Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chronic Review: Marvel Universe Vs. Wolverine # 1!

Marvel Universe Vs. Wolverine # 1
Marvel Comics
Script:    Jonathan Maeberry
Pencils:  Laurence Campbell
22 pages for $3.99

Marvel Universe Vs. Wolverine is essentially the story of a belligerent, myopic prick slashing at problems that can't be solved with violence, and occasionally whining at the people doing actual, viable work.  Near as I can tell, this is the same affliction that Frank Castle had to deal with back when it was the Marvel Universe Vs. Punisher.  It's certainly the same writer at the helm.

I was lukewarm on that book, but this rendition is fairly excruciating.  I think the problem with MU Vs. Wolverine is the same thing that plagued MU Vs. wasn't any damn fun.  I'm not sure there's anything inside this book that could be considered an actual color, which makes the vibrant cover a bit of false advertising, you ask me.

More importantly, the story just lies there, waiting for something to kick it.  This is not an "in continuity" tale, why not go for broke?  Why not push the accelerator through the floor boards, have some conversations you can't have in The Avengers because it would be "too edgy", why not have Wolverine pair up with some completely unexpected character that just happens to be immune and have fun with it?  Imagine this - the world has gone completely ape shit, and now it's just Logan and Shatterstar (alien biology protects him) going underground, trading witty banter, engaging in copious stress-relieving sex.  Wouldn't you read that book?  I'd buy two copies, $3.99 be damned.

Instead, we get a childish, churlish Wolverine snapping off sophomoric and uninteresting barbs at real adults doing grown-up stuff to properly solve a medical problem.  Hard to say for sure, but since Wolverine is the protagonist of the piece, I think we're meant to cheer for Logan and his dick waving.  We're supposed to pound our chest and relate when Wolverine talks about Reed Richards doing "nerd stuff" instead of getting down and dirty on the streets.

You know, because epidemics are usually quelled by waiting for infected folks to show up and then stabbing them in the face with your adamantium claws.  Take that, geeks, I'm making a difference out here!  Oh, I almost forgot, Wolverine also takes Psylocke into.....well, we don't know where they are, but it's definitely underground, so that they can grab some "files".  Does Maeberry introduce this mission, or give any indication about what those files contain or how they might apply to the "zombie" situation?  Nah.

That whole scene exists for two reasons.  The first purpose is to demonstrate that Wolverine is actually doin' stuff while stuffed shirts like Hank McCoy are busy twiddling their dongs and you know, trying to diagnose the problem and find a cure.  The second purpose is to introduce the mystery flying character that eats Psylocke.  Wolverine can't smell who it might be, though.  So much for the man of action getting shit done on the streets, yo.

Most everybody is out of character in this book.  Ben Grimm tells an incredibly off-color and mean spirited joke about how Angel must be "Angel food" since he hasn't checked in lately.  No, man.  I'm afraid that as gruff as he may be, Aunt Petunia taught Ben better than that.  Meanwhile, Reed Richards...who has a test subject sequestered in the Baxter building, decides that in order to get to the bottom of things he may need to check out the Global News Network.  Which near as I can tell is the equivalent of Stephen Hawking looking up some black hole stuff on Wikipedia.  Was anybody editing this?

I could forgive any or all of that if the overall package contained some spark of energy, fun, or humor.  (I call this a Millar exemption)  But the closest we get to the book escaping Dour Tower is truly dreadful dreck like this:

The two-headed color commentators at the Phantom Menace pod race think that joke sucks.

I'm not sure if MU Vs. Wolverine constitutes a wasted opportunity or a thing that never should have been.  The Punisher series went nowhere sales-wise, what was the impetus other than glutting for glut's sake?  This could have and should have been a balls-out joyride of out-of-continuity mayhem.  What we got was sour, colorless rat of a thing that fails all logic and most characterizations.  Yechh.

This is a poster child frowning a warning to Marvel about publishing rationale.  Needless to say it's warning that will go unheeded.  The only thing the House of Ideas likes more than milking the diminishing returns of a past winner is not milking the non-returns of a real dog.  I fully expect Marvel to tap Maeberry for a tortorous Marvel Universe Vs. Moon Knight as soon as Bendis is done with his turn to fail with the property.  So....see y'all in about three months, right?

- Ryan 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Chronic Review: Canterbury Cricket # 1!

Flashpoint: Canterbury Cricket # 1
DC Comics
Script:     Mike Carlin
Pencils:   Rags Morales
20 pages for $2.99

I suppose the quickest way I know to sum up Canterbury Cricket is to say that it is charmingly awful.  As a story it rarely makes sense.  The characters are often grating, and references are so on the nose you need to check for bleeding periodically.  By the sophisticated standards of modern comic book storytelling, this is not a good comic.  Really, really, not a good comic.

And yet.

First off, let's mention that The Canterbury Cricket is not a mini-series, as most of the Flashpoint tie-in books are.  This is a one shot story designed to convey the Cricket's origin story while adding a little depth to the war between Atlantis and Themyscira.  It's got a lot of work to do in twenty pages, that's for sure.

The Canterbury Cricket is in fact Jeramey Chriqui, a student at Kent University.  Yes, Carlin actually named his cricket character Jeramey "Chriqui", just as Stan Lee might have done in 1964, and just as no sane person would attempt in 2011.  He's sloppily and brusquely identified as a procurer of information several times in the text, although how he actually goes about that, or what skill set he possesses to make that possible remain a mystery.

In fact, Chriqui is about to collect a little cake in exchange for some of his high value information when a platoon of Amazonians start killing everybody.  Now, why they'd pick Kent University to attack is not clear.  How they got as far as the University without any of these social network addicts knowing about it is beyond my understanding.  Did they paratroop in?  Everybody is just standing around talking about chem lab, and next panel people have swords stuck in them.  Anywho.

Chriqui gets caught in an explosion and half his face falls off, so naturally he makes sure to grab hold of Becca, his secret crush.  In one of the most blindingly terrible scenes in comics history, Chriqui is literrally chasing this poor woman around campus with his eye falling out while begging for help, since he knows she secretly has the hots for him.  Just.....bizarre.

Ultimately, Chriqui finds himself in Canterbury Cathedral, (there have been plenty of Chaucer references jammed into with a pneumatic hammer by this point as well) and his prayers for protection are answered by Saint Swithin.

And here is where things get slightly interesting to me.  Saint Swithun (or Swithin in the comic) was a real historical figure (Bishop of Winchester circa 860) known for his posthumous miracle making.  Pieces of him are scattered all over, but as depicted in the comic, his skull was in fact housed in Canterbury Cathedral.

Saint Swithin spares Jeramey from an Amazonian execution, but there is a price.  He now wears the hideous exo-skeleton of the Canterbury Cricket.  In many ways, this is incredibly stupid.  I found it also charming, though.  I like the fact that he was turned into a monster instead of an angelic figure, I like the historical references, regardless of how absurd they might be.  I even find myself swayed by the ridiculous name.  It's comics, you know?  This is a comic that obviously loves comics, and that part I'm in favor of.

The rest of the execution is lacking, however, though not all of it is Carlin's fault.  At least, I don't think it is.  He's obviously been instructed to introduce about 17 metric tons of characters and backstory, and that's not easy to fit into twenty pages.  Large chunks of the book are simply there to showcase a group of resistance fighters, which include Godiva, Mrs. Hyde, Etrigan, and Wicked Jinny Greenteeth.  And I found that I enjoyed Jinny despite myself, and cringed at the fully clunkified Demon "rhyming."

