Saturday, November 13, 2010

Links: JMS, .1, The Death of Spidey, etc.

So, this whole JMS-quitting-Superman-and-Wonder Woman-to-concentrate-on-Superman: Earth One 2-or-whatever-they-call-end-up-calling-it: This news is only a few days old, but given the pace of the Internet, it already seems like it’s no longer even “news,” doesn’t it? I imagine you’ve already read a few dozen stories, interviews and reaction pieces to it. If not, here are five pretty good ones to check out: 1) DC’s original announcement, which sort of bafflingly—if understandably bafflingly—frames it as the positive Earth One 2 taking precedence over Superman and Wonder Woman 2) Tom Spurgeon looks at what the announcement and the way it was communicated portends for monthly comics and thus the direct market (and Spurgeon later clarifies in this post, seventh asterisk down, given some of the reactions to his reactions) 3) David Brothers puts JMS-not-finishing-a-couple-of-story-arcs-he-started in context in this post 4) Vaneta Rogers interviews JMS on what’s what at Newsarama (Comic Book Resources also interviewed JMS on similar subject matter, but I’m linking to Newsarama’s because they pay me to write about comic books on Blog@) 5) Retailer, writer and industry advocate Brian Hibbs offers his perspective on the matter in his Tilting at Windmills column (there are certainly some nits to pick at in Hibbs piece, but it’s an interesting read and, as a direct market retailer, his is an important view point)

Because I am late to this, and because I am lazy, rather than write something with, like, paragraphs and stuff, let me just throw a few random thoughts out there:

—Whatever happened and why ever it happened, JMS leaving Superman and Wonder Woman reflects quite poorly on both him and his publisher DC. I’m surprised that JMS’ story arcs aren’t already written for those two titles—I haven’t read them yet, but the premise of each “run” seemed to be a very distinct and defined story arc. He was just sort of making them up as he was going along then, with only notes to guide him? Those were both pretty radical departures from the status quo of those titles* to be writing only a script or two ahead.

On DC’s end, it provides Example #394 of the company’s editorial policy being one of sudden, unmeditated lurches in random directions (Example #393 being the decision to launch new comics series at the $3.99 price point…for about two months, and then deciding to drop them back down to $2.99 and instead shorten the page counts to save money). The company’s invested a lot in JMS’s Superman and Wonder Woman runs, and the public perception here seems to be that they too are saying, “Ah, fuck it, we don’t care.”

—As someone sloooowly transitioning away from reading serial super-comics on a monthly basis in favor of trades, I was trade-waiting both of these series. I hadn’t heard anything good about either, but I was curious. I am now 100% less likely to pick up either trade. Nothing against the writers coming in to finish up for JMS, but if he didn’t really care, and DC didn’t really care enough to make him write the stories before they started publishing them, and knowing that the writers are just fleshing out JMS’ plot notes, well, it’s hard to imagine a less compelling scenario to read a graphic novel under. (Maybe if Garth Ennis were finishing Superman and Johnny Ryan Wonder Woman, and DC made it clear they could do whatever they fuck they wanted with what JMS started, DC Challenge-style…)

—I don’t know how many (any?) new (as in new-to-comics) readers jumped on either Superman or Wonder Woman because of the amount of press the new directions were given (particularly Wonder Woman), but it can’t be encouraging to any such theoretical readers that the exciting new comics they read about in the newspaper and decided to read weren’t something the writer they were promised is engaged in. But this "problem” probably isn’t really a problem, since sales charts seem to indicate few of the readers who checked out either new direction stuck around long.

—I predict Superman and Wonder Woman selling like shit for a few months.

—Is Phil Hester gonna take over art chores as well as scripting duty on Wonder Woman? Because that would be awesome.

—JMS sure seems to get a lot of press in the comics press. Remember the hoopla over he and Joe Quesada’s more-public-than-usual disagreement over who was more at fault for One More Day being pretty much the worst thing ever? And his arrival at DC was quite-to-ignored, a “Red Circle” revival that hardly anyone was interested in, followed by some super-boring, barely-read issues of The Brave and The Bold, but then he got two monthlies featuring two of DC’s three biggest characters, and launched each in directions that garnered a lot of attention. Then Earth One came out. Now this.

