Wednesday, August 31, 2011

DCnU: Preliminary Returns!

I walked into Hot Comics in New Hope today with yearning anticipation in my heart, which is unusual for me.  Usually it's just quiet rage.  Now, I wasn't expecting Geoff Johns to hand me a slice of pizza or anything like that.  This is flyover country, not Midtown Comics.  I get that.

But maybe, just maybe, I thought I might find a small avalanche of people inside.  Or old regulars, even.  Hot Comics is the joint where Baby Mike used to participate in Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club, you know?

Instead what I found was Rasul, Mike, and one other customer.  Rasul had the Thundercats playing on his laptop, and other than that it was quiet as a grave in there.  There were plenty of copies of Justice League # 1 on the rack, sans poly-bag.  I don't know if that means that DC ditched the poly-bag idea, or if Hot Comics just removed them.  Either way, I think it was a fantastic idea to have that bright cover showing and not a sheaf of plastic.

Granted, this one tiny comic shop just outside the City That God Forgot is not an indicative microcosm of the larger world.  But still, I couldn't help but feel the wind come out of Schrodinger's Cat this morning.  I walked in there at 11:15am, they'd been open for an hour, this was not only Wednesday, it was goddamn NEW DCnU WEDNESDAY, {BOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMM!}and it was just business as usual.  Or less.  Probably less.

I asked Mike and Rasul if they'd seen any new faces in the shop looking for that JLA book.  They saw one guy..  "And he didn't end up getting anything."  Yikes.

Muy disapointante.  I'm not going to comment on either the Justice League # 1 or the Flashpoint finale yet, because believe it or not, we will be discussing these when we record Chronic Insomnia # 201 tomorrow night.  So.  Stay tuned for that - should be available bright and early on Friday morning!

- Ryan

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Market Spotlight: Modern Investing!

I've been thinking a lot about investment strategies ever since I starting parsing the front portion of the latest Overstreet tome, as I do every time a new edition comes out.  I think the big takeaway from recent history is that $30,000 sale on a CGC 9.6 copy of Green Lantern # 76.  I think the takeaway is that investing did not die with the Silver Age. 

There are a lot of people out there that have cast a sneering backwards glance at the Bronze Age and later material, and they're still doing it.  There's a group of old blue bloods running around, and they laugh when they see somebody excited about their copy of Incredible Hulk # 181, and they just about throw up when they think about Iron Fist # 14.  "Those comics aren't old, and they aren't scarce, and they don't have any real value", say the stodgy bastards.

Well, they're wrong.  On several points.  And I think that Green Lantern # 76, published in 1970 and solidly inside the Bronze era, has landed the point home for good.  Let's take a step back, have a nice long breath, get the lymphic system going a little bit, and really think about things before we go hog wild and start backing up the truck on Youngblood # 1 again, though.  Because there are some wrinkles with the GL # 76 that are worth considering.

Consider first that it's a genuinely scarce book to find in investment grade.  Just as a comparison, let's look at the top grades for GL # 76 and Amazing Spider-Man # 76.  Sort of random, and it's not really an apples-to-apples juxtaposition, given that Green Lantern # 76 is a "key" book, and ASM # 76 is not.  But on the other hand, Amazing Spider-Man is eminently collectible, and those two comics were published within a year of each other.  (ASM 76 in 9/69 and GL 76 in 4/70) 

As I type this, here's the CGC census results for those books in top grades:

Amazing Spider-Man # 76  (278 total graded submissions)
9.8:    3
9.6:    24
9.4:    31

Green Lantern # 76  (688 total graded submissions)
9.8:   2
9.6:   10
9.4:   24

Couple of things to go over there.  Firstly, it's difficult to say anything specific or concrete about the actual scarcity of any particular book based upon the CGC census.  People grade books (and refuse to grade books) for many different reasons.  We could imagine a world in which some of the folks that own super-high grades on GL 76 don't submit them because they're "purists", they don't believe in slabs, they believe comic books should be reading ready, or maybe they're afraid to let a third party potentially undergrade their particular little gem.  Any or all of these might apply, and some of those objections might not apply to the ASM comic, which doesn't quite hold the historical clout that a seminal Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams collaboration does. 

So we can't simply declare that there are fewer copies of GL # 76 in grade extant, but there's certainly evidence for that.  CGC grading is not a new thing, the financial benefits are well documented, so there's a reward for doing it.  I think most folks who have investment grade (call it 9.0 or better) copies of that comic have sent them in.  Not all certainly, but most.  I would guess that a greater percentage of high grade ASM # 76 are currently unslabbed, because there's less of a financial incentive.  Having said that, I think the ASM books are in largely the same boat, it's just not identical. 

So when we compare GL and ASM # 76, what we find is that only 1.7% of the submitted copies of Green Lantern # 76 achieved a grade higher than 9.4, while nearly 10% of the submitted copies of Amazing Spider-Man # 76 did.  Again, it doesn't say anything gospel, but it appears significant.  For one reason or another, it appears to be disgustingly difficult to find that GL book in really nice shape, about five times more difficult than it is to find an Amazing Spider-Man book from the same time frame. 

So if you want to know why a relatively "modern" book can command a $30,000 price tag, that's why.  Well, it's a large portion of it.  As time rolls on, the Neal Adams legend continues to grow.  Just ask him, he'll tell you all about it.  That particular run of Green Lantern/Green Arrow also seems to collect affection as one of the prototype social conscience/social relevance titles.  It's got a lot going for it.

And it's also forty years old, mind you.  Can you believe it?  And those impossibly new-fangled comic books from 1980?  Those are now thirty years old.  Does that sound "modern" to you?  Those Valiant books are now twenty years old.  It boggles the mind, it does.

The prevailing wisdom is that anything newer than 1969 is suspect, and anything newer than 1979 is fit only for the dollar bin.  The operating theory is that after 1980, the direct market took over, and nobody was collecting except collectors.  These kids weren't rolling up their comics, sticking them in their back pockets, and playing tackle football with them.  Everything went straight to a bag and board, probably without reading them.  And the 1990s?  Forget about it.  Every issue had a print run of three million and were placed into protected sleeves with gloved hands. 

Not scarce
Prevailing wisdom has half a point.  By the 1980s, comic books are a known collectible commodity, and there are more high grade copies available from 1983 than there are from say, 1963.  I can think of some egregious examples of well-protected books, particularly Secret Wars # 8, the first appearance of the alien symbiote that would become Venom.  As I type this there are literally thousands of those books available in CGC 9.6 or better.  (2,513 to be exact, representing 61.2% of total submissions)  That is not a scarce book in high grade, and you'll never see a 9.8 of that comic close at $30,000.  I'll concede that. 

But to simply throw away the entirety of the Copper or Modern ages as over-produced and over-protected garbage is to be extreme and wrong-headed.  In terms of investing, I like the Golden and Silver age as much as anybody.  As more and more material lands in collections and out of the marketplace, the prices do go up with demand.  Provided, of course, that there remain a collecting base interested in the material.

As a side note, I would mention that the world is kinda scary at the moment.  Every other country is coming at their leadership with torches and pitchforks, and it isn't just the regularly ornery middle east, either.  Most of Europe is ready to burn itself to the ground, and if America thinks it can continue to print money like this without ramifications, well...history has a different story to tell.  My point is that when a group of hungry people are breaking down your door with automatic weapons for your box of Fruit Roll-Ups because bread costs 9,000,000,000 a loaf, nobody is really that interested in your Walking Dead # 1.  They are the goddamn walking dead.  The market for little luxury collectibles goes south when the world falls apart. 

