#31: Making the Most Out of Nothing
All Children Leave Home, Sooner Or Later. The Joy Is To Watch Them Fly!
There were a bunch of assorted topics that I thought about writing about here at different points during the week, but now that it’s actually time to commit to the thing, I find that I don’t really feel all that much like delving into any of them. But for those who might forever wonder about what mysterious and revelatory nuggets this feature might have been showcasing, among the topics that I considered and discarded were: being accused of being a Stan Lee hater on one hand and a Stan Lee apologist on the other hand within the same week; Alan Moore’s Roman a clef “What We Can Know About Thunderman” in his new short story collection Innovations and how mean-spirited and pointless I found it; how I would have edited the recent DOCTOR WHO finale story to make it a bit more satisfying and polished; the change in ownership over at Twitter and what that might mean for the future of the platform, and a few other odds and ends. so simply go forward as though I had brilliant insights about all of these topics and we’ll all feel the better for it.
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One thing that I did want to point out to people is the vintage interviews that Alex Grand has been remastering and posting at his Comic Book Historians YouTube page. David Armstrong filmed a bevy of interviews with many of the now-gone greats of our industry, and Alex has cleaned them up and made them available again. It’s a great little treasure trove of information and it’s a genuine treat to be able to see figures such as John Buscema or Irv Novick talking about their time in the industry. Armstrong went deep, grabbing conversations with a myriad of figures from the Golden and Silver Age of Comics, and so anybody with an interest in that history should follow that link and check them out. Most of them are relatively short, between ten and forty minutes.
Even the number of questions that were directed in my direction this week seemed slimmer than it had been. After thirty installments, maybe there’s simply not all that much left to learn. But let’s hit the couple that we did get, starting with this one from a fellow known only as Zack:
Tom, if you want to find one comics reviewer with as much insight as moviebob, I'd truly question where you're reading about comics because I'd argue there's plenty out there doing much better work than that. It's just not at your CBRs.
I’d welcome any recommendation that you might have for such reviewers, Zack, but I’m hardly just looking for them over at CBR. I’ve been all over the place, and in my opinion, while there are plenty of people giving their opinions on comic books that have just come out, precious few of them can truly be called reviews—evidencing a depth of knowledge about the subject and insightful analysis of the work in question and why and how it works or does not work (and how it could be made better.) Most reviews these days, sadly, are simply blog entries, in which the writer spews forth a bunch of opinions without bringing a great deal of critical faculty to the process. Now, there’s certainly a place for that—I would say that any of my Monofocus pieces fall into that pool as well. But those reviews are really relatively worthless to me. They don’t tell me anything that I don’t already know apart from whether that particular reader liked or hated whatever the story in question was. Looking at something like Comic Book Round Up’s aggregation of reviews across the line, you can see that just about every book released winds up getting a similar review pattern, with some slight variation. That’s fine for what it is, but it doesn’t scratch the itch that I’m looking for. Wile Moviebob’s pieces on film aren’t all equally in depth, he’s evidenced a working knowledge of the medium and the industry and shown that he has strong analytical skills. That, to me, is what makes his pieces worth reading. I’m more likely to walk away from them with some greater appreciation for even a film that I didn’t particularly like. That’s what I’m looking for in the world of comics. If you know anybody like that, I’m all ears.
And finally, a pair from the always-reliable Evan “Cool Guy”:
Do you decorate your house for Halloween? and..
What is the most genuinely scary comic book?
I don’t actually decorate our house for Halloween, Evan, apart from a few bits of ornamentation, a pumpkin or two, that sort of thing. Part of that is that I live in a relatively remote area where we don’t really get any Trick or Treating activity. But more than that, Halloween has never really been my favorite holiday. I had some bad experiences on the date in my grade school days and that soured it for me to a certain degree ever since.
And the most genuinely scary comic book—and I’m counting graphic novels here as well because this is my Newsletter and I can do as I like—is MAUS by Art Spiegelman. And the reason it’s the scariest is that, apart from the convention of depicting different characters as different cartoon animals, it actually happened, and shows just how easily a civilization can slide almost imperceptivity into that world of horror. Given the way events have been shaping up around these parts the last half-a-decade or so, it’s a volume that folks would be wise to revisit and remember.
