Wizard lectures Grant Morrison on how to handle the JLA, unveils the Kingdom Come sex scene, and keeps the Hal vs. Kyle debate alive, all while Jerry Seinfeld uses Superman to sell something besides peanut butter. All in the Guide to the Guide to Comics!
I’ve included the polybag’s blurbs in the cover scan this time, simply because the Spider-Man tombstone makes me laugh. Both of the covers are about as mainstream as it gets, so I can’t say which was intended for the direct market. This issue of Wizard sees Last Man Standing, a “who would win?” feature, take the place of Wizard’s long-running trading card column. I’m not sure if either added much to the magazine, but Last Man Standing did at least feature new art commissioned by Wizard each issue. The overall design of the magazine has also been updated since the last issue we’ve covered; Wizard usually updated its look every year or so during this era.
In this month’s Wizard, we have features on...Dan Clowes’ Eightball, alumni of the Joe Kubert School, Kurt Busiek and Sean Chen’s Iron Man, the ongoing Hal vs. Kyle debate, an examination of the JLA’s new roster and if it spells the end of the book, and an Erik Larsen interview.
The Standards include Basic Training (with Liam Sharp), Toy Chest, Coming Attractions, Manga Scene, Last Man Standing, Report Card (formerly “The Skinny”), and Card Market. Plus, letters, fan art, opinion pieces, trivia, Top 10 lists, a cartoon calendar by Brian Douglas Ahern, Time Travel, and market information. The trading card feature, Card Market, is gone this issue. Random comics-related stuff you can buy, such as Spawn mouse pads, is now listed in the appropriately entitled “Stuff.” These items used to be grouped in with video games in the Junk Drawer feature, but Wizard has spun video games off into their own column for what feels like the fifth time.
The origin of the running “I like pie.” joke, and the revelation of Kingdom Come’s sex scene, all in the left-hand side of one page of the letter column.
We also have the history of Superman’s S-shield, discussion of a possible animated Lady Death film (which actually did happen, although it premiered years after her popularity peaked), Christopher Priest refusing to confirm why he changed his name, and the definition of the “Mort of the Month”…which Jim McLauchlin says is a character that would be better off dead. Other eagle-eyed readers have picked up on Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel’s hints that Nightwing is a Christian, and the cameo appearance by Jack Larson in Jerry Seinfeld’s Superman-themed American Express commercial.
Looking for this on Youtube, I learned that Seinfeld continued to make these, I’m assuming as five-minute shorts that ran during the Super Bowl.
No shortage of news this month. The lead story is Marvel’s (specifically Ralph Macchio’s) proclamation that “the entire Spider-Man saga will end in September.” This is the announcement of John Byrne’s year-long origin revamp, later named Chapter One, along with the cancellation of two of the monthly titles. Howard Mackie will remain on the titles as the sole current-continuity Spider-Man writer. And the collective response was…is “outrage” too strong a word?
At this date, continuity was still considered sacred by Marvel fans, so few readers seemed thrilled at the prospect of having Spider-Man’s origin reworked (even though it’s something that has happened, I’m going to guess, five times since 1998.) The few defenders of Chapter One cited Daredevil: Man Without Fear as precedent, which wasn’t totally invalid as an argument, but did little to turn people around to the idea.
It is true that Frank Miller pulled a similar trick with Daredevil: Man Without Fear, but 1) Daredevil’s first issue had barely been reprinted, and wasn’t deemed “classic” in the same manner as Amazing Fantasy #15, 2) Man Without Fear only played around with the timeline of Daredevil #1, while Byrne’s project rewrites the first eighteen issues of Amazing Spider-Man, and 3) Marvel didn’t initially consider Man Without Fear to be official canon (although it seems Bob Harras, who took over later, wasn’t aware of this rule.) The idea that Marvel continuity, especially Spider-Man continuity, was being violated in some way made many fans furious. John Byrne has maintained that his revamped origin was conceived as a standalone series that readers could ignore if they chose, but the backlash led Marvel to make Chapter One “official” by having plot elements cross over into the main books. This logic has always escaped me…we know people say they hate it, so we’re going to force them to accept it?
