Comfort Food Comics of Zur-En-Arrh – Wizard Magazine #176

Wizard Magazine?! Why am I starting with Wizard Magazine and not the first issue of Morrison’s Batman run?? Well, like I explained in the intro, this is going to be a deeply personal journey. You’re going to see this run through my eyes, the way I experienced it. My first exposure to this run was right here in the infamous comics magazine when they ran a preview for it. I thought it would be fun to run it back to the beginning and also take a look at this whole issue and get a little scene dressing for what was going on in the industry and world when this run debuted. Join me on a virtual sim date paging through Wizard, won’t you?

Sitting here in 2020 and trying to explain what Wizard Magazine was and the experience it provided is absolutely bizarre and surreal. It seems crazy in our modern internet age to think how one magazine was responsible for breaking, previewing and featuring all the comics news we get. Wizard debuted in July 1991 as a response to the burgeoning speculator market and collector boom of comics that started right around then. Half price guide, half hype man it was truly a unique time capsule into every month of not only the comics industry, but of pop culture at the time as well. I remember having an odd issue or two when I was very young and that thing was packed with SO MUCH 90’s “Bad Girl” comic art, it existed in my head as something lascivious, something not for me, something to hide from my parents. I’m laughing as I type that out, but that’s really what it was like. You felt you had to put that cover of Roxy and Fairchild under the mattress with the old Playboys you stole from your Dad. The thing was a mix of the most groan worthy humor in the vein of extremely horny, sexist nerds and a direct line to the consumer to see what was coming and what you HAD to read. I can remember picking up an issue and seeing in the lower corner of the price guides the famous Mark Bagley cover of Spider-Carnage on Amazing Spider-Man #410. I promptly FREAKED OUT and demanded we go to the mall and Toys R Us to try to hunt down this issue and in a set of coincidences I still find miraculous to this day, we actually found it. To me, that exemplified what Wizard Magazine was the most. It was a group of dudes trying to scream at you each month and show you what was HIP and COOL in that exact slice of 30 days for comics. If you tapped into it, you’d be part of the experience. When you really think about it, it’s an incredible thing to exist.

By 2006 the magazine had shrunk page count, gotten larger and existed less as a price guide and more of an all encompassing comic nerd multimedia feature that covered movies, shows, games and toys as much as the books. It still had the misogynistic jokes emblematic of the 90’s and Aughts time period, but it had fully turned into where you went for exclusive creator interviews and previews. Newsarama and CBR and all of those sites were also around by this point but I kid you not, Wizard still broke news more and had better content. It was a WILD time. If you loved comics, you bought Wizard Magazine, it was that simple.

By June 2006, when #176 came out, I had leaped back into comics full time after bowing out mid Spider-Man Clone Saga as a kid. Brian Bendis and J. Michael Straczynski had drawn me back in around 2004 with their Ultimate and Amazing Spider-Man comics and I fell hard for Bendis’ New Avengers when that launched. That was one of the first books I felt I HAD to buy monthly and from there I started buying title after title. 2006’s Civil War got me to pretty much commit my life to following EVERY Marvel book every week issue by issue, rather than trade wait, a practice I’m still stuck in today. BUT this was only Marvel. Growing up I hated DC Comics. I was solely there for Spider-Man, then to a lesser extent X-Men and Ghost Rider, then to an even further extent, the wider Marvel Universe. DC’s characters seemed weird and stale, relics of an old corny age that somehow were still being published. I wanted no part of it then. During my return to comic fandom, I quickly got over my childhood biases and gave ALL comics a chance. I read your Year Ones, your DKR’s, your Crisis on Infinite Earths and other select evergreen DC Comics I could find at Waldenbooks or Borders but at this point and time I wasn’t buying ANY current DC issues. I had yet to find my in point. Sure, I read some random issues but I wasn’t hooked in by anything. That’s where this Wizard Magazine comes in. Let’s see what they have in here for Morrison Bats.

PHEW! A lot to take in as we get the first few pages of Batman #655 and a couple pages of Morrison explaining what they want to do on the book. As a 17 year old kid about to embark on the biggest changes of my life with looming adulthood a lot of this really spoke to me. It seemed fresh, it seemed INTERESTING and it also seemed to promise to marry together all versions of Batman into something new. It mirrored my own life. I was VERY intrigued and I wasn’t even a huge fan of Batman comics yet. Morrison outlining their pitch and plans was enough to grab me but that little end bit where they explain how this new story is going to deal with Batman’s kid??!! Batman has a kid?? I was super interested to learn what this was all about. I had known Morrison at this point only for their New X-Men run, of which I was a big fan. It would be a good year or so until I ended up reading and falling in love with all of their main DC Comics work. The interview would have been enough but the vibrant and kinetic preview of the shock opening featuring Andy Kubert’s wonderful art and Dave Stewart’s assaulting colors really blew my mind. Did Batman just SHOOT the Joker?! I thought this could be MY Batman run. It’s such a great opener and a really genius move for DC to let Wizard run it. I bet this hooked in tons of readers. Strangely enough, I DIDN’T actually hunt down this issue in July but that’s a story for another article.

