Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chronic Review: X-23 # 8!

X-23 # 8
Marvel Comics
Script:      Marjorie Liu
Pencils:    Ryan Stegman
22 pages for $2.99

Collision part one: X-23 vs. Don Daken!  It's a literal blood feud between two mostly unhinged killers bearing a whole mess of Wolverine DNA.  In the immortal words of Apollo Creed:  Ding. Ding.

I don't really get into stuff like that.  I'm the type to skip over the slugfest pages as quickly as possible so I can get back to the good stuff, which for me is character psychology.  I don't have a philosophical problem with these kinds of grudge matches, though, particularly when the motivations feel natural.

In this case, Laura bumps into Daken while chasing down the roots of a new Weapon X program, this time spawned by obligatory bad guy Malcolm Colcord.  She's recruited Gambit to help her track down Colcord, and the trail has led them to Madripoor and Daken Akihiro.

I don't know how Remy ended up stumbling onto X-23 and her Weapon X vendetta or why he decided to go along with it, because I just got here.  But the interplay between the two is pretty solid.  I haven't seen Gambit in quite some time, but I find Liu's version about 70% less irritating than what I remember.  You've still got your USRDA of "Petite" and all that rot, because it's tough to avoid.

In this issue, Gambit is operating as Laura's "big brother", more mentor than rogue playboy.  X-23 spots Daken on a crowded street and impetuously dives off the roof she's standing on to pursue.  She breaks both ankles, and they heal instantly of course.  So Gambit has to decide if he wants to take the stairs and lose her, or jump also without the benefit of an accelerated healing factor.  He jumps.  And that tells you most of what you need to know about where Remy is at in his personal development.  This is not a lone wolf skirt-chaser, (although Tyger Tyger is certainly interested in him) he's a baby-sitter who cares enough to risk some snapped ankles.  I like that.

Laura herself is interesting if you're into the classic American monomyth.  She's the classic gunslinger of few words, who's been done wrong and looking to make sure that nobody else gets the same kind of hand she's been dealt.  She speaks in an oddly distant, robotic way.  Which makes sense given her background in Weapon X, where the emphasis is not on cuddling and social skills.

If you're tired of the grit and grimmy, I recommend you avoid X-23.  This is about killers, and flesh trade, and vengeance.  (the cover does contain a parental advisory)  If Laura doesn't like what you're doing, you're liking to wear one of her claws in your throat, which is really uncomfortable.

I don't have a problem with any of that, provided the script is handled with some subtlety and grace, and about more than the spilling of ichor.  Marjorie Liu's X-23 certainly qualifies as more than bloodshed.  It's not redefining comics by any stretch, but as superhero comics go, this one is pretty good.  I was pleasantly surprised by Ryan Stegman's pencils, too,  he's an unknown commodity to me.  If I had to classify it, (and I don't know why I feel the need to do that) it looks like something from the old Top Cow school, which is a good thing in my book.

And X-23 Vs. Daken?  It's not just a tease, it goes down in this issue.  If that's the draw for you, I can't imagine you feel cheated, even though you'll have to pick up Daken # 8 to see the finish.

- Ryan

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Market Spotlight: Hack Slash My First Maniac HC!

Hack Slash: My First Maniac S/N HC
Image Comics
ISBN: 9781607063391
Suggested retail = $29.99

This is a fun one because I can recommend it whole heartedly on all levels.  This series is a great read, and this property does really nice business in the secondary market, where an ever-growing cult following chases down an ever dwindling supply.

The move to Image has also been good for Hack Slash on every level.  The audience is larger, Tim Seeley is paid with money instead of office space, and the product is distributed better.  Back in the Devil's Due era the game was to wait for a Hack Slash trade to hit and buy a half dozen, wait a couple months for the supply to dry up - then collect your earnings.  They did go back to press on occasion, but not quickly enough to meet demand.

At Image, the product seems to be flowing much more freely, especially those Omnibus editions, and that's just smart business.  Bad for whores like me trying to game the market, but good for comics, so I don't mind.  Then Image found a way to appease everybody and released the My First Maniac mini as an incredibly affordable TPB and a collector friendly limited hardcover.

I called my shot on this one back when it was first solicited, not that you'd need a degree in economics to see it coming.  While Image may go back to press on that trade multiple times, there will only be one press of the limited edition hardcover, signed by Seeley.  That's the one the hard core are going to want, and the hard core Hack Slash group gets bigger by the month.

As well it should.  The book satisfies on a number of levels.  It's a love letter to horror films, comics, and nerds.  It's got a healthy respect for both T and A, it's a "buddy cop" book, and often legitimately creepy and hilarious in the same issue.  Hack Slash is about seven leagues more clever than you think it is, and it's Seeley's baby, not a paycheck.  I've gotten my money's worth out of every issue, and I think that My First Maniac # 1 might be the best issue Seeley's written so far.

The bottom line is that the window is closing quickly on buying this hardcover for less than $100.  As I type this, it's still available at Instocktrades for $18.59, which is completely absurd.  Right this second Amazon min for the book is $80, and that's because I just undercut everybody by about $20.  Do yourself a favor and a grad yourself a My First Maniac trade to read and a hardcover to flip.  I fully endorse buying at the SRP of $29.99 as well.  You want to be at 3:1 ideally, and since Hack Slash has such a strong history, I don't think it's unreasonable to see this trading at $100+ in the very near future.  And for less than $20...back up the truck!

- Ryan

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why JH Williams Is Bad For Comics

Detective Comics # 860

Batwoman is late.  Everybody knows this. Batwoman is not late because of Greg Rucka, who is long gone, moved on, and thinking about The Punisher.  Is it W Haden Blackman?  Nah, that doesn't sound right.  It surely isn't Amy Reeder.  In fact, she's taking portions of the art away from our culprit, and actually might make it possible for a different artist to maintain a better than monthly schedule!

Batwoman is late because JH Williams III is late.  I doubt most people truly understand how incredibly tardy he is, though.  Think back, folks.  When was the last time that JH Williams completed a full issue of interior art?  I'm not talking about cover art, or that little commercial they put out a couple of months ago called Batowman # 0.  Can you guess when Williams finished a full issue of pencils?

I looked it up.  It was Detective Comics # 860, published in December 2009.  You're scratching your head now, wondering if I'm crazy, knowing that just can't be right.  It can't possibly be 2009-- that would mean it's been more than a year since he pencilled a comic!

Yup.  It's been more than a year.  You shouldn't be asking yourself where Batwoman # 1 is, Kate Kane fans.  You should really be wondering why you don't have Batwoman # 12 in your mitts right now. 

