Monday, January 31, 2011

Market Spotlight: Blog Edition!

I recognize that there have been epochs when Venom has had more over-exposure than Deadpool.  Weird but true.  So I'll understand if you're not particularly excited about the character, but if you can somehow pry your brain into have to admit that the concept is crazy creepy cool.  Plus, he's got a new ongoing coming up, so time to check in with our favorite brain eater this side of Hannibal Lecter and see what's profitable.

Venom Vol 3:  Twist
ISBN:  0785115544
Suggested Retail:  $13.99

The second volume in this series has traditionally been the heavy hitter, but as I type this it's "Twist" that is fetching the highest prices.  The book currently runs $30+ in used condition, and $50+ in stated new.

A word of warning - Marvel is slated to go to press on a collection of all 18 issues of the series in March.  That has a better than coin flip shot at killing your profit.  Right this second, I wouldn't mind spending $14 on a nice copy.

Venom: Lethal Protector TPB
ISBN:  0785101071
Suggested Retail:  $15.95

The original six issue mini-series, collected in one volume circa 1995!  This one runs from $25+ for used copies, and currently $85+ in stated new condition.  It's becoming typical now for trades, particularly older trades, to command premium prices in top shape.

While the original issues were printed in megaton quantities, it's probably easier to find one of those "super rare" gold editions than a copy of this book in anything close to NM.  There were simply fewer books printed, and they tend to be well-loved.  I'd pay cover for this book in VF or thereabouts, and I'd pay 2X on a really nice copy.

Venom:  Separation Anxiety TPB
ISBN:   0785101888
Suggested Retail:  $8.95

The four issue mini-series collected here for the remarkably low suggested retail of less than $9!  Are you kidding me?  Now, you've got a better chance of finding the Loch Ness Monster in your LCS, but if it's there...what a find!

Currently the book is at $22+ in beat up condition, and $125+ in stated new.  This book was also printed in 1995, but I'm guessing the print run here is significantly less than the more popular Lethal Protector series.  You just don't see this book.  Ever.  I'm all over this at cover or less in any condition, and I'd easily pay 3X cover in near mint.

Spectacular Spider-Man Vol 1:  The Hunger
ISBN:   0785111697
Suggested retail:   $11.99

This is a cute little play for a couple of reasons.  Your creative team here is Paul Jenkins and Humberto Ramos, and I believe that Ramos will be pencilling the "point one" book where the new Venom is introduced in Amazing.  Folks looking for early Ramos work on Venom might want to hunt this down.

As I type this, the book is fetching $15+ in used condition, and $37+ in new.  Not the most exciting arbitrage opportunity ever, but then again, the worst you're looking at is a $12 investment at your LCS, it might actually be in your LCS, and there's room to grow.

There are other opportunities out there, of course.  Venom: Carnage Unleashed from 1996 is another book I wouldn't mind owning, especially in top condition.  Once upon a time you could do really well with the "Spirits of Venom" trade, and right now it's pretty easy to come by at $12 or less.  That's probably a nice "buy low" opportunity. 

-  Ryan

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Marvel: Are They Really This Stupid?

Not even five days removed from the absolute spoileration of their own Fantastic Four # 587 on Monday, Marvel completely destroys any vestige of surprise for Venom # 1 by revealing the symbiote's host today on the "Next Big Thing" conference call!

Folks, you can't make this stuff up.  And here's the's the promise I'm going to make to you.  I'm going to be as fair as possible to Marvel today while demonstrating their utter ineptitude yet again.  And in the interest of fairness, I like Steve Wacker, and I don't believe he's a complete idiot.  Steve Wacker is a smart ass after my own heart, tends to shoot from the hip, typically conducts himself as a professional, and I don't know where this sudden dip into the imbecile pool came from.

But you can't do that.  Marvel's entire marketing strategy for Venom # 1 has been the "surprise" about who would be wearing the symbiote.  Well, that and the false advertising regarding the fact that it would be the first ongoing series for the character.  If the crux of your sales strategy is a mystery protagonist, you can't just blurt out that information four seconds into the call.  Ever.

And if your company just made a giant ASS of itself by spoiling its own surprise on Monday, then a mistake like that shoots beyond inexcusable and into the "is this for real?" territory.  That's like a forgetting you left your girlfriend at the bottom of the sea near Chappaquiddick Island kind of error.  I feel like we're being punked, because I can't believe any company could be this stupid, this often.  

If you look back on it, the run Marvel are on right now is quite staggering.  You've got your jamming extra unnecessary crap into your extra-tiny Thor: Mighty Avenger trade paperbacks.  You've got the continued glutting of the comics racks month after month, impeding new readership, confusing current readership, and destroying their own margins.  There's the incredibly ill-conceived "Point one" program, which communicates nothing other than the idea that their other titles are bad places to start reading.  Oh, and then they jam another $4 issue down your throat a week later, so you end up paying twice if you decide you like the first one.  Get the newbies used to the cornholing early is the thinking, I guess.

Their plan now is to dilute whatever leverage they might gain from the upcoming Thor film by cramming even more Thor books onto the racks in the least logical method possible.  The "death" of Spider-Man, oops, they meant Ultimate Spider-Man.  Just when you thought you might escape more meaningless "events", along comes Fear Itself.  The same mistakes over and over and over again.

My favorite is still the utter disgrace coming out of New York Comic Con regarding rolling back prices.  The first news was that Marvel was following DCs lead, then it got downgraded to $2.99 on first issues, and then that got downgraded to some first issues on some mini-series.  Sad.

I promised I'd be fair, and I've gone on record as saying that Marvel never publicly announced those clarifications or apologized for misleading us in the first place.  I was only half right about that.  In early November, David Gabriel did an interview for the Comic Beat where he went public with Marvel's meaningless adjustment on a handful of B-list garbage that shouldn't honestly be on the stands to begin with.  (Was that fair?  Yes, yes it was.)

But there was never an apology about the matter, and one exclusive back-tracking interview on one news source does not undo letting every other comics site in the world run with "Marvel's going back to $2.99 as well, and we were planning it all along!" during NYCC.  They were perfectly happy to let everyone believe the lie, which is a bizarre sort of way to run a business.

While Marvel embarrasses itself on a near daily basis, Tom Brevoort runs his gob on Twitter about DCs page counts and the quality of their books.  Listen, I don't hold DC as a sacred cow.  To be frank, I think that flooding the market with a gajillion Flashpoint event books is wrong-headed, antiquated thinking that is likely to be more trouble than its worth.  But at this stage of the game, Marvel has cultivated a public image which appears to be constructed by a drunk, belligerent, and slightly retarded orangutan.

There is still plenty to like about Marvel.  Fantastic Four, and anything else written by Hickman.  Scarlet by Bendis is a delight, and delightfully different.  Avengers Academy is consistently wonderful, the best Avengers book, and still $2.99.  It's not completely empty.

But Marvel's brain trust needs serious, immediate, direct attention.  Time to bow out of the secret business, I would think.  Secrets are mostly cheap, and even when they aren't, it should be obvious at this juncture that none at Marvel have the will nor the skill to execute them correctly.  Don't spoil your own books.  Figure out when your character has had an ongoing series before you announce otherwise in a Previews catalog which contains the evidence of your lie.  Stop shitting on DC when they are destroying you in integrity and public relations.  You look impossibly bad as it is.  Brevoort makes you look worse.
Listen, things are getting dire when a die-hard like Monster Mike is Facebooking "loss of faith" posts.  I'm not asking the impossible.  Avoiding the aggressively evil and stupid should be enough.  Can you handle that, Marvel?  Because the hour is dark, and we need you to get your shit together as soon as possible.

