Tuesday, August 31, 2010
When Morning Glories was first solicited, DCB Service offered its customers a very special deal. You could order up to two copies of the first issue at 75% off, and also receive a free sketch from penciller Joe Eisma.
I just got my sketch of Casey in the mail today, and it sent my robotic heart all aflutter:
Of course, back then I didn't know Morning Glories was going to be The Next Big Thing. I knew that Nick Spencer was excited about it, the concept was intriguing, and for 99 cents? You kidding me?
As I type this the going rate for 1st prints on Morning Glories # 1 is about $25. And hey, if you missed the first boat, the 2nd print hits shelves on Wednesday. If you're looking for something new, different, better...this is the book. The two titles that have really invigorated my love for the medium right now are Morning Glories and Scarlet, and they're both on racks this week - it's a good week to be a comics fan! But I'm digressing.
The point is that I have a piece of original Glories art from Joe Eisma, and that's about the coolest thing in the world. And if I could have picked a subject, I would have chosen Ike or Casey. So I'm not sure how I could be happier.
John Mayo estimates that DCB Service has about 3,000 subscribers. Tough to estimate how many of those customers even looked at that offer - maybe 10%? How many pulled the trigger - maybe 5%? That would be 150- 200 people at best. Tough to know how many got two sketches as well. I only went with one. My best unscientific, unsubstantiated guess is that there are about 300 of these available.
Can you imagine an offer for a copy of Y the Last Man # 1 with a Yorick sketch by Pia Guerra enclosed, or a Walking Dead # 1 complete with an original Rick sketch by Tony Moore limited to 300?
That's pretty much what I've got, folks. Many of you are wondering how quickly I'm running to post this, documented street walker that I am. Truth is, you'd have to pry my Casey sketch from my cold, dead hands. Oh yeah. This stays with me.
People who listen to the show send us stuff, some of it is even mildly edifying. Here's a letter from long time Friend Of The Show (and just plain long time friend) Nick J:
August 27, 2010
I would like to point out Ryan IS WRONG!! Star Wars Legacy ended but will be back as a 6 issue mini-series called Star Wars Legacy War.
Unlike other publishers, Dark Horse has never been one for prolonging a series simply to do so. Our comics come from a place of creativity and artistic expression, and this applies to all of our titles, whether creator owned or licensed property.
One of our promises to ourselves, our fans, and George Lucas himself was that we would treat our line of Star Wars books with the highest level of respect. We hope that you'll agree that we've achieved this goal, and trust you'll take our word when we say that we'll continue to strive for such high standards.
We are proud to say that the quality of Star Wars: Legacy has never dropped. John Ostrander and Jan Duursema have consistently created issue after issue of excellent art for nearly four years straight. Very few creators can claim such landmark success, and we hope John and Jan are as proud as we are of delivering such great material.
We have never felt that John and Jan's work dipped below the benchmark of fine sequential art. So, it was a hard, but ultimately necessary, decision to close this chapter of the Star Wars universe with issue #50.
I don’t see anything about sales but I guess it always could be. I just like saying Ryan is WRONG!!!
Of course I'm wrong. You've been listening to the show for three years and there's still some vestige of novelty in the concept that something came out of my mouth with no relationship whatsoever to reality? Go figure.
Except in this case, I'm not really wrong. What I actually said on the show was "...the sales figures did not justify continuing the series." That was my take.
If you parse through that bullshit press release, you can plainly see that I'm mostly right. They're cancelling the book because of respect for the franchise??? And then they go through extolling the virtues of Ostrander & Duursema. The quality never dropped, so naturally we killed it.
Except they didn't kill it. They're going to bring it back with a new # 1 as a mini-series. Sales on Star Wars: Legacy was right at the 20,000 mark. This is in the black, but not by much. Those numbers absolutely crush something like Fear Agent, so I might have been strong by implying its existence isn't justified. But if you really believe that move was predicated on some mythical "higher standards" instead of looking to defeat attrition with a # 1 re-boot...you deserve your fate.
So I still maintain I'm right, but it's perfectly appropriate for you to assume that I'm wrong, and also to enjoy it.
Bob Bird posted this on our Facebook wall!
"Love the market spotlight! Just picked up a copy of Nightwing Year One for five bucks!"
Response: Good on ya, Bob! Nice to see somebody is putting the information to good use. That particular book is an easy sell in basically any condition at $20, and easy to flip in nice shape for $30-$35.
Nightwing is one of those weird properties that does absolutely nothing in floppy form, but Dick Grayson fans will pay big money to read their favorite hero in collected form. Rough Justice and Hunt For Oracle are the ones I've had the most success with, followed closely by Ties That Bind, Knight in Bludhaven, and Year One. You can often get cover or more for Big Guns, Lost Year, and even Darker Shade of Justice is edging toward $20 or better.
PS: Suck it, Remington! People love making money and dumping it back into their collections. It just makes sense, man, and this is shit we're doing that you pretty much can't find anywhere else on the CPN. If anybody knows different, please let me know - I'd love to listen to another show that tackles the subject.
Here's a missive from Jesse:
Response: Tough to say exactly where that new influx of Ultimates Omnibi came from, but it isn't unprecedented for Amazon to make a warehouse find. This happened with Deadpool Vol 1 Premiere Hardcover recently. Right now the low listing for that book in the $60 range, but I'd be a bit wary of believing that Amazon actually has that book in stock when I see the "usually ships in 2-4 weeks" message. It should actually read "won't ship even if Hell freezes over."
Sit tight on Ultimates Omnibus, that carousel should come around again. When it hits that $120+ range, time to dump. I'll have my eyes open and ears to the ground - listen to the show, I'll let you know when it's time to pounce!
As for Marvel's reprinting practices, well, we're all scratching our heads. I could make a list of really obvious itches that need to get scratched in about five minutes. Aside from the New X-Men Omnibus, they really need to go back to press on the Frank Miller Daredevil Ominbus, the Bendis Daredevil Vol 1, Eternals Omnibus, Tomb of Dracula Vol 1, Fantastic Four Vol 2, and the Alias Omnibus.
