The Guide to the Guide to Comics - WIZARD #60 (August 1996)

Wizard celebrates another milestone, Spawn’s gonna say naughty words on HBO, early Heroes Reborn sketches horrify the staff, Dan Jurgens tries to revive Teen Titans, and Bob Harras declares that Marvel isn’t as corporate as you think.  All in this week’s Guide to the Guide to Comics!

Bart Sears is back for the cover; fitting for the magazine’s big fifth birthday bash (not to be confused with their fiftieth issue celebration a few issues back).  This issue is packed -- I doubt any other issue of the magazine featured so much reading material.  Not only are the Wizard staples of this era (like sketchbook pages and creator interviews) present, but the past five years in comics news is represented over the course of numerous pages, and a lengthy Top 100 feature presents an argument for why these comics should be in your collection.  And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a 1,001 Comics Contest, which promises to reward you with said number of comics.  And this BMG outfit is promising you 10 CDs for the price of one, but I’m a little skeptical…

In this month’s Wizard, we have features on...Dan Jurgens’ Teen Titans relaunch, an Incredible Hulk movie casting, a preview of HBO’s Spawn and UPN’s Incredible Hulk cartoons, a look at Jim Lee’s Homage Comics, a humor piece by Brian Douglas Ahern, a Top 100 Comics of All Time list, preview sketches for Heroes Reborn, a behind-the-scenes look at the magazine, and a Bob Harras interview.

The regular columns include Basic Training (this month’s art tutorial is by Joe Quesada), Toy Chest, Trailer Park, Palmer’s Picks, Manga Scene, and Card Market.

The Departments include letters, fan art, opinion pieces, trivia, Top 10 lists, a cartoon calendar by Brian Douglas Ahern, the Wizard Profile, and market information.

Magic Words

The letter column opens with Paula, the cosplayer who’s earned a following from her appearances in the Halloween issues.  Wizard is still reluctant to print her full name, but at her request, they have given her address out.  She provides a tally of the 500+ letters she’s received; only five were from “psychos,” but a staggering 96 percent of writers wanted to reassure her that they weren’t “geeks.”

From there, Jim McLauchlin addresses questions such as “Has Space Ghost ever starred in a comic?” and “Did Professor X go prematurely bald or does he shave his head?”  McLauchlin also explains the dividing points between the Golden, Silver, and Modern Age.  Notice that Bronze Age isn’t listed as a term; when it entered the lexicon, I’m not sure.  McLauchlin informs readers that there is no clear consensus on when the Modern Age began, but many cite Giant-Size X-Men #1 as the first comic of that era.  Today, I believe the Silver Age tends to be restricted to 1959 to 1970, while 1970 to maybe 1990 is viewed as the Bronze Age.  Whether or not 1990 to today is the Modern Age, or if the ‘90s should be roped off into a separate Chromium Age, is a debate that hasn’t been settled, as far as I know.  (Also, if you’re curious, Marvel’s rep says that Xavier is naturally bald and doesn’t shave his head -- unless he has alopecia, I think he’d have to at least shave the sides, though.)

Wizard News

The news of Mark Waid leaving X-Men after only six issues is the lead story, with Waid giving the simple explanation that he wasn’t compatible with Scott Lobdell as a writer and just wanted to move on.  Wizard reports “rumors of infighting and personality clashes,” but everyone involved denies it…until years later, when Waid makes his issues with Scott Lobdell and Bob Harras very public.  He does eventually apologize, however, and I seem to recall Lobdell also issuing a public apology to Waid (during a Thanksgiving-themed article on Newsarama), but I can’t find it online today.

