Thursday, April 28, 2011
Brightest Day has solidified for me what I've long suspected - the problem with mainstream comics is that they've become entirely reliant on "event" books to remain solvent, and the "event" books amount to nothing more than narrative check kiting.
Marvel and DC are no longer in the story business. They are both illusionists at this point, with just enough rabbit coming out of the hat to sucker a couple of dissatisfied customers to the next show, which will certainly be thirty times more super, of course. But the magic isn't there.
Don't take my word for it, though. Take it from the experts, who are much less jaded and much more invested than I am.. Here's Doug Zawisza reviewing Brightest Day # 24 over at CBR:
"The shift in the last two issues to suddenly make this a book that featured Swamp Thing was dynamic and sudden, but also detracted from the wonderful stories being set up for the other characters who truly carried this book through."
How about this from George Marston from the Best Shots team over at newsarama:
"It was made clear early on that the series was building towards something, and sometimes felt like it was less a story, and more a tool being used to accomplish a task."
So the point of Brightest Day is not to tell a story, in case you were ever fooled. The headline is:
"SWAMP THING AND JOHN CONSTANTINE ARE BACK, MINI-SERIES AT 11"
But all that stuff with Hawk and Dove, and Hawkman, and Firestorm, and Deadman, and redemption...it's all bullshit. It's all just a ruse to divert your attention from the Swamp Thing gambit, so you spend the money on Aftermath: Search For Swamp Thing.
Zawisza says the Brightest Day epilogues for the would-be stars of the series are "...hollow without any indication of where to follow these characters from here, save for Swamp Thing."
Look, I'm fine with Swamp Thing and JC coming back, but why can't it make sense, and flow? Why does it have to be a bait and switch?
There's never any real money in these narrative accounts. The trick is to get the sucker invested in the next bad check. This is Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi we're talking about here, too. The problem isn't that the writers aren't up to snuff. The problem is that these things aren't even built as stories.
John Siuntres talk to Matt Fraction on Word Balloon about Fear Itself. It wasn't built on any place of inspiration, and it didn't develop from something vital in the characters or their history. It came from editorial approaching Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker with "we've got these movies coming out with Captain America and Thor, what can you give me on those characters that's big"?
I'm not suggesting that Fraction is doing hack work, and I'm not saying that nothing good can come from editorial prodding. I believe that Fraction is doing the best work he knows how on Fear Itself, but it's not a story he was dying to tell, and that kind of manufactured hype for hype's sake hasn't played well in the past.
I think we're likely to see a lot of magic hammers fall from the sky, a lot of characters will behave in odd and contradictory ways, somebody will "die" for about twelve minutes, and then it will end with everyone and everything back to the way it started but for some completely random and ill-fitting twist that will set up the next bad check they want to pass our way. Call me the Amazing Fucking Ryan, but I think it's safe to say that's how this is going to fall out. You'll have to let me know, because I'm not going to be buying any of it.
It's not about narrative. The point of Secret Invasion is to set up Dark Reign so you can set up Siege. It's an endless stream of narrative checks with insufficient funds, promising the next one will pay for it all. For some reason an incredible number of us are still buying.
Mike Carey calls it the most fun he's had at Marvel in the back matter. Well, I'm glad somebody had fun.
Flashpoint is coming out soon. Alternate reality, huh? They're not even pretending about the ephemeral nature of the bullshit any more. Are you still going to buy in? Probably.
As your attorney, I advise you to go read Savage Dragon and leave these rubber checks alone. Just sayin'.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
For almost a full year after I purchased Uncanny X-Men # 163, I didn't buy another book new off the rack. I was able to gather a small handful of older, tattered books from garage sales.
Matter of fact the only DC comic I can remember from those old rummage sale books was a copy of Superboy # 246 featuring the Legion of Superheroes. It also featured a cover depicting a mostly unclothed nubile young woman being burned to death by Sun Boy. Can't imagine how that ended up making its way home with me!
Daredevil # 200 hits stands in November of 1983, and I selected that one for reasons other than my now obvious psycho-sexual fetishes. Although Daredevil's clothing is torn off his supple arms and biceps, so maybe I'm just fooling myself about that. It was a nice John Byrne cover, at any rate, and we'll leave it at that.
This issue was written by Denny O'Neill, but there's plenty of juicy bits left over from the Miller run driving this story. It's partly a Bullseye story, and there was plenty of drama there, being that he killed Daredevil's one true love. It's also a story about Matt getting jammed up about his father's checkered past, and pondering his position that a hero doesn't use lethal force.
I think that's ultimately what got me with the Marvel comics was the ethical dilemmas and the fact that so many of these books were populated by tortured souls.
Bullseye is shit nuts, and Kingpin just can't wait to remind him that Elektra was a better assassin. Matt remembers a story when his father dressed up as a devil, then tells Matt he'll never disgrace himself in that way again even if it means the family starves. Ah, the irony of it all!
I like the fact that Daredevil ultimately decides not to kill Bullseye, but he really has to think about it. I like the fact that Daredevil was perfectly confident in fighting with his arm in a sling. Daredevil was a damaged tough guy, and the book was more about making do under incredible duress than "saving the day", which was never terribly interesting to me.
And that pretty much did it. From that point on, I knew that I loved comics, the Marvel ones in particular. I began to make a little more money, and as I found opportunities I would take books home with me. I didn't really have access to a comic shop, but I could get them at Humboldt drug or the Q Station. It was difficult or impossible to have a complete run of something, and you never knew what those places would order or when. The popular stuff like GI Joe were carried regularly, though. Good gravy did we love our GI Joe comics back then!
