The Discipline is the controversial new comic from
Peter Milligan, Leandro Fernandez, and Cris Peter. Explicitly dealing with
(inhuman) sex, art, and class, on the surface, The Discipline has
nothing in common with Another Castle, the debut comic from Comics
Alliance editor Andrew Wheeler and up-and-coming artist Paulina Ganucheau. Another
Castle is all-ages and deconstructs the trope of the princess in need of
rescuing. At their heart though, both comics examine female protagonists
trapped by societal convention. Only one of them offers the possibility of a
Amusingly, The Discipline opens with that happy
ending, as 23 year old Melissa engages in a bout of vigorous lizard-person form
sex with Orlando, a mysterious
being sent to recruit her into the titular organization. The rest of the comic
is a flashback, revealing how Melissa is married to the filthy-rich Andrew, but
comes from a lower-class background herself. Now she lives an idle life, not
even using her English degree in a job at publishing house any more. She
exercises, goes to the museum to look at (apparently fictional) Goya paintings,
and gossips with her friends about how her husband is absent from her life. She
tries to give some of Andrew’s money to her family, but they rebuff her. Milligan
and Fernandez’s last comic, The Names, was ostensibly a critique of the
One Percent. It did not quite work, but the pair accomplishes everything it
seemed to try to do there in a few pages of The Discipline. Everything
about the absent Andrew seems utterly contemptible, and while Melissa
complaining about her lifestyle should not endear reader sympathy, there’s no denying the emptiness of that lifestyle at its core. In this scenario, it’s
easy to root for Orlando (likely an allusion to the Virginia Woolf novel, which was used by Alan Moore in later League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books)in to seduce
Melissa, particularly when he actually rebuffs her first attempt to get him
into bed. The first issue does not reveal anything about the Discipline itself,
but it at least implies to the reader that it’s about more than the mind-blowing,
body-altering sex on the opening pages; there’s a spiritual component, and
that’s as intriguing as the titillating imagery.
If only things looked so promising for Princess Misty, the
protagonist of Another Castle. The only daughter of the king of Beldora,
she’s promised to wed the foppish Pete and by her own admission, has no friends
only “hair and make-up.” She wants to take a more active role in the kingdom,
but that’s prohibited by “Don Diego’s Code of Conduct” (not that she’s read
it). The villain of the book, Lord Badlug the Terrible, captures her on page
seven, after Misty carelessly heads off when she (and she alone) spots one of
his spies, then goes off into the forest to try and find out more. The very
nature of this trap depends on Badlug knowing how Misty chafes in her role and
wants something more out of life than marriage to Pete and babies. Rather than
playing off the knowledge her and trying to seduce her, he imprisons her,
intent on holding a forced wedding (Badlug is cursed and cannot leave his own
kingdom. Marrying Misty would expand his kingdom, once her father died). Wheeler and Ganucheau, to their credit, do
not portray Misty as being passive in the situation; she actually escapes, but
returns to captivity when confronted with the depths of Badlug’s depravity and
anger. She vows to do everything in her power to fight him from there, so as to
avoid what happened the last time he kidnapped a princess. Unfortunately, from
what we see in this first issue, defeating Badlug is the only sort of a happy
ending Misty can look forward; the society around her, despite its bright
trappings, is too restrained by tradition to allow her to be herself. The book
would be far more interesting if Badlug was portrayed as responding to that
aspect of Misty, so that she would be torn between her desire for self-actualization
and desire to protect her kingdom. Instead, there’s no real conflict here and
apparently no way for the heroine to get an ending worth rooting for, either.
Secret Six; Friends in Low Places by Gail Simone, Ken Lashley, Dale Eaglesham, Tom Derenick, and Jason Wright
If the story behind your comic seems more interesting than
the actual comic, there’s a problem. Gail Simone’s original Secret Six
comic (as opposed to the original Secret Six) was one of the better DC
Comics of the late 00s up until Flashpoint. It was an obvious heir to
John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad (also a revival of a
semi-obscure Silver Age title that barely hand anything to do with the
original) as it starred c-list characters and made them incredibly interesting
by focusing on their moral ambiguities. The cancellation of Secret Six
was one of the great losses of DC’s 2011 reboot, so it finally coming back
three years later with Simone as the writer again was pretty exciting. Unfortunately,
something clearly happened behind the scenes and the comic pretty much spends
the length of its first trade trying to course correct.
The first two and a half issues are drawn by Ken Lashley,
the next three and half are by some combination of Tom Derenick (essentially a
DC house stylist, and I mean that kindly) and Dale Eaglesham (the first artist
on Simone’s original Secret Six). Lashley’s work on those two and a half issues
is dark and bold, definitely not in the current DC house style. Eaglesham and Derenick deliver solid, but much more
conventional work. Jason Wright colors all six issues, but his style over
Lashley is completely different than his work over Derenick and Eaglesham. Over
the latter two, Wright’s work looks like normal, contemporary superhero comics
coloring. Over Lashley, his work is completely different, it looks almost as if
instead of using a computer, he used markers, and the results are amazing. I
know, I said in the last paragraph that they had to course-correct from
Lashley’s issues and I’ve just been praising them. Unfortunately,
while Lashley’s period on the book looks great, the story is obscure and
The book opens with Catman (the breakout star of the
Simone’s original Secret Six) being kidnapped by Mockingbird’s goons. He
wakes up trapped in a submerged construct along with Black Alice (also from the
previous version of the book), the New 52 Ventriloquist (created by Simone
during her Batgirl run), Strix (a former member of the Court of Owls
from Batman), Big Shot (a private investigator), and Porcelain. He wants
them to answer the question, “What is the secret?” or he will start killing
them. It turns out Mockingbird had previously captured and tortured Catman a
eighteen months prior to the series for a year until he escaped. Long story
short, the group escapes, Black Alice is injured, and they go hide… in Big Shot’s
suburban home. Three of Mockingbird’s goons (a disguised Scandal Savage,
Jeanette, and Ragdoll, core members of the pre-Flashpoint Secret Six) pretend
to be working against Mockingbird, fight the Secret Six for awhile, and then
leave; it doesn’t do much except undercut how silly hiding from Mockingbird in
Big Shot’s house is and drive home how underdeveloped the cast is. Catman and
Black Alice are both basically coasting on what Simone did with them previously
(particularly the latter). Catman only gets to stretch in an issue devoted mainly to sending up suburban mores. The New 52 Black Alice gets treated like a delicate flower by the male team members, especially after her injury, despite being the most powerful member of the team. She may be 16, but they act as if she’s significantly younger. The new Ventriloquist basically replaces Ragdoll
in the role of team-member-who-says-outrageous-stuff. Strix is speech-impaired
and her personality consists of the contrast between her poorly written,
misspelled notes and her fighting prowess. You may have noted I did not write
anything above about who Porcelain is; that’s because after six issues, I still
have no idea who Porcelain is. Yes, I know what her super power is (she can
make things brittle) and she has some decent quips, but Simone reveals nothing
of her past or her motives (other than revenge against Mockingbird). Then
there’s Big Shot, who it’s impossible to discuss without spoilers and revealing
what the book is really about.
At the end of #4, Simone reveals to the reader that Big Shot
is working for Mockingbird, who is really classic Batman villain the Riddler.
The team finds out the next issue, and while confronting him, it turns out that
Big Shot is Ralph Dibny, better known as the Elongated Man, a member of the
Justice League and best friend of two Flashes pre-Flashpoint. At some
point in the past, all the members of the Six plus Sue Dibny (Ralph’s wife)
were on the Riddler’s yacht for various reasons revolving around the India Star
Diamond. The Riddler proposed to the very married Sue just before the boat
exploded. Ralph could not save Sue, but he’s working for the Riddler with the
understanding that he knows what happened to her. Meanwhile, the India Star
Diamond went missing and the Riddler had the others kidnapped to try and find
out which of them stole the jewel. Oh, and Sue’s alive, with amnesia, and
working as the Riddler’s henchperson. She also does not look at all like Sue
Dibny, which gets to the problems with the story. Ralph and Sue Dibny mean
nothing to anyone who was not reading DC Comics prior to Flashpoint. As
I wrote above, it seems like there was a course correction here, and it is
because there is no reason to hide any of this. The Riddler is a super-villain
who in the New 52 universe, ran Gotham
City for a year. He’s a scary guy
here, not a joke. Why the Mockingbird disguise? The only reason Sue does not
look like Sue is to mess with the reader and save a revelation for the sixth
issue (unless making the character Sue Dibny came after she initially appeared). The Riddler keeping his real motives a secret in the first issues,
asking “What is the secret?” instead of “Where’s my diamond?” makes no sense.
The timeline is terrible. In the present of the book, the India Star Diamond
has been gone for at least two years (since Catman was originally kidnapped 18
months ago and escaped six months ago). It took the Riddler that long to bother
with anyone other than Catman and Ralph Dibny? Dibny’s whole shtick is that
he’s a detective with a nose for a mystery, and he made no progress on what
happened to his wife for two years? All that is plausible, I suppose, but superhero
comics are not reality and the timeline Simone gives events is weirdly drawn
out for the genre. Looking at the art credits, the shipping schedule (#2 was
late and there was a big gap for #3 because of DC’s move to Burbank),
something happened. Whether it had to do with artist Ken Lashley or editorial,
I have no idea, but I’m more interested in that story than this incarnation of
the Secret Six, which is a damn shame.
