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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Celebrating the Career & Creations of Marv Wolfman


via Comic Book Resources

Happy Marv Wolfman Day!

Marv Wolfman just had a birthday, which reminded me about a series of columns I’ve been meaning to do.

The passing of Darwyn Cooke yesterday is a terrible loss to the comics industry. But it also served to remind me that we have a remarkable gift in comics, in that the people who make the things are generally so accessible, and that so many pioneers of the form are still with us.

Despite this, though, it seems like I never write the column about how much a creator’s work has meant to me until the creator who did it has passed.

That’s dumb, when we have the gift of access that we do. I’d much rather tell them this stuff right now, while they’re here and can enjoy it.

So this is one of a series of appreciation columns honoring the folks who are still here and working. Since Marv Wolfman’s birthday was Friday, and I was going to spotlight his work in honor of that anyway, I decided he would be the inaugural entry.

*

As I’ve mentioned before, my personal Golden Age of Comics was the mid-1970s, when the grocery store up the street from our home changed magazine distributors and suddenly comics appeared there every month, at roughly the same time that I was becoming old enough to go out and mow lawns and babysit and generate my own income. Most of that newfound cash went for the Marvel books of the time, which meant that I was soon to become familiar with the work of Marv Wolfman.

He’d been around for a while then, getting his start in fanzines a few years previously. In fact, Wolfman’s Stories of Suspense was one of the first magazines to publish a young Stephen King, a piece of trivia I’ve been using in school since I started teaching.

(Not with the kids, although they like hearing it too. It’s usually the item I trot out when administrators are giving me a hard time about the students publishing their own zines or expressing bewilderment at why it’s worth doing.)

He broke in at DC soon after with fellow fan Len Wein, and together the two of them were soon doing all sorts of stuff. Probably the biggest hit from those early days was Jonny Double, a character that is still occasionally used in the DCU to this day.

That was a little before my time. My first encounter with Marv Wolfman was his Daredevil, in issue #126. The introduction of the Torpedo… and of Heather Glenn.

I liked that issue a lot, but for whatever reason– probably just lost track of the schedule, I was still trying to figure out when New Comics Day actually happened– it wasn’t until a couple of months later that I was able to add Daredevil to my regular pile. The Man-Bull story.

I had always liked Daredevil and Wolfman was doing a back-to-basics revamp of the book that made the transition for youthful me from Lee-Romita reprints to the new stuff pretty seamless. I adored the art from Bob Brown and Klaus Janson, but it was the plotting that kept me coming back. In particular, the saga of the sabotage of Foggy Nelson’s campaign for D.A. that led to the showdown with the Jester. Sadly, Bob Brown passed away in the middle of that run but John Buscema and his brother Sal pitched in with some nice fill-in work. Nevertheless, when Wolfman left the title soon after, I went with him.

Around that same time I got interested in the Wolfman-Colan Tomb of Dracula, because of the crossover with Dr. Strange. Wolfman had cleverly planted a couple of subplot cliffhangers in his half of that story that got me back next month– in particular, the meeting of Blade and Hannibal King– and after that, I was hooked.

Marv Wolfman’s tenure as Marvel’s editor-in-chief in the mid-1970s was a little tumultuous– in fairness, so was everyone else’s during that decade– but he got some very cool stuff in print. Wolfman was the guy that said yes to things like Howard the Duck getting his own book, and even the failed experiments like Skull the Slayer have a certain charm and ballsy daring about them. It was occasionally erratic but it was never boring.

When Wolfman took over the EIC duties it was traditional that he also got the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man writing assignments, and though I don’t think that was his best work he did do some fondly-remembered anniversary issues– the return of the burglar in Spider-Man, and also the final showdown with Dr. Doom in FF #200.

What I loved about that particular story was Wolfman making it very clear that it has never been about Doom vs. the FF– it’s always, always been Doom vs. Reed Richards. That’s the obsession. Wolfman later said that he was never really comfortable on the title but I always thought that he was cooking on that story.

