MARVEL'S TROUBLES ARE NOTHING NEW
When Joe Quesada threatened to split the internet in two so many moons ago, he didn't realize how prophetic he was. It's certainly something he's succeeded in doing now with the "One More Day"/"Brand New Day" storyline. The only thing he missed out on, though, was that he'd be on one half of that split, and about 99% of the internet would be on the other side.
Certainly, you say, Marvel's never weathered an editorial storm this big.
Oh, but they have. What short memories we all have. Why, Marvel published a book about it. It had the cumbersome title of MARVEL 2000-2001 YEAR IN REVIEW: FANBOYS AND BADGIRLS, BILL AND JOE'S MARVELOUS ADVENTURES (story). At a time when Marvel was just starting its hardcover line, this was a book meant to celebrate the first year or so of Marvel under the control of Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas. It was half art book and half history.
Let's all look back a few years and remember the crazier times we had at the Turn of the Millennium at the House of Ideas.
We start with a delightful cover from Kaare Andrews, who even throws Superman under the bus.
The phrase "AOL Comics" is used repeatedly in the book. This was Quesada's pet phrase for referencing DC Comics, owned by Warner Bros, which had been bought up by AOL. That was one of the most disastrous and stupid mergers in modern business history. It didn't last long and cost a lot of people a lot of money and their jobs.
Ah, remember when AOL CDs were a dime a dozen and included in every magazine, including WIZARD?
Did I mention that Jim McLaughlin is responsible for the text in the book? He was working for WIZARD at the time, but had the foresight to include this paragraph in his author's bio at the back of the book:
"Jim would also like us to mention one last time, that all references to DC Comics as AOL Comics were at the request (read: insistence) of Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada."
Six years later, Joe Michael Straczynski would say similar things of "One More Day."
Thus the echoes begin. . .
JMS began his AMAZING SPIDER-MAN run in 2001.
The "Most Valuable Character" for March 2001 was Mary Jane Watson-Parker. Why?
"[She] took a powder in March, leaving the cast of the Spidey books. Leaving is valuable? Well, yes. There was this whole Spidey revamp, with writer J. Michael Straczynski at the helm, coming up. Both JMS and Spider-Man editor Axel Alonso wanted Spidey to "swing solo" for a while, and removing the internationally acclaimed supermodel wife also helped bring Peter Parker back to his roots as a "lovable loser." MJ valiantly stepped aside, paving the way for a new era of Spider-greatness.
This room must be empty, because the echoes are deafening. Ed Brubaker would take the MJ route with Captain America to high acclaim a few years later, though Cap did come back from the dead to "Fight Terror" in 2001, as well.
Joe Quesada just made the "swinging solo" thing a little more permanent.
The next sentence from the book: "With movie writer/director. . . Kevin Smith coming in for January 2003, maybe, just maybe, MJ will be back on the MVC list next year!" Sadly, there was no 2002-2003 "Year In Review."
In September 2000, ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN began. Many scoffed. It's been Marvel's most consistent seller since then, with very high numbers. And despite many rumors throughout the years, Ultimate Spider-Man hasn't become the Marvel Universe Spider-Man.
Remember how Spider-Man didn't appear in costume until half way through that arc? Did you read the complaints this week about Red Hulk not showing up in HULK #1 last week?
In December 2000, Joe Quesada offered a cash reward to Todd McFarlane to come back to comics and draw interiors again. Quesada offered to alternate -- he'd draw an issue of something, if McFarlane drew the next issue.
McFarlane didn't take the bait.
In 2006, Robert Kirkman asked McFarlane at his panel in San Diego about returning to comics, and landed himself a gig writing a book with the Todd-meister that's set to debut this year. McFarlane will be doing covers.
If only Quesada had thought of that. . .
Quoting Bill Jemas in a 2001 Year In Review piece for Diamond:
"We will launch new titles in two hot direct market categories that we are currently missing: 1) Bad Girls for Fanboys. Marvel has some of the best female characters in the business, and will launch titles starring strong, sexy women. 2) Mature readers. Under a new imprint, Marvel will publish adult-oriented, non-Code books."
