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CSBG Archive

Mark Waid’s Back Pages

Every day this month I will share with you the first (at least as far as I know) U.S. professional work by a notable comic book creator. Here is an archive of the creators who have been featured so far.

Today’s featured creator is Mark Waid!


After working as an editor for DC for a few years (and writing for DC’s !mpact line), Mark Waid quickly made a name for himself as one of the top writers in the business with his acclaimed run on Flash. He followed that with a number of notable projects, like Captain America, Kingdom Come, JLA, Superman: Birthright, Ruse, Fantastic Four, 52, Legion of Super-Heroes, Amazing Spider-Man and his current Eisner-nominated work on Irredeemable and Incorruptible.

His first U.S. professional comic work came before he even got hired at DC as an editor (back when Waid was editing Amazing Heroes for Fantagraphics). October 1985’s Action Comics #572 had three short stories in it. Waid wrote the last of the three. It’s a mystery story – can YOU solve the mystery?

A few month’s later, in February 1986’s Action Comics #576, Waid had another short story appear, which, again, was a mystery story (of sorts)…

Can you guess what Superman is trying to tell Jimmy?

His next story wasn’t until 1988’s Detective Comics Annual that he co-wrote with Brian Augustyn (it was quite good). A couple of stories here and there (an Action Comics Weekly story and lots and lots of character profiles for DC’s latest Who’s Who and, notably, in terms of being an omen, work for a Flash Anniversary Special) and he began his work on !mpact, which pretty much was the start of Mark Waid…freelancer!


Seems to me like the answer to the first one is Mister Mxyzptlk, though I am not sure how the cold air of the fortress fits into it.

the second is obviously superman telling jimmy to use his sonic watch. are the aliens vulnerable to its sonic frequency?

^Be more like it would snap Superman out of the funk they put him into. Could the first one be that the meteor was a teleporter and Superman himself ignited it and sent it back out to space? First one of these columns I’ve read, do we eventually get to see the whole story?

I can’t say I have figured out the mystery, but I would guess that they aren’t on Earth anymore, because of how Superman says they are nowhere on THIS planet.

Also, I am guessing they are in some sort of illusory recreation of the Fortress, since it is empty and they are exposed to the cold.

But otherwise, I have no idea.

Man, Mark Waid was terrible when he first started. That dialog is like something right out of the 1960s. If the name wasn’t the same then I’d never believe he was the same guy who wrote such great comics as Birthright, Legion, and Fantastic Four.

I hope you plan on posting the solutions to these mystery stories soon, Brian. Don’t leave us in suspense!

The second one, I would say Supes wants Jimmy to use his signal watch to snap Superman out of his hypnotized state, or whatever it is that’s causing him to act out of control.

Tom Fitzpatrick

March 12, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Are you telling me that Mark Waid started out as GOOD, and then he turned EVIL?

Sooo, IRREDEEMABLE is an autobiography dressed up as fiction!!!!

@Dalarsco — In the pre-Crisis days, that dialogue style was basically the “house style” for writing Superman. It’s unlikely Waid’s shorts would have been published if he hadn’t scripted them in that way.

Yeah, I was going to say. Use your freaking watch, Jimmy!

I always love me some Paris Cullins!

Terra Man looks like he stepped out of a gig with the Village People.

Holy crap. I read that first one as a kid.

I don’t remember how it ends. Something like Superman’s computer had shunted them into another vibrational frequency, or something. It was goofy and even as a kid I knew it was goofy, but it was also a lot of fun,

Never knew it was Waid’s first pro work. I’ll have to see if I can track down my copy and/or replace it.

I thought maybe the super computer might have evacuated the fortress because the meteor was on the way. Doesn’t explain the cold though. Can we please have the answer?

That last panel looks like Jimmy dug his hand deep into his brain.

@Reno. I couldn’t agree more.

