There are people out there who somehow think that they’re my enemies, that there’s some big thing between us, some big relationship, and that attracting my ire is somehow a badge of honor. That’s nothing new, it’s typical behavior on social media for the most part. And I do know of some who carry around their personal “enemies lists” of those who did them wrong in an internet space, and who search their own names incessantly hoping for validation and growing ever more frustrated at those who might have an unkind word to say about them. But the truth of the matter is that, while like anybody, there are things that will get under my skin a little bit, I don’t really make it a point to keep track of who says what to me or about me. It’s possible to get onto my radar, but it requires some sustained effort. You can’t simply shortcut yourself into becoming my enemy with one or two rude and crude shots fired across my bow. It’s a bit unpleasant to say, but it’s really the truth: I’m not keeping track of anybody that closely. I came to terms a long time ago that part of being an Editor is that not everybody is going to love you—and in fact, most people won’t, for reasons that likely have only a scant amount to do with who you are and what you’ve done. So you need to just accept that. Additionally, growing somewhat out of all of those DOCTOR WHO rewatch videos that I’ve been consuming, I’ve been attempting to internalize a bit of the show’s philosophy into my own heart: Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind. I’m not really all that good at it, I’m too self-centered and self-absorbed for this to come easily. But I’m trying.
Moving on, let’s go to the comments and see what questions people had that I can either answer or else artfully dance around. We’ll start with JV
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!).
See, I just talked about trying to be kind, and then you hit me with a question like this one. I think Len Kaminski, who edited QUASAR for a time before himself going freelance as a writer, probably had the most accurate take on Mark’s writing. Len said, “Mark has a ton of ideas, you just need to tell him which ones are the good ideas and which ones are the bad ideas.” Mark was a very thoughtful writer who cared deeply about what he was doing. He also held some very strong ideas about the way in which a fictional universe should be organized. As he was both the Executive Editor as well as the editorial overseer of the OFFICIAL HANDBOOK TO THE MARVEL UNIVERSE, he would sometimes take it upon himself to do what he considered to be a bit of needed housecleaning on other people’s stories. As we’ve talked about in past columns, these sorts of “stories about stories” tend to be a bit less universal than they might otherwise be, of interest and value to only a small subset of the overall audience. Mark could be very smart and very insightful as a writer, but he also had his blind spots. He also came up in an earlier era, where the definition of what a hero should and should not do were far more polarized than in the 1980s and 1990s in which he was working. As such, he occasionally overcorrected when it came to the manner in which he handled certain characters whose actions often stepped beyond his own personal boundaries of heroism. And he could be verbose—there’s one page on SQUADRON SUPREME #5 that I use as an example when I’m teaching young editors about where the theoretical limits of having text on a page lay. But Mark was also clever and his work was always genuine—he never phoned it in, even though there’s some evidence of tiredness on his part when you look at his last year or two. I think also that, as his position grew within the company, he was edited less and less—given that he was in a position of authority over most of his editors (not that he’d have exercised it), I think that many of them figured that he knew what he was doing and usually left him to his own devices. In other words, he could have used more guidance at certain points in the manner of Len’s quote. Mark loved super heroes and he loved both telling super hero stories and analyzing them, probing their inner workings and attempting to create a sense of verisimilitude within their fictional universes.
In response to my answer concerning MARVEL: THE END, Matt wrote:
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".
You may be right, Matt. The difficulty from my side with this is that Jim took the assignment with the full understanding of what its parameters were, and at a certain point he chose to work outside them. And in the end, the ultimate fault there falls on me, in that I let him do it, figuring that it wasn’t a hill worth dying on. At the end of the day, though, I don’t work with creators that I can’t trust—doesn’t mean that they can’t work up at Marvel, only that I’m not going to be hiring them in my office again.
My brother and I have been re-reading the John Byrne run on Fantastic Four, a series which we enjoyed tremendously when we were kids and we're enjoying it a ton now! We just got to the issue where (spoiler, I guess?) Galactus devours the Skrull Throne World. We were remarking what a big change this was to the mythology of major characters in the FF (and Marvel) Universe. The destruction of an entire world (the second time Byrne had done this if you count Dark Phoenix destroying the nameless planet which led to her death), leaving the Skrulls permanently as nomads. This became a huge part of their story for decades. My question: how common was this type of "change the mythology" moment in the 80s? it felt seismic and uncommon to us. Follow-up: is it more or less common in the modern Marvel era?