The truth is that I don't know why you don't have any Batwoman comics to read, folks. I can tell you what JH Williams posted on his blog regarding the delays:

“Some think that this book was to launch last July, this was never the case, this was speculation on the part of some. The book was also never to launch in November either. The zero issue which came out at that time was never in the original plans, but was done as a bit of a reminder as requested by DC, and to set the stage, this of course took out time of the work already in progress. February had been decided on the launch date by the company with reservations about that from me. I felt that was a bit too soon in a realistic look at work progression. One of the reasons for this was that I had been seriously committed to making appearances around the world over this past year. I think maybe 3 months or more of work loss occurred during that time. I kept trying to point this out whenever discussions about schedule came up. When first discussing the launch date earlier last year we had originally wanted April 2011, and now ironically that is what we have. Only after solicits stating otherwise, causing some unnecessary frustrations.”

Ryan Lee Translation:  DC wanted to open Batwoman in July 2010, and I said April 2011.  Oh look, I guess it won't be ready until April 2011 after all!  That's ironic.  What do you want from me, I'm busy with with admirers!

Look, I don't really know the guy, and I don't know what his daily life looks like.  I do know that if Batwoman had debuted in July 2010, that would have been seven months after his last full issue of pencils on Detective #860.  So even if we take him at his word that appearances cost him three months of work, (and by the way, that figure sets off my bullshit detector in the most aggressive manner possible) how is it unreasonable for DC to expect him to have an issue done after seven months? 

It's absurd.  And what's worse is that Batwoman won't even make the April target now.  I know you'll be shocked when JH Williams hit his blog when this news broke explaining why it isn't his fault:

Well, its obvious to many that Batwoman's release has been pushed back yet again. This was not our choice, and as to why, I'm not at liberty to really discuss. So the release may be farther away now, but be assured that work is still commencing. The upside to a later release means that gives us plenty of time to get a lot of issues done. Amy [Reeder] has turned in some variant cover work for the series and has shown us thumbnails for issue 6, looks really nice. So while I'm moving forward, she is too, we'll have my arc done and hers well on it's way to completion by the time this thing rolls out. The only real downside is that solicits were pulled on us twice, making readers heads spin, wish that didn't happen, but it has, lets just make the best of it. I'm fast approaching the middle of issue 3's interior art, Haden and I've started working on script for issue 8, the first 5 covers are done, and Dave [Stewart] has had issue 2 in his hands for his special magic touch.

Ryan Lee Translation:   I'm finished, but DC won't release it so be mad at them, not me.  I guess they'd rather have a few issues in the can than ship issue # 1 and wait six months for me to finish the second issue.  Weirdos.  Well, I wish I hadn't made everybody wait a year for one comic to be completed, but I did, so unless you have a time machine I guess it's forgive and forget, right?

The rhetoric here is so patently modern and so completely immune to all responsibility.  The solicits "were pulled on us twice."  No sir, the solicits weren't "pulled" on you, you couldn't get the work done!  Solicits aren't pulled randomly by mischievous elves. 

Granted, DC does hold some culpability in the matter.  Honestly, if I was DC publishing a book pencilled by JH
You didn't do the work, sir.  You did not behave like a professional.  There was a day when that behavior was a nuisance, and I could forgive such nonsense without a thought. 
GL 62 - # 1 at 71, 517 units.  Ouch.
We are not in that era any more, ladies and gentlemen.  We're at a place where the top selling comic on the Diamond charts doesn't just fall beneath cancellation level from twenty years ago, it's about 1/3 cancellation level.

We're at a dangerous tipping point as an industry, financially.  To be fair, JH Williams III is a top talent in the medium.  But that doesn't excuse him.  That makes his late books a double liability in an age where the knife is at our throats, and I'm pretty sure that trickle at our necks isn't just sweat, but blood.  

Being a good penciller, hell, being a legendary penciller isn't good enough right now.  Lateness breeds audience discontent, or even worse- apathy.  We're on the brink. This isn't a nuisance behavior any more.  JH Williams is bad for comics.
Not everybody agrees with me, of course. In fact, when the subject of lateness comes up, more often than not I get this little chestnut:

Do you want it on time, or do you want it to be good?

That, my friends, is a false dilemma.  This is commercial art, and it is not only possible for the work to be on time and good, but expected. 

Are the deadlines an arbitrary fabrication?  You bet your ass they are.  But that makes them no less "real", for lack of a better word.  The accepted schedule is monthly, and it works.  In fact, for sequential storytelling, it's pretty close to mandatory. 

The truth is that making comics follow a sequential continuing narrative is an arbitrary fabrication as well.  Comics survived and thrived for long periods in which the previous issue had nothing really at all to do with the next.  Batman had a contained and complete adventure in one issue, and the next one would do the same without referring to any others.  

Better than Pitt - and faster
We don't do that today.  Today we spin narrative threads that follow from the past, and we need that last thread to have happened relatively recently in order to keep the story in our heads.  We seem to have chosen a monthly schedule, and most of the artists in the medium, even some of the best ones, maintain that schedule.

Do I want it on time or do I want it done well?  I want both, and I'll get both if I'm dealing with a professional.  Does Dale Keown's work on Hulk pale in comparison to Pitt?  He did Hulk monthly.  He did Pitt...a couple times a year.  Some years.  Look at John Cassaday's pencils on the first 15 issues of Planetary from 1999-20001.  Then look at the next 12 issues that run from 2001-2009.  Is the late work really that much better?  Or are we fooling ourselves with the prima donna bullshit?

Dave Sim used to say:  "first you get good, then get fast, then you get good and fast".

The mantra now is:  "first you get good, then you start believing your own hype, then you work when you damn well feel like it and the peasants will just have to understand."

And why shouldn't JH Williams drink his own Kool-Aid?  He's just been voted the # 3 artist of all time on the Comics Should Be Good top 50 list.  Listen, I'm detached enough to recognize that he's a cut above.  I get the fact that some of his panels are shaped like little bats, and some of them sweep across a whole page instead of lining up in little 9 box grids.  
Fine.  It doesn't take a goddamn year to do that, and if it does, then he needs to knock that shit off if he's agreed to work on a monthly book.  Sound reasonable?  And he's not alone, mind you.  I'm not just picking on one guy, although I'm focusing on Williams because he's so high profile and Batwoman is so impossibly behind schedule.
Remember me?  It's only been a year.
Dave Finch?  Yeah, I'm looking at you.  We put the over/under on Dark Knight issues in 2011 at four.  You've got two in already, and I still wouldn't bet the over.  Ethan Van Sciver?  Check.  More drawing, please, a little less Fox news in your regimen.  OK?  OK.

Before I get accused of just picking on DC, how about Art Adams over at Marvel?  There might be a bigger tragedy in comics than the complete derailment of Ultimate X, but I can't think of one right now.  Loved that book.  LOVED it.  Back when I first reviewed it, I said it was the one book I'd hand to a newbie civilian interested in superhero comics.  OH, if only I'd known how poetic that would be!  

