As I mentioned in Chris Fluit's blog post "Is there a Bronze Age of Comics?", I define eras in different ways for different companies, instead of defining a Silver, Bronze, Copper, Platinum, or whatever for the overall industry. It's my own personal thing and maybe only makes sense to me. Part of it is how I perceive Marvel and DC; part of it is that those companies make up the overwhelming majority of what I read, and have read. I don't know enough to comment on the independents of the 80's, Image starting with the 90's, or even the non-Big Two companies of today. I have delved, but I'm no expert.

For Marvel, to me it is the Editors-in-Chief who have, for good or bad, set a distinct tone. The Stan Lee era, the Jim Shooter era, and today's Joe Quesada era all have their own unique flavor. The in between stuff has its own characteristics. There were five or so men who were EIC after Lee and before Shooter, with tenures that were as short as a month to the longest being a couple of years - Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, am I missing anyone?. This was very much a fly by the seat of your pants era - I've seen it described as it was as if the parents had moved out (Lee and Kirby, and others) and left the kids in charge of running the household. I think the common thread was the EIC job fell in the laps of guys who, once they had the reins, probably wanted to go back to writing. That's just a guess on my part, and may be grossly unfair - after all, many pros have said Archie Goodwin was one of, if not the, best editor they ever worked with.

Shooter was followed by Tom Defalco in 1987, a move that absolutely shocked me at the time. I had no knowledge of what was going on behind the curtain at Marvel, I just knew that they were the number one company, and by a wide margin. Firing Shooter in 1987 seemed crazy to me then. For me personally, I stopped reading comics probably around early 1991, for various reasons I won't bore you with here. But one big reason was that Marvel felt pretty stale to me by 1991, and while it's tough to give you particulars nearly 20 years later, I think I would lay the blame at the EIC's door. I know I didn't like Marvel Tales going from reprints of Amazing Spider-Man from the 60's to reprints of Spidey teaming with whoever was "hot" at the time. I didn't like drowning in X-titles. I didn't like Annuals going from telling an extra-length stand alone story to telling 1/4 or 1/6 or whatever of a big crossover.

I didn't really read comics at all from about 1991 until 1999, so that whole era is the one in which I'm not well read. I know Marvel went from Defalco being EIC, to some sort of weirdness with 5 or so group editors, to Bob Harras being EIC - and I came in on the tail end of that. So for those of you who were there, what did you think of Defalco's entire stint as EIC, and what followed?

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I too noticed the real drop in quality shortly after DeFalco took the reins. He seemed too backward thinking to be the EIC, in my opinion.
What surprised me most was that DeFalco won the post. To me, it seemed like Mark Gruenwald should have gotten the job. Why? Well, he shepherded the "Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe" with amazing care. What could have been a totally forgettable catalog of characters was instead ridiculously detailed, informative and filled with great art (both new and old.)
Beyond that, his "Mark's Remarks" columns was a fantastic PR piece for Marvel. It offered advice to wannabes. It helped explain the basics of comics. It was required reading in every Avengers book.
Then add some really spectacular runs on Captain America, and you've got some great stuff. Really, I mean that. If we look back, I bet we'd find that Gruenwald's best runs were Pre-DeFalco EIC. And I'd also bet that the really goofy ones (Cap Wolf, Femizon Cap) hit afterward. (Just guessing on that, mind you.)
Lumbering Jack said:
I too noticed the real drop in quality shortly after DeFalco took the reins. He seemed too backward thinking to be the EIC, in my opinion.
What surprised me most was that DeFalco won the post. To me, it seemed like Mark Gruenwald should have gotten the job. Why? Well, he shepherded the "Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe" with amazing care. What could have been a totally forgettable catalog of characters was instead ridiculously detailed, informative and filled with great art (both new and old.)
Beyond that, his "Mark's Remarks" columns was a fantastic PR piece for Marvel. It offered advice to wannabes. It helped explain the basics of comics. It was required reading in every Avengers book.
Then add some really spectacular runs on Captain America, and you've got some great stuff. Really, I mean that. If we look back, I bet we'd find that Gruenwald's best runs were Pre-DeFalco EIC. And I'd also bet that the really goofy ones (Cap Wolf, Femizon Cap) hit afterward. (Just guessing on that, mind you.)

