When I was growing up, in the ’70s and ’80s, the superhero comic annual was generally a big, stand-alone story, often by the same creative team as the monthly comic, or maybe the same writer and an even better artist who didn’t draw monthly books much anymore (Michael Golden, Jim Starlin). Guys like John Byrne and Frank Miller did quite a few annuals when they were coming up, and some after they were big names.
The late ’80s and ’90s brought themed annuals, where a story would wind its way across the annuals of several titles, something like Atlantis Attacks for Marvel, or DC’s Legends of the Dead Earth. You could get some really nice work, or you could get guys who really weren’t good enough for the major leagues and might disappear soon after. As popular characters received spinoff series, and done-in-one stories became one-shots or graphic novels, the annual fell out of fashion.
For whatever reason, it looks like Marvel and DC are trying some annuals again, though how widespread an effort remains to be seen.
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #39
Writer: Brian Reed
Artist: Lee Garbett
Marvel Comics $4.99 USD
This one falls into the “not the regular team” category. Neither Reed nor Garbett are newcomers, but neither has a regular monthly gig. Reed takes this opportunity to spin off a story from something Dan Slott wrote in the regular book months ago, where Peter Parker’s Horizon Labs coworker creates a time machine that almost leads to the destruction of New York. Here, in one moment of that story, this same invention leads to Peter being removed from time itself. This leads to flashbacks to his childhood and high school days, where he’s still somehow aware of his adult self, even as he goes through the current, altered timeline, seeing how in many ways, things have turned out better without him in the world. Mary Jane is a big star. Norman Osborn, not having Spider-Man to haunt his thoughts, has cured cancer. And Uncle Ben is still alive and living in the same house in Forest Hills, Queens.
Meanwhile, the Avengers are tracking down the source of these chronal disturbances, mainly just to get some costumed heroes into the book, since Peter never has a reason to become Spider-Man. Garbett delivers pleasant but thoroughly average work, though in his defense, there isn’t anything exciting to draw here. The scenes between adult Peter and a proud Uncle Ben are sweet, and probably worth the price for some, but Reed’s story is sorely lacking in suspense and complications. Without any real effort, Peter just kind of walks through these episodes, which seems to gradually return things back to normal, even though it’s his presence that caused the problem in the first place.
Batman (vol. 2) Annual #1
Writer: Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Art: Jason Fabok
DC Comics $4.99 USD
Scott Snyder, regular Batman scribe, co-writes this one with his former Sarah Lawrence student, James Tynion IV, who will also be co-writing some backups for the regular book. Unfortunately, while that’s a nice human interest story, the actual results in this annual are rather drab and, like most annuals, quite unnecessary.
Bearing the “Night of the Owls” banner on the top, and yes, a couple owls on the generic cover for dubious reasons, this extra-long tale actually has little to do with the ongoing Owls story. That would be fine, as I’m already getting tired of it, but Snyder and Tynion sure don’t have a double-length story worth telling here. The connection to “Night of the Owls” is that Mr. Freeze created the serum that makes Owl assassins able to be revived after they seem to die. We meet Freeze as he makes his escape from Arkham. Fortunately, despite what one would think are stringent hiring protocols and training on safe patient handling, we get a couple cruel, stupid guards who make this escape easy. Freeze wants to get his beloved, frozen wife Nora back, so that he may yet cure her.
Jason Fabok, whose work is new to me, does a fine if undistinguished job. As with Garbett’s work above, nothing really stands out in terms of style or storytelling choices. It’s very typical DC fodder.
Nightwing and Robin try to stop Freeze, while we get several page-burning flashbacks to Victor Fries’ childhood and then his time working in a Wayne Industries lab. Snyder/Tynion engineer things so that Bruce Wayne comes off rather heartless in his shutting down Fries’ attempts to cure Nora, therefore justifying Fries’ craving for vengeance. And it should surprise no one who has read two comics written by Snyder that the childhood flashback features a parent saying or doing something that has a monumental impact on the child’s future. Often, it’s just an anecdote, something a father said once that ties perfectly into the events of today, but in this case it’s young Victor, who always loved Winter, seeing his dear mother fall through the ice on the frozen lake. Look, canon may have saddled the writers with the corny coincidence that Mr. Freeze’s real last name is Fries, but that doesn’t mean you have to come up with a pivotal moment that involves ice.
Like an icicle falling from the rain gutter to the driveway below, Snyder and Tynion demolish the only pathos-evoking element of Mr. Freeze: his deep love for, and relentless efforts to cure, his wife, Nora. Turns out, Nora was just an frozen research project—like a fetal pig in a jar—from the ’40s that Fries wrote his thesis on. He never met her, she’s old enough to be his grandmother, and so his love is false and insane. That’s colder than a gravedigger’s ass, as my father once said, which led to my becoming a sexton. Somehow this results in a story both forgettable and yet risible.
Written by Jack Kirby, Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
DC Comics $39.99 USD
It’s true; the majority of Jack Kirby’s significant work is now in print, enough to treasure and learn from and make an educated evaluation of a career. But the man was about the most prolific cartoonist in the history of the industry, and there are still some things worth checking out. Just out of the reprint pipeline is Spirit World, a fairly lavish hardcover collecting the sole issue of a halfhearted attempt by DC comics in the early ’70s to explore the magazine market that was beginning to take market share away from them, with college-age consumers moving from comics to things like National Lampoon and Creepy.
A visionary in more ways than one, if not a particularly good businessman, Kirby saw the future, or a possible future, and got DC to sign off on his idea of a whole new line of magazines targeting this young adult demographic, but DC not only limited the line to a couple magazines, they cut the format from glossy color to black-and-white newsprint, and only ended up printing one issue of Spirit World and In the Days of the Mob before calling it quits. It wouldn’t be fair to say, “cutting their losses”, because they canceled both titles before sales figures were even in, and made little attempt to push the unconventional product through their usual distribution channels.
In the Days of the Mob was Kirby’s return to crime comics, and one would expect that will be collected before long, but Spirit World tells stories of the occult, all introduced by one bearded paranormal researcher Dr. Alden Maas. It’s a framing device not unlike Rod Serling’s Night Gallery or The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, a reassuring presence tying the disparate, done-in-one supernatural stories together.
The first and only issue looks quite a bit like a Warren publication, with a painted cover (Neal Adams was called in to redo Kirby’s effort, another sign of no confidence in the King) and hysterical Table of Contents. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing the issue wasn’t originally published with indigo ink in place of black the way it is here. It sets it slightly apart from most comics; not a brilliant choice but not a bad one. The first story, “The President Must Die!” involves precognition (oddly and helpfully, the Table of Contents lists the story title on the left and the theme on the right), with an anguished woman making predictions she has trouble getting people to believe. It’s a decent setup, with nice washes on Kirby’s art, but it’s too short and resolves unsatisfactorily, and the brevity seems to prevent Kirby from taking chances on the storytelling, relying on simple grids, although it should be noted the first page of the story is an awkward fumetti starring assistant editor Steve Sherman’s mother as a woman who displays panic in a sedan by cradling her head in her hands.
"House of Horror!" has a much more effective, unsettling collage splash page, and it’s the one story that really gives Dr. Maas an active role, although in the typical, "spend a night in a supposedly haunted house to prove it’s bunk" scenario. Kirby provides some fairly spooky, shadowy figures and unusual textures (a ghost’s encrusted mallet, a seething blob of demonic goo), but even in this more restrained, nothing jumping out of the panel style, Kirby seems by and large to be too much of a dynamic, in-your-face artist to effectively sell supernatural stories. There’s just not enough shadow and suggestion here to create mood or make the reader fill in the blanks from the depths of their subconscious fears, though it’s certainly attractive work.
"Children of the Flaming Wheel" is a silly but charming fumetti with a pretty Native American woman in a vinyl singlet attempting to impart the wisdom of the ancients to a guy with a mustache. It’s probably no worse an attempt by a middle-aged publishing veteran to pander to the hippie market than a lot of what was on the stands at the time.
"The Screaming Woman" is a better effort, though also pandering, a story of reincarnation that finds Kirby in the rare position of accentuating cleavage and side-boob shots of a young woman who is possessed by or the reincarnation of a Spanish peasant who lived hundreds of years before her. It doesn’t feel like Kirby is exactly in his element, but it does represent some of his sexiest depictions of women.
"Spirit of Vengeance" is a text story written by Evanier and Sherman, an okay two page filler that would’t have passed muster for most fiction magazines but did the job for a glorified comic book. Then we have a nice-looking but ineffectual Kirby comics bio of Nostradamus to end his contribution to the issue, followed by a one page Sergio Aragones gag strip ported over from stuff he was doing at the time for DC books like House of Mystery and Plop!
That’s the entirety of Spirit World as published, but the collection then features two pages of explanatory material by Evanier, followed by the remaining four stories prepared for the aborted second issue, which were subsequently published in the DC books, Weird Mystery Tales and Dark Mansion. These are in normal black-and-white.
"Horoscope Phenomenon or Witch Queen of Ancient Sumeria" is rather inert nonsense based on Kirby drawing zodiac-derived characters, but features some of the strongest art in the book, starring a sea witch who’s all swirly metallic surface—think Karnilla the Norse Queen with fins and, for some reason, a telephone she lifts out of the brine.
Another dull Dr. Maas intro needlessly delays the awesome “Toxl the World Killer”, an emphatic but confused ecology parable that thankfully features plenty of scenes of rough barbarians and their dancing girl entourage beating up on callow, sophisticated polluters and exploiters. Is it irony that the hero ends up destroying everything when he tries to stop the polluters, and his name is Toxl? I doubt Kirby thought about it for long, so why should we?
"The Burners" feels like Kirby read and article, or someone suggested, something about spontaneous combustion, and Kirby did a little research and then knocked out a story about it. If the book was called Gyro World, he could probably have done a similarly attractive, pointless story about a Greek family cooking lamb on a spit, and it would have been about as close to his own personal themes and interests. One could call it professional work based only on the visual presentation; there’s no real story here.
We finish up with “The Psychic Bloodhound”, which is at least a story, and not a bad one, about a psychic frequently called upon by the police. A loose cannon cop calls the psychic in to help find a kidnapper before he kills a girl, and aside from the kidnapper’s Central Casting Brooklyn dialect (“Dis goil will be pushin’ up da daisies!” type stuff), it actually has more suspense to it than most of the other stories.
It’s a Kirby Kuriosity, a long-awaited look at a book fabled for being one of many things DC screwed Kirby over on. To be fair, we will never know what might have resulted had DC been fully supportive of the title in terms of funding Kirby’s production ideas, or letting him have a few issues to settle in to something rather new to a veteran cartoonist who had spent decades producing comics, not magazines. But the truncated results here suggest that, while Kirby could still produce stunning images and an interesting idea or two, whatever the genre, he was not well suited to the project or at least not quite sure what to do right out of the gate.
As for the production, unlike the various Kirby Omnibuses of the past several years, this one is on thicker, nicer paper, not newsprint. There are some odd design choices (hot pink end papers but a rust colored title page don’t really go together, and the use of intentionally grainy b&w extracts from panels cheapens the presentation. It’s still a pretty nice book, but since it only adds up to about three comics, $40 is too much, and in all honesty DC should have lumped this in with In the Days of the Mob and the abortive Soul Love romance comic material, for the same price. Find it on sale or used.
PR: Albany Comic Con To Benefit Ronald McDonald House
The Albany Comic Con will host an auction of original comic book artwork to benefit the local chapter of the Capital District Ronald McDonald House Charities. Local comic book professionals have donated original sketches to the Albany Comic Con which will be auctioned the day of the convention in a silent auction. The auction will run from 10am to 3pm, Sunday, June 10th, 2012. Sketches of famous comic book characters including Batgirl, Supergirl, The Thing (from The Fantastic Four), Black Widow (from The Avengers), and more will be the highlights of the auction. Sketches have been donated by such notable longtime artists as Joe Staton, Joe Sinnott, Lee Moder, Paul Abrams, Fred Hembeck, and many others. This is the third charity auction that the Albany Comic Con has held, and it is expected to be the largest in terms of the number of pieces of original comic book art available.
The mission of Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) is to create, find and support programs that directly improve the health and well being of children. The charity’s core values include:
* Focusing on the critical needs of children.
* Celebrating the diversity of the programs and staff, volunteers and donors who make them possible.
* Staying true to a heritage of more than 36 years of responsible stewardship.
* Operating with accountability and transparency.
There is no charge to enter the auction and all of the proceeds from the auctioned artwork will be donated directly to the Albany Ronald McDonald House. The Albany Comic Con will be held Sunday, June 10th. Admission to the convention is $5.00. We invite local media to come out for this event, and we thank you for helping spread the word about the charity auction for a very worthwhile organization.
What: Albany Comic Con Silent Art Charity Auction
When: Sunday, June 10th, 2012 Time: 10am to 4pm.
Where: Albany Comic Con, Holiday Inn, 205 Wolf Rd., Albany, NY 12205
If you’re anywhere near New York’s Hudson Valley, you might want to attend the Woodstock Day School Comic Con, coming up Sunday, May 20th in support of the Woodstock Day School. Two of the best comic shops in the upper Hudson Valley, Comic Depot in Wilton and Excellent Adventures in Ballston Spa, will have tables at the show, and the guest list includes Jim Starlin, Ron Marz, Matthew Dow Smith and others. More details here.
* I think Fatale #5 came out this week, but I’ll probably hold off until the David Mazzucchelli Daredevil: Born Again Artist Edition arrives at the comic shop later this month, before I make the trip to the shop. Over on A Criminal Blog, Bubba runs down the latest news in all things Brubaker and Phillips.
* I did pick up the Ellis/Raney Stormwatch hardcover last week (the clerk at the shop asking me if it collects the New 52 Stormwatch — er, no, it collects good Stormwatch comics), but haven’t cracked it open yet. Might be because I am still making my way through the preview copy I received of Jim Kunstler’s forthcoming Too Much Magic, but then again it might be because I have read Ellis and Raney’s Stormwatch probably two dozen times over the years. It’s that good.
* Speaking of Warren Ellis, I saw on Twitter that the next Iron Man movie will be using material from Ellis’s Extremis arc from the Iron Man comic book. Ellis says he understood he was work for hire when he wrote the thing, and is fine with not getting a piece of the pie. I guess I am surprised that a comic that recently wouldn’t have had some sort of royalty clause in the contracts, but then again, it’s comics. Like water finding its level, the comics industry always finds a way to fuck anyone it can.
I’m not a gamer, but I live with one. I recently received a review copy of Prototype 2 for the XBox 360, and passed it along to my son Aaron for his evaluation. Short version, he loved it. Longer version below. — Alan David Doane
Me personally, I am a huge fan of the prototype series. The second game is a lot like the first but with enhanced graphics and new abilities for you to, as they say, “rip, tear, smash and consume.”
With the “RADNET EDITION” you now have a chance to unlock avatar items such as the Alex Mercer hoodie or Sgt. James Heller’s coat. It has something for everybody, since if you don’t like the missions, you can just do the free roam where you can consume people for disguises, attack military bases, do the side missions of hunting down and consuming your target (usually a scientist doing tests on human targets that you have to stop). The new black hole attack is fantastic. You hit somebody with tendrils and grab items from around him and bring them in to crush him.
Todd Allen at Publishers Weekly bemoans the loss of what was once a staple of the comics-buying experience: browsing the racks to see what you might be interested in reading. Even in major cities, Allen finds problems with the browsing approach to comics buying — if he doesn’t have a subscription/pull list with a specific store, he often finds he has to hunt for new comics, and sometimes can’t find them at all.
I’d say he’s been extraordinarily lucky so far — I live in a much less cos-
mopolitan part of the world, and have to drive at least an hour to have even a snowball’s chance in hell of finding anything not on Diamond’s top 20 list, if I haven’t preordered it months in advance. I am lucky in that my retailer goes far out of his way to try to find stuff for me if I haven’t preordered it, and that happens often with with types of comics I tend to be attracted to (non-superhero).
I understand retailers don’t want to take the chance of getting stuck with back issues (as we used to call what they think of as “unsellable stock”), but the lack of capital and the lack of foresight are a large part of the ongoing death of the direct market. Is it the retailers’ fault? Not entirely, but if a comic shop doesn’t have most of the week’s releases on the racks for their customers (and potential customers) to browse, they will always, ALWAYS be selling fewer and fewer books to fewer and fewer people instead of growing their business and sustaining the industry. So more stores will close, and even fewer comics will exist. Digital may be a sort of solution to this problem, but for people like myself, and I’d guess Todd Allen, readers who want the physical book to read and feel and smell and put on a shelf for future re-reads — it’s a huge problem in comics now, and I don’t see a solution in sight that will keep the dollars flowing from our wallets to the comic stores’ cash registers.
Well, I forgot to pre-order the new Alan Moore-written Supreme #63, which comes out today, and it’s already sold out from Diamond. Luckily I was able to get it on eBay for 6 bucks shipped. I still have all those original issues (ditched the shitty-looking Checker trades last year), and not having #63 would have driven me nuts. Even got the variant cover, so it looks like it’s of a piece with the rest of the run, and not a 2012-era issue. It’s amazing how good that makes me feel. I was asked by the comics shop if I want to subscribe to it, but I think the Alan Moore issue alone will suit me fine. It’s nice having one more look back at his great run on Supreme, but I’m not interested in what any other writer will do to follow it up. If I’m wrong and it turns out that the new run is a masterpiece of superhero comics, do let me know and I will apologize and pick up the collected edition, deal?
What else? Flex Mentallo is waiting in my pull bin at the comic shop. I read it three or four times years back, but I have a feeling I’ll enjoy and understand it more reading it as an actual book, you know? Morrison and Quitely always make for a good read, or almost always, anyway. I wasn’t so hot on Batman and Robin, but I was seriously hating Morrison’s Batman era by then anyway.
I was told I have ANOTHER Daredevil waiting for me after getting one just last week, so I have to assume that’s the 10.1 issue with the reportedly very different artist. You know, Daredevil could have really been a special book if they would just have it be Waid and one or two of the very good Pop Noir guys they’ve had on there — I don’t think .1 issues or Spider-Man crossovers are very good for the long-term health of the run, or for my interest in it. Considering that DD, Fatale and Star Trek are the only floppies I even bother with anymore, I wish they wouldn’t fuck with it. Oh, and please note that Star Trek #7 serves as a sequel-of-sorts to the 2009 movie, and it is every bit as awesome and exciting as a Star Trek fan like me might hope.
I did get the Ellis Secret Avengers HC last week. It’s as good as Ellis’s better Stormwatch or Global Frequency issues, with much the same focused, Ellis-y feel to each issue. I think the Black Widow time travel one is my fave, but there’s no stinkers in any of the 6 issues. If you like Ellis in his prime, his Secret Avengers isn’t far off the mark, and there’s some very pretty artwork to be found in the six chapters it contains.
The name of this blog started as a throwaway joke — when I worked up the first test version of the front page, the first line of the fake, place-holding post I put up was, “The trouble with comics is…” and somehow it stuck.
My trouble with comics right now is that so very few appeal to me. From the age of 6 until the past couple of years, I existed on a weekly habit of comics, like most American “mainstream comics” readers. From the age of 15 until my early 40s, a week without a visit to a comic shop and the accompanying multiple purchases (lowest week, 20 cents — highest, over $200.00) was virtually unknown. Nowadays my pull list has I think one or two monthly titles on it — Fatale and Daredevil — and I no longer find myself looking forward to the yearly-or-so offerings of creators I used to rabidly follow, like Ware, Clowes, or Los Bros Hernandez. I understand Jaime recently did an amazing two-part story about Maggie’s love life. I don’t know that I’ll ever read it. I’ve lost the habit, the drive, the addiction to the artform of comics, I think. Maybe it’s cyclical and my trouble with comics will go away. I am still passionately interested in the subject itself, still read a metric shitload of blogs and sites and I do re-read some of my favourite comics and graphic novels from years past. But the digital revolution leaves me pretty cold, and that seems to be where it’s at for many people interested in comics these days.