In other news…Fabian Nicieza has been named Acclaim’s editor-in-chief.  He’s bringing in creators like Kurt Busiek, Tom Peyer, and Mark Waid to revive the Valiant heroes…Marc Silvestri has left Image due to problems with “an unnamed Image partner” (later revealed as Rob Liefeld.)  Silvestri’s departure only lasts a few weeks, and I think only one month of Top Cow books go without the Image logo…Jim Lee and Marvel have announced a series of Wildstorm/Marvel crossovers with a Lee/Williams image of Lee’s X-Men posing with the original WildC.A.T.s.  For unknown reasons, we never saw this specific crossover, since the stories all took place in different time periods.  Lee penciled the Silver Age issue, which focused on a Neal Adams-era Marvel Girl, while the “Modern Age” chapter was set in the early ‘80s and didn’t feature Lee’s interpretation of the X-Men at all.  Finally, Marvel’s Stanhattan Project has found two new writers -- 24 year-old Joe Kelly and 18 year-old Jaime Campos, who will be given work on Marvel’s 2099 AD and 99-cent lines of books.

Teen Spirit

A promotional piece for Dan Jurgens’ revamped Teen Titans series.  Jurgens is convinced that the best way to revive interest in Titans is to focus on a new cast of characters.  Unfortunately for Jurgens, the new Teen Titans is released just as comics fans began to reject new characters.  It seems that after Gen 13 exploded, superhero fans were just fine with the heroes they already had.  They didn’t need any new ones, thanks.  Jurgens also seems to think that a de-aged Atom is a draw for the series, which seems like an odd choice.  If you already are an Atom fan, don’t you just want him to go back to the age he’s always been?  Closing out the article is a sidebar on the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans issues, which were clearly held in high regard in Wizard’s offices.  Post-Crisis issues of Titans are considered skippable, however.

Casting Call

Wizard casts the Hulk film (which was very close to production at this point, before stalling out and coming back in the early ‘00s.)

David Duchovny as Bruce Banner

Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk (amazing that they didn’t assume Hulk would be animatronic or CGI)

Sandra Bullock as Betty Banner

Johnny Depp (described as “adventurous and yet kinda dopey”) as Rick Jones

Stacy Haiduk (Superboy) as Marlo Jones

Ralph Moeller (Best of the Best 2) as Abomination

Alan Rickman as the Leader

Seymour Cassel (Indecent Proposal) as Gen. Thunderbolt Ross

Kevin Sorbo as Doc Samson

And for the U-Foes, Corbin Bernsen as Vector, Marcia Cross as Vapor, and Andrew Bryniarski (The Program) as Ironclad

First Look

The Spawn HBO series is previewed, with several of Greg Capullo’s character designs being presented for the first time.  Wizard was filled with exclusives like this in these days, and as outrageous as it might seem now, an adult Spawn series had been heavily anticipated for a few years.  The way Capullo has stripped down the comic’s designs while keeping them recognizable as McFarlane-y (and Capullo-y) is impressive, although the actual animation in the first season was often shoddy.  The second season of Spawn, however, had some fantastic animation by Mad House.  Unfortunately, the writing wasn’t nearly as sharp that year (much of the season was rewritten after the animation had been turned in), so you ended up with a Spawn cartoon that was just as dull as the comics.

Shoot to Hurt

A profile on Rob Schrab and Scud, The Disposable Assassin, which is the other independent comic Wizard can’t get enough of during this run.  Schrab, and his co-writer Dan Harmon, go on to become big wheels at the cracker factory.  For what it’s worth, nothing Wizard wrote about this book ever made me want to read it, because trying to explain surreal humor (or any humor, really) just doesn’t work.  If they’d reprinted a few pages from the book, maybe my teenage self would’ve been more willing to give it a shot.

Green Day

The Incredible Hulk cartoon for UPN is previewed, with promises it will be dark, gritty, and aimed at an older audience.  I didn’t catch this show until it reaired on Disney XD (not to be confused with that sissy Disney Channel your sister watches, brah) and it’s…not really any different from the other Marvel cartoons of this era.  It did have higher production values than Spider-Man, but that’s saying very little.

