The Guide to the Guide to Comics - WIZARD #68 (April 1997)

Erik Larsen is offending your mother in Savage Dragon, Adam Warren explains manga, the X-Men face “No Exit,” and did Denny O’Neil change comics forever?  All in the Guide to the Guide to Comics!

Are we all having the same thought…X-Man?!  I had absolutely no memory of X-Man ever gracing the cover of Wizard, although I have to acknowledge his book was a top-seller in 1997.  (It ranks at Number Thirteen on the Top 100 chart printed in this issue.)  It’s a testament to the fanbase the X-titles cultivated over the years that such a poorly conceived character, starring in a terminally directionless book, was able to enjoy so much commercial popularity.  I think X-Man was one of the first casualties of the internet, actually.  Clearly people were buying the title, but I think much of the fanbase was steeped in X-completism.  When readers began to gather together in online forums to discuss comics, X-Man seemed to be the overwhelming choice for worst mainstream comic.  Buying something out of habit or completism can only last so long when you’re faced with a daily reminder that you’re wasting your money on something that most people seem to view as garbage.  Marvel did make an effort to revamp the title in 2000, but when new management took over, X-Man was axed along with numerous “redundant” X-books.

As for the alternate cover, the more recognizable hero for the newsstand version is Superman…who isn’t very recognizable at the moment.  The Superman redesign is addressed in an article on revamps, which reveals that Karl Kesel only wanted to alter Superman’s powers, while Dan Jurgens pushed to totally redesign the hero.  (Wizard indicates Kesel wasn’t happy with this decision.)  Everyone involved seems to be treating the change as permanent, and not a temporary alteration to the status quo.

In this issue of Wizard, we have features on...Top Cow’s new The Darkness series, the aforementioned X-Man title, the edgy material permeating Savage Dragon lately, major manga releases, a look at Superman’s new costume, and an Andy Kubert interview to promote Ka-Zar.

The Standards include Basic Training, Toy Chest, Trailer Park, Palmer’s Picks (this month’s pick is John Lewis’ Spectacles), 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.

From the Top…

Gareb Shamus announces that Toyfare will debut as a monthly series in the summer.  I don’t plan on reviewing Toyfare, but for historical significance, we should note that Toyfare developed a loyal fan following and is a direct influence on Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken.

Magic Words

Jim McLauchlin is still receiving letters from irate tattoo lovers, who resent his belief that tattoos couldn’t have existed “since the dawn of time,” contrary to what their letters claim.  He explains his reasoning, as he begs people to just leave him alone about this: “At the dawn of time…there were no people!  Therefore, no people to invent the tattoo!  No people to get tattooed!  Understand?”

Wizard News

Leading the news pages is the announcement of the upcoming X-Men crossover “No Exit,” which is eventually released as “Operation: Zero Tolerance.”  Scott Lobdell is under the impression that this event will be on the scale of 1991’s “Mutant Genesis,” which had the New Mutants graduate into X-Force, a united X-Men, and a new government-sponsored X-Factor team.  In reality, Marvel got cold feet, Scott Lobdell’s relationship with Bob Harras was strained, and ultimately, the X-Men weren’t much different than they were before the crossover.

In other news…David Michelinie is leaving the Superman titles, citing his frustration with always writing the middle chapters of storylines…Superman’s powers and costume are radically changing (in spite of rumors, Michelinie says this isn’t his reason for leaving)…Marvel has announced Flashback Month…Joe Quesada has released the cover to the Azrael/Ash one-shot…Peter Bagge and R. Crumb will parody Cathy in Hate #27 (you can read a NSFW summary of the issue here)…and Wolverine’s nose will reappear in upcoming issues of his comic.

In a Wizard News Special Report, Patrick Daniel O’Neill answers questions raised by Marvel’s recent announcement that it’s entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy, such as “Will Marvel still publish my favorite comics?” and “Who is Ron Perelman?”

