I usually only buy one issue of Wizard (“The magazine of comics, entertainment, and pop culture”) a year, and that’s the end-of-the-year extravanganza! But hey, Wizard hit issue #200, so of course I had to pick it up. Let’s look at what Wizard thinks is noteworthy about the last 17 years of comics.
The first big article is “The 200 Greatest Comics in Wizard’s History (July 1991 to now).” They list the qualifications, which is nice: “The comics had to represent the best in thoughtful, provocative and emotional storytelling as well as impressive and innovative art, but they also had to leave a lasting impact on the industry and the fanboy world as we know it.” Now, if you think the staff of Wizard wouldn’t know “thoughtful, provocative and emotional storytelling” if it chomped down on its collective ass, well, you’re a big meanie, but something else about this is interesting. Very often, thoughtful, “provocative and emotional storytelling” clashes with “lasting impact on the industry and the fanboy world as we know it.” This will become apparent as we peruse the list. I’m not going to go over every book, but it’s kind of interesting.
Number One is Y: The Last Man #1. Hmmmm. It’s certainly a good comic, but according to Wizard, the more of the “intangible” traits the comic had (based on their qualifications), the higher up on the list it was. This issue might be better than everything else in terms of quality, but what kind of lasting impact did it have? It made Vaughan a superstar, but who cares? It proved, according to Wizard, that Vertigo “would have a second life beyond its association with writers like Neil Gaiman and Garth Ennis.” Really? Fables and 100 Bullets came out before Y, and they hit the ground running. Wizard seems to think it helped pull mainstream comics back into mainstream pop culture because of the coverage it received in magazines and newspapers. Maybe. Wizard then writes that we should give our copy of issue #1 to a non-comics reading friend and that will make them read comics. That’s a tired argument, and it never works. Don’t get me wrong, this is an excellent series. But the best of the past 17 years? It’s a bold choice, but kind of odd.
8. Identity Crisis #1. Well, at least it’s not the last issue of that mini-series. This has to be for long-lasting impact, right?
12. Astonishing X-Men #4. “It is arguably the single greatest resurrection in modern comics history.” “Arguably” being the operative word, because I would argue it, especially when you start defining “modern.” Jean Grey’s resurrection was far more stunning. Everyone knew Colossus was coming back eventually. Anyway, the fact that we can speak of resurrections when we speak of comics seems to me one of the biggest problems with comics.
18. Superman For All Seasons #1. If you want an out-of-continuity Superman story (and All Star Superman #1 checks in at #3, so that doesn’t count), Superman: Secret Identity is far better than this (issue #2 of that series is at #192).
19. Spawn #1. Yes, this choice is all about the impact of the comic, not the quality.
22. Rising Stars #1. This is odd too, as Rising Stars is a perfectly decent if not terribly groundbreaking series, and is JMS such a superstar that his first comics work deserves mention? I guess it is.
29. Harbinger #1. Wizard can’t escape their sordid past with Valiant!
31. X-Men #1. Another one on this list solely for impact.
46. Detective #741. This is the issue in which Sarah Essen dies. If there’s a list for most odious comics of the past 17 years, this one’s on it.
51. Optic Nerve #8. Who the hell slipped that one in there? There are several comics like this on the list, to the point where you figure the rest of the Wizard staff, all wearing their McFarlane Spidey T-shirts, just put them on the list to shut up the dude in the corner with the black fingernails, the clove cigarettes, and the bitter, bitter outlook on life.
57. Identity Crisis #5. You know, the one where Tim Drake’s father is killed. See Detective #741.
58. Gen13 #1. Launching J. Scott Campbell into the comics world isn’t a good thing, is it?
60. Acme Novelty Library #1. Oh, they’re making that guy happy again.
62. Amazing Spider-Man #36. Yes, the one where the mass-murdering, “Death to America” tyrant Doctor Doom sheds a tear for the World Trade Center bombing. What a joke.
70. Eightball #23. Why can’t that guy leave us alone so we can focus on Sara Pezzini? Sheesh.
80. Witchblade #1. See? Sara Pezzini is h-a-w-t! Launching Michael Turner into the comics world isn’t a good thing, is it?
97. Black Hole #1. Maybe that guy will go hang out at a jazz coffeehouse if we put another of his choices on the list.
107. Preacher #24. This was the issue that actually made me drop the book for a while. I did go back and get the issues I missed, but this issue, in which the fat dude falls out of the helicopter onto the Messiah, was awful even by Ennis standards.
109. Leave it to Chance #1. I’ve never read this, but why the hell hasn’t this ever come back?
122. Incredible Hulk #417. Rick Jones’s bachelor party. Now this is a great issue.
129. Tales Designed to Thrizzle #1. That bastard is back from the jazz coffeehouse! Shit.
136. Ganges #1. That guy is really starting to annoy us.
144. Hard Time #1. Here’s the text: “Fifteen-year-old Ethan Chiles picked the wrong type of practical joke when he and a friend become school-shooters.” Who the hell is Ethan Chiles? He is never called anything but Ethan Harrow in the book.
173. Queen & Country #1. I like this series, but I just threw this in here to ask: What the hell is up with Rucka writing key parts of the comic book series in a prose novel, and then continuing the series as if we’ve read the damned thing? I just finished Operation: Red Panda and was pretty damned pissed that a crucial part of Tara’s life was not included in the comics. Come on, Rucka!
184. Palookaville #9. Damn, that guy’s still here? I thought Aimee Mann was playing a set downtown somewhere. Shouldn’t he be there?
