The Guide to the Guide to Comics shambles forward, as “Wizard” magazine continues to distance itself from its comics roots in an effort to attract a more mainstream audience. This issue, WCW wrestler Sting poses for the newsstand cover, while J. Scott Campbell delivers a Spider-Girl/Batgirl crossover cover for the direct market edition. (The editors at “Wizard” were hiring Campbell to draw female-specific covers years before the major comics companies hit upon the idea.)
In this month’s “Wizard,” we have features on upcoming comics like the Man of Action prototype “Machina Rex,” around twenty pages of wrestling content, a Harlan Ellison interview, and a visit to Universal Studios’ Marvel-themed Island of Adventure.
The Standards include Basic Training (featuring “Wizard” favorite Jim Calafiore), Toy Chest, Coming Attractions, Last Man Standing (Jim Balent returns to present Lara Croft versus Red Monika of “Battle Chasers”), and Manga Mania!, which is taking the place of the long-running Manga Scene column, offering a more expansive view of “cool Japanese comic and animation stuff you’ll want to buy.” Plus, letters, fan art, opinion pieces, trivia, Top 10 lists, Time Travel, and market information.
The column opens with what is described as an edited version of Beau Smith’s three-page letter, defending his run on “Guy Gardner: Warrior” from “Wizard's" snarky attacks. Jim McLauchlin assures Beau that they love him, but in a reference that was already badly dated in 1999, compares “Guy Gardner: Warrior” to Dan Quayle. Other letters reveal the origin of the term “Marvel Style,” question if Magneto and Electro’s powers are interchangeable, and -- there’s no escaping it -- ask “Wizard” for more details on Kevin Smith’s life. This issue, a letterhack wants to know if Smith really did sell his entire comics collection to fund “Clerks.” He did. Finally, the Letter of the Month highlights just how much you missed if you skipped only a few years of the ‘90s.
Wizard News & Notes
Leading the news this month are rumors of Kurt Busiek and Mark Waid launching a new creator-owned imprint under the name “Gorilla Comics.” Image acknowledges that they’ve been in talks, but Busiek and Waid refuse to confirm anything. Gorilla is still a rumor, and doesn’t have a company logo yet, leading “Wizard” to recycle art from Disney’s “Tarzan” film to decorate the article. At the very least, “Wizard” has the name right -- Internet rumors had the name as “Bulldog” for months, and Busiek has stated that he has no idea where that name originated. “Wizard” also doesn’t refer to Gorilla as the Busiek-hated term “Image for Writers.”
In other news…it’s a fairly slow month, actually. John Byrne’s “X-Men: The Hidden Years” is officially announced, and we have the typical announcements of relaunches and crossovers. Writer Paul S. Newman, who wrote Gold Key’s “Turok” for a record twenty-six years, has passed away at the age of 75. And “Wizard” feels compelled to report on the trend of Wildstorm creators undergoing this wacky California trend called “Lasek surgery.” Finally, a “Special Report” follows artist Min Ku, who provides a firsthand account of what it’s like to present your work to various DC editors. Ku goes on to become one of the best “Adventures”-style artists, but at this date, Paul Kupperberg deflates Ku’s ego by informing him that he’s drawing the “Batman Beyond” characters off-model.
It is nice that “Wizard” hasn’t abandoned these exclusive cartoon features, starring various characters from outside the Big Two. Usagi Yojimbo is profiled for a page, then an original three-page Usagi story follows. The “exclusives” in this magazine are usually mail-away offers that require the reader to spend even more money, but utilizing the magazine’s interior (which seems increasingly starved for content) to provide original material from a cartoonist is a smart move on “Wizard's" part.
“Wizard” profiles professional wrestlers who are starring in their own comics, are rumored to be starring in a comic, or “Wizard” just wishes could star in a comic. It is worth remembering that professional wrestling was a pop culture phenomenon in 1999, and there is a healthy crossover between comic fans and wrestling fans. However, the magazine’s unrelenting push for pro wrestling during these days was something I personally found irritating, and based on online reaction, I didn’t seem to be alone.
