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What was up with Wizard: January 1997

by  in Comic News Comment
What was up with <i>Wizard</i>: January 1997

Wizard magazine may no longer be with us, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do another of my extremely irregular series looking at old issues of the magazine a certain sector of fans grew up loving. Come on, you can admit it! This time around, I’m checking out issue #65, the “1996 Year-End Spectacular.” My purchases of Wizard often revolved around special events, so a year-end issue was like catnip. Catnip, say I!

First, check out this Kevin Lau cover. What the crap is going on with Wolverine’s ear-things? That’s just weird. And how many muscles does he have in his arms?

There’s an ad for Scream on the inside cover. Man, remember when Scream came out, and what a cool movie it was? It still is, but the franchise went downhill pretty quickly – the opening scene of the second movie was probably the last cool bit. And now they’re making a fourth one? Sheesh. (And remember how you wondered how Wes Craven built a time machine and got a young Johnny Depp to star in the first one because you didn’t know who Skeet Ulrich was? Was that only me?) [Edit: As I pointed out in the comments, I began this post a long time ago, so the fourth Scream hadn’t come out yet. But hey, according to all reports, it DID suck!]

There’s an interesting letter in the letters column. In it, some dude takes the guy who answers letters, Jim McLauchlin, to task for making fun of someone with a tattoo. Were tattoos really that outré in 1996? I seem to recall them being a bit more popular and therefore not as insult-worthy as they would have been ten years earlier. It’s such a weird exchange between the letter-writer and McLauchlin, because these days, it’s a mark of non-conformity if you’re young and DON’T have a tattoo.

In the “Wizard News” section, we learn that DC is planning an ongoing series that will be a prequel to Kingdom Come. Mark Waid is the writer and Gene Ha will do interior art. Boy, I bet that series rocked!

There’s a bullet point about Homage Comics in 1997, with news about Empire (by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson), The New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln (by Scott McCloud), and Lawless (by Steven Grant and Mike Zeck). I know Empire came out, but did the other two?

Garth Ennis was supposed to take over WildC.A.T.s when Alan Moore left, but he ditched it because of an excessive workload. Ennis on WildC.A.T.s? Holy crap, that would have been awesome.

I like how Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos were doing an arc on Ash to allow some slacker named Joe Quesada time to get some issues in the can. I wonder how that worked out.

Matt Wagner moved Mage to Image. I suppose that means he was able to finish it, right?

Wizard took a poll about “Heroes Reborn,” which was searing into our collective unconscious back in those days, and the results weren’t too surprising. By a wide margin, Rob Liefeld’s Captain America was the most disappointing book. Why? It killed the Waid/Garney run, which was pretty popular, and … well, I mean, look at the dude. ‘Nuff said!

There’s a short news item about a model who shows up at cons dressed as various character getting a gig with Comico. The model’s name is Paula Coonfield. There’s a Paula Coonfield Ellingham on Facebook, and she teaches at a Christian elementary school. I wonder if they’re the same person …

There’s a nice item about Stephen Platt, who was supposed to draw an arc of Captain America. Whatever happened to Platt? I loathed his art, but he seemed to be a “hot” property for a while. I assume he got work in a different industry.

Frank Cho files an interesting report from the Small Press Expo in Bethesda. It’s always cool when Wizard allows their articles to stray from the Big Two and whatever company the Image guys were founding that month and whatever company was publishing Lady Death. Cho has some funny observations about the con, plus this great picture of Evan Dorkin:

There was some Image news: Liefeld sued them (how did that ever turn out?), Silvestri took Top Cow back to Image, and McFarlane blasts Liefeld’s lawsuit. Oh, kids, can’t you just get along?

Wizard then examines Karl Kesel and Cary Nord’s run on Daredevil. This is one of those runs that seems to have gained in stature over the years, and I don’t think it’s been collected in trade. Come on, Marvel!

Then there’s an article on breaking into comics. Let’s check it out, because I’m sure “Giving hummers to the right people” isn’t in the article. At this point, Marvel had just laid off 100 employees. Man, the speculator bubble bursting sucked. First, how to be a writer: Plot submissions should be a page long, don’t change too much with the characters, use a main character in your submission, script a comic that’s already been printed and send that in. Third, how to be an artist: Redraw pages from an already printed comic, take a lot of drawing classes, a five-page submission is enough, have you been published? Basically, you need to network a lot. That gets back to the hummers. Practice them!

