Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Pulp Culture
New editor-in-chief good
news for Marvel Comics

September 21, 2000
By Franklin Harris

The suits who run Marvel Comics finally did something right. They hired a new editor-in-chief, and his name is Joe Quesada.

Yes, get your jaw off the floor. I did just praise Marvel Comics' management.

Joe Quesada
Joe Quesada
When was the last time I said anything good about the management at Marvel Comics? Oh, I've praised a small decision here and there, and I've said a few good things about a few particular Marvel Comics titles, but I cannot recall ever before praising the company for a major management shake-up. No doubt that is because the cosmetics moguls and toy-company executives who have had their mitts on the company have done a fair job of destroying it during the past decade.

It's all well and good to think of a comic-book publisher as simply an organ for churning out characters that can then be turned into action figures and movie properties. But, the characters are likely to be more marketable if the books in which they originate are worth reading.

And that has been Marvel's problem of late. Despite two major shake-ups aimed at revitalizing some of the company's most recognizable superheroes -- Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four -- Marvel has languished in a creative funk.

But where the "Heroes Reborn" and "Heroes Return" experiments failed, another experiment, almost as an after-- thought, succeeded.

Marvel took some of its second-tier characters -- the ones whose books were usually on the edge of cancellation, anyway -- and gave them to an editorial team led by Quesada, who, up until then, was best known for his work as an artist on such small-press titles as "Ash."

Quesada, along with Jimmy Palmiotti and others, founded Marvel's Marvel Knights comic-book line, which includes titles featuring Daredevil, the Black Widow, the Inhumans, the Punisher and other second-stringers.

Then Quesada did a funny thing: He recruited some of the hottest, most sought-after comic-book artists and writers around.

Whereas lots of comic-book creators were uninterested in working for Marvel Comics proper, which had a history of mistreating free-lancers, they agreed to work for Quesada.

Kevin Smith, best known as the writer/director of the films "Clerks" and Mallrats," took up writing duties on "Daredevil," with Quesada himself providing the art.

Smith proved to be an even better comic-book writer than a filmmaker, and his "Daredevil" became a critical and commercial hit for Marvel.

(Keep in mind that when I say something was a hit, I'm speaking in relative terms. The entire comic-book market is depressed, and a hit today sells fewer copies than a flop did 10 years ago.)

Other top-notch creators Quesada brought in included Brian Bendis, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Paul Jenkins, Jae Lee and Mark Millar. For other companies, they had worked on such critically successful books as "Powers," "JLA," "Preacher" and "The Authority."

Suddenly, all of the excitement at Marvel Comics was coming from the backbenchers.

"X-Men," you say? Who cares? "Spider-Man?" Boring. Those books might still be Marvel's top sellers, but they were getting by on name recognition and the loyalty of long-time readers. Meanwhile, Marvel Knights was succeeding just by being good. The line even spawned new characters like Marvel Boy and the Sentry.

Clearly, Quesada and company were on to something. It was a novel idea for Marvel: Attract the best free-lancers you can, turn them lose with a minimal of editorial interference and watch the creativity flow.

Imagine that.

Then an even more amazing thing happened. Marvel's Powers That Be took notice, and, on Aug. 30, the company announced that Quesada would no longer be in charge of just the Marvel Knights line. No, instead he would be editor-in-chief, the head honcho of the company's entire comic-book-publishing arm.

Marvel fans rejoiced at the news, and hopes are high that Quesada can work his magic on the rest of Marvel's comics.

Now, could this all fall apart? Yes. The suits at Marvel could revert to their old ways and fire Quesada tomorrow. They've been known to do such things. Or Quesada could flop on his own. Stranger things have happened.

But, for now, there is hope at last that the company that was known as the House of Ideas when giants like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby dominated it has become the House of Ideas once more.

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