The Heat of the Night

A straightforward hype piece for The Darkness, which feels like it was custom-made to appeal to Wizard -- Silvestri art, cheesecake, Pulp Fiction-style mob violence, and of course, Garth Ennis.  The piece is written with the confidence that Ennis is deeply invested in this title and sticking with it forever…until the final few paragraphs casually reveal that Ennis has departed the book and Witchblade’s writing team is taking over.

Cable Guy

A profile on X-Man, which attempts to summarize the aimless plots of the previous two years, while writer Terry Kavanagh teases upcoming storylines that will prove just as disappointing.  (Remember when X-Man was determined to save Bishop from himself?  No?  Well, Kavanagh thinks it’s going to serve as “Nate’s sole motivation” for the next year.)  The article is followed by a flowchart that is essentially an excuse to beat up on Marvel.

Shock Treatment

Erik Larsen is profiled, with an article that focuses on Larsen’s decision to make Savage Dragon edgier.  Inspired by pre-Code comics that Larsen says you had to hide from your parents, he’s pushed the boundaries of language, sex, and violence in recent issues of the book.  Larsen states that one line he won’t cross is actual female nudity (he sneaks it in a few years later as a background gag), before moving on to discuss the Savage Dragon cartoon (“I don’t think it’s lousy.  I think it’s terrible.”), and his recent decision to drop his “Highbrow” imprint (he didn’t think it’d be appropriate after helping Colleen Doran publish A Distant Soil at Image to imply that he was actually working on the book by sticking his caricature in each issue.)  In a sidebar on the future of the book, Larsen says that he’d like to one day have Dragon’s son take over the comic, although any specific details on upcoming issues are always unclear.  “When I’m really clueless about what to do in an issue, that’s when I call somebody up and ask if I can guest-star their character.  That’s when you can tell I’ve totally lost it.”

I actually think the intro to the Dragon cartoon doesn't look bad at all...

Casting Call

Hoping that a big budget studio flick would make amends for the TV version, Wizard casts a Generation X movie.  A few of these actors are actual teenagers in 1997!

Rebecca DeMornay as Emma Frost

Ralph Fiennes as Banshee

Lacey Chabert as Jubilee

Rachel True (The Craft) as M

Reese Witherspoon as Husk

Vicellous Reon Shannon (Dangerous Minds) as Synch

Stephen Dorff as Chamber

Michael DeLorenzo (New York Undercover) as Skin

Thora Birch as Penance

Shaun Weiss (The Mighty Ducks) as Mondo

Andrew Braugher as the voice of Emplate, with ILM creating him with special effects.

And finally…Andy Dick as Emplate’s sidekick D.O.A., based on the premise that he’s annoying enough.

Rising Suns

A feature article on upcoming manga releases (in addition to the monthly Manga Scene column, and Adam Warren’s tutorial this issue).  Wizard hopes to educate its readers that manga isn’t just “chicks with big eyes” and “insect robots having sex.”

Making Changes

The revamp of Superman’s powers and costume inspires an article on the subject of revamps, looking at everything from Aquaman’s missing hand to the Spider-Clone.  The article focuses on the importance of reinventing established characters periodically in order to maintain interest, but doesn’t address the fact that superhero comics have almost always operated under “illusion of change.”  The ‘90s saw the spread of extended “illusion of change” arcs; I believe Denny O’Neil created the concept by replacing Batman with Azrael, and even though it was sold with conviction, he knew it was only a temporary move.  (Although it could be argued that Mark Gruenwald beat him to it in the late ‘80s with “Captain America No More!”  I’m just not sure if Gruenwald always had plans to bring Steve Rogers back as Captain America.  And yet, even before this storyline, O’Neil had Tony Stark replaced as Iron Man, and even before that he created John Stewart, so perhaps he still holds the distinction of inventing this trope.)

