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Dark Knight vs Watchmen: A Look Back at Wizard #100

by  in Comic News Comment
Dark Knight vs Watchmen: A Look Back at Wizard #100

Welcome to the year 2000, and what may very well be the final Guide to the Guide to Comics. It’s “Wizard”’s 100th issue, which just so happened to be the first issue with a year 2000 cover date. Surprisingly, “Wizard” hasn’t gone overboard with the variant covers — only two covers, neither more collectible than the other. I’m also stunned to see that both are aimed toward comics fans (specifically, Marvel Zombies), instead of chasing the latest pop culture fad. I’m going to guess that the Alex Ross cover, a tribute to McFarlane’s cover for the very first “Wizard,” went to the newsstand, given that Thor isn’t well-known to the average civilian in 2000. Contest winner Carlo Barberi, who’s gone on to work for Marvel and DC, is the artist.

wizard-spider-man


In this month’s “Wizard,” we have…ten pages of ads before we even get to the Table of Contents! Sheesh…“Wizard” really is turning into every other magazine at the supermarket. Basically, the issue looks to both the past and the future of comics. The Standards include Basic Training (a color lesson from Liquid! Graphics), Toy Chest, Coming Attractions, Last Man Standing (Darth Vader vs. Darth Maul, as rendered by Jae Lee…archived here), and Manga Mania! Plus, letters, fan art, opinion pieces, trivia, Top 10 lists, and market information.

Magic Words

Jim McLauchlin opens the column by announcing that he’s moved to California to join “Wizard”’s expansion to the west coast. It might be tempting to laugh — “Wizard” actually expanding operations even as the comic book industry is collapsing and print media is already facing a challenge from the Internet — but the magazine did manage to survive several years into the 2000s. Even though most of us perceive the glory years of “Wizard” as the ‘90s, the magazine spent half of its run outside of the decade.

Anyway, this is the annual “comic pros write in” installment of the letter column. This year, we have Erik Larsen rebutting Harlan Ellison’s earlier jab, Jeph Loeb questioning if Spider-Man truly revitalized comics (he cites Superman and the Fantastic Four as being more influential), J. Michael J Straczynski criticizing DC’s obsession with deconstruction, and Ron Garney questioning the egos of certain comic professionals. McLauchlin is quick to remind us that Garney has just finished an assignment with John Byrne. Later in the magazine, “Wizard” reveals that “creative differences” prevented Byrne from taking over their “how to draw” column.

Wizard News & Notes

Wow, the ‘90s really are over. The top story of the month is Marvel’s announcement that Warren Ellis would be overseeing the creative direction of three X-titles: “Generation X,” “X-Force,” and the increasingly unpopular “X-Man.” Editor Jason Liebig makes it clear that new creators had to be brought in to bring attention to the titles, which might’ve been a dig at the lukewarm response to the recent Spider-Man reboot. Even though the spinoffs are still selling well at this point, none of them manage to break the Top 20 anymore, and announcing such a high-profile revamp would seem to be an acknowledgment that the ‘90s era of X-dominance is done. X-books have to compete with high-profile creative teams, too, in an era where even “Thor” lands one of DC’s biggest writers.

In other news…every MC2 title, outside of “Spider-Girl,” has been cancelled…“Savage Dragon” will undergo a massive overhaul after issue #75. Creator Erik Larsen acknowledges that sales are close to cancellation level, although clearly he’s kept the title alive over the years…an Aria/Angela crossover is announced, written by Brian Holguin and penciled by new “Wizard” sensation Jay Anacleto (available in far, far too many editions)…fans are calling for Japanese sensation “Yu-Gi-Oh” to come to America, but Konami has no immediate plans…and Stan Lee has stated that he had a long, friendly talk with Steve Ditko, following Lee’s recent clarification regarding creator credit on Spider-Man. “Wizard” now declares their feud over. Later, in the Jonathan Ross documentary “In Search of Steve Ditko,” Lee would reveal that his specific wording of “I consider Steve to be the co-creator of Spider-Man” actually offended Ditko, so he swore off any further efforts to make amends with the artist.

