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“Joe Quesada, Our Reagan?”

Amidst the business that constitutes my life, I got to travel and during travel, I found out that Joe Quesada was stepping down from Marvel. I found out mid-transfer of airports and barely had time to react. I have barely had time to sample the “discourse” around Quesada’s departure of Marvel, whether it’s valedictory or critical, or if there’s any kind of halo effect that’s set in. So I’m not going to react to that yet. At the same time, I do think I have a lot to say and add to Quesada’s time at Marvel and hey that’s what this platform is for, right? I do think that contemplating Quesada’s tenure at Marvel can tell us something significant about the status of superhero continuity comics of the 2000s and 2010s. And putting Quesada’s tenure under a lens can tell us a good deal about the idea of careers and how to evaluate questions of success.

Since as far as I’ve read Marvel comics, Joe Quesada was in some way or another in charge of Marvel Comics. His job title was Editor in Chief during 2000-2011 and after that he changed titles and became Chief Creative Officer in 2011, a position he held until a 2019 shuffling when Kevin Feige got the designation of CCO and Quesada became Executive Vice President and Creative Officer until 2022.

Neutrally speaking, without any value (positive and/or negative) attached, Quesada was in many ways one of the most decisive figures in my comics reading experience. I had written before of the impact of Quesada’s editorial decisions with OMD and OMIT here and here. To comics fans starting in the last 20 years, they got to experience Quesada’s Marvel and nothing that came before. It took a considerable amount of research on my part to go to a pre-Quesada era, to unearth the older and considerably more radical order that had been displaced by his counter-revolution. That made me increasingly put the 2000s-2010s in a historical context, and also Quesada himself. Not Quesada the person, to which I have absolute indifference, but rather Quesada the EIC and corporate officer.

THE EIC AS MARVEL POTUS

Back in the day it was understood that Jameson was the Stand-In for the EIC in charge at the time.

The Editor-In-Chief of Marvel used to be understood as equivalent to the POTUS of Marvel. The EIC was the person whose thumbs up and thumbs down sunk books, they decided on the writer/artist team, and occasionally they could micromanage whole storylines. The EIC position in Marvel is fairly unique, because while a similar position came into effect in DC, the situation there was different owing to the fact that its two major titles historically (Batman, Superman) outsold the rest of line and the line editors of Batman and Superman individually had more say company-wise than the overall DC fellow in charge. With Marvel, owing to its combined universe nature this wasn’t necessarily the case all the way, though there were certainly moments individually and publication wise of the tail wagging the dog here and there.

Historically speaking the Editor in Chief role was to, put it mildly, a job that was not only thankless but essentially bred with hostility. As Christopher Priest (formerly James Owsley) put it:

Jim Owsley/Christopher Priest in the 1980s, 22 and Editor of Spider-Man.

“The Marvel EIC chair has a certain curse that goes along with it: it tends to drive people insane, and, ultimately, out of the business altogether. It is the notorious last stop for many staffers, as once you’ve sat in The Big Chair, your pariah status is usually locked in.”

Christopher Priest “Why I Never Discuss Spider-Man”
[1]

With two exceptions, in the history of Marvel Comics, most EICs were fired or dismissed involuntarily. It was not a job meant to win popularity contests and the EIC became the de facto company man and official bad guy in chief. Sometimes, an EIC was faulted for being too controlling and micro-managing (such as Bob Harras) and other times for being too laissez-faire (Tom Defalco, who greenlit The Clone Saga despite not being on board with the idea in the first place because of how much writers were into that idea).

Between 1972-1978, Marvel Comics had five editors in chief none of whom held the position for very long,
From Left to Right: Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Marve Wolfman, Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin.

Between Stan Lee and Joe Quesada, there were eight EICs, and all of them were dismissed or fired from their post, or chased out of the chair, or left out of a lack of commitment to wanting to be the official “bad guy”. Much as George Washington commanded esteem to stand above partisan fray, seemingly, during the early Republic, Stan Lee had total authority and esteem but after he left the building (with a Washingtonian cloud hanging over his legacy I might add), there were several fans turned comics’ writers and fellow friends who couldn’t push each other around and professionalize. Until Jim Shooter stepped up to the plate, and decided to be the “bad guy” in the Billie Eilish sense.

Assessing EIC is a lot like assessing Presidents of the United States in the sense that evaluations about their time in office tend to go up and down over time, and questions of success are always complicated by history. This analogy was brought home by Gary Groth in his famous article “Jim Shooter, Our Nixon” [2].

Stan Lee of course is Washington complete with a cloud hanging over their “Founding Status.” Washington is given credit for founding the nation even if he was a general who never won a major military engagement, didn’t take part in the draft and signing of the Declaration of Independence and had no say in the writing of the Constitution.

