel and DC panel. Let's talk about all the cool shit we've liked about comics, and all the cool stuff that we argue about comics. Let's let you ask us questions that you ask us individually and maybe hearing both of our answers might be interesting to you."
"This is the first Marvel/DC panel ever," Johns said.
"Hopefully not that last one, so don't embarrass me," Bendis said.
The first fan to approach the microphones that were set up in the panel room started by timidly saying, "Are we allowed to ask controversial questions?"
"Yes!" several panelists yelled out, the whole room expecting something deep and meaningful from the fan.
"Uh... why don't you have any hair?" the fan said to Bendis, starting off an atmosphere of silliness right away as the crowd laughed.
"He said why don't you have any hair?" Johns repeated loudly with a smile.
"No, I actually have hair," Bendis said. "I can grow the hair. I've seen what I look like without hair, and I've done everyone a favor by getting rid of the hair. Listen if you're -- and I'm not saying you are -- but if it's going away, get rid of it. I'm telling you. You think about it all the time. You're thinking about, 'When is it going to go?' ... I don't want to do that. Take control of it. Just get rid of it! It frees your mind!"
The next fan was Newsarama contributor Jim Beard, who asked, "Is lateness really a problem in the industry and what can be done about it?"
Bendis immediately said, "I think it is" at almost the exact time Johns said, "I think it is."
"We need more hours in the day," Simone said. "That's the only thing that's going to solve it. We're just so busy."
"Take away their X-Boxes," Bendis joked.
"By the way, I kicked your ass on Halo every time we played," Johns said.
Bendis, who was reluctant to admit the ass-kicking despite the appearance he'd just been owned and the loud response from fans, replied: "Honestly, I played you Call of Duty and you hung up halfway through the game 'cause you were getting your ass kicked so bad."
"Oh yeah, Call of Duty, you did school me on that because I had never played before and you had been playing for three weeks," Johns said.
The panelists then turned more serious, talking about the issue of lateness in the industry, with Bendis saying he understands "act-of-God stuff."
"Some people get pneumonia and then a book gets derailed and you've got to forgive. You know, a book gets derailed. It happens. Really, books should never be solicited until they're completely done. That's not always up to us, though," Bendis said.
He added that often, creators think everything's going to work out and the book will be finished in time. He used the example of Secret Wars, saying that Gabrielle Del'Otto was hitting a "decent schedule" for a year, so they thought they could solicit the book. "It derailed awfully, and once something derails, it's hard to get it back with some semblance of quality," he said.
Johns said sometimes the internet overreacts to what they perceive to be "late."
"I'd love to see the internet when Watchmen was coming out," Johns said.
"Camelot 3000, the last issue took a year and a half," Bendis agreed.
But Johns said it is a problem that has gotten worse. "I remember Ethan and I were working on Green Lantern: Rebirth, and I think we were two weeks late, and we thought it was the worst thing in the world, 'cause back then that was the worst thing in the world. But now books are like two, three months late," Johns said.
At this point, the "versus" part of the panel erupted again as Van Sciver said, "What about Spider-Man/Black Cat?" to laughs from the crowd. "Hulk versus Wolverine."
"Yeah, at least we finished my Action Comics story," Johns joked.
"I think because things get so out of hand, [fans] do get upset," Johns said, returning to the issue at hand. "It's when the sales fall that people will really do something about it. And because sales do fall on late books now, I think it's not so far one way.
"I know DC right now is very sensitive about late books," Johns said. "And they'll do whatever they feel they have to get them out."
Bendis asked the other panelists, "What's your best lie when you're late?"
"I never lie, I just say I'm going to turn it in tomorrow, and then I just don't," Finch said.
"I just say I did it. I did 10 pages. But I did only 2," Coipel said.
"I'm pretty good," Bendis said, adding that his favorite thing he'd heard was when an artist was very late on a book and when they guy was asked what he was doing, he took a picture of his drawing table. A folder on the table showed that the artist had been gathering references. "He took a picture and handed in the picture," Bendis said. "And then he was removed from the book."
Johns said he worked with an artist once whose grandmother died. "And then there was a flood. And they were in the south, and the cemetery was above ground, so they had to go find the grandmother's coffin," Johns said, giggling. "And the first time, I thought, OK, maybe that did happen. But then like a year later, the same excuse was used."
Johns said occasionally he does get behind, but he didn't think he ever lied. "Usually I just say I'm working on something else. Usually I am," he said. "Unless Halo's out."
Simone said she didn't have any good lies, but she does have computer problems. "That can slow me down," she said. "Things just happen that are honest."
