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Looking Back at WIZARD #90 (February 1999)

by  in Comics Comment
Looking Back at WIZARD #90 (February 1999)

Warren Ellis disembowels your cherished childhood heroes, Kevin Smith comics become more valuable than Enron stock, Alex Ross reveals his abandoned Kingdom plans, and why can’t any writer stick by the X-Men? All this and more in the Guide to the Guide to Comics!

A Leinil Francis Yu Wolverine cover for the newsstand, and a Tomb Raider/Witchblade piece by Michael Turner for the direct market; Top Cow is still testing out the Tomb Raider property, so seeing her in comics remained a bit of a novelty. A cartoonier version of Lara Croft (not rendered in that, um, unique Top Cow inking style) makes tiny appearances throughout the issue. Even though I don’t see his name in the credits, it looks as if Mike Wieringo has penciled the cartoony Lara. The Wizard 2000 countdown on the cover signals Wizard’s plan to count down to the new millennium by “looking to the future” each issue.

In this month’s Wizard, we have features on…“tomorrow’s superstars” (the Wizard 2000 piece of the issue), an examination of why so many writers are frustrated by the X-titles, a Warren Ellis interview, and a preview of comics in 1999.

The Standards include Basic Training (Leinil Francis Yu offers tips on drawing Wolverine), Toy Chest, Coming Attractions, Last Man Standing, Manga Scene, and Report Card. Plus, letters, fan art, opinion pieces, trivia, Top 10 lists, Time Travel, and market information.

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Magic Words

Christopher Priest explains why Black Panther isn’t a “black comic,” Jimmy Palmiotti responds to Kevin Smith’s comments on Jack Kirby, and Kelley Jones reveals the logic behind his interpretation of Batman’s cape. Plus, Kevin Smith may or may not desire an Oscar.  The entire column has been archived by the fine folks at archive.org.

We also have the results of the latest online poll, which asked readers “What character should get a ‘Year One’ series?” Wolverine was the winner, followed by the Joker. Is this another instance of Wizard influencing Bill Jemas’ decisions? And who honestly believes that readers are any better off with definitive origin stories for either character? Given Wizard’s adherence to standard rules such as “Heroes shouldn’t marry,” I’m surprised we didn’t see a push against revealing the origins of “mystery” characters.

Wizard News & Notes

Leading the news this month is the announcement of the new Uncanny X-Men and X-Men pencilers. Marvel has revealed that Adam Kubert will take over Uncanny X-Men, Brandon Peterson will relieve Alan Davis after his fill-in run on X-Men, penciling Magneto Rex in the meantime, and Leinil Francis Yu will float between the titles as the regular fill-in artist. What actually happens is that Alan Davis’ fill-in stint goes much longer than six months, so Brandon Peterson kind of disappears, and Yu stays busy with Wolverine until he takes over X-Men in 2000. Wizard also reports a rumor that Joe Casey will become the main writer of the X-titles; Casey only says “no comment.” When Alan Davis was named the interim plotter of both titles, Casey’s name was floated as the scripter…Davis asked for Terry Kavanagh instead.

In other news…Spawn: The Dark Ages is announced (although the initial press says it will star the Medieval Spawn, I don’t think this happens, due to legal reasons)…Toy Biz now officially owns Marvel, and several editors have already been laid off…Scott Lobdell is now scheduled to be writing numerous Wildstorm and Top Cow titles…television writer J. Michael Straczynski will write the upcoming Rising Stars series…Topps Comics is “on hiatus” and has allowed its Xena and X-Files licenses to lapse…and Bob Kane has passed away. Bill Finger’s name isn’t mentioned once in the obit, but Wizard does go out of its way to say that Kane is “officially credited” as Batman’s creator, instead of stating this as an outright fact.

In a “News & Notes Special Report,” Alex Ross presents some of his sketches and early ad designs for his vision of a Kingdom ongoing series. Ross reveals that his ideas were “met with little or no respect,” so he pulled out of the project.

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Star Search

Wizard’s annual “These people will be hot!” list, and with only one or two exceptions, every artist highlighted is associated with Image studio work. Wizard backed away from its relentless support of Image in the mid-90s, but the success of Top Cow and projects like Darkminds pushed them back into the pursuit of the next Stephen Platt during this era. The artists selected for a huge year in 1999 aren’t all “breakout stars,” but most go on to work on a regular basis. The list consists of Randy Green, Pat Lee, Tom Raney (who was anything but a “new” talent; he’d been penciling comics for eight years at this date), Alex Maleev, Steve Firchow, and Jay Anacleto.