It Takes A Villain #10: Harley wouldn’t last five minutes - Suicide Squad, Vol. 1: Trial by Fire
It Takes A Villain is TWC’s
bi-weekly column about comics in which super-villains take the
starring role; brought to by your favorite black ops bad-ass, Mick
What exactly is the point of a
work-release team of super-villains?
I’m saying you’ve got the Justice
League – often multiple squads of the Justice League- and you’ve
got the Teen Titans and the Outsiders and the Birds of Prey and the
Justice Society and the Green Lantern Corps; along with gobs of solo
heroes jumping rooftops and streaking across the sky. It’s a wonder
anyone in either the Marvel or DC universes can do so much as
jay-walk without some traumatized jerk in a mask ready to dropkick
them for it. So, in a world with this kind of super-hero surplus, why
does the United States government then say, “well, we need one more
team comprised of super powered murderers, thieves, and rapists; and
if they actually survive their missions, we let them out of jail for
good?” Or, you know, if not for good then at least until
Booster Gold or someone else kicks their ass.
The only obvious answer is that while,
sure, the world already has a ton of super teams, the government
doesn’t have much control over what they do. The government can’t
stop the Justice League from doing something it doesn’t want them to
do. And it certainly can’t deploy the Justice League on specific
missions. It can ask for help and in times of crisis (actual crisis,
not DC crisis), it will almost always get it. If the government needs
help fighting off invading aliens or stopping an incoming asteroid or
some other Michael Bay horseshit, sure, the Justice League will be
But sneaking into Soviet Russia,
liberating a political prisoner, and getting her to the States all
for the sake of global PR? Yeah, Superman and Batman probably aren’t
going to make time for that.
I wasn’t going to review Suicide
Squad, Vol. 1: Trial by Fire quite so soon. I ordered it around
the same time I started It Takes A Villain, but since I knew my first
review would be about the New 52 volume of Suicide Squad, I
figured I’d want more of a break between reviewing different
volumes of the same title. I thought it might even make more sense to
review it sometime late September or early August; close to the
release date of David Ayer’s film adaptation.
But once I broke down and read Trial
by Fire, I knew I didn’t want to wait to review it.
Suicide Squad is violent.
Considering the name of the comic and the premise, that shouldn’t
be surprising, but the way the violence is handled is different.
That, I guess, shouldn’t be surprising either. The restraints DC
Comics had to deal with in 1987 helped make the violence more artful
and more interesting. One of the sequences I find the most memorable
is in the beginning of the sixth chapter when Deadshot kills a Soviet
soldier. Deadshot raises a rifle and says, “No sweat.” We see a
panel showing the faces of three Soviet soldiers searching for
something, with a BLAM! above them. In the next panel we see roughly
the same shot with the flanking soldiers’ heads reacting to the
gunshot and a simple red explosion erupting between the eyes of the
center soldier and covering most of the top half of his face. The way
it’s presented, the explosion could be blood, or it could just be a
mark of impact. The page’s final panel has the soldier knocked
backward and his comrades reacting to his killing. Most of the panel
is colored the same as the previous panels, with the exception of the
killed soldier’s head which is completely lost in shadow, with
telltale inky spurts exploding from his forehead.
While I’m sure
it’s the gorier, more explosive, and direct style of today that
sells, this is so much more elegant and ingeniously subtle. It
reveals everything while showing almost nothing. I’d take this over
Harley Quinn and King Shark ripping their way through a stadium of
cyborg zombies any day.
Compared to more recent shots at the
franchise, Ostrander and McDonnell’s Suicide Squad was
politically charged and controversial. The team’s first mission in
this volume is to take down a Middle Eastern mercenary super-villain
group called Jihad. The aforementioned “Mission to Moscow”
storyline is the longest in the book – spanning three issues –
and follows the team’s incursion into Soviet Russia to attempt to
save a dissident Russian writer who, it turns out, doesn’t really
want to be saved.
story so bold I’m surprised to have not heard of it before reading
this volume is from Suicide Squad #4.
A crossbow-wielding vigilante calling himself William Hell is
fighting crime in Central City, but the only criminals he hands over
to the cops are the ones who aren’t white. White criminals he
recruits into his Aryan Empire. The Squad is sent to infiltrate
Hell’s organization and expose him for the racist he is.
than anything, what impresses me about this volume of Suicide
Squad and makes me desperately
hope DC keeps reprinting the original series, is that Waller’s Task
Force X doesn’t handle things the way they do now.
recent incarnations of Suicide Squad aren’t much different from
straight super-hero teams. Yes, they’re more violent, but
super-heroes in general are more violent than they used to be so that
doesn’t really mean a whole lot. Books like today’s New
Suicide Squad are really just
super-hero titles with a little gimmick twist.
with the original Suicide Squad.
They were different. They were exactly what they were supposed to be:
a super-villain answer to The Dirty Dozen.
The Suicide Squad is an elite secret task force that does not
accomplish all or most of its missions with big, loud, stupid
super-fights. Sure, they have their fisticuffs, but most of the time
they’re doing everything they can to operate under the radar. When
the team exposes William Hell in Suicide Squad #4,
no one has any idea they’re involved. Captain Boomerang is the only
team member Hell ever sees in costume. Deadshot, Nightshade, Rick
Flag, and Bronze Tiger are all disguised. Chronos – the squad
member arguably most instrumental in Hell’s downfall – is never
actually physically near the action. And Hell’s defeat has nothing to
do with a fight with the Squad. They just trick the stupid, racist
sonofabitch. Certain members like Nightshade and Black Orchid operate
almost completely from the shadows, never or rarely taking part in
any violence. In the “Mission to Moscow” story, squad members
like Penguin and Deadshot don’t appear in costume for so much as a
single panel in a three-issue long storyline. Because why would they
appear in costume? They’re trying to get in and out of the Soviet
Union in secret. They don’t want to spread bloody carnage all over
the place just for the fun of evil wicked evilness. They want to
finish their mission and go home. Compare that to New
Suicide Squad which opened in
Russia with a huge, explosive, city-rocking battle between the
Suicide Squad and Russia’s Rocket Reds.
it seems like over the years super-hero titles got more like Suicide
Squad while Suicide
Squad got more like everybody
else. Books like Ultimates and
Secret Avengers worked
hard to get that military black ops feels that Suicide
Squad had. Super hero team books
overall have a stronger military feel these days, using military
lingo and tactics. In the opening salvos of Avengers Vs.
X-Men, the assembled team of
Avengers about to invade the beaches of Utopia listened to the
military strategy/pep-talk of Red Hulk, even though the lousy
derivative bastard had tried to bring down the US government a few
seems unlikely that Suicide Squad will
ever get back to its less fight-y, black ops feel; at least judging
by the look of the film and the fact that Harley Quinn has become as
much a fixture on the team as Deadshot and Captain Boomerang. I like
Harley Quinn. I adore her solo comic. But she wouldn’t have lasted
five minutes on the old team. How do you get through a secret mission
in Soviet Russia with someone like Harley Quinn? How do you
incorporate the Joker face and giant cartoon mallet with a stolen
Soviet soldier uniform?
get me wrong. I enjoyed the New 52 Suicide Squad.
I’m a bit more on the fence with New Suicide Squad.
I’ll certainly be checking out the post-Rebirth series and I’m
precipitously guessing the film may be the best super-hero flick of
the year (or at least close to it). But this original volume is
something a bit more different. Something tougher to find in other
books, and it’s regrettable that aspect of the franchise is gone. I’m just happy that for now
DC looks set to reprint the rest of the original series, and if it’s
new to me, it’s new to me.
Suicide Squad, Vol. 1:Trial by Fire
is good. Read it.
TWC Question Time #28 Re-evaluating Gimmick Covers
This week’s question:
How do you feel about enhanced covers? They always get a large part of the blame for what happened in the 90s, but is it deserved? Were there any you liked?
Logan Polk: I
don’t think it’s entirely fair to place the blame of the ‘90s comics market
collapse at the feet of gimmick covers. Yes, they had a part to play in it, but
the over saturation of issues was, I think, a much bigger problem. With the
possible exception of the poly-bagged Deadpool card, can any retailer still
move their copies of X-Force #1 at even face value? Yet it still gets
mentioned in conversations regarding how many copies were sold, how popular the
book was, and so on. The only gimmick to it was that there were different
trading cards bagged with each issue,* and I don’t recall there being a
shortage on any particular card, Mike Sterling would have a better memory of
that though. But, the true gimmick covers, like the glow-in-the-dark Ghost
Rider issue, or the chromium/acetate/hologram stuff? I always enjoyed them.
I can’t speak for the retailers though, maybe they were an absolute nuisance.
