If I Ran Marvel, part one: The Imprints
By Michael David Sims
17 October 2006 Several years ago comic book writer Mark Millar wrote an interesting piece for Comic Book Resources entitled Mark Millar, President and Publisher of DC Comics. Having read said article earlier this year and having interviewed for an editorial position at Marvel late last year (where this eventually would have been one of my many duties), an obvious idea hit me: What if I ran Marvel... and DC? What follows then is the first part in the "If I Ran..." series of articles. Just as the title implies, part one will focus on Marvel's many imprints.
Before we begin, some rules (several of which were unashamedly stolen from Millar's article):
01. All books are monthly, unless otherwise noted.
02. Creators will be given a 12-month head start.
03. No writer can author more than four monthly comics at a time.*
04. No artist can illustrate more than one monthly and one mini at a time.*
05. No one will write and / or draw a comic they're currently working on.*
06. Exclusive contracts are void.
07. With but very few exceptions, no character can have more than one title.
* Creator-owned work excluded.
This being a creator-owned imprint, creative teams would not change. Two additions I would make, however, are Invincible (by Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley) and The Walking Dead (by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard). They're both wildly successful titles, and deserve Marvel's financial backing.
Fact of the matter is Marvel does not have a solid, pre-Fantastic Four history. We've seen glimpses here and there and old timers will recall Captain America's World War II glory days with The Invaders, but from the end of the war until Reed Richards and his crew mutated into something different, very few stories have been told. That said, the Marvel Knights line of comic books would serve to chronicle that underexposed era.
A question rises to the surface: When did the modern Marvel Universe begin? The general consensus is that the Fantastic Four crash landed roughly 12 years ago and it will always be 12 years ago according to Marvel's sliding timeline. So as of this writing, that would mean 1994. If you're reading this article in 2007, 2008 or beyond, simply subtract 12 years and you have the new starting point of the modern Marvel Universe. For the sake of this article, however, we'll stick with 1994.
Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD
Writer: Tom Clancy
Artists: Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines and Morry Hollowell
As the title implies, this book is all about Fury when he was just another agent of the counterterrorism unit long before he became the Executive Director of SHIELD. While I imagine some stories would be very Bondian in nature, most would focus on international politics and high-tech, Cold War espionage when the world was always on the brink of nuclear war. That in mind, there's only one man for the job: Tom Clancy, the name when it comes to spy fiction. The art team of McNiven, Vines and Hollowell, like Clancy, is a no-brainer. Together they've produced some of the sleekest, sexiest imagery in modern comics, and would very easily bring Fury's past adventures to life with a very retro-sci-fi flavor (think Men in Black-style dιcor and weaponry).
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Travis Charest
Era: 1945 - Captain America: Winter Soldier, vol. 1
While Steve Rogers slept his way through most of the 20th century, his former partner, James "Bucky" Barnes, ran wild as the brainwashed assassin The Winter Soldier. To date, most of his assignments / adventures have been left untold. This book, under Ed Brubaker's pen, would tell those tales. Having rejuvenated the long thought dead character, it's only fair that Brubaker have the duty of mapping out Barnes' history. Travis Charest, on the other hand, might seem like an odd choice especially considering his pattern for missed deadlines. But keep in mind three things: the bimonthly schedule, 12-month lead-time, WildCATs / X-Men: The Golden Age.
Writer: Barry Windsor-Smith
Artist: Barry Windsor-Smith
Era: 1910-ish - Weapon X
No one writes or draws a better Wolverine than Barry Windsor-Smith. Argue all you want, BWS is the end-all, be-all when it comes to this moody character. More so if we're talking about tales set pre-X-Men, as this book would be. (In fact, I would rather call the book Logan, seeing as how this isn't Wolverine per se, but having "Wolverine" in the title sells more copies.) We've seen Logan's modern tales, had several glimpses into his future, as well as a few not-so-accurate looks into his past, but now's the time to correct that... not through flashbacks or secrets told in whispers or anything like that, mind you. This book would begin immediately after Origin and move forward from there at Windsor-Smith's own pace.
