Avi Arad is trumpeting an unlikely movie star, Batman experiences an upheaval, and Wizard tries to figure out the year 1999, all in the Guide to the Guide to Comics!
“Best Wizard Ever…Honest!” That’s the blurb for the 1998 year-ender, and to be frank, I did find the previous year’s closing issue to be one of the better issues of this era, so I guess we’ll see. The newsstand cover is Batman by Jim Lee, who’s sale of Wildstorm to DC was announced a few weeks earlier. The direct market cover has Alex Ross recreating the first Superman/Spider-Man team-up.
In this month’s Wizard, we have features on...the state of comics around the world, the new “No Man’s Land” era of the Bat-titles, an Avi Arad interview, a Stan Lee article, behind-the-scenes of Alex Ross’ Crisis cover, a “Joe Madureira vs. Michael Turner” battle, predictions for 1999, and the Best of 1998.
The Standards include Basic Training (Scott McCloud discusses comics and computers), Toy Chest, Coming Attractions, Last Man Standing, Manga Scene, and Report Card. Plus, letters, fan art, opinion pieces, trivia, Top 10 lists, Time Travel (now written by future Robot Chicken producer Tom Root), and market information. Brian Douglas Ahern’s cartoon calendar has apparently been discontinued.
Jim McLauchlin repeats the theme of the previous year-ender letter column and devotes the space to letters from creators. Peter David voices his criticisms of Wizard’s definition of “history,” Warren Ellis complains about the photo they use of him in the magazine, and Tony Daniel claims that the last two packages Wizard was supposed to send him were mailed to actor Anthony Daniels’ home in England. He demands C-3PO’s mail as restitution.
Wizard News & Notes
The lead story is an examination of the “surprise smash” Marvel Knights line, with a round-up of each launch title. The only comic that wasn’t a wild success was Punisher, which was a solid seller, but allegedly ran out of steam by its final issue simply because it was only a four-issue miniseries. (I’m guessing it had more to do with fans dismissing the “supernatural” take on the character as a joke.) The tone of the article is a little much -- is it really that surprising that glossy versions of cult-favorite heroes by “name” creators sold pretty darn well?
In other news…Kurt Busiek reveals that Astro City delays are due to his health issues…Marvel has recalled Wolverine #131, because of its unintended use of an anti-Semitic slur. Some retailers are selling the original version, which they were supposed to ship back, for five times its cover price…Bob Harras is searching for a new writer of the main X-books…and Ian Churchill pens a first-person account of his virgin trip to America. He details his stunned reaction to automatic garage door openers and Rob Liefeld’s barber skills.
Last Man Standing
Wizard gives its views on a Wolverine vs. Batman fight, accompanied by original Mike Wieringo art. According to Wizard, Wolverine would exploit his decades of fighting experience and his berserker fury to win the battle.
We Are the World
A brief look at comic sales across the globe. Wizard reports that Alpha Flight sells just as well in Canada as it does in America, one-half of all worldwide Conan sales come from Norway, American comics make up less than one percent of Japan’s market, and Simpsons comics sell ten times their American numbers in Germany. No French jokes, shockingly, but we do learn that sales shot up forty percent in France when Serval was renamed Wolverine.
A seven-page story promoting DC’s upcoming “No Man’s Land” event, which DC believes will not only reignite interest in Batman, but also “shake up” the entire comics industry and bring back some lapsed readers. This is a pretty chaotic time in the history of the Bat-books, based on comments from writers like Alan Grant, and even Denny O’Neil acknowledges in the interview that he isn’t sure if they can pull this story off. DC is using the event as an excuse to revamp the creative roster of the Bat-books, by bringing in writers like Paul Dini, screenwriter Bob Gale, mystery writer Greg Rucka, and television writer Lisa Klink. Aside from the absurd twists of logic that had Batman kicking out any heroes that wanted to help Gotham, “No Man’s Land” is perhaps best known as the storyline that introduced Harley Quinn into the official DC continuity.
The Wizard Q&A
Avi Arad, identified only as “Marvel’s new boss” because he hates titles, is interviewed. Arad explains returning from the company after briefly being fired during Marvel’s bankruptcy, his confidence in Bob Harras’ ability to run the comics division, the “idiotic” decision not to brand 1998’s Blade with the Marvel name, and how he graduated from engineer at a toy company to Hollywood exec. Arad’s role in getting Marvel properties into theaters has been dismissed by some people, although some reports have come out recently that emphasize his stance that Marvel’s movies stay true to the characters, like vetoing certain scenes in the first Spider-Man film. (There’s also a rumor that Arad was personally responsible for firing Bill Jemas, after he received letters from fans and shop owners listing Jemas’ various insane public comments, so I have to like the guy just a little.)
