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Friday, August 28, 2009

Marvel's Happy Birthday to Jack Kirby -- Spotted today at The V:

I guess the question isn't so much whose as it is how many heads will roll. At the very least, a deeply contrite apology should be issued far and wide.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Literate Discussion of Worthwhile Recent Superhero Comics -- Rare enough a thing that I thought I should share it with you. It's at The Comics Journal Message Board.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

In and Out of The Trance -- The final line of this Onion A/V Club interview with Steve Bissette (via Spurge) makes me more than a little sad, because I really love Steve Bissette's comics work, and, pursuant to my previous post, I just can't believe comics as a whole is in a place where one of the prime movers of Swamp Thing in the 1980s isn't being wooed by every publisher extant with bucketloads of gold coins and carafes of the finest wines in the land. Anyway, it's a terrific interview that looks at Steve's days working with Alan Moore and John Totleben, gives away some spoilers about the Tyrant issues that never were, and talks about his work with the Center for Cartoon Studies.

Semi-related: Remember the day I met Steve Bissette? That was an awesome day.

Edited to add: Check out Steve Bissette's website. (Thanks for the nudge, Roger!)


Burning Bridges -- Frank Santoro has a great piece up about how the Direct Market era has come to an end, signified by the disinterest comic shops had in supporting the new Nexus efforts of Mike Baron and Steve Rude.

This is, in retrospect, a glaringly obvious point, and good for Frank for laying it out so well. My earliest days of weekly shopping (and one summer working) in the Direct Market look, through my rose-tinted specs, like racks and racks of nothing but Nexus, Love and Rockets, Cerebus, Elfquest, and The First Kingdom. Of course, there were many other exciting titles emerging at that time, but those are the ones that really stood out, and your knew if you found those on the racks next to Uncanny X-Men and New Teen Titans, you had found a comic book store that knew what it was doing, staying sharp, looking ahead and looking out for the best interests of its customers and the industry as a whole.

How times have changed. Good luck even finding the best and most vital comics titles at most "comic book stores," these days, one of the reasons why I continue to assert that the vast majority of Direct Market retailers are really superhero convenience shops, servicing the desires of superhero fans, not true comic book stores, catering to the diverse tastes of readers of comic books who seek out whatever genres and styles appeal to them and speak to them as readers, as people.

My experiences over the past couple of years in the Direct Market have been very mixed. There are few truly visionary comic book stores within a day's drive of where I live; the shop I regularly buy comics at is very good at special orders, but there's no depth at all in terms of the sorts of alternative and independent comics that I see as the vital lifeblood of comics at the moment, and if I miss ordering those sorts of books in the narrow one-month window of any given Previews catalog, I'm left to find things on eBay, from online retailers, or often, I'm just, as mom used to say, "Shit out of luck."

That Baron and Rude are "Shit out of luck" within the Direct Market blows my mind and saddens me a bit, because that was a comic I loved when I was 14. I'll admit I haven't read any new issues in years (I have never seen the new run on sale, anywhere, so the news it's failed is really no news at all), but any time I re-read the first batch of issues, they always bring a smile to my face. So much energy, so much potential. For Nexus; for me.

Where did it all go wrong?

Go read Santoro's piece, it's an eye-opener.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

The Insight Not To Work With Them -- In the comments to my previous post, reader Rick said this:
Aren't there contracts signed that would indicate who owns what property? Generally speaking, doesn't Marvel/DC have the primary rights to anything published under their banner? It's an unfair system but it isn't a secret either. I don't know the details of Moore's relationship with the Big Two, but maybe he should have had the insight not to have worked with them in the first place... right? Or are contracts being blatantly disregarded?
The issue Rick raises, and the attitude behind it, is too important to let this discussion sit in the comments. Here's my response to Rick, and to anyone who thinks this might be a valid point of view:

The history of the "Big Two," is a history of lies, betrayals and broken promises. It's very easy in 2009 to say "maybe he should have had the insight not to have worked with them in the first place," about Alan Moore and a thousand other creators who have been screwed, blewed and tattooed (as Mom used to say), but the fact of the matter is that it's far more complex than that, and if you truly have an interest in the subject, then you owe it to yourself to do some research.

Just one example, relevant to this post: Are you aware that, prior to Watchmen, no superhero graphic novel (and there were few enough of those anyway) was ever kept permanently in print? And that DC's contract with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons said that the rights to the work would revert to Moore and Gibbons once the book had (as all superhero graphic novels had in the past) gone out of print?

Then the work proved to transcend all previous precedent, and instead of keeping with the spirit of the written contract (there was absolutely NO historical reason at the time not to think Moore and Gibbons would not be given ownership of the work under this contract: it's what Moore and Gibbons AND DC all expected to happen), the company kept the book in print, so far, quite permanently. To the extent that that goes, that's understandable enough; it's a hugely popular work. Where DC falls down in this example is in not somehow compensating Moore and Gibbons for the unexpected success of the work that changed the conditions under which the contract was written. Legally, of course, DC had the right to do what they wanted. But from a business and ethical standpoint, what they did was monumentally stupid: They permanently soured Moore on working for them (through this and many other actions -- look up the "promotional" Watchmen watches, or the pulping of an issue of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or the Tomorrow Stories story that Top Shelf had to publish because DC didn't have the courage -- which I believe is how Moore ended up there; anyway, LOOK STUFF UP AND FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF).

Dig out some old Comics Journals, Google creators rights, read some interviews with the injured parties, find out for yourself what those of us who have been watching the industry for decades are talking about.

Find out what happened to Marv Wolfman when he made a claim to ownership of Blade. Find out how vague and meaningless the idea of "Copyright," in comics was, especially prior to 1974. Do you know about the back-of-paycheck agreements the companies made creators sign in order to get paid? Did you know some of them regularly crossed it out, because they didn't agree with it? I could go on all day.

A lot of injustice and malfeasance has been committed by corporate comics companies against the very people who make it possible for them to exist, but if the readers who enjoy their product would make an effort to understand the long and thorny history of corporate comics and creators rights, maybe those readers would think twice about blindly supporting the large corporations that have done so much harm to the people who created the very product in question.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Marvelman: What's the Worst That Could Happen? Wait, It Just Did -- Anyone interested in creator's rights, or even just good superhero comics, must have thrown up in their mouths a little bit, like I did, with the news that Marvel Comics has acquired the rights to Marvelman.

Marvelman, which was published in the States in the 1980s by Eclipse as Miracleman is one of, if not the, most compelling superhero stories ever created, by some of the most gifted creators in superhero history, including Alan Moore, Alan Davis, and John Totleben. Due to a monumental kerfuffle of rights issues and confusions, the series has been (ironically, if you've ever read it) in limbo seemingly forever, and I'm sure most "fans" will see this as the happy ending they've long waited for.

Uh, no.

Marvel Comics has a long history of not doing right by creators, and of screwing up the creative properties they control. That's not a recipe for the happy ending we should all be rooting for, which would mean that the series comes back into print with the blessing and cooperation of Alan Moore and everyone else that worked on it. (I'm not discussing the pre-Moore era or the rights of creator Mick Anglo because I don't care about the former, and while I am glad Anglo is getting compensated, he's not the man who created the stories anyone involved cares about, most especially Marvel Comics.)

I'll be happy to be wrong if Marvel announces that Moore, Totleben and the rest are being fairly compensated for their landmark work, so much so that they are behind the revival effort 100% and the clouds part and the angels sing.

But that's very likely not going to happen. Chances are, based on observing Marvel and Moore for the past, oh, most of my life, that Marvel is doing this in part because it's a backdoor method of publishing some of Moore's best and most-loved work without actually having the ethics and decency required for Moore to be willing to partner with you in a mutually-beneficial publishing arrangement that serves well the needs of the publisher, the creators, the characters and the readers.

See also Marvel's previous reprints of Captain Britain; see also, over at DC, well, anything of Moore's, these days, from Watchmen to Swamp Thing to Absolute Promethea.

Alan Moore's publisher of choice for his comics work these days is Top Shelf. I point this out not because they advertise on this site (but hey, thanks, Chris and Brett!), but because it's a stone-cold motherfucking fact: Marvel and DC have both screwed, and screwed with, Alan Moore, many times in the past. DC much more so than Marvel, admittedly, but this may be the event that allows Marvel to catch up.