My favorite has to be that Ghost Rider issue, easily. I even have the
*Ed. Note: There was also the matter of the reverse-image
Chris Allen: I never had a particular problem with special
or variant covers. I remember being one of those guys in the early ‘90s buying
all the different editions of X-Force #1, which was poly-bagged and had
4 or 5 different trading cards to collect. Even at the time, I questioned why I
was buying multiple editions of a comic made by a creator I didn’t even like
all that much, but I did it, and that’s on me. A little later, acetate covers
helped the quite good Kurt Busiek/Alex Ross miniseries MARVELS stand out
on the shelves, and while the acetate one-shot thing was quickly overused and
applied to lesser books, I didn’t blame the covers themselves. I was already
growing beyond the irrational need to buy every cover, especially once some
variants got to be over $10. Mostly, I don’t care that much about the cover,
especially if I really only have to buy one edition of the book. In the
internet age, I think most people kind of decide whether to pick up a comic by
the description of the story, list of creators, etc., and the cover doesn’t
much matter. At the same time, I think maybe there’s something to be learned
from some of these covers, as a lot of the time, one sees a cover and, due to
the “it’s going to be collected in a trade very soon anyway” nature, the cover
itself isn’t treated as a necessary selling tool.
Joe Gualtieri: I love a well-done gimmick cover (please note the well-done
modifier). Some of that is certainly nostalgia; after all, I was the right age
in the early 90s to be into them at the time. That being said, I honestly
believe that a gimmick can enhance a cover to create an effect traditional pen
an ink cannot replicate. My favorite example of this is probably the cover to Darkhawk
#25 by Mike Manley. Rendering Darkhawk’s blast in foil makes it pop off the
cover in way that even modern coloring techniques would be hard-pressed to
match. Similarly, Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #50 uses prismatic
foil to make Strange’s magic look truly otherworldly. Glow in the dark covers
tend to be a favorite of a lot of people, and I’m not exception. Ghost Rider
#15 is probably the most famous and best example, followed by Venom: the
Enemy Within #1, but I’m partial to Green Lantern #50.
So what’s the difference between a good and a bad gimmick
cover? Well, for starters, let’s just get this out of the way—polybags are bad.
They keep people from being able to flip through comics on the stands and
generally discourage reading (the Colorforms-style covers DC did were neat, and
probably the only justifiably poly-bagged comics). Beyond that, let’s compare the thirtieth
anniversary covers for Spider-Man in 1992 to the ones for the X-Men in 1993. In
both cases, Marvel “celebrated” with hologram covers. The Spider-Man covers
are, essentially, only the holograms with a border. Coming out in 1992, covers
usually reflected the contents of the comic, so iconic shots of just Spider-Man
were a rarity, and making them holograms were an added twist. The X-Men covers,
by contrast, are mess. The six X-Men anniversary covers are wrap-around images,
nearly a quarter of which are then covered up by a wall of text in a very 1993
font with a hologram card slapped on top. The Spider-Man covers revolve around
the hologram while the X-Men covers just slap them on in an example of
unattractive excess. It’s actually a shame, as the X-Men holograms look a lot
better, on their own, than the Spider-Man ones (the X-Men thirtieth anniversary
magazine contains an in-depth feature on how they were made that is quite
interesting), but they have nothing to do with the covers that they’re attached
to, making them aesthetic abominations and among the worst gimmick covers.
No title better exemplifies the good and the bad of gimmick
covers than Fantastic Four. Between #358 and 400, the title featured
seven enhanced covers (not counting the issue polybagged with Dirt magazine,
an allegedly hip magazine Marvel poly-bagged with a random title a month for
awhile), and basically serve as a microcosm for the good and bad of the trend.
#358 is one of the earliest enhanced covers and sports a simple die-cut for the
book’s thirtieth anniversary. #371 is a completely gratuitous in terms of being
a gimmick cover (ostensibly it was a key story, but in hindsight, no, it was
not), but it is utterly gorgeous, with its all-white, varnished and embossed
cover. #375 has a terrible, poorly integrated foil cover because it’s an
anniversary issue. #394 comes poly-bagged with an animation cel promoting the
new FF cartoon and sports a metallic-ink cover just because. Finally,
#398-400 all have a foil covers, as a closing irisgradually reveals the new
look team that does not exactly debut in #400. So as with gimmick covers as a
whole, those FF covers start off as something new and innovative, and
gradually just become a sales gimmick that are not well thought out and are
solely there to bring in more money. It’s not at all accurate to blame them for
the comic market collapsing in the 90s, but they certainly fed into the bubble
that existed, as the history of Fantastic Four gimmick covers shows.
Mike Sterling: You know, by and large I was okay with
enhanced covers, at least until things got way out of hand. As I’m
presuming some of you know, I’ve been in the business of funnybook-sellin’
for nearly three decades now, so I was there when, as the market began to
swell with more and more comics all demanding the consumer’s attention,
companies began to look for new ways to grab the eye. I’m not quite sure
what the first comic out of the gate was that kicked off that '80s/'90s
trend, but there were predecessors: there was Boffo Laffs with
“the first holo-comic!” in 1986, and I suppose there was that one
issue of RAW from 1985, where corners were torn off each cover, and then
randomly taped back into each copy of the magazine.
Like I said, I was fine with the idea of it, but as the marketplace
burgeoned with more and more first issues and event comics, and too many
investors were desperately looking for whatever the next big thing was
going to be, the proliferation of special covers of course meant they were
less special as time went on. Retailers, ordering cases of these
books when they once could have expected to blow through them all in short
order, were now finding they had to dump them in their bargain bins. Piles
of chromium and foil and die-cut covers, all relegated to dusty backroom
shelves, filed away in 50-cent boxes,hiding away in forgotten storage
units, or occupying landfills as they slowly break down, or not
break down, depending on what exactly comprised the material of the cover
An interesting thing I’ve noticed over the last few years, however, is that
there is once again some demand for those enhanced covers. Kids who weren’t
around back in the Stone Age twenty or so years ago, and thus weren’t
burnt out on the fad, are pulling those foil-or-whatever covers out of the
back issue bins. They’re able to see them with a fresh eye, not
contemptibly-familiar with them, not pulling stacks off the racks with one
hand while clutching their “Comic Book Becketts” with the other,
but buying them because they look neat. They have no idea these special
comics went from “oh hey this is kind of cool” to “oh God I have to
pay extra for yet ANOTHER shiny cover?” in, like, a year and a half.
And, you know, some of them are pretty neat. Probably my favorite
just plain ol’ shiny holographic/foil/whatever it is cover is Adventures of
Superman #505 from 1993. Some of you may recall the whole Death-And-Return-of-Superman
brouhaha, which itself was no stranger to multiple special covers along
the way (including the infamously over-orderedAdventures of Superman #500).
At the conclusion of the storyline, to herald the return of the one
True-and-Mulleted Man of Steel, a special cover was provided for #505,
which used the holographic/foil enhancement to nice effect, making it
appear as if fireworks were bursting in the background as you moved the cover
around. Really, get your mitts on one of these and check it out yourself…
it’s pretty cool-looking and it is sufficiently celebratory given
the context in which it is presented.
Ah, but that isn’t my all-time favorite cover enhancement. In fact,
this may not even count as a cover enhancement but rather a full-book
enhancement, as, Adhesive Comics, back in 1993, took their copies of their
comics anthology Jab #3 down to the shooting range and put a bullet through every copy:
Here’s a slightly closer look at said bullethole, in case you don’t believe me
And get this: the regular version of Jab #3 was shot in 10-copy stacks
by a .22 caliber bullet. There is an ad in the back of the issue where you
can order “Ultimate Collectors Edition” copies of Jab #3,
each shot individually by a 9mm ($6) all the way up to the "guaranteed
not to be readable" shotgun edition ($10). Each comic would be bagged
with the shell of the ammunition fired into it. I don’t know how many
people went for this admittedly awesome offer, but I do know that they
created something amazing, a crazy-ass enhancement to beat all enhancements.
The bullet’s passage through the book was even incorporated into some of
the stories themselves, such as this panel from Shannon Wheeler’s
“Too Much Coffee Man” entry:
TWC Question Time #27: Variants, Threat or Menace?
This week’s question: Last month, Image publisher and creator Eric Stephenson delivered a speech at Comicspro looking at the history of the comics industry that concludes by blasting variant covers as being bad for the industry. Do you are agree?
Logan Polk: As a
reader, I don’t care about variant covers in the slightest. As a collector (and
Deadpool fan) I enjoy some of them immensely. The problem is that I can’t
afford to enjoy them in my collection. Occasionally I’ll spring for one that I
really dig, but it’s not often. The bigger problem? Thanks to Marvel’s (I’m
singling them out since that’s the only one of the Big Two I ever give my money
to) policy of tiered variants not only are most of them out of my price range,
but my local comics shop can scarcely afford to get them either.
They’ve effectively created a system that falsely inflates
sales, props up their incessant attempts to reinvent their properties and
leaves their sole source of distribution floundering. It’s absolute insanity.
So, if the choice were for me to occasionally be able to snag a cheeky Deadpool
variant, or even a cute Skottie Young piece, or for my friend and only local
comics distributor to be able to get the items his customers want without
having to worry about ordering enough issues to hit some arbitrary number, I’ll
take the latter. If comics are going to survive as a physical medium, the
people that produce them have got to stop abusing the people that sell them.
Joe Gualtieri: Variants covers suck.
