The Guide to the Guide to Comics - WIZARD #86 (October 1998)

Something no one has ever seen before -- Alan Moore’s thoughts on Watchmen!  Also, a twenty-eight year-old Kevin Smith has arrived at Marvel, and why won’t DC just allow Wizard to fix Superman?  All in The Guide to the Guide to Comics!

The Joe Quesada Daredevil cover is here to promote the first issue of the Marvel Knights Daredevil run, while the Hulk cover, according to rumors at the time, is a tryout for a potential Mike Wieringo run on the book.  That never happened, but just imagine what could’ve been.  (Also notice that ‘Ringo gave Hulk a current-day hipster cut.)

In this month’s Wizard, we have features on...John Byrne and Ron Garney’s plans for the relaunched Hulk series, an examination of life as a Wizard intern, an original Akiko strip, an interview with Kevin Smith, Joe Quesada, and Jimmy Palmiotti, and Wizard’s rundown of “the Superman titles’ current problems and how we’d fix them.”

The Standards include Basic Training (featuring Darryl Banks), Toy Chest, Coming Attractions, Last Man Standing, Manga Scene, and Report Card.  Plus, letters, fan art, opinion pieces, trivia, Top 10 lists, a cartoon calendar by Brian Douglas Ahern, Time Travel, and market information.

Magic Words

Typical letter column silliness (one fan wants to invite Kurt Busiek over to his house for peanut butter sandwiches), along with a pithy explanation from Alan Moore, regarding the lack of thought balloons or sound effects in Watchmen.

Wizard News & Notes

Top story of the month is DC’s announcement of its “Kingdom Event,” which will be orchestrated by Mark Waid.  The only manifestation of the previously announced Kingdom monthly series is this event, which Mark Waid says will eventually have a Crisis-like impact on the DC Universe.  I believe he’s referring to the creation of Hypertime, which never quite caught on, perhaps because DC was only a few years away from the Dan Didio era.  Alex Ross also isn’t a part of this event, explaining that DC was already developing Kingdom before he was invited to join and he never felt totally comfortable with the concept.

In other news…Leinil Francis Yu is announced as the new X-Men artist…the Gambit solo series is announced, although a writer hasn’t been named yet…DC is releasing a new Hourman series…and George Perez and Alex Ross are teaming up for a 562-character, four-panel cover for the Crisis trade.

Temporary Insanity

We’ve already had two pages of fumetti fun with the Wizard staff at the second WizardWorld convention in the News section…and it’s followed by another fumetti feature about life as a Wizard intern.  This is your opening feature?  Some of the jokes are funny, and I guess the magazine did itself no harm by presenting its offices as a madcap workplace where friends play games and talk comics, but is it really so interesting that you’re leading your magazine with it?  The fumetti features are usually amusing, but I’m not terribly invested in the wacky hijinks at the Wizard offices.  Give me more jokes about Galactus eating horrible things, or Mego Spidey’s gut-wrenching exploration of the modern-day ennui.

Strip Tease

Was Akiko the final small-press comic hyped by Wizard?  I don’t recall any others after this one; the magazine seems far more interested in mainstream Marvel/DC product, the latest hot Image book, and editorial features by the staff, either goofing off or telling us how they could “fix” various comic and film franchises.  Anyway, this is a three-page Akiko strip, set at a comic book convention.

The Wizard Q&A - Marvel Knights

Wizard’s friends Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti taking over their own line of Marvel books, and they’re hiring Kevin Smith to write Daredevil?  How do you think the magazine responded?  Marvel Knights became Wizard’s personal White Album during my final days reading the magazine.  This interview has Kevin Smith discussing his transition to superhero comics, something he never thought he’d be able to do.  He also teases the idea that maybe Quentin Tarantino would be open to writing comics (Smith says that he’s discussed comics with Tarantino and that he’s “really taken” by Smith getting the Daredevil job.)  When asked how he would handle a Daredevil movie, Smith states that Matt Damon (who he personally knows is a fan) should star, that maybe he’d write the script, and that Robert Rodriquez should direct.  He also doesn’t want Elektra in the film.  The other Marvel Knights books are briefly mentioned, but it’s clear that the star of the line is Daredevil.