—I can’t imagine the next Earth One ogn getting as much attention as the first one, since the hook in the vast majority of the mainstream media coverage has been that DC was reinventing Superman for the Twilight generation. “DC Still Doing That Thing We Talked About Last Year” isn’t quite as compelling a headline.

—I’ve always felt a sense of kinship with J. Michael Straczynski, since our first names are both “J.”

—It’s really too bad that DC forbade anyone else from writing Superman the character while JMS was writing his Superman, huh? One of the effects have been a greatly reduced visibility for the character. Maybe Action Comics writer Paul Cornell will get to use him sooner rather than later now though, and that Marc Guggenheim story that was talked about but shelved in favor of JMS’ status quo will see the light of day sooner.

—It’s even worse that JMS took Wonder Woman the character off the board in order to do the story he was doing in Wonder Woman (and ultimately dropped). She too has had a greatly reduced presence in the DC Universe and publishing line because of that.

Just a couple of points about Marvel’s “Point 1” initiative: Even older news at this point is that starting in February, Marvel will be releasing special “.1” issues of some of their key titles to serve as jumping on points for new readers. These will be standalone stories that introduce plot elements that will come into play during the next year or so’s worth of comics, and they will all be priced to move at $2.99, something which Marvel seems to think is a bargain price, but basically just means many of their obscenely overpriced comics will cost as much as a DC Comic for exactly one issue.

There’s something incredibly sad—but an amusing kind of sad!—about the fact that new-reader-friendly, done-in-one comic book stories that serve as good jumping on points are apparently so rare at Marvel Comics these days that the publisher felt the need to hold a press conference, send out press releases and specially brand the books just to let people know that they’re going to actually try doing some again.

Okay, that’s probably not a fair characterization of Marvel’s motivations—it’s in their best interests to market the hell out of everything they do, after all—but it was the first thing that occurred to me when reading the news.

While I’m not so sure I like the way Marvel is planning on doing it, I think somewhat organized, line-wide attempts to get new readers on board are pretty good ideas. I know DC has done this a few times in the past—the post-Zero Hour #0 issues of every title they were publishing at the time, “Big Head” month, “Eisner-esque” logo month—and are in fact apparently doing something similar in January.

Marvel’s David Gabriel mentioned a 9-cent issue of Fantastic Four at one point, which seemed to be a reaction to DC’s Batman: The Ten-Cent Adventure and Superman: The Ten-Cent Adventure, as a model. I know other publishers have done 25-cent issues, and$1 issues seem to appear with some frequency—DC/Vertigo launched a few ongoing monthlyies with $1 #1’s, and Marvel, DC, Image and (I think) Dark Horse have been doing $1 reprints of older comics as something of a trade paperback sample.

The $2.99 price doesn’t really seem all that attractive compared to the “Why, I’d have to be a fool not to buy this!” price of anywhere between nine cents and a buck. Sure, $2.99 is 25% off, but, as I said, that’ just the cost of a DC book. And the very next month, those books will go back to being about 25% more expensive than they should be (I’m no economist, and everything I know about the financial realities of various comic book publishers and markets could probably fit in a fortune cookie, provided you folded the piece of paper containing all my knowledge quite tightly. But how can it be that the direct market’s leading comic book publisher, and one of North America’s leading publishers of serial comic book, faces such economic realities that they have to price the majority of their 22-page books at $3.99, while rivals DC and Image can price most of their at $2.99, and much smaller Dark Horse can price there’s at $3.50?)

Beyond that, there’s something about this “.1” business that just doesn’t grab me. I don’t know if it’s the expectation that a “.1” puts in my head, that it needs to be followed by a “.2” and a “.3” and so on to justify the existence of a “.1” or what. Even a “.5” would work a little better for my brain.

Maybe it’s just the whole decimal thing. I’m not into decimals…? I’d be more excited about a Captain America #615 1/2 than I am by Captain America #615.1, I think.