Van Sciver joked, "I've just gotten to the point where editors don't even bother asking."
Reed said he's actually never been late. "Coming up in the industry and starting with Bendis, I learned to be six months ahead at all times or panic," he said. "I think right now, with Secret Invasion: Front Line is the first time that I've had to solicit before I've had a script done. And that was complete panic mode, and now I'm sitting here at the con writing the script."
"You'll do your best work," Johns said.
"But Secret Invasion is done, just FYI," Bendis told the crowd, but then later leaned to the microphone and said, "That was a lie, by the way."
As the laughs grew, Simone joined in. "All issues of Wonder Woman are done for perpetuity," she said.
"I just wrote Action Comics #1000," Johns added.
The next fan asked if there would be another inter-company crossover like JLA/Avengers.
"Next March: Secret Crisis," Johns said to laughs.
"Drawn by Oliver Coipel and Mr. Finch," Bendis said.
"Yeah, and Ethan has already drawn all my issues. We're completely finished," Johns said, the running joke continuing.
A fan asked about the merits and cons of the Marvel and DC multiverses. Bendis seemed to know what she was asking, and tried to explain it to the panel, telling the woman at the microphone what she was asking.
"This is a set-up question!" Johns joked.
"It told you to say it like this," Bendis said,
"This thing's rigged! Is that your sister?" Johns asked.
"Not anymore!" Bendis said.
"This sounds like a pro-Marvel slant to me already," Johns said.
"That's why I wanted it asked."
The fan clarified that she was wondering about the pros and cons of each multiverse.
"The cons are when someone screws up," Johns said. "The pros on the Marvel side is that they're separate, so they can have the Ultimate Universe and the Marvel Universe. But personally I think the DC Universe -- this is my opinion -- is much more epic in scope. Time travel and all that stuff works a lot better, in my opinion, than in the Marvel Universe."
Bendis said there are differences, and he had the same discussion when Jeph Loeb came to Marvel, said he had a "DC idea" about the Marvel universes and it just didn't work at the other company. The creator then said he thought the concept of only 52 worlds could be a problem because that means the creators have to have one that is dominant. "Doesn't that create an actual problem?" he asked.
Johns said it's true that the main DC Universe was the dominant universe about which stories are told. "It's not like we've got Earth-2 books. Earth-10 books," he said. "I also think, in my opinion, that the multiverse was a little overused initially, and it's going to be scaled back."
"Isn't that the end of Final Crisis?" Bendis joked.
"No," Johns said as the audience laughed.
"Then I'm going to have to rewrite my whole Secret Crisis #1," Bendis replied.
As the laughter died down, Johns looked over toward Bendis, away from he microphone, and said quietly, "Is Cap a Skrull? Is that still true?"
"Nah, you think I'd kill Cap? Jesus Christ. There's a movie coming out," Bendis said.
The next fan asked, which is really better? Marvel or DC?
"The point of the panel is we don't think one is better than the other!" Bendis said.
Bendis then asked the crowd. Which is better? And the crowd yelled out Marvel and DC randomly.
Van Sciver asked for a show of hands. First the votes for Marvel. Then an overwhelming showing when the hands were shown for DC.
"Yeah!!!!" Van Sciver yelled.
"Sales chart!" Bendis said to laughs.
As fans reacted to the Marvel vs. DC argument by yelling out things, Bendis said, looking dejected, "That was, like, 10 minutes of community. That was great."
The panelists were asked what they thought of the opposing company's current events -- Final Crisis and Secret Invasion.
"I really like Secret Invasion. I think it's Francis Yu's best work. I love it," Van Sciver said.
"Yeah, I actually, not to be nice," Johns said, turning to Bendis with a smile, "but I actually do really like how you're structuring your Secret Invasion, Mighty Avengers and New Avengers stuff."
"That's one thing we have in common is we like the challenge of the long form," Bendis said. "It's very similar to your Green Lantern plans. They're a long-form plan that you and I are in a position to accomplish because we have a long-term contract and we know we're not going to get canned."
"A lot of writers don't like to do long-term books. I like to stay on a book for five, six years," Johns said, the fans responding with loud applause.
The next question was about a list published in Wizard Magazine that had Wolverine first and the highest-ranked female on the list was Kitty Pryde.
"Jews loved it. Jews rule," Bendis joked.
"Yeah, that's crazy. There would be none of these other female characters without Wonder Woman. She's the #1 female character," Simone said.
"No offense to Wolverine, but Batman's waaaaay better," Johns said to loud cheering from the crowd.