Analogies for other EIC and POTUS is dicey since there are far more POTUS than EIC at present. Likewise, politics don’t line up with aesthetics since it’s not clear to me how different EIC voted in various eras. Still, one can be politically liberal and aesthetically conservative or culturally conservative and vice versa (though the latter is more rarely observed these days). So while Quesada seems to be liberal in inclination, I can’t think of a better analogy than Ronald Reagan.

What distinguished Lee, and subsequently Quesada, is that they were the only ones to walk out of the EIC chair to a promotion to a higher post, whereas Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Jim Shooter, Tom Defalco, Bob Harras were all removed from their position for a variety of political and economic reasons. So Joe Quesada has a historic achievement. In terms of his career, he’s a successful EIC in the same way that Ronald Reagan is a successful POTUS (two terms, his VP succeeded him on his policy platform right after).

Ronald Reagan in terms of career is a successful politician and president. But historically, it’s controversial and contentious to call the President with a historically corrupt administration (until 45, the one with the most indictments of any Presidency) and international blunders such as the Iran-Contra deal and domestic ones like AIDS, to be a “good” President. There are of course several (full disclosure: me) who would consider Reagan to be a very bad President, and see his success as a cause for concern in terms of lowering the norms of political discourse and threshold for acceptable qualities in an officeholder.

Empirically speaking, one doesn’t have to go as far as POTUS to come across individuals whose outward success stands so at odds with the negative impact of their actions in the world around them. We find such individuals in our daily lives in various levels. Quesada’s success as an EIC, as a corporate officer, while of obvious significance to himself and the people in his life, is of no significance when it comes to evaluating his tenure as EIC and his overall legacy in the scheme of all things Marvel, and all things comics.

CRITERIA FOR EVALUATING

“Textual Harassment”, Oct. 10, 2010 by Comics Critics. The most succinct way to assess Marvel Editors that I know of. [4]

Now obviously speaking, the criteria for evaluating an EIC is going to be subjective. Disagreeing with Quesada’s editorial decisions, which I do, is valid but that’s the mere reflexive subjective appraisal and not a considered one.

I think it’s possible to judge EIC in terms of:

  • Stories and ideas sponsored, introduced, and directly creditable to them.
  • Changes of culture in terms of organization and values they introduced.
  • Overall impact and influence.

The job of the Marvel EIC is to be the company man and represent the Intellectual properties. As Jim Shooter described it,

“I don’t know whether most people grok this idea, but the Editor in Chief is charged with governing, managing and protecting all of the characters. It was my job to make sure the characters were in character, and I was the final word on what “in character” was…The company relied upon me to manage and protect the company’s intellectual properties.”

Jim Shooter [3]

In practice, that means that the first and essential job of the EIC is to side with management and never with the creators. That is to say any Marvel EIC who is pro-union in a real sense will be insta-fired. It’s automatic career suicide.

That of course raises the question if any EIC can actually be “good” at their job in the same way if any arms dealer can be considered “good” at their job.

In the case of Jim Shooter, he was anti-union as any Marvel EIC and actively moved in his first months on the job to shut down union drives on behalf of upper management, representing the interests of Marvel’s then corporate-owner and Stan Lee (publisher and “elder statesman” who also had a record of anti-labor and union sabotage).

Paradoxically, Shooter also has the most progressive record of any Marvel EIC. In fact the Quesada years saw a wave of reassessment for Shooter similar to how the formerly despised Ulysses Grant was given a fresh reassessment during the previous two decades’ reckoning with Confederate historiography.

Shooter’s most important initiative in creator compensation was the establishment of a codified sales-bonus plan for scriptwriters, penciler/cartoonists, and inkers. In the first half of 1981, Shooter, cartoonist Jim Starlin, and Marvel’s de facto publisher Michael Hobson finalized the contract for The Death of Captain Marvel, the first book in Marvel’s Euro-album “graphic novel” line. The contract included a royalty clause for copies sold. It was the first contract for a Marvel publication featuring company-owned characters to include such a provision. That November, Marvel’s chief competitor DC Comics upped the ante by announcing a sales-royalty arrangement for their periodical comics line.