The ‘70s meets the ‘90s

In addition to the calendar, Brian Douglas Ahern creates a two-page humor segment inspired by Rob Liefeld’s recent acquisition of the Battlestar Galactica rights.  Now that the ‘70s are meeting the ‘90s, Ahern suggests titles such as Partridge 13 (“Young heroes who give new meaning to the term ‘Sonic Youth’!”) and Brady Brigade.


Shelf Life - 100 Comics Every Modern Collector Should Own

“If you don’t own these, you’re a dork.”  This is the Wizard staff’s celebration of classic comics from the modern era; the ‘80s to 1996.  I know that one of these lists annoyed Peter David for focusing so much on recent comics, but apparently it's one that runs a year or so later.  (David has stated that Wizard bumped him off their Top 10 Writers list as retaliation for criticizing one of their Top 100 lists.  You can read his old column here.)

The list is represented on an insert card you were presumably going to remove and take to the comic shop with you.  Regardless of how you feel about the list, and just the general desire to categorize everything on to lists, it’s a nice example of Wizard not giving in to hype or snark.  It’s a list of comics the staff thinks you should own, with a write-up explaining why most are on the list.  (This article could’ve gone on for twenty pages easily and given every title a write-up, but it’s limited to eight pages.)

Here’s the list…

Miracleman #1-16

Solar, Man of Atom #1-4

Squadron Supreme #1-12

Thanos Quest #1-2

Amazing Spider-Man #229-230

Animal Man #15

Astro City #1-6

Batman #404-407

Dark Knight Returns #1-4

Batman: The Killing Joke

Captain America #253-254

Daredevil #181, #227-233

Fantastic Four #242-244, #258

Incredible Hulk #340

Infinity Gauntlet #1-6

Iron Man #149-150

Marvels #1-4

Saga of the Swamp Thing #21

Sandman #1-7

Superman (vol. 2) #21-22

Adventures of Superman #444

Superman Annual #11

Tales of the Teen Titans #42-44

Thor #337-355

Uncanny X-Men #126-128, #135-136

And I guess these would be “Honorable Mentions”…



Business Plan

Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld present some of their early sketches for Heroes Reborn.  I’ve noticed over the years that Liefeld’s rough sketches don’t always fall into the stereotypes that surround his published art.  His Bucky sketch, for example, looks nice enough.  Many of his other sketches, however, exhibit those insanely long legs and tiny heads that people love to mock.  In fact, as a teenager, the Falcon and Red Skull sketches printed here were the first time the “shrunken head” complaint truly registered with me.



The Wizard Q&A - Bob Harras

Bob Harras, who Wizard swears is a nice guy, talks about the future of Marvel and what he feels is the inaccurate belief that “suits” run the company.  What’s frustrating reading this today is how excited Harras seems to be for a new era of Spider-Man, and knowing now just how much the titles continued to flounder after the clone hijinks were over.


A behind-the-scenes feature on how the magazine is produced.  A similar article ran a few issues ago as a joke, but this is a (somewhat) more serious look at Wizard’s process.  It’s also a nice example of how publishing worked in the somewhat pre-digital era.  The article mentions that running late-breaking news, such as the death of Jerry Siegel and Heroes Reborn announcement, costs extra money since the pages have to be reformatted and the film must be reshoot.



Fab Five

Wizard looks back on the big stories from the first five years of the magazine.  It really is amazing just how quickly things changed from 1991 to 1996; I'm not sure if there's ever been a more volatile period in the industry's history.


2001: A Comics Odyssey

Wizard predicts what the next five years of comics holds.  In a later letter column, they'll make it clear that this is, for the most part, more of a wish list than an actual attempt to see the future, but it's still worth reading to gain insight into what was viewed as pressing issues for the future.  Most of these predictions are nonsense, but some are pretty close, even if they don't become true by 2001.