I do miss the days of hanging out in the comic shop and talking for hours with the staff and my fellow readers, speculating about storylines and creative shakeups and sharing storage tips and recommending distant shops we’d visited once, as in a dream, with wonders to behold. It seem like comics has become more solitary and more insulated somehow. And the issues themselves are so divisive — issues like piracy, or the difference between traditionally-produced comics versus all-digital — that there’s no room for civil discourse. I’ve seen online friendships disintegrate over subjects like this, because no one seems to listen or consider any other point of view, they just wait their turn to shout their position more forcefully. I’m as guilty as anyone — I honestly think if you buy DC’s planned Watchmen prequels you are an unredeemable scumbag and a traitor to comics. If you’re a creator working on them? You can go fuck yourself, I will never buy your work again. That’s you, Darwyn Cooke. And you, Straczynski. I never liked Azzarello’s shit much anyway. Still blows my mind that Len Wein could stoop so low. But fuck him, is the length and breadth of my thoughts on the man. Years from now I expect one or two of those scabs will apologize for their monumental error and acknowledge that what they did, what DC did, was wrong. Frankly this issue is a large part of my current trouble with comics. I can’t believe there isn’t more outrage. What the hell is wrong with you people?
But TWC, and the site that spawned it, Comic Book Galaxy — they aren’t going anywhere. In recent days I have found myself thinking about totally reinventing CBG, here nearly 12 years after it began. That would make the fourth or fifth iteration, I think, and it would have to be very 21st century, streamlined and easy to use. As it exists it’s a huge pain in my ass, with technical issues that keep me up at night gritting my teeth in frustration. I want it to continue in some way, and would like it to even be relevant again. But it’s going to take some time, some thinking, and some way to get past my trouble with comics.
Which is More Important, Creator Rights or Health Care?
One might be a more pressing issue, especially in the United States, but I think they both matter.
Today in his Bloggy Thing, longtime comics writer and writer-about-comics Tony Isabella talks about Watchmen 2. His own feelings seem to be that the creative lineup for the prequels will almost certainly guarantee that they are not in line with his vision of what superhero comics should be. That’s a point I can get behind. But then Tony quotes a reader named Joe Caramanga, who says:
“Just imagine if people cared half as much about health care and poverty in America as they do about preserving the integrity of WATCHMEN…”
That’s one of those facile pithy comments that really grates on me. And here’s why.
As someone who’s been quite vocal about social and cultural issues, be it health care, peak oil, equal marriage rights, abuse of police power, the corporate destruction of the nation and many others for years, I personally take a smidgen of offense at the implication by Joe Caramanga that those issues are worth caring about, but Alan Moore’s rights as the writer of Watchmen are not. Further, it’s not the “integrity of Watchmen” that I care about, it’s DC’s repeated and increasingly punitive and public abuse and humiliation of Alan Moore as a comics creator and as a human being that fills me with disgust and outrage. I have no horse at all in the race that is the expansion of the “Watchmen universe” as a creative playground for other comics creators — I’m fine with it, as long as ALL THREE of the original signers of the Watchmen contracts are in complete agreement about it and all parties feel they are being treated and compensated equally. Until that happens, I believe it’s morally and ethically wrong for DC to proceed with its plans for Watchmen 2, and will continue to speak out on the issue. And on the catastrophic state of health care in America, and the financial inequity and iniquities so rampant here in Los Estados Unidos.
Not Fair and Not Right: Rob Vollmar Responds to Watchmen 2
When the recent confirmation of Watchmen Part Deux hit the internet, I could barely manage disappointment. Despite DC Comics best efforts to keep their hands off of this blood-soaked property they rightfully own for 25 years now, it really was just a matter of time.
DC Comics, as a small subsidiary of Time-Warner, is a business and, like all businesses, whether they sell beans or computers or a sense of well-being, their real business is making money. If they make money, they win. If they lose money, they fail. Simple stuff.
I’ve been reading DC Comics since I learned to read. I was a DC kid. We moved around a lot during my childhood and so, in a real way, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern were more constant as “friends” in my life than people with whom I went to school. Like the weather, no matter where I went, there they were.
I was reading a lot of DC Comics when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen came out but I wasn’t interested in it. It didn’t have any of the characters I liked or had ever even heard of and, back in that particular day, that meant a lot. Like most unsuspecting Superman fans, I was emotionally scarred by Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” and, for a number of years following, I refused to read any comics by this “Al Moore” fellow because [SPOILER WARNING] he killed Krypto and it made me cry. Fool me once…
But the time did come when I did start reading Alan Moore’s comics and what a time it was. Alan Moore made me want to write comics and, in time, that’s exactly what I did. I cherish his comics, his spoken word performances, his novels, his underground magazines…everything. As an author, he has earned my unconditional positive regard. Though I have never met the man, I have feelings regarding him and his work. Irrational? Probably but then most feelings are.
DC Comics’ position on Watchmen has made me uncomfortable for as long as I’ve understood the details. Yes, he signed a contract giving them certain rights (including apparently the right to create sequels or prequels or whatever) but, as has been well-documented, there was no reasonable expectation that these rights would extend unto perpetuity such as they have. Yes, what they are doing is legal. No, it is not fair and, in my judgment, it is also not right.
This cognitive dissonance between my favorite superhero comic publisher and my favorite writer of comics has simmered uneasily in my conscience for years but, honestly, my love for the material kept it from ever coming to a head as it has now. It was wrong of them to retain the rights but they continued to pay him the monies he was due and, as long as Moore was getting paid, that made it OK-er than it might have been.
It is no longer OK.
The problem with having allegiances to a business is that a business is not a person. You can’t reason with it. You can’t appeal to its sense of humanity because it hasn’t got one. Publishing and profitting from material based on concepts that someone created under the premise that he or she would own them someday against the expressed wishes of that creator is not OK. It’s shitty. Shittier than killing Krypto.
And so, I won’t be buying any of these Watchmens books.
But it’s also not enough.
Because, like DC, I’ve convinced myself that it was OK to do something odious under the premise that if something was legal even though it wasn’t right, it was excusable. It wasn’t excusable and, by continuing to support a company who would profit from this kind of questionable ethical practices, I’m became complicit in that in excusable behavior. I paid for the lawyers that kept Alan Moore from owning his work.
And so, until the day that some DC Comics’ representative with the legal authority to do so flies over to Northampton and tears up the contract that has kept Moore a hostage to his work, I will never buy a DC Comic again.
Not in print.
Not in book form.
It’s the last, least and only thing I can do.
— Rob Vollmar Rob Vollmar is a writer of and about comics and manga. He is the co-author of two graphic novels with artist Pablo G Callejo (Castaways and Bluesman, both published by NBM) and one with mpMann (Inanna’s Tears, published by Archaia). He has written reviews and analysis for the Comics Journal and is an associate contributing editor for World Literature Today Magazine. He was a founding member of Comic Book Galaxy.
I thought I’d get the hyperbole out of the way right up front.
Over the past week, the anger and disgust I feel towards DC Comics and the scabs they’re hired to work on Watchmen comics against the intentions and expectations of all the signatories (DC, Moore, Gibbons) of the original contracts that brought the original Watchmen into the world has threatened to get the best of me. I didn’t specifically mention Hitler, but I did point out that Len Wein’s involvement reminds me of Vichy France during World War II. I remember making some comment about DC raping Watchmen’s corpse, and that was probably too over the top, although I think one is entitled to an extreme metaphor or two in circumstances as absolutely and unquestionably wrong as this. That said, I have loved ones in my life that have suffered through the trauma of actual rape, and no, this isn’t quite that horrific an experience. But what is happening here, I do believe, shares common elements with actual rape. Because it’s a more powerful entity asserting its will against the stated, explicit wishes of the victim. Here’s Alan Moore on Watchmen 2:
”What I want is for this not to happen.”
Does that not sound precisely like what a proper English gentlemen or lady might say with dignity just before being violated?
Make no mistake about it, this is a violation. Anyone who knows anything at all about the last 30 years of comics publishing history knows Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were supposed to get the rights to Watchmen back. Moore expected it. Gibbons expected it. DC Comics expected it. It’s only because the work was so visionary and so enormous in its impact on an entire industry that DC was able to deliberately and with increasingly visible malice retain the rights to this singular property all these years. Has DC followed the letter of the contract? Absolutely. But the letter of the contract was written and agreed to by all parties entirely unaware of the paradigm shift that was about to occur. As someone else has pointed out this week, the irony lies in the fact that if Moore and Gibbons had merely turned in the slightly-tweaked Charlton homage DC asked for, paid for and was expecting, Moore and Gibbons would have owned all rights to Watchmen free and clear decades ago. It’s undeniable that the punishment Moore has been subjected to by DC in this and other matters (Gibbons seems far more content to play the company game, as is his right) has been intentional, repeated, and now has been stepped up to the point that it is creating a schism that DC Comics may actually come to regret.
To the best of my knowledge, DC never suffered for trying to weasel out of paying royalties to Moore and Gibbons for selling Watchmen merchandise. No one at DC ever took a sock on the jaw for buying Wildstorm from Jim Lee pretty much solely so they could force Moore to work for them, which he did out of concern for his artistic partners, for years. But I am seeing a lot of thoughtful essays and efforts building in strong opposition to Watchmen 2. (And if you’re wondering why I won’t call it “Before Watchmen,” it’s because DC wants me to. It’s Watchmen 2, and it stinks on ice.)
I am disappointed and sickened by the venality and cheap opportunism of the scab workers brought in to create more Watchmen comics. Azzarello. Bermejo. Cooke. Jones. Straczynski. Hughes. Kubert. Kubert. Wein. Lee. Conner. The only real surprises on the list for me are Len Wein and Darwyn Cooke, whose previous comics work had falsely led me to assume that they were thoughtful and decent human beings. Their public comments on this subject, and their willingness to contribute their gifts to something this despicable, have permanently convinced me otherwise. How can you reconcile Darwyn Cooke’s long commitment to quality and decency with his participation in Watchmen 2? You simply cannot. You can, however, as one blogger has done, point out his hypocrisy in a very public and persuasive manner.
I often differentiate between the artform and the industry of comics. Certainly I see them as two very distinct segments of what we all think of as, simply, “comics.” And when I say that I don’t know why comics does this to its best creators, I mean, all of comics.
If Watchmen 2 goes forward as planned, we are all to blame. Marvel exploited Jack Kirby for decades while he lived, and continues to do so, and few have done anything about it. By the time DC started repeatedly screwing Alan Moore and even spending untold money to stalk and harass him through the purchase of Wildstorm, many of us were aware enough of the creator’s rights issue to take some note of the wrongness of what went on. But who was strong enough to punish DC for it? Who was outraged enough?
This time, I think it might be different. This time the outrage seems more focused, more mature, and more sustainable. I won’t read Watchmen 2, not even for free, and I suspect many, many others will act similarly. Watchmen 2 is scab comics for scab readers, produced by a corrupt, arrogant management and nothing more. I urge anyone reading this to tell the truth about how DC Comics screwed Alan Moore on Watchmen and other issues for decades, and tell the truth about how enough is enough. You don’t need to mention Hitler, or rape, or even Vichy France. If you tell the plain truth about Alan Moore, DC Comics and Watchmen 2, people will figure it out for themselves. The intelligent and compassionate ones who value human beings over corporate profits won’t support Watchmen 2. The immoral scumbags who are publishing, producing and buying it, frankly, can have it.
If this really is what all of comics is about, letting this happen, then let it happen. But don’t think there won’t be consequences. This might not be the worst thing DC ever did, but it’s certainly the most publicly unethical and obviously wrong. Over the course of this week it has literally made me sick to my stomach. But after all the tweets I’ve written and all the rage I’ve felt, I keep coming back to one small phrase, composed by the most brilliant mind ever to work in comics, who has almost always, by Marvel and DC, and by the “fans” that support them, been treated like nothing more than shit that needs to be scraped off their heels:
”What I want is for this not to happen.”
What each of us chooses to do, after hearing so plain a declaration, will follow all of us for the rest of our time in comics, however much longer we can stand to be a part of it.
Comic Book Resources has obediently cooperated with Time-Warner corporate superhero comic book publisher DC Comics in revealing the long-ago leaked “news” that DC will publish comic book derivative of Watchmen, a comic book created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Here is the list of scab creators associated with this unethical publishing decision:
Brian Azzarello Lee Bermejo Darwyn Cooke J.G. Jones J. Michael Straczynski Adam Hughes Andy Kubert Joe Kubert Len Wein Jae Lee Amanda Conner
No comic book reader who believes in creator rights or ethical business practices will buy or read the comics being planned. Writer Alan Moore co-created Watchmen and signed a contract with DC Comics that under normal industry practices of the time would have seen control of the work revert to Moore and artist Dave Gibbons after the work had gone out of print for a period of time, as was the case with every DC graphic novel created under a similar contract up until Watchmen. Because of the unprecedented quality and success of Watchmen, DC has never allowed the work to go out of print, and therefore has retained legal control of Watchmen for decades longer than anyone at the time could have imagined they would have. I’ve said before that DC may have the legal right to create more Watchmen comics, but their ethically dubious stewardship of the property and repeated actions against the interests and wishes of Alan Moore make these comics nothing but the fruit of a poisoned tree.
I’m disgusted by the long list of scab writers and artists above, who have willingly thrown in their lot against creator rights and in favour of unethical corporate thuggery. Any writer or artist who respects the rights of their colleagues throughout the industry would refuse to work on any derivative works related to Watchmen until DC, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons are all in agreement on the creation of new Watchmen properties.
Claiming it’s like “putting Daniel Craig on the cover of Dr. No,” Godzilla fans are none too pleased by the artist’s new Criterion Collection Godzilla packaging, with a monster that is arguably much more like, or exactly like, the 2002 design, rather than the 1954 original film on the disc. Facebook erupted with demands to “fix the error” or offer an apology, but Criterion stomped to the artist’s defense:
"Artist Bill Sienkiewicz used the original, ‘54 Godzilla as reference for his artwork, but all of the renderings are nevertheless, in the end, Bill’s personal vision of the creature, albeit on…e that is Toho approved. We can see why some viewers consider it to be more akin to the 2002 incarnation of Godzilla because the back plates seem more sharp-pointed and jagged than the curved tips of the ‘54 original, for example, or the tail tapers more to a point, but those plates don’t exactly mirror the ones from the 2002-3 monster either.
We pushed Bill to address Godzilla as a force of destruction, an elemental being, to step away from a rendering that would be purely literal and fetishistic in detail, and think he came up with a terrific interpretation. This is also why there is color in the packaging art. Although the movie is a beautifully-photographed B&W work, we kept leaning towards the elemental aspects of fire and water and wanted the color palette to evoke that.”
I think it’s more interesting that it doesn’t really look much like what comics fans expect of Sienkiewicz’ work, and that he was also hired to provide black-and-white illustrations in the BluRay booklet, which is also kind of an odd use of his talents.
It’s becoming clearer week by week that DC’s New 52 has a lot of problems, and John Rozum’s quitting as writer (scripter?) of Static Shock wasn’t very newsworthy until he started posting on Facebook and his blog about it, because the book wasn’t very good from the start and wasn’t selling well. Failing to turn a C-list superhero into anything more is no crime, and while one would think Rozum’s reputation would survive coming shortly on the heels of his acclaimed (if also not-great-selling) Xombi revival, but I understand him wanting to set the record straight, especially as some folks were cursing him for seemingly killing the chances for Static and the rest of the Milestone characters to integrate successfully into the DC Universe. First, it ain’t his fault, and second, you can be sure that, since DC owns them, they will keep trying to get these characters into the DCU, just as they have with characters who are even tougher fits like The Spirit or Doc Savage.
But that’s DC’s problem. What I appreciated in Rozum’s post was what a pro the guy was. And sure, maybe in the ’40s or even ’70s or early ’80s, being a pro was synonymous with keeping one’s mouth shut about the company who hired you. But Rozum doesn’t say anything bad about DC. He’s merely giving his side of the story regarding an untenable working situation with one particular editor, Harvey Richards, and longtime workman artist, first-time plotter, Scott McDaniel. In the spirit of Rozum, I’ll practice some rare restraint here and not disparage either of them, and will instead just commend Rozum on his honesty and integrity and wish him much better success with future projects. He also points out that his acclaimed revival of the Milestone character, Xombi, with art by the great Frazer Irving, is due out from DC in February, so keep an eye out for that.
I’ve been writing and editing articles and posts about comics for about 14 years now, all told. I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of any piece I’ve been involved with than today’s Flashmob Fridays piece on Harvey Pekar’s new and final graphic novel, Cleveland.
I’m old enough to remember the two months that Rob Liefeld’s Prophet was relevant. Without doing any research (both laziness and in support of not supporting SOPA/PIPA), I think it was about issue #7 or 8, when the original creative team abandoned the book to a flash-in-the-pan artist, Stephen Platt, who had some major flaws but had an appealing style that was kind of a more compact Todd McFarlane. I went along with the crowd and got the book without having to pay much more than cover price, liked the art but not the story, and then waited for the next issue, which I think took over a month to arrive, and when it did, I don’t think Platt did all the work. And before too long, he was gone on to other things, and really has had very little comics work since. The series apparently made it to issue #20, but not many people really cared by that time (though in today’s numbers, it probably would be a big hit).
Say what you want about Liefeld, but he’s not an idiot, and he’s always been one to pay others to pump some life into his failing, failed or forgotten creations, be it Alan Moore, Mark Millar, Kurt Busiek, and so on. This time it’s Brandon (King City) Graham, writing, joined by Simon (Jan’s Atomic Heart) Roy on art.
Is the book any good? Yes, and the good news is that one need not have any prior knowledge of time-lost super soldier John Prophet, and it probably helps if you don’t. Numbering aside, this is written like a first issue, and I give Liefeld and editor Eric Stephenson credit for letting Graham do what he wants here, which is to thrust Prophet into a weird world of multi-jawed monsters to kill and consume and other natives who want to kill, fuck, parley or perform surgery on him. It’s a dense issue, and Roy and colorist John Ballermann are up to the task of creating this strange, savage world.
I’ve already seen folks calling the book brilliant, but I think we may want to pump the brakes a bit there. Graham does have a unique vision and bless him for wanting to cram a lot into the issue, but he does overload the reader a bit with all the alien names, and with an omniscient narration that actually feels kind of lazy to me. I’d prefer to find more of this out through dialogue between Prophet and the creatures he meets, as well as having Prophet make observations in his own voice, so we can get to know him better.
Reading this issue, as well as seeing the news that Joe Casey and Nathan Fox are the new creative team on other Image series, Haunt, makes me a little bummed that talented creators like these are still being convinced to expend their energies trying to prop up or revived crappy comics somebody else owns, but hey, it’s their call to make. If someone’s going to do work-for-hire, as a consumer I still want them to put their best effort into it, and although this first issue has some flaws, it’s clear Graham and Roy are invested in the work and there’s some good potential here.
It was morbid curiosity that led me to pick up Peanuts #1 yesterday. Published by the Kaboom kids comics imprint of Boom Studios, the book features what is apparently artwork by Charles Schulz on the cover (it has his signature, anyway), new material by people you’ve never heard of, and a sprinkling of classic Schulz Sunday strips marred by modern colouring techniques.
The new comics blow it on a number of levels, the worst of which is that there’s just no central, guiding philosophy subtly holding it all together, as there was in every single strip Schulz created in the 50 years he wrote and drew Peanuts. The artists capture Schulz’s style here or there, in this panel or that, but it feels random and wrong, as do character motivations and actions. The varying panel shapes also seem out of sync with what we think of as Peanuts. A half-century of consistency and clean design won’t be shoved aside by the sub-par attempts to do something new, here.