That book started out bi-monthly, taking Adams' pace into account.  And for three issues, he did it.  The last issue of Ultimate X?  April of 2010.  In a couple of weeks it will be a year between issues.  I hear that issue # 4 will be out soon.  I don't care.  I'm done with it, and when the sales figures come out, you'll see that I am not alone.  If the creators can't commit, neither can I.  I don't even remember where it left off any more, and neither do you

I'm told that Adams has a new baby, and that this constitutes a good excuse.  I suppose.  I wish I had a job that allowed me to disappear for an entire year.  Part of the problem is that comics do not pay well relative to other artistic gigs.  Maybe Art Adams and Ethan Van Sciver only seem to draw six pictures a year  because they're making stacks of cash creating storyboards for Sonic the Hedgehog 16:  Check Out My Hog!

If that's the case, God bless them. Also, do go do that other more profitable stuff and stay out of comics because we can't afford you.  The old girl is sinking, gents, so either grab a bucket and bail water or get the fuck off the ship. If that sounds harsh to you, it's because you aren't perceiving the situation clearly.  We're in trouble deep.
My good friend in Canada Monster Mike likes to say "I don't care about late comics, because I have plenty of them to read until the next one by creator X comes out."  God bless Monster Mike, too.  If only we had a million more like him, there would be no issue.
Unfortunately, nobody else really thinks that way.  They do care that creator X isn't producing that book, or they forget the book exists and they drop it.  And sometimes it happens too much and they forget about comics in general.  It happens.  Look at the sales charts.  
Vegas over/under for 2011 issues:  4
It matters when any creator breaks the social contract and leaves a book hanging.  It hurts ten times worse when our best and brightest fail us, and invariably its our best and brightest that do fail us.  Do you think your local retailer would like to sell some Ultimate X books this year?  How about twelve issues of Batman: Dark Knight books this year? (the first issue placed # 1 on the charts, so that would be a yes)  
That retailer needs those JH Williams books to keep the lights on.  That retailer needs those JH Williams books so that he or she has some credibility with all of those loyal customers pointed toward Batwoman.  Don't tell me that it's either late books or crap books.  Professionals do the work, period.  And don't tell me it doesn't hurt, either.  It hurts everybody in the industry, and the industry is in intensive care.  Do the fucking work.  Stop punching the sick kid in traction with your narcissistic nonsense.
We need to get real.  We need to get real about deadlines.  Maybe it's possible that some artists simply aren't capable.  Amanda Conner discovered that a monthly schedule on Power Girl was affecting her health.  So she did what a professional would do - she got it done, fulfilled her contract, and then made a decision to step down to work on other, non-monthly projects.  Much respect for that.
Publishers need to get real about deadlines.  I see some evidence of that.  Dan Didio is starting to recognize what Jim Shooter figured out long ago when he dragged Marvel out of the grave in the 1980s - you can't build an audience for a product that isn't on the shelves.  If the current talent can't perform, there's always a Stjepan Sejic out there who can.
That doesn't mean you throw JH Williams away.  That would be stupid.  If the guy is a genius not suited to constant pounding deadlines, let him work on an original graphic novel.  Let the fans salivate for it, don't solicit it until its done, and let the magic happen organically.  If an artist can't keep up with a monthly schedule, they can still produce done-in-one issues not so heavily tied to current continuity. Or one-shots.  Or Elseworld's stories.  There is a place for the diva savant - it's just not a monthly comic book series. 
 - Ryan

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Chronic "Cut To The Chase" Reviews!

Captain America # 615.1
Ed Brubaker/Mitch Breitweiser

If you listened carefully to Chronic Insomnia # 185, you would have noticed that I promised to purchase a Marvel "point one" issue, and then film myself urinating on it.  Stopped at my local comic shop today and had two point one options: Captain America # 615.1, and Thor # 620.1...which to choose, which to choose.

I passed on Thor because it was written by Abnett & Lanning, and I just couldn't imagine the issue could be that bad.  One would think I would have similar thoughts about Ed Brubaker, but honestly, I've been underwhelmed with his recent Cap work.  And then there's the added bonus of the Sacrilege Factor.  Peeing on Captain America?  I just couldn't pass it up.

Trouble is, I just can't bring myself to take a whizz on this comic because it's actually quite good.  Does it work as a jumping on point?  I suppose, after a fashion.  Captain America is in transition, and this issue clearly points in which direction it's heading, and why.

It says something useful to reader about the characters contained therein, the story has a bit of a twist without resorting to labyrinthine confusion, and packs what ordinarily amounts to a 4 issue arc into one satisfying story chunk.  In short, Captain America 615.1 is mostly what a "point one" should be, and everything that a regular comic should strive to be.  So I can't unleash my bladder upon it.  Doh!

Supergirl # 62
James Peaty/Bernard Chang

A couple of things are pretty clear to me after reading Supergirl # 62.  Thing # 1:  this is not Nick Spencer's book, it's James Peaty's book.  The graphic on the front that says "James Peaty" on it with no mention of Spencer anywhere probably should have been a good clue, but what can I say?  I need to see it, I guess.

Thing # 2: James Peaty's work stands on its own just fine.  I think he won me over last month when he had Kara threaten those two little D-Bags on the roof.  My problem with Supergirl has been about relating to a whining little girl with an inferiority complex trying to "prove" herself.  If you like that, fine, but I don't.

Peaty's Supergirl swears in Kryptonian, makes moves, and plants bad guys onto their asses.  She might not always be right, and she's quite aware of the fact that she is not Kal El.  But this is not a mopefest or a girlie book, which probably makes it infinitely more attractive to a female audience.

I dig it.  Nice work by Bernard Chang and also Blond on colors.  That shimmering effect on the action shots?  It probably makes me an art barbarian, but I thought it was great.

Silver Surfer # 2/4
Greg Pak/Harvey Tolibao & Stephen Segovia

Norrin Radd has been de-Surferized, which should probably tell you all you need to know about the book's appeal for you.  Some people will consider that a non-Surfer story and in instant pass.  I consider it more interesting than your average Surfer story for that reason alone.

Norrin Radd is still largely boring, even in his more vulnerable state.  What's hilarious to me are the scenes were Pak implies that Radd's feeling a little stirring in his newly rediscovered loins for the technomancer helping him escape.  If you'd been trapped in that silver skin for God knows how long, you might be a little distracted with friskiness yourself!  I think it's a little obvious, but also fun.

So far I don't consider this "must reading" by any stretch, but we're not done yet, either.  If Pak can somehow get tiny little Norrin Radd to beat the High Evolutionary in a plausible manner that doesn't involve help from his big purple daddy, this might actually pay off in a big way.

Osborn # 4/5
Kelly Sue DeConnick/Emma Rios

I'm not sure what good it will do to lay any more superlatives onto this series, which has been a delightful surprise from the start.  I guess I'll lay a few more on, because I'm not noticing a great deal of buzz surrounding Osborn and can't fathom why that is.

