The Guide to the Guide to Comics is back again, examining the state of “Wizard” magazine as it inches closer to its one-hundredth issue. The newsstand cover (archived at mycomicshop.com) this issue is another attempt at courting the mainstream audience that abandoned comics during this era; it’s also the one-millionth “South Park” magazine cover you saw during the late ‘90s. The direct market cover is a lovely X-Men painting by Alex Ross, which also happens to feature his very first rendition of Wolverine.
The Standards this issue include Basic Training (featuring Sean Chen), Toy Chest, Coming Attractions, Last Man Standing (Ant-Man vs. The Atom, as rendered by Mike Wieringo), an extended Video Stuff segment devoted to video games, and Manga Scene. Plus, letters, fan art, opinion pieces, trivia, Top 10 lists, Time Travel, and market information. What’s missing this month? Report Card, the regular segment devoted to reviewing recent comic releases. There was a rumor that “Wizard” axed the feature because companies were complaining about some of the excessively negative reviews, but I have no idea if that’s true. It does seem as if the magazine has been moving away from commentary for a while now, so I wouldn’t be shocked to learn there was a conscious shift towards previews and exclusives and away from critical analysis.
Another significant aspect of the issue, at least personally, is the polybagged exclusive comic “Avengers” #0. More on that later.
This month in the letter column, we have too many questions about Kevin Smith, an estimate on how much it would cost to hire Alex Ross to paint a mural at your house (Jim McLauchlin calculates, based on Ross’ cover rate, that it would cost around $300,000…and Ross comments that he wouldn’t be interested in taking the job anyway), and an inquiry into why Harrison Ford’s image was missing from a certain set of “Star Wars” bedsheets. Steve Sansweet of LucasFilm comments that the company does have the rights to the actor’s image, so he isn’t sure why Han was excluded. Also, Jim McLauchlin learns not to bother Joe Madureira with questions when he’s busy working on the chronically late “Battle Chasers” #6.
Wizard News & Notes
The top news story of the month is the debut of a new Flash, following the apparent death of Wally West in “Flash” #150. (Am I wrong in remembering that “Flash” #100 also teased the idea of Wally West dying and a new Flash taking his place?) Writers Mark Waid and Bryan Augustyn aren’t willing to say if this new, older Flash in a dark suit is Barry Allen, but they’re not ruling Allen out as a possibility. This all turns out to be a feint, and the “Flash” title doesn’t garner this much publicity until Barry Allen actually is revived several years later.
In other news… Image hotshot Pat Lee is launching two new titles… Marvel is promising that the mysterious “Astonishing X-Men” miniseries will feature a truly astonishing surprise for fans (the “death” of Wolverine -- and boy, was this series greeted with pure venom online)…comics newcomer Geoff Johns is writing his first DC crossover, “Day of Judgment”…Stan Lee is attempting to launch a new line of superheroes at stanlee.net (this didn’t work out so great)…and Alan Moore announces “Top Ten,” another book in his America’s Best Comics line.
Finally, “Wizard” mocks what it refers to as “comics ‘news’ sites” for falling for Marvel’s April Fool’s Day prank -- Spider-Man joins the X-Men! For those who don’t remember, on April 1, 1999 Marvel announced the release of a four-issue Marvel Knights series entitled “Spider-Man: X Marks the Spider.” Written by Joe Kelly and featuring a new Spider-Man costume by Jimmy Palmiotti, Spider-Man discovers that the radioactive spider mutated his genes, making him a mutant, so he’s decided to join forces with the X-Men. It was all a stunt to drive traffic to Marvel’s new website (Marvel ran a retrospective on the stunt a while back), although the idea of increasingly random additions of Marvel characters to team books will become a hallmark of the post-Marvel Knights era of the company.
Seven pages of previews of upcoming releases, such as “Batman: War on Crime,” the first of many failed “New Warriors” relaunches, and “Speed Racer.” You know those preview pages posted on every comics news site? Apparently, we used to pay to read those.