Next, Wizard casts the Savage Dragon movie. Okay, there was never a Savage Dragon movie. But they wanted one, and they cast that motherfucker! Because it’s the mid-1990s, they cast Brian Bosworth as the Savage Dragon. Today, they would cast Jon Cena. For Dragon’s girlfriend, Rapture, they cast Tyra Banks. They put Halle Berry in the role of Alex Wilde. Because it’s the mid-1990s, here’s what Berry looked like back then:

The role of Star, the young dude who likes to hang out with Dragon, goes to Patrick Dempsey. Because it’s the mid-1990s, Dempsey looks like this:

They cast Farrah Forke, who was in Wings, as Rita Medermade, and James McDaniel, from NYPD Blue (among other things), as Lieutenant Frank Darling. They cast David Chokachi from Baywatch as Mighty Man, and Joe Lara as Cyberface. Bridget Fonda gets to play Nurse Ann Stevens, while they get Robert Davi to play Overlord. I don’t know if he fits the part, but who doesn’t love Robert Davi? And man, Bridget Fonda dropped off the map, didn’t she? According to IMDb, she hasn’t done anything in almost a decade. I always had a soft spot for Bridget Fonda because she was just so darned cute in Singles.

Wizard then checks out Astro City. Not the series, the actual city. There’s a brief history of the city, facts about the city (the snowiest day was 3 January 1899, when 84 inches fell), and a map. Apparently, Astro City is in Colorado or Wyoming or Montana. I guess Busiek knows, but he ain’t telling! (I could have sworn it was more Midwest, but according to Wizard – and they’d know, man! – it’s at the foothills of the Rockies.) Astro City’s American League baseball team, the Stars, holds the record for most consecutive sell-outs. Well, they did in 1997. Scott Beatty wrote the article in his capacity as Wizard‘s copy editor. Beatty now writes comic books for Dynamite Entertainment. How do you like that?

Then there’s an interview with Scott Lobdell. Scott Lobdell chose to be photographed in this shirt:

I can’t decide if that’s hideous or awesome. Hideaweous? Anyway, Lobdell talks a lot about Onslaught, because that was the big event of recent vintage back then. He also said he’d rather write characters sitting around and talking rather than fighting. Considering his best issue of Uncanny X-Men, issue #297, features two characters sitting around and talking, I’m not surprised. He claimed he loved Joe Madureira’s art, and I have no reason to disbelieve him. He wouldn’t talk about the falling-out he had with Mark Waid when they were both working on the X-books. Damn it – we need dirt, Mr. Lobdell! Lobdell is back in comics, of course, doing praiseworthy work on Superboy and scornworthy work on Red Hood and the Outlaws. Will the real Scott Lobdell please stand up!

Then we get to some fun stuff, meaning 8 artists Wizard thinks we should keep our eyes on in 1997. I love when I re-read stuff like this, because sometimes they’re spot on, and sometimes … they’re really not. This time, however, they really do a nice job, as here are their eight:

1. Michael Turner – although one of the things he gets praised for is his speed, which seemed to become more of a problem as he went on. Perhaps it had something to do with his illness?
2. Steve Skroce – he hasn’t done a ton of work, but he’s very good.
3. Jim Calafiore – some people want to gouge out their eyes rather than look at Calafiore’s art (I’m looking at you, Bill Reed!), but he’s been working steadily since this issue came out.
4. Lee Moder – I like his old style more than his newer stuff, but he’s also been working steadily.
5. Cary Nord – another good choice.
6. Ian Chuchill – someone else who divides audiences, but another guy who works regularly. His creator-owned comic Marineman actually features pretty good art.
7. Carlos Pacheco – probably the biggest star of this group … although I really wish he’d do more Arrowsmith.
8. Jeffrey Moy – who? Moy was drawing Legionnaires when this article appeared, so there’s that. It appears he’s working in video games these days, which presumably pays him better.

