Planet Buzz 04-03-02

Bill Jemas' pen is as big as his mouth...

This one is worth its own comic book, as it's veering into black comedy.

A few weeks ago, Marvel announced that it had staved off cancellation of three "on the cusp" books: Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and Spider-Girl. In order to keep these low-selling but critically acclaimed books alive, Quesada and Jemas had decided to raise the price on these books by a quarter. (And, by the way, these books all routinely outsell some DC books that DC consider to be healthy.)

With tongue perhaps somewhat in cheek, an outraged Peter David fired off a public letter to Joe Quesada, offering to write Captain Marvel for free, in the belief that by foregoing his fee, Marvel would not have to raise the price of the book. As an alternative, David also suggested that Marvel raise the price of its popular X books to help keep their quality books alive.

A reasonable Quesada countered on the internet that there was no need to punish those who read stories about mutants. He respected David as a writer, and tried to assure him that instead of trading jousts, both men should do what they could to make Captain Marvel sell. To help in that, Quesada all but guaranteed that the book would be given a year to find its place in the sun.

Later Marvel released a statement that after careful consideration, the company would not raise the prices on any of the three threatened books. So far, so good. Readers hopefully got to thinking about at least trying these books, and were given time to do so.

Then Marvel President Bill Jemas decided that it ain't over 'til the former Fleer president sings.

Two days ago on the Comicon site, Jemas threw down a gauntlet to Peter David. In his usual soft-spoken, winsome way, he criticized David, blaming his outdated writing style for the low sales on Captain Marvel. (And possibly not without merit; it does seem to be a love it or hate it title. But then, so is X-Men, and that sure still sells by the relative truckloads.)

After thrusting his metaphorical package over David's head to establish dominance, Jemas uttered this challenge: the two would play a little game of Survivor, lasting six months. The Marvel president has created a character called The Marvel, whose adventures "reflected in today's headlines" Jemas would chronicle for six issues. During those six months (oh, come on, Bill, it's Marvel - it will be at least nine months and you know it) they will compare sales between The Marvel and Peter David's Captain Marvel. Whichever books sells fewer copies will be cancelled at the end of that time, and the losing writer will have to get the DC Bullet tattooed on a sensitive area.

I think I'm just kidding about that last part.

So is it a fair challenge? I won't be the first pundit to note that in some ways, it's a stacked deck:

  • The Marvel will start with number one; Captain Marvel will be in the late thirties. Need I note that first issues have a built-in "wow! A first issue!" excitement factor? Unless Marvel restarts the Peter David book, at least the first month of The Marvel can easily be predicted to win, without any reflection on its quality.
  • Bill Jemas coyly notes that they have not selected an artist for The Marvel yet, but dollars to doughnuts it won't be a low marquee name. Jemas will go for high wattage, while implicit in the challenge is that Captain Marvel must keep current artist Chriscross. (And, actually, he's pretty good.)
  • Those that know Peter David's work already know he can write, and also either know whether they like him or not. (I do.) But we all want to see if Jemas can write his way out of a paper bag. As much as it pains me to admit it, the man did co-plot, though not actually script, Ultimate Spider-Man and Origin. Okay, maybe Origin is not such a great example after all…hmmm…
  • Joe Quesada seems to have a few doubts, too. Yesterday Comic Book Resources ran an interview with the two Marvel powerhouses, in which Quesada took a few swipes at Jemas. They could have been good-natured ribbings, but near the end the editor in chief hammers home that Jemas' comments against David (harsher than depicted here, really) are no way to build a bridge of respect and support between talent and management.

    All of this could be just a tremendously clever publicity ploy, and Jemas has often claimed to be stirring things up in the tradition of Marvel legend Stan Lee. But Stan always offered a measure of respect for his competition in his commentary, something sorely lacking in the style of the new management. But then again, Stan came along before trash-talking became the lingua franca of publicity.

    So what do you think? Is Jemas a genius or a total a**hole? Which book will you buy? Should I be punished for using the phrase lingua franca on the internet? Let me know.

    Derek McCaw


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