The Guide to the Guide to Comics - WIZARD #64 (December 1996)

How does Marvel recover from the Clone Saga?  What’s life like for Rob Liefeld, post-Image?  How did DC celebrate the tenth anniversary of Dark Knight Returns?  And which ‘90s Britpop band does Wizard absolutely despise?  Find out in this week’s Guide to the Guide to Comics!

The magazine unveils yet another mini-makeover, with an updated interior design and a few new features.  Wizard was never stagnant in these days; a continuing theme of the magazine was the idea that it would have to constantly evolve in order to remain the #1 comics magazine in the country.  I realize this sounds like something you’d read on a PowerPoint slide during some corporate retreat, but I do get the sense that the people working for the magazine in this era legitimately believed it.  Not every segment works, but every issue sees the magazine experimenting with formats or trying out new features, so they do deserve credit for avoiding stagnation.  (Which leads me to ask again…why did this change?  And when?)

In this month’s Wizard, we have…features on Todd McFarlane’s Angela, indie comic Hepcats, the post-clone Spider-Man era, the 10th anniversary of DKR, a preview of Thunderbolts, and another examination of the Comics Code.  Also, Rob Liefeld and Ron Marz are interviewed.

Columns and Departments are no longer divided into separate groups.  They’re all “The Standards” now.  They include Basic Training (Norm Breyfogle teaches page design), Toy Chest, Trailer Park, Palmer’s Picks (highlighting Megan Kelso’s Girlhero), Manga Scene, and Card Market.  A new review column, The Skinny, debuts.  Plus, we have the usual mix of letters, fan art, opinion pieces, trivia, Top 10 lists, a cartoon calendar by Brian Douglas Ahern, the Wizard Profile, and market information.

And, for the record, Mike Wieringo drew the newsstand Spider-Man cover, but every scan I can find of it is very tiny.

Magic Words

The letter column opens with a letter from David Mack, eulogizing Mike Parobeck.  Mack never met Parobeck in person, but he began contacting Parobeck as a teenager, asking his advice on becoming a better artist and how to break into comics.  Parobeck aided Mack for years and received a special thank you credit in Mack’s first published comic.

Jim McLauchlin then covers the hottest topics in fandom -- Sailor Moon’s cancellation, why Bruce Banner became “David” in the ‘70s TV show (the “effeminate” theory is acknowledged, but McLauchlin reports the answer we hear today; the producer just didn’t like alliterative names), why Peter Parker takes off his shoes to climb up buildings, and why does Todd McFarlane look so much like “geeky, super-lame comedian” Bob Saget?  I’ve heard people compare McFarlane to Christian Bale before, but Bob Saget?!  Also, I wonder how everyone who used Saget as an easy joke target in the ‘90s felt when he came out as an utterly filthy stand-up later on.  Or is this Fuller House thing pushing him back into the dorky dad role?

Wizard News

Marvel’s announcement of a Tales of the Age of Apocalypse one-shot is the top story, indicating that 1) fan interest in the AoA was unquenchable in these days and 2) it’s kind of a slow news month, all around.  In other news…Spawn’s killer will be a white female named Priest instead of Chapel in the film (and the upcoming revised origin in the comics)…Mars Attacks! is crossing over with Image’s superheroes…Marc Silvestri is returning to Image…Code of Honor, which began life as Marvels II, is announced…BIG Publishing (formerly Tekno-Comix) has ceased publishing comics…and Deadpool will soon star in his own ongoing.  Good luck with that one, Marvel!

Finally, I’ve discovered this issue that the X-Men were slated to appear in Kiss’ Kissnation one-shot.  The plan is to sell the comic at Kiss concerts before releasing it nationwide.  Is there an actual X-Men/Kiss crossover out there and I’m only now discovering it?