I agree with everything except the evaluation of Gruenwald's Cap run. It was a dog (not just the "Cap Wolf" story) from start to finish. I loathed it, and I LOVE Cap.
Yeah, Gru would have been great, I think. Defalco getting the job really seemed to come out of the blue, at least to me, not that Shooter seemed to be the type to ever be grooming a successor. Maybe Tom schmoozed with the suits, maybe he was the least offensive choice to the majority, who knows. Certainly there were other editors and writers who were more prominent at the time. When I think of Defalco's creative output, I closely associate him with four series -
- Spider-Girl, which got its start in the late 90's, long after he was EIC
- Fantastic Four and Thor, which I think he took on after being EIC. I don't much about his FF run, but I think his Thor run with Ron Frenz on art is widely dismissed, and derided, for being a pale xerox of the 60's era Lee and Kirby era
- His Amazing Spider-Man run in the 80's, which I think precedes his time as EIC. He and Frenz made an entertaining team, but the run itself was derailed many times by fill-ins
Ah, we'll definitely have to disagree then, Rich. I was pretty much hooked on Cap through the 1980s. I can't seem to find a list of the Gruenwald's Cap storylines in a date-order but thanks to the horribly slow Comics.Org, I would pinpoint that Gruenwald's run goes off the tracks somewhere in the 380s (cover dates of 1991), but the decline was something that built for a dozen issues or so (The Streets of Poison arc in particular). Before that, I stand by my man Mark!
Here, by the way, is a fairly spirited defense of Gruenwald's Cap issues, and his "Cap No More" stories.

(Edited after Rich's reply below)
Lumbering Jack said:
Ah, we'll definitely have to disagree then, Rich. I was pretty much hooked on Cap through the 1980s. I can't seem to find a list of the Gruenwald's Cap storylines in a date-order but thanks to the horribly slow Comics.Org, I would pinpoint that Gruenwald's run goes off the tracks somewhere in the 380s (cover dates of 1991). Before that, I stand by my man Mark!
Here, by the way, is a fairly spirited defense of Gruenwald's Cap issues, and his "Cap No More" stories.

Don't get me wrong; I loved Squadron Supreme and I thoroughly enjoyed Quasar from start to finish. Cap, however, lost me around the end of the Scourge storyline, and I didn't returned until Brubaker.
One of the main things that comes to mind from DeFalco's tenure as EiC is long runs of mediocrity on flagship titles. When Jim Shooter took over as EiC, one of the rules that he put in place was that a writer could not serve as his own editor. This caused some consternation early on- especially regarding former EiC Roy Thomas and Conan the Barbarian- but I think it was a good policy overall. It ensured that every comic had at least two people thinking critically about it and provided a better product. When DeFalco took over, he didn't change the rule, but he de facto ignored it. Editors who were also writers would technically supervise each other while for all intents and purposes leaving each other alone. For example, DeFalco would let Gruenwald do whatever he wanted on Captain America if Gruenwald would let DeFalco do whatever he wanted on Fantastic Four. The result was that some of the flagship titles were subjected to long runs of mediocrity.

That's not to say that everything Marvel published during DeFalco's tenure was bad. They put out some great stuff like New Warriors and Guardians of the Galaxy. I unabashedly love the expansion of X-Men titles during that time. They started some new ventures that were entertaining such as the 2099 line. And don't forget that Peter David's long-running and much-beloved run on Hulk came out during this era.

But most of the great stuff was being done outside of the core titles. Jeff of Earth-J occasionally quotes Julius Schwarz' maxim that the smart buyer would buy the comic with the higher number of issues because that title had demonstrated quality over time. DeFalco's policy, however, flipped that maxim on its head. Smart buyers started avoiding Marvel titles with big numbers as the best work was being done on newer titles.
That's pretty interesting information, and a good example of why there's a need of such a policy. Man, DeFalco's F.F. was horrid. Didn't he write Thor, too? Boy, that was a bad title too.
When Shooter was fired and DeFalco was installed as editor-in-chief, it was a sign of marketing's growing influence over editorial operations at Marvel. DeFalco ascended to power through, of all things, the Star Comics line. When it went away, he kept his title as executive editor. With Shooter gone, that made him next in line. I don't think those in charge at the time cared for a thoughtful search for the successor. That was part of the marketing influence. And it led directly to the speculator boom of the early '90s and the eventual market collapse of the mid '90s that nearly destroyed Marvel.

