Thursday, April 17, 2008

Random thoughts from throughout the last week (only a few of which pertain to Martian Manhunter)

—David Hajdu’s last name is deceptively hard to spell for only being five letters long. I keep reversing the j and d and having to correct posts in which I mention him. It’s probably still spelled wrong every third instance in Friday night’s post.

I also spelled “Jeet Heer” wrong; and that name’s even shorter.

—I’ve just finished devouring Showcase Presents: Enemy Ace Vol. 1, and it is a fantastic read. Sure, it gets a bit repetitive, as is to be expected when you collect 17 years’ worth of intended-to-be-disposable escapism into a single, 500-page volume, but after the first dozen stories, the repetition became welcome, with Robert Kanigher’s “killer skies,” “human killing machine,” “in the kill position,” “twin spandaus” and so on become word notes in some kind of seemingly endless improvisational comics-as-jazz performance.

And man, the art is just spectacular. About half of it seems to be all Joe Kubert, followed by Russ Heath, John Severin, Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, Ed Davis and Frank Thorne (I think I got ‘em all, give or take an inker).

I really like the black and white presentation of these books, as it keeps the cost down and highlights the line work, but I noticed when I looked at these preview pages from the second issue of War is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle that a nicely-colored sky might really bring something to a story of WWI aerial combat that black and white (or the coloring of the 1960s, ‘70s or ‘80s) couldn’t.

Based on Chaykin’s Enemy Ace work, and writer Garth Ennis’ own Enemy Ace and war genre work, I’m really looking forward to checking out their War Is Hell trade.

—Yet another World War I aerial combat series, which sounds rather promising: Aces: Curse of the Red Baron.

—Stupid question: Did the Red Baron exist in the DC Universe?

—I’ve been complaining about J’onn J’onnz’s post-Infinite Crisis Skrull/Conehead hybrid look every chance I’ve had since it was introduced.

But now that Secret Invasion has begun in earnest, doesn’t the fact that J’onn was redesigned to look more like a Skrull than a Martian

seem more obvious now? And stupid? (Above: A preview page from Salvation Run, which I thought was a Countdown tie-in, but may actually be a Secret Invasion tie-in).

—I could have sworn I read hundreds of comics last year, but apparently only five comic books were released in 2007. That’s the only conceivable reason I can think of that an issue of Brad Meltzer’s run on Justice League of America was nominated for an Eisner in the “Best Single Issue” category.

They’re not called The Mozzoccos though, so I don’t really want to parse the whole list here or anything.

Real quick though, I’m especially happy to see Fred Chao’s Johnny Hiro get multiple nominations though, as I’m afraid he and it haven’t gotten quite as much recognition as they deserve. (I had started a big long essay on how the release of the second issue demonstrated the power of comics as a serial reading experience over a complete trade, but never finished it and then the third issue came out, making what I had written irrelevant. In a nut shell, reading the second made the first better, and reading the first made the second better than it would have been. Obvious maybe, but in this case Chao executed this pretty basic truism particularly elegantly).

Ditto Anne-Marie Fleming’s The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam in the “Best Painter or Multimedia Artist” category. Thhat book was a really remarkable read, but I didn’t really read much about it. Too bad she’s almost guaranteed to be destroyed by Bryan Talbot, who will likely (and justifiably) own that category with his Alice in Sunderland.

And man, I sure hope Best American Comics 2007 doesn’t win “Best Anthology;” if only because I fear anoter round of that whole “autobio comix sux” Internet donnybrook…

—The unveiling of DC’s July solicits sure seemed to point toward J’onn J’onnz not making it out of Final Crisis alive. interviewed Grant Morrison on the miniseries, and it didn’t make things sound good for J’onn either:

With The Human Flame, I wanted a Martian Manhunter villain, and I couldn't find a really good one. Then, looking through the old 'Showcase Presents' books, I discovered this stupid guy called Mike, who declared himself to be the Human Flame. And he wore a homemade costume with six nipples that shot flames. So I just thought this is a great way to start this book because the idea is that Libra gives all the villains a very simple choice, he says, 'Follow me and I'll give you your heart's desire.' And that's it. And some of the villains naturally say, 'Prove it.' So the Human Flame is one of the first to fall in with Libra and he says, 'If you can get revenge on my old enemy, who has had me stuck in jail for the last five years, I'll follow you anywhere…I needed a small-scale dumb guy, who could make very big waves and open the book with a shock moment and the Human Flame fit the bill.

