DC is better than Marvel, (Wizard is outright telling us this.) Walt Simonson uses dinosaurs to teach us about sound effects, Todd McFarlane makes a bold proclamation, and perhaps every Easter egg in Kingdom Come is detailed, all in the Guide to the Guide to Comics!
In this month’s Wizard, we have…a feature on Karl Kesel’s Daredevil run, tips on how to break into comics, a travel guide to Astro City, a Scott Lobdell interview, an “up and coming” article on eight artists, a piece on DC’s creative superiority to Marvel, annotations for Kingdom Come, a look ahead at 1997’s comics, and a look back on the ten biggest events of 1996.
The Standards include Basic Training, Toy Chest, Trailer Park, Palmer’s Picks, Manga Scene, The Skinny, and Card Market. Plus, letters, fan art, opinion pieces, trivia, Top 10 lists, a cartoon calendar by Brian Douglas Ahern, the Wizard Profile, and market information.
I’ll be honest, I was tempted to skip this issue. I don’t like to cover three issues in a row, since usually there aren’t noticeable changes in the industry in such a short period, and the big year-enders have featured so many needless retrospectives in the past. However, the opening letter this issue addresses one of the memorable Wizard controversies of the day, so my resolve was weakened. Plus, this issue is packed with material and some of the news segments are interesting, so we’re sticking with 1996 for one more issue.
The subject of the controversy? Tattoos. Specifically, Jim McLauchlin’s admonition to a fan seeking advice on a Spider-Man tattoo in issue #61 to “get a dose of common sense” and to avoid hepatitis. McLauchlin acknowledges that he opened a “can of worms” and didn’t anticipate the flood of mail he’d receive. In the interest of fairness, he attempted to find a comics pro with tattoos to provide an alternate take, but reports that finding one was a difficult task. (Can you imagine this being the case today?) Eventually, Heartbreakers co-creator Anina Bennett emerged as a tatted pro, and provided a defense of the inked. Out of all the things in Wizard that could inadvertently offend someone, it turned out to be a crack about tattoos?
Other topics addressed this month include whether or not Peter David has ever been to Staten Island and why his early novels are out of print, if Marvel is going to revive Blink (something people seemed to desperately want until they actually got it), and the identity of the first comic ever published. Depending on your definition of “comic book,” McLauchlin presents three options: 1897’s The Yellow Kid in McFadden Flats, 1933’s Funnies on Parade, and Detective Dan, also printed in 1933, but unlike Funnies, featuring original material.
The lead story of the month is DC’s announcement of a Kingdom Come hardcover reprint, a novelization by Elliot S. Maggin featuring fifty percent new material, and a monthly title based on the miniseries. The monthly Kingdom series, with Alex Ross covers and Mark Waid/Gene Ha as the writer and artist, never materialized, although Waid did later orchestrate and co-write a sequel event. Alex Ross was also attached to Kingdom Come-related material, but did his work independent of Waid.
In other news…Cable is set to guest star in the Heroes Reborn titles…a new company named Abba Dabba is offering comics (like Keith Giffen’s Trencher and Bart Sears’ Brutes & Babes) as online exclusives for $1 a download…Carmen Electra, “the inspiration for the star of the vampire comic Embrace,” has replaced Jenny McCarthy on MTV’s Singled Out, which will delay production of the Embrace movie…and Rob Liefeld’s Maximum Press will no longer publish “darker”-themed books, such as Darkchylde. The current plan is for the Extreme superhero titles formerly published by Image to move to Maximum, joining a “toned down and less racy” Avengelyne series.
Speaking of Extreme, Wizard has a “Where Are They Now?” segment devoted to Stephen Platt.
And speaking of Rob Liefeld, Wizard has added a few Breaking News pages to report that Liefeld is suing Image Comics for “breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duties, libel, slander, and interference with contract.” Wizard has a few quotes from Todd McFarlane blasting the lawsuit, and the quality of Liefeld’s Image work. Later, they make nice, and Liefeld even guest-pencils an issue of Spawn.
