So after last week, when I was having difficulty getting this Newsletter written in a timely fashion, I had a brainstorm! As AI-generated content is a subject of great discourse all around the blogosphere at the moment, why not take advantage of that and get an AI to do a pass at writing this column? So here’s what ChatGPT coughed up when I asked it to generate a Tom Brevoort Man With A Hat newsletter:
Hello and welcome to the Tom Brevoort Man With A Hat newsletter!
As always, I hope this message finds you well and enjoying some great comics. This month, I wanted to take a moment to talk about the importance of collaboration in comics.
Collaboration is at the heart of what we do in comics. Writers, artists, colorists, letterers, editors, and many others all work together to create the stories and worlds that we love. Without collaboration, comics wouldn't exist in the form that we know and love them today.
As an editor, I'm privileged to work with some of the most talented people in the industry. It's always a pleasure to see how everyone's skills and perspectives come together to create something greater than the sum of its parts.
One of the things I love most about collaboration is how it can lead to unexpected and exciting ideas. When you're working with a group of people, you never know where a conversation or brainstorming session might take you. Sometimes the best ideas come from bouncing ideas off of one another and building on each other's strengths.
Of course, collaboration isn't always easy. It can be challenging to balance different opinions and perspectives, and to find a way to make everyone's vision work together. But when it works, it's incredibly rewarding.
So, whether you're a writer, artist, or just a fan of comics, I encourage you to appreciate the collaborative spirit that makes our industry so special. And next time you're reading a comic, take a moment to think about all the people who came together to make it happen.
Until next time, keep reading and enjoying comics!
The Man With A Hat
Pretty good, right? It’s just about as soulless and pedantic as the real thing, with a similar grasp of basic vocabulary! Admit it—you can’t tell the difference, right? And hey, this Newsletter is still free, so you get what you pay for, you know?
One other thing I’d like to bring people’s attention to before we get down to the Q & A section: my brother, the vastly talented Mighty Joe Castro and his band the Gravamen have just dropped a new track, and I think it’s outstanding. So much so that I’m embedding the Spotify link to it below so that you can have a listen yourself. I’m honestly not certain that this link is going to survive being sent around to everyone, so if it does actually work, please let me know! And enjoy!
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width="100%" height="352" frameBorder="0" allowfullscreen="" allow="autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; fullscreen; picture-in-picture" loading="lazy"></iframe>
Right! Time to see what’s on your minds this week! To begin with, Dewey had this recommendation to make on the subject of terrific webtoon content that’s available out there:
On the subject of Webtoons, Kathryn & Stuart Immonen have reactivated their fun, experimental Grass of Parnassus strip at Webtoon, and seem to have basically not promoted it at all except on their very quiet tumblr page. But it deserves to be seen, so I'm doing my bit. New chapters up every Monday. https://www.webtoons.com/en/challenge/grass-of-parnassus/list?title_no=842944
All right. So we begin our question round with one from JV
The talk of the Death of Cap storyline had me wondering what your thoughts were on the Winter Soldier/Bucky resurrection - both you and Brubaker have stated that you had a list of concerns and questions that Brubaker answered - can you walk us through that time and your thoughts? And how you think it all turned out?
I’ve talked about this a bunch in the past, but the short answer was that, going in, I wasn’t in favor of it. And so, yes, I did pose a bunch of questions to Ed for him to answer before committing to that story. Some of them were purely practical and logistical: If Bucky is still alive, he’s be an old man today, so how is he still relevant? If he’s still alive, how is it that nobody knows about him or has brought him up in all the years that Cap has been back? How did he survive that explosion? And so on. But the more meaty questions regarded what we get out of bringing Bucky back versus what we lose. Because Bucky was the personification of every soldier who didn’t come back from the war, that brother who gave his life in service, and whose loss you can never completely get over. Once Bucky is back, once the adrenaline of that initial shock story is over, how does this become a net gain? How are get left with more at the end of things rather than less. After thinking all of these assorted things through for a week or so, Ed was able to come back with answers for all of them that satisfied me—and thus, we did the story. And it seems as though it worked out all right in the long run—though I have felt like, past a certain point, Bucky became something of an aimless character in the Marvel Universe, one whose story has pretty much been told but who is still orbiting around because he’s attained a certain popularity, and nobody quite being able to find a new vector for the character that caught the public imagination.