I don’t know, I don’t feel as though the destruction of the Skrull Homeworld was that big of a deal. Certainly, it was a big event in the lives of the Skrulls as a species, but it’s not as though so many stories had been set on that planet over all of the years before it wound up being destroyed. In some ways, I as a reader simply saw this as Byrne paying off on a set-up from Galactus’ first appearance, in which the Skrull black out their entire galactic system so that the Silver Surfer won’t be attracted to their territory and bring Galactus to lay waste to their planets. It’s big from a story standpoint—we’d only gotten to witness Galactus consuming a planet once or twice before this (he was all talk outside of those instances), and John made it feel like a big deal. But it didn’t do all that much to alter the landscape of the Marvel Universe. And I don’t know that it’s really any less common today, i think the thing that has perhaps made it feel less common is the gradually raising of the stakes over decades, to the point where simply destroying one tiny planet maybe doesn’t carry the resonance with readers that it may have done in the past.
I'm curious whether digital comics and e-readers have affected how you and/or artists think about page layouts. For example, someone reading Marvel Unlimited on a phone is obviously going to get a view that's much narrower than a printed page, and even the desktop version of MU offers a panel-by-panel option, which seems to nullify conventional page breaks.
For what it's worth, I still love admiring each page in full. The variety in arrangement, size, and number of panels from page to page is just part of what makes a comic book a comic book, in my mind.
For the most part, no, Daniel, not unless we’re working on a project that’s specifically designed to be consumed on a phone or digital reader, such as the Infinity Comics in our MARVEL UNLIMITED app. When we’re working for print, everybody is focused almost exclusively on how the work will be seen in print, rather than in the digital space. Sometimes, that can create problems—as with the Eisner-award-0winning SILVER SURFER #11. That story’s moebuis strip structure simply can’t be duplicated in the digital realm, and so reading that issue in that manner robs the story of a lot of its power.
Appreciated your thoughts on Starlin's MARVEL: THE END. I think your characterization of his work is on target. Could you follow up, now, by discussing your favorite END stories? Who did a great job, and why do you think so?
I tend to think that probably the two best THE END stories were probably the first one, HULK: THE END by Peter David and Dale Keown, and PUNISHER: THE END by Garth Ennis and Richard Corben. In both cases, I think the brevity of the material helped their impact: they got in, told their story dramatically and well, and then got out before belaboring the point. Most of the other THE END projects wound up being longer multi-issue affairs that consequently weren’t so finely-honed. I like a bunch of Alan Davis’ FANTASTIC FOUR: THE END, for example, but at six issues, it almost feels too long for its own premise, even though Alan uses the space to flesh out an entire future world in great detail.
Tom, if you're not the person to ask, you'll know who would be: are there any plans to produce an omnibus of Marvel's horror/science fiction comics from the late '60s and early '70s? It would include the new material from Tower of Shadows, Chamber of Darkness, Supernatural Thrillers, Journey into Mystery vol. 2, and so on. These books featured art and story from some of Marvel's greatest, including Kirby, Adams, Steranko, Wood, and Barry Smith. The later books featured some of the first work from the likes of Starlin and Brunner, in addition to veterans like Gil Kane. This omnibus would appeal to the same audience that purchased the recent Kirby and Ditko anthologies. What's your opinion on this?
That’s an interesting idea, Arthur, but there aren’t any plans for such a volume so far as I know. Perhaps it’ll happen at some point—I think the difficulty with that material is that it’s of interest to a relatively small portion of the audience, its anthology nature and lack of any continuing characters making it tough to sell apart from the bevy of artists who worked on it. And even there, while you might be a fan of, say, Kirby or Smith, would you want to shell out for a whole volume just to get a relatively small amount of material from those creators? Some would, but I don’t know that it’s enough some.