Danger Room

Wizard examines a hot topic from late ‘90s message board debates — why do the X-Men titles keep losing their writers, and are the editors the true writers of the books? The article provides quotes from Chris Claremont, Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Mark Waid, and Joe Kelly & Steven Seagle, who have recently departed the books. X-editors Bob Harras and Mark Powers also provide quotes, with both stating that any editorial oversight exercised is necessary, and that they don’t believe the books are suffering due to their involvement. Each of the creators cite examples of storylines they feel Marvel editorial harmed, such as Mark Waid’s assertion that Onslaught was truly Xavier, Seagle/Kelly’s plan for two X-teams operating in different locations, and Claremont’s two-year plan for a brainwashed Wolverine to become leader of the Hand.

Scott Lobdell (who was told to drop plans for Sabra to join the team, even after she was already appearing in the book) states his belief that things began to change after Bob Harras was promoted to editor-in-chief. With Harras no longer able to oversee the daily production of the titles, Lobdell says the books lost focus, even as editorial exerted a stronger hand in producing the stories. The sales drop of the previous two years, Lobdell asserts, is owed to editors taking “complete control of the creative process.” For his part, Fabian Nicieza reveals he’s only happy with three of his issues of X-Men (issues #25, 30, and 33, if you’re wondering.)

Joe Kelly maintains that if he’d known that the editors would be dictating ideas to him from the beginning, and it would be his job to hash them out into stories, he would’ve accepted the arrangement. It was being led to believe that he had a real say in the direction of the titles, and then seeing his input dismissed, that frustrated him. Marvel’s eventual solution to this problem was to do exactly what Joe Kelly suggests in this article — Marvel outright told Alan Davis the direction they wanted, and Davis found ways to work those ideas into stories. Davis says he viewed it as a “writing exercise,” and while some fans screamed that Davis was having stories “dictated to him,” that’s not exactly the case. Being told a very broad idea like “Magneto is given Genosha” or “Wolverine becomes Apocalypse’s fourth horseman” doesn’t mean that the writer is just acting as a parrot for the editors. Looking back at the history of comics, thousands of stories began as one-sentence edicts from editors. If anything, it could be argued that Davis’ arrangement with the X-office led to a more coherent, consistent book from issue to issue. And even though Joe Quesada took over Marvel with a promise to end this practice, how many years passed before most of Marvel’s line was being run under the same arrangement?

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The Wizard Q&A

Warren Ellis is interviewed to promote his upcoming run on Hellblazer and this new book called The Authority. When asked why he isn’t working for Marvel, Ellis reveals that his Satanna series, and the twelve-issue miniseries he was commissioned to write that would tie in with the new millennium, were both killed by Marvel’s new owners. Ellis seems to think that he’s almost done with superheroes anyway, at the ripe age of 30. Much of the interview is played as “Listen to this wicked man describe his disdain for your childhood superheroes!” — there’s even a sidebar devoted to Ellis listing the various ways popular heroes could be murdered. When asked which hero he’d never want to write, Ellis cites Spider-Man, because the character has “that stink of adolescence about him.” (This attitude towards superheroes seems to dominate the industry within the next few years, a hard shift away from the spirit Kurt Busiek and Mark Waid were trying to revive.) When discussing the genesis of Stormwatch becoming The Authority, Ellis uses the phrase “widescreen” to describe the action, and at this moment, an irritating marketing buzzword is born.

Casting Call

In anticipation of the new Titans series, Wizard casts a film based on their ideal line-up:

  • Jason Gedrick (Murder One, Backdraft) as Nightwing
  • Matthew McConaughey as Flash
  • Fred Savage as Tempest
  • Casper van Dien as Arsenal
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones as Avatar (Donna Troy)
  • Angelina Jolie as Argent
  • Heather Graham as Jesse Quick
  • Rebecca Gayheart as Starfire
  • Michael Jai White as Cyborg
  • And Joshua Jackson as Damage

Coming Attractions

Reports are surfacing that the X-Men film could be dead, due to disagreements between Bryan Singer and Fox executives. “When I talk to the executives about X-Men,” Singer says, “they’re like ‘Well, we’re concerned about talk and these scenes when you just have two men,’ and I’m like, ‘You don’t understand — the best Bond films were the ones with all that conversation and all that relationship stuff and then some action happened, in spurts, but you cared.’” Stan Lee is also reported to be butting heads with executives who don’t view Singer’s take as sufficiently commercial. Wizard also reports on the early casting rumors, which include Patrick Stewart as Xavier, Russell Crowe as Wolverine, Angela Bassett as Storm, Sarah Michelle Gellar as Rogue (it was reported at this time that Gellar dyed streaks into her hair to test out for the part), Edward Norton as Cyclops, and Julianne Moore as Jean Grey.

