I’ve done deep periodical dives into the realms of 1950s Cold War paranoia, the 1970s music industry and 1980s videogame culture, but never has the past felt like another country as much as it did when I delved into a run of Wizard Magazine from the height of the 1990s comics bubble.
The “Terrible ’90s” have been getting a small but notable amount of revisionist…well, not “love” but “mild affection” in recent times. It’s understandable, as the generation of fans who cut their teeth on the stuff have gotten to an age where nostalgia overpowers decades of publicly voiced embarrassment. Time’s passage dims the rougher edges and backward-looking wistfulness bathes the rest in a warm ‘n’ rosy glow. (This is also why I have listened to ELO’s Out of the Blue more times this past week than I’ve listened to London Calling this entire year so far.)
The process can only function if one examines the past with a selective lens, and falls apart completely when confronted with the actual historical record in all its grotesque majesty.
Wizard was just one vector for the propagation of ’90s comics culture, but one that set the tone for the entire public-facing scene — unbridled hype and sequential art hoop dreams wrapped up in a speculative death-spiral. As bad as you remember that era being, the part of it which manifested through Wizard was a billion times worse.
The magazine’s complicity in feeding that unsustainable economy was never subtle to start, and only becomes more egregiously obvious in hindsight. The object was to prop up their corner of the pyramid for as long and as hard was possible by feeding any spike of ephemeral interest into the money mill in hopes of staving off the inevitable diminishing returns. This was a time when entire derivative economies could revolve around Witchblade or Battle Chasers or “premium” trading cards or whatever half-assed “collectable” could be profitably foisted on the fans.
In all honestly, it’s a miracle the industry survived it at all — and I’d chalk that up more to the success of the first X-Men movie than any publishing initiatives.
Whether it should have survived is still up for debate.