R. S. Martin [5]

The following month, Shooter established a similar plan for all Marvel newsstand comics selling in excess of 100,000 copies (TCJ 70, pp. 10-12). Since all the company’s newsstand titles were selling in those numbers, every scriptwriter, penciler, and inker at Marvel would see the equivalent of royalties for their work. Daredevil was Marvel’s top-selling title for the first month of the program, and writer-penciler Frank Miller received a $6000 sales bonus for that month’s issue. A sliding scale was later introduced, and under it, John Byrne received a $30,000 sales bonus for writing, penciling, and inking the first issue of Alpha Flight in 1983. Several Marvel writers and artists began to enjoy affluent income levels. Shooter testified under oath in 1986 that scriptwriters Chris Claremont and Bill Mantlo respectively earned $230,000 and $120,000 from Marvel in 1985 (TCJ 115, p. 104). Long-time comics artist Bernie Wrightson summed up the improved business situation in a 1982 interview: “[Marvel has] gotten a hell of a lot more reasonable in recent years. In fact, I don’t know if you’ve heard about the new contracts that Marvel is offering, but these things are just dreamy” (TCJ 76, p. 109).

R. S. Martin [5]

Some would argue that more would have been done had Shooter not posed as much as a company man or taken the default anti-union position. But as Robert Caro said, power doesn’t corrupt so much as it reveals:

We’re taught Lord Acton’s axiom: all power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I believed that when I started these books, but I don’t believe it’s always true any more. Power doesn’t always corrupt. Power can cleanse. What I believe is always true about power is that power always reveals. When you have enough power to do what you always wanted to do, then you see what the guy always wanted to do.”

Robert Caro [6]

When given power over Marvel, Shooter used it to improve things for the freelancers, for the editors, and the artists. He did so far more than those who came before or since. That can’t be dismissed. Shooter seemed to have acted on the belief of paternalistic interior reform. Reform the company from within, make it better from top-down, and provide better handouts, which didn’t count for much in the grand scheme of things but since then, no Marvel EIC has bothered to innovate greatly or significantly in terms of office practices, and Marvel as a company has more or less kept his reforms and added little to it.

As an editor, Shooter’s commitment to the company line, also meant that he upheld Marvel Comics’ silence on representation of homosexuality in the comics in the 1980s and overrode Claremont’s intentions to include explicit queer representation in X-Men. Which is to say that Shooter aligned himself with the dominant tendencies of Marvel and DC of that era and did little to use his power to push for greater representation [7]. At the same time, under his tenure he did allow POC legacies (like James Rhodes as Iron Man, Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel) and improved diversity on staff (Ann Nocenti, Louise Simonson, Jim Owsley). Likewise, Shooter did engage LGBTQ fashion pioneer Willi Smith to design Mary Jane Watson’s wedding gown, suggesting that he wasn’t a personal homophobe (not that it excuses his actions in enforcing the company line).

The Presidential analogy most fitting for Shooter is perhaps not Nixon, contrary to Groth’s polemic. But rather a mix of Ulysses Grant and Lyndon B. Johnson. An internal system reformist, busybody personnel manager, power player, making a Faustian bargain for progressive ends like Johnson, and personal sincerity wed to power that came at the expense of withering his support base and his legacy, much like Grant. Both Johnson’s and Grant’s legacies are seen more positively in the last two decades than before. Today Grant’s not remembered for his administration official’s corruption so much as his Pro-Native American policies and his defense of Reconstruction and the defeat of the First KKK. Johnson hasn’t been forgiven for the Vietnam War just yet, but it’s seen in a more tragic light in the context of his longer career arc as a consistent reformist who sought to heighten and deepen the New Deal’s progressive vision through the Civil Rights Act and the Great Society.

Shooter is an example of an EIC whose career ended in failure, since after being fired from Marvel, Shooter was never given a high position commensurate to his talents again, while Bob Harras after being driven out of Marvel to a plum position in DC where his personal conduct was most sordid in his indifference to accusations about Eddie Breganza [8]. People mourned Harras’ firing from DC [9]. Whereas Shooter’s was celebrated with parties.

The example of Shooter complicates the simple narrative of success by which we look at careers in the public space. So the question of evaluating EIC is about evaluating individuals with power. Once given power, once there were few excuses, what was done with power by those who wielded it?

MARVEL KNIGHTS

Joe Quesada began his career at Marvel as editor of the label: Marvel Knights. Before that he had established himself as an artist on various titles, most significantly DC, (he designed the look of Azrael’s Batman costume). Working with Jimmy Palmiotti, Quesada worked on Marvel Knights to seek out new approaches to characters whose star had dimmed or fallen by the wayside. This led to a number of notable runs: Paul Jenkins on The Inhumans, Garth Ennis on The Punisher (which led in turn to the more influential MAX run later on), Kevin Smith on Daredevil for the Guardian Devil story (among the first notable instances of a known film-maker working on a major ongoing monthly title), followed by the run on Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis/Alex Maleev which was more defining.

The most defining was engaging Christopher Priest to work on Black Panther, a run that established T’Challa of Wakanda as a lead superhero in an ongoing, and the version of Black Panther that largely shaped the Ryan Coogler film starring Chadwick Boseman.