In other entertainment news…George Lucas isn’t certain if he’ll direct the remaining Star Wars prequels…Olive Jar Studios is creating new animated vignettes featuring the Hulk and Dr. Doom for Marvel’s Islands of Adventure section of Universal Studios (I can’t find any footage of it online, but here is a collection of the classic MTV promos animated by Olive Jar)…Alan Burnett has shifted his focus away from Justice League in order to develop Legion of Super-Heroes, thinking that Kids WB! will be more open to a series with young leads (around ten years later, a Legion cartoon does briefly air on Kids WB!)…the Flaming Carrot isn’t scheduled to appear in the Mystery Men movie…and Tony Millionaire is now animating shorts for Saturday Night Live.

Toy Chest

An entire page is dedicated to the new WCW/NWO line of wrestling toys, a hint of the direction this magazine is soon heading.

Top 10 Heroes & Villains of the Month

Wolverine tops the list, four of the heroes are Image characters (from Spawn, Fathom, Witchblade, and Battle Chasers), Preacher is the token “credibility” pick, Deadpool has taken Spider-Man’s spot again, and Daredevil and Thor make it on to the list, thanks to the popularity of their relaunched titles. The Mort of the Month is the Ringer, who once faced Spider-Man in an early John Byrne comic, and doesn’t seem to be that ridiculous a villain to my eyes.

Picks

The Book of the Month is actually several books, because Wizard has chosen the opening storyline in the massive “No Man’s Land” event. The On the Edge pick is an artifact from this era — James Kochalka, Tom Hart, and other alternative creators give their spin on the Monica Lewinsky scandal in Monica’s Story.

Report Card

This issue, Spawn (#71-76, graded as a C), X-Man (#41-46, graded as a D), Star Wars: A New Hope – The Manga (#1-4, graded as a A-) and Batman: Gotham Adventures (#1-7, graded as a B-) are reviewed. Spawn and X-Man are both rightly criticized for having aimless plots that never seem to have real resolutions (the reviewers also note that Spawn often comes across as kind of a dumb guy, even though he was allegedly a master assassin in his previous life). The Star Wars manga is praised as the greatest adaptation comic of all time, and Batman: Gotham Adventures is complimented for its clever plots, but Wizard feels as if Batman doesn’t have “the edge that he used to” in the stories. In this series aimed at an all-ages audience, based on a popular cartoon, of course.

Wizard Market Watch

The “quiet revolution” of manga is the subject of the lead article, with back issue prices of Image’s Darkminds soaring and classics like Akira maintaining a consistent back issue demand. Wizard also reports that Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog continues to sell well to young readers, with its first issue going for up to $50. Because the audience almost exclusively consists of children, mint copies of the early issues are difficult to find. As for this month’s Buried Treasure pick, Dark Horse Presents Annual 1998 is selected, because it features Buffy’s first comics appearance.

Wizard’s Top Ten Writers are…

1. Mark Waid 2. Kevin Smith 3. Kurt Busiek 4. Grant Morrison 5.Garth Ennis 6. Joe Kelly 7.Steven T. Seagle 8.Dan Jurgens 9.Ron Marz 10.Peter David

Wizard’s Top Ten Artists are…

1. Michael Turner 2. Joe Madureira 3. Alex Ross 4. J. Scott Campbell 5. George Perez 6. Adam Kubert 7. Joe Quesada 8. Jim Lee 9. Andy Kubert 10. Jae Lee

Top Ten Comics

I suppose there are enough changes this month to justify reprinting the “hottest back issues in the land” list in its entirety:

1. Daredevil #1 2. Jay & Silent Bob #1 3. Spider-Girl #1 4. Battle Chasers #1 5. Crimson #1 6. Witchblade #24 (the Randy Green cover variant) 7. Inhumans #1 8. Buffy the Vampire Slayer #1 9. Tomb Raider/Witchblade #1 10. Uncanny X-Men #350

This is Wizard of the late ‘90s…Kevin Smith is our new god (we’re told that Jay & Silent Bob #1 increased in value from $2.95 to $12 in just twelve weeks), Marvel Knights is saving Marvel, Top Cow is king, and media tie-in comics are going to create an entirely new audience. The only things missing from the list are wrestling tie-ins and Pat Lee comics, which I’m sure we’ll see in a few issues.

Top 100 – November 1998

Marvel has seven of the Top Ten titles, thanks to the high-profile relaunches of Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker, Spider-Man…books that will soon tumble down the charts, due to the resistance from existing Spidey fans and apathy from the casual readers who gave them a shot. Wizard also reports that Slingers #2 has dropped from a No. 6 ranking to No. 46, without the aid of #1’s “variant interior” gimmick. Elsewhere on the chart, Superman: Peace on Earth is the highest-charting $9.95 comic ever at No. 25. It’s also interesting that Deadpool, which was eternally close to cancellation by this point, is only one slot about the “hot” Darkminds, at Numbers 60 and 61, respectively.

