In the book Marvel: The Untold Story its author Sean Howe makes the former Marvel President Bill Jemas sound like something of a nightmare to work with (or even vaguely know), and while he came up with some good ideas like ditching the comic’s code and increasing the number of trade paperbacks which were produced, the way he treated others was often pretty appalling and he had a vastly overly inflated sense of his own abilities when it came to creating comics.
Not that he was responsible for many, but just how terrible his writing is was made extremely apparent with his spoof parody comic Marville, where he created a character called KalAOL (as the company which owned DC was called AOL-Time-Warner back then) who initially lives in the year 5,002 before a meteor strike starts destroying the city. KalAOL’s father Ted Turner (who at the time was Vice President of AOL-Time Warner) sends him and his dog back in time to our present day, and a rather dumb plot involving KalAOL thinking he can stop time, and being rewarded millions after stopping a bank robbery, initially ensues.
Marville was created as part of a publicity stunt between Jemas and writers Joe Quesada and Peter David as part of a contest called U-Decide where the most popular comic would be published on a regular basis. Unsurprisingly Jemas lost and it was Peter David’s Captain Marvel series which won the contest but Jemas must have realised he was on a losing streak very early on as from the second issue onwards it stops trying to be an out and out parody and is rarely funny, the second still has the odd attempt at humour (with Peter David cameoing as an unemployed comic book writer being the kind of gag you might possibly smile at) and yet more jokes at the expense of AOL and Enron, plus a vigilante who looks an awful lot like Batman turns up to moan about his dead parents and beats the shit out of petty thieves, but it’s distinctly lacking in laughs.
Those first two issues are a very odd and unusual mix of Jemas’ attempts at philosophising about the nature of humanity and piss poor attempts at humour, so one minute there’s some misguided ideas about mortality before it suddenly starts making digs at Ted Turner, then Rush Limbaugh makes an appearance and they start discussing whether or not the homeless should be given money, and the jokes don’t work and the philosophising is painfully patronising. Even worse than that is that some of the attempts at humour are just plain horrible, like a bit where Iron Man almost uses the N word only for Batman to stop him, there’s also some heavy handed satire of the legal system and lawyers who defend the obviously guilty, and then they have Spike Lee taking on the role of the Kingpin in a bit which beggars belief, perhaps the intention was well meant but no, no, it’s all kinds of messy and easy to interpret as quite racist.
To be fair there’s a couple of okay moments, a couple of gags raised a minor smile, including how KalAOL at one point comments on the ticket black market “In the future the big-time scalpers call themselves Ticket Masters” and his new friend Mickey replies “Some things never change”, and the comic has a dig at the former Marvel owner Ron Perelman on the opening page, suggesting that it has taken 3,000 years for the company to recover from his time at Marvel, but these are few and far apart, and have dated badly, which is an ongoing theme as there are also jokes concerning Ted Turner’s The Goodwill Games and AOL cds.
When Jemas clearly noticed that people weren’t responding to the comic in a positive manner he all but ditched the humour (with KalAOL now going by the name of Al) and from the third issue onwards it’s all about his often quite weird opinions and thoughts about existence. Thus we get one character mocking another for being a vegan, there’s some bizarre discussion about what exactly God is and what he’s capable of, and Al and his friends travel back in time so that Jemas can throw in some exploration of science and how life only exists thanks to death (along with an especially dull bit about how photosynthesis works), and then all the characters go skinny dipping because yeesh, this is horrible indeed.
The fourth issue is Jemas’s guide to dinosaurs, and Jemas explains how he genuinely believes that some could talk (I feel the urge to point out at this point I’m not making this up, and this really did happen in a mainstream series), some tiresome nonsense concerning the “Ten percent of the brain myth” with Jemas unsurprisingly subscribing to it, though at the time it was still widely believed so I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard upon him, as much as I want to be, and there’s more bland observations about evolution. If you’d never learnt or spoken to someone about the history of the world perhaps (and it’s a big perhaps) some of it might be of interest, but I can’t imagine many hadn’t been made aware of the ideas suggested here, which makes it all the stranger.
The cover of the fifth issue features a naked woman with a shapely posterior and enormous breasts, because it appears that Jemas wanted me / everyone in the world who weren’t sexist twats to hate him, and it worked. Worse still is that he casts Wolverine as one of the first humans (albeit without his claws), and there’s more of his humdrum thoughts about mankind. A lot of it is extremely questionable (Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals were supposedly extremely attractive and sexy back then according to Jemas) and that which may be true (why humans fight / make war, how religion is responsible for an enormous amount of misery) is presented in a banal and annoying manner.
The sixth issue returns to the present day as Al moans about how shit superhero origin stories are, and Jemas briefly complains about crime, justice and our current every day society. But because this series is never less than surprisingly awful we’re then given a recap of the past few issues, and it’s one which astonishingly goes on for sixteen pages as it regurgitates the nonsense we’ve previously seen adding barely anything new to it. I can only imagine that Jemas simply hated writing the series at this point and so couldn’t be arsed, but it really is quite amazing that Marvel were still publishing it at this point, and if Jemas wasn’t so high up in the company I’m certain they’d not only have stopped but also then tracked down all the old issues and burnt them in an enormous fire.
If all of that wasn’t bizarre enough the final page is a written open letter from Jemas talking about the comics industry and what’s wrong with it, how writers are never given the opportunity to speak about the big subjects – except that’s now going to change with the launch of Marvel’s Epic imprint, which the seventh and final issue of Marville is going to advise how to write for that new line. Sadly he wasn’t a lying shit either, as the seventh is all prose (and the odd illustration) concerning “Writing For Epic Comics”, beginning with a photo of two women in bikinis because it seems that Epic were to be just as sexist as their parent company. The rest of it is some PR nonsense about how great Epic will be, what Epic will do that Marvel and other comics companies don’t normally, and how to get published. It is, somehow, even more tedious than what came before (though a brief bit on how much writers and artists would be paid was admittedly of interest to me) and a bewilderingly odd way to end the series. And a slightly amusing one given that Epic was a massive flop, many of the promises made by Jemas never came to fruition, and the imprint lasted only just over a year.
What we have here then is one of the strangest comics mini-series ever published, the first two issues serve as mockery of the comics world (albeit mostly DC) with some of Jemas’ thoughts about the world, before it becomes a mix of a history lesson and misguided philosophising, one issue is a recap of the previous three, and then it comes to a close with a guide to write for an imprint that was a spectacular failure. Other than that it might have been hated by everyone who read it I have absolutely no idea why Jemas changed the nature of the series, the first two issues may be bad but at least they’re of interest and a couple of the jokes work, but the following four are one long bland lecture that I can’t believe anyone found interesting, unless they were read by someone who had spent their entire life trapped in a cave and who had never had any other form of education.
I’ve never read anything by Jemas and perhaps his other work is better, but judging by this he’s one of the worst and most arrogant writers to have ever been involved in the industry. His behaviour soon saw him fired from Marvel and since then he’s gone on to have little impact in the industry, and most of the companies he’s been involved with have only survived for a very short amount of time. Which can surely only be a good thing if he thought it was in any way acceptable to create a series like Marville, which is certainly unforgettable, but for all the wrong reasons.
★ (As some of the art is quite nice. The writing gets zero stars however).