“Temporary” used to mean for an issue or two -- O’Neil had the vision to see how these ideas could work over the course of a few years.  Now, the multi-year “illusion” stories are commonplace.  We all know that Thor won’t be female forever, but some people are still willing to play along and act outraged, and Marvel gains the publicity it needs to keep Thor alive until the next movie comes along.  Speaking of the movies, every pro interviewed is adamant that movie adaptations don’t impact comics and never will.  Given that the industry pretty much revolves around the movies now, this is another attitude that’s shifted.  When a character is in-between films, something crazy will probably happen, but as soon as that next movie is out, all of a sudden Dr. Octopus isn’t Spider-Man anymore…

Basic Training

Adam Warren delivers a lesson on “the manga style.”  Much of this art is in pencil, foreshadowing Warren’s later work on Empowered.  I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s odd in retrospect that Marvel didn’t pursue Warren to do more work during the height of Joe Madureira’s popularity.  Seems as if he could’ve given them exactly what they wanted…not only would he appear to be a logical choice to replace Madureira on Uncanny X-Men, but Warren could’ve given Marvel a stylish Spider-Man revamp following the clone days.


The Toy Chest

More Star Wars toys (including a Lay’s Potato Chips exclusive of Obi-Wan’s ghost) are being released…Toy Biz has swapped out Storm’s hair in the latest run of her “Robot Fighters” figure to match her new style…Wizard had to return most of the coupons for their Molten Man exclusive, due to unexpected reader demand…and Lightning Comics is entering the toy business with Skybolt Toyz.  (A non-nude Hellina figure runs for ten bucks.)  Finally, can you guess which action figure stills tops Wizard’s wish list?

The Skinny

Based on a 1-6 ranking (6 as the best, 1 as the worst), this issue X-Man, Savage Dragon, Preacher, and Batman & Robin Adventures are reviewed.  X-Man merits a 3, Savage Dragon is a 4, Preacher is apparently a perfect comic and ranks a 6, and Batman & Robin Adventures is given a 3.

Every time I read Wizard of this era critique the X-books, I’m reminded of all of the brave, sweeping changes Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas made when they took over Marvel.  All of the things they “had to fix” came directly from Wizard’s criticisms.  And Wizard’s review of X-Man is just absurd.  The problem with X-Man is most certainly the character himself, and not the backstory that led to him joining the mainstream Marvel Universe.  How is “refugee from an alternate timeline” any more confusing than the basic premise behind Preacher, or most other comics?  X-Man was a terrible comic because the lead barely had a personality, had no clear direction, no real motivation, and no consistent supporting cast from issue to issue.  None of those problems have anything to do with alternate timelines.  As for Batman & Robin Adventures, I have to disagree with Wizard’s opinion that the book lacks the depth of its predecessor, Batman Adventures.  If anything, I think Ty Templeton’s stories tended to have more character and personality than the ones that preceded his issues.


Upcoming releases highlighted include Batman: The Long Halloween #6 and Leave it to Chance #5.  In the preview of Thunderbolts #2, the characters are referred to as “slimeballs,” which kinda ruins the surprise at the end of #1 (which has an April 1997 cover date.  How long had it been on sale when this issue was released?)

Trailer Park

John Semper states that Spider-Man’s upcoming “Six Forgotten Warriors” is his idea of what a Spider-Man movie should be, only serialized as a cartoon.  (This is the story that brought us the Russian Electro, I believe.)…Shirley Walker, known for her work on Batman and Superman, will be scoring the Spawn animated series…Roy Thomas will be the co-producer of the upcoming Conan: The Adventurer live-action series…and Vampirella will possibly star in another movie.  I’m assuming this promotional photo of actress Talisa Soto was supposed to have two objects airbrushed out…

Top Ten Comics

Wizard declares that the following are the hottest back issues in the country.  There are a few comics I haven’t mentioned before, but the overall trends are the same:  Bad Girls, Garth Ennis, and Kingdom Come.

