Sunday, July 22, 2007

Five Random Things, None of Which Really Deserve a Post of Their Own

1.) I’ve been reading a lot about the Punisher online this week. Mike Sterling at Progressive Ruin noted the decline in demand for the Punisher’s first appearance, once a sought after item. Tim O’Neil at The Hurting produced a pair of well-observed, sharply-written essays about the character’s rise in popularity, and inherent problems as a star of sequential superhero fiction. And Chris Sims at The Invincible Super-Blog? That guy’s always got something to say about The Punisher.

So when is somebody going to get around to addressing the Punisher-related subject that I am most interested in reading about?

You know, this:

I’d do it myself, but every time I get to the panel that suggests DC and Marvel editors decided to combine Wonder Woman’s male girlfriend Steve Trevor and Frank Castle into the same person, my brain shortcircuits and I lose consciousness for a few hours, facedown in a longbox full of Amalgam comics.

2.) The Beat has their monthly analysis of DC’s sales figures up for June, and even though I’m no longer reading Countdown, I find myself increasingly (and, admittedly, somewhat morbidly) fascinated in how it performs in the direct market.

Like 52, it’s a rather experimental project for a publisher like DC, albeit one that changed several important factors from the experiment of 52. While that series proved a somewhat surprising success, this one is so far something of a disappointment (and I’m just talking bout the sales here, not in terms of creative success or failure).

So now I find myself wondering if it will prove to be simply less-of-a-success-than-52, or a spectacular failure.

Here’s what The Beat has to say at the moment:

“…the publisher’s supposed big event series of the moment is finding its level relatively quickly. Which is damning with faint praise, of course, because sales aren’t desperately good to begin with for this sort of thing. The three previous issues made the chart again in June with reorders between 1,704 and 2,018 units, in fairness, but that’s due to the fact that June was a rather light month in terms of new releases. 70,000 units may not be a bad number for a book without superstar creators that’s largely starring C-list characters. But the yardstick for Countdown are other event titles, including and especially its predecessor 52. By that standard, Countdown has been a failure….”

But keep in mind, dislike it or hate it, Countdown was still DC’s third best-selling title in June, and in a few months time may be the company’s best-seller (The two ahead of it in June were Justice, which just ended, and JLoA, which only has one more Brad Meltzer-written issue to go, and while I can’t imagine why, his writing currently sells like gangbusters).

I’m pretty curious about how bad the book would have to do to constitute a failure, or to start losing money (I’d say to cancel it, but since it’s counting down to something, presumably Final Crisis, I guess cancellation is impossible).

The two lowest-selling, uncancelled DCU books are All-New Atom and Blue Beetle (DC, please take note next time you assign the name of an unpopular character/brand to an unknown new character to launch a new series. See also the cancelled Firestorm and Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis), which are selling in the mid-teens. Would Countdown have to do that, or is the bar set much, much higher due to the amount of production stress a weekly causes the publisher?

Also worth noting is the fact that Countdown’s latest issue up there still outsold Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps Special by tens of thousands of units. I can’t think of anyone who likes Countdown, save an anonymous poster or three at Newsarama, and I can’t think of anyone who had anything harsh to say about Sinestro Corps beyond it’s not all that new reader friendly, and yet the former is outselling the latter. By a lot.

3.) And speaking of Countdown, check out incoming editor Mike Carlin’s interview with Newsarama’s Matt Brady on the latest issue.

I don’t envy Carlin; he seems to have been brought in to replace Mike Marts almost immediately, although the change was presented as Marts going on to take a better assignment. Brady graciously didn’t push on that at all.

But when Brady sought a little clarification on the wonky timeline of Countdown—events that took hours in “Lightning Saga” taking days in Coutndown, events that took days in Amazons Attack taking weeks in Coutndown, Batman being in three places simultaneously, and so on—Carlin got pretty defensive.

Here’s one:

MC: It's on the news later in the issue... you really should give things some minute-to-minute time to unfold, no? This is an age old problem in a shared universe, though, why doesn't Superman intervene in every issue of Blue Beetle or Birds of Prey or everywhere in all titles...

“Sometimes when all is said and done, you can piece your year of all DC publications-- and figure a kinda place for everything...or you can just relax and enjoy the comic you're reading!”