Chip Zdarsky, whose own Substack Newsletter can be located here, wrote:
I feel like the Hitch cover is a prime opportunity to commission a single issue story based on that image, like DC used to do back in the Silver Age. Has Marvel ever done that? Had an amazing cover and then made the story to match it?
On occasion years and years ago. But these days, so many of our covers are just images that don’t have a whole lot of story specificity to them, so there isn’t the same sort of narrative drive to them that might inspire a worthwhile story. That Bryan Hitch Cap cover is maybe an outlier to this, as its situation is very specific—Cap behind bard. But in general, we haven’t really tried to do this in any organized way, outside of discussing it every once in a while.
I’ve always loved the idea of SHIELD as a backbone of the MU, yet sadly we are once again without it now.
Tony Stark heading it up I thought was a great idea. Any plans for its return?
Mortimer Q. Forbush
It seemed as though Brian Bendis was building towards a new iteration of SHIELD in his Spider-Man and Iron Man comics right before he jumped ship. Also, with the completion of Dan Slott's Reckoning war, it appears it may live on as a continuation of Jason Aaron's Man on the Wall concept. My sack o' questions:
Can you share why Bendis' iteration failed to launch? Is it because Brian jumped ship?
Whose "office" / which editor calls the shots regarding the direction of SHIELD?
Has it been "put on the shelf" to stoke the "absence makes the heart grow fonder" dynamic ala Thor and Fantastic Four in the past?
Do you have opinions on the pros & cons of each of the iterations the organization has been portrayed as:
- A. Kirby/Steranko-era stylish clandestine spy organization
- B. Corruption-riddled US federal police force
- C. Historical quasi-mystical secret society
What Brian was building towards wasn’t a new iteration of SHIELD, it was an entirely new thing that would have touched on a bunch of places across the Marvel Universe. Ultimately, that group would have had operatives that were each given a lettered codename, Spy-A, Spy-B—and Miles would have been Spy-D. But you’re absolutely right, the follow-through didn’t happen because Brian left Marvel for DC at that point.
SHIELD is kind of a cross-office structure, but when push comes to shove, it really is controlled by the Heroes office that I oversee, since it’s more immediately connected to the characters in that area. And it’s mostly been put on the shelf because, for a time, it seemed like the only two stories anybody could come up with around it was to either have it disbanded or have it reconstituted. But it felt like a bit of a relic of an earlier aesthetic (and also a storytelling crutch—I was sick of the inciting incident of so many stories being Nick Fury or Maria Hill or whomever showing up on a hero’s doorstep with a mission for them to carry out.) So, yeah, maybe it is similar to THOR and FANTASTIC FOUR—I don’t tend to think of it that way, though, largely because it didn’t really have a series in the way those characters did. To me, it was more about waiting until somebody had a genuinely good idea for it that wouldn’t be just more of the same, and also to break the addiction of our writers towards using it as a convenient storytelling shortcut.
And I don’t know that I have a strong feeling for most of your three lettered examples. I don’t tend to like it as B, but in a contemporary world it’s almost impossible for the average reader to buy into the idea that any big policing agency isn’t at least a little bit corrupt and self-serving. And while I liked the series ideas well enough, I do feel like C added a whole bunch of historic complications to something that was relatively simple, and not to any great effect. But that’s bound to happen on any long-running concept. That said, I don’t think you can simply do A any more, at least not in that style. The sort of 1960s James Bond/Man From U.N.C.L.E. heroics embodied by that approach don’t quite seem relevant today. Like I said earlier, a new idea, a new direction, is needed.