I can remember when the Smith/Quesada Daredevil was the hottest book in the market, before it turned into the poster child for late comics.  Those debates seemed to go on forever -- the fans who expected monthly work versus those who claimed that a shipping schedule shouldn’t impede quality.  (And at some point, Joe Quesada took over the writing of Iron Man, even though everyone was griping that he was months behind penciling Daredevil.)  More controversy followed when some fans complained about the casual way decades-old characters were being killed off, a topic Smith seemed to address in his final issue.  I loved those comics when they were released, reread them a few years later and found them a slog, and now I’m kind of afraid to look at them again.  Inhumans and Black Panther seem to have aged well, however.

The article, naturally, has a sidebar with quick quotes from the creators.  I’m not sure if anyone comes out looking so great in this one.

Clark Can’t

There’s nothing wrong with the magazine examining a line of books and picking apart what works and what doesn’t…but these “This is how we could fix Hero X” pieces are simply irritating.  This month, Wizard lectures the Superman office, informing them of everything they’re doing wrong, and detailing how more excitement could be brought to the franchise.  The advice is presented in typical Wizard fashion, with recent storylines dismissed with a “*YAWN*” and calls for incidental characters to be killed off.

Here are the major categories Wizard has selected as areas of improvement: Stories, Not Events (every Superman story appears to be an effort to mimic the success of Death of Superman)…Rogues Gallery (too many lame, non-threatening villains)…Supporting Cast (too many minor characters clogging up the book)…Powers (Superman doesn’t use his powers creatively anymore)…Romantic tension (Superman’s life is too easy, now that he’s married.  The old Moonlighting cliché is trotted out.)…Personality (He’s “Bor-ring” today; Wizard longs for the days when Superman was more “paranoid.”)…Keep It Modern (the books have too many elements from past eras, like the ‘30s and the ‘60s)…The Big Secret (too many characters know his secret ID)…Format (Superman should only star in two titles a month)…and Sense of Grandeur (characters are taking Superman for granted).

The complaints aren’t necessarily invalid, but they’re presented in such an obnoxious style I came away disliking Wizard far more than the comics they’re trashing.  There’s also a certain amount of irony in Wizard ragging on DC for courting press in Entertainment Weekly, and for being “stuck in the past” when Wizard’s solution to every problem facing the titles is to go back to the John Byrne run.  That’s not an exaggeration -- almost every piece of art used to demonstrate the “correct” Superman is from the Byrne issues, and every specific example of how to handle the status quo comes from the Byrne days.  Byrne’s Superman is akin to Roger Stern’s Spider-Man in the halls of Wizard-dom.  The “real” versions of the characters that shall never be tinkered with in any way.  These pieces are more a mix of nostalgia and arrogant fan-speak than legitimate examinations of the lines in question.  It’s too bad, because the basic idea of scrutinizing a certain family of titles and hashing out what’s clicking and what isn’t -- that’s a solid idea for a recurring feature.

Casting Call

Would Wizard have just as much trouble with a Justice League film as Warner Brothers has had in real life?  Their picks include…

Bruce Campbell as Superman

Thomas Gibson as Green Lantern

Rachel McLish (Ravenhawk) as Wonder Woman

Erick Stoltz as the Flash

Alec Baldwin as Batman

Evander Hollyfield as Martian Manhunter

Kenneth Branagh as Aquaman

Jim Carrey as Plastic Man

Laurence Fishburne as Steel

Tsanina Joelson (described as an “MTV fitness guru”) as Big Barda

Christian Slater as Zauriel

Gina Gershon as Huntress

Robin Lively (Karate Kid III) as Oracle

Jay O. Sanders (Kiss the Girls) as Orion

Bruce Payne (Howling IV) as Neron

Ron Eldard (Sleepers) as Prometheus

And, for some reason, Sting (not the wrestler, the guy with the lute) as The Key

Coming Attractions

George Clooney is revealing in interviews that he doesn’t think he’ll be asked back for another Batman film, and he acknowledges that some of the blame for the last movie rests with him.  Nicolas Cage is also telling reporters that it’s looking unlikely that his Superman Lives project will happen.  Bryan Singer is assuring people that X-Men will happen, though.

Top 10 Heroes & Villains of the Month

Spider-Man returns to the list (and Deadpool has completely dropped off), thanks to the push Marvel’s giving him in anticipation of the relaunch.  Hal Jordan is also added to the list at Number Nine, thanks to his recent appearances (as a time-traveler) in Green Lantern.  A Marvel character makes a rare appearance as the Mort of the Month, giving old Wonder Woman and Firestorm villains a rest for the issue.


