|THREAT OR MENACE?|
Occasionally around the internet, I've posted comments on Bob Harras ranging from mildly complimentary to frothingly defensive. Harras is no Jim Shooter, but he's certainly viewed with a great amount of disdain from many corners of comic book fandom. He catches flack for everything from pushing Chris Claremont to quitting the X-Men (an accurate criticism) to causing Marvel's mid-nineties bankruptcy and masterminding Spider-Man's "Clone Saga" and the "Heroes Reborn" event (all complete falsehoods; Harras was handed the keys to the company after every one of those things was well underway -- he did, however, spearhead the resurrection of Norman Osborn which ended the Clone Saga).
But all I can say is, I like the guy. I met him once, at Comic-Con in 1999, and he was very friendly. I told him how much I had enjoyed the Black Knight's lightsaber and he thanked me for the compliment. He also participated in the creation of my all-time favorite Con souvenir, which I described a while back.
Art by Andy Kubert.
Then, shortly thereafter, Harras lost the very artists he had favored over Claremont when Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, and others quit Marvel to form Image Comics. Though the Image artists' departure was not a result of his actions but rather of Marvel policy in general, Harras's earlier editorial decisions nonetheless came back to bite him when he found his X-Men books without the talent on either end of the creative spectrum which he had relied upon to keep them as top sellers.
But his recovery from this situation is an area where I believe Harras deserves a great amount of credit, which he is usually not paid. Sure, he had some time to coast on the sales momentum left by Claremont and the Image artists, but momentum will only take you so far. And Harras used that time productively, to reassemble the X-franchise. As the speculator bubble burst and the comics world around them crumbled, the X-Men books remained consistently strong sellers (proportionally of course; even their sales unavoidably eroded along with the rest of the industry's).
Art by John Romita, Jr.
And this is where subjective opinion comes into the matter, but I have to note that I think the Harras-edited X-Men comics, written by Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza, are genuinely good stories, and worthy successors to the legacy of Chris Claremont. Harras kept all the trademark Claremont angst in full effect, and his annual crossovers ("X-Cutioner's Song", "Fatal Attractions", "Phalanx Covenant", "Age of Apocalypse") usually felt organic and appropriate based on past storylines. I continued to enjoy the X-Men after Harras stepped away from day-to-day editorship of the titles, but I do feel that there was a noticeable step down in story quality and consistency at the time, as Harras's former assistant Mark Powers took over as the X-Men's editor and "showrunner".
Art by Jim Cheung.
Harras also, a year later, presided over "Heroes Return" -- the event which brought those farmed-out heroes back to the Marvel Universe and saw Kurt Busiek and George Pérez take over AVENGERS, Busiek and Sean Chen on IRON MAN, and more. Chris Claremont even returned to Marvel at the time, writing FANTASTIC FOUR and taking a position as the company's creative director, functioning as Harras's right-hand man. Bygones were bygones. And if the man who Harras had so wronged nearly a decade before could forgive and move on, could fans do any less?
Art by Sean Chen.
So yeah, I like Bob Harras. I think he was a great editor for his time. The Marvel of the nineties needed someone like him. It was a company run by the marketing department, and Harras was an editor who clearly understood his audience and had a head for what would sell. I don't claim that all his ideas were recipes for success, but I firmly believe the man had more hits than misses during his time at Marvel.
All the above said, I certainly don't believe Harras is a saint, either. Multiple professionals have stated that he outright lied to them over the years. I believe them. There are too many such stories for the assertions to be false. His issues with Claremont, documented above, are well known -- as are problems with Mark Waid and others. So his managerial style, at least with regards to freelance talent, was one of deception and non-transparency. Not good. But there are also anecdotes, mostly from the editors who worked under him, about his strong work ethic and creative vision -- among other things, he constantly battled against Marvel's marketing department over their stupid ideas. Say what you will about the guy, but I firmly believe that the Bob Harras of the nineties would understand that Spider-Man and especially Wolverine don't belong on the Avengers, and would do his utmost to keep such a thing from happening.
Art by John Byrne.
So maybe Harras was due to be put out to pasture and his exit from Marvel, unceremonious as it was, came at the right time; we'll never know for sure. The signs certainly pointed toward some questionable editorial choices shortly before his ousting. But what it comes down to in the end is that I've liked and even loved the majority of the Harras-edited comics I've read in my life. While my affinity for the X-Men of the seventies is well documented, it's really Harras's X-Men that are my X-Men, the X-Men I grew up with. And during Harras's years as the series editor, I was consistently engrossed, month after month. And the same holds true for most of his time as editor-in-chief as well, with respect to the entire Marvel line.
Thus, while I fully understand that the guy is not everyone's cup of tea, and I personally have issues with some of his tactics and choices, I feel that in many respects, the Bob Harras of the nineties is frequently, unjustly maligned -- and I will always defend him for the hours, months, and years of enjoyment his comics brought me throughout my teens.