That's just for starters off the top of my head. There are many, many people out there begging for the Marvel Knights Punisher material and the Jurgens run on Thor, and it just isn't available. Marvel loses money every day failing to pay attention to this stuff. Incidentally, Dan Buckley, if you're out there: I would love to fix this for you, and I am available. Just sayin'.
Thanks to everyone who takes the time to listen and chime in!
Friday, August 27, 2010
Star Wars: Blood Ties # 1
Dark Horse Comics
Script: Tom Taylor
Art: Chris Scalf
22 pages for $3.50
Star Wars: Blood Ties, near as I can tell from the write-up in the back, is going to be a series of mini-series. They're going to tackle subjects bonded by blood in some way. In this case, the blood ties are very close indeed. This first mini-series is a tale revolving around Jango Fett, Boba Fett, and at least one other clone, and is scheduled to run for four issues.
I don't buy any of the Star Wars books regularly. The original movie in 1977 was of course one of THE formative experiences of my life. That love for Han, Luke, Leia, Chewy and the gang never translated to comic book buying for me. I think that if Dark Horse were to publish an ongoing with those characters like Marvel did when they had the license...I think I would buy that. Provided the creative team was at least serviceable.
So this should be in that ballpark, since Boba Fett had his origins in Empire Strikes Back. Alas, I feel no particular nostalgic fuzzies about it. I think it's just me, mind you, and not necessarily the fault of Dark Horse, Tom Taylor, or Chris Scalf.
The story opens with a bit of Jango Fett "parenting". Boba is his clone and not really his son. And throwing a child into a cave with an enormous monster to see if he lives does not actually qualify one to be a father. It pretty much makes you a giant dick. If there's one thing we learn in Blood Ties - Jango Fett is a giant turgid dong.
Of course Boba does come out of that cave alive, as he must, because we've seen Empire and we know that he grows up to be a fine adult assassin. That does take a little bit of the drama out of all of this, but it's not a deal-breaker, in my opinion. Put the character in a tough enough predicament, and even if we know the character does escape, scratching one's head and wondering how in the hell it's going to actually happen can be fulfilling.
The problem here is that we don't get to see it. Jango tells Boba to come back with a tooth, we get a couple panels of "Raaaaaring" coming from inside the cave, and out he comes with the prize. I'm told that off-panel actions can provide a subtle satisfaction, and maybe that's true in some circumstances. To me, this fell very flat.
Show me something clever, something strong, show me the kid using his brain to cause a cave-in, or show me him fighting ahead even though his left arm is missing so that I can believe in the prowess of the legend. Having that fight off scene felt like a cop-out - what did I pay $3.50 for, if not to see the big fight where the boy becomes a man? Cheated!
I suppose I should be glad that the fight was handled away from the camera, so that we only had to burn through one page of Jango Fett wandering about the tall grass avoiding pardlam poop. Had that battle been depicted, I suspect we would have seen nothing else, and we got precious little story in this issue as it was.
Of the 22 pages, 17 contained 4 panels or less. There's really only four scenes in the comic: a lesson, a conversation with Count Dooku, A docking scene, and an assassination attempt. I will say this: the art is gorgeous, and it does make some sense to expand the panels and let that painted style really shine. I get that, I really do.
But there's giving the artist room to roam, and then there's charging $3.50 for a comic that can be read in about 37 seconds and skips all the details on the scene you wanted to see most. There must be an in between somewhere.
My priorities run toward characterization, dialogue, plot, and themes. It isn't as though Taylor fails in these categories, they get the job done and don't stand out. It's not that I don't appreciate a good artist, and I would say Chris Scalf certainly qualifies. Everything in this comic looks bloody terrific, particularly the renderings of Jango and Boba Fett. Usually licensed books have to deviate a bit from the actual actors to avoid royalty payments. Scalf is spooky with how photographically well he replicated the actor's faces.
So the art is splendid, but making room for the art did not do any wonders for packing in story. I tolerated that kind of mix in Old Man Logan, where the "cool moment" factor made it pay off. The balyeg is pretty darned cool, and Jango's docking negotiation is kinda fun as well. This is not a bad comic. The "cool" moments and art didn't tip the scales for me, though.
Fett fans should probably enjoy this comic, but then they would hardly need my recommendation to pick up a copy of Blood Ties, they're already running to the rack. The story is serviceable but incredibly decompressed. If your interest in comics runs toward the art end of things, I would say you should be very pleased with it indeed. For everybody else, I would say there is greater bang for you buck elsewhere.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
I put out a call to arms on July 7 regarding Vengeance of Moon Knight # 10. The book had some critical acclaim, but sales were still plummeting toward cancellation levels. They tried everything. They put out a "Marvel Must Haves", charging only $4.99 for the first three issues of the series. They put Spector on the Secret Avengers, plopped a "Heroic Age" banner on the cover, fired up the obligatory Spider-Man and Deadpool guest appearances, and got a really nice up-and-coming penciller on the title in the form of Juan Jose Ryp.
But what got my attention with issue # 10 was the price reduction. Vengeance had been a $3.99 title for its entire run, and here was this pretty close to unprecedented dip. There was nothing in the solicitation copy trumpeting this, it wasn't sold as a gimmick, it wasn't a special offer for a new reader "jumping on" point. Last month it was $3.99, and this month it isn't.
The idea, of course, was to show Marvel that comics readers really are price conscious, that it's a tool we use to make buying decisions. The prevailing wisdom is that it doesn't matter, or at least not enough to curtail the practice. We needed to show them differently.
So did it work? That's a tricky question to answers. The old saw is that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. But it's a decent place to start, so let's look at recent Diamond sales figures and see what happened when VOTMK went down a buck:
Vengeance of the Moon Knight # 6: 19,094 copies sold
Vengeance of the Moon Knight # 7: 20, 718 copies sold (Deapool cover/appearance)
Vengeance of the Moon Knight # 8: 20, 597 copies sold (Deadpool cover/appearance)
Vengeance of the Moon Knight # 9: 18, 694 copies sold (Spider-Man/Ryp art)
Vengeance of the Moon Knight # 10: 19, 143 copies sold ($2.99 price point)
When the price went down, sales on Moon Knight went up. That's a fact. In today's market, any increase is a minor miracle. 1-2% attrition is pretty much the rule these days. Barring some kind of high profile creator addition, a re-boot to a new # 1, or an anniversary special comics nearly invariably trend down month-to-month.