And then toward the end the Cricket describes a team of  "Ambush Bugs" that are instantly ripped away, since Cricket is apparently the only surviving member of the band.  They're introduced specifically to make the reader say "Oh, that might have been good, oh wait, they're all dead."  It's a curious choice.  There are lots of curious choices in The Canterbury Cricket.

The funny thing is, I think as bad as this comic gets, there's a vein or two of gold to be mined by a better creative team, or maybe this creative team with a little more room to breathe.  There's a monster here with a Captain America level honor code and an historical ghostly saint watching over him!  It's just crazy, and crazy is better than boring.  But yeah...this?  Not good.

- Ryan

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chronic Guest Review: Paying For It!

Paying For It
Drawn & Quarterly Press
Script/Art:    Chester Brown
288 pages for $24.95

Way back in the good old days of the 1980s, there was a small place in the Pacific Northwest that nobody thought about too much; a little coffeehouse called "Starbucks" had just opened, a kid named Kurt Cobain was learning how to play a cheap guitar that his aunt bought for him, and a small publishing house called Fantagraphics opened its doors.

Fantagraphics quickly raised the standards for comics publishing with titles like Love & Rockets, Hate! and Eightball, all of which were to become counter-culture staples (any hipster from that time had to have at least heard of one of those titles) and were also noticed by the mainstream press (Rolling Stone, Time, Newsweek) because of the intelligent writing and "revolutionary" lack of superheroic nonsense.  As Fantagraphics grew into the "thinking man's publishing house" of the comics industry, it also started to recruit international talent.

There was a trio of Canadians that were given the Fantagraphics spotlight: Seth was the writer/artist behind the amazing Palookaville comic (he went on to do covers and interior illos for the New Yorker magazine), Joe Matt was the degenerate, disgusting pervert who reveals both his penury and his overwhelming porn addiction in Peepshow, and Chester Brown's childhood experiences mixed with surreal clown stories were shown in Yummy Fur.

Now, in Chester Brown's new hardcover OGN Paying For It by D&Q, the good old days are back, baby!  I know that the Chronic Insomnia guys have a hockey puck on their shoulders for Canadians, but Chester Brown does his nation proud with this beautifully understated story.  This is Chester's autobiographical tale of how he came to reject the conventional notion of romantic relationships altogether and started becoming a "john" (or client) of hookers in the Toronto area.

He stays close to his female friends (he even lives with his ex-girlfriend), and while he decides to give up the pursuit of romantic love, he cannot possibly practice celibacy as his need for intercourse is too much for him to squelch.  Brown decides that his past hang-ups about soliciting ladies of the night are silly, and as he becomes more and more "experienced" with his "shopping technique" (going from ads in the free weekly paper to hooker review sites on the web), he also starts to have deep, personal conversations with his "service" providers.

In an excellent introduction, Brown reveals that he has edited the conversations for the sake of hiding the identity of each hooker.  However, the dialogue that he chose to include is funny, sad, revealing and strange...just like in real life.  If I had one problem with the book, it would be the somewhat abrupt ending that seems to come out of nowhere.  Otherwise, this is a highly enjoyable look into a weird world that not many of us get to see.

-  Miracle Keith

Ryan says:   Thanks once again to Miracle Keith, who may not be a stand up comedian, but remains Jewish at an Olympic level! 

I have insane gaps in my Classics readings, and Chester Brown surely qualifies.  I've never read Yummy Fur, and until Keith had me interested enough to dig into it a little, I didn't know that Brown was lacing those old issues with comic adaptations of the Gospels.

What is it about these hyper-alternative types and their fascination with the scriptures?  (I'm thinking now of Robert Crumb, who contributed commentary to Paying For It and also produced a lavish and faithful adaptation of Genesis recently)  I suppose it shouldn't be that surprising - a casual run through the texts will reveal some of the most perverse characters and stories in all of literature.

And as for Paying For It ...a sexually frustrated man soured on the concept of traditional romantic relationships?  Well, I'm sure I don't relate.

- Ryan

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Random Thoughts!

Super important things I learned this week:

Kate Beckinsale is a global treasure.  It isn't just the fact that she's the sexiest woman within several light years, although that helps.  I was watching Nothing But The Truth last night, she plays a reporter who goes to jail rather than reveal her source.  So goddamn Ross from Friends shows up, because he plays her husband.  He sucks a great deal.

Ross also brings their son to visit, and there's a scene where Beckinsale is cutting seamlessly between anger at her husband, panic at her general predicament, and affection toward her son.  I will never be able to do that.  Not if you gave me twenty years to practice and thirty takes.  She does that ridiculous "heart" thing with her hands, which ordinarily makes me want to kick baby seals, just to balance the cosmic scales.  In this case it  broke my robotic heart.  Absolutely incredible.  The movie is OK, too.

Speaking of movies, Drive Angry is about 7,000 times smarter than anybody gave it credit for.  I was expecting something in the over-the-top vein of Shoot-Em-Up, and there are similarities.  Both films know their genre, and spend equal time adoring and giving the middle finger to the conventions.

But really, Drive Angry is more like this year's Jennifer's Body.  A little smug and self-aware about how clever it is, but also genuinely clever, which makes the smugness a little more palatable.  And like JB, Drive Angry defeats expectations often and in the most satisfying ways.

Amber Heard plays Piper, the sexy sidekick ass kicker.  She doesn't fall for the lead, at least not sexually.  She's obviously not great in relationships, but does cut the asshole in the beginning of the film loose.  She's not a prude, and she's not a whore.  As a free agent, she picks up a guy at the bar and makes him paint her nails.  I defy you to find another movie that takes a female character seriously and lets her do that. 

Oh, and William Fichtner is a genius playing The Accountant, another character that defies everything cliche.  Nic Cage, as you would expect, is exceptionally terrible.  Like, John Malkovich in Jonah Hex terrible.  But that movie is bad ass.

I eat lunch at work standing up.  There are chairs available, and two desks.  I use these chairs and desks to conduct business, but feel compelled to stand up while eating my Chipotle from on top of the office filing cabinet.  I have no idea why I do this.

DC is running around these United States in a travelling road show, visiting retailers and selling them on the benefits of dumping fifty two titles they have no clue how to order on them.  Apparently, the Burbank group got a little rowdy, since a good portion of the program consists of Dan DiDio reading Previews solicitation copy for hours.  Jim Lee had to save him from a mob of torchers and pitchforkers.

The show is either getting snappier, or Baltimore is just more civil, because that show apparently received DCs pitch favorably. 

I've been cautiously optimistic about the DCnU, but learning that Action Comics is going to be $3.99 bothers me.  Other than Justice League, that's got to be the book in the reboolaunch to pick up.  Grant Morrison on Superman, done deal!  DC has left a lot of easy short-term money on the table, why go through all that pain and make an exception there?  I just don't get it.

I'm very pleased, though, to learn that DC is planning on running real time comic news on Cartoon Network.  Folks are even talking about adding ticker-style updates for local shops to supplement the DC national push.  This is good news.  VERY good news.  I still strongly believe in the monthly periodical and kinda sorta still believe in the direct market.  When people are exposed to comics, they buy them and love them.  Just ask Archie and their 200,000+ circulation stats.

