Back in the halycon days of 2006, when Ryan Penagos and myself both still worked at Wizard Magazine, we had an idea for a fairly ambitious feature we gave the working title "Best of the Best," named for (in my mind at least) the Eric Roberts martial arts flick of the same name. The idea grew out of our meeting and getting to hang out with professional wrestler, giant comics nerd and cool guy extraordinaire "Fallen Angel" Christopher Daniels at the Wizard World Los Angeles show. We had been trying to get something going involving spotlighting Chris in Wizard and kicked around a few ideas. Intitially we had been cooking up something called "World's Toughest Geek," pitting Chris against fellow superfan and Ultimate Fighter Nate "Rock" Quarry in comic book trivia, but that didn't pan out (which could be another post for another time). Considering alternatives, Ryan and I talked a lot about badasses and comics and where the two intersected, which is where "Best of the Best" emanated.
At the time, I was Wizard's official contact for DC Comics while Ryan held the same position in regards to Marvel, meaning we got to sit in on planning and pitch meetings for the content of upcoming issues. Taking all the stuff we had been chatting about, we proposed the idea of taking the old "Last Man Standing" concept that was a Wizard mainstay for years to the next level and doing a big ol' tournament ala the NCAA's March Madness, taking the toughest characters in comics from Marvel, DC, etc. and matching them up in a 64-person bracket, ultimately determining who was the toughest dude (or lady) in comics.
"Best of the Best" had several levels to it and would have potentially involved a great deal of fan interaction. Wizard's web site had just received the first of several revamps and we wanted to utilize the feature to allow fans who were starting to frequent the message boards to interact with the print magazine. While we never got far enough to determine the exact details, either via polls or simply threads on the boards, we were gonna try and have the Wizard fans' votes make up at least some portion of the deciding factor in who won the tournament. Whether that meant they'd get to vote all the way through, only in the opening rounds or potentially decide an "alternate" brackets that we'd print the results of after the "real" tourney, we never got a chance to decide (all those options were on the table).
Other stuff we wanted to do involved getting creators involved to break down certain "highlight" matchups and, of course, somehow getting Chris Daniels involved as our "fight doctor," laying down the tale of the tape for our final match. How exactly we were going to determine the opening rounds, whether they would be decided by the Wizard staff, creator "experts," the aforementioned fans, or some combination of all or some of the above was a major stumbling block.
Another thing we had trouble figuring out was who would and wouldn't meet our criteria as far as participants. Initially Ryan and I pitched doing only unpowered fighters, as we figured having guys like Superman involved in the tourney would make it less interesting, but it was tough nailing down exactly what "unpowered" meant.
You know how you'll sit around with your buddies and talk comics and spend hours debating stuff like whether Wolverine's claws could slice through Captain America's shield? That's often what these Wizard pitch meetings would become for significant periods at a time, and it was times like that when you'd sit back and think, "It is so awesome that this is my job." Well, the meetings to discuss "Best of the Best" as you could imagine featured a lot of that type of stuff. I remember major sticking points as far as who could be part of the tournament included whether or not Captain America technically had powers due to the super soldier serum, if Deathstroke's abilities were "superhuman," and if the Punisher could only be in there is he went hand-to-hand and tossed his guns aside. I also remember lengthy discourse about us badly wanting Iron Fist in there but feeling like his who "I can make my fist a thing as unto iron" gig disqualified him. Honestly, it was all good fun and I was pretty psyched for months more of it.
One thing I unequivocably recall is that Ryan and I wanted the finals to come down to a DC vs Marvel showdown between Richard Dragon and Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu. We envisioned it as a straight up old school "Last Man Standing" and were pretty insistent that it had to be drawn by Scott McDaniel. Seriously, how f'n cool would that have been?!
Anyways, obviously "Best of the Best" never came to fruition. I can't remember all the reasons why, but as with most Wizard features that didn't pan out, it was a combination of things as opposed to just one. Definitely a big factor was that then-Wizard Editor-In-Chief Pat McCallum ended up being let go in November of that year. I have nothing but nice things to say about Pat, who was not only a great professional mentor but a guy whose office I loved to go and hang out at after work and jaw about comics, toys, pro wrestling, etc. Pat was huge into just about everything that went into "Best of the Best" (he loved "Last Man Standing" and fantasy tournament type deals) and was a big supporter of pushing it through, so when he left, the feature definitely lost some momentum, both because we lost his enthusiasm and because it felt a bit wrong to go forward without him. Ryan also left for Marvel around the same time, so take wat I just said about Pat and multiply it since he was the guy who co-conceived the whole thing with me. Beyond that, though, it was obviously a major period of transition for Wizard and a big ass feature like "Best of the Best" understandably had to take a backseat to other priorities.
At the end of the day, I can't help but think maybe if I had pushed a little harder, I still could have made "Best of the Best" happen, but ultimately, you need to pick your battles, and while I think it would have been a really cool feature, it wasn't something particularly pressing or topical and thus it slipped through the cracks.
Ryan did end up doing a Q&A with Chris for Marvel.com that served as the launch for the Fightin' Fanboys column we have since continued. Still, I can't help but think fondly on what could have been...maybe someday...