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The Marville Horror Part 1: Better Sales Through Self-Immolation

March 8th, 2009 by | Tags: , , , , ,

(Gavok note: Several weeks ago on the Something Awful forum, someone started up a thread asking for people to name five comics that are effectively worse than Countdown to Final Crisis. An interesting challenge, I filled out my list by mentioning Marville. I had never actually read it, but I’ve heard such horror stories. This led to two main reactions. Some suddenly remembered the series and angrily agreed with my suggestion. Another decided to test my suggestion by seeking out the book and reading it for himself.

That would be Fletcher “Syrg” Arnett, who was astounded over what a piece of shit the book was and readily agreed that it was easily one of comic’s greatest missteps. It only seemed natural that I’d try to convince him to put his knowledge to use and do a series of guest articles about the short-lived (not short enough) series. Sit back and enjoy his descent.)

You know how in high school, you can slowly start to see people form their opinions on alcohol? There are the kids who try it out, some don’t like it and stop, others become social drinkers and learn their limits, others just leave it alone for their own reasons, so on. But sometimes you see the ones who obviously haven’t had a drop in their lives trying to talk it up like they were getting shitfaced all the time. Odds are you know the guy I mean. Always telling stories that anyone who had ever had a drink knew were blatant lies, you just nod to his face, and laughed when he left.

All right, now if you run into that kid again, I want you to show him Marville, because this book feels like a drunk wrote it. I don’t mean that it’s puke-stained or anything, but anytime it looks like something is gonna start to take shape in this (like, say, A PLOT), it all gets thrown away for another tangent, like the guy lost his train of thought and just came back with, “So then this other thing…” Over and over again.

Let’s back up a second. Marville is based on a bet between then-President of Marvel Bill Jemas, and Peter David, who was writing Captain Marvel at the time. The most details I can find on why the bet came about has something to do with self-referential writing: Jemas claimed David’s book was too insular and thus its sales were plummeting. It kicked off a promotion called “U-Decide”. Captain Marvel would be renumbered to 1 again, David would make it more accessible to people unfamiliar with the character, and it would be put up against Marville, Jemas’ entry into a competition of sales numbers. (Ron Zimmerman somehow wedged himself into this contest with Ultimate Adventures. Not a single person knows why.) In the long run, David beat out his competition handily, going on to 25 more issues after the reboot, as opposed to a combined 13 (if I’m kind… technically it would only be 12, more on this later) from his opponents.

I tell you this story because the fact that Jemas decided to enter a sales competition spawned from an inaccessible book’s failure with Marville, a series which permanently lodged its head up its own ass about a page in, is irony in a painful to read format.

Marville kicks off with a page explaining the premise of the jokes. The problem is, the ones they explain are the ones you’re least likely to need explained. I don’t know who they thought didn’t know the origins of Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man, yet would still buy this book. On the other hand, I do want to know why the hell Ted Turner and Jane Fonda are alive in the year 5000. Or why he decides to begin chanting in front of his house to stop meteors from hitting Earth. Where’s the exposition on that shit?

I guess I should back up again. We start out in the year 5002 and a meteor slams into a comic shop, finally thriving since, “After three thousand years, the industry recovered from Ron Perelman bankrupting Marvel.” For those who, like me, don’t get this, and don’t see it mentioned in that handy exposition page above: Ron Perelman bought Marvel, then got hosed when Marvel sales crashed hard. I’ll try not to insert too many little facts like this, but you really need Wikipedia open to stand a chance at getting half of the “jokes” in the book. Suddenly, we cut to Ted Turner, who tells us that a meteor shower is about to destroy this world, the planet “AOLon”. It is actually Earth, which he bought, renamed “Turner”, and then later renamed again when he sold it to AOL. Inspired, he quickly walks outside, chanting, and karate chops a meteor in half.

Let me be quick to point out no matter what I’m describing here, I am not making a single line up.

There’s a scene with a crowd first disbelieving this, then trying it themselves. Apparently that’s not enough to save the planet, however, because suddenly Ted’s back inside and wondering how to save his son. First he pulls out a rocket and says they’ll send the boy to Earth, which is when we get the Earth > Turner > AOLon reveal. Also learned: Ted sold an entire planet to a corporation ON said planet for “stock”.

Now, remember the drunk metaphor from earlier? Here comes “I forgot” moment #1: the only thing that will involve this being 5002 AD from here on out is that someone is sent back in time. This could have been 2010 and been less retarded, because not only did Ted Turner live 3000 years, so did “two dunces named Joe and Bill” who raked in cash when he bought out Marvel. Oh, and that time machine is made out of “Playstation 1 parts and Atari controllers”. So pretty much the entire setting was here for the unexplained “3000 years to get out of bankruptcy” gag, and even then it sort of ruins it because people on the street were just discussing Marvel, the company that Kal-AOL’s “Uncle Paul” (Paul Levitz, president of DC Comics) was put in charge of and made disappear from history with his mismanagement.