I really miss Nextwave.  What's it been now, four or five years?  That book has left a smart-assy hole that nothing else seems able to fill.  The closest you'll find now to that irreverent love letter energy is Butcher Baker.  I love Butcher...but it still isn't as much fun to me as Nextwave, which made you laugh really hard and then tried to twist your nipple off when your guard was down. Warren Ellis.  What a fantastic dick that guy is!

Speaking of Warren, I guess G4 is almost ready to unleash those anime Marvel projects on us.  Looks like Wolverine and Iron Man will be hitting the small screen on July 29.  I did enjoy those GI Joe shorts that Ellis did, and I'm anticipating the Marvel work even more.  Don't know why.  Don't particularly trust the quality of most anime.  But I do miss Nextwave, and I do like Warren Ellis. 

Speaking of the Japanese, I've got a little vacation coming up and one of my "projects" is to read a whole bunch of Death Note.  This is my version of becoming cultured.   Some people travel and do things.  Not me.  When I get a break, I read comics from Nippon instead of America.

Megan Marie sold me on Death Note when we did that interview with her a couple months back, and then I streamed an episode on Mike's X-Box a few days ago, and that sealed the deal.  I was watching Vampire Hunter D long before it was hip to watch anime, and I'm ashamed to say I'm no stranger to Legend of the Overfiend.  But I've never really read much manga.  Why is that?  Because it reads backward?  Because of Naruto?  I don't know.  But I'm reading Death Note next week.

The most important thing I learned this week -

Don't dream it.

- Ryan

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Strange Aeons!

"That is not dead which can eternal lie,
                                and with strange eons even death may die."
                                                       - Howard Phillips Lovecraft

This week in comics is auspicious to me not for what happened....but what didn't happen.  Marvel, of course, ran their well fatigued playbook to point at what did happen.  Ultimate Spider-Man "died" in Ultimate Spider-Man # 160, complete with asinine polybag and obligatory press releases handed to USA Today and other media outlets.

Nobody cared.

Maybe I'm wrong, and somewhere out there water coolers are abuzz with the "loss" of Ultimate Spider-Man.  Perhaps in some parallel universe that doesn't touch the reality I experienced, lines of interested civvies were turned away because their local comic shop blew through their death books.  I just didn't see it.

I'm not suggesting that an article didn't make it into USA Today, or that the death was a hoax.  CBR gave the book a five star review, and maintain that Ultimate Spider-Man did in fact expire, or at least he got as dead as comic book characters pretend to get.  Whatever.  I think it's telling that a review would have to expend energy on that kind of clarification.  We expect to get jobbed at this point.  It's a point of interest to explain that the story was more than just a complete bullshit ruse.

But then again, there are spurious aspects of this Ultimate Spider-Death as well.  Comics Alliance reports that Parker's death spits directly in the face of the Ultimate Doom mini, published just a few scant months ago, and penned by Bendis, no less!  You'd think he'd be able to avoid tripping over his own continuity.  Or not.

Rich Johnston laments the fact that Ultimate Comics Ultimate Ultimatey Ultimates was marketed as a bait-and-switch.  The stories were tangentially related, but sold as something far more direct.  This is Marvel, though, so what did we expect, really?

All of that stuff is vaguely interesting or irritating in some fashion...but it just doesn't feel urgent this time.  This thing had all the earmarks of a visceral response - big (sort of) character, big creator, mainstream press, polybag, and a DEATH, no less.

And nobody gave a sorry shit, which is both frightening and liberating.  It's frightening to know that everybody is so numb at this point that nothing could possibly get through.  We've been force fed adrenaline for so long, the only thing that seems appealing at this point is a nice nap.  What's going on with Duck Tales, you know?  Because I'm tired of trying to navigate these hype-ridden landscapes with oozing dynamite strapped to my chest.

And apparently, I'm not alone.  Fear Itself and Flashpoint can't crack 100,000 copies.  The biggest cannons in the Big Two's arsenals just don't work any more.  The greatest WMD of all, death, now has no sting.  These are strange aeons, indeed.  Death is dead!  The worm is turning, the game is now forced to change, and that's the liberating part.  I think we're all ready for a change.

- Ryan

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

One Idiots View On Green Lantern

Hey folks, this is Mike the other half of Chronic Insomnia.  Check out my new blog and my review of the fantastically terrible Green Lantern movie.  Go here to see the review.  As always, I love the all of you. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Chronic Mini Reviews!

I just got a MONSTER box from DCB Service and read a whole mess of comics over the past couple of days.  The blog has been leaning way heavy on market stuff and awful light on comic story stuff, so here goes a slew of tiny reviews in no particular order!

Supergirl # 65
Kelly Sue DeConnick/Chriscross

One of my most anticipated comics, because I've been begging anybody to give DeConnick a crack at a mainstream superhero book for awhile now.  The results are mixed, though.

The hook here is that a number of young people are disappearing, and Lois Lane thinks she can get to the bottom of things by sending in Supergirl undercover as a coed at the last victim's school.  So you've got your larger mystery centered on who's pulling the strings and why, and in the interim you've got Linda Lang trying to fit in with regular kids so that hijinx may ensue.  It's not a bad plan.

DeConnick's greatest asset on Osborn was her studied and skillful attention to character detail.  There are no "bit" players when DeConnick is running on all cylinders, everybody has a vibrant life of their own.  Part of the "problem" I might be having getting invested is that Supergirl really has no character details, or at least none that are interesting and have stuck for more than three issues at a time.  So there are no "gotcha!" moments for me where I admire where DeConnick really nails the character.

The interplay between Kara and Lois didn't really grab me, I don't really care about the "A" plot, and it's also hard to to care about this a great deal when I know that September will almost certainly re-invent everything.  Again.  But I did enjoy the over-the-top Henry Octavious Flyte, and the energy in this book is certainly greater than that of your average bear.

Frankenstein & the Creatures of the Unknown # 1
Jeff Lemire/Ibraim Roberson

Really exceptional art on this one.  I think half of that is the pencils, and half is the coloring by Pete Pantazis.  But as we've established many times, I'm a caveman and not qualified to critique art.  Just my lay opinion.  Gorgeous.

I'm not sure that I really understood everything that went on in this comic, but what I did get was quite good.  Frankenstein and a group of other monsters are fighting Nazis, and then they all get royally F'd in the A.  Like, big time.  Some of these monsters had been made promises about being returned to normal and such.  No dice, baby!  Instead they all get put into deep freeze and come back to consciousness in the Flashpoint "present", whatever that might be.

Frankenstein is interesting character in the hands of Lemire, and there's plenty to like about the character's motivations.  If you're into that X-Men vibe of "we're outsiders trying to save a world that thinks we suck", you should be all over this book, because it pulls that schtick off with a lot more authenticity than a bunch of supermodels whinging about how nobody likes them.

Teen Titans # 96

I buy this book entirely because I love Nicola Scott's artwork.  She's one of maybe three artists that I follow without question.  If Duane Swierczynski wrote a comic book and Nicola Scott was the penciller, I think I'd still buy that comic.  That's how much I love her artwork.

Unfortunately, that's the only reason I'm getting the comic at this point.  The Krul/Scott opener had me optimistic about the future of the series, but I'm actually glad this thing is winding down in August so that I don't feel compelled to purchase.