The next seminal development is Secret Wars in 1985, which doesn't hold up particularly well when you read it now, but it surely was exciting when it hit. After that I'm deep enough into it where I simply can't abide relying on the unreliable newsstand sources, and I use my money to buy subscriptions from Marvel; Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Power Man/Iron Fist, Hulk, GI Joe, Defenders, Thor. I got a LOT of subscriptions, mailed to me protected by nothing but a brown paper wrap of the type you might take your lunch to work in.
I think there's something to the idea of being psychologically branded, though. My earliest associations were "Marvel = fun and dramatic, DC = stodgy, stilted" and I think that's still with me beneath the surface event today. Even though I'm painfully rational, and I know those associations are demonstrably false. Even though at this stage of the game I'm consciously far more committed to following creators I like than companies or characters. Even though as businesses, I consider Marvel to be mildly evil and DC mildly committed to the greater good.
Even though I know all those things, there's a little 10 year-old Ryan who remembers Spider-Woman and Kitty Pryde and Daredevil who really wants his Marvel comics. I'm like a comic fiend, forever chasing the dragon trying to recapture that first high of Avengers # 128.
So before you guys consider abandoning those all-ages books forever....remember that there are plenty more 10 year-old Ryans out there waiting to inflict their future selves with demands for brand specific comics. It's true. Trust me, I know.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
|The comic that created a monster - Ryan Lee, comics buyer!|
The first comic I ever purchased with my own money was Uncanny X-Men # 163, hitting stands in November of 1982. I picked it up at an unknown magazine rack somewhere in New Ulm, MN on a shopping trip with my mother. (I think it was Ben Franklin) I was ten years old at this point, and able to earn $1 in exchange for various and sundry household tasks. So I had a dollar with me, funds enough for exactly one comic. There could be only one choice, of course - I was grabbing the one where a teen aged girl was having her clothes torn off by an actionably Gigeresque alien creature. Score!
Mark spoke in assured, hushed tones about the fact that these issues represented the pinnacle of comics storytelling, and that reading them exposed you to the risk of having your face melt off. We were allowed to view the covers from a distance, and Mark peeled back a few pages so we could catch a glimpse of the interiors. We were instructed that we were in no way worthy of actually touching his X-Men comics. We asked to read them any way. Mark quickly secured them in hiding spot in his room, and they were never seen again.
It was at that point I knew I had to get my hands on some X-Men comics.
So there I was with a dollar, and there's Kitty Pryde, resplendent in her vulnerability, and it's the X-Men. Bam. Done. I had a high opinion of comics, and impossibly grand expectations about the X-Men in particular. It would have been very easy for this book disappoint. Instead, Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum ripped the top off my skull and danced on the contents with golf shoes. That comic absolutely destroyed my mind it was so good.
Where to start? First of all, the Brood are fantastic. Direct rip-offs of H.R. Giger's aliens? Yeah, I'd say there's a lawsuit there somewhere. But still fantastic, because they just ooze evil, and they're calculating pricks so you can't underestimate them as simple violent beasts.
Meanwhile Storm, Nightcrawler, and Kitty, (she goes by Ariel at this stage of her career) try to take back Lilandra's ship. Kurt's outside in the vacuum of space while Kitty phases in and then tries to open an airlock from inside. Not much time for thumb-twiddling on that gambit! Of course Kitty runs into trouble, as the cover foreshadows. Remember when covers used to tell you something about the book's content? Those were special days.
And that's the beauty of the bronze/copper age Claremont run. It's the ultimate in superhero soap operatics. You didn't need an event banner at the top of the book to declare for you that shit just got intense. Every issue the stakes were high; physically, emotionally, the whole ball of yarn. Wolverine gets transported just as he's about to get to the Brood queen, and ten seconds later the issue ends with an unknown battleship squaring up Lilandra's boat in their sights! This is all in 22 pages, folks.
The whole thing was a shock to the system for me. Wolverine wasn't behaving like a choir boy. He was kind of an asshole and a wild card. In 1982, that was counter to all expectations. The comic was loaded with characters referencing the teachings of Prof. X, who was larger than life in the book. The characters has meaty ethical situations to deal with, and although the word balloons are probably a little verbose and over-the-top, the philosophy is always precipitated by something visceral in the plot. So not only was the action slick and rolling faster than I could keep up with, but I was thinking, feeling, engaging with X-Men at a deeper level than anything I was watching or reading at the time. The X-Men were as powerful an experience as I knew.
As a demonstration of the simplicity of the times, here's the subscription checklist in the issue:
31 titles total, can you believe it? They wanted $6.00 for 16 issues of comics, and now they want $3.99 for one issue of New Avengers. Yeesh. The point is that there was only one X-Men title to choose from, so you knew where to leverage your interest. Modern sensibility says they were leaving money on the table. I say poppycock. The money was there because they didn't murder their consumer with the illusion of choice. Offering 13 different versions of the product isn't 13 times better, it's one hundred times worse. Paralysis via analysis. The easiest choice on a menu that cluttered is to walk away.
The important thing is, see how excellent my penmanship was at age 11? Extraordinary.
As I've been looking back at my secret origin, I think I've actually undervalued the impact of Avengers # 128. That was a much more formative experience then I've previously given credit. But I would still say that Uncanny X-Men # 163 is the most important comic book of my life. No comic is more singly responsible for my life with the medium. If that book doesn't kick nine shades of ass, it's possible my life is very different.
It would be another year before I would buy another comic - X-Men # 163 kept me burning that whole time without anything else to stoke the flame. My problem was that I didn't have the discipline in order to save $12, or even $6, for that matter. That represented weeks or months of my "income", and those GI Joe figures and baseball cards weren't going to buy themselves, you know? So it was hard to pull the trigger on that subscription, although I considered putting my birthday money toward a pair of subscriptions.