Moon Knight # 10 had none of those traditional boosters. The main contributing factor to the sales increase appears to be price. In a market where downtrends are oppressively constant, that's a win. A significant, demonstrable win. That picture at the top of this column? That's a second print, baby! There were enough people demanding retailers to get a damn copy of Moon Knight on that empty shelf that Marvel had to go back to press.
Yes. Yes! I can promise you that Marvel noticed this, and I thank any and every one of you that bought a copy because some maniac with a comics podcast told you it was a good idea. Your work was not in vein - first of all, it was a pretty good issue. Secondly, we did send a message to the Powers That Be about price.
So we won, right? Yes and no. Sales went up 449 issues, which is significant. Statistically, Marvel would have expected to see something in the neighborhood of a 400 issue decrease, all things being equal. From that perspective, the gain was actually closer to 800+ issues.
But here's the rub: in terms of profit, the math doesn't come out ahead on the lower price point. Let's say they left the price alone and just let those 400 predicted issues drop:
18,694 issues - 400 = 18,294 X $3.99 = $72,993.06
Instead they dropped the price and picked up a few readers:
18,694 issues + 449 = 19,143 X $2.99 = $57,237.57
$72,993.06 - $57,237.57 = a total loss of $15, 755.49
By dropping the price, I believe Marvel dropped almost $16,000 in cash. Ouch, babe! So did the Marvel brass notice that they picked up readers? You bet. But they also noticed that they lost money doing it. Dropping your price 25% to pick up another 2% readership is not a sound business decision.
I think the other fairly depressing thing to note is that while the price reduction did seem to help, throwing goddamn Deadpool into the mix between issues 6 and 7 helped a lot more, and didn't cost them anything but a little dignity. Moon Knight picked up almost 2,000 readers adding the Merc With A Mouth, and that help stayed almost perfectly steady for the second appearance in issue # 8.
We're like all those women who can't wait to tell the pollsters about how they like sensitive men with senses of humor, and then you find them an hour later in the parking lot blowing some complete asshole in the front seat of his Corvette. We like to bitch about how much price matters, sure. But in the end, Deadpool sells. # 1 reboot issues sell. That's the reality.
The full story is really yet to be told, though. Because we haven't factored in those second print copies yet. Yeah, they had to run a new cover, and it cost them a little money. But it's mostly gravy. If that issue comes out at something like 5,000 copies, they probably broke even on the price point gambit. And I can promise you that if readership expanded 5G, that will absolutely get the movers and shakers reconsidering price.
The bonus there is that if you have a good product, getting the book into more hands is advantageous at equivalent dollars because of advertising, licensing and potential word of mouth gains.
My guess is that the reprint comes nowhere near that figure, but I can dream. And in the end... we did move that mountain, folks, even if it was just an inch.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Astonishing X-Men # 35
Script: Warren Ellis
Pencils: Phil Jimenez
22 pages for $2.99
To be honest, I had no intention of writing about Astonishing X-Men this week. But this ended up being the best comic I picked up today - and I grabbed Fantastic Four # 582, so that should tell you plenty right there.
Warren Ellis is not into superhero comics. Yeah, he's one of those. Doesn't care for them, finds the concept mostly mined and fairly silly. One gets the feeling that if he had his druthers, the old underwear dinosaurs would just have the good grace to park themselves in a tar pit to die.
So naturally he's writing Astonishing X-Men, one of the flagship superhero titles for the monster of mainstream comics. Hey, Warren's got bills to pay just like everybody else.
I just came back to this comic last issue, and have discovered it to be one of the most delightfully subversive books on the rack. Should I be surprised by this? I'm ashamed to say that I was.
Warren Ellis giving mainstream comics the finger is not a new thing. The Authority was a shot at the Avengers and the JLA. Planetary took potshots at everybody - the Fantastic Four were a running joke throughout, and the Vertigo roast in issue # 7 was a standout. Remember Nextwave? Awesome.
The difference I guess is that in the past Warren has only been able to bomb this stuff from the outside. Now he's essentially doing a parody book on Astonishing X-Men.
Let me show you what I'm talking about. Ellis doesn't take to the superhero genre for many of the same reasons you or I are off-put: the whole concept is pretty absurd if you're rational about it. These people...they're too perfect. The men are all carved out of granite and primed for action, and the powers all fall together perfectly. The women are all knockouts who are particularly blessed in the bust region, and they all seem to prefer fighting global level threats in the flimsiest of tight-fitting stretchy fabric.
No actual sane people would behave like this even if they could, and fact is, they couldn't. Mutation doesn't ordinarily make you look like Angelina Jolie and shoot fire your fingertips...you usually end up looking like a plague victim with fewer digits than you should have, and nobody wants to talk to you any more. There's your powers. Mutant.
And that's exactly the problem that Kaga has with the X-Men in this arc. Kaga is a real mutant. Kaga is all jacked up, had to scrape and borrow and steal just to keep himself alive. The X-Men as outcasts? Bullshit. They're a bunch of perfectly orchestrated models with private jets who whine all the time about how stricken, smitten, and afflicted they are.
Astonishing X-Men is the best hate letter to superhero comics I've read in a long time. This is a perfectly crafted big ticket action book that ruthlessly displays how stupid big ticket action books are. The key is that Ellis is so good at it, you can hardly tell you're reading meta commentary. All of the action pieces are there, the dialogue is sharp, the characters are strong. I'm not fooling around. The Beast and Wolverine in particular are as well rendered as you will find in any X-Book from any period.
The reason why it works so well is that there's humor in the malice, maybe even a little love inside the malice, if that makes sense. I doubt Warren would cop to this if you asked him about it. But really, I think his career has been defined by the influence of the mainstream superhero genre on him, his recognition of all the elements of said genre that are complete rubbish, his talking back to those elements, and then the genre incorporating his pushback.
Let's face facts. Most of what you're reading right now for big budget superhero comics owes a giant royalty check to his work on Stormwatch and The Authority. But as much as the mainstream obviously rankles the old codger...how could he possibly parrot the stuff at this level if he wasn't still emotionally involved in some way?
