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MARVEL SHUTS UP NEXT DECEMBER

Warning: the following contains spoilers for last week’s “Uncanny X-Men.”

Boy, you can just hear the jokes starting about certain wordy writers right now.

Marvel Comics head Bill Jemas announced in a Thursday press conference that next December, all (or nearly all) their comics would be wordless for one month. No dialogue. No captions. No thought bubbles.

[Bill Jemas]
Bill Jemas

“We think this will be a lot of fun,” Jemas said. “We expected sort of a mixed bag from creators … we have yet to speak to an artist or writer who didn’t get that glint in their eyes, willing to live up to that challenge.”

“We are looking for a name for this particular program,” Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada said. “We might as well come up with a contest. If someone can come up with a better name than [working titles] ‘Showtime’ or ‘Show Me Something,’ I will give credit and come up with a wonderful gift.

“Right now, as it’s scheduled, it’s the regular fill-in teams, barring the usual … It’s just a matter, of course, if they’re 12 issues a year guys, eight issues a year guys, where it falls in the schedule. It’s pretty much Darwinian this way.”

While this is going to be the case for the Marvel Universe books — Quesada said the decision to participate in the event is voluntary, so far, everyone’s signed on to give it a try — there has been no decision about whether or not to extend it to the Ultimate Marvel books that exist outside the main line.

“We’re sort of looking on this as a celebration of the art form of sequential art,” Quesada said. “We’re just sort of branching out and showing the beauty of what we do.”

Long-time Marvel Comics fans will remember an issue of the “GI Joe” comic that starred the silent Snake Eyes in an all-wordless issue. That wasn’t the inspiration for this event, according to Jemas.

“Honestly, I got inspired to do this just by [Adam Kubert’s] art … on ‘Ultimate X-Men,'” Jemas said.

The press conference was another open Q&A session, with no particular theme. Quesada and Jemas ended up answering a variety of questions, from the fannish to business-oriented.

Veteran X-Men member Colossus made the ultimate sacrifice in last week’s “Uncanny X-Men,” to cure the mutant-killing Legacy Virus (and to wrap up a decade-long loose end). But it was the X-Men titles that first made Marvel famous for having a seemingly flexible editorial policy on character deaths. That might be changing in the new Quesada regime, though.

“If you’re gonna kill off characters, number one, let’s have it have a lot of meaning, and two, try and make it as permanent as possible,” Quesada said. Resurrections make “a death like this completely meaningless in the long run. … But I don’t want to give away more story details on this right now.”

Marvel’s Ultimate Marvel newsstand magazine has finally come out, but few people have seen it and, predictably, copies have started appearing on eBay for far more than cover price. For a magazine that was meant to broaden Marvel’s audience, this seems a bit odd.

“It’s not intended to be a collectible,” Jemas said. “God knows, there’s 150,000. … I think it’s just an anomaly in the distribution system.”

As for rumors that the Ultimate Marvel Magazine’s source material, the Ultimate Marvel line of books, would be getting a fifth series beyond the previously announced Ultimate X-Men-related book by Mark Millar, those rumors may not be what fans think they are.

“A lot of what people talk about … is looking at some of the things that worked in Ultimates, and some of the lessons in Ultimates,” Quesada said. “A lot of what you’re hearing is what sounds like Ultimates, but that’s not what it is.” Instead, writers are pitching more kid- and consumer-friendly runs on Marvel Universe titles, much as May’s relaunch of the core X-Men titles will resemble the Ultimate Marvel titles by no longer heavily referring to sometimes dense previous continuity.

Finally, for fans who might have not heard about it, Marvel has put their online resources behind “Black Panther,” much as they once did an online push for “Deadpool.” “Black Panther” now has its own dedicated section of the Marvel Web site, including previews and other information meant to make it easy for new readers to pick up the book.

The move came when series editor “Tom Brevoort and I were looking at numbers on the book, and seeing that it could very well be headed the wrong direction,” Quesada said. “It’s a great book, and it needs wider recognition.”

WHY SIMONSON WON’T SAY

‘WHO’S STRONGER’

[Orion]

As long as there have been superhero fans, the discussion has likely raged. It’s certainly been a staple of the Internet and online forums: Who’s stronger? Could Thor beat Superman? Could Wonder Woman beat the Thing?