-  Ryan

Friday, January 28, 2011

Chronic Review: Darth Vader & The Lost Command # 1!

Star Wars: Darth Vader & The Lost Command # 1
Dark Horse Comics
Script:       Haden Blackman
Pencils:     Rick Leonardi
22 pages for $3.50

I like this comic a lot more than I probably should.  I guess there is something to be said for keeping things simple and letting them rip.  Often the best stories boil down easily, and Darth Vader & The Lost Command is an emotionally frazzled Vader being sent on a bitch mission to help a guy who pisses him off.  In that way it's similar to Haden Blackman's previous Darth Vader Purge story.  (Blackman is also assisting JH Williams with his Batwoman scripts these days)

The story picks up not long after the Revenge of the Sith film, with Anakin still smarting over losing Padme and all of his limbs.  Palpatine summons him on a search-and-rescue mission.  The subject?  Moff Tarkin's son Garoche has gone missing in the Ghost Nebula.  Vader would much rather make Moff Tarkin tap out with a long distance choke hold than save his kid, but that's life in the Sith.  Palpatine says jump, and Vader says "thy bidding shall be done, Master."

This would put anybody in a foul mood, but it gets better when Tarkin sends a little toadie with to make sure an insider reports on the progress.  Palpatine goes for this.  Rodney Dangerfield got more respect than that.

I was a little worried about running into "bitchy Anakin" because we were so close to the films...that concern was entirely unfounded.  Vader takes the 501st over to the Atoan system and takes control like a stone pimp.  He's a strong leader of very few words.  "Level that building.  Drown those prisoners.  Shut up and step on those kittens."  It's a thing of beauty.

This is not exactly a testament to efficiency in comic book storytelling.  You can read it in about four minutes if you have a mind too.  Part of that is by author's choice, part of that is just the sheer amount of action poured into it.  In order to paint a battle scene, you have to burn panels to reveal the action.  Once Vader lands his team, they encounter resistance, and fighting is inevitable.

This is my podcast partner's dream book, but honestly, I liked it myself.  If you want to dig for some subtext, it's there.  Darth Vader at his best is a monster you have a lick of sympathy for or at least understand.  Blackman begins his story showing us the Anakin is still in there somewhere, that he's in pain, and that the Vader persona is a useful front to distance himself from that pain.  Being Darth Vader means he gets to be in control...for the most part.  But there are silent panels where Vader simply hangs his head.  He probably does that because he's soul weary.  I love shit like that.

After capturing the tower and interrogating whatever was left after they chewed through it with blasters, Vader is no closer to discovering the whereabouts of Garoche. The twist at the end of the book is the mysterious appearance of Lady Saro.  She walks over to Vader....on water, and announces her intention to help him find whatever he seeks.  Hmmmm.

I liked this comic because of the dirt simple premise combined with the strength of writing on Darth Vader.  This feels like the right guy, and he gets to flex in some satisfying ways throughout the issue.  You get to see the resiliency, the force powers, the tactical skills, and the power of his developing persona.  He even makes Palpatine sweat for a beat or two before taking a knee in the throne room.  Delicious.

I'm not sure if we're really going to gain much insight into the guts of the Vader character, but he's a complete bad ass and the story takes no time getting rolling.  More comics could probably learn from that.

- Ryan

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Chronic Review: Spawn # 201!

Spawn # 201
Image Comics
Script:       Will Carlton
Pencils:      Szymon Kudranski
21 pages for $2.99

I really have no business reading this book, but I just couldn't help but peek in on the debut of Will Carlton.  The guy was shagging coffee and signing for FedEx packages a few months ago, and now he gets the keys to the franchise?  Sorry, but that's way more compelling than anything that's happened between the covers of a Spawn book in well, ever.  It's like watching a real life "Devil Wears Prada", except Will Carlton is presumably less attractive than Anne Hathaway, and Todd McFarlane is certainly sexier than Meryl Streep.  But I digest.

The good news is that Spawn # 201 represents competent, professional writing.  Issues?  Sure, and I'll nitpick some of them a bit later.  This is a Spawn book, not a Grapes of Wrath sequel, so the bar here is reachable, and it is reached.  If you were waiting for a train wreck, you're going to have to find another track.

Jim Downing: 21st century Jesus
After the blockbuster smashing and epic reveals of Dragonball Spawn # 200, things have quieted down a bit as we begin the new era.  In what turns out to be the most enjoyable element of the book so far, Jim Downing sits down in front of some television cameras to tell the story of his coma, his miraculous healings, and to seek answers about his identity from a national audience.

Jim has an agent now, for crying out loud.  This was a pleasant surprise for me.  The Al Simmons Spawn was always committed to brooding in the shadows and planting a righteous reckoning on some deserving skull or another.  The idea of a TV show or a public relations department would have been unthinkable.  Jim Downing needs this kind of work, by the way.  We're two years into the character, and he's still a confused wet noodle with omnipotent powers.  He's just not a character that has you tearing open the LCS doors on a Wednesday to get the next installment.

And sure enough, just as we're starting to get some semblance of character development from Wet Noodle Downing, we get the obligatory conspiratorial rumblings in the background.  Oooh, the fix is in and somebody's going to call and reveal Jim's true identity, and there's going to be a surprise "big finish" to close the program.

Yes, Spawn we're all sick of this secret bullshit!
Cut to three hours before the Karlene Phillips show began taping, and Downing is picked up by a mysterious cop who is 39 times more interested in Jim than he should be.  He knows too much, and he wants to know too much.  After an incredibly wordy and awkward exchange, the officer stops at Frankie Holtzman's house as a favor to Jim for setting fire to that hospital a few issues ago.

And there's where the comic threatens to lose me.  Because once inside, we've got a magic brief case containing all the "answers" to Downing's identity, but he can't know them yet, because he's "not ready" for it.  He's not powerful enough.  Yawn.

The new players are vampires, and I guess there's nothing wrong with that, but when the lead suck head is named "Bludd", well, I have to wonder about the maturity level.  I know, I know, it's a Spawn comic.  I don't require this to read like a Jane Austen novel.  But are we seriously going with the vampire named Bludd?  Wow.  And then this idiot vampire stooge practically demands that Spawn tear his head off and grab a note from within his body like some undead fortune cookie.  It's just too bizarre to make you believe in it.

That's not the deal breaker, though.  No, the potential deal breaker is that somehow in this bold new direction we keep coming back to this same hackneyed "big secret" formula.  Telling the audience they don't know certain facts is not enough to call yourself a narrative.  Waiting a month, or twelve months, or twelve years for a piece of information does not make what comes before interesting.

Nobody would tell somebody this.  Ever
It has to be interesting to be interesting.  That would seem obvious to most, but the concept is apparently lost on Spawn, which seems entirely devoted to future "huge reveals", and always at the cost of it's present.  This is the exact same issue I had with the book when McFarlane came back to it with Endgame.  It was all promise and no payoff.  Every month Spawn comes to you and says "I bet you don't know THIS!"  And every month a reasonable adult reader is forced to look at the comic and say "I bet you I can't be bothered to give a SHIT!"

The difference now, if there is one, is that Carlton appears to have instilled a little hope in the form of some style and a fresher take.  The vampire with the case, in the midst of spouting the usual nebulous bullshit, seems to have a real motivation.  He like Spawn, has become a monster.  Just a little dash of something real in the larger soup of nonsense.  The fame angle could be fun, and there's some chance that we might actually see a real character inside of Jim Downing the "modern messiah" down the road.

