My Superheroes Panel: Reliving the Glory

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I ran a panel about superheroes at the Tribeca Film Festival yesterday. On hand were: Zak Penn, screenwriter of the latter two X-Men movies, plus the upcoming Incredible Hulk; Andrew Cooke, who directed a documentary about comics pioneer Will Eisner; Joe Quesada, editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics; and Thomas Haden Church, who is famous, and who played the Sandman in Spider-Man 3. Kevin Smith was supposed to be there too, but he was [insert doobie-toking gesture here] not feeling well and had to bail.

The takeaway:

— it’s very important for any bald panel-moderator to have no-shine matte paste applied to his forehead before ascending a brightly lit stage

— Thomas Haden Church was actually born Thomas Richard Quesada — but he is not related to Marvel editor in chief Joe Quesada. True story.

— Church was very smart and funny and self-deprecating, and gave a dazzlingly fluent pseudo-science explanation of how the Sandman got his powers. Apparently director Sam Raimi gave him a present of a mint copy of Amazing Spider-Man #4, in which the Sandman first appears.

— We all talked about how superheroes have gone from being sunny, untroubled, invulnerable characters to being troubled, tormented, conflicted, vulnerable characters (though as Cooke pointed out, the original Superman wasn’t nearly as invulnerable as he later became); and how, conversely, comics villains have gotten more human and relatable (viz., Magneto, Sandman, etc.)

— Penn talked about his plans for the new Hulk movie, which will focus (if I’m remembering this right) more on Bruce Banner as a Bourne-like fugitive from justice, struggling to keep his angry superhuman alter ego under control. And there won’t be any Hulk poodles. Good stuff. Penn also spontaneously admitted that Elektra, which he wrote, “sucked,” and they might have done better by just following Frank Miller’s vision of the character.

— Under close questioning — and this is where my keen journalistic instincts came into play — Joe Quesada allowed as how, yes, the Hulk was probably the physically strongest hero in the Marvel universe.

— Penn and Quesada talked about how difficult it is to launch commercially viable movie franchises that are either a) rated R, and/or b) based around minorities and female superheroes, the X-Men being the notable semi-exception. Quesada noted his affection for, and hopes for, a relatively new deaf, half-native American, half-hispanic superhero called Echo.

It went on in this vein for quite some time and was actually quite fun and interesting, much funner and interesting-er than I’m making it out to be. I’ll link to the video if the festival posts it.