To be fair, there's nothing particularly broken about Teen Titans, but neither is there anything compelling for me, either.  I think if you're a Beast Boy fan, TT # 96 is going to be a milestone ass kicker for you.  But ever since the team went into Mythology Land, I've been mostly tuned out, and I really could not care less about Solstice if you paid me $30 to do so.  Some of the good old teen melodrama elements are still kicking around this book, but at this point if you're not completely in love with Nicola Scott I think it's a pass.

Who Is Jake Ellis # 4
Nathan Edmonson/Tonci Zonjic

I'm not sure if I'm being fair about this, but it feels particularly decompressed.  I think I could read this comic in about four minutes if you wanted to race me.

I think the main character is still a little weak, but the ethereal Jake is always interesting, (he's developing emotions now, and motivations) and the book is developing the relationship between these two minds in a fairly organic way, and with some extra depth with each issue.

The big draw in this issue is that Jon discovers Jake's file in a Marrakech compound.  So if you just have to know the answer to the question, we'll all find out just who Jake Ellis is next issue.  Which makes sense, since originally issue five was supposed to conclude the mini-series.

I like this book but I'm not in love with it.  It's unique, I'll give it that.  It's part spy thriller, part ghost story, and it's not silly about any of it, which I think was the right move. 

The Boys # 55
Garth Ennis/John McCrea

The "Barbary Coast" arc has been almost complete exposition, which works for me, because I'm still with the series and keenly interested in the history of Butcher, and Vought, and all that stuff.  If you were a first time reader and picked up issue # 55, you'd set it down half way through and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Which isn't necessarily a critique, but a fact.  Lots of series are now "written for the trade", and don't pace out very well as single issues.  The Boys is basically written for the volume.  Ennis has the Big Picture in mind, and the fact that we're getting this in 20-some page chunks is just a happenstance that he doesn't really give a shit about.  And like I said, as a reader of the volume, it's working fine for me.  But there you go.

We learn that Butcher might actually be bent, and not just putting on a show.  We knew that already, but it does make one pause to get it from another source, in this case Colonel Mallory.  More importantly, our little Wee Hughie is finally becoming a man, and the payoff in this issue is a really stunning conversation he has with Annie.  The end game is coming, everybody can feel it, and this is going to be BIG at the end, because it's already starting to feel BIG now.

I do highly recommend the series, but you're going to need to start at the beginning.  Did you really need me to tell you that?

Hellblazer # 280
Peter Milligan/Gael Bertrand

I adore this book and the crappy paper its printed on.  Give me more horseshit newsprint, stat!  Some of you think I'm being a dick right now.  I'm not.  I legitimately do have fond feelings for old school substandard paper, because I'm an old man.

John's got his thumb back on, and now its time to settle once for all this thing where Gemma thinks John raped her at his wedding.  Oh, and she made out with his wife.  That's hot. These are the kinds of problems that only happen in Hellblazer, which is why it has lasted as long as it has.  Incidentally, John most certainly did not rape his niece Gemma.  He's a bastard for sure, but not that kind of bastard.

It's all a little misunderstanding, but since Gemma does have a little Constantine in her, this particular little misunderstanding involves a fairly large sized demon.  Look for this to end in tears as it usually does, and don't sleep on Hellblazer.  Still a damn good book.

Undying Love # 3
Tomm Coker/Daniel Freedman

This is an unabashed ass kicker.  If I had a criticism, it's that it feels more like a screenplay audition than a comic book, but that could just be me.  The art has to be photo-referenced in some way, but not in the completely distracting Greg Land kind of way.  There's a splash page toward the end of the book where a blood soaked Mei exclaims "I lost control".  You sure did, sweetie.  That page is sublime.

Undying Love is the story of a guy who falls for the wrong vampire dame and has to kill his way to the top in order have a life with her.  I'm not sure what else to say about it other than that.  There's no pretense of high literature, no underlying theme its trying to get to, and it makes no apologies for anything.  Nor should it.  If you want to read about a guy falling for the wrong vampire dame and killing his way to the top, then this is the book for you.

Morning Glories # 10
Nick Spencer/Joe Eisma

I love this comic.  Love it, love it, love it.  Still can't make heads or tails of a damn thing that's going on, but there's two saving graces for that predicament.  One, I know that Nick Spencer started with the ending, and so the story is not wandering but just proceeding unconventionally.  I'm fine with unconventional.  Two, I think even if I believed the story was wandering a little bit, the things these characters say and do have such a unique energy about them, that I think I could tolerate the scenes even recognizing that the pastiche makes no real sense even if you step back and look at the whole thing.

If you were a new reader, though, and just picked up Morning Glories # 10?  My guess is that you'd throw it in the trash can in disgust.

This issue focuses mainly on Jade, who's a bit annoyingly emo, but also refreshingly innocent.  Innocence is hard to come by in Morning Glories. You've basically got Jade and Hunter for that.  But I digress.

You can get mad at Morning Glories if you want.  Did Jade really hang herself?  Did she dream that?  Was she talking to her older self at that table, or was that also a dream?  Jun has a doppelganger, does Jade then as well?  Do they all have some kind of twin?  What's with the dream flowers?  NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY DAMN SENSE!

You can take that approach if you like, but I think you're missing all the good stuff worrying about fluff like "narrative thread" if you do that.  Concentrate on how well Spencer just NAILED the dream logic in the opening sequence.  Focus on how sharp that scene works, where Casey takes up for Jade and sets Ike in his place.  Think about how perfectly horrible you feel for Hunter when Casey tries to set him down gently.

And finally, try to remember that Nick Spencer is not an idiot, but the divine spawn of Jesus and Athena.  He knows where this is going.  Yes, you are going to have to suffer through the occasional horrifyingly self indulgent double splash page of a white background with a purple flower in the corner.  But in the end, all the answers are coming.  They are. Trust me.

In the meantime, just enjoy Morning Glories, one of the two best comics currently being published.

I'm gripping something....
50 Girls 50 # 1
Doug Murray/Frank Cho/Axel Medellin

50 Girls 50 is about exactly as cheesecakey as you expect a Frank Cho creation to be.  You've got a ship full of nubile, hot astronaut women stuck in space, because the wormhole isn't working quite like they hoped.  That came out wrong, but you know what I mean, right?

The girls are not sure if they can get home, there's a whole slew of deadly bugs on the planet they investigate, and wouldn't you know it but the atmosphere also melts plastic, which means their space suits just kinda....melt off.....leaving nothing but a thong and a whole bunch of supple curvaceous skin behind.  Yup, it's a Frank Cho book.

The package is a little silly, and a little on the nose, but it's also action packed and more fun than most comics even try to be any more.  I don't think the market is in a spot to really support something like this now, which is a shame.  It's not really my cup of Earl Grey, but it deserves to live.

Crossed:  Psychopath # 3
David Lapham/Raulo Caceres

Of all the books I just received, this one affected me the most.  Lapham is just on another level right now depicting authentic evil.  The premise revolves around a small group of survivors who unfortunately take on a complete piece of shit named Harold Lorre.  He's worse than The Crossed.  He's just a regular old, uninfected, human psychopath.

This series emphatically demonstrates why a psychopath is worse than a Crossed, in fact.  You can spot a Crossed fuck three miles away.  He'll be the one with a rash on his face and a necklace of dicks around his neck.  That guy sucks, but you know what he's about before gets there. Harold will do all the same things that a Crossed infected bastard will, but he also has the ability to mimic human behavior.  It's worse.  It's WAY worse.