It's hard to say which pieces of the stew are actually Will's, and which are Todd's.  My guess is that the "Big Secret" formula and obsession with "Power" are McFarlane

A few words about the art.  Kudranski seems like a fine penciller to me, and appropriate for the book.  The colors, though.  Where are they?  Yeah, I know they're going for a more noir feel, a grittier and darker atmosphere.  Fine.  This thing is so washed out, I'm wondering why not just go black and white?  It looks more ugly than moody to me, as is.  But I'm not particularly qualified to speak on these subjects.

Bottom line is that Spawn is now a competently constructed book with some promise, but weighted down by it's insistence upon a very tired "Big Secret" formula.  It will succeed in as much as it can grow out of its past and let Carlton do something clever on his own.  There's some evidence that he has it in him.

- Ryan

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chronic Review: Fantastic Four # 587! [no spoilers]

Fantastic Four # 587
Marvel Comics
Script:     Jonathan Hickman
Pencils:   Steve Epting
28 (by my count) pages

This will almost certainly go down as my favorite comic of 2011.  I say that in January, because it already resonates as one of the finest comics I've read, period.

I won't reveal the identity of this issue's casualty.  In that way I've got more respect for the contents of the book than Marvel has, which is sad, and a situation I'll touch upon later.  But only briefly, and only because I must.  I'm not going to stick my head in the sand and pretend that the House of Ideas didn't fail here as a media machine.

I won't reveal any specific plot points all.  What I will do is observe that we're now 18 issues into Hickman's run, it's reached a crescendo with the end of "Three", and I think we can now look at Hickman's body of work on Fantastic Four and start to truly appreciate what an elegant and intricate work of art is is.

Please understand, though, that this isn't a work of art you hang in the Louvre and leave for the posh.  The true power of Fantastic Four is that it instills a sense of child-like awe and joy.  I'm a 38 year old nerd, utterly jaded and completely anesthetized to the tricks of the trade.  Fantastic Four reminds me why I started reading these damn things in the first place - to find stories and characters bigger than myself.  Not to teach me how small I am, but to teach me how wonderful the bigger world and the people in it can be.

I sometimes get that feeling when I read Morrison's Batman stories.  I have felt that reading Planetary.  It's a rare gift to be cherished and appreciated, regardless of how the business might spoil the delivery.  Hickman himself notes the hype issues in this IGN interview, even before Marvel spoiled it's own "surprise" with emails and careless media leaks:

"IGN Comics: Do you think that the mass media blitz for something like this is a blessing or a curse, from purely a storytelling perspective?

Jonathan Hickman:
Purely from a storytelling perspective, it is a detriment; there's no question about that. I don't want people knowing the ending of the book. I don't even want people to know that it's coming. The idea that people could have read the entirety of "Three" just thinking that it's a classic hero's journey and they're all going to get back together at the end as a happy family and then this happens; we lost something powerful there. But I'm a professional writer. I want people to read my book. [laughs] It doesn't really matter how great it is if no one reads it. If we sell so many more copies of this issue, there's no way I can consider it a loss. It's just not. It's a win across the board. Hopefully, if I do my job correctly, people will just buy more of my books in general. We have lots of surprises in the future."

It's difficult to imagine how Marvel could have sabotaged this worse.  It's one thing to turn the newspapers loose at the crack of midnight with no care for their headlines.  The "secret" was out nationally before dawn, and many comic shops didn't even receive their shipments until late afternoon.  That would be bad enough.  Marvel itself sent out mass emails spoiling the identity of the casualty in the email titles!  Think about that for about 12 seconds.  Supposedly this comic is in a polybag to avoid spoilers.  Supposedly it was made available for sale on Tuesday for the same reason.  If you listen to Marvel talk, it's always with grand gestures of good will and sugary smarm.  If you watch Marvel act, it's always to the detriment of their readers, to the industry, to their stories.

I won't let that ruin this story for me, though, I just won't.  I imagine Hickman first pitching his concept, knowing he was a smart cat, but wondering if he could cash the checks he was planning to write.  Listen, planting magic in the hearts of jaded 38 year-olds is not an easy task.  He did it.  He pulled it all off, and he did it the right way.

Jonathan Hickman never shits on anything, he celebrates it, polishes it, expands it.  Most books are lucky to have a compelling character, maybe two.  Fantastic Four is a 1927 Yankees murderer's row of characters.  Who in this world or any other is more interesting than Valeria Richards? Comic book storytelling is so difficult because you have 22 pages a month to sell these people and these worlds as vital and real.  Decompression is a sometimes useful cheat to add flesh to the bones, you turn around six months later and realize that these characters have barely finished their coffee.

Fantastic Four is a remarkable achievement in efficiency.  I defy you to find another book where more things "happen".  The conclusion of "Three" in particular reminds you as you recall what's gone before that there is nothing trivial in this book, that it all matters, and that Hickman knew it all along.

This is a masterpiece that reduces you to a proper 13 year-old dork.

There's a scene, a moment in this issue between Namor and Sue, I can barely describe to you how much that moment pays off, and how much it owes to what has gone before.  It works if you started reading with FF # 570, and feels like an atomic bomb if you have the depth of the series.  This issue is filled with that stuff.  All of the Nu-World stuff is expanded from Millar.  He's using the Negative Zone portal that came out of Civil War, Peter David's Maestro character, and the Annihilation Wave from, well, Annihilation.  You want comics that matter?  This is what makes those comics matters, Fantastic Four is one of the only things keeping those pathetic "everything changes here" solicitations from being utter lies. 

Fantastic Four is respectful, innovative, epic, and what is most amazing is that it is consistently all these things.  Jason Aaron's CBR column recently spurred another outpouring of the old saw that Alan Moore gets to shit on everyone because nobody has done anything since Watchmen.  "Make better comics", they say.  Is anybody reading Fantastic Four?  Have you looked at it, really looked at it?  This IS better comics. 

It's better comics inexplicably dressed in a polybag, and unnecessarily spoiled by childish marketing.  It's sad and it's gross, and succinctly tells the story of comics in 2011.  We are right now experiencing the best that comics have ever been, and they are being needlessly hampered by short-sighted caretakers.

Do not go gentle in that dark night..  Rage, rage, against the dying of the light, by all means.  I know I will.  But remember why we rage.  We rage to protect books like Fantastic Four, not to dismiss them.  Disregard this comic and this series at your own peril.

- Ryan

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Welcome To......The Future!

As if on cue, this gem of a paragraph about digital comics from Mark Millar:

"My point last week was that we're always told digital cuts out all the middle men between creator and reader, but as I illustrated by detailing the percentages we're in exactly the same situation as we are with print and I still have no idea what my books sold as downloads. I read online that I had 8 out of the top 10 downloaded comics for the year, but I still don't know what the total numbers were. All I know is that my combined income for having the top ten downloads of 2010 is projected to be less I got for one issue of Superman Adventures twelve years ago (and that wasn't very much money at all)."

A couple of really interesting things happening in that paragraph.  He's talking there about Comixology, which has developed into the place to buy digital books. Comixology's Top 10 biggest downloads were indeed dominated by Millar's Wanted and Kick-Ass.

He's telling us that he had eight out of Comixology's top ten books for 2010, and that said downloads combined paid him less than one comic's wages from the late 1990s. 

And THIS is the future?

And yes, I do get that the scenario isn't perfect.  The concept hasn't saturated into everybody's mind yet.  We don't have the perfect app or the perfect device yet, and these Millar books aren't surrounded by every last single comprehensive comic book title.  It's not ideal.