—I neglected to mention in my post about Aimee Major Steinberger’s Japan Ai the other day that the book has one of the greatest covers ever. You can’t really tell in a photo of it, but there are rising sun-like streaks emanating somewhere behind the “a” and “n” in “Japan” in the logo and streaking across the pink sky in the background of the cover. These rays are all silver and somewhat reflective, like the old holographic foil on certain comic book covers in the boom days, and if you tilt the book slightly, they shine and give off hints of rainbows. I spent an embarrassingly long time just standing still staring at the cover and grinning as I rocked it back and forth in my hands.

Basically what I’m saying is that I have the mind of a small child. Or a parrot. But it’s still a nice cover, regardless.

What could possibly go wrong with this project?

—At Blog@, Graeme McMillan rounds up some Internet discourse on what the next DC super-comic to be cancelled might be.

My take?

Checkmate is almost certainly a book DC’s bean counters are considering. It was selling extremely poorly when Greg Rucka was writing it, and now it’s being handed to a new creative team. That’s the same pattern that happened with All-New Atom; the writer who launched the title left, was briefly replaced, and the book got cancelled.

Rucka’s replacement is going to be Bruce Jones, a writer who suffers a bit from a Winick/Austen effect (a lot of readers just plain hate the guy’s work), and doesn’t have anywhere near the sales power as Rucka. In fact, his run on Nightwing was incredibly short, and his reinvention of Deadman as a Vertigo property was something of a sales disaster (although, I suppose one could blame this on the market forces that generally afflict Vertigo titles these days as opposed to the direct market reacting to Jones’ work).

Jonah Hex and Blue Beetle are also poor sellers. DC’s said the former does well in trades, so is still worth publishing (in that respect, I guess it’s more like a Vertigo book than a DC book). After reading the interview with Blue Beetle’s new writer Matt Sturges, I was struck by the part where he essentially says he wants the book to be all-ages.

And that’s “all-ages” as in appropriate for kids without talking down to them (and thus alienating adults), not as in “strictly for kids.” That made me think that perhaps DC doesn’t look at Blue Beetle the same way they do the rest of their DCU line. Because it is appropriate for kids, you see it on lists like this, and I’ve been surprised to find it at libraries, where I (wrongly) assumed more famous heroes like Spider-Man, Batman, Superman and the X-Men would completely crowd out books like those starring Blue Beetle III.

I wonder if DC therefore looks at it through the lens of one of their all-ages books rather than one of their superhero books. Johnny DC and Marvel Adventures titles all sell poorly in the Direct Market, but do gangbusters elsewhere, and maybe Blue Beetle is more or less a de facto Johnny DC title.

The other troubled DC book at the moment is Birds of Prey, which, after Gail Simone’s poor but consistent-selling run came to a close, was tossed back and forth like a hot potato between Tony Bedard and Sean McKeever. I don’t know how it sells in trade, but I can’t imagine it’s finding an audience outside the direct market. I wonder if it isn’t high time to shut the book down, or at least reimagine it.

With half of its original cast now gone (Dinah “Black Canary” Lance), it really doesn’t seem to be able to regain a focus. Canary’s currently in Green Arrow/Black Canary and JLoA and Barbara “Oracle” Gordon could fairly easily be absorbed back into the Bat-books, so there’s not a whole lot of incentive for publishing the book if it sheds a few thousand more units.

—I was really surprised there weren’t more negative reviews of Titans #1, given how bad it was. (Seriously, it was the worst comic I’ve ever read).