No pretense of a comic connection here -- “Wizard” spends numerous pages running photos and presenting factoids from the opening night of the WCW-themed novelty restaurant “Nitro Grill,” which features regular appearance from wrestlers, memorabilia from the WCW’s past, and sections of the restaurant dedicated to each of the eight WCW pay-per-view events. Unlike other theme restaurants, “Wizard” is certain that this one has staying power. When you’re paying five dollars for a comics magazine, don’t you want a biography of the Nitro Girl Chae, the playlist of WCW hype guy DJ Ran, and details on the “Big Sexy T-Bone” and “Salmon Superplex Steak”?
The Wizard Q&A
Harlan Ellison is interviewed, nominally to promote the Superman “Realworlds” comic he’s writing with Peter David, but really, to get Harlan Ellison to act like Harlan Ellison. Ellison tosses in a few jabs at ‘90s Marvel and Erik Larsen’s “Aquaman” run, but most of his ire is aimed at Hollywood executives who feel the need to impose their vision on to others, instead of allowing writers to be writers. The piece is entertaining, even though it’s so brief (no longer than the wrestling features), there’s no way it can compare to the old “Comics Journal” Ellison interviews. This one didn’t even inspire a lawsuit!
A multi-page fumetti feature starring Jim McLauchlin and inker Tim Townsend during their visit to Marvel’s Island of Adventure in Orlando, FL. I think the returns on these fumetti features diminished long ago, but that doesn’t stop virtually every issue from having one. This is the equivalent of charging someone to look at your vacation photos.
A “Mage” film was in talks at the time (written by Kevin Smith!), inspiring “Wizard” to assemble what it thought was the perfect cast…
- Aidan Quinn as Kevin Matchstick
- Kevin Sorbo as Kirby Hero (since he’s already played Hercules, “Wizard” sees him as the obvious choice to play a reincarnated version of the hero.)
- Jamie Foxx as Joe Phat
- Courtney Love as Magda
- Andy Dick as the Dragonslayer
- Jason Lee as Hornblower
- Mickey Rooney as Wally Ut
- Diane Keaton as Isis
- Greg Kinnear as John Strider
- Kevin Smith as Gretch (oddly, they’ve chosen a photo of an unusually cleaned-up Smith, while Smith as Silent Bob is a double for Gretch.)
- David Warner as Pale Incanter
- And “rap flavor of the month” Eminem as Sigmund
The “X-Men” movie has begun to announce its cast, opening with the proclamation that Patrick Stewart is going to play the part everyone wanted him to play, Charles Xavier. The rest of the announced cast includes Ian McKellen as Magneto, Halle Berry as Storm, and…Dougray Scott as Wolverine? Avi Arad explains why Scott won the role (which was earlier rumored for Russell Crowe or Mel Gibson): “You look at him and there’s something about his eyes, the way he carries himself, that makes you say, ‘Wow, this is Logan.’” Scott dropped out at the last minute, which led to Hugh Jackman taking the role after filming had already begun. Two major parts still unfilled are Cyclops and Jean Grey -- Luke Wilson, Johnny Lee Miller, and Ed Burns are rumored for Cyclops, while Alicia Witt, Charlize Theron, and Jeri Ryan have all reportedly tried out for Jean Grey.
More unfulfilled Hollywood gossip includes Leonardo DiCaprio playing Anakin in the two remaining “Star Wars” prequels, Sean Connery and Patrick Stewart in “Lord of the Rings,” a fourth and fifth “Back to the Future” movie, a Howard Stern-produced cartoon called “Doomsday,” and a “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers” animated film (they did come close, though).
Top 10 Heroes & Villains of the Month
Spider-Man’s gone, replaced by the late ‘90s sensation known as Spider-Girl. She’s granted the No. 2 position, a slot I don’t think her father ever reached. (The cheerleading for Spider-Girl this month I’m sure has nothing to do with the “Spider-Girl” #1/2 comic that’s being sold exclusively through “Wizard” this issue.) “Wizard” is also embracing X-hype again, after a break of around two years, placing Wolverine, Gambit, Mutant X, and Magneto on the list. Deadpool crawls into the No. 10 slot, thanks to the fan campaign that saved his title. This issue's Mort of the Month is another character that the editors don’t seem to realize was created as a joke…the fabulous Frog-Man.
“Wizard” is back to previewing books they clearly don’t enjoy, such as the "Superman" titles and “Spawn.” Not too long ago, Picks was designated for books -- many of them under-the-radar -- that the staff enjoyed, and more mainstream titles tended to be relegated to a sidebar known as More Picks. The Book of the Month is an odd one, however -- Wildstorm’s debut issue of “Speed Racer.” (Maybe on the basis that manga/anime was now deemed “hot”?) The On the Edge pick is Andy Ristiano’s “Life of a Fetus.”
