By the time this column is finished, I’ll have decided which panel was the coolest of the entire show…

Things kicked off Friday in a huge way with the Image Reunion thing, which was every bit as entertaining as people were expecting. The notion that these guys would ever publicly kiss and make up, after years of airing out each other’s dirty laundry seemed beyond impossible. But like any great rock ‘n roll saga, after the hit-making, revolutionary, ahead of its time band is crushed by the weight of their own success, at some point they’ll reunite as best they can and acknowledge that time has mended whatever differences they once had. And that those differences in no way overshadow what they were able to accomplish together. Revisionists, or perhaps even those who just think about their first issue of Cyberforce with the chromium cover and physically cringe, have been attempting to diminish what the coming of Image meant to the entire industry for years. It’s the elephant in the room and no matter what we feel about the quality of some of the books, and the general level of excess, the creation of Image Comics changed everything.

From how comics were actually produced, to how companies were now forced to treat and regard the people that created them, seven maverick creators with a somewhat singular vision altered the landscape for the better. That’s just undeniable fact, and this whole “reunion” event was about acknowledging that in one of the most public venues comics provides. It was surreal to see everyone up on stage fifteen years later, as I still remember going to one of the Chicago cons back in the mid 90s, when the Image guys were touring all over the U.S., and almost being afraid to even LOOK at the dudes. Seriously, I used to be like, “Oh my God, it’s fucking Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee!!” Then I ended up actually working with Rob, which is just as ironic as anything else that’s happened to me in comics. But I have to say it was fairly great to see them up there, and observe the very obvious level of camaraderie they still have, though it’s hard to see how anyone gets a word in over McFarlane.

Cup ‘O Joe was up next, which served up a couple quick announcements like the Phil Jimenez exclusive, and the new team on Runaways (Terry Moore/Humberto Ramos) before turning into the rapid fire question and answer session that’s always advertised. Quesada remains as personable and approachable as ever, appearing far more honest and forthcoming than most company heads in discussing their company’s strengths and even their weaknesses. Marvel has been doing incredibly well of late, fully capitalizing on the new status quo provided in the aftermath of Civil War, continuing to deliver strong “tent-pole” entertainment like World War Hulk and Annihilation and even succeeding in revitalizing lesser known properties like the Immortal Iron Fist. There were a couple of good-natured jabs about their percentage of the market share, and some information about C. B. Cebulski’s upcoming “ChesterFest” talent search initiative, but as usual, Cup O’ Joe was the usual relaxed, breezy open forum it always is. And though it doesn’t have anything to do with anything, congrats to Joe Quesada for dropping a ton of weight in the last year.

After that we made our way over to the Adhouse Books table for the James Jean/Paul Pope signing at 2, which should’ve left us just enough time to make the Archaia panel by 2:30. Both artists were selling incredibly beautiful art books for the almost bargain price of thirty bucks and a day before we’d stopped by the booth, gotten all the information about the signing and made sure they’d have enough books to last through the signing. Now that it was game time, with the line for both artists extending from the Adhouse booth in both directions, things had definitely changed. The James Jean book was completely sold out and since it was the book I (and my boy Craig) were the most excited about, both of us left with nothing. To say I was a little pissed would be an understatement…that Jean book was beyond gorgeous and I should’ve just bought it the day before. Few things are more frustrating than missing out on things that do not suck. Making the tail end of the Image panel with enough time to have my Casanova hardcover signed by Fraction cooled me down a bit, but this bothered me for another few hours, which both Nate and Craig can attest to.

Jumped into the Archaia Studios Press presentation, which was really impressive, just like everything else I’d see from them throughout the weekend. Will do a more comprehensive column on the train of events that led to signing up Miranda there, but their slate of releases touches on several different genres, employs an extremely diverse list of creators, and seems to be committed to hitting every audience that a comic can possibly hit. After attending this panel and spending time at their booth and meeting publisher Mark Smylie, it’s really no surprise that Miranda got their interest. It’s a book, concept, and character made for a company that’s afraid of falling into discernible patterns, and more importantly, that wasn’t in some way threatened by her mission statement. My editor Joe Illidge (who will from this point forward in the column be known simply as Joe Ill) is the man most responsible for getting the book signed there, and for changing our original understanding that he’d simply call out ASP’s new projects and point to their creators sitting among the faithful, to something that ended up becoming my first onstage con experience.

What’s funny about this (well one of the things) is that in last year’s con write-up I kind of promised that I’d appear on a panel to talk about Miranda Mercury. Actually, the specific quote, during my section detailing the happenings at the now annual “Black Panel” was this:

…I can’t deny seeing other people with similar views and perspectives more than refreshing, and provides some evidence that I’m not wasting my time pursuing projects like The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury. And in fact, I decided right there in that room, next year I’d be up on the stage, talking about the recent launch of Ms. Mercury onto the comics scene. Now, because I said that so blatantly, only choice is to make it happen, and soon as I find a good publisher, we can truly get started.