No, unless Alan Moore and the other creators involved in Marvelman's most vital and important stories are all on-board with this revival attempt, unless everyone involved is fairly compensated and given a proper say in how things go forward, then whatever Marvelman "product" issues forth from Marvel is no more valid or significant than Todd McFarlane's misbegotten Man of Miracles action figure, or Checker Publishing's hideously-reproduced Supreme collections. If you wonder why Alan Moore hates the comic book industry so much, man, you're just not paying attention. From the largest to the smallest, almost every publisher has tried to hook on to his coattails without earning the right, and this strikes me as just the latest attempt, even if it is the splashiest one in quite some time.

This is all a bunch of bullshit, people, and nothing short of a joint Alan Moore/Joe Quesada press conference in which they shake hands and Moore smiles a lot will change my mind.


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Random Notes -- I miss when Christopher Butcher used to write Previews Review, a monthly tour of the goddamned Diamond Distribution catalog. This week he posted something similar. Part One, Part Two.

When I wrote my somewhat glowing review of the new hardcover Alan Moore Swamp Thing release, I didn't realize how much DC had screwed it up (although I am not surprised at all).

The silver lining has been artist Steve Bissette looking at the project and sharing copious notes about Alan Moore's collaborative process. Part One, Part Two, Part Three. Jesus, what I wouldn't give to have a complete set of the photocopies Bissette says he has of all of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing scripts. (Thanks to Leigh Walton for turning me on to all this discussion, and also in general for being a rockin' comics-type human being. My favourite quote from him on this Swamp Thing cock-up is this, regarding DC Comics: "Is not making your creators hate you really such an impossible task?")

Noteworthy: It only took a decade, but Chris Allen has finally written about something I hate so much I am not reading his comments. No offense, Chris, I just really, really fucking hate American Idol.

I wish I could afford to go to the Toronto Comic Art Festival this (or any) year. If you go, do have fun for me, eh?

I haven't read Sean T. Collins's review of the new David Mazzucchelli graphic novel yet, but once I've read the book, I will. Two things I love are comics by David Mazzucchelli and reviews by Sean T. Collins.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Flimsy Final Crisis Thoughts -- Here's an email I received from Dave:
I'm generally against these "big event books" although I did enjoy the concepts for House of M, Civil War, and Secret Invasion (the execution, not so much...and the tie-ins...CHRIST, the tie-ins...). I haven't bothered with any DC stuff aside from All-Star Superman since Grant Morrison is the best kind of acid trip.

Which leads me to my question: have you checked out Final Crisis at all? Amazon has the HC up for pre-order for $16.99 which seems ridiculously cheap. I've only read sample pages but for that price I decided to give the HC a shot. I know you enjoy Morrison as well which is why I've been hoping to see a Final Crisis review and get your take on it. Your two cents are often worth a great deal more.
I read all of Final Crisis, and ultimately I think the only worthwhile thing that came out of it was the Final Crisis Sketchbook, which had a pure view of Morrison's ideas and plans. Those plans went pretty seriously awry in the actual series itself. That, coupled with the unfortunate inability of JG Jones to do all the art for the entire series, resulted in what I thought was a profoundly disappointing final product. Getting it at a discount is certainly a wise idea, and you may get more out of it than I did, but I far prefer to just re-read Marvel Boy and remember how good the combination of Morrison and Jones once could be.

By the way, now is as good a time as any to remind you that if you buy something from an Amazon.com link or through the Lone Star Comics/MyComicShop.com ads and links on this site, it helps support this site, and is much appreciated by me.

Buy Final Crisis from amazon.com, or better yet, buy Marvel Boy from amazon.com.


Friday, February 06, 2009

"Hey, What Are You Reading?" -- It was as recently as two or three years ago that I was astonished by the discipline of friends of mine in comics that started "waiting for the trade," eschewing monthly floppy comics in favor of their sturdier, often more handsome collected versions. I had been making weekly treks to the comics shop (in one form or another) since I was 8 or 9 years old, and the thought of actually waiting months, or even a year or more, to read stories I could read in serialized for right now (well, once a month), seemed beyond the limits of my imagination.

Then bad writers seemed to take over superhero comics, packing once-beloved titles with mediocre (or worse) stories, often tied into "events" that mattered not a bit to me, whether it was House of M, Infinite Crisis, or any one of a dozen other gimmicks that drove me away from current-day superhero comics. These "events" are designed to increase sales, but in my case, the proliferation of truly lousy comics just made me throw my hands up and give up on the North American corporate-owned superhero comic as something I needed to keep up with on a weekly basis.

So it's always a weird moment for me when someone asks -- and they do, from time to time -- "What are you reading these days?" I genuinely have to think about it to remember what I've read recently that I enjoyed. More often than not it's a standalone graphic novel, probably of the artcomix variety, but of course the person asking my opinion is usually a superhero comics fan and is interested in knowing what I think is good in that neck of the woods. "Nothing much at all," would be the answer these days, of course.

But there are regularly-published titles that still jazz me up -- just, very few of them are monthly. The Scott Pilgrim series of manga-sized books is as good as comics get these days, completely deserving of all the hype it gets, and better than sex, pizza and the new Battlestar Galactica combined.

It's easy to take Love and Rockets for granted after all these years, but the new annual format provides an amazing slab of great comics. There are no better living comics creators than Los Bros -- a few equals like Clowes and Ware, but no one is better. Do I love the idea of waiting a year between "issues?" No, of course not. I'd like my L&R fix weekly if possible, and there was a time a decade ago or so when it seemed like that was actually happening -- but I'll wait that year, knowing that in the end I'll be rewarded with comics that are among the best and most entertaining ever created.

I'm looking forward to the Cold Heat collection from Picturebox -- I was just starting to "get" the floppies when they canceled it, due to Diamond's inability to properly market and distribute single issues of non-superhero comics. Frank Santoro (one half of the Cold Heat creative team) is pretty amazing if you like artcomix; Storeyville was superb and Incanto, a mini-comic he did, was beautiful and mysterious.

Then we come to the actual, traditional stapled, floppy, monthly-type comic books. Godland from Image, Buffy from Dark Horse and Criminal and Incognito from Marvel/Icon are about the only monthly floppies I still bother with. I am, indeed, waiting for the trades on Conan (not as transcendent as it was under Busiek/Nord, but still very good, and fun to read, adventure comics).

I'd talk about the horror/detective procedural Fell if I thought it was ever coming out again. And speaking of Warren Ellis, I wonder if the last issue of Planetary will be published this decade.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

JLA Deluxe Vol. 1 -- The Justice League as a concept was worn out and creatively bankrupt at the time Grant Morrison and Howard Porter came along and reinvigorated the series, starting with a new #1 and the simple idea of bringing back the original seven team members, which seemed novel at the time simply because it had been so long since anyone had done so.

"Novel" is what Grant Morrison is about, at his best, and he brings just enough of his imagination to the party to make these stories vibrate with nervous energy. Nostalgia for the simpler time these seven characters represent is not invoked by the creators, but perhaps imbued by readers familiar with their earlier eras. Morrison first throws weird, even somewhat perverse opponents at the League in the first storyline, and re-reading the stories in this new collection I was struck by how cleverly he managed to both hide their true identities and make it obvious in retrospect. Clues abound, but they come so quickly that they're easy to miss. Of course these issues blew readers' minds: Morrison was actually trying to create good and inventive stories, something rarely done with the JLA.

The best story in the book comes in the standalone fifth chapter, reprinting the series' fifth issue. "Tomorrow Woman" tells the tale of a mysterious new heroine who joins the League to battle against an implacable, unstoppable foe. She comes at a time when help is sorely needed, but she has a secret. The secret is kept from the JLA, but not from us, and Morrison has some fun with the true villains of the piece. Their final line is priceless, and as close to nostalgia (the poison in the well of most present-day superhero comics) as Morrison's scripts ever get.

Artist Howard Porter is a fascinating conundrum to me. His work here is awkward, static and oftentimes outright unappealing, when considered apart from Morrison's words. Morrison is a writer whose work, from Animal Man to New X-Men to the current Final Crisis is often compromised by the presence of less-than-ideal artistic choices. On the surface you might think Porter would qualify for that description; the two chapters here drawn by Oscar Jimenez are clearly visually superior. But somehow they lack the urgency and sense of modernity that Porter brings to the other stories in the book. Howard Porter, somehow, was the perfect choice for Morrison's JLA, and a decade on these stories still, in their own paradoxical way, look exciting and fresh despite Porter's deficits as artist qua artist.

The biggest compromises, then, in JLA Deluxe Vol. 1 are not artistic. Rather, they are the same compromises that plague corporate superhero comics year after year.

