Marvel at 80: Marville (and uDecide)
The year was 2002. Editor in Chief Joe Quesada was riding high at Marvel Comics, having just helped bring the company out of bankruptcy and launched two massively successful sub-lines. Marvel Knights and the Ultimate Universe were both critical and financial success, doing daring things with established characters and using high-profile creators to build sales. Kevin Smith, for example, helped relaunch Daredevil. Another boon was getting smaller name Brian Michael Bendis onto Marvel’s payroll, first on Marvel Knights’ own Daredevil and then on the ground floor of the Ultimate Universe. His eye then looked down upon the books of Marvel and began to see what should be done to fix things.
Even when they shouldn’t necessarily be broken.
Quesada looked upon some of the lower selling books of Marvel and decided it would be good to raise prices. Some of the books would rise from $2.25 to $2.99, and this raised the ire of one Marvel writer in particular. Peter David, fan-favorite of many Marvel books since the 80s and then-current Captain Marvel author, did not like this plan. He very publicly protested that the raise of $0.75 could kill sales on his book, and eventually the book itself. Joe Quesada chose to reply by pointing out that Peter David’s style of writing in-jokes. While telling tales in an older Marvel style (Peter David’s preferred format), was just too bizarre for newer readers to pick up. And that something still had to be done.
What happened was a contest.
Joe Quesada decided that it would be a sales fight to the proverbial death. Three comics would launch, and only one would survive. Peter David’s own Captain Marvel would relaunch with the same primary art team, but a new direction on the book. Meanwhile, controversial writer of multiple panned comics at the time Ron Zimmerman would work with Quesada himself on a new book called Ultimate Adventure. We’ll get to that in a moment, however. The real oddball in this contest was that the President of Marvel Bill Jemas wanted to throw his hat in the ring with his own book. Jemas had some level of clout with Quesada, having helped save Marvel by merging them with his company Toy Biz. Jemas also helped push Marvel to remove the Comics Code Authority from their books. The first of several companies to do so in the early 2000s, so Quesada had some faith that he would have some kind of story to tell. This book was called Marville.
And Marville is possibly the worst comic published by Marvel Comics in decades.
However, first, we begin with Captain Marvel. Peter David was forced to relaunch his book, as mentioned above. To make things more “accessible” to new readers, Peter David reintroduced everyone to a new status quo for the character. His cosmic awareness, something that would let him see into the future or across time and space, began to malfunction and showed him every possibility. Rather than stop using it, he simply broke down and went insane.
Artist Chriscross actually worked on his craft with a few month hiatus, coming up with a technique of penciling without needing inks. Combined with colorist Chris Sotomayor, the book had a visual flair that could not be matched by any book on the market. Expressions could be off at times, but the level of detail and personality in the book was incredible. The book sold well and could be considered the winner of this contest as it survived another 25 issues. If you have a few spare bucks, pick it up. And the earlier volume as well. The whole 60 run is great if you’re a Marvel continuity fan.
Ron Zimmerman had written several comics that had been received poorly before this issue. Like Kevin Smith before him, he had word-heavy comics that would rely on a lot of the artist doing the heavy lifting. He was, after all, a writer who had mostly done comedy. And hadn’t written a comic before his time with Marvel. In the case of a Punisher story, it was a time travel story that sent him back to kill Al Capone… only for it to be a dream. With the much-hyped Rawhide Kid, where it was advertised that the titular character would be revealed to be on the LGBTQ spectrum? It was a running string of gay jokes, feminine poses on a masculine cowboy, and subtext rather than actual text. Most Marvel fans were unhappy with these books and weren’t really ready to welcome Ultimate Adventures with open arms.