Speaking of wrong, the “How to Draw Charlie Brown” feature — the idea of which is kicky and fun — is made of wrong. Told from Lucy’s perspective, it’s mean and negative to a degree that shows a complete inability to appreciate — never mind emulate — Schulz’s judgment and creative discipline. He always knew exactly how much was enough, and where the line was, and this petty, shitty approach doesn’t know either.
We all know Lucy thinks Charlie Brown is fat and stupid. We don’t need her telling us that relentlessly for page after page, going on about his sausage fingers and stupid, round head. This one feature would keep me from sharing the book with a child, and sent me to the credits to look for any evidence that Schulz’s widow or estate had a hand in this. There’s no indication that they were consulted or had any approval, and I have to guess that they did not, and that therefore the book should be avoided not only for reasons of quality, but out of respect for the memory and wishes of Charles M. Schulz.
As I mentioned, there’s a few pages of badly coloured classic Schulz Sunday strips thrown in, in-between the lousy new material. It fails to distract from the deficiencies in the new work, although that surely was the intention. It’s nice that Kaboom wants to introduce new readers to the great life’s work of Charles Schulz. They could do far better than they’ve done in Peanuts #1. They could, for instance, recommend a volume of The Complete Peanuts from Fantagraphics Books. They’ve been doing Peanuts right for years, and it’s a shame that Kaboom doesn’t seem to have absorbed a whit of inspiration from the classy, engaging volumes Fantagraphics issues twice a year. I understand the wish to bring Peanuts more into the modern era. That is to say, I understand that this is what they were trying to do. They have failed. This is a book that fails to honour the memory of one of the greatest cartoonists of all time, that fails to provide quality comics for kids, and that is best avoided by readers old and new.
I recently found myself agreeing — as I often do — with Tony Isabella on the issue of the Best American Comics series of annual anthologies. Tony’s recent blog post took the series and editors Jessica Abel and Matt Madden to task for not being truly representative of comics in North America. While I was initially excited about the series, year after year I’ve been more disappointed and felt more distant from it, and Tony nicely summed up why:
“The book’s “Notable Comics” listings re-enforced my view that this yearly collection is hopelessly biased against traditional comics storytelling and values. Apparently, not one super-hero story or one story from Dark Horse, Image, IDW, Marvel, Boom!, or any other publisher of comics entertainment was good enough to appear…”
Apparently (I have no hard facts one way or the other, it appears to be “internet true”), DC and Marvel have refused to participate in the collection. Perhaps it’s because of legal reasons, or perhaps, like the average superhero junkie, they can’t see anything as comics unless it’s filled with people in spandex kicking the shit out of each other. Who can say?
A discussion about all this quickly developed on Twitter, and finally it came down to myself and of of my favourite cartoonists — and former TWC contributor — Diana Tamblyn and I talking about what we would do if we had total control over a project like Best American Comics. This theoretical collection really would comprise the best of all comics published in 2011, including Marvel, DC and other major publishers. If we think they make great comics, we want them included.
Diana and I plan to reveal our full list of the best comics of 2011 soon, and we’ll try to include links to the artist websites, links to buy, and links to sample pages and stories (where available). Hopefully our little project will better represent the best in comics from the past 12 months.
I reject utterly the premise and substance of “The Rare Case Against Creator-Owned Comics,” posted on the Newsarama blog. If anything, Alan Moore’s veto of a reprinting of the 1963 project is a good argument for creator-owned comics. Moore’s writing was the prime appeal of 1963, and speaking as someone who bought it new on the stands, and not disregarding the wonderful artwork by Steve Bissette, Dave Gibbons and Rick Veitch, I can tell you I bought it primarily — if not solely, because of the writing of Alan Moore, and the clever way in which he invoked the tone of Silver Age Marvel Comics. Could the artists have done it without Moore? Not with the same level of quality and creative ingenuity. Certainly not without the enormous number of copies sold. Could Moore have done it without the particular artists who illustrated his ideas? Of course he could have.
Which isn’t to say I don’t sympathize with the artists. I do, completely. But I place more importance on Moore’s right to say “no,” and I totally sympathize with Moore’s desire to distance himself from the larger segment of the comics industry. Comics as a whole — readers and publishers — have treated him with contempt and ethical shenanigans for nearly as long as he’s been writing them. I can’t blame him at all for wanting to move on. I wish the 1963 partners could have reached an accord and would have loved to see the 1963 Annual back in the days when it was supposed to be published, but those days are over, and near so far as I can tell, as disappointing as it might be to the other creators, Moore is well within his rights to say “no.” If only his rights and desires had been respected a little more often over the last 30 years or so, he might be a little more magnanimous now in what he is willing to cooperate with, or at least tolerate.
Alan Moore has, in my over thirty years of reading his writing, earned my respect, my admiration, and my trust. I know he has higher-than-average expectations and standards when it comes to friendship and relationships, and I know there are good and decent people who have, for reasons I am not privileged to know, somehow found themselves fallen out of Moore’s good graces. I’m sure that’s unpleasant, even painful.
But Moore, as an individual and as a comics creator, has more than earned the right to associate with, both personally and professionally, only those he chooses to associate with. He should not be forced into business contracts or personal relationships he does not wish to be a part of, and we should respect that. He’s earned the right to work on the projects he chooses to do, and not a goddamned thing more. Frankly, he’s earned the right to be left in peace. Comics has taken enough from the man. He’s given enough of himself. Steve Bissette, as a former creative partner, has the right to say what he wishes about 1963, as does anyone else who was involved in the project. Everyone else is just blowing so much hot air.
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips stretch their considerable creative muscles to make Fatale #1 an electric and delicious start to their newest project together.
I’ve been a fan of this creative team since they first came to my attention on Sleeper, followed them singly and together on pretty much every other title they’ve worked on, and cite their ongoing Marvel/Icon book Criminal as my current favourite ongoing title. “I like it so much I started a blog,” I’m tempted to say.
None of this is news if you’ve been reading me for any length of time at all, so I won’t bore you with further explication of the esteem in which I hold Brubaker and Phillips’s joint comic work; just take it as a given that if they are working together, you’re going to be reading comics in the finest tradition in terms of style and substance. Single issues that read well all by themselves no matter where you are in the storyline, complex characters that surprise and delight; lush, convincing images that invite you in to the world being created before your eyes.
Fatale, like Sleeper and Criminal (oh, and Incognito, too, yes) does all that, and does it all quite well. But it also goes places Entrancin’ Ed and Sure-Fingered Sean never have before; the duo set their new book in a dark world of mystery and horror inspired by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft (another of my favourite writers). This isn’t the icy, brutal sexual terror Alan Moore delivered in his excellent Lovecraft homage Neonomicon, however; Brubaker and Phillips craft a more baroque feel for this new world we’re discovering, all dark corners and unknown terrors that invite exploration. The mood is set from the very start, as a dour group of people gather in the rain for a funeral. Strangers meet, words are exchanged, and questions quickly arise. And just like that, we’re immersed in a new world of darkness and wonder.
The first-person narration of main character Nicholas Lash feels comfortable and intimate, but the strange things that begin to happen to him unfold so quickly that you’re as disoriented as he is by the way the world turns out from under him. As he immerses himself in a story-within-the-story in the form of a previously unknown manuscript brought to him by a beautiful and mysterious woman who may be much more than she suggests. The scenes depicted from the manuscript really give Phillips a chance to show what he can deliver, as we get a luminously noir scene-setting city street depiction so detailed and visually stunning that it’s also called-out for the issue’s back cover illustration. We see truly creepy thugs reminiscent of The Strangers in Dark City or The Gentlemen in the “Hush” episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but by way of Herge’s Thomson and Thompson. Visually witty but still filled with horror and dread.
How does the story Lash reads relate to the death of his godfather? Who, really, is the beautiful and intriguing Jo? Why does the gore and spatter emitted by a chest-wounded thug seem…wrong, somehow? Lots of questions, and you’ll want to read further and get the answers. Brubaker’s best comics writing by now has the same spare confidence and bravado of a master musician, and Phillips brings a level of detail and verisimilitude to this story that is virtually unknown in regular monthly comics these days.
Fatale #1 delivers value for the dollar, too; in addition to a longer-than-average story (24 pages instead of the usual 22 or more recent usual 20 in some titles), Brubaker writes an introductory text page, something that is always welcome, especially in a first issue, as it provides context and communication with the reader that is always off-putting when absent. Additionally, the always-excellent Jess Nevins has been tasked with writing an essay explaining Lovecraft and his works, a piece accompanied by a truly stunning and evocative Sean Phillips illustration of Lovecraft and his greatest, most fearsome creation.
Fatale #1 is exactly the sort of comic readers need; an engrossing story, superbly illustrated, sharply written and with enough substance and ancillary material to justify the cover price. Any publisher wondering how to do it right should explore every aspect of this issue. Any reader wondering why comics don’t satisfy them anymore should compare Fatale #1 to any other book on the stands, because it blows them all away.
— Alan David Doane
Addendum: Ed Brubaker responded to this review on Twitter, saying “You got one detail wrong, but you’re sort of meant to. The ’50s part of the story is not the manuscript he reads.”
As one of the signees of my buddy Alan David Doane’s petition asking DC Comics to come to an accord with the creators of Watchmen or, failing that, scuttle plans for Watchmen prequels/sequels/spinoffs, I wrestled with the rationale of it for a little bit. I’m probably as temperamental as Alan, but not so anti-corporate, and by and large I come down on the side of the law. And as it seems to be legal for DC to go forth with exploiting what appears to be their property, as rights never reverted back to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, I was basically okay with their legal right to do so, though not interested in the results.
But I have come to realize a couple things. First, laws obviously change. What was accepted practice fifty or thirty or even ten years ago can be disputed and reversed now. But more importantly, this is an ethical issue. Although Alan’s artwork below is over-the-top, the petition itself is evenhanded. No one is calling for Occupy DC or a boycott or anything like that. It basically just asks DC to do the right thing. Obviously, not everyone has the same ethics and values, and DC is made up of many people of differing ethics and values who have to balance them with the need to make money. To me, and I have to point out I had no involvement in the creation of this petition and am only stating my own desires for the outcome, it’s not so much about if or how DC reacts to it as that it hopefully starts some sort of dialogue, plants a seed in people’s minds about the importance of the artist and how one should always make the attempt to respect the author’s wishes. It’s not unheard of but rare in the world of film (2010, the shot-for-shot remake of Psycho) for filmmakers to try to follow another filmmaker’s visionary work, but comics publishers seem to have little regard for most creators, nor shame in endlessly regurgitating old ideas. As with the New 52, it’s pretty transparent that spinning off Watchmen with different creators is shortsighted and gimmicky and not likely to produce anything approaching the longevity and merit of the original work, but admittedly, that’s not really the point here. A kickass, mind-expanding Owlman story-for-the-ages, or a turd on the scale of The L.A.W., either result is still a kick in the teeth to Messrs. Moore & Gibbons and their singular work.
I just think it’s worth starting the discussion, both intellectually and spiritually. What benefit to one’s soul is there in championing those who reap their rewards based on someone else’s hard work and mental agility, who exploit legal loopholes that hurt others? I’m no saint and make plenty of my own questionable choices, but I don’t take pride in them, nor am I going to rally to the defense of others who do these things at the expense of others. Yes, there are more important things in the world and Change.org is involved with those things, too, but that doesn’t make it unimportant. Do you want to stand up, even in this mild way, for the Artist, or just keep lining up for more and more of the same crap? Even at one’s most selfish, it’s just common sense that the company who does right by its people is going to produce better work, more often.
Criminal: The Last of the Innocent by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon) — Nuanced and bold, a new high-water mark for Criminal, which continues to be the best regularly-published comic book around. Check out the Flashmob Fridays reviews.
Incognito: Bad Influences by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon) — Not quite as soaring as the very best of Criminal, Incognito still manages to entertain and provide the sort of thrills corporate comics don’t even bother with anymore.
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1969 by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf) — This series has only gotten deeper and better since freeing itself of DC’s control.
Neonomicon by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows (Avatar) — There was a lot of outrage and controversy surrounding this title, but I thought Moore conveyed a lot of subtext and genuine horror in this Lovecraft-inspired title, every issue of which had me giddily anticipating more, even as it plumbed the darkest depths of human and inhuman cruelty.
Treasury of XXth Century Murder: The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti by Rick Geary (NBM) — If you’re not following this continuing series of self-contained graphic novels centered on true crimes of the past, you are missing out on some of the most entertaining, witty and well-crafted comics being produced in the world today.
Little Nothings Vol. 4: My Shadow in the Distance (NBM) — Whimsical, genuine. Here’s my review.
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight - Marshall Rogers (DC Comics) — My nostalgia gene doesn’t usually express itself, but the Englehart/Rogers/Austin Batman stories were the first Batman comics I ever loved, and my 10-year-old self is very happy this collection exists.
Avengers Academy by Christos Gage, Mike McKone, Tom Raney and others (Marvel) — Not quite as good as Daredevil, but head-and-shoulders above the average, unreadable current-day Marvel comic. And any book with art by Tom Raney gets a look from me, because he is just an amazing artist and brings a great deal to the projects he works on.
Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes by Carl Barks (Fantagraphics) — Quite simply, some of the best comics of all time, in the most beautiful design and format of any book I saw all year.
Flashmob Fridays on Criminal: The Last of the Innocent
Click over to our spinoff blog Flashmob Fridays to read what the gang has to say about the latest release from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, The Last of the Innocent. And we hope you have a happy holiday and a peaceful and prosperous new year!
I first reviewed some Box Brown comics about a year ago, when it seemed like no one had much heard of the emerging cartoonist. I had became aware of him on James Kochalka’s message board, and in the year since I looked at Everything Dies, Brown has fairly exploded into the consciousness of people interested in comics, not least because of his efforts with Retrofit Comics. On Friday over on our new spinoff blog Flashmob Fridays, the [FMF] team weighs in on Brown’s latest effort, The Survivalist. — Alan David Doane
Who are you?
I’m Box Brown. I’ve been making comics of all kinds since 2006. Lately, I’ve been working on a lot of non-fiction comics but The Survivalist is pure fiction so that was an exciting change for me.
What led to the creation of your new book The Survivalist?
When I set out to create The Survivalist I wanted to put a specific character type in the center of the story. Noah is a conspiracy theorist. He’s the type of guy who’s highly influenced by the stories of the Bilderberg Group and the Illuminati and he believes that “big pharma” is to blame for a lot of the world’s troubles. As a skeptic, I’ve become interested in these types. It’s so opposite my own thinking that it just fascinates me. I’ve listened to countless documentaries and podcasts about conspiracies. It was through these podcasts that I became interested in all of the weird products that are advertised to conspiracy theorists (tent, dehydrated food, urine-to-water systems). The book really started out with that character and his things. I really wanted to get into the mind of a person like that.
What is the fascination?
What would motivate someone to become this extreme type? How true to their convictions are they? Ultimately, I think Noah isn’t much different from anyone else really. I still find those types interesting.
Not to give anything away, but it seems like there could be a sequel to this work.
Not sure if Noah will ever reappear, but his favorite podcaster “Dick March” probably will. He was my favorite character to write, even though he appears only as a disembodied voice.
How do you fit The Survivalist into context with your previous comics?
I think people who haven’t read the story though would be surprised that while drawing it, it reminded me more of my old webcomic Bellen! than Everything Dies. A lot of the dialog is between these two major characters, male and female. It’s not a romantic relationship as it was in Bellen! but their dialog is kind of similar. I’m hesitant to get deep into the plot as most people haven’t read it yet.
I originally wrote this for iTaggit.com back in 2008. It seems to me it’s more relevant than ever, so I thought I’d dust it off as food for thought for budget-minded readers as 2012 approaches.
There are not too many people I know that are not feeling the pinch right now, and have been for the past several years. The price of nearly everything seems to have increased by up to 200 percent or more, and short of space aliens landing and gifting us with a new, working financial system, there’s no reason to think things are going to improve. If you love comics, now is a great time to explore alternative ways of reading comics. Here are six ways you can satisfy your thirst for great comics without cutting into your household budget.
Your Local Library — One of the fastest-growing markets for comics is the library right in your hometown. Librarians talk to each other a lot, and for the past few years they’ve been talking about comics. Now, a visit to your local library may or may not turn up all sorts of graphic novels; mine, for instance, has a sizable manga section as well as great works like The Castaways by Vollmar and Callejo and the entire Sandman collection by Neil Gaiman and company. But they don’t have all the graphic novels I would like to read. What can you do in a situation like that? Luckily, your library is very likely not an island.
Many libraries are part of regional networks that trade books, and that interlibrary loan system opens up your choices to a far vaster array of books than is at first obvious on the shelves of your brick and mortar library. Go online and investigate the options your library makes available to you, or stop in and ask them if they have an interlibrary loan program. If they do, ask how you can access its listings to see what’s available to you. Search for “comics,” “graphic novels,” and of course, run a search for the names of authors whose work you’d like to read.
You’ll also find prose books on the subject of comics, books on how to create your own comics, and DVDs related to the subject as well. You’ll need a library card, of course, but that’s one resource no thinking human being should ever be without. Once you start looking into the options at your local library, and the other libraries they allow you access to, you may never have to spend a dime on comics again!
* Online Comics — Your options for reading comics online are limited only by your tastes and your willingness to experiment with new ways of delivering comics to your brain. Some people will never adjust to reading comics on a computer screen, while others take to the idea like it’s the most natural thing in the world.
And, I have to mention my favorite online strip, American Elf by James Kochalka; his site has free access to the entire near-decade of his daily diary strips, as well as other features, many of which are free. And if you really dig his stuff and have a couple bucks a month to spare (or 20 bucks a year), it’s all yours along with the comfort of knowing you’re helping one of the internet’s online comics pioneers (and most talented cartoonists, to boot) feed his family.
* Have a Seat — Many bookstores, from big chains like Barnes & Noble to your local independent bookstore, provide a comfy chair and a welcoming environment in which you can relax and browse their wares.
This isn’t entirely for the sake of charity, of course — they know a certain percentage of browsers will succumb either to guilt or heightened interest from perusing an interesting book for a while, and those people are more likely to spend some money from time to time. It costs the stores virtually nothing and increases their bottom line.
Now, don’t be obnoxious about it — browse one or two books, keep them clean and salable, and put them back where you found them when you’re done. And if you can afford it now and then, definitely spend some money in these stores to show them that offering this sort of service is a wise policy that pays off in the long term.
* Friends with Comics Benefits — As if my previous suggestion didn’t make you feel enough like a freeloader, here I go, suggesting you borrow comics from your friends. Face it, some of your friends have better taste in comics than you do, and if you promise to treat their comics right, they just might let you take home some great reading material once in a while.
Of course, it’s only fair that you return the favour and let them borrow a few of your comics. I know the very suggestion fills you with dread and sets a dull buzz going in the base of your skull, but come on, they’re only comics. Share, already!
* Torrential Downpour — Have you explored the comics available through BitTorrent? I don’t mean illegal ones, either. Sure, there are plenty of those to be found if you know where to look, but there are also public domain and creator-approved torrents that you can download and enjoy with a clear conscience. Despite what some archaic organizations might like you to believe, BitTorrent is a great way to share files with your fellow internet users. A great program to use is uTorrent, which doesn’t use much of your computer’s memory and has a boatload of options you can tweak to get your BitTorrent experience the way you want it.