The ‘Park’ Way
We also used to pay to read promotional interviews for movies. This specific one happens to be for the “South Park” movie, which is a part of the holy trilogy of Summer 1999 releases that “Wizard” is obsessed with. (The other two are “Phantom Menace” and the second “Austin Powers” film.) This is billed as the first promotional interview Matt Stone has done for the movie, and since this is “South Park,” I can’t accuse the article of being too dull. (One thing I noticed when reading the piece was how crude, literally, the show remained at this stage. It certainly wasn’t much of a showcase for libertarian philosophy or social commentary in its early years.) The “Wizard” staff, naturally, has to insert itself into the piece, with tiny reproductions of their heads pasted on to the “South Park” characters’ bodies.
The Wizard Q&A
Ironically, the gist of the article is that Alan Moore is a relatively normal person and not some untouchable goth god, but the opening image is an extreme, sinister close-up of his face that evokes Charles Manson. Opening the interview with “You take a crap like everyone else,” writer Chris Hutchins discusses with Moore his uncomfortable experiences with hordes of convention fans, the genesis of America’s Best Comics, and the origin of his study of magic. Moore also, reluctantly, states his belief that “Watchmen” should have been replaced in the consciousness of comics fans, if only someone would’ve produced the work. As the years go on, Moore’s more open with his low opinion of the comics creators who followed in his wake, but in 1999, he still seems embarrassed at the thought of potentially offending his peers. I’ll also wager that this is the only Moore interview to be interrupted by a half-page ad for the “Rush Hour” VHS release.
1999 Summer Preview
I’ve stated my antipathy towards these season-specific previews in the past. It’s not as if you’re any better off receiving minor spoilers for a book that’s being released in a few weeks anyway (although I suppose this one is significant for containing “Danger Girl” and “Battle Chasers” spoilers for nonexistent comics), and with no real commentary, the feature just comes across as blatant filler. This installment runs over the course of sixteen pages! There is a tiny amount of humor tossed into the sidebars, which may or may not relieve your boredom. Personally, I’m finding the magazine less amusing with each issue. In this sidebar, we have one of the earliest sightings of Jar-Jar hate, weeks before “Phantom Menace” even opens.
And if you can make it to the final page of the piece, Warren Ellis is called in to ridicule the things you were just told to care about.
“Wizard” dreams of a “Mutant X” movie, from writer Sam Raimi, director Alex Proyas, and a score by Trent Reznor. Only this collection of talented individuals could possibly bring the unique creative vision of Howard Mackie to life. “Wizard” casts the film as…
- Stephen Baldwin as Havok
- Russell Crowe as The Fallen (Archangel)
- Vince Vaughn as Iceman (or “Ice-Man” in this world)
- Jada Pinkett Smith as Bloodstorm (Storm)
- Vincent D’onofrio as The Brute (Beast)
- Eliza Dushku as Elektra
- Neil Patrick Harris as Cerebro (Warlock)
- Debra Messing as the Goblin Queen (Madelyne Pryor)
- and John Wesley Shipp as Reed Richards
Another month, another article on the impending “X-Men” film. This issue, Bryan Singer reveals that the film is ready to begin shooting, and that he’s aiming for a more realistic tone, consulting everyone from DNA experts to “self-proclaimed psychic and telekinetic,” Uri Geller. The casting rumors are mostly false, with reports of Vince Vaughn as Cyclops and Keanu Reeves looking for a role.
In other Hollywood news…we’re reminded again that ABC will air a “Clerks” cartoon…the success of “The Matrix” has revived interest in the Wachowski’s “Plastic Man” script -- and possibly given them a shot at the “Superman,” “Batman,” and even “Spider-Man” film franchises…and “Harsh Realm” and “Witchblade” are officially headed to the small screen.
Top 10 Heroes & Villains of the Month
We really are in 1999 -- the Top 10 Heroes & Villains list has been overrun with Pokémon! (Thank heavens that fad will soon pass.) One of the amalgams, Spider-Meowth is oddly significant, because the voice of Meowth was actually the assistant editor and occasional fill-in writer on the Spider-Man titles back in the 1980s. The Poké-Mort of the Month is Marrowak, the amalgam of Marrow and Marowak, who ranks eight Pikachus out of ten on the Mort scale.
