Comics : Marville #1
This story is part of a Lookback Series: Worst of the Worst
This review was first published on: 2008.
For the background to this title's existence, check out the News Article on Ain't It Cool News. In a nutshell, it seems that Marvel publisher Bill Jemas was rather vitriolic on matters related to writer Peter David's creative ability. This lead to the Marvel U-Decide contest wherein Jemas would write "The Marvel" in Marville. Against that, Peter David would pit his Captain Marvel (Vol. 4) which was essentially his already-running Captain Marvel (Vol. 3) with the numbering restarted at #1.
These two titles were to run side-by-side for six months. The one with the greatest fan (i.e. purchaser) support at the end of it all would survive, the other would be canceled. Subsequently, editor Joe Quesada decided he wanted to get in on the action. JQ partnered with writer Ron Zimmerman to offer "Ultimate Adventures", a Batman/Robin parody featuring Hawk-Owl and Woody. Apparently Joe insisted that the stakes become "a pie in the face to Joe if he lost, a plunge in a dunk tank for Bill if he lost or living with defeat for Peter if he lost".
Ultimate Adventures was not well received, and also ran very late in shipping - it reached issue #6 roughly a year late behind schedule! Marville was very poorly received by critics and fans alike, for reasons we will soon discover. By far the winner was David's Captain Marvel (Vol. 4) which ran for two years from the start of the competition, adding to the three years that it had run previously as Captain Marvel (Vol. 3).
Bill Jemas somehow managed to earn a "co-plotter" credit for Ultimate Spider-Man, a very generous accolade given that his contribution seems to be limited to having proposed the idea of "re-writing Spider-Man for a newer generation". That's something that gets suggested every two years. It was Bendis and Bagley that actually made that near-impossible task a reality.
Jemas was fired shortly after Marville ended. Was it a factor in his dismissal? It certainly deserves to be!
Nov 2002 : Review (No SM)
The title "Marville" is a play on the TV show "Smallville", and the regular cover features "The Marvel" in a pose echoing the TV show. I'm going to start with Issue #1, even though Spider-Man doesn't appear. But I think we need to be thorough here.
Issue #1 opens with one line summaries of the origins of Batman, Spider-Man and Super-Man. Though if you're reading a comic-book in-joke satire mag without knowing those facts already, then you're probably in the wrong place, my friend.
We also get an overview of Paul Levitz (who ran DC at the time), and of Ted Turner and Jane Fonda. That's important because...
...it's 5002 AD. At the opening of a grand comic store, the owner is celebrating the fact that after 3000 years the comic industry has recovered from Ron Perelman bankrupting Marvel. A joke that's not particularly biting given that in reality Marvel recovered quite quickly.
Without warning, Manhattan is hit by a meteor storm. Meteors the size of basketballs are crashing down everywhere. Ted Turner and Jane Fonda rush out of their modest home in alarm. Ted persuades everybody to do "the chop", because that saves them from the meteors. But it's hopeless, his only option is to put their son into a time machine and send him back into the past. Ted was the owner of the earth and everything on it, but he sold it to AOL in return for stock.
Ted dresses his (teenage) son Kal-AOL in an outfit with "Marvel Enterprises". He explained that millenia ago, DCC (Dad's Comic Company) "sucked, they couldn't make a decent comic book, so he (Ted) had to buy Marvel." Only problem was that "two dunces named Joe and Bill got to cash in all their stock and make a fortune."
Are you starting to get a feeling for how un-funny this book is? Well, Ted and Jane's slightly geeky but good-looking son "The Marvel" gets sent back three thousand years. Note that nobody ever explains how Ted and Jane haven't aged at all, but we'll just leave that one be. Back in 2002, Marvel meets some guys in the street:
Guys in Street: Cool, Marvel Enterprises. Do you know Joe Quesada?
Kal-AOL: No, but my dad is friends with Paul Levitz.
Ba-da-boom. Cue laugh track.
Kal-AOL experiments, and discovers that he hasn't gained any super-powers in the transition. Suddenly, the dog turns up. Ted Turner's dog. The dog is nearly run over by taxi-cab driven by a 20-something cute redhead girl in jeans and a sexy top. Let me just ask you... how many woman taxi drivers do you think there are in New York? And how many of them are sexy, fresh and fit redhead girls? Yeah, you do the math. The taxi driver's name is Mickey.
Mickey drives Kal-AOL to the bank. The bank tells him that his credit card is no good because while his account has billions in it, it won't open for another three thousand years. The Marvel complains and asks the Banker who his boss is, who is he is accountable to. The banker says "My name is Alan Greenspan, I don't work that way."
Now, this could have been amusing if the setup hadn't been so poor. The fact that the logic is all broken here, since obviously nobody would know about Kal-AOL "future" account undermines the whole gag, and removes any potential for a funny dig at the non-accountability in high-level U.S. economic policy.
