Thursday, September 20, 2007

September 20th's Meanwhile, in Las five other things

This week's Las Vegas Weekly comics column features reviews of


I am exceedingly proud of the headline this week.

In other "news"...

1.) Dear Entire English-speaking World,

New rule: Nobody’s allowed to use the word “pornographic” unless they understand they clearly understand the definition of that word. And none of that “I’ll know it when I see it" crap; it’s in the goddam dictionary.


p.s. Click for context.

2.) I kinda hate to link to the same guy twice in one week, but damn it, Steven Grant has something else smart and relevant to say. If you spend as much time on the Internet reading about comics as I do (i.e. way too much), you’ve no doubt encountered the discussion about Wildstorm miniseries Highwaymen, which its creators feel isn’t doing as well as it should.

My original take on the matter was negative and counter-productive—a few sentences posted on someone else’s blog—because the handwringing over a lack of instant super-success seemed kind of silly to me.

Grant takes the question quite seriously, and offers up the most well-thought out analysis about the comics market and why Highwaymen isn’t doing gangbusters.

I know a lot less than Grant, Marc Bernardin, and everyone else involved with Highwaymen about the market, but it seems to me that it actually is a pretty successful book. It’s not all that far behind, say, Blue Beetle, and in the same neighborhood as DC and Marvel’s kids books starring household names and Wildstorm’s miniseries featuring the New Line horror characters like Jason and Freddy, themselves household names.

I think being a Wildstorm miniseries right now is probably more a detriment than a help; I imagine the book would have done much better at Dark Horse or as an Image Shadowline series. Wildstorm’s identity has always been kind of confused, a mixture of Wildstorm Universe stuff and Alan Moore’s ABC line and sundry other conflicting things, but faith in the brand is probably at an all-time low at this point.

Moore is gone, the “soft-reboot” of the “universe” books destroyed the line. I got one issue of Gen 13, one of the worst books I’ve read this year, a few issues of Midnighter, which was announced as a Garth Ennis ongoing and quickly became a hit-or-miss anthology series, and the first issues of the Grant Morrison master-minded Authority and WildCATs, which never went much farther. While I’ve heard good things about some of the other books, from here it looks like the universal reboot was, in essence, as if the company blew up its universe, and never got around to rebuilding it. It would be as if DC released Infinite Crisis #6, and never got around to #7, let alone 52 and “One Year Later.”

The WSU is further degraded by becoming a sort of ghetto of the DCU Multiverse, a place Captain Atom, Jason Todd and Donna Troy have to stop by every once in a while, instead of an exciting, distinct locale like, say, The Marvel Universe (Compare to JLA/WildCATS to Countdown Presents: The Search For Ray Palmer: Wildstorm: The Longer the Title the Better the Comic, Right?: Right? Because Otherwise Why Are We Giving It Such a Ridiculously Long Title?*).

DC has also perplexingly dumped Klaw the Unconquered on WildStorm, and acquired the New Line horror properties to publish under the brand.

There’s a stink about the brand now, and for all the reasons Grant mentions that Highwaymen wouldn’t grab a huge chunk of the Direct Market, there’s also the fact that the “WS” logo it bears is something of a stigma and a sales albatross.

Personally, I never read a single issue. If I got a review copy, I would have been happy to read and reviewed it for “Best Shots”whether I loved or hated it ,or, if the book proved to be a good one, for LVW.

But as a go-to-my-shop-every-Wednesday comics consumer, nothing about the book said “Buy Me” to me, and so I never did.

The Stelfreeze cover is nice, but so are all Stelfreeze covers (It also made it look a bit like Matador, another cop-looking Wildstorm book that Stelfreeze did the cover for, which I made it 4/6ths through and gave up on, as it seemed more TV cop drama than comic book to me).

I didn’t recognize any of the creators’ names.

Creators and covers seem to be the way comics are sold. I realize the creators did a charm offensive on the Internet, including Newsarama, which I go to reapeatedly each day, but since I didn’t know the creators or find the covers or title at all interesting, I didn’t read the interviews, so they obviously didn’t do anything to make me want to try the book.

Anyway, there’s a case study for the “Why isn’t Highwaymen super-succesful?” files.

You know what would have got me to buy this first issue automatically? If there was a picture of Clinton on the front, and the title alluded to him in some way, like Clinton’s Angels, and maybe above the log were the words “From The Guy Who Writes About Comics For Enertainment Weekly.”

Or if the questions being asked this week were somehow made part of the original pitch, so that instead of Highwaymen it might havec been called Buy This Book or You’re Racist or something like that.