There’s also the questionable move to maintain a writer who’s been on the titles since 1991 and the editor who failed to reignite interest in the books after the clone storyline’s conclusion, even as you’re trying to create the impression that you’re cleaning house and starting fresh. As for Macchio’s melodramatic proclamation that “the entire Spider-Man saga will end in September” -- this was possibly a reference to the original plan, which was to have the Shaper of Worlds transport Peter Parker back to his days as a teenager. The rest of the Marvel Universe would warp in compliance, and the Ditko-era Peter would be back for good. As distasteful as this idea might sound, I’ll at least give it credit for being honest about what it’s trying to do (and for being easy for the next creative team to undo.)
In other news…Awesome is cancelling most of its line, leaving behind what are deemed its three most profitable titles -- The Coven, Menace, and Re:Gex (Rob Liefeld says that as president, he can cut his rate enough to make him the least expensive penciler for the company.) The array of talent Wizard boasted about a few issues ago has been released from their contracts. The legal question of who has full ownership of Rob Liefeld’s creations isn’t addressed in the article, but becomes an issue later.
In other, other news…Peter David has left Incredible Hulk after 12 years. The cheery quote that Bobbie Chase gives to indicate that David isn’t upset because he’s working on a new Hulk miniseries just upsets David further, leaving that project uncompleted…Kevin Smith is announced as the new Green Arrow writer, although his first issue is literally years away…Spider-Man’s new identities from Identity Crisis will spin off into Slingers…Acclaim Comics is dropping traditional thirty-two page comics, and will experiment with magazines and web-comics (Quantum & Woody will allegedly live on, online)…and a group of DC editors gather together in a special feature to remember the legacy of Archie Goodwin.
Last Man Standing
I’m not a fan of “Who would win?” arguments, so I doubt I’ll cover this feature very often. I will say that this issue, Wizard has commissioned Graham Nolan to pencil a stylish Batman vs. Daredevil image. And that Wizard is confident that Batman will soundly defeat Daredevil.
Behind the Eightball
Wizard is still committed to doing pieces on independent comics, and to my surprise, placing them in the front of the magazine. Dan Clowes is interviewed to discuss Eightball, described in a sidebar as “The Wonder Years meets The Real World meets Twin Peaks.” Clowes is praised for his willingness to satirize the comics industry, and even himself, and Wizard is correct in predicting that Ghost World will become a feature film.
The Man in the Iron Mask
A promotional piece for the Heroes Return era of Iron Man. At this date, Iron Man was still being reintroduced to readers after years of occupying Marvel’s backbench. It’s interesting to see how his personality was perceived -- Wizard describes Tony Stark as being “low-key” and Kurt Busiek views Iron Man as a way for Tony to avoid finesse, which the business world requires of him, and just tackle issues. You mean Tony Stark isn’t a grown man-baby with a ready quip for any situation? Busiek is asked to explain Tony’s motivation and explains that he acts out of “chivalry” and that Tony risks his life as Iron Man because he loves a challenge, but also because he has “bags of honor.” So Iron Man isn’t a fascist bully with non-existent people skills? Comics were crazy in 1998, I’m telling you…
It seems as if Wizard has also commissioned Darryl Banks and Terry Austin to create a “Hal vs. Kyle” image for this article. The inspiration for this feature is not only Hal Jordan’s promised return in Green Lantern #100, but also the online group H.E.A.T., which has placed thousands of dollars into an ad campaign dedicated to convincing DC to revive Hal Jordan as the Green Lantern. Just looking back, it’s fascinating to watch the evolution of online fan outrage. H.E.A.T. began with demands that Kyle Rayner be removed from the title, that writer Ron Marz and editor Kevin Dooley be fired, and it’s reported that some members even made death threats against the creators and their family members.
Facing criticism, H.E.A.T. toned down their methods and softened their stance on Kyle, stopped calling for anyone to be fired, and changed their name from “Hal’s Emerald Attack Team” to “Hal’s Emerald Advancement Team.” And as silly as all of this sounds today, and as terribly as some people behaved, I’m not going to pretend that Hal’s fans didn’t have a reason to be angry. DC’s treatment of the character was cavalier, needlessly cynical, and clearly an attempt to mimic other “daring” storylines featuring more popular DC heroes of the era. In this sidebar, Ron Marz answers the fans’ charges:
In an online poll, Wizard reports that Kyle edges out Hal as the more popular hero, winning 50.1% of the vote. More surprising is a follow-up question, which has 70% of respondents saying that Hal should not be resurrected and reclaim the Green Lantern role. So who was buying that Geoff Johns series? Did fans’ tastes change that much in five years? Also, how would a Barry vs. Wally poll have gone? If 70% of readers didn’t want Hal back, how many would’ve ever voted for Barry -- who honestly went out a hero -- to return?