Behind the Curtain
.Here’s a three-fer concerning one of the most popular artists of the 1980s, John Byrne and the series that really put him on the map, X-MEN.
Byrne was just breaking into the industry at the time that the All-New, All-Different X-Men were being launched, and it’s clear that he became a fan of the strip relatively early on. John himself has noted that he made a pest of himself letting the powers-that-be know that he wanted to take over the series should it ever come open. So what we see above is a sample image of the new X-Men done by John in these early days. It’s a bit rough compared to what he’d eventually do on the book and with the characters, but it’s tangible evidence of his interest in the series.
And the above is the first of a series of sample pages that John worked up in order to help sell himself as Dave Cockrum’s eventual successor on X-MEN. This, too, was done relatively early. I would guess that X-MEN hadn’t yet reached issue #100 when John pulled together these samples. They focused on Wolverine, who was John’s favorite member of the cast, being that he was a fellow Canadian. In sharp contrast, the clawed mutant wasn’t especially beloved by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum yet, and they were even talking about writing him out of the series at one point. Those plans went the way of the dodo once Byrne signed on to work on the book. Byrne put a lot of work into Wolverine, and was one of the major factors in turning him into the incredibly popular character he eventually became.
One of the strange things about the early new X-Men books was how little had been revealed about the characters. In Wolverine’s case, that became a running bit of comedy business, as the creators would drop some information about him on the fly in a given situation, and when pressed by his fellows as to why he’d never mentioned that aspect of his past before, Wolverine would inevitably reply, “You never asked.” Heck, even Wolverine’s real name of Logan wasn’t revealed until X-MEN #103—and even then, it would still be another dozen issues before the X-Men themselves would learn it. And in fact, Wolverine wasn’t seen without his signature headpiece until X-MEN #98, which is where readers first experienced his distinctive haircut. But prior to that, realizing that Wolverine’s true face had not yet been revealed, Byrne did up this drawing as his pitch for what Logan’s real face might look like. Unfortunately, he didn’t get this drawing to Chris Claremont until after that #98 story was well into production, so he was too late to have any influence on Wolverine. But Claremont and Byrne did later recycle the essence of this face for Sabretooth over in the IRON FIST series they were working on, reckoning that the character could someday turn out to be either Wolverine’s father or brother. And no, I don’t know why Byrne’s vision of Wolverine’s real face has no eyebrows either.
Pimp My Wednesday
The beat goes on, and so there are new four-color fantasies awaiting your perusal in just a few days at midweek!
PUNISHER #7 by Jason Aaron, Jesus Saiz, Paul Azaceta and Dave Stewart finally brings together characters that fans have been waiting to see collide, as Daredevil guest-stars in this issue. For those who have been following Chip Zdarsky’s DAREDEVIL run, you know that the sightless crusader has been in the midst of his own attempts to co-opt a portion of the Hand, so it was pretty much inevitable that the two books would intersect at some point. And an intersection is what this is, not an actual crossover per se. Daredevil will appear in PUNISHER and Frank will show up in DAREDEVIL, and those appearance will be informed by each other, but either title can be read without following the other one. Who says we aren’t good to you? On a more mundane note, this cover stymied my best efforts to include a pull quote from the issue on it as we’ve been doing on recent covers. I love that conceit, but this particular image just didn’t have a dead space that would accommodate in an elegant fashion. Tried it in a bunch of places, including across the top of the logo, and it just looked too crowded. So we skipped it for this issue!
I’m really not a big fan of homage covers. I feel like the best ones have been done to death at this point, and they tend to evidence a lack of confidence in the merits of the book in question. But that didn’t stop me from backing into doing a homage to Jim Lee’s UNCANNY X-MEN #268 cover on this issue of SAVAGE AVENGERS. It was one of a number of cover thoughts that writer David Pepose proposed and the one that cover artist Leinil Yu liked the best. So as with that PUNISHER cover above, I just went with it. And I feel like it’s not so aggressive a homage that it draws too much attention to itself (though that could simply be me kidding myself.) This is the second chapter in our gonzo adventure in the whacked-out world of 2099, with Carlos Magno providing the hyper-detailed artwork as usual.