Wizard predicts that Todd McFarlane will return to Spider-Man...Image Comics as we know it will cease to exist...a comics-themed cable channel will be launched (I'm somewhat surprised this hasn't happened; there's more than enough superhero movies to fill the hours, in addition to the geek-culture content that's posted for free on YouTube)...American artists will draw more upon manga...Marvel will open a chain of entertainment stores...a new Superman film franchise will enable his comics to outsell Batman and the X-Men...comic shops will check IDs for mature reader comics (not only did this never catch on, but debates about the content of comics are essentially dead; R-rated superhero movies aren't even controversial now)...novelists and screenwriters will become the new crop of comics scribes (this...almost happened)...and technology will replace traditional artists.  This is another example of something that hypothetically could've happened -- inkers seemed to be out of favor due to digital inks for a few years, and Chuck Austen did digitally pencil that Elektra series -- but it seems like traditional pencilers aren't going anywhere.


Basic Training

Joe Quesada shares his process for creating the previous issue's Superman cover, along with his response to DC’s edict that the cover had to feature Superman's long hair ("Ugh.")

Trailer Park

A Mr. Freeze-centric animated Batman movie is announced for the summer of 1997.  It's later delayed, according to rumor, because it made the Batman & Robin film seem even more ridiculous by comparison.  (Allegedly, Warner Brothers didn't want a series of reviews declaring a DTV animated movie was better than the big-budget live-action film released to theaters.)  There's also a rumor that the WB will debut new episodes of Batman in the fall of 1997.  In other news...Michael Jai White has been cast as Spawn in the live-action film...FOX isn't picking up the Generation X TV series following the movie...the proposed Punisher TV movie has been shelved due to the current “climate” in America…1996's Doctor Who: The Movie will not spin-off into a regular series...Canada's comics-themed The Anti-Gravity Room is returning to the Sci-Fi channel...Roger Corman's Vampirella film has gone into production...Wesley Snipes is in final negotiations to play Blade...Mike Allred will speak the first line in Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy film...Peter David and Bill Mumy's Space Cases has entered production...and Sabrina the Teenage Witch will star in a kid-friendly ABC sitcom.

I had no clue Roger Corman's Vampirella existed...you can see a piece of it here:



Justice League: A Midsummer's Nightmare (which leads into the new JLA series) and Monkeyman & O'Brien #1 by Arthur Adams are the main picks for this month.

Toy Chest

Wizard has photos of the cancelled Iron Man: Armored Warriors line.  Meanwhile, Amalgam figures and a Slave Leia figure top the Wish List of toys fans want to see.

Top Ten Comics

Once again, the Top Ten back issues are dominated by Garth Ennis comics, Bad Girls, and the first issue of X-Files.

Wizard Market Watch

Wizard’s Top Ten Hottest Writers are…

  1. Peter David
  2. Neil Gaiman
  3. Mark Waid
  4. Garth Ennis
  5. Kurt Busiek
  6. Karl Kesel
  7. James Robinson
  8. Ron Marz
  9. Scott Lobdell
  10. Chuck Dixon

Wizard’s Ten Hottest Artists are…

  1. Todd McFarlane
  2. Joe Madureira
  3. Jim Lee
  4. J. Scott Campbell
  5. Alex Ross
  6. William Tucci
  7. Joe Linsner
  8. Joe Quesada
  9. Adam Kubert
  10. Greg Capullo

Top 100 - May 1996

Spawn #50 is on top of the sales chart, followed by numerous X-titles, Gen 13, and the Medieval Spawn/Witchblade miniseries.  The Onslaught crossover is helping titles like Avengers move up into the Top 20, and Spider-Man titles are now outperforming both Batman and Superman lines.  Batman’s main titles tend to outrank Superman’s, but the peripheral titles are selling competitively in the bottom half of the Top 50.  Wizard remarks on the popularity of X-Man during its analysis, which is amusing to read today.  X-Man will go on to become one of the most hated comics on the internet.


The Mort of the Month is another odd choice -- Detective Chimp.  Wizard isn’t sure which is worse; Detective Chimp’s very existence, or the fact that his real name is listed as Bobo.


So, what did we learn today?