The Book of the Month selection is the relaunched “JSA” #1, while the On the Edge pick just had to be a “Wizard” favorite -- “Spank the Monkey” from Arrow Comics features Spank, “comics’ nastiest little monkey,” who is squeezed in-between a woman’s cleavage on the cover.
We’re reminded again that this “Pokémon” book is hot. Also, the underground role-playing themed comic “Knights of the Dinner Table” is profiled. The Buried Treasure selection is another dud -- “Amazing Spider-Man” #441, the first appearance of Mattie Franklin (who will soon become Spider-Woman) is your investment pick.
The creators on the Top 10 lists all have “South Park” makeovers this month. “Wizard”’s Top Ten Writers are…1. Kevin Smith 2. Kurt Busiek 3. Mark Waid 4. Garth Ennis 5. Grant Morrison 6. Dan Jurgens 7. Alan Davis 8. Alan Moore 9. Paul Jenkins 10. Joe Kelly (Make of this what you will -- Alan Moore has replaced Erik Larsen on the list.)
“Wizard”’s Top Ten Artists are…1. Alex Ross 2. Adam Kubert 3. Joe Madureira 4. Michael Turner 5. George Perez 6. Joe Quesada 7. J. Scott Campbell 8. Alan Davis 9. Jae Lee 10. John Romita, Jr.
Top Ten Comics
“Pokémon: The Electric Tale of Pikachu” tops the back issue chart, followed by “What If...” #105, which is allegedly going for over $30, making it the only valuable “What If...” comic the world has seen. I also continue to suspect that whoever compiles this list is getting bored each month, with debuts from “Nightwing” #1, “Transmetropolitian” #1, “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” #1, and “Undertaker” #1. The days of tediously writing about the same back issues each month seem to be over.
Top 100 - April 1999
No great surprises this month, aside from the fact that an issue of “Battle Chasers” was actually solicited and has landed as the No. 3 title, just under “Uncanny X-Men” and “X-Men.” “Wizard” is also adamant that the latest “Dawn” series was under ordered, landing at No. 50.
The Price Guide continues to evolve, now replacing “Good Readin’” back issue picks and “Historic Firsts” with the blurbs “Under Covers” and “Big Ones.” “Big Ones” is similar to “Historic Firsts,” listing landmark issues of specific titles (like the return of Captain America in “Avengers” #4), while “Under Covers” is an irritating throwback to the joke word balloons that used to appear in the homemade action figure and trading card segments. Unless you enjoy jokes about Johnny Storm being restrained from touching Crystal’s breasts, or Namor urinating on an army of Human Torch clones, it’s a massive waste of space.
So, what did we learn today?
- “C’mon guys, get over it.” - “Wizard”’s appeal to Hal Jordan fans who refuse to accept anyone else as Green Lantern.
- “I’ve never been so happy to be canned. Every month, I’d run full speed and hit a brick wall. Finally they said, ‘Can we remove this brick wall from your life?’ I was like, ‘Yeah!’” - Erik Larsen, on his removal from “Aquaman.”
- “I’m very grateful for it. I sort of wish…(pauses) that they had more choice.” - Alan Moore’s thoughts on his fan support.
- “It’ll force me to be more creative, and I guess I’ll finally see if I can still be funny without being crass. It’ll be something of a challenge.” - Kevin Smith, on developing “Clerks” for ABC.
No “Blast” film from Jeph Loeb and Joe Madureira in Summer 2000…I don’t believe anything came from Paul Dini and Alex Ross’ plans for an oversized Marvel project, similar to their DC specials…Billy Tucci’s plans for a “Shi” movie tie-in comic are for naught (“Shi: Ring of Fire” features the costume that was intended for the “Shi” film)…and there’s no resolution to the Legacy Virus storyline in 1999.