But at the same time, it's what we've been begging for all our lives, isn't it?  This isn't some black sheep New Coke launch or Crystal Pepsi debacle being tested or forced down anybody's throats.  They're giving us what we apparently can't live without!  The prevailing wisdom across all stratospheres of the comics kingdom for years has been that nobody wants monthly pamphlets.  Digital is what everybody wants, except for five dinosaurs who should still be able have a trade paperback because we feel pity for their poor dinosaur ways.  So cute, the paper dinosaurs.  We'll let them have some books while we bask in our cyber awesomeness.

Except, everybody keeps saying that, but absolutely nobody behaves that way.  I don't know anybody paying for digital books, and you don't either.  Mark Millar doesn't know anybody buying digital books, because he has the all the "hot" ones, and they haven't paid squat.  I don't know why he'd lie about that.

This is a really curious future, is all I'm saying.  It's a future with no real people or any actual money in it.  You'll pardon my prehistoric yet sardonic grin about the sublime awesomeness of The Future.

- Ryanosaurus Rex

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Chronic Review: Echoes # 1 and Memoir # 1!

Echoes # 1
Minotaur imprint of Top Cow
Script:      Joshua Hale Fialkov
Pencils:    Rahsan Ekedal
22 pages for $2.99

Before I get to Echoes the story, perhaps it's worthwhile to acknowledge that this is the first book of Top Cow's "Minotaur" imprint.  That's what the bull looking guy at the top left hand corner is about.  It's Top Cow's way of telling you that this is a Vertigo book.  They would probably find such a simplification slanderous, but it makes it no less true, and I don't think it's a bad thing to be a Vertigo book at all.

”We’ve been looking to expand Top Cow’s publishing line for some time with a brand that focused on self-contained, cerebral stories,” explained Top Cow Publisher Filip Sablik.  Of course Sablik is scripting the next addition to the Minotaur line: "Last Mortal".  I don't know if qualifies as arrogance to refer to your own work as "cerebral" or not...but it might be.  I'm certainly guilty of worse, and I'm getting off topic.

The point is that it's a pretty good idea, as most Top Cow ideas are.  Speaking of, this is actually not Echoes' first appearance.  That happened in the ridiculously affordable Top Cow First Look TPB, which included this issue and five other #1s for $4.99.  It's very rare that you find a comic publisher committed to walking the customer value walk, and not just talking it.  Top Cow is a customer value walker.  And if Echoes is any indication of the quality we can expect from the Minotaur imprint, it should be very successful indeed.

Joshua Hale Fialkov is the guy that brought you the very acclaimed Elk's Run.  His penciller is one Rahsan Ekedal, and there is no colorist on the book.  They left it in black and white, and that was a very wise choise.  This is noir country, and blacks and greys suit it very well.  Ekedal has been asked to draw a lot of haunted faces, and you do that with the eyes.  Ekedal does it very well.  And when I say "haunted", I don't mean to imply that this is a ghost story.  This is all painfully, plausibly real.

I suppose I should probably say what the story is now, instead of what it isn't.  Your main character is a carefully medicated man trying to hold things together with a mental illness, a wife, a child.  He probably has enough problems to deal with, but his dying father tells him to retrieve a box from a crawlspace in one of his final lucid moments.  Some of his mutterings suggest that there might be some dead bodies involved.

Our main character (a nurse calls him "Mr. Cohn") visits that house and investigates that crawlspace.  Whatever problems dad had....might have been passed to the son.  As he finds the box, his watch tells him it's time to take his anti-psychotic.  But the water in this abandoned house is fetid, undrinkable.  Cohn waits on the pill and dives into a very dark piece of his father's past.  Echoes would appear to be an exploration of that past, and how deeply the sins of the father dig into the son.

And it's really goddamn good.  This is very cutting horror.  It cuts as deeply as Crossed, without the heavy axe strokes.  Echoes allows you to sip the evil smooth and subtle.  Most of the juice is the mood, and in the helplessness of it all.  There might be evil you just can't beat whatever your best intentions, and that's scary.  That there is something out there, not rampant but prevalent enough that you know somebody who knows somebody who has this kind of illness.  They have an illness, and they can't stop themselves from making little dolls out of the bones of little girls.  That's creepy.  That's Echoes.

Fialkov does not reinvent the wheel, but the car sure does drive nicely, and isn't that mostly the point?  We've seen killers, we've seen sickness, and this is not literature's first unreliable narrator.  (until Cohn gets straight with his medication, you really can't trust a damn thing he shows you)  We've seen all that stuff, but we rarely experience a man rolling in the bones of his father's victims with such an unflinching grace.  My prose is probably getting to purple here, but this is a very dark but coordinated dance, where Ekedal provides perfectly eerie music for Fialkov's steps.  

If you like horror at all, I don't know how you could be unsatisfied with Echoes.

Memoir # 1
Image Comics
Script:      Ben McCool
Pencils:    Nikki Cook
22 pages for $3.50

Memoir is also in the creepy mood business.  About ten years ago a sleepy little town named Lowesville experienced a traumatic....something.  Nobody in town seems to recall exactly what.  Reporter Trent MacGowan is writing a story on the incident, hoping to finally get to the bottom of things.  Things are really damn weird.

Nobody is shaped like this
Trent MacGowan is a bit dodgy, the people of Lowesville are impossibly hayseedy and bizarre, and Nikki Cooke refuses to draw anything with correct or consistent proportions.  On something like the JLA that would be exceptionally irritating.  Here on Memoir that style seems to fit right in.

There's some potential in McCool's writing.  I found MacGowan's introduction delightfully odd.  He's taping an interview on a local television show. As the attractive reporter spews the usual nonsense, MacGowan undresses her with his eyes, reads her body language, and his running inner commentary is completely self-absorbed, betraying no concern about what's happening except as it feeds his libido or pads his bank account.

Trent The Playa
MacGowan has the world so thoroughly cracked he can't even be bothered to sweat the spotlight of a television interview.  He's like a highly tuned self-interest machine, calculating his advantage at all times, and the people around him are not fellow players so much as props.  There's a little unrefined freshness in there, McCool's got some real chops buried in there somewhere, I know it.

Some of the townsfolk prod Trent into visiting "The Butcher", who is beyond bizarre.  Butcher warns him about the meat, and about the dead people.  Good to know, good to know.  Other than that, nobody is feeling particularly talkative, and some are positively hostile.  Just when it seems that the trail is going to dead end MacGowan receives a mysterious and anonymous email asking to meet and claiming that he or she remembers everything.  And that's when the weird dude who was digging in the middle of the street uncovers what may or may not be a whole stack of mutated alien bodies.  And that's your Memoir!

The Butcher
I gotta be honest with you.  I can nitpick a whole heaping stack of issues with this book.  The art is wildly quirky, and this book probably isn't served by it's blacks and whites.  I think it's paced too slowly, and the story could have been moved along twice as efficiently.  There is exposition that could be handled in smaller panels, or fewer panels.  I'm not sure we need a giant computer screen panel in which our intrepid reporter replies "NOT UNTIL YOU TELL ME WHO YOU ARE AND WHY YOU WANT TO MEET".  There's a lot of wasted space in this issue. That first splash page showing a sketchy aerial view of the town is particularly egregious, in my opinion.  What does that communicate that the other panels showing the town atmosphere didn't?  

We miss you, Bill Hicks!
There's a blatant lift of an Old Bill Hicks joke, but I can't be too upset about that, since I've built about 40% of my on-air persona on Mr. Hicks.  I don't like Trent MacGowan, (we're not supposed to, really) I don't have any empathy for the people of Lowesville, and I have no easy spot to invest in this story other than being curious to know what's happening next.