But assuming that the world does indeed hold together, (let's go with that for the purposes of this article) the biggest gains are to be made in the newer eras.  You can probably make money buying Berkeshire Hathaway stock right now.  Probably.  But you would have made a lot more buying it thirty years ago.  The point is to be in on the ground floor, ahead of the curve.  All investing is contrarian investing, frankly.  Prevailing wisdom says that modern books are rubbish.  Perfect.  Sounds like an opportunity for a smarter jaguar to pounce.  I'm that jaguar.

All of this has been a very long-winded way of getting to a quartet of "newer" comics that represent solid or better investment opportunities.  It's certainly not an exhaustive list, but an attempt to show you a spectrum of what I'm thinking about, so you can apply that thinking to other stuff you know about that I probably don't.  And I've skipped a lot of material that already has too much of their value baked in. 

What do I mean by that?  I think that Daredevil # 168 is a prime investment.  It was published in 1982, so it's off most "serious" investors lists.  That's a mistake.    It also takes about $150 to get one in grade, even raw.   Frank Miller is probably the name of the modern era, and I don't see that changing.  It's a good investment, but not a cheap one.

How about Heavy Metal # 1?  I think that's an outstanding sleeper of an opportunity.  That magazine means nothing to the old guard, but for my generation it means robots with boobs, and Richard Corben, and Moebius, and hot alien chicks with boobs, and Luis Royo.  That's a Bronze or Copper item, depending on who you ask.  I think it has a LOT of room to grow, but it isn't strictly cheap.  Heavy Metal # 1 in grade should run you at least $50.  It's got some value already baked in.

So without further ado, here are some opportunities on modern books that you can probably purchase right now for the loose bills in your pocket:

Thor # 337
Marvel Comics (1983)

This is the first appearance of Beta Ray Bill, and the beginning of Walt Simonson's incredible run on Thor.  Interest in this book has been picking up recently.  I was grabbing NM copies of this comic for $2-3 about two years ago.  It's more difficult to do that now, but still possible. 

These days, you're more likely to pay something in the neighborhood of $10 for a high grade raw copy of this book, which is still quite ridiculous.  In terms of historical significance, I think this book far outshines Iron Man # 128, and it's consistently available for 25% of the entry price. 

The Walt Simonson run on Thor holds up extremely well, and it's one of the few old school Marvel properties that isn't dominated by "Stan and Jack" nostalgia.  When most people think of classic Thor material, they're thinking of Simonson.  That's a feat right there.

It's not strictly speaking scarce in high grade.  CGC currently lists more than 200 copies in 9.8 condition, currently the most plentiful grade for the book.  That's the closest thing there is to a downside, though.  Be a little discriminating about condition, but if you can find one in 9.4 or better I'd pay the measly $10 all day for a bonafide legend that continues to increase in adoration.

Batman Adventures # 12
DC Comics (1993)

The Paul Dini/Yvel Guichet one-shot draws all the attention, but this is the first Harley Quinn appearance in comics, beating that Paul Dini book by a full six years.  So why isn't this one the expensive one?

Perhaps because Batman Adventures is not set in the DCU "proper", but after all the many Crisises and Countdowns and 52s and reboolaunches, does that even matter any more?  Harley began as a cartoon property, so an appearance in the Adventures book seems even more poetic, in my opinion.

Frankly, it's difficult to think of many new characters with any lasting impact.  Deadpool, maybe?  That makes for fewer "key" books in the modern age, and that means this comic is even more special.  Like Thor # 337, I've seen interest pick up on this book recently, but also like Thor # 337, not nearly as much as it should. 

This one is actually difficult to find, period, and extra difficult to find in higher grade.  Contrary to that prevailing wisdom I keep downgrading, people were not buying Batman Adventures as investments and throwing them in mylar.  This was a cartoon book aimed at kids, and treated disposably for the most part.  When nice copies do show up, they typically command between $10-$15, which is an absolute bargain.

CGC currently lists 37 copies in 9.8 condition, which is more than 50% of all submissions.  It's not GL # 76, right?  But I'm telling you, this is not as easy to locate as you think, and most of the copies you will find land in VF town or worse.  Be patient, wait for that NM copy, and pay less than $20 and you've got yourself a winner, Mr. J.

Megaton # 3
Megaton Comics (1986)

I don't know exactly why, but nobody at present seems willing to give The Savage Dragon its due.  Erik Larsen is a founding and key member of Image, and he's produced nearly 200 issues of Dragon comics.  It's good stuff.  Larsen is important, Savage Dragon is important, and eventually history will look kindly on their contributions to the comics landscape. 

I guess the proper response is to just thank the investment gods that nobody is paying attention right now, because it leaves Megaton # 3 wide open.  Published in 1986, Megaton features several prototype Erik Larsen creations.  (and some Rob Liefield ones, too)  Dragon first appears in Megaton # 2, and that's not a bad investment, either.  Sometimes first isn't best, though.  Wolverine makes a cameo in Hulk # 180, and nobody seems particularly impressed by that.  Gambit first appears in an X-Men annual, but the money flocks to Uncanny # 266.  Same thing with Megaton # 3.

I don't know what the print run was like on Megaton in 1986, but it couldn't have been huge to begin with.  Couple that with the fact that the indie crowd tends to disdain bags and boards and the fact that Dragon doesn't get national attention until the early 1990s and you have a situation where high grade copies are legitimately scarce.

As I type this, only 9 copies have been graded in CGC 9.8 about 20% of total submissions.  These are not lying all over the place, but it is still possible to find copies.  Usually in VF or less.  I would expect to pay around $20 for a NM raw book, but I just bought one in VF for $6.  That's just criminal!  This book is WAY too historically significant to languish at those levels forever. 

Hellblazer # 41
DC/Vertigo (1991)

Speaking of underdogs with not enough love to bask in, Hellblazer is at the top of the list.  You can put the first issue on your investment list as well, but I think 41 has an even higher ceiling and currently cheaper to obtain.

This is the debut of one Garth Ennis on the book, (you may have heard of him) and the opening chapter of "Dangerous Habits", loosely inspiring the feature film starring Keanu Reeves.  This is the comic that put Garth Ennis on the map, and for good reason - it's goddamn brilliant stuff.

Traditionally, "key" issues are centered around first appearances of creators and artists.  I think as the market evolves, it will catch up with the way we read comics now, and that trend is more writer-centric.  This may not be a # 1 issue or a first appearance, but it's probably the most important book in the run.

And let's remember now that Hellblazer is a grand old dame, not far from reaching 300 issues.  She's the best survivor in the Vertigo brand.  Books like Sandman and Y The Last Man may hold a little more cultural capital, but where are they now?  Constantine just keeps chugging, and eventually it will catch up with people - this is one of the most important comics of the modern era. 

As I type this, only 9 examples of this book have even been submitted to CGC, and we're still waiting for our first 9.8 grade.  Now, that's a little crazy.  It doesn't say anything definitive about the actual scarcity of the book in high grade.  But ordinarily, if you're going to send something like a mid-run Hellblazer comic for grading, it's because you think it's going to score the high.  So far, no dice. 

Right now, we don't have a single NM/MT book available, and that smells like money to me.  And it makes a certain degree of sense.  People didn't buy Hellblazer books in 1991 because they thought they'd be valuable.  Sandman, maybe.  But not John Constantine.  I'm not at all surprised that this book isn't readily available in super high grade.  Take that, ya damn Silver Agers!

Hellblazer # 41 is picking up interest, as it should, but it is possible to find NM copies for less than $10, which is an absolute steal.  If you find one in REALLY nice shape, I'd pay up a little for that if I had to. 

