One thing I’ve learned over several years of attending the San Diego Comic-Con is that DC Comics panels are more entertaining than Marvel panels. That’s a harsh reality but for me, a true one.

Panels from each company are jam-loaded with hype, and each does its damndest to try and whip the crowd into a screeching nerd frenzy, which is fine; Comic-Con panels aren’t press conferences, they’re public relations exercises that happen to include some pieces of legitimate comics news. And often that news is exciting – Neil Gaiman back on Sandman, anyone? – so I don’t blame either editorial staff for trying to whip the crowd into a slavering geek frenzy. But for me, the difference is that Marvel is just so self-congratulatory about things.

Here’s an example: last year, DC Comics blew up their entire universe and ran a real risk of alienating a huge chunk of their core audience. Instead, the move allowed DC to overtake Marvel in sales for he first time in recent memory, and their sales have reportedly stayed damn solid since then. We have attended no less than five DC panels so far at SDCC, and the biggest pat on the back DC gave themselves was when Bob Wayne opened the New 52 panel yesterday by asking the crowd how many people spent SDCC last year thinking that DC was insane for making the move… and followed up by asking why more people didn’t think that at the time.

Compare that to Marvel, who last year introduced a black / Hispanic Spider-Man. In the Ultimate Universe, which thanks to the recent 616 universe crossover in Spider-Men, is the equivalent of DC’s Earth 2 – a sandbox where Marvel can mess around with characters without it affecting the valuable core titles from which they make movies. Was is a bold move? Sure it was… but compared to blowing up your entire continuity, it’s about the same as comparing dropping a washer slug into a Coke machine to sticking up the Federal Reserve with a dynamite belt: one’s a little easier to walk back if the plan goes sideways.

However, if you listened to the panelists at yesterday’s Marvel Ultimate Universe panel, you’d think they cured the common cold. “This was a big risk,” said Marvel Editor in Chief Axel Alonso, “It was harder for us to kill [Peter Parker] than it was for you guys.” Alonso also said that the new Ultimate Spider-Man was the best work of Brian Michael Bendis’s career, and make no mistake: it’s a pretty good story, albeit utterly decompressed. But the hype was, personally, a little hard to take. My notes from the panel read, “Lot of ‘We’re so awesome and brave’ shit on the panel for killing Peter and having an Afr.-Am. kid as SM. There’s no news here, just fucking hype.”

And then Alonso announced that Ultimate Spider-Man artist David Marquez just signed an exclusive deal with Marvel. And my notes read, “There’s your news, writer prick.”

“I couldn’t imagine a better place to spend… the term of the contract,” Marquez said, “Can I say how long it is?” Alonso said no, so there’s some news: David Marquez is working exclusively for Marvel! For an undisclosed period of time! That’s news…ish. Right?

Actually, there was a fair amount of legit news coming out of Marvel yesterday. At the Ultimate panel, more details on the upcoming Divided We Fall event were revealed by the panel. In a nutshell, between Sentinels Gone Wild in Ultimate X-Men (not as boneriffic as it sounds) and Reed Richards and The City going apeshit in The Ultimates, the United States in the Ultimate universe is not exactly in a good way… and Captain America will not be happy “Captain America has been MIA since the death of Peter Parker [for which he blames himself]… trying to find himself,” said Sam Humphries, writer of The Ultimates taking over from Jonathan Hickman, and writer of indie weird robot / animal / plant sex book Our Love Is Real. “This is a story about what [Captain America]… decides to do to fix America.”

Humphries said that the event will enter The Ultimates in issues 13, 14 and 15, with the covers to those issues shown to the panel… except for issue 15. “This will be one of the biggest comics of the year… seismic,” said Marvel Director of Communications Artie Singh. Supposedly we will also find that the events that have led to Ultimate Universe America aren’t just a coincidence. “These events… are not as random as people think they are,” said Ultimates Editor Sama Amanat. “[Issues] 13 and 14 have a couple of Easter Eggs,” Humphies said.

Marvel also announced that Nathan Edmonson, writer of Image miniseries Who Is Jake Ellis?, will be writing new series Ultimate Iron Man, with Matteo Buffagni on art. The series, which drops in October, will open with a story arc called Demon In The Armor, and Edmonson promises, “Everything you’ve ever read about Iron Man will become important again.” Presumably that includes the first Ultimate Iron Man, where Orson Scott Card made Tony Stark a weird, clony kid who’s all brain, painted blue and pretends to be a robot. A crazy, Mormon robot. But I digress.

The villain in the Demon In The Armor will be The Mandarin, Edmonson announced, but not The Mandarin we know from the 616 Universe. “Leave your preconceptions of this villain at the door,” Edmonson said. By guess? Ultimate Mandarin only has one ring. It’s a piercing. Guess where it is! Yeah, once again, that’s why I don’t write comics.

Later yesterday, at the Cup O’ Joe panel with Joe Quesada, there were a bunch of other announcements related to the straight 616 universe, and to some of Marvel’s other media properties, including:

  • After Avengers Vs. X-Men, Marvel will be releasing A+X, a team-up book by Dan Slott, Jeph Loeb, Dale Keown and Ron Garvey.
  • There’s gonna be a five-issue weekly miniseries, AvX: Consequences by Keiron Gillen, Tom Raney, Mark Brooks and Dale Eaglesham. There weren’t a lot of details about the book beyond, “it deals with the consequences of AvX,” but I’m guessing we can think Fear Itself 7.x, only hopefully with about 70% fewer reversals of meaningless character deaths from the main storyline. And last, but certainly not least:
  • AvX Babies. You fucking heard me. It is about Avengers and X-Men. As babies. It’s a one-shot by Skottie Young, coming out in October.

The other big news out of the Cup O’ Joe panel was the death of Disney HD series Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and the birth of Disney HD series Avengers Assemble, which has been rumored for a while… at least eventually.

“We’re not doing anything to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” said Jeph Loeb, “We love the show.”

Loeb said that the original show order for Earth’s Mightest Heroes was 26 episodes, which was then expanded to 52 episodes, which will run through the fall. After that run completes, Marvel will be “transitioning to a new show called Avengers Assemble,” Loeb said. The new show will more closely resemble the movie in an effort to capitalize on the fact that the Avengers flick made about eleventy billion dollars, but it will not supercede anything that happened in the original series.

And with that, Joey Q opened the floor to questions, and we decided to flee before we could hear the first, “You’re so awesome… how did you become so awesome?” question. We headed for the door as we heard, for the millionth time in seven years, the “How can I break into comics?” question, and made it out just as Loeb said, “Send your mail to Steve Wacker. In fact, he’s on vacation, so send him gifts. Perishible gifts. Send him fish!”

Okay, gonna be a big day at the convention. It’s Saturday, which means the big panels, and we have most of the day booked. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed for live updates from the center, and we’ll try to post more later this evening.

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