Osborn's ego is now towering in the book, as it should be since it bears his name.  One of the many beauties of DeConnick's work in this series is that you're forced to take him seriously while recognizing his weaknesses.  Norah Winters is cool in this book, which almost seems impossible.  The spider guy is cool.  Everthing in Osborn betrays a lot of care and craft.

This might be the best thing Marvel has going outside of Hickman's Fantastic Four.  I think it's time that Kelly Sue DeConnick gets her own book, preferably a high profile one.

- Ryan

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pushing The Line To $4.99!

Dan Buckley: History will not be kind, and neither will I

You didn't read that last diatribe about DC and think I'd forgotten my pals at Marvel, did you?  Of course you didn't.  And I didn't.

Did you look at the list for Marvel products shipping in June?  If you want to keep your lunch in or avoid slashing your wrists, I wouldn't recommend it.  So much for promising to hold their line down to a sane and manageable level.  They're shipping almost 200 items in June.  It's absurd.

 They're shipping no less than 13 different Captain America items.  This does not make sense on any level on any planet.

"But da movie cum out den!", shouts the ill-informed and inbred.  "Day make moh money dat way!"

No they don't.  Never have, never will.  Go look at the sales charts and show me where a movie spiked a product's sales significantly.  It can be done, of course.  Watchmen.  Scott Pilgrim.  300.  Whenever you have a focused place to leverage that interest, and ideally a venue in the mass market to exhibit that focused product, you get a major spike.

You've got $178 to spend on me this month, right?  No?  Ah, shit.
Does slamming a jangled mess of 13 different items on top of the 43 billion Capt. America items already available sound like leveraging focused interest to you?  It shouldn't.  Because it isn't.  It's mindless, counter productive, short-sighted short term thinking, and it's what Marvel specializes in.

If you're a comic book customer, and you've got $20 in your pocket to spend for the week, does any of this entice you into spending more?  In order to just buy the Capt. America product in June, you're looking at spending $177.87 retail.  There's no way.  No goddamn way.  And yeah, the poster for $8 barely counts, and the $50 art book is a niche item.  But just the comics?  Just the Capt. America floppy comics in June?  That's $22.94, and that's completely ridiculous.

Imagine being a retailer and trying to sift through that glut and figure out what a customer might actually want to buy.  You couldn't do it.  I'd under-order all of it, and I would be right to do so.  What's special out of that, when there's a dozen items glutting the rack?  It's madness, it's been proven not to work over and over and over and over again.  But Marvel just enjoys flushing its own industry so much, it just can't help itself.

Imagine being a retailer and watching Marvel double ship Capt. America: Fighting Avenger, Black Panther, Deapool, Hulk, Incredible Hulks, Mystery Men, Ultimate Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men, Thunderbolts, Wolverine, X-Factor, X-Men, X-Men Legacy, and X-Men Prelude in the same month?  They're serving customers with budgets.  How does slamming two months of books into one month help that?  When you deluge the customer with $20 and no more to spend with those choices, you've now given them a reason to assess their pull and make cuts.  And cuts they will make, and cuts they have been making.  Looked at the sales charts lately, Marvel?  Is any of this sinking in?

Motorstorm, huh?  Sounds.....crappy.
Along with about 9 of those Capt. America items, why don't we go ahead and chuck "Amazing Spider-Man Ghost Rider: Motorstorm # 1" into the refuse bin where it belongs.  Was anybody clamoring for that?  Is anybody fooled at this point about the relevancy of "Fear Itself: Home Front?"  If you buy that, you deserve your fate.  We've only had about six of these mega-events to figure this out.  It doesn't matter.  The main event doesn't matter, what makes you think you need the UHF version of it?  Does the world need another Ka-Zar reboot?  We're getting one, or rather I should say about twelve people will be getting it.  Congratulations.  Not one but but TWO Marvel Zombies titles?  Note to Marvel -  it's not 2007 any more.  You can go ahead and stop making those now.  OK, glad we have that sorted out.

That Captain America and irrelevant glut nonsense isn't the worst of it, though.  How about Ghost Rider # 0.1?  Are you fucking shitting me with this?  No matter how ill-conceived and ill-received that "program" is, you're now going to stack an irritating and confusing .1 onto an issue with a fucking zero on it?  I should think that zero connotes all it needs to about the issue's accessibility.  Honestly, I would think that a # 1 would be sufficient.  We're all worse off any way diluting the brand with a ninth reboot, aren't we?  Do us all a favor and throw your decimal points in the trash, please.  Maybe we need to start thinking about how we might get an "ongoing" series to last more than a year, huh, and leave the decimal points alone?  Just a thought.

And believe it or not, it gets worse!  Hey, what's the best way to soften the consumer's discomfort over the $3.99 price point?  Marvel has decided the best tonic is to jump a bunch of books up to $4.99!  You think I'm kidding.  I'm not.

Marvel is shipping no less than ten comics in June with a $4.99 price tag.  There are going to be people internally questioning my indignation over this, because we don't really know anything about page counts or content.  Stow it, internal questioners.  It's bad, ugly business.

We need to be inviting people in, not driving them away.  Price points are a barrier.  "But what if it's a package deal reprinting several issues and pound for pound looks like a value?"  Fuck that.  If it's a reprint, than the creative costs have been subsidized, and they can and should sell it cheaper than $5 a throw.  New Avengers: Nannies and Nazis for $4.99?  I don't even want to know what that is.  I know that it serves no real market need, and I know it's overpriced.

Break it up and sell it in smaller chunks, but don't price people out before they even get to trying something.  It's absurd.  The only reason they're doing that is to prep their consumer base for yet another price hike.  Go ahead and laugh.  Me, I don't think it's funny.

I'm getting to the point where I don't know how much longer I can deal with the stupidity.  I certainly don't feel respected or appreciated as a consumer.  I'm never leaving comics, but what's occurred to me is that I won't have to.  There are large gaps in my reading, like, the entire Silver Age.  I still haven't read The Invisibles, for crying out loud.  I haven't even read the Hobgoblin stories from Amazing Spider-Man.  Big gaps.

I could stop buying modern comics right now and never go hungry for reading material, and never feed this irritating beast that is destroying the medium I love.  There are metric tons of material on the secondary market where I rule, and where the publishers see not a penny.  I could do it.  For the first time in my life, it's looking like a viable option.

- Ryan

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Flash Fact: The Property Is In Trouble

I get accused of pandering to DC these days, mostly because I do.  I pander strictly because "holding the line at $2.99" is one of the most refreshing and beneficial things I've seen in comics in the past decade.  It took brass balls, and it required a company with more than a month's worth of profits in mind.  That's rare and it should be commended, so I have been.  But they don't always get it right.  And sometimes they get it horribly wrong.

