I have learned though painstaking research (and painful experience) that there is no absolute nadir when it comes to the 1990s comics scene. Whenever you think you’ve reached the bottom of that tomb of four-color horrors, the ground beneath you gives way and plunges you into an even more fetid sub-basement.
Case in point: I thought the “Official X-MEN Watch Collector’s Club” was a pretty indicative example of the era at its most shamelessly shameful, but no sooner did Monday’s post go up than I came across this exhibit in speculative merchandising run amok a few pages later.
Charging over three hundred bucks for a set of cheap timepieces decoed with pre-existing comics art is grotty, but at least they appealed to a fairly strong fandom at the time. I myself would never be caught dead wearing a Professor X pseudo-Swatch, but there were plenty of fans who loved the X-franchise enough to express their fandom in such a fashion. Whether they did or not is another matter, but the sentiment was there regardless.
You’d have a hard time finding any example of geekdom who hasn’t at some point given in to — or at least been sorely tempted by — some pricey bit of merch which pushed their particular set of “BUY ME” buttons. It’s a manipulative con from the supply-side standpoint, yet one which is predicated on the affections — sincere or ironic — of the targeted end user.
Wizard Magazine itself operated under those parameters, pitching a hype-skewed celebration of comics fandom to a certain demographic of comics fans. It was enthusiasm peddled with an agenda, but it was capitalizing on a larger trend. Folks read Wizard because they were fans of funnybooks, which makes the notion of “Wizard Collector Rings” even more baffling to contemplate.
Wizard was a product of and support system for a type of fandom, not a fandom in and of itself. The rings weren’t like Playboy keychains or Mad Magazine belt buckles which spoke to distinct subcultures which evolved from those respective periodicals and the readers they attracted. As reductive as they might have been, they held no small amount of cultural resonance — even if associated with an oily wannabe Lothario or a sneering acne-spotted misanthrope.
A Wizard ring, on the other hand, said what exactly? “I’ve been exposed to ten times the recommended dose of Valiant Comics hype and can quote a vastly over-inflated near mint ‘value’ of Wolverine and Havok #3?” Shit, I’ve know plenty of dudes who could generate that vibe without blowing 260 bucks on a garish hunk of jewelry. (They’re the primary reason I stopped going to comic shops.)
Even if the rings weren’t gobbled up by the gullible masses, the fact that they were even offered for sale was a troubling sign for the 1990s comics scene on par with ever-escalating cover gimmicks and fitful release schedules for “hot” series. The rings embodied what Pal Dave has labeled “being a fan of being a fan of something” — that decadent stage of dedication where the carnival barker assumes he’s a bigger draw than the actual attractions….usually right before the entire midway burns to the ground.
No worries, though. Despite the mid-Nineties collapse of the funnybook bubble and Wizard’s long-overdue demise, the plan to reshape the world to resemble the back half of a Diamond Previews catalog has continued unabated.