Devil of a Time
Continuing the theme of Wizard dedicating articles to titles that are internally popular, even if they aren’t big-sellers, Karl Kesel’s new take on Daredevil is profiled. Kesel reveals that it was Bob Harras who wanted the book to move away from “grim and gritty” and return to its light-hearted roots, a decision that Kesel fully supported. (You’ll notice throughout Bob Harras’ tenure as Marvel’s EiC, he continually pushed titles back to their 1960s status quos, even if readers howled in protest.) Kesel also hints at a future story arc that would make Daredevil “New York’s most powerful hero,” assuming Marvel approves it. The idea he’s teasing is Matt Murdock becoming mayor of New York City, a proposal Marvel rejected.
Comic pros like Bob Harras and Denny O’Neil offer insight into how to break into comics. All of the advice sounds credible, but almost all of it is based on the premise that someone is actually going to read an unsolicited submission. The major companies don’t even pretend that happens today.
Wizard casts a Savage Dragon movie, based on the magazine’s growing appreciation for the comic. The cast includes…
Brian Bosworth (who was attempting to sell himself as an action star in these days) as Dragon
Tyra Banks as Rapture
Halle Berry as Alex Wilde (who’s supposed to be Hispanic…)
Farrah Forke (Wings) as Rita Medermade
Patrick Dempsey as Star
James McDaniel (NYPD Blue) as Lt. Frank Darling
David Chokachi (Baywatch) as Mighty Man
Bridget Fonda as Nurse Ann Stevens
Joe Lara (Tarzan, The Epic Adventures) as Cyberface
Robert Davi (License to Kill) as Overlord
Astro City - The Complete Guide
Written by Scott Beatty from the perspective of a “real” Astro City tourists’ guide, this reads like something that you might find in the back of an Astro City trade. It’s a clever way to promote the book and give new readers some insight into the series, and it’s a sign that Wizard can produce original material that doesn’t rely on cheap jokes or idle speculation on Wonder Woman’s bust size.
The Wizard Q&A - Scott Lobdell
Scott Lobdell is interviewed, offering the story of the two-day fill-in that landed him his regular assignment on Uncanny X-Men, along with his views on the recently completed “Onslaught” crossover, which he acknowledges was difficult for him to co-write. (Lobdell disagreed with the efforts of “some people” to portray Xavier as “this conflicted, under the surface ‘evil’ who has been dishonest with himself,” and states that it’s not his inclination “to tell a story that’s draped in this kind of cynicism.”) We also learn that Lobdell once considered Rogue as a candidate for X-traitor, that Alan Moore was Jim Lee’s first choice to pen Iron Man, and Ulysses from Incredible Hulk was slated to appear in Generation X, but Chris Bachalo didn’t know who he was, so the role “just turned out to be” Howard the Duck’s.
Eight to the Fore ‘97
Wizard is back to predicting the industry’s next big superstars. Not everyone on this list became a huge superstar, but all became established pros. The list consists of Michael Turner, Jeffrey Moy, Steve Skroce, Jim Calafiore, Lee Moder, Cary Nord, Ian Churchill, and Carlos Pacheco. My favorite moment from the article is the revelation that Pacheco was a biology teacher before he decided to pursue comics.
The New House of Ideas?
In just a few years, Wizard has gone from a magazine accused of ignoring DC to printing articles like this, declaring that DC is second to Marvel “only in sales” and is your true home for quality superhero comics. I also remember this attitude prevailing in online forums in the late ‘90s when I first began searching for comics material on the internet; DC seemed far more popular with fans than Marvel. (Within five years, it could be argued that DC was attempting to become ‘90s Marvel and Marvel was morphing into ‘90s DC.)
The piece reads as if it were assembled by DC’s publicity department, with Wizard listing off DC’s successes across the board and declaring Marvel and Image pale competitors. The “replace a hero” fad of the era is named as a great success for DC, while Marvel’s failure to do the same with Spider-Man, Thor, and Iron Man is cited. (Wizard’s contention that “Death of Superman” and “Knightfall” have some great artistic merit that’s missing from Spider-Man’s clone storyline is, at best, debatable.) The contention is that DC thinks through their events, while Marvel’s seem assembled solely for marketing reasons. One example given is the recent Legion reboot, which only came about after a year of internal debate, and a 4 AM conversation with Mark Waid where it was decided that Legion continuity just couldn’t be saved.