As the book begins, Superman has long hair and his traditional blue, red and yellow costume. Why does he have long hair? A few chapters later, he is made of electricity and is blue and white. Not just his costume, his entire body. Morrison does some hand-waving with a line like "We live in interesting times," but only longtime readers like myself will even remember the reason for this and other strange differences from the current DC Universe. Why is Green Arrow so young? Why does Green Lantern have a crab on his face? Later on, in chapters in future volumes in this series, Wonder Woman's mom will take over for her for a while. Wonder Woman's mom.

It's not that these inconsistencies, all born out of "big events" happening in other titles at the time these stories originally saw print, hurt Morrison and Porter's narrative. Morrison is a strong enough writer that these tales hold up despite the compromises forced on the creative team. But it's a good example of why series like Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman seem so much more inventive and timeless. Writers and artists should be free to tell the stories they want to tell, in the way they want to tell them. Having to dump The Electric Superman or Wonder Woman's Mom into the middle of your otherwise meticulously-planned narrative really looks kinda stupid ten years later when your stories are collected in a deluxe hardcover.

Despite all that, though, these are JLA comics that deserve the upscale treatment. They are as close as you'll get in printed comics to the creative heights reached by the Justice League animated series, which is the very best use of these characters in any medium (and highly recommended if you've never watched the series). Morrison and Porter's run on JLA (it should take another three or four volumes to reprint the entire series) was a blast, and it actually gets better from here, with storylines bringing back The Injustice League and, oh, the end of the universe, if you haven't heard. It gets much wilder from here, but this first volume lays a strong foundation for what is to come, with unpredictable adventures that make good use of some of the most well-known superheroes in the world.

Buy JLA Deluxe Vol. 1 from amazon.com.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Batman and Teddy Roosevelt -- Check out a feature in the Glens Falls Post Star on parallels between TR and Batman, which includes a couple of quotes from your humble correspondent.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Quote of the Day -- Courtesy of Sean T. Collins:
"The problem with Iron Man in the wildly popular, not good Marvel event series Civil War wasn't that he was wrong, but simply that he was written wrong."
Read Sean's review of Invincible Iron Man #1-4 here.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Quote of the Day -- Dick Hyacinth on Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's 1990s JLA run:
Almost every superhero comic looks dated once you're far enough away from its original publication, but harpoon Aquaman, electric Superman, and crab mask Green Lantern are quite the trifecta.
Yeah, pretty much sums it up. Too bad the issues couldn't have been redrawn (and tweaked to remove references to the bad '90s "updating" missteps) for the deluxe hardcovers that will be showing up in stores soon.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Truth and Actual Justice -- Amazing news on the Superman legal front. Here's good commentary from:

* Christopher Butcher

* Uncivil Society

Expect tons more from everyone on Monday.

My take is basically that, contracts and legal niceties aside, whenever a company or corporation benefits from its employees' or contractors' work in a way that neither party could have anticipated, and which results in unimagined and unimaginable magnitudes of revenue for the company or corporation, it's not just the ethical thing to do to recognize the actual creators of the unexpected windfall; it's good business. A large reason why DC and Marvel have been so creatively bankrupt for decades (save the occasional, almost accidental Moores and Morrisons) is because generations of creators have now seen that there's no real reason to give your creative best when working-for-hire in the virtual superhero sweatshops.

This is how we have ended up with truly, indisputably shit superhero writers like Loeb, Johns, Bendis, Straczynski and the rest of the Fan Fiction Age of Superhero Comics seen as visionaries, when they are just enthusiastic typists exercising wrongheaded stewardship of international storytelling treasures on a massive, tragic scale.

In the 1930s, '40s, '50s and '60s, the ideas good and bad flew fast and furious, a decades-long surge of new characters, settings and tropes that endured for years and years and years. In the 1970s and '80s, when creators saw how criminally awful people like Siegel and Shuster and Simon and Kirby were ultimately (mis-)treated by the companies they allowed to exist and thrive in the first place, the floodwaters of creativity receded to a trickle of new ideas. How many enduring characters have been created, work-for-hire, at Marvel and DC since 1975? Elektra comes to mind -- along with Marvel's ultimately going back on any promises they made to her creator, Frank Miller. How many successful superhero movies are being made about characters created work-for-hire in the past thirty years? Face it, the good superhero ideas were virtually all created by writers and artists who got the shaft from the corporations they made the mistake of trusting with their best interests, their livelihoods, their very ability to feed their families.

So, I don't know exactly what the consequences of this decision are, but it can only be seen as a landmark day for creators rights, and a shot across the bow to two arrogant, shortsighted corporations that, if they had better treated the people that created the entire foundations of their existence, would be far better off these days and facing far less ill-will, among intelligent readers, among the creative community, and inside the legal system, which has finally meted out a little truth and justice in a seemingly never-ending battle.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Spider-Man: More Lost Than Ever -- Being the guy who approved the original idea for a column (Life of Reilly) about the 1990s Spider-Man clone storyline, I have more than a passing familiarity with analysis of disastrous decisions involving Spider-Man.

When Comic Book Galaxy launched Life of Reilly, written by Andrew Goletz and former Spidey editor Glenn Greenberg, there was a mini-quake of nerd outrage. Why would a reputable comic book website devote over half a year of coverage to one of the worst, most mishandled story lines in superhero history?

As it turned out, the column was extremely popular; if you click the link above, you'll find out why. In addition to summarizing every event of the misbegotten saga of Ben Reilly (a character I retain an inordinate fondness for, despite or perhaps because of the fan reaction to his existence), Andrew and Glenn provided extensive interviews with the people who carried out the story, providing, perhaps for the first time, a journalistic behind-the-scenes view of one of the most controversial stories ever to occur in the pages of North American superhero comics.

And now, even those who cheered when Marvel killed off Ben Reilly and tried to return Peter Parker to his previous status quo must be longing for the days of The Scarlet Spider.

Comic Book Resources this week has been rolling out a five-part interview with Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3), wherein Quesada explains the reasons for, and creation of, the most recent Spider-Man storyline "One More Day," which dismantles (despite Quesada's claims) decades of Spider-Man stories and sets Peter Parker down in a new universe in which he never married, and Harry Osborn is just returning after months (decades, in real-world time) in rehab following his freak-out on "the drugs" back in the Stan Lee days.

Among the many interesting details in this train wreck Quesada has created is the fact that Amazing Spider-Man writer J. Michael Straczynski apparently wrote his own story contrary to what the committee that generated this miserable narrative had intended. Straczynski's story would have reset the clock on every event in Spider-Man history back to those Stan Lee/Gil Kane days, meaning among other things, Gwen Stacy would still be alive. Obviously this would have been a bad idea.

But you know what? The outcome of the rewrite that Quesada inflicted on One More Day (a bad story to begin with, let there be no doubt) is even worse. Quesada claims in the CBR interview that only three things are changed by One More Day: the marriage of Peter and Mary Jane is wiped out by the story (in which Peter and MJ make a deal with Mephisto (AKA Satan for those of you not into Marvel continuity), Harry Osborn is back and in Peter's social circle, and the unmasking of Peter Parker from Civil War is forgotten and his identity once more a secret. Quesada believes these are good fixes that allow the character to move on in a positive direction.

But it's virtually impossible to imagine a Spider-Man reader who won't be alienated by the utter lack of regard this story has for the characters and their history. I'm not saying Spider-Man doesn't need to be fixed -- clearly he's been lost in the woods since well before the clone story of the 1990s -- but this doesn't fix anything, and creates only more problems. Primary among those is the fact that if MJ and Pete never married, if Harry Osborn is alive and well and freshly home from rehab, and if Civil War (a vomit-worthy story in and of itself) never happened in quite the way readers remember, then the floodgates are wide open for the next wave of fan fiction stories within the pages of Marvel Comics, filling in all the gaps and mysteries that must now exist as a result of these, sorry Joe, monumental alterations to decades of stories -- some of them actually good stories.

And look, I am not a continuity porn kind of guy. I stopped reading Amazing Spider-Man regularly years ago, when it became obvious (sometime around the Norman/Gwen fuck flashback) that JMS's Spider-Man was firmly entrenched in the Fan-Fiction Age of Superhero Comics, and was not, as it was sold, an attempt to just tell good superhero stories.

Alan Moore once famously said that he worked to give readers not what they want, but what they need. When a superhero storyline fails as spectacularly as One More Day has failed, it can almost always be traced to that brilliant axiom. In this case, though, reading the CBR interviews with Quesada (and I recommend you do), keep in mind one thing: In this case, the fan being given what he wants is just one person, named Joe Quesada. And that his need to make this cruddy story a reality was so strong that he overrode the (forgive me, God) artistic vision of a better writer (Straczynski), and wrote and drew Spider-Man into the worst narrative corner he has ever been forced into.