There were plenty of bad reviews, of course (I particularly liked this one, including the line: “If my pre-teen nephew or especially my pre-teen niece were reading something like this, I'd fling it away from them as if it were a poisonous snake”), but I was really expecting something akin to the near-universal rejection of Ultimates 3. Hell, I even saw some positive reviews of Titans #1.

I didn’t read Ultimates 3 #1, so I can’t compare to see which is worse, but I assumed fans would be much more likely to freak out over the Titans book than the Ultimates one. The Titans characters have all been around for somewhere between 69 and twenty-some years, have all starred in hundreds and hundreds of stories, and are now also cartoon characters and the stars of an all-ages book. (And how fucked up is it that this is a character who can also be seen as a teenage girl on the Teen Titans cartoon, or as a toddler in Tiny Titans?)

The Ultimate characters (as an alternate continuitiverse version of their Avengers namesakes), however, have only been in what, maybe a half-dozen stories all together? Their comic only ran 25 issues, comprising two or three story arcs, depending on how you want to slice it.

I guess it really speaks to how popular and pervasive a series Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s 25 Ultimates comics were, compared to the Titans franchise, which reached it’s zenith of popularity twenty-some years ago. Or that Jeph Loeb and Jeff Madueira were expected to deliver better than they did, while Judd Winick and Ian Churchill were expected to deliver a shitty book. Whichever was the case, disappointment seemed to factor heavily in the reaction to Ultimates 3.

Steven Grant has a pretty interesting column up about comic book icons. Or, more specifically, despite how often we throw the word around, there aren’t any comics icons, and the likely candidates tend to only be truly iconic in a commercial sense.

Grant has a pretty compelling case. I think I’d disagree with it, at least in the case of Superman, or a generic superhero represented by Superman.

I know when I use the word “iconic” to describe certain superheroes, I’m using it to mean “like an icon.” So sure, the case can certainly be made that Superman and Batman aren’t themselves icon, but they are like icons in many ways.

I don’t know the particulars of the discussion that Grant said launched essay though, so I don’t know if the person who used the word meant iconic as icon-like instead of a straight-up icon, but I suspect that’s what a lot of folks in message board-land mean when they throw it around.

Or maybe not. The fight Grant said he was having was on the Internet. So I guess there’s a damn good chance the person did think the character in question deserved a series. Hell, I’m all broken up about the possibility of Martian Manhunter dying in Final Crisis because I think the completely fictional character deserves better than that, so I’m not really one to talk.

—Oh, one last thing about Grant’s piece. He kicks it off by asking,“Can we take ‘icon’ out of the comics lexicon?” No. No we can’t. Because you can’t spell “comics lexicon” without “icon.”

Ha ha! Get it?

Oh come on Red Tornado, it wasn’t that bad a joke…


Siskoid said...

I'm going to enjoy Enemy Ace soon too. It sounds exactly like the Haunted Tank Showcase I'm reading now. The question Kanigher always answers is "how many times can a small haunted tank go up against German Tigers and still be interesting?"

I imagine Enemy Ace is similar, except in the air.

Matt D said...

I've been completely underwhelmed by the selection of Showcases so far, but I might have to give Haunted Tank and Enemy Ace a shot.

SallyP said...

The art in Enemy Ace was always spectacular, so I'll definitely be getting this.

I'm rather depressed that J'onn is aparently going to bite the big one. I know he hasn't been used much of late, but he BELONGS in the Justice League, dagnabit! And I can't believe that Metzler got an issue of JLA nominated either.

I would be very very sorry to see Checkmate go, OR Birds of Prey, not to mention Jonah Hex and Blue Beetle. Why do all the books that I like do poorly?


Unknown said...

I can't believe they would axe Jonah Hex. There are a lot of rabid fans of that book, me included.

Plus, DC seems to think there is a market for westerns, or else we would not have seen the Bat Lash series at all.

Wild Goose said...

Remember your post a while back about Garfield minus Garfield?

Check this out: