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What was up with Wizard: August 1996

by  in Comic News Comment
What was up with <i>Wizard</i>: August 1996

The last time I did this, I was planning on making it a semi-regular feature. That was 20 months ago. So yeah, seriously semi-regular. But I finally decided to sit down and write about the next issue of Wizard I own, which is issue #60, the fifth anniversary issue! What can we learn about the state of comics from Wizard in August 1996? Join me to find out!

First, I dig that cover, even though the Hulk’s veins kind of creep me out. He’s punching through a montage of all the previous Wizard covers, which is why I like it. Can you guess the cover artist? The answer is at the end of the post!

We get the customary letter from the editor, and I have to wonder what happened to Gareb Shamus. He went off to form that comic company (Big Bull?) and then disappeared. Maybe he’s living in Tahiti, happy as a clam. As this is an anniversary issue, we get the “best quotes” of the previous five years. Some are awesome. The first is from Wizard #1 by John Davis of Capitol Cities Distributors: “Double-covers, bagging and other gimmicks seem to have a positive effect on sales.” I’ll just let that hang out there for a while. I’ll list some more at the end of the post!

Before we get to any real meat, we get an advertisement for the Youngblood/X-Force crossover by Rob Liefeld and Eric Stephenson. How could that NOT have been awesome? Then we get to the letters. Ah, the letters. There’s one from some dude bitching about comics. Bitch, bitch, bitch. Oh, wait a minute, he makes some cogent points. He says the solution to the comics slump for companies is “gimmicks.” He suggests “lowering prices, producing good books on time and forgetting the damn gimmicks.” How angry! He writes that the cheapest book on the shelf is Untold Tales of Spider-Man, and he believes the way Marvel keeps it cheap is because it doesn’t have gimmicks. Then he remembers what makes him buy comics: “The integrity of the book, the characters and the creators.” He wonders why more companies don’t try what Marvel was doing with Untold Tales of Spider-Man. Wizard, surprisingly, agrees with him, but writes that people need to buy titles like Untold Tales of Spider-Man. They also point out that Marvel dropped the price on several $1.95 titles to $1.50. I don’t remember that. Damn, can you imagine that happening today? Anyway, I don’t mean to spend so much time on this one letter, except it was written by a “James Rugg.” You don’t suppose it’s Jim Rugg of Street Angel fame? I have to assume it is, because it’s not too common a last name. If it is, that’s kind of cool. Another dude explains “almost every continuity flaw” in Spider-Man’s history. I shan’t bore you with the details, but man, that dude needed to get out more.

Then we get the news. Mark Waid leaves X-Men, citing incompatibility with Scott Lobdell! No! Fabian Nicieza named editor-in-chief of Acclaim Comics? Wow! Marc Silvestri takes Top Cow and goes home! Er, leaves Image. Silvestri felt that “Image’s goals … drifted away from the original principles it was founded on.” What exactly were those? Make buckets of cash? Top Cow’s goal: “Produce the highest level of quality in the industry, and provide it in a timely manner.” Good luck with that.

Then we get an advertisement (if you can’t tell, I love old advertisements) for Cyber Frog #1, written and drawn by some guy named Ethan van Sciver. I wonder whatever happened to him.

Barb Wire did poorly at the box office. Well, who could have predicted that? It bugs me that if anyone remembers Temuera Morrison, it’s for this or as Boba Fett’s dad and not for his absolutely brilliant turn in Once Were Warriors. Oh well. Then we get poll questions in which Wizard asked readers to predict the future. The runaway winner of who will be the next superstar artist in five years is Ian Churchill. Hmmm.

Finally we get to an article. Unfortunately, it’s about Dan Jurgens’ relaunch of Teen Titans. Here’s the line-up: Risk, Slag, Argent, Prysm, and the Atom. Hoo boy. The four new characters were apparently half-alien. Hoo boy. I never read this book. How long did it last?

Then Wizard casts the Hulk movie. I love shit like this. Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk. I think a CGI-creature can act better. David Duchovny as Bruce Banner. Sure, I can see that. Sandra Bullock as Betty. Why not? Johnny Depp as Rick Jones. Um, no. Stacy Haiduk as Marlo. Who? Bodybuilder Cory Everson as She-Hulk. Some dude named Ralph Moeller, whose claim to fame according to Wizard was that he was in Best of the Best … 2, as the Abomination. Alan Rickman as the Leader works, I guess. Seymour Cassel as General Ross is a bit odd, but why not. Doc Samson gets to be played by Kevin Sorbo. They even cast the U-Foes! Corbin Bernsen as Vector, Matthew Perry as X-Ray, Marcia Cross as Vapor, and Andrew Bryniarski as Ironclad. Phew! How would all of these characters fit into a proposed Hulk movie, I wonder?