Walter Simonson, who famously wrote “Thor” at Marvel Comics and now writes the adventures of another immortal heavy hitter, “Orion” for DC Comics, would have an informed opinion, one can safely assume.

But Simonson won’t play that game. And he explained why at DC’s official “Orion” message board last week:

“Contractual obligations are not the reason I don’t answer questions about characters’ relative strengths or whatever. I do it out of a belief that the answers to such questions, in an important sense, are unknowable except in quite specific terms–the terms of the story in which the characters appear. I don’t know if I can explain it any more clearly. The core of my job is to ask questions, not answer them. That’s the role of fiction. Oh sure, I answer some of the questions, certainly the questions posed by the story. But really, it is not my job description to explain everything or create a rock-solid hierarchy that will be immutably engraved in stone for all time. To expect that is, I think, to have unrealistic expectations about fiction and its role in our enjoyment. To ask questions is to create new worlds; to answer everything is to shut down the universe. That’s one of the reasons real life is so endlessly fascinating — because we’re never going to have all the answers. And that’s one of the deepest reflections of real life fiction can have.

“To a certain extent, I think characters are malleable. They have to be or we wouldn’t be able to write all the stories we do. For example, character strengths are essentially relative. There’s no chart at the office (at least not at the office of any company I’ve worked for) that shows a precise hierarchy of characters’ strengths, powers, etc. Characters in the various universes such as the DCU or the Marvel Universe inhabit a shared universe. That means their various stories have been and are being created by a host of writers who don’t always agree with each other and whose stories will sometimes contradict one another. Those stories reflect honest differences of opinion. Which is as it should be. In so far as is possible, writers shouldn’t be hobbled by one another.

“I don’t mean to suggest that I willy nilly disregard everything ever written about a character before I write them. I don’t. I don’t think that the body of my work remotely suggests that. From the Metal Men to Thor to the FF to Orion, I think the work I’ve done shows a pretty careful consideration for the characters I’ve done. When I was a kid, I probably thought Superman was the strongest being in the DCU. At least on Earth. And maybe elsewhere. I don’t think I thought about it much, really, and there were fewer characters back then. Certainly fewer ‘cosmic’ characters. And some comparisons naturally are obvious. Galactus is certainly stronger than Batman. But when characters are closer to together on the scale, then definitive answers are harder to come by.”

Simonson acknowledged that this sort of information has been codified in the past: Both Marvel and DC have had multiple roleplaying games over the years that included just that sort of information.

“RPGs don’t count. Not for me. They’re no more than the opinions of guys who don’t write the stories. If you will, RPGs are the gossip; comics are creating the gospels. And even the gospels don’t always agree with each other. RPG material is fine as a basis for argument and has been used as such for a long time; I’ve seen their stats quoted on almost every Web site I’ve ever dropped by that dealt with comic book characters, cited as evidence by the fans that this guy or that girl is stronger, faster, smarter, etc. But role playing gamesters are not my audience. They may be part of the audience (I hope they are) but I’m not writing the comics for the convenience or explication of RPGs. Instead, I’m writing stories for an audience of readers and that’s a purpose that does not always parallel the needs of RPGs. In a game, you have to have the rankings. In fiction, you don’t.

“To cite your own example … I don’t myself see why Barda should necessarily be inferior in strength to Wonder Woman. Is this just because Wonder Woman is an older character or has more comics published about her or is better known? Some specific reason? I’m not being deliberately contentious about it. I’m not saying she is or isn’t; I just have no reason to believe one way or the other. There may even be a story somewhere where WW kicked Barda’s butt. However, what with Barda also being a goddess and having spent (presumably) virtually all her formative years learning the art of dealing death to the enemies of Apokolips, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to at least consider the idea that she may very well be Wonder Woman’s equal. Or at least close enough to make a definitive answer impossible other than on the basis of personal fiat.

“The stipulations under which we work in writing for a shared universe are mostly unspoken. If I were going to use a character from some other title at DC in ‘Orion,’ for example, I’d have to clear that use with the editor in charge of the other character. And he might or might not agree to what I wanted to do. That’s the stipulation really. As interesting as the relative strengths/powers/etc. of characters are to fans, I’ve really never had any long discussions about the subject in professional circles. Probably because those concerns are generally secondary to trying to get a cool story put together. Stories (at least for me) don’t generally begin with the idea that Wonder Woman is 1.6 times stronger than Big Barda and how can I do a story about that. They start with an idea and then the story gets molded around the characters as I understand them. Which means the relative power is important but it’s only one of the factors in the equation. And not necessarily the most important one.