"Then why are you killing him? Hmmmmm??" Bendis said.
"R.I.P. could stand for lots of things," Johns said to laughs. "Like.... run in place!"
"I would so buy that. I swear to God," Bendis said.
After a fan asked Cebulski about his Wonderlost series from Image (and Cebulski said, "I did not pay him"), he asked what was each creator's favorite thing about he other universe.
"I worked at Marvel extremely briefly during a very interesting time," Johns said. "I worked with Tom Brevoort, who is one of my favorite editors in the business...."
"... and editor of Secret Crisis, by the way," Bendis joked.
"I really had a lot of fun with Tom on Avengers. I really enjoyed the characters there. It was a lot more grounded. It felt like the characters were a little bit more heavy, a little bit more gritty. And sometimes that's fun. Like I love characters like Punisher and Ghost Rider. And I love Hulk. We don't have those over at DC too much," Johns said. "That's why Black Adam's such a bad-ass. We need him."
"What I like about the Marvel Universe is the whole concept of the X-Men and how much the concept of being an outsider is what those stories revolve around. They gain their powers and they seem organically gained. Although I do think a lot of the female characters need a little jazzing up," Simone said. "And I've always loved Spider-Man. I think that he's really easy to identify with, especially if you're a younger kid getting into comics."
Simone said she had a great time when she was working at Marvel too. "There were a lot of things I liked about Marvel," she said, but then added, "the thing I like about DC is that if I want to do a kids book, I can. If I want to do an adult book, I can. There's just a lot of options. I tend to like to do a lot of different types of projects at the same time."
Van Sciver paused and looked at the microphone. "Ummm..."
"You did draw X-Men," Johns said.
"So there's that," Van Sciver said, then passed the microphone to Reed.
"Having not worked with DC stuff yet but just reading it, I love that anything can happen on the next page and it doesn't necessarily -- well, to say it doesn't make sense sounds bad, but like, Wonder Woman can come home and have gorillas in her living room and you go, 'OK, cool.' If Professor X comes into his room and there's gorillas in there, that's going to be weird," Reed said. "Booster Gold right now is just, like, 'Oh, we're going to go here in this time and this is the crazy shit that happened.' And you go, OK! DC lets you roll with that. Where with Marvel, I've got to always set up a lot more and have a logic behind it. There's that weird freedom you guys have got that I'm kind of jealous of some days."
"That's what we do all day long," Johns said to laughs. "Hey! No big deal! Time travel!"
"And that's why DC books aren't late now," Reed said.
"I think for me, with the DC Universe, the thing that I like is the sense of history and of legacy," Cebulski said. "The mantle of the Flash and the mantle of Green Lantern has been passed down from generation to generation, whereas at Marvel it's almost like we have a single generation there. And on the flip side, what I love about the Marvel Universe is the sense of familiarity."
Cebulski said he thinks that's why Kitty Pryde is so well-liked and may have made the Wizard list -- because people can relate to her.
"Very few people outside this room know who Kitty Pryde is," Van Sciver said, defending the idea of Wonder Woman being ranked higher.
"I agree. I think that was a big mistake by Wizard," Johns said.
"Yeah, 'cause Wonder Woman's movie made a lot more money than... X-Men 3!" Bendis said to laughs.
A fan yelled out that X-Men 3 probably shouldn't have been made anyway.
"True," Johns said.
Finch said he thinks the Marvel Universe has characters who feel more "real" to him and he likes that they're grounded. But then he said he'd loved to draw Gotham City and not have to reference buildings in New York all the time. "In the book I'm doing right now, I've got Times Square. And I had to draw it like five times, and I don't care. I hate it," he said. "With Gotham, I could draw bridges and the sky and all kinds of crazy stuff, and the cars look so cool.... and the villains are so cool. There are a lot of things, visually, that I think I would be very comfortable with at DC."
Pham said he also likes how grounded the Marvel characters are, but he likes how the DC characters almost feel like "gods among humans."
Coipel said DC characters are more iconic. "I think it's pretty strong, so I like DC characters, but apart from that, it's kind of hard to find something I like at DC. Marvel! You know? Sorry!"
Bendis said he thinks about it a lot, and he wonders about whether DC has characters to whom people can relate. He thinks about it a lot when he's writing Peter Parker, he said. "And I think about that when I'm writing other characters as well. What can anyone relate to about this? And I wonder about that... about Batman..."
"But you know, Marvel's a lot more literal on that stuff, whereas Superman's representative of being an outsider," Johns said. "And I like representation better than, it's exactly what it says."