In my opinion, as editor, Quesada’s greatest achievement was his stewardship of Marvel Knights before he became Editor in Chief. On the whole his time on MK is a good microcosm for the spectrum of his career. This includes an ability to recruit out-of-the-box writers from other mediums (Smith during MK, JMS during his EIC days), spotting up-and-coming talent (Bendis), as well as ringing in the likes of Priest with a second chance after he had burned his bridges with Marvel in the 1980s.

It also includes however, a tendency to force his pet-peeves when not needed such as recommending Kevin Smith to kill off Karen Page in a gratuitous manner in Guardian Devil [10]. Quesada is fine in the basic work of editor, bringing in talent, curating their work but less so when he’s proffering story ideas. There’s also the occasions when Quesada rather than sticking to working as an artist (of largely middling to mediocre talent in my view, but with some moments here and there), also tried to handle duties as a writer as in Daredevil: Father which left a great deal to be desired [Special Thanks to Alan Hall and @Exalted_Speed on twitter for directing me to this].

Still on balance, on the basis of Marvel Knights, and the nature of Marvel at the time of 2000 with Bob Harras and the bankruptcy causing a mess, there’s little argument to be made against Quesada getting the job of EIC.

He had more than earned his keep to the gig, and certainly deserved it based on what he had done before. In short, few would have reason in the late 90s to suspect that Quesada would become as divisive and polarizing a figure as he would later, no more than many of the left-wing voters of Tony Blair expected he would align Labour with neo-conservatism by co-invading Iraq years into his first Ministry, forever tarnishing Labour’s ethical foundations in the process.

RELATIVE AND ABSOLUTE CREDIT

Ultimate Marvel. Ya hadda be there to see this and feel the total absence of nostalgia.

Bill Jemas was President of Marvel, when Joe Quesada became EIC. At the time, Marvel was owned by its futurely notorious owner Isaac Perlmutter (who still sits on the boardroom chair of Disney). Marvel Comics headed into bankruptcy in the early 2000s, and then shortly thereafter there was a turnaround. Some would credit Quesada for that, and in a sense he deserves a share of the credit. But at the same time, there’s a question of relative credit and absolute credit.

  • I’ve credited Quesada for bringing in talent to Marvel as editor, but the truth is that talent has always been drawn to Marvel and driven out by Marvel (and any company). Even Bob Harras, who I’d rank as Marvel’s worst EIC, deserves credit for greenlighting Thunderbolts and Spider-Girl even if ethically, much he did tarnished his name. Where Jim Shooter actively cultivated little known figures like Frank Miller (at the time a staff artist on Spider-Man and Daredevil with no proven writing career) to gain a platform to do a major run on an obscure title like Daredevil, Quesada with the major exception of Bendis, largely roped in talent that had proven themselves whether it’s J. Michael Straczynski on Bablyon 5 or his comics series, Kevin Smith, Paul Jenkins, Ennis, Christopher Priest, Joss Whedon, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Warren Ellis and so on.

  • Quesada’s one major innovation was bringing in Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman to write for Marvel, both being major lights of the 1980s British Invasion who had associated with the British Invasion. At the same time, Quesada is also responsible for driving Morrison to DC again after a public spat with Morrison, when they latter announced a move to DC leavind Quesada to confront him over this “betrayal” [11]. Another writer he feuded with was Robert Kirtman [12]. Engaging Neil Gaiman at Marvel led to 1602 and Eternals, comics that while not without is virtues is far from Gaiman’s best work in comics and certainly not masterpieces of any kind. Of course, Gaiman not delivering Marvel Comics’ very own The Sandman isn’t Quesada’s fault but it’s a case of a roll of a dice landing snake eyes.

  • During Quesada’s time at Marvel, there were two new imprints at Marvel: MAX and Ultimate Marvel. Both of them can be absolutely credited to Bill Jemas, company president, while Quesada can be relatively credited for their execution. In the case of Ultimate Marvel, as covered previously, Quesada was opposed to the concept at the start, so crediting Quesada for the success of Ultimate Marvel is a bit odd and judging from his later activities (justifying Ultimate Spider-Man’s success to defend OMD) quite hypocritical.

The ironic aspect of Quesada’s career is that if he had left Marvel around 2005, he would have had a more positive portfolio, but he also would have little to claim in terms of absolute credit.

Sure Quesada drew in talent, but the major name writer he roped in (Grant Morrison) is someone he in turn drove away, only for them to write a major run for DC at Batman. Had Morrison not gone on to do defining work after leaving Marvel, Quesada would likely be vindicated in his argument but fortune was not on his side. And in any case, crediting editors for attracting talent can only go so far. After all Gaiman didn’t provide Marvel anything truly close to his best work. His work for Marvel is engaging in terms of “worst of [Insert Great Artist] is gonna be more interesting than the best any mediocre artist will do” but it’s not on the level of Morrison’s New X-Men to say the least. So with Quesada and talent, it’s a question of luck in relative terms and not absolute terms.