Was just enjoying a re-read of “The Mighty Thor” #173 and I notice a Johnny Storm impersonator on the far right of panel 1, page 9! Wouldn’t it be wild if you could get, say, Kurt Busiek and Steve Rude to do a special one shot of how the Human Torch had really been hypnotized by the Ringmaster and just so happened to be there? In fact, mebbe a brand-new “Untold Tales” series of folks other than Spidey would be just what the world needs! I’d love to see more Pat Olliffe doing regular art again too! Swap him and Rude out every story! Brilliant! Sell a zillion copies!
Talk about a story that would be of interest to only a few, Matt! It’s a fun idea, but you’re talking about a story that first saw print before even I was reading comics, so hitting that point couldn’t be the purpose of any such story. It’s the kind of thing that somebody like Kurt might be able to work into some other adventure that happened to touch on those events—maybe a story that brought back the strange barbell-shaped computer from that story or something. But I don’t think there’s enough to it to warrant building a new story around that bit. Good eye, though.
Mortimer Q. Forbush
I've got a bodacious set of gnarly questions about the 80s. I know that's a skosh before your professional experience, but you're such a knowledgeable dude, I'm betting you can drop some knowledge on us regardless.
Browsing the back issues, I noticed how the 80s saw a notable uptick in shaking up the status quo: smart Hulk / Teen Hulk / Gray Hulk; Jim Rhodes as Iron Man / Silver Centurion, Byrne's Negative Zone FF costumes, Punk rock Storm, ditching Donald Blake, Black costume Spider-Man, Steve Rogers getting replaced as Captain America and introducing the proto-USAgent costume. Is there anything in particular that juiced this trend in the 80s? I would assume DC's Crisis played a hand, but some of these predated Crisis by a year or two.
I don’t think this had anything to do with CRISIS per se, Mortimer. Rather, I suspect it had more to do with EIC Jim Shooter pushing people to break things and try something new to create excitement. Jim’s made no secret of the fact that at one point he suggested ending the Marvel Universe and then starting it up anew again—in the fan press of the era, this was known as the “Big Bang” plan. While this didn’t happen, it does indicate that Jim was very open to wildly different takes on the characters. Also, success breeds imitation, so as soon as the first one or two of these sorts of ideas hit with the readership and found success, it was only natural that other creators would attempt to spin up similar ideas of their own. When I started at Marvel, it was common wisdom that, if you wanted to pop the numbers on a given title, you could always do one of a few can’t-fail things: a wedding, a death, a costume change, or a change of the lead character. Because these worked, they were used again and again.
Why was the "British Invasion" such a one-sided affair? I know Karen Berger did the hard work of mining UK talent, but I would have assumed that once the flood gates had opened, that some talent would jump at the chance to play with some of the Marvel toys as well.
My impression is that the Vertigo and Vertigo-adjacent DC books and talent from this period have endured and garnered acclaim and prestige from the broader "Literati" in a way that Marvel efforts at the time broadly did not. If my impression is reasonably accurate, do you have theories on what kept them away from the House of Ideas? (And do you know if Marvel had any "prestige-envy" back then?)
I don’t think it was a one-sided affair necessarily, Mortimer. I just think that the UK creators who found success over at Marvel tended to be both artists as well as writers who weren’t as hungry to push the status quo as Alan Moore and those who came after him. Certainly Alan Davis had a good, long career at Marvel, and he was a part of that wave, as were people such as Paul Neary, Pat Mills, Kevin O’Neill, Steve Parkhouse, Richard Starkings, even the young Bryan Hitch. But also, Marvel was very much geared to working in the Marvel Method during this era, and so it would have been a tougher fit for writers such as Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman who produced scripts that were both full and intricately detailed. That wasn’t what Marvel was doing at the time, and so I think that it would have been an awkward fit—Moore and Gaiman and the like wouldn’t have been able to produce work of such quality working in the more loosey-goosey Marvel style, and the Marvel editors and artists might not have been happy working from scripts as structured and restrictive as what they typically came up with. Marvel definitely didn’t have any “prestige envy” back in the day, either—if for no other reason than that the organization had a fair share of books that got good notices, projects such as ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN or MOONSHADOW. But also, Marvel’s books tended to sell better than much of that material, at least within its original printings. While in the long term, a lot more copies of SWAMP THING have likely been moved over the decades, at the time, from a purely immediate fiscal sense, anyone would rather have had IRON MAN. I can remember a conversation about WATCHMEN at one point, in which EIC Tom DeFalco opined, “Eh, he’s a caption writer.”
