C2E2 2018: DC Universe Panel Report

As the 2018 Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo got underway, a new era at DC Comics was also on the brink and for one reason: Bendis has arrived.

Acclaimed writer Brian Michael Bendis is fully on the clock at the publisher after his years of creative and sales dominance at Marvel. Yet when he stepped to the mic for the first DC panel of the weekend, Bendis had to admit that he had to play MC because…well, he hasn’t done anything for DC that anyone’s read yet.

“But I have been deep diving into every single book and every single one of these creator’s books, and I’ve been nerding out. And this gives me an opportunity to do that in front of people,” the writer said.

With that, Bendis introduced artist Philip Tan (Curse of Brimstone), writer/artist Tim Seeley (Green Lanterns), writer Justin Jordan (Sideways), artist Cully Hamner (Batman & The Signal), Ben Percy (Nightwing) and Joelle Jones (Batman).

Jones spoke to her expanding role with the DC superheroes including a new line of DC Direct statues based on her art. She and Bendis marveled at the idea that fans are paying money for a fixture that will become a permanent part of their lives. Meanwhile, Jones spoke with pride on her contributions to Supergirl: Being Super – the mini series (and soon-to-be graphic novel) written by Mariko Tamaki that offers a standalone entry into the Maid of Might’s world.

Jordan took up the mic to talk about Curse of Brimstone and how the big monster super book is truly his version of an ode to the overlooked corners of middle America – the kind of places “Superman and Batman don’t go,” the writer said. Bendis compared the pitch to a Spielbergian story before asking the panelists about their own creator-owned work and how they see the difference there from what they do at DC.

To that question, Jordan said that in a shared universe setting, it’s the onus on the writer to see the character as their more iconic self. You’re writing more often to the reader’s expectations of what the “right” version of this character is in some ways. Seeley added that it’s still on the artist to put a piece of themselves into the story. “We need to make you feel. That’s our job,” he said.

The incoming Nightwing run sees Percy and artist Chris Mooneyham taking much of the research and theories the author learned while studying the dark web for his last novel into the DCU. The villain of the piece is an internet-born monster worming its way through the universe, but Dick Grayson is a more low-tech kind of hero, which puts him at odds with the threat in many ways. “You’ve heard of identity theft…what about secret identity theft?” Percy teased.

The novelist told Bendis about the difference between writing prose books and comics. The former, he said, is a hermetic experience where he does a solo story marathon, but with comics, the collaborative aspect of the work changes the way he approaches story. But the drive for both his last novel and his new comic is the same. “I’ve always been interested in stories that channel culture unease,” he said, noting that today we have a lot of things to be afraid of.

Seeley called the upcoming story in Green Lanterns, and he called his incoming arc his Cabin In The Woods-esque horror story of his run. The writer also has returned to collaborating with his former Grayson teammate Tom King (who appeared late in the panel) to write a Prelude to the Wedding one-shot for the Batman universe. The theme of Batman’s bachelor party? Hamburgers.

A very different side of the Dark Knight’s world came with Batman & The Signal where Hamner and writer Tony Patrick are playing with what the action is like in Gotham City during the daytime. His final issue on the series arrives later this spring.

Bendis then asked the panel his all-time favorite convention question: What character or book from any publisher is your dream project? The writer said this question often leads to actual pitches from editors at different companies. King said that he’s done many of the characters he loves in Vision and Mister Miracle, but he’d love to go back and do a Thing series at Marvel based on his love of an old Marvel Two-in-One story by Tom Defalco.

Hamner repped for Shazam while Seeley said he loves Firestorm. “It’s like Ghost Rider, but they kept the skin on him!” he joked. Percy wants a shot at cult DC hero Warlord, and Jones opted for Swamp Thing. “All artists want to draw Swamp Thing,” Bendis said.

Bendis then opened up the floor to fan questions. One fan wanted to know if the panelists had been hit up by academics for their take on comics as a culture force. Bendis jokingly moaned, “Almost every day.” Seeley said that it’s amazing how much more this kind of talk surrounds the industry now. Bendis said that teaching classes in comics at Portland State University is great because it both keeps you sharp on your basic writing skills, but teaching also opens you up to sharing your writer’s journey with young people. He noted that Flash writer Joshua Williamson was one of his early students and laughed, “And I take full credit for everything that’s happened to him.”

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