Bendis said, yeah, but he's still Superman at the end of the day. "I mean, boo hoo. He's still Superman," he said.
Johns said, "Yeah, but at the end of the day, you still have Spider-Man powers, and you're worried about this piddly 20 cents for Aunt May's aspirin?"
"I like that idea, actually," Bendis said, pretending to note the story idea.
"I do like Lex Luthor, actually. I do relate to him," Bendis added to laughs.
Simone said that it may be true that Kitty Pryde is more relatable, but Wonder Woman can have adventures and crazy things happen to her, and she likes reading and writing those kinds of things better than something that is so grounded.
Reed added that the last issue of Action Comics struck him as being a very "Marvel" comic. "It was very Spider-Man to me," he said, saying that the introduction of all the characters at the Daily Planet felt very grounded and real, much like the characters introduced at the Daily Bugle in the Spider-Man comics he read when he was a kid. Reed asked Johns what his approach was to that issue versus any other Superman issue.
"Uh... it was the first issue in a storyline, so I just wanted to introduce the cast," Johns said to laughs. "But thanks."
A fan asked about what book at the other company each creator would like to write.
Van Sciver: Ghost Rider.
Reed: Batman. "How do you say no to Batman?"
Coipel: Legion. "To work with Geoff." (To which Johns said: "Anytime you want.")
Pham: Secret Crisis.
Finch: Batman. "I mean, obviously. Batman."
Cebulski: "I'd work on Batman with him any day. But Teen Titans for me."
Bendis: "Me and Alex Maleev. Plastic Man. Vertigo."
At that point, Van Sciver, who has a Plastic Man book in development at DC, said, "I've been saying that for years! And everybody says, no! What are you talking about? Plastic Man isn't a cool, scary character."
"Plastic Man is a detective," Bendis said.
"That's right," Van Sciver said. "A mobster story. Of course. Bendis gets it."
"Bendis, when's your contract up?" Johns said.
A fan said he wanted to see Bendis and Johns get together and write a story about Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne golfing together. "No, that's a strip club issue," Bendis joked.
After an update on the White Sox/Cubs game score ended up with a fan and Reed defending their teams (with Reed clearly a Cubs fan), Johns joked that you can't talk about sports at a comics convention. And Bendis said, "This is like a message board thread derailing, only in person."
The creators were asked about superhero movies, and Simone and Van Sciver said they were just talking about it before they came up on the panel.
"Iron Man and Hulk were two of the best superhero movies I've seen," Van Sciver said, adding that he thinks Marvel is doing with their movies what he has thought they should do all along -- cross over the actors in their roles as these characters.
A fan asked if DC was nervous about Marvel's movies impacting comic book sales.
Johns, who had been quietly drinking from a water bottle for much of the movie discussion, answered, "Well, DC's been number one for years in sales. So we're a little nervous."
Bendis stood up and looked at Johns and asked, pointing at the water bottle, "You got vodka in there?"
Van Sciver said, "It doesn't really impact sales as far as I can see."
"It does," Bendis argued, implying Iron Man had been impacted by movies.
"Right. How many covers did you have on Iron Man #1? I think it was, like, 10," Van Sciver said.
"It was 11," Cebulski said to laughs from the DC-centric crowd.
"And DC tries to shill out stuff?" Johns said.
"Maybe you should," Bendis said, but then added seriously that he thinks the movies do impact bookstore sales while not impacting direct market sales.
Simone said it's building the industry because it's making readers more diverse and making people more accepting of superheroes and the things in comic books.
Bendis pointed out that society doesn't read anymore. "They'll sit in front of the TV and watch f--king Dances with Stars," he said. "You'll tell them, you like the Batman movie? You should read Killing Joke. And they're like, what? I can't tell which way the balloon points! So I just like to focus on the wins. Because you know what? People aren't reading anything anymore."
Johns said he also thinks people might want too much from comics. "Everybody wants them to succeed, but they don't need to sell, like, a billion copies a month," he said.
The panel returned to the discussion of movies, and Cebulski said he thinks the reason Marvel movies are doing so well is that Marvel Studios has approached the character's movies from the perspective of Marvel. Reed agreed that it's a difference between Marvel having its own production company and Warner Bros. owning the rights to the DC characters and not developing them as quickly.
"I guarantee you in the next five years, we're going to see DC's program completely change," Johns said.
"They see the money," Bendis agreed. "That's all they care about."
"What we're seeing is superheroes go mainstream, essentially. That's what the movies are about, as far as I'm concerned," Van Sciver said.
A fan asked if any of the creators ever read, wrote or drew a comic that brought them to tears.