You're wrong if you think the MAX imprint is Marvel's answer to DC's Vertigo. Yes, both feature mature titles for an older audience, but the overall tone of the MAX line is much darker in nature and features costumed characters from time to time two trends I would expand upon, as you'll see below. It should be noted that MAX is a place where brightly colored characters (i.e. Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man) should not and cannot traverse. MAX is reserved for those characters with connections to dark realms and real world violence, as well as ones which can benefit from adding the mature themes. Choosing which characters to transition from the Marvel Universe to the MAX imprint is not an easy task, if only because greater concerns need to be factored in.
Parental Reactions: Spider-Man can't be seen swinging through a profanity laced book, because kids want all things Spider-Man. Just imagine the furor if li'l Johnny suddenly blurted, "Fuckin hell," after stubbing his toe. "Where'd you learn that language," would be the natural response. Now image the PR mess when the mother learns it was a comic book starring the kid-friendly Spider-Man. Not good. Not good at all!
Sales: Putting the bold, monochrome MAX logo on a comic book cuts sales drastically. Readers under the age of 18 can't buy the titles (in reputable shops, I mean), so retailers order far fewer copies of a MAX Punisher title than they would a Marvel Universe Punisher comic book. What all this leads to is an explanation of why Wolverine, which would seem like a natural fit for MAX, isn't on the following list. Kids buy Wolverine. Slap a MAX logo on there and slice away at least a third of your audience (RE: sales). Not good business.
So then why the characters I've selected below? Easy: with or without the MAX logo branded on the cover, kids don't read these characters. So the sales dip would be negligible. Furthermore, I'd be willing to bet that sales on certain titles, especially Doctor Strange, would be higher when compared to their Marvel Universe counterparts. Why? The creators (no disrespect meant to the current creative team on Doctor Strange: The Oath) and the free reign given to them by the imprint.
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Bill Sienkiewicz
The Master of the Mystic Arts lives in a very macabre corner of the Marvel Universe, and, in my estimation, the only two creators who would be able to accurately portray this world on a monthly basis are Moore and Sienkiewicz. Moore's personal background in the so-called dark arts, as well as his intelligent prose, would bring a sense of much needed sophistication to the title and the Marvel Universe as a whole. Sienkiewicz's unconventional, ultra-stylized, often-dark pencils and brush strokes would breathe an eerie life into Strange's sinister world.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Put simply, the idea that the so-called Spirit of Vengeance would reside in one man is ludicrous. Ghost Rider, much like The Crow, should change hosts after vengeance is served. And since each host would bring a new look to Ghost Rider (reflected by their personality; though the flaming skull would remain a constant), each storyline would feature a brand new artist: Tim Sale, Chris Bachalo, Lewis LaRosa, Ben Templesmith, Michael Lark, Alex Maleev, Joe Quesada, Steve Epting, all three Kuberts, Kevin Nowlan, Dougie Braithwaite and Leonardo Fernandez... just to name a few. Despite the revolving door of artists, one writer would oversee the title. Said author would have to be able to write dark, chilling, revenge fantasies for a smarter audience. 100 Bullets is the perfect example of this kind of work, hence Brian Azzarello being brought onboard.
Hearts of Darkness
Writer: Mike Mignola
Artist: Mike Mignola
Hellboy is simultaneously one of the smartest and creepiest books currently on the market, so it only makes sense for its creator, Mike Mignola, to take the reigns of Marvel's premier monster hunters: Blade and Moon Knight. Not only would his angular illustrations redefine the characters stylistically, Mignola's affinity for oft-overlooked folklore would bring new monsters and mythical beasts for the duo to investigate and slay along with the usual lot of vampires and werewolves.
Writer: Greg Rucka
Long before mobsters worked with supervillains, when Alexander Bont was still the Kingpin, decades before he would destroy Matt Murdock's life, a young Wilson Fisk was just becoming a made man. This is his story as written by crime novelist Greg Rucka, whom, I believe, would be able to write Fisk in a rather unsympathetic yet compelling light as someone like Fisk should be represented. The artists known only as Jock, having worked on The Losers for the bulk of its lifespan, is accustomed to injecting life into real world, unsympathetic bastards. And that's exactly what's needed here, as this book would take place long before the Fantastic Four ushered in the modern age of heroes. Meaning, no capes or tights or even Daredevil this is a street-level crime / noir comic.
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Darick Robertson
Despite his tendency to go a bit overboard in the name of humorous violence, such as in The Punisher: Welcome Back Frank and Dicks, writer Garth Ennis has the keen ability to portray real world wars and the men who fought in them with great respect. There's no better example of this than Preacher numbers 18 and 50 and the Born limited series, both of which featured Vietnam as a backdrop and were mature in nature. Teaming Ennis with Darick Robertson, his Born counterpart and an artist who can deftly handle both the high action and "calm before the storm" moments, seems only natural.
