The Fifth Color | Hail to a Chief
It’s been awhile, but did the hair rise up on the back of your neck as of late? Did a cold wind blow through you? Even before I caught the news of the major editorial change at ol’ Marvel HQ, something didn’t feel …right.
And it’s not Axel Alonso. I’m actually stupendously happy that we have such an awesome new EIC; not only do a bunch of cool writers constantly refer to him as the man who got them their first writing gig at the House of Ideas, but the way he balances this new talent with the old brings out the best stories in each of them. He’s a really great editor and, with his name in the indicia, you know you’re going to get a quality story.
Not to mention he has been just about the only Marvel envoy at the West Coast WonderCon for the past few years and is fervent in his desire to keep the X-Men in San Fransisco, so he’s got this California girl’s support.
No, it was something else about the announcement that got me a little spooked. That “Chief Creative Officer” part. The fact that Joe Quesada isn’t so much stepping down from his position as stepping up. Chief Creative Officer makes me think of rank. I mean, a Chief Petty Officer is one thing, a but a Chief Creative Officer? From the same guy who got ‘creative’ with Spider-Man’s marriage?
Oh yeah, there’s that chill. Yikes.
Joe Quesada has already been Chief Creative Guy for awhile (I hate using the word ‘officer’ for people who aren’t policemen or in the military; I keep thinking Quesada’s serving aboard the Enterprise). Remember his grand design to put certain genies back in bottles? He’s accomplished them to various levels of success.
I’m going to say it again, so some of you might want to cover your ears: making Spider-Man a bachelor was a good idea. I know, it’s like nails on a chalkboard, mostly because of the execution. While separating him and Mary Jane and readjusting Peter Parker’s life might have given the character a fresh start and brought some media attention for the big switch toward the classic life of Spider-Man, it was done so catastrophically that all a lot of people will take from it and any other following Spider-Man tale is “Mephisto BAD!”
Quesada wanted to permanently fix just how many mutants were walking around; decreasing the mutant population also has a good centering quality to it. You can get mutants back to their ‘hated/feared’ status when they don’t inhabit a small country and writers stop slapping on a host of mutant characters during their tenures for a chance at immortality. This mandate sort of rolled around quickly under Bendis’ care and in a kind of hasty fashion, Wanda said “No More Mutants” and thus, it’s so. Mostly. For a little while. Hate and fear aren’t around so much right now, as Hope and her new generation are starting to form a new basis for mutant evolution and the X-Men are teaming up with Spider-Man and becoming more integrated with the rest of the Marvel heroes. San Fransisco practically welcomed them in, and that’s not very hate or fear at all. While they don’t have a lobbyist working for Genoshan rights anymore, they are no longer a disenfranchised minority, even after all the Scarlet Witch had done (and she herself had gone through, but that’s for another story).
There have been many ideas like these examples that, while interesting and solid in their inception (making Marvel comics edgier via Civil War, putting Kevin Smith on Daredevil: the Target, etc.), they just never came out right when released into the wild. It’s almost like Quesada needed… I don’t know, an editor to oversee him? Hey! I know a great editor, let’s get Axel Alonso on the phone!
So in a way, this new Chief Creative Guy job might be the best position for Joe Quesada. It’ll allow him to keep track of genies and find larger arcs to turn the Marvel Universe on (please see the upcoming Fear Itself), all the while getting him out of the directorial execution so other people can do the dirty work. Perfect, right?
Let me tell you the ways I can think of off the top of my head that this all could go terribly, horribly wrong.
Isn’t it weird how we, as readers, love a good car crash? Saving comic title campaigns don’t get half as much attention as “I Hate Mephisto and Everyone Associated with Spider-Man should die die die” rants and forum posts. Trust me, some of you in the comments section here will be driven to express your disillusionment and how much you don’t read Marvel anymore because of price, a change of tone on characters and other points of contention with the House of Ideas. With Quesada as Editor-in-Chief, he has held a firm party line on the choices that Marvel has made; instead of bending in the gale force winds of reader complaint, Quesada has remained firm to the point of coming across as aggressive to opposition. This has done the company a remarkable amount of good and now we all enjoy a Marvel Comics that is not on the edge of bankruptcy. But with so many new ventures, from Animation to Movies to Television, we need a strong diplomat rather than a staunch defender. It all comes down to making sure that the movies are similar to the TV shows to the comics and the cartoons, that the creative content of Marvel Entertainment is secure between movies being made. This is something you’re going to have to make the best creative decisions with and sometimes that means knowing when to hold the line and when to take a step back.
In 2008, I asked Quesada himself about the lack of Hulk-titled comics that actually featured the Hulk when the Incredible Hulk movie came out. That month, there were something like two comics that came out and the main title was featuring the Red Hulk. I was told that Quesada would never dictate to his writers what they should write or where they should take characters based on what their movies were doing at the time. Yeah, this happened out loud in front of witnesses, so let that sink in a bit. He would never force his writers to hold to the public opinion of where a character was going due to other media. Very brave statement that he would never hold back writing creativity just to fit in with a business model, but now being the Chief Creative Guy, that’s what he’s going to have to do. He’s going to be in charge of keeping Marvel Entertainment a unified product. When you see Iron Man in movies or in comics, you should have a clear sense of who he is and what he can do.
How do I know this? Because it’s what Geoff Johns is doing over at the Distinguished Competition, and it’s probably the biggest challenge facing Quesada’s new job. Johns wrote a quick explanation for the DCU Source blog when he became their Chief Creative Guy and said that he was tasked to “take our comic book world, embrace it (as I do) and use it to lead the creative charge on bringing it all to film, toys, television, video games, animation and beyond.” On an experience level, Johns can’t be topped; his resume includes TV writing, comics world building and his early days of working in film. He’s an actual Chief Creative Guy because he’s so creative and helps translate this vision into a variety of media. Joe Quesada in comparison (and yes, people are going to compare them; please see above statement about fandom’s contrariness) is an actual Officer; he’ll be putting the finishing touches on Marvel’s film and animation divisions, not to mention helping to create Marvel Television from the ground up. He’s the business guy who knows the most about the product they’re promoting. It’s like still being EiC in some way, just on steroids. I have no idea when Joe Quesada is going to sleep.
No matter what you think of his regime changes, Joe Quesada helped pilot one of the biggest turnarounds in comic book history. Marvel was bankrupt when he first started working for them and now they are not. Trade paperbacks are now infinitely more common than they were ten years ago and the characters and company is on the map and at the top. Being Editor in Chief is hard because people will always judge the King harshly. It’s easy to pick on the guy in charge. Returning to a penciling position might have refreshed him, given him some time to put down the burdens of leadership down and reminded him why he loved comics in the first place. I mean, look at Jim Lee.
But instead of taking a break, Joe Quesada took on one of the most difficult new titles and promised to lead the House of Ideas into the next field of discovery. Love him or not, the man has cajones.