For those of us who enjoy good comics, for those of us not addicted to superheroes but rather fond of them when they are used to create good stories, Spider-Man is lost to us. More lost than ever.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Highwaymen "Correction" -- I made somewhat of a misstatement the other day in my year-end wrap-up, saying Wildstorm's Highwaymen had been canceled. Not that I was the first person to state this, but since I also pointed out how mediocre and unimpressive a comic Highwaymen was, I got the writer's attention. Of course, even he has already gone on record explaining that, while the initial arc may always have been planned for five issues, if it didn't suck, there would have been more:
A fella could ask himself, "Why?" Not, "Why isn't Wildstorm going to do another arc worth of Highwaymen stories." I know why. Because it didn't sell. We moved a hair under 10,000 copies of issue #1. At the time, we were told that was as good a number as one could expect for a book about two characters no one had ever heard of, created by three guys no one had ever heard of. But issue #2 took a 40% dive—which would be fine if we were a movie; that's considered a pretty good hold in week two. However, we're not a movie. And it's not enough to warrant doing more. I get that. So, the question is, "Why didn't it sell?"

Of course, Planetary, which Highwaymen kind of desperately wanted to sort of be, when it wasn't aping The Authority (specifically Frank Quitely's bloated-but-presidential Bill Clinton talking to the protagonists via high-tech), was also about characters no one had ever heard of and created by a mostly unknown creative team. And it was one of the best things Wildstorm ever released. It's also largely why Highwaymen failed; it called too much attention to its "inspirations" (government conspiracies investigated by a team led by a white-haired guy in a white suit, hello!) not to beg comparison in the minds of its readers.

But in all fairness, as a completely fair blind taste-test, I left Highwaymen #1 on a table in my house, where either one of my children -- both of whom love good comics -- could easily find it, read it, and ask for more. Possibly based on the cover, about which a fellow critic privately told me "you can tell right from the cover you're getting watered down goods," neither of my kids -- who again, like good comics and are willing to give just about anything a chance -- ever even bothered to pick it up, never mind ask me to get them more. Which I would have, if they asked, because my policy is to buy any age-appropriate comic for my kids that they ask for. I'm just a good dad (and good comics evangelist) in that way.

In short, don't blame me because your comic got canceled wasn't good enough to continue past a limp, initial story-arc -- blame yourself. Or blame Warren Ellis, John Cassaday and Laura Martin, if you must deflect the blame that is so obviously yours and yours alone.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Strange & Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko -- If you saw the recent BBC special on Steve Ditko, this news will be about the most exciting you've seen all year. If not, it probably still is. Here's the press release from Fantagraphics Books:



On his 80th birthday, Fantagraphics Books is proud to announce the
June 2008 release of the first critical retrospective of Steve Ditko,
the co-creator and original artist of the Amazing Spider-Man.

In the wake of the astonishing success of Sam Raimi’s three Spider-
Man movies, Steve Ditko’s status as a driving force behind the pop
culture icon has been revealed to an audience the world over. But, in
the context of Steve Ditko’s 50-year career in comics, his creative
involvement with Spider-Man is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Ditko is known amongst the cartooning cognoscenti as one of the
supreme visual stylists in the history of comics, as well as the most
fiercely independent cartoonist of his generation. From his earliest
days in the 1950s, working for the notorious low-budget Charlton
Comics (the Roger Corman Productions of the comics industry), Steve
Ditko broke every convention in comics, with his innovative special
designs and imaginatively hallucinatory landscapes of Dr. Strange,
the almost plebian earthiness of The Amazing Spider-Man, and his
black-and-white views on morality and justice through his
uncompromising vigilante of the late 1960s, Mr. A (inspired by the
work of Atlas Shrugged author and Objectivist philosopher, Ayn Rand).

Why will this book appeal to such a broad readership, to those who
may not even be comic-book, or Steve Ditko, fans? “For the non-comic-
book reader,” says author Blake Bell (author and essayist for the
Marvel Comics’ line of Ditko-related Omnibus reprint projects), “we
tell the narrative of Steve Ditko, the artist, from humble beginnings
in Johnstown Pennsylvania; to the dizzying heights of co-creating
Spider-Man; to the spectacular Howard Roark-like determination, and
tribulations, in bringing his personal and philosophical vision to a
recalcitrant audience. There’s a fantastic, dramatic storyline
running through Ditko’s career; the artist having walked away from
the Spider-Man franchise (and the billions it was to generate) as it
was reaching the height of its popularity. What price did Ditko pay,
and what was the impact on his work?”

Comic-book fans have also been waiting for a definitive examination
of Ditko the artist; a chance to have the entire artistic scope of
his career in one volume. “Fans of Ditko, and comic art, will not be
able to put the book down,” says Bell, “as we explode many of the
myths surrounding key moments in Ditko’s career, as well as present
reams of rare and unpublished Ditko artwork. For the comic art
scholar, we also break down the “hows” of Steve Ditko as a great
sequential storyteller, dissecting his work in depth for the first
time, also with analysis and commentary by some of the most skilled
and articulate comic creators of the day.”

While Steve Ditko himself remains absent for the World Wide Web
(minus a summer back in 2001, when Bell himself worked for Ditko as
his official web site designer), Strange & Stranger will assault the
’Net with similar intensity to that of the creator himself.

In addition to updates to Bell’s unofficial Steve Ditko web site at
www.ditko.comics.org, readers will be able to keep abreast of updates
with pages on Facebook, MySpace, and a dedicated feature page at the
Fantagraphics web site, found through the portal
www.steveditkobook.com and launching soon. This will have a web log
offering on-going commentary on the process of creating the book,
with commentary by Bell and the staff at Fantagraphics. It will also
publish commentary by professional comic-book creators on Ditko’s
career and artwork, and feature artwork that won't make it into the
book. As the book speeds to its June 2008 release date, teasers,
convention appearances by Bell, as well as book store signings will
be featured on the site.

2008 will mark the year when Steve Ditko fans the world over will
have the opportunity to celebrate the artist’s 50-plus year career
with this definitive volume from Blake Bell and Fantagraphics Books.


Strange & Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko
By Blake Bell
$39.99 Hardcover
220 pages, full-color, 9” x 12”
ISBN 978-1-56097-921-0

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Spurgeon on The Spirit -- Over at The Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon reviews the first hardcover collection of Darwyn Cooke Spirit stories. It's the best think-piece Spurgeon has done in some time, and think-pieces are his stock in trade, so click over and give it a look.

Cooke's Spirit is a temporal anomaly that demands just this depth of analysis; Cooke is fantastically talented and yet out of step with the current corporate superhero comics zeitgeist in profoundly fundamental ways. I've enjoyed the series to date in single-issue form, but probably not enough to invest in the hardcover. And I don't find myself lustfully drooling over it like I do the New Frontier Absolute Edition, which sooner or later I hope to find the cash to own. Most interestingly to me, the fact that Cooke is off the book after issue #12 comes as a relief, in the same way the end of the Millar/Hitch Ultimates did. I enjoyed it while it lasted, but it's time for it to be over, and I'm glad it is.

Which is a weird state of mind to be in for someone who loves excellent comics, and maybe points to fairly basic problems with each of the titles. In the case of The Ultimates, I think the party went on about 13 issues too long. With The Spirit, I think it was a noble but ultimately futile effort to bring Will Eisner's characters into a 21st century that only really has use for them as 20th century icons. I know I'll be re-reading DC's The Best of The Spirit, collecting many of the very best Eisner Spirit stories, far more often in the future than I will ever re-read Cooke's stuff. Cooke really should be pursuing his own vision, as Spurgeon seems to hint at, and hopefully now he will. Some icons, like Batman and Superman, are wide-open enough that Cooke's approach fits them like a glove. Eisner literally said everything that needed to be said about The Spirit before Darwyn Cooke was born. But it's no shame for Cooke to have tried and ultimately not really succeeded at making The Spirit his own. If Alan Moore couldn't do it when he took a stab at writing Eisner's creation, chances were probably pretty good no one else would ever really be able to either. But both Moore and Cooke made noble efforts, it was fun while it lasted, and again, it's probably better for all concerned if we just move on to something else now.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

The Monday Briefing -- Only one piece of news worth talking about from Wizard World Chicago...

* Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch Take Over Fantastic Four in January. The Stan and Jack FF, by the way, not the Ultimate version. As of now, the claim is that Hitch has drawn five issues, while Millar has written ten. As is usual with Hitch-illustrated projects, the talk will be more about how soon the book will run off the scheduling rails, rather than what their plans are for the characters and storylines. Me? I find myself caring less than I might have a few years ago.

