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The Secret Origin of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe – Part 3

Issue # 15 of a 12-Issue Limited Series and Other Tales to Astonish

Just as I stayed out of Larry Hama’s way on G.I. JOE, and stayed out of Archie Goodwin’s way on EPIC Illustrated and EPIC Comics, I pretty much left Mark Gruenwald alone and let him do his thing on The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. The series wasn’t what I had envisioned or what I would have done, but that was okay with me.

If an editor or a creator knew the fundamentals, had an approach that seemed reasonable and had the chops to pull it off, well, all righty then. It was never my goal to Shooter-ize everything. I just wanted to make good comics, and I realized there were many ways to go to get to that goal.

(ASIDE: For instance, Editors in Chief before me had always taken personal charge of designing the covers and writing the cover copy. It seemed to me inevitable that a sameness to the covers would creep in after a while. I’m not talking about a consistent “Marvel feel” or even a house style—I mean staleness—“oh, that again” syndrome. Didn’t matter who the EIC was, or how talented. The covers Len Wein created under his own administration as well as those he created as freelance cover editor for Marv, in my opinion, fell into a rut, to a certain extent. Too many covers featuring two big figures duking it out. To much similar copy: “Can you guess the shocking secret of…?” “This one has it all” “Not even your (enchanted hammer or whatever) can stop Name of Villain!” Archie Goodwin’s covers, too, fell into a certain pattern.

As soon as I became reasonably confident that an editor had a clue about cover design, I butted out and left the covers up to him or her. Even if some weren’t as good as I would have liked, or as good as I would have done, better to have more variety, I thought.)

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Gerber and the Duck – Part 2

Say the Secret Word

The secret word is cacoethes. One of the first Steve Gerber scripts I remember editing was Howard the Duck #3, the “Master of Quack-Fu” issue. This would have been in early 1976 when I was brand-new associate editor.

The plot for that issue had been done before I started at Marvel. The first I saw of the book was at the penciled and scripted (dialogued) stage.

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Not-So-Secret Wars – Guest Post by JayJay

There was a sniper in the sales department of the Marvel Comics office.

We were hunkered down behind desks, chairs, filing cabinets but we were slowly getting picked off one by one. It was dark but a little light filtered in from the fluorescent lights of the editorial department behind us and from the windows the lights of New York city reached even to the tenth floor. We strained our eyes into the shadowy recesses, trying to see where the shots were coming from, but the sniper might as well have been Sue Storm.

So naturally we had to give up. Being all dead and all.

Jim Novak had started all of the trouble. He was the “miscreant” Jim mentioned in More Strange Tales: War at Marvel. Jim Novak, master letterer and major talent, was the production manager at the time. One day he brought in this cool pump action toy gun he had bought. It fired these soft rubber bullets and it was so cool! The bullpen and even some of the editors couldn’t stop playing with it. So, of course, we all had to have one. We plied Jim with money and waited anxiously until he went to the toy store again.

War was inevitable at that point.

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The Secret Origin and Gooey Death of the Marvel/DC Crossovers – Part One

One morning in mid-1980, Jenette Kahn called and asked me to lunch to discuss an idea she had.

In those days, I usually came to work wearing a sport coat with an open-collar shirt.  When I knew I was going to have civilian visitors (“civilian” means non-comics people, in case any of you civilians out there don’t know) or there was a business meeting on the docket I wore a tie.  Sometimes a suit.

This particular warm, sunny day however, I had come to work with no tie, no jacket.  Nice clothes, presentable enough.  Like what we used to call “school clothes” back in the sixties.

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The Secret Origin of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe – Part 2

First This
My sincere apologies. This post was supposed to be yesterday’s. Yesterday’s was supposed to be Saturday’s. Prepping for the New York Comic-Con and some of the business I hope to accomplish there ate up a lot of time. Sorry.
Jane’s Fighting Ships, the Marvel Encyclopedia and Where It Went From There
Wikipedia, of course, has the origin of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe wrong. Wikipedia is great if you’re looking up fusion reactors or the Fort Ancient Culture but generally full of errors if you look up comic book things, especially any related to me.
In early 1982, I was in the Barnes & Noble on Fifth Avenue and I came across this very cool book, Jane’s Fighting Ships. Every page or so had a clear picture of a warship plus its specifications and key information.
Wow. Nifty-keen!
There were other, similar books, too, notably Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft.
Extra groovy!