What’s amazing about the interview is how convinced Arad is that Star-Lord -- a character Wizard has to identify as a “mid-‘70s swashbuckling sci-fi hero” -- can star in “one of the biggest (movies) of all time.” I’m not even sure if Arad had his name in the Guardians of the Galaxy credits, but clearly he had some role in getting the project off the ground. (Marvel movies tend to have long histories behind them -- Blade was originally pitched as a Western starring Richard Roundtree back in the early ‘80s. Stan Lee was also pitching Ant-Man to studios at this time.)
A “day in the life” story focusing on Stan Lee, who’s still writing the Spider-Man newspaper strip, producing columns for Marvel’s comics and website, meeting with Hollywood producers, consulting with Bob Harras, and attending quarterly staff meetings at Marvel’s New York office. The only time he’s at a loss for words is when he has to think up inscriptions for Ed Asner and Nic Cage’s complimentary copies of the Marvel Universe hardcover. Stan’s such an icon, he’s granted two sidebars:
Celebrity Death Match
Friends Joe Madureira and Michael Turner are pitted against one another “to see who’s comics’ best - and coolest - young artist.” This goes on for six pages! Aside from Madureira poking fun of his fuzzy concept of deadlines, there isn’t much of a joke here. Wizard does commission both artists to pencil their interpretation of Wonder Woman, and an online poll gives Madureira a narrow victory.
Wizard answers “the most important questions for 1999.” Last year brought us Fred Hembeck spot illustrations, this time it’s Sergio Aragones. For 1999, Wizard predicts that the relaunched Lobdell/Charest Wildcats will be huge, provided Travis Charest can keep his deadlines…that Witchblade will probably be okay without Michael Turner…that Todd McFarlane isn’t going to be drawing any more comics (Todd describes himself as the “inking assistant” on Spawn now)…that DC has too much time and pride invested in Kyle Rayner to revive Hal Jordan…that Kevin Smith has a bright future in comics ahead of him…that Morrison and Waid will continue to guide DC’s heroes...that the Mackie/Byrne Spider-Man relaunch will be a hit…and that Jim Lee joining DC will have massive repercussions for both DC and Image, going as far as predicting that the extra five percent of the market share DC will inherit from Wildstorm will easily push them ahead of Marvel on a monthly basis. Or, it could just become yet another collection of superhero concepts DC doesn’t know how to exploit, and then evolve into kind of an albatross around the company’s neck. They do get Jim Lee Superman and Batman comics out of the deal, however.
Best of the Best
Wizard tells us what’s cool -- which, admittedly, is more entertaining than Wizard telling us everything wrong with a specific franchise and how only Wizard knows how to fix it. The picks for the best of 1998 include…
Best Comic Book Series: Robin (Chuck Dixon was a Wizard favorite in the late ‘90s, which I’m going to guess, was a factor in him being recruited for Marvel Knights in its days as a prestige-creators line. Dixon rarely makes the Top 10 Writers list, however, which is odd. Pretty much every issue from this era praises either Robin or Nightwing.)
1999’s Comic to Keep Your Eye On: Wildcats
Best Hero: Thor (Based on the success of his relaunched title.)
1999’s Hero to Keep Your Eye On: Daredevil
Best Villain: Herr Starr (Because Preacher must be hyped each issue.)
1999’s Villain to Keep Your Eye On: Magneto
Best Writer: Garth Ennis
1999’s Writer to Keep Your Eye On: Erik Larsen (Wizard assumes he’ll bring the same sense of unpredictability and fun seen in Savage Dragon to his Marvel and DC work…didn’t quite happen.)
Best Artist: George Perez (Perez penciled twelve straight issues of Avengers in 1998; his previous Avengers record was six issues. Wizard reports that Perez was even drawing pages from his hospital bed.)
1999’s Artist to Keep Your Eye On: Travis Charest (Wizard seems to think Charest will be able to beat his deadline issues. We also learn his name is pronounced “shar-AY”.)
Best Slugfest: Wolverine vs. Marrow
1999’s Slugfest to Keep Your Eye On: Cable vs. Apocalypse…which happens in Cable #75, possibly the worst X-comic of the ‘90s.
Best Moment: Hal Jordan vs. Parallax
1999’s Moment to Keep Your Eye On: Wolverine regaining his adamantium.
Best “Sleeper” Book: Savage Dragon
1999’s “Sleeper” Book to Keep Your Eye On: The Invisibles
Best New Character: Calibretto from Battle Chasers
1999’s New Character to Keep Your Eye On: ??????????????? (If Wizard knew the future, they’d become “lottery gazillionaires and get the rights to that pesky Spider-Man flick.”)
