Thursday, August 28, 2008

Poorly organized thoughts on Virgin Comics, the decadence of DC and some links

So, Virgin Comics, huh? Word on the street (and by “street” I mean “Internet”) is that the company’s calling it quits. Here’s a Publishers Weekly story. Here’s retailer and Savage Critic Brian Hibbs on the collapse from his perspective. Here’s Dirk Deppey. And here’s Dirk Deppey again.

From my perspective, I thought Virgin did a very good job of selling their comics, and if they failed to be sell enough of ‘em to keep doing it, it seems to be simply because not enough people wanted to buy them vs. some fault of the publisher’s staff.

When I was writing weekly comics reviews for Las Vegas Weekly, the PR folks at Virgin were all extremely easy to work with, and were always volunteering review copies of all their new series and offering whatever assistance I might need.

The books had the benefit of being extremely easy to write about for a mainstream, outside-of-comics medium, too. There was the initial novelty—Richard Branson, Deepak Chopra, Indian mythology, blah blah blah—and then the matter of the names tied to them. A book “created by” Nicolas Cage or Guy Richie or John Woo might not be any good at all, but it’s something that your average, civilian reader might care to hear more about. “John Woo? Doing a comic with John Woo fan Garth Ennis? Tell me more…”

The production values and the art were also extremely high. The books looked good as serial comics; certainly better than, say, Boom or Dynamite books (just in terms of trade dress and production value). The art was in many cases extraordinary, certainly better than the bulk of DC’s output over the last two years, and in a more comic book-y style than a lot of Marvel’s MU content over that same period of time.

That said, the comics tended to not be very good. I tried the first issues of the bulk of the series Virgin put out, and would usually lose interest by the second or third issue. I lasted maybe five issues of Snake Woman and Seven Brothers, and four of Dan Dare; those were the books I stuck with longest. I liked those series, but I’d inevitably miss an issue or two, realize that I’d forgotten to buy them and didn’t really miss-miss them, and thus never put in the effort to catch back up.

Most of them, however, were just pretty straightforward; nothing I wasn’t already getting from DC or Marvel or Dark Horse or Image or Tokyopop or Viz, with the exception of featuring characters I was less interested in than Batman or Spider-Man or Conan or Empowered, or with less visual snap and aesthetic appeal than in whatever manga series I happened to be reading.

Additionally, I think there was something noticeably “wrong” about a lot of the comics, which was apparent by their peculiar branding. John Woo and Garth Ennis collaborating on a comic sounds like a dream come true, but it wasn’t clear how much Woo was contributing (Seven Brothers sure read like any other Ennis comic, of which there were quite a few available concurrently). What exactly did Nic Cage and his son contribute to Voodoo Child if Mike Carey was credited as the writer?
And so on.

I’m still curious how some of these celebrity-branded comics were created exactly, and if that process had anything to do with Virgin’s overhead. Like, were each of the Cages getting paid as much as Carey for each issue of the book?

I’m also curious why Virgin went down so fast, but Boom and Dynamite Entertainment are both still around; both of those companies did pretty good jobs of getting their books in front of critics, and offering books that folks outside the Direct Market would conceivably be interested in hearing about as well. I think Virgin’s production values tend to be higher, however, the art more polished, and they had bigger name creators—not just the Hollywood folks, but the comic folks as well. Did Virgin just start out bigger than Boom and Dynamite, with a line that wasn’t sustainable unless the comics started doing big numbers right away? (I only single out Boom and Dynamite because they seemed to occupy about the same place in the publisher hierarchy as Virgin, and started making noise around the same time).

I think Deppey’s original sarcastic remark about “the Wednesday Crowd” (hey, that’s me!) not being interested in books not featuring Batman and Wolverine is true to a certain extent; if I’m going to read a book about a caped, masked vigilante crime fighter, I’m definitely going to choose Batman over a brand new Indian Batman (probably a bad example, as I don’t think Virgin had a Batman-like character; a couple of Witchblade-like characters and at least one Constantine-like character, yes, but not really a Batman). I do tend to follow Batman in the same way that my dad follows the Cleveland Browns or grandfather followed Jesses James and Wyatt Earp in Western movies.

Hibbs also had a good point in his original reaction, noting that it was somewhat unclear what exactly Virgin was doing and what the Virgin brand meant. Call it the Wildstorm problem.

But I think there’s a simple explanation for why Virgin Comics has failed that I haven’t heard anyone else suggest yet: Divine retribution for having published Jenna Jameson’s Shadow Huner.