  1. Witchblade #1
  2. Darkchylde #1
  3. Preacher #1
  4. Witchblade #2
  5. JLA #1
  6. Hitman #1
  7. Astro City (Vol. 2) #1
  8. Fantastic Four #1
  9. The Darkness #1
  10. Kingdom Come #1


Top 100 - January 1997

X-Men #62 tops the list, presumably because it’s Carlos Pacheco’s first issue, and not for the Shang-Chi guest appearance.  With the exception of Spawn and Gen 13 books, the Top 20 is dominated by X-books and Heroes Reborn titles.  Deadpool #3 ranks at Number 25; as Wizard points out, it’s outselling most of the Spider-Man books, and all of the Batman and Superman titles.

Wizard Market Watch

The Market Watch warns about counterfeit versions of Cry of Dawn #1, covers the controversy surrounding Superman’s new look, and addresses a pressing issue amongst fans -- Do trade paperback reprint books hurt the value of the original comics?  Wizard asserts that trades don’t hurt back issue prices, because collectors want the original versions of the stories.

Wizard’s Top Ten Hottest Writers are…

  1. Garth Ennis
  2. Mark Waid
  3. Scott Lobdell
  4. Peter David
  5. Kurt Busiek
  6. Ron Marz
  7. Karl Kesel
  8. Chuck Dixon
  9. Tom Peyer
  10. Tom McCraw

Neil Gaiman disappears from the list for perhaps the first time, following the ending of Sandman.  Also, I’m not sure what metric would’ve placed the two Legion writers on the Top 10 in early 1997.  I can’t even find those books on the Top 100 list.  Was this a particularly well-regarded era by Legion fans?

Wizard’s Ten Hottest Artists are…

  1. Jim Lee
  2. Joe Madureira
  3. J. Scott Campbell
  4. Alex Ross
  5. Carlos Pacheco
  6. Greg Capullo
  7. Marc Silvestri
  8. Chris Bachalo
  9. Adam Kubert
  10. Howard Porter

It looks as if Todd McFarlane has been officially removed from the list, now that he’s no longer penciling or inking Spawn.  Also, this is one of the very few artists lists not to feature Joe Quesada.

Wizard Price Guide

If the write-up in Picks didn’t do enough to ruin the surprise ending of Thunderbolts #1, the “Buried Treasure” blurb in the Price Guide outright spoils it, with Wizard declaring that they didn’t think much of the series when it was announced, but were blown away by the twist ending that revealed the Thunderbolts were actually the Masters of Evil.  (Spoilers for Thunderbolts #1, by the way.)

Top 10 Heroes & Villains of the Month

With the exception of Spider-Man, you get the impression that the writer of this feature doesn’t care for any of the characters on the list.  That’s the odd disconnect of Wizard during this period -- it’s still reaching the same audience of Spawn fanatics that made the magazine so popular, but the editorial content is usually dedicated to Bronze Age nostalgia or outright mockery of the fads of the day.

(That Witchblade write-up is pretty darn ‘90s.)

So, what did we learn today?

Money Quotes:

  • “Marvel’s characters would be attractive to many entertainment conglomerates, including Viacom (parent of Paramount Pictures) and News Corp (which owns Twentieth Century Fox and Fox TV).” - Wizard Special News report on Marvel’s bankruptcy.
  • “Curiously, Nate’s reluctance to accept the X-Men is mirrored by some X-Men readers who are staying clear of X-Man…This is most evident when every time a new thread starts up on the Internet about the rumored death of an X-Man, Nate’s name tops the list.” - Text from “Cable Guy,” which hints at just how unpopular Nate (X-Man) will become online.
  • “I really don’t feel any obligation to cater to the kiddie-crowd with a toned-down The Savage Dragon Adventures with cartoony artwork.  I know there are people out there who feel that’s irresponsible, but…f--- ‘em.” - Erik Larsen
  • “But, like most revamps that preceded them, the creators say the revamp is here to say.” - text from Making Change, which is followed by quotes from the Superman team declaring that altering his powers and look isn’t a temporary change to the status quo.
  • “It’s really cool.  I’ve always wanted to do something like Watchmen.” - John Semper on Spider-Man’s upcoming “Six Forgotten Warriors” arc.