Did I mention Turner’s son is named “Kal-AOL”? Because he is. I also spared you their dog, AOLstro. (In a few pages, Kal will never be referred to by this name again, because people just call him “Al” in our time. I’m gonna use that.)

So anyway. Ted gives Al a lecture on how he’s going to be the only survivor, doomed world… it’s the Superman origin. You know how that went. Al is given an AOL trial CD (do they still make those? I haven’t seen one in years, speaking of dated gags), dressed in a silver and blue jumpsuit with “MARVEL” on it, and tossed back to 2002. Some kids come up to him, see it, and go, “Hey, cool! Do you know Joe Quesada?” leading to another jab at DC’s president (the kids walk away when Al says he knows Levitz). Alone on the streets now, Al starts testing to see if he now has superpowers.

About here is where I began realizing the art seemed kinda phoned in.

AOLstro is sent back in time too, as a companion for Al. The pair are nearly hit by a car (why? We even had a shot of future cars. You can’t tell me an 18 year old doesn’t know how not to walk in front of traffic) and we meet cab-driver Mickey, who is apparently supposed to be the person on the front of all the Greg Horn cheesecake covers to the series, if the variant cover where she gets out of a cab in a bikini is a hint. Also, she is the closest thing to a redhead in the cast, so maybe it was just a weird coloring thing? I really don’t know, the only thing I have to go on here is the cab shot.

Anyway. Al tries to get a ride to… it’s never said, actually, and finds his future bank card doesn’t work. Because it’s for an account which won’t be opened for 3000 years. Despite all this, Alan Greenspan, bank manager (I do not know why either) somehow knows there will be an account opened in 3000 years which’ll have $100,000,000 in it, as will the accounts all members of Ted and Jane’s family.

The big bag of money with “KalAOL” on it is a nice touch. Also nice is the stone-cold way Alan Greenspan handles an irritating youngster like Al:

I almost edited that second panel to say “roll that way” but felt that would make this book seem somewhat clever.

Of course, if Spider-Man 2 taught us anything, a scene with a hero in a bank means someone is going to rob that bank, and they do, grabbing the giant moneybag and running for the door. Upon getting outside, Al worries that the crowd and sirens which were instantly there signify that his dog has been tragically killed and this could have been averte– fuck it. It’s Spidey’s origin. But no, the dog didn’t die, he drooled a puddle which the guy slipped in. Apparently catching a robber who fails to properly rob someone earns you a $100,000,000 reward in the Marvel universe, because the cop goes, “Here! This is the exact amount of your reward,” with the giant sack of cash. Mickey, at his side for this entire thing, not only decides to keep following him from here — despite disbelieving the fact that he is from the future, and all this after seeing a bank manager go, “Yeah this card’ll work in three millenia,” — but leads him to her place and lets him crash for a night. I also just realized that she left her cab… somewhere, during all this, because they walk home from the bank. Chalk it up to Drunk Narrative Moment #2.

In trying to convince him to spend some of his cash on an apartment for himself, she asks if he has any ID. Somehow this leads her to believe that the best way to check is to put the AOL disc into her computer… and it has the entire online knowledge of the next 3000 years on it. Also, convenient, printable copies of Al’s probably-temporally-invalid birth certificate and social security card. Without warning, this leads them to decide to go ask ticket scalpers in a dark alley for tickets to a play, and Al recites that he’s beating up a thug menacing the scalper for “truth, justice, and the American way”. Do they even have an “America” specifically where he comes from? That’s just something that struck me. I am probably putting way too much thought into his timeline.

They get into the movie and get kicked out within a page all for the sake of bringing the thug back, this time with gun. Realizing the pair is broke from paying for tickets, he runs off with the dog, who slips free down an alley. Gunshot, turn the corner, we’re doing Batman’s origin now. Once more, a crowd is instantly on the scene. I edited nothing out of this:

Once more a giant bag of reward money is produced, and a jab is made about Al’s story being “one long, contrived DC backstory”. You know, despite 1/3rd of his story being Spider-Man, but hey, details. Thankfully, that means that now this issue ends, with the revelation that Ted Turner is not a scientist, which is how he completely ruined the calculations on the meteor shower hitting Earth. Everyone in the future lived, and to celebrate since he can’t bring Al back, he’ll do the next best thing. A package appears in Mickey’s apartment, finally convincing her of the future story, and it contains… clean underwear.