In theory, having multiple covers to pick from on a comic is
egalitarian, and leads Skottie Young fans to try everything Marvel publishes.
In practice, it’s awful. For those not in the know, variants basically come in
-free order variants where retailers can order all they want (I’ve been out of
Diamond long to forget the official term for these). -“order all” variants tied to your orders for something else
(this is mostly a Marvel special) -Ratio variants. Generally, people talk about the last of these when they
talk about variants, but all three are worth discussing. “Free order” variants
aren’t so bad, really. There’s no artificial scarcity, in theory readers could
buy the cover of their choice. The downsides are the title taking up extra rack
space and your poor retailer trying to figure out if he or she needs more of
one cover than another. If these were the only variants, I don’t think anyone
wuld much care.
The “order all” variants are a pain in the butt for your
retailer. The way this works is, if your order of Deadpool #12 exceeds
your order of another comic by a certain percentage, you can order all you want
of the Skottie Young Deadpool Baby Variant for #12. Where it gets tricky is the
book that Skottie Young incentive cover is tied to probably isn’t Deadpool
#11, it could be Uncanny X-Men #1. Then next month, there’s a Skottie
Young variant for Squirrel Girl #1 where it’s tied to your orders for Deadpool
#12… and so and so forth, every month linking back to a different comic where
Marvel was trying to jack up sales, in theory inflating the sales of something
every month to keep those Skottie Young variants rolling in (I don’t mean to
pick on Young, and many of those covers are cute, it’s just a series that’s
been running for close to five years now). It can also be a pain for your poor
retailer to have to do the math here, although I understand Diamond has
recently started out rate stating what targets are for individual retailers.
Last but not least are the ratio variants, where a retailer
orders so many copies of the main cover to get one ratio variant. Companies
will also stack these up, so when you order 5000 copies of Dark Knight III
#1, in addition to the 1:5000 Jim Lee sketch variant, you can get 50 copies of
the 1:100 and so on down the line. Publisher justify these ratio variants by
saying they help titles find their levels, but any cursory examination of sales
charts reveals that’s a lie. Retailers order extra copies of titles to get variants,
which are sold at premium and in short order the extra copies of the regular
cover wind up in a dollar bin. Heck, it might even take that long; one retailer
near me had Dark Knight III #1 for half price day of release. In way,
this is good for people who just want to read comics and have the patience to
wait for books to hit bargain bins, but it actually devalues the work the
creators put into the comic itself and emphasizes a collector mentality where
only the outside of the comic matters.
No comic better encapsulates this problem than Supergirl
and the Legion of Super Heroes #23 by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson. I read
that title when it was coming out, and when I saw the 1:10 Adam Hughes variant, I wanted one, and unusually for
me, was willing to pay a small premium (it was, after all, only 1:10). Well, I never found a copy and moved
on. The cover got reproduced in the trade. Flash forward to now, and there are
people claiming this one of the most important comics of the last decade and
copies easily fetch hundreds of dollars. I completely understand the comic is
scarce, but so what? Original art is scarcer, and it’s possible build a nice
collection of pages and sketches that cost less than high-end variant covers.
That Dark Knight III Jim Lee sketch cover becomes particularly
egregious. Those covers, with mediocre, boring Batman head sketches are
commanding about $3000. Meanwhile, a much nicer vintage sketch of Psylocke by
Lee sold for less than half of that. A quick search of reputable dealers turned
up actual X-Men pages by Lee for less than $2000. That’s an extreme
example, but it’s still generally true. And that “scarce” variant cover? The
image is readily available online and trades usually reprint the associated
variant covers, so really what are you paying for?
Mike Sterling: For the new Dark Knight III series,
there were an avalanche of
variant covers. The usual 1 in 10/1 in
25/1 in 50 etc. variants, the variant covers commissioned for
specific retailers, the blank variant so you can take it to a convention
and pay a comic artist to draw on it, and then, of course, there was the
Original Sketch by Jim Lee variant. For retailers who ordered 5,000 copies
of the regular cover of Dark Knight III #1, at a wholesale cost of
well over $10,000, you would be able to order one copy of this
variant upon which the co-publisher of DC Comics gifted his personal
A glance at completed eBay auctions for this very item, as of this
writing, shows that it seems to sell in the high $3000s, occasionally
cracking four grand. So, let’s assume the wholesale cost on those 5,000
comics was $10,000, for simplicity’s sake, even if that’s on the
low side. You sell your sketch cover for $4,000, and so, just to break
even, you have to sell another 1,000 copies of the regular Dark Knight
III #1. And then if you sell those 1,000 copies, you have another
4,000 to try to unload. Now, I admit, for larger stores in big cities with
extensive mail order clientele, they could possibly move this excess
product. They can also make some bank on the 100 copies of the 1/50
variants they received, and so on. If that one eBay seller I saw can be
believed, there are supposedly only 43 copies of the 1/5000 sketch variant
in circulation. That means 215,000 copies of the regular cover for #1 were
ordered to get that specific variant, and that doesn't include all the
copies ordered by other shops that didn’t splurge for the 1/5000 variant. And
it doesn’t include the dozens of store-specific variants that also
required minimum purchases, and…well, you get the idea. (Ultimately, over 440,000
copies of #1 were produced.)
My prediction at the time was that there would be a flood of regular DKIII
#1s on eBay, selling for pennies on the dollar. A look just now (and it
was difficult just finding the regular #1 amongst all the variants) shows
I was a little off… there are copies selling for as much as one or two
This is all just secondary market stuff. For the average reader, who just
wants to read DKIII (and there are a lot… there are plenty of people
coming to my shop just for this series, and I can’t be the only retailer
experiencing this), they don’t care about all that. For folks who are
into the variants…well, some of them just like the alternate artwork,
some want to invest or immediately flip the book online, or whatever. And
whatever you want to do, however you want to interact with the hobby, hey,
go for it.
But it’s a little troubling, this much excess. That’s a lot of dough
tied up in one product, despite the fact that the comic is selling,
a large amount of that product almost certainly is going to waste. Blown
out on eBay, stashed away in boxes in the backroom, maybe even just
straight-up recycled. (I’ll give you collectors a moment to recover from
that onset of the vapors after reading that last one.) The regular covers
served their purpose, the chaff you have to cast off in order to sell the
variant cover wheat, which is a terrible metaphor but I hope you forgive
me. And that’s money that goes into short term profits, which I absolutely
will not blame anyone for pursuing in the current marketplace, but I
wonder how much money went to DKIII that didn’t go for other items
shops could have carried, that could have attracted readers that weren’t necessarily looking
for Bat-comics. Now, if you’re a large shop going all-in on that sketch
variant, you probably didn’t impact your other stock that much. But for
small stores, that have to watch their budgets, bumping up your orders to
that next plateau in order to get that next variant might mean having to
order a copy or three less of something else.
And that’s great for Marvel and DC. They naturally want stores
to spend less money on other products and more on theirs. That's just
The main purpose of variant covers is get retailers to order more copies of
the book. Dark Knight III is the most extreme example of that in recent
memory. Usually, however, it’s more a case of maybe a retailer deciding to
order nine copies of something, seeing there’s a 1 in 10 variant cover,
and bumping it up an extra copy to order the variant. Behold… two more
Or there’s the “match or exceed previous orders” variants… “equal
your orders on Variant Cover Man #1 with orders for Variant Cover
Man #2, and you can order as many copies of Variant Cover Man:
Variant Cover as you want.” Generally this means having to at the
very least maintain or slowly increase your numbers over time in order to
continue receiving the latest variants. (I cover that particular strategy on my
own site in much greater detail.)
And then there’s the form of variant
cover particularly favored by DC, in which retailers can freely order both
the regular and the “themed” variant cover… that theme being a topic
that all these freely-orderable variants feature during that specific
month, such as “Batman's Anniversary” or “Harley
Quinn” or “Lego” or so on. And there’s the problem with
that… these variant covers can actively mislead the customer, as the
themed illustrations have nothing to do with the contents. It was the Lego
covers that drove this home, as disappointed customers in droves returned
Lego-covered comics to the shelves after discovering the comics inside did not
feature the expected Lego-ized heroes.
It’s not necessarily all negative. Different cover images may appeal
to different customers’ tastes, and if one cover for a certain comic
doesn’t catch a person’s eye, maybe that comic’s other cover(s) will.
Plus, ordering a few extra copies of a title to get the incentive 1-in-whatever-number
variant could mean having more copies around on the shelves rather
than selling out right away, allowing for more potential sales. And, if
that variant sells at a premium price, it helps subsidize the cost of the
In the long run, though, it’s a sales crutch to entice retailers to bump up
numbers, as well as being a wee bit rough to to deal with at ordering time.
It’s hard enough, even with months and months and years of sales
reports to go by, to try to order the right number of comics that you’re
at least partially guesstimating will sell two or three months down the
road to regular readers. Adding “huh, I wonder if anyone two months
from now will want any of these variants” to the equation just pads
the chore. I mean, as a retailer, variants can be a good sales
tool, and they do attract attention, but I can’t help but wonder if the
energy expended on producing, retailing, and buying variant covers
couldn’t be put to better use in this industry. It’s a short term patch to
the ongoing problem of cash flow in the comics business, but it’s not the
It Takes A Villain #9: Good but not Great - My Name Is Holocaust
It Takes A Villain is TWC’s
bi-weekly column about comics in which super-villains take the
starring role; brought to you by your favorite emotionally disturbed
crime lord, Mick Martin.
titles. Especially when it comes to comics, I will give something a
try just because I like the title. I think it’s because, particularly
with the still-super-hero-dominated medium, I’m used to very specific kinds of titles. Just a name. Batman.