I’m sorry, but even for the time those stories came out, they’re still ridiculously gimmicky. Superman needs the help of a little kid to solve a mystery? He can hear EVERYTHING in the planet and see LIGHT-YEARS away? I’m not even interested in the answers, because I fear they’ll be utterly lame.

No slur intended to Mr. Waid, who is one my favorite writers ever. He has said that his early work was poor himself. And I’ll take Superman stories like this over ones where children get stabbed to death anyday.

Yeah, Jimmy’s hand in that last panel is freaking me out.

I hate to say it, but that first story feels just like those TSR-80 ad comics from the early 80’s…


It should also be noted that Action Comics was the kid-friendly Superman book in the early-mid 80s. This was back when DC thought it should be possible to give a Superman comic to a kid that had Superman in it, doing Superman-ish things.

“I’m sorry, but even for the time those stories came out, they’re still ridiculously gimmicky. Superman needs the help of a little kid to solve a mystery? He can hear EVERYTHING in the planet and see LIGHT-YEARS away? I’m not even interested in the answers, because I fear they’ll be utterly lame.”

He clearly figured out the mystery as soon as they got there and he’s trying to teach the kid a lesson cause he’s an asshole.

Sir Manley Johnson

March 13, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Sijo, Matthew is correct, Superman solved the mystery within seconds of arriving at the Fortress of Solitude, he doesn’t need the kids help. What he is doing is giving the kid a chance to exercise his brain. In all fairness this comic would have been written for young kids anywhere from 6 years old and up. No one over 12 would admit to reading a comic book publicly in those days.

I’m most intrigued about the cabbie subplot in the second story. Why does he want Superman’s autograph? Why is he prepared to risk his life for said autograph. And where did he get that fetching red cap?

For the first story: the magnetism in the meteor affected the Fortress computer and shifted it into another dimension – the computer carried on it’s chess game and ‘captured’ everything along with it! Superman unravels the Fortress key to create a superconductor and a lightning bolt forces the computer to come back to this dimension for an instant, allowing Superman to reprogram it with his x-ray vision!! Mad! I suppose Waid had to start somewhere!!

In my defense…

Yes, first published works, these. The first one was, as another commenter surmised, scripted very much in the house style and with the voice of the Superman comics of the time, which were deliberately being produced for a younger audience (as was the mandate of the then-publisher, something editor Julie Schwartz didn’t love but went along with). So, yeah, it isn’t exactly Eisner-winning material, but it had a beginning, a middle, and an end, it set up a conflict and a resolution, it properly introduced the characters, and it has a good hook, all in eight pages. It is what it is on a beginning-craft level, but even if the story’s goofy and full of comic-book science, the structure’s solid. At least I got that much right straight out of the gate, and understanding the craft of structure has served me well since. And I credit Julie for teaching me.

[And for the record, Darius’s synopsis above is fun to read but not accurate. The magnetic meteor had corrupted the supercomupter’s programming, yes, causing it to “play chess” with the entire Fortress and “capture” it into another dimension as if it were a chess piece. Which, I know, is wacky science at its wackiest, but oddly consistent with the level of realism of a Bronze-Age Superman story. Anyway, since nothing’s in active danger, Superman remains in teaching mode and coaches Jon to come up with a solution–replicating the meteor’s magnetic field by spinning the Fortress key into a giant spool of wire that becomes magnetized when struck by lightning (which would actually happen) (the electromagnetization part, not the “ensuing disruption magically undoes everything” part. Again, please join me in being bewildered that this sort of hand-waving is what passed for a logical plot development in comics of the early 1980s.)

The second story, I take no heat for. It was bought and then rewritten from top to bottom by assistant editor E. Nelson Bridwell. And when I say “from top to bottom,” I mean, no kidding, every single line of dialogue and half the panel descriptions were blue-penciled (Nelson sent me a copy of the edited script to learn from, and I still have it–he actually worked harder on it than I did, I think!). All of the balloons and captions–every one–was rewritten to tell us what we could already see was happening in the art. An entire subplot about the cabbie was edited in. Very little survived. That’s not a complaint or a dig at Nelson, of whom I remain a fan; naturally, I was disappointed at the time, but not at all embittered. I was still riding the high of writing Superman stories at age 22.