If you look at the checklist above, you'll see that I was hoping to subscribe to the X-Men and also.....Daredevil. I've always been fascinated by the "man without fear". He's next, when I probably wrap up my secret origin story.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
This is something I got from the Splash Page podcast. What is this appendage? To whom does it belong? It's a chubby dong, of course. Except it isn't. It's actually the "nose of steel" as rendered by Shane Davis on the cover of Superman: Earth One:
For reasons only Davis understands, he drew a thick cock on Clark Kent's face where there ought to be a nose. I find that 1,000 times more funny than I should. Thanks to Tim Callahan for being oddly fixated and then sharing. If you aren't listening to that show, you're doing yourself a disservice.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
When last we left my secret comics origin, I had just discovered comics at a strange cabin in the woods and was instantly smitten by a damsel in distress, in that case played by Scarlet Witch in Avengers # 128. As I look back on things, it's clear to me now that I have more than a little William Moulton Marston in me. For the uninitiated, Marston created Wonder Woman. He decided he was going to bring feminism to comics, and by feminism he meant bondage. Lots of tied-up women in those books, lots of women tying people up. Delicious!
But I digress. I don't know exactly where to place that cabin venture chronologically. 1978? 1979? I was a precocious lad and ridiculously good at reading, and that time line puts me at 7 years old when the comics bug (or was it a fetish bug?) first hit me.
I had a couple of problems satisfying that craving, though. (the comic one, mean. well, both. but I'm talking about the comic one) The problem was that the cabin comics weren't mine, and I had no income. I was completely dependent on begging a pair of rather indifferent parents to get me some more comics.
But beg I did, and scored my first panhandling success on a trip with my mom downtown. About once a year mom would take a trip "downtown" to Minneapolis in the summer. Mom would buy herself something nice, a dress or a blouse or the like from Dayton's. We would get hot dogs for lunch at Woolworth's. I would get some school clothes, and a little something special as well if I wasn't too much of a pain the ass.
Well, I had comics on the brain, big time! There were no comic shops. Downtown would have had the legendary Shinder's newsstand/bookstore, but there was no way mom was going to take me there, and I wouldn't have known to ask. I have no idea what store we found with a magazine rack, but one of those stores had one, and the magazine rack had comics! I was given a $5 limit, which at the time adjusting for inflation equated to roughly six billion dollars.
I started to pick out comics, but the pile was getting enormous, mom was frowning, and I knew it just wasn't going to fly. We were taking the bus, and she didn't want me mucking about with a dozen or more magazines.
Pocket books to the rescue! Back then Pocket books were publishing tiny little paperbacks collecting Marvel comics, and "ALL IN FULL COLOR" no less! As a comics reading experience, 39 year-old Ryan does not recommend it. The format is just too tiny, you squint like demon just trying to squeeze the word balloons into your eyeballs.
For 7 year-old Ryan, those Pocket books were bad ass! They were comics, they were $2.25, and my mom was far more willing to have me drag two tiny books on the bus than a three foot stack of comics. I don't remember exactly which options were available, but I selected Captain America and Spider-Woman.
I don't know why I picked Spider-Woman, except....I take that back. I know exactly why I picked her - that book was packed to the gills with poor Spider-Woman getting secured by ropes and chains. It's insane, I know. But first there was a bewildered Wanda Maximoff, and this time I was completely absorbed with the very lovely and very harried Jessica Drew. I was a seven year-old bondage enthusiast.
Apparently, I wasn't the only pervert, because it seems like that entire series was built on bondage:
|And at least the villians aren't in fetish gear|
|Tied up and helpless, no less|
|And with chains this time - gotta mix it up!|
See what I mean?
At any rate, I read each of those books about 12,000 times apiece. I think I enjoyed reading Spider-Woman for the 36th time more than I enjoy reading my new comics on most Wednesdays. I think that's part of being a child, though.
The Captain America book was a tad confusing. It starts with Avengers # 4 and then jumps into some early Tales of Suspense stuff that mostly goes in order, but definitely skips issues. You can tell that you're missing pieces, and it's kind of maddening. It's the kind of thing that would send me to this blog in a fuming rage these days, probably. It's poorly packaged, and punishing to read.
The thing is, it didn't put me off comics at all. The frustration didn't manifest as "this sucks, I'm done with this", it manifested itself as "How in the hell am I going to find these missing issues"! I had no access to back issues, and no money to pay for them if I could find them.
Jim Shooter's philosophy was always that comics fail to sell when they suck. Make good comics, see good sales. I don't know that I fully believe that. Fantastic Four right now is a really good comic that don't sell as well as Shadowland, which is really quite dreadful. But there's something to be said for those early Cap issues. The energy of Stan and Jack translated very well, and Spider-Woman hit my fetish, apparently. Would I be writing this blog right now if my first exposure to comics had been Justice League: Rise of Arsenal? Maybe. I don't know.
Here's what I know for sure. I was absolutely confused by the fact that those Spidey stories didn't connect, but again, it wasn't a deal breaker. Even at that young age, (and if it actually was 1977, I would have been five years old) I wondered which events came first and if the stuff in Amazing had anything to do with the stuff in Spectacular. There was nobody to ask, though. Was dad going to sort that out? I don't think so.
The important thing was that Morbius was very compelling, and J Jonah Jameson was an aggressive ass, and Ghost Rider was probably the coolest goddamn thing I had ever seen in my life. A good guy with hellfire? It was delightfully confounding. Vampires, hellfire, superheroes, action. I was a Marvel kid all the way.
I think the point is that for me, accessibility was an issue, but not urgent. The question wasn't - does this make me a comfortable reader? The question was - is this stuff vital enough to make me want to take the challenge? The answer for Ryan in 1979 was HELLS YEAH.