The thing of it is, I do want to know what happens next.  It's too weird!  And I want to know enough that I fully expect to pay $3.50 next month to find out.  And if that isn't an endorsement, well, I don't know what is.  Memoir is an odd duck, and just odd enough to keep you staring at it.  It's not a genius duck, or a particularly polished duck.  But sometimes I'll bring an odd duck home if it waddles with some moxie, and Memoir does.

- Ryan

Monday, January 17, 2011

Thor: The Mighty Offender part 2!

Every time I think it's just not going to be fun any more to rip into the stupidity of Marvel, they go ahead and Marvel us with a new level of stupidosity.  With the Kenneth Branagh Thor movie coming out in May, Marvel have decided to reboot Thor to a new # 1, and then continuing the numbering on their old series but changing the name!

You can't make this stuff up, folks.  I mean, what could possibly be confusing about that, right?  We're going to continue the numbering on our Thor book, but next issue completely change the name, the creative team, characters, and direction.  We will simultaneously have the same writer continue his thread of narrative on a different book.  On what planet does this make sense?  Only on planet Marvel.

It gets particularly laughable when you read the fine print of the CBR article I discovered this story in.  Their reason for the expansive switcheroo?  Because they're looking for an "easy to point to jumping on point for readers intrigued by the film".

This is so backwards on so many levels.  I still can't believe that anybody is still under the impression that there will be any new readers intrigued by the film, because we have no evidence that such a phenomenon exists.  Apparently, Marvel hasn't twigged onto this fact yet.

"A wave of civilians will be moved to check the book out, so a clear, clean entry point is always welcome," Fraction told Marvel's official website.  This is so galactically stupid I don't even know where to start.  I give Fraction a bit of a pass, because he's being a company man and what is he supposed to say?  This is a Marvel issue, not a Fraction issue.  But it's still really, really, stupid.

Stupid because clean entry point was gone a long time ago, because you've already rebooted the franchise too many times for that.  This will be go # 4 at a "main" Thor book, five if you count the original Journey Into Mystery series.

Clean entry point?  Forget that.  That cover may have a # 1 on it, but it will all be connected to the prior series that went before it, and doesn't need a re-numbering.  Clean entry point?  Yeah, that's why you decided to launch a second book, right?  To really clean things up for us.  Thanks, Marvel.

And how clean is that Mighty Thor going to be in the back issue bin?  Where do I rack it when the inevitable trade comes out?  Do I rack it alphabetically with the "M"s and hope that everybody knows it's connected to the Thor trades down the shelves a bit?  Do I rack it with the Thor trades, and if I do, do I rack it chronologically after the stuff that was published just before but alphabetically isn't the same?  It's a nightmare.  It's all a useless, confusing, unnecessary nightmare.  This is not clean and clear.  This is why civilians don't bother with us in the first place.

So let's get to that.  Where is this "wave" of civilians produced by the movie going to come from?  Oh, I know.  Maybe it's that wave of civilians who just leaped at the chance to pick up your clear, clean, Wolverine Weapon X # 1 entry point?  Yeah, Wolverine Origins came out, and they did avoid this book in droves, didn't they?  Oh yeah. That was a super good wave.  Book died after 16 issues so you could reboot.  Again.  Huh.

Oh wait, I know!  It's probably the wave of civilians that stampeded toward your clear, clean, Iron Man Legacy book right when Iron Man 2 hit!  Yeah, that was a good wave.  You're riding that wave all the way to the 12,000 copy mark!  Yeah, Iron Man Legacy # 9 just clocked in at 12,483 sold.  Its mother must be so proud to be the adoring center of that avalanche of civilian support.

It's an embarrassment at this point.  You want civilians to check out your book, MAKE ONE CAN'T MISS BOOK and then TELL PEOPLE OTHER THAN CURRENT COMICS READERS ABOUT IT.  You're going to have millions of eyes on the intellectual property, and not one of them will be told that there's comic books available in that theater.  

Don't take my word for it, by the way.  Go ask Robert Kirkman if making your product pure and graspable works.  Walking Dead is an empire because he made it simple to grab hold of, and compelling once you grab hold of it.  Bam!  That's it.  There's your magic.  Marvel is still trapped in this "Well, if one book is good, then five books are bestest!"

Examine your own playbook and recognize that it doesn't work, Marvel.  You're mindlessly running the same ineffective gambits, and you're flushing it all so that you can milk three extra nickels on that Thor # 1 before it slides directly back down to prior levels. 

And in the interim, what?  Don't tell me there's no harm done.  It's another opportunity not only flushed, but used to make things worse.  To make things more confusing.  To make it more difficult to find back issues later, and trades later, and figure out what to read in what order later.  To further dilute the brand.  To further ostracize what few curious civilians might actually be out there.

Wave of civilians. Ha. Clean, clear entry point.  HA!  If it weren't all so sad, I think I'd sprain something laughing.

- Ryan

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Market Spotlight: Blog Edition!

How I Made Money On My Lunch Break

There's a Half Price Books sitting right next to the Chipotle I frequent for lunch.  Popped in there on my lunch break this evening and found a well-loved but serviceable copy of Nightwing Vol 2: Rough Justice and a really nice copy of Hunt For Oracle.  Which means I made about $40 on my lunch break.

Half Price Books is a TPB scout's best friend.  At your typical comic shop, they are ordering the new stuff and just praying that it sells.  In Minneapolis, Big Brain Comics is the only shop I know of that buys out of print book material for resale.

At Half Price, you can stumble onto absolutely anything.  The stock doesn't cycle all that rapidly, but I can promise you those Nightwing books weren't there last week.  Or I would have bought them last week. It's certainly worth poking your head in there a couple times a month just to see what treasures might have slipped into rotation.

Oh, to be a Half Price book buyer.  Good lord, the damage I could do then!  I think if I worked for a comic shop and could get word around that the shop was buying TPBs....I don't think it's out of the question that I could be worth $30,000 a year to them just buying out of print trades.  My big "problem" is finding the damn books at all.  If I had people coming to me with stacks of these things, well, the mind boggles.

Incidentally, Hunt For Oracle has some pencils by Greg Land that I expect most comics art critics would turn their nose up at, but I love it.  This is before Land really fell in love with that lightbox.  It looks good to me!

Adventures in CGC!

I suppose it was inevitable that I would become interested in getting some trades graded by CGC.  You don't see graded trades very often, but it isn't hard to imagine a future in which these are highly sought after collectibles.  As the market becomes more comfortable with collected material, I think you can project that the birth of the trade market could and probably should act a lot like the Golden/Silver Age market down the road.

What I'm saying is, a big piece of the reason why Action Comics # 1 is so expensive is because when released, nobody perceived it as a collectible.  Nobody bagged and boarded their books in 1938.  You rolled it up, carried it around in your back pocket, borrowed it to 6-7 friends before you ever saw it again, and Joey literally tore out page 7 and blew his nose in it because he couldn't find a tissue.  And then eventually your mother threw it away because it was useless clutter, you turned it in for the war effort, or you burned it because Frederic Wertham told you it was awfully naughty.  So there simply aren't that many around any more, and what's left is usually in exceptionally poor condition.  That's why Action # 1 is so expensive.  That and the fact that it launched Superman and superhero comics.