Another Wizard opinion piece, this one with the premise that DC is already screwing up the relaunched JLA series. What makes this one different, and more tolerable, is that each charge made by Wizard is answered by writer Grant Morrison and editor Dan Raspler. Nothing they say changes Wizard’s opinion that “the new roster calls for concern, spinoffs are hot ‘n’ heavy, and the stories can be difficult to follow,” but JLA continues to receive the Wizard seal of approval…so long as it sticks to its four criteria for what JLA should be. Wizard’s rules are: focus on the original seven (Wizard seems to truly hate any effort to introduce new members, fearing that the book will again turn into the Detroit League), don’t “wimp out” on storylines (which they accuse Morrison of doing lately), more character interaction, and fewer spinoffs.
Just the tone of this is irritating -- I realize that an opinion piece has to be confident in the points it’s making, but the tenor of these features comes across as the Wizard staff lecturing the peons on how to do their jobs. Don’t you dare violate Wizard’s sacred list of Four Important JLA Rules, Grant Morrison…not if you know what’s good for you!
The Wizard Q&A
Erik Larsen (who was also writing an online E.G.O. column for Wizard at this time, but it doesn’t seem to be archived) is interviewed. Wizard did a decent amount of promotion for Savage Dragon during these days, because so many of its editorial staff were fans, which helped the book stay visible while many of the other initial Image launches seemed to disappear. Larsen explains his philosophy on storytelling, such as saving surprises for the left-hand pages and not the right, and his artistic cheats, such as staging shots so that he doesn’t have to draw cars. Larsen is also questioned about the proposals he submitted for Incredible Hulk and Aquaman, both titles that were previously written by his letter column rival, Peter David. Larsen asserts that having him follow David is like Dr. Doom following Reed Richards on a book -- you’d at least want to know what he’s going to do. And DC did hire Larsen to take over Aquaman, which led to Larsen giving fans on his message board a rather blunt look at what it was like to work for DC during this era. He didn’t last on the book for long.
The recent relaunch of Alpha Flight is still popular around the Wizard offices, so here are their picks for a hypothetical movie:
Ben Affleck as Guardian
Danny Woodburn (Conan) as Puck
The Wampa (from Empire Strikes Back) as Sasquatch
‘90s lingerie model Yasmeen Ghauri as Murmur
Gillian Anderson as Vindicator
Mark Wahlberg (described as a “shirtless nuisance”) as Radius
Edward Norton as Flex
Dustin Nguyen (21 Jump Street) as Sunfire
Pete Postlethwaite (The Lost World) as General Clarke
Dylan McDermott as Scorpio
Mariska Hargitay as Diamond Lil
Keanu Reeves as Northstar (Wizard speculates that Reeves “might walk away with an Oscar for his efforts”…whoa!)
Kelsey Grammer as Mesmero
And the “sneering and egotistical” Dennis Miller as The Master
The Hollywood column undergoes another name change (its most recent name was “Trailer Park”), as it is moved to a more prominent position in the magazine. The subtitle given the feature this month -- “Coming soon to a theatre, TV, etc. near you…maybe” -- acknowledges that many of these announced projects will never surface. The look of the column (and probably the entire magazine, now that I think about it) is starting to resemble Entertainment Weekly, which was actually quite popular at this time. The “Winners & Losers” blurb feels like it was swiped directly out of EW in 1998.
The lead feature this month is a look at the new Batman animated series by Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, and Paul Dini. The series is still months away, so even though the costume has already been designed, other elements are altered before its debut…the hero’s name isn’t “Terry McGavin”…the name of the series isn’t Batman Tomorrow…and this alleged “lighter tone” that the WB network wants is never delivered.
The rest of the column is hype for the upcoming Godzilla movie, a round-up on the status of various genre projects (including the first hints that the Captain America series might not happen), and a retrospective on the various Superman references on Seinfeld over the years.