I would have assumed that the Epic imprint would have been as fertile a ground as Vertigo was, and Archie Goodwin had as good a vision as anyone for prestige-level books. Yet despite a handful of books (that I personally deeply love), it seemed to lack the special sauce Vertigo. Why do you think Epic… wasn't?
I suspect that Epic was trapped being neither fish nor fowl, especially where the Direct Market was concerned. In the early 1980s, Marvel was at one point something like 70% of the marketplace—so what retailers wanted and expected from marvel was more of the same, stories of super heroes that plugged into the larger mythology of the Marvel Universe and kept readers coming back. At DC, however, they were in the process of rebuilding their publishing line for the Direct Market, something for which CRISIS became the centerpoint. So I think it was easier for a SWAMP THING or a SANDMAN or a DOOM PATROL to break out of the pack and offer something different, to attract attention and sales within that marketplace in a way that Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman just weren’t doing yet. So at Epic, the books that inevitably performed the best were the ones featuring Marvel characters: HAVOK & WOLVERINE: MELTDOWN, ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN, and so forth. That really wasn’t what the imprint was designed to do, though—but it proved difficult to get retailers or fans on board with even titles such as DREADSTAR or COYOTE, which were separate from the rest of the Marvel line.
Mortimer Q Forbush's question from last week about comic fandom's misconceptions has me reconsidering one area where I'm excited to learn the wisdom of the industry: regarding the high number of "ads" in Marvel comic books.
I put "ads" in quotes because, for the most part, the non-comic pages are not rented out by advertisers, but instead promoting other Marvel books. I usually count 7-8 ad pages in a standard book... which is somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of the pages.
Without true advert revenue coming in from those pages, is there a strong economic incentive to keep such a high number of ads in books? Do you truly see an uptick in the sales of the issues that are advertised? What would it take for Marvel to reconsider the practice of interrupting the stories with pages like this?
Some of that’s simply a matter of practicality, Thom. Our books are presently printed in a 32 page package with self-cover; that is, the cover stock and interior stock is the same. because of the way comic books are manufactured, you need to increase or decrease your package page counts in increments of 8 (though really 16 is preferred, since it’s a single broadsheet of paper folded over four times that creates the comic book size .) So yes, you might be able to lose a signature and go down to a 24 page package—but at that point, you’ve got some problems to deal with. First off, assuming that you’re not going to print story material on your cover pages, that only leaves you 20 pages for the entirety of your content—that includes the recap page and any letters or text pages you may want. But the bigger problem is how the package bulks. At 24 pages, it’s too flimsy, it tends to bow in the middle, and it doesn’t stay up on the shelves all that well. You could offset that by going to a heavier paper stock, but that’s going to increase your unit costs, and potentially force you to raise cover prices. Or you could add a heavier cover, giving yourself 24 interior pages, but that requires a cost outlay as well, and additional binding costs to attach the new covers to the printed interiors. So okay, 32 pages is your package. Now, your Art & Editorial costs are standardized around a 20 page model—every page that you add beyond that you need to add an additional cost on for, you need to pay your writers and artists for that material. Recap pages and letters/text pages tend to be more affordable, in that some are done entirely in-house, and while a few need to be written, it costs far less to write a page than it does to write, draw, letter and color it. So inevitably, you have more pages to fill than you can afford to pay for, at least without increasing your cover price. Thus, ads. They’re cheap to produce, they help bring attention and awareness to the other things that you’re publishing, and they’re relatively easy to get done with the resources you’ve already spent. And if you do wind up having some paid ads to run in any given month, that space is available for them—you don’t need to get the creators to do a shorter story that month in order to fit them, or to go up in page count to accommodate them.
Roger Stern famously never finished his who-is-the-Hobgoblin mystery in Amazing Spider-Man in the 1980s, and got a chance to finish it in the 1990s. The third Summers brother was at long last revealed to be Vulcan. Dan Slott's Reckoning War storyline (begun in She-Hulk well over a decade ago) recently concluded in Fantastic Four. Are there any other dangling storyline threads you'd like to see resolved, given there's a good and compelling story attached to it?