That quoting thing I just did will become a staple of this iteration of Ambidextrous and is being used with the express permission of CBR’s Augie De Blieck Jr., who was smart enough to use it before I had a chance to.

Anyway, what I’d imagined wasn’t quite as accurate as I’d like, but regardless, I did have the opportunity to get onstage in front of a bunch of people and say a few words about Miranda. Completely unexpected, but I suppose I did okay, and the room did burst into applause when we revealed one of the cooler aspects of the title (that Miranda is black). Craig and Nate made sure to mention that I in fact talked more about co-creator Lee Ferguson than I did the book, but there will be plenty of time to fit everything in. Think I appeared reasonably competent, though next year should be easier with the material actually out there for the people. Archaia is actually encouraging us to do everything we can to make the New York con, as it’s their backyard and two issues of Miranda should be out, so maybe that can become my first trip to NY.

Now obviously, that’s a pretty good candidate for coolest panel of the show, but The Boondocks presentation is creeping up there. Going to just list some things for you, quickly as possible with minimal explanation because really none is needed. Soul Plane 2. The infamous N-word. The Return of Gangstalicious. Thugnificent. Usher. Hurricane Katrina. Uncle Ruckus reality show. Slavery. Stinkmeaner. 9th Wonder. October. Cartoon Network. Season 2.

That’s all you get right now, but trust me when I say the preview clip, which spliced several episodes’ worth of material together, was completely ridiculous. Creator Aaron McGruder swears that season 2 is much better than the first, and soon we’ll all get to find out. Looking very good though, and the announcement that producer 9th Wonder will be doing some original music for the show is really a “you had me at hello” moment.

Boondocks kinda wrapped things up for the day and the rest of the evening belonged to dinner, reading, and general hanging at the hotel. Started to type this up for another daily posting but lost steam and had to hit the bed sooner than the two in the morning I’d averaged the earlier days of the con. It’s very possible that I’m becoming old.

Saturday was big time like it always is, packing folks into the center and literally begging the fire marshal to show up and shut the whole place down. My crew started at the Ultimate Universe panel, manned by Jeph Loeb, Bendis, Jim McCann, Quesada, and special guest David Finch. After several years of setting the tone for Marvel Comics (and very obviously influencing other publishers) the Ultimate line has lost momentum somewhat, slowly morphing from the place where almost anything could happen to one that shares more than a few similarities to what is affectionately known on the ‘net as the 616. The gloss appears to be slowly coming away from the sales and critical darling, but Marvel is smart enough to realize it, and counter with a list of developments that should restore some of the unpredictability the venture was built upon. Getting Joe Mad to draw even five issues of the Ultimates is going to be absolutely massive, and he and Loeb’s run begins officially in December. Those with good memories will recall that Marvel once branded that “Ultimate Starts” month for a couple years, so it’s not difficult to see what’s going on.

 

Add in the Ultimate Origins mini, Bendis’ new artist on Ultimate Spidey, a promised status quo shift in the wake of Ultimate Power, the forthcoming Loeb/Finch crossover Ultimatum, all leading up to something even bigger…and Marvel has the makings of a comeback run. Maybe it’s all feeding into the rumored Ultimate Crisis. Hell, Jimenez is already in house, you grab Geoff Johns (studio mate of Jeph Loeb) and those boys will be in business. Nate and Craig insist that’s something fans would love to see, given the duo’s universe bursting storyline at DC, but it might almost be too obvious. Regardless, Marvel officially put the industry on notice that you can’t sleep on the Ultimate line any more. There’s no question this time next year it will have regained the sales prominence it once enjoyed, and hopefully the creative vision it displayed in the hands of original architects Bendis & Millar.

After, we hit the floor one more time to take care of any final business that for me included bumping into Mark Powers at the Devil’s Due booth, meeting up with now Eisner-award winning creator David Peterson, and grabbing a new Boondocks tee. If you remember, Powers was one of the first editors at Marvel to ever take notice of my work, but left before we could officially get anything going. Meeting Peterson was extra cool, since I sat next to his mother on the plane ride out, and I managed to get a signed copy of the Mouse Guard hardcover, along with the first issue of the new mini. Come February, we become label mates and I’m very much looking forward to that…he’s a nice guy and deserves every bit of success.

Next was the huge Spider-Man panel, which promised to finally reveal the creative team members that will be kicking off the nearly weekly initiative Marvel is rolling out in the wake of One More Day. I had my suspicions about what that storyline would do for the franchise, and they were more or less confirmed by the comments (and non-comments) of the writing team, which includes Slott, Zeb Wells, Guggenheim, and Bob Gale. That’s a skilled bunch and the introductory art teams will ensure things look all pretty in the initial months. Recruiting McNiven was a very good move, as the artist’s star has never shone brighter, and his first post-Civil War project (whatever it was) was pretty much guaranteed to top the charts. His piece of teaser art tells you everything you need to know, with a smirking Peter Parker pulling his mask down, camera slung over his shoulder and distant billboard of a pissed-off Jameson. “Spider-Man Returns” the sign hails, and the soft reboot that’s been rumored is pretty much inevitable.

