Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Weekly Haul: April 8th

Agents of Atlas #3 (Marvel Comics) This actually came out last week, but I forgot to buy it. I normally wouldn’t mention it at all this week, but I happened to have read Paul O’Brien’s monthly Marvel sales analysis at The Beat today, and noticed that the first issue only sold a little over 30, 000 copies (on this chart, which, like all comic book sales data, is essentially meaningless except in a way that’s relative to the other items on the list). That’s not bad considering it’s a book starring some of the most obscure characters Marvel owns, but since this was the #1 issue, had a variant cover (I think), was heavily promoted and was a “Dark Reign” branded book, I kind of hoped it would have started out a little stronger.

So I just wanted to take this opportunity to strongly recommend Agents of Atlas. Yes, the art on the modern day sequences is kinda gross on account of some weird coloring that makes otherwise decent pencil art look like something that was airbrushed on to the side of a van. And yes, it is kinda too bad that Captain America is featured prominently on the cover when he only appears in the cliffhanger splash-panel this issue.

It’s still a pleasantly weird series, cleverly divided into a present-day, “Dark Reign” storyline in which the heroes-posing-as-bad-guys schtick fits snugly into the larger, line-wide story, and a set-in-the-‘50s storyline where The Agents work with the FBI and are trying to unravel a weird mystery involving Communists, a skeleton-piloted war plane and, finally, another dimension.

And both storylines involve a killer Cold War era robot and a talking gorilla.

So, if you haven’t already, and you like superhero comics/kindasorta superhero comics like Hellboy/BPRD, maybe give an issue of this a shot, huh? And Incredible Hercules too while you’re at it; that’s just one slot above AoA on O’Brien’s list, and really, there’s no reason both of them should be selling worse than Cable in the year 2009.

Batman Confidential #28 (DC Comics) And so ends the three-part story introducing a welcome new villain into comic book Batman’s rogues gallery. I’m really going to miss seeing the Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez/Kevin Nowlan art team drawing a Batman comic month in and month out. (Confidential to Batman group editor Mike Marts: You might wanna make sure you ask Mike Carlin for their contact info now that this arc is over).

Captain Britain and MI13 #12 (Marvel) Hey, how come Dracula—or any other charismatic vampire leader, really—has never launched a full-scale invasion on Great Britain and attempted to found a new vampire nation on its ashes? Well, writer Paul Cornell has actually given that some thought, and there’s a neat little explanation in here, one of the many steps Dracula must take as he gradually draws the noose tight around the Britain’s defenders.

I think this title got off to a so-so start, and then bogged down a bit in the second arc, but the current Dracula vs. England arc has been great, and each chapter seems better than the one before, and retroactively increasing my esteem for the previous chapter.

This is another series that I’m a little sorry to see doing as poorly as it is (according to that chart I linked to before, it’s being outsold by a Cable spin-off, a Darkhawk one-shot and a What if…Magneto was a little boy in a concentration camp and we made a five-issue miniseries about it? comic). And it’s another one I’d highly recommend folks give a try, particularly those who might not be super into the mainstream Marvel superheroes, but dig on things like BPRD or that one Buffy arc where they teamed up with Dracula to fight the Japanese vampire gang.

Exiles #1 (Marvel) Hi there Marvel Comics. I hate to tell you guys how to run your business, but-- Wait, what am I saying? I love to tell you guys how to run your business!

So listen up: Kicking off a brand-new ongoing series with an inflated-for-no-reason $3.99 issue? That’s really fucking stupid. You want to encourage more people to give a new series a chance, not less people.

I’ve kind of gotten used to your evil pricing policy, where your most popular monthly books (New Avengers, Hulk) will cost a dollar extra because hey, why not? And all Max books, all one-shots and all limited series will cost $3.99, meaning the only $2.99 books are the less-popular ongoing ones. That’s the plan for now, right?

So why the fuck is Exiles #1 $3.99 for 22 pages? I would have passed on this completely if I noticed the inflated price tag before I got home, and I would have certainly decided against buying future issues after I did, had I not looked online to see that Exiles #2-#3 are solicited at $2.99.

So, the plan is to make it seem as if Exiles is going to be another $3.99-for-22-pages series, but, in actuality, drop it back down to $2.99 after its debut? I’m sorry, but I don’t quite follow the logic there. (This is the reason I’m not reading Mighty Avengers, despite liking the writer a whole lot and many of the characters on the team; it launched with a $3.99 price tag, so I just assumed the ongoing was one of the evil $4 books, even though I guess it’s actually still only $2.99).

But enough about that single aspect of the book, let’s take a closer look at the aspects which don’t involve my wallet, shall we?

Now the only thing I care less about than the X-Men are alternate reality versions of the X-Men, so the Exiles concept has never been one that I was attracted to, and normally I wouldn’t have even looked twice at this reboot of the oft-rebooted title, which stars an alternate version of The Black Panther and a whole bunch of alternate mutants (Polaris, Scarlet Witch, Forge, Beast, Blink and Morph, and their first mission involves fighting X-Men).