Astonishing X-Men does not read as the tirade of an angry man out of touch with his subject. It reads like a Swiftian farce so clever I'm not even sure Warren always knows that he's doing it.
Astonishing reads just fine even if you're not in on the joke. The stakes are high, the action moves along briskly. You've got your spaceship chase, your leviathan monsters that look lushly painted, some bondage jokes, a fastball special, and Wolverine punches a senior citizen.
And all this for $2.99? I wouldn't miss it, if I were you.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
If you'd like to play along at home while the Snake Plisskin of podcasting rants of the deplorable state of parenting today, you've come to the right place. Here's some of the visual referenced on our latest show!
Here's the Bong Baby picture that mom posted on her Facebook page:
That baby knows how to work a carb, man. Good skill to have in Trailer Town, USA.
And here's Mother Of The Year, Rachel Stieringer:
That's just adorable. Somebody needs to put out an APB on her eyebrows, though. Might want to think about an astringent or cleanser after multiple pop shots, too. Just a thought.
Here's a photo of Adolph Hitler Campbell:
Apparently, he likes to curse like a sailor and threaten passers by with death. Can't imagine why he turned out like that. True story: his parents are unemployed and mentally damaged. I know that will surprise many of you.
Here's the completely scandalous bout of monster sex between Isaac Newton and his Deviant mistress:
Listen. It's just missionary style. There's more bestial sex happening in the back of Lindsey Lohan's car right now. That should have run uncut.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Mostly, I was simply born to bitch. Everybody has a function. Mine is to analyze whatever passes in front of my face, find whatever faults are available and then run to a microphone so that I can complain about it. It's what I was put here to do.
The reality is that I love comics. I love them with the same child-like obsessive passion that I did when I first grabbed Uncanny X-Men # 163 off a spinner rack, or perused through Avengers # 128 laying around at Donnie Kempkis' cabin.
I love the comics, never you worry about that. It's profitable to occasionally remember that, and remember the why. So I thought about it today, and I've put together five moments in my recent comic reading history that I adore. It's not really a "best of" ranked in order. It's just five random kick-ass reasons why comics are still the shizznite!
1) Larfleeze Makes A List
Folks, the universe does not need to take a pounding in order for Green Lantern to be entertaining. You don't need to cross over into any other books, and you don't need to promise that things will never be the same.
This is what the medium needs, and still does well - character moments. Larfleeze in an Orange Lantern, powered by greed. So if you're an avatar of avarice and you find yourself on Earth, what do you do for fun?
Well Larfleeze checked into the local mythology and discovered a magical old dude in a red suit who will give you whatever you want if you mail a list to the North Pole. (apparently he skipped the part about being a good boy, but don't we all tend to filter out the minor details that annoy?)
I'm sorry, but that's awesome. That's called knowing your characters and taking advantage of the available ingredients. Why wouldn't Larfleeze believe in that? He's got a ring that can crack planets? This moment brought to you by the still extraordinary Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke in Green Lantern # 56.
2) Dick Is Worried...For The Joker!
Just in case you forgot, Grant Morrison is a bad ass and Batman is still a great character. When Dick Grayson finds out that Damien might be taking a meeting with the Joker, he freaks out. Gordon feels sorry for Robin, but Dick has the situation assessed correctly: be afraid for the Joker!
Batman, Jr. is not to be trifled with, folks. He's teetering on the edge between following in his father's footsteps and becoming a complete sociopath like his mother. Right now he's teetering with a crow bar in his hands and a helpless Joker in front of him. This is what it's all about, brought to you by Grant Morrison and Frazier Irving in Batman & Robin # 13.
3) Val Teaches The Academy Kids About Rabbits
The Avengers Academy kids need guidance, and they have the best instruction available. It's not all about punching people and fending off mind control, though. When you're young and learning the ropes, sometimes you just need to know how to be a woman.
Now granted, men are bound to be colossal disappointment across the board. But Valkyrie has the answer, or at least she would have had one if Tigra didn't bust in right after that and ruin everything.
Comics are fun, and funny, and a lot more like real life than most people think. This particular grin brought to you by Christos Gage and Mike McKone in Avengers Academy # 3. Keep em' coming, lads!
4) Heart To Heart With Johnny Blaze
Deadpool will have little bouts of self awareness before reverting to his natural state of cracking wise and puncturing lungs. This is a fantastic little quiet moment between 'Pool and Johnny Blaze after Wade suffered through Ghost Rider's penance stare.
Another gem comes in the splash page after this where Deadpool stares off into space and simply says "Thanks, man." Ah, only Deadpool. And only Daniel Way and Carlo Barberi could have provided it. Or at least, they're the ones that did. In Deadpool # 26.
5) Nobody Home
You didn't think I was going to leave this list without getting to Morning Glories, did you? A ton of great moments in that first issue, but here's the one where it turns from like a Weird Factor 7 to a Creepy Factor 10.
Things have been a bit odd with the Morning Glories Academy from the get-go, (all the kids got roofied on the way over, for crying out loud) but things turn undeniably sinister when Jade calls home....and her father doesn't know who she is!
Who could possibly do something like that? WHY would they do that? Maybe because they want you on an island to do what they like and nobody will ever be the wiser? Who else did they get to? What the hell have I gotten myself into???
That's the beauty of Morning Glories # 1 as presented by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma. And it is seven shades of splendid.
And that's why we love comics.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Witchblade: Due Process (one-shot)
Image Comics/Top Cow imprint
Script: Phil Smith
Pencils: Alina Urusov
20 pages (+2 extras) for $2.99
Witchblade, to my mind, has always been a T&A book. I'm not being derogatory, mind you, just stating facts. I happen to enjoy both the T and the A, and not everything has to be Grant Morrison for me to enjoy it.
I'm probably being unfair even if I'm being unintentionally pejorative, because I read the first twenty issues or so of the Ron Marz era and found it to contain some pretty solid storytelling. But still, when you come to Witchblade, the house that Silvestri and Turner built, you expect a lot of skin and a little action.
Witchblade: Due Process is not your father's Witchblade. This is more like an episode of the X-Files. Lots of mood and attitude, a couple parts police procedural, and a little supernatural horror.
The story revolves around the plight of one William Hicks. (first pancreatic cancer and now an unjust 10 stretch in a comic book? Yeesh) Early in Sara's career she helped pound the poor guy into hamburger and frame him for a crime he didn't commit.
A decade later Det. Pezzini has gathered enough evidence to free Hicks, but really, the damage has already been done. His family has basically disowned him, he has no hair because he joined the local "White Power" guild, and he's collected an old Christian demon named Agares to help protect himself in the shower. I thought it was interesting that Phil Smith went with Sara caving to peer pressure and then trying to make amends. I think most comic scripts would make their protagonist Serpico, immune to the powers of social persuasion in the name of pure justice. It's a risky move, frankly. It taints the character, but it also makes her more real.
Anywho. Once outside the prison gates, Sara reaches out to Hicks and offers her help, but he wants none of it. The demon in the guy's neck reaches out to Sara for a conversation, too, so now she really interested.
Things go downhill for Hicks from that point on. The choices he's made and the company he's kept make his road to redemption essentially impossible. It's pretty tough to explain to your black wife that you're now a member of the Aryan Nation. When the smoke clears, there's almost nothing left but Hicks' daughter. And now she has the same choice her father had. She's in a tough spot that she didn't create, and she's got a demon and a cop extending their hands. Which will she choose?
I was not familiar with Phil Smith, and did a little nosing around to see if I could find other work of his. I could not. The fine print on the inside cover says that Mr. Smith is the managing editor of Top Cow, so maybe he just wanted to see how the other half lives?
The story reads like an editor's script, actually. The plot and the structure are very tight, you can see where all of the building blocks fit, (exposition goes here, frame the location/characters here) there's some parallelism at the end, and he even did some scriptural research on his demon. Plus, there's a complete story done in twenty pages, which is pretty much a world record at this point, where your typical conversation runs eight pages, and a trip to the grocery store represents a four issue arc. So Smith did all kinds of good things that Jim Shooter would be proud of.
Which is not to say that there aren't issues in the script. A couple of elements yanked me pretty hard out of the narrative, and they both had to do with doling out exposition. The first instance was the introduction between Sara and Agares, in which the demon spells out exactly what Sara can cannot do to him, and the approach she'll need to take in order to beat him. I just don't buy that. My sense is that Smith would counter that he introduced Agares' desperate need for somebody worthy to play with him inside the script, so he baited her with some easy answers. But it felt bizarre to me for a villain to hand out answers like that. My guess is that he had all this cool research that he couldn't wait to parcel out, except there was no readily available way to do that so he just let the demon say it.
The other piece that threw me for a loop was this rather long speech from one of the "white power" types. Nobody would ever say that. Ever. Certainly not that dude. "Thanks to the misperception?" "We are free to do our benefactor's work?" No. I'm not buying it, and it's jarring. That's just a pure exposition dump from a really unlikely source.
I'm lukewarm on the issue. I did enjoy the darker tones of the story. This one is less a superhero book and more of a horror story. The front cover says that it contains graphic content for mature audiences, which sounds about right. It's not that anything is particularly gory. The action is quick, and fairly subdued. In fact, all the damage caused by the demon is temporary. The issues mostly deal with the thugs in the apartment at the end who just can't wait to turn Hicks' teenage daughter into a whore and a rape victim.
I think somewhere inside of Phil Smith is a pretty good writer. He's certainly got structure down, and the concept of this issue was quite good. I think part of the problem is that the real punch comes from caring about Hicks and his family, and its difficult to really form a connection inside of so few pages. Maybe I'm wrong about that.
And if you've ever wanted to see a Witchblade episode of the X-Files, this is pretty much it.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Script: Christos Gage
Pencils: Mike McKone
22 pages for $2.99
A lot of cool ideas are born when cool people make smart ass remarks. Wolverine # 75? Nobody could figure out what to do for the "Big Event" at the 1992 X-Writers summit. As a group of perplexed writers tried to hammer out a Magneto/Wolverine slugfest, legend has it Peter David quipped "If I'm Magneto, I don't even bother with Wolverine. I just yank his skeleton out and be done with him."
And that's how holofoil collectibles are born, kids.
So at another writer's conference, a bunch of smart people are wondering what to do with this new Avengers Academy book they're launching about troubled kids being mentored into heroes. And legend has it Ed Brubaker mumbled "You should do a "scared straight" story with them." It's a good hook, right?
It is a good hook. Enter Luke Cage, the king of all time managers. After he's done Shadowlanding, taking care of his newborn, and running about with the New Avengers, Luke likes to run the revamped Thunderbolts program. It's good work if you can get it.
So the Avengers cadets take a trip to The Raft so they can listen to horror stories from Juggernaut, Moonstone, and Ghost. So Ghost rambles about Stark conspiracies, which is within character, but not really compelling. Moonstone is more interested in vexing the tutors than the kids, and Juggernauts speech about letting fear become a prison? Not going to make anyone forget Bluto's rousing oratory in Animal House, much less Patton.
That whole bit falls flat. Maybe because it wasn't Gage's idea?
You may be assuming that Avengers Academy # 3 is a fizzle, and you'd be wrong. There's lots more going on that Gage (and consequently the reader) finds more interesting. We're in the very early stages of this construction, and still getting to know the characters. Last issue Finesse got the spotlight treatment, and this issue we get to know Hazmat a little better.
Pretty much everybody feels a little toxic in their teenage years - Jenny has this problem literally. That situation was made manifest in what Asia would call the "heat of the moment", which makes it doubly tragic. You can understand why Hazmat might be a little rough around the edges. Life is difficult enough without having to wall yourself off in suit and be denied human contact right around the time your hormones start demanding it by the tonnage. I think Avengers Academy is my favorite of the Avengers books because it is a character book, first and foremost.
The beauty of the book's format is that you really have the best of all worlds. You have a group of unknown characters that you can play with and grow without the years of continuity baggage to worry about. You're building your own continuity.
But you also have this huge catalogue of Avengers and former Avengers who can pop in spontaneously, because why not? The kids need to learn how to fist fight, so Iron Fist makes an appearance. Fine. And if the girls need to learn how to be women with powers in a world dominated by men, you bring in Valkyrie to teach them about vibrators.
