Wednesday, January 05, 2011

6,000 words or so on the last few days worth of funny book news.

(Above: Who is this hippie and where is his tie?)

In addition to struggling to remember to write “2011” instead of “2010” on all their checks, thousands of Internet message board commenters will have to remember to start blaming Axel Alonso for ruining comics and, I believe the idiom goes, raping their childhoods. Wait, did I say thousands? That’s probably too generous assessment of the number of Internet message board commenters who complain about the direction of Marvel comics, since “thousands” accounts for their entire readership. Maybe hundreds? Scores? Dozens?

But the point stands: Joe Quesada is no longer Marvel’s Editor-In-Chief; Axel Alonso is. As for Quesada, he’ll remain with Marvel, he’ll just have different, more vague duties I don’t understand, and a new title on his business card—Chief Creative Officer of Marvel Entertainment.

You can read the official announcement here.

I’d like to take a moment to congratulate Alonso on the new gig, and wish him the best of luck in his new position.

Alonso began working at Marvel in 2000, which, not coincidentally, is the year I began reading Marvel Comics. For the first eight years or so that I read comics, “super hero comics” was synonymous with “DC” comics to me, but at the turn of the century, about the time that one-time Vertigo editor Alonso began working for Marvel, the publisher started hiring Vertigo writers like Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis and Peter Milligan to write rather daring, risky and new reader friendly projects.

Those projects—Ennis and Steve Dillon’s The Punisher, the Morrison-written Marvel Boy and then New X-Men, Milligan and Mike Allred’s X-Force/X-Statix—and the then-new Ultimate line being written by familiar-to-me and new-to-Marvel talent and positioned specifically to curious readers leery of Marvel’s decades of continuity, made a Marvel reader out of me.

I’ve since lapsed quite a bit—there aren’t any Marvel books on my pull-list at the moment, partly because I’m transitioning away from single issues and into trades, but mostly because I can’t afford most Marvel comics anymore—and as a reader and someone who would like to see the direct market stick around and be an awesome and viable avenue of comics delivery for a few more decades, I’m not real happy with where Marvel is right now.

But personally, anecdotally, both Quesada and Alonso had a lot to do with selling the company, their comics and their characters to me, and, if I’m a test case, then chances are they did a great jobs selling the company, their comics and their characters to plenty of others over the years too.

I would expect Alonso to be a fine editor-in-chief, perhaps an even better one than Quesada.

Why? Well, as the photos of Alonso released so far have indicated, unlike Quesada, Alonso is bald, and, as we all know, bald men happen to be much more intelligent than the be-haired. In fact, the reason bald men are bald is because they use so much more of their brain, and all of that brain-electricity burns off hair.

It’s true? Don’t believe me? Look it up!



Did you go look it up already? Okay, then you know I wasn’t being truthful about the baldness thing. But bald men do tend to perform better than haired men in various capacities—particularly lovers, ladies—but not because of inherent better brain activity. The reason is, rather, psychological—the bald have to compensate for their lack of hair, and they tend to do so by performing better than their hair-having fellows.

That is 100% totally true. Seriously. You don’t need to go look that one up at all. Just trust me.

On the other hand, Alonso’s previous gig at Marvel was running the X-books, which means Alonso likely had the power to stop Greg Land from drawing Marvel comics, and never exercised that power. That, at least, is a black mark against Alonso, and a reason to fear the future of Marvel.


*************************

How many people do you think have made a "hope you survive the experience" joke to Alonso so far? Thirty? Seventy-five?

*************************

I sort of expected to see more evaluation of Quesada’s time as EIC at this point, either of the autopsy/eulogy/analysis variety, or simply of the “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” variety.

Maybe it’s still a little early.

Without bothering to look anything up, here’s what I remember about Quesada’s time at Marvel. (I'm not bothering to look anything up because a) I'm lazy, b) you can fact-check your own damn reading experience; you've got the Internet, and c) I want to only mention things that left enough impression that I carry them around in my memory to some degree, rather than trivial things that seemed important for a week or a month but then evaporated).

So, Things I Remember About Quesada's Time as Editor-In-Chief at Marvel:

—Getting Kevin Smith to do Daredevil, kicking off the trend of famous folks doing vanity comics of various degrees of quality, while completely revitalizing that particular character and book

—Allowing for the pervasiveness of ridiculously and/or never completed comics, beginning with Smith (Spider-Man/Black Cat, Dardedevil: The Target) and including some of the past decades most notorious offenders (the otherwise well-received The Ultimates; the only slightly late Civil War, which nevertheless managed to delay Marvel’s entire line for a time; the years break in the middle of Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk by that guy who worked on Lost; the never-completed miniseries The Thirteen).

