MARV WOLFMAN IN PROFILE
The other week I was selling some comics on eBay and more than a few of them happened to be written by Marv Wolfman. I’ll be quick to point out here I’m not selling them because I don’t like his work. Quite the opposite really. The comics I had for sale included issues of Tomb of Dracula and Teen Titans. Wolfman worked on these series with George Perez and Gene Colan respectively. Often the quality of the art from both would be the subject of praise when it came to these two comics. Of course a true comics fan knows the input of Wolfman on both. It got me thinking about the career this guy has had and how his name isn’t shouted from the rooftops like some of his peers. Teen Titans and Tomb of Dracula both had/have hardcore followings in their day but Wolfman has created a ton of characters, written countless brilliant stories and helped shape the industry.
Wolfman’s is a career largely dominated by work for the ‘big two.’ It is also a career that adds weight to the claim that having good collaborators leads to a successful career. Perez, Colan, Buscema, Wein and Kane to name a few. After attending New York’s High School of Art and Design his first published work was in Blackhawk #242 in 1968. A few other writing jobs at decided followed before he made the move to Marvel with childhood friend Len Wein. Originally he started out as an editor, working under Roy Thomas. Eventually he decided he wanted to concentrate more on writing and you could say the rest is history. Whilst at Marvel he had stints on Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Daredevil among others. One book stands out from them though and that is Tomb Of Dracula. He joined Gene Colan who had been on from issue 1 from issues 7 right through to the series end in issue 70! Over the course of these 60 plus issues. Wolfman and Colan crafted their own vampire mythology. Expanding on Bram stokers original idea to make a rich tapestry with a diverse and eclectic range of characters. These included Hannibal King, Deacon Frost, Harold H. Harold and most famously Blade.
With their more comic book approach applied to the horror genre Tomb Of Dracula became a popular series and remains so to this day. It provided Marvel with characters for its first cinematic success. Before the release of Blade in cinemas Wolfman tried and failed to sue Marvel for use of his characters. He claimed he wasn’t on a work for hire contract at the time. It is just another sad example of the industry eating up and spitting creative genius out. Also part of the lawsuit he filed was for use of Nova. While it seems to be widely accepted now that Marvel and DC are sticking with the work for hire argument at least they give plenty of credit in the credits for a characters creation. Wolfman received his 2 seconds worth when the Nova Corps and Rhomann Dey appeared in Guardians of The Galaxy. The Richard Rider version of Nova is still yet to make an appearance but under James Gunns masterful directorship he can’t be too far away. A huge positive from these movies maybe the best thing about them is that they will bring a whole new audience to the likes of Marv Wolfman. So who else did he create/co-create in his time at Marvel? Oh just Bullseye, Black Cat and Terrax! Without Wolfman creating Bullseye Frank Miller would be missing a key ingredient to the melodrama at the center of his run on Daredevil. Just a small example of Wolfman leaving a lasting legacy. To create one successful character would be a life dream complete for me but to do as many as this guy! Wow!
By the 80’s he had made the move back to DC as it was to turn out the move would be a huge loss for Marvel. Len Wein had also made the move so Wolfman had a good working relationship with is editor right away. He got put on to Superman where he would create supporting character Cat Grant who is now part of the hugely popular Super Girl TV series. Most importantly thought Wolfman had told Wein of his wish to reinvent the Teen Titans, a book he had enjoyed reading previously. He asked George Perez if he would like to draw it. He said yes as he saw it as a stepping stone towards drawing Justice League. The new series was green lit and buzz started going around the DC offices of how good the first issue was. They started advertising it several months in advance of its release. Issue 1 of New Teen Titans hit the stands in November 1980 and again the rest is history. Making their debut in that issue Wolfman and Perez creations Raven, Cyborg, Starfire,were added to existing characters Robin, Kid Flash, Donna Troy and Beast Boy now called Changeling. The original Teen Titans comic was just seen as a kid sidekick book. It quickly became evident Wolfman and Perez were not taking their series in the same direction. He admits to learning his craft on Tomb of Dracula. This taught him how to juggle multiple characters, plots and sub-plots.
Originally he started out writing tight plots for Perez to draw but soon they were co-plotting. A task made easier by Perez moving closer to Wolfman’s home. Soon New Teen Titans became DC’s highest selling book. It went toe to toe with Chris Claremont and John Byrnes X-Men over at Marvel. If you were DC you were a Titans fan you couldn’t be a fan of Marvels X-Men. It was both era defining and ground breaking. In issue 2 they introduced Deathstroke a character who has gone on to have long lasting popularity. That has to be one of the hottest issues in collectordom at the moment. Wolfman and Perez are responsible for what I believe to still be one of the coolest concepts in comics. Dick Grayson gave up the Robin mantle and became Nightwing. How many other side kicks have grown up and taken on a new persona? Wolfman didn’t stop there with Robin, during a brief stint on Batman he created the Tim Drake version of Robin. He really doesn’t stop! H.I.V.E, Trigon and an updated version of Vigilante are all more Wolfman creations. I’ve mentioned all this without getting to Crisis on Infinite Earths! The 12 issue maxi series which is responsible for todays plethora of event comics. He took on the task of telling a story spanning fifty years of DC continuity and countless alternate realities. He had a huge sandbox of characters to play with and also had to introduce the recent characters acquired from Charlton Comics. All whilst having to come to then end goal of only having one universe left at the end for DC to tell their stories from that point forward. Now I’m happy to admit I’ve never read it but I can say at the time it more than achieved its goal and people still talk about it today. Whether DC kept to the original brief is a completely different story.
Finally as well as being a creative genius there is Marv Wolfman the pioneer. He was one of the first people to publish a little unknown writer by the name of Stephen King. This was in 1965 in his own horror fanzine ‘Stories of Suspense’ #2. As I’ve mentioned his runs on both Tomb of Dracula and Teen Titans included diverse groups of characters. Types of characters you will find in most comics nowadays. People of colour, strong females and realistic teens. In fact before Blade and Cyborg Wolfman had scripted a Teen Titans story in the mid 60’s featuring what would have been DC’s first African American superhero. Unfortunately the idea was rejected by editors. He is a advocate for creators rights and left his second spell at DC after a dispute over how comics were rated. Both of these actions have paved the way for everyone who has come after him. Lastly a fun story to end. Marv Wolfman is inadvertently the creator of creator credits. Whilst working on DC’s mystery magazines Gerry Conway wrote an advert for Wolfman’s upcoming story. Conway billed it as a story told by a ‘wandering wolfman.’ The comics code was at the peak of its Nazi like rule over the industry and insisted any mention of werewolves or wolfmen were forbidden. DC editors were quick to inform the CCA that Wolfman was in fact the writers name. There response was to give him a credit so readers would no he was a ‘real person.’ Obviously after this all creators wanted credits and thus the credits were born.
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