But then, who the hell who cares about U.S. economic policy is going to be reading this comic book in the first place! I mean, the two variant covers feature (a) Transformers, or (b) an up-thigh air-brushed cover of a bikini-clad woman getting out of a taxi.
Did I mention that most of the issues of Marville featured a near-naked woman. In two cases the covers show the woman having misplaced her bikini-bottom. It's only T&A, it's not really genuine soft-pr0n. But still, it's pushing boundaries in the wrong sort of direction for this kind of comic. I mean, why near-naked women on the cover? What kind of reader is this cover trying to attract? One who will laugh at Alan Greenspan accountability jokes?
Suddenly a bank robber dashes in to the bank and steals the bag containing one hundred million dollars that Greenspan had brought out to his desk to show Kal-AOL the money that he couldn't give him. Kal-AOL aka "The Marvel" doesn't have powers to stop the robber, but fortunately the thief slips on Kal-AOL's dog's drool and knocks himself unconscious.
A nearby policeman tells Kal-AOL that he will get a reward because his dog stopped the crook, and hands Kal-AOL the bag of $100,000,000. Mickey takes Kal-AOL to her apartment. There he takes the "free 100 hours AOL CD from 5002" which was his fathers parting gift to him, and puts it into Mickey's computer. The disk contains "all of the world's online information for the next three thousand years".
Woah? The ratio of online information to portable media has been heading exponentially in the "too big to fit on a disk" direction for decades. Now we're expected to believe that in the future, the internet will fit on a CD? Apart from the fact that media more than twenty years old is basically incompatible. Tried to find a computer with a 5 1/4" floppy disk drive recently? This is stupid! The disk also has copies of Kal-AOL's birth certificate and social security. He prints them out. Yeah, right, everybody will accept a birth certificate with a date set in the future, printed out on a home computer.
But not as stupid as when Kal-AOL and Mickey decide to go to a broadway show. They find a ticket scalper being beaten up by the same robber that Kal-AOL got the reward capturing for earlier in the day. Kal-AOL beats up the robber, then Mickey pays $500 to buy a pair of tickets from the scalper they just rescued. They go to the show, but get kicked out because Kal-AOL doesn't meet the dress code. They have a dress code at shows? And $100 to the usher won't bend it? So why would Mickey suggest they go to a show if they're not dressed for it? And a taxi driver is happy to pay $500 for show tickets and then not make a fuss when she can't get in to the show?
Then they get mugged again by the same guy, though he has a gun this time. Kal-AOL says he has no money, and Mickey spent all her money on the tickets. The robber decide to steal the dog for medical experiments instead, but the dog escapes, the thief slipped while grabbing for the leash, the dog farts in his face, "knocking the perp out cold."
Fart jokes? The publisher of Marvel likes fart jokes, and U.S. domestic economic policy jokes. Something for everybody I guess.
A cop sees it all. In fact, it's the same cop as before. He hands Kal-AOL "another huge bag of reward money." I believe I read somewhere that Jemas intended to parody DC stories in which the hero was often given a bag of reward money. However, by the time we get this far, Jemas is really in no position to poke fun at anybody. Glass houses. Stones.
In the future, the meteor storm has passed. Ted and Jane use the time machine to send their son some clean underwear.
If you want to be funny in a comic book, you have basically two choices. Regular comedy. Or satire.
Regular comedy is setup, lead-in, punchline. Rinse and repeat. You don't see a lot of that in comic books (except for daily three panel comic strips in newspapers). That's for a good reason. It's hard. Writing genuinely funny script requires a the ability to see humor around you and steal it. It also requires talent in recreating "voices" in your script. If the voice is true, then an off-the-cuff witty comment can be hilarious.
But Jemas is not a comedian or a writer. He doesn't know jokes, he doesn't know voices, and he's not quick-witted. That leaves him with option two. Satire.
Satire involves writing a story which pulls elements out of real life and amplifies them to the point where they're ridiculous enough for our nervous response to kick in, triggering humor.
Actually, this is just as hard. It requires most of the professional writing skills of regular comedy. So Jemas is screwed there too. He attempts to make do without insight or cleverness - instead substituting puerile silliness, coupled with a few tips of the hat to people he admires and/or despises.
The result is not successful.
At this stage in the series, all we have is a bunch of not-funny jokes and failed attempts at satire. Meanwhile, everybody at Marvel is presumably too polite to point this out, since Bill's the boss.
There's only really one thing worse than the bosses nephew getting a writing job with no skills or talent - and that's the boss himself somehow imagining he can write a comic. Set the cringe factor to maximum.
The finally outcome is probably the most downright embarrassing comic book ever to come out of Marvel to that time. So why are we still going for one whole web for this issue? Because issue #2 will sink to the challenge, and we need some little room to allow it to descend to the utter depths.