Women’s History Month: Louise Simonson by Brandon Masters

When our glorious leader Dave asked us all to think of a gal in comics to celebrate for Women’s History Month, only one gal came to mind. She entered the comics industry in the 1970s and was continually working as a writer or editor right through the 90s. This woman was highly influential into bringing event comics as a whole into the medium, as well as furthering DC’s concept of legacy in the 90s. The creator?

Pictured: Louise and her husband Walt.

Louise “Weezie” Simonson.

Starting under the name Louise Jones in 1974, Weezie worked for publisher Warren Publishing as an editor. She worked on multiple horror books, including the original Vampirella, but would leave for greener pastures in 1979. What greener pastures?

Yeah.

Marvel Comics, of course. Louise landed a job wrangling Chris Claremont and his sprawling X-Men early on, starting by sharing editorial issues with Jim Salcrup in issue 137 of the Uncanny X-Men. She also wound up editing licensed properties as well, including the most excellent Star Wars and Indiana Jones books Marvel was putting out at the time. When Claremont opened up his little X-Family into a spinoff with New Mutants, Simonson would edit that as well under her Jones pseudonym.

However, Simonson also wanted to write. In 1983, she would start writing under her now married name. One of her first works was actually making a brand new property for Marvel Comics, called Power Pack.

Focusing on the misadventures of a family granted superpowers, the book would go on to win the prestigious Eagle Award in 1983. While they’ve not been awarded since 2014, the Eagle Awards were made as the first independent comics award in the United Kingdom. She also made her mark in Marvel with sword and sorcery adventures in Red Sonja and Marvel Team-Up. Perhaps ironically, it would be Claremont who wrote the issue of Marvel Team-Up that brought the two together, however.

She was also one of the few people Clarmeont trusted with “his” mutant babies. Despite nearly quitting over the launch of X-Factor, Claremont and fellow editor Ann Nocenti would nominate Weezie to take up the X-Factor banner when original writer Bob Layton left. Coming on just at the tail end of issue 6 of the original run, her first act was to create Apocalypse. Yes, that Apocalypse. 

I know he looks like he’s wearing a cozy sweater. It was the 80s. Every major villain had a comfy sweater. Look at Freddy Kreuger. And Bill Cosby.

Walt Simonson would join her on issue 10 and the two would make for a husband and wife powerhouse for a long run. Together, the two would slowly transform Warren Worthington the III into a brooding anti-hero as the Archangel, and expand the book into what many fans would recognize as perhaps the first modern soap opera of the X-Books. Scott Summers, who had abandoned his wife and son through editorial mandates and a severe mental breakdown, would have to call himself out on his own shit finally and own up to his mistakes. Jean Grey, just resurrected, would have to deal with being Scott’s memory rather than his one true love. Oh, and she helped create the event comic as we know it today.

It was early days. We still hadn’t streamlined how an event should work.

No, seriously. Chris Claremont had a germ of an idea for something called The Mutant Massacre. In it, the mutants beneath the streets of NYC would be massacred by hideously strong villains, and the X-Men would be badly beaten. Since X-Factor lived in the same city, Simonson pushed Claremont to expand the concept into an event that spanned all three major X-Books, with issue tie-ins coming from both Simonson’s Power Pack and The Mighty Thor, as well as Ann Nocenti’s Daredevil. The results were only loose connections, with the closest connections being a massive explosion of fire ripping throughout the sewers, and Wolverine picking up the scent of Jean, who he thought was still dead.

The major hit, though, was that every comic had after-effects from this. Warren was severely damaged in the sewers, resulting in his wings being amputated, and eventually transformed into Archangel. Most of the X-Men nearly died, resulting in a harsher team for some time, as well as the eventual spinoff Excalibur as Kate Pryde and Kurt Wagner went to the UK for medical treatment. 

This was a massive sales hit, and would result in more. Much more. Fall of the Mutants would seem to kill off all the X-Men while making X-Factor into heroes with literal parades. The Inferno event that would center in the X-Titles and expand across all of Marvel by 1988 for an issue or two. The X-Tinction Agenda would make the start of the X-themed puns for events, as well as feature the X-Men and X-Factor teaming up against the forces of Limbo (a not-Hell substitute for Marvel) and reaping the whirlwind from when Scott left his wife and son. During all of this, she would also become the writer for New Mutants for over three years despite taking the job as a fill-in writer.

And she would go on to do the same at DC Comics.

After Rob Liefeld took over New Mutants in 1991, Louise Simonson would go to DC Comics and create the fourth Superman book The Man of Steel. Working with Jon Bogdanove and Mike Carlin, the book would focus more on Clark as an investigative reporter and solving some of his problems with reporting rather than punching. There was still a fair amount of punching, though. While the books were all involved in what we now consider The Triangle Era, the issues were mostly stand-alone.

Until 1992, when Jerry Ordway said they should kill off Superman as a joke.

Dean Cain: Not just figuratively responsible for killing Superman anymore.

You see, the executives at Warner Brothers wanted to delay a marriage between Lois and Clark in the comics so the Lois and Clark television show could have them flirting and falling in love without confusing audiences. Apparently, they felt readers were massive morons. In a meeting where all the writers on Superman got together to try and spin wheels for at least 6 months, Ordway got frustrated and pounded on the desk, just shooting out they should kill the bastard. As he would often do.

But this time was different: Louise Simonson liked it.

Remember, her run at Marvel focused on the death-prone X-Men. She knew darn well exactly how hard readers and characters both could be impacted by the death of someone. And to kill off someone as influential and massive as Superman? Well, what better way to show that the new and improved Man of Steel was an important force that everyone in-universe loved?

While she didn’t write the issue that killed him, Louise Simonson certainly started the process of nailing the coffin lid closed on the Man of Steel… temporarily. As we all know, DC would bring him back after milking it a bit. Part of that was a desire for the readers to not feel cheated by just whipping the Last Son of Krypton back from the dead. So, each book’s writer got to make their own Superman replacement who would be around for a few months. Who did Louise make?

Arguably one of the bigger legacy characters from the early 90s in DC alongside Kyle Rayner, Simonson crafted Steel as a character who would pick up the mantle of Superman. John Henry Irons would be the only one of the four new Supermen who wouldn’t claim to be directly linked to Superman, and instead was a well-educated African-American weapons manufacturer who was horrified to find the weapons he’d designed on the streets in the hands of street gangs. While many comics of the 90s have aged miserably, the issues where Steel headlines The Man of Steel are genuinely well done, with some really touching moments and a reasonable approach to the subject of gang violence.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, Steel got a movie in 1997.

He’s the only 90s legacy character from DC to get his own movie so far, and he’s still around to this day. It’s hard to get a lasting impact in one of the two major superhero comic publishers, but Louise Simonson nailed it in both of them.

Her production has slowed down in recent years, but Simonson has continually shown she’s a force to be reckoned with in comics. Louise Simonson, thank you for all you’ve done. You’re amazing.

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