But I didn't have a phone that played space age video games, or a television with 6,000 channels and a DVR that saved all the good stuff for easy access. We had a Heathkit television that my dad built by hand, because we couldn't afford a pre-built color television. It had 4.5 channels on it. If you toggled the UHF knob just right, you could kind of get Spectrum in. Spectrum had boobs on it after 11pm, and that's important.
So back in 1979, Captain America was pretty exotic, high caliber stuff. And I think it still is. I know it still is. It just has a lot more to compete with, and the direct market has made that compelling stuff a little more niche and a little more work to get to. In 1979, comics were everywhere. You didn't know anybody that didn't have some. Now it involves some effort, and in "life at a keystroke" 2011 that's a barrier.
Time to stop for now, I think. Part one was me bumping into comics that weren't mine. Part two is me begging for other people to bring comics home to me. Part three is going to be my first real purchases. It all begins with a nubile mutant girl in dire peril. I know you're all shocked.....
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
I'm speaking of Deadpool # 35, and I'm actually not that concerned about the gag headlining this piece. It's a Sheen gag, which is pretty gross at this point, but it's a subtle Sheen gag, and it's mixed with a Ridley Scott reference. I think that redeems it. Any mention of tiger blood or warlocks would have pushed it into the "spare me" category, but it's well within historical bounds for Deadpool to dabble in current events. So there.
What really intrigued me was the gag at the end of the book:
On the one hand, I'm always going to defend this bit because it takes a certain amount of balls. Not everybody is happy with these double ships, myself included. Deadpool is probably the worst offender. If you don't care about the fact that sometimes Marvel asks you to spend twice as much on the title to keep up, then the whole thing is much ado about nothing.
But what if you do care? What if you're a reader on a tight budget or a retailer trying to keep those budgeted, unhappy customers calm? In that case, the thing that's cornholing you just made a joke about how it's cornholing you. It's rubbing your face in it. Since this month Deadpool is double shipping, it's really grinding your nose in the excrement.
As I said, I'm in favor of the bit. Deadpool knows he's a comic book character, and these types of gags have been a staple of the book, particularly during Nicieza's run. Fabian used to take blatant shots at Marvel and its policies that made me wonder how they let the books ship. So in keeping with the tradition of being blunt about company foibles, I support what Danny Way did.
I didn't think it was funny, though, because the joke felt mostly on me. I guess that makes it extra brilliant in some ways. I imagine somewhere Andy Kaufmann is very proud.
What does the peanut gallery think - is it gross, is it ballsy funny, or is it a non-issue?
I don't know how instructive, useful, or entertaining my secret origin with comics might be. Maybe my experience growing up in the 1970s doesn't translate into anything that applies in 2011. The culture has certainly changed. I was using a telephone that weighed about 35 pounds that I had to dial by spinning my fingers in a circle. The idea of having (in fact expecting/demanding) instantaneous and near infinite amounts of information and entertainment would have been unthinkable.
As a child of the 1970's we used to rearrange our lives to catch what little amusement was available. Whatever it is you want me to do on Saturday morning will simply have to wait - that's my cartoon time. You couldn't watch Season 3 of The Smurfs on DVD whenever you felt like it. You got it on Saturday or not at all. That's nothing compared to annual stuff like a Peanuts special or a Garfield event. Maybe if you were a billionaire you a VCR to capture something like that, but we didn't have one of those in my house until the late 1980s.
|Once upon at time: A BIG deal.|
So the culture has changed dramatically, to be sure, but human beings are Story Machines. Always have been, I suspect they always will be. We do other things, but these are mostly just necessities to be gotten out of the way so that we can get on with finding stories.
Comic books are nothing less than a very potent form of storytelling, so I really don't see them going out of style, even as the sales figures plummet. Something else is going there. Perhaps that means that my trip down memory lane might drudge up something pertinent after all. Stranger things have happened, I guess.
So yes, comics. In the 1970s comics were absolutely everywhere except for my house. They were considered silly, childish, throw away entertainment. It was OK to have them as a grade schooler, but they were something you were expected to grow out of, and interest in comics was nothing to be proud of. But they were everywhere, and they were cheap.
The first time I remember reading comics was at a cabin on a family get-away. My father had a work friend who invited us out to his place in the woods. I was expected to stay out of the adults' hair and do some suitably male athletic type stuff stuff outside. And I did some of that - until I found the stack of comics in the living room.
There were about a dozen comics laying underneath a reading table, parked conveniently next to a comfy recliner. The stash contained a smattering of genres, and all of the issues were well-loved and read into near oblivion. There were a couple of westerns that I summarily dismissed, and most of the inventory were cartoon/funny animal books. I remember some Pink Panther, some Flintstones, some Tom & Jerry. I read all of those with some interest.
The comic that grabbed me by the balls and shook violently was Avengers # 128. That book was originally published in 1974, script by Steve Englehart and pencils by Sal Buscema. The cover features a disembodied head of Iron Man with that really unfortunate nose, created by a misinterpretation of a comment Stan Lee shot off absent mindedly in the bullpen one day.
|Sometimes the nanny is a witch|
The plot synopsis goes like this: The Avengers and Fantastic Four just got done fighting....something together. Just when they think things are settling down, mystical lightning rains down from the sky for reason! Or is there? Mighty Thor fails to quell the lightning, but the FF's nursemaid Agatha Harkness diagnoses the threat as mystical and counters the attack. She then abruptly announces that she's a bit of witch, and that she's retiring from babysitting Franklin to mentor Wanda, who is in fact a witch in name only. (and they announce this fact bluntly)
|Not worth it, dude!|
So Agatha isolates Wanda with a little perception bubble, so that nobody can see, hear, or interfere with what's going on in that room. Next appears the warlock Necrodamus, (an old Defenders villain) who quickly dispatches with Harkness leaving Wanda to fend for herself. Oh, snap! There's some arcane/mutant power back-and-forth, and ultimately Scarlet Witch wins the day by reaching down for an unprecedented fourth hex. (Back then Wanda could only go to the well three times a day)
Oh, and then Kang shows up at the end. Zoiks!
|Reaching deep like Louden Swain!|
So you can't get through with Avengers # 128 and understand what happened in the issue before, and you won't know a damn thing about Johnny Storm or what he can do. Whatever. That information isn't urgent to the unfolding tale.