Most of the news I've been hearing out of C2E2 this weekend has been either depressing, infuriating, or both.  DCs news about The Flash ending with issue 12 was both.

It's a bad idea.  It's a bad idea for the book, for that character, for the retailers trying to sell Flash comics to their customers, and it's bad for the customers as well.  There's going to be a lot of people throwing their hands up in the air wondering just what the hell is going on with this character for the past five years.  And when DC goes to the next iteration of The Flash and discovers that this exasperation is costing them even more readers, and it absolutely will, DC is going to learn that it's a bad idea for DC, too.

To say that The Flash has been an unstable property over the past few years is to engage in the most extreme kind of understatement.  Let's take a brief tour through the character's history as an ongoing title and you'll see what I mean

Flash Vol 1:  105 - 350 (1959-1985)

Flash picks up where Showcase left off, which is how things were done back when comics sold in the millions.  If you wanted an audience, you didn't continuously reboot with a new # 1.  If you wanted credibility, you wanted a higher number that indicated you had been around for awhile and might actually be good.

The series chugged along just fine for more than 25 years, and only ended when Barry Allen met his demise in Crisis on Infinite Earths # 8.  This was back when parlor tricks meant something.  Yes, Barry ultimately came back.  It took about twenty years, though. 

Flash Vol 2:  0 - 230  (1987 - 2006)

Wally West takes on the mantle of The Flash, and this era provides some of the finest runs in the history of the character.  Maybe some of the finest runs in comics.

Mark Waid begins with issue # 62, and introduces Impulse with # 92.  He brings a consistent tone of fun, adventure, and building drama.  Geoff Johns begins making a name for himself when he takes the reigns with # 164.

This epoch doesn't last quite as long the original, but we're left with twenty years of Flash stories, most of them outstanding in quality before the wheels come off and the title limps to an inexplicable finish at issue 230.  Wally takes his family to another dimension for a bit after the Infinite Crisis mini.  Sure.

Flash Vol 3: Fastest Man Alive 1-13 (2006 - 2007)

Bart Allen takes over as The Flash.  For a whole 13 issues.  Just when the character is beginning to get slightly interesting, he is "killed" for approximately four or five minutes.

No twenty or better years of solid storytelling.  What we get is barely a year of stories nobody will remember, and it is now becoming confusing to figure out exactly what we're talking about when we're talking about The Flash.  It's becoming confusing for a customer to piece together where things fall in the reading order because we've now switched title names.  It's getting more difficult to rack Flash as a retailer as well.  It's about to get worse.  Much worse.

Flash Vol 4:  231 - 247 (2007-2009)

With Bart now "dead", DC decides to bring Wally back from his alternate dimension with All Flash # 1, and then pick back up the numbering from Flash Vol 2.  That's not confusing, is it?

Waid returns and tries to steer the title away from the gritty grit of Bart's death and into something more family friendly and lighthearted, mostly centered around Wally's children and the hijinx created by their burgeoning powers.  His new run is almost universally panned, and DC kills the title (though thankfully not The Flash himself) with # 247, for a total of 17 issues of that incarnation.  Better than the 13 issues that Fastest Man Alive "achieved", but not really good, either.  It's about to get worse.

Flash Vol 5:  1-12 (2010-2011)

Geoff Johns returns to the character and ties it into Brightest Day, but this book has now become a white hot mess.  Barry Allen is now Flash again, which means in the last five years, the book has had three different main characters, one of the runs is not named The Flash and fits in between #230 and # 231 of the Wally West Flash.  Now there's a new # 1, but it fits after # 247, not before it.

How could that be confusing to a civilian walking in off the street?

"I want to read The Flash."
"OK, do you want to read the Barry Allen Flash, the Wally West Flash, or the Bart Allen Flash?"
"I just want Flash."
"Well, if you want to start at the beginning, here's a black and white Showcase Flash, or if you want to know what's going on now, you can start with the Geoff Johns Flash and oh here's the Brightest Day mini that ties into it that came out of Blackest Night and - hey, where are you going!"
[customer walks out of store to go play Call of Duty]

This "run" sets the new Flash record by finishing in only 12 issues.

It's embarrassing to watch, and it's obvious to anyone with open eyes that as a business tactic, rebooting doesn't work.  The first two volumes run from 1959 - 2006.  The next THREE run from 2006-20011, and that's scary.  The property has been mismanaged terribly and DC just made it worse, not better.

- Ryan

Market Spotlight: Comp Copies!

So I took a trip to Half Price books, which is something I do quite often.  Half Price is a wonderful source for a trade paperback whore for several reasons.  First, I'm most interested in out of print trades, and the out of print stuff is most likely to filter through.  People generally aren't sick of the new stuff yet.  It's the old gold that ends up at Half Price.  Generally tattered and abused old gold, but whatever.

Secondly, the stock tends to rotate more than your average local comic shop.  The books are priced to move, so they do.  Half Price actively encourages customer selling, so they tend to cycle through more material than an LCS.  In my area, we have Big Brain that maintains a used section that works much like Half Price.  But that's rare, and they don't rotate nearly as much or as often as your average Half Price location.

Thirdly, neither the patrons nor the staff at Half Price have a single solid clue about what actually trades for what in the secondary market.  You would think that basic internet access would allow Half Price to do quick research and determine that certain trades are actually valuable on the open market.

The reality is that Half Price either doesn't check prices or doesn't care.  It's a blessing and a curse.  The bad news is that when you're selling books to Half Price, they aren't going to offer more for your items that probably deserve it.  The good news is that they will quite happily offer copies of Thanos Epiphany for $8 on their shelves.  That works for me.

My last trip to Half Price sent me home with a Titan edition of Books of Magic Vol 4: Transformations.  I've made money on several different BOM volumes, most notably Vol 3: Reckonings.  Transformations isn't a particularly good draw in terms of The Game.

So why buy it?  Mostly because it was a Titan edition, and I can often sell them at a premium.  Titan is basically just the UK division of DC.  Cover dress is usually identical, with the only difference being a "Titan" logo, in this case featured in the upper left hand corner of the book.  I suppose I'm seeing extra action on Titan editions because they aren't sold here, and therefore more rare.  Some folks just need to have one of everything, and if you want a Titan edition in the US you usually have to pay for it.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a sheet of folded paper tucked into the front cover when I got my book home.  John Ney Rieber is the writer on Books of Magic, and it was a letter to him.

"Dear Mr. Rieber,


We are pleased to enclose the Titan edition just published under license from DC Comics"

The letter is signed by Marc Hirsch, coordinator of International rights.  And the back of the letter features a chain of DC comics icons standing on each other's heads.

Basically what I bought from Half Price yesterday was a Rieber comp copy.  It's just one of the perks of working for DC comics.  You get your negotiated rate, and they send a few copies of whatever you worked on.   I have a book personally connected to its author, and documentation to back up the pedigree.  Kinda neat.

