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Comic Wars By Julio Diaz
DC and Marvel Take the Battle for Industry Dominance to WizardWorld Chicago
For the past couple of weeks, the Internet buzz has almost entirely been going in favor of DC Comics. The company made several major announcements at Comic-Con International: San Diego that -- along with new hit books like Teen Titans, Outsiders, Empire, Superman: Birthright, and Formerly Known as the Justice League -- have many people believing the company is poised to take over market dominance from Marvel over the next several months. They've signed up some of the biggest names in the industry to exclusive contracts and have started announcing major publishing initiatives, such as an already-ballyhooed relaunch of the Superman family of titles. Meanwhile, Marvel made almost no major announcements at San Diego (save the cancellation of the critically acclaimed Alias, to be replaced by a more mainstream book, The Pulse, that will feature the lead character, Jessica Jones, as part of an ensemble), and was left looking about five steps behind.
Never fear, said the postings on the 'Net: Marvel has big plans and they're saving the announcements for WizardWorld Chicago, a convention the company is putting significant investment in (buying a booth, for example, something they declined to do in San Diego). Chicago was to be where Marvel would take back the ground lost; though DC was rumored to be keeping some surprises under wraps, as well.
Instead of posting dozens of tiny blurbs, we decided on a wait and see approach, choosing to analyze the many news announcements in the interest of seeing who came out of Chicago ahead. Here's our scorecard:
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Marvel's biggest news of the day is the launch of Ultimate Fantastic Four. The book has been rumored for ages, and was long thought to be a Grant Morrison project. But Morrison just signed a three-year exclusive to DC. Intriguingly, the book will instead be co-written by Marvel's top two writers, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar, with the first arc to be drawn by Adam Kubert. A nice opening salvo, to be sure.
Marvel follows this with the announcement that Millar and artist Bryan Hitch have extended their exclusive arrangements with the company. Presumably, this excludes the multiple independent projects that Millar announced in San Diego. The pair will continue work on The Ultimates. The current series will end with issue #13, and will then resume with Volume 2, #1, with the team's run totaling around 24 issues between the two volumes.
Now, Millar and Hitch continuing on one of Marvel's strongest titles is very good news, but it's tempered by the seemingly unnecessary new first issue. Usually, a reboot would indicate a major shift in direction or creative team. This may be the case, but at the surface level, it smacks of the old attitude that new first issues sell more copies. It looks like a money-grab, and unless Marvel can clearly show otherwise, it's a move that will leave a bad taste in a lot of fans' mouths.
Marvel's Ultimate universe news continued with the announcement that David Mack will take over writing Ultimate X-Men with #51, after co-writing a few issues prior with current writer Bendis. Mack and Bendis are close friends that have worked well together in the past, so this should be a seamless transition.
Despite rumors to the contrary, it is announced that an Ultimate Daredevil series is not immediately planned, though there "may" be more Ultimate books down the line. It's also announced that the redheaded stepchild of the line, Ultimate Adventures is nearly complete after frequent delays. Finally, Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada announces that he plans to draw another six-page insert story ala the Ultimate Six preview that appeared in last week's Wizard #0.
Certainly, not a bad way to start the con. Some exciting projects in there.
Over at DC, the day's big announcement is the signing of writer/artist Phil Jimenez to a three-year exclusive contract. Jimenez's contract starts with a 12-issue series from DC's Vertigo imprint, Otherworld, which he will write and draw. Jimenez is definitely a major talent and this is big news, though somewhat tempered by his first project being something untested.
The Superman creative teams are confirmed, with the biggest deal among them being the already-announced tandem of writer Brian Azzarello and artist Jim Lee on Superman. One of the industry's most talented writers, Greg Rucka will be joined by his Felon artist, Matthew Clark, on Adventures of Superman, while writer Chuck Austen and rising art star Ivan Reis (Avengers Icons: The Vision, Lady Death) will take over Action Comics.