If I can double dip, question-wise:
It always struck me as curious that FF would be relaunched with writer Scott Lobdell only to pass it to Chris Claremont after 3-5 issues. Was that always the intention (if so, why) or did unforeseen events disrupt the best-laid plans of mice and Marvels (if so, what)?
Pretty much. At the time of its launch, artist Alan Davis only agreed to draw the first three issues of the series. I think everybody involved was hoping that, once he was doing it, he’d be easier to convince to stay with it—but he wasn’t. And thereafter, Scott Lobdell’s workload got heavier as some things started to happen for him in Hollywood at around that time, and something had to give, which turned out to be FANTASTIC FOUR. Chris Claremont was back on staff by that point, so he was an easy person to turn to in order to script Scott’s final, late issues and to take the series over entirely with Salvador Larroca. But yes, that wasn’t the plan, it was just the way things turned out.
Re: Untold Legend of CM... How would the process have looked different if, instead of the EiC, it was someone else on staff who had a fondness for that version of the character (or an equivalent character from way down the bench)? Would they pitch the idea similar to a freelancer? Generally speaking, what kinds of hurdles need to be cleared/questions answered for something like that to get traction? I assume a Mark Millar or Jason Aaron wanting to do, say, Omega the Unknown would have a smoother path to the goal line, but that's an assumption looking in from the outside.
Well, Kevin, it really depends on just where the idea was coming from, although any iteration would encounter a similar path. If an editor came up with the notion, then they’d better have some simple high concept that excited people and got them to believe in the project’s viability. Sometimes, that might mean recruiting a creative team and getting them on board, though more often you’d probably run a P & L analysis on the project before that even, to make sure that such a book would be viable. The only real difference if it was a creator who was showing up with the idea is that they’d likely already have at least a broad sense of a specific story in mind, as well as their own reputation and position in the industry to draw upon. As you intuit, a Mark Millar pitch might more easily find favor and be seen as financially viable than the same pitch by a newbie writer. Either way, until the project was blessed by the EIC and had been approved by that New Project review, no money would have been allocated towards it and so no material could be commissioned or paid for.
Last question from Clive Reston:
Here's a fantasy-baseball-type question: you get to pick two now-deceased comics creators (of any kind) who never worked for Marvel and transport them through time at their creative peak - one to work with Stan Lee in the 1960s and one to work with you in the present day. Who do you pick, and why?
For purely stupid reasons—because it makes me laugh—I’d have Bob Kane work with Stan in the 1960s, and see if the two of them could actually generate a finished comic book that way. In answer to your other question, it’s actually kind of hard to find a creator of note who didn’t work at Marvel at some point, so I don’t know that I have an especially clever answer here. So I’ll cheat and say Harvey Kurtzman, despite the fact that I know that Harvey did work for Marvel back in the 1940s, and even met his future wife there. That said, I’m not 100% certain that what Harvey did with such skill sixty-plus years ago would translate for an audience of today.
Behind the Curtain
As people seemed to be interested in the assorted documents that I use to track projects in my office, here’s a look at another one of them.
This is the planning and tracking sheet for the AVENGERS UNLIMITED vertical comic track that we post weekly on the MARVEL UNLIMITED subscription service. Each individual chapter isn’t as long as a regular book, but that unending weekly schedule means that you need to be on your marks in terms of assigning work and getting it in and done. As you can see, the main body tracks the issue number, the date the story goes live, its contents and the creative team. Because we got this track started under the gun, the first six-part story needed to be divided up among three separate artists, all of whom worked simultaneously in order to buy us the lead time we needed. The column at the right includes ideas for possible stories that have occurred to me or a member of my editorial team, as well as some potential stories that somebody has pitched to us but which have not been assigned specific issues yet for a variety of reasons—typically, because the creators are working on something else at that moment. Eventually, in theory, when works gets underway, those entries will migrate into the main body of the list and get assigned issue numbers and release dates.