The Book of the Month is the finale of 300, while the On the Edge pick is Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey #1.  Honestly, I’m stunned 300 #5 was selected as the book to buy, in place of the Smith/Quesada Daredevil #1.

Report Card

This issue, Captain America (vol. 3, #1-8, graded as a C-), Thunderbolts (#6-17, graded as a B-), Hitman (#21-28, graded as a C+) and The Invisibles (vol. 2, #1-17, graded as a B+) are reviewed.  I’ve mentioned before that I disliked many of these reviews, and this batch I recall as one of the worst.  The Captain America review is just packed with whiny “Comic Book Guy”-worthy nitpicking.  The actual context of the stories is ignored in order to eviscerate specific plot points, standard Cap beats are dismissed as “cliché”, and at times the criticism doesn’t go any deeper than simply shouting “Lame!”  The Thunderbolts and Hitman reviews go out of their way to trash books that Wizard was promoting as some of the industry’s finest just a few issues ago, and only the quirky Invisibles is able to escape with a slightly positive review.

The critiques read as the rantings of John Byrne’s stereotypical “ennui-engorged fanboy” -- he’s over things that he loved less than a year ago, has no patience for a traditional superhero narrative that lacks edge, and only finds solace in the mind-expanding works of Grant Morrison.  There doesn’t even seem to be any consistency in the standards of the reviews; Hitman’s major problem is listed as its impenetrability to the new reader, while the next review acknowledges that they had to go all the way back to the first issue of The Invisibles in order to comprehend what the book was supposed to be.

Wizard Market Watch

A previous issue reported that DC was beating Marvel in the direct market in terms of “monthly dollar sales,” thanks to its prestige format titles.  This month, we learn that DC has edged out Marvel in terms of actual sales…with the caveats that this only measures comic shop sales, and they’ve only beaten Marvel by a fraction of a percentage.  (29.96% to 29.04%.  Image is number three with 16.65%).

Wizard’s Top Ten Writers are…

  1. Kurt Busiek
  2. Mark Waid
  3. Joe Kelly
  4. Grant Morrison
  5. Garth Ennis
  6. Steven T. Seagle
  7. Peter David
  8. Frank Miller
  9. Kevin Smith
  10. Ron Marz

Wizard’s Top Ten Artists are…

  1. Joe Madureira
  2. Michael Turner
  3. Jim Lee
  4. J. Scott Campbell
  5. Alex Ross
  6. Andy Kubert
  7. Chris Bachalo (Wizard notes he’s cut his “broccoli floret” hair)
  8. George Perez
  9. Adam Kubert
  10. John Romita, Jr.

The Buried Treasure pick of the month is What If…? #105 (Spider-Girl’s first appearance), while reports from the summer cons have Cyblade/Shi #1 tanking in value.

Top Ten Comics

The debut issues of Battle Chasers and Danger Girl are the top back issues, followed by new entries such as 300 #1, Green Lantern #100, Divine Right #1, and Starman #0.  We’re also informed that Kevin Smith comics sell like “ice water in the Sahara.”

Top 100 - July 1998

I’d completely forgotten the anticipation surrounding Michael Turner’s first project post-Witchblade.  Fathom #1 tops the chart of new releases, followed by the two main X-books, Witchblade #25 (Michael Turner’s final issue), and standard Top 10 books like Spawn and Avengers.  Fathom #1’s success is at least partially owed to the new gimmick of “variant interiors” -- comics with different story pages in variant editions.  Calling them “controversial” would be polite.  Even variant covers are still viewed as a crazy novelty in these days; Rampaging Hulk #2 with its “two-for-two” variant outsold the main Hulk title, coming in at Number 25.  This is a book that’s cancelled in just a few issues, with its final issue left in the drawer.

Time Travel

September 1986 is in the spotlight, which means it’s time for a Watchmen retrospective.  Alan Moore offers his thoughts on the series’ impact, which he blames for the “malaise” seen in superhero comics today.  Most of the information here is widely known to modern fans, including the tidbit that the plan early on was to use the Charlton Comics characters, but this was potentially the first time Moore was so publicly ambivalent about the work. The original text has been archived in Portugese if you're curious. 

KISS: You Wanted the Best

KISS really was huge at this time, as hard as that might be to believe.  This issue has an inserted KISS comic with pin-up art from artists like Mike Allred and Adam Warren.