Money Quotes:

  • “Not counting the success of Batman Forever, Barb Wire continues a trend of comics-based movies bombing at the box office.  Judge Dredd and Tank Girl were 1995 disappointments, as were genre films Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and Street Fighter.” - Wizard’s report on Barb Wire’s weak box office debut.
  • “There’s not a chance you’ll see (the A) back…Get over it.” - Rob Liefeld on his Captain America redesign.  The A on Cap’s forehead returns as soon as Liefeld is removed from the Heroes Reborn books.
  • “If fans go nuts for her in the movie (and hey, who wouldn’t go nuts for Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl?), a new Batgirl just may show up in the comics.” - From Wizard’s preview of upcoming Batman storylines.
  • “Todd McFarlane will do Spider-Man again.” - Wizard’s top prediction for the next five years in comics.
  • “Val got fired for being a real a------.  That’s the real story.” - Joel Schumacher on why Val Kilmer is no longer Batman.
  • “This isn’t a trend or fad.  Let’s recognize it for what it is: a genre.” - Brian Pulido on the subject of Bad Girls.

Nope:  Alan Moore never pens an episode of the Spawn HBO series…J. Scott Campbell does not pencil the Generation X/Gen 13 crossover special…She-Hulk and Nick Fury never land those syndicated TV shows…Angela doesn’t star in her own regular solo series (in this millennium, at least)…and David Goyer’s Venom film, with Carnage as the villain, remains unproduced.

Before They Were Stars:  Lenil Yu has another entry published in the Drawing Board segment, this time a Batman vs. Joker piece.

Stuff Wizard Likes:  Green Lantern (vol. 2) #70, the Darkstar breakup issue, which Wizard calls “One of the best comics, if not the single finest, of the past five years.”

Stuff Wizard Doesn’t Like:  Rob Liefeld’s Captain America sketches (trashing them a few segments after they debut)…Mary Marvel…and the last “godawful” Batman movie.

This Ain’t HuffPo:  The thought of a Barb Wire/Ghost team-up/pop-up book is greeted with a “Oh, baby.”  Later, the Barb Wire film is described as “two of the biggest box-office busts of the year.”  In the More Picks section, we learn that an early Birds of Prey special stars “gorgeous babes,” and the White Queen is advised to “show a little more flesh and strike a sultry pose” to stop Onslaught...“Unless, of course, he’s really Northstar, in which case you’d better stuff Banshee in a corset and panties.”

I Love the ‘90s:  McDonald’s failed sandwich the Arch Deluxe is the source of a few jokes…Wizard suggests selling your Playstation if you can’t afford its list of 100 gotta-own comics…no one from Studs can enter the “Dinner and a Movie” date with Supergirl contest…Batman: GCPD is compared to NYPD Blue (“without showing you Dennis Franz’s ass”)…and the new female Crow is described as “the angriest chick since Alanis Morissette.”

Pathological Scatological:  Wizard managing editor Scott Gramling is described as “perhaps our most flatulent staffer.”  Later, during a fumetti feature on how an issue is produced, the staffers mime passing gas during a meeting.  One of the homemade toy photos has a caption joking about a dog leaving “yellow snow” on the outdoor diorama a fan has created, and in their preview of the Batman/Grendel II crossover, Wizard warns Batman that Grendel is “big, mean, and highly flatulent!”

Cheap and Stupid and Trashy?:  Running a retrospective issue so soon after the fiftieth issue is a questionable move, but I did enjoy most of the features this issue.  Plus, the magazine has the exclusive previews and breaking news that kept it alive in the days before the internet was real competition.  Wizard’s willingness to trash someone like Rob Liefeld, even while running to him for exclusives, is also an element of the magazine that’s fairly surprising.  Overall, the trashier moments are kept to a minimum, and as far as fat, oversized anniversary issues go, you could do a lot worse.

Until next time…

REVIEW: The Batman Who Laughs #2 is Wonderfully Focused & Intense

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