We’ve reached the latter half of my experiences in 1990s comics fandom, so the time has come to abandon the rambling survey approach of previous installments in favor of a “special topics” format.
First up, a sentence no one — including myself — ever expected they’d ever see coming from me:
Wizard Magazine played a critical role in reinvigorating my comics fandom.
Bizarre? Yes, but absolutely true.
Sometime toward the tail end of 1996, Lil Bro handed me an issue of Wizard he’d picked up. I can’t remember which issue or how he came into possession of it in the first place. Odds are that he probably picked it up to check something in its wildly optimistic and utterly arbitrary price guide, the info he required not justifying the twenty bucks for that year’s edition of Overstreet.
Or he could’ve bought it because he got bored waiting for a bus. I gave up trying to understand my sibling’s thought processes and motivations decades ago.
In any case, the issue ended up in my hands and, by extension, Maura’s.
We’d both dodged Wizard’s hype train up until that moment, and a quick skim of the mag’s interior seemed to justify our reflexive avoidance. Yet hidden between the endless galley of titty comic ads and myopic fan-casting articles and heavy adver-dorsements for the Next Big Thing Apparent, there were small items of interest to be found.
Most of it had to do with the timing rather than Wizard’s Dorito-breathed brand of “journalism.” The worm (or more accurately, “the marketplace”) had begun to turn against the speculation-driven wave of cross-hatched, over-accessorized avatars of adolescent power fantasies. Waid’s Flash run and the Morrison/Porter JLA were hailed for a more back-to-basics approach to the superhero genre, which Marvel would soon adopt with its “Heroes Return” relaunch titles. The uncertainty of a collapsing market also made it possible for some interesting experiments to pop up — especially at DC where “quirky” titles like Chase, Major Bummer, Young Heroes in Love, and Chronos were given a place in the sun, albeit briefly.
Image Comics, once the vanguard of Everything That Had Gone Wrong With The Industry, had begun to reveal glimpses of the publisher it would eventually become. Trend-hopping drek was still the the norm, but the quality of works like Astro City, Leave It to Chance, and Jinx more than made up for it.
Wizard‘s coverage of these individual bright spots was uneven and never lost its obsessive fixation with hype and hawtness, but even a cursory mention of a potentially interesting comic made it easier to sift through the flood of soon-to-be-forgotten nonsense crowding the new release shelves. When you’re adrift at sea, even a shitty compass is better than no compass at all. If it wasn’t for a brief mention of a Firestorm guest appearance in a Wizard blurb, I’d never have given Starman a second chance after having dismissed the first couple of issues as pretentious psuedo-indie wank. (Though after thinking back on the excruciatingly drawn-out arcs toward the end of the series, I wonder if I should’ve just stuck by my initial assessment.)
The series I most associate with this period was Andi Watson’s Skeleton Key, discovered by way of a shoutout in Wizard’s “Palmer’s Picks” column. Tom Palmer Jr. was to Wizard what Kurt Loder was to MTV News (minus the weary contempt and that weird Courtney Love interview thing) — the token knowledgeable adults in a playpen full of shrieking children. Even if there was a self-serving “see, we really are into comics as a artform” motivation behind the column’s inclusion in a non-stop gallery of overblown hype, the fact remains that it did spotlight a lot of great “indie” (or “indie-lite”) works that would have been otherwise overlooked by the lumpenfandom masses.
Whether it had any appreciable impact in terms of sales is another matter, but it did convince me to pick up a number of the featured titles. Palmer’s write-up of Skeleton Key was in the issue of Wizard handed off to me by Lil Bro, and the description and sample panels made it seem like something Maura would dig — an insightful coming-of-age story framed by magical adventures and featuring some extremely distinctive art. I found a stray issue at a local comics shop and passed it on to Maura, who went out and bought the rest of the run a few days later. After a long stretch of feeling alienated by the current state of comics, she’d found a series she truly adored and began to actively seek out other comics (Sugar Buzz, Blue Monday) in a similar vein.
As tends to be the case when a couple shared a hobby, our rekindled enthusiasms fed each other. We started attending cons again, hitting the shops around the region on a regular basis, and set up a joint pull-list for new releases. We eventually bailed on Wizard in favor of Diamond’s Previews catalog, because why deal with an irritating middleman when you get the uncut shit straight from the source?
Yet it did its job. It got us excited about new comics again. Perhaps not as intended and not without a lot of eye-rolling on our end, but any lasting positive accomplishment on Wizard‘s part was still a remarkable event.