Moving on, we get an article about Rob Schrab and Scud: The Disposable Assassin. It’s a nice little story, once again showing that Wizard knows all about tiny, independent books but simply chooses to highlight Youngblood. Good job, Wizard!

Then we get an update on the The Incredible Hulk cartoon. Hey, they have people already voicing the characters! Why not use Genie Francis and Luke Perry in the movie they cast a few pages earlier?

There’s a fairly interesting article about Homage Comics, which was just starting up. Of course, in hindsight, it’s easy to chuckle at some of the things in the article, like the notion that Jim Lee could pencil several issues in a row of Fantastic Four, but it’s still a nice look at the start-up of the imprint. Lee had a deal with a different distributor, for instance – remember when there was more than Diamond out there to distribute comics? The first three titles under Homage, in case you’re interested, were Astro City, Strangers in Paradise, and Leave it To Chance.

Wizard next gives us a cute little cartoon: “The 70’s [sic] Meets the 90s.” (Why no apostrophe in “90s”?) One nugget I didn’t know: Crazy Rob Liefeld bought the rights to Battlestar Galactica. Does he still own them? The comic takes television shows from the 1970s and turns them into 1990s comics, and it’s amusing. Like Operation: L.O.V.E. Boat (“Lethal Operatives of Vengeful Execution”) and the Brady Brigade (man, I’m so happy I never bought an issue of Brigade).

Then we get a list, the kind that Wizard often does (well, they might not do it anymore; I don’t buy it these days): 100 Comics Every Modern Day Collector Should Own. I actually used this list to go out and buy a few comics, and Wizard wasn’t wrong. Let’s check them out, shall we?

Amazing Spider-Man #229-230.
Animal Man #15.
Astro City #1-6.
Batman #404-407.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #1-4.
Batman: The Killing Joke.
Captain America #253-254.
Daredevil #181.
Daredevil #227-233.
Fantastic Four #242-244.
Fantastic Four #258.
The Incredible Hulk #340.
The Infinity Gauntlet #1-6.
Iron Man #149-150.
Marvels #1-4.
Saga of the Swamp Thing #21.
The Sandman #1-7.
Superman #21-22; Adventures of Superman #444.
Superman Annual #11.
Tales of the Teen Titans #42-44; Annual #3.
Thor #337-355.
Uncanny X-Men #126-128.
Uncanny X-Men #135-137.
Uncanny X-Men #141-142.
Watchmen #1-12.

Then they give some of comics’ “best-kept secrets”: The Books of Magic #1-4 (the original mini-series); Elementals #1-5; The Golden Age #1-4; Hawkworld #1-3 (the original mini-series); Jon Sable, Freelance #1-6; Magnus, Robot Fighter #1-4; Miracleman #1-16; Solar #1-4; Squadron Supreme #1-12; Thanos Quest #1-2.

It’s not a bad list (although Infinity Gauntlet? really?) but it seems a bit … well, I guess random is as good a word as any. It feels like they took, say, 500 great comics and threw them up in the air and then selected 100 at random. I mean, these are all worthy comics (Infinity Gauntlet? really?), but shouldn’t there be … others? It’s weird.

Next Wizard takes an “exclusive” look at Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld’s new designs for the Marvel Big Guns. This means … lots of pouches! Pouches are awesome.

Wizard then gives us a guide to the summer’s hottest reading. Hold on! It was the Summer of Onslaught, so there was that. It was the summer of “Contagion” in the Batman books, so there was that. It was the summer of Gen13 #13, that infamous gimmicky comic. There was a small note about Superman: Red Son coming out in 1997. Spawn was having a rough time. I know, shocking. Some jerk named Kyle Rayner was Green Lantern. Boy, I hope they got rid of him! The Clone Saga was wrapping up. Karl Kesel and Cary Nord were working on Daredevil. I really ought to get those issues.

