Fan Expo '11: MARVEL: NEXT BIG THING Panel (New CrossGen)

A milestone for the Fantastic Four and new CrossGen titles topped the headlines at Marvel's "Next Big Thing" panel Sunday at FanExpo in Toronto.

The panel included FF's Jonathan Hickman, X-Men: Season One's Dennis Hopeless, Castle graphic novel co-writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, associate editor Sana Amanat, senior VP of creator & content development C.B. Cebulski, editor-in-chief Axel Alonso and director of communications Arune Singh.

Fantastic Four will celebrate 600 issues in November with variant covers by Joe Quesada, John Romita Jr. and Art Adams. FF will run concurrently, but the Hickman didn't reveal what this means for the Future Foundation. Hickman called the outpouring of positive feedback to the current FF work "an incredibly humbling and rewarding experience."

The panel then discussed the "Season One" series of original graphic novels, meant to tell new stories set in the early days of some of the most popular teams and characters. Singh and Alonso said that there will be some tweaks to the original stories readers are familiar with, but they won't redefine who they are. "We aren't 52-ing them," Singh joked.

Hopeless expressed excitement at the prospect of writing X-Men: Season One. "It's kind of like co-writing with Stan Lee, because I get to work in the timeline of those Kirby/Lee issues." He was excited to work with artist Jamie McKelvie, saying that he was working in a comic book shop when Phonogram first launched. "I also love his e-mails because they're so British. All those u's in the words."

Singh confirmed that Daredevil: Season One will feature Matt Murdock's oft-maligned yellow costume. "It's actually pretty cool after you stare at it for a while," he said. He described the story as more upbeat than last year's Shadowland arc; "It's about Daredevil before all his girlfriends started getting killed."

The panel also announced two new titles for their CrossGen imprint: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Route 666. Singh described Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as a spy book "somewhere between John le Carré and Ian Fleming." The four-issue miniseries is slated to start in December, with writer Peter Milligan and artist Roman Rosanas comprising the creative team.

Route 666 will follow two deputies investigating supernatural crimes and mysteries. Amanat describes it as a mix of horror, suspense and humour. Unlike CrossGen's original Route 666's setting on the planet Erebus, the new title will take place in 1950s Earth. Scheduled to debut in February, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Peter Nguyen form the creative team of the four-issue miniseries, with Amanat holding an editor's credit.

Kelly Sue DeConnick talked about her work on the upcoming Richard Castle: Deadly Storm, a graphic novel based on the television show starring Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic. The book, a wry story-within-a-story approach, brings to life the original novel that catapulted Fillion's character Richard Castle into celebrity author status. DeConnick says the story will follow Deadly Storm's protagonist Derrick Storm, "as he goes from being Jim Rockford — masculinity like it was supposed to be — to being Jason Bourne, or a character of that ilk."

DeConnick emphasized that the main character, Derrick Storm, is not Fillion's Castle, so none of the characters will resemble the on-screen characters. Characters' voices will resemble Fillion's Castle and Katic's Kate Beckett, even though when Castle first wrote Deadly Storm he had yet to meet her. "We tackle the idea that Kate was always the voice in Castle's head, he was just looking for her in some way." DeConnick co-writes Deadly Storm with Brian Michael Bendis, with art by Lan Medina and a cover from Carlo Pagulayan. It will be due on September 28 as a hardcover graphic novel.

Audience questions frequently revolved around the current Avengers: Children's Crusade maxiseries, and what X-Men: Schism will mean to readers. Alonso replied by saying that all of Marvel's current events — Children's Crusade, Schism and Fear Itself, will culminate into something in the near future.

Cebulski answered a question about the Runaways' current status. "The Runaways' first launch was very successful. Their ongoing is canceled, but the characters are still there. They are very popular, we love them, but they will appear." He told readers to expect them next in Daken, and other places over the next six months.

The next big thing for comics book is arguably the medium itself, and its digital presence. Alonso said that he'd like to eventually see Marvel launch more and more titles digitally the same day as the print product hits traditional stores, "with value-added" features like those seen on some digital magazines.

Cebulski continued by saying that their recent acquisition by Disney has helped immensely to introduce their characters to a younger audience, especially with an expanded presence in The Disney Store over the last year. "They're taking what we do so well and putting it into the Disney machine, getting into places where comics have never been before," he said.

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