- Ryan

Thursday, August 25, 2011

DCnU Pregame Report!

In less than a week, the Flashpoint finale will ship, along with a poly-bagged debut issue of the Geoff Johns/Jim Lee new JLA.  Less than a week until "everything as we know it changes forever {BOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMM!}  Except of course we know that's a lie.  Or is it?

Schrodinger's Cat is pissed.
One of the fascinating aspects of the DCnU for me is the idea that Schrodinger's Cat is palpably in that box, perhaps stone dead, perhaps idly preening or more likely pissed about something it has no right to be.  In a month or six we'll know the results, basically.  And however things turn out, we will all (myself included) expound at length about how the outcome was obvious from the beginning.

But it isn't obvious.  At least, it isn't obvious to me.  Perhaps I've duped myself into some form of precious optimism as a coping mechanism?  That doesn't sound like me, but even Ryan The Robot must admit to some form of sentimental attachment.  There's a lot riding on this gambit, perhaps the future of the direct market.  It's possible that my precognitive powers are dulled by the fact that I don't just want this to succeed, we all probably need this to succeed.

There is cause for grave concern.  Ambushing an already over-jaded and over-taxed vestige of a consumer base with 52 new # 1 issues is, quite frankly, madness.  For a concept supposedly dedicated to the "new" and the "fresh", there is not one truly new commodity being offered.  Not one.  Batwing is the closest, but even Batwing is just an elevation of a fairly recent invention.  Analyze even casually, and you'd have to conclude that 99.7% of the "new" DCU is simply old cars with fresh paint and a new cup holder.  

The new universe has the slight aroma of slapdashery about it.  Obviously somebody put some thought into this thing, they put their titles into seven different brackets, right?  Nah, I'm not convinced.  I read Lois Lane & The Resistance.  Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning are good writers, it wasn't terrible, but you can't con a con.  That was a magician playing sleight of hand and distracting eyes to buy a few seconds of time to pull other shit together.

I read Booster Gold # 47.  Second page, a bound Booster Gold monologues this:

A greater threat "that" Doomsy, huh?  Listen, I'm not suggesting that a typo in a comic book is a rare and mystical creature.  What I'm saying is, nothing about this reboolaunch displays confident body language or the sense that the conductor has both hands on the wheel.  One gets the sense that everybody at the top of DC is sweating right now, praying to the Superhero Gods that somebody pulls something out of their ass.  Fuck, even Grant Morrison is casually acknowledging the beast is probably dead.  Grant "don't bore me with your substandard downbeat chakra" Goddamn Morrison.  We've got to be fucked.

And yet.

And yet, it isn't over, goddammit, and isn't this how the game works?  Always darkest before the dawn, and then Batman finds a way.  Somehow, some way, against all reason and pain Batman finds a way.  And here is DC offering a perhaps final window at a self-fulfilling prophecy.  52 new flags screaming "come with me, if you want to live!"

Dan Didio - not an idiot.  There. I said it.
There is cause for great hope.  Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, and dare I say Dan Didio are all sharp and capable people who care a great deal about the present and future of comics.  It's a business, yes, but for these men it's more than that.  These are not idiots. We're in good hands.

This would have been the perfect time for a group of bastards to ditch "hold the line at $2.99", and I'll give DC massive credit for this - they have not.  All sound evidence points to the fact that DC has and will continue to lose money selling these comics at $2.99.  There is a good case in the sales data for the idea that $2.99 decelerates attrition, but it has not added readership in any significant way, and it has not helped DC tip market share.  When you see that $2.99 on a DC comic, I want you to recognize it for what it is - a foolish pledge from a lovestruck paramour declaring his eternal affection for you.  Because in the monthly ledgers, it's a negative opportunity cost.  There's no other reason for it to exist.  Let me assure you, Marvel does not love you like that.

And how do we define success for the DCnU?  I think the prime goal is to access lapsed and new readers.  Initial orders on the new JLA book are being reported prematurely at more than 200,000 copies, which is wonderful, but most pundits are correctly concluding that the real proof will be in the 3rd or 4th issue's pudding.  If the idea is to reach outside of our current parameters, the real success of the DCnU will be a JLA that hits 250,000 copies with issue # 4.  Does that seem likely to you?  Or even possible?  We've got about 2,000 retail stores to work with, (4 less now that Atomic closed up shop) and to sell a quarter million books, each location needs to move 125 copies.  It's hard to imagine.

Then again, it was hard to imagine a popular X-Men book in 1975, before a punk kid named Claremont took what nobody wanted and perfected soap operatics while nobody was looking.  It was hard to imagine a popular Daredevil book in 1981 until they handed it to Frank Miller, the punk artist on the book  Comic books have a history of taking desperation and spinning it into gold by handing the reins of the forgotten to young mad men ready to show the world that The Man had it wrong.
Edmondson's Grifter - I'm in.

Trouble is, it's hard to find that pool of young mad men (or women, for that matter) in DCs stables right now.  It surely isn't Ron Marz or Scott Lobdell, is it?  Maybe it's Nathan Edmondson or Joshua Fialkov.  Are these the mad men we're looking for?  Or was it never the youth, but the simple surrender to the creative rather than the conservative that makes the magic?

I'd like to think that Geoff Johns and company know the value of trusting their muses and turning these animals loose.  Azarello is talking about making Wonder Woman into a horror book.  Sounds like a comic with a brass uterus to me.  A whole fleet of inspired, brazen, unfettered creative content really could change everything, and that's a fact.

I think I heard Schrodinger's cat shift in that box.  But maybe I just hoped it.

- Ryan

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Chronic Review: Kult # 1!

Kult # 1 (of 4)
Dark Horse Comics
Script:     Jeremy Barlow
Pencils:   Iwan Nazif
20 pages for $3.50

Kult is not a new thing, it started out as a role playing game created by some mad Swedish bastard, Gunilla Jonsson.  I remember being instantly attracted to the tagline - "Death Is Only The Beginning"....fuck n' a right, man!

Original Kult RPG
The Kult world is a dark, dark world in the nihilistic mold of an H.P. Lovecraft.  In the Kult cosmology, people are at best an afterthought in the universe, and outside of that, a nuisance to be stomped out with impunity.  There's no humanistic "special snowflake" thinking involved, nor any conventional religious optimism of things working out for the better in the end.  For Kult, we live in a sham of world where God is dead, and everything else across the veil is pissed off and not terribly fond of us.  This is my kind of narrative landscape, folks.

I mention this for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, to give a sense of story ambiance, and secondly because a good chunk of the lucky few who might stumble upon Kult and discount it unfairly.  I think a lot of readers will pick up on the fact that there's a malevolent sham of a world looking for a new savior and say "Hey!  I've seen this before in The Invisibles and The Matrix!  What a rip!"  But actually Kult got there first, so I wouldn't penalize it for that.  Just sayin'.

Now I've got a red pill, and a blue pill...
So, back to the book at hand.  The original tagline for Millar's Nemesis was "What if Batman was a cunt?"  The tagline for this Kult series should be - "What if Neo was a cunt?"  The story is centered around Tomas Zenk, a potential replacement for the deceased almighty.  Naturally there are lots of monstrous things looking to squelch that action, and an enlightened few that are looking for a way out of the endless cycle of pain and misery.  As backdrops go, it's pretty epic.

I like the world, and I think if Dark Horse could have snagged Warren Ellis for the project, we might really have something special on our hands.  As it stands in the hands of Jeremy Barlow, there's nothing broken about it, but nothing really pops on the page, either.