Meanwhile, my associate editor Annalise Bissa has been putting together an all-new SECRET INVASION series, which kicks off this week. It’s far more of an espionage storyline than the original was, but it’s filled with clever bits of business thanks to the efforts of writer Ryan North. And don’t worry, there are also plenty of super heroes in the thing, wonderfully realized in pen and ink by artist Francesco Mobili.
And over in AVENGERS UNLIMITED in the MARVEL UNLIMITED service, almost as though there was a major motion picture about to come out, we begin a two-part adventure uniting the Black Panther with Namor the Sub-Mariner. The piece is written by Tochi Onyebuchi and illustrated by Ray-Anthony Height and features an old school Marvel villain and the requisite action and adventure. Check it out before heading out to your local movie house to see WAKANDA FOREVER!
A Comic Book On Sale 60 Years Ago Today, October 30, 1962
This issue of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, #16, is noteworthy less for the story directly and more for the introduction of a specific character within that story. The adventure itself turns out to be a bit of a boondoggle—I recently wrote relatively extensively about it over at the TomBrevoort.com site at this link, so I’m not going to cover exactly the same ground here. Suffice it to say that the first two chapters of this three-part epic showcase the Justice Leaguers in an adventure in which they are seemingly trapped and destroyed by a new foe, the Maestro. But the third chapter recontextualizes everything: what we and the JLA heroes themselves have been reading is a fictional story dreamed up by a JLA super-fan by the name of Jerry Thomas. Having devised a way in which the League could be destroyed, even if it’s only fictitious, Thomas has sent his illustrated comic book story to the League in the hopes that they could find some way to survive the predicament into which he placed them. And indeed, they are able to do so—the result of a clunkily-inserted “clue” early on in the book, one which most readers likely took note of during their first read-through. Anyway, as some of you may know, Jerry Thomas was a tribute from JLA editor Julie Schwartz and writer Gardner Fox to a pair of their most dedicated fans, Dr. Jerry Bails and Roy Thomas, who together had been putting out the fanzine Alter Ego. Bails in particular was the grandfather of comic book fandom, having organized a number of the earliest super hero fanzines, the earliest industry awards, and compiled a massive database of comic book creators going back to the Golden Age of Comics and what they had worked on—no small task in a era when there wasn’t yet an internet, or even an Overstreet Price Guide that contained most of this information. Bails was also a tenured professor, an adult, albeit one who had been a ravenous fan of the Justice Society of America in the 1940s, a love he never entirely lost. He wound up contacting DC in an effort to buy back issues of ALL-STAR COMICS to complete his collection. While DC/National didn’t have any back issues for sale, Schwartz did forward his communication on to writer Gardner Fox, who eventually sold Bails his own personal bound copies of most of the run. Once the Justice Society was brought back in the modern era as the Justice League of America, Bails became a dedicated booster of that series, and of super hero comic books in general. Schwartz also acquainted Bails with the science fiction fanzines of his own youth, which served as an inspiration. A few months later, Roy Thomas wrote to Schwartz asking the very same question: did DC have any ALL-STAR COMICS back issues that they could sell him? Julie and Gardner put Roy in touch with Bails, and the two became fast friends, with Roy helping out as associate editor on what became Alter Ego, the first comic book fanzine devoted entirely to costumed heroes. One of the culminations of all of this activity was this appearance by “Jerry Thomas” in this issue of JUSTICE LEAGUE (or non-appearance: Thomas is named and mentioned but never seen here.) What’s more, during this period, Schwartz was awarding original artwork to his letters page writers as a prize for having their letters printed (one of the reasons that so much artwork from Julie’s books survives to this day, at a time when it would routinely be destroyed after printing.) As an extra thanks, Schwartz sent the original art to the entire issue to Jerry Bails as a gift.