So what's it worth?  I don't know.  To be honest, I've never seen a comp trade come up available for purchase.  In my particular case, I don't think it adds overly much to the monetary value of my book, because John Ney Rieber does not carry "superstar" status, although he's a fine writer.  It would be different if this were a Neil Gaiman comp, is what I'm saying.

But it does carry some value, of course.  If you really love the Books of Magic series, then owning a copy of a book previously owned by the author offers a sense of connection to the work, and that's pretty special.  Not bad for $5!

- Ryan

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Princess of Tennis, Anyone?

Marvel is set to launch a new comic in July called "15 Love", and my initial response was to attempt to gouge my own eyes out to keep this horribly saccharine nonsense from entering my precious orbs.  But I've decided that I need to have some option in my holster other than blind rage, and I thought about it for a bit.

And you know what?  This isn't a bad idea.  Not a bad idea at all.  It's not perfect, mind you, and it certainly isn't a new idea.  The first and most likely source that came to mind was Takeshi Konomi's "Prince of Tennis", for all the obvious reasons.  I mean, if you just tear the dick off the main character and take away a little of the privilege, you get 15 Love's Mill Collins.

But then I started reading a little more about the bones of the story, and I come to realize that while Prince of Tennis is more about an elevated prodigy trying to reach for the sublime, 15 Love is more of an underdog story.  And we all know I'm a sucker for those.

Yeah, Mill's got some skills, baby, but her grades aren't where they need to be.  She's got to reach down deep and grow as a person in order to rise to the top of her sport, man!  It was then that I knew this was a clever mix between Prince of Tennis and none other than the mighty Louden Swain!  Now this is a comic I can get behind!

Well, I mean, not really.  Let's not go crazy, folks.  This isn't targeted for me, this is for teen aged girls, and that's bloody brilliant.  I mean, I'm no expert on the inner workings of the female mind, but it really seems to me like this could work.  Or at least it could if it were handled a little differently.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds",  and he was correct as usual.  I found this on newsarama, which is a comic book site, and not where 15 Love needs exposure.  The comics folks will see it on the rack.  Maybe.

It just boggles me into pain that Marvel continues to recognize that it needs new readers, and that young females represent a powerful untapped resource.  But you're not reaching them on newsarama.  That's the whole problem, dig?  They don't know about the comics, so you have to find them where they live.

Again, I'm no expert, but I think you might find them on ICarly, or the Wizards of Waverly Place. Plant some banner ads on a goddamn Twilight fan site, would you?  Buy some space in a tennis magazine or something.  It wouldn't take much to make a splash, relatively speaking.  This thing is going to sell 8,000 copies or less for the first issue, and 5,000 and dropping after that, unless they can get some kind of mass market distribution or teach the girls to come to the comic shop.  

And by the way, if that's the goal?  To bring in new female readers?  Lovely goal, but you made the book too expensive.  Marvel are asking $4.99 for 56 pages of material, and to be fair that's not a comparatively bad deal counting pound-for-pound value.  But the price becomes an entry barrier.  Nobody wants to spend $5 on a thin little pamphlet that they don't even know for sure they'll like.

$2.00 encourages experimentation, $5 practically demands the book will be ignored in droves.  Make it less pages and less scary to pick up.  Make those pages good, and get her coming back next month, and the month after that.  That's how the game is won, Marvel, why don't you know that yet?

Instead they're likely to follow the same losing strategy they always have: the "Field of Dreams" method.  If you publish it, they will come.  Well, guess what?  They aren't coming unless you find them where they are and invite them in. 

The job of getting these young women into the shop to find 15 Love and feel comfortable once they get there is a tall order.  Expecting them to simply stumble into the local comic shop and then spontaneously discover this book is a ridiculous, foolish consistency.  You can't keep doing the same stupid thing and expect different results.

Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe the fine folks at Marvel are trading emails with right now for some juicy ad space.  But I doubt it.  Obviously I can't speak to the content of 15 Love, not having read it.  But it really does seem to pop to me, and Andi Watson has a quality track record.  This is a good idea going nowhere, you silly hobgoblins.

Good luck selling this to us fat 40 year-old dudes and the retailers that serve us.  I'm pulling for your skirted Louden Swain, but I don't like your odds.

- Ryan

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Market Spotlight: Rarefied Air!

So, I'm doing my regular research and couldn't help but notice that a copy of Darwyn Cooke's "Retroactive" just closed for $740.01 on eBay a couple of days ago. 

WOW.  Yup.  That about it sums it up!

Needless to say this is pretty rarefied air for a collection of any type.  Yes, Omnibi and Absolutes often trade between $100-$200, and I've seen signed and hyper limited editions of hardcovers approach and eclipse the $500 mark.  But $740 is quite extraordinary, and this wasn't a case where somebody's unsupervised 5-year-old accidentally hit the "buy it now" button.  There was multiple player action on this auction, 41 bids worth.

The market for trades and hardcovers is certainly maturing, but I think this says more about the level of respect and admiration Darwyn Cooke generates than anything.  He's a brilliant artist and an interesting cat.

I've had dinner with Darwyn Cooke, and by that I mean I sat at a table near his and kept my damn mouth shut and tried to absorb whatever I could while he chatted with Steve McNiven and sipped his Manhattan.  I suppose my eavesdropping could be considered rude, but then again, when would I be privy to such secret knowledge again?  Not that he's unapproachable or anything - Darwyn Cooke is a gentlemen in the best and most old school use of the term.  But he's also a Man's Man, and one gets the feeling that while he isn't particularly interested in a fight...he isn't about to run from one, and he might know where a body or two are buried.

All of that mystique makes Cooke a fairly unique figure in the comics landscape, and we're certainly seeing that elevated status in the price of Retroactive.  Incidentally that book was a tiny little 48 page hardcover released by Brand Studio Press in 2008 with a suggested retail of $24.95.  That would have been a wise investment!

Try to flip me - I dare you!
It was a pretty huge week for bigger material across the board.  Absolute Authority Vol 1 was sometimes closing for around $250, and Absolute Danger Girl broke the $300 mark two days ago.  That Danger Girl is available for $75.00 if it's gathering dust at your local comic shop.

It's not unusual for the Marvel Omnibusseseses to do well in the secondary market, but I was seeing much higher action on the Uncanny X-Men Vol 1 Omnibus than I'm used to.  That was a $200 tome before Marvel went back to press on it.  Now I'm seeing that book approach those levels again, although results are bit all over the map.  (Also understand that there's a big difference between the X-Men Omnibus and the Uncanny X-Men Omnibus before you drop a bunch of money on the wrong book and curse my name)

Even stuff like Fantastic Four Vol 2 Omnibus started poking its head out again as a big earner.  The Brubaker Daredevil Omnibus does really well, as does Tomb of Dracula, particularly the first volume, even the first Iron Man Omnibus is starting to catch some heat.  It's almost easier to count the Omnibi that don't start earning within a year of their release.