The gist of the story is that Tomas Zenk is your typical "in over his head" would be savior of the world.  He's kind of a dick, and he's kind of a loser, and his job as a parole officer spins him toward an awakening to the larger Kult reality.  There's plenty of evil Cthulhian monster action to be had, and a small group of rebels who ex machina onto the scene to help out, and eventually activate the Godhood inside the man.

I don't actually consider it a mistake to make Tomas Zenk unlikeable.  The problem is that he's unexceptional.  If you're going to make him a prick, do it with some aggression and panache.  If he's going to be "The One", there ought to be something about him that draws interest, and there's nothing like that about Zenk.  He's just kind of there, being a parole officer with child custody issues.

I'm probably being unfair to Kult because I read it directly after finishing the Secret Six finale, and ahhh... that's a tough act to follow.  After you get done reading Gail Simone's characters spout off one Shakespearean gem after another, (Bane:  "I'm bound for hell, I will not enter it as a comedy") it's difficult to be impacted by an extra dimensional force that pulls a Macauley Culkin face slap and says "No--You cannot halt the machine!"  It just lays flat.  I mean, it does get more clever than that. There was a bit from the same demon a few pages earlier about tasting ashes on tongues and such.  A book like this really needs to sell the idea that its giving you dark poetry from an alien perspective to pay off, though.  For me, there are kinks to work out yet.

So here's what I'll say about Kult.  I'm not in love with any of the characters, but in spite of everything I've said so far, understand that I'm very much interested in the Kult world.  I saw enough on the page here that I'm certainly going to continue with it.  I don't know if Barlow is actually the guy for this, but then again, I don't know that he's not.  I'm going to let the thing run its course a bit before I declare that he's not up to the task 

I would say that if you're into painfully dark world views, or Lovecraft, or even just monster stories, Kult is certainly worth a test drive.

- Ryan

Yeah....what he said.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Marvel: That Guy

Tanarus. Thank God we got that "clean jumping on point" for those movie folks!

I was trading emails this morning with friend of the Nick, he was asking me if X-Factor was being cancelled, and how upset we should be about it.  There's been no announcement, of course, the cancellation buzz stems from the fact that there's no solicitation to look at for the next edition of Previews.  Yet.  Marvel are being funny about this latest batch, sending their solicits in an untimely and incomplete fashion.

Layla - you got me on my knees
I'll tell you like I told Nick, I don't think it's being cancelled, and even if it was, cancelled doesn't mean what it used to.  Ultimate Spider-Man has been cancelled twice in the last three years.  Seems to be humming along just fine, unless you consider it a problem that the property has had to renumber three times in the last hour or so and change main characters to try and stay afloat.  Me?  I'd consider that a problem.

Uncanny X-Men is getting cancelled - cancelled like a fox!  Welcome to two new titles instead of one, yo!  There's your cancelled, buddy.

Peter David did an X-Position with CBR about a week ago, and he was talking about post-Schism shake-em-ups happening after issue # 230.  That doesn't sound like a dead book to me, although plans do change and work does get scrapped.  That sounds like a book ready to get "cancelled" so that it can regroup and relaunch with yet another new # 1 issue.  How original.  (yawn)

How upset should we be?  Hmmmm.  I'm pretty good at getting upset.  When it comes to Marvel, I've turned a bit of a corner and just can't be arsed any more.  You get to a point where an entity is so brazenly smarmy and stupid for so long, you just start to recognize them as that guy.  You can bitch about it, and I certainly have, but here's the thing - I used to bitch because I perceived the behavior as unnecessary, unjustified, avoidable, correctable.  That's where the pain comes from, the idea that things could and should be better.

Folks, it's time to understand and accept the fact that Marvel Comics are run by a pack of retarded musk oxen with drinking problems, and that's just the end of it.  We can't save it, we can't stop it, it's not going to get better while current management is in place, and so there's no sense in expending any more energy on it.

Marvel is that guy.

Marvel Comics
You know that guy.  In the old days he'd be a used car salesman, now he's probably a trader at a hedge fund.  His teeth are white, and he smiles a lot.  He's wearing the latest style, he's not afraid to mention that fact, and also unafraid to let you know that he didn't get it on sale, either.

He'd jam a phone book up his grandmother's ass if he could get $20 for a service fee, then have his lawyer sue his grandma for defamation of character and make some more money on the back end when she squealed, if you know what I mean.  If you asked him about it later, he'd lie with a sharp smile and tell you she asked him to do it, and that it actually cleared out some blockage for her.

You can talk to that guy, sometimes you can even profit from him a little.  He might land you an interview or get you a job at the firm if you can choke down the false saccharine bullshit pouring out of his mouth long enough to establish a "relationship" with him.  But you never want to talk to him, and you sure as shit aren't asking him out for drinks after work, because you feel like washing your hands after looking at him.

And next thing you know, you're out on your ass and fired and can't get a job anywhere in town, and you come to find out that that guy almost certainly fucked you behind your back for no discernible reason.  You can't prove it, but everything that guy touches ultimately turns to shit that benefits only himself in the most meaningless and short term ways.

That's what Marvel Comics are.

Listen, it doesn't take a forensics degree to work this out any more, and their behavior has gone from painful, to the sublimely absurd, to so far past Cartoon Land I can't seriously analyze this shit any more.

I mean, Fear Itself  # 7.1,  # 7.2, and #7.3????  C'mon, man, do I have to break down how underhanded and childish that is?  If it's part of the series, (which it obviously isn't, kay?) then you call it issues 8,9,10.  If you got a focus group of third graders and asked them to come up with a way to make more money on Fear Itself, that's what you would get.

Double shipping on books isn't enough for them, so let's take some half-ass aftermath material and just pretend it's an extension of the real thing, and the real thing sucks, by the way.  Just so you know.  SUCKS.  No balls, no soul, artificially inflated nonsense that is "changing everything", except until the next thing that's going to change everything next month.  SUCKS.

And oh, wait, remember that new Thor title the world absolutely needed as a clean jumping on point for that imaginary horde of new fans streaming out the movie theaters?  Yeah, not only does the Thor character in the comics already bear no real resemblance to the one portrayed by Hemsworth, but let's now remove him from the book after seven issues and replace him what....Tanarus?  Yes, let's replace him with an obvious (and desperately lame) gimmick carrying a "hammer" that looks like the world's worst grappling hook.  That really ought to solve all of our problems, yes?

Tanarus and insert him directly into some other asshole's asshole, because it isn't going in mine.  And just so we're clear, you can keep the Worthy, The Unworthy, The Henpecked, The Fearless, The Cuckolded, The Battle Scarred, and The Forgiven, too.  Don't need any of that bullshit.  Because I'm tired of being a member of The Bamboozled, and I don't believe a fucking word that comes out your lying, over-hyped mouths any more.  But I'm not going to get emotionally involved any more, because it doesn't pay.

Here's the deal, folks.  I don't advocate or promote boycotting Marvel, you'll never see me with a picket sign.  I'm not quitting them.  If you tread carefully, there are still some spectacular creators that are occasionally allowed to do terrific work over there.  Hickman's FF is wonderful.  I will adore Peter David's X-Factor as long as they let me, and frankly, Layla Miller is my favorite character in all of comics.  I don't know anybody who actually read Waid's Daredevil book that didn't fall completely in love.

There's no reason to deny yourself of Deadpool MAX, even though those stupid assholes just couldn't help but make it $3.99 and are also needlessly complicating the situation by throwing a new # 1 into our near future.  What David Lapham and Kyle Baker are doing on that book is truly exceptional, and worthy of your attention.  The creators are fine, and I will support any Marvel title that shines through the excrement.  When the excrement covers the shine, then I move on.