Pimp My Wednesday
We’ve got a healthy release schedule for you this week, to provide you with all of the essential vitamins and iron your mind needs to grow strong. So here’s what’s coming your way:
We are already at the climax of AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, Jason Aaron’s big wrap-up to his AVENGERS run, which seems crazy to me. It feels as though we only just began working on this ten-part story. But with it running across two separate titles, it eats up material at a much more frightening pace. Anyway, this is also Aaron Kuder’s final issue as the artist-in-residence of AVENGERS FOREVER, and he’s going out with a bang here (inked as always by Mark Farmer, who we seem to have forgotten to list on the cover—something I’m going to need to apologize to Mark for.) Aaron’s really been giving his all to this series, and it shows on every page he’s turned in.
Flashing back to the past, Paul Levitz and Alan Davis’s paean to the earliest Avengers adventures by Stan Leek, Jack Kirby and Don Heck reaches its midpoint with AVENGERS: WAR ACROSS TIME #3. It’s a fact-paced, action-oriented comic of the type we don’t make a whole lot of these days, and it’s presented with love from all involved. Plus I dig any opportunity to use the original Avengers logo and corner box.
And under Associate Editor Annalise Bissa’s watchful eye, writer Ryan North and artist Francesco Mobili conclude their wild espionage thriller SECRET INVASION in this fifth issue. As you’d expect, there are double-crosses and revelations and general mayhem as this story reaches its ending. And it’s also fun for me personally to see that old logo again, which I commissioned for the original SECRET INVASION Event of many years ago.
Also from my office but guided by Assistant Editor Martin Biro is the first issue of the HELLCAT limited series. it follows up on the events of the well-regarded and well-responded-to IRON MAN & HELLCAT ANNUAL from a few months back. Christopher Cantwell and Alex Lins take Patsy Walker to San Francisco, where she gets involved in a murder investigation with supernatural overtones. Would it make you more likely to check it out or less if I mentioned that Sleepwalker is also featured in this series?
And over in AVENGERS UNLIMITED, Martin Biro again got to shepherd this two-issue story that brings back a classic Avengers team that he was especially fond of, A-NEXT! Initially released as part of the MC2 line of titles that also included SPIDER-GIRL back in the late 1990s, this is a completely original adventure produced by the original creative team of Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz. So it’s an all-new blast from the past!
A Comic Book On Sale 70 Years Ago Today, March 12, 1953
The quality level of the EC Comics of the early 1950s were really head-and-shoulders above just about everything else that was being released then. they were more sophisticated, better written, largely better drawn and aiming for a somewhat older and more seasoned audience than a lot of what was then being released. And yes, they had their excesses, to be sure—but even those mostly seem quaint by today’s standards. It’s no wonder that they’ve been reprinted again and again over the years. SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES, the title we see here, was set up as a sort of sampler of the assorted EC genres, featuring stories that might otherwise have gone into one of EC’s dedicated horror or science fiction series. In this particular issue, #9, writer/editor Al Feldstein and artist Jack Kamen adapt a prose story written by a popular author Ray Bradbury, a fact that they promote on the cover. This was far from the only Bradbury story that the firm adapted, and they came about in an interesting way. Because all of EC’s titles were anthology series, that meant that Feldstein and publisher William Gaines needed an extraordinary amount of story material. At their peak, Feldstein was writing a full 6-8 page story four days a week. And all of those stories required some manner of O Henry-style twist ending. Gaines was an insomniac who read feverishly, and reading stories would give him the ideas for new tales—springboards, he’d call them. A court of law might have considered them plagiarism had push ever come to shove. But Gaines would routinely come into the office and pass these springboards off to Feldstein, who would turn them into new comic book stories. One such story wound up essentially cross-breeding two Ray Bradbury stories, and when it was published, somebody brought it to Bradbury’s attention. Turned out that Bradbury was actually happy with the adaptation of his work (though not its theft) and so he wrote EC a letter complimenting them on the work and “reminding” them that they had forgotten to send him a check for the rights. Caught red-handed, Gaines actually worked out an arrangement with Bradbury that allowed the company to adapt other stories from his body of work, and to promote them under Bradbury’s name, for a small fee. This went on for a few years, until the comic book witch-hunts began to heat up. At that point, Bradbury figured that he didn’t need trouble and quietly ended his association with EC.