Crossed: Psychopath (probably more accurately labeled sociopath, but whatever) is a character study in pure evil.  The whole book is devoted to granting interior access to the mind of depravity, and Lapham makes it so authentic that it's hard to read.  I don't know if that verisimilitude is a result of extensive research, or if David Lapham is a walking Amber Alert.  All I know is, fuck Henry: Portrait of a Killer in the face.  David Lapham is setting the bar where I don't think anybody can touch him.

I don't really want to give any specifics away, because I want you to not enjoy them on your own.  I don't know if I'm seeing things that aren't there, but Raulo Caceres' pencils are reminiscent of those old EC horror comics, which is just pitch perfect.  You know how sometimes they stop somebody on the Canadian border and arrest them for having pornographic and disturbing material?  This is the stuff they're looking for.  Crossed: Psychopath is the best of the series to this point, and a tour de force of horror.

X-Factor # 220
Peter David/Paul Davidson

Ladies and gentlemen....Peter David.
There's nothing wrong with the plot of X-Factor, but it's actually irrelevant to me.  The plot in X-Factor is just an excuse to get to where it really lives - in the characters.  To reiterate, the plot is humming along nicely.  Rahne has the "chosen one" in her belly, and all kinds of the worst sort of folks are interested in that baby.  Guido just got his ass kicked, there's potential romantic drama between he and Monet.  Layla is now demonstrating that she "knows stuff" about mysticism and alchemy, I'm guessing from her old pal Dr. Doom, and there's always something happening at X-Factor investigations.

All of that happening stuff is just an excuse to do Rahne/rain puns, and have Shatterstar sing showtunes, and mention that Rictor refuses to indulge so that he doesn't become a stereotype.  It's genius.  All of that stuff that happens so that Shatterstar can discover he finds the naked pregnant body beautiful.  Rahne opens her raincoat for him.  I laughed for ten solid minutes.

And all of that stuff is there so that Peter David can stealth bomb you about the dangers of religion.  There's a creature in this issue that morphs itself to appear as a young Rahne Sinclair.  It walks into a church, absorbs all the sins of the congregation, then slaughters them instantly, presumably sending them to heaven, since they died without a blemish.

It's horrifying.  The creature maintains it was an act of salvation.  Which, if you're focused on the big picture, is entirely accurate.  Whatever happens on Earth for a human lifetime, how can that compare with an eternity in heaven?  The scale is just slanted way toward the afterlife.  Killing those people, ultimately, was a "good" thing.  Isn't it?

This is one of the problems with religion, of course.  Focus on the heavenly riches, and you can make all kinds of deplorable earthly actions justified.  The Crusades, a jihad, stoning an adulteress, whatever.  If it's for God, and the prize is heaven, isn't slitting everyone's throat in that church a good thing?   Religion is dangerous shit, man.

Peter David just demonstrated that fact in the most visceral and least polemical way possible.  That scene is completely subversive, yet it fits comfortably inside the narrative flow and the apocalyptic themes it's been addressing since Rahne's baby has entered the picture.

That's X-Factor, and that's Peter David.  The old man has still got it.  And I guess he's still a name brand, but he doesn't seem to work in comics as much as he used to, and if Wizard were still doing Top 10 lists, I don't think he'd crack it.  Which is absolute bollocks, of course.  Peter David is still The Man.  He's still making us laugh, and he's still teaching us things about life with his characters, and most of you are missing the boat.  Stop missing the boat, y'all.

- Ryan

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics!

CBR just posted the new comics sales chart for May, and because I'm weird this is an exciting thing for me.  Here's what I discovered while crunching the numbers.

The Hat Is About Out Of Rabbits

Well, we were told by the Marvel brass that the world had been allowed to breathe long enough, and that we were all secretly dying for another Can't Miss Change Everything Forever Super Event.

Uh huh.

Fear Itself does top the chart at # 1, but it's under 100,000 units.  Flashpoint is # 2, but also obviously under 100,000 units.  It wasn't that long ago that New Avengers could eclipse that just by being New Avengers.  The magicians at the Big 2 keep going for the same tricks over and over and over and over again, and the numbers tell the story - the hat is about out of rabbits.

Nobody cares any more.  Nobody could possibly care any more.  These Can't Misses are already known frauds.  Brevoort's talking about next year's Big Thing in the summer.  Flashpoint is around not because it's awesome, but because something needed to create the Big Thing in September, and those things will exist only to promise the Next Big Thing.  (Something "Dark", if the early press is to be believed)

It's all a sham, there's never any narrative money in the account, and I think May's sales numbers are demonstrating that the powers that be had better start looking at another hat.  Because empty hype just aint cutting it any more.

Movie Bumps Are Bullshit

Speaking of hats empty of rabbits, can we finally now put to bed forever the idea that every comic movie needs 1,000 junk titles on the racks?  Mighty Thor # 2 is 31,598 issues from last month, or 38.5%.  Thank Christ we gave that mass of movie civilians a "clear jumping on point".  whew!  That was a close one, huh?

Just like the army of civilians that didn't want Iron Man: Legacy, and the army of civilians that couldn't wait to ignore Wolverine: Weapon X.  Just in case you weren't paying attention, they're both gone.  Give it up.  Please, please...just give it up.

Captain America: 1st Vengeance clocks in twice on a double ship for 13,689 and 12,116 copies.  Wow, really capitalizing on the movie buzz there.  How about Cap: Hail Hydra checking in at an embarrassing 9,637 units?  What is the point of that?  Are you going to make it back with the 800 copies of the trade paperback you'll sell later?  Good luck with that.

Let me assure you that Marvel will in no way learn anything from this, by the way.   When the Avengers movie hits, do expect a glut of material that will literally drive civilians away from the comic racks.  Don't believe me?  Let me show you how it's done.

Walking Dead Is A Golden God

Walking Dead # 85 sits like a shining beacon of hope in the 40th position.  It sold 5,622 more issues than it did last month.  Think about that for just a moment.

In a down market and a crushing economy, a fucking black and white indy horror book is up 17.61% month-to-month.  There's no television show on right now spiking that, no new DVD release, no creative shake-up, no new # 1, and to fully up the ante let's acknowledge that Walking Dead is also on the same day digital plan.  If our worst fears were correct, digital should be eating into the print book's numbers.

It's up 5,622 issues this month.

Why is that?  Because Kirkman knows what nobody at Marvel or DC know - keep it simple, stupid.  Walking Dead comes in a lot of sizes.  You've got six issue trades, 12 issue hardcovers, phone book sized compendiums.  But it's the same product.

There are no spin-offs, no re-numbering gambits, no re-boots, no bullshit.  Here's an ass kicker of a story every month that you can follow and understand.  Sound good?  Good.  See you next month!

Where do I start?  I don't know, how about at # 1?  Cool.  Then keep reading.  Is anybody out there paying attention?  Marvel thinks the world wants 11 Captain America books because a movie is coming out.  Wrong.  It wants ONE.  Walking Dead is a golden god, it's handing out all the answers, and nobody is noticing.  Pity.  But you know, we'll definitely have four Lantern books coming out, so we've got that going for us.