Yes, Virginia, Valkyrie was about to show our lil' trainees about the finer arts of mechanical companionship until Tigra had to bust in and play Buzz Killington. These are the fun little snibbets that are being laced into each issue, and there could be a million more of these. Granted, it does feel a little weird for an Asgardian warrior to spout academe gibberish - when and where would be she be studying this stuff? On the other hand, she was a founding member of Women's Lib back in the 70s, so I guess its in keeping with her history. The important thing is that everything she says in this issue is really goddamn funny.
I think the most successful Avengers Academy book is going to focus on the actual instruction, and this little Valkyrie session was a pleasantly zany example of what can be done with the concept.
You know I was always disappointed in Marvel's books post Civil War because they set up this rich, fertile playground of good ideas and then never tended the garden. I'll never forget She-Hulk in Civil War # 1 saying:
Great! But how would that work? What would you teach a kid like Mettle about combat that would reduce collateral damage and prevent civilians from getting harmed? It never really got addressed in the books, and to this point hasn't really been addressed at the Academy yet. But here's hoping. If Gage can really get underneath the concept and show us superhero training that rings true - that would be something I'd rush to the stands to read.
And I haven't even gotten to the best part yet. While everyone is busy worrying about schooling these kids, the kids are busy plotting their revenge on Norman. Yeah, he's on the raft, too. Since most if not all of the main characters have been physically tortured by Osborn...he's got some payback coming. Hazmat sets off an EMP blast, the lights go out...and you'll have to read the rest for yourself. And I recommend you do that.
Incidentally, Thunderbolts appears on the cover to be crossing over with Avengers Academy and vice versa. I've read both books, and I can tell you that while this is technically true, if you're only interest is in the Academy kids, you can safely skip the Thunderbolts issue. There is no character interaction between the groups in Thunderbolts # 147 at all. I would say it works the other way as well, for the most part. If your main interest is the Thunderbolts, you get a few uninspired moments with that group, but the book's focus is squarely on the Academy kids, as it should be. Just sayin'.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Dungeons & Dragons # 0
Scripts: John Rogers/Alex Irvine
Pencils: Andrea Di Vito/Peter Bergting
16 pages for $1.00
This is a specially priced preview of two books: A Dungeons & Dragons title with the typical Tolkein-inspired swords + sorcery, and a Dark Sun story with similar elements set in a more physically punishing environment.
I sometimes wonder how much crossover there is between the role-playing community and the comic book herd. Nerds of a feather? I've certainly indulged in both, and it isn't unusual to see RPG supplies sold under the same roof as comic books. I guess in that sense, and Dungeons & Dragons license makes more sense than say, Gears of War. Even though video games carry a much larger built in audience, what are the odds that you buy them in the same joint as your comics?
The first half of the book, written by John Rogers and pencilled by Andrea Di Vito is mostly tolerable. If the introduction is any true barometer of what they plan to do with the series, expect a train of non-stop action punctuated by attempted wit and winks at old school gamers.
The party consists of a human fighter, a dwarf, a halfling, an elf, and the group picks up a female mage while slashing through the dungeon crawl. These are all very comfortable icons, and this comic rarely strayed from the expected.
The only item that pushed the needle toward interest for me was a scene in which the tough as nails fighter Adric was able to read secret runes off a door frame. Everything else is quite stock, by-the-numbers, and well-travelled. Khal the Dwarf and Varis the elf banter in the exact same manner that you'd expect Gimli and Legolas to spar with each other.
This isn't just a Tolkein retread, though, the comic is littered with nods to the AD&D gaming experience. The thief detects the trap and lies about how much treasure is on the bodies. The magic user wears no armor and like to chuck "old reliable", the magic missile. The group plows through a dungeon as if they're playing through an old module. The only thing missing are captions at the top telling you who won initiative for the round. I think those were smart moves. If you're going to use the license and hopefully attract the source clientele, it's probably best to demonstrate that you know the trappings and culture.
In fact, they even tossed in a little treat for us old folks. Bree Three Hands actually climbs up the statue featured on the old Players Handbook and pries off a ruby eye!
And while that did make me smile, that's only treasure enough for me to wish somebody else would buy this book and show me appropriate panels from time to time. For me, there isn't enough story here to warrant spending the $3.99 is will certainly take to buy an issue.
While there were some appreciated trinkets for crotchety old bastards like myself, I think that Dungeons & Dragons is actually in a younger gamer's wheelhouse. Once you've plowed through enough books and movies to understand that everything inside this comic has been done before and better, the magic is gone. But it's fun, paced quickly, and I think a young gamer will find enough of themselves and their gaming experiences inside to relate and hook into it.
Incidentally- the less said about the Dark Sun half of the book, the better. I call it "The Hot Goodbye", because of the similarities between the vengeance story here and the first arc of Sin City. The difference being that Marv said and did interesting things, while Grudvik simply repeats that he "isn't a slave" over and over again while hitting things in the least visually dynamic way possible. Hoo boy.
This comic wasn't even trying. I can forgive sketchy art and a straight vengeance plot - there's nothing new under the sun, fine, and I'm not really qualified to be an art critic. But what the hell is this panel? No emotion or real information is conveyed because we can't see the speaker. And why? WHY??? So we can get a good shot at that awesomely detailed cart? That luscious cityscape? It's an embarassment in comic storytelling. Yech.
So that's that. Dungeons & Dragons appears to be a serviceable and fun but uninspired fantasy adventure that should probably play well to a young gaming crowd. And I'm giving a radioactive warning on Dark Sun.
The truly scary thing is that this is an intro comic. They priced it dirt cheap as a loss leader to get into as many hands as possible. You know this ahead of time, so you prepare to put your best foot forward. It's like a first date, or a job interview. Dark Sun decided not to shower, then went to its interview with sweat pants and a dried booger on its t-shirt. You sir.....are not hired.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Rather than just do a straight review with Magnus Robot Fighter # 1, I thought it might be fun to look at it through the lens of feminism. I spent some considerable time in the Ivory Towers, so I've been trained to do that.
Defining feminism is a dodgy enterprise, even for the really smart folks in the Ivory Towers who spend all day thinking about such things. I don't think it's profitable to get into a treatise on that - for our purposes here, let's just look at the comic and figure out how it values women, particularly in relation to the men around them.