* Sequential Swap — Finally, a great way to get rid of your old, unloved graphic novels and replace them with fascinating new reading material is Sequential Swap. This site puts comics readers all over the globe together and allows them easy access to the trade lists of all the participating members. I’ve done scores of swaps on Sequential Swap over the years, and most everyone on the site is friendly and fun to swap with. You’ll have to pay shipping costs to get your books to your fellow swappers, but in the US if you send by Media Mail, the average graphic novel costs just two or three bucks to send anywhere in the country, a real savings over the 15-25 dollars you’d otherwise have to pay for the graphic novel you’ll receive in return.
Believe me, I’m feeling the pain of this economic paradigm shift, too. I’ve tried every method on this list, and they all work. See which ones match your temperament, interests and resources, and explore the wide world of free comics. Let me know how you make out, and if you have any other tips for free comics reading, feel free to email them to me and I’ll pass them along here on TWC.
The dictionary defines a watermark as “faint design made in some paper during manufacture, that is visible when held against the light and typically identifies the maker.” Dark Horse defies this rather conventional view with its digital watermark, by making it bold, not faint, visible at all times, and applying it not to paper but to digital review copies rather than paper.
"Wait a minute," you’re no doubt saying, "I’ve seen a digital watermark on promotional items from Marvel, and they’re not that bad." Well, that’s Marvel, my friend. They stick a watermark in the corner, sometimes obscuring a small part of the artwork, but Dark Horse? They want to make certain you can think only of the watermark when trying to immerse yourself in whatever it is that lies beneath it:
See what I mean? Now multiply that times 6 panels or so per page for 242 pages. I think you’ll agree that, for staying top-of-mind and really drawing the reader’s (well, reviewer’s) attention, The Dark Horse Watermark really hits it out of the park. No matter how hard I tried (for some damned reason or other) to read the material — it might be comics, I guess, maybe — underneath that watermark, at the end of the day, it’s all I could see, all I could think about, all I care to mention of the file I received. Kudos to the genius that thought up this amazing way to promote a watermark. Job well done.
If you’ve been with Trouble With Comics from the start back in 2009, you may remember a weekly feature called Flashmob Fridays. Chris and I have decided to bring it back, spinning it off into its own blog and bringing in some new writers (and some who worked on the first version of FMF) to get together each week and converge on a single comic or graphic novel. We hope you’ll join us for the new Flashmob Fridays. An introduction and archives of the original posts are up now, first new post likely to appear a week from tomorrow. Be there!
Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads!
The ads in comic books are just no fun anymore.
Video games, movie ads, glossy full-page appeals to whatever dollars the kids have left over after buying the latest and greatest MP3s on iTunes, or whatever kids are spending their money on these days. Mine seem to spend it all on energy drinks. But it’s not like kids are reading comics anyway, right?
When I was 6 years old, I started reading comics, and I was the prime audience for the ads you’ll find all over Mail-Order Mysteries (Insight Editions). Author Kirk Demaris, who appears to have had a childhood much like mine, dives deep into the truth behind the hype of these frequently ludicrous and always dubious little ads, the ones that stick with me after all these years.
How could they not? I was one of the suckers who bought the stupid piece of metal you put in your mouth to supposedly throw your voice. It did nothing. I sent away for the foot locker full of 2-D army guys that weren’t even as entertaining as the ad that promoted them. Sea Monkeys? Of course I bought them. They were freeze-dried brine shrimp about the size of a molecule, and if they lived long enough in your tap water, you might kinda-sorta think you saw one swimming in there, just before they died. These are memories that last a lifetime.
And now in this highly entertaining new collection you can not only relive those nearly-criminal ads (or see them for the first time, if you’re too young to remember them), but find out the truth about the crap your hard-earned nickels and dimes eventually got you (sometimes you mailed in your money and that was the end of it — believe you me).
Demaris has a lot of fun with the subject at hand, showing off pictures of the real stuff you’d get and going into some detail about the swindlers who masterminded this decades-long scam that touched the lives of millions and probably netted the companies hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, which they laughed all the way to the bank with. It’s a brilliantly-conceived trip down a narrow back alley of comics history that was long overdue for exploration, and unless you have no sense of humour or history, you’re sure to enjoy the book. Much more than I enjoyed those flat-ass army guys, that’s for sure.
— Alan David Doane
The publisher provided a copy for the purpose of review.
Writer: Pierre Comtois Editor: John Morrow Publisher: TwoMorrows Publishing
Marvel in the ‘70s is a sequel to the author’s Marvel in the ‘60s (natch), which one would have to say had the easier route to success. After all, it was in the ‘60s that the “Marvel Age” began, with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others cutting loose with one fresh new superhero after another, like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, not to mention the villains and a distinctive, ingratiating narrative style from Lee that was part carnival barker, part pal. A book that chronicles the creation of something that was new and inspiring is naturally going to be fun to read about.
From around 1968 or so, Marvel Comics then went through a period that may be classified as growing pains. The sale of the company to Cadence Communications led to the ouster of longtime Publisher Martin Goodman, with Lee taking over the position. This role, and increasing time spent as Marvel’s ambassador, a real celebrity during this time, as well as the additional duties of expanding Marvel’s merchandizing and expansion into other media, meant that Lee was less hands-on in guiding the comic books. Even without the additional job duties, he would have had to rely more and more on new Editor-in-Chief (and writer of the most titles), Roy Thomas, because he was expanding the publishing line with ideas for new books seemingly every week.
The expansion of the line led to an influx of new talent, some of whom were impressive out of the gate and some who had to grow into the job, and quickly. Among the careers that started or at least took off at Marvel during the late ‘60s through mid-‘70s were Barry Windsor-Smith, Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Mike Ploog, P. Craig Russell, Doug Moench, Don McGregor, Steve Gerber, Jim Starlin, Steve Englehart and Paul Gulacy. At the same time, long-simmering resentments caused by Lee’s power, fame, and editorial interference led to a John Buscema essentially taking his creativity down a gear, and Jack “King” Kirby, the co-creator with Lee (and in the case of Captain America, Joe Simon), most of Marvel’s most popular characters, also gearing down, biding his time, and taking his talents and filed-away characters and concepts to rival DC Comics when the opportunity came in 1970. Other Marvel veterans like Gene Colan, Don Heck and Gil Kane (not there for Marvel’s glory years) were shuffled from one book to another, with mixed results.
It’s a fascinating period in Marvel’s history, with some failed experiments and the collision between the generation of Marvel writers and artists who got into the industry when comics were a disreputable industry where those who couldn’t become successful novelists or commercial artists ended up, and the next generation of kids who grew up wanting to make comics, and had also immersed themselves in other science fiction, fantasy, philosophy and the mind-expanding substances of the era.
Comtois takes this complicated period and reduces it to one dubious thesis, that the period from 1968 to 1980 represented Marvel’s “Twilight Years,” after which they would never again reach the previous heights of creative and commercial success. He further hinders himself with a restrictive format: the story is told within chronological reviews of selected comic books. It’s a workable, even novel, format for the book’s purpose, but requires both Comtois and editor Morrow being able to shape the text into a dramatic narrative that backs up early assertions with the accretion of supporting evidence, and develops story threads into satisfying, credible conclusions. Unfortunately, neither are working up to the level required here.
Case in point: Jack Kirby. Early on in the book, Comtois informs us that for the final 20-odd issues of his venerable run on Fantastic Four, Kirby was basically phoning it in. The geyser of new characters and concepts had dried up, and he was going through the motions with Doctor Doom and the rest, with the same old familiar poses and a decreasing dynamism. I’m not interested in arguing a subjective opinion, and the work has to stand on its own, but would it not have been fair to point out the lack of new ideas and verve on the book were largely due to Kirby’s deteriorating relationship with Lee? It’s one thing to prefer the work of Lee over Kirby, or at least Lee’s ‘70s output vs. Kirby’s ‘70s output, but quite another to gloss over widely reported tensions that contributed to Kirby’s last Marvel ‘60s work not being among his best.
Although Comtois makes little reference to developments at DC Comics or other publishers throughout the book, and indeed does little to place ‘70s Marvel in the context of ‘70s America, he can’t help but throw more darts at Kirby by dismissing wholesale his Fourth World opus, books that, while they were relatively mediocre sellers at the time, have gained in critical stature since. One doesn’t have to like them to note that the passing of time has brought new appreciation for them, or to note that almost all of Kirby’s ‘70s work for both DC and Marvel is currently back in print. It’s just being fair. Comtois complete his specious assessment by noting sales of the books dropped off early on, right after Vince Colletta was dismissed as inker (the implication being that Colletta was doing fine and was an established commodity as Kirby’s inker in the past, and that he took fans with him once Kirby fired him and started working with new inkers like Mike Royer). Comtois also claims that the Fourth World books failed by lacking humanity. There were certainly human characters in the books, like Jimmy Olsen, Guardian, the Newsboy Legion, and Oberon, with Orion’s human friends acting as a Greek chorus for the human race throughout the New Gods series. One might also note that the Orion/Darkseid conflict was just a father/son conflict on a grand scale, but suffice to say, Comtois’ antipathy to Kirby’s work from this point and beyond is a bell rung loud and often in the book, despite Kirby being absent from Marvel for most of the decade discussed.
Comtois’ biases don’t stop with Kirby. He has particular loathing for Gil Kane’s style, with his up-the-nose poses and hand-wringing characters. Only when there is a strong inker he likes, such as John Romita, Sr. on Amazing Spider-Man or Klaus Janson on Daredevil, can he tolerate Kane. There is also a bias in favor of Marvel’s fantasy and horror books and characters, which reveals itself in curious ways. Curious in that, while Comtois constantly beats the drum that Marvel was on the decline, its bread-and-butter books in the doldrums, these negative comments are most often within reviews of the horror and fantasy books for which Comtois clearly has a great fondness. While he can’t help but knock the often-rough debuts of Windsor-Smith, Ploog and others, he delights in discussing when the artists put it together, and spends much more time on favored issues of titles like Conan the Barbarian, Kull the Conqueror, Savage Tales, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Tomb of Dracula. The amount of coverage of these titles, and the short shrift given to any superhero title of the time besides multiple, redundant reviews of high and low points for Amazing Spider-Man, suggests that while Marvel’s superhero line was stagnant, Marvel was remaining relevant by expanding into other popular genres (sword & sandal, Universal monsters), as well as displaying bright young artistic and writing talent. It’s clear where Comtois’ true sympathies lie—he considers the Wolfman/Colan Tomb of Dracula one of Marvel’s best runs, and the Thomas/Windsor-Smith Conan #24 a comics peak no one would reach again. No, really, he writes this. It doesn’t really sound like The Twilight Years, does it?
When it’s a book or creator he likes, Comtois provides capable description and a fannish enthusiasm (there are entirely too many exclamation points in the book) that could have been infectious with better editing and either a more consistent, positive theme of those wild, wacky, obscure Marvel ‘70s comics, or a series of personal essays about same (maybe more in line with Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics). As it is, Comtois’ persuasiveness rises and falls with how much one already knows about the subject. Kull and It, the Living Mummy look kind of interesting, while the antagonism towards Gil Kane’s Amazing Spider-Man or Steve Gerber’s Defenders is off-putting, and the lack of perspective (the aforementioned Conan #24 comment, or the middling, short-lived The Champions series being “for one brief, shining moment one of Marvel’s best series”) is ridiculous. And Comtois strangely makes his arguments about the quality of the superhero line from a distance, touching frequently on Amazing Spider-Man but very little on other flagship titles like The Avengers, Fantastic Four, Captain America or The Incredible Hulk.
There is also an odd, passive-aggressive tone throughout, not just in the text but in the editing and design. Most of the writers and artists discussed receive small biographical sidebars, with photos, even if the person is discussed negatively. Comtois’ text certainly makes the distinction that relatively forgotten talents like penciler Keith Pollard or inker Tony Mortellaro did not create work as notable as that of Klaus Janson or John Buscema, yet why give them the same sidebars? It’s almost cruel to shine the same light on folks like this, only to note that they didn’t do a good job on this book, or that, in the case of venerable Silver Age DC Comics scribe Gardner Fox, they were over the hill by the time they got to Marvel. And the pictures! Instead of going for the kitsch value of era-specific photos, only some follow that route, with many appearing to be taken from casual snapshots from various conventions of the past couple decades. Surely there are photos available of Klaus Janson (whose good looks were played up in Marvel Bullpen Bulletins in the ‘80s, as I recall) where he doesn’t appear to be recovering from a stroke? And although there is no doubt from the text that Comtois is a great fan of the work of Barry Windsor-Smith, he insists on calling him just Barry Smith, even in the list of creators thanked. Whether Comtois knows this is a source of annoyance for the artist is unknown, but surely people change their names for a reason, and to insist on the previous name can’t help but smack of disrespect.
The use of the review as a format to discuss Marvel in general (or at least the developments and creators Comtois is interested in) becomes wearying after a while. Part of it is the format itself, which would have benefited from the occasional break to offer a page or two to look beyond Marvel’s comics and magazines. This reviewer learned much about Marvel during this time from the crude, late ‘60s Marvel Super-Heroes and Amazing Spider-Man cartoons, the Spider-Man and Incredible Hulk live action television series, the Pocket Books collections of early issues, Stan Lee-edited reprint anthologies like Origins of Marvel Comics and Bring on the Bad Guys, as well as ephemera like the Mighty Marvel Fun Books, or even 7/11 tumblers, ColorForms sets, Spider-Man webshooter toys or Mego action figures. Although the ongoing books should be the main focus, certainly the other items helped Marvel become the publishing and merchandising juggernaut they were in the ‘70s, and at the very least would have added spice and visual appeal to the book.
The other reason the format is restrictive and tiring has to do with the poor editing. Not just the typos, of which there are several (even though a proofreader is credited), but the redundancies. While Stan Lee’s defying of the Comics Code Authority (the body created by comics publishers after the Kefauver hearings to regulate their content with a stamp of approval on all comics available on newsstands) to publish the then-controversial issues of Amazing Spider-Man dealing with supporting character Harry Osborn’s drug use (the story was clearly anti-drug) is worth discussing, and a case can be made that the erosion of the CCA’s power led to a softened stance on previously verboten subjects like vampires, the undead and Satanism led to Marvel’s confidence in expanding into books featuring these subjects, does it have to be mentioned every time one of these books is reviewed? It has to be noted here at least eight times, vying for importance in Comtois’ head with poor old declining Jack Kirby. Mentioned at least three times is the nugget that the “Crusty Bunkers” were the name given to the members of Neal Adams’ studio who were frequently called upon to ink or finish a Marvel issue up against the deadline crunch. It’s a nice nugget, once. The second time, one starts getting distracted and wondering what better (ie, not repetitive) item could have been used in its place. The third time, it’s annoying.
I’m not sure if Comtois was told of a page limit late in the writing or what, but for some strange reason, 1976-1979 (half the decade!) is covered in the final 20 of the book’s 220 pages. This amounts mainly to discussing the transition from Gil Kane to young hotshot Frank Miller on Daredevil, and a little on John Byrne on Jim Shooter’s The Avengers, as well as some discussion of Shooter himself and that great final issue of The Champions, with Byrne inking George Tuska. If one thinks of mid-to-late-‘70s Marvel as a place where superstar artist George Perez first flowered on high profile titles like Fantastic Four and The Avengers, well, you’re out of luck, as Comtois doesn’t even mention him, just like he spends little time on writer Steve Englehart’s ‘70s work on The Avengers, The Defenders or Captain America. Inker Tony Mortellaro, though, he gets a mention.
Comtois has no problem making bold assertions, like Klaus Janson’s inking of Deathlok being “perhaps the best work he’s ever done” (early in a, what, 40 year career?), or that, accusations of plagiarism aside, the prolific but now mostly unreprinted scribe Bill Mantlo was, “in reality, one of Marvel’s best writers, doing exceptional work on Deathlok, Champions and ROM,” but to say the author has trouble connecting threads would be to erroneously suggest he even makes an attempt. Does ROM springboard into a discussion of other toy tie-in books that would be ‘80s hits for Marvel like Micronauts, or G.I. Joe? No. He praises Lee for defying the CCA, leading to the expansion into horror titles, yet doesn’t criticize him for overworking his staff and abdicating his editing and publishing duties to those not fully qualified to do so, leading to “The Twilight Years”. And while Roy Thomas’ writing is routinely praised, his editing and stewardship of the line in the Twilight Years is only mildly criticized. Further, he sees these Twilight Years as an end to Marvel’s creative growth, yet doesn’t seem to recognize that the expansion into non-superhero genres led to not just other rich avenues for Marvel, but also the beginnings of many popular, influential writers and artists. To appreciate the book, one has to force one’s mind into the narrow tracks of the author’s, who feels Steve Gerber’s Defenders run was too subversive and irreverent, contributing to Marvel’s decline, while Jim Starlin’s Warlock, with thinly veiled attacks on Roy Thomas, Stan Lee and the Marvel infrastructure, is too be praised and not at all a contributor to Marvel’s decline. Another factor in the decline, according to the author, is that the monster characters such as Dracula, the Living Mummy, and Frankenstein’s Monster, are all part of the Marvel Universe, thereby undermining the realism Lee & Co had established. This is the same realistic Marvel Universe with several heroes spawned from radiation, Norse and Greek gods on Earth, several alien races, an undersea nation, multiple alternate dimensions, and a master of mystic arts, correct? What difference does Dracula make when you already have Mephisto? Why is using pulp villain Fu-Manchu just fine, when movie monsters arent? Ultimately, Marvel in the ‘70s remains a worthy subject for a book, but unfortunately this is not a worthy attempt at it.
My first thought looking at the cover, which features a long-haired rocker holding a glowing red guitar, was that this book was going to be stupid, and might very well have been written by a musician. Sometimes my instincts are right. With a childishly breathless pace, our rocker hero is carried off by a magical guitar to another dimension, where a demon and his bustier-clad demoness pose and sneer while apparently the whole multiverse is in jeopardy from something. It takes two writers, two pencilers, three inkers and two colorists to produce this unreadable mess. I wondered how it even got made, and the secret might be that it′s just a cynical promotional deal, as co-writer Llexi Leon is a guitarist, with ads in the back of the comic featuring him plugging Ovation guitars and DiMarzio pickups. There′s an ad for a guitar pedal on the back, featuring Lyra artwork (I think she′s the slutty demoness but doesn’t have horns on her head here), with tones programmed by Leon. Industrious guy, just not a writer. This all may make a bit more sense to those who read Vol. 1, but there is no attempt to help a new reader out.
Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #1
Chris Roberson and Jeffrey & Philip Moy offer up a meeting of two beloved franchises, and it really should have worked better than it does. Ive read decent work from Roberson, and IDW has done a great job overall with their Star Trek comics, but this one falls flat. Part of it is underwhelming art, especially after the terrific job on Star Trek #1, and part of it is that the entire issue goes by and the two teams haven’t met. Roberson instead is more interested in cutting between both teams being ordinary until they both find themselves on an alternate 33rd Century Earth. Its delivered as a big cliffhanger, a big surprise to both, but any reader would pretty much expect it would take an alternate timeline or some other typical contrivance to get these characters together. The fun part had to be how these characters relate to each other. Spock to Brainiac-5, Kirk to Cosmic Boy and so on. Me, I want the fun part to start in the first issue.
H.P. Lovecrafts The Dunwich Horror #1
Horror runs in the blood of IDW, so it’s a no-brainer that eventually they would start doing some Lovecraft adaptations. I normally like Joe R. Lansdale, though I haven’t read a lot of him, but its fair to say his style is closer to contemporary, good ol ′boy Stephen King than the Gothic stylings of Lovecraft. And indeed, Lansdale dispenses with Lovecraft′s text entirely, offering an adaptation relying heavily on the common speech dialogue of a group of four occult thrill seekers and the visuals of Peter Bergting to convey the horror of rural New England. I don’t have a problem with iPhones in a Lovecraft story, really, but Bergting is just not up to the task. A 40 foot high mound of desiccated animals should look scarier than this. In fact, Bergting curiously deemphasizes the thing, first showing it far away, then in a small panel, and then only the base of it, always in the background while the characters blather and look only mildly unsettled if they have an expression at all. He draws a nice barn, though.
