Friday, September 22, 2017


September is drawing to a close, which means there are just three short months left in this year, which means a whole lot of people who write about comics are going to be writing and publishing their best-of-the-year lists before long. If you are one such person, I would like to offer you a piece of advice: Be sure to read Hamish Steele's Pantheon: The True Story of The Egyptian Deities before you begin compiling your list.

It is probably the best comic I've read so far this year. At the very least, it was the funniest, and also my favorite. It is exactly what it says it is in the sub-title, and it manages to read simultaneously straightforward and like something akin to a parody, with the characters themselves sometimes offering sarcastic exegesis in their dialogue to their own fairly fucked-up actions. And comics proves to be the ideal medium for stories that were famously told in hieroglyphics (Here's a review, in blurb form: "Hamish Steele's Pantheon is as good a comic as Gods of Egypt is a bad movie!").

Given that the only place currently paying me money to write about comics is School Library Journal's Good Comics For Kids blog, and Pantheon is most definitely not appropriate for kids, there's a very good chance I won't actually formally review it anywhere, because it is so good, and it will be, well, like work to try and write a decent review of it. So instead, I will just offer my endorsement: Hamish Steele's Pantheon is the best comic, and you should all read it.

I reviewed Abby Howard's Dinosaur Empire here. I was genuinely surprised by how great it was.

I reviewed Man-Thing by R.L. Stine here. I was genuinely surprised by how bad it was.

Namor tries to explain the diminishing returns of relaunches to a Marvel executive.
The other day Tom Spurgeon linked to this essay at Paste, explaining how the nebulous "Legacy" initiative wasn't going to fix whatever it is exactly that has gone wrong at Marvel Entertainment's comics division of late. I say "whatever," but the real answer seems pretty obvious to me: For years and years and years now Marvel has increasingly relied on marketing and publishing strategies that offered fairly enormous short-term gains, but risked long-term damage to the market and their own brand. It seems like the short-term of all those strategies is now over, Marvel has entered the point that used to be long-term, and now the chickens have come home to roost, it is time to pay the piper and other such similar such metaphors.

I think Marvel still regularly publishes a lot of great comics, and, in truth, I read pretty much as much of the line as I possibly can, excepting the corners of the Marvel Universe that bear little to no interest for me--The Inhumans, The X-Men, Captain Marvel Carol Danvers, Deadpool--and the series I do genuinely like, but often get lost trying to read. (Of course, I do read them in trades that I borrow from the library, so Marvel gets almost no money directly from me: I still buy the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl trades, and I bought the R.L. Stine's Man-Thing trade mentioned above, but for the most part, I spend hardly any money at all on Marvel Entertainment products anymore).

Anyway, while reading this latest of think pieces and explainers about what the heck is wrong with Marvel on a Wednesday, the day I generally re-visit Midtown Comics's website to look at the week's new releases, I was reminded of something I notice every time I do so. Because I don't buy Marvel in serial format, I always just scroll quickly through their section of the shipping list. And it always takes forever compared to the time it takes to scroll through the sections devoted Dark Horse, DC, Image and Dynamite. Sometimes it's even longer than the time it takes to scroll through the section devoted to "Independents," which is basically "Everything Else," including sizable publishers like Archie Comics and Boom Studios.

This week, I thought I'd count, just out of curiosity. For the week of September 20th, DC had 36 entries in their section, a full 17 of which were variants, so that's actually just 19 new comics DC published this week, in all its imprints and sub-lines. Marvel had 44 entries, of which 16 were variants, so that's 28 new comics that Marvel published, and their line isn't broken up to the degree DC's is--it's mostly just Marvel Universe stuff and Star Wars licensed comics. There were only 81 comics in the non-Big Five category, to give you a sense of how many comics DC and Marvel published this week.

I was actually surprised they were so close, as Marvel always feels like they dwarf everyone else so much more dramatically with their weekly releases. So I looked ahead to next week, September 27th. There I see DC had 44 listings, while Marvel had 62, and 35 of those are variant covers, a hell of a lot of which are for a Legacy #1, which seems to be the start of a crossover event series of some kind...? So in addition to the gimmick covers and the re-numbering, Marvel is also doing a series to go along with the more cosmetic aspects of the initiative, and they are promoting it with...let's see...17 covers.

Anyway, in short, Marvel seems to publish too many damn comics every week. I think they've gotten better, and corrected the more obvious problems, like publishing two Doctor Strange books instead of just one, or three Black Panther books instead of just one, and actually even reducing their Avengers line to just two books (In December's solicits, Avengers and Uncanny Avengers are the only Avengers books; and even if you count Champions, which is written by Avengers writer Mark Waid and was built as a spin-off of his All-New, All-Different Avengers line-up, that's still three...the lowest number of Avengers titles in a while).

There is still room to cut though, and I don't think it needs to be (or should be) the more out-there low-selling titles, which are obviously meant to appeal to niche audiences and to sell in trade paperback form in other markets.