Butcher Baker Spiked Hard

Let's talk about stuff that isn't so goddamn depressing, like Joe Casey's Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker.  Issue # 3 landed at position 210, which isn't that impressive.  But it's up almost 1,300 issues, or 25.48%, and that is impressive!

Image had a few books with increases this month.  Carbon Grey took on a few more readers.  Green Wake added some.  This is encouraging.  Nobody gains 1,300 copies at issue # 3.  And for the record, this is all word-of-mouth, and Butcher deserves it.  I get more out of the back matter of that comic than I do in the meat of most other comics.

Don't be afraid to join the party, is what I'm saying.

Kids Books Are Ramping Up

Another positive trend for Mays chart - "all ages" titles trending upwards.  Nothing extraordinary, mind you.  But in an age when everything goes down month-to-month, even a one copy increase puts you way ahead of the competition.

It wasn't specific to any one publisher, brand, or genre, either, which is extra promising.  All of these titles saw increases from April:  Sonic, Scooby Doo, Young Justice, Batman Brave/Bold, Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, Tiny Titans. 

I don't know what to attribute this to - Free Comic Book Day, maybe?  I saw a lot of kids at my local shops for FCBD.  Maybe this is a trend, and shops were filling re-orders for May after the first weekend saw some new blood asking for copies of their favorite characters?

I don't know what did it, but it's damn promising, in its own small way.  We need some more Tiny Titans, so that someday we can poison them all with Crossed.  Yeah, baby!

- Ryan

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Market Spotlight: House of Mystery # 290!

House of Mystery # 290

Once upon a time House of Mystery ran a vampiric soap opera for 24 issues starring one Lord Andrew Bennett.  It was called "I, Vampire."

Some chicks can't handle their vampirism
If that sounds vaguely familiar, that's probably because I, Vampire is one of the 52 new launches from DC in September, one you weren't thinking of getting.  That might be a mistake.

For starters, the hook isn't bad, as these things go.  Bennett becomes a vampire, and decides to bring his lover Mary Seward into the undead fold.  No point in eternal life if you're just going to watch everyone you love die on you, right?  The hitch is that much like Jagermeister, vampire blood is not a liquid just anyone can handle properly.  Sometimes it turns you evil.

So poor Andrew is stuck, because as much as he hates what Mary has become, he's responsible and he still loves her.  Much like herpes, vampirism just goes on forever with no goddamn cure.  So if we've learned anything, we now know that Vampires are just Jagermeister soaked herpes.

So there's your story, and it will be scripted by Josh Fialkov, who's really quite good.  After reading Echoes, I can certainly see why DC would tap Fialkov for a dark project with some emotional punch.  He's got that shit down cold, and I'm reasonably excited about the series.  I think if DC has the good sense to keep these stories out of their inevitable Duskiest Mid-Morning crossover, we should be just fine.  But sometimes the brass can't help themselves but to meddle in a writer's kitchen with that crap.  Ask Grant Morrison and Batman, Inc. about that.

Long story longer, I see this as an underrated series with a potential cult following, and interest in I, Vampire should result in a spike on the first appearance of Bennett in HOM # 290.  Maybe.  As always, the market, she is a fickle temptress.  Wagner's critically acclaimed run on Madame Xanadu didn't really set Ms. Xanadu's house on fire, so these things don't always pan out.

Overstreet rates a 9.2 copy of this issue at $24.  I just purchased one in VF condition for $6, so the Overstreet mark is probably high as compared to the actual current market, and probably quite low if Fialkov can put I, Vampire on the map again.  I think anything in decent shape for $10 or less is an interesting play.

- Ryan

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Chronic Review: Ghost Rider # 0.1!

Ghost Rider # 0.1
Marvel Comics
Script:     Rob Williams
Pencils:   Matthew Clark
20 pages for $2.99

Let me just skip the preamble about how stupid a "0.1" issue is and say that this is a comic populated entirely by aggressively poor writing decisions.

This iteration of Ghost Rider features Johnny Blaze, although not a Johnny Blaze you're likely to recognize.  For some reason, this roughneck stunt cyclist has adopted the speech patterns of a 19th century wild west outlaw.

Early Cuyler - not a role model
Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that sometimes Blaze adopts that voice.  He refers to Zarathos as "some demon cuss."  He punctuates phrases with "y'understand."  Now, this kind of character treatment would be completely intolerable even if such an approach were on the same continent with Johnny Blaze's history.  Alas, no.  Not only are we subjected to Ghost Rider the Squidbilly, but also for no discernible reason.

Blaze has never spoken or acted as he does in this issue, and what's more, he doesn't behave consistently.  One of Blaze's internal monologue "zingers" in the opening is "incorrect Nirvana reference!"  First of all not funny, secondly not particularly in keeping with an old time gunfighter, is it?

The Johnny Blaze in this version is also a very mopey one.  The action begins with Ghost Rider attempting to rescue a damsel in distress, but it turns out to be a vampire luring him in for a sneak attack.  One would think that being the spirit of vengeance, vengeance would know who was actually suffering and who was playing possum, but whatever.  The point is that at the end of this scuffle, Blaze blubbers this story out while pounding tequila and resting his head on the bar.  He actually utters the words "Vampires, I ask ya!"  It hurts.

Who should appear but a mysterious cipher named Adam who rather conveniently arrives out of the blue to make Fear Itself references.  He also offers to take Blaze's pain away by ridding him of the Ghost Rider. 

Johnny considers this briefly, then turns him down because he steps out of the bar and notices that the entire town is burning down around him, and its residents are engaging in wholesale looting, vandalism, and rape.  And the Ghost Rider decided he was just going to sit that one out at the bar and see if he could get to the worm?  Are you fucking kidding me with this shit?

And by the way, this redneck wild west old timey gunfighter, when he sees this outside, describes the people as "getting their riot on."   Somebody please, make it stop.

At this point, you're probably thinking to yourself that this comic has hit rock bottom.  Oh, you are so very, very wrong.  Blaze finds yet another damsel in distress within the crowd.  He decides to go and help her.  Pretty easy, yes?  Because not only do you have a lot of gumption, but you have the spirit of goddamn vengeance inside of you specifically to take care of these situations.

So naturally, he decides to forego his alter ego and just wade into battle as a mortal fleshy jackass, because he's afraid the Ghost Rider will puke, and who needs that aggravation?  It's WAY better to let that girl get sodomized and have that asshole put you in traction, because you know.... vomit.  Gross.

It's at this point that I feel it important to point out to Marvel that I am in fact available to write comics.

There's gratitude for you
Aaaaand back to the story.  Somehow the action of punching Johnny Blaze in the face over and over again must have plum tuckered out that rapist.  Blaze wakes up the next morning in the distressed damsel's house, and she looks no worse for wear, and she even cooks him breakfast.

Naturally our guy Blaze and his significant trust issues fire up the Ghost Rider, who kicks the crap out of the breakfast dishes, then runs away.  God I want to be him! After another suitable period of mopery, he clicks his ruby shoes together three times and wishes he could take Adam up on that Get Out of Ghost Rider Free card, and Adam instantly appears to give him a nasty tasting tree root.  Here's what passes for humor in this comic, by the way:

Blaze got jokes!

Then Blaze is instructed to ride fast until the Ghost Rider falls off his bones, which he does, while shouting "Trippeeeeee" at the top of his lungs- and you know what?  Done.  Just done.