You just have to understand that while the talent is undeniable, the management is aggressively malignant.  This is a parody of a company.  I understand this, and Lao Tzu taught me that this too shall pass.  Someday.  In the meantime, I'm going to go have a beer with DC....

- Ryan

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dreamhaven Trip!

Secret of a forbidden face?  Do an audio podcast.

I took a trip to Dreamhaven today with Metro Mike, and as usual it was an immersive experience.  There are so many incredible treasures and little seen ephemera lurking in there, you just get lost in it.  You can lose track of time in there very easily, and you can wander for two solid hours and feel that you haven't gotten past the first couple layers of archaeological goodness.

Metro Mike was looking to complete a run of Doc Savage collections, and they had just about all of them.  (He still needs Vol. 14, and then he's caught up)  Dreamhaven has a rather good pulp selection, surely the best of any comic shop in the area.  They carry a ton of sci-fi and horror books, and if you're into the Universal Monters, you just found your honey hole.  I think Remy would pass out if he walked into that joint.

This is hilarious to me
There's a couple of things that separate Dreamhaven in my mind.  Number one is that you're going to see items you don't find anywhere else.  They have a relationship with Neil Gaiman, so there's lots of signed material available.   I spent a good chunk of time just flipping through a score of movie poster prints and vintage horror paperbacks.  I was particularly smitten with the Invasion of the Saucer Men, complete with Saucer Man carting off some precious booty.

The second thing that always strikes me about Dreamhaven is that it's got you covered wherever you fall on the budget spectrum.  Take the collectible paperbacks, as an example.  They've got one in the case for $750, and I'm sure it's worth every penny.  There are rare books available, and in condition.  They've got every volume of ECs slipcase collections, and all ten boxed volumes of the Carl Barks Library in hardcover, for crying out loud.  It's a serious haven for rare collectibles.

But the unticketed paperbacks were on sale for $1.00 per, and a good host of the ticketed items were yours for $5 or less.  And yeah, if you wanted all of those Carl Barks HCs, it was going to run you $2,000.  (spendy, but good luck finding those anywhere else on earth)  But if you wanted cheap comics, there were plenty available for less than a dollar.

I was looking for Doctor Strange books, because I'm trying to put together a complete run of the 1974 series in 9.2 or better.  I'm about 2/3 done, and Dreamhaven has two short boxes of miscellaneous bronze stuff priced to move.  I didn't find any Doctor Strange in there, but I did find that those comics were now on sale for "buy one, get one free".  So at that point I knew I wasn't escaping those boxes without taking some of them home with me.

I ended up grabbing a half dozen issues of Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane.  Turek raised an eyebrow at that, then assumed that I bought them to flip.  Truth is I probably could flip them for a tiny profit right now, since I paid about $3 a book and they were in Fine-Very Fine condition.  Mostly I bought them because I adore how absurd they are.

It really does crack me up when I see certain folks getting upset about Superman and his pristine image.  He renounces his American citizenship (did he ever really qualify?) for about five minutes (apparently his global focus is gone for the reboolaunch) and a small contingent of idiots lost their bloody minds.

See, I know better.  The uninitiated equate Superman with truth, justice, and boy scout purity.  What the uninitiated don't understand is that for large chunks of his history, Superman was a stone dick.  He was a bully, an asshole, and would smugly advocate that you "slap a jap" during World War II.  His mean streak was never more finely honed than in the Lois Lane comics.

After the Wertham hearings, comics decided to neuter their own balls off with the comics code, and it didn't allow for much of anything that was actually entertaining.  The Lois Lane books were targeted for girls, I'm guessing, because they were all about the pitfalls of being in love with an asshole who just won't commit.  There was no bigger asshole than Superman.

Lois Lane # 136
It wasn't just that he failed to cave in to Lois's wants and needs, he took great pleasure in exacting as much psychological pain as possible.  Once in awhile he'd even pull a feint and say "Lois, meet me at the church at 8:00 o'clock sharp and I'll marry you."  Then she'd roll up to the chapel just in time and Clark would seal her in the vehicle by welding the doors tight with his heat vision, then point and laugh at her ass.  It's just delightfully absurd!

My favorite book that I picked up today was Lois Lane # 136, guest starring Wonder Woman.  Superman announces out of the blue that he's been spending time with Diana lately, and they've decided to get hitched.  Nothing in any of the books prior that would support that by the way, in 1974 there didn't need to be.  No message boards to bitch about things, and the 1974 message boards wouldn't bitch about that any way, because they really didn't expect or give a shit about continuity.  Any way, I'm getting off the story.

The point is that Superman decides to hand Lois the scoop on this story.  Take this to the papers, honey, I'm leaving you for another woman!  It's just delicious.  But as disgusting as that is, he's not nearly done layering on the pain.  He actually makes sure to point out to Lois that he's hooking up with Wonder Woman because he's quite sure that a life with her would bore the shit out of him.  And he's doing it with a giant smile on his super face!  Right, you wouldn't write that into your worst villain's mouth in 2011, much less the angelic and perfect Superman.  But hey, man, it was the 70s, and we were just more awesome back then.

After Superman makes his big announcement and Lois loses about three pounds of water weight crying, she goes on a bounce-back date with daredevil Stacy Mason, douche bag extraordinaire.  These are his actual moves:

Priceless.  Stacy got his ass chucked out of the boat.  You go, Lois!  Of course the big breakup is all an elaborate ruse Clark cooked up to protect Lois from a released mental patient.  See, Clark knew that the very deranged and obsessed Marcia Roche would come after whomever he was dating at the time.  Rather than put Lois in the cross hairs, he decided to split up with her in the most humiliating and emotionally scarring manner possible.  And not clue Lois in on the plan.  And he made sure to make out with Wonder Woman as much as possible while enjoying his clever little hall pass.  Oh, and by the way?  No apology of an kind from the Kryptonian cock, it isn't even addressed.  Ostensibly things will just go back to normal next month with no mention of this ever again.  God bless you, Cary Bates!

So yeah, I got those Lois Lane books, and a Jimmy Olsen comic where Superman has to contend with a man with a "forbidden face".  Like I wasn't going to buy that one.  It was $3, are you kidding me?  I also got some really nice Dead of Night comics from Marvel for $2 each, which is great.

It was great, but it was also a bit sad in there today, because for the first time it occurred to me that for Dreamhaven, like most everywhere else, comics are on the way out.  The Marvel section of trades was down to a couple shelves of a single book case, and it was all old.  In fact, there was very little evidence that they were carrying anything new for comics at all.  The only thing that appeared to be current was the Vertigo section.

Yup, comics are on the way out at Dreamhaven, and that's a shame.  Remember that comic shop I reviewed awhile back just down the road from the Comic College?  Uh huh.  Double Danger Comics is now some gift shop, Puff-N-Stuff collectibles or some other bullshit.  Those cases are now lined with ridiculous plush monstrosities.  I about puked before I left it.  The Comic Book College?  Still going, but maybe it's going.  There's a giant "For Lease" sign hanging on it.

It's goddamn depressing, is what it is.  I get it, but it's depressing.  I would certainly not suggest that an establishment lose money just to prove something about how hard core they are.  I'm sure Double Danger did the right thing fiscally, and Dreamhaven is doing the same.  They cater to a diverse palate of tastes, I wish them the best, and I'd like to think they can make it work as a book and curiosity shop.

But yeah.  As happy as I was to leave Dreamhaven today with a fantastic stack of comics, I was a little sad to wonder how much longer I'll have the honor of doing so.