Millar and Hitch and company obviously created some exciting comics with The Ultimates, although Ultimates 2 seemed to lose the sense of purpose the first series had, and by the final issue I was just glad it was over. There's not a force on Earth that could move me to buy -- or even download for free -- Ultimates 3, given that the new creative team is Shitty McBadstory and Lousy McGoofyart. So I'm well and truly done with that title and those characters.

Honestly, I wish Millar and Hitch would get their way and be given free reign on Superman. I think it would require both of them to stretch muscles they haven't in a while, and I'd guess the resulting comics would have the potential to be as great as All-Star Superman and Superman: Secret Identity, to name two of the very few great Superman comics of the past 15 years. One of the other ones in that rarefied territory is Millar's own Superman Adventures work, which deserves a far better fate than the miniature digest-sized reprints it's been collected into. Despite his sometimes grandiose claims, Millar really was born to write Superman, and you can feel that on every page of his Adventures work.

Hitch's style is so far away now from its original Alan Davis/Jose Luis Garcia Lopez-inspired look that I hardly recognize it, although it remain appealing to the eye. I do wonder if the added levels of detail contribute to his scheduling difficulties, and I honestly like his work best around Stormwatch Vol. 2 and the first 12 issues of The Authority, but I'm always interested in seeing what he does.

So I'm open-minded about what comes out of this announcement, but it would be incorrect to say I am excited about it. Excited would be if Grant Morrison and JG Jones got to do Marvel Boy 2, or if Warren Ellis and Tom Raney were working together again on a monthly title, or if Garth Ennis and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez had been the creative team for Ultimates 3.

Related: ADD interviews Mark Millar; and then he does it again.

* I really enjoyed Roger's Household Hints.

* Check out Matt Brady's reviews of the new Love and Rockets collections Human Diastrophism and The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S., and please tell me you're getting these low-priced volumes of some of the greatest comics of the last 100 years. Matt's review prompted me to pull my massive Locas volume down off the shelf, and damn, "The Death of Speedy" is some goddamned storytelling.

* Echoing my recent interview with James Howard Kunstler (and thanks for the link, Tom!), it appears Peak Oil is officially here. Well, don't say I didn't tell you so.

* If you're a blogger (and these days, who isn't?), you might find this useful: 31 Days to a Better Blog. I'm trying some of these tweaks already.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Cooke Off The Spirit -- Kevin Church has the worst superhero comics news of the year: Darwyn Cooke is leaving The Spirit after issue #12.

With Cooke as writer and artist, DC has done the impossible in continuing Will Eisner's characters in spirit without wallowing in nostalgia or aping Eisner. It's been a rollicking, exciting adventure comic, and I'm gonna miss the hell out of it.

Like I say in the comments section, it's impossible to imagine continuing to buy the book, unless the publisher announces some amazing creator or creators that could do as well or better than Cooke has.

Somewhat related: I saw the first post-Millar/Hitch Ultimates art posted somewhere. I won't even bother posting a link, just trust me: The Ultimates ended the moment they were off the book (if not the issue before, ahem).

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Zuda Doobie Doo -- What, you thought we were finished with this subject?

Over at Comixmix, Glenn Hauman has some extremely apt observations about the non-rollout of DC's new attempt to poach unwitting amateurs in their web of webcomics.

"We have no idea what they'll be launching with, they have nobody lined up that they're willing to talk about. Way to build confidence, guys. You couldn't find anybody? Every other time there's been a launch of a line from DC (Piranha, Paradox, Vertigo, Helix, Minx, CMX) there was content to go with it, to show what they were talking about. Here, nothing."

Also worth noting is this comment from myideais.com:

"I remember reading a longish historical essay about Marvel’s attempt to put out an 'underground' comic in the early seventies, which was called 'Comix Book.'

I have a vague thesis floating around in my head that Zuda Comics from DC, an attempt to emulate existing webcomics collectives, might be comparable to Marvel’s effort back then, in that they’re trying to to take on the hip new kids on their own turf. I’d like to read that essay again and see if I can look more closely for parallels."

In my original post on Zuda, I was quite explicit in referencing Epic Comics and DC's New Talent Showcase as other historical examples of the corporate companies trying to lure talented amateur creators more with the promise of greater exposure than any solid offers of a prevailing wage or (Good God, Y'all!) creators rights. There's no question in my mind that Zuda is just the latest, if by far the most under-developed and ham-handed iteration of this somewhat sleazy and pathetic scheme.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Zuda: Day Twoda -- So Newsarama has posted an interview with DC Comics Preznit Paul Levitz about Zuda Comics, the AOL/Time Warner International Entertainment Megacorporation's online webcomics initiative, the announcement of which broke the internet in half -- or possibly quarters -- yesterday.

Preznit Levitz hardly seems to be any kind of expert about comics and their relationship to the internet and computers. For example, he tells Newsarama:

"I haven’t seen a lot of evidence yet that people want to read 20 pages of a comic book on their computer screen."

Well, Mr. Preznit, I have. Try searching Demonoid or Z-Cult for comics sometime. You might find a few of your own on there, even. Here's some. The fact is, thousands of people read 20 page comics online for free every week. I wonder how much more positive press DC might have gotten out of this story if instead of the still-murky copyright questions and vague plans that have been laid out, DC had issued a bold and definitive plan for competing with BitTorrent sites, offering a legal, low-cost alternative to capture the attention of those who want to read their comics online in downloadable .cbz and .cbr format?

Ah, well. Coulda-shoulda-woulda. At least Preznit Levitz is effusive with his deeply moderated praise for people who blazed the trail Zuda hopes to ride on the coattails of:

"You do have guys like Fred Gallagher or Scott Kurtz that are just terrifically competent at building the business and technological means around that to do something that works not only creatively, but profitably for them."

I hope someday someone calls me terrifically competent. That seems like high praise, indeed.

And I realize that Newsarama's Matt Brady has to go along to get along with the AOL/Time Warner International Entertainment Megacorporation, but Jesus, Matt, you couldn't at least ask about copyright and creators rights? Oh, wait, I found two references to copyright on the page the interview appears on:

Copyright ©2000 - 2007, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Copyright 2006 Newsarama.com, LLC

Well, at least someone understands the importance of copyright.

Update: Tom Spurgeon explains reaction to the Zuda announcement in plain English. Spurgeon wins.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Internet Officially Broken -- The Zuda Comics story has actually broken the internet in half, just as I predicted. Proof? Here's X-Axis reviewer Paul O'Brien agreeing with my take on the story in the commments thread of the Blog@Newsarama story. I don't have the energy to prove this is the comics internet equivalent of lions lying down with lambs, so if you're new to these parts, just trust me. Longtime followers of me or Paul or both will know exactly what I am talking about. Also eerie: So far all the comments in that thread are more or less civil.

Related: An attorney gives his first impressions of the whole imbroglio at Warren Ellis's The Engine.

Somewhat Related: My review of Ellis's new novel Crooked Little Vein is coming up, probably tomorrow morning.

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The Monday Briefing -- Back to work for me today after being off since the last half of last week. We had no major family events or trips planned, but I knew there wouldn't be much to do at work, and if I'm going to be bored, I'd rather be bored at home, frankly. That's where I keep my funnybooks, y'see.

* Internet-Breaker of the Week: At Casa Spurge, Tom Spurgeon gets the first headline on DC's newest new talent showcase, Zuda Comics. Or is that New Talent Showcase? DC and Marvel never do get tired of coming up with new schemes to let idealistic and untested creators do the heavy lifting for free (or close enough so as to not make a difference). (Maybe that guy in Ohio that did that awful book for Epic Comics before it crashed and burned can revive it online for DC! Yay, comics!).

Tom Spurgeon wonders (with tongue firmly in cheek, no doubt) if DC, a subsidiary of the Time Warner international entertainment megacorporation, will let new creators keep the rights to their work. I don't wonder that at all. Ask Alan Moore about DC's generous rights policies. Then duck.

Of course, nothing will apparently be online for readers to look at until well into this fall. I can see how announcing it now will allow them time to collect material from Epic Comics victims hopeful creators, but that's a long time for a whole lotta nuthin' to be sitting there driving away people who click over thinking there'll be comics to read. It's also long enough for savvy would-be creators to talk to, oh, a lawyer or two about their "deal," so, hopefully they'll do that going in, so they can't claim later on they had no idea that an international entertainment megacorporation might have the audacity to put its own needs and profits before those of would-be creators with stars in their eyes.