—Being ridiculously antagonistic toward DC in what I assume Quesada and Marvel viewed as a jocular rivalry, but since DC never responded publicly, it just sort of made Marvel look weird and mean and petty (The AOL comics crack, and DC not knowing what the fuck to do with Batman and Superman are the instances that come to mind).

—Cutting out smoking in all Marvel Comics. I applaud the move and Quesada’s conviction, but I didn’t like the way it was handled at all. It seems to me that it would have been super-easy to simply quietly kill smoking behind the scenes without anyone ever really noticing or caring.

Who really smoked in the Marvel Universe, anyway? Nick Fury (who was missing for most of Quesada’s tenure), Wolverine, The Thing and J. Jonah Jameson all smoked the occasional cigar (Given their home town’s indoors smoking ban, chances are there’s no reason we’d ever seen JJJ chomping on a cigar during any of his scenes anyway). Gambit smoked cigarettes. And…that’s all I can think of.

What made the move particularly grating is that Marvel took a stand on that, but were totally cool with Spider-Man’s radioactive jism giving Mary Jane cancer in a possible future, or having a tentacle rape cover, or gross sexualized boob job teenage corpse cover, or that gross scene where Tigra is filmed being beaten in her bedroom, or The Blob feasting on the entrails of The Wasp, or the incest sub-plot in Ultimates 3 (and The Wasp’s framing of incest as a perfectly natural fact of 21st century life) or…well all sorts of stuff, really.

Of all the bad examples to set for the 25-65-year-old “kids” who read Marvel Comics, smoking seemed like the least of the line’s problems.

—Putting the “genies” back in the bottles. That was Quesada’s term for restoring lost aspects to the Marvel Universe. I don’t think any of those moves were good ones, or worked at all, but they were pretty bold attempts to reform that fictional universe. For review, those were to...

1.) Severely limit the number of mutants. The “No more mutants” magical reboot in House of M was meant to cull the mutant herd and make it impossible for new mutants to be created…a status quo I think new title Generation Hope is beginning to signal the end of, but you’d have to ask someone who reads X-Men comics.

2.) Restore a sense of danger to the Marvel Universe, where all of the heroes weren’t so buddy-buddy, and if two Marvels showed up in the same story at the same time, it was just as likely they’d fight one another as anything else. Civil War was the solution to this…the hero vs. hero cycle of the last few years seems to be ending as well though

3.) End Spider-Man’s marriage without having him be divorced or killing off Mary Jane, as being married—or divorced or widowed—age the character and limit story possibilities. That occurred during another magical continuity reboot, during the “One More Day” story arc, the how’s of which weren’t really explained until the “One Moment In Time” story arc, and I still don’t understand how it worked and what the point of it is. This seems to be the only genie not clawing its way out of its bottle, by the way.

—Quesada was able to heighten the presence of Marvel Comics in the mainstream media during his time as EIC. A large part of this no doubt had to do with the fact that the post-Blade Marvel movie boom made household names of Marvel characters again, and the overall general acceptance of comic books in mainstream pop culture, but Quesada was nevertheless often quoted in articles or appearing on TV or the radio to talk about what really shouldn’t have been as big a deal as it was often made out to be, but still—publicity.

—Quesada made himself awfully available to fans through his “Cup O’ Joe” interview thingees, which moved around online from Newsarama to MySpace to Comic Book Resources to…well, I stopped reading ‘em. Do they still do ‘em at CBR? Or at Marvel.com?

—Quesada occasionally said some really, really dumb things in those forums, and while I can recall being depressed by the dumbness of some of those things—I recall at least one incredibly tone deaf statement on gay characters and/or readers—I can’t think of any specifics without Googling.

*********************

I wonder if the change in EICs at Marvel will lead to DC/Marvel crossovers in the future? I was under the impression that the lack of crossovers was down to a policy set by Paul Levitz, and enmity towards Quesada. Now Levitz is a writer rather than a company-runner, and Quesada’s out as EIC.

Does that mean we’ll get that Iron Man/Green Lantern crossover Geoff Johns and Matt Fractiont tweeted about? Or that Batman/Daredevil thing Brian Michael Bendis whined about at that one convention a while back? Or a new version of DC Vs. Marvel, only good this time? (Actually, I thought the last series, and the Amalgam Universe that emerged, was a lot of fun at the time, but it was really a series of the moment—done today, I can’t imagine Lobo fighting Wolverine or Superboy fighting Spider-Man Ben Reilly, for example. Also the costumes wouldn’t suck as much).

*********************

I think Tom Spurgeon is right call attention to the fact that Alonso is a "comics-first" guy. Given the changes at Marvel and Big Two super-comics in general in the time since Quesada was named EIC, it wouldn't have been hard to imagine someone form the world of television of film or corporate marketing being named EIC. That press release mentions "Marvel Entertainment" a lot more than the longer-lived term "Marvel Comics," after all.

