The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Marvel Comics gives
Spider-Man and the
X-Men a makeover

October 5, 2000
By Franklin Harris

News of editorial changes at Marvel Comics keeps breaking faster than I can keep up with it, and the latest change is just about as big as they come.

Joe Straczynski
Joe Straczynski
J. Michael Straczynski, creator and head writer of the acclaimed science-fiction series "Babylon 5," will take over as writer of "The Amazing Spider-Man" in early 2001. That means Marvel's flagship title, which has languished for more than a decade, should be on a sound footing in time to take advantage of the increased interest director Sam Raimi's upcoming Spider-Man movie is certain to generate.

That, in turn, means Marvel can avoid a repeat of the X-Men debacle, to which I'll get shortly.

Straczynski, an accomplished screenwriter, is no stranger to comics. He created "Rising Stars" for Top Cow Comics and recently launched a second Top Cow title, "Midnight Nation." Both are published under Straczynski's imprint, Joe's Comics.

With Straczynski on "Amazing" and up-and-comer Paul Jenkins writing "Peter Parker, Spider-Man," things are looking up for Marvel's most recognizable character.

(Jenkins' work on the 12-issue "Inhumans" miniseries and on "The Incredible Hulk" has been awe-inspiring, and his new miniseries, "The Sentry," is the best superhero comic on the stands.)

Straczynski's run cannot come soon enough for most Spider-Man fans, many of whom gave up on the wall crawler during woeful storylines like the Clone Saga, which had Spider-Man thinking he was merely a clone of himself. (Surprise! He wasn't.) Then Aunt May died, but she got better. Then Spidey's long-dead nemesis, Norman Osborn, the first Green Goblin, got better, too.

Now Peter Parker's wife, Mary Jane, is dead, but don't expect that to last forever. Nothing is so impermanent in comics as death, unless you're unlucky enough to be Captain Mar-Vel, the first Thunderbird or Spider-Man's Uncle Ben, who, as far as I know, are the only residents of the Marvel afterlife.

Joe Quesada
Joe Quesada
Meanwhile, Marvel's new editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada, has brought in a couple of editors from DC Comics' Vertigo imprint, which has built a reputation during the past decade for producing highly literate comics, including Neil Gaiman's acclaimed series, "The Sandman," and its numerous spin-offs.

Quesada is also daring to shake-up Marvel's truly dreadful X-Men books, most of which have been unreadable since the early '90s.

Up until now, the X-Men have been untouchable. They've been Marvel's cash cow, and, believe me, the company has milked them for all they're worth, and then some.

True, Marvel got a great movie out of them this summer, but what came of that? Nothing, that's what.

Anyone who might have been tempted to pick up an issue of "X-Men" or "Uncanny X-Men" after seeing the film fled temptation after a quick glance at the impenetrable mess the X-books have become. (And let's not even think about the second-tier X-Men titles like "Wolverine" and "Bishop." Ugh.) Consequently, the X-Men movie, the best advertisement for X-Men comics in years, boosted the comics' sales not one iota.

As far as Marvel's publishing arm was concerned, the movie might as well have been a flop.

Comic-book writer Mark Waid places the blame squarely at the feet of Quesada's predecessor, Bob Harras.

In an interview with fellow writer Warren Ellis, Waid says, "For years and years and years, the editorial philosophy at Marvel was to make each and every comic book as labyrinthine and confusing as creatively possible. Marvel had the single highest-profile comic book in the Western hemisphere -- 'X-Men' -- and Bob did everything imaginable to make it completely incomprehensible and inaccessible to new and/or casual readers. Everything."

There may be more than a little personal animosity in Waid's statement, especially considering how badly he thinks he was treated during his brief time working on the X-books, but he is dead on the mark.

The X-books may still be Marvel's top sellers, but the gap between them and Marvel's other titles has been shrinking steadily.

Not even the recent return of long-time "Uncanny X-Men" scribe Chris Claremont has helped. Actually, considering how much Claremont's talents have deteriorated in the past decade, his return was a net minus. He is not the same man who turned the X-Men into Marvel's most popular characters 20 years ago. He's a hack.

Fortunately, Quesada has promised to streamline the X-titles, making them more reader friendly, and his first step has been to boot Claremont off the main X-books. Claremont, however, will remain at Marvel, working on various projects, possibly including a new, second-tier X-Men title.

Quesada hasn't yet been on the job a month, but he already has upset Marvel's status quo to a greater degree than has been done at any other time in recent memory.

And that is exactly what Marvel needed.

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