I looked twice, and ended up bringing it home to read, however, on account of the fact that it was being written by Jeff Parker, one of the best things to happen to Marvel Comics in the last few years (The presence of artist Salvador Espin and cover artist Dave Bullock sure didn’t hurt any either).

And it’s pretty okay. All of the characters save Blink are introduced in two-page sequences in which they are in the process of dying on their homeworlds, and then they are gathered to a strange field for a seven-page this-is-what-the-series-is-going-to-be-about show and tell sequence conducted by Morph, or the collective unconscious taking the form of Morph, or something. The gist is basically that these alternate X-folks are going to bop around the Marvel Universe version of the DC Multiverse (they even use those damn computer Earths from Infinite Crisis in the art) fixing worlds that need fixing. The first stop? Liberating Genosha from Magneto.

While the set-up is effective—and surprisingly easy-to-follow, considering there were a few more volumes of Exiles before this that go unmentioned—and Parker tosses some fun ideas around (I loved Panther’s robot lion), I have a feeling one might need to be a little more invested than I am in the Marvel characters and universe to get too terribly excited about the series.

Espin’s art is clean and crisp as always, and he character designs are all refreshingly stripped down to basics, although I didn’t care for the photos of real-life skies being dropped into all the backgrounds. Call me old-fashioned, but if the script calls for a red sky or a chain of tiny earths, I’d much rather see a plain old field of red with some hand drawn clouds and a drawing of a chain of tiny earths than a bit of weak collage intruding into the otherwise drawn narrative.

Attempting to justify the $1 price hike, this issue includes ten-pages of Espin’s sketches and character design, which are nice enough to look, but I’d much rather have the dollar back, thanks.

Green Lantern #39 (DC) I noticed something rather weird about Green Lantern while taking in the background of the cover art—it’s approved by the Comics Code Authority.

Now, Marvel quit bothering with the CCA a while back, and I’m not sure why DC still does, given how completely meaningless it is at this point. But I found it significant because of all the DC books I got this week, GL is probably the most inappropriate for children.

Oh sure, Secret Six has a character who smokes and a lot of talk of drinking, some insinuations that sex will be had and a few scenes of beating violence, but there’s nothing in it that the MPAA would likely find necessary to push it from PG-13 to R were it a movie. Warlord, Trinity, Batman Confidential…there’s nothing in these books that would be inappropriate for a grade-schooler really. All three are the same sorts of stories that you wouldn’t have had any problems finding on a drugstore spinner rack a few decades ago.

But Green Lantern opens with a scene in which some tall alien dudes known as The Controllers enter an abattoir of meat-hooks and partially eaten corpses, and are then attacked by The Orange Lantern Corps, who blow wet holes through some of them (“SPLOTCHH”) and cut a few more of them in half. Most creatively, one of them has the top half of his head chopped off, from the mouth up goes sailing.

This is, of course, a Geoff Johns comic.

And you know what? Fine. Geoff Johns writes a lot of comics in which a lot of folks die violently, often by having parts of their bodies separated from other parts of their bodies. Nothing new about that really. Dude likes writing comics like that, people like reading them, everyone’s happy. I think it’s kind of crass and exploitive, but hell, not so much that I won’t read his comics.

The opening scene is clearly patterned after a gory horror movie, as is a latter scene where a giant alien chomps another, smaller alien, leaving a cloud of red gore in space. This insane “War of Light” story he’s telling with the rainbow lanterns fighting is a war story, and so it’s got a certain Saving Private Ryan level of war is bloody, bloody, bone-crunching, top-of-the-head-getting-chopped-off hell thing going on.

Whether Green Lantern should be a gory war comic is another question entirely, but, for the first time in, like, decades, Green Lantern is a successful book, so why mess with success?

I just think it’s weird that DC apparently submits this book to the CCA, and they get a little stamp on the cover. Is the CCA really real anymore anyway? I haven’t heard of it except in a 1950’s context in comics histories. Surely there isn’t a group of librarians, nuns and child psychologists who look at this and say, “Well, since all these people getting splattered around are aliens and not human beings, I guess this level of violence is appropriate for all ages.” And surely no parent goes into a comics hop, scans the shelves for the microscopic CCA stamp on the cover and go, “Aha! This surely won’t give Johnny nightmares!”

(If you asked me yesterday, I would have said that it’s not like any little kids would want to read about boring old Hal Jordan, the old man’s Green Lantern anyway, but I talked to a friend with a four-year-old today and he pointed out how appealing the different-colored Lantern Corps are to kids, and I realized that Hal Jordan is a character kids today would know from cartoons, as he was the Lantern in The Batman! and that “Eyes of Despero” episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold.)

So basically, I’m just kind of curious about the CCA today, why it exists and why DC bothers with it at all, and how they decide which books to submit to them and which ones they don’t.

This, by the way, is “Agent Orange Part 1,” the next arc in Johns’ crazy arc about the various Corps and while who The Orange Lanterns are, how they came to be, and what their whole deal is hasn’t been explained yet, it apparently has something to do with the forbidden Vega System and ancient Guardian/Lantern history I’m unfamiliar with.