I'm trying to figure out how the purported marketing geniuses at Marvel got together and said "You know, Jason Aaron couldn't make this thing fly, but this take will definitely have everyone on board!"  I guess if you strip away the execution, maybe they just saw the hook inside the pitch?  And to be fair, the hook is fairly strong.  It's probably interesting that Johnny Blaze has just been psychologically beaten by this thing.  The idea of passing the vengeance spirit to a different host has possibilities.  As much as I despise Ghost Rider 0.1, I can still see something viable buried beneath the excrement.

I just can't get over the execution, though.  Not one goddamn thing in this issue made a lick of sense.  Steve Wacker is listed as an editor on this book, but I can't fathom that anybody looked at these pages and gave a thumbs up.

When you've got a distressed property, one that's already been recycled multiple times in recent memory, the smart money is to let the field lie fallow, so people can regain a taste for it.  If you're going to jam it down your consumer's throats again, it just has to be special to get over the internal objections.

Ghost Rider 0.1 will be a strong contender for worst comic book of 2011.

- Ryan

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Random Nonsense!

Part of me wants to just wax philosophical on every little announcement coming out of DC, but I figure that stuff is already getting a little old, and it seems to change daily.  Until this stuff actually hits the racks, I think trying parse the limited info coming out of that situation is like trying to eat yogurt with chopsticks.  You can do it, but I'm not sure the payoff is worth the investment.

I stand by my assessment that DCs "new" roster of titles fails in that it doesn't actually have anything new in it, but (potentially) novel reiterations of the old, though.  That feels like a wasted opportunity.  But whatever.

Continuing Adventures in CGC!

Waaaaaaaay back in January, I began to chronicle my first steps in getting my trades graded by CGC.  Originally I submitted them through a local comic shop, but unfortunately their dues weren't paid up, they decided that the dues weren't paying up, and CGC sent the books back.  That took about three months to sort out.

So I decided to bite the bullet and pay for my own membership, which is more palatable to my independent nature anyway.  I packed up a couple of comics hoping to produce enough cash to pay for the grading of the rest, and sent three trades for grading at the end of April: Spider-Man Vs. Green Goblin, Batman Year Two, and Joker Devil's Advocate.

If that seems like an odd assortment to desire the grading treatment, you're correct.  I wasn't even sure they'd grade the books, although I've seen a graded Wonder Woman: Challenge of Artemis, for example.  There are no posted rules about size restrictions, although there surely must be.  Can you imaging a slabbed edition of Watchmen, as an example?  It just doesn't seem plausible.

Not knowing exactly what I was getting into, I decided to send some nice books that weren't the cream of my collection as a test.  It just seemed like the measured response.  Each of the books had very minor but discernible flaws upon close inspection.  I felt that each was surely in at least 9.4 shape, and that one of them might achieve something higher if somebody was in a good mood.

Well, the results are in.  Spider-Man did earn a 9.4, while Batman and Joker will be wearing 9.8s on their holders.  Wow.  Not bad, not bad at all.

Needless to say I have a new toy, one which I'm casually calling "my retirement fund."  Now that I know that CGC does indeed grade the damn things, and that I appear to have a knack for selecting prime examples - the implications boggle.

Bottom line is that the collected market is still in the Wild West stage of development.  Nobody is really doing this right now, and being ahead of the curve is a good place to be.  I'm going to start sending some more high profile product away for slabation, and I'm going to build a book empire that will shine so that the gods will see it from on high and marvel.

What should the discerning collector be getting graded?  Well, anything old in 9.0 or better.  Just like their comic book cousins of old, trade paperbacks were purchased to be read and loved, not handled with prostate checking gloves and sent to CGC.  Anything from the 90s in noticeably good shape will be difficult to come by in gradable condition.  If you should find some, I would start grading them now.

What else?  How about first print, first editions of "the classics".  I'm talking about Sandman, Y the Last Man, and holy chockatolleez, what do you think the long term prospects of a Walking Dead: Days Gone By first print in 9.8 are?  I'd say they're pretty good.

Back Issue Magazine Is Cool

Back issue magazine is everything you read newsarama for, but never really get.  I'm talking about the good dirt, the real dirt, the kind of dirt nobody ever talks about to a contemporary news source because they'd like to continue earning a paycheck in the industry.

Do you know why Jim Starlin took Dreadstar out of Epic and into First?  Because Marvel stopped sending him checks for his Dreadstar work, that's why!

Apparently it was some kind of personal vendetta, because everybody else at Epic was getting paid without a hitch.  Starlin doesn't seem to know who exactly didn't like him, but he would have to have his checks re-cut and sent time and again, causing him to fall behind on his bills.

That's just crazy, and that's life, and that's why I love Back Issue so much.  It's not up to the second. You aren't going to find out who's actually doing the scripts on Supergirl in September.  Whatever.  You are going to find out about all the juicy behind-the-scenes stuff from the classic comics you remember with love, from the people who created the comics themselves.

I'm in love with that magazine.

Forgotten Key Run: Harbinger

Last night on Chronic Insomnia we answered some listener mail about some of our favorite all-time runs and creators.  Those lists could go on forever, of course, but I really feel negligent in failing to mention the pre-Unity Harbinger comics from Valiant.

It seems crazy that those comics are twenty years old, and yet here we are.  Harbinger was Valiant at its Valianty best.  It was an obvious X-Men analog, with a group of outcast kids trying to survive in a world that didn't understand, trust, or particularly care for them.

The twist is that there is no Prof. X or happy school of gifted youngsters.  There's a corporate bastard by the name of Harada hunting them down to exploit them for cash and power.  Back in the 1960s when the X-Men were created, the world still sucked, but you could still trust the government and even love your President, if he was a Kennedy.  By the 1990s, we don't trust NOBODY.

Shooter sent his kids on the road as fugitives, and some of them cut against type nicely.  These were not born warriors and fashion plates looking to dispense competent justice.  Zeppelin was a comic nerd who had no business in combat.  Flamingo was a giant whore, Torque was an even gianter dick.  Then there was good old Pete Stanchek, who would mentally coax his girlfriend to do stuff, and then have her threaten to kill him.  She was not bluffing, by the way.  Meanwhile, Pete does not get the girl like Some Kind of Wonderful always taught him he would, she goes and gets knocked up by the illiterate prick who is probably three beers from beating her.

God it was good!  And nobody I just described is quite as papier mache as I made them out in the last paragraph, at least not while Shooter had the reins.  Those pre-unity Valiant books were really good comics.  I miss those dearly.

- Ryan

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Hibbs Commandments!

If you're interested in what it's like for comics retailers in the trenches, or the business of comics in general, you need to be reading Brian Hibbs.  He's the owner of Comix Experience in San Francisco, and has a web site called Savage Critics devoted to comic book reviews and commentary.  He also writes "Tilting at Windmills", a monthly column on, and it's must reading.

His latest column details the retail hazards of trying to squeeze profit out of a market where "hits" are in short supply.  If you start hitting profit selling 80% of your order, and your total order is five books, that doesn't leave much margin for error, does it?  So when you see that Diamond data come out (I'm talking to all seven of you now that look at the Diamond charts) and notice that the top book is Green Lantern at 70,000 or so units, you say to yourself "Yechh, that's interesting."  And the comic book retailer sees that and says "How am I going to keep the lights on this month?"