And yet, super obvious material like Spider-Man Vol 1 and Wolverine just sit there and play dead at under cover.  Why is that???  Were there that many printed?  Does nobody like Spider-Man any more.  I don't get it, folks, I just report it.

- Ryan

Monday, March 14, 2011

Chronic Review: Zatanna # 10!

Zatanna # 10
DC Comics
Script:     Paul Dini
Pencils:   Cliff Chiang
20 pages (plus five preview pages of a Batwoman comic that will never see the light of day) for $2.99

Zatanna is one of the comics that prevailing wisdom says everybody wants.  "They" say they want comics that are not steeped in oceans of conflicting continuity baggage.  "They" want comics that are rich in characterization and reasonably sophisticated, but they're tired of grim tones and overt sex and violence.  "They" want something that doesn't treat them like an idiot, but suitable for the whole family, as it were.  From its inception, Zatanna has been exactly that kind of book.

What Dini has built is a growing world of her own for Zatanna to work and play in.  He set the table with a worthy, creepy adversary in Brother Night, and added a dash of Det. Dale Colton for romance.  Zatanna is a strong, competent central figure, but she's still vulnerable to the memory of her father and the wild antics of her cousin Zachary.

In fact it was during the whole "how will I control Zach in Las Vegas" section around issue 4-5 that I considered dropping the book.  It felt more like an episode of "Three's Company" than a narrative about a sorceress, too fluffy.  I'm glad I stuck around, though, because Zatanna has certainly taken a turn away from the safety blanket with issue # 10.

Puppets.  They suck.
This is the final installment of "Pupaphobia", in which a deadbeat puppeteer cursed by her father comes at Zatanna to make things right.  This is without question the deepest, darkest, and best arc in the series to date.

First of all, that puppet and it's continuous smile are unnerving.  Zatanna has a phobia of puppets as well, hence the title of the arc.  That might be enough to carry tension by itself, but "Stringleshanks" is selling her a martyr story about her father.  He claims to be an innocent victim, and tries to guilt the magician into fixing him.

To get to the bottom of things and find a solution, Zatanna takes the creepy bastard to John Zatara's inner sanctum, complete with the finest in mystical artifacts, doors that open with the help of golems, and talking stuffed animals played for comedic effect.

Using one of her father's crystals, Zatanna learns that in fact Oscar Hampel is the worst piece of garbage imaginable, and then the wheels come off.  He sets her back on her heels by breaking contact with the crystal and banging it off her skull, and then grabs an assortment of items beyond the capacity of mortal ken to understand and wishes himself human again.

The thing that sells it all for me is that Dini has foreshadowed all of this so well.  One of the issues I've had with the series to this point is that it feels a bit too "safe", and Zatanna never really seems to be in any great peril.  Whatever the situation, ultimately it gets resolved with a little personal fortitude and some quick backwardsy spell casting.

All well and good, but not exactly a recipe for high drama.  At the beginning of this issue, Dini sets the stage by having Zatanna announce the perils of magic.  Use it selfishly or carelessly, and you get burnt.  She means it as a morality lesson for Stringleshanks, but in actuality it's an unheeded warning to herself.

This is not a "ready for action" posture
She's become too comfortable.  She doesn't take Hampel seriously enough.  Her posture is too relaxed, she had no contingency plan for the puppet to break contact with that crystal, and then allowed it access to relics of unspeakable power.  She was undone by a fastball from a puppet, and that's just sad.  She also comes to realize that her father read this man's character blind in an instant, but her tuning fork has been confused from the start.  In short, Zatanna has been lacking and a bit overconfident....and those flaws are paying dues in the worst kind of way at the end of this issue.

I won't give away the consequences here, I'd rather you enjoy at least some of the issue without me ruining the surprise.  But suffice to say that the book just took a very satisfying dark turn.  Shit just got real!  And this isn't even touching on the equally dark and dangerous return of Brother Night.  Detective Colton is in at least as much trouble as Zatanna, and that's a lot.

Long story longer, Zatanna made a decisive turn here in # 10.  It stopped throwing jabs and just threw two massive haymakers.  I don't know if it's the book "they" want any more, but it's absolutely becoming the book that I wanted.

- Ryan

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Chronic Review: Infestation GI Joe # 1!

Infestation: GI Joe # 1
Script:     Mike Raicht
Pencils:   Giovanni Timpano
22 pages for $3.99 (although probably more for the incentive cover pictured)

I did something really stupid and ordered this book without ordering the opening Infestation chapter by Abnett & Lanning.  I'm not sure why anybody would order the one without ordering the other, because the first chapter contains vital, need to know information about what actually constitutes the infestation, which seems, in the grand scheme of things, fairly important.

There's an opening paragraph that explains that there's a zombie hive mind that infected a vampire named Britt, who decided to share this infection with as many worlds as possible.  Somehow this infection is spread both magically and technologically.  Having read both the GI Joe and Ghostbusters Infestation books, I can tell you that this infestation acts entirely different between the two.  Like, no apparent way they could be the same thing.  Does any of this make sense?  Probably not.

Here's what I do know - The Baroness and a team of Eels are interested in a tiny sailboat carrying three Joes and absolutely no technology.  Their thinking is that if the Joes were to secretly transport something big, they'd protect it with a well-armed ostentatious convoy.  But if they wanted to skulk around with something really important...they'd transport it without a whisper or a footprint.  So whatever is in this sailboat must be of paramount importance.
Things do not go well for this guy.  Trust me.

Turns out that the Joes are in fact carrying a global level threat on that sailboat - a severed arm infected with Britt's bug.  If it gets any where near tech, it takes it over, determines its attack capabilities, and then opens up on everything with extreme prejudice.  So if this arm gets hold of something like say...a Cobra or GI Joe database?  That could be a problem.

So the threat in play is suitably large, which creates tension, and that's all well and good.  You could say it's "half the battle" if you were an asshole.  And I am.  The juice is always in the characters, though, and the good news is that Mike Raicht made sure that to pepper the bigger picture with delicious little character bits.

My safety word will be-- ahh, screw it, I don't need a safety word
Baroness is an iron-plated stone cold psycho bitch, and I think I love her.  Some women overcompensate because they're trying to swim in a "man's" world.  They're simply protecting a gooey center in a harsh environment to survive.  That works.  Baroness is a dangerous, heartless witch in this comic.  That's just infinitely more satisfying.  I want her to punish me.

She's got two worthy opponents in the comic: Psych Out and that severed arm.  You wouldn't think a removed limb could really cause that much trouble.  Well this lonely appendage just needs a wheelchair-bound scientist, some faulty robots, and a pack of pissed off experimental lab animals to tip the whole planet on edge.  This is a lump of flesh going places, my friend.