In relative terms, Quesada’s success prior to 2005 is down to stuff that any average EIC before him would have done. The major initiative which brought Marvel publicity and attention, Ultimate Marvel, was down to Bill Jemas. And even the transformative nature of Ultimate Marvel has been exaggerated (as covered here). What truly turned things around for Marvel financially was the success of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 1, which was effectively out of Quesada’s hands.

So what exactly can Quesada be absolutely credited with?

THE THREE GENIES

I first came across Joe Quesada’s name on wikipedia sometime around 2003. It was a page on Mary Jane Watson describing behind the scenes stuff, with Quesada quoted for opposing the marriage but also being against the divorce. It struck me as weird to see an EIC rail against the direction of a major title and the interests of his fans given that JMS was actively working to make the marriage work. The kind of thing that to my knowledge didn’t happen before and were it to happen now, would be seen as a controversial move by a boss to undermine his own company product and likely result in a walkback or a firing. At the time, however, social media hadn’t yet taken hold and comics press was small and insular. It’s a sign if anything of the relative candor of Marvel in that time as opposed to later.

Still Quesada got on my radar then. A while later, a concept by Quesada called “the three genies,” he wished to put back into the bottle came into my attention. I mentioned this briefly here. For Quesada, the three genies were:

“…what I’ve said in the past was that there were three genies that I wanted to get back in the bottle”

* Cut down the number of mutants so that they became special again. See “House of M.”

* Make the Marvel Universe as unpredictable a place as it was in the early 1960s. See “Civil War.”

* Bring Peter Parker back to single status. See “One More Day.”

Joe Quesada. [13]

Generally speaking, in terms of absolute credit. It is achieving these three things on which Quesada can derive absolute credit. At most one of them might have happened on the watch of another EIC, but all three of them happening under Quesada is a case of something only he, as an individual, with the power and platform given to him, would have done.

In terms of Quesada’s career, those who wish to defend his career often cite the early 2000s over the mid-to-late 2000s but essentially they are defending Quesada at his most powerless and least influential rather than him with his most conviction.

The fact is that the three stories Quesada describes: House of M, Civil War, One More Day are the three most important stories Marvel has published in the 2000s. The status-quo of these three stories has proven lasting and with the tentative exception of House of M, none of them have been undone. Some might assert a fourth (Hickman’s Secret Wars) but even SW’2015 largely preserved the status-quo of these three stories, and it might be his X-Men run proved an interregnum.

Before Quesada, Marvel had done event storylines but never with the intention of directly shaping and altering the continuity. Jim Shooter’s Secret Wars 1984 was the first event comic and introduced story concepts and ideas that later writers took forward but even Shooter didn’t in any respect rewire Marvel Continuity around Secret Wars forever forward. He added to what existed before. Same with Jim Starlin’s The Infinity Gauntlet. Both the stories changed things, but they did so by addition, and not by subtracting things in its favor.

What makes the trifecta of House of M, Civil War, One More Day unique is that they are consequential stories and important stories, but also bad stories. OMD speaks for itself at this point but I’ll cover the other two in passing:

  • The critical reputation of Mark Millar’s Civil War was divisive during release because of Mark Millar’s writing being hit and miss. This story essentially placed the Avengers at the center of the Marvel Universe in a way they never were before and it also elevated Iron Man into a position in the Marvel hierarchy that his best run by David Michelinie never organically attained. Civil War was of course immensely successful and the idea of Tony Stark and Captain America going to battle and being at each other’s throats is provided Marvel it’s own version of the Frank Miller TDKR Superman/Batman rivalry. However, it must pointed out that the event that actually brought CIVIL WAR to the attention of comics press was Spider-Man’s unmasking, which was an editorial stunt quite separate from the story [14].

  • Of the three stories, House of M is the best written but it’s also the most confusing and diffuse in its focus. It’s by far the most influential and defining story that Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff ever appeared in, and yet she’s not the protagonist of the story and barely shows up. The true protagonist is more or less Magneto, and his poor parenting causing tragedy, a la Tennessee Williams. It’s also a bit confusing and weird in a lot of its smaller parts, and the major bombshell of Wanda erasing mutant powers isn’t organically connected to the story in any way, since the inciting element of House of M is tied to stuff in the Avengers continuity (i.e. Wanda’s children being mind-wiped from her and so on). The X-Men mutant erasure is transparently an attempt to kneecap Marvel’s most popular and beloved team and diminish it in favor of the Avengers. Had the story been centered around Wanda, it would be “no more Avengers” and the Avengers being unable for magical reasons to add more members to its roster than the Big 3 and a few others.