Clearly , I had a lot to learn about writing stories that are driven by genuine human emotion rather than gimmicks and plot-hooks, but again, in the words of Abe Simpson, “It was the style at the time.”. Right or wrong, this is exactly what was being published at the time in those books, and if you wanted to write Superman, this is how you were expected to write–plot over character. Feel free to criticize the work on its own merits–I, myself, wince when I re-read it, God knows–but mocking it for not being sophisticated by today’s standards is like faulting a nursery rhyme for not being a sonnet.

But…don’t take any of what I just said as a serious defense of the quality of these stories, in case that wasn’t clear by my sarcastic tone. They are not good. They are utilitarian. They are what they are. God, will someone go find Busiek’s first work or something…?

I had that second one as a kid and I loved it.

Just saying.

“God, will someone go find Busiek’s first work or something…?”
Ah, a backup story in Green Lantern # 162. I found a copy (older than I am…) a few years back…

How F’ing cool is it that Mark Waid just responded to this post :). Geek Love :) !!!!

I can’t believe Mark Waid just wrote a couple hundred words about these stories and remembers them. Thanks, Mark!

That was DC in the early 80s, all right. Still trying to work in the scientifi-plot angle (as Gernsback would’ve said) that worked so well in Silver age Flash and Atom stories. And is the science in the first story ludicrous? Not for a story in the life of a man who can fly faster than the speed of light so he can watch a TV show he missed yesterday.

R.C. Harvey once had a cartoon in the Comics Journal demonstrating the “Superman Crouch:” each panel was so heavy with expository dialogue that Supes had to crouch to keep room for his word balloons.

This is what I really like about writers like Waid: despite the fact that there’s no need to defend their work, they are still willing to show up with explanations on commentary boards (risking being flamed by the less sociable fans.) Thank you for that, Sir.

And yeah, I knew that back then Action was still doing the more “Silver Age” type of Superman stories. They just felt so awkward when by then, everybody else in DC had moved on to the Bronze Age (those were the days of the Wolfman/Perez Titans after all). But I guess someone felt that at least SOME of their comics should still appeal to little kids.

“They are what they are. God, will someone go find Busiek’s first work or something…?”

Too funny. Thanks for sharing the background on these pieces Mark.


@Chris G: Patronizing tone and shoddy, stilted dialog is hardly “kid friendly”. Thank god that Schwartz’ attitude was gone within a decade so I could grow up in the ’90s with awesome cartoon versions of DC comics characters that were appropriate for children but well produced enough that I still enjoy them today.

Waid is the man.

This was a strange period of Superman stories, as it followed a more adult bronze-age series of stories by Marv Wolfman and Cary Bates. Quite a shock to move from the Wolfman/Kane Vandal Savage story and Bates’ stories about Perry White’s marriage being in trouble to this light-hearted fare. But these stories are fun to read in small doses.

And, wow, Mark Waid got to write Superman at 22? Nice! Mark, you have gotten better, but no need to be ashamed of these stories. You entertained tens of thousands of people.

@Dalarsco As Mark Waid noted, the decision to do the stories in that style was the publisher’s. Schwartz had along record of doing kid friendly comics at a high level of quality: Think of the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams work on Batman and Green Lantern, for instance. Or the Wolfman/Kane Superman stories that ran in Action just prior to this era. In this case, though, it’s clear that the intent was to appeal to a much younger audience than previously, and I’d wager, a much younger audience than those 90s cartoons were aimed at.

Sijo – agreed, always appreciate creators coming to throw light on their work. Not sure how the computer could capture things and place them in another dimension as well as the fact that you don’t really want your PC shunting the cat into some other world for random reasons, but the wonderful leaps of logic are what makes comics from this era so charming and fun.