During this time, you had the proliferation of crossovers -- the X-Men "Inferno," the "Atlantis Attacks" annuals, the Infinity Gauntlet. Then, you had Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man No.1, followed by Rob Leifeld's X-Force No. 1 and the Claremont-Lee X-Men No. 1 -- each outselling the last and each with a different cover/bagging gimmick. (I forget the order of publication here. Was it X-Force, Spider-Man, X-Men? Ah, no matter.) This fueled speculator interest and led to other gimmicks -- bagged editions with different trading cards, foil-embossed covers, die-cut covers, etc. The emphasis was shifting away from content and toward artificially boosting circulation.

And when you look at the content, it's hard to remember runs that really, really stand the test of time. Certainly, you have Peter David's run on Incredible Hulk that outlasted several changes at editor-in-chief. But what else? Most of the examples in my head are ones that involved the creators leaving the book because of editorial interference -- ultimately meaning from DeFalco. Chris Claremont walked away from the X-Men. Walt Simonson left Fantastic Four two years into what could have been a classic run. John Byrne start out well on Sensational She-Hulk and The West Coast Avengers, but he eventually abandoned both titles. Meanwhile, Marvel's top editors were taking turns writing the top books: Bob Harras on Avengers, Mark Gruenwald on Captain America and DeFalco himself on Fantastic Four and The Mighty Thor. When the writer is also a boss, it makes for less editorial oversight, and these were all books that sunk so low they were rebooted with "Heroes Reborn."

I say all that, and it sounds like a condemnation of DeFalco's tenure. But I don't think it mattered. If he hadn't agreed to go with the flow, he would have been replaced with someone else who would have.
Lumbering Jack said:
That's pretty interesting information, and a good example of why there's a need of such a policy. Man, DeFalco's F.F. was horrid. Didn't he write Thor, too? Boy, that was a bad title too.

I don't usually know or care who the editor-in-chief is at any given moment, but I do remember when Tom DeFalco took over The Mighty Thor from Walt Simonson, because I dropped the book like it was red-hot kryptonite. I never particularly liked Thor the character, and had no interest in Thor the title, until Walt Simonson took it on. I loved his run, and stuck with the book as long as he did.

But that first DeFalco issue after Simonson's run ended -- the first three pages of that first DeFalco issue -- threw aside all that was innovative and creative and interesting about what Simonson did, for second-rate imitation Jack Kirby riffs, the very thing that never interested me.
I've never really thought about who was the EiC of the comics I bought when I bought them back then. The only reason I dropped titles during his tenure was when I dropped all comics when I quit my paper route, and didn't work for several years. So, from what I remember I didn't like or dislike it any more than when Shooter ran things. I do remember when it happened, but it didn't really register as anything earth shattering to my teenaged mind. Who did I care who the editor-in-chief was that point in my life?
ClarkKent_DC said:
But that first DeFalco issue after Simonson's run ended -- the first three pages of that first DeFalco issue -- threw aside all that was innovative and creative and interesting about what Simonson did, for second-rate imitation Jack Kirby riffs, the very thing that never interested me.

I had been following Simonson's Thor since it began, and DeFalco's first two pages on the book were enough to ruin everything. When I saw that splash page of a clean-shaven Thor I knew they had dropped the ball, and everything that came after that only confirmed my impression that DeFalco intended to walk backwards as fast as he possibly could. Who knew that it could be so easy to ruin a brilliant book?
I do want to reiterate that I don't think Tom DeFalco's tenure was all bad. I think there were a lot of good comics and good runs during that time (hey, I'm an X-Men fan, I have to say that, it's in the contract). They just weren't in the flagship titles. And those who judge comics primarily by the flagship titles are going to have a bad opinion.

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