“I said above characters are malleable. Even in real life (or maybe I should say especially in real life since it is the ultimate model for fiction), the same guys don’t always win every time. A great baseball team will sometimes fall to a lousy one they’ve beaten 10 times in a row. Two boxers fight a rematch and the result isn’t always the same as it was in the first fight.

“In a sense, the ultimate model for fiction is the world and the world isn’t always consistent. The reflection of that in my writing is a truer reflection of the real world for me than unchanging precision. Again, I don’t go around writing stories to deliberately screw stuff up; rather the reverse. But I’m of the opinion that the essential core of fictional universes is flexibility, not absolutism. And my thoughts about characters are guided by that opinion.

“Which is the main reason why questions about characters’ relative strengths, for example, while not meaningless to me, are in essence unanswerable.

“So I don’t answer them.”

WANT TO BREAK INTO COMICS?

HEIDI McDONALD’S MOST IMPORTANT TIP

Like all DC Comics editors, DC/Vertigo editor Heidi McDonald sees a lot of work by a lot of would-be comic creators, both at conventions and sent over the transom to DC’s offices in New York City.

Wednesday night, she was moved to share, in several online venues, an important tip for aspiring creators:

“It’s nearly 9 p.m., and I’m still in the office, catching up on all the stuff I couldn’t get done during the day. But something happened that has prompted me to stay an extra five minutes.

“I came across some penciling samples that someone had sent me — one of dozens, I might add. And there was something eye catching about them. Not enough to call and give them work, but enough to want to know who did them and to keep an eye on this person.

“Only — you guessed it — he (or she) DIDN’T PUT HIS NAME ON THE SAMPLES! Not a name or a signature anywhere. Undoubtedly they were paper-clipped to a cover letter and a SASE when they arrived, but somewhere in all the excitement, they got separated, and now I have no idea whose work it is.

“Boys and girls, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS write your name and contact info on Xeroxes of pencils, or inks or anything. Envelopes get tossed, cover letters get separated, cards get swept under the carpet. Believe me, as an editor, nothing makes me happier than opening an envelope and seeing someone with talent. Just make sure we know how to call you once we see your brilliant work.

“Thank you and good night.”


SUPERGIRL GOES TO THE MALL

Not all comics-related paraphernalia is destined for the comic shop. Some of it can be seen at your local mall, and not just at the Warner Brothers Store.

Supergirl is arriving at malls across the country, and has already been spotted in Hot Topic stores in the Los Angeles area, which has previously carried other comics-related T-shirts.

The new line — which is based on the classic Kryptonian version of the character instead of the modern version, whose origins are too complex to be summarized here — will include not just T-shirts, but jewelry, cosmetics and skin care goods.

Warner Brothers Consumer Products’ promotional material for the line reads:

“Hi … I’m SUPERGIRL … So here’s the deal … When the PLANET KRYPTON exploded, I was the only other survivor besides my cousin Clark (you know … that hunk we call SUPERMAN ).

“I traveled to Earth in a cryotube … It helped to preserve me and kept me looking FABU …”

In addition to fighting crime, it turns out that Supergirl is also something of a fashion icon.

“Those trend-setting, hip ROCK STAR CHICKS love my look too … You know who they are …

So I’m using my futuristic SUPER powers to create new cool Earth-friendly clothes/accessories and beauty products … Coming soon to your favorite stores and catalogues …”


BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE COMIC BRIEF

Here’s what’s news and press releases in CBR’s Comic Brief since the last edition of the Comic Wire:

  • Fantagraphics solicitations for product shipping May, 2001
  • Cartoon Books solicitations for product shipping May, 2001
  • Oni Press reprints long lost Land of Nod Treasury
  • 7 Guys of Justice take a break
  • Fabry rejoins Ennis with Just A Pilgrim #2!
  • Astronauts in Trouble to be reprinted online
  • DC Comics solicitations for product shipping April, 2001

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