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Where to Begin a Wizard Retrospective?

by  in Comic News Comment
Where to Begin a Wizard Retrospective?

The Wizard retrospective has begun with Not Blog X’s G. Kendall.  Let’s travel back to the days of Image Comics mania, Batman Returns, and X-Men toys on actual store shelves.  Are you brave enough to enter the world of 1992 with the Guide to the Guide to Comics?

Where to begin a Wizard retrospective?  The first issue would be an obvious place, but it’s actually not the best choice.  The early issues of Wizard are rather humorless, not that different from something published by a store to let customers know about upcoming releases, so there isn’t much in the way of personality.  Even the production values are cheap — the glossy paper and color interiors didn’t begin until issue #7.  Going through the comics news from that era also isn’t that exciting (Will Robin get an ongoing?  Will Valiant succeed with superheroes instead of Super Mario Brothers?  Can Chris Claremont script two X-Men books a month?), because Wizard #1 was still a year away from the Image explosion.

I will say that Wizard #1 set a precedent that the series would follow for its first year: a top-name creator penciling a well-known comics character garbed in a purple, starry cloak.  Some of them even wear the pointy hat.   I never understood the Merlin imagery — Wizard always danced around an answer when fans asked about it — but online research reveals that Wizard owner Gareb Shamus commissioned the McFarlane Spidey image for his father years before it was published.

The seemingly non-sequitur wizard motif was in fact a tribute to the comics store owned by Shamus’ parents, Wizard World.  (Not only is Wizard World the name of a series of conventions founded by Shamus, but it was also the domain name of Wizard’s website for years.)

How exactly recent college graduate Shamus was able to convince industry superstar Todd McFarlane to participate in the opening issue, by not only allowing the drawing to be used but also sitting for an interview, has been the source of a few conspiracy theories over the years.  I don’t think it’s outrageous to think that Shamus knew McFarlane through his parents and he, as an ambitious young man, took advantage of the connection.  Nothing sinister there.  The idea that Wizard was explicitly created to fuel the burgeoning speculator market by a group of store owners and dealers in the Northeast is a bit more improbable, and I’m not sure how anyone could prove the claims.

The magician motif disappears with issue #14 (October 1992), even though the purple color scheme remains.  The cover is rendered by Art Thibert, who you might recall as the artist immediately assigned to X-Men after Jim Lee’s departure.  (Today, he’s a well-regarded inker.)  This is the issue that will begin the retrospective, because it offers hints of what Wizard will become, it’s an intriguing look at the early days of Image Comics, and it just so happens to be the earliest issue that I currently own.

Oh, should we do the obligatory Flashback: 1992 before we begin?  Okay.  President George H. W. Bush is up for re-election against Arkansas governor Bill Clinton and Texas millionaire Ross Perot.  The Toronto Blue Jays are on their way to winning the World Series.  Mainstream audiences are being introduced to grunge and gangsta rap.  Perfect Strangers is still on the air.  Presumably other countries have things going on.

A Letter from our Publisher

This is Gareb Shamus’ piece that opens each issue.  According to more than one Wizard staffer, Shamus never actually wrote these columns, which actually isn’t uncommon in the publishing world.  This issue, Gareb compliments Wizard for having an all-female cover, mentions that Valiant back issue sales are hot, and reveals that Image will be the number two publisher for August 1992.

Money Quote:  Shamus predicts that the ‘90s will bring fans “better comics, better products, and more fun.”

A Letter from the Editor

Patrick Daniel O’Neill’s monthly column.  O’Neill was in a sense the “senior fellow” at Wizard, warning against flash over substance and calling out Image for some of its questionable shipping practices in the early days.  Patrick laments this issue that comic book writers are a dying breed.  He also drops the truth-bomb that Bill Finger, not Bob Kane, wrote the early Batman appearances.

I Love the ‘90s:  O’Neill cracks the first of many jokes at the expense of Batman Returns, which was new in theaters when this issue was written.

Wizard News

The monthly news column.  Yes, we received our comics news once a month and were happy to get it.  The big news this month is that Jim Shooter is leaving Valiant.  No explanation for the departure is given outside of “Jim had a different vision of how the company should be managed.”  The bulk of the article is used to hype the upcoming post-Shooter releases, such as Rai #0 and Bloodshot #1, instead of examining the reasons for Shooter’s dismissal.

In other news:

  • Archie has announced that Sonic the Hedgehog is coming to comics.
  • DC will now print its Mature Readers titles under the Vertigo imprint.  Karen Berger jokes that they’re being rewarded for bad behavior.
  • Marvel is purchasing trading card company Fleer, foreshadowing Marvel’s desire in the ‘90s to buy almost anything.