I’m leaving out lots of other cool stuff– I could do a whole appreciation column on Wolfman’s 1970s Marvel tenure all by itself. There’s Nova, there’s the novels, there’s the launch of Spider-Woman, there’s his wonderful run on John Carter of Mars. Most of these– though not, sadly, the novels– are back in print in one collection or another.


But the novels are generally available used online for not too extravagant a price. Everything else– even Skull the Slayer!– is now out there in paperback.

It was about then that I fell out of collecting comics– college, girls, and booze eclipsed my interest in funnybooks, and after an interlude of bad behavior with which I shall not bore you, I found them again in the early 1980s, and it was Marv Wolfman that did it. I was working a crappy job in downtown Portland and passing a newsstand every day that carried comics. It was Marv Wolfman’s Batman with “The Lazarus Affair” that made me stop and look.

The cover caught my eye– anything to do with Ra’s Al Ghul always got me interested, and Wolfman at DC? On BATMAN? Hmmm. I ended up not buying the book but it put DC on my radar, especially the oddity of Marv Wolfman being there. After that I’d stop and glance through the racks every so often. mostly out of nostalgia; I hadn’t quite talked myself into buying comics again but I was skimming, enough to get a sense of what the story was about. (Enough to get the ‘this ain’t no library, kid’ reprimand at least twice.)

But it was the New Teen Titans– specifically, “The Judas Contract” and the introduction of Nightwing– that lured me back into collecting comics regularly. I remembered many, many letter columns throughout the 1970s where readers pleaded for Dick Grayson to be allowed to grow up and get a new costume, but Wolfman was actually DOING IT. I had to know what that was all about.

That was what got me buying the things again as well as seeking out back issues (including the Batman run with “The Lazarus Affair”) and eventually even setting up a pull-list at Future Dreams over on east Burnside. It was pretty Wolfman-heavy. Of course, the big achievements at DC for Marv Wolfman in the 1980s would be the Titans and Crisis on Infinite Earths. But that leaves a lot of other cool stuff out: I was also really into what most of us figured would be a return-to-greatness with Gene Colan, Night Force.

It wasn’t a hit, but I really loved what Wolfman was trying to do with the rotating cast of characters, and I’m still bitter that DC’s promised omnibus collection never materialized a couple of years ago. Likewise, although it was the revamped Superman work he did with Jerry Ordway that most people remember, including the new vision of Luthor as a ruthless business tycoon, it’s worth noting that Wolfman had also done a revamp of Brainiac a couple of years before that I liked quite a bit.

I also thought his Green Lantern run with Joe Staton that culminated in the space exile was pretty amazing.

I am talking mostly about the Marvel and DC stuff because that’s what I know best, but there’s lots of other work too. It’s largely unknown in both editions but I have to confess that my favorite Marv Wolfman project ever is his Doc Phoenix novel for Weird Heroes, The Oz Encounter.

The two times I’ve been able to meet Mr. Wolfman at a show, that was the book I asked him to sign…. the old edition and then the new. It’s a terrific book and well worth seeking out.

In looking at all these things, what I notice is that Marv Wolfman’s gift is building things to LAST. As a creator, he is remarkably gracious– he’s a genius at setting up possibilities for other folks to run with afterward. It’s not just the stories themselves– dozens of the characters and concepts he created have been picked up by others and built on and refined and improved, often to the point where people forget that it was Marv Wolfman that was the originator. Bullseye is usually associated with Frank Miller. Blade is known today because of the movies with Wesley Snipes. The Titans are largely famous because of the animated cartoons. Nova’s a supporting concept in Guardians of the Galaxy. Jonny Double got revived for Vertigo a while ago and I suspect most readers never realized it was a revival.


But the foundations are all Marv Wolfman’s. Particularly with Blade and the Titans and the modern Lex Luthor, today’s creators are living in the house that Marv built. He deserves credit– and probably more money than he’s getting.

But some of us remember where these things come from. It’s very much appreciated. And best wishes for a terrific birthday, sir. Hope it was a great one.

Everyone else, I’ll see you next week.