Wizard Price Guide

“Good Readin’” picks include What If (vol. 2) #6 and Captain America #250. Price guide drops are recorded for almost all early ‘80s issues of Uncanny X-Men, while the first five years of Spawn are still deemed “hot.” Youngblood #1 is down to $3.50, while Pitt #1 is also at $3.50 (and sinking), while Savage Dragon #1 is priced at $3.00. Shadowhawk #1 is…non-existent. Books that Wizard sees no action on at all are excluded from the guide, and there’s apparently no room for the ol’ back-breaker.

So, what did we learn today?

Money Quotes:

  • “I want to write a book that would challenge books like Watchmen and Kingdom Come.” – J. Michael Straczynski, on his goal for Rising Stars.
  • “I don’t see where ‘editorial driven’ is a great sin.” – Bob Harras
  • “I’m already plastic!” – word balloon assigned to the Red Monika character, who’s on the Wish List of wanted toys.

Nope: I don’t think Kevin Smith ever writes that Mallrats comics adaptation, although Oni later announces a comics continuation of the film…I’m not sure which “prominent Hollywood personalities” were in talks to create a new Homage series, or what new Cliffhanger titles were planned for 1999…a Danger Girl film is never produced, although at this time Ginger Spice and Elizabeth Hurley are rumored to be involved…no Fathom videogame…the Iron Man: A Look Back in Armor special that was slated to explain away “Teen Tony” never happened…and there’s no Books of Magic film, with Neil Gaiman as executive producer.

Stuff Wizard Likes: The new Inhumans series, Toy Biz’s box set devoted to the “all-new, all-different” X-Men, and Superman for all Seasons.

Stuff Wizard Doesn’t Like: The new supernatural take on the Punisher, Spider-Man: Chapter One for needlessly complicating Spider-Man’s origin, the industry’s inability to find monthly work for “top-notch talent” such as Leinil Francis Yu, Mike Wieringo, and Jim Calafiore (coincidentally, all three of those artists seem to be contributing to Wizard this month…), the recent Godzilla film, John Mellencamp, Heroes Reborn, and Cap’s obsession with his shield, as exhibited in the recent Captain America #2.

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This Ain’t HuffPo: Wizard mocks the scourge of “fat chicks” at conventions, has Lady Death and Vampirella square off in a “Breast of Friends” competition, praises Witchblade action figures with a “Hubba hubba!”, compliments Spider-Girl’s legs, criticizes Batman for choosing to fight crime instead of using his time to “hang and bang with chicks the likes of which you’ve only seen in movies such as Wild Things”, describes Battle Chasers #1 as “the coolest-looking thing this side of an open window into the girl’s locker room,” questions how Lara Croft fits through tiny spaces, given the size of her chest, thinks the phrase “Superman’s Pal” sounds suspect, and the now-nude cartoon Lara Croft teases that she’s found the “Nude Raider” code, but unfortunately the magazine is out room…

Snootchie Bootchies: The sample choice, selected with a gigantic red X, in the Wizard Fan Awards’ ballot for Favorite Writer is Kevin Smith (a caption assures us that his name was chosen at random, though)…Jimmy Palmiotti questions why Gareb Shamus wants to meet Kevin Smith…almost a full page of the letter column is devoted to missives relating to Kevin Smith…Clerks-themed t-shirts are now available…and rumors are floated that Kevin Smith will return to Daredevil after the David Mack run, in addition to…executive producing a Preacher film?!

I Love the ‘90s: One joke answer in the CBIQ assumes that George Michael was once eager to “shake Hulk’s hand” (another reference to his 1998 arrest inside a public bathroom).

Vive la France: Leinil Francis Yu cites France as a place you’d never want to visit in his Drawing Board piece, and the Picks section blames France for the appearance of magical imps in JLA #27.

Pathological Scatological: This might be the first issue since 1994 with no potty humor — plenty of tasteless humor, just none of it bathroom-related.

Cheap and Stupid and Trashy?: The article that details tension between writers and editors on the X-titles was possibly the most entertaining piece in months; a genuine curiosity about what’s happening behind the curtain at the various companies is the type of article Wizard might’ve pursued three years before this, but feels rare in the very late ‘90s. Of course, even in this instance, the dirt that’s being reported was widely available online anyway. We also have a ridiculous amount of Top Cow hype this issue, beginning with the cover, on to the ½ comic offer, to the Witchblade/Tomb Raider contest, to Top Cow’s dominance in the back issue list. Assuming you’re not a Top Cow fanatic, why are you supposed to care? And, heaven help us all if you’re not deeply invested in the latest maneuverings of entertainment mogul Kevin Smith. Wizard was always criticized for focusing so heavily on mainstream product, but at the moment, the focus seems more narrow than ever.

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