Well, when TPBs were first released, they were perceived as reprints with no collectible value at all.  You read them with enthusiasm, you set your coffee cup on them, and put a big fat moisture ring on the damn things.  You borrowed your Sandman Preludes & Nocturnes to about 6-7 goth chicks, which was a good idea, because it got you laid by four of them.  You don't even want to know what that stain on page 14 is at this point.  And the next time you move, you're not even going to box it up and bring it to the new place, it's going into the garbage.  And that's why that Sandman first print Preludes & Nocturnes is eventually going to go for big money if it's in premium condition.  Because Sandman is going to stand the test of time, just like Superman.  And when people go back, yes, they will chase the floppies, but those did make it into bags and boards.  Those trades (and Sandman basically created the trade market, just like Superman basically created the superhero market) are going to be the crown jewel of collector's hearts because they started out as "junk".

So yeah, I'm starting my adventures in grading the trades.  Don't know how it works, don't know how expensive it's going to be, don't even know if they really do it. I know they have done it, because I've seen CGC slabs on stuff like Predator Vs. Magnus, and even on some thicker books like Wonder Woman: Challenge of Artemis.

I emailed CGC enquiring about the rules regarding trades, because there is nothing on the web site that mentions trades.  I did that multiple times, actually.  I have received no response, which is top flight customer service if I've ever heard it.  A guy comes to me asking how he can send me a stack of money, I usually take the time to listen.  But I'm weird that way.  Apparently CGC has better things to do.

Anywho.  I dropped off an eclectic quintet of books at Hot Comics & Collectibles on Wednesday: The Complete Bojeffries Saga, Walking Dead Vol 1 (1st print), Resident Evil Collection Vol 1, Batman: Ten Nights of the Beast, and Sebastian O.  HC&C is going to send those out for me.

That Walking Dead trade is pretty thick at six issues.  My guess is that CGC kicks it back without grading it.  It would be nice to get these things clarified before one sends a book away for months on end, but then there's that communication issue, see.  Very curious to see what happens, how much I get charged for the service, and if CGC is even in the same zip code as me on grading.  I'll keep you posted on the results when I get the books back.

Cowboys & Aliens Is Over.  For Now.

I've been buying copies of Cowboys & Aliens over at Instocktrades for $1.50 per and selling them for $20-$30 on Amazon.  Apparently that game is over, at least for now.  It's been over before and come back.  This was so overprinted when it first launched I'm surprised that I was ever able to sell it for any price. 

The point is, your arbitrage opportunity is over. The book is sitting at less than $10 right now, which makes it useless.  I wouldn't back up the truck now thinking there's still room to sell if at $10.  Your margins get ugly as the selling price gets cheaper, and I don't think the market's done going down.

It wouldn't necessarily be a horrible idea to have a couple copies at $1.50, though.  When the movie hits, there could be hype, and demand could outstrip the supply again.  Your exposure is so minimal at that entry point, you're obviously not going to lose your shirt on a couple of copies.  I mean, the movie's got James Bond in it, for Christ's sake!

If I were a betting man, though, I'm betting we're done forever with selling that book at $30+.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tale Of Two Cities: Spawn # 200/Savage Dragon # 168!

I don't know if any of you noticed, or if this was planned, but both Spawn and Savage Dragon celebrated seminal events yesterday.  I think both represent significant achievements, but they could not have been handled more differently.

If you were at your local comic shop yesterday, I doubt you could have missed Spawn # 200.  It featured the very neat and tidy even century numbering, the #200 was emblazoned prominently on the McFarlane pencilled cover.  It was extra-sized, it was extra-priced, and everything about that comic screams marketing.

Meanwhile, Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon sat quietly next to it with a regular sized issue at it's regular price, and a not-very-auspicious # 168 issue number.  It paid no heed to Comics Hype Economics 101.  What it did was blow the doors off Spawn # 200 in the most convincing and satisfying way possible.  Let's start with Spawn, though....

Ah, wait.  Before I get to the meat of things, I must warn you that I don't know how to talk about either of these comics without handing out massive 60 megaton spoilers.  Like, especially in the case of Savage Dragon, we're talking about "potentially ruining 17 years of culminating stories" type spoilers.  You've been warned.  Now back to Spawn...

Spawn # 200
Image Comics
Script:  Todd McFarlane/Robert Kirkman
Pencils:  McFarlane/Kirkman/Michael Golden
53 pages for $3.99

First things first - reaching 200 issues is a legitimate, significant achievement, and I congratulate Spawn on reaching it.  McFarlane touts his book now as the second longest running independent book ever, (Cerebus being # 1 of course) and I see no way to challenge that.  I thought Usagi Yojimbo might have him inched, but I looked, and even if you count the Fantagraphics/Mirage stuff, Todd's got him on issues.

It hasn't always been pretty, and it certainly hasn't always been on time.  There have been epochs where the brand was frankly watered down with spin-offs and crossovers.  There have been epochs where the brand was frankly listless and dull.  But in 2011, there is one and one only Spawn book, and it has more attention from McFarlane than it has in a long time, and that's a good thing.

Once upon a time I could hardly turn on a television without bumping into a monstrosity that called itself Dragonball Z.  This was anime on steroids, with "stories" that revolved around an endless stream of paper mache characters, if you could call them that, fighting each other for reasons unknown.

Before the fighting, there was usually some bravado, although you could trade dialogue with anybody else in the series and not notice.  It was all the same testosterone enhanced nonsense.  You had some inappropriately long staredowns, and an occasional epic "reveal" where the guy who was about to kick another guy's ass turned out to be a different guy than you originally thought.

Super Saiyan
The whole crux of the hook was "power", which in Dragonball meant the ability to physically destroy other people and nothing else. The only thing that mattered in that show was your ability to beat down whoever might be standing or inexplicably hovering in the air near you.

There were powerful cats called Saiyans, and every now and again somebody would hit the next level and become a Super Saiyan, at which point the audience was expected to crap their pants in awe.  And if you were watching this at age 12, perhaps you did soil yourself in the sublime manliness of it all.  If you were me, you'd yawn and then find something good to watch.

After reading Spawn # 200, I'm forced to conclude that in Todd McFarlane's hands the book has devolved into Dragonball Spawn.  Only instead of Super Saiyans, we have Omega Spawns, Spawns so cool and so powerful they chop the heads off of other Spawns!  Oh my stars and pre-pubescent garters!

Marvel at....Omega Spawn!
In case you hadn't caught it the first three times, Clown informs the Jim Downing version of Spawn that there is definitely something going on with Freak that just doesn't jibe.  Freak slaps his arm back on and reveals that he is actually.....Malebolgia, the only guy in the universe more powerful than an Omega Spawn!  OH, the magnitude of it!

Violator switches forms to gain more power of course, I mean, what else could possibly matter.  It's such an important deal that he has to knock out Jim in order to do it.  And before it's all done, wait for it, the Spawn costume becomes the most powerful thing in the whole wide universe.  Yes, I said it.  Are you tingling yet?

Al gives advice
Needless to say, I was not.  There was one scene in Spawn # 200 that had potential for real drama, in which Al Simmons takes a pocket universe time-out with Jim and quizzes him about whether he's actually the guy for the suit and all that it entails.  I think in the hands of a Brian K Vaughan or someone of that ilk, we could have been left with a lasting memory and a psychological place to hang our hearts on the character.  As constructed, it's a wordy mess that serves mainly to introduce another "mystery" to solve.

Spawn # 200 is certainly worthy in terms of scope, pomp, and circumstance.  The core concept could actually be quite appealing - we're talking about conflicts between Heaven and Hell, stuff of literally Biblical proportions.  And the secrets revealed here may actually pay off for somebody who has been reading the book for awhile, and maybe has some investment in Malebolgia, or wondering if Spawn was going to continue with Jim or Al Simmons.  If you haven't been reading the book for awhile, I think it would read as a confusing mess of machismo.