On page 78, Wizard has one of those articles that makes me smile, because it’s so at variance with the way things are now. The story is about DC and how it’s producing “the best superhero comics on the market today.” Wizard praises DC for, among other things, trying to appeal to a younger audience by replacing heroes like Hal Jordan, Oliver Queen, and Barry Allen with new characters. I can see a younger Geoff Johns gritting his teeth as he read this article and blinking back tears. They also point out that in the late 1990s, DC was a haven for good writers, which is certainly true. The fascinating thing about this article is that for whatever reason, DC has almost completely gone the opposite way in the past decade. I’m sure they would say differently, but it did feel that in the late 1990s, DC was very much committed to moving beyond their past and introducing a new generation of heroes to the readers. Then it stopped, and we got whatever it is they do today – some sort of amalgam of the Silver Age and gore. Charming. The odd thing is, Wizard concludes the article by claiming that because the people running the asylum at DC are “fanboys” (their word), they are sure to make the comics more accessible. Yes, that’s really what they write. Man, what a difference 15 years makes. Finally, we get a side list of the best DC superhero books available at that moment. Hitman, Aztek, Aquaman, Robin, Impulse, Green Lantern, Legion of Super-Heroes, Legionnaires, Flash, and JLA are the top ten (from 10 to 1). That’s not a bad list.

Pages 86-100 are annotations for Kingdom Come. It’s pretty keen and far too detailed to go into here.

Wizard then breaks down what’s to come in 1997 for various comics. It’s pointless to recap, but I thought it was interesting which books they spotlighted: the X-Men books, the Spider-Man books (all four of them), The Incredible Hulk, the Batman books, the Superman books, Green Lantern, The Flash, the Legion of Super-Heroes books, Spawn, Gen 13, Witchblade, Shi, and Ash. I just like seeing what was hot during this time.

Next we get some of the major news stories of 1996. These are always fun.

1. Heroes Reborn. Well, of course.
2. Image has a rough year. Liefeld left, Silvestri left and then came back, Valentino found out Liefeld can be a dick. Film at 11!
3. Garth Ennis writes a lot of comics, including Preacher and Hitman. That’s news?
4. The Onslaught thing. I had forgotten that it had originally nothing to do with the Image guys’ return to Marvel, but they decided to make one lead into another.
5. Kingdom Come was a big hit.
6. There’s an interesting item about self-publishers joining up with independent companies. Apparently self-publishing was hard in 1996. Good thing that’s changed, right?
7. Superman and Lois got married. Dan Jurgens claimed it had absolutely nothing to do with the wedding episode of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures. Suuuuuuure it didn’t. Of course, this item gives me an excuse to link to a picture of Teri Hatcher. So there’s that.
8. It was a big year for toys. Yeah, I don’t care.
9. The Clone Saga came to an end. I have never read any of the Clone Saga, except, I guess, the original issue that spawned it (Amazing Spider-Man #150 from the 1970s). I take some measure of pride in that.
10. Amalgam Comics was a huge hit. I have also never read an Amalgam comic.

In between these stories were some sidebars, with the “Top 10 Biggest Disappointments of 1996” and “The 10 Things Wizard Would Like To See in 1997.” Let’s take a look!

1. Marvel vs. DC #3. “There was no way Wolverine should have beaten Lobo.” Yes, it actually says this. Because it’s so fucking important.
2. Mark Waid on X-Men. Yeah, they have a point.
3. Waid/Garney off Cap. I guess. Reading those issues years later, they didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but they were fine, I suppose.
4. Prof. X and the X-Traitor. The money quote? “And now Marvel is planning to write the professor out of the series? It’s been proven that part of what makes the X-Men work is having a father figure like Prof. X at the helm.” Someone running Marvel these days must not have been a subscriber to Wizard back in the day! (Although I guess he’s sort-of back now?)
5. Bad comic flicks. The Crow: City of Angels, Barb Wire, and The Phantom all sucked, according to Wizard (I haven’t seen any of them, but I’m going to assume they’re spot on). “Let’s hope the next crop of films – including Batman and Robin and Spawn – are actually worth paying $7.50 to see.” Yeah, how’d that work out, Wizard? And remember when movies cost $7.50? Good times.
6. Death of Hal Jordan. Was Geoff Johns a Wizard staffer in 1996?
7. Spawn’s new face. How can you be disappointed when you don’t care?
8. Wolverine’s adamantium. To be honest, I kind of liked non-adamantium Wolverine. They’re talking about feral non-adamantium Wolverine, which was, yeah, more of a stretch.
9. “Heroes Reborn.” I do like how they write about it a few pages earlier as a gangbusters event and then shit all over it a few pages later. Gotta love Wizard!
10. Superman wedding. Well, the staffers had to wait 15 years, but they got their wish!