"Like we'd ever admit that," Johns said.
"You mean like self-loathing? I've done that," Bendis said, pretending to cry and saying, "Why wasn't this better???" He then said he'd had the experience where he's been choked up by a scene. "It's as pure as you an get it, and you can't force it," he said.
Coipel said the scene with Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Magneto in House of M made him emotional and make him really dedicate his energy to the scene. "When I read the script, I thought it was very strong," he said. "You try to transfer this emotion and keep this emotion when you draw it."
Simone said she goes through it a lot when she's writing characters. "I really fell in love with Scandal," she said. "I wrote a scene where she became a torturer. And I was really crushed by that because I liked her character so much. But I knew she needed to go the next level."
Van Sciver said a script he received from Grant Morrison for New X-Men was emotional for him. It was the scene where Professor X, who is possessed by his sister, makes Beak beat Hank McCoy with a baseball bat. "When I read the words, I was absolutely overcome by it. By the ugliness and betrayal of the scene. By the heartache and sadness of it. I just sat in my easy chair and felt like crying. It was so much for me to actually have something like that to tackle, because I was still a new sort of artist. I worked my ass off on it trying to make it come through."
"Most recent for me was with Captain Marvel when the truth came out about him, and I hit this moment where I was on the top of the roller coaster, you know. And you'd really like to get off now," Reed said, saying that it's "weirdly liberating" to get through that with the character.
"It can go the other way too," said Johns. "When Kyle's broken down by Parallax [in Sinestro Corps Special #1], Ethan drew the pages and it made me, when I was putting on the dialogue after the art was done, just say wow."
Bendis said a recent issue of Ultimate X-Men almost got him. Finch then joked that he got kind of torn up when he got to draw Spider-Woman coming down the stairs.
A fan asked about Final Crisis #2 and whether the panelists were confused by it.
Van Sciver said he's not a continuity expert, but he understood the second issue.
Bendis then defended Grant Morrison's work on Final Crisis, telling the fan that if he sticks with it to the end, he might be blown away. "There are different Grant Morrison experiences," Bendis said. "I don't know Grant. I've never spoken to him. But I've also been thinking about Final Crisis too, and remembering I had a similar reaction to the first two issues of The Filth too. I was like, what's going on here? There were giant hands! But at the end of it, I was like, 'Oh, that's the best comic I've read all year!' And I'm not even sure I got it all. And I'll read it again. And I've bought it every time it came out.
"I don't know that you'll have that feeling" with Final Crisis, Bendis said. "But you may have that feeling at the end. "Not everything has to be spoon-fed. And I love to spoon feed. But that doesn't mean everything has to be the same flavor. Look, it may be the biggest 'what the f*#k?' ever. But there's a track record with him that it might end up being like The Filth. Which would be awesome."
A fan asked if the creators think it's a problem when fans buy continue to buy a book they don't like, whether to complete a run or just because they like a character.
"Why are you looking at me?" Bendis joked.
Bendis said a fan on his message board had a good point in comparing it to being a sports fan not dropping a team even if they're doing badly.
"The only book I ever followed no matter what as The Flash," Johns said. "And that had some rough patches. But I followed it. Everything else, if I didn't like the book, I couldn't do it anymore."
"But honestly, I found that to be the most eye-opening experience," Bendis said, realizing that people are "fans" of characters. "I appreciate anybody who reads anything for any reason. And even some of those people who are screaming and yelling at me about the characters I write. I always think they're getting the most out of their two dollars."
A fan asked if the writers ever get really attached to artists?
Simone, who was sitting between Johns and Van Sciver, joked, "Why do you think I'm sitting between these two? Got to break them up sometime."
"It can be a very emotional relationship, the collaboration between a writer and a penciller," Bendis said. "And not to be weird, and a couple guys who have worked with me are about to give me the weird eye. But it can almost be like dating. Like your in a relationship and you're getting along, but then all of the sudden you break up for like no reason. Like me and Olivier had a blast, and now he's on Thor. And I'm like, 'Oh, JMS is f*^king my girlfriend. That's great."
The panelists, who wanted to continue, were told they had to go because the convention needed to prepare the room for the Warren Ellis even that took place later that night. Fans booed.
So as a final question, they allowed a young kid who was in line at the microphone to ask his question.
"What's your favorite hero from the 'other' universe?"
Coipel: Legion. All of them.
Bendis: "What do you guys publish?" he joked. "No... I love the Question. Love the Question."
Johns: Captain America.
Van Sciver: Jean Grey.
Reed: Green Lantern.