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Sunday, November 25, 2012 

Bob Greenberger's review of Sean Howe's Marvel bio reveals shortcoming in its latter part

Bob Greenberger, who was an editor at both Marvel and DC and also for magazines like Comics Scene, wrote about Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. I'm not sure whether this is Howe's book or Greenberger's own take on what happened at the turn of the century, but what's told about Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada is disappointingly superficial:
Under [Ike] Perlmutter, Marvel and Toy Biz combined operations and brought Bill Jemas in as president and in turn, he elevated Joe Quesada to editor in chief. As Perlmutter and Avi Arad finally got Marvel on the right track in media, Jemas and Quesada fixed the House that Stan, Jack, and Steve built. Systematically, they tackled one franchise, starting with Spidey, then another, X-Men.
I expected it wouldn't be especially critical of the more modern executives in charge, but that doesn't make it any less galling, if no objective positions are taken or even referenced regarding Jemas and Quesada's hack jobs on Spider-Man and X-Men. The latter underwent 2 problems: one was a forcible mandate that the costumes must look just like the ones in the movies, and two that they brought in Grant Morrison as the writer and he only made it more unappealing and towards the end of his run did a horrible job on both Magneto and Jean Grey. And in Spidey's case, they brought in J. Michael Stracynski, whose left-liberal standings consumed his ego by that time and could be felt in the book at nearly every turn (one of the first stories he wrote was a metaphor for the Columbine massacre that reeked of apologia). Nor did JMS have much feel for Peter, or even Mary Jane, and that he would remain on the series even after Quesada supposedly retooled Sins Past casts doubt on his sincerity. Some fix-it job that was.
Editors rose and fell in favor with Jemas and once they lost his interest, they were quickly gone with a new target in his sight. Jemas was brash and cut through the malaise that a decade of uncertainty allowed to become the status quo. He was right that the continuity was cumbersome and the Ultimate line was a commercial stroke of genius.
Oh, do tell us about it. A line where the X-Men and Ultimates were more adult than entry level, a landmark case of dishonest marketing laced with alienating violence and a needless redo of the Hank Pym as wife-abuser storyline, is really a stroke of genius? I don't think so. Nor do I agree one bit that the continuity was a problem, and it was doing well enough until Jemas and Quesada came along. The few things I would consider unworthy of continuity include the Clone Saga, something that could've just been done away with and disavowed, and that way continuity would've been a lot more stable. If Howe or Greenberger are apologizing/glossing over these cases all in favor of Jemas, who's not remembered very fondly by anybody today, that's a shame.
His successes let him have fun and he never tired of poking DC’s Paul Levtiz, Bob Wayne, and others. When he decided Marvel was withdrawing from the Comics Magazine Association of America in favor of an in-house ratings system, he packed the conference room with every former DC employee even though none had any business being in the room. It had to have been the most uncomfortable meeting Axel Alonso, Stuart Moore, Jenny Lee, or I ever attended.
What successes? He precipitated much of the sales-through-controversy and reduction to tabloid style publicity the medium was harmed by while he was in charge, and I don't recall many of their titles selling through the roof in sales charts. And while Levitz and Wayne were a bad lot too, Jemas' attacks on people like them were still in bad form for a professional businessman and weren't altruistic either. A very poor example indeed, and they just act like it's nothing?
Like Shooter before him, success led to a period of bizarre behavior that ultimately cost them their jobs. But under new President Dan Buckley, Quesada and Alonso, the company has set its sights on a future, organically working to achieve that goal. Howe once again misses a chance to analyze what this has meant across the board, skipping the rise of the Marvel Studios films, beginning with Iron Man and the cadre of Marvel talent consulting on them to keep them as close to the comics as is practical.
There's a difference: even Shooter never acted as sleazy as Jemas and Quesada did, and while Buckley's an improvement in personality, there's no organic direction anymore. Again, I'm not sure whether this is Howe or just Greenberger trying to be diplomatic, but reading this, I think it's very sad that what we have here is someone who won't do a more in depth take on why Marvel's lost so much of its audience, right down to the case of throwing Mary Jane Watson under the bus in Spider-Man's One More Day storyline. How are we supposed to believe then that the people who researched and wrote this book really love all that is Marvel if they don't take an objective approach to some of the worst steps made since the turn of the century?

That doesn't mean the book isn't without merits; I'm sure it's got plenty, but I figure they're more related to the older affairs of Marvel's business. A pity then if whatever it has to say about their steps since 2000 doesn't match up.


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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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