Englehart did something more important than create comprehensive exposition - he made the damn thing interesting. Let's talk about world building for a moment. He sets up the issue with big action, and then has the nursemaid triumphant where the Thunder God failed. That's how you re-define a character efficiently. Then he has her move from the realm of the Fantastic Four to The Avengers. That's how you create the fun of a shared universe! Sometimes the nanny from one book suddenly becomes a player in another, and you think to yourself "oh wow, these things affect one another, that's kinda neat."
|That's it - I'm reporting you to HR!|
Everything about this issue moves, it feels like it's going somewhere. The plot, the characters, they're travelling swiftly and daring you to catch up. All this happens in 18 pages of story, by the way. I guess I can't speak for anybody else, but I didn't fell cheated then, and I don't feel cheated now. It doesn't bog itself down in decompression or overblown exposition.
So many things are right with Avengers # 128. You may not be 100% caught up if this issue is your only experience, but it encourages you to want to learn the rest with the strength of its content. It gives you the tools to find those other issues, and it fosters the sense that the Avengers rest comfortably in a wider, cohesive whole. Remember when comics felt like that?
Plus, the Scarlet Witch is hot as hell.
That comic may have been guilty of melodrama, but it sure was engaging. I wanted more comics, specifically more Marvel comics. And soon I would get them.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
As mentioned on the latest issue of Chronic Insomnia, I went digging into John Jackson Miller's website to see if I couldn't find some hope in the macro sales data. Which I did. Find hope, I mean.
The truth is we have some very real, very pressing issues currently with reader retention and the remarkable collapse of the top of the chart. But we're nowhere near as far in the gutter as we were in 2000. That was a bad time to be publishing or retailing comics. If you're interested in retailer war stories from that era, I highly recommend Brian Hibb's book Tilting At Windmills.
|Batman # 582|
It sounds counter intuitive, which is why I'm extra sure the play will work. Imagine life in the year 2000 as a comic book fan or retailer. Everything is in the tank, and you might blame Marvel's bizarre Heroe's World distribution catastrophe on that. But mostly you're still nursing the wounds attributed to a glut of chromium enhanced die-cut overprinted monstrosities.
Speculation? Blasphemy. The idea of comics as collectibles is anathema. If you're seen with a bag and board, I imagine ruffians would instantly appear to punch you in the face. You take great pride using your comics as toilet paper so that everyone knows you're a purist. The poop stained pages are a badge of honor.
So not only are print runs as tiny as they have ever been in the history of comics, but nobody thinks of them as collectibles. They're too new, and the whole concept is just out of vogue. There aren't many comics from the year 2000 to begin with, and what's there isn't protected.
|Batman # 588|
Don't take my word for it, go visit your comic shop and try to dig some up. Assuming that your LCS sells back issues at all. Most don't, and for good reason - it's not a good value, pound for pound. They take up a lot of space, and not enough people are interested. There's just a couple, at least for now. People like me, looking at Batman books.
In 2000, "No Man's Land" is just finishing up. DC then changes the cover dress on both Batman and Detective. I don't know if it's good or not, but it sure is distinctive.
Larry Hama gets first crack at Batman post-No-Man, and then they hand over the book to a couple mooks you may have heard of. Ed Brubaker. Brian Vaughan. Greg Rucka, who also gets Detective. It's like a murderer's row of the up-and-coming, on the the premier figure in the secondary market.
Listen, you may have noticed, but people like Batman. He's going to be around for awhile, probably long after we have print comics being published. That means there will be collector's, completists. The myth right now is that the material is too new, too protected, and too plentiful to be worth bothering.
I think that myth is wrong on all counts. Those books are eleven years old now, nobody would have been treating them as though they might be valuable, (which is exactly how things get valuable) and nobody really has them in any great quantity. When the collectors come to reap these Batman issues, there won't be much wheat for them to harvest.
So I'm advocating a little speculating on Batman # 575-600. You've got Batman, you've got premier writers, and you've got the entire collecting public thinking backwards on value. I think it pays to be very picky on condition if you decide to get in on this. VF is going to be all too common, which is why you're going to want to cherry pick better than that. But the VF/NM and above? I'd pay $3 an issue for sure, and maybe go up to $5. I'd still load up on that run in the VF range if I could get them for $1. I don't think it's out of the question to find some of this material in "buck bins" at your local convention at all, and I think they're a really nice long term investment.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
|Jim Shooter: Writer. Creator. Large Mammal.|
If yesterday's review of Back Issue whet your appetite for comics history, Jim Shooter's blog is a nice supplement to that. It seems to be updated daily, and currently focused on non currents events like memories of Jack Kirby's missing art, the birth of Secret Wars, and right this moment he's covering writing tips from the Old Masters.
According to Shooter, (as passed down from the sages of old) storytelling is composed of three parts:
- What it was
- What happened
- How it came out
It seems overly reductive at first blush, but honestly, I have a hard time poking holes in it. The old Campbellian Hero's Journey still has some cache I believe, and it follows that basic path. It gets more complex in that the hero will initially resist moving to the "what happened" part, and there are very specific archetypes that assist and resist the main character along the way. But yeah, that pretty much boils down storytelling about as far as it can go.