Wizard moves on to a triple-headed interview monster with Brian Michael Bendis, Geoff Johns, and Jim Lee. Yes, it’s as much of a wank-fest as you might expect. Let’s get past it, people!
They have an interesting gallery of various artists’ first Wizard covers. Joey Q’s ugly cover from issue #22 is up first, then we have Alex Ross doing what he does for issue #42. J. Scott Campbell and Michael Turner talk about their covers for issues #44 and #63, respectively. Leinil Yu (#80), Ed McGuinness (#98), Ethan van Sciver (#130), and John Cassaday (#133) round out the section. Ross’s looks good, if you like Ross (and I do), but Cassaday’s is the best, although it’s fairly boring (Captain America standing at attention a year after September 11). It’s still a great drawing, unlike, say, the Campbell one.
The funniest article (for reasons that will become clear below) is “Culture Shocks: The 50 Events that Rocked Comics, 1991-2008.”
48. Todd McFarlane’s legal woes. Poor Miracleman.
28. Northstar’s secret. I was just reading John Byrne’s Alpha Flight. In issue #18, it appears that Byrne gives away Northstar’s “shocking” secret. Am I wrong? Consult your issues, good people, and tell me I’m wrong!
17. The rise of CGC. The Comics Guaranty Company, which puts your comics in plastic in order to preserve their value, is a portent of things to come on this list. I loathe the very idea of CGC comics, unless the damned issue is at least 50 years old.
2. The death of Superman. Yes, it was a media event, but man, what a stupid one.
1. The launch of Image. I can’t really argue, as this really did change comics. They have a pretty decent article about the early years of the company. But that’s not the funny thing. Let’s back up to …
3. The boom market implodes (1994-1996). Here’s the exact text: “Publishers had plenty of reasons to smile in the early 1990s. Misguided collectors were snapping up record numbers of variant covers, egged on by hyperbolic story stunts; non-sport trading cards were disappearing from shelves; superstar artists would fart out tripe and watch bank accounts swell. And just like that, it was over: the speculators who had driven companies to over-market gimmickry realized that nothing with a circulation in the millions would ever have long-term value. They had essentially siphoned the industry, leaving dealers with stale back stock, ardent fans holding grudges for being gouged and iconic label Marvel declaring bankruptcy. It was, in short, a paper holocaust that put the Brazilian Rain Forest to shame.”
I’m not the first person to point out that nowhere in that does Wizard admit to its own culpability in this egregious state of affairs; those collectors were “misguided” by someone, and usually it was Wizard itself misguiding them. Okay, so they ignore their own guilt. It gets better. On the page previous to this in the magazine, on the very same piece of paper, we see this:
Irony, thy name is Wizard. Man, those misguided collectors almost ruining the business ten years ago were bastards! Hey, buy this comic for 75 dollars! It’s guaranteed to go up in value! Would we lie to you?
Sigh. Moving on, we come to the “best art pieces” Wizard ever commissioned. This is another sad truism of the comic book industry, that artists can make more money on commissions than they can actually drawing a book. The art in this section is nice (Gabrielle Dell’Otto’s seminal moments in DC history is gorgeous), but it would be nice if some of these artists actually did some interior work. Oh well. And Alex Ross’s tribute to Alan Moore is amazing and features D. R. and Quinch, which is rather damned cool, if you ask me.
I didn’t even try the quiz that Wizard threw at us. My memory skillz and geekiness are weak! They ask you to name everyone on the Youngblood #1 cover, for instance. Actually, a lot of the questions aren’t that difficult, but some are ridiculously off-the-wall. The answers to that sample question, by the way, are Badrock, Chapel, Vogue, Shaft, Diehard, and Combat. Now that’s a superteam!
After listing the famous comics people who died since 1991, Wizard tells us “42 things that have entertained us” since the magazine’s inception. Galactapuss from Top Ten is the first thing. Man, what a neat series. The still-unresolved mystery of who was writing The Brotherhood is there (yes, they think it’s Howard Mackie, but no, they don’t know, and I’m not buying their contention that it was J. D. Salinger). They’re still waiting for Darker Image #2. Man, I’m glad the Image creators were so conscientious about getting their books out on time. Alex DeWitt’s unfortunate fate is the most controversial panel, while the idiotic conclusion of the Lobo/Wolverine fight is mentioned (Wolverine won the fan vote even though there’s no way he could beat Lobo, so the fight took place off-panel).
Then we get to the good stuff: the “most valuable, non-variant comics” of the past 17 years. Yeah, that’s what we want: how to put our kids through college without doing any work! Mouse Guard #1 is first. Hey, I own that! And it’s a first printing! Anyone want to give me $320 for it? Bone #1 is on there, as is the legendary Elseworlds 80-Page Giant. And there’s Flex Mentallo #1, another book I own. I have no interest in selling any of my comics, but I’m always amused by how much some of them might be worth. I think Mouse Guard might have vaulted to the most expensive comic I own.
So that’s Part One of Wizard’s 200th celebration. Yes, there’s another issue to come! The “platinum” edition (this one is the “gold” edition) is on sale in a few weeks, and will feature the 200 Greatest Characters in Comics History (all of it, or just the past 17 years?) and “tons more anniversary goodness retconned entirely by Mephisto!” Yeah, that made me chuckle. I’m easy. And I’ll probably buy that issue too. I love anniversary issues of magazines. Yes, it’s a terrible weakness. But I do it for you, the fans!