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So I was just poking through some old issues of Marvel’s What If…? at the shop (hey, I’m the boss, I can waste a little time looking at comics if I want) and was reminded that the occasional issue would have something like this:
…a short gag back-up, or an “Untold Tales of the Marvel Universe” story, or…well, more content than what was promised on the covers. I’m generally familiar with the main stories for most of the issues, just from having seen the covers over and over and over again at whatever store I happened to be working at the time. But the back-ups…unless it was an issue I’d actually purchased and read at the time, the supplementary material in What If…? are nearly always new to me.
For example, I remember finding out that there was a Man-Thing story in the first series of What If…? But, darned if I could find it, because as it turned out, this was the comic it was in:
…and not a Man-Thing to be seen on that cover, alas. Of course, eventually the Internet would spring into being and never again would I ever have any trouble tracking down that exact bit of information I need, and I’d finally put an end to my half-hearted seeking of this issue.
There are plenty more short and funny pieces located in those old What If…?s, with issue #34 (of both the ’70s and ’80s/’90s runs) basically being an issue filled with those same shorts. Don’t know if they had space to spare in these new What If…? comics that are Coming Soon to a Shop Never You for gags like this, but it’d be nice.
image from Iron Man #102 (September 1977) by Bill Mantlo, George Tuska, Mike Esposito & Pablo Marcos
From 1989, reprinting in color issue #4 of the 1986 Punisher
mini-series by Steven Grant, Mike Zeck and John Beatty. Also includes a black and white reprint of one of The ‘Nam
comics by Doug Murray, Michael Golden and Armando Gil.
And here is the come-on for the next issue, from inside the front cover:
YES SIR, MR. CASTLE, SIR
So I came across a copy of the Marvel Comics Previews promo catalog “for new publications scheduled to ship in 1992” –
…and I’d somehow totally blanked on the fact that the Marvel 2099 imprint was going to be called “Marvel 2093” at one point:
In the “marketing” section, it describes this particular marketing initiative thusly:
“These titles literally are ‘Marvel: the Next Generation’ and if you remember the popularity of other popular series with that designation you’ll be able to imagine how well these books will do.”
Well, sure, I loved Match Game: The Next Generation, AKA Match Game ’73, and sure enough, the 2099 line (as it would later be called, when cooler heads prevailed and decided “2099” was exactly six years’ worth of awesome better than that piddling “2093”) did indeed do very well. At least until the entire comics market tanked shortly thereafter, but, you know, whaddaya gonna do?
Anyway, back to the catalog: each title had its own entry, with a logo and a rough sketch of what the character may or may not look like when the comic was finally beaten into shape:
And just look at those creative teams!
Okay, to be fair, at least one writer was on board at print time:
The text pieces for all the books describe them in the most general of terms, usually along the lines of “like the modern day Marvel heroes, only more future-y,” without any specifics like character names, settings, how exactly the characters are going to be different, etc. Well, the entry for Doom 2093 pushes the “is this really the Doom from the present-day Marvel Universe?” angle, so that hook at least was present this early in the development process.
This catalog is an interesting look back at Marvel’s marketing strategies during comics’ last big sales hurrah, and I suspect, as I dig deeper through its pages, I’m going to wax nostalgic over those salad days when you could sell a comic such as Punisher 2093 like this:
“It will also be a natural must buy for all the fans who picked up the Punisher Armory title this year. People have always associated the Punisher with the latest in hi-tech ordnance and this series takes the association to the ultimate degree. Just remember the success of Terminator 2 or Die Hard to envision the vast potential for this series.”
Probably the first and last time the sales success of the amazing Punisher Armory was used as a marketing tool for another book.
I’m currently reading Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Sean Howe’s tell-all book about the history of the company and the personalities therein. Reading a handful of excerpts here ‘n’ there, such as this one over at The Comics Journal, finally got me to pick it up, and it’s been fascinating reading. I’m only up to about the early ’70s in the narrative, and boy howdy there’s a lotta drugs involved, but I am really looking forward to the material that covers what was going on with the company during my time as a funnybook salesman, starting with the big industry boom in the late 1980s.
That Comics Journal-ran excerpt covers a bit of that period, which is what probably finally convinced me to grab the book. I mean, there’s a quote from the editor of Secret Defenders describing the book as “that piece of shit,” which is both hilarious and, from a retailing standpoint, a wee bit annoying (as in “thanks for selling us a comic y’all really believed in,” even though I realize there may have been only so much even the editor could have done at that particular time in history). I’m kinda half-hoping the book would add to that title’s notoriety, and we’d have folks picking up back issues just out of curiosity just to see how bad it actually was for its own editor to say such things. No huge increase of back issue demand just yet! (Historically, this is the only issue of the series that anyone ever looks for…and I suspect demand will only increase as future Marvel flicks come along, presumably building on that character’s Avengers mid-credits cameo.)
Another comics-related-but-not-actually-comics thing I’ve been enjoying recently is season two of The Walking Dead, even though I’m not a reader of the comic it’s based on. Nothing against the comic, really, but I didn’t get into it early on, and suddenly there’s now seventeen trade paperbacks (or, alternatively, two huge omnibi) and I’m way behind, and I already read enough comics, and blah blah poor me life is hard. But the show is a lot of relatively-harrowing fun, and the zombies are suitably gross, and I like a lot of the actors. The show has yet to top the excellent series premiere, but the second season’s focus on the cast trying to make a home at the seemingly-safe farm, and its build-up to the apocalyptic season ending, made for some perfectly fine serialized horror storytelling.
Two other things about Walking Dead: 1. Every time I hear the main character’s name, I think of the cartoonist. 2. I wonder how soon after the TV show ends that the market will be flooded with all those different covers for the comic’s hundredth issue? I mean, those sold way above and beyond what the comic normally sells. (I remember discussing our ordering strategies on #100 as we were trying to decide our numbers…I argued for lots of copies of the $19.99 wraparound chromium cover variant as I figured that would do well for Internet sales. Everyone else thought I was crazy, but we ordered my recommended number anyway…only to have them sell completely out on the shelf in the shop within a couple of days of their release.)