TONY'S ONLINE TIPS From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1452 (09/14/01)
"Soon we'll be sliding down the razor-blade of life."
-Tom Lehrer, "Bright College Days"
This has not been one of my better weeks. I had a wonderful time at Wizard World, then came home to face some of the delightful challenges that make life so darned...interesting. In short, it's your typical "whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger" week and, having said that, I refuse to obsess about it in print or, worse, take out my ire on you. After all, that's why telephone solicitors were created.
(Bring it on, you pesky peddlers. I'm definitely standing by to take *your* calls.)
My original plan for this week's column was to tell you about my weekend at Wizard World, drop lots of names, review an item or two, and share some funny stories. It was a good plan, but it'll keep until I'm back in my happy place. Typing with clenched fists is really tough on the old keyboard.
What you're getting this week is more excerpts from what Jon "the Interrogator" Knutson and I have taken to calling "the longest Tony Isabella interview in the history of the universe." The last time I checked the count on this pup, it was over 30,000 words and we hadn't yet reached my puberty.
The first segment of this thrilling exploration of my career appeared in the recent COMIC BOOK ARTIST #13. Future installments will appear in other fine TwoMorrows magazines, though I contend it would be far more humane if we published the entire thing in a 200-pound trade paperback and just dropped it on the readers.
Let's roll the tape.
You wrote the first two issues of SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP, which starred Dr. Doom and the Sub-Mariner. Were you planning on writing just those two issues or more?
GIANT-SIZE SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP was created by Roy Thomas as a way of using two of Marvel's most popular characters, Sub-Mariner being one of his all-time personal favorites. However, after writing the first two issues, he got jammed up with other work and asked me to take over the title. I jumped at the chance because Doom and Namor were classic characters and I wanted the chance to show I could write them as well as I wrote the more street-level characters like Johnny Blaze and Luke Cage.
My first two issues were plotted as the third issue of the giant-sized title, but had to be reworked when it was decided the title should be a regular-sized comic book. I sort of recall there were some schedule problems as well, which is why we had several artists involved in those issues, including, by dint of inventory pages I'd found, the late Bill Everett.
Anyway, to answer the actual question, I had hoped to stay on the book for a full year of double-sized issues because that was how long I felt I could handle the uneasy alliance between Doctor Doom and the Sub-Mariner while keeping it fresh, interesting, and full of surprises. My enthusiasm didn't wane when the book was cut back in size, but, for reasons I can't recall, I wasn't able to do more than those first issues.
How were you dealing with the book? Was it basically Namor's book with Doom guest-starring?
Yeah, Sub-Mariner was going to be the "hero" of the book as I saw it, though I also planned to show the many facets of Doc Doom's character as well. My first story was intended to set up the "why" of their uneasy alliance.
The "why" basically came down to this: Doom would have helped Namor achieve his revenge against the villains who had killed darn near everyone the Sub-Mariner had ever loved. As a result, Namor would be honor-bound to stand by Doom, not to conquer the world, but to defend Latveria against Doom's enemies and to work with him when the interests of his own Atlantis warranted it.
Namor would have never completely trusted Doom, but he would have respected him. Of course, Doom would never have completely trusted Namor...and with good reason. There would have come a time when Namor would undermine one of Doom's plans, feeling said plan went beyond the legitimate actions of a leader.
Eventually, my story would have come down to the moment when Namor would have to oppose Doom openly, sundering their alliance for all time. The betrayed Doom would swear vengeance on Namor, while Namor would regret the loss of a courageous ally who might one day have become a friend.
Unless I came up with a brilliant new direction for the book, that would have been the end of my involvement with it. While I believe I would have enjoyed writing an ongoing Sub-Mariner book, I didn't think I could keep an ongoing "Namor Versus Doom" title interesting.
One more comment. The final page of Super-Villain Team-Up #2 remains one of my all-time favorite pages of any comic I've ever written. Sal Buscema gave me a dramatic shot of an enraged Namor while my copy was brief and directly to the point. I know I wanted to see what would happen next and, hopefully, the readers did, too.