So, what did we learn today?

Money Quotes:

  • “When it’s over, there’s no chance this will be forgotten.” - Mark Waid on the intended repercussions of the Kingdom event.
  • “Sort of like David Hasselhoff’s character on Baywatch.  You really don’t care about him.  You just want to get down to the beach to see the girls.” - Jimmy Palmiotti’s thoughts on the Punisher.
  • “A lot of what happened with that movie is pride.  It was cats that didn’t understand that character in the least, trying to catch lightning in a bottle and basically do a Batman on a character that you can’t.” - Kevin Smith, on what went wrong with Superman Lives.
  • “I’m the third Batman, and I destroyed that franchise.” - George Clooney
  • “Sometime in the mid-‘80s comics achieved the goal they wanted and now (the industry) finds itself without a direction.  It’s like someone left the top of the soda bottle off -- the effervescence has gone.” - Alan Moore

Nope:  Leinil Yu only pencils a few issues of X-Men before returning to Wolverine.  His real run on X-Men doesn’t begin until 2000.  Yu’s new costume designs for the team are also delayed until the year 2000…John Byrne and Ron Garney debut with Hulk #1, and not Incredible Hulk #475, which never existed…Monkeyman & O’Brien never becomes a live-action or animated film…no Ash film, let alone one directed by Akira’s Katsuhiro Otomo…no sequel to the Beavis & Butt-Head movie (Mike Judge was in talks to do it, until he discovered MTV was releasing early Beavis & Butt-Head episodes on home video without his permission)…Danger Girl doesn’t hit the big screen…and the sequel to Spawn still hasn’t happened.

Stuff Wizard Likes:  The new, smaller team of X-Men…Superman for All Seasons…Robin’s new romance with Spoiler…and back issues such as The Killing Joke and Legion of Super-Heroes #254.

Stuff Wizard Doesn’t Like:  The new interior variants trend…Marvel’s inability to debut any cartoons this fall…new Marvel spin-offs that “water down the core character and force fans to buy more than one book”…“dead weight” like Bibbo, Lori Lemaris, and Scorn in the Superman books…and various sidekicks such as Gleek the space monkey and Jubilee (“STOP WHINING!”)

This Ain’t HuffPo:  Wizard announces that Frank Frazetta’s “half-nekkied fantasy chicks” will be released as action figures, and fantasizes (“Hubba hubba!”) about a “sexy green action figure” of Jade.  The introduction of Spider-Girl is greeted with “Yikes!  Looks like Spidey was serious about that operation!”

Sick Burn, Wizard:  Prophet #1 is deemed so worthless that “Hari Krishnas won’t even pass it out in airports.”

I Love the ‘90s:  Initial sales of Superman #75 are compared to the demand for Spice Girls tickets.

Vive la France:  Jim McLauchlin’s collection of odd foods includes “Anis Candy” from France -- “coincidentally enough the birthplace of the term ‘candy ass.’”…the image of a drunken Jim McLauchlin screaming epithets at French tourists is also used as a joke answer in the CBIQ quiz…the French are listed as one of Captain America’s many foes over the past fifty years…and one of Wizard’s proposed endings to “the Spider-Man saga” involve the French surrendering to Spidey and the Fabulous Frog-Man taking over.

Pathological Scatological:  A fan-made Lockheed action figure is leaving a mess on the carpet to punish Kitty Pryde, and apparently Xavier will face incontinence issues in Uncanny X-Men #361 (no clue what the basis of this joke is.)

Commercial Break:


Cheap and Stupid and Trashy?:  I can’t say that one issue or specific moment turned me away from Wizard…but I was definitely ambivalent about the magazine by this point.  In the fall of 1998, I was visiting daily comic book news sites and lurking on message boards and Usenet, so any news from the magazine was already old by the time I opened the polybag.  Plus, thanks to the internet, I now had access to opinions that didn’t have to conform to the Wizard-approved ones.  I still enjoyed most of the humor features, and the interviews could be interesting, but the overall tone of the magazine was getting on my nerves, and I was beginning to question why I was paying five dollars an issue for this thing.

Until next time...

Yeah, Shut Up. on Noisetrade || Not Blog X || Twitter  || The Milch Studies on Real Gentlemen of Leisure (currently examining the craziest season of NYPD Blue yet.) ||

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