That's overly simplistic, but I think fair. Certainly more fair than what I was subjected to in my post-secondary "education" on the matter. For all it's vaunted vocabulary and labyrinthine arguments, the modern take on such issues boils down to this:
"Men are evil. White men are extra evil, and probably invented it. If you're not male or white, you're off the hook. Since Racism/Sexism = Prejudice + Power, even if you're a rampaging sexist/racist yourself by any rational examination, you're a victim of White Evil and therefore it is impossible for you to engage in bias, since you have no power. Besides, they have it coming, so you're entitled."
There is no arguing this, by the way, if you find yourself owning a white penis. Either you agree that you're evil, and therefore evil, or you disagree with that assessment, thereby preserving your dominant position and proving your attachment to the Eternal Paternalistic Hegemony, and QED.....evil. See how that works? Also notice how this "super empowering" doctrine automatically defines its constituents as victims, which never seemed that empowering to me. But what do I know? I'm just evil. And I digress.
Now, it isn't Jim Shooter's job to even consider feminism as the writer of Magnus, which is important to keep in mind, I think. His agenda should be selling comics, and entertainment the most obvious currency toward that end. He's not writing Sylvia Plath poetry here. But there's a lot of fun things to look at in this comic on the feminist front, so why not?
The story opens with Magnus crashing through the window and attempting to rescue heiress Cinnette Victoria for her imminent abduction. Of course she's wearing next to nothing, which is pretty much standard procedure for comic books, so -1 Plath Point for doing that. He also loses a point for using the old "Damsel in Distress" motif, also standard for comic books. (and most everything else, for that matter) As usual, the woman here is portrayed as defenseless to help herself, and completely reliant on the powerful man to come fix things.
In fact, if she hadn't already figured that part of it out, Mangus commands her to cower in a corner behind him. Another -1 Plath Point for that. If you're keeping score at home, Magnus Robot fighter is now at -3 PP and we haven't even left the first page yet.
But, let's take a closer look. Yes, the girl is scantily clad, but this time it actually makes sense in the story. This is not a gratuitous shower scene coming out of nowhere. If you were going to stage a kidnapping, snatching someone out of bed in the dead of night makes some sense to me. No reason she shouldn't be in her nightgown, so I'm restoring one PP for that. However, they didn't have to give her giant boobs or make her name remind one instantly of Victoria's Secret, and that is fairly gratuitous. So -.5 PP for that.
While at first blush it seems fairly asinine for Mangus to command the woman to simper behind the bed, it does hold up to logic. There's three robots in the room. Magnus has enhanced strength and training, and he's in some legitimate danger. Inside the story, there's really nothing for Cinnette to do unless she's got a laser pistol in her undies drawer, and that doesn't seem plausible. She had robot guards (who were sabotaged) to take care of threats.
So given that, isn't slinking into the shadows and staying the hell out of the way the most responsible course of action? I think so, and I'm restoring one PP for that. Magnus's score clocks in at -1.5 Plath Points by my count. The Ivory Towers would probably have him at -8, but whatever. This is my column. Dicks.
By coincidence, Ms. Victoria is good friends with Leeja Clane, another main character in the book. Magnus and Leeja have an exchange at the park to discuss the matter and plot strategies for her rescue. That conversation begins with this banter:
That's good for +2 Plath Points any day of the week. Leeja reminds Magnus that she saved his ass in issue # 0. And when Magnus starts to treat her as less than equal and tells her to bow out, see tells him to go hang. Granted, she's wearing the miniest of mini skirts while doing it, but damn she looks fabulouuuuuuuus! Plus, that's just her expressing her sexuality as an independent woman, yo! So no demerits there.
Total Plath Points: -.5
Then Leeja tries to emasculate Magnus for "failing" to resource Cinnette, which is pretty Plathy. But Magnus reminds her that he had everything under control until she ran out of the room against his orders like a panicked little girl. Which she did. I'm calling that one a wash. Granted, Shooter did portray Cinnette as a pretty weak character, but you know what? If I were in that room and three robots (who shouldn't even have the ability to commit such crimes due to their programming) came after me, I think I'd be making bad decisions based on fear as well. That's just life. So no extra penalties can be assessed, to my mind.
Then Magnus thanks Leeja for keeping his identity a secret. First of all, acknowledging a woman's contribution to the campaign, that's a bonus. And a woman who beats the stereotype of the incurable gossip? Yeah, baby! +1 PP!
Total Plath Points: +.5
Holy Chockatolleez! By my count, Magnus is now slightly feminist! And we haven't even factored in the undeniable truth that the male lead is wearing a skirt! We might have to start thinking about Magnus appearances in Ms. magazine before we're done.
My favorite bit of the entire issue is the end of the conversation in the park.
Magnus goes to meet a contact that might be able to help locate Cinnette, and Leeja wants to go with. Now, Magnus knows this is a bad idea, because it's probably going to be physical work, and she doesn't have the ability to shrug off 2 ton punches or the ability to rip steel with her hands.
So rather than argue the point, Magnus just says "OK, let's go!" And he hauls ass out of there. And Leeja cannot make that leap, and she cannot run that fast. So Leeja has no choice but to recognize that he's just able to do certain things that she can't, and that's just a scientific fact. Now, I'm going to assess a -2 Plath Point penalty for showing feminine "weakness" there. But because the logic is so inescapable, and because it was done so smoothly with absolutely no soapbox preaching, I'm adding in a +2 "Shooter Rules" bonus to counteract it!
Total Plath Points: +.5
While Magnus goes out to meet his contact in the goph levels, Leeja comes up with a plan of her own. She gets an illegal tracking device installed in her body and then goes on North Am's equivalent of The View for an interview, where she spills about Magnus on national television. Lots of stuff in there, folks.
- Showing Independence and coming up with her own plan: + 1 PP
- Outing that pig Magnus because he was a jerkwad to her in the park: +.5 PPP
- Giggling about dating Magnus like a stereotypical high school girl on TV: -.5 PP
- Leeja's "Master Plan" means getting captured so that a man can save her: -1.5 PP
Leeja is flexing her muscles a little bit here, and it takes a brass uterus to hit an underground implant market and then deliver yourself right into the enemy. But I think it says something here that Leeja couldn't use her brains and courage to do something positive on her own. The best Shooter could come up with for her was to become yet another damsel in distress, so that Magnus could come fix it.