So we have three stories whose value and importance is so glaringly at odds with the actual content of the stories, and which has generally not risen in significant esteem among the best works of their respective creative team.

And these three stories are the crux of Quesada’s legacy as EIC. It’s what defines and distinguishes him. Important but bad stories. Stories that are more important than better stories that came before and after, thanks not so much to its quality or even in terms of commercial success, but solely through the institutionalization of their status-quo by management.

THE SHADOW EIC

Casino (1995): “All you got to do is keep changing your job title. Like, uh, from Casino Executive to Food and Beverage Chairman. And what happens is they take your application and they put it at the bottom of the pile.”

Quesada was EIC until 2011 and became Chief Creative Officer in 2011, where his portfolio was, “to ensure that all portrayals of Marvel’s characters and stories remain true to the essence of Marvel history.” The problem with assessing Quesada’s role as CCO is that it happened after Disney’s purchase of Marvel so there’s a stonewall in terms of corporate silencing and NDA in this time. Publicly Quesada’s time as EIC was more transparent by comparison though even then there’s a lot of haze around One More Day in particular, likely because it happened in the year before the Disney deal, and everything was kept on the QT in alignment with their future overlords.

Since Quesada stepped down as EIC, he’s been succeeded by first, Axel Alonso, and then C. B. Cebulski. So the question is why make a to-do of Quesada leaving Marvel when he left EIC a decade back? Some have argued, even those whose judgments I value, that the Quesada era is long over.

Well, there’s a big question as to whether the EIC as position means what it did before Disney, and with Quesada promoted directly above them as their seniors, whether EIC coming after him have freedom to take editorial in a different direction than before? Every EIC between Stan Lee and Quesada was fired from their job, or removed before their time, for a variety of reasons (justified or unjustified).

Anecdotally, there’s evidence that Quesada is still involved in editorial decisions at Marvel afterwards:

  • Donny Cates confirmed that when he made a pitch for an Inhumans story at a writer’s retreat, it was Quesada’s approval that sealed the deal when that kind of decisions is the EIC’s purview. [15]

  • Chip Zdarsky likewise affirmed that Quesada was one of the figures he pitched his run on Daredevil to[16]. While Nick Spencer likewise claimed that it was Quesada who gave a go-ahead to bring back the Peter/MJ romance[17]. Why would these writers need Quesada’s say-so? Isn’t the EIC in charge the final word, is it not down to C. B. Cebulski?

Dan Slott in one of his frequent attempts to court publicity claimed the following on a CBR Forum:

There is no administration in the near or distant future that will ever reinstate the marriage to the core continuity version of Spider-Man EVER again.

Could the two of them become a couple again? Yes. That could happen.

Could there be an alternate continuity where they’re married? You bet. And we worked to make that happen.

Will they ever be married again? Never.

Is there some future person out there who loves the marriage and will someday wind up a creator or editor at Marvel? Could happen.

Will they be able to reinstate the marriage of these two Marvel characters?

No.

Dan Slott. “Thread Drift: Will One More Day Ever Be Reversed?” 03-10-2017, 01:34 PM Comment #17
[18]

There are elements of this job which are about brand management. I could go into how and why this works, but I’m not going to.
There are factors at work here that are not taken into consideration by fans.
There are things fans don’t even add into their “math” when they think about outcomes that they’d like (like, in this case, reinstating the marriage).
Yes, everyone who works in comics IS a fan. No one falls into the job of writer or editor or editor-in-chief by accident.
Everyone who works in comics does this because we dearly love it.
But there are aspects to this job where if you approach it PURELY as a fan and DON’T take those factors into account– you will NOT survive. You will NOT get certain assignments. You will NOT reach certain levels or positions. You will NOT get to affect the changes you would like. And because of that, there are some changes/choices/concepts that WILL NEVER HAPPEN. Not oh-maybe-someday-the-right-person-will-end-up-in-the-right-place-and-THEN-it’ll-happen! NO. NEVER. Again, it’s about fighting battles vs. winning wars.

Dan Slott. [18]

Dan Slott often invaded a number of CBR forums where he wasn’t discussed in the main and waded into topics that didn’t directly concern his run. This was the most notable and extended one. Psychologically, it’s interesting why a writer of such a successful run whose sales size he constantly feels the need to brag about, in the same way certain middle aged men like to brag about the size of other recent purchases, needed to wade in such detail and such extent for a story that as he claims was 9 years old at the point and which he claims has been buried by his run. But let’s leave aside the psychological aspect.