And today, we have SPIDER-GIRL. The Code is dead and buried at Marvel. That Andi Watson-penned tennis book never saw the light of day. And Jessica Jones had non-missionary relations with Luke Cage in ALIAS #1. (That issue, as the book points out, had to go to a different printer, as the first wouldn't touch it.)
SUPREME POWER went from Max to mainstream, while a Marvel Universe character, The Punisher, is the stalwart of the MAX line.
Ron Zimmerman came into comics from the world of Howard Stern and Pamela Anderson's VIP to write SPIDER-MAN'S TANGLED WEB. Later, he'd go on to out Two Gun Kid.
You can't find too many writers more reviled on the internet than Zimmerman. Chuck Austen is the only one who comes close. (Anyone remember Howard Mackie anymore?)
Doctor Doom cried over the ashes of 9/11 in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. Yes, JMS wrote that one, too.
SPIDER-GIRL was cancelled and brought back after a fan letter from a little girl. Today, it's the tent pole for fans of the Spider-marriage to rally around.
On March 14, 2001, Marvel began a new on-line initiative, putting ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #1 up on the web for free. Dubbed a "dotComic," the new program allowed for sold-out comics (remember when marvel didn't do reprints?) to be read on-line for free so readers wouldn't be lost.
I love a good echo.
That's all just the Spider-Man-related stuff. There's a lot more to look back on and fondly remember:
Subtlety was not a Marvel strong suit back in those days.
In light of the impending X-MEN 2 release and a sales shortfall of nearly a million dollars, Bill Jemas came up with WOLVERINE: ORIGIN. Don't worry, though -- Marvel Editorial isn't controlled by its licensors that likely bring in more money than the publishing. (Curiously, Brian Bendis mentioned on Word Balloon recently that Hasbro did a toy presentation at a recent creator's summit.)
Chris Claremont started X-TREME X-MEN, which started a generation of fans whining about a lack of inkers in comics. The coloring was done by Liquid!, who most recently handled THE ULTIMATES 3 #1.
Echoes. . .
Marvel's internal ratings system had to be changed, as they cribbed from the copyrighted MPAA guidelines a little too much.
Bruce Jones began a run on THE INCREDIBLE HULK that was so popular that Marvel stopped publishing hardcovers of the series two-thirds of the way through the storyline.
And, of course, let us not forget the trick Quesada pulled on CBR's own Rich Johnston, planting a story about Uncle Ben being a Child Molestor.
Is "One More Day" looking tame by comparison yet?
I've said it before, but it bears repeating: These things go in circles. I've been reading comics just long enough now to identify those round trips. It looks like we're well into the next circle loop. . .
On the bright side, we've recovered from all of the above events. We'll manage this one, too.
SELF-TRADING: POTTER'S FIELD
Over at the Pipeline Message Board, we occasionally discuss "self-trading." That's the act of reading a series of single issues in their "pamphlet" form rather than reading their trade paperback counterpart. You're making the trade yourself, in effect. Why buy something a second time for the convenience of a spine when you already have the issues and can just plow through them?
This last week, I "self-traded" POTTER'S FIELD. As a bonus, I can chalk it up as another point of comic book interest for including a character named "Augie" in its cast. We need more of them.
Mark Waid's three issue mini-series at BOOM! Studios is clearly meant to be a bigger thing. It feels a bit like the early days of 100 BULLETS, but all smashed together in a three issue package. In a day and age of "decompressed" storytelling --whether real or imagined -- this three-parter suffered from being too compressed. It's got a great hook to it -- an almost-anonymous man working behind the scenes to put names to numbers, personalizing the stories of the nameless dead in a New York City cemetery reserved for unsolved murders. That hook alone is good enough for a five season run of a television drama. Add in the overall mythology of this "man on a mission," and you have a nice sweeping arc reminiscent of THE X-FILES or LOST or any of a zillion popular series of the last ten years.
The problem is pacing. These three issues aren't enough to lull you into the sense of repetition or perceived familiarity with the characters that you need before pulling the rug out from under you. The sense of overall mythology that the two-parter (in issues 2 and 3) hinges on is just not as powerful as it needs to be in order to really drag you along.