I can’t think of a better numbering scheme though, really. Zero issues wouldn’t really work in this context, and seem sort of ‘90s for use in 2011. I guess they could just reboot all the titles to #1 for a month, given how arbitrarily they change the numbering on their books anyway, but that might confuse their current readers.

I don’t know. I can’t say I’m too terribly excited about the event or am likely to pick up any of the books—I’m not currently reading any of those books, and the ones I’m interested in I’ll read in trade eventually, and the “.1” issues will likely be part of those future trades—but I am curious to see how Marvel pitches this to “new” readers and how it goes over. Will the sales charts reflect spikes in the various books to have “.1” issues in the months that follow, for example?

I think I must have officially read too many superhero comics at this point in my life: I don’t know how else to explain the fact that the words “The Death of Spider-Man” printed on the cover of Previews does absolutely nothing for me. I mean, I was savvy to the fact that death isn’t exactly permanent in superhero comics when I first started reading the things, not long before the big Death of Superman story.

Even a few years ago I was still getting moderately bummed out about characters I liked getting killed off (particularly if they seemed obscure enough and/or easily replaced and/or the death was part of an “important” storyline and resurrection seemed unlikely) You know, Sue Dibny, Blue Beetle II, The Questions, Elongated Man, Goliath—guys like that.

When Batman “died,” I was on the edge of my seat to see just what the heck was going on with that, since writer Grant Morrison wrote a whole big story entitled “Batman R.I.P.” in which Batman didn’t actually died, then randomly (seemingly) killed him in a helicopter crash. And then killed him again in Final Crisis, only to reveal before the series ended that he wasn’t dead, just in caveman times for some damn reason. Sure the death was one big fake-out, but what an interesting fake-out!

And when Captain America died, I was interested in the execution (it seemed a strange, big event to happen as a sort of epilogue to Civil War, which set up a whole new status quot for Captain America…which ended up not being explored) and, even more so, “civilian” media reaction.

But this? I don’t know, I can’t muster any enthusiasm at all. Is it a real-ish death like, when JMS killed Spider-Man for like half an issue during “The Other”? Or just a “Spider-Man No More!” sort of Spider-suit in the wastebasket sort of death?

I don’t care.

My God, what is wrong with me…?!?!

On the subject of General Mills’ monster cereals and comics: I had previously posted a Monster Cereals comic I found on the back of a box of Count Chocula, and mentioned that I spent a little time looking up information about the characters and watching old commercials on YouTube. Well, during that research, I found enough links to Brendan Douglas Jones’ Breakfast of the Gods webcomic that I finally sat down to read the thing.

I imagine most of you have already heard of it, and read it yourselves if it was something of interest to you, right? I can’t remember when I first heard of it, but it seems like it was a very, very long time ago now.

If you haven’t heard of it, or have heard of it but haven’t yet read it, I’d recommend doing so. The premise is that there is a land called Cerealia where all of the breakfast cereal mascots live, and that land is in turmoil. Count Chocula, Franken Berry and some of the “evil” characters are trying to take over, and the heroic Cap’n Crunch and Tony The Tiger lead the opposition. Every other cereal mascot you can think of (and plenty you probably either don’t remember or never heard of) either ally themselves with one of the two teams, or fall somewhere in the middle between them.

It’s played completely straight, and despite that—no, because of that—it’s an awful lot of fun. There aren’t really any jokes in the script, but it’s funny to see these characters in these situations. Funny and, honestly, quite exciting, although how exciting might depend on who you are, how old you are and how many commercials you watched as a child (I grew up in the ‘80s and was familiar with most of the characters, but there were still a few with major roles that apparently predated my childhood).

Anyway, it occurred to me about halfway through the first of three issues just how much superhero comic books seem to have influenced Jones’ work here. Not simply in the form, or the style of the artwork, but in the way in which the story is being told.

There’s a Crisis On Infinite Earths/Secret Wars mega-crossover appeal of seeing all these different characters that don’t normally share space together sharing space together certainly, but the “superhero apocalypse” of Kingdom Come seems to have been a major influence, and the story reflects Identity Crisis quite a bit (or perhaps vice versa; I’m not sure if this pre-dated Identity Crisis or not).