A Comic I Worked On That Came Out On This Date
While it’s been printed a number of times over the years, the initial printing of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: ADVENTURES IN READING was first released on October 30, 1990. And it’s noteworthy as an early book that I worked on for one reason, which we’ll get to in a moment.
ADVENTURES IN READING was one of what we called “custom comics”—that is to say, comics produced as a service for some outside client, either to help advertise a product of some kind or to promote some pro-social message. These books were meant to look and read like regular Marvel comics as much as possible, but the contents were subject to the guidance and oversight of the organizations commissioning them. As they were often a pain to work on (and since they were a product that Marvel was earning a substantial fee for creating) custom comics usually paid their creators double their regular rate. In part, this was to offset the fact that they’d receive no incentives for their work based on circulation as they would have for a regular book. The other part was that there were inevitably going to be a bunch of changes along the way that would have to be made. This particular custom comic was written by Louise Simonson and drawn by Jon Bogdanove, the POWER PACK creative team. So here’s where I come in. I was hired by Bob Budiansky to work as a part of his Special Projects office at the tail end of 1989. For the first month or so of that period, I worked under Marcus McLauren as his assistant editor. But when Dwayne McDuffie announced that he was going full-time freelance in order to write, Bob decided to move me over into his direct office to replace Dwayne (a plan that he’d had in mind all the while.) Now, while I’ve spoken with Bob about this over the years and he insists that it was all just a coincidence, there was a rite-of-passage that his direct assistant editors all seemed to face. I went through it, my successor in the job went through it, and his successor went through it. And it was this: for the first week of your employment in the job, Bob would work with you, showing you the ropes of the office (in this regard, I had a leg up, as I’d already worked there a bit during my internship.) And then, for the second week, Bob would go on vacation, and the assistant editor would be left to sink or swim. And so it was that, after my first week in the office with him, Bob went away on vacation and left me to figure out anything that was going to come up in the week following. I hadn’t had much to do with ADVENTURES IN READING up to this point, though I believe it was initially being put together during my internship which hadn’t been that long before. So I was familiar with it in a general sense. And by the time I came into the office, the project had been pretty much wrapped up. Which is why it became something of a whirlwind when Judy Fireman came into the office. Judy was a very nice lady who was the account executive who functioned as the client liaison in this instance. She’d been in contact with the client—I forget who that was this many years later—and the over/under is that they had a laundry list of changes that needed to be made to ADVENTURES IN READING before they would approve it and it could thereafter be printed. I explained to Judy that Bob was out of the office for the week, and she indicated most emphatically that that would not do, that the corrections in question needed to be made now, immediately, instantly, because the book was waiting to be printed and there were hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line. Then she dumped the whole thing on me and left. Now, I’d never supervised changes of this scale on a comic book before. I honestly wasn’t even certain what my authority to do so was in this case, and how much I needed to consult with the creative team or whomever. But with no time to lose, I started to puzzle it all out, aided no doubt by conversations with Evan Skolnick and Greg Wright in editorial, for whom I had also interned. I’m pretty certain that I got all of the corrections done on site, in the Bullpen and through John Romita’s correction team, Romita’s Raiders. And I’m dead certain that the Bullpen letterers hated me for it that week, because it was a ton of lettering changes on a finished book that needed to be rush-completed. But somehow it all got done, and I was able to get the corrected version to Judy before the end of the week. I think it all turned out all right—at the very least, I don’t remember there being any blowback after the fact from either Bob or Judy.