You can be sure the comics will be progressive as all hell, after reading this quote from DC's Ron Perazza: "If [creators want to do] a straight-on newspaper strip, like a Doonesbury or something like that, great. If [they] want to do something a little more abstract, like a Family Circus that’s all in a circle, fantastic." That's right folks, The Family Circus is abstract. Is their no boundary to their imagination?

At Journalista, the creators rights angle and chances of making a splash in the already-established webcomics nation are vetted by keen observer Dirk Deppey. I don't normally say things like "vetted," but since the Zuda Comics people like to say it, why not me?

The funniest quote in the New York Times article Spurgeon links to announcing the new initiative comes from DC Preznit Paul Levitz, who must have been shocked to learn: "We’ve seen a real wellspring of creativity [by people posting their online comics], and it’s been a different kind of material than publishers have been putting out." Of course, Levitz means different from the kind of comics superhero publishers have been putting out, because only the direct market is slavishly obsessed with superheroes to the exclusion of all other types of stories. The internet gets out to a far broader and more diverse audience, which is why there aren't many top-of-mind superhero webcomics out there. But don't hold your breath waiting for DC to bring you the new Achewood or Diesel Sweeties or American Elf. Here's a thought: Maybe they would have brought you the old ones if they were all that smart and interested in the future of comics.

* Also at The Comics Reporter, I enjoyed Tom Spurgeon's weekend interview with comics journalist Jeet Heer. Jeet is a fine writer, and even contributed a couple of items to Comic Book Galaxy a few years back. Here is Jeet Heer's review of McSweeney's #13, the comics anthology issue edited by Chris Ware.

* Unlike most comics bloggers, I did not take the weekend off; here's what I was up to: reviews of the new MOME Summer 2007, Douglas Wolk's Reading Comics and the fairly atrocious new Thor #1, as well as my thoughts on Nine Graphic Novels to Read Before You Die.

* Christopher Butcher weighs in on the whole what-manga-sells-and-does-not-sell-and-to-whom issue. Butcher knows more about selling comics than you or I do, so pay attention.

* Chris Allen recommends Patton Oswalt's new CD, and I could not agree more. I gave it a listen after reading his review, and I am not kidding when I tell you that I almost lost consciousness, I was laughing so hard.

* The fine folks at AiT/Planet Lar have posted a kind welcome back to The ADD Blog (thanks, gang!) and a handy roundup of links to my reviews of their books.

* Tony Isabella is back from hiatus with a new Tony's Online Tips. Glad to hear he's bouncing back from recent health problems -- click over for his story of trying to take a sleep apnea test, because I just know that's exactly how it would go for me as well. Get much better soon, Tony.

* By the way, here's a reminder that if you prefer to get The ADD Blog posts in your e-mail, you can subscribe through Google Groups. Also, if you have a blog or website and would like to set up a reciprocal link, e-mail me.

* Roger Green looks at nicknames he's been called. I'll plead guilty to having referred to him as "Rog," though I may not from here on out, insert smiley face here. As for myself, like Roger I will also eschew revealing nicknames I've been called in the context of romantic relationships, but in college a friend took to calling me "Webster" because he thought I knew every word in the dictionary (hardly; I just knew more words than he did). My friend Jake used to call me "DOANE" and it always seemed to be in all-caps, a blend of affection and exasperation: "Oh, DOANE." One ex-girlfriend's nickname for me (I'll reveal just this one, okay?) was "Doaney," which strangely I didn't mind. A girl I had a huge, utterly unreciprocated crush on in college called me "Al," as did the wonderful older gentleman who was our building manager from 1995 to 2004. Other than those two, though, that's where I differ from Paul Simon: You Can't Call Me Al.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Thor #1 -- At least two moments in the opening pages of this first issue will remind you of Mark Waid and Alex Ross's Kingdom Come, but in all fairness to the creators of this new attempt to make a comic book about the Norse god of thunder work, Waid and Ross stole Ragnarök from Norse mythology more than Straczynski and Coipel are stealing from Kingdom Come.

Of course, Ross's best artwork had the proper sense of majesty to convey something of the enormity of a war between gods (or god-like beings), while Coipel's generic craftwork conveys precisely the fact that Marvel has a monthly series about Thor again, and here's an issue of it.

Any reader who rankled at the mystic hooey in Straczynski's dire Amazing Spider-Man run will be surprised only at how much further said hooey is ratcheted up in Thor #1. You'd think the character and milieu would easily accommodate such baloney, and perhaps it might, if it were not of the vague variety Straczynski hauls out to coax Thor from out of the narrative mothballs he's been in for the past however-long-he's-been-"dead." Lots of mumbo-jumbo between Thor and (I guess) Don Blake as they stand amidst the generic swirly-stuff of the void (Mr. Coipel, you're no Gene Colan when it comes to generic swirly-stuff) chit-chatting about how Thor has freed himself from the cycle of Ragnarök and is now free to rock out with his hammer out all the live long day, and by the way, all your presumed-dead supporting characters friends are just waiting for you to wish them back out of the cornfield.

Once Blake and Thor return to Earth, Straczynski shows us how clever he is by having a woman Blake rents a room from note that "Weatherman says we're expecting a thunderstorm." Blake grins and says "I wouldn't be at all surprised." Yikes. The era in which Straczynski was able to create genuine tension and humour in his characters -- around the second and third seasons of Babylon 5, frankly -- seem far, far away from what he delivers here. Well, a straight-to-DVD B5 release is pending; maybe he saved his good stuff for that.

The final page of this debut issue (with "to be continued" on it and everything) has to be the least-compelling cliffhanger I think I have ever seen in a superhero comic. No stakes are raised, no mysteries are offered, and unless one has been powerfully seduced by this most average of stories, it's almost impossible to imagine anyone saying to themselves "Man, what happensnext?"

Varying eras of Thor have risen and fallen in quality, as is true of any corporate superhero franchise unwinding over decades. The best-written was almost certainly also the best drawn, when Walt Simonson was following his bliss on the title in the 1980s. But Dan Jurgens's stories a few years back were serviceable, and certainly Mike McKone and Tom Raney delivered much better art than the thunder god enjoyed since Simonson's storied run ended so long ago.

This first issue delivers none of those pleasures, though -- both story and art feel uninspired and painfully, joylessly mediocre. Despite the sales figures of their other recent Marvel work, ultimately neither Straczynski or Coipel are much more than slightly-above-average talents when it comes to the creation of corporate superhero comics circa 2007. So you'd have liked to think they would have brought their very best efforts to the table in re-launching a key Marvel series, with the added bonus of a more-or-less blank slate upon which to make their mark. Instead, they deliver a run-of-the-mill effort that is impressive only in how mightily it fails to impress.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Pitching to Vertigo -- Over on The V, comics writers Brian Wood and Alex de Campi get into an interesting and revealing discussion about pitching to Vertigo.

Wood points out that de Campi may be burning a few bridges with her honesty, but when it comes to corporate superhero publishers, I'd vote for lots more of that, thanks. Potential creators should have the sort of information de Campi is sharing available to them before they decide to cast their lot with a company that may eventually own all the rights to their work.

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Diamond, Dealers and Advance Copies -- Commenting on my post yesterday, Tom Spurgeon makes some observations about Diamond's First Look/Sneak Peek program (third item down in that post) and catches an angle that hadn't occurred to me:

"[W]hat I found valuable is [Doane's] note that the store The Beguiling doesn't use a first-look program of early shipping in order to better prepare itself for the ups and downs of the periodicals market. The thought that the maybe the best way to share information with stores about upcoming product -- giving them the product -- exists as a [Diamond] pay-for program instead of routinely used in the course of maximizing sales for a book speaks to a key dysfunction in that comics market...

I italicized the crucial phrase there, because I think it's important to note Spurgeon finds this situation unusual. Tom and I seem to often differ in our evaluation of the state of the Direct Market as served by Diamond; he often seems to think things are not that bad, while I, of course, think that 90 percent of existing comic shops serviced by Diamond are apocalyptically awful in the way they service (or fail to service) their customers, both real and potential. In fact, Spurgeon's very good point about how wrong-headed it is for Diamond to charge for the First Look/Sneak Peek books struck me as worth mentioning because I just took it for granted that everyone understands that Diamond misuses its monopolistic power virtually every chance it gets.

Spurgeon makes another good catch as well, in the same paragraph:

"...speaks to a key dysfunction in that comics market, as, from the other end of things, does word that a retailer used to sell those comics to Doane."