Or an adjective and a name. Amazing Spider-Man.
When you get something that’s even just a little off-kilter, I get
excited. I Killed Adolf Hitler
was my first Jason graphic novel likely because of title. It’s not
likely but a goddamn fact that the only reason I bothered to buy the
first issue of Vengeance of the Moon Knight
was the title. I was actually a little intrigued by all the long
titles that sprung up in DC’s line after Infinite Crisis like
Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes and
Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters.
I suspect, is one of the reasons why I’ve been chomping at the bit to
check out the 5 issue mini-series My Name Is Holocaust
ever since I started this column. I knew nothing about it. I had
taken a break from comics in the mid-nineties so, other than a few
stray issues of Icon and
Hardware, I hadn’t
read any Milestone comics. I’d never read, or heard of, Blood
Syndicate and so didn’t know My
Name Is Holocaust was a spin-off
of that series. I was browsing through a comics merchant website, saw
the title My Name Is Holocaust,
correctly assumed a lead with the name Holocaust wasn’t a good guy,
and was instantly giddy at the chance to review a super-villain comic
with a slightly nonstandard title because that’s the kind of
embarrassing shit that makes me giddy.
Leonard Smalls, aka Holocaust, boasts
super strength and explosive fire powers; and he wants to be the king
of crime in Dakota City. For that to happen, he needs a seat the the
Coalition’s table. With help from his super-powered underlings Tarmak
and the cyborg Bad Betty, Holocaust takes out Coalition members
one-by-one. He plans to either force them into giving him his
rightful place at the table, or burning their crooked organization to
the ground and owning crime in Dakota all by himself.
My Name Is Holocaust is
good, but not great. But the seeds are there and the main thing that
stops it from reaching its full potential is its connection to the
years ago I reviewed the trade reprint of Mark Waid’s Empire
for Comic Book Galaxy. It was
the series that got me thinking about super-villain comics
because it occurred to me Empire was
the first comic I’d read in which a super-villain was the protagonist
and yet the writer didn’t pull any tricks to gain reader sympathy. He
didn’t gut the villain by turning him into a good guy. He didn’t have
the villain forced into heroics like Suicide Squad,Loki: Agent of Asgard or
Brian K. Vaughan’s Mystique.
Nor did he keep the villain a bad guy, but pit him against someone
who was somehow more evil
like Mark Millar’s Wanted.
Waid kept his protagonist, Golgoth, a sonofabitch from
cover-to-cover. And we rooted for him every step of the way.
five years earlier, My Name Is Holocaust is
not that different from Empire.
Like Golgoth, Holocaust is remorseless. We are given glimpses of his
humanity as he’s wracked with visions of his abused past, but there’s
never any hint that this guy plans on joining the side of the angels.
Holocaust charges into everything like a bull and has none of
Golgoth’s intellect, but his will is no less indomitable. He won’t
stop until he gets everything he wants. Like Golgoth, Holocaust
eventually does get
everything he wants and just as was the case in Empire,
once Holocaust finally achieves his goals, it’s clear he knows it
will never be enough for him. And just as Empire ends
with one of Golgoth’s lieutenants escaping his grasp and joining the
resistance against him, My Name Is Holocaust ends
with the cyborg Bad Betty planning on eventually murdering Holocaust
for the Shadow Cabinet.
My Name Is Holocaust’s
biggest weaknesses lie in its differences with Empire.
you don’t like Holocaust and you don’t sympathize with him. He’s
abusive, murderous, insecure, and doesn’t seem particularly bright.
You don’t ever really want him to win; not when he’s fighting the
cops, not even when he’s fighting other criminals. When the captive
Juniper holds a shard of broken glass over the unconscious Holocaust
but doesn’t kill him
with it, you can’t help but hate her a little for it.
crazy-as-shit determination is his only redeeming quality and the
only thing that even comes close to making him sympathetic. When he
rallies from almost utter defeat at the has-been hero Tower’s hands in the fourth
issue, you have to admire him for it a little.
Empire enjoyed a
freedom from any pre-established fictional continuity, whereas My
Name Is Holocaust assumes all of
its readers are thoroughly versed in Milestone’s narrative tapestry.
If you read nothing of Milestone but this mini-series you will learn
nothing about Holocaust’s connection with Blood Syndicate. You won’t
learn how he got his powers, or how Tarmak or Bad Betty got theirs.
You won’t even know the organization that Bad Betty is secretly
working for (I only know because of Wikipedia). You will, in fact, be
confused in the fourth issue when Holocaust is able to hurt the
seemingly invulnerable Tower with his fists because up until that
point the only super-power Holocaust displays is his unpredictable
A lot of the drama
falls short if you aren’t already invested. Holocaust and Juniper –
the daughter of the first crime lord Holocaust murders – have a
strange, complex relationship. Juniper constantly refers to herself
as being just as bad as Holocaust, but if all you know about her is in this
mini-series, all she’s ever done is watch her father get murdered and
then get kidnapped. If she’s got a lot of “red” in her “ledger,”
I sure don’t know about it and don’t even get hints about what it
Perhaps the worst
thing is that the series ends with such a weak sigh. I had to keep
checking the other side of the last page – only to find reader
letters – because I was convinced that last panel couldn’t be the
end; that maybe the copy I bought was missing a page. It feels like
writer Ivan Velez, Jr. just kind of figured the story would continue
in other comics, so why bother giving a satisfying ending?
My Name Is Holocaust wasn’t
without promise. Given a few more issues and maybe paying more
attention to the Milestone-uninitiated; Velez, penciller Tommy Lee
Edwards, and the rest of the creative team could’ve – and likely
would’ve – told a much more riveting story. As it is, the mini was
impressive enough to spark my interest in other Milestone titles;
opening up an entirely new world of super guy continuity for me, my
fat ass, and my thinning wallet.
This week’s question: What’s your favorite anniversary issue?
Tim Durkee: I’m glad that this question was given an extra week. I knew I could catch up with my reading and two anniversary issues would be a part of that. First off, I’m very far behind, so please don’t chuckle too loud when tell you I just finished Amazing Spider-Man # 690-700 including every point one and gimmick book in between. For all purposes issue 692 is the 50th anniversary issue, but that was overshadowed by the hype surrounding 700. The cat has been out of the bag for several years now, the question would have it been worth the cover price when first released?
I hate when a character dies in a book, not because my favorite hero or villain has perished, but because they never last. Give it a few months, maybe a year and they are back so I was I was in hurry as I knew what to expect. Did ASM 700 deliver to a reader who is very skeptical of deaths, anniversaries, and gimmicks? It sure did!
For a moment I actually thought this was it, the last story. No more Parker. The way the letter columns were filled it was more like a eulogy page rather that a celebration of one of the greatest super-heroes created. And I am reading this, believing this, knowing what happened. That’s what we call darn good writing, true believers! Now I’m on to Superior Spider-Man, which I stayed away from initially. I’ve never been known to have a favorite anniversary issue, until today.
Mike Sterling: Very early on in my comic collecting
endeavors, I always went out of my way to pick up “special” issues. Extra-sized anniversary editions or annuals
or the large treasury editions, even if they were from series or featuring
characters I didn’t normally follow. There was just something especially
enticing about these, even if the higher pricetags bit into my
funnybook-buying budget. And, in the late ‘70s/early '80s, there was no
shortage of fine books to choose from: Flash #300, detailing the origins
of all the Rogues, Detective Comics #500, a monster of a comic
featuring stories starring not just Batman, but several other characters
featuring throughout the series’ long run.
And then there was Justice League of America #200 from 1982.
A great premise: the founding members of the League have gone out of
control, and it’s up to their latter-day teammates to bring them down.
A great story structure: each confrontation is divided into its own short
chapter, including one splash page punctuating the conflict between the
A great collection of artists: each chapter is illustrated either by the artist
most strongly associated with the characters involved (such as the Flash
versus the Elongated Man by Carmine Infantino, or the Atom versus Green
Lantern by Gil Kane), or by an artist that is most perfectly suited to
said characters (such as Green Arrow and Black Canary versus Batman as
drawn by Brian Bolland). The artwork for the framing and connective
sequences is by George Pérez, who was then nearing the end of his run as
the regular Justice League artist.
The story, by Gerry Conway, very nicely showcases each major character from
the title’s history, as well as tying the plot into the team's origins. It
is, in effect, a sequel to Justice League of America #9 (1962),
where the League’s origin was initially told. Conway
also contributes an extensive text history of the series on the inside
front and back covers.