Wizard also praises DC for evolving into a writer-driven company, contrasting DC’s “name” creators with Marvel’s, which are mostly artists. Any of DC’s failures, like Extreme Justice, Firebrand, and Takion are only given a quick mention (interesting that Sovereign Seven is already dismissed as a bomb, even though it runs for a few more years), before the article moves on to praising DC for caring about quality and always trying out new ideas. I don’t necessarily disagree with the basic premise of the piece, but the article is very fan-ish and so desperate to praise DC that you have to tolerate breathless captions like “Did anyone ever imagine they’d see a Superman with long hair?” -- implying that 1) it was a daring innovation for the character and 2) it wasn’t a terrible idea in the first place that still makes people laugh.
Thy Will Be Done
Another example of Wizard providing you with something you’re not getting anywhere else -- detailed annotations for Kingdom Come, complete with commentary from Mark Waid and Alex Ross. If you’ve never read Kingdom Come, you might not realize what a task this is, but it’s clear that several weeks of work went into this. Just the first page opens with a description of over a hundred characters (many of them never identified in the actual comic), before the article moves on to catalog almost every reference and hidden joke in the miniseries. This type of material will soon become the domain of the internet (in fact, you might be familiar with a certain site that began as a Kingdom Come fan page), but at this moment, Wizard is your best source.
My favorite bit of Kingdom Come trivia is that Green Lantern’s orbital satellite is taken from the spaceship on old ELO album covers. Also, there’s a “Brainiac’s Daughter” character in Kingdom Come, as a tribute to XTC.
The Big 10
Wizard recaps what it deems the “Big 10” stories of the year, with a banner at the bottom listing virtually every news 1996 story by date. The 10 stories that “rocked the comic world in 1996” are as follows:
- Heroes Reborn
- Shattered Image (Rob Liefeld’s exit)
- Ennis, Anyone? (Garth Ennis’ rise in popularity)
- Marvel Faces an Onslaught
- Kingdom Come Delivers on Hype
- Self-Publishers Seek Shelter (Homage and other publishers pick up titles that could’ve been lost during this chaotic time in the industry)
- Supes/Lois Say I Do (don’t show this one to John Byrne)
- Action Packed Year for Toys
- Send Out the Clones (Peter Parker returns as Spider-Man)
- Amalgam a Surprise Smash
Like any other ranking in Wizard, this seems fairly arbitrary. Wizard is also allowing the opinion of the editorial staff to color things that are factually true -- such as the idea that “seldom has one story caused so many readers to drop so many titles,” when referencing the Spider-Man clone storyline. I despised this story as much as anyone when it was released, but looking at the sales numbers posted in this magazine each issue, I can’t pretend that the event was some massive commercial bomb. It was controversial, sure, but the Spider-Man books were consistently in the top thirty on the sales charts, and actually went up the charts when the books were briefly renamed Scarlet Spider in place of Spider-Man, and remained high after Ben Reilly officially became Spider-Man. Now, did the actual sales numbers drop? Absolutely; but that was true across the industry. Based upon chart position, it doesn’t seem as if the Scarlet Spider affair harmed Spider-Man too much at all, commercially. (Amongst the people left buying comics after the crash, of course.) In fact, the controversy around the event has helped the titles maintain a high chart position for the past two years. I doubt it would’ve lasted, and the high ranking of the first post-Ben issue is a sign that many fans were eager to move on, but the truth is, people really did buy those Ben Reilly comics.
Also, if you were to rank the “Big 10” comic events of 1996, leaving off the death of Mark Gruenwald is unforgivable. He wasn’t just some upper level executive who unexpectedly passed away one day, he was a major influence over Marvel’s entire line for at least ten years. The Marvel that many of us grew up with, and that Wizard already seems nostalgic for, owes much of its existence to Mark Gruenwald. Ignoring his death in the place of “action figures were really cool this year” and more Garth Ennis hype is honestly grating.
Included with this piece are even more lists -- what Wizard hated this year and what it hopes to see next year.