Moving on, we get the “major comic book events of the past five years.” It’s way too detailed to go into here, but it’s kind of neat to read. October 1991 saw Harbinger #1, with art by first-timer David Lapham. In June 1992, Todd McFarlane promises that no issue of Spawn will ever go to a second print. What does that mean? Jack Kirby signed with Topps Comics in February 1993. Liefeld takes a break in September 1993 to “work on his writing and artwork.” WetWorks ships two years late in July 1994. Gen13 #1 ships with thirteen variant covers in March 1995. Generation X airs on FOX in February 1996. Here are your “on the rise” creators for the five years:
1991: Whilce Portacio, Tom Lyle, Bart Sears, Dale Keown, Sam Kieth.
1992: Joe Quesada, Jae Lee, Art Thibert, David Lapham, Mark Texeira.
1993: Stephen Platt, Jim Balent, Mike Allred, Greg Capullo, Jeff Smith.
1994: J. Scott Campbell, Billy Tucci, Chris Bachalo, Joe Madureira, Mike Deodato Jr.
1995: Ron Garney, Humberto Ramos, Trent Kaniuga, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis.
1996: Tony Daniel, Pat Oliffe, Cary Nord, Ian Churchill, Amanda Conner.

Then we get the predictions for 2001. This is awesome.

1. Todd McFarlane will do Spider-Man again. Um, no.
2. Image Comics as we know it will be no more. Yes, and that’s a good thing.
3. 57 Channels with nothing on? Try the Comics Network. There’s a lot of what Wizard predicts, but no network devoted strictly to comics.
4. American artists will be studying the work of Masamune Shirow. Manga art styles have never infiltrated mainstream superhero comics as much as Joe Madureira thought they would, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
5. You will see chains of Marvel Entertainment Stores. Boy, were they wrong – they based this on Marvel owning its own distributor and the success of Warner Bros. Studios Stores, neither of which are a reality anymore.
6. Superman will flex his muscles as the next media juggernaut. Even with the movie, this prediction did not come true.
7. When you bring Preacher to the cash register, prepare to be carded. They claim that publishers will create an industry-wide ratings system, which hasn’t happened. But I guess retailers don’t sell “mature” stuff to kids. Did they ever?
8. Tomorrow’s writers will not come from comics. Unfortunately, this is often true.
9. The traditional artist will become obsolete. They mean because of digital technology, so I guess to a degree they’re correct. A lot of artists still draw with a pencil, though, and until digital technology becomes a LOT better, this is still the best way to create a comic.

What did they miss? Of course, the Internet. That’s odd, as Wizard was already using the Internet in 1996 fairly regularly. But the Internet has allowed a greater dissemination of both comics and comics-related journalism (rendering Wizard itself, to a degree, obsolete), and it has democratized the process. It’s kind of weird Wizard didn’t mention it.

We also get the Picks for July 1996. Hey look – it’s Monkeyman and O’Brien #1! Later we get the “hottest back issues” for June: Preacher #1, Hitman #1, Witchblade #1, Witchblade #2, The X-Files #1, Wolverine #100, Lady Death in Lingerie #1, Dawn #1, Shi #1, and Angela #1. Oh, Neil Gaiman, how could you?

Then we get the price guide. The less said about that the better. Finally, in the deep back of the issue, we get the Mort Of The Month, a super-lame character Wizard chooses to spotlight. This time around it was Detective Chimp. I guess Wizard didn’t count on the nostalgia factor a decade later!

Some more fun quotes from the issue:

Simon Bisley, Wizard #3: “Yeah, well, I like drawing big naked people with big lumps of metal in their hands.”
Rob Liefeld, Wizard #10: “If you’re looking for highly intellectual, thought-provoking, stimulating material, I’m probably the wrong guy to go to.”
Rob Liefeld, Wizard #21: “I have to be honest: I hate drawing first issues of anything.”
Chris Claremont, Wizard #22: “I look at the X-Men and I think, ‘This is my entire working life, and it’s taken them eighteen months to gut it like a fish.’ ”
Marc Silvestri, Wizard #30: “Image, by virtue of its success, showed that the creators are not as easily replaced as the publishers once believed.”
Neal Adams, Wizard #46: “I consider ‘style’ to be what you do when you’re not good enough to do it perfectly.”
Billy Tucci, Wizard #56: “Shi‘s outselling Superman and Batman books. That’s wrong. Superman’s been around for sixty years. My book shouldn’t be outselling Superman books.”

Finally, the answer to the cover artist question: It’s Bart Sears. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

And so ends another trip down Wizard Memory Lane. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in this issue of Wizard, and as usual, the staff shows their vast knowledge of comic book stuff while still wallowing in childish jokes and love of Lady Death. It’s always an odd experience reading Wizard because of this dichotomy.

I’ll try to re-read another issue before another 20 months have passed. It’s always fun to see what was up with Wizard!

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