This is 72 adless pages of superhero perfection, presenting the almost Platonic
ideal of how each character should be treated. Sure, maybe Pérez isn’t quite
as polished here as he would become in short order, but there’s no denying
his work’s power and enthusiasm. He certainly holds his own with the other
featured artists. In addition to Bolland, Kane and Infantino, there’s Jim
Aparo, and Dick Giordano, and Joe Kubert, and Brett Breeding, and more. If
anyone’s taking suggestions for one of those giant tomes that features
high-quality scans of original art, I nominate this book for the treatment.
Justice League of America #200 is the comic I think of when I think
of superhero comics. It’s the one that reminds me of why I became interested
in superhero comics in the first place. Not that it was my first
superhero comic, by any means, but it still remains, at least to the part
of me that still remembers that youthful thrill of seeing the week’s new
arrivals on the newsstand racks, the best.
Scott Cederlund: My Legion of Super-Heroes fandom started
out sporadically. I probably read more reprints of older Legion stories
in Adventure Comics or even the old Treasury Editions. There’s one
Treasury Edition that reprinted a Mordru story that’s still one of my favorite
comic stories. Those old Silver-Age stories were hokey but all of those
super-powered kids running in those old fashioned costumes held a wonderful
charm over me. That’s probably why I had a problem with some of the more
modern (at least modern circa 1983) Legion stories. The characters kind
of seemed familiar but with all of their updated, Bronze Age costumes, my mind
couldn’t connect those old Legion stories to the current Legion stories.
Legion of Super-Heroes #300 is a suspect anniversary
issue because the series continued the numbering of the original Superboy
series after it became Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes with
issue #197. So maybe the 300th issue of Legion of Super-Heroes is a bit
of a stretch but it provided the link for me between the Legion I knew from
those old reprints and the modern day Legion as it contained a number of
imaginary stories about possible timelines for the Legion, all written by Paul
Levitz and drawn by a number of different artists.
Levitz’s story touched on all of the eras of the Legion, all
the way back to it’s earliest and corniest days in the late 1950s and 1960s,
through the Bronze Age cynicism of the 1970s and all the way through the Keith
Giffen technological utopia of the 1980s. These stories were “what ifs,”
looking at the decisions that the Legion had made through those years and how they
could have been different. And Levitz even framed it through the
perspective of the brother of the late Ferro Lad. All of these maybes and
could-have-been were told from the point of view of one of the Legion’s first
and greatest tragedies.
There’s only a handful of comics from 1983 (or even before
that) that I can actually remember buying and reading for the first time. I
got the issue from a shop called All
American Comics in Evergreen Park, Il,
on a summer night. And I read the comic in the lobby of the Christ
on 95th Street. My
father had taken me to the comic shop as a mild bribe before going to visit my
grandmother in the hospital. I can remember the lighting still being dim
in the waiting area while my father went up to my grandma’s room. I
probably went up to her room for a little bit but I was probably quickly
allowed to go down to the lobby to read my comics while my dad spent time with
The comic means as much to me about the contents of it as it
does about the summer of 1983 when my grandmother died of cancer. When the
question was posed about anniversary issues for this column, I immediately
thought of this issue but it took a while to sink in about what the comic means
to me and why I still have it in my collection. The comic is full of
possibilities and things that never happened in the Legion continuity, but they
all could have happened if the writer and artists had made different choices
along the ways. For this anniversary issue, Paul Levitz tapped into some
of that potential that exists in all comics within the boundaries of continuity.
Joe Gualtieri: This week’s question is borderline
impossible. It would have been tough enough if we could pick five, but one
anniversary issue? Especially as someone who was a young teen during the prime
years of anniversary mania (Marvel made a way bigger deal about the thirtieth
anniversaries of their various superheroes than they did the fiftieth), this
felt like a nigh-impossible task. Outside of material reprinted in The
Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told (“To Kill a Legend” from Detective
Comics #500 is a contender here), my first anniversary issue was likely Detectve
#627, celebrating Batman’s 600th appearance in the title (yes,
it’s actually his 601st, an error pointed by many letter writers in
subsequent issues). It reprinted the very first Batman story, “The Case of the
Criminal Syndicate” by Bill Finger and Bob Kane, and a retelling of the story,
“The Cry of the Night is- ‘Kill’”, from #387 by Mike Friederich, Bob Brown, and
Joe Giella. It also contained two new reinterpretations of that first story by essentially
the then-contemporary teams on both Detective and Batman: Marv
Wolfman, Jim Aparo, Mike DeCarlo, and Adrienne Roy, and Alan Grant, Norm
Breyfogle, Steve Mitchell, and Roy. The Grant/Breyfogle tale was a little
gruesome for my tastes at the time, but getting four variations, retold over
time, has always left an impression on me as a great way to do an anniversary
My favorite though? In the end, it comes down to two issues,
both from the same storyline, Spectacular Spider-Man #189 (the first of
four issues celebrating Spider-Man’s thirtieth anniversary in 1992, each with a
hologram on the cover, because 1992) and #200. My first Spider-Man comics were Amazing
#347 (Venom!) and Spectacular #175 (Doc Ock!), both purchased from
Robinson’s Convenience Store on the same day because they had villains I liked from Marvel
trading cards. Funnily enough, I came in as a classic creator left, as Spectacular
#175 wrapped up Gerry Conway’s final Spider-Man story-arc (though it was written
by David Michelinie). The next two issues were fill-ins by some guy named Kurt
Busiek, and then in #178, J.M. DeMatteis’s run started with a sequel to his
already legendary Kraven’s Last Hunt, with Sal Buscema on art. Despite
not having read that story, his run worked really for me, in part because the
story was something of a thematic sequel, focusing on Harry Osborn and his
struggles with his father’s legacy as the Green Goblin. By the end of that
initial arc, Harry had fallen to his worse impulses, becoming a villain
After a detour involving the
Vulture, DeMatteis brought Harry back in #189 for “The Osborn Legacy.” Deranged
after using his father’s super-strength formula, Harry kidnaps his own family
and starts psychologically torturing Spider-Man. At the end of the issue,
Spidey actually turns Harry over to the authorities, despite the threat of
Harry revealing his secret identity as Peter Parker. Over the next year, Harry
would occasionally show that he could still reach out from prison, but he was
released in #199. The next issue, “Best of Enemies!” sees Harry up his war
against Spider-Man, his family struggling to deal with his instability and
Harry fighting himself, caught between wanting to do what his evil father would
want and his long friendship with Parker. The issue is tense, and features one
of probably only two scenes returning to the scene of Gwen Stacy’s death that
is actually any good, as Harry takes Mary Jane Parker there to assure her he
will not hurt her. In the end, Peter and Harry come to blows, Harry poisons
Peter and leaves him to die in a death trap before Mary Jane talks him into
going back. Then the super strength formula he used a year earlier turns to
poison and kills him (a simple metaphor, but beautifully done, and perfect for
the genre). Harry Osborn’s death is absolutely stunning, a scene so well done
by Buscema that DeMatteis deviated from his original plans and left the final
Spectacular Spider-Man #200 is everything an
anniversary issue should be: it wraps up the current creative team’s
story-lines, but beyond that it truly builds on the history of the characters
involved. “Best of Enemies” gets its impact not just from the artistry of
DeMatteis and Buscema, but from everyone who came before on the Spider-Man
comics. It’s a story that demands a mature Spider-Man, and is inconceivable
without him being married to Mary Jane. Marvel has, inexplicably, just reprinted parts of it, and the only way that makes sense to me as
vindictiveness over how it shows how wrong nearly everything the company has
tried to with the character since has been, as Marvel’s flailed about, trying
to de-age him, believing kids couldn’t relate to an older, married Spider-Man.
*Ahem* Anyway, it also has a foil cover, and being 11 in 1992, I confess to
having a weakness for those when they’re well done.
I’ve been a fan of Jamal Igle’s since his short-lived (but
revived last year) series Venture with Jay Faeber back in 2003. His work can
have the look of the George Perez school, but his design sense always feels
cleaner, and a little less noodley. These days, he’s best known for a classic
run on Supergirl with Sterling Gates which helped inspire the current TV
series. A few years ago, Igle
kickstarted Molly Danger, which he also wrote. The preview was fun; a
super-strong alien who perpetually looks like a ten-year old girl takes on a
giant mecha piloted by a brain-in-a-robot-body-type villain. It looked fun, and
great for an underserved audience (one we’ve heard a lot more about in the
years since, as girls want their Black Widow, Gamora, and Rey toys). For whatever
reason, I decided to pass on backing it, but ordered a copy when Action Lab
picked it up for a mass release. Unfortunately, it stayed in my “to read” pile
for, well, a couple of years. I wish I had actually read it sooner, at least so
I could have backed the second Kickstarter (more Molly Danger is due
Molly Danger is better and more interesting comic than the impression created by the preview.
Yes, it is entirely appropriate for all ages and features a protagonist perfect
for young female readers. However, it does not shy away from the potentially
darker implications of its scenario (but crucially, does not indulge in them).