A Comic Book On Sale 55 Years Ago Today, March 12, 1968
Now this is one of the most obscure titles in Marvel history. GROOVY ran for three issues in 1968, the first two of which didn’t carry any identifiers that it was a Marvel book whatsoever. And it wasn’t produced under Stan Lee’s auspices, but rather overseen by Chip Goodman, the son of Marvel owner Martin Goodman. What GROOVY was really akin to were Magazine Management’s assorted humor publications and girlie magazines. It contained not stories of any length, but rather an assortment of single-panel gag pages on a variety of contemporary subjects. Goodman may have been experimenting to see if such a magazine might work better in a comic book format rather than on the traditional magazine racks. Given the contents, which were underwhelming and a but out of step with the audience it was chasing, it doesn’t appear so. This was issue #2, and by #3 it was carrying a full Marvel corner box and being plugged by Stan on the Bullpen Bulletin's page along with the other Marvel releases. But the audience simply wasn’t there for GROOVY, and it died thereafter, sinking without a ripple.
A Comic I Worked On That Came Out On This Date
MARVEL: THE END was something of an odd duck of a project. It was, I think, the second series that Jim Starlin did with me, the first being INFINITY ABYSS, which was a typical Thanos story (the one in which Jim disavowed all of the Thanos stories that had been done since the last time he had written the character he’d created.) I had come up with the idea for the THE END series of projects some time earlier, after reading an Alan Moore piece in which he’d opined that the thing that separated comic book stories from actual mythology was that myths had endings. So the THE END books were designed to give creators an opportunity to tell the final story of the characters in question, without needing to maintain any of the regular status quos for any subsequent adventures. As such, they were set apart from regular continuity by design. I seem to think that it was Joe Quesada who suggested offering Jim the opportunity of doing a THE END book once INFINITY ABYSS had wrapped up—Jim wasn’t always easy to place within the publishing line in that he wasn’t a particularly collaborative sort in some respects. He wanted to do what he wanted to do, and he’d go ahead and bull his way through regardless of whatever he’d been told were the guard rails for what he was doing. So putting him on a THE END project meant that he could have his way with the whole of the Marvel Universe pretty much any way he liked. Jim, though, ran true to form. He crafted a tale whose intent was to make death a serious matter again in the Marvel Universe, after all of the assorted resurrections that had happened over the years. And he didn’t really take advantage of his license to go anywhere that he wanted—he wrote and drew this series as though it were happening in the main continuity proper. Which wasn’t a problem per se, as the THE END line itself contextualized its events as being set apart from the mainstream MU. That is, until Jim began to work on his next project, which I believe was the ongoing THANOS series, and he made reference to the events of MARVEL: THE END within its pages. This confused the readers quite a bit and forced me to answer a number of questions over the years reiterating that, no, the events of MARVEL: THE END were not canon for the Marvel Universe proper. Apart from that, the series was another in a long line of Starlin stories that dealt with ultimate power, cosmic entities, nihilism, death, super heroes fighting until death and beyond, and a certain amount of philosophical musing. It was neither his best nor his worst work, a mid-tier entry in his output. But one that was very much out of step with the intentions for the line. It was published 20 years ago today on March 12, 2003.