Okay, maybe I wouldn’t recommend either course of action, but I seriously would buy any comic with that title, a picture of Clinton by Brian Stelfreeze on the cover, or a self-effacing mention of one of the creators’ day jobs.

3.) Speaking of comics that are doomed to not being super-successful, check this out:

You know what that is? That, my friends, is my “studio,” and laying all over the floor are all 24 completely penciled and completely inked pages of Caleb’s Unfinished Eventual Self-Published Project #1. It’s still unfinished, of course, I need to letter it yet, but after six years (six years!) of penciling and inking, the art is finally finished.

Now, don’t get too excited about the amount of time it took me to get this thing 3/4ths finished. It’s not like I labored six years straight on the thing (Although if I did spend an average of three months on each page, I bet it would look a lot nicer). I wrote the story in a day or two, and spent most of that time doing a page, getting distracted for three months, doing another page, and so on. If you’re familiar with the site, then you’re familiar with the level of quality that the writing and art are going to have.

Basically, it will be exactly like one of the strips I’ve done for EDILW. Only I’ll ask you to pay for it. You’re all extremely excited about this, I’m sure.

Expect to hear more about this in March.

4.) I’ve been cautiously pumped about Mike Kunkel’s upcoming Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam series since it was announced, and today Columbus’ own Vaneta Rogers has an interview with Kunkel up at There’s nothing particularly revelatory in the interview itself, which is kind of par for the course for these “Sell us on your new book you’d like us to all buy” type of interviews (which I’ve done a few of myself, so I hope that didn’t sound like a knock).

But what is interesting is the art included, which shows Kunkel’s versions of not only Billy and Cap, but also Mary and Mary Marvel, Dr. Sivana (it’s Thaddeus B. Sivana, Kunkel!), and Black Adam.

Now that I was surprised to see.

Kunkel’s take on Black Adam seems on conceptually weaker ground than the original, in that Adam is now an older kid who turns into a super-adult, instead of an adult who turns into a super-adult, which takes away from the little kid vs. a bunch of grown-ups dynamic that's always existed between Cap and his bad guys.

While that is kind of surprising, it’s nowhere near as surprising as the fact that Kunkel’s using Black Adam in the series at all. Remember, this is an “all-ages” interpretation, which editor Jann Jones announced as part of her kid-friendly line, kid-friendlier than Justice League Unlimited and Teen Titans Go!, which she said were a little too violent and questionable to give to her sister's kids.

Now, DC has of late rather rigorously (at least rhetorically) policed the porous borders between the Vertigo line and the DCU line, which share quite a few characters (actually, pretty much all of ‘em, if you go back far enough and look hard enough). The line of thinking is that they don’t want kids seeing John Constantine or Swamp Thing in a DCU book, as it might lead them to Vertigo books starring the characters, in which they’ll encounter things like gay sex, f-words, naked breasts, drug usage and the like. You know, grown-up stuff.

I can see that rationale, and, in general support the idea, but only selfishly. I like the hard line drawn between the imprints more so I don’t have to see Geoff Johns writing Neil Gaiman’s Endless into Infinite Crisis, or see Swamp Thing show up in an issue of Countdown or whatever than because I think it makes publishing sense (As an aside, did I see the Vertigo version of Black Orchid in this week's Birds Of Prey?).

The hardline between characters crossing between imprints makes even less sence if you look hard at the differences between the DCU as of right now and the Vertigo books with former DCU characters in them that are on the stands (I think only in graphic novel format at this point; save Hellblazer, featuring a character created for a book that would give birth to the Vertigo imprint, are any DCU characters currently starring in Vertigo ongoings?).

In the DCU, you’ll see naked ladies, but their nipples will be in shadow. You’ll have Black Canary calling Green Arrow a “piece of %@!$&” instead of a “piece of shit” (a kind of fig-leaf option to communicating swearing that has the effect of saying “shit” anyway; does anyone read that line and hear anything other than the word “shit” in their mind?). You’ll have sex talked about and implied and occasionally shown, but you won’t see any genitals. And you’ll have an awful lot of violence, more than you’ll find in any Vertigo book featuring former DCU characters I can think of off the top of my head.

The distance between the “maturity” of the DCU line and that of the Vertigo line is currently extremely narrow, and I’d argue that the DCU line handles mature things like sex and violence worse and in a way that is potentially much more offensive than the Vertigo line, as it adheres to a weird Hollywood double standard where extreme violence is much less offensive than mild sexuality or “bad” words.