*********************

On Monday, DC kicked off a flood of announcements with an online ad trumpeting the fact that they abandoned their few-month flirtation with Marvel-style $3.99 22-page comics and are “Drawing The Line at $2.99.”

The image was accompanied by a few hundred words hyping some of the publisher’s immediate plans for the new year, signed by Dan (DiDio) and Jim (Lee).

As a cheap miser and chronic complainer, I’m obviously happy to hear DC is sticking at the $2.99 price point, even if it means two fewer pages of story-per-issue (a fact that goes unmentioned in The Source blog post linked to above), especially since the only $2.99/20-page book I’ve read so far (Green Lantern #60, reviewed somewhere in this interminably long post) didn’t read any shorter.

The move probably won’t get me to read any new ongoing series on a regular basis—in fact, the flirtation with the higher price point has already kept me from starting a few new ones, even if it was immediately abandoned—but it will keep me from dropping any of the titles I do read, and make me more likely to sample an issue here or there, or check out one-shots and miniseries.

The image itself is an interesting one (is it by Ivan Reis? I’m guessing it’s by Ivan Reis), in no small part because it what it reveals about the publisher’s focus at the moment (Wait, there’s a group of signatures in the lower left corner, near the Aqua-people. It does seem to be penciled by Reis and colored by a Rod Reis; can’t make out the second one down though). Front and center is, of course, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, who is literally drawing a line in the sand with power ring. He’s tightly flanked by Superman, Batman and Flash Barry Allen—who together seem to compromise the company’s marketing power quartet as seen on Hostess snack cakes and the throw pillow I got for Christmas—as well as Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman is still wearing her Straczynski story arc costume, albeit sans the jacket, which seemed to have been the most widely derided part of her new ensemble.

I’m not sure how long-lived this particular image is supposed to be, nor how wide the audience for it is, but I suppose it’s worth noting that Wonder Woman is in her “new” costume rather than her classic one, which at least suggest it’s meant to be around for a while, perhaps longer than the status quo in her current story arc (it’s already lasted longer than JMS!).

(Aside: I’m not crazy about all those straps, nor the lack of footwear, but the jacket-less version of the costume is steadily growing on me. With a few minor modifications, I could see myself eventually digging it).

As for the rest of the characters shown, there’s Aquaman and Martian Manhunter in their current Brightest Day costumes and then it really looks like Reis was operating under and edict of “a whole bunch of heroes.” For example, household names like Batgirl, Robin and a Captain Marvel are absent, while relatively obscure characters like Congorilla, Etrigan The Demon and S.T.R.I.P.E. are included. (And, for what it’s worth, the only heroes of color—if we don’t count orange, green and pink as skin colors—are Cyborg and the new Aqualad).

Not that I think the characters were all carefully chosen and vetted by DC editors or anything. It really does look like the idea was simply The New Big Four, Plus Wonder Woman so the Internet Doesn’t Complain, Maybe the Brightest Day Characters, And Whoever You Feel Like Drawing, Ivan.

The letter itself mentions big storylines like Flashpoint (which is apparently the next Geoff Johns-written event story), “War of the Green Lanterns” (a crossover between the three—three!—GL books), “Reign of Doomsday” (which runs through a series of low-selling books, the most popular of which is JLoA, sales of which I expect to plummet pretty quickly with the arrival of the new pencil artist) and Batman Beyond, an ongoing spinning out of a low-selling miniseries that I can’t imagine will be a very big deal, barring some big DCU Beyond event with some time travel hijinx linking that possible future to the current continuity and characters in a way that the audience will perceive it as “mattering.”

They also mention some upcoming Vertigo titles and, cryptically, “And don’t even get us started about the return of…”

Following a line about the exciting storylines being “not just about the DC Universe,” that sounds like an allusion to the resurrection of one of DC’s many, many, many dead imprints, or perhaps simply some titles form one of those imprints, but I don’t know, the letter ends with this:

In 2011, heroes will return. Creators will take chances. DC will hold the line.

“Heroes will return,” huh? Jeez, they brought back Jason Todd and Barry freaking Allen…what DC heroes haven’t returned yet? Earth-2 Superman as the White Lantern? Neil Gaiman’s Morpheus of The Endless putting on the old Simon/Kirby purple-and-gold costume to become a superhero Sandman? Swamp Thing becoming The Batman of Houma, Louisiana in the pages of Batman Inc.? Or, completely insanely, the occasionally threatened Watchmen 2?

**********************

Speaking of $2.99 vs. $3.99 comics, I’ve been meaning to discuss Josh Blaylock’s early December discussion about the gloomy looking near-future of the direct market for about a month now, but never got around to it. Like Brian Hibbs’ Tilting At Windmills column from around the same time (discussed below), Blaylock sees all the makings of a terrible late winter for the direct market.