There's a whole, as I referred to it the other day, "semi-sordid" story there, and maybe I'll tell it all someday, but yes, around 2000-2001, the shop I was getting my comics from was selling me their First Look/Sneak Peek packs. In the interest of fairness to that dealer, he did sell them to me at his cost, which if I recall correctly was ten dollars each for the Marvel and DC advance packs, which arrived either Wednesday or Thursday the week before they were to go on sale.

At the time, my reviews were heavily-weighted toward Marvel and DC, and the arrangement I made with that dealer (who I am not naming, because he is still retailing comics, although I haven't been in his shop in years) was to take the advance packs off his hands at his cost, but he wanted to keep, I believe, any Spider-Man or X-Men titles for his kids to read. Given that there were five to seven or so issues in each pack, ten bucks was usually less than the collective cover price for one of the packs even with the Spidey and X titles removed from the equation. The biggest revelation to me in the year or so that I received the books was just how horrible the average week's worth of corporate superhero books were.

When the time came that I no longer bought the books, it was a huge relief to not be exposed on a weekly basis to all those mediocre comics. It was a rare week, indeed, when more than two or three total from Marvel and DC combined was actually worth reading, a situation which seems to have pretty much held steady in the years that have passed since then. "Same as it ever was," one supposes.

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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Previews -- Just made my way through the newest edition of Previews, and I don't think I'm pre-ordering anything this time around. Maybe Mark Millar and Anthony Williams's Unfunnies #3-4, because I am curious how that story ends. I'd love to get the new Adrian Tomine hardcover Shortcomings, but I have the single issues it collects and am kind of broke at the moment. The real ache this month comes from the new hardcover Walt and Skeezix Sundays collection, which looks to be out-of-this-world gorgeous. But at $95.00, that definitely is not in the budget at the moment.

It's funny, when I see Previews is arriving in a given week's Diamond shipment, I get a little excited to see what it holds in the good section, the one past the Marvel/DC/Image/Dark Horse whatever section -- not that there aren't occasionally books worth reading in that part as well -- but every month, when I actually grab a pen and a piece of paper and start slogging through it, man, it's a relief when it's over. And that's even with ignoring the crap like t-shirts, toys and whatever else is past the section with the good funnybooks in.

I am curious about Dwayne McDuffie's run on JLA, which starts with the issue solicited in this month's Previews, and may take a look if the word of mouth is good, once it's collected under one cover. But the taint of Brad Meltzer on the title and the fact that they have frigging Ian Churchill drawing the multiple covers of McDuffie's first issue? That's a lot of negative factors that just won't let me give the nod to my retailer to set one aside for me.

And wow, those Spider-Man "One More Day" covers are godawful hideous. At the shop last night, my son surprised me by asking if I would buy him the newest issue of Spider-Man Adventures, and I did, and I'm glad there's at least one Spider-Man title that appeals to an 11-year-old boy, even if it is the ghettoized "Kiddie" version. Which is to say nothing at all against the Marvel Adventures line -- most of the titles seem well-crafted and appeal to the target audience -- I just don't understand why you can't apply those factors to the main Marvel Universe titles. Are they so afraid the superhero convenience shop junkies won't support comics that aim to entertain rather than arouse?*

* By "arouse," I don't mean sexually, I am referring to Marvel and DC's ongoing use of "events" and "deaths" to arouse interest in SCSJ** instead of quality comic book storytelling that would attract a far wider audience.

** SCSJ=Superhero Convenience Shop Junkies.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Viewer Mail -- My most recent review has garnered a couple of comments...like this one from Jim:

"Sigh. And me being a Green Lantern fan boy/continuity porn junkie who hasn't been too happy with Hal's regular series lately, I thought Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps was outstanding. Powerful, intense, full of big bombastic scenes of congregating evil and high octane unleashed drama (I thought the sniper sequence was 'cool' in an action-packed way), I loved the entire issue, and it felt good to be twelve-years-old again, if only for a few minutes. Oh, well. I did enjoy your thoughts on the book!"

See? You don't have to agree with me to be civil -- cheerful, even! More simpatico with my take on the book, Is uspect, was Andre, who had this to say:

"Hey Alan!


'Johns's writing always reminds me of an 8-year-old playing in the tub, making up stories with his action figures as he neglects to wash his ass.'

...is probably the funniest line I’ve read on the Internet this year. Well done, sir."

Keep those cards and letters coming, folks!

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps Special #1 -- You won't find a slicker, more vapid superpeople comic on the stands this month than this one. It's created by Geoff Johns, Ethan Van Sciver, and -- this gives me pause -- Dave Gibbons, who I would have hoped could find better things to do with his gifts than this. Johns and Van Sciver, I expect this sort of thing from. And in fairness to Van Sciver, his style here -- aping George Perez more than his previous style of aping Brian Bolland -- seems to find him more comfortable. The work reads as more of a natural outflowing of his talent. It's just too bad it's all in service of such garbage.

Oh, dear. Where to begin? Oh, that's right, I remember -- Johns said it all for me, right on page one:

"We live in a place rotting with hedonism and chaos. A place untamed and morally devoid. A place of darkness."

Johns's writing always reminds me of an 8-year-old playing in the tub, making up stories with his action figures as he neglects to wash his ass. Here, Geoff brings his entire collection of abused DC trademarks -- action figures, from the Anti-Monitor and the Reverse Flash to -- of course -- Superboy Prime. Yes, kids, if Infinite Crisis wasn't a big enough waste of time, money and mis-allocated creative effort, here's pretty much the direct sequel. This death-obsessed continuity porn is all that's left of the goddamned DC Universe proper, isn't it?

Ach, the plot.

Sinestro wants revenge, or something; a bunch of power rings are flying through the universe, which always seems a small -- tiny place, in the hands of unimaginative writers like Johns; the "secret of the 52" is invoked, and I discover my goosebumps-generator must be on the fritz, 'cause I got nothin'. What else? Hank Henshaw The Evil Cyborg Superman Fooled Ya Folks is back, in the custody of The Guardians of Oa, who were all far better off dead. All the GLs we all love so much get together for a family picnic. Here's Hal, John, Kyle and Guy, all hanging out and even giving each other noogies. I bet you think I'm making that up, don't you? One supposes Johns writes such scenes and thinks he's developing character.

Anyway, during the big picnic all of a sudden "We got a sniper!" and it's the grassy knoll all over again for the Green Lantern Corps. All your favourite Lanterns get a moment in the "spotlight" and then "OH SHIT EVIL SUPERBOY PRIME HAS ESCAPE THE TUB -- I MEAN, HIS 'SCIENCELL!'" What will happen next?!?

Well, as you may recall from the abominable Green Lantern: Rebirth, YELLOW IS THE COLOUR OF EVIL and also PEE. And bananas, this shit is bananas, b-a-n-a-n-a-s. Now Kyle Raynor is all Parallaxed (FANGASM!!!111!) up, and then Dave Gibbons draws a Johns-written back-up story that is far more readable than it has any right to be, based solely on the power of Gibbons' artwork and the goodwill far better stories than this have earned his work.

Just to compare two spectacular corporate superhero events taking place this summer, World War Hulk went a ways toward mending my loathing for the current state of the Marvel Universe by telling a tight, logical story that intrigued me enough to want to read the rest of it. Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps Special #1, on the other hand, is a ham-handed, undercooked bunch of baloney that obviously took a great deal of misplaced effort to create. If I had one wish for corporate superhero comics, it would be that Geoff Johns's mother had never let him take his action figures into the tub.

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The Priceless Candy Bar -- I really enjoy The Simple Dollar, a daily blog about how to live more frugally. I've reduced or eliminated a lot of my bills over the past three years or so, but I'm not obsessed with frugality, so a lot of the penny-pinching blogs don't hold my interest. The Simple Dollar's philosophical approach and excellent writing have kept my attention since the first time I found it.

Today's post on a three-dollar candy bar is a great example of where the blog's thoughtfulness about spending meets the intangible value that can be found in something that seems too expensive. It's a wonderful post on its own, but it also reminded me of one of the most intelligent things anyone has ever written about the value of comics. Tom Spurgeon:

"I usually don't criticize anything for simply costing a lot. The only comics that are too expensive are shitty comics."

People who buys piles -- literally piles of mediocre superhero comics every week because they are "keeping up their collection" and "don't want to miss an issue" are usually the ones that complain about a comic costing "too much."

I remember when IDW began publishing their line of comics at a base price of $3.99, and some people felt that was "too expensive." But if it's too expensive, don't buy it. Nobody holds a gun to anyone's head and forces them to buy funnybooks.