Once you have Dr. Light raping Sue Dibny on the Justice League meeting table, while Superman cries about it on the cover of the book, or Flash’s silly villains doing lines of coke in a room full of whores, or whole comics constructed around down-blouse and upskirt shots of teenage girls, well, nothing Vertigo publishes seems all that risque anymore. If we looked at the comics the two publishing lines release as Hollywood films, Vertigo would probably be full of R-rated or unrated art-house films, whereas the DCU would be full of films that originally received R-ratings from the MPAA, and then were re-cut by the studio until they hit the PG-13 rating.

As for the violence in the DCU, some of the most spectacular examples of it have been perpetrated by Black Adam. Remember him pushing his hand through Psycho-Pirate’s face in Infinite Crisis, dryly making a Freddy Krueger-like joke? Or killing every man, woman and child in a fictional country in 52? Or ripping off one guy's face, and putting his fist through a girl’s heart in World War III? And in the recently launched Black Adam, writer Peter Tomasi ramped it up to Grand Guignol levels, having Black Adam eat a follower, and, in the latest issue, bungee jump down the side of a mountain using an enemies intestines.

Okay, they were yeti intestines, but still. Tomasi seemed to somewhat testily respond to complaints about the ultra-violence in his series, but the characters used in these sorts of stories do matter. Killing Joke worked with Batman, but wouldn’t have with Superman. Longbow Hunters worked with Green Arrow, but wouldn’t have with The Flash. The first wave of DCU inductees into Vertigo were able to be pushed in more mature direction—"mature" here meaning more sophisticated storytelling as well as more violent and sexually-charged stories—either because the characters themselves were inherently darker than others in the DC stable, or because they were unpopular enough that they could be pushed into new territory without worrying about a new Sandman Saturday morning cartoon or Shade, The Changing Man movie coming out any time soon.

And while the relative unpopularity of Captain Marvel has allowed Geoff Johns to turn Black Adam into a sort of Namor-meets-Dr. Doom anti-hero, Judd Winick to do whatever the hell he wants with Dr. Sivana and the 52 guys to make Mr. Mind into a real monster, that commits the Marvel brand and franchise to a certain direction.

Kunkel’s new series is going in the exact opposite direction. It would have been weird enough to have his series on the shelves at the same time as Trials of Shazam and Countdown (imagine mothers going into comic shops and asking if they have any books with Mary Marvel in them, for example), but to have Black Adam in both this series and his incredibly violent and gory limited series simultaneously? It really just seems like DC’s asking for trouble.

Certianly more so than they would be if Swamp Thing showed up in a Batman comic, anyway.

5.) Okay, I lied, there is something interesting in that Rogers/Kunkel talk aside from the art. Kunkel reveals the fact that he bought the out-of-print (and now quite expensive) collection of the original “Monster Society of Evil” epic off eBay. Come on DC, the guys you hire to make your comics want that thing in trade! Snap to it! And none of that Archive or Absolute crap, just a nice, plain, old-fashioned trade collection, huh?

*I think that’s what it was called anyway. I didn’t double-check and am just working from memory, here.

1 comment:

Jacob T. Levy said...

As an aside, did I see the Vertigo version of Black Orchid in this week's Birds Of Prey?)

Yep, in a slightly obnoxious way that kind of proves your point about how unappealing such crossovers might be. But when a character's book seems well and truly defunct, they seem to get freed up-- Swamp Thing and Animal Man started popping up like that in the mid-90s.

The boundary at this point makes even less sense than it ever has:

The Doom Patrol, *with its Vertigo history as one set of its memories*, is back in the DCU.

Kid Eternity, Scarab, and the Wesley Dodds Sandman who had sex with Dian all showed up in the early issues of JSA-- the Johns book that I think did as much as anything else to launch the current DCU atmosphere and sensibility. Hector and Lyta carried Sandman baggage into JSA, and then went to their reward in the Dreaming, etc. etc. The Phantom Stranger is a regular in the DC Shadowpact and will be a regular in the Vertigo Madame Xanadu.

So at this point I have no earthly idea what the rule restricts, other than Constantine appearances in the DCU in other than an easter-egg fashion, and any appearances at all by Tim Hunter in the DCU, which is a crying shame since Tim was a product of such a great shared-universe story in the first place.

You're right about the bizarre standard on sex and violence. It's not wholly new-- at various times the Grell Green Arrow, the Ostrander Spectre, and the 90s Demon and Hitman books were on the stands alongside, say, Books of Magic or The Dreaming-- or, for that matter, Black Orchid. But the raunchy sex references on the DCU side have been ramped way up...