For example, come December there will be eight ongoing X-Men books: X-Men: Blue, X-Men: Gold, Astonishing X-Men, All-New Wolverine, Old Man Logan, Iceman, Jean Grey and Weapon X. That's a lot of X-Men books, particularly at a time when the franchise isn't selling so hot. Were I Marvel, I would probably start by cutting two--Astonishing, probably, since three books starring X-Men teams seems pretty excessive in the best of times, and Old Man Logan--and then maybe go from there, with Weapon X next on the chopping block and then maybe another solo title.

The Spider-Man franchise is even more crazy. Sure, they canceled Silk and Spider-Woman, so there's now just one book starring a female version of Spider-Man instead of three books starring a female version of Spider-Man, but there's still eight books: Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, Spider-Man/Deadpool, Spider-Man (starring Miles Morales), Venom, Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider, Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows (set in an alternate reality) and Spider-Gwen (ditto, although she seems to cross over a lot with the "real" Marvel Universe). There is a lot of room to cut here, and if the majority of your Spider-books are selling super-low, and they are all serving the same audience anyway, why give the Peter Parker version two ongoings, plus one for his clone (I think?) and another for an alternate reality version of Parker?

I am far from an expert, but these are the first things I would suggest Marvel try: 1)Publishing fewer titles per franchise, 2) Quite relaunching with new #1 constantly and 3) Knock it off with all the variants.

As I said, they do seem to be starting to put some of this into practice already, although not always in the best ways possible (as I've complained frequently, the new "Legacy" numbering is basically the same as relaunching with a new #1, only more confusing). And if variant covers are a problem, and I think they probably are, well, they don't seem to be backing away from them, as the number of them on next week's shipping list attached to Legacy #1 attests...

This is just one of the three covers for this issue, naturally.
Marvel's Generations time-travel team-up one-shots aren't directly related at all to Marvel's upcoming Legacy series, but I keep forgetting that, because the names are so similar. The Ms. Marvel one is the first I've actually read. There are actually a few that they've published so far that I was at least somewhat interested in, but I was, of course, trade-waiting (I assume they will all end up in a big Generations collections, or in the trade collections of the most relevant titles or, hell, maybe even both). My friend Meredith purchased this one though, so I read her copy.

The weirdest thing was that there isn't even a the barest attempt to explain why Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan has traveled back in time from the year 2017 to the 1970s. She just does, and everything else having to do with it comes via narration, based on her own understanding of genre conventions. It reads an awful lot like a tie-in to an event series or, perhaps, like an annual from an old-school thematic crossover, but, as far as I can tell, there is no one-shot or book-ending miniseries explaining why a bunch of the modern marvel characters like Ironheart and The Totally Awesome Hulk and Thor Jane Foster are travelling back in time to meet the original heroes that they are legacy versions of (Also, what, no Moonboy and Moon Girl?). That seems really fucking weird to me. At one point, Kamala does mention a cube, so maybe I'm just missing the tie-in...maybe they all spin out of a scene of Secret Empire...?

The comic is written by regular Ms. Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson, and drawn by Paolo Villanelli ; there's a kind of cute effect where the scenes set in the past are colored so as to suggest time-faded, old school comics paper. It's pretty disappointing though, at least given the premise. Kamala randomly travels back in time to 1970s New York City, wherein her namesake Carol Danvers was running a women's magazine--called simply Woman Magazine--for J. Jonah Jameson. Meredith has repeatedly texted me pictures of panels from the Essential Ms. Marvel trade collected those original comics, and they are awesome. I would have loved nothing more than a teenage girl from the year 2017 being inserted into the angry conversations about women's lib that Jameson and Danvers were having and shutting Jameson up (and while it's not like sexism is over or anything today, not by a long shot, it is certainly the case that Kamala grew up in a world where she didn't have to have as many of the fights that Danvers and her generation did, because those fights were already fought and won and popular opinion shifted so far away from the 1970s Jameson position and towards that of 1970s Danvers).

Alas, it was not to be. Jameson's in it, but it's little more than a cameo, and he barely screams about ladies, being more concerned with Kamala--who he mistakes as a new intern--being late, than whether women should work or be stay at home moms and so on. In that respect, I don't know that there's anything in the entire issue that's as funny as some of the random panels in Essential Ms. Marvel (The best gag is Kamala's shock at how far $20 goes in the 1970s, but then, I just saw that gag a few weeks back when Jughead discovered how much food he could buy in the 1970s when he and The Archies traveled back in time to meet the Ramones).

The thing that really struck me about this issue though? Guys, it is is sent in the 1970s. I was born in 1977, and I turned 40 this year. Let's be really, really generous and say that Carol Danvers was as young as 20 in the the 1970s, and that "the 1970s" is 1979. That would make Carol Danvers 58-years-old in the present day, but, more likely somewhere in her early-to-mid-sixties. Based on the way most artists draw her, I don't think she's really meant to be that old.