So, we’ve covered the Morrison part of this issue but let’s have some fun and look at what else they were covering or making lame jokes about that month:

First up is some envelope art sent by a reader of an almost naked Stafire exclaiming how much she loves cheesecake art. I can’t think of a better image to sum up Wizard’s whole deal than this. This was what it’s target demographic wanted and it’s what Wizard tried to deliver.

We get an interview and preview for the upcoming Jeph Loeb & J. Scott Campbell Spider-Man project. I remember being very intrigued by this and I had even then started to hate Loeb. This is one of those infamous projects that never actually came out. I would have liked to have seen what Campbell would have done on a full interiors Spidey book even if he too is not my favorite. Like I said before, Wizard really works great as a time capsule.

There is a bunch of coverage about the upcoming X-Men: The Last Stand. The only redeeming factor of that movie was seeing Frasier as Beast. I remember trying to figure out plans to see this in theaters with my buds at the time and finally deciding to skip it after a friend just eviscerated it in his review to me. Watching it years later on DVD, he was spot on. I hate this movie.

It’s pretty crazy to think Civil War and New Avengers was hitting the same time as Grant Morrison coming on to Batman. While Marvel’s output dominated the sales and media, DC was quietly just assembling some of it’s all time runs. They’ve almost completely flip flopped now in our current year.

Civil War was a HUGE deal for me back then. I bought every single tie-in, every single variant cover. I was hooked thinking it was such a great event. My feelings very quickly changed on it once I had a year or two to be out of the mass hysteria it caused. To this day I haven’t experienced an event that seemed to get such hype from the mainstream media and every single comic outlet. Civil War was like an EXPERIENCE. You didnt know what was going to happen to the Marvel U. I still dig the New Avengers solo spotlight issues during the time though.

52 previews!! I forgot all about DC’s One Year Later initiative where all of the books picked up their storylines with a full year having passed after the conclusion of Infinite Crisis. DC has always really loved those gimmicks. I found it pretty interesting at the time. Were gonna dig into the relevant bits of 52 here eventually because Morrison’s Batman story actually commences THERE first. 52 is a series I greatly enjoyed reading in one sit down in 2007 when it was all done. There are bad parts and stupid bits but OVERALL I think it is an incredibly entertaining and bizarre spotlight into the darker, less loved corners of the DCU. I love seeing the Great Ten designs and seeing that these were Morrison ideas, because of course they were.

One of the coolest things Wizard would do is get original art for spreads they’d do on random topics. One in here is who is wearing the Daredevil suit in Ed Brubaker’s DD run. The Bendis joke does give me a stupid laugh. The answer to this was that it was Danny Rand. It never really mattered during the run and I always think it’s incredibly odd that the Daredevil in Civil War is Danny under the costume.

Here’s a bizarre piece where they preview Aquaman meeting a stripper and proceed to give some Atlantean strip club rules. Wizard was very much made for and by people with the mind of a teen boy. So weird.

Wizard gives us all a set photo tour of the upcoming Superman Returns, a movie I still have not seen. this is one of those “Ohhhh yeah…” movies that I feel collectively we all forget ever existed until someone brings them up and we all say “Ohhhh yeah that movie!”

Here’s a page that really captures that unique Wizard “30 days cycle of the comics industry” magic I was talking about. Just a whole feature on the oft delayed Astonishing X-Men run and what to expect in the next issue.

Allan Heinberg picks some of his favorite Wonder Woman stories. I LOVE shit like this. I’d love to ask every creator their top comfort food comics. What a strange Lindsay Lohan attack on that caption. Wizard was known for strange jokes like that on every picture.

A reminder that Morrison’s Bat-run starts amidst the Ultimates fever dream we all got stuck in. I find it funny Wizard runs a piece here for the conclusion of Ultimates 2, an ending we wouldnt see for an entire YEAR after this ran.

Another one of those unique art spreads, this one concerning the promised shakeup of the New Avengers team after Civil War. Wizard just sort of puts together a classic team plus Nova which is extremely boring and odd for them. I do remember being so emotionally invested in what the post Civil War NA team would actually look like though. I can remember Newsarama did a whole series of pieces like this with Bendis commentary on who may or may not join the team.

