Originally published October 2, 1998, in Comics Buyer’s Guide #1298
It is a time of national contrition.
Bill Clinton, whose inability to take responsibility for any gaffes or apologize for anything, has launched his Atonement Tour ’98. It’s pretty impressive as he embraces the newfound ability to publicly say he’s sorry with the sort of eagerness and enthusiasm that is usually reserved for Born-Agains or recovering alcoholics who have made it to the atonement step.
I find a couple of things mildly riotous about this. First, there are those who compare Kenneth Starr’s investigation (which, for simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to as Starrgate—and for television, Starrgate SX 1) to our last scandal which threatened a presidency, namely Watergate. But there are major differences:
In Watergate, a sitting president used the power and influence of his office to try and destroy a host of enemies and obscure his activities to that end.
In Starrgate, a sitting president used the power and influence of his office for consensual sex and getting people jobs or asking them to keep private matters private.
It’s like the difference between Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
With original Star Trek, when they battle a cosmic threat, it’s the Doomsday Machine, which, if it swallows you, consumes you in searing fire.
In ST:TNG, they battled the Ribbon which, if it swallows you, sends you to a happy place where you have no problems forever and ever.
Watergate was about destruction, Starrgate about distraction.
Second, the birds are now coming home to roost on hypocritical politicians who were demanding Bill Clinton’s head (so to speak) or wanted to give him the shaft (so to speak) because they found fault with his morality. There’s Rep. Helen Chenoweth of Boise, Idaho, who demanded Clinton’s resignation and proclaimed in a TV ad, “I believe that personal conduct and integrity does matter,” only to confess to the fact that she had an adulterous affair with some guy fourteen years ago. As if being from Boise, Idaho wasn’t stigma enough.
Then there’s GOP hard-liner Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, who fathered a child out of wedlock in the early 1980s—although not with Chenoweth, although it was around the same time as her affair. Maybe there was something in the water.
The thing is, we look to our president to set an example for us. In this case, he’s being publicly contrite, confessing to his screw-ups, and openly taking responsibility for them.
And here I’ve been, writing this column for eight years and one month, taking potshots at everyone and everything, holding them up to scrutiny—and yet, I’ve never truly copped to my own screw-ups, my own misjudgments. Well, you know what? I’m going to. Right here, right now. And I’m going to apologize for all of it.
I’m sorry I got Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton ripped out of his body.
Yes, it was me. I did it. We were having a big meeting of all the X-writers, back when I was writing X-Factor. We were discussing the upcoming return of Magneto, and we were searching for some sort of major event beyond the fact that Magneto was going to be really torqued upon his reappearance and slug it out with the X-Men.
And, thinking out loud, I said, “Y’know… I don’t know why Magneto even bothers fighting Wolverine. If I were Magneto, I’d just yank his adamantium skeleton right out of his body and be done with him.”
Eyes lit up all around the table. It was like suddenly being surrounded by a half dozen or so Cyclopses. “What a great idea!” declared Bob Harras. “That’s so visual! That’s so great!”
“I… was kidding,” I said quickly. “It was just a passing thought. You don’t really want to do that. Not unless the intent is to kill the character once and for all. He can’t recover from something like that. It’s too much.”
“He has a healing factor,” was the reply.
“Healing factor?! You’re talking about ripping out his entire skeleton! It’s too catastrophic an injury! If he can survive that, he can survive anything! It’s preposterous! It’s a bad idea! Do not, under any circumstance, do it!”
They did it anyway. And it’s my fault.
I’m sorry. I killed Jason Todd.
It’s true. I hated the character so much that I made three thousand phone calls. I wanted to kill him, just to watch him die. It was me. All me.
The collapse of the direct market? Mea culpa.
There are three major elements that various folks have fingered as the cause of the direct market’s disintegration: (1) Image Comics promising tons of product that shipped late or not at all, tying up retailer dollars; (2) speculators withdrawing from the market all in one shot; (3) Marvel Comics attempting to become its own distributor.
All attributable directly to me.
(1) The fact, which can now be revealed, is that the Image creators were so devastated by my early columns criticizing their press release, that they were rendered unable to get their work done. It was rather pathetic to watch, really.
They would just sit around their studios, staring numbly at the drawing board for periods of unproductive time, before picking up the columns of February 21 or April 17, 1992 again, reading them for the thousandth time, and bursting into tears once more. “Why doesn’t he like us?” they would say mournfully. “We…we just want to write and draw our own superhero books. What’s his problem?”
Rob Liefeld, looking haunted, would move through the offices like a ghost, not even able to make direct eye contact with anyone, that’s how mortified he was. By the time they came out of their stupor, books were already months late. My fault. All mine. Sorry.
(2) I was at a comics show, looking at the high priced comics, while collectors and speculators ran right and left in a constant feeding frenzy. “We could keep buying these things for years! They’ll be worth millions!” one of them told me.
Then one of my daughters came to me with a small, bean-baggish teddy bear that had a red heart with the letters “TY” on it. I held it up, studied it carefully, and said, “This is cute. You know…this’ll probably be the next big collectable.”
There was dead silence. It was like an E.F. Hutton commercial. The fans had heard me say it. The dealers quaked in fear. It was just a passing comment, but it was too late to snatch it back from the air. It was out there, and the effects were catastrophic. As with one great gestalt mind, the speculators stampeded from the room, heading for card stores and dinky gift shops. The dark fury which radiated from all the dealers was palpable. Word spread throughout the internet in no time, and just like that—the comics frenzy came to an end.
Whoops. My bad.
(3) So there I was in a steam room, taking a shvitz with Ron Perelman, Marvel’s head honcho, who was whining about the poor treatment that Marvel was receiving at the hands of the distributors. As I shrugged with the sweat cascading off my face, I said, “So, nu, Ron—if you don’t like it, do it yourself.”
I didn’t know he’d take me seriously! It was like the Wolverine comment, only worse!
God, it’s great to be getting this off my chest. What else…what else…
Spider-Clone. Spider-Clone was mine. That was a typo in a proposed storyline of mine. I meant to say, “Don’t you wish sometimes we could just leave Spider-Man alone?” But I typed “leave Spider-Man a clone,” and my spellchecker didn’t pick it up.
Foil covers. That was me, too. It was at a party, and I said something—I don’t remember exactly what, I was kind of drunk at the time—about getting people to take a shine to comics, and it just kind of blossomed from there. I’m sorry.
Disco Dazzler: My fault. Sorry.
DC Implosion: I caused it. I wrote a really cranky fan letter, next thing I knew, blammo. Sorry.
The screenplays for The Punisher, Fantastic Four, Captain America, Howard the Duck—all mine under various pseudonyms. Sorry. Sorry. My fault. Sorry.
I also cancelled Star Trek, I personally green-lighted both Ishtar and Heaven’s Gate, I was on the grassy knoll, and my grandfather misplaced the binoculars on the Titanic.
And I was really, really, really upset about it for a good long time.
But I’m feeling much better now.
(If you are feeling likewise burdened and want to make a clean breast of matters, send your confessions to Second Age, Inc., PO Box 239, Bayport, NY 11705. Don’t you get nostalgic for the days when a presidential sex scandal consisted of Jimmy Carter admitting he had “lusted in his heart”?)