What I found most interesting about Blaylock’s piece was what he had to say about $3.99 vs. $2.99 books:

What could be the final nail in the coffin for many direct market retailers is the sudden price drops in Marvel and DC comics at a time that is already seasonably dead for most stores – February. Even in the best of times the holiday spending craze is over, everyone has spent their post-X-mas, January gift money, and the lull begins, and this will likely be one of the flattest X-Mas seasons in memory. This year, as our currency buys less and less essentials (I’m talking food and clothing, not your essential weekly publications), February is already poised to be tougher than ever, but it’s also running parallel with the forced 25% drop in sales from the majority of DC and Marvel titles. It’s an open wound plus salt.




As one retailer commented on ICv2.com, the cries for price reductions back to $2.99 came BEFORE the customers left their stores. It is a fantasy to believe that will bring those people back in. Now many of those customers who have left could be spending that post X-mas money on three or four times as many comics via their newly gifted iPads and iPhones.



I’ve always looked at the pricing issue from the standpoint of a comics consumer, because that’s what I am. I don’t see any reason why DC and Image can sell books profitably at $2.99 and Dark Horse at $3.50, but Marvel needs $3.99 (Brian Michael Bendis’ page rate can’t be that much more than Grant Morrison’s, can it?).

But Blaylock indicates that the drops can hurt the retailers. I suppose that does make sense. If you sell a customer x number of books each month, then you take in more money if that customer buys x3.99 books than you would if that customer bought x2.99 books, assuming x doesn’t change.

While that’s logical, I guess the problem is there’s no way of knowing what causes individual customers to buy fewer books. Maybe it’s the higher price tag on some books, but maybe they’re switching to trades or download, or maybe they just had a kid or are going back to school or bought a new car or got laid off. Because the equation varies so radically from customer to customer, it’s really impossible to figure out if a retailer or publisher could make more money at a certain price point or not.

Trying to divorce the price point issue form my own wallet and buying habits though, I still can’t see why Marvel needed to make a 33% price increase, instead of, say, a 10- or 15- or 25% one.

*************************

Maybe someone should ask Tom Brevoort. A few quotes from Brevoort ended up on Robot 6 the other day, as they tend to every week or two. More often than not, the quotes Robot 6 finds of Brevoort’s to re-post involve the talkative Marvel editor being combative with the Distinguished Competition.

I don’t really understand Brevoort’s rationale for their $3.99 comics, which runs counter to previous public statements from others at Marvel that the books are priced that way because fans will buy them at that price and, if at some point, they stop, then the price might be reduced to reflect the new market reality.

It sounds like Brevoort is claiming that Time Warner doesn’t demand DC turn a profit on their publishing efforts, so long as the corporation continues to make money off licensing DC’s IPs, but that Disney-owned Marvel has a completely different set of expectations from its corporate overlords.

Which is odd because, if true, then Time Warner could probably just go ahead and fold DC Comics right now, because they’ve already got the Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern and a couple hundred other characters to base TV shows and movies and toys and video games on—it’s not like DC Comics is a monthly incubator for new, movie-ready characters and concepts (And the newer ideas tend to be simply riffs on the old ones, like a teenage version of Blue Beetle with a different costume design, for example, or otherly-colored Green Lanterns).

Weirder still is this comment, answering a reader question about why Marvel wouldn’t want to not be forced to turn a profit without licensing revenue being factored in:

Because if you’re going to be a publishing division, to want to tell stories and to publish, don’t you want them to be read by people? Don’t you want them to be profitable? Sure, if we had the luxury of not having to make sure that each title earns its keep, we could coast a bit–but that wouldn’t make for better comics, that would just make us lazier and sloppier (and we’re plenty lazy and sloppy as it is.) Anything worth doing is worth doing well.


The problem, of course, is that having people read your stories and having them be good stories are two completely different things. That is, being popular/making money is a completely different thing that making good comics.

The synopsis of Civil War or Secret Invasion or Siege don’t make a lick of logical sense, but they turned major profits, were very popular and blow sales of legitimately good superhero comics like Thor: The Mighty Avenger or Incredible Hercules or Spider-Man or Ultimate Spider-Man away.

Turn to any random page of any of Marvel’s recent Astonishing Tales anthology comics, and you’ll find art work vastly superior to anything being drawn by Joe Quesada or Greg Land or Salvador Larocca, but compare the profitability and/or sales of “One More Day,” “One Moment In Time,” Uncanny X-Men or Invincible Iron Man to even the best-selling issue of Astonishing Tales and, well, you won’t be astonished to find out the crappy art sells better than the great stuff.

*********************

DC’s other big-ish announcement of the week was the return of letter columns.

Admittedly, that was a bit of a head-scratcher, given the fact that no one ever writes letters anymore under any circumstances (Naturally, you can email them as well as send them snail mail).