Earth Angel

This is an odd one - the magazine’s lead story is on Angela, even though (as the story points out), she isn’t starring in a regular series, hasn’t guest starred in Spawn in months, and there are no concrete plans for what’s next for her.  Well, what’s next for her is years of legal hell, which somehow end with her being owned by Marvel Comics.  And regardless of how you feel about Neil Gaiman’s lawsuit, it’s hard to deny how bizarre it is that McFarlane can no longer use the angel-warrior designs he developed as a teenager and only used in a creator-owned comic…and, again, that Marvel ended up owning this character.  (And, from the issues I’ve read, totally getting her persona wrong.)  Who could’ve possibly predicted this?

Life after Image

An interview conducted by Brian Cunningham with Rob Liefeld, one week after Liefeld announced his departure from Image.  Interviews like this have a Rolling Stone feel to them -- Cunningham follows Liefeld around for a day while he’s on a signing tour for Captain America #1; they ride in a limo, listen to REM, eat McDonald’s French fries…  The actual content of the interview reveals essentially nothing about why Liefeld and Image parted ways.  When asked specifically why Marc Silvestri refused to stay with Image if Liefeld was there, Liefeld pleads ignorance.  (Later on, it’s reported that Silvestri was angry with Liefeld for trying to poach Michael Turner away from his studio, but I don't know if this was ever confirmed.)  As for why he’s such a target for controversy, Liefeld can’t really answer that one, either.  We do learn, however, that Liefeld has floated the idea of doing New Mutants as a Heroes Reborn title, featuring a cast of the “first mutants” in this new universe.

Casting Call

The Wizard staff has a crazy idea this month -- why not recast the original crew of Star Trek for a movie?  They suggest the following…

Bruce Boxleitner as Capt. Kirk

Scott Lee (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) as Lt. Sulu

Mathew Broderick as Ensign Chekov (in their side-by-side photos, you can see a resemblance)

Gary Sinese as Dr. Bones

Billy Zane as Lt. Spock

Mike McGlone (The Brothers McMullen) as Lt. Commander Montgomery Scott

Armand Assante as Khan

Holly Robinson as Lt. Uhura

Meg Ryan as Nurse Chapel

And Cameron Diaz as Yeoman Janice Rand

First Look - Thunderbolts

Kurt Busiek and Tom Brevoort participate in a brief preview of the upcoming Thunderbolts series.  The early press is careful not to spoil the team’s secret, but fans are informed that something big will happen at the end of the first issue.

Spider Sense

The post-clone era of the Spider-Man titles is previewed, with quotes from editor Ralph Macchio and the various creative teams.  Macchio confirms that the original plan was for the clone storyline to last only six months, and conclude with Peter retired with a baby and Ben Reilly as the new, single Spider-Man.  Plans changed, the storyline was stretched out, and now the books are attempting to recover.  (Tom DeFalco, who was editor-in-chief when this storyline began, has always maintained that Peter was never going to be replaced permanently by Ben, but that is what Macchio seems to be saying.)

This is a period of the books that’s been largely forgotten, which is one reason why I was inspired to review every issue of it a few years back (you can read my summary piece here.)  Ultimately, the creators failed to accomplish their goal of developing a new, believable supporting cast for Spider-Man, and most of the attempts at revamping the villains also flopped.  Marvel also had a difficult time keeping artists on some of the titles; no one seemed to know who the regular penciler of Amazing Spider-Man was for a while there, which wouldn’t seem to be the best way to handle your flagship book.  Another proposed idea that doesn’t pan out is the plan for Peter to become a teacher at ESU, while MJ enrolls as a new student.  In the published books, both Peter and MJ are students (a new status quo that’s usually ignored by the writers), with no talk of Peter teaching.  In fact, Peter’s the one with a tutor during this era.

Shadows of the Knight

A retrospective on Dark Knight Returns, on its tenth anniversary.  If Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns hadn’t already been canonized by this date, Wizard was certainly on a mission to make it happen.  The interview with Miller and Janson reveals a few bits of little-known information, like the fact that Janson switched from brush to pen after page 18 because he didn’t like the look, and Miller only grudgingly used the yellow oval on Batman’s chest in the initial issues before finding a way around it.  Miller also seems annoyed that people perceive the story as “realistic” and have used it as an excuse to tell stories about a “sad old man tights.”  In Miller’s mind, it’s a story about Bruce coming back as Batman and having fun, and that’s been overlooked.  I’ve also noticed that the Batman/Robin scene that Miller cites as his favorite, their hug, was cut from the animated movie because the producers didn’t like the subtext.


