Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pinketty, Panketty, Poof!

It's not unusual to find issues of Wizard: The Comics Magazine in the half-dollar/dollar bins. On two occasions I've found issues that were still in their original bag - the first "special"/annual and an issue from 1998, which was opened, but still had a free chromium trading card that it offered - a picture of She-Hulk and Fairchild (Gen13)drawn by Jason Pearson.

Last week, some collector let go of his/her collection and the bulk of it was tossed into the half-dollar boxes at this particular store in NYC ("No names?" Yes, no names) and there were a bunch of Wizards from the magazine's heyday in the 1990's. The magazine had been around since 1992. The title is a holdover (or hangover) from the original concept: a mascot named Poof the Wizard, who would appear on the cover of every issue. When Gareb Shamus, the magazine's founder, learned that his cronies had suggested that name to have a laugh (Poof is slang for homosexual in the U.K. and Australia), the little cartoon wizard lost his chance at the spotlight, but the title of the magazine and 1st issue cover and copy had already been set and "proofed"! The solution? For the first few years, the cover of Wizard would show a comic book character holding a purple flag or cloth with white stars on it. Anyone picking up a copy expecting fantasy role-playing game tips was no doubt confused.

I recall Warren Ellis once remarked in his old column at Comic Book Resources (a website I am not affiliated with, though we have the same initials and I do lurk around on their message board as Joenosleep) that if you're on the Internet, you don't need to read Wizard. If you do, that means you're picking it up for the price guide. I would like to argue that there was a time when this was not so - between 1998-2001, Wizard was actually witty and informative. This might have to do with the fact that the "collector's bubble" had burst - huge print runs of comics published in the early 90's became worthless clutter as the publishers either blew deadlines or churned out bad comics. There were a lot of comics published by wannabes, could-have-beens and neverweres - all "Buy Me! This book is Hot!" and Wizard and Comic Buyers Guide and Hero Illustrated were the cheerleaders, rallying for these losers. Hot comics were hot not because the stories were good, but because they anticipated an event, or came bagged with a free trading card or had a shiny cover and the demand for this junk was considered hot. Ren and Stimpy #1 came bagged with an "Air Fouler" (air freshener-get it?) of either Ren or Stimpy - instead of packing both, you had to buy two copies - and guess what? Ren was harder to find! People cared about that!

And then it was over. The little guys weren't making money - just filling up their homes. Comic Shops went out of business - except for the worst ones, where the boss owns the building and can afford to run the store as he pleases, or shops that changed their name and appear to be "under new management", until you spot the old owner in the back of the shop.Wizard was last man standing when the bubble went "poof".

Anyway, I picked up Wizard #80, from 1998. The cover had the Hulk fighting Wolverine (one of the silliest recurring brawls in comics - the equivalent of watching a chess match with just two Kings standing on the board). The cover story was a countdown of the nastiest brawlers in superhero comics. Some of the pages had been torn from this section, so I assumed Wolverine was #1, while Azrael, Orion, Hulk made appearances. Azrael...the thinking man's Ghost Rider. Or Spawn. Or Death Scooter...

Oh, and once upon a time... Kevin Smith was cool! That's right! Before he became too fat to fly in a passenger jet, he was just the guy who made "Clerks", "Mallrats", "Chasing Amy" and the soon-to-be-released "Dogma", of which all anyone remembers is that it had Salma Hayek doing a pole dance (she did that a lot in her early movies - hmm, maybe Freida would've won her Oscar gold if it had a pole dance on museum scaffold). He had gotten attention for writing a rejected script for what eventually became Superman Returns, a film which became a cautionary tale in Hollywood for what happens when too many executives become too many cooks. The interview featured in this mag seemed to portray him as being on the rebound, hinting at his upcoming work relaunching the Daredevil comic book with Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti (Who knew this assignment was going to change the next decade of superhero comics? It seems so long ago..) and his work on Green Arrow (which landed with a thud, but it brought Oliver Queen back from old fart heaven, so go figure), and most interesting, but maddeningly - I wish this was something he had done - a film based on The Question.  When asked which characters he would like to direct a film about, he suggested this character and mentioned Dennis O'Neil's comic book series, that Hub City was like Sin City - fascinating. Can you imagine adding the Huntress to that mix? I hope the years of donuts and cannibus haven't wiped this idea out of his brain, because it's very good. He also gives Batman Forever a good poke in the ribs - "..that scene where he's like "I quit, Alfred. Batman no more. I'm like, 'Are you high?' Batman's desire for justice would never allow him to do this." And he plugs his N.J. comic book store - this was actually an ordinary shop; the Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash shop came almost a year later.

There were features I liked and missed when they were taken away - "Report Card"/"The Skinny", "We Read It For You", "Good Reading", "Thumbing Off", "Famous Firsts" and, in time for April Fool's Day - "Bad Readin'", "Famous Worsts" "Top 10 Comics" - all dedicated to reviewing comics and letting us know if any of this stuff was good.

When did this renaissance end? Around the same time the X-Men and Spider-Man films began production. Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas were running Marvel and using a lot of gimmicks to plant their feet. DC had Jeph Loeb and Joe Kelly boasting about their Superman comics, Bob Schreck was running the Batman comics with big stunts, like "Bruce Wayne: Murderer". J. Michael Strazincski was writing the adventures of a character that he wanted us to believe was Spider-Man - anyone who disagreed needed to "...get out of their parents basements." Joss Wheddon was getting his pop culture crown fitted. Grant Morrison slipped on the pop culture banana peel and achieved his own nirvana. Alan Moore became a wizard himself. Neil Gaiman and Todd MacFarlane butted heads over old comics. Leggo my ego, it was time to throw down.

And then there was ... boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom ... a giant monolith appeared from out of the sky ... BENDIS! Seriously, on his message board, Brian Michael Bendis would sign his posts like that. Oh, but he was cool at that time, too. Now he just looks like Kristin Davis' hubby on Sex and The City

So, if you perchance see any dusty issues of Wizard lying in a half-dollar bin somewhere, from 1998-2000, please don't laugh - those are actually my cup of tea.

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