More updates on films that are never produced, such as Superman Lives, Scud, and Chris Columbus’ Fantastic Four movie. Kevin Smith receives a page and a half to discuss his Superman script, revealing information that’s now documented in the Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? film and a few Youtube videos of his speeches. Some projects announced here that were actually released include a Ghost World movie, Shaq as Steel, Beavis & Butt-Head and Rugrats movies, and Woody Allen’s starring role in Antz. (Not spelled with the cool “z” at this point.) We also discover that new episodes of Batman will air on the WB, and that Peter Aykroyd and James Belushi will replace both of their brothers as voices in a new Blues Brothers animated series for UPN.
Walt Simonson provides a six-page lecture on sound effects, illustrated as a cartoon. Like the Astro City guide and Kingdom Come annotations, it’s a feature that feels unique to Wizard. It’s not as if creators weren’t contributing to other magazines, but Wizard was by far the biggest, and the only publication that could cram so many exclusives into one issue. (The entire feature is archived here.)
The Toy Chest
Kenner has responded to fans’ requests and produced a Harley Quinn action figure, four years after her debut on the animated series. An evil-looking Captain America is also on the way from Toy Biz.
Based on a 1-6 ranking (6 as the best, 1 as the worst), this issue Spawn, Incredible Hulk, Robin, and Hepcats are reviewed. Spawn (“Despite a strong cast and powerful art, this book has its weak spots”) is a 4, Incredible Hulk merits a measly 2 (this is from the Onslaught/early Heroes Reborn era, before Adam Kubert joins the book), Robin ranks a 5, and Wizard’s favorite indie comic at the moment, Hepcats, is a 5 (“No flash and all substance, this book goes for the jugular.”)
The titles meriting a “Read This Book!” this issue are JLA #2 and Lobo/Mask.
Top Ten Comics
No big surprises in the Top Ten back issues list; Kingdom Come, Witchblade, Onslaught bookend issues, X-Files, and Garth Ennis comics continue to dominate the list.
Top 100 - October 1996
Seven of the highest-ordered Top Ten books are Marvel titles; with the exception of Fantastic Four and Iron Man, they’re all X-books. Two of the Top Ten are Spawn titles and DC’s lone entry is the first issue of the DC/Marvel: All Access crossover miniseries. (So, you could argue that Marvel had eight of the Top Ten books.) Green Lantern is outselling all of the Batman and Superman titles this month, with both franchises dropping further down the list. Bad Girl titles such as Lady Death and Witchblade are selling competitively with the Spider-Man books, and beating pretty much all of DC’s output. It’s important to remember, however, that this chart merely lists direct-only sales. Batman and Superman were still performing well on newsstands, I assume.
Wizard Market Watch
Market Watch reports that Heroes Reborn titles are actually increasing in sales, with the #3 issues outselling issues #2 and #1. Meanwhile, Spider-Man back issues, such as the first McFarlane issues, are now “stone cold.”
Wizard’s Top Ten Hottest Writers are…
- Garth Ennis
- Mark Waid
- Peter David
- Neil Gaiman
- Scott Lobdell
- Kurt Busiek
- Karl Kesel
- Ron Marz
- James Robinson
- Chuck Dixon
Wizard’s Ten Hottest Artists are…
- Todd McFarlane (who is no longer penciling or inking Spawn at this date)
- Jim Lee
- Joe Madureira
- J. Scott Campbell
- Alex Ross
- Joe Quesada
- Billy Tucci
- Michael Turner
- Humberto Ramos
- Mike Wieringo
Top 10 Heroes & Villains of the Month
Spawn leads a list of the usual suspects, which include the major franchise heroes, some X-characters, and a few Bad Girls. Wizard remarks that Gambit “just ain’t as hot as he used to be” because he ranks down at Number Ten, and more evidence that the person (presumably Jim McLauchlin) writing this doesn’t touch the X-books, since he’s confused as to how X-Man could exist in the mainstream Marvel Universe.
As for the Mort of the Month, we have Kite-Man, a character that Wizard speculates owes his existence to “a double-dose of Nyquil.”
Mark Gruenwald is eulogized by his friend, Denny O’Neil.
So, what did we learn today?
- “Bottom line? You wanna get a tattoo? Go right ahead. No skin off my ass. Literally.” - Jim McLauchlin
- “I realistically don’t expect Jack Kirby’s Fourth World to last, and when that goes away, I plan to do a six-issue Next Men arc.” - John Byrne, current writer/artist of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World.