And dramatically, it works. It's just not a feminist thing to do. But once again, Jim Shooter is writing a drama, not a position paper on feminist ideology. So I'm willing to give him a pass. By my calculation, the book is neither feminist nor chauvinist - it's a dead wash. I'm sure the Ivory Towers would take a different position, though.
Listen, I don't think there's anybody left who counts that doesn't recognize that certain facets of the beast we've built suck lemur scrotums. Two people who do the same job with the same skill for similar tenures should get paid equally. Who would argue that at this point?
But on the other hand, I had to go deal with a grasshopper this week because two fully grown, college educated women couldn't deal with it. Really? And then I took heat for stepping on it, instead of creating a grasshopper adoption agency and finding a host family for it in the wild.
So as much as these women desire and deserve equality as valued human beings....they sure do enjoy the privileges of being girly girls, too. A grasshopper, for fuck sake. Life is good, comics are good. It's a +0 Plath Point world, at least in North Am. I did the math, and I'm totally truthing. We've come a long way, baby!
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Morning Glories # 1
Script: Nick Spencer
Pencils: Joe Eisma
44 pages for $3.99
I will admit that I approached this book with some trepidation. I wanted to believe in it. Nick Spencer certainly seemed to believe in it, and has been pitching this book as the "next big thing" since April, with all the manic enthusiasm of a born again Christian. Here's a bit from an early CBR interview:
"Any comic creator with less than a year in the industry and working in a market that's fighting its way through a pretty turbulent "transitional" phase would have to be nuts to call his next book a career-definer and pretty much bet the farm on it becoming an instant hit. Well, ladies and sort-of-gentlemen, allow me introduce myself: I am that nutjob. After this interview, I am gonna smack at cars with an umbrella and maybe dangle a baby out of my window."
Mark Millar thinks that's over the top. So either there had to be something special happening here, or Nick Spencer was just a really committed huckster.
Like I said, I really wanted to believe in him, and the first issue of Shuddertown convinced me that he absolutely has chops. The problem, I think, was that I had heard this kind of story before when Joe Casey was selling The Intimates with equal zeal back in 2005. It was supposed to redefine superhero comics, or at least teen books. I read the first few issues of Intimates, and while there was nothing broken about it, neither was it particularly compelling. So when I heard Spencer's pitch, I really fought it. I've heard this song before. It can't be that good.
I'm here to tell you - believe the hype. Morning Glories is exceptionally good. Like, just put it on the Eisner ballot for Best New Series right now good.
Spencer likes to call the book "Runaways meets Lost", and I can see that. If one must boil it down, I prefer to think of it as "David Lynch does The New Mutants." I'm going to go very light on plot points, because I want you to enjoy the surprises, of which there are many. Whatever you think this book is about...it's not.
So what can I say about it without spoiling all the fun? Morning Glories is very strange, quite dark, often creepy, sometimes hilarious and almost always refreshingly novel. This comic crackles beneath the surface with ideas that pop. Certain books exude a kind of energy signature, where you can almost feel the creator's muse across the page. Hickman's Fantastic Four. Simone's Secret Six. Glories radiates like that.
I will say that Spencer writes the book in a way that will drive certain reader's up the goddamn wall. If you're expecting to be spoon fed from a giant exposition heap with a couple character introductions tossed in, you are going to be sorely disappointed. Spencer drops you into a transitional period at Morning Glories Academy, where some students are on the way out and a new crop are coming in. You get nebulous super powers, subliminal messages, impossible coincidences, and the best sense of escalating conspiratorial dread this side of Rosemary's Baby. You're plopped straight into the thick of the action and expected to use your brain a little to fill in the pieces - to which I say hallelujah. But some prefer a little more handholding. You won't be getting it.
The key to running a story that way is for the writer to establish him/herself as a competent conductor. Some stories trade on confusion masquerading as drama. Morning Glories is not confusing - it is an obviously intricate plot with its foundations in characters with depth, confounded expectations, and real mystery.
The mistake that so many of these Lost retreads make is that they think withholding answers is entertainment. It's not. There is no mystery without investment. What Nick Spencer remembered to do was have the characters do and say interesting and clever things.
Listen, there are types in this book that we've seen before. Ike is the haughty, debauched debutante of the group. The key is, can you make it fresh? So you get two pages of dinner conversation between Ike and his mother like this:
Spencer knows these characters, and he made them all sharp. There's an "emo" girl, of course. There just has to be. We've seen that before. But what you get in this comic is access to her journal, and it is horrible. It's horrible in exactly the way that a teenaged emo girl would produce. It's the most wonderful, horrible journal entries I've ever read.
There's a "meet cute" in the book, and 7,000 romantic comedies have driven this into the ground to the point where it's difficult to feel anything about them any more. So Spencer turns the whole concept upside down when Casey and Hunter conk heads together, producing flying papers and sparks. He knocks the characterization into the cheap seats over and over again.
And that's the only way these mystery plots can survive. First, they need to be populated with characters interesting enough to warrant the suspense. And you need to have some faith in the conductor. The reason why Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison (who gets a nod in the comic) are able to get away with outlandish twists and hanging threads is that we know that no matter how weird things get...there's method to the madness that will pay off down the road. The twists will make sense and the threads will unhang. This story feels like it has a skilled conductor with a plan, and it's positively intoxicating.
I could go on about all the easter eggs layered into this thing, of which I've maybe twigged onto only a small part, I'd wager. How about the red head crying about her birthday in perfect homage to Molly Ringwald in 16 Candles? And it's not in your face or jarring. It locks into the story perfectly. If you're not a John Hughes fan, you don't even notice and go on to the next panel. And if you do, it's an extra smile. There's several extra smiles in Morning Glories.
This comic is ripe with the unexpected and deep - good for multiple readings. I've already read it twice, and with all the easter eggs lying around, I expect it won't be the last time I reference this issue. But I'm done ruining your fun with buzz-killing analysis and reveals - just go out and read the Next Big Thing for yourself, already!