10 Years of Joe Quesada at Marvel: A Timeline
This week marks Joe Quesada’s tenth anniversary as Editor-in-Chief (and now Chief Creative Officer) at Marvel Comics and there is most definitely cause for celebration. It’s been a pretty great decade for Marvel if you reflect upon the assortment of engaging stories, creative risks and major events that have gone down. It doesn’t seem like it was such a long time ago that Marvel was facing bankruptcy and their best approach to increasing sales was to start over every title at issue #1.
In honor of this momentous occasion for Joe the Q, we’ve put together a timeline of some of the most interesting events and creative decisions since he joined forces with Marvel.
2000: Quesada is named Editor-in-Chief, and together with new Publisher Bill Jemas, launches the Ultimate imprint, creating a new universe with updated origins for Marvel’s most popular superheroes in a more contemporary setting. I distinctly recall how fans were initially less than excited about this move at the time, but then the actual books came out and everybody loved them. “Ultimate X-Men” and “Ultimate Spider-Man” immediately breathed new life into classic characters without interfering with the life of the mainstream Marvel Universe. While the Ultimate line is in a very different place ten years later, there’s no doubt that these books helped to bring Marvel back to the top. And then there was that time that Ultimate Captain America screamed “YOU THINK THIS LETTER ON MY HEAD STANDS FOR FRANCE?” which was just about the greatest thing in the world.
2001: Imagine that the Comics Code Authority was a real guy. Now imagine that Nick Fury tortured, stabbed and urinated on him, all while saying simply god-awful things about his mother. This is pretty much what happened when Marvel dispensed with the CCA, creating its own rating system and launching the MAX imprint for adult readers. While the only MAX book regularly being published today is “Punisher”, Brian Michael Bendis’s “Alias” and Brian K. Vaughn’s “The Hood” have had a lasting impact on the mainstream Marvel Universe with characters like Jessica Jones and Parker Robbins.
On a far more serious note, Quesada led Marvel in its artistic response to the tragic events of September 11th, releasing “Heroes,” “A Moment of Silence,” and “Amazing Spider-Man” #36 as fundraisers for the Twin Towers Fund. Striking a mournful tone with its all-black cover, the Spider-Man issue actually had Marvel characters dealing directly with 9/11, integrating them into the then-ongoing rescue efforts at Ground Zero. The book did endure some criticism for placing extremely evil characters like Dr. Doom at the scene, but more than anything, the story was meant to signify that we all felt tremendous losses on that day. Of his many accomplishments over the past 10 years, Quesada still considers this to be his proudest moment.
2002: The blockbuster success of the “Spider-Man” movie propels Marvel Comics to the forefront of popular culture, generating millions in profits from licensing and attracting a whole new generation of readers. “Spider-Man” proved the real earning power of superhero movies in the 21st century, and established Marvel as a power player in Hollywood, setting the stage for future films like “Iron Man,” “Hulk” and the forthcoming Avengers-related films. I have to say, this was a pretty good movie, but I don’t think anyone can illustrate that better than “Spider-Man” co-star James Franco. How good was it, James Franco?
On the comics front, remember “Marville?” This is a thing that totally happened. After Peter David complained that his “Captain Marvel” book was being under-promoted, Quesada launched the U-Decide contest, pitting David’s book against Bill Jemas’s “Marville,” with Jemas volunteering to sit in a dunk tank if his book got the lower sales. Intended to be a parody of DC Comics, “Marville” wound up being a parody of itself. U-Decide also led to a third title, “Ultimate Adventures” by Ron Zimmerman and Duncan Fegredo, about a Batman-type named Hawk-Owl.
U-Decide could very well go down as the most absurd move that Joe Quesada has made as Editor-in-Chief, but at the same time I commend him for attempting to challenge his creators to connect to readers and raise sales in new and exciting ways. Also? Hawk-Owl.
2004: Marvel launches its Icon imprint as a vehicle for creator-owned work. Since then, we’ve gotten books like “Casanova,” “Powers,” “Criminal,” and “Kick Ass”. The general consensus on Icon is roughly equivalent to Chris Rock’s feelings about cornbread: ain’t nothing wrong with that.
2006: Heroes go to battle against one another during the “Civil War” crossover event, leading to the death of Captain America in “Captain America” #25. Cap’s death was covered by many mainstream news outlets, and it marks the only time in history that everyone at my graduate school was talking about comics. Given that “Civil War” was also something of a political allegory about national security and personal liberty, killing Cap suggested the message that the climate of the time had sort of “killed” the spirit of America. But when recently revived former sidekick Bucky Barnes took on the shield and wings, it became clear to everyone that the spirit of America had simply been transformed into an ex-Soviet assassin with a bionic arm.
2007: What appears to be the entire collective Marvel fanbase flips out as Quesada presides over the decision to retcon Peter Parker’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson in the “One More Day” storyline so that it never happened. Longtime “Amazing Spider-Man” writer J. Michael Strazcynski publicly registered his frustration with the decision, leading to the now-famous justification of “it’s magic, we don’t have to explain it.” Most fans seem to magically forget their anger after the Spider-Man line is jump-started with “Brand New Day,” releasing the book on a near-weekly schedule with a incredible rotating team of creators and some of the best stories we’ve seen in years. Everyone also manages to forget that Spidey briefly had stingers that came out of his wrists.
2009: Disney purchases Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion, opening up a whole new range of opportunities for marketing comics, licensing properties. and financing and distributing their films. The announcement of the purchase sets the Internet ablaze with debate, discussion and speculation about the creative implications of Marvel being owned by Disney. Within hours, dozens of mashups of Disney and Marvel characters are assembled by fans and creators alike, but Chris Samnee’s M.O.D.U.C.K. is still clearly the best one.
2010: Quesada is promoted to Chief Creative Officer of Marvel Entertainment while continuing in his role as Editor-in-Chief. This new position will have him working to ensure that characters and stories stay true to their source material as Marvel continues in its many multimedia ventures.
As you can see from the final item on the timeline, Joe Quesada isn’t showing any signs of slowing down his creative leadership at Marvel, and if the last ten years are any indication, then fans have a lot to look forward to in the years to come.
One last thing: about eight years ago, as I was getting ready to graduate from college and look for a job, I decided to send an e-mail to Joe and ask him about what it takes to work in the industry. I don’t remember if I put much thought into my message, and I know that I certainly didn’t expect to hear back from him, but I did. He wrote me quite a long, thoughtful and personalized message, and it was clear that he took his time to do it. The fact that he bothered to respond to me at all spoke volumes to me, and is just one example of what makes Joe Quesada such a great figure in the industry. He truly cares about every level of comics, whether he’s responding to a curious fan or setting aside time from his busy schedule to keep creating as an artist. The comics world benefits from having people like Joe Q running the show, and we should all wish him well as he celebrates the last ten years.
[Editor-in-Chief's Note: On a similarly personal note, the first time I met Joe Quesada was at the first New York Comic-Con in 2006, when I had no professional involvement in comics whatsoever, no connections, and no idea how to begin. I ran up to him while he was exiting a panel and asked him about the first steps someone should take to get involved in the industry. It would have been incredibly easy and understandable for him to blow off some random, clueless fan in the middle of an insane comics convention, but instead he stopped and talked to me for ten minutes in the hallway about where to start. It was incredibly encouraging at a time when I badly needed encouragement, and I've never forgotten it. -LH]