Best Publisher: Marvel Comics
1999’s Publisher to Keep Your Eye On: Marvel Comics, based on how well they’ve continued to perform while undergoing bankruptcy. I like most of Marvel’s output from this era, but it is funny that as early as 2000, when Marvel cleaned house and brought in the new regime, reaction around the internet was enthusiastic… as if Marvel was in a deep malaise and needed this shocking jolt to be brought back to life. I think most of that rancor came from the perception that the Spider-Man and X-Men lines were a mess at the time, but I thought most of the mainstream Marvel heroes titles in the Bob Harras days were quite good.
How long was Wizard aboard the Battle Chasers bandwagon? Did they forget it as soon as the unannounced final issue disappeared from the stands? Was it replaced during their Pat Lee phase? Regardless, here are their casting picks for a Battle Chasers movie…
Ken Wahl as Garrison
Jenna Jameson as Red Monika (I guess Wizard is opting for surgical prosthetics over the traditional kind…)
Joel Grey (Remo Williams) as Knolan
Beverly Mitchell as Gully
Kelsey Grammer as the voice of Calibretto
Christopher Plummer (12 Monkeys) as King Vaneer
Shaquille O’Neal as Maestro the Warrior
And Ken Hudson (Armageddon) as Bengus
Producer Jon Peters is now telling people that the Nicolas Cage Superman movie is going to happen, but without Tim Burton. The script at this point is the one penned by Freejack writer Dan Gilroy (which someone has archived here). In other Hollywood news….we’re told to be on the lookout for new innovative aliens Plo Kun (sic) and Jar Jar Binks in the next Star Wars film…Harsh Realm is being adapted (and, somehow, “created”) by Chris Carter for TV…and Adam West and Frank Gorshin will make appearances in Roger Corman’s Black Scorpion.
Top 10 Heroes & Villains Monkeys & Monkeys of the Month
For reasons unknown, Wizard has devoted the Top 10 characters lists to simians this month. Falling behind famous monkeys like Gorilla Grodd and Mandrill is Superman artist Doug Mahnke.
The Book of the Month is Jonah Hex: Shadow’s West #1, and the On the Edge pick is Chocolate Thunder #1 from Gettosake Comics. Wizard is still using the Picks section as a means to promote critical favorites, even though the days of Wizard relentless hyping books like Bone or Scud in the rest of the magazine are over.
This issue, Fantastic Four (#6-12, graded as a B-), Crimson (#1-5, graded as a C), Preacher (#34-44, graded as an A), and Box Office Poison (#0-11, graded as a B+) are reviewed. Wizard praises Fantastic Four for getting the characters right, but has issues with the dialogue and the “reject” villains… Crimson relies too heavily on vampire clichés and appears to be aimless… Preacher is apparently the answer to “our fanboy prayers”… and Box Office Poison is criticized for its lack of plot, but the reviewers love the characters.
Wizard Market Watch
Because DC has announced that Crisis will only be available in the expensive slipcase hardcover, collectors with no plans to shell out a hundred bucks for a reprint are now picking up the original issues of the series, sometimes at twice the price guide’s value. Market Watch also reports that erratically published titles such as Animal Mystic, Cry for Dawn, and The X-Files are faltering in the back issue market.
Wizard’s Top Ten Writers are…
- Mark Waid
- Kurt Busiek
- Kevin Smith
- Garth Ennis
- Grant Morrison
- Joe Kelly
- Steven T. Seagle
- Ron Marz
- Dan Jurgens
- Peter David (who seems to be at the end of his days as a Wizard favorite.)
Wizard’s Top Ten Artists are…
- Joe Madureira
- Michael Turner
- J. Scott Campbell
- Alex Ross
- George Perez
- Jim Lee
- Adam Kubert
- Joe Quesada
- Andy Kubert
- John Romita, Jr.
For the Buried Treasure, Wizard has selected Legion of Super-Heroes (vol. 4) #15 as an investment pick, because it features the debut work of Brandon Peterson, who the magazine thinks is going to explode on Uncanny X-Men next year.
Top Ten Comics
This issue’s list is dedicated to the Top 10 back issues of 1998, so unfortunately, there isn’t a new flash-in-the-pan investment choice to ridicule this month. I do question if anyone out there today is really paying more than a dollar for comics like Darkness #11’s chromium variant.
Top 100 - October 1998
The big surprise of the month has Slingers #1 debuting at Number Six, followed by the two debut issues of Spider-Man: Chapter One at Numbers 8 and 10 respectively (#2 actually outsold #1, thanks to Marvel’s variant #2 policy of the era.) Wizard remarks that this is the first time in five years that a Spider-Man comic has made the Top Ten, but I seem to recall that the first post-clone issue of Spectacular Spider-Man ranked towards the top of the charts. Also, Slingers #1’s high sales include all “alternate interior” versions of the #1 issue. As much as people hated the gimmick, it certainly worked in this instance. At the bottom of the Top 100, Brian Pulido’s attempt to revamp Marvel’s horror characters, Supernaturals, didn’t perform as well as expected. Wizard blames the $3.99 cover price, which probably did hurt numbers for a weekly miniseries.