This wasn’t an altogether ‘bad’ time for Superman stories, either – the early 1980s produced some top-notch tales across all the Super-books. And yeah, maybe I was a rather young reader back then but some of the subject matter was still challenging. Recall reading The Dying Days of Lois and Lana (think that’s the title from memory) around 30 years ago now which dealt with the possibility of their deaths in a believable way.

I was wondering if anyone knew what bill sienkiewicz did before comics. I bought a frame at a thrift store that had an awful picture of a Teddy bear riding a wooden horse. The artist signature was b. Sienkiewicz. I thought it was funny. I found a listing on eBay for a similar piece by the same artist: http://cgi.ebay.com/Vintage-Picture-Bear-Enjoying-His-Honey-B-Sienkiewicz-/200581420657?pt=Art_Prints&hash=item2eb3959671#ht_2008wt_689
Could this be Comic book artist, bill sienkiewicz, or just some artist who happens to have the same last name? I don’t know how common that name is, but I figure it can’t be THAT common.

Mr. Waid, don’t take too much heat from these guys. They stories were suitably good reads for their time, and especially when you consider they are amongst your first forays into comic writing.

I don’t think the stories are necessarily bad so much as they’re corny…but corniness was the state of Superman in the 80s under Schwartz. Well-executed but hokey and corny. And I don’t think it has to do with the fact that it was kids-oriented (there were plenty of kids-oriented books out there that read much better even in previous eras), that it was a function of the era (by the 80s the style was already extremely dated), or that it was that Mark Waid was new to comics (all the Schwartz Superman comics by pros like Maggin and Bates were pretty corny and hokey too)….I think it was just the house style back then for Schwartz Superman.

Schwartz Superman was supposed to be dated, corny, hokey and embarrassing, even by 80s standards. It was Pat Boone’s Tutti Frutti being put next to Little Richard’s version. Mark Waid was simply writing in the house style he was required to write in. I don’t think it should be held against him.

Those corny 80’s Superman comics were what got me into comics in the first place. I could barely read them now, but I will always have a special place in my heart for them and could never part with them.

Damn – rogue apostrophe.

Mark Waid actually responded? Wow… You’re a classy a guy, Mark as there ain’t no way that I would apologize for any story that got published and I got a check for. Are you kidding me? Get that money, dawg and keep it moving.

You get paid to write comic books. Let me re-type that: You get PAID to write comic books, so that pretty much means you win. Now, if Kurt Busiek calls you and says, “Dude, your early Superman stories were so LAME,” then I would be a little concerned. But I know for a fact that Kurt says you’re the Brent Musburger of comic book writers and that is high praise, man.

I also have to add that the “hokey” and “corny” Superman comics in the 1980’s got plenty of kids hooked on reading and hooked on comics so, here’s two cheers for corny and hokey. We need less “grim and gritty” and a little more hokey and corny in today’s comics. And we also need more comics featuring 1970’s style kung-fu action with my main man, Shang-Chi.

I’m glad to see that “Ruse” is back with you at the helm and I’m looking forward to seeing what adventures you have in store for the fans of Simon and Emma.

What’s amazing to me isn’t the “hokeyness” of these stories (as Waid and others pointed out, that WAS DC’s style at the time, which is why Marvel was outselling them like mad), but the fact that not a YEAR LATER, that “house style” would be out the window, and Superman comics in particular looked, felt and sounded COMPLETELY different (post-Crisis/Byrne). Amazing what one giant shift in editorial mandate will do.

For the record, Waid and Augustyn’s Detective Comics Annual story from ’88 is one of my favorite Batman stories ever. So, obviously, not hampered by ludicrous editorial oversight, Waid was obviously super-capable from even an early age.

Is this the same artist who paints the vintage “Bear holding honey” and “teddy bear on a horse” kids paintings? I can’t find any more information about him

The name on the painting is B. Sienkiewicz , but the signature is very different and for the life of me I cant find any information on these paintings. They are original of a teddy bear riding a horse and a teddy bear holding a honey jar. I found them at a thrift store locally

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