A Comic I Worked On That Came Out On This Date
Yeah, it’s time to once again revisit this bastard, which came out on October 30, 1996. It’s a book about which I’ve already written a bunch—it was featured in the very popular Five Comics That Almost Got Me Fired Bonus installment that got sent around a month or two back. But really, the best place to begin here is probably to quote extensively from that piece:
SPIDER-MAN TEAM-UP #5. This one has been spoken about at great lengths elsewhere, but I’m going to try to summarize things really quickly. Interested parties are encouraged to seek the longer explanation out. Anyway, after the five editorial divisions were folded back together under Bob Harras, I continued to work on a number of Spider-Man satellite projects, one of which was SPIDER-MAN TEAM-UP, a double-sized quarterly version of MARVEL TEAM-UP, just featuring Spider-Man’s name in the title for better sell-through and order form placement. This book came out during the period when Marvel was in turmoil–not yet quite in bankruptcy I don’t believe, but definitely being pulled back and forth by rival claimants each of whom had designs on owning the company. As such, mandates and directives changed on an almost day-to-day basis, and something that was important one day would be utterly meaningless the next.
Somewhere along the line, I get the sense that there was some interest in doing something with Howard the Duck–whether that was a proposed television project or movie or something. Clearly, it never went anywhere. But on the week it was talked about, Bob Harras came to my office and asked me if we could have Spider-Man team up with Howard the Duck as soon as possible. Speaking with Kurt Busiek about this, it became apparent relatively quickly that the only Howard stories that had been any good up tot hat point had been written by the waterfowl’s creator Steve Gerber. Gerber had had a rocky relationship with the company, but if we wanted to do a new Howard story, reaching out to him to write it seemed like the best option.
Now, Gerber was a bit reticent to sign on to do this story, but after a few days’ though, he came to me with a proposition. See, he had been retained by Erik Larsen to do a Savage Dragon team-up story with his other creation, Destroyer Duck (a character that he had originated to help finance his then-lawsuit against Marvel for ownership of Howard.) for Image. And so what he wanted to do was an “unofficial crossover” between the two stories. This was something that had been done a number of times in the looser confines of the 1970s (I wrote a whole piece about them here: https://tombrevoort.com/2020/06/21/5bc-five-best-unofficial-marvel-and-dc-crossovers/ ) The thing was, I was uneasy about not knowing what would be in the Dragon/Destroyer book and I said so. Gerber gave me his word that he wouldn’t do anything in that story that would cause me any problems–and so, like a sucker, I agreed to go along with it.
The timing on this next bit is a bit difficult to parse so many years after the fact, but I prefer to think that Gerber was genuine in his initial promise to me. But that didn’t last long. Because given whatever conversations had been taking place about Howard the Duck, Bob Harras had visited other offices besides my own, stumping for appearances of the Duck. And so suddenly, Howard was going to be showing up in GHOST RIDER, and GENERATION X, and in his own One-Shot Special as well as in this SPIDEY TEAM-UP story. And Gerber felt like he had been played, like his involvement was being used to give his tacit stamp of approval to whatever else was being done with his character. he and I had a conversation about this, and I told him that I understood and respected his position, and that if he had to step away from doing the TEAM-UP story, that would be fine–somebody else would just wind up writing it. But after a day or so, he agreed to continue on it.
It all hit the fan just before the Thanksgiving break of that year. I had occasion to speak with Howard’s agent about some other non-Gerber-related business, and he mentioned to me how angry Gerber was with all of us and that he had posted something on a then-nascent message board speaking of his plans. This was back in the days of dial-up, and I can remember that evening frantically ripping programs out of my laptop so that I could free up enough memory on the thing to be able to dial into Gerber’s web page and read whatever he had written. There, he gave an account of his version of events, and declared that he was going to do something subversive in the DRAGON/DESTROYER book that would be like a kick in Marvel’s balls. As it turned out, what he did was to add in a scene set within a common sequence in which Howard and his girlfriend Beverly were spirited away and replaced with a couple of pod people clones. I wouldn’t know this for a number of months until the book finally went on sale (the two books were intended to come out at the same time, but the DRAGON/DUCK book came out late–Image was having difficulty shipping titles on time during that period.)
I thought for sure that this was going to be my demise–but as in earlier instances, once everything came out about this, nobody on the Marvel side really cared. Which was fortunate for me, because I deserved what I got for getting myself into that situation in the first place. It was also good that Gerber lived on the West Coast, as had he been more local, I have no doubt that I would have driven over to his home in a rage and done violence to him, so angry was I at this betrayal and turn of events. Again, though, all my own fault.