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Leinil Francis Yu
Nearly 10 years later, "Not Dead Yet" stands as one of the best Wolverine stories. So it only makes sense to reform the creative team behind the four-issue, mini-epic, and put them on a book starring a character that's just as deadly as Wolverine. Leinil Francis Yu's gritty lines would keep in tune with the way Frank Castle has been portrayed under the MAX imprint: aged he's a world-weary, battle-scarred Vietnam vet. Creases map his face. Dark, squinting eyes open a window to his empty soul. His bulky frame looms in the shadows. He's a cold, calculating beast of a man. Only a handful of artists can accurately depict Castle as such. Yu is one of them. Writer Warren Ellis brings the keen ability to script short storylines which play into a much larger scheme, something The Punisher has always lacked but could sorely use. Like Ennis before him, I would expect Ellis' stories to reach beyond Manhattan and into global politics.
When Marvel calls the Ultimate line the "gold standard" in comics, they're not joking. Creatively, the books have always been in the upper echelon. Sales-wise, they often rival (and sometimes eclipse) their Marvel Universe counterparts. Neither come as a surprise, especially when you look at some of the names Marvel has attached to the line: Bendis and Bagley, Millar and Hitch, Andy and Adam Kubert, Brian K. Vaughan, Robert Kirkman and so on. Just as high profile names don't always dictate quality, lesser known creators can often be diamonds in the rough. Hence, some of my choices.
Ultimate Fantastic Four
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Artist: Alan Davis
Remember the epic Lobdell / Davis relaunching of the Fantastic Four? Of course you don't. It was a cup of coffee at best. Nonetheless, those two creators perfectly captured the Fantastic Four. No one in the nine years since, in my estimation, has matched the sheer power of those three issues. On this book, Lobdell's crisp writing and Davis' fluid pencils would shape the Ultimate Fantastic Four (and the Ultimate line) for years to come.
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artists: Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley
Invincible feels like a 1960s comic book with modern sensibilities; aliens and robots and mutants team (RE: The Avengers) under the guidance of an all-powerful governmental agency (RE: SHIELD) to thwart world-ending evil (RE: Fantastic Four). If anybody embodies that Stan Lee, "This is a crazy world we created, let's have fun with it" vibe, it's Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley. Their enjoyment radiates from every page, and that's exactly how Ultimate Spider-Man should be. Even when Peter is going through one of his unlucky spells, the creators' enthusiasm should shine through. Bendis and Bagley have set the bar, now it's time for the Invincible creative team to grab tight and run with it. (Walker and Ottley would rotate art chores so as to keep their creator-owned Invincible alive. While Walker draws Ultimate Spider-Man, Ottley would handle Invincible. After 12 issues, switch.)
Writer: Peter David
Artist: J. Scott Campbell
No matter the incarnation Uncanny, Astonishing, Ultimate, Amazing, New, adjective-less X-Men comic books have always been about three things: persecution, angst and sex appeal. Having written two distinctly different version of X-Factor, though both featured all three aforementioned elements, David is no stranger to the X-world or team comics. Hell, his stint on Young Justice might have been overlooked by most readers, but was entertaining and proves his worth as a teen team comic scribe nonetheless. He also sticks with books for the long haul (Incredible Hulk, anyone?), something Ultimate X-Men, unlike Ultimate Spider-Man and The Ultimates, has lacked. Campbell obviously brings the sexy. Say what you will about his deadlines, the man knows how to draw slick, action packed, entertaining comic books. If kept on a short leash and given the 12 months of lead-time, there's absolutely no reason this book wouldn't be monthly.
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Gene Ha
Warren Ellis's work on The Authority and Stormwatch set the standard for "Hollywood blockbuster" action comics such as The Ultimates, and Gene Ha's Top 10: The Forty-Niners illustrates his ability to deftly blend the real world with an overabundance of superheroes and science fiction elements. Under these two men, The Ultimates would flourish like never before. Due to the level of detail in Ha's work, this book would have to be bimonthly. (The fact that this creative team just began a stint on The Authority had nothing to do with my choice here. It was serendipitous, really.)