No variants, but the cover is "foil-stamped" with shiny Nth Metal ink or whatever.
I also read Batman: The Red Death #1 this week. That's the one-shot Metal tie-in detailing the origins of one of the seven bad Batmen from the Dark Multiverse, specifically The Flash/Batman amalgam. It was by the/a regular Flash creative team of Joshua Williamson and Carmine Di Giandomenico.

I was honestly a little confused at the beginning, as it is said to be occurring on "Earth-52," which I at first mistook to be the central Earth of the current DC Multiverse, but it featured Batman and The Flash fighting. The action will later move to "Earth-0," at which point I remembered that the 52 Earths of the DC Multiverse are numbered from Earth-0 to Earth-51; Earth-52 must therefore be the first Earth of the Dark Multiverse, that on the back of Grant Morrison's map of the Multiverse. Weird that the numbering would continue though, rather than there being 52 "Dark Earths" or whatever...although if the idea of the Dark Multiverse is that it is full of Earths that are always being destroyed, maybe there shouldn't be numbers there at all...?

As for The Batman vs. The Flash fight, the former was using the weapons of The Rogues, and wearing Captain Cold's glasses, for some reason. The idea is kinda cool, but also ridiculous; there's no way a Batman/Flash fight lasts longer than a few seconds, unless Batman has done some serious prep work, and having a freeze ray, weather-controlling staff and the ability to jump in and out of mirrors doesn't really cut it.

The Red Death's origin is pretty straightforward: Batman chained The Flash to the roof of a Batmobile and then drove into the The Speed Force, until he amalgamated himself with The Flash.

The story did not answer one question I have about The Red Death: Why is it that when he runs, he turns into a flock of glowing red bats? I mean, it looks cool as hell, but I'm not really sure why or how laser bats are the equivalent of lightning bolts when he uses super-speed.

Oh, and I suppose it is worth mentioning--if only because I personally find DC's obsession with the work Alan Moore did for them in the 1980s so fascinating--that there's a pretty direct and dramatic call-back to The Killing Joke in the script, as The Batman Who Laughs quotes from it.

There were three different covers for this issue too, one of which was blank. Seriously.
I also also read this, the first issue of a six-issue crossover being written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Aaron Lopresti and inked by Matt Ryan. This isn't that particular creative team's first crack at Wonder Woman, either; Simone had a 30-ish issue run on the Wonder Woman book between and 2007-2010, with the Lopresti and Ryan team  providing art for much of it (This fell between Allan Heinberg's aborted run and J. Michael Straczynski's aborted run, if you're trying to remember exactly where to place it).

I wasn't a particularly big fan of Simone and company's Wonder Woman, and I only lasted about an arc and a half or so, with occasional check-ins for interesting-looking issues (the return of Etta Candy, a Black Canary team-up, etc). That said, this miniseries by that particular old Wonder Woman team is remarkably well-timed. 

With the regular Wonder Woman title about to be temporarily turned over to writer James Robinson for a story that fans seem to have rejected upon hearing its synopsis--it's a follow-up to "The Darkseid War" and will feature Wonder Woman's brother--I imagine there will be plenty of Wondy fans dropping the main title. This could provide a pretty good home for them until DC finally figures out what to do with Wonder Woman again.

How good a Wonder Woman comic Wonder Woman/Conan actually ends up being will remain to be seen, of course. This first issue is really more of a Conan comic than a Wonder Woman one, and Diana's presence in his regular milieu isn't quite explained just yet. She's suffering from amnesia, apparently somewhat de-powered and missing her lasso and costume, although she's refashioned a crude likeness of her costume out of mud and rags.

Simone's take on Wonder Woman always seemed to accentuate her warrior aspect over every other aspect, which I found kind of grating and boring, but I suppose that will prove perfectly appropriate in a Conan comic, which Simone nails the language and rhythms of. Lopresti's art looks pretty great, but I can't help but wish one of the cover artists--Darrick Robinson and Liam Sharp--were drawing the interiors instead, or perhaps someone more completely over-the-top, like Kelley Jones or Simon Bisley.

At any rate, if you're a Wonder Woman reader distressed by the upcoming new direction of Wonder Woman, there's a pretty good chance that Wonder Woman/Conan will provide a solid substitute.

Speaking of not liking the sound of the upcoming Wonder Woman arc, I dropped the title from my pull while I was in the shop this week, and as long as I was dropping one book, I went ahead and dropped a second as well: Lumberjanes

My local comic shopkeep informed me that I was one of only two customers who had Lumberjanes on my pull, and now that I had dropped it, there was just one customer left. I didn't ask how many they were pulling at the high-point of Lumberjanes' popularity--I probably should have--but he did indicate that they had lost a lot over the years, and congratulated me for making it 42 issues. I outlasted everyone who patronizes my local comic shop, save one person!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

There's a panel in Secret Empire #10 where Kobik sends a bunch of characters to the vanishing point for as-yet-unexplained reasons. It kind of comes out of nowhere.