First Look

Another Gareb Shamus project from this era, Black Bull Comics, is launching soon. Black Bull featured creators that had been close to the “Wizard” staff for years, such as Mark Waid and Jimmy Palmiotti, and had the misfortune to launch just as the magazine was losing much of its audience to the Internet…not to mention the entire comics industry was undergoing an apparent death-spiral. Anyway, the debut title “Gatecrasher” is previewed for the first time.

What’s My Line?

“Wizard” selects the best imprint in comics: Marvel Knights, Cliffhanger, or America’s Best Comics? After judging the art, characters, and stories, America’s Best Comics comes out ahead. Like most opinion pieces of this era, however, the writers are careful not to offend any of the creators involved. (Are you really going to do anything to jeopardize the next Joe Mad variant cover?)

Fight Club

Another article where “Wizard” declares that it will settle comics’ raging debates, only this time you’re invited to go to the “Wizard” message boards if you disagree and continue the conversation. Like the previous article, there isn’t much here that would generate controversy within the major companies, although Chris Claremont takes it on the chin during their “Claremont vs. Byrne?” segment. “Wizard” maintains that there aren’t any classic Claremont stories post-1980, which I’ve always viewed as an absurd belief, but I do recall some fans taking this as gospel during this era. (And that does make me laugh — your hipster elitism had its roots in “Wizard”). Although Claremont’s output has been minimal in the past ten years, even then he’s created a new format for superhero comics — the extended “picking up where we left off” series, which began with “X-Men Forever.” It didn’t last very long, but “X-Men Forever” predated the extended run of “G. I. Joe: A Real American Hero” and the current “Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows” series.

Anyway, here are the categories, and the winners/losers:

  • Who’s More Important: Writer or Artist? (Winner: Artist)
  • Better Green Lantern: Kyle Rayner vs. Hal Jordan (Winner: Kyle Rayner)
  • Better Creator: Claremont vs. Byrne (Winner: Byrne)
  • Who’d Win: JLA vs. Avengers (Winner: JLA)
  • Alex Ross’ Best Book: “Marvels” vs. “Kingdom Come” (Winner: “Marvels”… after years of breathless praise, “Kingdom Come” is dismissed as “a bunch of really cool moments, falling flat in-between.”)
  • Which City’s Cooler: Metropolis vs. Gotham (Winner: “Gotham”)
  • The Most Convincing Movie Hero: Keaton vs. Reeve (Winner: Christopher Reeve)
  •  The Real #1 Publisher: Marvel vs. DC (Winner: DC, just a year after declaring Marvel the winner)
  • Who’s the Better Robin? (Winner: Tim Drake)
  • Who’s the Better ‘Babe’ Artist: J. Scott Campbell or Michael Turner? (Winner: Campbell)
  • Gwen Stacy’s Death: Neck Snap vs. Shock from Fall? (Winner: Neck Snap)
  • Who’s the Cooler Gal Pal: Lois vs. Mary Jane? (Winner: Lois Lane, with MJ dismissed as a “whiny priss.”)
  • Heroic Ethics: To Kill vs. Not to Kill? (Winner: To Kill, meaning the writers support heroes killing their enemies.)
  • Who Deserves More Credit: Stan Lee vs. Jack Kirby? (Winner: Stan Lee)
  • Which Babe Should Archie Bag: Betty vs. Veronica? (Winner: Betty)
  • Who’s the Better Butler: Alfred or Jarvis? (Winner: Alfred)

As for “The Best Comic Story Ever,” you might recall that “Wizard” later paid Arthur Adams to render this composite image:

watchmen-dark-knight


watchmen-dark-knight


Best of the Best ‘99

Running through this list would be rather tedious, but just know that “Wizard” is a fan of the Busiek/Perez “Avengers” run, the America’s Best Comics line, and “Earth X” (which began life as a “Wizard” insert comic.) For the year 2000, they’re looking forward to the Ennis/Dillon “Punisher” run, Dan Jurgens on “Captain America,” and Jeph Loeb’s work on “Superman” and “Batman: Dark Victory.”