The Wizard Q&A - Ron Marz

I think every issue during this period has some promotion for Green Lantern in it.  This issue, Ron Marz is interviewed, discussing his early days on Green Lantern, his stance on the Hal Jordan issue, and his upcoming plans for Superboy.  Marz’s description of Hal Jordan as “sort of a dull, straight-arrow guy” when contrasted against the cockier Kyle Rayner is interesting, given that the revived version of Hal now has those cocky traits grafted onto him.

The Code War

Another piece on the Comics Code, with a variety of creators giving quotes on how it affects them.  Not surprisingly, Wizard can’t find a single creator willing to say that the Code is useful in any way, and many of them have examples they can cite of the Code censoring their work (like the time John Byrne allegedly drew too much of Storm’s buttocks in Uncanny X-Men #124.)  Ron Marz also reveals that Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend was not dismembered in the infamous refrigerator scene; the Code censored a full-body shot of Alex, leaving fans to assume she’d been dismembered because only her legs were visible.  Alternatives to the Code, such as a ratings system, are discussed, with Frank Miller and John Byrne presenting the opposing sides.


The Toy Chest

Would you be stunned to learn more Spider-Man and X-Men toylines are on the way?  DC, meanwhile, is attempting to compete with their new Total Justice line.  The Superman: Man of Steel line, which I’d previously never heard of, is being phased out in favor of toys based on the WB’s Superman cartoon.  Notice that the Lex Luthor figure features him in the green and purple armor, which doesn’t actually appear in the animated continuity until years later during Justice League.

In other news, Wizard’s upcoming toy special is being renamed Toyfare.

The Skinny

“Comic book reviews from the Wizard editors.”  Wizard has been moving in this direction for a while now, so it makes sense for the magazine to finally publish reviews of current comics, as opposed to only making fleeting references to them on the bottom of the price guide pages or as joke references in the monthly quiz.  The format of the reviews, splitting the text into “The Good,” “The Bad,” “The Buzz,” and “The Skinny,” followed by a number grade, is similar to how we’ll see online reviews formatted when every fan having an opinion becomes common.  Bizarrely, Wizard’s number ranking goes from 6 (the best) to 1 (crapola)…who sets up a review system where the highest ranking isn’t evenly divisible by 5?  That’s pure madness.

Hypothetically, there’s nothing wrong with this segment, but I remember finding it increasingly irritating as a teenager.  I don’t recall Wizard trashing books that I liked, or that I was overly concerned with their opinion in the first place, but there was something about the tone of the reviews that I found irksome.

This issue, Wizard reviews Gen 13 (“Does this teen titan’s quality match its popularity?”), which ranks a 4, the early issues of JLA (“This team book is finally given some justice”), ranking it a 5, Daredevil (“Finding a great superhero read isn’t blind luck anymore”), which is another 5, and Stray Bullets is deemed “inconsistent,” earning a 4 ranking.


I believe Wizard is dropping the full-page write-ups of recommended books in this section, instead skipping ahead to what used to be “More Picks,” which is essentially Wizard rewriting the companies’ solicitations and working some jokes in.  We do have a “Hot Pick” sidebar, however, which has the staff recommending Roger Stern’s return to Spider-Man with Hobgoblin Lives!  Since Wizard played at least some role in this miniseries’ existence (not only by championing Roger Stern’s ‘80s Spider-Man work, but by also playing up the idea that Marvel never revealed his Hobgoblin’s identity), that’s not surprising.  High-profile titles that the editors don’t feel like discussing -- like Heroes Reborn, Spawn, and most of the X-books -- are banished to a sidebar called “At a Glance” where they receive one-sentence write-ups.