- “I think that’s something that we need to make clear. I will quit Image Comics…I will quit this industry…before I let that kid back in Image. You can put that in big bold letters. Over my dead body will that kid come back to Image Comics.” - Todd McFarlane, on the possibility of Rob Liefeld returning to Image.
- “Something is making these books disappear, and it’s not my mom who’s buying them.” - Jim Lee, on the success of Heroes Reborn.
- “Now I’m going to use this hopefully to write a comic book at DC…I’m just trying to get into comics, man.” - Kevin Smith, discussing his Superman Lives screenplay.
Nope: Mark Waid’s Empire never appears at Homage Comics…George Perez’s Crimson Plague only has one issue published by Event; the advertised six issues never appear…Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos don’t have a six-issue stint on Ash…a “pumped” Rob Liefeld doesn’t complete eight issues of Captain America and two of The Avengers. And Wizard’s “All Access” look at 1997’s comics offers a glimpse into some plans that never materialized. The Shi’ar/Phalanx storyline in Uncanny X-Men runs for around eight issues instead of the announced three, Gambit isn’t shaken by the death of someone close to him, and there is no “Trial of Xavier.” In Amazing Spider-Man, the Black Tarantula storyline is certainly not resolved by issue #425, nor does Sensational Spider-Man cross over with Incredible Hulk during its Savage Land storyline. Gen 13’s announced crossover with Batman, penciled by J. Scott Campbell (you can check out the one page created for it here), is another no-show, as is the Shi animated movie (described as “Akira meets Disney’s Pocahontas.”)
Before They Were Stars: Wizard asks cartoonist Frank Cho (whose Liberty Meadows strip is a few months away from national syndication) to report from the 1996 Small Press Expo. When he isn’t busy looking for booze, Cho questions Jeff Smith if “Bone will ever bag Thorn” and if Thorn will appear full-frontal in a future issue.
Sick Burn, Wizard: “Hey, you can only stare at Teri Hatcher so long before you begin hearing her dialogue.” - Wizard’s take on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.
Stuff Wizard Likes: Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives! (“Hey, read this book! Roger Stern had the best run on Spidey ever! See how Spider-Man is supposed to be written!” This is the period when Stern’s old Spider-Man comics are somehow referenced at least once an issue.)…Kingdom Come (considered a great book because it even featured those “abominations” the Super-Pets and got away with it)…and the Kesel/Nord Daredevil run (“the best current-continuity Marvel book being published today”).
Stuff Wizard Doesn’t Like: The Tarantula’s “dorky pointed boots”…“that Heroes Reborn hooey” (which thankfully isn’t impacting the Toy Biz action figures)…WB’s Superman cartoon going into reruns after only two weeks…and just how far Marvel’s fallen since the early ‘80s.
This Ain't HuffPo: Wizard is excited that Storm’s belly button is visible in her new action figure…compliments the bikini wax on a custom-made Dawn figure…wishes a mannequin dressed like Rogue “could come to life like Kim Cattrall in that movie”…declares Green Lantern a “sissy-ass” for being beaten by a girl (“A GIRL!?!”)…mocks “that damn sissy-boy Dr. Smith”…and prays that Elle Macpherson’s character in Batman & Robin will be “Skipping Rope-Nekkid Lass.”
I Love the ‘90s: Marvel and Ricton have released licensed beeper casings, featuring Spider-Man, the Punisher, Captain America, and more.
Pathological Scatological: Wizard has had something nasty cooking in its men’s room for the past year, and the caption joke for a Pitt trading card has Timmy lecturing Pitt about “upper deckers.”
Commercial Break: Scud is coming to Sega...
Cheap and Stupid and Trashy?: The big, thick issues of Wizard often do give you your money’s worth, and this is certainly one of the better ones. No other magazine is going to give you so many exclusives, cartoons, comedy pieces, and thoroughly researched articles for your dollar. The writing remains juvenile in places, and I personally dislike the sense of elitism that’s creeping in (DC is for the thinking man and Marvel’s for the dummies, apparently), but generally, this is good work.