Now, the Azzarello/Lee Superman is a virtually guaranteed hit -- one need look no further than Lee's current run on Batman to see that. And Rucka is a very well respected writer that should bring an interesting spin to Adventures. The worrisome news is Austen on Action. While Austen is the writer on the top-selling Uncanny X-Men, let's face facts -- a chimp could write that book and it would still sell. The Internet is filled with complaints about his writing, and while in interviews Austen dismisses this as jealousy, a read of his work often indicates otherwise. The guy is capable of some good things, but it's hard to know which Austen is going to show up.
But this won't be the only major Superman-related project announced this weekend, and it's broadly hinted that Grant Morrison will be doing something Superman-related soon.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Metropolis come three new series: The Question, by Rick Veitch and Tommy Lee Edwards; Vigilante, by Micah Ian Wright and Carlos D'Anda; and Man of Steel: Lex Luthor, by Azzarello and Lee Bermejo. All three projects promise interesting new perspectives on Superman's world, with Lex's book promising a look deep beneath his skin, and Question and Vigilante being compared to the perspective of the critically-acclaimed Gotham Central.
Finally, the Vertigo panel brings announcements of two other new series, Lovecraft, from Keith Giffen, Hans Rodionoff and Enrique Breccia; and Vimanarama from Morrison and Philip Bond; and the promise of further Endless manga projects from Jill Thompson.
It's a fairly close call as to who comes out on top on day one. Ultimate FF is a major project, and Millar and Hitch are huge right now, but the Marvel announcements feel like more of the same -- good stuff, mind you, but not terribly new. DC's announcements of the day, meanwhile, seem to be all about exploring new directions and new ideas -- and don't underestimate the signing of Jimenez. For me, I think the advantage goes slightly to DC, but it's only by a few hairs.
Incidentally, CrossGen's news of the day threatened to eclipse both of the big two, as they announced The War, the culmination of everything CrossGen has been building toward since the company launched. It's the forces of the CrossGen Universe against the forces of the Negation. It's the first time most of their characters will interact. It's a huge challenge, tying together books as disparate as The First, Way of the Rat, Route 666, Sojourn, and Sigil. If it's up to CrossGen's usual standards, it should really be something to behold, and given that George Perez -- the master of insane detail and mega-crossovers -- is lined up to draw it, if nothing else, it will be gorgeous. Moreover, it threatens permanent change to the CrossGen Universe, possibly to include some books being cancelled and major characters meeting their end. For my money, The War could well be the biggest and most exciting announcement to come out of WizardWorld.
It was late in the day before any news came out of Marvel at all. When it did, it turned out not to be much. The talented artist Salvador Larocca has signed a four-year exclusive deal with the company, and Marvel announced the first two projects in their Epic line that have been culled from their recent open call for submissions, each one shots: a Spider-Man What If? and an original project. While Larocca is a great talent, he's been exclusive to Marvel for the last two years, anyway, so it's not a great change. And it's hard to get excited about the Epic projects when they are -- by their nature -- not by "name" creators.
DC, then, took the ball and ran with it, leaving Marvel well back in the dust on day two. Their biggest announcement of the day is a partnership with artist/writer Michael Turner's new company, Aspen. The deal will have Aspen creating new projects for DC for about two years, with a Superman mini (leading into the revamp) drawn by Talent Caldwell confirmed as the first project. An open secret that's only unconfirmed because Wizard was promised an exclusive story is that the next project will find Turner himself drawing a six-issue run of Batman, to immediately follow the upcoming run by the 100 Bullets team of Azzarello and Eduardo Risso. It's said that this deal may also allow DC exclusive creators to work on Aspen projects (writers Geoff Johns and Jeph Loeb have already dipped their feet into the fledgling line, and the two are rumored to be the writers on the first two DC/Aspen projects). Aspen, incidentally, has resolved their lawsuit with Top Cow, which will free their own comics for release.
DC also announced several new projects. Toe Tags is a new horror anthology, the first six issues of which will be written by horror legend George Romero (Night of the Living Dead) and drawn by Richard Corben. Writer/artist Howard Chaykin will launch a new, non-DC Universe take on Challengers of the Unknown. Last but not least is a new line called Focus, which will take a "real world" approach to super-powers and be set outside the DC Universe, launching with four titles: Touch, from writer John Francis Moore and artist Wesley Craig; Fraction, from David Tischman and Timothy Green; Kenetic, written by Kelley Puckett with art from Warren Pleece; and Hard Time by comics legend Steve Gerber and artist Brian Hurtt.