Now, if you didn’t laugh once during that, don’t worry. It’s not even my delivery, because I’m trying to deliver these jokes word-for-word from the book. I didn’t want to say this up front, until you’d had the chance to experience some of it, but this is probably the least funny “humor” comic I’ve ever seen. I am entirely willing to accept suggestions for worse, if you think it could top this. But oh no, it gets worse. That alcohol metaphor was made for two reasons, and the second is that throughout this entire thing, Bill Jemas just comes off like an asshole drunk sniping at anyone who crosses his path. You see, this issue, it was Paul Levitz. Next time… well, I’m just going to let the exposition page for next issue explain what I mean:

Classy, Bill. I wonder who was already winning in sales at this point?

Part 2!
Part 3!
Part 4!

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19 comments to “The Marville Horror Part 1: Better Sales Through Self-Immolation”

  1. Holy s**t! Never heard of this crap before, and I would’ve be much happier if I had never heard of it.


  2. Oh God, this is the comic that put naked women with pizza and X-Boxes on the cover to raise sales, isn’t it?


  3. Yes, Dane, this is the same comic.

    I had heard about this, and I thought it was supposed to be a parody of Smallville. Since I have never watched the show, I thought I wouldn’t get the jokes.


  4. This is the comic book a crazy person would write if they had never seen one in person before. I’m not sure I can follow a single bit of logic in the whole thing.


  5. Wait, so Jemas thought that Peter David’s writing was too insular and self-referential–and the answer was a comic book based on insider jokes about the comic industry? Way to reach out to the common man, dude.


  6. God, this looks like the worst shit ever.


  7. @Dane: By the end that wasn’t even the most tasteless cover, arguably.

    @J. Roberts: It’s okay, by issue three he broke off that terrible idea for… something else.


  8. I’m so “glad” I read this in the book store. At least, compared to buying it. And I’m pretty sure that the chopping-meteors has something to do with the Atlanta Braves (I have no interest in baseball, racist mascots or not).


  9. Now I see why so many people hate Bill Jemas.


  10. Don’t forget that this was actually a THREE-WAY BET, with the third book involved being Ultimate Adventures. Granted, UA was so unremarkable it is hard to remember it.


  11. http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Image:Marville_6.jpg

    http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Image:Marville_7.jpg

    is this not the same face?


  12. @No one in particular: I did mention that. See paragraph 3: “(Ron Zimmerman somehow wedged himself into this contest with Ultimate Adventures. Not a single person knows why.)”


  13. You know, MD Bright is quite a good artist. And this is the last project I remember with his name attached. Is that right?

    That seems… shameful. Perhaps the most shameful part of this whole thing.


  14. I don’t think rationality comes into this…but if it were necessary to assume there was a rational explanation for this comic, the best guess I could come up with would be that it was deliberately meant to be this bad so as to sharpen the dig at Peter David, i.e., “Even a piece of crap like this could outsell his book!” But I don’t actually think this was the intent. Here’s why:

    Steve Gerber told the story of being asked by Jemas to script an alleged humor comic that would have been a mean-spirited attack on Paul Levitz. Gerber was amazed and disgusted Jemas would dare ask this, given that Gerber and Levitz were friends since before Paul entered the comics industry — back when he was a fanzine publisher and Steve would keep him posted on the latest news from Marvel.

    I always figured this was the comic Gerber was talking about. If so, I suspect this was actually an idea Jemas had been nurturing for a long time, and the ridiculous bet with David was simply a pretext for him to finally get it published — having to write it himself because no one else would touch it. But this is pure speculation on my part.


  15. It’s like Ambush Bug, only mean-spirited and with all of the wit and cleverness sucked out.


  16. [...] Publishing | Fletcher Arnett recalls Marvel’s 2002 miniseries Marville, Publisher Bill Jemas’ ill-conceived entry in the “U-Decide” wager with Captain Marvel writer Peter David. [4thletter!] [...]


  17. Ultimate Adventures was Joe Q’s entry into U-Decide. But since Joe was too busy with EiC duties, Zimmerman was put on board as the writer. If you look up interviews on U-Decide from around the time of the books came out, it’ll discuss that factoid.

    Also, MD Bright is great. I’m re-reading the first Armor Wars right now and his covers and interior work (though mostly breakdowns here and there) are wonderful.


  18. Bill Jemas asked me to pitch to follow him on Marville.

    I pitched. Wrote a scene where Marvel was burned to the ground by Glycon.

    Never heard back.


  19. After seven years the lightbulb finally goes on. I never understood why the comic was called “Marville” until now. Marville. Smallville. I can’t believe I didn’t get that.