Nope:  Scott Lobdell never returns to Generation X, following James Robinson’s guest run…Todd McFarlane declares that Spawn’s next crossover will be “huge” (no clue who it was supposed to co-star)…Alan Moore doesn’t write a Gen 13 Christmas-themed one-shot…Todd Dezago never gets around to writing that story about Spider-Man and MJ encountering the Looter on a cruise ship (it’s teased more than once in Sensational Spider-Man, and Dezago even thinks at this point that it will serve as the impetus for a Spider-title crossover)…Tigra also doesn’t guest star in Sensational Spider-Man…Wolverine does not gain a new costume in Wolverine #114, nor does issue #113 feature a Kitty Pryde guest appearance…Freak Force never stars in that second ongoing series, just a mini…Generation X #27 doesn’t feature the team on a nuclear submarine that’s ready to attack Europe…Burger King never has a promotional tie-in with the ‘90s Superman film, because it’s never produced…Top Cow’s animated comedy Subculture never airs on FOX…and Strangers in Paradise never makes it to television.

Stuff Wizard Likes:  Preacher.  And DC back issues from the ‘80s.

Stuff Wizard Doesn’t Like:  The Dallas Cowboys, the Generation X tele-film, the prospect of Swamp Thing teaming up with Aquaman, Karl Kesel leaving Daredevil after only a few issues, Maximum Clonage, and Marvel’s current crop of writers, who rely “on the shock value of tearing down the good of Marvel.”

This Ain’t HuffPo:  “For the tough pyrotechnic Jubilee, we figured we could get away with not using an Asian teen actress” - the magazine’s justification for casting Lacey Chabert in the role…the thought of Lucy Lawless covered in green paint is accompanied by a “hubba hubba!”…a Thor toy is given a thought balloon, declaring that he “hath not bagged a babe in a fortnight;” he then states that Cap shouldn’t have placed Mantis next to him in the team photo…and “Even though she’s fat and stuff, we’ve got Alicia Silverstone in spandex running across rooftops. And Robin” - Wizard’s alternate title for Batman & Robin.

Sick Burn, Wizard:  CBIQ quiz question -- When did Black Knight and Exodus first meet?  Answer:  “Back when Black Knight was part of that God-awful Ultraforce in that God-awful Ultraverse.”

I Love the ‘90s:  Astro City is more popular than the Macarena at a cheesy dance club.

Vive la France:  After months of escaping Wizard’s wrath, one little jab at the French is tossed in.  The possibility of Wetworks’ benefactor being French is listed as an alternative to him being a vampire or werewolf.

Pathological Scatological:  Barely anything fits the technical definition of scatological this issue, but there are a few instances of questionable taste, such as references to a supervillain’s name sounding like a brand of sanitary napkin, and Lois Lane hiding a “massager” during her honeymoon.

Cheap and Stupid and Trashy?:  By this point, I feel justified in my theory that Wizard’s views on Spider-Man and the X-Men directly influenced the next regime at Marvel.  And Wizard’s constant harping on X-Man’s horribly “confusing” origin (three separate references this issue) just comes across as lazy.  X-Man’s origin is filled with implausible events, yes, but none of them are “confusing.”  You can follow the events, it’s just that they’re all steeped in fantasy, whereas most comic origins only have one implausible element (such as a radioactive spider.)  The mantra that X-books are just so confusing and no one can understand them was a Wizard standard during these days.  As Fabian Nicieza has pointed out, Marvel was selling these books to a large audience of kids who didn’t seem to be confused at all.  Anyway, it’s another issue of Wizard from its jaded hipster era.  The humor is less crude, relatively speaking, and I have to say that the promotional pieces aren’t so bad -- at least there is some pushback on what the creators are doing, and an acknowledgment that even behind-the-scenes, not everyone agrees on the latest event storyline.  Wizard is still Wizard, though, so I’m bracing myself for a year of Darkchylde hype.

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