Ultimate Adventures opened up the Ultimate Universe to original creations for the first time in the line, featuring Chicago based hero Hawk-Owl the Midnight Avenger. As if you couldn’t guess from the name and the cover of the book, he is a shameless Batman knockoff. As a super-rich billionaire with his own power armor, Jack Danner would also adopt young ward Hank Kipple to become his new sidekick Woody. The book was actually better-executed than Zimmerman’s earlier books but suffered from incredibly lengthy delays. Six issues literally took 18 months to come out, and the last issues suffered from “shove it out the door” syndrome. Despite this, the book is actually an enjoyable (if cliche) comic. That is both a tribute and parody of Batman and the child sidekick. Again, if you can find it for cheap, pick it up.
Bill Jemas had never written a comic before in his life, but that wouldn’t stop him. Jemas seemed to also have a great dislike for Peter David (you’ll see why in a bit) and chose to up the ante on U Decide. The loser would also take a pie to the face at a future comic convention. Which is pretty low stakes, but there is also no proof that Jemas took a pie to the face when his comic crashed and burned.
And it did so hard.
Issue one of Marville opened up with what was Marvel’s current choice of satire: making fun of DC Comics and their parent company, AOL/Warner. Beginning in the year 5002, our excuse of a comic opens up with a random person commenting. How awesome it is that Marvel Comics has finally pulled themselves up out of bankruptcy, caused by Ron Perelman.
Ron Perelman, for those who don’t know (which is most of you), was an investor with Marvel who held a majority interest in the company during the 80s and 90s. He is often credited with the continual jacking of prices at Marvel to appease the stockholders (i.e., himself). However, it’s hard to say this was THE reason Marvel went bankrupt. As they also made horrible comic decisions. Kept getting bought out by companies who had no idea how comics worked. Then also over-relied upon the new speculator market that had erupted overnight with dozens of cover gimmicks and horrible comics. But either way, Jemas blamed him for the bankruptcy and would consider this a joke.
The entire comic is like this.
The real story begins with Ted Turner and Jane Fonda, who are somehow still alive in 5002, realizing that the world Earth would soon be destroyed by meteors. Except that it’s not Earth, because the planet is now named AOLon because Ted Turner sold the Earth to America On-Line for stock options. And the only way to save the world is doing the tomahawk chop, the cheer for Turner’s own Atlanta Braves, at the meteors.
I feel like this article needs footnotes for people younger than 30. Thanks, Jemas.
Their son, KalAOL, would imitate Superman’s origin story and go off to the planet Earth (in the past) to survive and fight for truth and justice. He would be given 500 free minutes of AOL for his tragic origin trinket, a special costume, and then dropped off into the past of 2002.
KalAOL would luck into a friend who was also a taxi driver, his dog AOLstro would be sent back with him, and also would be randomly given hundreds of thousands of dollars by Alan Greenspan and the police for catching crooks by mistake.
The comic sold miserably, at least compared to the competition. Marville had two covers for its first issue: The foil cover (priced at $4 instead of $2.25) ranked 75 the month of September 2002 on the sales charts, and the plain cover ranked 85. Captain Marvel hit 34, and Ultimate Adventures made 46. Even combined, the sales numbers were still 3,000 copies lower than Peter David’s relaunched Captain Marvel. So Jemas chose to play dirty.
This random redhead would show up on each subsequent cover of Marville, each time in equally small amounts of clothing. She has little connection to the comic itself, and the cover doesn’t even bother to explain who or what the comic was. To make things even more insulting, each comic had a brief description of characters or concepts that would be referenced in the book. This ranged from explaining what DC comics was, to who the Kingpin and Daredevil are. It genuinely feels like Bill Jemas thinks that all the readers are idiots.
Issue two features a thin and handsome Rush Limbaugh lecturing KalAOL for giving $100 to a bum who is hard on his luck. The bum? Peter David himself. The character doesn’t look much like David, but we are told he is Peter David by the comic.
Bill Jemas chooses to then make fun of rich superheroes by having not-Batman show up to abuse thugs, followed by racist Iron Man and ineffectual Black Panther.
And then they are all defeated by that same flattering un-parody of Rush Limbaugh. Who shoots them with a golden microphone. Which somehow causes KalAOL to want to end all crime in New York, so he goes after the Kingpin using cops disguised as sex workers.