20 Comments

nice article for have to agree that marv work including what he was trying to do with night force and of course mostly his titans run with george perez makes him one of the legends like darwyn and stan lee. and will even when sadly marv attends the big con in the sky his work will make him immortal

Glad to see I wasn’t the only fan of Wolfman’s Daredevil run. I greatly enjoyed it and it was the first sustained period of the comic that I read. The Gil Kane and Jim Shooter run was another good one, before Frank Miller came onboard.

Also happy to see Weird Heroes; great books.

Marv was always one of those solid writers who wrote entertaining stories, even when they weren’t in the same league as Judas Contract or Tomb of Dracula. He gets grief for the latter days of his Titans run; but, I still tended to enjoy them.

Loved the piece. 70’s comics rule for me.

Wow Future Dreams I used to take the bus out weekly to buy my books there in college….Oh Marv was the bomb too

Thanks for the Marv Wolfman tribute. I liked it so much that I immediately forwarded it to my longtime comics pal Frank, who is a Wolfman fan just like me. I thought you might enjoy my comments and added memories, even though the last anecdote recalls a not particularly pleasant incident.

It is a great little tribute. However, I wish you would have mentioned artist George Perez when you got to the New Teen Titans part, as George Perez’s art was a huge part of the success of that series. Wolfman and Perez complemented each other beautifully. They were the team supreme of the era. I know, because I purchased every issue of that title upon publication. Ditto squared for Crisis OIE.

I asked my friend Frank if he remembered the time I asked Marv Wolfman if I could refer to George Perez as “George” and Marv jokingly responded, “You probably should call him Mr. Perez.” Remember that, Frank?

Finally, I am confident Frank remembers the column Peter David wrote a few years later about how thankless the comic book industry is, and presented the example of a one-time pivotal writer who was being dismissed and ignored at the San Diego Comicon by the short-memoried then-current editors at DC. He did not mention the insulted writer by name in the column, but since Frank worked intimately with Mr. David, he eventually revealed that the slighted writer was none other than Marv Wolfman.

Marv is one of the best, I have that titanic showdown between Reed Richards and Doc Doom, also its one of the few times Reed actually bit Ben Grimm in half verbally for his usual gripings and Ben apoligizing! Tomb of Dracula was classic and i have Blades first meeting with Hannibal King stuffed in one of my several footlockers around here, His revival of the Titans with George at his side was da bomb! I don’t like the anime but i do like one character the animators totally changed for the better…JINX! i JUST LOVE THAT GIRL! ;P
One of Comicdoms all-time greats, Happy Birthday Marv! Nuff’ said!

Greg, I consider Marv one of the good ones from my generation; as a talent, a colleague, and a friend, although we were never “tight.” That last thing’s probably more my problem than anyone’s. I was never good at being able to just “hang.” With anyone. But I did and do consider Marv a friend. So I read your whole article. But I tell you the truth, while my eyes saw the words, my head wasn’t registering their meaning.

I did not know Darwyn anywhere near as well as Marv. But to the extent that I think I did know him, no matter how long he might have lived – he could have been ancient – he would have died too young. At my age, I’m used to hearing such news. At the same time, I never really am. I went back to your opening paragraph twice, to make sure I read what it said. It really hit.

I will come back to this page again in a couple days, when the saw about “life goes on” proves that it does, and my brain catches up with what you say about Marv, and my head will probably be doing a lot of nodding along the way.

Meanwhile, no matter whatever the eternal “realities” of Life, it’s always good to know when an old friend has done another year. Happy New Year to you, Marv, and I hope to hear of many, many more.

Marv and his amazing collaborators have brought me so much entertainment over the years that I wish the guy a very HAPPY birthday!

Amazing Spider-Man was where I first came across his work (issue #200 indeed a great issue), then New Teen Titans and Crisis. Classic stuff I read over and over again. There’s a bunch mentioned above that I’ve never read (who is Doc Phoenix? I’m excied to find out!) so I have some fun comic book hunting to do.

The other day I was thinking about the first comics I ever bought for myself; a packet of three Australian editions, with an issue of Alpha Flight, Spider-Man, and Action Comics.

It’s not original to say this, but I love his Teen Titans.

Imagine my surprise at seeing the cover for the latter here today!