Palmer’s Picks

“Palmer’s Picks” is a monthly column by Tom Palmer, Jr. that highlights underground creators.  This feature sticks around for years, although in later months it’s placed much closer to the back of the magazine.  This month’s creator is a British gentleman by the name of Alan Moore.  (To be fair, Palmer doesn’t act as if you don’t know who Moore is, he’s simply detailing Moore’s work since leaving the mainstream.)  I was surprised to learn that Lost Girls had already begun in a series of eight-page chapters in Taboo.

Nope:  Alan Moore believes that Big Numbers is back on schedule now that Al Columbia’s taken over.  (This…did not work out well.)

Money Quote:  “Please help me!  I need to know if any of you out there actually read this column.”  Palmer’s disappointed none of Wizard’s mail mentions his column.

16-Bit Power

One of Wizard’s early attempts at a videogame column.  From the issues I’ve read, it never quite comes together for them.  This iteration of the column looks identical to something out of GamePro, right down to the cartoon-head rating system.  Street Fighter II (written as one word) is the hot new release, and Wizard is a fan.

Brutes & Babes

Bart Sears’ monthly “How to Draw” column.  This month, he tackles storytelling and perspective, offering sample pages from his work on Eclipso: The Darkness Within.  Sears plays a large role in the early days of Wizard.  He pencils many of the covers in the first few years, in addition to his monthly column.  I’m sure Sears didn’t even realize this when he began working with the magazine, but it grew so large in just a few years, Wizard was probably a bigger career boost for him than penciling a Justice League spinoff.

Money Quote (printed in red ink):  “YOU MUST KNOW PERSPECTIVE TO DRAW COMICS.”

Comics on Screen – Hollywood Heroes!

“The hottest TV and film news, as it relates to the world of comics, science fiction, horror, and animation!”  Written by Andy Mangels, various versions of this column will appear over the years.  Towards the end, you could argue that the entire magazine was dedicated to little more than Hollywood news.

The top story this month is that James Cameron’s Spider-Man will most likely be used to close out his contract with Carolco, which is rumored to be in trouble.  (It is.)  There’s early word of future flops like Wild, Wild, West and John Carter (at one point to be directed by John McTiernan under the proper name The Princess of Mars).  Also, the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Junior had the tentative title Oh, Baby.  Schwarzenegger is all over this column, with rumors he’ll star as everything from Dr. Octopus to Sgt. Rock.

Nope:  With a few exceptions, I don’t think any of these projects saw the light of day.  No James Cameron X-Men film, no Bruce Willis as Plastic Man, Tim Burton does not direct Mai, the Psychic Girl, Sylvester Stallone does not star in G. I. Joe, and Christopher Reeve does not return for Superman V, which will not feature a shrunk and depowered Superman.  The in-development Silver Surfer film also goes nowhere.  Sean Young does not star in an adaptation of the Golden Age comic Black Cat (she does make a fantastic appearance on The Joan Rivers Show, however).  In Watchmen news, Terry Gilliam is out, and writers Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo (later of The O. C.) have recently quit the scripting job.  Oh, wait.  There’s a reference to Macaulay Culkin starring in Richie Rich, which did actually happen.

I Love the ‘90s:  “Bob Hoskins won the coveted role (NOT!) of the dumpy Mario Brother in Tri-Star’s new live-action Super Mario Brothers feature film.”

Rage, Rage against the Dying of the Light

DC editor Michael Eury details their plans to make Eclipso a villain on the level of Darkseid.  He’s starring in the summer crossover Eclipso: The Darkness Within.  Eclipso’s also getting a new series when the crossover is over, making him one of the few villains to headline a series at this point.

Money Quote:  Eury jokes that there are a few bad Eclipso stories he’d like “to pretend didn’t happen…but they did.”  DC ignoring continuity the current editors dislike is unheard of.

X-Overs

A retrospective on the existing X-title crossovers up until this point.  The “Inferno” checklist is so thorough it even lists which chapters of Cloak and Dagger participated in the event.  The lack of cynicism in this article is notable; there are no complaints about fans being forced to buy these crossovers, and only one crack at the perceived quality of the stories, with the writer pointing out that the X-Men facing the entire nation of Genosha was a little one-sided.  All of this information could be easily found online in a few seconds today, but articles like this were helpful for the new readers being introduced to X-fandom.

I seem to recall one comics writer who read this article as a kid and said that one line inspired a story idea, but I can’t find any online confirmation of this.  Perhaps I dreamed it.