Robert Weinberg and artist menton3 then begin an adaptation of ″The Hound″ with heavily Photoshopped single page images and white cursive text overlaid. Weinberg keeps chunks of Lovecraft′s narration but the static images fail to excite. It just doesn’t feel like comics, you know?
30 Days of Night #1
Steve Niles has now made his popular series-of-miniseries-and-specials into an ongoing monthly. This should be a special event for fans, but it′s only special in the sense that Niles decides to spend only a little time with the human element, vampire investigator Alice Blood, instead focusing on the infighting of a group of vampires, which I found much less interesting. Not helping matters at all are the chicken scratch letters of Neil Uyetake, with periods and commas so small they′′re almost invisible and the speckled background coloring effect by Jay Fotos that, along with the washed out palette, really dampens the energy of the book. In fact, my first take on Sam Kieth′′s art was that it was some of his laziest ever, but that was after reading the book at night. In daylight, I see that aside from a few flat, needlessly cartoony characters, he does some nice work here, especially on Alice, a trademark Kieth oddball chick. I was pretty underwhelmed by this one, and to be fair, there is so much vampire material around now than when Niles first started the original 30 Days, so the bar has been set higher to do something really different and compelling. Hopefully it will get there.
Cold War #1
Subtitled The Damocles Contract and further subtitled The Michael Swann Dossier, its clear that John Byrne wants to step into the ring with the likes of Ian Fleming, Graham Greene and Robert Ludlum with his own take on a tough, Cold War spy. We meet Michael Swann in East Berlin as he ruthlessly kills a high-ranking Communist and then is chased by soldiers, before he escapes through the checkpoint into democratic Berlin.
Byrne starts piling on the James Bond similarities from this point, as the recuperating Swann finds time to have sex with an appreciative nurse, and his handlers are of course stuffed shirts. Swann quits, blaming his superiors for leaks leading to his capture and near-death at the hands of his captors. Two years later (it′s never clear exactly what year this takes place in, but probably early 60s), Swann listens to a little exposition from a pretty agent about his next assignment (is he on his own now, still with MI-6, the CIA? Who knows), getting to a rocket scientist before he defects to the Soviets. It′s also not clear if hes supposed to neutralize the guy, secure his secrets or talk him out of it, maybe because Byrne thinks it′s better to end the page with the clear suggestion Swann is eating the agent out. My favorite exchange (this is pre-cunnilingus):
Miss Thorogoode: Subject: Professor Rupert Kemp.
Top man down at the QM Rocket Group in Sussex.
Considered by some to be the most brilliant mind in his field.
Swann: His field being rockets and missiles. I′ve heard of him, of course.
Dude, she just said he′s the top man at the QM Rocket Group. We can figure out that he′s in charge of rockets and missiles and not changing the watercooler bottles.
All kidding aside, it’s a lovely book to look at. An engaged Byrne can still deliver, with solid storytelling and a good variety of faces, and Ronda Pattison colors it subtly, maybe a little on the cool side but that could be a thematic decision for cold war, or just to emphasize that this is serious, adult Byrne material. Byrne does seem to be enjoying himself, as is usually the case during his IDW tenure, but I do think the book has some flaws. The sex and violence can′t cover up that every scene is something you’ve seen or read before. And as a lead, Swann is very much a cipher, a cold, amoral killer in line with Fleming′s Bond but lacking the charm the character gained in the films. It’s a handsome book, but so far kind of empty.
Friday the 13th always brings thoughts of bad luck, even to the least superstitious of us. This week we barely avoid the dreaded day, as the 13th falls on Thursday. Good luck for us. Here’s a look at some of the characters with the worst luck in the history of comics…
Uncle Ben Parker — Bucky came back. Jason Todd came back. Gwen Stacy’s clone’s had more revival tours than Kiss. But Uncle Ben?
Despite the occasional tease — such as when writer Peter David and the late artist Mike Wieringo brought him back, kinda sorta in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, poor ol’ Ben Parker just seems to stay dead, dead, dead.
And staying in the Spider-Man mythos for a moment…
Harry Osborn — You’d think it would be great, being the carefree son of a multi-millionaire
industrialist. The chicks, the cars, the pills…oh, the pills…!
Even better, though, when Harry’s old man — who constantly berated him for failing to live up to his expectations — died as an accidental result of his own misdeeds, Harry inherited his wealth and even his secret identity as The Green Goblin.
But, Harry failed to live up to his father’s dreams even as a supervillain, continuing to never quite reach Norman’s expectations, and finally dying, poisoned by his father’s own Goblin formula.
Even more unluckily, Harry was reborn in Marvel’s “Brand New Day” storyline, which hopefully will be retconned out of memory eventually. Like his dad, Harry is a character who never should have been brought back, as his revival creates far more questions than answers, and stinks of creative bankruptcy.
Joe Chill — Ever heard of this poor fellow? He was directly responsible for the creation of Batman.
Now, Joe Chill lived to a ripe old age and never really suffered the fate due him for the double murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. But how unnerving would it be if Batman showed up and confronted you with the truth?
So of course, Joe Chill did what any sensible hood responsible for the creation of every gangster’s biggest nightmare would do…he told his fellow criminals.
And, with forgiveness and understanding, those fellow criminals thanked ol’ Joe the best way they knew how.
He’s really chillin’ now.
And, finally, the all-time champion #1 unluckiest character in all of comicdom…
Shermy — Originally one of the stars of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Shermy was in fact the first with a speaking role.
Alas, over the years Shermy faded into the background along with (non-Peppermint) Patty, Violet, and other ultimately minor characters as Snoopy, Lucy and Charlie Brown came to dominate the strip. Ivan Brunetti paid tribute to Shermy in “Whither Shermy,” one of my all-time favourite comic strips (available in full-color in Schizo #4).
I always look for Shermy to pop up at baseball games and in line for movie tickets as I read along through the decades in The Complete Peanuts, the great, ongoing reprint project from Fantagraphics Books. Alas, with the series now into the 1980s, we’re well past the point where Shermy will ever play a significant role again (his very last appearance came in 1969). It’s a sad way to end up for the guy who started the whole thing off. And people think Charlie Brown is unlucky.
I’m not a gamer and never have been. There are a few old-school video games I enjoy, like Tetris and Ms. Pac-Man, but when it comes to the wider world of gaming, I have never really delved into the world of casino games.
I seem to have inherited my mother’s disinterest in games of chance. We had few board games when I was growing up — Monopoly and Scrabble are the two I remember us actually playing as a family, but as far as card games and the like, I’m not even sure there was a deck of cards in the house. The Joker would not have liked that.
It’s kind of amazing when you stop to think about all the comic book characters whose origins are somehow related to games and gaming. DC’s Joker and The Royal Flush Gang, and over at Marvel Arcade comes to mind, as does a personal favorite, Jack of Hearts.
I have to admit the glamour and promise of big winnings makes me wonder if I’ve been foolish not to give casino games a chance. After all, by visiting an internet casino I can go at my own pace, play when I feel like it, and do it with no added travel or lodging expenses.
The first thing I’ll have to do is work on my casino strategy to make sure I am fully prepared for the challenges and rewards possible with such an adventure. Wish me luck!
ADD Reviews Little Nothings Vol. 4: My Shadow in the Distance
When it comes to comics, I feel like I don’t know what the hell I like to read anymore. I know it’s corporate superhero comics that have abandoned me, and not the other way around, but it really makes me feel like a bit of an idiot when someone asks me (as they frequently do), “What are you reading these days?” Because they usually mean, “What superhero books do you recommend?” And the answer to that, really, is, not a one. The only thing published by either Marvel or DC that is active on my pull list at the comic shop is Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, and that’s put out by Marvel’s Icon imprint with, as far as I know, little input or advice from Marvel. Just based on my own observations, Ed and Sean seem to be doing it all themselves, which is fine, because set free of editorial interference, they’re creating one hell of a body of work, there in the only monthly comic book I care much about at all.
But man, I have tried hundreds, if not thousands of times over the past five or six years to re-immerse myself in the superhero universes that introduced me to comics as a storytelling medium. I tried Fraction’s Iron Man for a while, and that was okay as long as it was read in chunks of 6 or 8 issues at a time, but I need more than “okay” to keep my interest. I tried Hickman’s FF for the same reasons John Jakala laid out recently, and bailed out after four or five issues for the same reasons he did. Blah, indeed. Since Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s Authority is one of my favourite comics of all time, I gave the first issue of the new Stormwatch a try, and my God but it is fucking dire. If that’s what “The New 52” can do for me, I’ll pass, thanks very much all the same. Hawksmoor and company really never were the same after Ellis and Hitch left the title (and frankly, neither were Ellis or Hitch), and one day I’ll learn to let go of the hope that anyone at all will ever be capable of making good comic books about those characters again.
(Digression: I recently re-read Brubaker and Nguyen’s Authority: Revolutions and realized how harshly I had initially judged it; it’s nowhere near as good as the sacred First 12, but it does actually feel like those characters and it nicely sets up the team for a new era that sadly never was realized. My biggest criticism, really, is I wish Henry Bendix looked more like Henry Bendix as drawn by Raney or Hitch. But other than that, it’s good. If you’re a fan of The Authority but gave it a pass, try it now.)
So, yes, to get back to the point: I’ve loved reading comics since 1972, but I feel like I am a dying man in a desert free of quality comics entertainment. It’s not that there aren’t great comics being published, but that the transition to graphic novels and away from serialized periodical storytelling makes it far less likely in any given week that I am going to be banging down the door of the comic book store on Wednesday, desperate to get at this week’s gem. I’d give anything, really, to return to the days when Eightball, Love and Rockets, Nexus, and Acme Novelty Library, to name a few, were being issued in floppy form, and far more often than we see any iteration of any of them now. Never mind some era (1980-1987, maybe) when DC and Marvel had enough of a critical mass of talented creators working for them that guaranteed at least three or four good titles from each of them every month. As it is now, the “big two” (chuckle, snort) might as well be dedicated solely to publishing pamphlets about, say, country music; or farm equipment; or liver and headcheese recipes. Any of those topics would generate as much interest from me as the current Marvel/DC output in the hands of the current (mis)management and current fan-fiction brigade of creators.
So, yeah — what a delight to read a comic I enjoyed from cover to cover!
Little Nothings Vol. 4: My Shadow in the Distance is just the usual dose of Lewis Trondheim wonder and whimsy — a little slapstick as he tries to figure out how a sink with three knobs instead of the usual two works. A little rumination on mortality as he wrestles with nasal polyps, in a sequence that really clenched my sphincter for me (you’re welcome). A little hanging out with other comics creators, a little travel, and lots — every page, dear reader — lots of gorgeously-rendered pen-and-watercolour illustrations of the environs in which Trondheim carries out all these adventures.
Lewis Trondheim is one of the greatest living cartoonists. It’s not even an argument. His work is immediately accessible, profoundly universal, and deeply hilarious. When he makes you laugh (and he will), it’s not just a sight-gag or well-observed human foible. It’s that you are so invested in his character and his world that it’s as if you are laughing at yourself, because in a way, you are. I can’t think of anyone in comics other than Charles Schulz who so brilliantly and intuitively understood human nature and conveyed it and depicted it as well as Trondheim does.
And I always forget how skilled Trondheim is at the callback. He almost always lets you forget something then hits you with a surprising and delightful reference to it later. There’s one of his best here in this volume, and I don’t want to tell you where it is, but believe me, you’ll know it when you see it, and you’ll love it, and it will make you realize how lucky we are to have comics by Lewis Trondheim in this day and age.
I’ll get my bias out of the way right up front: Artist David Mazzucchelli’s work on the Frank Miller-written Batman: Year One (the comic) is about the best art ever created for a superhero comic book. I love the work of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Gil Kane, to name a few great superhero artists, but Mazzucchelli on Year One (and also in the also-Miller-written Daredevil: Born Again) brought a unique blend of dynamism and humanity that is sorely lacking from even the best superhero comics. Mazzucchelli’s brief time as a superhero artist was one of the high points of superhero comics history, and while I love his later, more personal work, I do wish superhero comics these days possessed a hundredth of the visual depth and artistry he brought to the table. So forgive me for wishing Batman: Year One (the DVD) looked a little more like Mazzucchelli’s art. But, I’m nitpicking, and I have to admit it. Batman: Year One is faithful to the mood of the comic, even if it doesn’t always match it frame-for-frame. That said, many scenes in the movie are clearly right out of the book, and the characters look on-model, especially the vile Commissioner Loeb, Lt. James Gordon, and the prostitute Selina Kyle.
The fact is, Batman: Year One is one of the most faithful comics-to-film adaptations ever. Unlike the direct-to-DVD All-Star Superman (which I liked but didn’t love), it really feels like the whole story is there. James Gordon (voiced by the amazing Bryan Cranston) is really the star of the show, idealistic but human, moral but flawed. The movie doesn’t shy away from Gordon’s moral lapse with colleague Sarah Essen, but wrings the same drama and pain from their affair that the comic portrayed.
The arc of a determined Bruce Wayne feeling his way from willful amateur to truly becoming Batman feels genuine and earned, in keeping with the original comic. The ending feels pregnant with a world of possibility, but is satisfying at the same time.
I don’t have a Blu-Ray player, so most of the special features are out of my reach, but the regular DVD in the combo-pack includes a Catwoman short, and multiple previews, including one for Justice League: Doom, which adapts Mark Waid and Howard Porter’s “Tower of Babel” storyline from the Morrison-era JLA run and looks like it will be a fun addition to the DC direct-to-DVD line.
The quality of DC’s direct-to-DVD movies has varied pretty widely, but Batman: Year One is the best one yet produced. The voicework, animation, and committment to keeping the greatest Batman story intact on the screen all make it a must-see for anyone who loves this story, or these characters. The movie will be available on 10/11 for download and 10/18 to buy on Blu-Ray and DVD. Whatever your format of choice, see it. It’s great.
— Alan David Doane
A copy of the DVD was provided by the studio for the purpose of review.
DC 51 Week Four, Part Two - Racing with the Flash to the Finish Line (FIXED)
Here it is, the final part of the four week tour through the new DCU. And while I’ve never run a marathon, I can only imagine this is how a runner feels after the 25th mile of the run: it’s been like a massive endurance test but I… just… have… to… make… it… across… that… line.
And the conclusion, as it moves reverse alphabetically to the very end (just like running a race backwards)…
Green Lantern: New Guardians #1 is yet another new book that manages to screw up the whole idea of a re-launch.
The primary problem with this comic is the fact that the story starts with a flashback that doesn’t reveal that it’s a flashback until it’s seven pages into the book. So what seems like a shocking and amazing beginning actually took place years ago and simply retells how Kyle Rayner got his ring. Initially the comic seems to open with a “Wow!! What the hell has happened?!? This is crazy!!!” moment that is then utterly deflated when it’s revealed that the events took place before “The Present Day”. The flashback doesn’t even explain if Hal Jordan went all Parallax-y in this new universe or what caused these events in the past – it just re-hashes the story of how Kyle became a hero.
This un-announced flashback wouldn’t be such a horrible sin if it served some sort of function in the comic, but it fails to add anything new to Kyle’s origin and does not serve any purpose in this particular issue. The only thing the flashback succeeds in doing is robbing the main story of seven pages. It is not a great start for the comic.
As for the other “new guardians” of the title, they are introduced as jaw-clenching, spandex-clad one-note characters that go by professional wrestler names such as “Fatality” and “Bleez”. Their most distinguishing characteristics: Fatality is a Violet Lantern/Star Sapphire who always displays her large breasts, while Bleez is a Red Lantern who always shows the reader her oh-so-very shapely butt.
To summarize: pointless recap of the hero’s origin; Star Sapphire’s breasts, Red Lantern’s butt and a story about stolen Lantern rings that is a re-hash of what was previously done in the Blackest Night saga.
This comic, like the other three books in the Green Lantern family, lacks focus or purpose. The books aren’t inter-connected at this time but they all read like that they should be and they’re doing their best to resist that almost magnetic temptation (You can almost hear the books collective plea, “Must… resist.. the crossover. Got to… stand… on my own.”)
Geoff Johns might have a masterplan for all the various Green Lantern books, but until that intergalactic emergency reveals itself, all four comics look poised to just meander for a while.
The Fury of Firestorm takes the single best aspect of the character — the fact that two human beings with completely different personalities have to combine in order to make one hero — and jettisons the premise for the notion that two characters can turn into two heroes who can then combine into one bigger hero.
And I simply don’t understand why the change was made. Why ditch the original concept just to create two identical heroes with (apparently) the same name? It’s not like the idea was improved upon. It’s just been changed for the sake of change. Maybe this is all part of a grand design, but after this first issue it just seems to be tinkering with a concept for no reason.
But even if this is only Step One in the character’s journey, it’s difficult to enjoy a story that has part of its focus on teenage angst and a jock arguing with a bookworm, while elsewhere in the book a family is murdered, a man is tortured and a high school coach is killed in front of his students. The distance between ‘jock vs. bookworm’ and ‘terrorists slaughtering innocent victims’ is huge and The Fury of Firestorm doesn’t show how the two can possibly exist in the same book.
Artist Francis Manapul takes over the writing duties with Brian Buccellatto for The Flash and, after reading a ton of books that have been filled with torture, T&A and mindless murders, this comic is a breath of fresh air.
Barry Allen is back as a younger, less experienced hero and the first issue does a good job of presenting him (in Geoff Johns style) as new and yet familiar. He’s still a scientist, still in Central City, but to the creators’ credit, he isn’t doing battle with his traditional Rogues Gallery of villains (well, at least not in this first issue).
This is in striking contrast to three of the four Batman books which between them made sure that every possible villain made an appearance. Manapul and Buccellato deserve praise for crafting a solid first issue without using the old, familiar bad guys as a crutch for their story.
My only complaint: Barry and his wife, Iris, had one of the strongest relationships in the old DC Universe. He battled time, the speed force and death itself to be re-united with her. It’s disappointing to realize all of that has been shoved aside just so he can be single and date different young women. Perhaps it’s silly on my part, but I hope the creators have plans to get the two characters together again. But perhaps that’s just me, because otherwise this was a strong start for the speedster.
Blackhawks #1 suffers the same problem as Men of War: it’s almost impossible to do an action/war comic in a universe overflowing with superheroes.
With Blackhawks it seems that there is a desire to create a S.H.I.E.L.D. equivalent in the new DCU but it’s difficult to imagine what their role is in a world where everyone seems to be invulnerable to bullets, can shoot lasers out of their eyes or is so rich that they inspire and finance followers around the globe. And it’s especially difficult to suspend disbelief when the Blackhawks are supposed to be a super-secret special ops unit that chooses to plaster its Blackhawks insignia on all of its uniforms, planes and helicopters.
The old Blackhawks concept with its international cast of soldiers could make for an great updated story with a sense of intrigue, mystery and danger. But this update sure isn’t the one anybody’s been waiting for.
The fourth Batman book, The Dark Knight, isn’t the weakest of the Batman bunch but it does seem strangely redundant.
In this book Bruce Wayne makes a speech to the ultra-rich elite of Gotham City (just like he did in Batman #1), there’s a riot and escape attempt at Arkham (again, just like in Batman #1) and the final splash page of the comic has a huge reveal about one of the hero’s greatest villains (just like in Detective Comics #1).