SAVAGE DRAGON/DESTROYER DUCK #1 saw print on November 27, 1996, a fact that helped to save my bacon. SPIDER-MAN TEAM-UP #5 also included a relatively forgettable Spider-Man/Gambit team-up both written and drawn by Darick Robertson.
And of course, Steve Gerber would return to Marvel and Howard the Duck in 2002 to do a new series for Marvel’s MAX line, thus rendering the entire exercise completely pointless.
Well, the big news last week among my people was the fact that a new episode of DOCTOR WHO aired, this one being the last produced by current (now former) showrunner Chris Chibnall and starring Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor. This has been a shaky era for the series, a bit of a bumpy ride overall, but the finale included enough fan service for older audience members to make the entire thing enjoyable. As I typically do, I posted my immediate aftermath thoughts over at TomBrevoort.com. The return of Ace and the Seventh Doctor in this episode inspired me to sit through Survival tonight when I ran across it playing on Pluto TV. This was the final serial in the original broadcast run of the show, airing originally in 1989, and you can see the early roots of how Russell T. Davies would reinvent the show when he brought it back in 2005 in this final adventure. It was set in and around a recognizably contemporary British town and the menace/monster was something commonplace transformed into something scary. And yes, it was still shot for no money whatsoever and carried a synthesizer score that could cause paint to peel off walls, but I still found it entertaining. The last year or two of the original run, the series had begun to get back on track, largely due to the influence of script editor Andrew Cartmel.
On the domestic front, the new incarnation of QUANTUM LEAP has been growing on me. I’m still not convinced we need quite so much activity going on in the present (which tends to eat up a bunch of episode time, the result of which being that the leap adventures that new hero Ben Song is on tend to be relatively basic.) But the latest episode, in which they repurpose footage from their unaired pilot episode, includes some very cool time travel thinking that, frankly, was much more clever than I had been giving the series credit for.
I also took in CONFESS, FLETCH the other night, which was low-key and low-stakes and really just an excuse to watch Jon Hamm talk his way into and out of trouble against a farcelike environment, but which I nonetheless enjoyed. Part of this, I expect, is due to the fact that I read one or two of the Gregory McDonald books back in the late 1970s and enjoyed them. And I was never really enamored of Chevy Chase’s portrayal of the lead character. He was just too…Chevy, you know what I mean? This felt truer to the spirit of the books, at least how I remember them.
Finally, I’ve really been enjoying the new MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM series THE WITCH FROM MERCURY. I talked about it a little bit a few weeks back, but it’s noteworthy in that it’s the first GUNDAM show in a four-plus decade history to have a female lead character, the delightful Suletta Mercury. It’s also set in its own unique timeline, so no prior GUNDAM knowledge is needed in order to enjoy it. The character designs are great, it’s got a terrific opening title sequence, and it’s a fun series all around—one that you can sample if you’re of a mind to here, as the official Crunchyroll YouTube channel has uploaded the first two episodes for anybody to take a look at. This has turned out to be the most anime-heavy season of programing for me in several years, as I’m currently following four shows: WITCH, SPY X FAMILY, MY HERO ACADEMIA and URUSEI YATSURA (yes, I did wind up watching the third episode this past week, which I liked a bit better, so I’m likely to stick with it for a while.) I can’t remember the last time that was the case—it may not have happened since back in the 1980s when I was sampling everything I could get my hands on in the genre.
Posted at TomBrevoort.com
Just yesterday, I wrote up a post about this issue of SHOWCASE, another Inferior Five story which parodies the original X-Men.
And five years ago, I wrote about this issue of THE FLASH with a great Neal Adams cover.
That’s it for this week! Next time, hopefully I’ll have more of value to say. Or maybe I’m simply washed up already. Who knows? But there’s only one way to find out for sure, and that’s to check back in next Sunday as we drop another one of these lovely missives your way. In the meantime, don’t take any wooden nickels!
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