Multiple prints of “Pokémon” comics have pushed sales in the 200,000 range, easily surpassing “Uncanny X-Men.” The attention “Pokémon” has brought to manga is also benefiting “Sailor Moon,” which is the second most popular manga in America. Meanwhile, “Wizard” reveals that “Miracleman” trades are going for as much as $240, and suggests you pick up Warren Ellis back issues while you still can. Interestingly, “Planetary” and “Ruins” are named as the series to be looking out for, with no mention of “The Authority.” The Buried Treasure selection this issue is “Batman” #567…the debut of the other new Batgirl (the first one turned out to be the Huntress.)
“Wizard's" Top Ten Writers are…1. Kevin Smith 2. Kurt Busiek 3. Garth Ennis 4. Alan Moore 5. Mark Waid 6. Dan Jurgens 7. Grant Morrison 8. Warren Ellis 9. Alan Davis 10. Chuck Dixon
“Wizard's" Top Ten Artists are…1. Michael Turner 2. George Perez 3. Adam Kubert 4. Alex Ross 5. Joe Madureira 6. J. Scott Campbell 7. Joe Quesada 8. Andy Kubert 9. Salvador Larroca 10. Ron Garney
Top Ten Comics
Two manga titles, “Pokémon” #1 and “Sailor Moon” #1 are deemed the hottest back issues in the country, followed by a seemingly arbitrary collection of Wildstorm, wrestling, and Alan Moore comics (including 1988’s “Miracleman” #15, which the copywriter declares has always been difficult to find.)
Top 100 - June 1999
Spawn is still a hot enough property in 1999 that a spinoff can debut as the No. 3 title, right underneath the two main X-books. The two main "Spider-Man" books can’t stay in the Top 10 anymore, but remain steady in the 10-20 slots. “Chapter One” continues to lose momentum each issue, however, sinking down to No. 37. Even more embarrassing -- the “Darkchylde Summer Swimsuit Spectacular” #1 is outselling “Webspinners: Tales of Spider-Man” #8 by four slots (Nos. 85 and 89 respectively.) Elsewhere, the highest-ranking Batman title is at No. 30, while a "Superman" book doesn’t appear until the No. 50 slot. According to the “Looking Back” feature, Superman titles had a place in the Top 10 five years earlier, holding their own against intense competition, like the early Image launches.
“Wizard” attempts to acknowledge the impact of the Internet on back issue prices, and produces this -- a prologue to the Price Guide that reports on eBay trends. (I think the idea was to use the Price Guide and grading system as a companion piece to those selling their comics on eBay.) Copies of the officially unreleased “Matrix” tie-in comics, which were supposed to be handed out in theatres, have gone from $22 to $10. Witchblade statues from Japan are hot. And back issues of the recent Spider-Man relaunch titles are only going for cover price, if that.
So, what did we learn today?
- “It doesn’t take a brainiac to see where your heads are at. All I have to do is look through your top ten books, favorite writers and artists lists and Alex Ross’ butt to see where you’re livin’.” - Beau Smith, giving “Wizard” the business.
- “It’ll be all-Byrne, all the time. A Byrne-ucopia!” - John Byrne, who proclaims that he’s been given “special dispensation by the comic book industry to write every book under the sun!”
- “If you want to get an education out of comics, and you be readin’ ‘Spawn,’ then you be in some serious, serious merde.” - Harlan Ellison
Andy Kubert doesn’t leave “Captain America” to pencil one of Mark Waid’s proposed Gorilla titles, and the announced Image imprint Artis Studios (the people behind “Machina Rex”) doesn’t go anywhere.
Vince McMahon is listed as one of the possible culprits behind Gotham City’s divorce from the United States…a $95 sculpture of Diamond Dallas Page is featured in the Stuff column, right next to a Steve Rude-designed Darkseid statue…the Video Stuff column reviews the “WWF Attitude” video game…the Top Ten Creators List is a sad attempt at creating amalgams of comic pros and wrestlers (i. e. photoshopping Gold Dust’s facepaint on to Dan Jurgens)…Raven is the subject of this month’s “Off the Cuff” interview…one of the Rock’s catchphrases shows up in the summary of a “Wolverine” back issue…and the Bullpen feature has behind-the-scenes details on their Sting cover shoot, which took place backstage at a “WCW Nitro” taping.