So unfortunately, while the explosions might be appropriately large, I'm not sure why anybody would bother to care about any of it.  There are no human ramifications evident in these conflicts, the book as it is seems to be more interested in who can kick who's ass.  In that scheme, making the Spawn costume the most powerful weapon in the known universe is a pretty big deal.

To me, it utterly destroys one of the book's best early hooks.  Once upon a time Spawn was relatively unique in that his power set was not only limited, but you could watch it dissipate on the page.  Spawn had the ability to put on a fireworks display, but it drained the battery, and once it was gone...the threat was that it was gone.  Spawn, and really most characters for that matter are more compelling when they are competent but vulnerable.  This Super Saiyan nonsense works directly against that. 

Next month we begin the Will Carlton/Szymon Kudranski era of Spawn.  If the epilogue is any indication, I think the art chores are in exceptionally good hands.  And nobody has a clue about what to expect from Will Carlton, who has no prior writing credits.  But it should be different, and different from this almost has to be an improvement.

PS:  Near as I can tell, Robert Kirkman pencilled the first four pages of this comic, and they look incredible .

Savage Dragon # 168
Image Comics
Script:     Erik Larsen
Pencils:   Erik Larsen
20 pages for $3.50

Savage Dragon # 168 is the grand finale of a 19 year piece of storytelling, and it is a remarkable thing to behold.  We sometimes Marvel at what Brubaker has been allowed to get away with on Captain America, or what Bendis has achieved on Ultimate Spider-Man, but Savage Dragon has those crushed.  What started with The Dragon way back when culminates here.

It's not perfect.  There's possibly too great a leaning on the "Boom!", the "Frakk!", and the "Skrow!" in this issue.  It opens with Marcus pounding on his father and repeating endlessly "Hello!  My name is Malcolm killed my sister Angel...prepare to die!"  It's 20 pages, many of which are splash pages.

The difference between this extravaganza and Spawn # 200 is that this story gets far more accomplished in 20 pages than Spawn did in more than 50.  Way more.  And while it does have some of the more traditional comics slug fest aspects to it, and is also built on incredible reveals, there is a far more palpable sense of drama in Dragon, and the human cost is far more apparent on every level.

What I mean by that Savage Dragon has killed his son and daughter, and the entire human race has been destroyed to pave the way for a race of alien dragons.  That kind of human cost.

The story is not without its confusions if you're just jumping in at the end, of course.  There are a lot of players on the board, we're dealing with time travel and multiple realities, and nineteen years of stories carry some weight.  I don't know what Wildstar's vision was, or how it impacts how a long term reader's interpretation of the final arc.  I don't know Vanguard's history, but events in this book leave him with no role to fill, and if you know the guy, that probably provokes a more meaningful emotional response than it did for me.

Please understand that I'm not complaining about the accessibility of this comic.  In fact, I think it's extraordinary how concisely Larson is able to encapsulate this enormous opus into readily understandable bites.  All of that complexity boils down to this:

 Savage Dragon is an alien sent to earth to prepare it for his species.  A couple of scientists couldn't bear the thought of simply destroying the human race so the dragons could move in, so they blasted his brains out and substituted with 5 days of television programming, making him effectively an amnesiac.  The last 19 years of storytelling have led us to the point where the invasion was ultimately successful with Dragon's help after all.  He decides he can't live with losing everything he's learned to love, and dooms himself and his own race to endless wandering by undoing it all.

The best stories always have a simple hook.  That's almost 20 years of comics distilled into a concise paragraph, and it all came home in Savage Dragon # 168.

It's the little things that count for me.  The element of this that struck home the hardest was a conversation between Savage Dragon and the apparently omnipotent Darklord:

I'm sure that idea isn't unique in science fiction, but it certainly is interesting to me.  From Dragon's perspective, he can't deal emotionally with the loss of his loved ones and wants to go back and undo that.  From Darklord's rational, more objective perspective, there's no point.  Going back won't save the people he's trying to save, it will branch off a different reality of people that will look and act similarly, but won't be those people.  In an infinite number of realities, those people survive quite nicely in other worlds in that manner.  Why not just love them, and save everyone the trouble of your guilt?  It's mind-bending stuff.

Savage Dragon feels a little more vital than your average comic book because it's obviously Erik Larsen's passion, and there is a sense that anything can really happen in this book.  As this issue ends, Savage Dragon is dead.  Darklord makes a deal with Dragon to go back in time and fix it so that the human race survives:

 Darklord takes him up on that offer, decides he's too much of a pain in the ass to keep around and vaporizes him as payment for the human race's salvation.  One gets the sense that Darklord has a unique code and only did that because Dragon uttered the word "anything", making his death fair game.  Things like that are more satisfying than your usual comic book fare, and more sophisticated than I would have guessed Savage Dragon was capable of before I started sampling it.

Powerful things happen in this book, and they seem to happen in something approximating real time.  We've had almost twenty years of Savage Dragon comics, and about twenty years have elapsed in the book.  Dragon has evolved, his kids have grown up, the human race has been destroyed and saved.  Things happen.  And Dragon's great heroic act essentially sentences an entire race of people to a lifetime of suffering.  Does that happen in your average superhero comic? 

Now, the means for bringing Dragon back are certainly there.  Darklord could probably undo it with the snap of his fingers.  I don't think that's Larsen's intentions, though.  This is not a stunt to sell a few extra copies.  He didn't rush his arcs to get this monumental stuff in by # 150, and he didn't string it out to fit it into a magical # 200 issue.

It seems like what Erik Larsen is doing is telling the best stories he knows how, and letting the chips fall where they may.  The first great era of the Dragon is done now, and who knows where it picks up next month? (The "Next" blurb on the letters page reads: what?)  One would assume that his son Malcolm is now the Dragon, and we begin again with his adventures.  I don't know!  And that's a good thing.

I think Larsen ended his first era on a very high note:

It is a crazy world his characters live in, and it does beat quite a few alternatives - our world, and most fictional ones.  You know, there was a time, back before I was just a consumer, when comics told stories that mattered, and Phoenix might destroy an entire alien civilization and then sacrifice herself, and it would happen at Uncanny X-Men # 137 because it was time to do it. And yeah, it didn't stick forever...but this was before the ubiquitous 12 minute death, and it felt important.  Savage Dragon is a return to that mode of storytelling, and the things that happen in any issue of this comic "mean" more than any five Fear Itself type Marvel shenanigans.  And for that I say bravo, Mr. Larsen!

- Ryan

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reason # 3,648 To Avoid eBay At All Costs!

In case you didn't get the memo, eBay is not what it used to be.  This former shining hub of commerce has devolved into a festering shanty town filled with riff-raff on both sides of the transaction.  It's basically the Mos Eisley of e-selling, and I do my best to stay away from it for fear of contracting cyber hepatitis.

I've got my run of Batman Legegend of the Dark Night "Prey" issues up, because while it's possible to sell comics on Amazon, the lack of ISBNs makes it a little messy, and when I've got something with a little buzz behind it, it is still possible to work a little magic in auction format.

But right now the high bidder on my books bears the handle "texasrimjob".  Now, I'm sure texasrimjob is actually a fine representative of his Lubbock penal community.  But I'm supposed to feel confident about that payment sticking if he wins?

- Ryan

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Myth Conception: Digital Messiah!

Pocket God will not save us, kids

I hear a lot of talk about the inevitable rise of the Digital Messiah.  "It's taking over!  You can't stop it, you fossilized Luddite, the digital beast is the future!"  I really didn't mind this stuff when it first started heavy rotation....what...three years ago?  I didn't mind it then, because I was looking for a comics messiah (still am, incidentally) and the ideas weren't spread with a such a smug air.