I started reading the current manga series SHOW-HA SHOTEN by Akinari Asakura and Takeshi Obata—Obata had been the artist on BAKUMAN, which was about a pair of students who were trying to break into the world of manga as professionals. This series covers similar themes, except instead of manga, its two protagonists are attempting to make it in the world of comedy. Specifically Manzai, a regimented form of two-man sketch comedy popular in Japan. Much like with BAKUMAN, the comedy scene in Japan is both familiar and totally different from what exists in America, so this strip provides an insight into this specific form that would be difficult to capture otherwise. The series is being serialized in SHONEN JUMP, and the first collection has been translated and released in the U.S.
I’ve also begun checking out the live action series THE FILES OF YOUNG KINDAICHI on Hulu, which is adapted from THE KINDAICHI CASE FILES manga, of which I was a regular reader and fan. It’s about a typically lackadaisical Japanese student, Hajime Kindaichi, who is the grandson of the renowned sleuth Kosuke Kindaichi, who starred in a series of novels starting in 1946. Hajime has inherited his grandfather’s skill at deduction, and he and his childhood friend Miyuki find themselves embroiled in one murder and mystery after another. The manga ran for around 25 years, and spawned adaptations both animated and live action. This particular production is just a little bit laconic for my tastes, with the sense of jeopardy and drama tamped down a fair amount. It’s still entertaining, and the show, like the manga, plays fair with the assorted mysteries. But it’s honestly not as good as the manga was.
Elsewhere, it seems as though STAR TREK: PICARD has made a stunning transformation. Four episodes into the new season, and much of the flaws that plagued the prior two—weak plotting, flighty characterization, a tendency to pad out events or create side-stories that don’t wind up being consequential—have ben dispensed with. The writing is way sharper, and it’s a bit of a delight to see much of the main cast of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION back playing their iconic characters once again, and in a way that permits the underlying camaraderie that they always possessed with one another to come through. There’s still some dodginess around the edges, but it’s not enough to sink the show. And I’m sorry, no matter what anybody says, Captain Liam Shaw is the best character in the show—largely because, even though he behaves like a complete prick, he’s totally in the right. Everything that Picard and Riker and Seven pull to get over on him and get what they want is a complete violation of trust and ethics on their part, even if it’s justified. It’s kind of a delight to have somebody play so strongly who doesn’t revere these well-storied heroes the way the audience does.
Posted at TomBrevoort.com
Yesterday, I posted the latest in a long line of pieces showcasing Comics in the Wild. Which is to say, either on sale years ago or being read by the readers of yesteryear.
And five years ago, I wrote about this shocking issue of GREEN LANTERN
All right, either I or the AI will be back with you again one week hence. Until then, be good and watch out for one another!
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Great newsletter as usual Tom!
For some reason it reminds me of the 'Mark's remarks' columns by Mark Gruenwald - for a young reader in the 80s he was the voice of Marvel. I loved his musings on the nuts and bolts of the industry as well as how he put his own feelings and insecurities out there in many columns (like how or if his work would be remembered) - very brave.
What were your thoughts on his writing? Columns and comics. I loved his Cap and Quasar runs even though towards the end he may have stayed past the point where he was giving us his best (Cap wolf!).
"...he wrote and drew this series as though it were happening in the main continuity proper. Which wasn’t a problem per se, as the THE END line itself contextualized its events as being set apart from the mainstream MU. That is, until Jim began to work on his next project, which I believe was the ongoing THANOS series, and he made reference to the events of MARVEL: THE END within its pages. This confused the readers quite a bit and forced me to answer a number of questions over the years reiterating that, no, the events of MARVEL: THE END were not canon for the Marvel Universe proper."
I think the pushback on this from the readership over the years is probably less about confusion, and more about the general preference for stories that "count", which is likely what motivated Jim's choice here. And this of course ties in to the neverending debate over who ultimately decides what is canon; the editorial administration at a given moment in time or the readership at large. See the quixotic quest to rid Marvel of the term "616".