Off the Cuff
A quick interview with J. Scott Campbell, who apparently blames his nasty letter to Wizard back in 1994 on his editors.
The Wizard staff recounts its efforts to have a N64 Japanese wrestling game translated, and Gareb Shamus is profiled. Shamus is photographed with a stack of comics on his desk, declaring his love for the new Daredevil -- after the magazine collapses, at least one staffer claims that Shamus never read comics. Shamus also has a framed Watchmen cover on his office wall, and he proudly proclaims that he owns the original covers to all twelve issues.
So, what did we learn today?
- “We’re still not sure we can pull this off.” - Denny O’Neil, on the “No Man’s Land” event.
- “I didn’t think it was a good story and didn’t want to write it.” - Doug Moench, who’s departed the Batman titles because of “No Man’s Land.”
- “Maybe we’ll finally shake the dreaded ‘Clone Saga’ storyline that’s been looming over our heads for so long.” - Howard Mackie, on the upcoming Spider-Man relaunch.
- “The Batman franchise is dead and the only way (another movie) will happen is if we put Batman and Superman together.” - Jon Peters
Nope: A Marvel Knights Annual, featuring a Mark Waid/Bruce Timm Daredevil story, is not produced…Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti never co-wrote a Marvel Knights series featuring a new character, penciled by Pat and Alvin Lee…Brandon Peterson never takes over Uncanny X-Men…I’m not sure if the fan-vote on the next MC2 title goes anywhere (the candidates are Thunderstrike, Stinger, or the Uncanny X-People)…I don’t know if this Arthur Adams Dynamic Forces-exclusive $6.95 Danger Girl one-shot happened, although the cover was released -- I wonder if this became the 14-page Adams story from Danger Girl Special #1?…Avi Arad still thinks the Captain America cartoon will happen, and even shows Wizard some production art that’s on his desk…despite Eidos’ declarations of love for the property, they never produce that Witchblade videogame…we never see Magneto’s axis-titling plan that creates chaos across the Marvel Universe…Universal doesn’t release a computer-animated Frankenstein film…Barry Sonnenfield is convinced that a Men in Black sequel won’t happen, due to the expected budget…and George A. Romero doesn’t direct the Resident Evil movie (some info on it can be found here).
Stuff Wizard Likes: The Star Wars manga, Joe Casey’s Incredible Hulk run, and the revival of Aunt May. Those last two choices were absolutely despised at the time by online fans (even Joe Casey acknowledged that the fans weren’t “digging” his run in one of his final issues), leading me to believe that just maybe the eternally hip, cool Wizard was a mite out-of-touch. Wizard wasn’t only late in delivering news stories in the digital age, but the opinions the magazine maintained often just seemed odd to many fans.
Stuff Wizard Doesn’t Like: Wizard’s previous demand that Aunt May die, Astro City delays, recent Bond movies, the Captain Britain Corps, and the “DC 1,000,000” event.
This Ain’t HuffPo: A Danger Girl write-up reminds us that “chicks can never keep their yaps shut,” which would seem to be a problem for a super-spy.
Sick Burns, Wizard:
The Wizard’s Crystal Ball: “Look into the future and what do we see? The end of Image is coming due in large part because of Jim Lee.” - Wizard goes on to predict that Image Central isn’t strong enough to stand on its own, that the few big names left at Image will go their own ways, and Todd McFarlane might just swallow up the smaller Image titles and carry Image on his own back.
I Love the ‘90s: I’ve been going through these 1998 issues for weeks, but this is the first time I’ve encountered a Monica Lewinsky joke. Around five of them.
Pathological Scatological: Can it be? Only one poop joke this issue? Seems like it…a homemade Maggott toy isn’t sure if he’s just consumed chocolate or something else.
Cheap and Stupid and Trashy?: In one of the opening pages, Wizard staffers remark that they’re going to tamper down the negativity this issue, given that 1998 was such a great year for comics. This might’ve been true for many readers, but sales continued to plummet during this era, and it doesn’t seem as if Wizard is going to be providing any real analysis into what’s going on. Maybe it’s not fair to expect that kind of thing (Wizard is pretty open about being here to “celebrate” comics, and lately, even their targets for mockery have been rather safe choices), but I’d rather read an actual analysis of the industry instead of hype. In 1998, I could find endless hours of debate on the declining sales problem online, but in Wizard…everything’s just great, and don’t you think this chromium cover Battle Chasers variant is gonna be the coolest thing ever? There was a period when Wizard might’ve offered deeper industry commentary and historical pieces, but that era seems long gone.
Until next time...