Between the two violent scenes, there’s more of that certain magical writing that Geoff Johns does on this series where I can’t quite decide if it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever read or completely brilliant. I know I say the same thing about this every month, but he’s really doing something special here, where the stories are simultaneously idiotic and inspired. I can’t quite figure out how he’s doing it, but I can’t not read it either.

This time, it’s the least subtle scene he’s ever written, in which Hal Jordan is wearing a Green “Willpower” Lantern ring on his right hand and a Blue “Hope” Lantern ring on his left hand, arguing with Ganesh over the importance of willpower of hope power.

“I know how it works,” he says. “I’ve met enough people in my life who do nothing but hope for the best-- --but they don’t get up and do anything about it.”

It’s all quite hilarious.

Drawing all these zany things is pencil artist Philip Tan and inker Jonathan Glapion, the former who seems to come from the More Little Lines = Better Art school of thought, and the latter who seems to come from the Must Ink Every Line Drawn By The Penciller No Matter How Unnecessary school of inking.

Maybe that sounds overly harsh. I’m sure this sort of style is quite popular with some, but it just looks messy and ugly to me, and given today’s comics artists’ trouble drawing 22 pages every 30 days, I don’t understand why one would spend so much time drawing tiny little lines instead of just seeking to find a better way to tell a story in a comics panel (There’s nothing terribly wrong with the storytelling here, of course, but there’s nothing to do cartwheels about either).

Secret Six #8 (DC) The guest-art team of Carlos Rodriguez and Bit arrive to illustrate what is probably Gail Simone’s strongest script on the series so far.

After a perhaps too-jokey (re-)meet cute in a grocery store, Scandal Savage and the stripper her teammates hired to dress up as her dead alien girlfriend decide to go on a double-date with Deadshot and Powdered Wig Lady. The three villains promise one another that no matter what, they won’t kill anyone all night, and Deadshot keeps excusing himself to discreetly beat the living shit out of a gang of neo-Nazis that spend the night stalking them. It’s a bit sitcom—albeit a dark sitcom involving bathroom violence—but it’s also the sort of thing Simone excels at.

It ends with a three-page “Ragdoll Dreams” sequence drawn by Amanda Gould which functions as a sort of Tiny Titans riff starring you know who.

Trinity #45 (DC) So, this comic book? It totally came out again this week. With so many balls in the air at this point, I kind of expected the series to be climaxing at this point, but if a final confrontation is looming, the various villains are still choosing sides, making alliances and turning on one another.

Warlord #1 (DC) Writer and cover artist Mike Grell eases readers back into the world of The Warlord in this first issue of a new ongoing series, illustrated by Joe Prado and Walden Wong. It opens with the discovery of a frozen dinosaur corpse in a cave in Tibet, which sends a team of scientists and adventurers to investigate. Chased by Chinese soldiers, they end up discovering a portal. Then it’s a two-page origin recap, and we wake up in bed with Travis Morgan and his cat that turns into a woman (or is Shakira a woman who turns into a cat?).

I’m only familiar with the characters and setting from the odd back-issue I’ll find in the occasional dollar bin, and the few crossovers with more prominent DC properties over the years (Green Arrow, Justice League Task Force, an arc of Dan Jurgens’ lame duck Aquaman run). But it still struck me as an accessible enough entry into a relatively long-lived franchise, and one that hit—or at least promised to hit in the near future—enough of the pulpy barbarian comic/dinosaur-fighting buttons to prove satisfying.

It’s really too bad it took DC so long to get its act together with this book; if they could have gotten this off the ground within a year or so of Dark Horse’s Conan book, I think it would have proven at least a modest hit. It might still, of course, but I won’t be holding my breath.

By the way DC, this is the perfect excuse to start making with the Showcase Presents: The Warlord trades, isn’t it? C’mon, you guys did Ambush Bug and Booster Gold, why not Warlord?


tomorrowboy 2.9 said...

showcase presents warlord is supposed to be out in september.

Sea-of-Green said...

>>By the way DC, this is the perfect excuse to start making with the Showcase Presents: The Warlord trades, isn’t it?<<

Hear, hear! The new issue of Warlord made me very, very happy. :-)

Anonymous said...

As much as I too loathe Marvel's price gouging, I have to point out that Mighty Avengers (along with I believe Secret Warriors and Agents of Atlas) actually had "double-sized" (well more than 22 pages) story content, so the intial 3.99 was justified. However, it seems liek the new trend is indeed to charge 3.99 for the first issue, occasionally throwing in crap "extras" like the director's cut stuff. I assume it's because first issues sell moreso than following issues and so Marvel figures because enough people buy them they can overcharge for them which is the same ridiculous school of thought that leads to them overpricing on mini-series (why would you care how much it is as long as it's finite and you don't have to worry about buying it for like a year) and more popular titles like New Avengers and Hulk (whose readership is apparently hardcore enough to follow along no matter how much extra money they're paying.

This crap is only happening because people were willing ot pay less for more and continue to do so. Look at the sales analysis for the January and February and you still don't see a decrease for New Avengers. I'm just glad that none of my on-goings have been bumped but I swear if they do, even if it's Hercules, I will drop it or switch to trade and buy the trades off of ebay or Amazon. Seriously people, don't pay more when you don't have to.