I'm not convinced that this story works particularly well as a seamless crossover entry.  But as a stand alone story with some drama and punch?  It does kick a healthy sum of ass.  But I'm kind of a sucker for this kind of trope, mind you.  I love it when a small band of misanthropes are in way over their head and somehow need to not only survive, but find a way to neutralize the threat so that the whole world isn't flushed.  If you're like me and you dig stuff like Carpenters Thing, or Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight - this is perfect.

- Ryan

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Chronic Review: 5 Ronin # 1 & # 2!

Five Ronin # 1:  Wolverine
Marvel Comics
Script:     Peter Milligan
Pencils:   Tomm Coker
22 pages for $2.99

I was cautiously optimistic about the hook for this series - Marvel hero concepts injected into 17th century Japan.  This isn't a time travel story, mind you.  If you're expecting to find the 616 Logan dropped into a period piece, you guessed wrong.  This is the story of an unnamed ronin that has nothing whatever to do with what Jason Aaron is doing right now.  Kind of like every other Wolverine story Marvel is currently doing.  But I digress.

It's actually hard to talk about the story without spoiling it entirely, since it's purely plot based.  And it's a little weak.  I didn't even understand what had actually transpired the first time I read it.  On the second pass, I get it.  But it's a little weak. It's weak because I believe the story was built backwards.

I think I can best explain with an adorable train wreck known as M. Night Shyamalan.  Now, Shyamalan is a talented bastard, and that's just a scientific fact.  He is of course best known for Sixth Sense and the unbelievable "O Henry" style button-hook he planted on everybody.  If you say you knew what was coming at the end of Sixth Sense, you are a liar.  You are a liar, and I'm done talking to you.  But I digress.

The point is that Sixth Sense's stunningly successful twist ultimately doomed him, because he kept trying to repeat it.  And when you start writing stories backwards from a twist instead of forward from real characters with compelling motivations than your story (usually) becomes an unsatisfying trick.

Friends don't let friends write The Village
Shyamalan broke type for his best (in my opinion) film, Signs.  Signs was not about a trick ending, and it surely was not about "little green men".  I often hear detractors spout some nonsense about how they couldn't tolerate Signs because of the ridiculous alien elements.  Watch the movie again with your brain in and your eyes on.

Signs is not about little green men from outer space.  Signs is chiefly about the validity of faith in an age of postmodernism.  The results are subjective on that, of course, but I think it fails there.  It's also about how we gain strength from accepting the weaknesses in ourselves and others, and on that count I think Signs succeeds wildly. That family is one step ahead of things because they accept the dorky conclusions of Morgan, whose bum lungs save him from the poison gas as well.  The day is saved when Merill's overkill swing that cost him his baseball career knocks water onto the alien.  Water that is only available because they allow Bo to leave 13 full drinking glasses around the house instead of making her use one at a time like a sane human.  It's genius, frankly.  And the story works because it's built on themes and characters.

Then you watch The Village and you realize that you just flushed 90 minutes of your life on a story that makes absolutely no goddamn sense on any planet.  The whole thing is an exercise in trickery, designed solely with the intent to deceive the audience into false conclusions.  "Ha ha, you didn't see that one coming, did you?"  No sir, I did not, because in retrospect, none of what you've shown has any connection to logic at all.  That doesn't make you a good writer, that makes you an asshole.  That's what happens when you work backwards from a gimmick.

This has all been a very long-winded way of saying that Milligan has a bit of a pickle when writing these stories.  The conceit is that he has to find a way to suggest the super attributes of these Marvel characters while attempting to steadfastly stick with the realities of 17 century Japan, where there are no mutants or Weapon X programs.

 The result in Five Ronin # 1 is that instead of writing a story about themes and characters, Milligan provides us with a "plausible" explanation for Wolverine's regenerative capabilities.  Because it's built backwards from that conceit instead of forward from characters and situations that Milligan might actually care about, the whole thing feels flat and convoluted.

Oh, we get our explanation, eventually.  And after reading it twice, I guess it technically makes sense.  But there's no real reason to care about any of it, the motivations are weak, and nobody says or does anything particularly interesting along the way. 

There's a drunkard force-fed into the mix as well, I believe it's going to be 5 Ronin's Deadpool, and I believe that this character also appears as the "cowardly ronin" in the second issue of the series.  I'm guessing this is an attempt by Milligan to thread these stories together and eventually dovetail them a la Guy Ritchie - but again, now we're talking parlor tricks again, and not pure storytelling.  Speaking of issue # 2...

Five Ronin # 2:  Hulk
Marvel Comics
Script:     Peter Milligan
Pencils:   Dalibor Talajic
22 pages for $2.99

The Hulk Ronin story is a much more straightforward retelling of High Plains Drifter.  In this case Hulk plays the role of Clint Eastwood, and instead of saving the townsfolk from the nasty bandits by painting the town red, he has them dig a couple of fire pits.

There's nothing wrong with that, I guess, and in point of fact I enjoyed this issue far more than the preceding Wolverine effort.  High Plains Drifter is just a variation of the Shane legend, where a highly skilled gunfighter suffers a personal tragedy and lays down his guns, picking them up again in defense of lesser folks in need.  The villagers originally try to hire the character I believe will be revealed as Deadpool, but he refuses to fight when he sees the numbers stacked against him.  So "Plan B" is to send him up the mountain to find Hulk.  The cowardly Ronin gets his attention by slamming an arrow off his skull.  That sounds like Wade, doesn't it?

There's a little more characterization in this second issue, for the bit players and the monk who would be Hulk.  There's also a whole lot less confusion, and the pacing feels much brisker.  I think it makes more sense than the first issue, thematically and in structure.  But it surely didn't wow me in any way.

Five Ronin does not constitute bad comics.  I thought the art was very nice in both books, and there is some payoff with the premise.  If you're interested in seeing some Marvel archetypes interact with old samurai culture, I can see a person getting a kick out of that.  Attention has been paid to the historical setting, which is fun, and the parallels between these Japanese characters and their modern counterparts are clear but subtle.  Neither of these stories really pop in and of themselves, though.

Of course the problem in making predictions on the rest of the series is that these are basically stand alone stories, and the successes and failures of the first two issues won't necessarily translate to the others.  For all I know, the next three could all be Eisner nominated productions.  My guess is that they won't be.

I think Five Ronin represents a solid hook executed in an acceptably professional but imminently forgettable way.  I think if you're really interested in seeing Marvel characters in an anachronistic setting, you should run not walk to your LCS and find a copy of Neil Gaiman's 1602.  And if you want to see Peter Milligan flex his best writing muscles, go find his Shade, The Changing Man trades at the same comic shop.  Those are delicious!

- Ryan