Ahhhh a Joe Quesada and JMS interview about Spider-Man. If you want to know what is my pretty much most HATED comic story of all time, it’s the one they hint at here – One More Day. It really irrationally enrages me to see these two old men talk about how “messed up” Peter Parker is here and how he should still be a teenager. You can easily see Quesada talking over JMS here and forcefully throwing his mandates around. The guy just fundamentally does not get Spidey. It IS interesting to see that Batman and Spider-Man both go through HUGE shakeups at the same time. Aghh but this interview. I hate it. I need to move on.

I loved Wizard because for every groanworthy joke or oddly sexist piece, they’d actually have knowledgeable, helpful pieces recommending a wide swathe of comic work to check out. It was a really helpful tool for a young kid looking to branch out. Yes, you do get the books that are seemingly contractually obligated to be pushed from the Big 2, but I appreciated some of the indie spotlight they’d sneak in from the staff with good taste.

On the flipside of criticizing Wizard’s juvenile tone, this Planet Hulk: The Home Game spread is worth a chuckle.

Heres a great page to feature the highs and lows of Wizard. An EXTREMELY small little box to talk about the fine work being done by Fantagraphics to coincide with their 30th anniversary sandwiched between a larger box on some fold out comic of cheesecake pinups and an excuse to put a photo of Kate Beckinsale from Underworld: Evolution entitle “Kiss me, Kate!”. On one hand I applaud even featuring Fantagraphics on the other “What the fuck?”

Heres a fun little oddity of the time – an interview with Geoff Johns about the Spike TV “Blade” series starring rapper Sticky Fingaz. I NEVER knew Johns wrote the pilot script and apparently helped run this show?!? That shocks me. I kind of love the Geoff Johns quote: “Sticky is fantastic”. Can you imagine these two actually having a beer together?! I have never seen this show but I remember a big marketing push at the time. I couldn’t get over the fact they casted Onyx’s own Sticky Fingaz for the title role. Maybe he was a great actor but I doubt it as I’ve never seen a single soul mention this show. “Writer turned media magnate” being used here for Johns sure is prescient as he really took that career turn fulltime. Interesting to see in 2006 how bad he wanted that. Blade also premiered on my birthday June 28!! What an 18th Birthday present!

Paired with the Morrison Batman preview is a sister article about Superman #654 and Kurt Busiek’s upcoming run on Superman!! I am a huge fan of that run, SPECIFICALLY Superman #654, one of the Superman stories featured in my Perfect 10 picks for the character. That one of my all time favorite comfort food comics is paired with the start of this Batman run of which I’m devoting a long series to is just too perfect. You can clearly trace a lot of the books I ended up checking out and loving back to this single issue of Wizard Magazine. That is a wild thing to see personally.

More comics that mean a lot to me personally as we see a preview for the X-Men book relaunches post Decimation. I hate seeing Mike Carey’s stuff reduced to one small box as Brubaker gets a whole big interview feature. While still interesting, Carey’s work is some of the best ever for the franchise while Brubaker never was able to quite understand the X-Men corner. It shows WHY his run ended up being such a bore as he doesnt seem to have read or cared about any X-story past the seventies. I find it insane that he does a big “YAWWWWN” about the Morlocks here and then proceeds to do a Morlock arc in his run. Definitely one of the big misfires of Bru’s career. I do love Brubaker’s comment summing up Carey’s X-Men work as “take what was great about the first five years of Uncanny after the Giant Size and asked Neil Gaiman to rewrite it”. That’s gold Jerry! Gold! Even in that short little feature, you can feel how perfect Carey is to work on the X-Books.

In a piece that’s actually relevant to this article series, we get more info on Grant Morrison and Jim Lee’s WildCATS reboot. As we all know now we never got more than just the first issue of this book before it was finally cancelled and forgotten. I find this book to be infinitely fascinating. I would have loved to have seen what G-Mo would’ve done with a carte blanche look at the Wildstorm Universe. I wonder how many of the ideas or themes he dreamed up for this series in tandem with his Batman run eventually got cannibalized or recontextualized to fit into the Bat-epic.

And that’s all I see fit to print. 2006 was actually a really great time to be reading comics. We were still in a gimmicky era of harmful creators Millar and Johns but for the most part, really good relaunches were starting Summer 2006. Seeing Busiek Supes, Morrison Bats and Carey X-Men all starting at the same time and being featured here was really fun. A lot of my favorite stuff that makes up my comics DNA all started here.

I think it’s fascinating to examine all this in relation to Morrison and what they were trying to do in their career at this point. Between 52, Batman and WildCATS they were REALLY in their enthusiastically play ball corporate comics phase and defying all odds gave us some of their best material.

While looking back at this Wizard Magazine made me cringe quite a few times it also opened my eyes at just how much I remember it WORKING on me. It got me into quite a few of these books and creators and as far as Morrison Bats is concerned, this dumb magazine is one of the main reasons I ever got into it in the first place.

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