Realize this is complete speculation, but if I was writing One More Day, the plot progression would likely touch these beats. Aunt May is dying (obviously) and terrified that Mary Jane will be next, Peter runs to Dr. Strange (whose Marvel profile has been gradually increasing) for a quick fix. With his unmasking streaming everyday on You Tube, it’s fairly obvious his people will never be safe from super criminals, paparazzi and the like, whose frenzied pursuit of Parker would only grow more intense with each passing month. The term “one more day” applies to both May and MJ as Strange proposes that Mary Jane’s memory of her husband (and the world’s knowledge of his secret identity) is completely erased, a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. She wouldn’t remember him, he wouldn’t know her, and she’d be safe to pursue whatever life she chose. This gives Marvel a clean slate with a now “unmarried” Parker to retain the soap opera elements the character has always been known for, and takes him out of the realm of celebrity which he now occupies. Best part is that it also leaves them a trapdoor to bring MJ back into the story, likely as a new character that Peter would eventually fall in love with anyway, or as a way of sparking a new event somewhere down the line. Mary Jane Returns or something like that…

I don’t know, it’s how I’d do it, and I honestly sat through the entire panel amazed that no one asked, “Will Peter still be unmasked during Brand New Day?” But it sounds like they have a very good foundation in place, taking what worked from the “triangle era” of the Superman books and 52, while trying to minimize what didn’t. The announcement that no writer or artist will be forced to complete another creator’s story is fantastic and should give the stories a more natural consistency and focus. It also enables them to cycle through their artist stable in several different configurations, while naturally integrating new guys every couple months. Think it will be a huge success and even more than that, it just might be really good and the new “appointment comic” on the stands.

This was the final panel during operating hours, so my crew left the place, ate an early dinner that would come back to haunt me the following morning, and took a break before the very last thing on our respective schedules…the Warren Ellis Q & A.

In the end there’s really no choice here, not even the Image Founders, Huey Freeman, Spider-Man, the Ultimates, or even my own exploits can top Ellis’ session as THE panel of the entire show. And no, I’m not just saying that because he knew who I was the other day when I handed him a Come In Alone collection to sign…well, not completely. But I don’t think one person in the crowd would disagree with my assessment, and the only panels I’ve been to that could possibly match the energy and sheer hilarity are the Kevin Smith ones, and no offense to him, but between him and Ellis? Ain’t no question.

In two hours, nearly every subject was broached and dissected with the wit typically associated with Warren’s characters. From his upcoming stint on Astonishing X-Men, to his numerous Avatar projects, to the potential future of web comics, to his rationale for returning to Marvel Comics (and the sales spike its caused on his Transmet trades), to his feelings about DC and their handling of Jack Cross, to the future of Desolation Jones, to the real reason Global Frequency didn’t get picked up by the WB, to the premise of Dead Channel, to his love of Castlevania, to the nickname British writers have attributed to the DC comp box, to what anime he enjoys, to his hate of public smoking laws, to how he writes all of his scripts on a Treo. You must also consider there’s an incredible amount of shit that got left out of that long-winded recap. No other bit of programming offered as many laughs and insights, or as much information. Someone gave him an alcoholic energy drink, suggesting that he might enjoy it, given the row of Red Bull cans strategically placed in front of him, and he proceeded to drink it, complaining all the while of how horrid it was. Growing increasingly irritable near the end, he actually lit a cigarette and started smoking on stage, after making sure no con officials were in the room.

Wanted to write the minute the panel let out and that’s always the best sign. It’s been said over and over, but again…without Warren Ellis and his Come In Alone column, you wouldn’t be reading this, the 229th installment of Ambidextrous. Ellis made it look more than relevant, but important to have a forum for relatively unfiltered ideas. Chuck Dixon made writing comics look possible, but Ellis made it look fucking cool. And he puts on a great, great show.

Sorry for the delay in getting this to you, the original plan was to type this up at the airport and on the plane ride out, but that last dinner hit me the following morning, and took me out for much of Sunday. Was so sick I didn’t know if it was a good idea to even get on the plane, but thankfully the medicine kicked in like ten minutes before we boarded and I was able to sleep most of the way back. I swear, with me and these San Diego trips, it’s always somethin’…

Back next week, maybe with some reviews, maybe with some Miranda stuff, but more than likely with Wizard World observations. Maybe I’ll do it all at once. We’ll see what hits me. See some of you in Chicago.

B

Brandon thanks SBC contributors Nate Lee and Craig Cermak for their invaluable notes and material to back up this edition.