Uniquely and bizarrely, there is a one-panel appearance of a woman in a bunny costume whose super-power seems to be the ability to dodge bullets as she flashes her luscious derriere at Batman and various members of the police department. The police don’t recognize her and Batman says something like “She shouldn’t be here.” No one can believe what they’ve just seen: it’s as if the buxom bunny character is like the giant rabbit in the movie “Harvey” but with a much nicer, sexier butt.
The Dark Knight therefore combines the worst aspect of the various Green Lantern books (and their relentless fascination with a woman’s shapely posterior) with some of the best and the worst story elements from the other, recently published Batman stories.
Maybe this issue could be forgiven for its redundancies if those comics hadn’t all been published within the past three weeks,. But I can’t help but wonder why the book’s editor, Mike Marts, didn’t speak to one of the creative teams and say, “Umm, guys, I’ve got a story with a lot of similarities to this in one of the other books. Do you have any other ideas and maybe we can just shelf this one until later?” After all, isn’t that what a group editor is supposed to do?
Because right now, only one month into the re-launch, the four Batman books are already suffering from a “been there, done that” lack of originality.
Before being made DC’s Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns was the company’s go-to guy when it came to revamping and re-invigorating old, tired heroes.
Superman, Green Lantern and The Flash were all transformed by his particular style which combines nostalgia with a kind of ‘new car smell’. He takes the character back to his basics and yet somehow makes him seem fresh and vital.
If he was in marketing he would brand his product as “new, improved and classic.”
And now, by turning his attention towards Aquaman and doing the voodoo he does so well, Johns’ immediately elevates the character’s status from the minors to the big league. Aquaman instantly becomes a book that, deservedly or not, fans are interested in.
But having said all that, does it work?
The first issue certainly establishes Aquaman’s role in this new DCU. He is perceived by the public as being more alien than Superman: he’s the guy who lives in the ocean, talks to fish and is the king a country of a mythical undersea country that no one believes exists.
He is also the only DC character that, in the new 52, has managed to keep his marriage intact. Clark and Barry lost Lois and Iris, but after the events in Brightest Day, Aquaman has been allowed to keep Mera. Their interaction in this issue, while brief, indicates that story will be as much about them as the menaces they battle.
In just one issue Johns and artist Ivan Reis manage to make Aquaman majestic and interesting. And the character has been given the best aspects of Superman and The Flash before their reboots: integrity, experience and a strong marriage. In other words, Aquaman is one of the few adults in the new DC Universe and that maturity (it’s kind of sad to note) makes the hero very unique among these re-launched characters.
And the marathon run finally comes to the final book, All Star Western, a comic I wanted to like a bit more than I did, but one that I will still keep reading.
The series that took place before the re-launch, Jonah Hex, was a great comic in the old-fashioned “one and done” tradition. Each issue (with the occasional multi-issue story) told the tale of a man who would ride into town, get into trouble and then, usually after a lot of shooting and killing, he would ride away. The stories could jump to different parts of his life without a need to explain when it took place and how he got there. He was Jonah Hex: wherever he went, trouble couldn’t be far behind.
But it appears this new book is going to settle Hex in the old wild west days of Gotham City, complete with the ancestors of The Penguin and other characters. So rather than being a dangerous and unpredictable force of good/evil/indifference, Hex will become a known commodity and maybe even a common citizen.
I trust writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray with the character, but I do worry about this new concept. The first issue, with Hex riding into town and staying because of the “This time it’s personal” conceit doesn’t fill me with confidence. But as I said, Palmiotti and Gray have done brilliant things with the character before, so I’m sticking around.
Having said that, if Hex becomes the sheriff of Gotham City, I’m exiting faster than a vulture plucks the eyes out of a dead man.
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The New DC 52 Week Four, Part Three – The Dark and the Not So Bright
The Fury of Firestorm #1 by Ethan Van Sciver, Gail Simone and Yildiray Cinar has one good element at its core (I guess that pun is intended) and that’s the issue of race. Before high school quarterback Ronnie Raymond and school reporter Jason Rusch are linked to the Firestorm Protocol, they are just kids who don’t get along because Jason accuses Ronnie of racism. It′s not that Ronnie says or does anything to provoke this, which shows Simones subtlety and sure hand; its that Jason is angry and maybe jealous of Ronnie′s minor celebrity and plays the race card, with the effect of actually getting Ronnie to wonder why it is he and his mother don’t have any black friends, even as he′s angry at Jason for bringing the question to light.
That’s the most interesting part of the issue, with the rest being rather unconvincing stuff involving a threesome of handsome American terrorists tracking the remaining particle to Jason, leading to the transformation of our two male leads into the superpowered version of The Defiant Ones. None of that is very interesting, with average, Bob McLeod style art from Cinar and the same made-up teen lingo (″Ill casket you!″) Simone used to ill effect in Batgirl. I give it credit for trying to be about something for half its length, but its not enough to keep me around.
Teen Titans #1 by Scott Lobdell and Brett Booth is one of many DC books determined to bring back the ′90s. Hey, the title of the issue is even, Teen Spirit, and you’ve got ′90s X-writer Lobdell and ′90s Image artist Booth, looking about the same. Lobdell doesn’t do such a bad job, though gathering just two heroes together for the eventual team seems a little sluggish. Red Robin, the Cassie Sandsmark Wonder Girl, and Superboy—none of these are characters who I feel like I′m missing out on. I actually liked Lobdell′s Superboy debut, so hopefully I can just read that without having to follow this one.
I, Vampire #1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino is the most Vertigoesque of the new books, a nod to Twilight and True Blood with its star-crossed lovers and that one special vampire guy who sees humans as more than walking blood bags. This vampire, Andrew, has been (un)living for 400 years with guilt over turning the sweet Mary into what she is today, a bloodsucker about to go to war against humanity with the rest of her kind. This isn’t an original comment, but yes, Sorrentino′s art does look a lot like Jae Lee, and that’s a good thing, as the book calls for a style that’s someber and still, though maybe Fialkov could have broken things up a bit with a flashback to sunnier times. I think Fialkov may be in for a tough go trying to reconcile this world with the rest of the metahuman-filled DCU, but for now, we′re off to a good start.
The Flash #1 by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelato is a nice-looking book that brought me back a little bit to the first time I ever was interested in The Flash, the Waid/Wieringo run. Oh, its not that Manapul is busting out fresh concepts like the Speed Force or anything, but what as a new writer he may lack in making Barry Allen much more interesting than the norm, he makes up for with an engaging, softer art style that looks like color over pencils, sans ink, and a willingness to play with page layouts and an organic use of sound effects that stands head and shoulders over what we can now say with authority is an overwhelming lack of artistic ambition on the part of 90% of the other DC artists. I think Manapul could do a better job introducing his supporting cast for maximum impact, but I do like that he seems to understand that one way to make boring Barry more interesting is to have two women interested in him.
Justice League Dark #1 by Peter Milligan and Mikel Janin is the most interesting and competent of the many team books DC has unleashed the past month. As he has shown the past few years in Hellblazer, Milligan is expert at damaged characters who still have something to offer, and now, in addition to roping in John Constantine and early success Shade The Changing Man, he has the scarred soothsayer Madame Xanadu, the daft, haunted June Moone, the resourceful but insecure Zatanna, and even the searching Deadman, who are all being slowly drawn together to go up against The Enchantress, who has already defeated the regular Justice League.
Janin is a new name to me, but I like the style, which is dark but grounded. Obviously this is a title that’s going to call for some out-of-the-box storytelling, so hopefully he can keep growing in that regard. I guess my only concern is that Milligan has his work cut out for him trying to make each of these strange loners distinct, but I trust he will be up to the task.
And that’s it, the whole 52 aside from Green Lantern Corps, a title that I missed. I think that’s thorough enough. I can say that the majority of these books are not ones I will continue to follow, but I will say there are more I liked than I expected, so that’s something. The ones I wont stick with mostly fail by being mediocre, the titillating or offensive elements unfortunate but probably overly remarked upon. I don’t think reaching more women, kids or non-Caucasians was ever a serious goal, and the few who are offended are likely to keep reading anyway. What folks should really be more demanding of are better stories, more adventurous art, more risks taken. The relaunch has been considered by many to be a kind of last ditch attempt at new readers and relevance, and so the problem is not that Starfire is a slut or Catwoman and Batman get it on, but that to those writers′ minds, and their editors, this represents risk and a bold attempt at taking the characters into new territory. At the same time, maybe 15% of the books show some inventiveness and fresh approaches that aren’t based on exploitation, with another chunk of the books being familiar but competent entertainments. That’s not a bad average overall.
The New DC 52 Week Four, Part Two - Three Men and a Little Daemonite
Four titles here, and another four in a day or two to wrap up the first month of DC′s relaunches. It′s been a long time since I′ve reviewed this many books in this short a time, and I fully admit it′s probably unfair that books from IDW (a very good Star Trek series just started) and Dark Horse (the B.P.R.D. still going strong) and lots of interesting books from Fantagraphics, not to mention some important reissues. But hey, I felt like doing this, you know? Not because it′s important, just because I wanted to be thorough and fair when in all honesty I thought this would be much more of a disaster. So, without further adieu, and chosen at random…
Voodoo #1 by Ron Marz and Sami Basri is not a title that will last very long. Very minor WildStorm character, journeyman writer and relatively unknown artist. The alien-turned-stripper-turned-superhero didn’t even get Alan Moore′s best efforts way back when he wrote a miniseries for her. But that’s okay. As I′ve said before, the titles no one expects much from are the ones where the creative team usually has more freedom.
When Moore wrote Voodoo back in the ′90s, he perhaps not surprisingly focused on her New Orleans background and the magic native to the region. It wasn’t a bad idea, but Marz sticks more with the science fiction thriller angle, as we are introduced to Voodoo performing in front of a rapt crowd made up partially of two federal agents who have been tracking her. Before we find out much about this, Marz essentially atones for introducing Voodoo in a bikini, stripping, by showing the dressing room backstage, where we learn that these are just young women doing the best they can, trying to make money to take care of children with no father in the picture, or who are earning money for classes to better themselves. There′s no intrigue or competition here, just women trying to look out for each other. Like others, I′ve taken issue with the portrayal of some of the women characters in other new DC books, but Marz deserves a pass here, especially for the higher degree of difficulty of writing a stripper in a non-exploitative way. Basri also deserves credit—Voodoo and the other women are all very attractive but his line is clear and minimal, the naughty bits left to the imagination, and aside from a little cleavage there aren’t really any panels where body parts are the main point.
Instead, Voodoo, or Priscilla as she′s known, is not the most sympathetic character, killing one of the agents once he revealed what he knew about her, but its not unlike the violence Supergirl caused in her first issue; they′re both just trying to survive. The trick is to see how long readers can take it before she turns toward humanity′s side instead of her Daemonite people.
Superman #1 by George Perez and Jesus Merino is a solid B, B+. Yes, for the most part I feel like it’s a book Perez already did back on his Action Comics run about 25 years ago, but I liked those books. Although Perez is only writing and providing layouts, those layouts let him control how much information he wants to get across here, and it′s more than most books. Sometimes the old, non-decompressed ways are best, as I felt like I got my money′s worth here.
We see the Daily Planet building, with its famous gold globe, come crashing down, a victim of changing times. With print on its way to a final death rattle, the Planet has been purchased by Galaxy Communications, to be just a piece of its multimedia empire that also includes the local television station. Seems the new owner has something of a fearsome reputation, and even has a Murdoch-like wiretapping scandal in his recent past, though that is apparently more the fault of the previous owner. Lois Lane has been tapped to head the TV network, which in real life makes no sense, as she is a print journalist with no production, direction or management skills, but for comics drama I guess we can let it go. Or just call it the one big flaw of the issue.
The rest is taken up with reintroducing the cast and showing how they are all reacting to the change in the status quo. Perry White has to get used to a new boss, and Lois has to get used to being a boss immediately, going from the gala announcing the changes to covering Superman fighting a creature made of flame. She has to be resourceful to keep her helicopter crew out of harm′s way, and we find out her boss is more interested in results than safety, so she′s got her work cut out for her there.
The Superman fight ended with no answers, but we do see that this is a cockier, more threatening Superman, although still heroic and concerned with the safety of innocents. He has that in common with Lois, but neither he nor his Clark Kent alter ego have much of a connection with her aside from mutual respect. Clark cares for Lois, but she finds him too distant, and she′s in a relationship with some guy and it doesn’t appear to be much deeper than sex. Comics fans are often pretty puritanical, especially about long-running characters, so Im sure the implication that Lois is getting it on unashamedly in her apartment is going to turn some people off, but I thought it was a good way for Perez to raise the emotional stakes and nudge the book into, I dunno, the 80s? Merino is following Perez′s blueprint here, but clearly his style is a bit different and it looks terrific. Aside from some unsuccessful bits here and there, such as the narrative captions describing the fight that don’t read anything like the newspaper article they are supposed to emulate, this is a solid book with old school craft.
Green Lantern New Guardians #1 by Tony Bedard and Tyler Kirkham is an amiably ho-hum book, which I guess is going to happen when you mandate four Green Lantern books a month. Kyle Rayner now has a little more potential to be cool, since he′s not the #1 GL anymore. Bedard introduces him as a nice, creative guy (although the majority of waitresses would not take kindly to a patron leaving a sketch of them in lieu of a tip), but there isn’t time for much more, as we have to get his GL induction out of the way in rapid, Silver Age style. Before you know it, he′s saving folks and meeting his not-so-adoring public, and then something weird happens where a bunch of different Lanterns have their rings taken away and all the rings go to Kyle. I was confused, because taking the ring away seemed clearly to cause some of these Lanterns to die, either because they were in the middle of fighting or they were in space and using the ring to provide breathable air, but at the end, there′s a bunch of different-colored Lanterns all heading to beat up Kyle. Oh, and in keeping with the Johns model, there is a disemboweling where it would have been just as well to cut away to the next scene. I′m not very interested in the mystery, there are plenty of kinda likable heroes out there, and Kirkham′s Jim Lee-influenced art isn’t enough of a draw. I wouldn’t call this a terrible book, but it’s an easy one to drop.
The Savage Hawkman #1 by Tony S. Daniel and Philip Tan is probably going to bother a lot of Hawkman fans, as Carter Hall is now a rather reckless loser of a cryptologist who finds that when he tries to give up on Hawkman completely, the Nth metal bonds with him, so hes sort of like Venom, with his costume and weapons erupting from his body. This comes in handy on his first day back on the job, when a sunken artifact releases a deadly alien energy vampire thing.
Philip Tan goes for a bit more of a painterly look here, possibly trying to approach an old pulp novel cover, but for now he can add this to the list of styles he hasn’t mastered. I liked it better than what he did on Batman & Robin, but that’s not saying much. Nice creature, though, although Daniel gives him a rather unalienlike name, Morticius, which seems more like the name of a cackling ghoul meant to host one of DC′s old horror books.
It′s kind of funny when were introduced to Carter Hall talking about getting rid of Hawkman, and his narrative caption has a hawk symbol in it, not that there was much doubt he was going to be Hawkman again. That part isn’t Daniel′s fault, but he does louse that scene up with a tendency to go over-the-top. I mean, you can′t just pour gasoline on the Hawkman garb and light a match? No, instead it’s a fifth of bourbon, ignited with a gunshot, which seems like a waste of booze and ammo. I′m not sure how to take the lack of any kind of sexual tension between Carter and his boss′ pretty daughter. You gave the fat old guy a hot daughter for a reason, Daniel—do something with her more than a bland, ″Hi Carter″. I guess this might turn into something as far as the buttkicking aspects, but so far I′m not impressed.
DC 51 Week Four, Part One - Vampires, Strippers & Teenagers, Too!
The final week. Every DC Universe #1 that’s been published. The good, the bad and the embarrassingly ugly. And to help with the process it’s all going to be reverse alphabetical order. So for Zachary, Zoe and all of the Zoological experts out there… this reverse alphabetical journey is for you.
For all of the justified hatred and disappointment brought about by Catwoman and Red Hood, I was expecting to hate the hell out of Voodoo. And yet I found it mostly tolerable.
Yes-yes, that’s faint praise but this book should have been horrible beyond words: it’s set in a strip joint with the main character being a super-powered exotic dancer. A couple of secret agents have been observing her (get it? – ‘observing her’ because she works in a strip joint! They’re keeping their eyes on her! That’s hard work! Get it? – ‘hard work’!!! Cuz, like, they’re in a strip joint, so it’s got to be HARD and… okay, you get the point).
So these two secret agents have to watch her because they suspect she’s an alien and perhaps she’s dangerous and, oh, did I mention that the whole story is set in a strip joint? So there’s lots of semi-naked cheesecake artwork that always shows a lot but is careful never to show too much. Therefore there is lots and lots of cleavage but never a nipple to be seen. Obviously it’s okay to show boobs, buns, g-strings and lots of bras falling to the floor, but show a nipple? – Well, that’s just crazy talk
And yet, having said all of that, for some reason I didn’t find Voodoo anywhere near as offensive as the two previously mentioned fanboy sexfests because at least this story makes sense. The question perhaps should have been posed within the DC brain trust as to whether one of its new 52 books should be set in a strip joint. – “Oh hell no,” would have been the correct response. It’s a ludicrous idea and indicates that the company has no idea what its new audience should be.
After all, this comic is nothing more than a Wildstorm/new DC version of the horrible idea that was Stan Lee’s epic Stripperella . And because it’s one of the few books that headlines a female characters, it’s doubly disappointing that she’s an exotic dancer. It perpetuates the notion that comic book fans are all man-boys who expect heroines to be bimbos who will drop their clothes whenever they need to and especially if they’re being paid to do so.
So it’s not that the book is bad because in fact it’s consistent and true to its premise. It’s just too bad that DC thought that this book was a good idea.
Writer Scott Lobdell is back with Teen Titans #1 and once again he’s been given license to do whatever he wants with the characters. Tim Drake, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash and Superboy – he’s been given a long leash to revamp the heroes as he sees fit.
So in this story some bad guys have tracked down Tim Drake, but it appears that he was never adopted by Bruce Wayne in this new universe because otherwise the villains would know Batman’s secret identity. A news report says Kid Flash has no relation to The Flash, so he might be Wally West or Bart Allen or he might be someone new. And Wonder Girl, while incredibly powerful, initially feigns weakness, then destroys a bunch of helicopters and, in her last appearance in the comic, pouts a lot.
The book’s conclusion ties in with Superboy and it appears that the two comics will intertwine with one another. Unfortunately this issue is nothing more than a “we’re getting the band together” story with not enough of a hook to pull me into the next issue. The climax is the exact same as in Superboy #1 and that just strikes me as being lazy writing. Lobdell’s stock took a nosedive with Red Hood and the Outlaws and this book isn’t strong enough for me to be interested in anything else he has to say.
After reading Superman #1 it becomes apparent that DC does not know what to do with its oldest and arguably most iconic superhero.
In comparison, Batman looks to easy: he’s a violent Dark Knight with an incredible supporting cast and a great range of villains. There are four books starring Batman and at least five books that headline members of the Bat-family. But Superman stars in only two books while a girl and a boy are in charge of the other Super-comics.
Superman is supposed to be the hero that inspires every other hero’s existence in this new DCU, but there is confusion as to how strong the Man of Steel is supposed to be – both literally and figuratively. In this issue Jimmy Olsen comments how Superman seems to be getting even more powerful than he previously was, as if his powers are in flux and still expanding. So how super is Superman? And why should that be treated like it’s a mystery that needs to be solved? Does the character have to be a man of mystery in order to be interesting?
The other problem with Superman is that his creators simply do not know what to do with him. Geoff Johns seemed to have a strong handle on the character, but everyone else wants to send him into outer space or ground him. In this massively revamped book he no longer has Lois in his life and he acts like he’s a loner without any friends. He doesn’t act like the kind of man who could inspire anyone. Instead, he’s an alienated twenty-something who is desperately trying to find his place in his universe.