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The Secret Origin and Gooey Death of the Marvel/DC Crossovers – Part Four

Batman/Hulk, Titans/Mutants and Are You Kidding?

Superman and Spider-Man succeeded beyond expectations, launching the Marvel/DC crossover series in spectacular fashion.

Next up, published in late 1981, I think, was Batman vs. the Incredible Hulk. Len Wein, DC’s top writer, who, of course, had written both characters, was the natural choice to write the book. Brilliant Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez penciled it and Dick Giordano inked it wonderfully. Great stuff.

Next, published in 1982, came the Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans by Chris Claremont, Walt Simonson and Terry Austin. Great stuff.

It looked like we were getting the hang of it….

Then along came the Justice League of America vs. the Avengers.

The nightmare brouhaha it stirred up killed the series.

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The Secret Origin and Gooey Death of the Marvel/DC Crossovers – Part Five, the Last

And Then Things Got Ugly

Dick Giordano asked me to meet him for lunch on May 26th, I believe. He picked an Italian place on Madison Avenue near 42nd Street, about halfway between DC and Marvel’s offices.

He had this news: Gerry Conway had quit the project. Okay. Apparently Roy Thomas, however, had expressed interest in scripting the book. Fine, I said, but he’s going to have to start from scratch. First, we needed a new plot.

By the way, the Marvel Comics of the 1980’s site has it wrong. It says that Gerry was “…asked to plot the epic story with Roy Thomas providing the script.” No. Gerry was the intended writer, plot and script. When he bailed out, that’s when his friend Roy stepped up and volunteered to take over.

The purpose of the lunch was to convince me that Roy could save it in the dialogue. No, not even Roy could do that. Think of the plot as a thing meant to be an airplane, but one look told you it had no wings, no landing gear, no engine and no cockpit. What difference does it make if you have a great pilot?

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The Secret Origin of Jim Shooter, Editor in Chief – Part 3

Apocalypse Now

On my first official day as Editor in Chief, Tuesday, January 3rd, 1978, I arrived at the office extra early. Normal for me was between seven and eight AM. I think I was in my chair behind my desk at five.  And I had a one hour commute in those days.

I had worked all weekend editing scripts and plots and still had more to go. There wasn’t anyone to replace me as associate editor, so for the time being, I had to do my old job as well as my new one. 

Shortly after nine, my phone rang. The caller identified herself as Alice Donenfeld, our in-house counsel and V.P. of Business Affairs.  I hadn’t had much to do with the brass upstairs previously, so I was aware only from the interoffice phone list that there was such a person.

Alice confirmed that she had the right extension, that she was talking to the EIC, and said, “What have you done about the Copyright Law of 1976?”

Me:  “What?”

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The Secret Origin and Gooey Death of the Marvel/DC Crossovers – Part Three

The Urge to Kill.  Twice.

The penciling on Superman and Spider-Man went pretty fast.  John Buscema was amazing.

I drove out to John’s house in Port Jefferson on Long Island a couple of times for business reasons.  I don’t remember what the business was but I clearly remember spending time with John, meeting his lovely wife and seeing their wonderful home.

He showed me his studio.  John had a very set work routine.  Start work early.  Warm up for a while, doing little sketches just to get loose.  Work a normal length day, eight hours, he said, as I recall, with a lunch break.  And, at the end of each day, he’d have finished five or six beautiful pages.  Some artists struggled to finish one page a day.  Some couldn’t even do that much.

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The Secret Origin and Gooey Death of the Marvel/DC Crossovers – Part Two

Plan “B”

Once the contracts were buttoned up and signed we started work on Superman and Spider-Man.  I picked Marv Wolfman to write the book for a number of reasons:  he was a marquee name and deservedly so, he was in New York, conveniently, he was absolutely reliable, and most of all because he really, really wanted to do it.  Our other two superstars were Roy and Archie.  Both were pretty solidly booked up, Roy was in California and Archie was way too slow.

So, we had Marv, a top tier guy writing, John Buscema, our number one penciler doing breakdowns, and Joe Sinnott, our premiere inker finishing.  A dream team.

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