I’ve been mostly blasé the last few years about Wizard World Chicago. Probably because it’s followed San Diego during that time and those creators who even bother to show up at Chicago are so exhausted from the other show. This year, even though Heroes was last weekend, there was a lot more energy. At least in Artists Alley. And even amongst the bigger names, though there were still some like Joe Quesada who didn’t show up, those who were there seemed rarin to go.
Friday night’s Bendis vs. Johns panel was a great example. It was the first of several panels that made the trip worthwhile this year and even though Vaneta’s already given an excellent and much-more-thorough rundown of the event at the mothership, I want to talk for a minute about what I learned from it. Then, in separate posts, I’ll cover the other three panels: the Wonder Woman Spotlight (also covered on the mothership, but I’ll have some more to add to it), Kids and Comics, and Women in Comics.
After a brief wrestling match, the two out-of-breath writers explained that their original intent for the panel was to highlight how similar their approaches are to writing corporate-owned characters and then talk about the differences. It was Wizard’s idea to dumb it down (my words) and add the “versus,” but Bendis and Johns hijacked their panel back (their words) by calling up other writers and artists from their respective companies to create the first ever DC/Marvel panel. There was some polite banter and trash-talking, but the hour was noticeably marked by mutual respect and admiration as everyone talked about the similarities and differences between the two companies.
Following a couple of dull Marvel and DC panels that day in which DC announced nothing new and Marvel’s big news consisted of a couple of exclusives that pretty much everyone’s taken for granted anyway, the Bendis/Johns panel was exactly what I needed. Not only was it surprising and exciting; it helped me define some things I’ve been thinking about for a while.
I’ve always heard DC’s characters described as “iconic,” but I’ve never been clear on exactly what that means. What I got from these creators though was that DC’s comics are more daring, where anything can happen at the turn of a page. I loved hearing David Finch talk enviously about wanting to be able to draw Gotham City with it’s sky-bridges and wild cars. At the earlier DC panel, a fan had berated Gail Simone for giving Wonder Woman an apartment full of “talking monkeys,” (Gail corrected him that they’re not monkeys, but gorilla knights – a much cooler sounding description), but as he was criticizing her, I was trying to get my head around the perspective that even talking monkeys are somehow not cool. And the DCU is full of talking monkeys and mad scientists and magic rings and alternative universes and time travel. It’s a brilliantly insane place to visit and explore.
Bendis told a story about when Jeph Loeb came to Marvel and pitched something that was quickly dismissed as a “DC-idea.” There’s a different kind of logic to Marvel science. Like Marvel’s characters, their stories are more grounded in reality than DC’s. Marvel has alternate universes, but characters don’t travel between them. That makes Marvel more relatable, which is a huge strength, but it loses a lot of the spontaneity that DC has going for it. I guess that’s why I enjoy both companies’ stuff. Little of each, you know?
The other thing I got out of the panel was from a comment that Bendis made. Someone asked the panel what they thought about fans who keep bad books alive by habitually buying them even when they don’t enjoy them. I don’t care if DC and Marvel publish a lot of bad books or not – I’m just gonna read the ones I like – but I’ve wondered a lot about that completist mindset and Bendis explained it really well.
He said he hadn’t understood it until someone on his message board explained it. He’d been criticizing fans for complaining about comics they didn’t like but were buying anyway and someone pointed out that those folks were like Yankees fans. If the team’s doing great, they’re going to cheer loudly. If the team sucks, the fans are going to boo even more loudly, but they’re not going to quit going to games. They love it too much.
Bendis’ conclusion is a liberating one. People enjoy their corporate-owned comics in different ways. And if the way they get their three dollars’ worth out of a comic is to go onto message boards and cry about it, then that’s valid. We get into arguments when we expect everyone to read and enjoy comics the same way we do. Being free of that is all very post-modern and beautiful.