And while that might be an interesting concept for a comic book like Superboy or Supergirl, it’s shouldn’t be Superman.
The Savage Hawkman #1 stars Carter Hall and reading the comic reminds me what a mess DC has made with a bunch of its books in recent years.
Supergirl, the Legion of Super-Heroes and Hawkman have all had their origins erased, retold and fine-tuned to the point that that the fans all agree to subject themselves to a case of mass hypnosis. Everyone nods their heads obediently and abandons the past like it never happened and then merrily embrace the new next best thing.
So this Hawkman is a character who is an archeologist who maybe has nothing to do with Thanagar or maybe he’s the reincarnation of an ancient hero with some alien power and maybe he’ll eventually have a girl friend who is Hawkgirl, but probably not because he’s a hero and heroes have attachments, and the Nth Metal acts like it’s Doctor Fate’s helmet or Jaime’s beetle from Blue Beetle so maybe it’s an ancient power or maybe it’s a futuristic power. But after reading this issue it could be all of the above or, six months from now, none of the above.
In other words: Hawkman is still a mess.
The next two books take place in the so-called Dark Corner of the DC universe. And while both comics work to varying degrees of success, it’s a shame that they both have been mandated to blatantly acknowledge the universe that they share with all of the spandex clad do-gooders.
Therefore it’s not enough that Justice League Dark and I, Vampire take place in this new shiny universe, they also have to feature appearances by some mainstream heroes or, as in the case of I, Vampire, name drop a reference to some characters who don’t even bother to make an appearance. So Batman appears helpless in one book in order to justify the” Justice League Dark” label, while in the other book the title character warns a fellow vampire that she won’t stand a chance against Superman, a half-dozen Green Lanterns and Wonder Woman.
Writer Peter Milligan gets a great cast of characters to play with in Justice League Dark and his work is so strong over in Vertigo’s Hellblazer that I suspect he will spin a terrific magic-based story as he builds upon this issue. Much like Teen Titans, this book is also an exercise in gathering all of the characters to form some kind of super-team, but with “heroes” such as Shade the Changing Man, Deadman, Madame Xanadu and John Constantine in the book, he won’t be tied to another comic’s continuity or another group editor’s whims. So there’s a good chance that Milligan will be able to do what he wants to do with his team. And that will be something worth reading.
I, Vampire is obviously intended to be a teasing temptation to the whole Twilight fanbase and it has some incredible Jae Lee-like artwork. The book has echoes of the British show Being Human with vampires battling vampires with the world as their battlefield. There’s even a scene that has a swarm of vampires (or is that perhaps a “murder of vampires”?) killing everyone on a subway car that illustrates how bloody the book will be. It promises to be fascinating and powerful stuff.
But the book will lose all of its credibility when Batman or Superman makes an appearance which, unfortunately, seems to be inevitable. Because a hero should start poking around once that subway car is discovered, filled with dead passengers who have had their throats ripped out and have been drained of all their blood. And when one of those heroes makes his inevitable entrance, the whole book will be deader than a vampire being stabbed with a garlic-soaked stake on a hot summer day.
So you want to make comics. A lot of people do, but only a few are ever lucky enough to see their stories get into print. There are few storytelling mediums as visceral and exciting as comics, and nothing as satisfying as seeing your own stories come together and entertain an audience, so if you are thinking about creating comics, here are some points to remember along the way.
How do you get started creating comics? The best thing to do is simply make comics. All you really need is a piece of paper and drawing supplies, or a computer, or some combination of all of those or any other art supplies you can muster to create your story in words and pictures.
I have nearly zero talent for drawing and almost as little desire to write stories, but even I have created comics in this manner. Your supplies matter, but nowhere near as much as your desire to create comics.
There are numerous books that will tell you a lot about how to make comics, but usually those books are skewed to creating the sort of comics that the creator of the book is known for. If you’re looking to be the very best comics creator you can be, the best way to achieve that is just to assemble your tools and start creating stories. Do your best to improve your craft, whether it’s writing, drawing, or both. Tell stories that have the most personal meaning and importance to you as a human being, whether they are autobiographical or fictional.
It’s a truism in comics creation that everyone has to create 1,000 bad pages before they start creating good ones. The more comics you create, the better a feel you’ll have for what types of stories and storytelling modes work best for you. When you feel you’re ready for some input and criticism, show the comics you’ve created to trusted friends, and let them know you want their honest assessment of what you’ve created. Listen to both the positive and negative feedback, and understand that every comment you receive on your work will help you better understand your own creative process and how to improve it.
Compare your work to professionally published comics in similar genres; if you feel your work has honestly reached a level where it might be ready for public consumption (and this evolution could take months or years), then you may be ready to assemble a portfolio of your best pages (editors and publishers want to see examples of your storytelling, not pin-ups and poster shots) and bring them with you to comics conventions in your area. If there are no conventions in your area, check the websites of publishers you are interested in working with, learn their submission guidelines, and follow them to the letter. Be warned that some publishers are not interested in receiving unsolicited submissions, while some are eager to find new talent.
It is crucial that you educate yourself about the pitfalls of working in comics. Since the very beginnings of the industry, creators have suffered low pay, loss of creative rights, few or no benefits, and other unfair practices. Be sure you always watch out for your own best interests. If a publisher offers you a contract, go over it with your own attorney to be sure your interests, and the interests of your family, are protected in the longterm. Corporations will always protect and promote themselves over the interests of any individual creator. This doesn’t mean “don’t work for corporate comic book publishers,” it just means “know what you’re doing before you do.” An informed comics creator is far better prepared for a long career in the industry with fewer heartbreaks along the way.
If you want to publish comics, you’re not alone. Something in the raw appeal of comics storytelling makes a large portion of the audience want to try it themselves.
If I had to guess, I’d say this phenomenon is far more common to comics than it is to other storytelling media. Sure, a small percentage of moviegoers want to direct their own movies, but most people are happy just watching an entertaining film. Something about comics, it seems to me, spurs the impulse in a far higher percentage. So much so, in fact, that those of us that really don’t want to make their own comics, and yet have a prominent voice in the comics community, are often wrongly seen as wannabe comics creators. I wish I had stories to tell, in comics or any other form, but I really don’t have a lot of fiction inside me waiting to be set loose. And I certainly don’t want to start my own publishing company. You’d have to be nuts to want to do that!
So, if you’re one of those crazy people that wants to publish comics, here’s some advice based on decades of observing companies try and fail to establish themselves in the marketplace.
First, realize that no new comics company can be expected to make any money whatsoever within the first few years of its existence. If you want to publish comics, you must have a enough capital on hand to withstand the indifference your initial offerings are likely to be met with. Unless you’ve inherited a boatload of cash from rich Uncle Fred or Aunt Betty, chances are you are going to need to find investors. And those investors are going to want to see a solid business plan. Familiarize yourself with business plans by doing research online or at your local library. Warning: If your eyes glaze over at the many technical details of starting a business, you may not be ready to publish comics.
If you do not have the confidence that your books will be of such high quality as to ensure a large readership that builds over the first few years, and that you’ll be able to stick to your business plan and keep your investors happy, then do not start your new comics company until you can meet those marketplace realities. Wishing will not make it so, and if you build it, history has shown that they will not come. Be especially aware that new superhero universes and American-created manga-style comics are extremely unlikely to succeed. You might want to familiarize yourself with the rise and fall of such companies as Speakeasy and CrossGen Comics, to see where their founders went wrong.
Start small, with just one title. Make sure its creator(s) are able to meet the schedule you plan to release the book on, and make sure that the creator(s) focus on putting together a professional product at every step of the process. Make this as easy as possible by communicating your needs and intents clearly and in writing, and by paying them fairly and on time (every time) for their work. Conduct yourself as an ethical publisher who understands your business depends on the efforts of those you hire to fulfill your desire to publish comic books. Be aware that every issue you publish should contain a satisfying story unto itself, even if it is part of a longer, continuing story. Pay a lot of attention to proofreading, a virtually lost art these days, and be aware of professional lettering techniques. Bad, amateur lettering can spoil the reading experience of even the best-written and best-drawn comics. Warning: If you don’t know when to use the letter “I” with serifs and when without (“sans”), you don’t know enough about lettering comic books.
And how do you pick the creators that will write, draw, and letter (and possibly colour) your comics? Just because you like a writer or artist, that does not mean that readers will like their work. The worst thing an editor or publisher can do is be buddies with the talent they publish. If your judgment is thus compromised, you owe it to yourself, your creators and your readers to seek out blunt, critical analysis of the quality of the work and its likelihood of success before publishing it. Be aware, when looking for talent, that writers and artists professional enough to make your dreams come true will be willing to work with you and for you, provided you are professional enough to help them feed their families and help them pay their rent, again, in an ethical manner and with written contracts fair to all parties. Warning: If you can’t afford to hire a lawyer and an accountant, you can’t afford to publish comics.
If you must publish comics and are not already an established company with a well-known line and a reliable slate of books, then start your new company with one bulletproof book that is so well done and wildly entertaining that it can serve as the foundation of a steadily-growing company over the course of the next few years.
History has shown time and again that this is the most reliable way to build a brand and create a publishing company. Starting a line with a number of titles only dilutes your brand in the marketplace. If Dave Sim had released seven or eight other titles the same month he debuted Cerebus the Aardvark, it’s pretty likely you would never even have heard of that title, never mind the seven or eight others.
Be generous with review copies. Send real copies (not PDFs or other web-based previews) to every competent comics critic you can find, from reputable online critics and bloggers like Tom Spurgeon, Johanna Draper Carlson and many others, to online and print magazines like The ComicsJournal and Entertainment Weekly. It’s absolutely vital that you get the tastemakers talking about your book, and it would be wise to pay careful attention to their criticism and suggestions, as well. Since they don’t know you, they can offer an unbiased assessment of what you’re doing right, and what you’re doing wrong. Trust your own judgment, but listen to the experts, too. Warning: If you can’t take an honest, critical assessment of your comic books, you are not ready to publish or create comics.
Finally, and most importantly, if you cannot afford a full-time publicity department that is dedicated to getting your books the maximum exposure possible — either yourself working many extra hours a day, or a paid employee, then you cannot afford to be a publisher. Hiring the talent and printing the books is no more than 50 percent of the equation that results in a successful book. You must familiarize yourself with publicity and marketing techniques, and be aware that message board posts and banner ads on comic book sites are only a small part of the equation when it comes to publicizing your comics. A professional publicist will have insights and inroads into getting the word out about your book that you never imagined. It will cost you money, but if you want to be a publisher, you must get used to spending money, and lots of it. It will likely be years before you start making a profit, but if the books are high quality and you start small and grow at a considered pace, and comport yourself as a professional business person with an ethical and moral grounding, there’s a chance you could one day be considered a professional publisher.
The New DC 52 Week Four, Part One - Fishing for Compliments
And so we enter the final week of DCs reboots, with about 40 books under our belt and a final dozen to review. For now particular reason, lets start with them in alphabetical order.
All-Star Western #1 by Justin Gray, jimmy Palmiotti and Moritat is an early front runner for book of the week. I liked Gray and Palmiotti′s Jonah Hex quite a bit, so I′m happy they get to continue with Jonah here, though the title of the book suggests we′ll eventually move on to lesser DC Western heroes like El Diablo, Tomahawk and Unknown Scalper. This story brings Hex to 1880s Gotham, hired to help track down the Gotham Butcher, a serial killer of prostitutes. The immediate impression is, damn, Moritat is a fantastic artistic, recalling the old Moebius Lt. Blueberry stories in gritty but precise verisimilitude. Gotham turns out to be no less corrupt than in Batmans time, though here, there be more boobs on display.
Gray and Palmiotti twist a typical Western character—the reporter chronicling the cowboys exploits—into a psychologist teamed with Hex, and the results are even better. Amadeus Arkham not only provides insight into Hex′s character without the writers having to show it, but he has a good grasp on the killer as well. And when the two outsiders find themselves in the midst of a conspiracy, a secret society that may very well shield the killer from their grasp, we′ve got a gripping suspense story on our hands. Excellent.
Aquaman #1 by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis is better than I expected. I admit, when I saw the toothy, Sleestak-looking fish people on the first page, I was thinking, that Johns just can′t be happy unless someone is getting chewed up and dismembered. But with nary a drop of blood, he changes scene to focus on our boy Arthur, a regular hometown hero guy stopping bank robbers and trying to grab a lunch of fish and chips if some dumb blogger would stop bothering him. Johns does a good job showing Aquaman as tough and heroic, then countering it by having other characters voice the common conceptions and misconceptions about the guy: he has a deep bond with fish, nobody likes him, etc. And yet, he′s going to try to find a place for himself on land regardless. Nothing earthshaking but it′s well-crafted, and this is as good as I′ve seen from Reis.
Batman The Dark Knight #1 by Paul Jenkins and David Finch was okay up until the laughable ending. One-Face? Oh, Paul Jenkins. Taking away Two-Face′s duality and making him a musclebound thug is about as bad an idea as there is. Up to this point, though, things aren’t bad, although Jenkins keeps hammering on about fear being a cannibal and whatnot to the extent not much actually happens. Bruce Wayne is accosted by a GCPD Internal Affairs officer who, by definition, should be grilling other cops, not citizens, and he′s harassing he richest, most powerful man in Gotham on a flimsy premise that a guy not as nice as Bruce would end his career on. But on the plus side, new potential love interest Jaina Hudson is sassy and smart, and Finch doesn’t forget the most important attributes: her ass cheeks. Finch is okay, but still has a very limited repertoire of male faces, and all of them constipated and looking like they had nose jobs. If one more Arkham breakout and one more great lady waiting to get her heart crushed by Bruce Wayne is up your alley, then plunk down your $2.99. Me, I′m hoping for a little more.
Blackhawks #1 by Mike Costa, Graham Nolan and Lashley is like, I dunno, that movie version of The Losers. Looks like it might work, but the script isn’t very good and the talent involved isn’t meshing. Costa is new to me but I know hes written a lot of recent G.I. Joe comics, and this is sort of in that line, a fake military strike team that avoids killing, with a lot of toys and a cool logo on all of them. That logo provides the most risible plot point, as someone with a cellphone takes a picture of the Blackhawk logo on the side of a chopper during what is supposed to be a covert mission.
Something that dumb is hard to overcome, but Costa makes a game effort, introducing two of the team members who are in a secret romance. Kunoichi was bitten during the mission and exposed to industrial waste, and now she appears to be getting meta powers, which would mean DC′s two military-themed books have superhumans in them, which strikes me as not a very good idea, twice.
Graham Nolan returns from an even less promising gig, newspaper comics, to provide layouts for the book, and they′re fine, but finisher Lashley is committed to adding so many extraneous little hashmarks to every character that they look like they’ve been struck with wire brushes. It results in a kind of Whilce Portacio approximation, only with even less restraint.
Other than the public relations nightmare from the logo, and the pending eruption of superpowers, there isn’t much going on in the book, unless you get excited every time you read the word ″nanocites″. This one doesn’t pass muster.
DC Week Three – Birds, Bats and (thankfully) Some Wonder
To be honest, DC almost beat me to the ground with their insulting Catwoman / Red Hood and the Outlaws combo punch to my four-color inner faith, but the rest of the books for this week couldn’t be that bad, could they? Could they?!?
Well, thankfully, the answer is no. So in UPC order…
Supergirl #1 manages to be a pretty good start to the series but having said that it feels wafer thin. Supergirl crashes to Earth, fights a bunch of guys who are wearing armor and her cousin arrives on the scene. The End.
But as thin as the story was, it does manage to capture the confusion and fright that this young alien feels as she arrives on a strange planet and finds herself with all these amazing powers. Hopefully her origin has been well thought out, because in recent years Supergirl has had more reboots than the Legion of Super-Heroes. Hopefully this one will stick.
Ahh Wonder Woman. Ahhhh Cliff Chiang.
Writer Brian Azzarello does a great job of introducing Wonder Woman because he assumes, rightfully, that we know who she is. She’s tall, she’s an Amazon and she’s got some connections to the Greek Gods. Anything else (and anything that’s been changed, enhanced or modified) about the character doesn’t need to be established this issue because, as I said, she’s Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman #1 is a strange book because not only does it read better the second time, it almost demands a second reading. Azzarello expects the reader to keep up with the story and if you don’t know who the weird guy is on page one, well you can re-read the issue and it will all come together. And after comic after comic that spoon-feeds everything about the characters, his style is refreshing.
As for artist Cliff Chiang – his stuff is simply gorgeous. Some people aren’t huge fans of his art and I don’t know what they’re not seeing. The Wonder Woman he draws conveys compassion, power and strength. He even manages to make a nude Princess Diana appear majestic and powerful rather than the bimbo-ized and lobotomized cheesecake we had to endure with Catwoman and Starfire. Diana is nude in bed because she’s an Amazon; Catwoman has her breasts exploding from beneath her costume because the creators didn’t know what else to do with the character.
Wonder Woman and Batwoman don’t make up for the awfulness of Catwoman and Red Hood, but at least they have characters that are strong and intelligent rather than the awful wish-fulfillment fantasies of the latter two books. If Wonder Woman could now lose the ridiculous (and probably Jim Lee mandated) necklace/choker/WW thing around her neck – that would be a good thing.
DC Universe Presents #1 is the awkwardly named anthology series that will have mini-series after mini-series featuring a character not quite strong enough for their own on-going book. This issue presents Deadman and while there is some really good stuff going on, it fails in one aspect.
Boston Brand is back as Deadman and the issue explains what a wretched human being he was while he was alive and how he is given a chance to redeem himself. The part of the book that deals with him meeting with ‘god’ is powerful and moving as he is shown how his soul teeters on the edge, but there is an opportunity for him to redeem himself.
The problem is this: it’s never made clear what Deadman is doing now that he’s back and temporarily taking possession of the living’s bodies. The old series had Deadman trying to find his killer and then he would pop around the DC Universe as a guide or to help some hero out. Most recently he had a starring role in Brightest Day that had him alive and then dead again.
But now that he’s back to being just plain old hopping-from-body-to-body Deadman, we have no idea what purpose he has. This issue is just intriguing enough that I’m curious to see where it goes, but hopefully the next issue will show us where the character is heading. The concept of Deadman has always been great, but they need to show why the character matters, otherwise he’ll always remain a secondary, background hero.
Batman #1 is what a good Batman comic should be: a fight scene or two, some interaction with Alfred and the other cast members, a sense that Bruce Wayne is on the cutting edge of technology and that Batman is always twenty steps ahead of everyone else.
Scott Snyder proved that he could handle the character (even when it was only Dick Grayson) in Detective Comics and his transition (and graduation?) to Bruce Wayne is flawless.
The artwork by Greg Capullo is a bit of a mixed bag: utterly gorgeous at times (his depiction of the villains in Arkham and, later, a double-page spread of the Batcave are stunning with one being monstrous and the other feeling huge and isolated), but confusing at other times (the heights of Dick, Tim and Damian seem wildly out of proportion, and a mayoral candidate could be Bruce Wayne’s double if it wasn’t for a slightly different hairstyle and a difference in the ties they’re wearing).
But it’s a very promising start to the series. And, yes, this Batman once again has the police co-operating with him, which again makes me wonder what went wrong with Detective Comics. But since I’m quite happy to forget that comic, it makes the quality of Batman #1 even more enjoyable.
Birds of Prey #1 is, like a lot of the new DC books, filled to the brim with our heroes exposition-ing their way through the entire issue. The book serves as a nice introduction to Black Canary (who is obviously not married to Green Arrow anymore because he would look like a child next to her—but having said that, I shouldn’t give DC any ideas for their next spin of the wheel for the unlucky winner of “Who’s the next heroine we can turn into a busty, bra-breaking bimbo”?)