Hibbs is rarely mired in complete "doom and gloom", although the financial reality of comic books doesn't leave much to cheer about lately, and Brian Hibbs, bless his soul, is not one to duck reality.  So in the comments portion of the latest Tilting column, an exasperated fan asked:

What can we do?

Hibbs than outlined four items, which I am now dubbing "The Hibbs Commandments."  The commandments are targeted at four different factions of the comics food chain: the consumer, the publisher, the retailer, and the creators.  I've also embellished the commandments to sound a little more like Charlton Heston is shouting them at you while holding stone tablets, which is important.

The Hibbs Commandments

  • Creators shall create only the exceptional
  • Thou shalt not buy comics for completion's sake, but only what thou doth truly enjoy
  • Publishers shalt not flood the market, but practice restraint and prudence
  • Retailers shall curate racks and support only that which thine customers doth truly enjoy, and send the rest to the Lake of Fire

Commandment # 1:  Create Only The Exceptional

Obviously we can't demand that every comic be the next Watchmen.  Sturgeon's law maintains that most everything is simply bound to be rubbish.  Fine.

What we're avoiding here are "paycheck comics" and "fan service rubbish".  I can't climb into anybody's head and say that this creator or that creator is just there to hack out a paycheck.  I have my suspicions, of course.  Surely it happens, though.  Don't do it. Do something you like, or get out.

I think a lot of creative problems are born from the misconception that creators should give fans what they want.  It's especially easy to cave to that creative black hole in a market that makes risk-taking seem even more treacherous, and conservatism attractive.

In fact, the opposite is true on both counts.  Fans do not know what the fuck they want until an inspired creator gives it to them, and that's a scientific fact.  It's also true that necessity is the mother of invention.  Frank Miller got to elevate Daredevil because the book was in the tank.  When things are bottoming out, and to be frank the whole medium is bottoming out, that isn't the time to cling to the vestiges of what obviously isn't working.  It's the time when you should feel free to turn the savants loose, because there's nothing left to lose.

Joe Casey and Grant Morrison are the poster boys for this concept.  Maybe they don't succeed in  re-defining comics with each project, and maybe they're not for you.  But if more people adopted their approach, the industry would be better off.  What's interesting to me as a creator?  What haven't I tried yet, what has nobody tried yet?  That's the Joe Casey way.  And it takes an editor to say "yes", of course, but it starts with the creators.

Commandment # 2:  Buy Only What You Enjoy

So many people screw this up, and it's so very simple.  Listen, I run into this trap all the time.  You've got your pile of comics.  Some of them you literally cannot wait to get home and read them.  The light turns red, you reach over for the bag of comics, pull the book out and start reading it at the stoplight.  People are now honking at you.  You flip them off, because don't they understand that you're trying to finish that page of Morning Glories?  THAT is a book you enjoy.

Then there's that other book, or should I say books.  You know you actually love it, and if somebody asks you what's on your pull, it's the second or third title you list because you've been collecting it for four years.  The problem is that you don't love it, and in fact you're five months behind on your reading because it actually feels like work to crack the damn and absorb its contents.


Don't buy thirty three Green Hornet books just because Dynamite has them available.  Don't buy seventeen variant covers of the same book just because Avatar offers them.  Don't buy every Avengers book or every Batman book because you're loyal to the cause.  Don't slavishly buy titles regardless of quality just because a certain creator is involved.  Following creators is often a fruitful thing to do, but I've recently discovered that I don't need absolutely everything that Nick Spencer writes.  Morning Glories is sublime. Iron Man 2.0 is very much not.  That's fine.  Keep the one, drop the other.

And nobody is suggesting that you kick a book to the curb because it has an "off" issue.  You know exactly what I mean about pruning the dead wood, and you know what needs to be done.  When you buy things that aren't good, you reward the undeserving, and let other desirables flounder.  It poisons the well.  Buy what's good.  Buy what you really enjoy, and nothing else.

Commandment # 3: Don't Flood The Market

Marvel, I'm looking at you.  Seriously.

Once upon a time Jim Shooter did something crazy and handed the editorial reins of the Spider-Man titles over to an impossibly young but brilliant kid on roller skates, then named Jim Owsley.  (He's Priest now.  Sometimes Christopher Priest, but mostly just Priest.  Don't ask.)  Owsley took a look at the stable and wondered why the world needed an Amazing, a Web of, and a Spectacular Spider-Man.

"Jim what's our publishing rationale on these?", he asked.

"Money!", grinned a grinning Shooter.

The more things change, man.  That's not enough.  Owsley had it right.  What's the rationale?  What is Book X offering that makes it special, relevant, urgent?  If there is no forthcoming answer, then there is no reason to glut an already exceptionally glutted comics rack.

The examples here are legion.  What is going on in Alpha Flight that demanded a relaunch?  Can anybody explain to me what niche that actually fills, what justifies the investment?  Yup, they're Canadian.  Yeah, a few people liked them in the past.  That's not a reason to tell rote stories with them now.  Why do we need a Green Arrow book?  What's the point of continuously trying to foist five GI Joe books on an audience that can't get even one consistently over the 20,000 mark?  What's going on in Gotham City Sirens that isn't being done, and done better in Birds of Prey?  Cut it.

Also, not everything needs to be collected, OK?  There's enough stuff to buy.  If there wasn't any demand for Dark Star and the Winter Guard in floppy format, I'm not sure why anybody thought they'd be flocking to the trade.  It's bad for everybody.  It can't be very profitable for the publishers, it strains the limited capital available for the ordering retailer, and it makes things confusing and frustrating for the consumer.

Stop glutting and confusing the issue with an endless and ever-increasing supply of dreck that nobody is buying.  Ask Robert Kirkman if simple works.  I'll ruin the surprise and reveal that he does quite well for himself with a good, undiluted product packaged simply.  Quite well.

Commandment # 4  Retailers Curate and Support Only What Customers Love

Everything that goes for the consumer in # 2 goes for the retailer here.  You're using cycle sheets or inventory software, yes?  If they aren't buying it, you can stop ordering it.

Here the danger, I suppose, is a desire to be a "full service" store.  When you started the dream, the idea was to carry everything, not just the X-Men.  Fine.  Some of that takes work, though.  I see comic shops in my area that are committed to knowing their customer, communicating, adjusting to needs.  If you've never walked into Twin City Comics, I suggest you try it sometime just to find out what you've been missing in terms of service.

But I also see a lot of comic shops operating on the Field of Dreams philosophy.  "If you rack it, they will come."  Except they don't.  The racks are a jumbled mess, there's a lot to choose from, and people need help.  Right now I think Detective Comics is an exceptionally strong book, and I think if a retailer ordered heavy on that and pushed it, maybe even offered a discount or a "money back" to try it, many new subscriptions are possible there.  (or are they, now that the whole thing is changing in September?)

But who's pushing it?  Who's pushing anything?  I know what I know because I'm one of the 1% freaks that read Previews, listen to podcasts, chase down news sites, do my own comic book show.  I've never picked up a book because of information I've gotten from a physical retailer, because there really isn't any to be had.  I guess at Hot Comics they feature a couple of "employee pick" books, but that tells you nothing at all about the contents, only that the guy with the blue hair and nose ring liked it.

If there's something good, something laudable, support.  Let the rest burn.

It seems pretty simple, right?  Essentially it just comes to down to everybody in the chain migrating to things that don't suck.  It might be just crazy enough to work!

- Ryan