While I’ve been involved with a few of these projects over the years, I don’t know that I particularly have another one that I feel the need to go back and complete. That said, you never know what tomorrow will bring. I did attempt to get John Byrne to finish THE LAST GALACTUS STORY back in the 1990s. He’d agreed to do it, with Ron Lim providing the artwork, but then he never turned in the scripts as he said he would—he let it drop by attrition. So that’s one I wouldn’t mind seeing completed. Also, the one black mark on my record, the one project that I’ve left dangling and uncompleted was the Jon Favreau & Adi Granov IRON MAN: VIVA LAS VEGAS series. Two out of four issues were completed, and it’s as unlikely as anything that the rest will ever be. So maybe that one.
Behind the Curtain
Here’s a bigger-than-usual installment of this feature thanks to a multi-page document that I’m sharing. Marvel editor Alanna Smith put together this briefing sheet for newly-hired Assistant Editors, to give them an overview as to how the workflow tends to operate in our editorial offices. I don’t think there’s anything incredibly revelatory here, but it will give you some idea as to the rhythm under which we operate as editors.
Pimp My Wednesday
Hey, more comics coming your way this week! So let’s see what we’ve got!
We’re into the final leg of Jason Aaron, Jesus Saiz and Paul Azaceta’s PUNISHER project with only two more issues to go after this one, #10, reaches you this Wednesday. This series has been in production for so long, it’s kind of wild to think that it’s almost over. Hopefully, readers will be surprised, intrigued and delighted with where it all ends up.
And Associate Editor Annalise Bissa drops the fourth issue of MONICA RAMBEAU: PHOTON by Eve L. Ewing and Luca Maresca, in which Monica finds herself shifting further and further away from her home timeline, her own powers and trajectory causing a fragmentation of the Multiverse! Plus a conflict with former Thunderbolt Moonstone!
And in the digital world of MARVEL UNLIMITED, it’s 1999 once again in the AVENGERS UNLIMITED track as Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz complete their reunion with their MC2 characters, A-NEXT. Assistant editor Martin Biro was responsible for reuniting this team and bringing the Next Generation of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes back into the fight.
A Comic Book On Sale 80 Years Ago Today, March 19, 1943
It’s tough to beat the Golden Age cover artwork of Alex Schomburg for just flat-out packed-to-the-walls chaos. Schomburg was one of the regular cover artists across the Timely line of pre-Marvel comics, responsible for a good portion of their sales simply through his compelling and breakneck images. This issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS sports a good example of his work. There isn’t anything even remotely similar to this situation in the stories on the inside, of course—the real weak spot for these covers. It promises more than the book delivers. What this issue does have is the second part to a rare two-part Captain America story in which the Star-Spangled Sentinel and his pal Bucky are shrunk to microscopic size and fight a battle within the world of an atom. This two-part story was written by science fiction author Ray Cummings, and it’s actually an adaptation of an earlier pulp tale that he’d sold to ARGOSY ALL-STORY in 1929, some 14 years earlier. Artwork was provided by Syd Shores, who became one of Cap’s principle artists following the departure of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. As if that wasn’t enough, the issue also includes a second long Cap and Bucky adventure, “The Russian Hell-Hole”, as well as the cover blurbed Human Torch adventure, a story featuring the oddball wartime kid character the Secret Stamp, and the usual assortment of one-page filler material. You got a lot of stuff for your dime in those days, even if the overall quality of the material was growing every shakier as the better artists found themselves either enlisting or being drafted into the war effort.