Trailer Park

The Gen 13 voice cast is announced (featuring everyone from E.G. Daily to Flea to Mark Hamill), Marvel is very close to shooting Blade, Kevin Smith’s Superman Lives script is rumored to feature numerous DC hero cameos, John Glover has been cast in Batman & Robin (the article reminds us he played a Donald Trump-esque character in Gremlins 2), Lois & Clark is sinking in the ratings, and Saturday Night Live will now feature cartoon shorts by Robert Smigel.  In a “Trailer Park Special Report,” the final six episodes of X-Men are previewed.  Producer Tom McLaughlin explains the thinking behind the redesigns, which supposedly lean more towards Joe Madureira than Jim Lee. In practice, the redesigns just make the cast look more like generic Saturday Morning cartoon characters, even though the character models reprinted here do look nice enough.  Unfortunately, the final X-Men episodes were handled by one of the lesser teams at the Philippines Animation Studio, so they often had a bit of a Hanna-Barbara look to them.  With a better animation team, who knows what could’ve been.


Manga Scene

Fans are still upset over Sailor Moon’s cancellation.  Carl Horn examines the reaction to the series in America and explores the history of the franchise.  Horn also refers to American comics as "pamphlets" in a sidebar, years before that term takes off.

Top Ten Comics

October 1996’s hottest back issues, based on info provided by Wizard’s sources.

  1. Onslaught: Marvel Universe
  2. Kingdom Come #1
  3. Witchblade #1
  4. Preacher #1
  5. Onslaught: X-Men
  6. Hitman #1
  7. Fantastic Four #1
  8. Dawn #1
  9. X-Files #1
  10. Wolverine #100

Top 100 - September 1996

And the Top 100 list for September, which features the four Heroes Reborn debut issues in the top four slots (Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Avengers, and Captain America in that order.)  In fact, every Top 10 book is a Marvel title, with several X-titles (included the second Bishop miniseries, imagine that) ranking high, followed by Incredible Hulk #447 (the new direction, with pencils by Mike Deodato) and Spectacular Spider-Man #240 (the first post-clone issue) rounding out the Top Ten.  Spectacular Spider-Man, along with the rest of the Spidey titles, isn’t able to maintain this momentum in the coming months, unfortunately.

Wizard Market Watch

Early reactions to Heroes Reborn are in, with Iron Man receiving a surprising amount of fan interest, but the overall line not doing the numbers many expected.  The market report also goes out of its way to quote fans critical of Rob Liefeld’s artwork, another sign the magazine is moving away from the creator.

Wizard’s Top Ten Hottest Writers are…

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

Wizard’s Ten Hottest Artists are…

  1. Todd McFarlane
  2. Jim Lee
  3. Joe Madureira
  4. J. Scott Campbell
  5. Alex Ross
  6. Joe Linsner
  7. Joe Quesada
  8. Billy Tucci
  9. Humberto Ramos
  10. Mike Wieringo

Top 10 Heroes & Villains of the Month

Last issue’s return was a Halloween-themed joke list, but this is the actual Top 10 Heroes & Villains list, as determined by…who knows.

  1. Witchblade
  2. Wolverine
  3. Spawn
  4. Fairchild (of Gen 13)
  5. Batman
  6. Superman
  7. Dawn
  8. Spider-Man
  9. Gambit
  10. X-Man (as crazy as it sounds today, X-Man actually was a consistent Top 20 book during this era.)

There's no credited writer, but this certainly reads like a Jim McLauchlin piece.  McLauchlin was upfront about having not read an X-Men comic in almost ten years at this time, so watching him try to create write-ups for characters he knows nothing about is amusing.  I also wonder if the dismissive attitude that Wizard often displays towards the X-Men of this era influenced the tone of the early comics internet, which held similar views on X-characters.

As for the Mort of the Month, this month’s entry is Uncle Sam.  Not the concept inspired by Samuel Wilson, the nineteenth century meat packer, but the Quality/DC version that was revived in the ‘80s.


Future Robot Chicken co-creator Matt Senreich is profiled, and we have the first hints that the Wizard staff is engaged in unwholesome Mego activities.


So, what did we learn today?