What I think they really mean when they say that is, "I want to add this to my giant mindless pile of crap comics every week, but it costs a buck more than most of the other crap." I remember when IDW hit the ground running with quality titles like 30 Days of Night (I speak of the excellent, original mini-series here, I can't say anything about the sequels as I haven't read most of them), that featured not only outstanding storytelling but top-notch production values as well. Another title I've sampled from IDW that met that standard was Supermarket. I liked the first issue enough that I decided to wait until it was collected as a graphic novel, and if I recall correctly that compiled three issues for something close to twenty dollars -- more than the cost of the individual $3.99 issues, but the added benefit of being a sturdy book I can put on my shelves made the price worthwhile for me.

No comic can be objectively "priced right" or "overpriced." I've picked up Free Comic Book Day releases that were a ripoff for free, factoring in the time and effort to find and read (or attempt to read) them. Multiple publishers have tried 9 cent, 10 cent and 25 cent stunt releases. Some, like the 25 cent zero issue of Conan by Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord, convinced me to continue on with the monthly title, which would have been a bargain at four bucks, or even five, because it featured quality storytelling and adventures that stand up to multiple re-reads years later. The vast majority of current series set in Marvel and DC's universes aren't even worth reading for free, as that recent V survey of comics downloaders definitively demonstrated.

Obviously if you're struggling with money, if times are tight and every penny counts, you should not be dropping 75 or 100 bucks on a Marvel Omnibus or an Absolute Edition from DC. In fact, if money's really tight, you hopefully eschew wasting money on entertainment until you can right your faltering financial ship, to brutalize a metaphor.

But if you've got a good job and a portion of your income can comfortably be devoted to pursuing an artform you love, then hopefully you're buying comics you truly enjoy. Comics that engage your mind and thrill your senses and will amortize their own expense by providing you with years and years of repeat enjoyment. I never get tired of re-reading Watchmen, or Love and Rockets, or The Authority, or Eightball, just to name four titles that I have bought in single issues, trade paperbacks and expensive hardcover collector's editions. "The only comics that are too expensive are shitty comics," Spurgeon said, and by now he's probably sick to death of me bringing up the quote whenever the opportunity strikes. But it's true, and it speaks to far more than just comic books. The money you make is the direct product of time from your life that you've given up and will never get back.

Whether it's a gourmet candy bar shared with your family in a moment of mad glee, or a comic book good enough to totally immerse yourself in, its wonders to behold -- think about your spending, and whether its rewards will be returned to you in the future. Memories like that candy bar, or a great story, will provide a lifetime of joy. Is that what you are spending your money on? If not, why not?

Total coincidence, Zen Habits also writes about materialism and spending habits today.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Fan-Fiction Age of Superhero Comics -- Over at Dick Hates Your Blog, Mr. Hyacinth observes the schism between fans of Brad Meltzer's lousy superhero comics versus Brian Michael Bendis's. Meltzer takes the baton as the leader in the race to create the worst superhero comics available today, but Bendis makes a strong second-place showing. The fact of the matter is, both are guilty of being master planners in the current, awful Fan-Fiction Age of superhero comics. From Straczynski's Spider-Man to Millar's Civil War, from Johns's Infinite Crisis to Bendis and Meltzer's narrative ass-rape of Marvel and DC's two top team titles (or TTTT as I like to call 'em), any informed observer of the current state of Marvel and DC's "universes" can see that the past few years are populated almost solely by events and storylines that just cry out to be retconned out of existence by creators who are actually committed to telling good stories with every drop of their creative gifts they can muster.

Unfortunately, the days when top creators were willing to give their all to corporations servicing superhero trademarks seem long past. I remember vividly when Frank Miller came along and reinvigorated Daredevil; when Walt Simonson showed us why Thor was so goddamned cool; when Claremont and Byrne were humble enough to exercise their talent before their egos and create probably the best X-Men comics ever created; when Alan Moore took Swamp Thing from industry joke (sorry, Mike!) to the most compelling comic book being published.

Creators today -- the smart ones -- take their best work to companies that will allow them to own their own work. So it's hard to imagine who the next Frank Miller or Alan Moore or whoever will be. Not that we need anyone to rehash those creator's visions or steal their best ideas -- that kind of bullshit is what has gotten us where we are now in corporate superhero comics. No, what is needed is, to paraphrase Alan Moore, someone to come along and twist the knobs to a setting no one ever thought of before. A new paradigm that makes corporate superhero comics not only readable, but fun and entertaining again.

Marvel and DC will probably have to shift some paradigms of their own, first, though. It wasn't that long ago, but can you imagine Marvel giving Grant Morrison a free hand to do what he did with New X-Men in today's market? Sure, DC let Darwyn Cooke create New Frontier, but why not allow someone that gifted and committed to the genre to just take over one of the main titles? Why ghettoize the quality stories while dosing fanboy junkies with the sort of continuity porn found in Meltzer/Bendis/et al's "hot" titles?

Another observation Moore once made was that he tried to give readers what they needed, not what they wanted. It may be a subtle distinction, but it's at the heart of what is wrong with corporate superhero comics at the moment, and why the direct market is locked in the death-grip of The Fan-Fiction Age of Superhero Comics.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Kicking Shit While It's Down -- I'd guess Tom Spurgeon got his copy of the final issue of the most recent, failed attempt at a Flash series the same way I did -- a review copy mailed by DC Comics. Spurgeon has posted a lengthy review of The Flash #13, and while I agree with pretty much everything he says, even I am shocked at the extent of his negativity.

"It was sort of like being dragged behind a boat for ten seconds after falling off your waterskis. There's no permanent damage, but it's unpleasant as all hell while it's happening."

Tom Spurgeon is more or less the best writer about comics who is currently blogging on a regular basis, and in this review he seems to me to be a bit more blunt than usual in his assessment of The Flash #13, which to my way of thinking pretty much defines the current state of corporate superhero comics: Utterly bereft of quality or entertainment value, marketable only to those who cherish trademarks over storytelling, and in fact may be incapable of even recognizing a story well told ("I don't know if it sucks or not, but I recognize that lightnng bolt on his chest!").

I know I aggravate blinkered superhero junkies who see my desire for better superhero comics as anti-superhero rhetoric. But the fact of the matter is that I don't hate superhero comics as a genre, at all. If you check out my pull list in the sidebar, you'll find a lot of superhero titles. I would love to have more good superhero comics to read, just as I would love to have more good crime comics to read, and more good autobiographical comics to read. I'll freely admit to hating bad superhero comics, though, and Flash #13 certainly falls squarely in that category.

DC sends me an occasional book for review -- not a lot, but they publish a lot of comics, and I appreciate whatever efforts they make to keep me and other critics current on what they think their best efforts are. Unlike Tom, I didn't see much reason to review Flash #13, because, well, what's the point? Not to disparage Tom's choice to review it -- he has a lot of things to say about the book and what it represents, and I'm glad he wrote about it -- but to me Marvel and DC's mainline of superhero comics taking place within their established "universes" are so universally poor that it's personally exhausting for me to spend much time reviewing them. Or even reading them, honestly.

Now, a few days ago I did review a new DC/Wildstorm comic, and my review was almost uniformly negative. But in this case, it was a first issue, and it was set outside the DC universe, so going into it I had hoped it would be entertaining. But it proved such a ham-handed pastiche of previous, better Wildstorm efforts that I found nothing much in it to recommend. Interesting that folks who mostly review superhero comics seemed to like Highwaymen #1, which says something about their critical faculties, or at the very least about the comparative value to be found in the average, say, X-Men comic vs. Highwaymen #1. The latter might be crap, but at least it's not X-Crap.

By the way, I was delighted that the writer of Highwaymen #1 didn't take my review personally, because it wasn't meant personally.

I wonder, though, how the Flash creative team will take Spurgeon's review? Did they honestly believe they were doing their best? I suppose anyone who has only read corporate superhero comics for the past 15 years or so could honestly believe something like Flash #13 represents quality storytelling. People who refuse to look outside superhero comics to all the vast riches the artform offers may think the current boatloads of shit offered up by Marvel and DC are actually the best "comics" has to offer. They could not be more wrong.

Maybe it's the editors at the corporate superhero companies, unable or unwilling to scout actual talent anymore. Maybe truly gifted creators just eschew the "Big Two" because they know they won't own their work or ever see even a fraction of what it earns for the companies, should it become popular and enduring. Maybe it's just that Marvel and DC are mostly staffed by a generation raised to think Image circa 1993 was radically good superhero comics. Whatever the reason, Flash #13 was shit. And while it's somewhat atypical for Tom Spurgeon to kick shit while it's down, I'm glad to see someone else speaking the truth about the sorry state of corporate superhero comics circa 2007.

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