By popular demand, Wizard has revived its multi-page fan art segment. The entries this month are finalists in a contest that had fans imagining what various Marvel characters would look like after being bombarded with gamma radiation. The winner is “Omega Green,” a Hulked out version of the X-villain Omega Red. The winner receives an Adam Kubert drawing of their new creation…but since it’s in black and white, the central joke is kind of lost.
We’ve been hearing about this Youngblood game for around four years now. Will it finally arrive on July 2, 1998? Will we read its review in Electronic Gaming Monthly while waiting in line for that Johnny Depp Hulk film?
Top 10 Heroes & Villains of the Month
The lone surviving Bad Girl on the list is Witchblade, although she is in the top slot. The rest of the list is unremarkable, except for Deadpool firmly taking the slot previously occupied by Spider-Man, and Jack-in-the-Box making the Top 10. I’m assuming his spotlight arc in Astro City was well-liked around the offices. The Mort of the Month is another shot at ‘60s DC -- the Shaggy Man is “a *yawn* mindless brute that attacked anything that moved” except, unfortunately, his creator.
The “Book of the Month” is Major Bummer #12, and the “On the Edge” pick is Craig Conlan’s Hairy Mary. The final Pick this month is a preview of the never-released Youngblood #4. Apparently, the script has leaked online.
“The Skinny” has been renamed and revamped to provide an A+ to F- rating system, the kind you would see on a kid’s report card…or pretty much any page of Entertainment Weekly. This issue, JLA: Year One (#1-5, graded as an A+), Daredevil (#368-375, graded as a C+), Lobo (#43-50, graded as an F), and Bone (#26-31, shockingly dismissed with a C-) are reviewed. Wizard feels that the pace of Bone has slowed to a crawl, thanks to the regular series of trade paperbacks. The phrase “writing for the trade” doesn’t exist yet, but Wizard calls out the book for being “formatted solely to be repackaged.”
Wizard Market Watch
The Bat-event “Cataclysm” is doing better than expected, the Heroes Return launch of Avengers is the highest selling HR book, and Awesome’s The Coven is “drawing more readers into its fold monthly.” The Buried Treasure of the month is the first comics appearance of KISS in Howard the Duck #13.
Wizard’s Ten Hottest Writers are…
- Kurt Busiek
- Joe Kelly
- Grant Morrison
- Mark Waid
- Peter David
- Garth Ennis
- Steven T. Seagle
- Christina Z.
- Scott Lobdell
- Alan Moore
Wizard’s Ten Hottest Artists are…
- Michael Turner
- Jim Lee
- Joe Madureira
- Alex Ross
- Adam Kubert
- J Scott Campbell
- Andy Kubert
- Marc Silvestri
- Lenil Yu
- Chris Bachalo
Top Ten Comics
Wizard has mercy on whoever had to write multi-paragraph write-ups of the same back issues each month for this column -- it’s now been cut in size to only one page. The list is the typical blend of Top Cow, X-Men, Jim Lee, and early JLA issues. The only surprise is the first issue of KISS: The Psycho Circus at Number Three.
Top 100 - March 1998
The highest-selling new comic of the month is X-Men #75, penciled by “newcomer artist” German Garcia. Wizard says we should keep an eye on Garcia, and I do agree that his X-Men work was impressive, but I have no idea what happened to him. The rest of the Top 10 includes the other two “main” X-books (Uncanny and Wolverine), the Heroes Return titles, JLA, and the debut of Danger Girl at #5. Meanwhile, the “Identity Crisis” crossover has bumped Spider-Man sales up 10%, and Batman and Superman books continue to fight it out in the 30-50 chart positions. Number 82 on the list is a Thing/She-Hulk special that I think was shelved at the last minute, and then shipped years later when someone remembered that it featured Bryan Hitch art. (Some aspects of the comic were considered controversial when it was produced; Sean Kleefield has original art scans on his blog.)
Off the Cuff
The old Wizard Profile is replaced by this sidebar, which runs in the pages leading up to the Price Guide. Future Robot Chicken co-creator Matt Senreich interviews his childhood friend Joe Madureira and they have a disagreement over pretzel vs. cracker Combos.