DART, the organization Molly works with, is as concerned about protecting
people from Molly as the menaces she fights. As a result, Molly’s kept isolated
and alone, without any meaningful interactions. Austin Briggs, who joins DART
midway through the comic after helping Molly in the opening sequence, almost
immediately starts breaking the group’s rules, eating with her and even bringing
her home to meet his stepson, Brian. He’s a huge fan and loves meeting his
idol, she loves meeting someone her own “age.” But then Molly comes back and
sees him again. The scene is, on the surface, a pleasant one between the characters
with Molly expressing how alone she feels, but it also subtly suggests that the
DART commander could be right about her, as there’s an implication of menace in
Molly being able to completely control her relationship with Brian. It’s really
skillfully done, perfectly staying on a line that keeps the book appropriate
for younger readers yet interesting for older ones. Obviously, Igle’s working
with a Superman-type in Molly, but he alters the formula in unique and
interesting ways. I won’t let the next volume lie around for two years.
This week’s question: What’s your favorite romance in comics?
Logan Polk: Thanos
is one of my favorite characters. I think he’s endlessly compelling when
handled right, and a big part of that is his love life. So, my favorite romance
in all of comics has to be Thanos and Death. Okay, it’s more of an obsessive
and unrequited love than an actual romance, but it’s a story that I’ve followed
for most of my comics reading life, and one I still find completely
fascinating. To want the approval and affection of someone so much that you
would seek godhood and attempt to wipe entire portions of the galaxy out of
existence? That’s an epic love story. What can I say, I’ve always been a fan of
the bad guys just as much (or more) than the good guys.
Tim Durkee: Even though it is not as
popular as his first fling with the human Lois Lane, I enjoy the chemistry between
Superman and Wonder Woman. I was first introduced to their relationship with
the Kingdom Come miniseries, an Elseworlds tale. That is a story that
does not take place in the current time frame of stories in the DC Universe.
I’m not sure if he was seeing the Amazon on the side and decided to go full-time after Lois Lane’s death, sorry for the spoiler. They both are also an item
in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight universe. More spoilers: Superman and WW have a child
together and another on the way. The impression is that there was still a
relationship between Clark and Lois before Lois’s death. I can understand Lois
being all gaga over the Man of Steel, I just can’t see him seeing any interest
in her, so having him with the most powerful woman in the DCU makes more sense
to me. Now, the new 52 universe has them together, so I’m told. I have read
some reviews about them together. Some love hate, more hate it. I am curious
what direction the DCU films will take with the introduction of Wonder Woman.
Mike Sterling: I never really paid much attention to romance
in comics when I was younger. Generally, that was for good reason; in most of the superhero comics, it wasn’t so much “romance” as “plot
point” or “character description.” You know, “Lois is
Superman’s girlfriend” or “Iris is Flash’s wife” or
whatever. Love interests existed to be threatened by villains, or to be
nosy about secret identities, or to be pined over, or whathaveyou. It was
a technical point, not an emotional connection.
So, as will come as no surprise to most of you who are familiar with
my online shenanigans, it was the romance that popped up in, of all
places, Swamp Thing that caught me off guard.
Yes, Swamp Thing, the comic about a monster who fights
other monsters while hangin’ out with pals who are related to monsters or
are monsters themselves. That’s where a comic book romance finally hit
home with me, and yeah yeah make your jokes, but it was one of the
most totally out-of-nowhere-but-yeah-of-COURSE moments I’d ever read in
a comic at that point. I’m talking about Saga of Swamp Thing #34
(March 1985) by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben, where Abby
tells Swamp Thing of her feelings for him, exclaiming “how could you
love me?” Swampy’s response: “Deeply…silently…and…for too
That pair of awkward admissions between a couple of characters I’ve
been reading about for so long…that was the sort of honest emotion that’s
not present in the eternal running-in-place of Superman and Lois, or
most other superhero books. Particularly for someone like me, who’d
been invested in these characters and was suddenly blindsided by this
step forward, a change in the status quo in a storytelling industry
that doesn’t like changes in the status quo.
Naturally, the relationship was fuel for melodrama, as this is comics,
after all. Abby getting up to some plant-lovin’ becoming fodder for
tabloid journalists, losing her job as a result, etc. etc. – all part and
parcel of the soap opera style of funnybook storytelling, but through everything, Swamp Thing and Abby felt like an actual, and
oddly normal (or as normal as they could manage) couple.
It didn’t last, sadly. Now, a couple of Swamp Thing series and
a line-wide reboot of the shared DC universe later, Swamp Thing and Abby's life
together is no longer at the center of Swampy’s adventures. It's nice,
though, to recall a time when I could be genuinely surprised at a
turn of events in a comic book. And not the usual "THIS ISSUE -
SOMEBODY DIES!“ type of nonsense that’s no longer really working
anyway - but just a couple of characters that you’ve read about for
several years, quietly and shyly admitting their feelings to each other.
Joe Gualtieri: Growing up, I was the weirdo in your group of comic-loving
friends, the one with really weird taste. You see, I vastly preferred Cyclops
(Scott Summers) to Wolverine.
As the kid in your class who literally would remind the
teacher to give the class homework, I suspect this is part of why Scott Summers
appealed to me, along with the hyper-competence. I suspect it’s also worth
noting that my first X-title was X-Factor #65, and I started regularly
reading with X-Men #1, so more than five years after the ugliness with
Madelyne Pryor occurred, and a couple years after Pryor was firmly established
as a clone of Jean Grey created by Sinister, so that controversy was
essentially a settled matter when I began reading. So I was Cyclops fan, and I
was really into his relationship with Jean Grey. When John Byrne and Fabian
Nicieza teased an affair with Psylocke, I didn’t take it seriously as storyline
(nor, rereading those issues, should I have. There’s nothing there, really).
Years later though, when Stephen T. Seagle hinted at real cracks in their
relationship, I was apoplectic, and wanted him off the comic, which happened
not long after, and after a few terrible issue by Alan Davis, I dropped the
X-Men comics for the first time in about eight years. I soon started buying them again, as Davis finally did “The
Twelve”, a story the X-books had teased since the late 80s. That
arc ended with Cyclops apparently dying after being possessed by the soul of
Apocalypse (this is all actually relevant). That was basically it for Davis,
as Chris Claremont returned to the X-title for a disastrous run both creatively
and n terms of sales. Marvel’s Editor in Chief Bob Harras was basically fired
over it, he was replaced by Joe Quesada, who brought in Grant Morrison to revitalize
the X-franchise. Oh, and Scott Summers returned from the dead prior to
Morrison’s run starting in New X-Men #114.
Morrison’s run infamously begins with the line, “Wolverine.
You can probably stop doing that now” foreshadowing how the series would focus
on the idea of change and nowhere would Morrison affect more change than in the
character of Cyclops. Following his resurrection, Summers’s marriage to Jean
Grey is in tatters, the two not having touched each other for five months. Cue
Emma Frost joining the team. She almost immediately hits on Summers, and Morrison leaves the result of her
come-on ambiguous at first. Gradually, it’s revealed that the pair involved,
but only psychically, as a sort of sexual therapy for Cyclops. Jean
Grey-Summers learns about it at the end of “Riot at Xaviers”, and the fallout
carries into the first part of “Murder at the Mansion”. To Jean, the affair is
just as real even if it’s happening on the psychic plane, and it soon turns out
that despite her detached demeanor, Frost has real feelings for Summers. The
reveal comes on one of my all-time favorite pages (drawn by Phil Jimenez) as
she break down in Wolverine’s arms, the panel layout narrows until she has to
ask, “Why did I have to fall in love with Scott Bloody Summers?”
The relationship hits the back-burner for the series from
there until the final arc, “Here Comes Tomorrow” (the title an allusion to
James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake), a new take on “Days of Future Past”
where the key moment is Summers walking away from Frost at Grey’s grave (she
died at the end of the previous arc). Jean Grey, in a superhero afterlife,
heals reality, urging “Live. Scott.” Which prompts him to embrace Frost, after
answering her question, “Don’t you want to inherit the Earth” with “I… yes.” The
“yes” and scenario reads as a gender-flipped allusion to Molly Blooms long
soliloquy that closes Joyce’s Ulysses:
[…]how he kissed me under the Moorish
wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my
eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain
flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he
could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes
I said yes I will yes.
As the Blooms do not have a perfect relationship, but love
each other, the allusion suggests that rather than the story-book, “perfect”
romance of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, Summers and Emma Frost will have a more
realistic and messier relationship. Subsequent comics certainly bore this out
and while the relationship seems to have run its course (plus Cyclops is dead
again), the beginnings of their relationship make it my favorite in comics.
It Takes A Villain #8: On Breathtaker and Why These Villain Comics Are Important
It Takes A Villain is TWC’s bi-weekly column about comics in which super-villains take the starring role; brought to you by the lusty temptress of sinful delight, Mick Martin.
It’s likely I never would’ve heard of Breathtaker if I hadn’t started writing It Takes A Villain. When I first conceived the column, I wanted to make sure I knew about as many villain-led titles as possible. I compiled a list by going through an online comic shop and scanning every single title. Breathtaker’s title probably wouldn’t have grabbed my attention if it wasn’t a DC comic. Since it was DC, right away, I knew it had to be either a villain comic or a Vertigo title. Once I read the description of the series – a woman who kills men with sex is pursued by a super-hero named The Man – I felt lucky to have stumbled upon such an intriguing sounding villain-led title, though I was also a little hesitant. The description said the comic was released in 1990. If the story was really as interesting as it sounded and it came out that long ago, why the hell hadn’t I heard of it? Still, precisely because I knew nothing about the series beside its title put it high on the list of comics I was excited to read for It Takes A Villain. A quick search on Amazon revealed that DC was planning to release a trade collection of the comic in late 2015. Unfortunately, those plans were scrapped. But I was curious enough to do something I hadn’t done in a very long time: I doled out the money for the single back-issues, and I don’t regret a penny lost.