- Ryan

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Market Spotlight: You're Thor? I Can Barely Sit Down Edition!

Mighty Thor Artist's Edition
ISBN:  unknown at posting
SRP:    $100.00

IDW is a strange and wonderful beast when it comes to releasing collected material.  This book contains scans of Walt Simonson's original artwork from Mighty Thor # 337-340, and 360-363.  These are Marvel books, in case that wasn't apparent.  So how does IDW have the ability to publish these?  I don't know.  I suppose that these days the artist does own their original art, but under those parameters, what would stop a creator from self-publishing a "Marvel Essential" style book?  Kinda weird.

And also kinda cool.  I'll say this about IDW, they have a real knack for producing quality material and packaging it in a most attractive manner, and this book is no exception.  I'll say this as well - they also have a knack for making sure that nobody has the ability to back order or purchase their attractive product after initial release.

Which is a long way around saying that I think this book has all the makings of a very solid earner.  This isn't the first "Artist's Edition" of the series.  There's a Dave Stevens collection or three somewhere out there.  You can expect to pay $250 to obtain a copy of that book.  Good luck finding anybody with one.

Incidentally, there is also a variant cover edition available, it was available exclusively at this year's San Diego Comic Con.  That's a nice one to have as well.  $100 is a steep price to pay, but it's a really nice product with a track record, and I don't see people losing interest in that Thor run of Simonson's.

One more incidentally.  Somewhere down the line IDW also plan on producing a Will Eisner Spirit Artist's Edition.  You'll probably want to pre-order that.

Thor Visionaries:  Walt Simonson Vol 5
Marvel Comics
ISBN:  0785127372
SRP:   $24.99

See, I told you Marvel owns this stuff.  I've made quite a bit of money on Vol 2 and Vol 3 on this series, at least I did before they went back to press on new editions.  Right now Amazon min on this book is sitting right around $45.  It's tough to advocate paying full retail on a copy with the prices in that range.

Still, there is some wiggle room there, and if you can score something at Half Price or eBay dirt cheap I think this is a pretty easy sell.  As mentioned earlier, there is strong interest in Simonson's Thor run.  And there should be, because it's bad ass.

Complete Dick Tracy Volume 10
Complete Dick Tracy Vol 9/10
ISBN:  1600105327/1600105785
SRP:     $39.99

Hey, look, IDW created a high quality series of books that nobody can get hold of.  That's odd. These books are just a year or two old, mind you.

These are reprints of the old Dick Tracy comic strips.  It's hard core niche stuff, which often makes for the best profit opportunities.  I don't need the most popular thing in the world.  I need something that a few people just have to have, and can't seem to find it.

Amazon min on Volume 9 is sitting around $130 as I type this, and Volume 10 has a min price of $165.  It's appropriate to wonder if those prices are actually out in space or feasible.  All I can tell you is that I had a copy of Volume 10 last week, posted it for $125 and it popped inside of 24 hours.  So I feel pretty comfortable buying either book at full retail.

Detective Comics # 871
DC Comics
SRP:   $3.99

Every time I open my mouth I'm extolling the virtues of Scott Snyder's run on Detective, and apparently I'm not the only person who has noticed how ridiculously good it is.

Prices are a little spotty right now, but this issue is consistently closing on eBay for $15-$20, and I don't think it's a fluke.  My guess is that the floppy dips a bit (or a lot) when the material is available in collected form, because I think that market is being driven by people trying to read the issue, not invest.

It's an interesting window right now, though, and I do like the comic long term at $4 because I think history will look very kindly on Snyder's run, and print runs are relatively tiny in 2011.

- Ryan

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chronic Summit Meeting!

Mike and I got together on Monday night for a Chronic Insomnia Summit Meeting.  It was time to check in and see where our energy levels were at and how we felt about the show.  We discussed the things we've been doing well, things that could be done better, things we might like to try in the future.

I can't speak for my podcast partner, but I think it went very well.

I will not get into specifics on changes to format and content, and we're not ready to set a target date for our inevitable return.  I can tell you that after Monday's Summit, Chronic Insomnia will be coming back in a form that will be recognizable to those who have been listening.  We've got some prep work to do, and some more self-indulgent lazing about to accomplish first.  But it's coming.  Soon.  For better or for worse.

And in the meantime.....comics!

Detective Comics # 881
DC Comics
Script:     Scott Snyder
Pencils:   Francesco Francavilla

I've gone on record multiple times saying that I think it's a bit of a shame and a tactical error to reboot this franchise.  But if you're going to go out...what a way to go out.

Scott Snyder's run on Detective Comics is the finest work done on the character since Dark Knight Returns.  It hasn't been flawlessly executed, but the feel of it is so satisfying.  Dick is his own man, Detective tells actual Detective stories, the plot lines are suitably dark and sophisticated, and the character work is superb.

James Gordon, Jr. is now one of the great Bat-Villains, and this issue clinched it.  All of Snyder's main threads are sewn up by the end of the issue, emotionally and mechanically.  The payoff is an absolute jackpot, because the double size issue gives the drama a chance to breathe.  In the hands of a different writer, I think this issue would read a little clunky and little too expository.  Because Snyder has such a chillingly good grasp on the sociopathic mind, though, you spend every panel gritting your teeth and hanging on every word.

So yeah, not only is this a very fitting end to the arc and this era of Detective, but it also plants the seeds for what should be some outstanding fruit further down the road.  I'm not going to spoil it.  I'm just going to tell you for the thousandth time - if you haven't been reading Scott Snyder's Detective...shame on you.

Spider-Island:  Cloak & Dagger # 1 (of 3)
Marvel Comics
Script:     Nick Spencer
Pencils:    Emma Rios

There are so many things not to like about this.  Let's see - it's yet another retread, for starters.  It's getting kind of embarrassing at the House of Ideas, frankly.  They don't have one success story in the last five years to point to, (and I'm being conservative and generous with that five year mark) yet they still keep trotting out these "golden oldies" and further dilute the power of an already spent tactic.  Just off the top of my head: Moon Knight, Ghost Rider, Alpha Flight, and Heroes for Hire.  Every book is somebody's favorite, but none of these are economically viable.

We don't actually need a Cloak & Dagger book, and if we did, now is probably the worst time in the world to test it out.  We need to contract, pull back, tighten up, and put out the best of the best in this market, not throw another fish at the wall and see if it sticks.

Then there's the "Spider-Island" factor, or more appropriately, the lack of a Spider-Island factor.  I'm not reading Amazing Spider-Man right now, (it's $3.99 and it's usually pencilled by Humberto Ramos, so that's a double no-go for me) but I don't have to be reading it to tell you that this Cloak & Dagger installment adds NOTHING to it.  Absolutely nothing.

This comic mentions that Spider-Island is happening, and even spends a few pages mindlessly mixing it up with the victims.  But that element is so muted, dull, and non-integral that Dagger literally stops fighting mid-swing to go to her community college class.  You think I'm kidding.  I'm not. 

And this is the sort of thing that I really love about Nick Spencer, but I gotta tell you - if I bought this book specifically to get more on Spider Island?  I'm PISSED.

Lots to loathe about this comic.  And yet, I do have a soft spot in my heart for these characters, I am mildly interested in what Spencer is doing with them, and Osborn taught me to adore the pencils of Emma Rios.  It looks like Spencer is interested in exploring Cloak & Dagger as a loving relationship, not a romantic one, and I think that's probably a good idea.  I think it's infinitely more interesting to let those feelings stay subtle, tense and dramatic.  ( a la the best of Moonlighting and Castle, as an example)

Spencer's take on the pair dynamic is to make them polar and dichotomous, which is obvious... but also makes sense.  Dagger wants a sense of normalcy and the mundane, Cloak seems to yearn for excellence and the extraordinary.  That's an odd couple theme that can work.