A Comic Book On Sale 15 Years Ago Today, March 19, 2008
Now this is an interesting comic book to talk about, if for no other reason than the way it was produced. Writer Wayne Osborne had been a huge fan of artist John Byrne, and so when he became aware that Byrne was arranging commissions through his art representation, Osborne had a brainstorm. He would commission Byrne to draw a story featuring his own creation. Byrne was apparently open to this, provided that the book was produced Marvel Method—i.e., he was provided with an overall broad plot for the issue rather than a panel-by-panel script with dialogue, Osborne also had to meet his price, which amounted to $1000.00 a page. Once work on this first issue was completed, Osborne was able to shop it around—despite the fact that he’d had no prior experience as a writer, he was able to interest IDW in publishing it. And indeed, in continuing it. IDW had a relationship with Byrne through Chris Ryall, and they arranged to produce five more issues of the title, underwriting Byrne’s page rate, in order to have enough material to collect in a Trade Paperback at the end of the process. The whole thing was a pretty bold move, coming at a time when regular comic book releases by Byrne were becoming harder to come by. But the truth is that Osborne wasn’t much of a writer, and even with Byrne doing most of the heavy lifting in the plotting, the end product just wasn’t anywhere near as good as readers wanted it to be, and the character pretty much vanished. Apparently, there was a follow-up project released as a graphic novel a few years later drawn by a different artist, but without Byrne’s involvement, few took notice of it. Still, it was a clever approach to breaking into the field, even if it didn’t all work out as well as one may have hoped.
A Comic I Worked On That Came Out On This Date
This DEATHLOK SPECIAL, the first of four, came out on March 19, 1991. It was a reprint of the first issue of the earlier prestige format DEATHLOK limited series that Dwayne McDuffie, Gregory Wright, Butch Guice and Denys Cowan had done the year before, repackaged in a cheaper edition aimed at the Newsstand market—for those who are unaware, the Newsstand market was the catch-all term for all of the mainstream venues such as convenience stores, stationary stores, 7-11s and the like where comic books were still being sold on a consignment basis like any other magazine. That was how all comics had been sold until the advent of the Direct Sales market of dedicated comic book stores was founded, whose proprietors ordered a specific number of copies of each individual on a non-returnable basis, thus eliminating the massive amount of waste involved in printing and shipping the books. But in 1991, the Newsstand market still accounted for 40+% of Marvel’s business, even though that business was flagging in the manner of all magazines. And the reason Marvel published this series was very simple. The prestige editions of DEATHLOK had been sold into the Direct Market only—they hadn’t been available on the Newsstand. And they had sold well enough that there was now an intention to roll out an ongoing DEATHLOK title. But since that title would be available on the Newsstand, something had to be done to catch up any prospective fans who might discover the character as to what had come before. This reprint series was the solution. I wound up sending these books to print for the most part, having been appointed the editor of the new DEATHLOK series by my boss Bob Budiansky. But they’d begun under him. So it was Bob who commissioned this new cover from Butch Guice, and all of that cover copy is Bob’s as well, rather than mine. All I really did apart from the typical Assistant Editor duties was to eventually get the cover and its contents ready to go to press. And I never much liked that cover burst touting Deathlok as Marvel’s deadliest new hero, as the entire point of the character was that he had the brain of a scientist, a man driven by conscience, and so he was the opposite of what he appeared to be. But in a very fundamental way, it probably did make more sense to sell him on the surface, as another explosive new action hero. it’s a lot more difficult to get the more subtle actual idea across. This was the era of “big gun” heroes, after all. Still, I never liked it.
Another Comic I Worked On That Came Out On This Date
I haven’t had much of a chance to talk about Jonathan Hickman’s run on AVENGERS and NEW AVENGERS in this space up until now, so this seems like a good opportunity to remedy that somewhat. This issue, NEW AVENGERS #15, came out on March 19, 2014, and focused on the background of the mysterious Black Swan, a new character introduced several issues earlier who had a greater understanding of what was going on with the Incursions from other universes that formed the spine of the central threat that was running behind the scenes in both titles. Jonathan had actually come up with the idea while working on FANTASTIC FOUR, and he pitched it to me as an ongoing series titled SECRET WARS. But when the opportunity arose for Jonathan to potentially take over the two AVENGERS titles following the AvX crossover and Brian Bendis stepping down, we decided to move that entire plotline into these new books. A couple of the specifics changed as we developed this as an Avengers story. For one thing, originally, the beginning of the Incursions was meant to be the destruction of the universe that Doctor Doom wipes out in Jonathan’s final issue of FANTASTIC FOUR, but that wound up being discarded as it was simply too removed from what we were doing now. The second bit that made things tricky is that Jonathan felt that he needed more real estate in AVENGERS to get a lot of building accomplished while NEW AVENGERS carried the spine of the story building to the eventual SECRET WARS climax. Accordingly, at least for the first year or so, AVENGERS was released 18 times a year, which made it difficult to maintain a consistency of artist. The minute the schedule started to slip, we were forced to triage, sometimes badly. At a certain point, Nick Spencer had to be brought on board to help Jonathan out with writing a couple of issues. What’s more, we had to accommodate the unpredictable effects of series other than our own on the status quos of the characters—this is why the Beast became a member of the NEW AVENGERS Illuminati—Jonathan had wanted to use Professor X, but he was killed off over in X-MEN and so we had to pivot. That sort of thing happened a couple of times in the long road to SECRET WARS. This particular issue was a bit of a breather between longer arcs, and was illustrated by Simone Bianchi, an artist with a very European flavor to his work. It’s really beautiful stuff, though occasionally more focused on creating exquisite pictures than in telling a story. That said, Jonathan was always up to tailor what he was doing to the skill set of the artists involved, and the end product both looks and reads well.
