A post from my defunct old Marvel blog concerning writing SECRET DEFENDERS
Continuing with our sequence on BAD COMICS I WROTE, today the spotlight turns towards the first ongoing series I ever helmed as a writer, SECRET DEFENDERS.
SECRET DEFENDERS was started during the height of the comics boom in the early 90s, and had a pretty simple idea behind it: rather than contrieving a reason why Dr. Strange, the Hulk, Namor and the Silver Surfer would continue to hang out together and fight evil as a unit when they’re all misanthropoes who can’t really stand one another, the set-up would be that, when Strange detected a situation that required handling, he’d assemble a hand-picked team of specialists for the job from around the Marvel Universe. This would allow the writer to bring in both popular characters, fan favorites and obscure guys, while still maintaining an overall spine to the series.
But it didn’t work out all that well. For whatever reason, there were some missteps right out of the gate, and while the first issues sold incredibly well, the numbers tapered off pretty directly. Atop that, the folks editing DR STRANGE were about to radically reinvent that character, which precluded him from remaining on as the backbone of SECRET DEFENDERS. One arc was done with Thanos as the guy who pulled a team together for a given mission, and then the reins were handed to me.
For whatever reason, the editor (probably in consultation with Ralph Macchio, since this feels like the sort of thing that Ralph might have suggested) decided that he wanted to replace Dr. Strange as the book’s anchor with Dr. Druid. Additionally, there was a desire to create a core of one or two other characters who’d remain constant from issue to issue, so as to develop a “home team” of sorts around whom the guest stars could flow, and who could carry on their own subplots and character development from issue to issue.
Some time before this, in the pages of CAPTAIN AMERICA, Mark Gruenwald had hooked Dr. Druid up with a crew of four heroes to form Shock Troop. I didn’t love most of those characters, but one of them, Shadowoman, was vague enough in terms of what had been established about her that I felt I could reinvent her to be interesting to me–and she was attired in a derivative of the classic Spider-Woman costume, so she looked familiar and vintage at the very least. And then I built a new guy, Cadaver, to round out the core trio.
SECRET DEFENDERS was well in the scheduling hole when I took it on–I wrote the first three plots in three weeks, one a week, in order to try to get caught up. This meant that there were rotating artists right out of the gate. To make things crazier, after there were four issues or so in production, the book switched editors–and the new editor disagreed with the direction the outgoing editor was headed in. He didn’t care for Dr. Druid, and wanted to write him out of the book–so immediately after introducing him and the situation, I had to start back-pedaling and figuring out a way to write him back out.
The specific issue I’ve chosen to highlight, #20, suffered from an extreme case of editorial in-fighting. On this arc, we told our editor which characters we wanted to use in the course of the arc–in this case, Venom and the Julia Carpenter Spider-Woman–and he proceeded to write up solicitation copy and commission covers. What he didn’t do was run this past the Spider-Man editor of the era, who found out that we were using Venom when the sales catalog was printed. He decided–either because of this or not–that Venom was appearing in too many other places that month, and that the character would be unavailable for use in SECRET DEFENDERS. The two editors went back and forth on this for a day or so, and I even spoke to the Spidey editor directly, asking his indulgence and guaranteeing that we wouldn’t do anything to louse Venom up–but to no avail.
So Venom had to come out of the story. However, to make matters worse, since the book had been solicited with Venom, if he wasn’t in the issue, that would make the book returnable (which means that the direct market comic shops who’d ordered it could return any unsold copies for credit, which cuts directly into the profit margin and is to be avoided whenever possible.) This led to me having to not only excise Venom from the core of the story, but to have to write a preposterous sequence in which Venom sees what’s going on, swings down to join in, and then gets shooed off immediately within a page. One of the dumbest sequences I ever had to do.
Editorial lesson here: keep your house in order, and make sure that people who need to know what you’re doing know what you’re doing. And, on the other side of the fence, when somebody screws up, don’t be a dick about it.