And the Kingpin is Spike Lee playing the Kingpin.
The comic ends with KalAOL getting the time machine from his parents. But the next issue gets worse. Much worse.
The book has now resorted to throwing the script right on the page without a letterer making speech bubbles. It is honestly hard to tell if this means they ran out of time, if the letterer quit in protest from the previous issue’s racism and sexism, or if Jemas wanted to “experiment” and thought this was a good idea. The artist has also changed, the cop who ran around as a sex worker is now a major character, and KalAOL decides to use his time machine to talk to God to ask what’s up with life. Who is first the old-white-man stereotype before turning into Superman, and then into a handsome black man in a suit.
Then they go skinny dipping. With God.
God also lectures everyone on science, but Jemas knows even less about science than 1960s Stan Lee. Such gems include the Jurassic time frame being continually called “Jurassic Park,” dinosaurs in the Jurassic being depicted as dinosaurs from across all major time periods they existed in, the lie about man only using 10% of his brain, or the characters being told by God that evolution is a sham while the artist shows evolution happening. It’s a cluster of horrible information, and it continues through issue five.
Issue four restores the script into word balloons, thank Christ, but that’s about all it has going for it. The science remains horrible, and it’s hard to summarize the issue. Since all they do is talk about how dinosaurs were better than Man because they didn’t have nukes.
Issue 5 introduces Wolverine, the first teenager. Who mutated from an Otter.
I kid you not. God also takes the time to scream at our characters how creationism is the truth because evolution is stupid.
And then the artist throws up their hands and leaves vast swaths of the page open for the letterer to just slap the script in and called it a day. I feel like this comic belongs in Ripley’s Believe it or Not for the worst comic book ever. Jemas then goes on to argue that the last time World Peace happened was the first time mankind brought up the concept of voting and that Jesus was the first superhero. But then he outright states that religion is the reason we have no more world peace, alongside patriotism and voting “no longer happening.”
The sixth issue is somehow the laziest yet. It is 100% a summary of the entire book so far, complete with how the book dives into Bill Jemas’ personal viewpoints and Wolverine declaring world peace. It ends with the revelation that KalAOL is telling summary to an editor at Marvel, and is actually pitching a new comic book. It is, of course, rejected, and Bill Jemas reveals his “true plan” for the entire Marville debacle.
That’s right, Bill Jemas decided to stop expressing his beliefs on the page and wanted to convert his book into an advertisement for Marvel’s Epic line. Around this time, Marvel was toying around with a creator-driven line once more, much like their 1980s Epic line. Jemas, as you can see, explains that he could publish this comic because he’s the President of Marvel and told the bean-counters to jump off a cliff. He also feels that no one understood his comic, and seems to insult Image, DC (sorry, AOL Comics), and just about any other competition in the world despite showing what lows that Marvel can drop to.
Marville issue 7 actually did come out a few months later, and really was an advertisement for Epic like Jemas claimed. Despite using comic art from every mainline Marvel comic, Jemas claimed you could screw the rules and do whatever you wanted. The Epic line’s relaunch in 2003 is best-remembered for Mark Millar’s disastrous book Trouble that established Aunt May as a woman who slept around and got pregnant with Peter Parker. Only to surrender him to her sister to raise so as not to hurt Uncle Ben’s feelings.
I feel like I had to burn my keyboard after writing that.
Epic crashed and burned, ending in less than a year. It seems fitting that one of the worst comics published by Marvel resulted in a comic line that crashed equally fast.
Marville has never been collected or really referenced again. Peter David did take some potshots at the book in Captain Marvel, but it feels like he’s justified in doing so. There is no physical collection that you can hunt down to view this travesty of the published page, and no digital collection. Marvel is better for it, and I fear for the day that some intern puts this up on Marvel Unlimited.
In all of Marvel’s published works, no matter how good or bad, it’s hard to find a worse book than Marville. It is petty, misguided, wrongheaded, and just plain badly written.