Money Quotes:

  • “Just because somebody’s popular, doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to spin them off into their own monthly title.” - Todd McFarlane on why Angela is yet to star in an ongoing series.
  • “The first year’s worth of books.  Completely.” - Rob Liefeld, on what he’d change about his time at Image.
  • “It must have been influential, considering how many people are still ripping it off.” - Frank Miller on Dark Knight Returns’ success.

Nope:  Ralph Macchio teases a storyline that has Spider-Man in Madripoor, running into the Kingpin in Peter Parker, Spider-Man; a similar story eventually appears in X-Men instead…Todd McFarlane still thinks there might be a role for Chapel in the Spawn movie, possibly as the one who gives Priest the order to kill Al Simmons…Daredevil is never farmed out to Marc Silvestri’s Top Cow studio (can you imagine Marvel pulling a stunt like that?!), nor is it cancelled, which is a rumor at this time…Goldeneye and Cliffhanger writer Mike France’s Fantastic Four script is never produced, neither are the live action Tick movie, Silver Surfer by Australian director Jeffrey Wright, and Rob Liefeld’s various projects, such as Badrock, Prophet, and The Mark.  Proposed spinoffs for the X-Men cartoon, such as an X-Force series or solo Wolverine, Gambit, or Cable series, also never happen.

Stuff Wizard Likes:  The latest issues of Daredevil and Robin, and Roger Stern returning to Spider-Man with Hobgoblin Lives!

Stuff Wizard Doesn’t Like:  Artists continually ripping off the Dark Knight Returns lightning cover…Kenner’s “God-awful Batman figures”…Fantastic Four comics pre-Jim Lee (“about as fresh as that half-eaten bologna sandwich under your bed.”)…Batman Forever…Magneto becoming another Marvel villain that’s been “screwed with and turned into a weak character”…Batman’s “Contagion - Legacy” crossover…the Lois & Clark TV series…and the “puppy-dog, sabretoothed, Chia-haired” version of Wolverine.  Also, do you think the editors were maybe not fans of the Spider-Clone?

This Ain't HuffPo:  A few cosplayers are bodyshamed, Cameron Diaz merits a “mmmm…”, a hypothetical Slave Leia figure is deemed a “no brainer,” “powerful acid” is given as the reason why Harvey Dent’s race changed in the Batman movies, a lament that Green Lantern won’t be “getting any” from Donna Troy, the thought of Lois Lane on her honeymoon is greeted with “mmmm…Lois”, Witchblade is praised as “touch chick” who isn’t confined to “roller derby and mud wrestling,” and Wizard speculates that it must be hard to concentrate as an X-Man when you’re surrounded by “super-hot babes like Jean Grey, Storm, and Rogue.”

Sick Burn, Wizard: CBIQ quiz question -- "Who is the evil manipulator currently pulling Youngblood's strings?  Answer -- "Umm...they still publish Youngblood?"

I Love the ‘90s:  Grunge’s stylish new George Clooney-inspired haircut in Gen 13 is complimented.

Vive la France:  Jim McLauchlin’s steady French-bashing seems to have been replaced with his undying hatred of Oasis.

The Wizard’s Crystal Ball:  Wizard predicts Batman & Robin will be a terrible movie, but speculates that it will make “seven gillion dollars.”

Pathological Scatological:  Once again, the magazine is almost able to go the entire issue without toilet humor.  This time, it doesn’t appear until page 135, when the recycled diarrhea jokes once again show up as caption jokes in the trading card segment.

Cheap and Stupid and Trashy?:  Some of the crude humor is returning -- actually, last issue was packed with it, so maybe Wizard’s returning to form.  Regardless, there isn’t enough juvenile behavior to distract from the actual content, which is pretty good.  Some of these features might be dismissed as simple hype features, but I think the DKR and Spider-Man interviews have actual depth, giving you insight into the creators’ thought process and some behind-the-scenes information you’d never know otherwise.  It’s also rare to see Marvel simply admit to a mistake, as Macchio does in the Spider-Man article.  There’s enough here to give you your money’s worth.

Until next time...

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