The most obvious question here is, of course, what’s the point, given the existence of fan message boards—DC’s in-house ones, as well as third-party ones—and the fact that free, cheap and easy blogging software and platforms are available to anyone with any kind of Internet access.

I’m pretty much a complete Luddite, someone who got his first cell phone in 2010 (about five years after my grandfather got his), and I can comics-blog, so it’s not like the ability to talk about DC comics in public is all that hard a thing to do anymore.

However, a well-managed and well-edited letter column can add a great deal of perceived value to a comic book (When I was only buying one or two comics a month with my allowance, for example, pouring over the letter columns helped pro-long the reading experience for me) and can prove just-as, or more entertaining than the preceding book (One of my old roommates used to read Powers for example, and would invariable end up cracking up during the letters pages after reading the comic itself in stone-faced silence). I think Steve Wacker’s work on the Amazing Spider-Man letter column is a pretty good example of an entertaining letters page, and would make a good model for DC efforts.

If they really want to do it right though, the most important things to do would be heavy editor and/or creator involvement (i.e., someone answering questions, rather then simply a page full of reader comments) and making that content exclusive to the letter pages that see print.

I would hope DC does that much at least. The DC Nation columns always struck me as an enormous waste of time, space and money, since not only did they usually only regurgitate information already widely disseminated at conventions and online, but DC itself would post the features online immediately, so, if for some reason you wanted to read a particular DC Nation, you could just click to dccomics.com, rather than pick up a DC Comic.

Oh, and bring back next issue boxes. I love those things, and they used to get me really excited for the next issue. With solicitations online, I guess these too are kind of pointless, but right after you read a chapter of an ongoing serial adventure is the exact moment where a good solicitation can prove very exciting. (I love next issue boxes so much that I even put one in my comic, even though it was a one-shot).

******************************

Read enough old DC Comics from the ‘90s, and you’ll find plenty of letters from a J. Caleb Mozzocco from Erie, PA or Ashtabula, OH. Batman comics from around the time of “Contagion” had a lot of ‘em. So too did Hitman, Martian Manhunter and Hourman. I think I even had a few in JLA.

As a teenager and college student, in that pre-computer existence (well, computer’s existed, but not in my world view), letter-writing was part of the ritual of reading serial comic books, an aspect of the ritual that I’d later replicate in the “Weekly Haul” review features I did here for quite a while (before I quit hauling comics home on a weekly basis).

I’m now generally somewhere between “mildly embarrassed” and “quite mortified” by the content of many of those letters I wrote, but I think it was overall good for me.

It was certainly good practice at writing, as it offered me an opportunity to write about a thousand words or so a week on a subject I was enthusiastic about for a specific audience (the assistant editor of the particular comic) and with an specific goal in mind (publication). The first time one of my letters saw print—1993’s Robin #2—was one of the highlights of my writing life, given how excited I was to see my name in print and the fact that it was one of the first times I felt the sensation of knowledge that people—strangers! In different cities and states and places I’ll probably never even visit!—were reading my words. Along with the first few times I had work published professionally in newspapers, and I had that sensation coupled with the fact that someone was going to send me money in exchange for my writing, my first letter published in the back of a comic book was one of the most exciting moments in my evolution of a writer (As for those others? My first movie review in the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s teen-written N.E.X.T. section in 1994, my first few theater reviews for The Erie Daily-Times in the late nineties, and my first piece in Wizard magazine in 2000. By then I was embarked upon a career in the newspaper industry though, and seeing my name in print lost all its luster.)

So, if for no reason other than to encourage teenagers to become writers and experience that excitement I once felt—if any still read DC Comics, of course—I say hooray for letters pages in the backs of comics.

Today’s fan letter writers are the comics bloggers of tomorrow after all, and therefore…Oh, wait. Maybe it’s not such a hot idea after all. I’d hate to see today’s generation of Batman-loving teens consigned to a fate like mine…

***************************

Oh, the letter col announcement was also accompanied by a piece of art. Let’s take a look:There’s no signature on this one, and I’m not sure who it’s by. I’m going to guess Yanick Paquette—Wonder Woman has that vacant Paquette pretty woman look on her face—being colored by someone who needs to chill the hell out on the textures a bit. I don’t need to see Superman’s knuckles in such detail, man.

I think this is a nicer image in general. For one thing, it sticks Hal Jordan in the back where he belongs, although it’s a more dynamic and symmetrical image in general.

The focus here is on DC’s household name characters, with the inclusion of Power Girl and Cyborg being perhaps the riskier choices. Power Girl is in for Supergirl simply because of her costume colors looking better so close to Superman’s, I would assume, and Cyborg is, again, looked to as DC’s top-tier hero of color…given his role on Teen Titans and, I don’t know, maybe Smallville, that’s probably about right.