Spencer also seems able to address racial issues with a scalpel instead of the 4 pound maul everyone else is interested in wielding in 2011.  When the Avengers come calling for assistance with the rioting Spider-Folks, Cloak wonders why they always feel the need to address Dagger.  When he gets a real conversation, he gets it from Luke Cage.  Now that felt real to me.  That felt like a real thing, and I didn't feel preached at.  Maybe it's just because I'm hopelessly white, and so is Nick Spencer.  God help me, I'm actually curious to know what Hannibal Tabu's thoughts on this issue will be.


- Ryan

Friday, August 5, 2011

Much ado about....something?

So.  The new Ultimate Spider-Man is Miles Morales, and some people aren't happy about that, and a whole lot more people are unhappy about that fringe unhappiness, and Jesus H Christ can't we all just get along?  See what I did there?  I just Rodney Kinged y'all.

I've got a lot of thoughts on the matter, they're a bit scattered, so bear with me, please.  Just to be up front, my initial reaction to the Morales reveal is that I mostly don't give a shit, but I hold a grain of hope for the character that I will get to before I'm done.

So I'm not invested much in that comic or that character, but I'm invested in the collective stupidity that constitutes these United States of America.  Don't ask me why, but at my advanced age and experience it still stings when I see huge cross sections of this nation get it wrong on every side of every issue over and over and over again.

In this case, I'm not sure what bothers me more - the handful of stubborn morons threatened by the idea of a fictional character that doesn't look like they want him to look, or the legion of blowhard pundits who think they're Sojourner fucking Truth when they decry the handful of stubborn morons.

On Bleeding Cool, and I shit you not, this is an actual headline of an actual op ed piece by an actual person named Kate Kotler:

"Geek Girl On The Street Reports:  You Should Be Much More Careful When You're Talking About The Sensitive Subject Of Race"

It's got all the elements I love -  long winded, scolding in content, superior in tone.  She certainly showed us, didn't she!

Geek Girl objects to folks on message boards who absorbed the news that Ultimate Spider-Man was now a blactino (thank you, Lateesha Rodriguez!) and spouted nonsense like this:

Minorities are typically less than 18% of the population, but they seem to get nearly 100% of the history. Why should white children not have a comic book hero that they can identify with?”

Now, it doesn't take a detective to parse this out and determine that logically, everything in that statement is rubbish.  I don't know what percentage of the population is minority, but I know that they don't get anywhere near 100% of the history.  White children have hundreds and hundreds of comic book heroes they can identify with.  And in fact, without even knowing anything concrete about Miles Morales, I know for certain that scores of white children will be able to identify with the new Ultimate Spider-Man.  Maybe he's shy in public and so are they!  Maybe he builds model trains, and so do they?  Well, that second one is a bit of a stretch, but you know what I mean.  There's more to life than skin color.  Lots more.

The point is that the person who posted that drivel is a moron, and that is beyond debate, and it's easy to see that.  And you know what?  I really, really, really wish Glen Beck hadn't sounded off on the topic and shot his mouth off about Michelle Obama supposedly mandating the move.  (Not true. Duh)  That's so absurd it wouldn't make its way into a Mark Millar book.  But he's a "big deal" to a lot of people, so even though he clearly knows nothing about the subject, people are more inclined to believe this crackpot, fringe, backwoods mentality is significant.  It's not.

The lead on this issue keeps getting buried, and the lead is this:

The Good Guys Won.

Doesn't anybody understand that?  If the idea was a world more in keeping with Martin Luther King, that idea won.  If the goal was to create a world where everybody had an opportunity to be represented, to succeed, and the norm was inclusion and diversity, that goal won.

Damn right, she's a woman
I think the reason people miss this very crucial and very demonstrable point is that most idle minds are fixated on Utopian fantasies of perfect compliance to the ideal.  As long as there are seven vocal morons still stuck in blind bigotry, the mass conclusion is that we're stuck at ground zero.  This is childish, counter productive thinking, and it really shits on the accomplishments of some good people who got a lot of bloody noses creating this world.  (I'm looking at you, the real Sojourner Truth, and Rosa Parks, and MLK)

The good guys won, and I can prove it to you.  I can prove it by reminding you that we're talking about a black/hispanic Spider-Man at all.  He's here.  We did it!  It's not 1955 any more, OK?  We're all drinking the same unhealthy water out of the same water fountain.  Spider-Man is Miles Morales.  This is unthinkable thirty years ago.

And no, it's not perfect.  A few people, obviously identifiable as morons are upset.  Who cares?  They are the fringe.  The norm, the flagship character of the Ultimate Comics Universe of the biggest comics publisher in this country is Miles Morales.

The good guys won, and I can prove it to you.  Miles Morales is the new Ultimate Spider-Man, and Samuel L Jackson is Ultimate Nick Fury, and Michael Clarke Duncan is the Kingpin in the movies.  We did it!  And yes, we do still hear from the fringe when Heimdall has a bit more pigment than we might have anticipated.  But that's just it - they're the fringe, and they identify themselves immediately as deviant when they rage.  So let them rage, we fucking won.

Hero For Hire?  Not in this lifetime
You know what would never ever happen in 2011?  Sam Worthington cast as Luke Cage in a Power Man movie.  Never.  You could hear the Pharisees tearing their robes on Alpha Centauri if that happened.  That movie would be shut down within a week the public backlash would be so severe.  Worthington could do a fantastic job in the role, by the way.  Jailed for a crime he didn't commit, banging heads to make some cash and clear his name?  Yeah, he could do that.  He'd never get the opportunity in 2011, though, because contrary to Geek Girl's assertions, the problem isn't that we are insensitive to race as a culture, but entirely too sensitive.  (See: death of Choi, Ryan)

The good guys won, and it wouldn't kill us to celebrate that once in awhile.  Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey?  Here's to ya, gents.  It wasn't all in vain, Ultimate Spider-Man is blactino.

And Yet.

Take out the obvious idiocy and you'll discover a legitimate and very reasonable undercurrent of skepticism.  When you have a title that's bounced from Ultimate Spider-Man to Ultimate Comics Spider-Man to Ultimate Spider-Man to fucking Ultimate Comics Spider-Man AGAIN, I don't think you can blame the constituency for smelling a gimmicky rat.

Which is not to say that we're smelling correctly.  I don't know enough about Bendis to say one way or the other.  Is it a shameless ploy to create buzz and ostensibly sales?  I don't know.  I know that Brian Bendis is Jewish, and that he's adopted black children.  Does he have some stories to tell about being a minority in America?  Yeah, I bet he does.

Let me tell you about four of the most beautiful words in the English language.  Every once in awhile, my broadcast partner will get a crazy look in his eye, swing his chair over toward the computer and say:

"Let me try something"

There is more magic in those four words than in most wedding proposals.  When I hear them, I can't be sure that success will follow.  I can't be sure that the idea in Mike's head will make it out onto the recording unblemished and pure.  But I can tell you that it's always worthwhile to be there for whatever comes after "let me try something."  Always.

And if that's what Bendis is doing with Miles Morales, trying something, then consider me in full support, for whatever that's worth.  If this is just something he cooked up to be edgy and attract press, then it's a little gross and almost certainly destined to flop, because there won't be any juice on the page.  Comics today have a hard time treading water when they're sublime.  Either way, I'm not getting upset.  The good guys fucking won, in case you hadn't heard.