Given that Marvel basically napped on Saturday, DC takes the day easily. The Aspen deal has the potential to be gigantic, and if they can market Toe Tags outside traditional channels to horror fandom, Romero's name ensures a blockbuster success. The other projects offer fresh spins on old ideas, and are at the least intriguing.
Okay, last chance for Marvel to impress with big news. And they come out with guns blazing: The Punisher will be relaunched as part of the company's Max "adults only" line, allowing writer Garth Ennis to take a harder and more realistic approach with the character. Content in the Max line would typically earn an "R" rating, were it a movie rather than a comic. Ennis does his best work when he's unfettered by content concerns -- see Preacher for a grand example -- so this is good news. But again, it's tempered: yes, they're relaunching with yet another new #1 (see above). Also, there's a Punisher movie currently shooting for release next year, and one assumes the producers are planning an audience-friendly, PG-13 affair. How will that jibe with the new comic?
Late in the day, it comes out that Marvel has mended fences with writer Mark Waid, and that he will write unnamed new projects for the company, including a Fantastic Four project, though not the regular title he was controversially removed from last month. It's good news for those that were enjoying Waid's FF, but it also feels a bit like closing the barn door after the cow's escaped -- Waid shouldn't have been fired in the first place, and the fiasco could have been avoided. To Quesada's credit, he admits this.
Another long-standing rumor is confirmed: Austen will take over writing Avengers at the close of Johns' run, with art duties to alternate between Oliver Copiel and Scott Kolins. See above as to why this is a move that's been dreaded by many fans.
Another possible blunder is the announcement of the new team on Captain America: writer Bob Morales, who wrote the ill-received, revisionist Cap mini, The Truth, is teamed with artist Chris Bachalo, a former fan-favorite whose recent work has taken a turn for the abstract beyond what many readers have been comfortable with. I don't see this as being a popular move; sales on Truth plummeted once readers found it lacked substance, and Bachalo's recent work on New X-Men and Ultimate War wasn't received well. Cap has been floundering since Mark Waid was forced from the title a second time; perhaps he could be wooed back to save the book.
Finally, a new Ant Man series from the Max imprint is announced. Let me get this straight: they wanted Jessica Jones to be able to interact more with the mainstream Marvel Universe, so they canceled Alias and moved her to a new book. Then they take her boyfriend, who's an Avenger, and give him a MAX title? Does one hand know what the other is doing, here?
DC's big news for the day is the signing of artist/writer J. Scott Campbell to an exclusive contract, and the announcement that he'll be releasing a new project immediately following the already-announced Danger Girl Absolute collected edition (premium oversized hardcover). Campbell doesn't have the best rep in the industry -- his projects have been plagued by lateness, and he's often criticized as style over substance -- but he's undeniably a fan favorite, and his projects are sure to be financial blockbusters.
DC also confirmed that despite his announced retirement from mainstream comics, Alan Moore will continue to write League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and despite his America's Best Comics line coming to a close, there are talks to continue Tom Strong and Top 10 under Moore-approved writers. Good news for fans of Moore's distinctive corner of the comics world.
Finally, the company announced Ex Machina, a new series from rising star writer Brian K. Vaughn (Y: The Last Man, Rrunaways) and fan favorite artist Tony Harris.
Sunday's news makes for a closer call, but I think DC still has the edge. Campbell is a huge signing, and the confirmation of more Moore is big, while Ex Machina has "sleeper hit" written all over it. Marvel's news about Waid and Ennis is big, too, but it remains to be seen how it will play out, and it's tempered by potentially unpopular decisions for Avengers and Cap.
So from my perspective, it feels like Marvel failed to make good on their promise to "strike back" at WizardWorld. More than ever, the heat seems to be with DC. Now it's up to DC to prove that they deserve the heat, and that they can do something with it.