But after listening to this noise for several years and noticing that the digital revolution has absolutely no traction in the real world, and no interest from real people, I'm ready to call digital comics what they are - ethanol.

Like ethanol, digital comics are an inferior product that nobody really wants.  Publicly, all the right people are touting the "advantages".  At this point, saying anything against digital comics is likely to earn you the wrath of the punditsphere.  If you don't recognize the inalienable right of digital to own the future, you're an anti-technology dinosaur nerd who just isn't evolved enough to grow past the printed page.  You're a flat earth troll in a post-Copernicus world, desperately clawing at the past and selfishly denying a digital future filled with four-color gum drops and sparkly unicorns.

The demonstrable truth is that digital comics are not the future, and will not save the medium.  The demonstrable truth is that nobody wants the damn things, or at least there's no evidence that significant numbers are willing to pay for them.  I don't know how to break this to y'all, but if the industry is to survive, we need somebody to actually pay for the comics they enjoy.

I remember ethanol.  I remember the smug satisfaction of its advocates demanding that our future be driven by corn gas.  To be fair, it wasn't a bad idea.  The principle - that we need a domestic and sustainable fuel to replace oil, was delicious.  The problem was that the product sucked, and nobody actually wanted the stuff.  In the end it turned out to be harmful to grocery prices, as way too much of that potentially useful corn got shifted away from food and into gas tanks.

None of that stopped the endless public clamoring for ethanol.  Mindlessly yammering about a hip concept is a good way to get elected, and an excellent method for showing folks within earshot what a progressive person you are.  And that's all digital comics are - narrative corn gas with some social cache, but no real traction in reality, and no discernible future traction, either.  Nobody wants them.

I know, I know, this all sounds like the mad ravings of a contrarian looking to stir the pot.  And I am a mad contrarian looking to stir the pot.  But if you examine some of the digital rhetoric, it isn't hard to see the cracks.  Let's start with a really vague and simple one.

Myth:  Digital comics are the future!

Truth:  Do you know anybody, even one person, and by person I mean person that currently spends money on comics, eager to switch to digital?  Let me answer that one for you - you don't.  Maybe if you live in Casper, Wyoming, and the nearest comic shop is several parsecs away, you're anticipating more mainstream comics going day and date.  It's far more likely that you've simply discovered DCB Service and are getting your books delivered to you dirt cheap.

It's easy to find a talking head in an interview, column, or blog to decree that five years from now, we won't remember what all that paper fuss was about.  It's exceptionally difficult to find a flesh human being actually thinking about making the switch from print to digital. 

Myth:  Oh, Ryan, you old dinosaur, you just don't understand.  The kids today don't share your fascination with paper, and grew up on computers.  Kids love digital comics!

Truth:  Oh, invisible devil's advocate, you just don't understand.  The kids today don't give a shit about comics in any format.  Most of them lack the attention span and discipline to read or write full words.  Reading comics is more work then reading full text, because you have interpret the images in conjunction with the available text, and you have to do a great deal of high order thinking between the gutters to connect panels in a meaningful way.  

I wish it weren't the case, but kids are simply not interested in comics.  They like games. They like movies. They like music, somewhat.  A handful of them may even enjoy some web comics...if they're available for free.  There is no data to suggest that significant numbers of people are interested in paying for digital comics.

Listen, digital comics are not new.  They've been around for years.  All kinds of cool and influential people have been telling us for years that they are the future.  So where's the model?  Where's the success story?  Where is the million selling digital comic book?

There isn't one.  It's possible, (highly unlikely, but possible) to get massive hits on a digital comic, if it's available for nothing.  But in all this time, in all the world, has there never been a talented creator telling a good story on the web?  Has everybody sucked? 

If there was an audience for digital comics, we would have already seen multiple hit books by now.  If the world was really bursting at the seems for the product, it's out there.  It's available in great reams, and surely in a world populated with endless forums and global word-of-mouth via social networking, we would have seen not one but many "lightning in a bottle" digital sensations.  Nobody wants them.  Don't take my word for it, just look at the best seller list.  There isn't one.  Nobody wants to buy digital comics.

Myth:  That's not true!  I just read that Pocket God sold more than 3 million copies!

Truth:  Don't talk to me about Pocket God.  That's a game.  There's a great deal of evidence to support the fact that kids are interested in spending money on games for their computers, phones, IPads.  There is zero evidence that kids are willing to part with cash to read digital comics.  Next!

Myth:   OK, what about that ICV2 research that says that the digital market increased ten fold in the past year while print comics took a dip?

Truth:   That's a point that deserves attention.  Digital comics did increase year over year.  It went from an estimated $500,000 in 2009 to $6M-$8M estimated in 2010.  Whatever.  Print comics did $310M in a down year, and that's 40 times the messiah.  

But that's not all.  What we're not factoring in yet is the $370M in trade sales directly generated by collecting the print comics.  A couple of those were OGNs, but that is almost entirely generated by monthly pamphlet print comics.  So now we're at $8M for the messiah vs. $680M for print comics. And that puts print comics as crushing the holy digital by 85 times the dollars.  Does that sound like the future?  

But that's not all.  How much of that digital pie is also generated by material made possible by previously printed material?  I'm sure some of that figure is purely digital books, but most of that money is comics available digitally that wouldn't be unless there was a profitable printed comic before it to subsidize it. I don't have the data to look at, but surely that's most of it.  

Myth:    Yeah, but Marvel went on record as saying that they were able to announce a price reduction on some books for 2011 because of their digital sales!

Truth:    Don't even get me started on that price reduction that Marvel lied about.  To bring it back on point, Marvel's digital sales are just gravy from their already profitable and printed comics.  They aren't really selling digital comics, they're selling reprints of popular print comics.  

If Marvel thought for one second they could make a nickel selling new digital material, they would do it in a heartbeat.  You'll notice they don't do that.  They have offered some new digital exclusive material available if you own a subscription.  But nobody is buying Marvel's DCU for that stuff.  They're going there for the archives.

Marvel doesn't produce new digital exclusive comics because again, nobody wants them, and they know that it won't be profitable.  The only market for digital comics are pundits trying to prove that they're cutting edge.  That's your market.  Real people don't buy them, and there's no evidence to suggest that they're changing their mind about that.  Digital comics are ethanol.

What I'm Not Saying
I'm not saying that I hate digital comics and that they have no place.  I'm not a Luddite or a purist, and I don't take offense at the fact that some comics are not printed on some form of wood pulp.  

Digital comics are an inferior product, not a useless one.  If you have no access to print books, digital will do in a pinch.  If I were an aspiring comic book creator, I can think of no better pitch than a web comic that demonstrates good storytelling ability.  I think that digital comics can be a profitable supplement to an already profitable print book.

There's nothing wrong with digital comic books, but their only advantage over print books is their remarkable ability to not take up physical space.  As a reading experience, which would seem sort of key in a reading material, they are inherently inferior.  There's nothing wrong with digital comic books, other than the fact that nobody is interested in buying them.  If offered at a dollar or less, I think that the digital segment could function as an excellent taste-testing feeder system to print.  Fine.

But on this planet, digital comics are not a future messiah.  Sorry! You can spout your ethanol chanting all you want, but I'm done listening or caring until someone can show me data that supports the concept.  Good luck with that.  If we want to save comics, we need to continue fostering ideas about how to drive civilian traffic toward the print books, books that actually have a paying audience. 

- Ryan