The Wizard Q&A

Each of the Image founding fathers are interviewed — no one really wants to discuss Rob Liefeld at this time (McFarlane claims that he’s “dead to me” and doubts they’ll ever reconcile…which does happen within the next ten years), most of the founders can’t believe Jim Lee wanted to sell Wildstorm to DC, Whilce Portacio explains why “Wetworks” took so long to debut, and Jim Valentino reveals the true origin of Image:

wizard-valentino


Back Issues

Sixteen pages of the history of comics, presented as bullet points, inserts, and sidebars. This is the standard stuff you see in every history of comics feature (that Fredric Wertham sure hated comics!)…for the most part. I did learn that Rob Liefeld once spent $125,000 on a spaceship as a convention attraction, but couldn’t use it because the craft was too heavy to ship around, and that Stan Lee used to add sound effects and speed lines to Ditko’s “Amazing Spider-Man” work, which irritated the artist. The chart devoted to various sidekicks from the Golden Age, including Winky, Blinky, and Noddy, is also appreciated. Finally, during the segment on the Image explosion, a convention photo of Whilce Portacio is cropped in over Hank Kanalz in the famous “Image founders in someone’s living room” photo. Credit to “Wizard” for getting that one right once again.

Casting Call

Kevin Smith, Joe Quesada, and Jimmy Palmiotti give their picks for a “Daredevil” film, which is only three years away at this point.

  • Matt Damon as Daredevil
  • Oliver Platt as Foggy Nelson
  • Robin Wright as Karen Page
  • Sigourney Weaver as Rosalind Sharpe
  • Anne Bancroft as Sister Maggie
  • Angelina Jolie as Black Widow (her casting elicits as “Hoo-ah!” from the Marvel Knights crew.)
  • Mike Star (“Mad Dog and Glory”) as Mr. Gabriel
  • Alec Baldwin as Bullseye
  • Robert DeNiro as The Kingpin
  • Kevin Spacey as Mysterio
  • Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith as the director and writer
  • And, representing pure nepotism, the priest and baby from the “Guardian Devil” storyline will be played by Joe Quesada’s father and Kevin Smith’s newborn, Harley Quinn Smith.

Coming Attractions

Following a shoulder injury on the set of “Mission Impossible II,” actor Dougray Scott has dropped out of “X-Men.” His replacement is unknown Australian actor Hugh Jackman, who Avi Arad says nailed the audition with Anna Paquin. In other Hollywood news…pretty much nothing, as far as comics-themed movies or TV shows, outside of Keanu Reeves declaring that he’ll only play Batman if Jack Nicholson returns as the Joker.

Top 10 Heroes & Villains of the Month

The Top 10 is replaced this month by “The Top 10 Overused Comic Book Plotlines,” which include Spider-Man quitting, Spawn moping, Batman brooding, and Captain America losing his faith in America. There is a line between standard tropes that suit a character and “shocking” ideas that are recycled far too often, and the list does a decent job of picking plots that were already overdone in the previous decade.

This issue’s Mort of the Month is Uatu, The Watcher, because he seems to intervene more than he actually watches.

wizard


Picks

The Book(s) of the Month is the entire Batman line, during the final month of “No Man’s Land.” The On the Edge pick, previously dedicated to small-press titles, is “Cosmic Slam” #1, which is (I’m assuming) a licensed comic starring Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, David Justice, and Jeff Bagwell as…cosmic superheroes. “Wizard” has also gone back to listing pretty much anything released by the Big Two in this section, even if the editors clearly don’t like the book. I thought you were going to be lifting our comics consciousness, “Wizard”!

Market Watch

After explaining to us just how hot “Xena” back issues have become, Market Watch then goes on to educate the public on the Comics Guaranty Corporation (CGC), and all of the wonderful implications of professionally graded (and slabbed) comics. As for the Buried Treasure selection, it’s “Fatale” #1 from Broadway Comics. Why exactly? Because it features J. G. Jones’ first work.

“Wizard”’s Top Ten Writers are…1. Alan Moore 2. Kurt Busiek 3. Mark Waid 4. Garth Ennis 5. Dan Jurgens 6. Warren Ellis 7. Chris Claremont 8. Jeph Loeb 9. J. Michael Straczynski 10. Jim Krueger (Kevin Smith has no monthly series at the moment, so he’s been removed.)

“Wizard”’s Top Ten Artists are…1. Alex Ross 2. Michael Turner 3. George Perez 4. J. Scott Campbell 5. Adam Kubert 6. Joe Quesada 7. Leinil Francis Yu 8. John Romita, Jr. 9. Salvador Larocca 10. Gene Ha (Joe Madureira is off the list, even though “Battle Chasers” is still officially on a regular schedule.)