You had pretty much an interrupted run on CHAMPIONS, writing all but one of the first seven issues. Was this series your idea? Did you have a choice which characters you used in it?
THE CHAMPIONS was originally conceived by me as a super-heroic "buddy" book which would star the Angel and the Iceman. Neither of them were going to be in the new X-Men book which Len Wein and Dave Cockrum had created with outgoing editor Roy Thomas...and both were characters I liked. I also thought I could have fun playing off of their divergent backgrounds: the millionaire and his middle-class pal. Unfortunately, new editor Len Wein had a different concept of what the book should be.
I have told this story many times, let's see if I can tell it *briefly* this time. Len said every super-hero team had to have *five* heroes...like, for example, the Fantastic *Four*. This put an end to my idea of Champions as a lighthearted buddy book.
Peering into his mystic vapors, my dear and good friend Len then proceeded to explain to stupid little me that all super-teams had to have a super-strong member, a female member, and, don't ask me why, one member who also had his own title. I had some choice over which heroes would fill these roles and went with Hercules, the Black Widow, and the Ghost Rider.
Hercules: because I always liked him
Black Widow: because I had just written her out of DAREDEVIL, but had some other ideas for her.
Ghost Rider: because I planned on using his adventures in his own title as an excuse to write him out of Champions as often as I could sneak this past Len.
Without my "buddy" concept, I had to come up with something to make the Champions different from the Avengers and the other super-hero teams. I decided they would be "super-heroes for the common man," using Warren Worthington's wealth to finance their operation. Unfortunately, it took me three issues just to get the characters together and I never did get around to making this revised concept work to my or anyone else's satisfaction.
Did you enjoy writing this book?
Not really. I think I did some nice stuff on it, but it was never the book I wanted it to be. Ironically, I was very excited about the Black Widow/Ivan storyline I started in issue #7, to the point where I had planned to finish it even though I was leaving Marvel for DC, but Marvel editor-for-three-weeks Gerry Conway nixed that. In fact, either he or assistant editor Jim Shooter changed the last page of my final issue slightly, replacing a couple of the villains with other villains.
What I'd planned for this story was to reveal the true nature of the relationship between Ivan and the Widow, which even Natasha didn't know. Ivan would've been revealed to be the Widow's father, the father who had been unable to save her mother and brother from death. To punish himself for this failure, Ivan never told her who he was, instead spending his life serving her without her knowing he was her father.
In my story, one of the villains would have turned out to be Ivan's son (and the Widow's brother). Twisted by the tragedy that claimed his mother and scarred his soul, the son wanted vengeance on Ivan, who he knew was his father. He planned to kill the Widow first, not knowing she was his sister, and then, after allowing his father to suffer that loss, kill Ivan as well.
In retrospect, that story would have been just as far afield of my "heroes for the common man" concept as anything else I did in Champions. I know the book has its fans, but it remains a decided disappointment to me.
You did a two-issue fill-in on AVENGERS, in which the members were hunted by the Assassin. Was this an inventory story or was it an actual fill-in?
It was both. When I left my editorial position at Marvel, whoever was editor at the time, I think it was Marv Wolfman, wanted me to write as many inventory stories as I could while keeping up with my regular assignments. It was a good plan, but I wasn't the right writer for it, at least not at the time. Bill Mantlo picked up the gauntlet, as it were, and filled the role quite successfully for the company.
This was actually plotted as an issue of GIANT-SIZE AVENGERS, so as to not interfere with Steve Englehart's continuity in the monthly title. However, when the giant-size books went from mostly new to entirely reprint, and when Steve fell behind on his Avengers deadlines, it was decided to turn my story into two issues of the regular book. Ironically, what was supposed to be a fill-in job to work on between my other gigs suddenly became a book I had to write quickly.
My first solution to this deadline problem was to ask a young guy who had been doing some editorial/staff work for me and others to script the first two chapters of the story. Unfortunately, what I got back wasn't even close to being up to snuff, so I was back to square one. I ended up scripting the first of the two issues in a day-and-a-half.
The Avengers line-up in the story makes it extremely difficult for fans to place it into continuity. Were you using a line-up of your choosing, or was one given to you to use? Was this a book you wanted to write yourself?