- Ryan

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Another Stroll Down Overstreet!

Thoughts on Overstreet's 41st Comic Book Price Guide

The 41st Overstreet guide came out a couple weeks ago, I just got mine last Friday in the old DCB Service shipment.   I chose the hardcover version with the Amanda Connor art, pictured above.

The Overstreet Guide comes out with very little fanfare these days, which is a shame.  I think a large part of that is due to the Inner Circle's complete disdain for viewing comics as a commodity.  It's a little surprising to me just how keenly the old guard still feels the pain we suffered in the mid 90s.  Speculation and poor piloting contributed to a massive decline in comics sales, we lost about 2/3 of the direct market's guts in a very short period of time.

There's plenty of blame to go around for that bubble bursting, but price guides like Wizard take a good chunk of that blame, and I think the perception among most around comics is that the Overstreet Guide is a just a stuffier version of Wizard.  In the words of Emporer Palpatine, they are mistaken about a great many things.

The snobs and the Anti-Commodity crowd fall into a logic trap that puts up a meaningless barrier between "People Who Love Comics" and "People Who Sell Comics", not recognizing that belonging to the second group requires that you be in the first

So, if you don't bag and board your books on principle, and if you think that selling stories based upon holographic covers is a bad idea, then fine, and you're right.  You can take a thing too far.  But before you turn your nose up too far, I think it's worthwhile to investigate where the Overstreet Guide and the folks that built it came from.

Back in the day, there wasn't a direct market, and there were no comic book stores.  The good news is that they were everywhere - on the newstand, at the grocery store, at the five and dime, everywhere.  The bad news is that as a consumer, your access to the supply was dictated by forces beyond your control, and that supply was never going to be much more than a month old.

If you bought an issue of Whiz Comics and really liked it, maybe you'd see the next issue or maybe not.  Maybe the drug store decided to switch out to Millie The Model.  Maybe Eddie down the block has the next issue, but you can't count on it.  Maybe you're so interested in Captain Marvel after reading that issue that you want everything that came before it - good luck with that!  The drug store couldn't order back issues if it wanted too, which it didn't.

The point is this - if you loved comics in the Golden and Silver Age, there was a lot of great stuff to enjoy...but it was hard damn work to preserve it.  Mom threw them out, Uncle Sam demanded the paper for the war effort, and nobody was selling anything but the latest issue.

There were small groups of rebel collectors committed to these four color treasures.  These were the hardest of the hard core, and they sought out comics in direct defiance to all that was socially and commercially conventional.  It was a weird thing to do, and these pioneers often went miles out of their comfort zones to visit that odd used book store that had comics available, or create that club of like-minded zealots.

Nobody ever loved comics more than these people, and that's where "comics as commodities" came from, and that's where the Overstreet Guide came from.  It came from people who couldn't live without comics, so they dedicated their lives to preserving and sharing them - and yes, there was money involved, but the money came from the passion.  And it still does.  If you read the Overstreet Guide today, you're exploring the vestiges of that first group of saints and prophets, and also the folks who have had the torch passed to them by the tribal elders.  Each one of them loves comic books more than you, "Mr. I don't bag and board my book because I actually read them."  Deal with it.

Yellow Kid - not the first
It's not just a string of numbers and line listings, either.  There's a lot of information about the medium as a whole that isn't readily available anywhere else.  The story, as it still goes, it that comics were born with something like Famous Funnies or the Yellow Kid, and it's just not true.  You want to learn about the Platinum age?  You go to Overstreet.

There are articles about war comics, romance comics, dissections of the different epochs, and a lot of pictures.  Whatever you think you know about comic books, I guarantee that if you just flip through the Overstreet Guide, you are going to find a book or a niche that you weren't aware of now simply can't live without.

The gold for me actually isn't the prices at all, (I'll get to them in a bit) but the market overview from a bevy of industry legends in the front.  (pages 65-152)  They come from a wide array of specialties and experience levels, and come from a geographically diverse base.  There appears to be no mandate about format or subject matter - some speak more personally about specific finds they made in the prior year, some are more interested in the macro trends and pure data.  When you piece all of the stories together, they form a loose consensus on these points:

  • The Golden Age is still important and produces the highest values, but the action is in the Silver Age
  • There is a growing chasm in the marketplace between high grade key books and everything else.  Uber-rare high end keys set records and sell easily, the rest is difficult to move without deep discounting
  • Sales are holding steady or slightly up for vintage comics
  • eBay is losing traction as an e-commerce vehicle

It's a different and fascinating world, an annual graph charting the migration of a niche market.  Right now we're witnessing America getting older, and the Golden Age is starting to fade it's way out, and the Silver Age is rising to the throne.  There's simply fewer people alive that appreciate Tom Mix, or even know who the hell he is.  So that Western piece of the market is softening a little.  It's not dead by any means, but in the high end world of deep pockets and investment portfolio collecting, Spider-Man speaks to more people now than Little Lulu.

Michael Browning actually wrote his contribution about the emerging trade paperback market!  It was nice to see The Game get its due in such an esteemed market publication, and he got it mostly right.  Not sure what made him spotlight that Max Master of Kung Fu as a benchmark for scarcity.  It's definitely not prevalent, but I can find three of them for every Avengers: Kang Dynasty I come across.  But yeah, mostly he got it right.

How great is this?
Even if you aren't interested in investing in the books, it's fun to read passionate people talk about things that are out there.  Somehow, Planet Comics had escaped my attention, and it's great!  Lots of fantastic Good Girl Art and sci-fi stories from the 40s and 50s.  I'll have a few of these before the year is out, and because I don't need them in NM condition, I'll find some real bargains, for sure.  That was worth the price of admission right there.  What overlooked gems will you discover?  Grab the guide and find out!

As far as the price guide portion itself goes, the results are imperfect but still useful.  The contributors are all clearly focused on the Golden/Silver Age, and the results they are reporting were outdated before they hit the press.  We're talking about an annual publication that presumably takes months to compile - obviously you're not getting up to the minute pricing results!

It gets particularly laughable when Overstreet tries to grapple with modern books like Walking Dead or Morning Glories.  It lists Walking Dead # 1 in NM at $100, and Morning Glories # 1 at $8, and both figures are clearly absurd.  Nobody on this planet is selling those books at those figures.  Nobody.  Walking Dead # 1 is a $400 book in that condition, and Morning Glories is much closer to $40 than to $8.  You have a better shot at spotting the Loch Ness Monster than a NM copy of Walking Dead # 1 for $100, and that's a scientific fact.  So why do they bother reporting it as such?

three dollars???   I'll take it!
The Overstreet Guide has a difficult time giving modern books their due, which is partially understandable.  Most of the contributors simply don't deal or believe in the material.  One would think the solution to that problem would be to assert that they have no after-market value at all, and for much of the modern age, that's exactly what they do.  Overstreet lists Deadpool # 54-55 (1997 run) at $3.00 a piece!  Well, Mr. Overstreet, those trade for $50 a pop, so I'll take all you've got at $3, please!

I half get it.  In a world where something like Skullkickers can go from secondary market darling to absolute afterthought inside of three months, it's hard to put too much stock in some modern prices, particularly since the next update will be 12 months down the road.

The bottom line is that if you're using the Overstreet Guide as a tool to help you decide what comics to buy, understand that it's basically useless to you for any material 1980 or newer, and comically out of touch with anything from this century.  I think it's an indispensable resource for pricing Golden or Silver Age books, though, and a worthwhile reference for anybody interested in comics.

- Ryan