More than anything else, it reminded me of the work of Geoff Johns, although it should be noted Breakfast of the Gods illustrates most of the more prevalent trends of superhero comics of the last two decades or so, as is occasionally openly acknowledged within the work itself (There’s one panel where a character holds another over his head and rips him in half, posed exactly as Leinel Francis Lu posed Ultimate Hulk ripping Ultimate Wolverine in half, and Jones mentions Yu in the corner of the panel).

It also occurred to me that Breakfast of the Gods is perhaps the perfect example of what Dirk Deppey always refers to as “superhero decadence,” the grafting of dark, grim, gritty, “mature” material on to characters originally created to entertain children. Not only is there madness, violence, blood, gore, death, weeping, funerals, cannibalism, torture, gunplay, drinking and smoking in here, but these characters are unequivocally children’s characters, to an even purer extent than superhero characters in that none of them have ever been targeted at any other demographic (One could argue with Deppey that Batman is as much an adult character as a kids characters after The Dark Knight Returns and a coupla movies, but there was never a Sugar Bear Returns or PG-13 movie about a brooding Toucan Sam, you know?) and, most importantly, there aren’t even any superheroes in it.** So it’s like a case study in superhero decadence, in which the superhero is removed, and we can therefore better see the decadence.

(Quick aside: I know decadence tends to be a negative term, but I’m not using it here in terms of casting judgment. Sure, superhero decadence quite often—perhaps even usually—leads to terrible, terrible comics, but not always. It’s not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself; in fact, the worst thing about it is that DC and Marvel tend to have little judgment in where, when and how they employ elements of superhero decadence, and have the terrible habit of never going far enough with it—that is, it’s generally in their all-ages books, only rarely in something labeled as for adults—so you generally get shocking scenes without proper exploration or context. Here I think Jones is mainly doing it for laughs; it’s just delivered ultra-deadpan).

I mentioned Johns earlier, and it’s quite striking how often story beats in Jones’ epic resemble the sorts of beat Johns includes in his works. You know those moments that occur at the end of almost every issue he writes, in which a character or group of characters announce their arrival and kind of just show up, and that showing up is in and of itself a big deal? Something that makes the reader go, “Oh shit! It’s ____!” and get excited to see what happens?

Often, the impact of such moments depends on your knowledge of, experience with or affection for that character joining the narrative. Jones does that constantly in this story, and as the various parties go to battle and more and more characters join in from outside the story, foreshadowed only in the readers’ own experience, these moments happen with greater frequency.

I’m not making a value judgment here or anything; it’s just something strange I noticed about the comic. There aren’t too many groups of characters beyond breakfast cereal mascots with which such a thing would be possible, but Brendan Douglas Jones recreated the early 21st century superhero mega-crossover without using a single superhero. And that’s kind of amazing.

Sorry I just kind of rushed through that. If anyone ever wants to publish a book of essays about Breakfast of The Gods, hit me up and give me some money and I’ll try to communicate that a lot better.

In the mean time, go read Breakfast of The Gods if you haven’t. But be warned: You’re going to find yourself wanting to eat cereals you haven’t eaten in a long time, and some of ‘em are damn near impossible to find anymore (I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen King Vitamin or Quisp in a grocery store…not since college, at least).

Dear publishers: Since we’re in the Golden Age of reprints and all, can I put in a request? I’d love to read a bunch of Snowman comics Provided there are a bunch of 'em. I know I've seen plenty of excerpts online, but maybe they're all from the same comic, I don't know.

One last Halloween related link and then I swear I'm done for the year: Check out this Tubby O’ Lantern on Drawn and Quarterly’s blog.

Is this the single best Captain America image ever?: I don’t know; it seems like if there is a single best Captain America image, it should be one drawn by Jack Kirby, but this “minimalist superhero” thing by Mitchell Breitweiser (I think) is absolutely gorgeous, and pretty much says everything that can be said to define Captain America in a single image. Comics Reporter has links to others; Tom Fowler’s Fantastic Four one’s pretty funny, and the Wolverine one’s nice too.