And I think that formula makes it easy to see where and why modern comics fail to find traction. Continuity issues are murder on "what it was", aren't they? Tie your X-Men thread into 30+ years of convoluted soap operatic history, and it's tough to get a handle on what exactly it was after all. There's nothing wrong with having 30+ years of convoluted history, particularly if much of it is good fun, by the way. There's nothing wrong with it, but the further you go, the more difficult it becomes to engage the reader with the first third of storytelling.
But because we know beforehand that "how it comes out" is pretty much exactly "what it was", the entire storytelling process is subverted. So because the Big 2 will simply not allow themselves a real How It Came Out, they make Matt Murdock possessed by a lame and disposable evil spirit, Hell's Kitchen looks exactly as it does when the whole thing started, and we all know before the inevitable that Murdock's friends will accept him back after a little bit of moping.
Essentially what Marvel and DC have done is completely demolish 2/3 of what makes a story before you ever crack the cover, and the only thing we're left with is how deftly they execute the What Happened. Most aren't sure what they were looking at in the first place, the rest know that nothing will ever change whatever that "was" was, and the best you can hope for is that your favorite creators gets a 9 from the judges on their ability to tread water, because nobody is really going anywhere.
Kinda sad. Why do I love these things again? Yeesh!
On a happier note, I think that very simple formula shows the way back. Pare some reliance on backstory and have a little balls and let things change a bit, would you? Seems doable. Listen, guys, there's only 14 of us reading these things right now any way. Whatever you drop into the comics, I can promise you it won't affect your action figure or movie ticket numbers. Nobody is watching. Let it rip!
So that's that. If you're interested in learning about how a 13 year old freelance writer for DC ended up ruling Marvel comics, hey, Jim Shooter's blog. He's telling those stories, daily. He was in the middle of a lot of comics history. Not everybody subscribes to Jim's version of certain events, and that's fine. His version is pretty damn interesting.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Back Issue # 47
Editor: Michael Eury
$7.95 print/$2.95 digital
As I get older and become more of an artifact than viable modern human, I become more interested in history. Back Issue is comics history in magazine form, and I think I'm in love.
I don't know how you feel about it, but I think we've been sold a false bill of goods about the information available to us. The myth is that in the Age of the Interweb, we are inundated with a nearly comprehensive amount of instant information. So you can go to CBR or Newsarama or Bleeding Cool or Comics Alliance and be up to the second on everything that's happening in the comics world.
And yet, no. If you look even casually, you'll discover that what "information" is out there really doesn't say anything at all. It certainly has photos of Adrianne Palicki in the Wonder Woman costume and a bunch of people bitching about it. It absolutely has a streaming avalanche of creative team shifts and empty shilling for the Big 2 project du jour. That we have in spades.
But we don't know much about the people creating these comics, or how these projects actually go down. Who just about got their ass kicked at the last Marvel retreat? We don't know. What was it like to work under Dan Didio, and how did DC decide on Bob Harras? Don't know. Yeah, every once in awhile you might get a slip of the tweet that provides a little interior access. Erik Larsen will spin you a story if you ask him, maybe.
Mostly, though, the things I really want to know about, the life things, the real things...those are buried. And probably for good reason. If you want to continue to work in a very cloistered, niche clubhouse, you might need to mind your manners. I get that, but it means that the "information overload" is really just a lot of white noise.
This is why Back Issue is so engaging to me, because it is nothing but the inside stories. Not just the salacious TMZ stuff, although some of the reveals might open some noses. Life is funny, and twisty, and interesting if you keep your eyes and ears open.
When I sat down to read Back Issue # 47 I learned all kinds of "useless" information about Dick Giordano's tenure at Charlton, and why a diplomatic faux pas while obtaining the Phantom license from King Features may have had more than a little to do with his moving to DC. I learned about how and why Chaykin's Dominic Fortune ended up in the back of Hulk magazine, in color no less when the main feature was in black-and-white. I was absolutely fascinated by Dave Stevens recounting his experience with some eccentric ladies who created a kind of comic book shop long before the direct market was a twinkle in Phil Seuling's eyes. They actually started a little comic club in Portland that included a ton of future comics professionals including Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson. Stevens was also in on San Diego Comic Con when it was a baby born at a junior college rec center, and had Neal Adams request to review his portfolio. Can you imagine that?
I don't know that I need to know any of that stuff. But I'm glad for it any way, and find those life nuggets infinitely more entertaining that any "first shot of Captain America's jeep from the movie set" nonsense. You can keep all of that. I like hearing about how Phantom creator Lee Falk used to visit the DC offices and complain to Peter David about Phantom's gun usage, when Falk is the one who gave the character a pair .45 pistols!
It may not be up-to-the-second-send-your-blood-pressure-soaring interweb news. Most of the magazine is devoted to Silver or Bronze age material, but I wouldn't let that scare you away even if you weren't collecting back then. I just found out the The Phantom is about 300% cooler than I ever imagined, and discovered Don Newton. The point isn't being ahead of the curve, but bringing out the marrow of history. Hype is dead before it's read, but stories last forever. I'll take Back Issue every time.
Incidentally- if you're feeling a little queasy about the $7.95 price tag, they also offer a $2.95 digital version, which seems more than reasonable to me. I'm a dinosaur sticking with the print magazine. Yay, dinosaurs!
Thursday, April 7, 2011
|50 Girls 50 # 1|
I just looked through the latest copy of Previews, and you probably should as well if you haven't. Why? Because it's fun, of course, and because you can expose yourself to everything instead of what your LCS thinks you want. (Plus, if you listen to our show, exposing yourself probably sounds like a fine idea in general)
I think the best reason you should peruse and order from Previews is to help out your retailer. They're doing the best they can, but it's a lot of guesswork, and if they guess wrong they're screwed. Miss the mark short and you lose money on customers who will simply go somewhere else or forget the comic entirely. Miss the mark long and you're stuck with non-returnable comic books collecting dust.