And here’s another:

MC: These stories will criss-cross and meld to the end... at least the threads that don't end suddenly-- and tragically! Here's a way to look at Countdown... it's not 52. 52 covered a lost year— 52 literal weeks. Countdown is several stories that play out in their own time... not a year's worth in the DCU.

“Nothing that happens in the DCU happens in real time... Lois & Clark have known each other for maybe 8 or 9 years in real time-- but they've celebrated twenty Christmas issues since 1986 alone!

“If you think about it too much you will die!”

I’m all for not thinking about things like the passage of time in the DCU as it relates to the passage of time in real life myself, but Carlin seems to miss the point, which pretty much everyone in the comments section makes over and over. Time in the DCU still has to occur sequentially, and events still have to happen in relation to one another.

It’s fine that Countdown, Amazons Attack, Teen Titans and Wonder Woman all deal with the Amazons attack on Washington D.C., and it’s fine that one is a weekly and the others are monthlies. But whatever rate the books are released, the events they chronicle have to match up. It’s the same attack they’re all addressing. Does it take a matter of days or weeks or months?

DC’s done weekly events before, from the Superman books during the “Triangle Years” to virtually every line-wide crossover they’ve ever done, and I’ve never before seen these sorts of problems creeping in. I honestly don’t understand how they’re even happening. It’s not like, “Well, few of our readers remember that one time that one thing happened in that one book, so we’ll contradict it,” but “We have no idea what happened in those other three books, and it looks like we’re contradicting it here—in this book which exists solely to match up all the books in our line to one big cohesive story.”

Also weird: Carlin seems really against editorial boxes, which is something The Brave and the Bold and Action Comics both used this very week, or any other alternative strategy to helping readers sort out when to read what. Marvel publishes checklists—there was one in the back of World War Hulk #2 this week—and during the run-up to Infinite Crisis and during the event itself, DC’s homepage featured a weekly column summarizing events that fed into the mega-story and what books they appeared in, making it easy (or easier, anyway) to follow along. Why not do this with Countdown/Amazons Attack/Sinestro Corps?

I’m afraid I already know the answer—DC’s not so sure of what’s going on when in their universe themselves, and trying to draw a roadmap for readers would only underscore that fact.

4.) I am extremely, perhaps unreasonably, excited about the news that Dynamite Entertainment, Alex Ross and Jim Krueger will be producing a series starring such Golden Age characters as the original Daredevil and The Green Lama.

These are characters I’ve been fascinated with for as long as I’ve been interested in comic books, and yet I’ve never read a single story featuring any of them. Daredevil, who’s apparently being renamed, would always get mentioned in Jack Cole bios, and the Green Lama was among those characters whose name and brief sketch in comic book histories, price guides and encyclopedias would intrigue the hell out of me.

Of course, part of this fascination no doubt extends from the fact that I haven’t been able to read any of their stories, so I don’t know how lame or derivative they might be.

Seeing the historic difficulties companies have had in reintroducing old superheroes to today’s consumers—DC’s inability to ever make their Fawcett, Quality and Charlton acquisitions really fly, and DC/WildStorm’s similar attempt to sell old British heroes in Albion and Thudnerbolt Jaxon makes me wonder if maybe the Direct Market isn’t even interested in superhero comics so much as a dozen or so particular superheroes, whom they already get their fill of.

Still, Alex Ross. If anyone can sell anything in the direct market, it’s Ross.

Finally, there’s the whole legal/public domain side of the project. Interesting that Dyanamite can do what they like with these characters, but not, say, Superman and Mickey Mouse, you know?

5.) Finally, speaking of Golden Age heroes I’ve always been fascinated by but never actually read any stories featuring, here are some others I’d love to read comics starring:

Pat Parker, War Nurse

Catman and Kitten

Green Giant

and, of course,

The Zebra

UPDATE: Well, that was fast! According to Comic Book Resources, Image is also doing a project revolving around Golden Age superhero comics. One of them is Speed Comics, which is where Pat Parker, War Nurse stories appeared. In fact, that looks an awful lot like War Nurse on this image from the upcoming Image series, doesn't it?

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