In other words, this concept has the potential of being gripping and powerful, if it only had some space to breathe in.
This doesn't mean you should skip it. Waid writes a great crime drama, and it's a shame that this isn't his POWERS or his CRIMINAL (yet). The book has that potential.
Hopefully, this mini-series is enough to get a big Hollywood deal to justify the further exploration of the stories and the mythologies teased at here.
- This week's Commentary Track will be a pretty good one, if I do say so myself. It's coming from the creative team on STEVE NILES' STRANGE CASES. Writer Dan Wickline and artist David Hartman team up to share some easter eggs, behind-the-scenes stories, explanations and more of their third issue together. Plus, they brought along some production and concept art to share. That'll be coming your way at the end of the week.
For more info on STRANGE CASES, here's CBR's original story on the series. For more Commentary Tracks, you can grab a complete listing of them at the most recent one, devoted to Jonathan Hickman's PAX ROMANA #1. Previous commentaries feature creators talking about COUNTDOWN: ARENA, THE SCREAM, SPIDER-MAN FAMILY, and WORLD WAR HULK: AFTERSMASH.
- A big welcome to Keith Giffen, who joined the CBR writing staff a couple of weeks ago. His new column, AN UNFORTUNATE CONFLUENCE OF WORDS, can be read at CBR on Fridays. Two of them are up now. It's not too late to catch up on everything. This addition helps add East Coast credibility to CBR, as I seem to be alone most weeks in that department.
- A second welcome goes to George Khoury, whose column POP! debuted at CBR on Sunday, talking about the Direct Market changes of the last decade. Khoury is the man who brought us TwoMorrow's wonderful history of Image Comics last year.
- I wrote something last week that I thought better of almost immediately. In my YOUNGBLOOD review, I wrote:
"Artist Derec Donovan is a great choice, with a style somewhere between Chris Sprouse and your generic Robert Kirkman superhero title artist."
It does a disservice to the various artists working with Kirkman to say their stuff all looks like, yet those books all do have a distinct look and feel. The confusion comes from that overall look. Kirkman tends to use the same colorists and letterers across his books. This helps produce a unified feel to his work that's familiar and satisfying. There's nothing wrong with it, and it certainly helps to establish a brand for himself, but there are enough differences in artistic styles to point out that "generic Robert Kirkman superhero artist" is a tad unfair. It's not like the styles are spread as far apart as, say, Jim Lee and Chris Giarusso, but they're not clones (a la early Wildstorm or Extreme Studios), either.
My apologies for that.
- At the start of the new year, Chris Eliopoulos unveiled his new website for his new webcomic. Called MISERY LOVES SHERMAN, it's an all-ages friendly strip about a boy, his sister, his parents, and a couple of aliens. You can find it at the obvious URL: MiseryLovesSherman.com.
Full disclosure: I worked on the backend of the website. In case you're curious, it's WordPress using the ComicPress theme and a whole lot of tweaking.
- Our old friend, Johnny Bacardi, has given up on the whole Blogging Retirement thing and is blogging up a storm once again, including Best Of lists for 2007, weekly comics reviews, and more. Go over there and tell him how much you missed him, why don't you?
- One short review to wrap this all up: THE OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE INVINCIBLE UNIVERSE is worth picking up for the introduction alone. It's a wonderful five page recounting of the Handbook to the Marvel Universe's creation and evolution by one of its creators, Peter Sanderson. He goes into detail about how Mark Gruenwald found an interest in this kind of material and how he brought it to Marvel and DC. It really helps cement this thin trade as a labor of love, particularly given the credit list on it, a lengthy and diverse list of artists and writers.
It's available now for $13.
- I wrote something last week that I thought better of almost immediately. In my YOUNGBLOOD review, I wrote:
Next week: Another series I recently self-traded. And no Spider-Man.The Various and Sundry blog covers the latest news from CES (no news) and Macworld, plus reviews of more photography podcasts, more tips on selling at the Amazon Marketplace, new DVD releases, and plenty more to keep you busy. I imagine Macworld will keep the blog busy for the rest of the week, somehow.
More than 800 columns -- ten and a half years' worth -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.