Top Ten Comics

The banned “Elseworlds 80-page Giant” #1 tops the back issues list, thanks to the 2,000 copies that made their way to Great Britain. (This is the comic banned due to Kyle Baker’s Superbaby piece.) Other oddball inclusions this month include “Strangers in Paradise” #16, because the “Xena” parody cover was allegedly snatched up by the female warrior’s rabid fanbase, and “Astonishing X-Men” #1, in spite of the brutal reviews it received online.

Top 100 – October 1999

“Danger Girl” #6, which had to be resolicited due to lateness, shows up as the No. 3 book of the month, just under the two main X-titles. “X-Men: The Hidden Years” debuts at No. 10, which is possibly the last time John Byrne had a Top 10 title. “Spawn: The Undead” is sinking down the charts at No. 36, while “Spawn” remains in the Top 10. Finally, the new era of Superman titles, featuring Jeph Loeb and Joe Kelly, only saw a six-to-seven percent sales gain.

Comic Book Price Guide

The guide this month highlights a piece of “Wizard” trivia on the odd-numbered pages and an unseen “Wizard” cover from the past on the even-numbered pages. If you thought Bart Sears drew a lot of “Wizard” covers…half of the unpublished covers are also by Sears! Other abandoned covers include She-Hulk by John Byrne and JLA by Alan Davis. Perhaps the greatest bit of “Wizard” trivia is the revelation that the licensed Brazilian version of the magazine featured pornographic cartoons. The staff didn’t know until they saw a printed copy.

And, now, for the final time…what’s “Youngblood” #1 worth? “Wizard” lists it at $2.00, with the price falling.

So, what did we learn today?

Money Quotes

  • “You had 50 years of some of the best comics characters and books in history. You screwed it up.” – J. Michael Straczynksi’s message to DC.
  •  “We’re willing to bet that nine out of 10 fanboys don’t have a clue who draws ‘Tom Strong.’” – the Wizard Staff, on the supremacy of Cliffhanger’s artists.
  •  “No. Imagine this: ‘Gather round, X-Force, while I tell you the plan. But first, let me tell you about my divorce again…” – Warren Ellis, on why Quicksilver isn’t joining X-Force.
  • “(O)ne of the fears I do have is if I do come back, people would see me as the fraud I was. I saw it happen with Jim (Lee) when he did ‘Divine Right.’ Nobody cared.” – Todd McFarlane, on the chances of him drawing a monthly title again.
  • “It’s the perfect movie to look forward to after the inevitable disappointment of ‘X-Men.’” – Mark Millar on his made-for-TV film “Sikeside.”
  • “Slabbing your books could be like winning the lottery.” – text in the Market Watch segment.

Nope

We never got that “Madman” movie, directed by Robert Rodriguez or the “Red Rocket 7” film (another Mike Allred project, “G-Men from Hell” was finished and released in 2001)…Darren Aronofsky doesn’t direct the “Aeon Flux” film…Drew Barrymore doesn’t star in a “Barbarella” movie…and “Hate” never makes it to HBO.

‘Rasslin’

A toy Stone Cold Steve Austin greets you during the table of contents…the action figure segment is mostly devoted to new WWF and WCW toys…and “Wizard” compliments itself for predicting the success of the “Undertaker” comic, while bemoaning low orders on the “Stone Cold Steve Austin” series.

Stuff “Wizard” Likes

Recent Marvel retro books, such as “Avengers” #1 ½…the “Legion of the Damned” storyline in “Legion of Superhero-Heroes”…DC’s new line of Silver Age toys…and the Dixon/McDaniel team on “Nightwing.”

Stuff “Wizard” Doesn’t Like

The “continuity-wrecking legend John Byrne”…Travis Charest for dropping out of “Wildcats” so quickly…the closing of the Marvel Mania restaurant at Universal Studios…the Howard Mackie/John Byrne relaunch of Spider-Man…the  Busiek/Stern/Chen “Iron Man” run…and the recent issues of “Flash” and “Thor” (after praising the book for months).