Generally speaking it’s poor form to attempt to win an argument with anyone using asymmetrical knowledge. Obviously, Slott knows a great deal about Marvel Corporate that he cannot reveal publicly, far more than any fan. But equally obvious, is he can’t know everything about Marvel Corporate since, he’s a freelancer and not an actual employee, and obviously he’s speaking to win the argument online using inside knowledge as a cudgel, rather than sharing the information so that others can assess it on their own. The latter would be career suicide of course, but that just goes to show that keeping a career isn’t often in line with fair play and ethics.

The Matrix Resurrections: Which among other things is a good OMD allegory. Also really underrated.

Now some Spider-Man fans felt despair at this, but for me it confirmed an essential fact that namely that “single Spider-Man” is a corporate shill and that the married Spider-Man is the heart of the public domain and in general, Slott just confirmed that reading Spider-Man after BND and normalizing it is tantamount to corporate control and that being a fan of the Spider-Marriage is anti-corporate. In short, a great self-own and a great gift to the opposing side.

More importantly, it does seem to confirm that Quesada has institutionalized his EIC regime in Marvel and that editors in chief who come after him have less power than before. So Quesada in effect has become a Shadow EIC, the EIC who come after him have less say and influence than before, and the idea seems to have been to not depart fundamentally from the status quo he kept in place. Sure the X-Men under Jonathan Hickman’s regime seem to have moved past House of M but Hickman didn’t complete his run and it’s vague and murky what the reasons could be. And the X-Men while less abused than what Hickman called “the Lost Decade,” do seem to lack the grandeur of the Claremont years when nothing was fenced in.

Given Quesada spent another decade as CCO, a lot of hires, interns, and appointees, would have been boosted up by him, which does mean that a lot of positions, as Slott himself indicated, would be sought out by people under the expectation that they not rock the boat. So it does seem unlikely that OMD will be reversed in short order after Quesada departs. Unlikely but not impossible. It might be a while. After all, the world hasn’t completely pulled out of the neoliberal regime of Reagan and Thatcher despite 2008, Trump, and COVID, but the political spectrum has widened leftwards significantly beyond what was constricted in the 80s and 90s.

CCO

Joe Quesada’s “cameo” in Marvel Spider-Man (2017).

The Chief Creative Officer is a position that is vague and confusing. And again lacking access to company records, we can’t say for certain what it entails. So judging Quesada’s role in that position is a bit hard at present.

We can best assess it in terms of what’s not done, then what is.

For instance, artists and writers like David Aja, Ed Brubaker, Jim Starlin, among others have complained about low pay and lack of royalties from Marvel Comics [19]. So obviously, that means that the elevation of an artist into a corporate position has not led to any appreciable improvement for Marvel creators. Maybe Quesada dissented in private or reformed here and there but there’s no evidence and little reason to assume that Quesada used his power to bring about any appreciable improvements to the lot of comics creators. Obviously by becoming a Marvel suit, Quesada long ago decided to not be Neal Adams (a great artist and a union activist, rest in power), but Quesada was no Jim Shooter either, an imperfect but genuine reformist.

As CCO, Quesada commissioned and produced Marvel animation ventures like Marvel Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Man, cartoons that are quite bad. Quesada even cameod in Marvel Spider-Man as a coffeehouse owner, becoming the second EIC to cameo in entertainment properties after Stan Lee, which is quite the dare since even Kevin Feige (Lee’s true successor) hasn’t done that yet. Quesada also has a production credit on the Netflix Marvel shows although to what extent is dubious. We do know that Jeph Loeb was involved in a Marvel capacity in that show, and he’s recorded voicing anti-Asian sentiments [20]. Quesada was Loeb’s colleague so did he dissent or assent?

Some would argue that Quesada did contribute diversity to Marvel but even so, rarely in advance. Miles Morales appeared after Obama’s election and Donald Glover’s failed campaign to be Peter, not before. It’s on the level of Stan Lee introducing diversity in the 1970s after the Civil Rights had proven here to stay and not before. The female Wolverine, X-23, was created for X-Men Evolution and Quesada’s sole contribution was introducing her as a prostitute (!) when importing her to Marvel 616. Let’s not forget that Quesada sought to bench the X-Men, Marvel’s most diverse and beloved team, into the background and margins of Marvel while shining the focus on the largely white Avengers. On the credit side, in his time at Marvel Knights, Quesada did sponsor and encourage Priest’s run on Black Panther and that’s commendable.

Quesada was involved in the so-called “Creative Committee” that had a say in MCU productions until Kevin Feige exercised a power play from Captain America Civil War onwards[21]. In 2019, Feige got Quesada’s job title though his portfolio seems greater than Quesada since Quesada reported to Perlmutter while Feige answers only to Disney’s suits and there’s effectively no one between Feige and Disney at Marvel, making him the head of the company.