I still can’t answer the question of why I had never heard of it. Maybe because the protagonist was female, maybe because without the Vertigo imprint comics like this fell through the cracks. I don’t know. Regardless, Breathtaker is wonderful and deserves to be talked about and written about more. After reading it, though, I actually questioned whether or not it really belonged in It Takes A Villain. This is a column that’s not just about comics in which villains are the protagonists, but super-villains from the super-hero genre. That’s why you won’t be seeing any reviews of Lucifer or Darth Vader here. But for some very specific reasons, Breathtaker not only fits, but shines a light on something I’m seeing more and more in super-villain comics.
Not to mention, I paid for the damn comics and they’re good, so whatever. I’m writing about them.
Written by Mark Wheatley and beautifully rendered by Marc Hempel and Kathryn Mayer, Breathtaker tells us the story of Chase Darrow: a woman whose love is fatal. The deaths aren’t intentional. Chase doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but her victims’ love is just as much a drug to her as her magnetism is irresistible to them. Her love doesn’t kill instantly, but in increments, and the story opens on the final moments of Chase’s relationship with the rich Paul. Though only in his mid-fifties, Paul looks as wrinkled and spent as a man in his nineties, and all it takes is one kiss from Chase to kill him. Moments after his death, Paul’s grown son Charlie finds Chase. She tells him what happened, and because he is just as spellbound by Chase as everyone else, his only concern is the trauma she’s been through.
Chase goes on the run and soon the violent super-hero The Man is after her. Under fire for thoughtlessly killing innocent civilians while chasing criminals, government agent The Man is desperate for some good PR. Chase’s growing trail of bodies is music to The Man’s ears. He eventually captures Chase, but falls victim to the same yearning as all of Chase’s men. Eventually a group of men related to Chase’s former lovers – men who now all want to be her lovers – find Paul’s son Charlie and hunt for Chase to save her from the authorities.
Everywhere Chase goes, she tries to avoid being the flame that draws in doomed moths, but she can’t help it. Even animals are drawn to her. When Chase helps an elk in the woods whose antlers are caught in a tree’s branches, the elk wants to be with Chase as much as any human man. Chase cannot stop men from wanting her or stop herself from needing them.
When I first read the series description, I was expecting Chase to be much more deliberate. I kept thinking of the earthbound goddess in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods who literally devours men with her vagina during sex. But while men can’t resist Chase, she’s no temptress. She doesn’t kill men for money, for power, or for kicks. She needs sex to survive. Without it, she quickly ages and, presumably, dies. But she tries to control it. In fact, she doesn’t kill all of her victims. If she only has sex with a man once or a couple of times, they survive, but younger men suddenly find themselves with heads of white hair or even bald. Yet most of those who survive wouldn’t call themselves victims.
This is why I considered not reviewing Breathtaker for this column. Could I really call Chase a super-villain? Sure, she has powers. Sure, she’s got a bonafide super-hero on her tail, but a super-villain? Chase is as much a victim of her situation as any of her men. She’s riddled with guilt and at one point tries to commit suicide because of it. You could even argue Chase is more of a victim than the men. At least she tries to fight her urges and avoid hurting anyone, while the men throw themselves at her without giving a single damn about the consequences. The trucker Lou that Chase meets at the end of the first issue gladly hands over the keys to his truck when he learns the law is after her. Even though he’s got two kids to look after, moments after Chase drives away Lou whips out a revolver and is ready to fire on a pursuing police car; holstering only when sees it’s actually an ambulance.
But I include Breathtaker because, among other reasons, it brings to a head something that seems to be a recurring theme in these super-villain comics I’m reading: addiction.
Chase is addicted to contact with men just as the men become addicted to contact with her. They know she’s killing them and don’t care, just as an addict will knowingly race towards the edge of the cliff. In the very beginning of Breathtaker, Chase sounds like an addict fooling herself about who’s in control. “I can control my need,” she says. “I can pace my need.” And then two pages later her lover is dead.
There is a recurring theme of devouring and overeating in Breathtaker. The Man berates his handler for interrupting him during breakfast. The dedicated but sympathetic Detective Cob who pursues Chase is constantly eating though he’s as thin as a board. At a crime scene, Cob is devouring a burger and asking for seconds. When he meets with the mob of wanna-be-Chase-lovers he inhales a pizza. When Chase stops at the diner where she meets Lou the trucker, there’s a veritable kitchen worth of spent plates, bowls, saucers, and glasses at Chase’s table.
Sounds kind of familiar? Maybe like a guy floating through space and devouring entire planets because, you know, he just has to? To survive?
When I wrote about Superior Spider-Man, I mentioned addiction, and the more I read these villain-led comics and think about the implications of who these characters are and what they do, the more the word “addiction” springs up. It could be projection, I’ll admit that. I have my own addictions. I wrote about that a bit in my Superior Spider-Man column. Addiction is on my mind a lot so it could very well be that I’m just looking at these comics through that lens and naturally see exactly what I want or need or just plain expect to see.
But I don’t think it’s that. Or, if I am projecting, then at most I’m turning up the volume on something that really is there, but maybe doesn’t deserve as much attention as I give it (but it does).
I can’t say I’ve become some kind of expert on super-villain comics. There’s still so much to read and I’m having a ball reading it and writing about it. But if there is any general comment I can make at this point about super-villain comics, it’s that it seems like the central struggle of the super-villain-led comic is the struggle of men and women doing shit that just doesn’t make any goddamn sense.
I’m not saying it’s not believable, mind you. I’m not saying it’s bad writing, no. I’m saying these characters, super-villains, are mostly smart people who make stupid choices, who act against common sense and their own self-interest. You can call it addiction or you can call it obsession. You could just call it insanity. Regardless, it all boils down to men and women who go to unbelievable lengths for stupid and mostly unattainable goals, and for the most part both the efforts toward those goals and even the unlikely realization of those goals will only make their lives suck more.
Just looking at some the titles I’ve written about so far, there’s the Suicide Squad who risk their lives for a woman known for manipulation and lies – who they know from experience will likely never give them the clemency she promises – instead of using their super powers and amazing talents to break the hell out of prison (which every other super-villain seems to be able to do pretty frequently). There’s Astro City’s Steeljack who keeps being drawn back to his criminal roots through plain old habit. There’s the Doctor Octopus of Superior Spider-Man who has finally defeated Spider-Man in every conceivable manner, but actually imprisons himself in Parker’s body and life, and can never be happy with his victory. There’s the Maestro of Future Imperfectwho risks all and loses it in attempt to unseat a god. There’s the Penguin protected by wealth and power, almost in the arms of a good woman who impossibly loves him, who throws it all away just to get back at the memory of children who bullied a lonely, ugly child.
No, there’s nothing unbelievable about these people beyond their silly titles and their outfits and their powers. That they rush towards defeat and ruin with eyes wide open is not difficult to believe. We have no Penguins and no Doctor Dooms but we eat ourselves to death, drink ourselves to death, drug ourselves to death, and fuck ourselves to death. We are crushed in stampedes for Black Friday deals. We fly through windshields so we can check Facebook on the highway.
This is why these super-villain comics are so important to me. I love super-heroes, but they don’t happen. They make more sense, but they don’t happen. But what super-villains experience is what we experience in our culture. Futile struggles for worthless treasures. I can’t relate to some caped asshole who spends all his day thinking about what’s the more righter thing to do golly gosh darn it. Sure, I’ve had my moral conflicts, we all have, but if I’m honest then I know that more often than I ask myself whether or not what I’m doing is right, I’m asking myself whether or not what I’m doing makes any damn sense. And the answer usually, of course, is “No, Mick. No it does not.” When my apartment is filthy and my clothes are all dirty and my cats’ litter box looks like a rock garden and my phone’s voice mail seems to only exist for the sake of bill collectors; and because of all this I plan a productive evening tackling my issues; and I stop at a grocery store on the way home from work and buy a bowling ball-sized bag of peanut butter M and Ms and spend the entire night prone on my couch, shoving sugar in my face and binge-watching Parks & Recreation; I’m not worried about whether or not I did the morally right thing. I’m worried about the fact that I know I have a respectable IQ yet everything I do is so goddamn stupid that I should be checking my knuckles for drag marks.
The men of Breathtaker throw themselves at Chase even though for most of them it will only mean their deaths. They fall in love with her in seconds. Detective Cob stands uselessly in the way of The Man to protect Chase, one of his many snacks still clutched in his hands. The Man is shot and almost killed pursuing Chase, but he keeps going, even when one of his legs looks like nothing but chewed up bone.
I’m going to keep reading these super-villain comics because they have something to teach me. About why you and me act against our own good. About why I have to go to meetings full of strangers to stop myself from doing things that hurt me. About why I do things that make no goddamn sense.
I’m writing this at 2:30 in the morning. For free.