Stuff “Wizard” Likes
The prospect of a “top-shelf” “X-Men” film arriving soon…the new “Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game” from Wizards on the Coast…creators who give to charity, such as Alex Ross and George Perez…the “bare-knuckled tales of crime fiction” (and “naked chicks”) presented by Frank Miller in “Sin City”…the early issues of “Earth X”…and random back issues, such as “Fantastic Four” #277.
Stuff “Wizard” Doesn’t Like
Red Skull popping up in “X-Men” just a few weeks after dying in “Captain America”…the much-delayed “Battle Chasers” #6 for only featuring 12 pages of Joe Madureira art…the Byrne/Garney run on “Hulk”…the publishing schedules of “Fathom” and “Battle Chasers”…“Spider-Man: Chapter One,” which they thank the Lord for finally ending…the “nightmare” that the Superman books have become…the Mackie/Byrne “Amazing Spider-Man” run so far…Golden & Sniegoski, the writers who “destroyed the Punisher”…“The Phantom Menace” (after months of hyping the film)…the conclusion to “Batman: The Long Halloween”…Rob Liefeld returning to “Cable”…and the Spider-Clone, although they joke that they’ve made a deal with Marvel to let go of that one.
This Ain’t HuffPo
“Wizard” assumes Ellen DeGeneres is a “Xena” fan…boasts that “Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game” from Wizards on the Coast is so thorough, it reveals the color of Sue Richards’ panties…speculates that artist Min Ku copped a feel on DC’s life-sized replica of Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman…labels the voice of Batgirl as “hottie actress Melissa Gilbert” (she actually left the role years earlier)…fantasizes about a “Witchblade Takes a Shower” monthly series…compliments Archie Comics’ Betty with “nice ass”…promises “plenty of water and hot chicks in bikinis” in future issues of “Fathom”…admires the teenaged Spider-Girl’s ability to fill out that spider-costume…asks WCW wrestler Raven if another wrestler has ever checked him out in the locker room…likes the prospect of a catfight, as seen on the cover of “Spider-Woman” #37…proposes a “All Chicks Who Aren’t Dumpy Be Topless” Day for the month of August…and jokes about a drunken Xavier targeting Kitty Pryde because there’s now “grass on the field” (which just might be the most tasteless joke in the history of the magazine. Congratulations, guys.)
This Ain’t HuffPo/‘Rasslin’/I Love the ‘90s
During the feature on Raven, the interviewer reveals his (not Raven's) personal fantasy of “smashing that Ally McBeal chick with a steel chair.”
Vive la France
Even though every other “Wizard” cliché joke is present, the French are left alone this month.
Stock art of Spider-Man (from his Universal Studios ride) pointing his finger at the camera leads to a predictable joke…the “Wizard” staff has something in common with Spleen of “Mystery Men” (the ability to “eat anything and release corrosive fluids and gases”)…and we have more jokes about the effects of White Castle and Thai food.
Watch out, comics industry -- Crossgen is coming.
“Wizard” is also launching a kids’ magazine named “In Power!” The record of its existence of today appears to be people selling back issues on eBay. “In Power!” looks like any other tween magazine clogging the magazine racks at your local supermarket, and not surprisingly, they jumped on every pop culture fad of the era, from Britney Spears to Harry Potter.
Cheap and Stupid and Trashy?
The evolution of Manga Scene into Manga Mania! sums up the state of the magazine rather well. What used to be a column written by a fan of a still-obscure genre of comics has turned into an outright commercial for various stuff for you to buy. Instead of analyzing work, the magazine is charging fans to read a multi-page “Pokémon” ad. I accept that there’s a certain amount of hype that goes into genre-specific publications and websites, but when actual commentary disappears and is replaced by simple promotion, it’s hard to care anymore. The more juvenile aspects of the publication are still here -- in some cases it’s even growing more immature -- and that’s become the only source of personality in the magazine. Also, it seems as if “Wizard” is shrinking; down to 184 pages this issue, while previous issues numbered over 200 pages. It’s just not a good value for your dollar, which is a sharp contrast to “Wizard” in its glory years.