CONCLUSION

Gary Groth’s article on Shooter accusing him of being “Our Nixon” made sense in its time. Groth, the publisher of TCJ and Fantagraphics, was an activist for creator’s rights movements and getting Jack Kirby his original art returned to him. Shooter was the company man defending Marvel, so he was the designated “bad guy.” Which is absolutely justifiable in the context in the same way the chants against LBJ during the protests against the Vietnam War was justifiable, even if we now assess LBJ in a more complex light, just as we do Shooter.

I think “Our LBJ” applies better to Shooter than “Our Nixon”. By contrast, I think there’s more ground to consider Quesada “Our Reagan” with the charitable option being “Our Clinton” or “Our Tony Blair”. The same mix of recursive nostalgia for a never-existent past and the same attempt to win a debate by narrowing the spectrum of possibility so much so that alternatives aren’t considered or thought as possible. Margaret Thatcher said, “there is no alternative” and Slott asserted above there’s no alternative to the version of the Marvel Universe built by Quesada, who used corporate power to institutionalize his views and judgments, and reproduced that mentality into his minions.

But perhaps I am judging Quesada too harshly. And conflating the creative with the corporate. Not everyone against the marriage is a corporate stooge after all. The alternative, a pro-corporate stooge being in favor of the marriage is more ethically troubling a prospect and I am grateful that Quesada has combined this binary. Likewise, today Kevin Feige has more power than every EIC in Marvel combined (including Stan Lee himself), and he certainly is not keen to improve things for the Marvel employee any more either. Still, contrary to its declared intent, Quesada took the Marvel Universe that was once unpredictable and not always under control of people in charge to one that is fenced in, rigid, stale and dry. The methods and means of doing so was actively reactionary and hostile to any criticism or reproach, simply asserting a will to power.

If we are to assess Quesada, there’s a temptation to see the 20 years of his time at Marvel as one of success and individually it is. But it was success for Quesada that by and large wasn’t shared or distributed to his fellow colleagues in any significant sense, and which creatively leaves behind many smoky craters and few gardens of lilies.

REFERENCES

  1. https://lamerciepark.com/legacy/comics/spidey.html

  2. https://www.tcj.com/jim-shooter-our-nixon-by-gary-groth-1994/

  3. http://jimshooter.com/2011/06/origin-of-phoenix-saga.html/

  4. https://comiccritics.com/2010/10/10/textual-harrasment/

  5. http://rsmwriter.blogspot.com/2016/06/jim-shooter-second-opinion.html

  6. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/jun/10/lyndon-b-johnson-robert-caro-biography

  7. https://gayleague.com/jim-shooters-other-homosexual/

  8. https://womenwriteaboutcomics.com/2021/02/bob-harras-an-oral-history-in-collage/

  9. https://www.comicsbeat.com/dc-layoffs-reportedly-a-bloodbath/

  10. Timestamp: 08:39. https://www.syfy.com/syfy-wire/kevin-smith-jimmy-palmiotti-marvel-knights-daredevil-interviews

  11. Sean Howe. Marvel: The Untold Story. Part V: “A New Marvel”, Chapter 21.

  12. https://cosmicbook.news/robert-kirkman-marvel-comics-joe-quesada

  13. https://www.cbr.com/cup-o-qa-spider-man-the-hulk/

  14. https://gizmodo.com/the-real-reason-spider-man-revealed-his-secret-identity-1837705772

  15. Timestamp 16:15
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcENw27c-pU

  16. https://www.manwithoutfear.com/daredevil-interviews/Chip-Zdarsky

  17. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/comic-riffs/wp/2018/07/17/nick-spencer-takes-over-the-amazing-spider-man-and-will-focus-on-the-spidey-basics-laughs-and-love/

  18. https://community.cbr.com/showthread.php?92750-Thread-Drift-Will-One-More-Day-ever-be-reversed&p=2663270&viewfull=1#post2663270

  19. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-news/marvel-and-dcs-shut-up-money-comic-creators-go-public-over-pay-1234983043/

  20. https://deadline.com/2020/07/daredevil-peter-shinkoda-jeph-loeb-asian-racist-comments-1202995534/

  21. https://www.cbr.com/civil-war-marvel-tried-to-kill-captain-america-iron-man-fight-2/
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One thought on ““Joe Quesada, Our Reagan?”

  1. I don’t know much of really recent comics and most of Quseada’s influence I know just from Spider-Man but from my impression Quesada did let some writers have a little too much latitude and OTOH he had and pushed way too much constant Events and I think both of those had very bad impact.

    Liked by 1 person

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