I already told you the one about the guy who bought the most expensive copy of that Superman comic because, y’know, it had to be the most valuable. Well, here’s what we did the last time Liefeld and Nicieza and X-Force rode into town:
It was June of 1991, and I was clerking for New England Comics, splitting my time between the Allston and Brookline shops. Allston was the shop for the hardcore regulars, selling probably 60 – 70% of each week’s new books out of subscribers’ boxes rather than off the shelf to walk-ins; it had the most wallbooks (the valuable collector’s issues, kept safe in mylar sleeves, hung from hooks on every vertical square inch) and a whole room filled with grimy once-white cardboard longboxes on folding tables, crammed with comics going back decades. Brookline was more of a kids’ shop: the sort of friendly neighborhood brightly colored shop full of comics and toys that most people thought of when they thought of comics. It had its regulars, too (one of them a disreputable chap who subsisted on issues of Cherry Poptart and Dan DeCarlo reprints; Barb liked to slip him copies of Real Girl from time to time, but we’ll get to her in a minute).
And Marvel had noticed, to be sure, and was wildly casting about for the next Next New Thing, and the next #1 to give him. They fingered Rob Liefeld, whose style—well, it was idiosyncratic, at least—had gotten noticed on New Mutants, and they decided to let him loose on X-Force.
What was it about? Who knew? Who cared? It was going to be big. Everybody knew it. So everybody ordered accordingly, and comics clerks all over the country sighed accordingly, and heavily. —I was scheduled to work the Brookline shop on the Wednesday X-Force would debut, which was fine with me. The Brookline shop was managed by Barb, who was as much about fuck tha superheroes as I was: Sandman was okay, and she could tell Hayao Miyazaki from Masamune Shirow, and she liked Zot!, but mostly she liked the underground and its descendents: Los Bros. Hernandez, Dave Sim, Dori Seda, Mary Fleener, Donna Barr. (She also lived in a Buddhist monastery where she rather seriously pursued the art of kendo. So I had a crush. So deal.)
As per our plan.
We left the shop (opening the door, exciting the somewhat longer line of kids, dashing their hopes when we locked it up again) and headed across Beacon Street to an upscale supermarket (this being Brookline), where we picked up orange juice, a couple of pastries, a bottle of champagne, and some plastic cups. Back at the shop (open, excite, lock, dash), we mixed a couple of mimosas, toasted the coming day, and tossed ’em back.
Barb ceremoniously pulled a buck-fifty out of her pocket and rang up a sale as I grabbed a copy of X-Force #1. We walked up to glass front door where the head of the (longer still) line had a good clear view of us. I held up that copy of X-Force #1 to general oohing and aahing and yaying. Then Barb pulled out her lighter and set it on fire.
And then we opened the shop.
Image was born out of a feeling that I had that [the days of] our positions at Marvel were numbered. We had become too big for the system. Marvel didn’t want a star system, but with Todd’s, Jim’s and my books selling millions of copies, that’s what we were becoming. They were trying to reproduce the success of our books. They were going to put out a Cage #1 with an acetate cover. Like, “We’ve got to prove it’s the gimmicks, not the creators.” But the truth of the matter was Spider-Man happened because Todd had heat on Amazing Spider-Man and X-Men happened because Jim Lee had heat. They were trying to replace us already, and we hadn’t even talked about leaving.
—Rob Liefeld, on why he decided
to take part in Image Comics
That was July of 1991. In December of 1991, Marvel’s hotshot Next New Things marched as one into the office of the president of the company and made him an offer they knew he’d refuse: give them—all of them—creative control of their own properties, or they’d walk. All of them. (They never joined the Wobblies, but they figured out what it is about a union: it’s a way of getting done together what you can’t get done alone.) —Marvel said, roughly, shyeah right, and so Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee and Jim Valentino and Erik Larsen and Mark Silvestri and Whilce Portacio and Rob Liefeld walked and founded Image Comics. They nearly killed Marvel, and they came even closer to killing the direct market itself, and you should go read Michael Dean’s “The Image Story” to savor the rise and the fall. They put out hundreds of shitty comics and ran a handful of superhero æsthetic trends out past their logical extremes and over a cliff, and it’s as much their fault as anybody else’s that the big Comic-Con is all about movies and videogames now, and they changed the course of history and the flow of capital; nothing was ever the same after they did what they did.
I used to say that the punchline to the story above was that later that day, after we and everybody else in the country had just about sold out of the first printing of X-Force #1, this guy offered to pay five dollars for the ashes of the copy we’d burned, which we’d slipped into a mylar sleeve and hung from the counter by the cash register. (Hey. Five bucks.) I used to point out that a near-mint first print of X-Force #1, which once was bought at $50, $60, $100 a throw, by people who forgot to buy low and sell high, could now be had for the low, low price of, yup, five dollars. Whoa. That irony’s a bitch.
But I found out that isn’t the punchline. The punchline is reading this:
This fall, Rob Liefeld, Fabian Nicieza and X-Force return for a six to eight issue miniseries as announced at WizardWorld LA’s “Cup O’ Joe” panel with Marvel E-I-C Joe Quesada.
And hearing Liefeld say this:
Oh yeah, there was plenty of trepidation. In fact I turned it down twice before finally convincing myself to do it because I was really intimidated and let’s face it, it is a gigantic, daunting challenge to see if we can restore this book to anything resembling the glory days when this book was a top seller and the characters were extremely relevant to the Marvel Universe. It’s been quite some time since this franchise was a water cooler book and I’d be lying if I told you I have doubts about what we can accomplish. We’re giving it our best effort though, trying our hardest to make this as exciting as possible.
The situation is as follows: there is a terrorist group from the future that is hell bent on awakening a terrible menace from our past in the present. One really cool monster, ninjas, assassins, barbarians, time-travelers and plenty of intrigue. All the ingredients that set X-Force apart from the pack 13 years ago are front and center here. The sins of Cable’s past really come back to haunt him this time around…
The punchline is this:
And you know what? Rob Liefeld is an ass. He’s a shitty cartoonist in every conceivable sense of the term who thinks ninjas and assassins and time travel are innovations. He isn’t unsubtle when it comes to slamming peers and burning bridges. His popularity then and now is an occulted mystery, even to his fans (perhaps especially to his fans). The comics he’s produced are without exception qlippothic works, darkly sucking away from superheroes whatever magic and wonder and naïve dignity they can muster. Him, and Marvel, and X-Force—they all deserve each other, and good riddance.
Still: that story isn’t nearly as funny as it used to be.
Your very blood screams indifference towards defining the need to fight versus the desire to fight. You have failed in your mission, Gaveedra-7. You must leave the Sacrarium.