I suppose Batgirl and Superboy’s costumes make them less familiar than some of the other characters, but it’s not like they’re hard to figure out—the girl in the Bat-costume is Batgirl; the boy with the Superman shirt must be Superboy.

Again we see Wonder Woman in her current costume, now with the jacket back on. Also of note is the presence of the current Robin, Damian. I’m pretty surprised he’s hung on to the costume and the role as long as he has now, and I wonder if we’re starting to pass—or have already passed—the time frame where the Batman line can go back to “normal” after Grant Morrison stops writing it. That is, that Damian will be written out of the book and Tim Drake will resume his role as Robin (and Dick Grayson will go back to being Nightwing, I guess?)

Anyway, pretty nice image.


************************

Why stop at just four Lantern books, DC? There’s still the Yellow, Orange, Pink and Indigo Lanterns…plus the Black and White ones. Some might say that launching a Red Lanterns comic book is over-expanding the exploitation of one of DC’s two remaining valuable franchises too damn fast, but I say it’s just not too damn fast enough!

I’m sort of surprised by this announcement. Not that DC is launching another Lantern book necessarily, but, that they’re going with the Red Lanterns. It’s a cool color of course—stronger than green, certainly—but as a space-army of aliens who have their hearts replaced with rage and their blood replaced with napalm acid blood that they projectile vomit at their enemies, they seem a little one-note and a lot of gross.

The heroic, hope-powered Blue Lanterns or that lovable scamp Larfleeze, The Orange Lantern seem like more likely candidates. Although come to think of it, a Blue Lantern is joining the Justice League (sadly, it’s not Ganesh) so maybe that’s enough Blue Lantern exposure for 2011…especially considering that the Blue Lanterns are pretty super-boring. And a Larfleeze comic is probably more likely to end up looking like this than looking like this, so maybe DC made the right choice.

Although I honestly expected a New Guardians book, featuring the ad hoc team of Corps leaders Geoff Johns threw together in Blackest Night, and who have been co-starring with (and mostly eclipsing) boring old Hal Jordan in Green Lantern since.

Put another way, I think I'd rather read about these guysOr perhaps even these guys Then these guys(But that's just me).

Peter Milligan’s involvement as writer is encouraging, even if his super-work over the last few years has been increasingly hit or miss. Dude’s got talent anyway, and is a known quantity.

If anyone cares, I probably won’t be reading this book on a regular basis—despite digging the main Green Lantern book, I’ve never followed the secondary or tertiary ones regularly, and don’t expect to read the…shit, what comes after tertiary? Well, that one.

Although I suppose the right artist could change my mind. If DC gets Keif Llama/Star Crossed writer/artist Matt Howarth to draw Red Lanterns, I’ll totally add it to my pull-list. (Seriously; Howarth is the ideal artist and/or writer for comic book stories involving lots of crazy aliens).

And every time Red Lantern cat Dexstar fights a super-pet—Streaky, Comet, Krypto, G’Nort, Black Lantern Michael, whoever—I’ll totally buy that issue.

************************

In addition to the Blaylock column linked to above, the other bit of direct market doom and gloom from last month I've been meaning to address for awhile now is this Tilting at Windmills column from comics retailer, comics retailer advocate and Savage Critics ringleader Brain Hibbs.

I don't always read all of Hibbs' columns on comics retailing, but I'd highly recommend this one. Go give it a look, and then come back and we can talk about what's so terribly depressing about it.

Back?

Okay, as you just read, Hibbs notes that a lot of the sorry state of the direct market at the moment may not necessarily be attributable to the overall shit economy of the U.S., but to a big old flock of "the Chickens finally coming Home To Roost."

Chickens like "event marketing," aggressive line expansion, decompressed storytelling created for trades rather than single issues, price increases...all that stuff.

After laying out how dark the picture seems to be, Hibbs starts offer some solutions:

The thing is: this is a self-inflicted wound. Event marketing, line expansions, overproduction of minis and new #1s, price increases -- these were all things that publishers chose to do in order to make as much money as they could. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se -- we live in a system of capitalism, and capitalism demands greater profits. But we’ve systematically made what seemed like sound short-term decisions that largely gutted the long-term market for most of the product within it. Ooops!


I suppose we should take a moment here to note that both DC and Marvel's recent restructuring of leadership could be seen as doubling-down on what the Big Two that dominate the market Hibbs is talking about have been up to the last five years or so. DC promoted and rejiggered company mainstays Jim Lee, Dan DiDio and Geoff Johns. Marvel just promoted and rejiggered its leadership.

More from Hibbs:

We have to not publish comics that “don’t matter,” we have to stop tying them all together so closely and making the enjoyment of one dependent upon the purchase of another. We have to strip lines down, hard, to just the brilliant shiny heart of it all and have the message be, “Yeah, we’re publishing half of what we used to, but, damn, if we published any more awesome stuff that you just can’t wait to get the next issue of, we’d all explode!” We’ve got to get back to where people were genuinely, frantically excited about [title] not merely because they like the core character(s) but because, “Holy crap, can you believe what [writer] and [artist] just did? That was amazing…!”


That all sounds good, and certainly sounds do-able. But here's the thing: Why on Earth would DC or Marvel do that? What incentive is there for them to do that? Basically, they have to stop doing what they're doing now, what they've been doing for a while, and do the opposite. And that means they have to give up some market share and make fewer dollars in the short term.

The benefit won't be felt until the long term, and I wonder if many of the players are all that concerned with a long term, either because they think they won't be around to suffer the consequences by then or because the direct market itself won't be around by then.

I don't mean to argue with Hibbs here, but I was trying to imagine folks in leadership at the Big Two taking his advice, and I had a hard time doing it. If you can sell 11 Thor titles in any given month in 2010, why publish one or two? If fans are willing to buy a 22 page for $4, why give it to them for less? If retailers will order 250 of your stupid comic just to get a variant, why not sell it to them?

The depressing picture that emerged form my reading of Hibbs' column was this web of relationships in which each of the entities is playing chicken with each of the others, and whichever entity changes its ways first will end up losing money and face to the others.

But hey, that column from last year, and it's a new year now. Maybe DC will realize that if hardly anyone wants to read JSoA or Teen Titans, then they probably don't need to keep publishing JSA All-Stars and Titans...and give Red Circle-like sub-lines a rest for a few years as well. Maybe Marvel will drop their prices down to $3.50, and sell two-to-6 Thor book a month instead of 12.

Maybe.

***********************

Hooray, Tim Drake is finally wearing a new Red Robin costume that looks more Tim Drake and Robin than Batman! Although from the preview it looks like maybe he’s only wearing it in the Evil Internet? (Like the real Internet isn’t evil enough…) I like it better than the Alex Ross design, anyway.

If it’s not a new Red Robin costume, then hopefully it’s a step towards one. I’m not real fond of what I see of this version here—it looks like a red Nightwing costume with a cape, and it retains the neither red nor robin bird head symbol—but I like it better than Ross’.

The Ross design was basically just the Batman costume with the ears knocked off, Hawkman’s harness, and a red shirt. It was fine for a one-off like Kingdom Come, but if Tim Drake is going to be a grown-up Robin in perpetuity, he needs a new and better costume. Preferably one without an ear-less bat-cowl.

*********************

At Robot 6, Graeme McMillan addresses an obvious question about the exciting announcement regarding Fantagraphics' plan to publish the complete Carl Barks, and the answers are of course as obvious as the question.

I can't imagine a better publisher to handle the Barks duck stuff than Fanta—their work with Krazy Kat and Peanuts is evidence enough of that—and I wouldn't want to see Disney yank all their licenses away from Boom and elsewhere just to have Marvel publish those books, but it is kinda weird that Disney owns its own comics publishing company—the biggest North American comics publisher—and they aren't having Marvel publish any of their comics, isn't it?

*************************

While checking my Google News alerts while assembling today's Linkarama@Newsarama column for Blog@, I came across an article headlined "How one Austinite became Superman's brain", but didn't read it, since I didn't understand the headline.

It turns that the word "Austinite" means "person from Austin," and "became Superman's brain" means "is writing the comic book Superman," and the article is a nice feature on Chris Roberson, the writer who has been called in to finish up JMS' "Grounded" story.

It's a lengthy article, which includes at least one awesome point that makes me want to interview Roberson myself just to talk about this:

"I believe in Superman the way some people believe in Jesus," Roberson says. "I believe that he is real and that he matters. The fact that he's fictional doesn't really enter into it."

That is interview gold right there, but writer Joe Gross doesn't focus on it, since the subject is Roberson and his work on Superman in general.

Roberson sounds so enthusiastic, I do hope he gets to stick around on Superman after "Grounded" is over; it sounds like he would have plenty of stories of his own to tell.

The article also includes a neat photo of Roberson pulling open his suit and shirt to reveal a Superman shield emblazoned on his shirt, as well as a list of recommended Superman stories.

Check it out.


**************************

Today is New Comic Book Day, which means if you live in a city with at least one comic book shop, you can go there and buy and read new comic books! You lucky bastards; those of us who don’t live in cities with at least one comic shop don’t have that luxury.

And it’s too bad too, since, as I mentioned in last night’s ‘Twas the Night Before Wednesday… column, today sees the release of Steel #1, which some folks think may feature the death of the title character.