When you put in an order with your retailer, everybody is happier. You get the book you want, and the retailer knows they've got themselves a sale instead of a guess. It's not a perfect system. It's kind of a pain in the ass, actually. But it sure beats missing out on books or watching your LCS close their business.
A few things that caught my eye in this month's catalog of treasures:
50 Girls 50 # 1 (of 4)
I'm a little worried about this shipping regularly, but it's been simmering for over a year, so maybe Frank Cho and company were wise enough to get most or all of this in the can before soliciting? I hope so, because this looks like a giant cheesecake bomb of fun, and I think we could all use that.
50 Girls 50 is co-written by Douglas Murray of The 'Nam fame, which is interesting. Pencils by Axel Medellin. Don't know much about him, but if gets the Cho Seal of Approval, I don't think we'll be disappointed.
Obviously it's tough to say if this will pay off or not, but I know this - Image is becoming the go to joint for energy and ideas. And hot chicks in space suits.
I have called for somebody to give Kelly Sue DeConnick her own high profile book, and DC answered. Sort of. Supergirl isn't quite as prestigious as her cousin, but she's no Blue Beetle, either. DeConnick is slated for a three issue arc before giving way to someone else, Brian Wood if the rumor mill is accurate. These days three issues is a pretty long stint any way.
Needless to say that I'm on board for this. With any luck it will grab some editor's attention and Kelly Sue will get offered something shiny with an extended lease. I can't believe that her work on Osborn didn't already accomplish that. Well, I guess it's everyone else's loss and Supergirl's gain.
Some Thoughts on Flashpoint Minis
I just don't know how to feel about any of these. Neither does anyone else, I'd wager, which is a big problem. There's a metric crap ton of bizarre concepts, and they only run three issues long. Almost none of them feature any name brand talent. How is one supposed to figure out which to order? By the time that first issue hits and you have some inkling about content and quality level, you've already ordered or not ordered the other two issues.
It's a really odd and frankly brutal thing for a publisher to do to their retailers. Look, some of these look like they might be fun. Palmiotti and Gray on a Deathstroke riff? Yeah, you're never going to get cheated on that. I'm interested in the Jeff Lemire monster title, and God Help me, I think the one that intrigues me the most is Lois Lane & The Resistance!
Some of these come with little trinket promo pins, like the delightfully tacky plastic rings that came with Blackest Night. But that's just it, this is "been there, done that" territory. The storyline smacks of Age of Apocalypse, the swag is old news, and correct me if I'm wrong but a good chunk of these books are written by editors!
I guess there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that, and some of these cats might actually have some writing chops. But this is your mega event? Assistant editors writing the comics? It would be like going to the World Series and watching the Yankees start their pitching coach and replacing Alex Rodriguez with the third base coach.
I guess a game like that might have some sideshow appeal, and you wouldn't begrudge these behind-the-scenes guys their inexplicable chance to shine. But would you really want to pay for a ticket to see that game? Or would you rather the World Series feature the best players the teams could produce? It's a bad strategy to glut the racks like that in the first place. Building your summer tent pole with editors is just plain bizarre.
So I walked into Source Comics & Games looking for a copy of Nonplayer # 1, but the shelves were bare. Not that surprising, really. What had my jaw on the floor was the fact that there wasn't a single copy of Fear Itself # 1 available. Not one. And there wasn't much left but crumbs of Fear Itself: Homefront, and Fear Itself: Completely Irrelevant, either.
Just to be clear, The Source may reside in my little patch of Minnesota flyover, but they order with muscle. They sold out, and therefore blew through hundreds of copies. It was 1:00pm when I walked in, so they had been open for a grand total of three hours.
I asked The Guy:
"Did you seriously sell out of Fear Itself?"
And The Guy said:
"Yeah, and we sold out of Avengers: Children Crusade, too. We ran out of Fear Itself a couple of hours ago."
Huh. Which means they blew through those hundreds of copies in about sixty minutes. So I guess I'm resigned to lose, and I guess I give up. However one might feel about "event fatigue", or the wisdom of teaching your consumer to follow an impossible to maintain state of hyper-excitement for products built on empty promises the consumer bloody well knows are empty promises, or the wisdom of teaching your consumer that they can feel free to ignore the regular books...it wins.
Regardless of how brilliant or how poisonous Fear Itself may be, it carried the day. For April 6, 2011 at least, Fear Itself is a success. God help us.
A Fine Thing
My last shipment from DCB Service was kind of a monster, at least for me. I had about 25 comics to chew through, so being the best in that pile is a significant achievement.
Without question the finest comic in that pile was Detective Comics # 875 by Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla.
Snyder reaches into the writer's bag of tricks often in this issue with time shifts; sometimes built on plot, sometimes built on theme. Batman barely appears in this issue at all. It's partially built on a literary reference. Often the action is conveyed with a voice over narration.
There are so many places that "Lost Boys" could have gone sideways, or off the rails, or gotten bogged down in it's obviously delicate construction. In the hands of anything less than a master craftsmen, a story built like this fairly screams "I'm a show off! Look at how gaudy and overwritten I am!"
Apparently Scott Snyder is a master craftsmen, because everything flows without a hiccup, and what you get is a rich, satisfying, subtle character study of Jim Gordon and his very disturbing son James.
I was wondering if anything was going to challenge Fantastic Four # 587 in my private "comic of the year" race. Detective Comics # 875 - welcome to the ballot.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Undying Love # 1
Tomm Coker/Daniel Freedman
Undying Love promised to be a very simple Raymond Chandleresque hard boiler about killing vampires until the tough guy can be with his girl. And it almost made it.