The Wizard Bunny mascot quotes the Rock’s famous catchphrase, there’s an exclusive “Undertaker” #1/2 offer this issue, WCW star Raven is a Special Guest at the ’99 Wizard World convention, and “Undertaker” writer Beau Smith is interviewed.
Readers want to know very specific details behind some of the recurring characters in Kevin Smith’s films, what his favorite comics are, more information on the “Clerks” comic, and whether or not he’d ever write the X-Men. For the record, Smith states: “You’ll never meet a bigger non-X-fan than me. Never dug ‘em, and probably never will.” Later, the Coming Attractions segment dedicates an entire page to Smith news, highlighting Disney’s decision to drop his film “Dogma.” We’re also informed that Smith is writing the screenplay for an adaptation of Matt Wagner’s “Mage.”
Stuff “Wizard” Likes
The America’s Best Comics line, “Batman Beyond,” Randy Bowen’s line of Marvel busts, and Joey on “Dawson’s Creek.”
Stuff “Wizard” Doesn’t Like
A perceived continuity error between “Nova” and “Thunderbolts” regarding the Rhino (the editors think this damages Marvel’s “strong continuity” even though the “mistake” was addressed in the actual comics)…the new Marvel Monopoly game for not featuring famous Marvel landmarks…Nova’s “stupid-ass new costume” from the “New Warriors” revamp…Steel, the usual target when “JLA” is ripped for having too many members…the lengthy text back-ups in “Captain America” lately…the “‘Chapter One’ craparama”…the revival of the catchphrase “Blue Blazes!” in “Nova”…Erik Larsen’s debut “Wolverine” storyline…and “lame-ass supporting characters like Bibbo, Beppo, and Bloodsport.”
This Ain’t HuffPo
A Vampirella image is captioned “Hooterville,” followed by more Al Bundy-worthy terminology for female breasts. The thought of “Harley Quinn” starring in her own one-shot is greeted with “Homina homina homina!” The editors are excited at the thought of “Threesome action!!!” when Donna Troy and Jade fight over Green Lantern. The promise of Vampirella’s original costume returning merits an “Mmmmm….” “Pant…drool” is the response to two Black Widows duking it out in “skintight black leather.” And, finally, the CBIQ quiz ranks your score based against “the hottest babes from teen TV” -- which all turn out to be Katie Holmes.
I Love the ‘90s
Rob Liefeld is described as the Dennis Rodman of comics. “He’s loud…he’s controversial…but sorry, no multi-colored hair.”
Vive la France
The solicit for “Fantastic Four” #20 has the team land in a devastated Paris, which endlessly pleases the editors, although they remark that “not nearly enough Frenchmen perish” in the comic.
A cartoon image of Mark Waid driving a car “has gas,” and Union Jack is suffering from the “Hershey Squirts” on the cover of the third issue of his miniseries.
I assume this ad was conceived in an effort to convince people that “Darkchylde” had a sizable female audience?
Cheap and Stupid and Trashy?
There is some significance to this issue -- it contains “Avengers” #0, the freebie comic (featuring an original story by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen) that caused at least one segment of the internet to have a fit. The position of many fans was that they were being “forced” to buy an issue of “Wizard” in order to obtain an exclusive “Avengers” issue; you’d think they were being asked to bathe in acid. I was bored with the magazine by this point, but I did pick up this issue, chiefly for the “Avengers” comic. And no more.
By the Summer of 1999, I was more than happy to leave “Wizard” behind. Its news stories had already been broken by internet sites, most of the interviews lacked depth, features on the history of comics had disappeared, the unyielding Kevin Smith and Top Cow hype irritated me, the unusual pieces with insane premises had been replaced by dull fumetti comics starring the magazine staff, and overall, the jokes just didn’t seem as funny. I decided to pocket my five dollars and spend it on more noble pursuits. Or, let’s face it, more comics. From my personal perspective as a reader, “Wizard” ceased to exist after this issue. Now, that sounds like a reasonable place to end this retrospective…but #95 isn’t a nice round number, is it?