Would you ever be interested in writing the Avengers on a regular basis?
I tried to play it safe by doing a done-in-one story starring the big guns of the team. It wasn't supposed to be specific to the current continuity. However, when it got shoe-horned into Steve's storyline, it became a continuity nightmare. I made the situation even worse with the additional pages I wrote to bring up the page count of the second issue.
Oh, I definitely wanted to write this story myself. I thought Avengers had been one of Marvel's best books since its first issue, and that it got even better when Roy Thomas wrote it. I wasn't as much into Steve's more mystical stories, but I still thought he was doing some wonderful stuff in the book. So, yeah, I was thrilled to be working on an Avengers story and, continuity problems aside, I thought I did a pretty good job on this one.
Would I be interested in writing Avengers regularly? I assume this would be after someone pried it away from Kurt Busiek's cold, dead hands. Yes, I would, under the right conditions. I'd need a great editor who really knew his Marvel Universe stuff...because my brain can no longer hold all that information...and an artist who excelled at drawing many different characters without sacrificing storytelling clarity. Tom Brevoort certainly fits the bill for the editor gig, especially since he's been doing such a terrific job of it since the book was relaunched.
I have to go now. The phone is ringing and I can't remember where I put my bullhorn. See you next week.
I wrote the above column on August 21, three weeks before the terrorist attacks that visited so much sorrow on the United States and the world. Preparing the column for its appearance here, I had to think hard to recall the things which had so ticked off when I wrote it and, when I did remember them, they seemed so trivial that I'm embarrassed I even alluded to them. We shall speak no more of this lest I redden in a most unbecoming manner.
TERROR AND TRAGEDY
The awful events of September 11 have occupied much of my time and attention this week, as I'm sure they have for most of you. I do want to get back to writing about comic books and movies and the other things that bring us delight...with the occasional political commentary to keep things interesting...but it will be a bit longer before I can return to that happy routine.
Over at the Perpetual Comics website, I devoted my September 12 and 14 installments of TONY'S ONLINE TIPS to the new world which has so cruelly come into being around us. You can read the columns by clicking on the link elsewhere on this page.
I have been so overwhelmed by the events that I've been unable to come up with words powerful enough to express what happened and how I feel. I will keep trying, of course, because that is what I must do, however poorly.
Others have been far more eloquent. Mark Evanier is posting and writing very thoughtful pieces at his website
Add these columns to the many mailing list and message board posts I've read since Tuesday morning and the number of impressions I've received of these events must exceed a thousand. Many posts have been angry. Many have been sorrowful. Many have been wise. Only a few have been idiotic or mean-spirited. Much as we are now seeing the best of America and the world...and just a little of the worst...we are seeing the same from the Internet.
The comics industry has been moved to action by these terrible events. Oni Press and others are gathering items for an auction to benefit the victims of the attacks. Marvel Comics is publishing a poster book to honor the firefighters, policemen, and EMS workers who courageously gave of themselves, even to the ultimate measure, in New York City. I applaud these efforts and ask that all of you support them generously and vigorously.
As I search for the right words, and you'll doubtless see me make another attempt in Monday's installment of TONY'S ONLINE TIPS, I received this e-mail from a reader
Some time back, I read a series of articles on real heroes you wrote in the wake of the horror of the Oklahoma City bombing. Those columns were very uplifting. Perhaps, in light of the recent events, you could repost them.
That was the first e-mail. Since it was sent, I've received several more requests for the columns and also for the one I wrote after the Columbine High School killings.
Justin, the master of this website, and I exchanged an e-mail or two and decided to set up a special addition to the weekly TIPS column featuring all seven of these columns. It's going to take me a day or two to edit and process these columns...and for Justin to design and launch the addition...but, sometime in the coming week, you'll be able to read them online.
We're going to call this section HEROES AND VILLAINS: REAL AND IMAGINED. Keep checking the message board; as soon as it's up and running, we'll post the announcement there.
I'll be back next week with another CBG reprint and the usual new material.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
Please send material you would like me to review to: