This was supposed to hit last week…but the Truth got in the way.

Several weeks ago, the topic of several online conversations became, “What the hell should Marvel do next?” Throughout 2002, they mounted the industry with a creative vigor and brash attitude that had them topping nearly every chart in existence. Well…it’s almost 2003, and judging by DC’s recent retailer conference, they’ve re-awakened and are making a play for the crown in the upcoming year. If you want proof, check the February solicits that see a Distinguished Competition releasing roughly twenty trade paperback collections/graphic novels. When’s the last time that happened?

DC’s coming for the balls and are being kind enough to provide you clues that our wallets are no longer safe. As if my budget can stand the Big Two BOTH dropping
New Hotness on a regular basis. The House should be loading their weapons and preparing to investigate that noise down the hall, which by all accounts they probably are, but let’s pretend for a moment (or the five minutes it’ll take you to finish this) that they could use MY help. Let’s pretend that there’s an Open Door policy for unsolicited advice. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but if someone asked me what I wanted to see from Marvel in 2003, how they could retain the crown…these are some of the things
I’d tell them.

Do try to keep up with me.

-Ultimate Line Expands…and Contracts-

The key to keeping things fresh and relevant comes down to a certain fact of life…size matters. The reason the line works, in addition to the excellent scribes, is because it’s easily manageable. Follow it at your leisure, ignore it at your peril, the choice remains yours. (Though we all know what we’re choosing.) We’ve got Bendis on Ultimate Spider-Man. Millar on Ultimates and Ultimate X-Men…until next summer when Millar vacates his suite at the Xavier Institute. My five cents…don’t rush to replace him. X-Men goes on a small hiatus for a few months, building some anticipation, lying in wait for the eventual rebirth.

This leaves a hole to be filled…by Grant Morrison.

And no, I’m not referring to the long rumored Ultimate FF book…let’s see something else. Mark Waid is bringing an expert interpretation of Marvel’s first family to the table, and unlike Spider-Man and the X-Men, the Four may not have the staying power that could see them successfully stretched across two ‘universes’. Justifying two FF titles is more problematic than rationalizing why we’ve got mutants flying out of our ass. Instead of complimenting, they’d be competing, and even Reed Richards won’t like the odds.

First suggestion is for Grant to imagine a completely new concept to ensnare the Ultimate converts and the people that claim they don’t care. Second suggestion involves providing Morrison the keys to the unrevealed “Ultimate conspiracy” and making science fiction magic of it. Focus his new title on the SHIELD organization that investigates all of the bizarre things that a world could offer. Microscopic alien invaders, undersea kingdoms, and suburban communities that don’t breathe oxygen anymore. Much of Morrison’s work is anchored on the strange and speculative, and he’ll need something to keep his mind well-toned when The Filth concludes. Imagine some of those ideas mapped onto the Ultimate frame, filtered through the eyes of Nick Fury, and you’ll begin to understand.

With Morrison firmly entrenched, the stage is set for the return of Ultimate X-Men, powered by eighteen issues a year and Brian Vaughan at the helm. (I’d volunteer but I’m forcing myself to be reasonable here.) Vaughan’s name is growing hotter by the month on the back of Y – The Last Man, and his appreciation for social consequence displayed in this title would translate well onto the tales of an emerging mutant culture. If New X-Men comments on the gradual fusion of homo sapien and homo superior, then Ultimate X-Men should serve as the dark age of mutant relations, the civil rights movement at its most urgent. Feuding revolutionary groups, terrible violence, and legislative pressure on a monthly basis with a group of children learning that they may not live to see the “promised land”. Is the dream important enough to take a bullet for?

-Welcome the Bi-Monthly Title Into Our Schedules-

There are certain artists within the industry’s scope incapable of producing 22 pages on a near monthly basis. To do so would sacrifice the quality we’ve come to expect from particular marquee names. Let’s accept this. Let’s move on.

The Ultimates, which I’m using as an example because I dig it so much, should ship bi-monthly. Bryan Hitch is one of the best doing it, and sometimes that means additional time is required. No reason that Ultimates shouldn’t be scaled back to at the very least a six-week schedule. Hell, it comes out every six weeks anyway. Over the course of the year, it stands to reason that Hitch could even complete a tenth issue, allowing the title to ship twice in one month. Everybody’s happy. People are hitting deadlines. Books are shipping when they’re scheduled to ship. The creative team, and their requirements and tendencies have had a strong influence on any planned release schedule that is offered to retailers and fans.

All is well.

-Priest Becomes the New Writer on Iron Man-

Regardless of whether or not Black Panther survives 2003, Priest inherits Iron Man on a path leading to his rightful superstar status. Anyone that read the latest Enemy of the State II storyline in BP already realizes that Priest understands and can appreciate the potential complexities of Tony Stark. Panther also offers evidence of a familiarity with the workings of world economics and money markets. There are such clever possibilities for the tales of Bill Gates playing superhero between board meetings, and Priest could find nearly all of them. Find him a capable penciller and stare in amazement as Stark creeps up the charts.

-MAX Becomes Shotgun-

I think it’s time now.

The imprint is poised for an evolution that will propel its relevance within the publishing scheme and cause people to become appropriately afraid. MAX should exist as a shadow imprint that never appears at every moment, but makes its presence felt when the lights go down. You don’t so much see it as you feel it, alarmed by its presence, yet strangely intrigued. The beta testing is complete. Alias has mounted its throne as the rightful monarch but it demands company. In 2003, things need to get serious.

MAX should be for stories that can’t be told anywhere else. And not just because of their gratuitous violence and bad language. We can all say ‘fuck’, but only some of us can say it properly. The underrepresented genre gasping for breath as it drowns in spandex and leather should find a haven here. When superheroes are present, it’s only in the most intelligent manner possible, bringing new styles and flavors to an instrument that some believe to be played out. In one word…it’s sexy. Damn sexy. Sexy writers and artists working on sexy concepts that deliver an attractive presentation to the “mature” reader, and a guilty thrill for the underage cat that ignored the parental advisory stamp.

If the Marvel Universe is network television, then MAX should be HBO.

-Wolverine Becomes the Next Marvel Knight-

Under the direction of Frank Tieri and Axel Alonso, Marvel’s shortest mutant has successfully ditched the spandex trappings that previously plagued his solo adventures, along with generic staples like The Hand and the Wendigo. Let’s go all the way. Show what really happens when Logan rides off on his Harley. A series of tales that the X-Men will never find out about, cause if they did, they’d shit their pants. Grimy underground stories with justice dished out by an unbreakable metal.

You know who writes it? Greg Rucka. His work on the recent Black Widow mini-series for MAX proves he can weave an engaging story occurring in hidden circles. The man is the real deal, spitting authenticity and mature storytelling from his pen on a monthly basis in the form of Queen and Country and Elektra. Put Darick Robertson on pencils and stand the fuck back.

-Spider-Man Titles Own the World-

For the last several months one comic property has quickened the pace of pop culture, amassing record-breaking ticket and DVD sales, illuminating the potential bright side of comic to film adaptations. This is the perfect time to have Hollywood fingerprints all over Peter Parker, and scribes J. Michael Straczynski and Kevin Smith certainly fit the bill. With JRJR and Terry Dodson on the art chores, they are poised to give Parker the hell we sadistic fans have come to expect. The universe is more than large enough for these accomplished writers to carve their individual fingerprints upon the icon, weaving Spidey tales for the new millennium. And please don’t sleep on the contribution of Paul Jenkins, who has turned in some fine stories during his tenure on Peter Parker, Spider-Man, and should be re-invigorated by the rumored arrival of Humberto Ramos on his title.

These three voices should have Spider-Man swinging through the best superhero titles on the market.

-The Return of Luke Cage?-

In the unlikely event that Marvel chooses to publish another Luke Cage series, let’s see the “blaxploitation” angle dropped completely and present the character with a different spin. Any comic featuring Cage should be less 100 Bullets and more xXx. While I didn’t see the summer action flick starring Vin Diesel, I did catch enough trailers and promo spots to figure that the movie was framed around a sequence of big stunts that became progressively more extravagant with every scene. This is the type of environment that could sustain Cage on a monthly basis.

Get him recruited by a rogue government element that sends the man with the bulletproof skin into situations that no one else can handle. The Hand is fuckin’ around again? Send in Cage. Masters of Evil tryin’ to secure a nuke? Send in Cage. There’s an alien symbiote missing? Send—in—Cage. Catching purse snatchers and slapping around local thugs are activities reserved for his days off.

Imagine Luke Cage as James Bond on amphetamines, slapping the biggest villains, collecting the biggest checks, all the while trying not to sleep with the finest chicks. Oh yeah, in order to provide an appropriate level of emotional attachment, ensuring that things don’t degenerative into hollow dialogue serving as a tattered thread to connect explosions, a relevant supporting cast will be necessary. Give Cage a new woman in his life that doesn’t know he’s bulletproof. Keeping it that way may prove harder than handing Hydra a beat down…maybe.

-Never Relinquish the Secret Weapon…Bendis-

You’re tired of this speech I know. But I don’t care. Bendis is the best. One of those rare scribes that combines a sharp ear for dialogue with cinematic pacing, sudden plot twists, dope cliffhangers, and a distinctive style that belongs to him and him alone. His track record is sprinkled with hits and fallen competitors that just couldn’t keep up. This is the writer who held me hostage one evening with his Torso trade, as I sat on the sofa promising myself that I’d only read one more chapter. Three hundred pages and a few hours later and it was confirmed…this dude is scary. And only Marvel’s got him. With Bendis working at his current pace, The House has three guaranteed hits. No bullshit. I’m scared of him…you should be too.

Okay, I think that’s enough to get some passionate discussion going. Meet me on the message boards with your own thoughts about Marvel and 2003. Enjoy the New Hotness with a noticeable DC flavor…

The New Hotness

Y- The Last Man #5 (Brian Vaughan/Pia Guerra)

With the conclusion of ‘Unmanned’ properly digested, I think it’s safe to say that Brian Vaughan has crafted the perfect opening arc. Mechanically, stylistically, and creatively, he used nearly ever tool at a scribe’s disposal and made it look simple. Five issues in and he’s given us the aroma of the new, a healthy bit of foreshadowing, and a few nail biting cliffhangers that compliments his strong mix of characters that are sporting those three-dimensional personalities the audiences like so much. Everything is working, and the writer resists the urge to feed us the story all at once, finding an effective balance between action and proposed action. He didn’t try to do too much, but didn’t use it as an excuse to not do anything. Since we’re predicting things this week, let me offer the guarantee that Y will receive an Eisner nomination for Best New Series. At the very least.

The Filth #6 (Grant Morrison/Chris Weston)

Man, this is a strange comic. One of those series’ that you know will make SO much more sense in collected form, but ignoring it and “waiting for the trade” seems wrong. Because Grant Morrison is insane. Or very large portions of him is. Who else could write a story about monstrous sperm fatally fertilizing any eligible female within range? And then he has pornographic alchemist Tex Porneau filming the whole thing to capture the world’s greatest porn. And this guy called Anders Klimakks has been scientifically created to repopulate worlds if necessary. Just when things couldn’t get anymore bizarre, when Weston’s detailed art reaches its zenith at making sense of this truly unique environment…the day is saved by a really big strap-on. Really big. Doesn’t this sound like a comic you should be reading? I think so.

That’s all people. See you in seven.



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