—Speaking of virgins, Nina Stone’s Virgin Read column attempts to explain Achewood, a big chunk of which is now available in hard copy thanks to Dark Horse’s publication of The Great Outdoor Fight.

As someone who’s tried very, very hard to articulate how great a comic Achewood is, I appreciated Stone’s review attempt. By most objective criteria, Achewood doesn’t appear to be good at all, but there’s…something ineffable about it, some weird alchemy that makes it click at a certain point, a line a reader has to cross to get from “What the fuck is up with that cat in the Speedo blogging about his day while wearing a crown?” to laughing one’s ass off and embarking on the seemingly impossible task of explaining the series to others.

I didn’t pick up the trade yet, although I’m anxious to see what Achewood is like on paper rather than on my computer screen. I do plan on getting it though, despite having already read it for free. The book should make Achewood evangelism much easier, as its easier to lend someone a book and say, “Here read this, you’ll love it” than to ask them to go to and read 10-30 strips.

Here’s Jog reviewing Final Crisis: Superman Beyond. It’s a sharply written, dead-on review, which also happens to be full of some pretty funny imagery of the author in his car in a parking lot reading his comic with 3-D glasses.

I just used my 3-D glasses from the League of Extraordinary Gentleman: The Black Dossier graphic novel; is that cheating? Did I miss something by using those instead of the “4-D Overvoid Viewers?” I imagine I would have been more disappointed in Superman Beyond if I had devoted five to ten minutes cutting out and assembling a pair of 3-D glasses just to be able to read it…

—Today was Jack Kirby’s birthday. Several folks have nice tributes up; I really like Tom Spurgeon’s, which is simply a collection of Kirby covers, panels and details, showing the man’s unparalleled visual power and versatility.

—At Eye On Comics, Don MacPherson reviews DC Universe: Last Will and Testament, and posts both of the covers. They’re identical save for one difference; the one on the right has a foreground image of Geo-Force posing behind a giant rock hand. The one on the left is the one that was originally solicited, and it has a big, fat lighting bolt occupying the center of the image. When it was originally solicited, I assumed that space would be filled in with something later; that it was intentionally left empty to keep a surprise a surprise.

Was the surprise simply that this is a Geo-Force-centric comic, and DC didn’t want to tip their hand on its contents too early, assuming it would hurt orders for the issue since no one likes Geo-Force?

I don’t know; that’s what I was thinking when I saw the Geo-Force variant though. They’re both pretty terrible covers; the one with the empty lightning bolt seems too lightning bolt-centric, and the one with Geo-Force crams his figure on top of the other image, which also features Geo-Force.

What a weird cover…

Colleen Coover draws a naked lady for Eric Reynolds. (Via Blog@Newsarama)

—Tuesday night I mentioned Sean McKeever and company’s introduction of Super Friends’ Wonderdog into DCU comics continuity, as a springboard into a brief discussion about Alan Scott’s wonder dog Streak, and in the comments section for that post, and for yesterday’s weekly haul, several of you mentioned how awful the issue introducing the new Wonderdog actually was.

Well today at Johanna Draper Carlson has a brief discussion of the issue (in a post entitled “Teen Titans #62—Wonderdog Did What?!?”) that links to scans of the issue’s climax. Between those scans and those at, you can read 16 of the issue’s 22 pages, including the what the fuck is wrong with you people?! ending.

And man, it is awful. I dropped the book somewhere in the middle of the “Titans Tomorrow” arc because it wasn’t very good then, but it’s gotten much, much worse. On top of just how juvenile and nasty the Wonderdog bit is, it’s also extremely poorly assembled—the dialogue is mostly just references to other books, Eddy Barrows anatomy and costuming are a series of bad choices, and characters appear and disappear from panel to panel, with no sense of visual continuity.

It really makes the blurb in Teen Titans: Year One encouraging readers to check out Titans and Teen Titans for more Titans stories that I made fun of yesterday seem even more tragic. The only things Teen Titans: Year One and Teen Titans seem to have in common is two words in the title; in every other respect, they are completely antithetical to one another.

Anyway, if you didn’t read this week’s Teen Titans but are interested in the state of DC’s animal sidekicks, check out Carlson’s post to see just how far into superhero decadence DC continues to descend. At the rate they’re going, I’m predicting Robin turning tricks on the street for the sheer thrill of it, Wonder Girl joining the pornography industry and Blue Beetle coming out as a cannibal by the 75th issue.


David said...

I'm starting to think Dan Didio killed Sean McKeever and is wearing his skin as a mask.

Seriously, who the fuck thought a generic slasher-flick plot would be a good idea for a Teen Titans book?