Marv Wolfman is an excellent writer. Happy birthday, thanks for all the wonderful comics.

Great overview. I’m amazed at how many of those books you show in the middle section that I have (and surprise, haven’t read!). I’ll have to dig them out and look at them.

One (apparently) early story with Wein was a Batman one, I think with Neal Adams art, about the “trap” house. It’s one of the first stories in the 6th Showcase Presents Batman book, and it’s a neat little tale.

Great article, and a great idea to provide this sort of praise while these legends are still with us.

FYI, Last week saw the publication of the long delayed 5th issue of George Perez Sirens from Boom Studios. George dedicated the book to Marv, and wrote a nice paragraph praising him as a collaborative partner.

I thought Marv was much better in DC than Marvel, where his dialogue and plots were in the Roy Thomas (Stan Lee, Jr) vein (Tomb of Dracula aside).

Much of his Marvel stuff feels hackish, including FF.

I thought he did an outstanding job on CRISIS 1-12 considering the grand scope of things.

Nice post, Greg. Love the spotlight on Wolfman. I really like the fact that you also gave a shout-out to his work on two titles which most comics fans tend to overlook, if not disparage outright: FF and Green Lantern. I started reading FF more or less regularly with issue no. 200 – I thought the Richards vs. Doom story was pretty epic, and absolutely loved that sprawling space opera story he did afterward, in which he introduced Terrax and also found a clever way to work in the dreaded Herbie the Robot from the Saturday morning cartoon. I similarly loved his run on GL, with all that great art by Joe Staton. There as well, he not only wrote some fun stories but introduced concepts that would be put to much use later, like the Omega Men.

Wow, the Torpedo! Been a while since I thought of him, didn’t know he started off in Daredevil! I remember his long guest-stint (and eventual demise) in “ROM Spaceknight” and an issue or two of Marvel Spotlight or something like that.

But damn, I didn’t know about Darwyn Cooke — now I have to go read about that too. Loved his Catwoman stories.

@Ganky
There were two torpedoes (well, 3, actually). The first was a criminal hitman that appeared once, in an earlier Daredevil issue. The issue shown above introduced a new Torpedo, who had developed a battle suit for his uncle, a senator with connections to The Corporation (a mafia organization run like a business). He gives his uncle an inferior version of the suit, after discovering it’s true purpose. he tries to destroy the plans for the suit but runs up against Daredevil. During the fight, a building collapses on him. Enter Brock Jones, who discovers the Torpedo and is filled in about his mission. He also runs up against DD; but, they figure it out. Jones went on to appear in a solo try-out, then Rom.

Issues 126 and 127 were two favorites, from Wolfman’s run, as well as 124 and 125, with the Copperhead. 124 is by Len Wein and Wolfman, and features a killer, named Copperhead, who claims to be the character from a pulp novel. However, he isn’t choosy about who he kills. He is eventually uncovered as a imbalanced fan of the pulps. It was a nice nod to the old pulp heroes, as well as the hero of the movie serial, The Mysterious Dr Satan, which featured a masked hero, called the Copperhead (it was originally supposed to be a script for a proposed Republic Superman serial; but, DC turned them down). Of course, the debut of Bullseye goes without saying.

Wolfman is the man ! Except for the end of his run on Teen Titans EVERYTHING is good or excellent !

My wife found this and told me I had to read it. What a wonderful birthday gift. Thank you so much. This was very deeply appreciated.
-Marv

I thought it was really interesting that Marv Wolfman moved from being MARVEL’s Editor-in-Chief— to someone who wrote DC’s mega-saga CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS.

It was DEFINITELY a comics eye opener where he guided the use of costumed characters for one company, then ‘cleaned up’ the continuity of another’s. It showed me what careful grooming and managerial oversight can do in using all those caped and spandexed Intellectual Properties that MARVEL and DC owned…

Happy birthday, Mr. Wolfman.

Mr. Wolfman, it’s great to see you posting here.

Thanks for the many, many wonderful stories. :)

That’s why I love this column and site; you never know who might stop by. Happy Birthday, Marv, and thanks for all the great stories!

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