If you like Maleev, I can't see you not liking the art in this book, and there are a couple of fun twists. I particularly enjoyed the scene where the unnamed anti-hero feeds Mei with blood like a junkie.
The balancing stuff was irritating to me, but not a deal-breaker. My larger issue was the fact that I didn't buy the romance even a little. In order for this story to really work, that love has to resonate. This is all territory well trodden - in order for the action feel right and justified, you have to feel that intoxicating obsession that occurs when a woman really "gets" you. None of that is even attempted in the first issue. Undying Love is noticeably bereft of love.
Caligula # 1
David Lapham/German Nobile
It's hard for me to review this objectively, (if such a phenomenon actually exists) because I love Lapham's work on Crossed so much, and my tendency is to internally shriek "enough already"!
Caligula very much considered himself a god. The twist on history in this book is that he might well be. And that's extra scary! Not for the feint of heart, but if your stomach isn't turned enough by Crossed, maybe Caligula will satisfy your need for nausea. Incidentally, if Avatar had a Dungeons & Dragons alignment, it would be Lawful Evil. And that's why I love it so.
Scarlet # 5
Brian Bendis/Alex Maleev
Scarlet book one ends with a decompressed whimper, unfortunately. I'm not giving up on the series, not even close. But essentially this issue consists of Angela Going getting back in the game, and Scarlet shouts empty platitudes at a crowd, and then begins to wonder if she's bitten off more than she can masticate. And there's a grenade thrown in there somewhere. Whatever.
What we have in issue # 5 is a young girl shouting to the Powers That Be that they can't hide any more. How she means to suss out this corruption is unknown. She wisely concludes that not all the police are rotten, and that wide scale violence is probably not the answer. Fine.
So what now? Is she going to wait to be a victim again and then really start shooting folks? Is she going to start a network of tipsters and take their word for it?
I don't know. Maybe that's the point Bendis is trying to make. That as much as we want justice, even if you worked aggressively outside the broken system it would be too messy. I guess I would prefer that she had a more focused plan, even if it was a bad one. I still have faith, and I'm still moving on with the team for book two. I'm done evangelizing for Scarlet until she proves herself worthy, though.
We did a weird show for Chronic Insomnia # 187 that featured none of our regular segmentos, including Market Spotlight. In case my Market Heads were feeling cheated, here's what would have gone on the show if things had gone normally!
Time Bomb TPB
Jimmy Palmiotti/Justin Gray/Paul Gulacy
Suggested retail = $14.95
So I was listening to the "Listen To Jimmy" podcast ( I guess that means I'm capable of taking direction) and heard Mr. Palmiotti himself observe that the Time Bomb trade was sold out at Amazon. Hmmmm.
I walked over to Amazon and saw that there were only a couple of books available, all in the $100+ price range. Now before we go crazy, let's take a breath and assess. It's incredibly unlikely that anybody is getting that par for that book, particularly when it just hit stands about four minutes ago. Secondly, Amazon has since offered the book for $8.27, but with the kiss of death phrase "usually ships within 6-8 days".
Given the recent release date, it's probably that Amazon does have a line on more copies, which would (at least temporarily) kill the secondary action on the book. But I've seen many, many examples where Amazon thought it had copies of items and it could not have been more wrong.
Frankly Radical hasn't been around long enough for me to have a read on how good they are at keeping things in print and distributing them properly. It's possible that they'll instantly recognize the trickle demand and keep up. It's also possible that Time Bomb isn't readily available again, ever.
Should that happen, I imagine this is an easy flip at $40-$50. Basically what I'm saying is that I don't think it makes sense to back up the truck on this, (assuming you could ever locate a truckful) but it wouldn't be a bad idea to tuck a copy away if you found one, even at full retail. Worse case scenario? You have a really fun story about soldiers travelling in time to shoot Nazis in the face. You could certainly do worse.
Secret Six: Six Degrees of Devastation TPB
Gail Simone/Brad Walker/Jimmy Palmiotti
Suggested retail = $14.99
Friend of the show Nick pointed out to me that this Secret Six trade just went kaboom. Which is weird to me, because I just looked at this book on Amazon less than a week ago recommending it to another listener. There was no such activity then, but now there are only a half dozen copies available, and the minimum it takes right now is about $80.
I've actually been waiting for this for some time, because Secret Six is exceptionally underrated, and once a person is exposed to the title, I can't imagine that they wouldn't backtrack immediately to get everything. So a Secret Six TPB spike was pretty much inevitable.
In a weird piece of Joycian synchronicity, Six Degrees of Devastation was inked by Jimmy Palmiotti. Everything he touches is turning to secondary gold, I guess. Which is fine. I like buying as many of these as you can for retail or less. This one should have some legs, because I don't see DC being aware enough to reprint this for some time.
Butcher Baker: The Righteous Maker # 1
Script: Joe Casey
Pencils: Mike Huddleston
Suggested retail = $2.99
Last week's Chronic Buzz Book was clearly under ordered, because demand is outstripping supply significantly. Butcher Baker has been commanding $15-$20 on eBay for the past couple of days, usually on "Buy-It-Nows".
Not a bad idea to grab a couple of these if your LCS was prescient enough to order some copies. Eventually the second print hits, and then the trade, and at that point your profit window is likely killed. If this becomes some kind of legend, (and it might) selling now is a mistake. This is just a different kind of book. What Joe Casey has done here is surgically graft a set of rhinoceros balls on a honey badger, dropped some tabasco in its eyes, and then stapled a clown wig on its head before he released it on your face.
I'd for sure keep one for your collection, because the story is worth it. Then I'd play the odds and flip whatever else I could as soon as possible.
I'm not sure what any of this has to do with Jimmy Palmiotti, but I bet he had beers with Casey at some point or something like that. Close enough!