Rhys Cooper makes the Muppet monsters truly monstrous: One of the many features I really dig about Comics Alliance is when they find and highlight the art of a creator I’m not familiar with, one that may only tangentially be related to comics. Case in point? This gallery featuring the work of Rhys Cooper which, in addition to a bunch of great Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle images, includes a handful of the Muppet monsters drawn as real scary monsters. That’s a sliver of The Animal image above. Check out the gallery at Comics Alliance, and click on through to Cooper’s home page for more images. Wow, that’s some lovely work. (Hey, whose skull do you think that is between the Burt and Ernie skulls? The second one form the left? I think I recognize all the others, but I haven’t even got a g uses for that one).

So what exactly is going on with Mid-Ohio Con now?: I did not attend Mid-Ohio Con this year, because I no longer reside in mid-Ohio. I now live in northeast Ohio, and so I instead had my own little one-man comics convention up here. Basically, some comics and I convened, and I read them. (Chris C. Cilla’s The Heavy Hand and Brian Chippendale’s If ‘N Oof sure are something! I hope to review them both soon-ish, but in the mean time, check ‘em out! I’m also struggling through Marvel’s first Annihilation event, but goddammit Renato Arlem’s art on the Silver Surfer portion turned reading it into a slog…)

Actually, if I still lived in Columbus I might not have attended Mid-Ohio anyway—even though I have shit to sell this year—as I don’t really like going there unless I have gobs of disposable income to blow on $1 comics from back-issue bins.

Anyway, it looks like they had some pretty swell guests this year, and Craig Rousseau and Todd Dezago created a pretty awesome looking Loveland Frog Men poster to sell exclusively there. The Frog Men, as I’ve mentioned once or twice on EDILW before, are among the many monsters that call Ohio home, and were sighted in Loveland, Ohio, which is about an hour and a half southwest of where the convention took place.

And while I’m less of a zombie guy and more of a complain-about-the-prevalence-of-zombies guy, I have to cop to liking this Arthur Suydam Zombie King Kong poster. There’s one more iteration of the zombie fad to check off the list, I guess.

I may not have attended this year, but Panel’s Tony Goins did, and he shares some thoughts about it here. Dara Naraghi attended as well, and shared his thoughts here. K.C. Carlson, husband of Comics Worth Reading blogger Johanna Draper Carlson, and JDC repeated some gossip KC heard at MOC on CWR: Apparently Wizard is looking to maybe assimilate the show? Heidi MacDonald had a pair of posts on the subject at her Beat blog, which you can read here and here, if you’re so inclined.

Sounds like there’s nothing official to declare at this point.

UPDATE: Man, I shoulda waited one more day before posting this. I guess there is something official to declare at this point.

I'm starting to really regret trade-waiting Jeff Parker's new run on Thunderbolts: Not only does it have Man-Thing, but it has Man-Thing fighting ninjas! Or at least standing around while a ninja fights him. That ninja's foot must not know fear.

Not comics: This has fuck-all to do with comics, but I greatly enjoyed this Funny Or Die gallery of “The 55 Funniest Signs From the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.” They aren’t all actually all that funny, but it’s worth scanning through for the occasional gem, like the one above. It’s funny because it’s true. No wait, it’s true because it’s true.

*Superman decides to stop flying and superhero-ing in order to walk all around the country, and Wonder Woman's continuity gets (hopefully just temporarily) rebooted again so that now she's younger and has a different, lamer costume

**Well, maybe one or four, but they're breakfast cereal mascots in the form of superheroes


snell said...

That Snowman story was the omly appearance of the character, sadly.

Randal said...

So, did you cheer at THAT panel in Breakfast of the Gods? You totally know the one I'm talking about. Seriously, I cheered...

Caleb said...

That Snowman story was the omly appearance of the character, sadly.

Aw man...

Has Alex Ross stuck him in a Dynamite Entertainment comic yet?

So, did you cheer at THAT panel in Breakfast of the Gods? You totally know the one I'm talking about. Seriously, I cheered...

Mmm mmmaybe...? There seems like there were a lot of panels specifically engineered to elicit cheers.

Was it the one with the unexpected reinforcements...?