1. One Marvel Universe. This ties into their disappointment over “Heroes Reborn.” I’m sure that a few years later, they were spooging all over the Ultimate Universe, though.
2. More Amalgam. There’s no chance of that ever getting old!
3. Continue improving Spidey. Well, sure. They don’t like the Spider-marriage, which is kind of interesting. This is ten years after the fact, remember, and they still hadn’t reconciled to it. Comic book fans have loooooong memories.
4. X-Men self-contained. They mean that the Uncanny and Adjectiveless books don’t cross over. That’s a good idea.
5. No ‘event’ spectacles. Bwah-ha-ha-ha! Oh, Wizard, you crack me up sometimes.
6. Batman & Robin. “With a cast that big, we hope there’s enough room for an actual story.” True story: Batman & Robin is the only movie that convinced me I needed to apologize to my wife for making her see it. You know you’re in trouble when the first line of the movie – “I need a car. Chicks dig the car” – makes you look at each other and silently realize you’ve made a terrible, terrible mistake.
7. Keep characters in character. They’re vexed by the fact that Spider-Man tried to kill Norman Osborn. So, I guess.
8. Villains should stay villains. I don’t agree with this, especially because they use Magneto as their first example. I loved that Xavier told Magneto to take care of the school and that Magneto tried to do it. Sure, he probably had to go back to being a villain eventually, but that was a fascinating character arc. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, in other words.
9. Death to T & A schlock. Bwah-ha-ha-ha! As much as a teenaged Kelly Thompson may have appreciated your sentiment, Wizard, you have to be joking, especially given what you often show in your magazine.
10. Reader-friendly comics. What are those?

Kevin Smith then talks about his Superman script. Wow, I bet that movie was awesome. Wizard also mentions his Six Million Dollar Man script, which is just now being serialized as a comic. Man, the wheels can grind slowly sometimes. I really love re-reading the movie stuff in Wizard, because so much never came to pass. Superman, the Fantastic Four, Scud the Disposable Assassin, Too Much Coffee Man – they were all going to get movies in 1997 or 1998. What a Golden Age that was! To be fair, Wizard did point out that Terry Zwigoff was making Ghost World, which didn’t come out until 2001.

There’s a very cool six-page cartoon by Walt Simonson about sound effects. Wizard used to pull shit like this all the time – they’d be mired in some over-hyped crap about whether the Hulk is stronger than Superman and then, boom! they’d insert a very neat primer about comics. What a weird magazine Wizard was.

Of course, then they go and do a two-page article about independent comics in 1996. It’s interesting seeing what was going on back then and who was just getting started, from Jason Lutes to Jessica Abel to Andi Watson, and what was coming out in 1997 (did Ditko’s Strange Avenging Tales ever show up?). As always, it’s amazing to think that people on Wizard‘s staff knew about all this stuff yet barely gave it more than a mention in each issue. I know that superheroes have always been the dominant paradigm in American comics, but when Wizard tells readers that they need to step up to the plate and buy indie books, they kind of miss the irony.

Wizard does its review thing – Spawn, The Incredible Hulk during the worst time of the Peter David run (when Bruce was in the Heroes Reborn world and the Hulk was largely directionless), Robin in the #30s, Martin Wagner’s Hepcats – before giving us the rundown on December 1996’s comics. The Lobo/Mask crossover reminded me that not only do DC and Marvel not do those things anymore, but neither do the Big Two with any other company. I don’t think I’d read them, but I wonder why they don’t. Oh well.

I love the Top 100 – the most-ordered comics for October 1996. There’s DC/Marvel: All Access at #7, but otherwise, the highest-placing DC comic on the list is Green Lantern #81 at #33. NUMBER THIRTY-THREE! Holy crap. Image has four books higher up. CHAOS! COMICS’ HIGHEST TITLE IS #30!!!! (Lady Death: The Crucible, if you must know.) DC has 7 of the top 50. Marvel has 7 of the top 10. There you go.

Then there’s the price guide, and finally, Denny O’Neil has a nice column about Mark Gruenwald, who of course died in 1996.

So that’s Wizard #65. As usual, it’s a weird mix of excessive hype, Big Two fellating, and actual good writing about comics. Wizard was always slightly schizophrenic that way, and this issue is no exception. What are your favorite parts of this issue? Come on, I know you still have it tucked away in an attic, basement, or garage! Don’t be shy!

(As I wrote last time, I always think I’ll be able to do this more regularly, but more “important” comics stuff keeps coming up. Here is the first time I did this, and here is the second. I’m getting worse – this time it took 24 months rather than 20 to do another post about the magazine. Who knows when the next will arrive!)

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