Obviously, I won’t be able to read it today and, in fact, I can’t remember if I pre-ordered it or not. I know I did order it when it was originally announced, with art by Sean Chen, and now I can’t remember if I remembered to cancel my pre-order when the artist was changed to EDILW least-favorite Ed Benes or not.

So, if you happen to read Steel #1 today, can you spoil it in the comments for me? No need to go into detail—I just wanna know if he lives or dies or is maimed or disfigured or has something similarly terrible happen to him. Or his niece, I guess…she shows up in the preview, and is slightly more kill-able than Steel, even though his relationship with his niece is one of the cool things about the Steel character.

*******************

Two nights ago I re-watched Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, on DVD this time. I liked the movie much better the second time through, which isn't all that surprising really, as this time I watched it free of expectation and curiosity about what would be kept, what would be dropped and what would be changed from the comic I lived with off and on over the course of several years.

Last night I watched the deleted scenes, which isn't something I normally do with DVDs, since I rarely care enough about the characters or actors to enjoy just, like, spending time with them the way I enjoyed the characters and cast of this film.

There's a shocking alternate ending included, shocking in that it has Scott end up with a completely different girl than he did in the ending that was in the final film (and the final graphic novel).

It's weird because it's a really, really beautifully shot and performed ending, and it makes a great deal of sense when considered in conjunction with some of the lines from some of the other cut scenes and because reading the comics, the fact that Scott would not end up with the girl he eventually did in the comics seemed like a very real, even more likely possibility.

And yet it somehow felt wrong. It made me wonder about Bryan Lee O'Malley's process in concluding his story, if he followed through any of the possible different endings—even if just in his head for a while—and found them wrong feeling.

The characters achieved a certain level of reality to me as a reader; I wonder i the creator had also begun to appreciate them as autonomous? From Edgar Wright's comments, it seemed like he and some of the actors felt the characters had gained enough autonomy that certain actions they could possibly take seemed wrong to them, even unrealistic, which is really a funny way to think of fictional characters...especially in a film as fantastical as Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World was.

************************

I’d rather draw All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder with him. I’ll just draw bricks in the background or broken glass or something. I can do that.

7 comments:

Chuck said...

Here's your Steel spoiler.....fights Doomsday, loses fight, fades to black. Doomsday flies off (yes, he can fly now...)with Steel. It's left up in the air if he's dead or not, but why would Doomsday bother to cary him off into the sunset if he was dead?

Overall, I liked the issue. To tie it into your column, I would not have bought this had it been $3.99, but at $2.99, I gave it a shot.

Jeff said...

I remember your letters being published "back in the day".

The letters column promo art is definitely not Paquette. There's an envelope beneath Batman & Robin signed "Derenick", likely referring to Tom Derenick, artist of Shadowpact.

Yan Basque said...

"“Heroes will return,” huh? Jeez, they brought back Jason Todd and Barry freaking Allen…what DC heroes haven’t returned yet? Earth-2 Superman as the White Lantern? Neil Gaiman’s Morpheus of The Endless putting on the old Simon/Kirby purple-and-gold costume to become a superhero Sandman? Swamp Thing becoming The Batman of Houma, Louisiana in the pages of Batman Inc.? Or, completely insanely, the occasionally threatened Watchmen 2?"

Oh, dear God. No! Those are all absolutely horrifying ideas, but the worst part is that I fear it's probably not far off from what DC is planning.

Also, I LOL'd at "plus Wonder Woman so the Internet doesn't complain." Sadly, I can hear DiDio saying exactly those words.

snell said...

"Heroes will return": SPOILER

James Robinson brought the Tasmanian Devil back to life in this week's Starman/Congorilla, so, hey, promise kept. Plus, Robinson gets to undo one of the 27 egregiously awful things he did in Justice League: Cry For Justice. Lian Harper is still dead, though...no Lazarus pit for her.

googum said...

I could see Krypto vs. Dex-starr as a four issue, miniseries event: Super-dog vs. Hate cat, tearing up the entire DCU. Thousands are killed as Dex-starr melts civilians with blood puke, and Krypto knocks over buildings and heat-visions bystanders while trying to get that darn cat.

Earth's heroes valiantly...don't do much, except the stray B or C-list legacy or unused Teen Titan gets killed here or there. Once over, no one ever speaks of this again.

Yeah, you could make Krypto vs. Dex-starr fun and entertaining; or DC could do it like that godawful World War III thing. Place your bets!

Siskoid said...

OMG I can't believe I read all that!

You were right in the previous post: Too many news!

Good read though.

Dara said...

Dang, Caleb! That was one hell of a post. Is it a record setting one, in terms of word count?

And as Jeff already pointed out, the letter column art looks to be Tom Derenick. He's exclusive with DC, which means if he's not drawing monthly books, they're obligated to find him work, which apparently included spot illos.

Oh, and drawing my Spectre story in the DC Universe Holiday Special.