Comic Book Price Guide
Like every other aspect of the magazine, the Price Guide has also received a makeover. The “We Read It For You” blurb at the bottom is still around, but now every page of the price guide highlights a specific comic. Pages on the left-hand are “Good Readin’” back issue picks, while right-hand pages feature a “Famous First,” such as the debut of the Venom formula in Legends of the Dark Knight #16. The price guide still seems reluctant to admit that the back issue market has crashed, however -- Youngblood #1 has only dropped from $5.00 to $4.50, and Curse of the Spawn #1 is going for the pretty outrageous price of $8.50.
So, what did we learn today?
- “I guess not. If there were, I’d still be on the book.” - Peter David, when asked if there was room to compromise with Marvel on Incredible Hulk’s new direction.
- “Everyone in the comics industry is worthy of some sort of ridicule.” - Dan Clowes
- “I just plain like to draw big knockers.” - Erik Larsen, when asked if his depiction of the female form was intended as parody.
- “Yet a number of companies are banking on Godzilla being this summer’s sure-fire blockbuster…” - text from Coming Attractions.
Nope: Marvel drops the initial title Spider-Man: Twice-Told Tales for Spider-Man: Chapter One…the rumored X-spinoff, which “will not involve mutant characters” and will feature designs by Michael Golden and Mike Wieringo never surfaces (and I have no clue what this was going to be)… Mike Wieringo never takes over Incredible Hulk (it seems that the plan at one point was to keep Joe Casey as the writer and pair him with ‘Ringo; instead, it was rebooted with John Byrne and Ron Garney)…in spite of editor Bobbie Chase’s claims, the intelligent Hulk does disappear from the book after David’s departure; it’s my understanding that Bob Harras was adamant about reviving the “Hulk Smash!” incarnation…Carlos Pacheco’s Avengers project isn’t named World in Chains (the concept was abandoned during the plotting stages,because it was deemed too similar to Mutant X; more info here)…Black Widow doesn’t become a regular cast member in Iron Man, thanks to her appearances in Daredevil…the resolution of the “Teen Tony” mystery isn’t revealed in an Iron Man: A Look Back in Armor special…and the two Savage Dragon/Superman crossover books ship years later than August 1998.
Stuff Wizard Likes/Doesn’t Like: Wow, this is easier than ever to summarize, thanks to the “Thumbing Off” feature, which was in no way inspired by a certain column in TV Guide, or half of the blurbs in, you guessed it, Entertainment Weekly …
I also add that Valiant back issues, the early issues of Youngblood (compared to a loose bowel movement), the JLA’s opponents from their initial arc, and the White Rabbit storyline from Spectacular Spider-Man are all trashed.
This Ain’t HuffPo: Fan art of Rogue has a “mrrooowrr!” caption…superhero readers are described as having “more complex, shifting alliances than middle-school girls”…Iron Man’s ability to score chicks is questioned due to his face mask…a “cursory examination” of Witchblade’s anatomy is demanded…a Tomb Raider trivia question is interrupted by a request for the address of “that Nude Raider site”…and this issue features more midget references than usual.
Naughty: Wizard is concerned that hiding “little” Iron Man under the armor hurts his chances with the ladies…fantasizes about the kind of bondage the JLA will experience in issue #20 of their title…accuses the Black Canary and Flash of checking into a hotel that charges by the hour…and a Top 10 list gives us the names of comic characters who sound more like porn stars. Angar the Screamer tops the list.
Vive la France: France is off the hook this issue.
Pathological Scatological: An alternate definition of “Asgard” is given as “something given to particularly flatulent people, especially right after eating Mexican food”…a homemade Phantom action figure is resting on his throne/toilet…and we learn more details about the brownies laced with laxative that were left by Wizard’s water cooler.
Cheap and Stupid and Trashy?: I don’t want to harp on this Entertainment Weekly thing, but it’s difficult to read the issue and not see that influence. It’s no secret that Wizard desires mainstream acceptance, but adopting some of the more annoying aspects of another magazine (“Everything must be graded, ranked, and separated into winners and losers!”) is the worst way to go. The humor is less gross, but now more sexual, and the snark vs. praise ratio is again out of whack. Wizard is overwhelmingly negative this month, at least when it comes to new comics. It’s still entertaining, however, and I welcomed the cynical takes as a teenager.
Until next time...