It was overall met with a mixed response from what I could tell, but I really was happy to see TED LASSO return for its third and possibly final season. And I can understand why viewers may have been slightly underwhelmed by it—it’s not the funniest episode of the series by far, and it spends a lot of its run time setting up characters and situations that will play out for the rest of the season, such as Nate’s new position as West Ham United’s head coach. But I also feel as though somehow we’ve bred a whole generation of viewers through streaming and binging who don’t seem to be able to cope with anything apart from instant gratification. The same phenomenon seems to be plaguing THE MANDALORIAN this season, where viewers are impatient that the show isn’t doing what they want it to do for them. In part, this is the result of them having had two seasons and learned these shows’ basic moves, and so just more-of-the-same doesn’t feel quite as energizing. By that same token, anything that steps beyond a narrowly-defined area is labeled as being too much of a departure. And, of course, everybody seems ready to label just about anything as a “filler episode”. Me, though, I’m pretty old school, I grew up with broadcast, and so for me, it was plenty enough to have the cast back and to get a fresh sample of the show’s ethos of kindness and empathy. I’ll perhaps change my opinion if the season drags overall—the two drop-in episodes the team had to produce for season two definitely impacted on the rhythm of the week-to-week viewing experience in a not-great way. But until then, we’ll see.
I also began a series that I had earmarked on Hulu but hadn’t gotten a chance to invest in fully: LOST MAN FOUND. It’s a single-season Japanese comedy/drama based around the life of Satoru Matsudo, a character actor and writer whose journey into the business was so fraught with odd synchronicity and random chance that he was able to get his story serialized and then adapted into live action. So it’s about a young man who moves to Tokyo with the dream of becoming an actor, and the circuitous route through life that takes him there. It’s a very pleasant show, with relatively low stakes. The comedy comes out of character rather than shtick, and isn’t going for big belly laughs. It’s all a lot more slice-of-life than that. I’m finding it pretty entertaining so far, and I’m just about halfway through it.
Posted at TomBrevoort.com
Yesterday, I wrote about the First DC Silver Age super hero, Captain Comet.
And five years ago, I wrote about two issues of ACTION COMICS that I bought on the same day.
Next week will be Newsletter #52, representing a full year that I’ve been grinding out these weekly diary entries cum comics history lessons. As a commemoration of that anniversary, I have half an idea for something of a giveaway—I’m just still trying to work out the details of it. But assuming that I do, you’ll hear about it in one week’s time. And if I don’t, well, as I’ve said a few times, you get what you pay for, right?
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"Oddball"? Oi! Watch the Secret Stamp slander! My man Roddy Colt appeared in eighteen stories, which is a pretty good record for a minor hero during the Golden Age, I think.
Glad to see you mention Moonshadow. I still think it, along with Zot! and American Flagg, is one of the best series of the 80s and mostly forgotten today. Do you have any favorite books or runs that are mostly forgotten?
By the way, I'm the person that traded a complete run of the Bendis Secret Invasion for a copy of X-Factor 88 signed by you, Peter David, and Joe Quesada during your trade to get FF #1