This Ain’t HuffPo

This issue, “Wizard”…lusts after Katie Holmes and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos…compliments Tony Daniel for the “lotsa boobs” found in his comics…thanks Jim Balent for including nude variants on all of the art he does for the magazine…captions the Aria/Angela promotional image as “Babe Sandwich,” encouraging fans to get between these ladies…acknowledges that they take copies of “Danger Girl” with them into the bathroom…asks readers to include “a photo of you and a midget” during the annual Scavenger Hunt contest…fantasizes about spying on Buffy and her friends’ slumber party…reveals that its placement in mainstream outlets forces the magazine to be “thoughtful in regards to funbags”…and lists “Fat Chick in Chainmail” as the worst Horseman of the Apocalypse. Also, a Marvel editor describes an upcoming storyline in his book as having “all sorts of retarded stuff.”

Vive la France

An inserted word balloon has Captain America reminding kids that “French-Canadians are just as bad as the real thing.”

Pathological Scatological

In a “Good vs. Evil” sidebar, constipation is chosen over diarrhea as the “affliction of least resistance.”…a fart sound effect is added to a photo of a Goldberg (the wrestler) action figure…the cover of the “Knights of Ramune Vol. 3” anime is used as an excuse for a “who farted?” joke…and the prospect of Ant-Man becoming a proctologist is floated in the Picks segment.

Commercial Break

This is the issue that “Wizard,” a professional publication with connections throughout the industry, and sales in most newsstand outlets in the country, ran an ad for an unlicensed pornographic parody of “Sailor Moon” and “Dragon Ball Z.”

unlicensed-sailor-moon-dragon-ball-z porno


Cheap and Stupid and Trashy?

The title for this category comes from Frank Miller’s Harvey Awards Speech, which had him literally ripping the magazine apart onstage. (CBR interviewed publisher Gareb Shamus shortly after that speech and asked for his thoughts…which didn’t amount to much of a defense.)  Does it now fit all three criteria? I’d say so. This issue does feature a halfway decent piece on the history of comics, but it’s the first one I’ve seen in the magazine in years. “Wizard” is far more interested at this point in hyping certain creators, telling you which cool stuff to buy, and inserting photos of its staff into increasingly unfunny featurettes. And, of course, the “exclusives” — more stuff that you “must” own, even if it means writing out several checks to the publisher each issue for all of these rare collectibles.

Just as irritating — the magazine’s continued attempts to “legitimize” itself. Photo covers of celebs, promotional features on every passing pop culture whim, and ads shoved into every crevice of the magazine. Not just print ads, but those horribly irritating card inserts that every other supermarket magazine packs in. This issue even features two separate card inserts for an exclusive Lady Death action figure. I didn’t want the thing in the first place!

And the crude humor and overbearing adolescent attitude that permeates the magazine deserves a mention. It’s always been present, but it was kept to a manageable level for, I’d say, around three years there in the mid-‘90s. In fact, an argument easily can be made that “Wizard” was a respectable fanzine from 1994 to 1997. 1998 was a rough year for the magazine, and 1999 just continued the slide into obsolescence. I suspect the attitude at “Wizard” was to compete against online news sites with exclusive product deals and even more free junk in the polybags. I can’t speak for anyone else, but the catalogue nature of the magazine just pushed me further away.

Of course, “Wizard” survived for another ten years after I purchased my final issue, so clearly it was reaching someone. For several years there, it was the only comics presence on many newsstands. Branching out into broader pop culture and embracing toys and video games didn’t endear the magazine to hardcore comics fans, but it enabled the magazine to stave off death for several years.  And you can’t escape the word “Wizard” even to this day, if you follow comics news sites.  Lawsuits, allegations of criminal behavior, and I guess there’s a comics convention or two…will we ever escape the Shadow of Shamus?

To be honest, I could never bring myself to truly hate “Wizard.” I have too many fond memories of the magazine during my formative years, and I genuinely believe that it was a solid value for your dollar for a good stretch of its run. Sadly, it gave in to its worst instincts, but in its best days, “Wizard” was your source for news, creator interviews, cartoons, history pieces, and all around weird stuff. Comics vs. Hot Cakes giveaway, I’ll never forget you…

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Dark Knight vs Watchmen: A Look Back at Wizard #100
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