In yesterday’s bloggy thing, Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold
Story and my sadness reading it were discussed. There was a teary
moment or two, some guarded praise, underplayed aversion to Howe’s
sensationalistic approach to the material, a personal revelation or
two and, finally, the start of my discussing the handful of times
I was mentioned in the book. We continue...
From page 135:
...McGregor welcomes a revolving door of proofreading partners:
first Tony Isabella, and then Doug Moench, from Chicago, and then
David Anthony Kraft, a seventeen-year-old from Georgia. Each of
them was a writer as well and each of them shared an understanding:
you leave alone my stuff and I’ll leave alone yours.
During the period when I was doing some proofreading on the color
comics, I was helping Don McGregor and Marv Wolfman, who I recall
came on staff around the same time I did...though I think I might
have been there first. But the proofreading was in addition to my
work on the British weeklies, on FOOM Magazine and assisting Stan
Lee on Monster Madness, a mostly photos-and-gags magazine with
a smattering of assigned-and-edited-by-me articles. On days when
Roy Thomas worked at home, I also wrote some color comics cover
copy, but only on the reprint titles. I was fast and I was good at
all of the above jobs, which is why I wore so many hats.
What Howe calls an “understanding” was unspoken at best. I think
it was more common courtesy than anything else.
From page 157, Bill Mantlo is quoted:
“It seemed at the tune that the key to being a successful Marvel
writer was that you had worked for two companies, that made you
better than all the hacks like me and Claremont and Moench who’d
begun at Marvel, stayed with Marvel, and were loyal to Marvel. In
fact, financially, if you quit Marvel and went to DC, you could
come back to Marvel at a higher rate than somebody who stayed at
Marvel. It was a sign of success to shit on the company, go
somewhere else, and then come back, and Chris [Claremont], Doug,
and I, and maybe Tony at that point, were left cleaning up the
manure, without thanks, without reward. That went on for quite a
while. There was also a theory that if you were Editor, you were
supposed to write the Hulk, Spider-Man, and Thor. Maybe Fantastic
Four. It fluctuated, depending on who your favorite characters
were when you were fifteen. That was what ‘Editor’ meant at Marvel.
Not that you were someone who was efficient, who was a good
administrator, or who was an excellent writer in his own stead -
being an editor at Marvel meant that now you should be able to
write whatever the top books were considered to be and everyone
else got the dregs.”
That’s a long quote and I only present it in its entirety because
a few things will become important when I talk about something that
almost no one knows about my time at Marvel. Of course, that tale
will be in tomorrow’s bloggy thing because I am a heartless tease.
It seems to me Mantlo’s quote covers more years than I was working
at Marvel in the 1970s. I certainly did my share of jumping in to
write late books, but there was less of that by the time Bill and
Chris and Doug were on board. My own duties editing several black-
and-white magazines, putting together FOOM Magazine with almost no
budget, supervising the work of others on the British weeklies and
pitching in to help Roy, Stan and Sol on this and that pretty much
took me out of the emergency fill-in squad. In fact, because of my
workload and a later move back to Ohio, Chris and Bill would fill
in for me on frequent occasions. They’re the real heroes of saving
Marvel’s butt and they never got the credit they deserved for doing
that time and time again.
Page 158 has an abridged but accurate account of my creation of The
Champions. On several occasions, I’ve written about the editorial
meeting wherein my concept of an Angel/Iceman/Route 66/buddy book
was transformed into something quite different. It should be noted that,
while it was Wein who issued his imperial pronouncements on what
heroes had to comprise a super-hero team, I chose the heroes who
filled those positions.
Page 185 has a fairly accurate account of Jim Shooter changing the
final chapter of my two-year-long Ghost Rider story involving Jesus
Christ. Howe doesn’t seem to give any credence to Shooter’s claim
of being ordered to do this by Marv Wolfman or Gerry Conway. But
this is one of those “I was there” events; Shooter told me face-to-
face he was offended by the story. Religious propaganda? Hardly.
Yes, Johnny Blaze was saved from Satan’s power in my version of the
script, but it was my intent - stated to each of the three editors
I had during those two years - to move away from the supernatural
tone of the series and make it more of a super-hero series, albeit
one that would take inspiration from Simon and Kirby’s Stuntman and
other Hollywood adventures.
Page 188 states that incoming editor-in-chief Gerry Conway would be
writing Ghost Rider...“vacated by an angry Tony Isabella.” That’s
a simplistic take on my leaving my signature title, understandable
because of its relative lack of importance, but not 100% accurate.
I was angry and I did leave Ghost Rider. However, the leaving was
because I was fired by my friend Gerry - and we are friends - just
before I could tell him I was quitting Marvel and going over to DC.
That’s another long story I’ve already told, so don’t expect me to
repeat it here. If you do some web-searching, I’m sure you’ll be
able to find one of my previous tellings of that tale.
I’m mentioned one more time in Howe’s book...in a paragraph on Len
Wein’s short time as Marvel’s editor-in-chief: As the writer and
editor of Amazing Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, Fantastic Four and
Thor, four of Marvel’s biggest titles, Len Wein should have felt on
top of the world. But he was quibbling with John Verpoorten, going
into a rage over such minor details as, say, which letterers were
being hired. He was challenging Chris Claremont and Tony Isabella
on the way they used characters borrowed from his titles.
Quoting Len directly:
I had become obsessively involved with the books. I was watching
my books with such a hawk-like eye I had no sense of perspective on
this stuff anymore.
I like Len Wein and admire his writing, though I think his DC work
is much better than his Marvel work. But, when he got the editor-
in-chief job, he would frequently make ridiculous statements as if
he were dispensing commandments from on high.
When I was writing Luke Cage, Power Man, he told me the title hero
didn’t have super-strength. He claimed Cage was able to punch through
stone prison walls because he could hit the walls over and over again
without feeling any pain. Except, without super-strength, such an
escape would take hundreds of years. The Luke Cage issues before
Len’s brief time as the book’s writer clearly showed that the hero
had super-strength. Just as did my issues. Because, after making
one awkward fix to appease Len, I just ignored his ill-considered
edict. He never brought it up again.
We had another clash when Ghost Rider defeated the Hulk by way of
what I thought was an extremely clever way for Johnny Blaze to not
get killed by a much more powerful opponent. While the Hulk might
have some of the strongest lungs on the planet, I figured he would
still have to take a deep breath to make that work for him. So I
had Ghost Rider create a fiery tornado around the Hulk before the
Hulk could take that deep breath. Len reacted as if this was some
kind of blasphemy.
This time, I addressed his concern in a Ghost Rider letters column.
I cajoled Marie Severin into drawing a cartoon of the Hulk sitting
and holding the Ghost Rider’s smoking skull in “Alas, poor Johnny
Blaze” contemplation. Yes, I explained as if I were explaining it
to a child, the Hulk was much stronger than the Ghost Rider and, if
the Ghost Rider had faced him head-on, the Hulk would have punched
him into little pieces. Len was either satisfied by this cartoon
or resigned to my being uncooperative.
Come back tomorrow for the most untold Marvel Comics story of them
all. It’s a tale I’ve only recently pieced together as best as I can, calling
upon the vast wisdom of my advanced years and a more nuanced
consideration of certain events.
© 2012 Tony Isabella