Unfortunately because the issue focuses so much on establishing a backstory for Black Canary, the other characters are left out in the cold and, for instance, there is no attempt to explain who this Starling character is. I’m sure if I read the previous books or if I searched around the internet I could find out, but the point of these books is to introduce and then pull new readers into the stories. There’s no mystery about Starling, she’s just never explained.
Put it this way: I’ll happily hop on-line to enrich my reading of a Grant Morrison book because that’s part of the reading experience with his works. But I don’t feel inclined to do so with Birds of Prey because I don’t think it will add anything to the story, it will just clarify something that the writer didn’t bother to explain.
And the final book of the UPC-guided week is Green Lantern Corps #1. And you can tell this book belongs in the Geoff Johns corner of the universe because a couple of Green Lanterns are slaughtered in the first three pages of the book: one character has her head cut off one character while the other is sliced in half.
There was once a time when the death of two members of the Corps, even two obscure Lanterns on the edge of nowhere, would be a cause for alarm and a signal would be sent across the galaxy for everyone to hunt down the killer.
But in this book the murders occur early in the story, and then the rest of the issue has Guy Gardner and John Stewart moaning about how tough it is for them to lead normal lives (a theme that was echoed by Hal Jordan in Green Lantern #1). It then isn’t until the last four pages of the book that anyone seems to care that someone is wiping out members of the Green Lantern Corps and the characters finally spring into action to find out what’s happened. All of this paced for the climatic, final page where the body count just mounts and mounts and mounts.
Under Geoff Johns’ guidance, the various Green Lantern books have become more and more morbid, as if there isn’t any drama in the story unless someone gets a hand sliced off or a Red Lantern is vomiting on someone or an entire planet is wiped out solely for the purpose of leaving the Green Lanterns a message. The books are teetering on the edge of becoming parodies of themselves as each death, slaughter or maiming has to top the one before it. And considering the fact that one of the books is populated with characters that puke red energy onto their victims, the slide towards utter and inescapable farce doesn’t seem that far away.
Since the various Green Lantern books are a cornerstone of the new DC (with four books being published), I’m not sure if self-parody is what they’re hoping to achieve, but I believe that they’re just a vomiting budgie away from being there.
The New DC 52 Week Three, Part Two - Turn Me On, Deadman
So now that we′ve covered the Batman related books of the week, what about all the rest? As usual, there are some old standbys and a few solo books for characters who have never been able to support them for long. First, though, we′ve got a book starring one of the heavy hitters of the DC Universe.
Wonder Woman #1 by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang is, as expected, a train wreck. The posturing, macho Azzarello would seem an odd choice to write Diana, and indeed, shows very little aptitude for her here, relegating her to a detached role, the focus more on the human Zola, a pretty, short-haired blonde who finds herself menaced by centaurs and other creatures from Greek mythology because she is apparently carrying the child of Zeus. She is saved by Hermes, who is later wounded terribly. One of the villains has charcoal skin and would seem to be an angry son of Zeus, but as much as I loved the Robert Graves book as a kid, his identity didn’t jump out at me.
I find mythological elements can be nice in contemporary stories but it′s easy to overdo them, and Azzarello goes full court press here, jamming the pages with magic and symbolism so that there is barely time to meet a sleeping Diana and get her dressed in a silvery, non-patriotic variation on her classic attire. How soon do I miss the ′90s leather jacket of last year′s muddled, aborted Straczynski reboot.
Cliff Chiang does a terrific job, but with one more bad career choice like this it is getting harder to drum up sympathy for why he isn’t a superstar. As for Azz, I will say that by the end, he has stood by the courage of his trumped-up portentous bullshit enough that it almost gets over, but one comes away from this book scratching one′s head and wondering why it was more important to him to explore the mystery of how Zeus fucked this human girl and she didn’t know it, than to try to make the star of the book interesting.
Captain Atom #1 by J.T. Krul and Freddie Williams III makes me think I misjudged Krul unfairly by the secondhand reviews of his previous Green Arrow and Arsenal miniseries. Well…that Arsenal thing really did sound awful, but hey, this marks two good books from Krul this month. Part of the appeal is Williams′ art, which has evolved to a freer, sketchier style that is surprisingly refreshing when depicting all the nuclear energy blasts and such. It′s like he′s making science fun. And I′m not saying Krul is knockdown brilliant or anything, but as with Green Arrow #1 he is using a formula that works: 1) see character in action; 2) present his supporting cast; and 3) present the ongoing problem, which in this case is the reliable premise of the hero whose powers may end up killing him. I like that he gets away from the overly militaristic hardass or government stooge role that Atom is often given, and the energy hairdo lifted from Firestorm actually looks pretty good on him.
Blue Beetle #1 by Tony Bedard and Ig Guara defines workmanlike. Unimpressive artwork, a get-it-out-of-the-way flashback explaining the origin of the scarab that will give Jaime Reyes his Blue Beetle abilities, and several uninteresting scenes leading up to that contrived moment. I think the Beetle redesign from a few years back, which hasn’t changed much here, is terrific, and I′ve liked Jaime fine the few times I′ve seen him, but this was not a good start for, Jesus, is this Volume 9 of Blue Beetle?? Volume 10 should be just around the corner.
Supergirl #1 by Michael Green and Mahmud Asrar presents a Supergirl who doesn’t know where she is, fighting for her life against guys in mech suits trying to contain her. Naturally, she′s freaked out and we are sympathetic to any creature who doesn’t know why something unpleasant is happening to them. Kind of reminds me of something John Byrne would do, and I mean that as a compliment. Simple, but good storytelling, and I like Asrars style. Hey, maybe I won′t like the character once she assimilates into the DCU, but for now, good start.
DC Universe Presents #1 by Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang is one of the nicer surprises of the week, a mature take on Boston Brands karmic balancing journey. You may well ask why such an admitted jerk in life as Brand would get the opportunity to live on through others after death, but its clear that this is, if not a curse, certainly a burden he will have to carry for a long time until the goddess Rama finds him sufficiently enlightened and selfless. I could take issue with an Eastern deity being so on-the-nose and really spelling out for Brand what he has to do, but overall it looks like Jenkins has a good handle on things, and Chang is a good choice on art, as he is can handle the everyday stuff as well as the more mystical or superheroic elements.
OK, so while I missed getting this week′s Green Lantern Corps #1, I did find last week′s Superboy #1 by Scott Lobdell and R.B. Silva and liked it, certainly a lot better than Lobdell′s Red Hood book. I don’t know Superboy too much, so maybe having him as a kind of lab project combo of both Superman′s and Lex Luthor′s dueling DNA has been explored before, but I get the feeling the patient, calculating genius aspect of the character is new, and I like it. Silva is kind of stiff but it does fit the character so far, and the idea of Superboy in a virtual reality his creators aren’t aware he knows is fake should be good for a lot of mileage.
Legion of Super-heroes #1 by Paul Levitz and Francis Portela was my least favorite book of the week, which may be surprising to read after how I tore into Wonder Woman, but at least that caused a strong reaction. I want to be sensitive because I know what its like to follow an artist for a long time, long enough that you can find bits of their old magic where someone less familiar cant. Like, take new Bob Dylan or Van Morrison records and old fans may fine wonders while new listeners hear croaks, grunts and wheezes.
So Im just saying that I missed the time when Paul Levitz was good enough on LOSH to create all the warm memories that fans have of his run. In reading this (and I did read the first couple of his last LOSH as well), its not even like the feeling one may have from reading a past-prime Claremont or Miller where the style is so distinctive that if you give in you can maybe get swept up in it even if its ridiculous. I don’t really see much of a Levitz style, unless you call metronomic, low impact character introductions a style. Here is this guy talking about why he is upset to this girl who misses so-and-so and this guy cant be a Legionnaire anymore and this girl is married to this guy and this guy has almost the same powers as this other guy but lets just seem them both anyway because some folks are fans of one and some prefer the other and this one is complaining that they need to recruit more Legionnaires because we have only seen a dozen so far and theyre all sitting around doing nothing except the really smart one who is doing something with his computer and this Legion must be made of money because they can afford to keep two dozen or more heroes sitting around and waiting for something to happen that usually requires the efforts of five or six of them.
Listen, there is something cool about the Legion. I have read pretty good runs from four or five writers, and I would give Levitz the benefit of the doubt that back in the day, his run was good, too. But it is just not happening here. This is just formula without fire. I don’t understand how you can put out two Legion books with dozens of characters and tons of history to draw from, and they can both be botched so badly. I don’t get any passion here, any attempt to do something fresh or sincere or layered or anything. ZZZZ.
There is no artist in the history of comics that I hold in higher esteem than Bernard Krigstein. No other artist understood the inherent potential of the artform better and no other artist ever demonstrated such a grasp of what was needed in order to reach and exceed both his own limits and those of his chosen medium.
As influential as Jack Kirby was on American corporate superhero comics (and others), Krigstein’s influence was more profound. Subtle, yes, but generations of artists have seen comics through Krigstein’s eyes and come away from that revelation understanding that Kirby, as great and fabulous a creator as he was, was the beginning of understanding. Bernard Krigstein and his battle with his art and with his publishers (particularly EC), represent the maturing and growth of the artform. Out of Krigstein’s influence you can trace the artistic struggles of other notable masters of comic book artwork, like Gil Kane, and Dan Clowes, to mention two very different cartoonists both heavily indebted to Krigstein’s innovations.
You can hear Krigstein’s voice whispering in Frank Miller’s ear, both in the times of his greatest successes (Batman: Year One), and even — perhaps especially — when he falls on his face (The Dark Knight Strikes Again). Anyone who thinks Krigstein holds no dominion over modern comics has not a clue what they are talking about. His influence is everywhere, for those of us who seek out comics made with passion and seeking to express truth.
A study of Krigstein’s genius must include careful immersion in his EC work. For it is here where he met his greatest victories, and his greatest struggle. It’s my belief that the intersection of these elements created a moment of artistic growth as yet unequaled in comics.
In an era when graphic novels (both real and so-called) are issued on a weekly basis by writers and artists with not even one-tenth of one percent of Krigstein’s profound understanding of comics’ potential, this is among the greatest crimes the industry of comics has to answer for — not that it ever will. We should be eternally grateful that Krigstein, despite these obstacles, still gave us “Master Race,” “The Catacombs,” “Key Chain,” and other awe-inspiring works. In almost every one of his best works, you see him playing with the form, experimenting with page design, panel arrangement, and perhaps most famously, subdividing EC’s restrictive pre-set panel layouts in order to expand his own storytelling territory within the defined parameters. He was, in a very real sense, a fractal genius of comic art. Where he was not allowed to grow out, he grew inward, like a Koch Snowflake — demanding, as a true artist must, that he be allowed to grow in whatever way humanly possible.
A few years ago, Fantagraphics Books released B. Krigstein: Volume One by Greg Sadowski. This oversized hardcover artbook/biography is one of the finest of its kind ever released, and although Krigstein’s story is largely one of restriction and boundaries, it should be noted that B. Krigstein Vol. 1 is not a depressing book. Its author was meticulous in his creation of a lasting, vital document of the subject, a man who took life and art very seriously and suffered greatly for both. The book is, in fact, a celebration of the life and work of Bernard Krigstein, and even if you think you know who that is, I guarantee you that by the time you get to the end of the book, you’re going to know the man and his work one hell of a lot better.
Sadowski’s book highlighted one of the greatest shames of the comics industry. That is, the crushing effect of the work for hire system on a true artist. On page 187 we see Krigstein lament that “I wanted to edit a book. I wanted to devote one book to a single story.” This was creative mutiny at the tightly-controlled EC Comics, and even though the company turned out many, many masterpieces in their short stories, the fact that the most well-remembered of them is Krigstein’s own “Master Race” (reprinted in its entirety in B. Krigstein Vol. 1 and beautifully recoloured by Marie Severin, as are the other stories included in the book), a story he chopped up and recreated to make it brilliant, says all that needs be said about how tragic it is that Krigstein was never given the simple freedom to do an issue-long story. Think about the artists that have since been given such opportunities, hundreds of mediocre talents, hundreds of times, while Krigstein never once got to, and one very quickly can sink into a dark depression tinged with righteous indignation, if not rage.
I think even of perhaps the most obvious and well-documented case of longform corporate malfeasance toward a mistreated creator, that of Jack Kirby, and I realize that his case is considerably attenuated by the fact that, for all the injustice done him by Marvel (and least a little by DC), at least he was able to create what he wanted largely without interference, at least until a title was cancelled. In B. Krigstein Vol. 1, we got a portrait of an artist who led a brilliant creative existence and created great works of art, but who was never allowed any real freedom in his chosen field to see just how far his skill and imagination could take him.
I’ve said in the past that Krigstein is “perhaps the greatest artist ever to work in comics,” and I believe that his contributions to comic art are the equal of what Alan Moore brought to the artform in his writing. As the years wear on and my appreciation for what Krigstein left us to consider grows ever stronger, more and more I am certain that comparison is apt.
In the same way that Moore’s words and ideas in the 1980s, ’90s and ’00s revolutionized the standard by which comics would be perceived by both reader and creator, Krigstein overthrew the stagnant visual paradigm American comics had been mired in since its inception early in the century. The vast, unmapped canvas Krigstein’s body of work not only suggests but demands still lay primarily before us, unexplored, waiting.
So, good for DC for not only getting some decent sales so far for the relaunches, but generating a bit of controversy as well, specifically with the sexual mores of Starfire and Catwoman in two books that debuted this week. I guess I might as well enter the fray before said fray is all over, so without further adieu…
Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort is, to be fair, notable for more than Lobdell¢s recasting of Princess Koriand¢r, Starfire, as little more than a doe-eyed, obedient fembot, ready for superheroing or sex, the former something she seems to do more as a favor and the latter something she does for fun, and does often. Nothing wrong with a liberated woman, of course, although narration mentioning that she had once been a slave raises questions about just how much of her attitude is cultural and how much might be spawned from that experience, and why did she have to be introduced with a joke about her breasts? As others have rightly pointed out, it doesn’t make for a good character (re)introduction because there is literally nothing else here but a hot orange chick in a bikini who has sex with any guy who hoves into her reach. There are interesting things that can be done with that as far as Roy (never called Arsenal or Speedy) Harper and Jason (Red Hood but its really a helmet) Todd, because one of them will probably develop feelings for her, but that’s all about the male characters and their conflicts. Give us something for Kori to do or think about besides humping.
As for Roy, I have never really followed him except secondhand, so I¢m pretty okay with pretending the heroin and lost arm and dead baby or whatever just didn’t happen. But so far he¢s a not-very-interesting along for the ride kind of guy, and since the ride Red Hood is taking him on isn’t clear, well. As for Jason, Lobdell seems to want to make him sort of a Grifter type, with a girls jacket instead of a long trenchcoat over what looks to just be Nightwing¢s current costume, more suave than psycho, with skeletons in the closet but insane revenge against Batman on the backburner. Lobdell moves things along briskly and with a little bit of intrigue, and barring the gratuitous Starfire poses, Rocafort has clear talent, but in order to make Red Hood into a character who could support his own ongoing book, it seems like he has been smoothed out to be pretty indistinguishable from a lot of superheroes.
Catwoman #1 by Judd Winick and Guillem March is the other controversial one, and for good reason, as we first see Catwoman in bra and panties, then shes undercover as a bartender in a hotel suited rented out to Russian mobsters and prostitutes with sheer panties jutting out at the reader, and finally, she decompresses with some wild-but-brief sex with Batman on the roof of her borrowed penthouse. I actually don’t mind this in theory, as I think people are too puritanical about superheroes, as if having an active sex life somehow makes them less noble. Now, an active sex life with a criminal, that’s a different story, especially as Batman is historically the hardest-assed, least forgiving of them all. But that can be really interesting to develop, if Winick avoids the more fanfictiony elements of it seen here. Better to suggest and leave some of this to the imagination, even if March does draw sexy women. As for the rest of the story, with an anonymous gang blowing up her place, her love of cats, and the introduction of a smart, kind older female friend-slash-provider of jobs, its all pro forma. Of course her friend isn’t going to provide any competition for Selina in the looks department. Of course theres a creepy pimp killer guy she can tear to pieces that we wont feel shocked about, because he deserves it. Catwoman works best when shes skirting that blurry line of morality, a thief whos a good friend, mentor, and who steals from those who can afford to replace the item or who maybe stole it in the first place. Winick needs to work harder to explore those moral quandaries, the decisions that turn out bad in one way or another, rather than dwell on the sensational.
As long as we¢re in the Batverse, let¢s look at Batman #1 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. I wish I could unremember Kevin Pasquino noting that Scott Snyder has a fondness for characters talking about their fathers, because here we go again with another bit of wisdom, although I¢ll cut Snyder some slack here: it makes sense that Bruce Wayne would talk about his father in a speech looking towards the future of Gotham. And at least Bruce/Batman is written about the same as he is in Tony S. Daniel¢s Detective.
Like many of the relaunches, this one starts with a quick bit of action, followed by a lot of talking to set up the direction of the book. My first impression of 2011 Capullo is that he isn’t much different from 1999 Capullo, but with more of a tepid hybrid of the styles of Jim Lee and former boss Todd McFarlane. From the Batcave on, there isn’t anything here that will wow you, and his Joker is surprisingly unthreatening-looking. I also thought it was odd that Dick Grayson was drawn as looking about 17, not fully grown, when he is clearly an adult in his own book and we know he is just off a convincing gig as Batman. It would hardly be a Batbook without a creepy murder these days, though thankfully Snyder doesn’t dwell on it too much, and he does a nice job dropping a little red herring early on that helps justify Bruces new doubts about Dick, now that Dick¢s DNA has been found under the nails of the victim. I didn’t like this as well as I did Snyder¢s Detective run, but not a bad start.
Nightwing #1 by Kyle Higgins and Eddy Barrows is about as good as it should be. What I mean is, while it will never sell as well as a book starring Batman, a Nightwing series should always be pretty good because you have a character who is more fun and more accessible as Batman. He¢s a lower-budget Batman who also has the same father issues most of us have, but he also gets laid now and then, but always in a non-creepy Red Hood way.
This issue establishes that Dick was Batman for a while on a fill-in basis but is happy to be back as himself again. Of course, being Gotham, a day doesn’t go by when some hero¢s past doesn’t come back to haunt him, which comes in two forms here: 1) an agile but not superpowered hitman trying to kill him, and 2) his old traveling circus is in town, with a childhood friend now grown into a lovely woman. Seems like pretty familiar territory, but Higgins writes a likable Nightwing and Barrows draws him handsome and heroic, nothing very ambitious in the storytelling but very consistent and attractive. I liked it a lot.
Birds of Prey #1 by Duane Swierczynski and Jesus Saiz is no longer a Batbook, as Barbara Gordon only appears briefly to turn down Black Canarys offer to join. Its confusing, because this seems to be the first incarnation of the team, so if that’s so, how do BC and Babs know each other? The team is now Black Canary as the veteran/voice of reason, Starling as the sassy one (she¢s new to me), and Katana as the quiet one/Asian one/one without a bird name. Based on the cover, Poison Ivy will appear at some point, but she doesn’t here.
I like Saiz¢ art a lot. He is able to capture female forms without adding too many lines and getting into gross territory. In fact, I can¢t think of a book he¢s done where he didn’t class up the proceedings a notch.
We meet a reporter who has been trying to uncover the truth behind the Birds of Prey, and they have heretofore tolerated him, until the guy feeding him details on them sets up a meet that is really designed to draw them out in the open to be picked off, whereupon they rescue him, kick some butt, and take off. Three inoffensive, distinct female characters who are good at what they do and work well together, some sort of menace, and an interesting supporting character or two. Nothing astonishing, but this should be the baseline quality of any superhero book, and so far, so good.