I've never liked Achewood. One time I tried to force my way through the archive to see what the hubbub was about and gave up due to a positive reference to Jim Jarmusch and a general feeling it combined the worst elements of Seinfeld and ATHF.

SallyP said...

I was waiting for someone to bring up Jenna Jameson, and I'm glad that you were the one. Heh.

I loved Teen Titans: Year One, and I'm staying as far away as possible from the regular Teen Titans. Blurggg. Now, if we could just get Jaime out of their clutches. He's too good to be hanging out with those losers.

Tony said...

I don't read Teen Titans, but lemme play devil's advocate for a minute ... Teen Titans is ostensibly aimed at teens, and teens like slasher flicks, right?

Here's the thing about celebrities creating comic book characters: It never matters. Literally anyone can come up with a good superhero concept. I do mean "literally" literally.

It's all in the execution.

the2scoops said...

These are dire times to be a Titans fan, but a great time to be a Legion of Super Heroes fan. I think we have to go into the wayback machine to find a time when both were on the upswing.

Man, that Wonderdog thing was just childish and mean. Mind you that I don't particularly like movies like Saw or Hostel, but storywise makes this makes the heroes look stupid to have it happen on their home turf.

Michael said...

Marvin and Wendy eaten by their own dog. Huh. Or rather, a strange dog this version of the characters just adopted.

All I can think of is that it, like most DC comics, means nothing.

We're 5 issues of Final Crisis away from another universe reboot (Demon!Wonderdog's mug looks an awful lot like Demon!Wonder Woman's), so forgive me if me gut reaction is to shrug and assume it'll all be undone by '09 anyway.

I just don't see the point in investing any money or emotion in any stories DC's selling when there's yet another giant reset button on the horizon.

I suppose ultimately this was done so that Wendy and Marvin can show up in the background of a 2-page spread of other Black Lanterns during Blackest Night.

Anthony Strand said...

I recently decided to stop following DC continuity and only read things I enjoy. Looks like I made the right choice.

Also, that Colleen Coover drawing looks more like a naked adolescent girl.

Baal said...

Is it wrong that I like the idea of Robin turning tricks for the thrill of it and would buy the comic that featured that?

Baal said...

Oh yeah, and 'boo, McKeever'...

Caleb said...

I'm starting to think Dan Didio killed Sean McKeever and is wearing his skin as a mask.

Sean McKeever was alive and well and recently as two Wednesdays ago. If Didio does have designs on his life, he's yet to acted on them.

and gave up due to a positive reference to Jim Jarmusch

You don't like Jim Jarmusch?

I don't read Teen Titans, but lemme play devil's advocate for a minute ... Teen Titans is ostensibly aimed at teens, and teens like slasher flicks, right?

True. I suppose some of the more juvenile DC books might be intentionally juvenile to attract actual juveniles, but I get the impression they mostly sell to grown-ups. You have to be at least 30 to even know who the hell Marvin, Wendy and Wonderdog were, right?

but storywise makes this makes the heroes look stupid to have it happen on their home turf.

It sure does make the Titans look like a bunch of nitwits. The closest they come to realize that a demon dog is devouring their friends is Robin saying, "I thought I heard something? Nope, just my imagination. Back to working out; I'm sure no one's devouring our friends."

LurkerWithout said...

How can someone not like the director who gave us Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai? It just doesn't add up!

Also Coover just draws small breasted women. Shocking I know...

the2scoops said...

It sure does make the Titans look like a bunch of nitwits. The closest they come to realize that a demon dog is devouring their friends is Robin saying, "I thought I heard something? Nope, just my imagination. Back to working out; I'm sure no one's devouring our friends."
And that's the guy aspiring to the mantle of the world's greatest detective...

And much love for Jarmusch here. I love "Down by Law" and "Coffee and Cigarettes".

Leigh Walton said...

Pure speculation on my part, but a couple spots (like the "oh hey, other character, I told you to stop sneaking up on me") made me wonder whether the creators were working Marvel-style, and McKeever was working after the fact to try to make sense of Barrows' bizarre staging.

David said...

Jarmusch has a way of taking great loglines and turning them into tremendously boring films.

Ghost Dog's logline was "A hitman obsessed with samurai runs afoul of the mob after refusing to kill a girl." A more accurate description of the plot would be "A fat black guy watches pigeons, cleans guns, and talks to an Algerian about ice cream." Jarmusch is the worst American perpetrator of padding since the 1970s. He's basically like the Meet The Spartans directors for pseudointellectuals, only replace "Extend a thin plot with random pop culture references and poop jokes." with "Extend a thin plot with Freshmen Philophosy bs and extended pans over scenery."