“Um, Actually…”:  The copy incorrectly describes “Fall of the Mutants” as the story of the X-Men’s battle against Mr. Sinister’s Marauders.

Thibert & O’Neil

Patrick Daniel O’Neill interviews Art Thibert (pronounced “Tee-BEAR”), the first artist to pencil X-Men after Jim Lee’s exit.  Thibert is unsure if he’s willing to pursue a penciling career, acknowledging that inking has been more lucrative for him.  Thibert’s scheduled to pencil and co-write the upcoming Nightwing miniseries, where he hopes to ditch Nightwing’s “Disco Elvis” look.

Money Quote:  “All the X-books are on an amazingly tight deadline.  I started off with (X-Men) #12, which went pretty well, but it’s starting to get tight with #13.  Most of it comes (I believe the word “out” was accidentally dropped here) like two to three weeks after I turn in the inked pages — that should give you an idea of how tight we’re working here!”

Nope:  Thibert’s Nightwing mini never materializes. You can read details about it at this Titans fansite:  http://www.titanstower.com/nightwing-mini-series-plans-1991/

Mutants as Metaphor

Am I a jerk for pointing out “Metaphor” is misspelled in the title of this article?  It’s another Patrick Daniel O’Neill piece, and another X-Men piece.  It’s more a summary of the history of the title than an exploration of the theme of alienation, although O’Neill does mark the specific issues that introduced the persecution theme during the early years.  O’Neill closes the article by asking rhetorically if the X-Men can maintain their popularity after losing not only Chris Claremont, but also most of the line’s superstar artists.

Neal Adams: Continuity’s Founding Father

Wow, Patrick Daniel O’Neill is all over this issue.  Now, he’s interviewing Neal Adams, who spends the bulk of the interview hyping long-forgotten Continuity titles.  Bucky O’Hare was apparently a financial boon for Continuity, according to the piece.    O’Neill also provides readers with an overview of Adams’ career, information many fans at this time probably knew nothing about.  Th proffreeding inn thiss peece is terreble, tho.

Image

Wizard mainstay Patrick McCallum answers such questions as “Who owns Image?” and summarizes the premises behind Spawn, Youngblood, and WildC.A.T.S.  (Liefeld is also promoting Brigade and Supreme, even though Youngblood probably isn’t past the second issue at this point.)  McCallum works hard to sell the angle that these rebels are sticking it to The Man, man.

Amazing Art

The title of this column will change over the years, but the basic idea is already here.  Fans draw mock Wizard covers and Wizard declares a winner each month.  All of the art features the magician motif, even though it’s officially off the cover as of this month.

CBIQ (Comic Book Intelligence Quotient)

The first glimpse of humor this issue.  CBIQ is Wizard’s long-running trivia piece.  The points ranking always has some kind of joke theme (this issue it’s foods high in cholesterol), and the multiple choice options include several hidden gags.  Batman Returns shows up as a punching bag again.

Wizard Comic Watch

Wizard’s monthly attempt to predict which books will be hot in the future.  This month, they’ve selected Amazing Adventures #11 (the first appearance of the Beast’s furry makeover) and New Mutants Annual #2 (Psylocke’s first American appearance).  Wizard is happy Marvel dropped Beast’s “utter geekitude” and transformed him into “a blue-furred bad boy.”

The Wizard’s Crystal Ball

Whatever this one was, it didn’t last long.  It appears to be a piece predicting future events in the comic book market.  Writer Greg Buls advises collectors not to worry about the value of their Valiant back issues, even if Jim Shooter is leaving.

Picks from the Wizard’s Hat

“A listing of the hottest books” available for order, this is the regular feature that provides solicitation info from the major companies, with an occasional bit of commentary thrown in.  Sometimes you’ll find details of aborted plotlines in this section, such as Spawn #5 featuring Spawn putting himself “in the middle of police and gang tension,” as opposed to him stalking and killing a child murderer.

The top picks for this month are Valiant’s H.A.R.D. Corps #1 (with a Jim Lee cover, because he was legally obligated to draw comics with acronyms in the title at this time), Spider-Man 2099 #1, Nightstalkers #1, Supreme #1, and Uncanny X-Men #294, the launch of the X-Cutioner’s Song crossover.

Geez, how long is this magazine?  We haven’t even gotten to the price guide yet!  Okay, there’s no reason for this to drag on forever.  Join me in a couple of days as I close out the issue.  In the meantime, you can check out my site Not Blog X and follow me on Twitter for more fun from the past.

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