Letters : Staff : 2009 : To the Staff 11/09/2009

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Date: Sep 11, 2009
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From Peter

I was originally going over the Clone Saga trying to pinpoint when exactly I stopped buying Spider-Man, and all comics, for a decade starting sometime in the mid-90s when I surprisingly came across The Worst of the Worst segment. That lead to a few Spider-Woman issues, whom I have no interest in, which made me laugh aloud. I think "for historical reference, see Charles Bronson in the original Death Wish" sealed the deal.

You probably don't remember typing that since I'm not sure how long ago you wrote those reviews. But I then went through all the available first series of Spider-Woman reviews and was wondering if you ever did do that essay on why Wolfman's run was so terrible? I'm about to hit up your other reviews, starting with Avengers: the Initiative I think.

Great work. I think I might scope out those old Spider-Woman issues in the $.50 bins just for laughs.. though all that misogyny is just straight creeper. Wolfman, Mackie, and Kavanagh should've done a mini-series together.

Thanks for writing! I’m glad you’re enjoying the Spider-Woman reviews. And I do remember where and when I was when I typed that Death Wish bit – a lunchroom around the corner from my office. Sometimes these things stick with you.

I never did write that essay. Partly it was because I couldn’t figure out a home for it. Partly it was because, when I thought about the question, I began to feel remorse about how hard I had been on Wolfman in my reviews. Yes, they were terrible stories, but it wasn’t entirely his fault.

Some of it was, of course. He wasn’t, and isn’t, a good storyteller. There’s only one story he can tell well, and he keeps going back to it: the unsure adolescent, adrift in an uncaring world, struggling to find a place in it. Telling that story over and over again made him successful at Marvel, because that trope is Marvel’s bread and butter. It made him extremely successful at DC for a time: The New Teen Titans was a Marvel-style book with DC characters. Success with the Teen Titans got Wolfman the gig writing Crisis on Infinite Earths. That book, along with his runs on The New Teen Titans and Tomb of Dracula, upon which his reputation largely rests.

The thing is, while they may have seemed good at the time, they haven’t aged well. (At least the former two – I haven’t read his Tomb of Dracula stuff). So it seems to me his dreary run on Spider-Woman isn’t an outlier, an unusually bad run by a great talent, as it is typical – a not-so-good run by a not-so-good writer.

And by Internet standards, I'm pretty kind to Marv: surf over to the Absorbascon and do a search on "Marv Wolfman", if you dare.

But the sorry state of Spider-Woman is not entirely Mr. Wolfman's fault. If he’d stuck with one concept and developed it, Spider-Woman might have turned out better. But he kept switching: from Arthurian swords-and-sorcery, to California noir pulp, to House of Mystery horror. And why did he do that? Because he didn’t know what he wanted to write. But then why was he writing the book?

This is the crux of the problem – near as I can figure, Wolfman was writing or editing five monthly titles for Marvel in the late 1970s. (I worked out which ones, once, but I can’t remember now what they were.) I don’t think that even a really talented writer, like Brian Bendis, could combine that quantity of books with consistent quality of product. Five books is a punishing assignment.

So, really, early Spider-Woman was a devil’s bargain between Wolfman and Marvel Editorial. Wolfman took a fifth book, I presume for the extra income it would provide, and he did this despite the fact that he didn’t know what to do with it, and that all of his ideas and energy were being spent elsewhere. Marvel Editorial let him do this because they wanted a monthly title that could defend their copyright while cashing in on Women’s Lib, and they wanted a reliable hand, one they could trust, turning out scripts for that title.

And we know what the results were: a hasty after-thought of a book, in Wolfman’s run anyway. Wolfman deserves a lot of the blame for this, but so do Carmine Infantino and Marvel Editorial, who tolerated a half-assed effort from Wolfman, and were just as uncommitted themselves.

So that’s what I think. If I’d ever written that essay, it would have gone something along these lines.

Thanks again for writing!