Tag Archives: Comics

Where do you buy YOUR comics?

There is and always has been a fair bit of debate about where to buy comics. Should you always get your fix only from your LCS (local comics shop) to support a market sector that could always use the help, or should you spread it around and help the entire industry as evenly as possible? Realistically, I don’t think there is much of a debate on this topic, at least not one worth the time. Any comic purchase is a good one. Any way that you can support the industry is better than nothing. The original way of getting your books is all but gone. Newsstand delivery has gone the way of the vinyl record and the telegraph. Up until the rise of the direct market, the huge majority of readers got their fix from the local newsstand/gas station/convenience store. These retailers got their product on a returnable basis, like most monthly mass market magazines. Anything that didn’t sell, they would rip off the cover and return for credit and throw away the rest of the book. This was an awful business model for most of its history. Publishers would just base print runs of a book on sales of earlier/similar titles and hope. It would not be until months later that they would discover the actual sales of a book. Seems laughable now, given the almost instantaneous info flow now, but this was the way of things back in the day. In the Golden Age the sales were so high on some books and the profit so great, that this was actually the most viable model. As soon as the sales started to drop and the profit margins began to shrink things started to get dicey. The retailers were confronted with a product that was not selling very well and was a lower profit per each square inch of rack space compared to regular magazines.  Publishers realized that the model was bleeding cash. They began to push home delivery subscriptions and for a while, that really helped. I recall getting my Fantastic Four, X-Men and the Avengers in the mail covered in those stupid brown paper bag covers for a couple of years as my local newsstand was not bothering to carry them any longer. But that really only served to show more flaws in the model. A “good” selling book by the 1980’s would be in the range of 150 to 200 THOUSAND copies a month. This at the time was not taking into account the returnable books, but they really couldn’t at this point. A book on the bubble of cancellation was, at least at Marvel, selling 100k or lower. For most of the Claremont/Byrne run of X-Men, the book was always skirting that edge. That was one of the reasons they were allowed to get away with what they were doing. It was not until after Byrne left that the sales were up high enough to call the book a real hit. Hard to imagine now, but it’s true. Today if you include every form of distribution available, a book selling 40k plus is likely to be considered a reasonable hit.

The cancellation point for most books now is 20k or lower and some creator owned books, because of the payment structure to the folks doing them, manage to survive at around the 10 thousand copy mark. Once the publishers shifted to the Direct Market things looked bright, for a while. Then the flaw in that model started to show up. Comics were no longer available everywhere, and as a result, long term sales continued to slide as the casual reader either became a serious one or got out of the market entirely. Publishers were now able to print more accurate numbers of the titles thanks to a pre order system, but at the cost of total revenue. This showed they were really not doing very well as a business and things started to get worse.

Now with the Direct Market, Bookstores, comic shops and digital distribution, comics are limping along. 100k+ books like the DC relaunch are the exception rather than the rule. Digital books are higher profit for the publishers once they are able to amortize the infrastructure costs out, much like any other cost of doing business, and the retailers pay a higher percentage for what they buy. The books are also not returnable now, for the most part. Comic shops feel the pain and some are rebelling against digital distribution, but really they need to embrace it. Comics are a medium that is on the verge of failing if digital does not save it. The print model is expensive and wasteful. Any way you buy your books is good. You are making it viable for publishers to continue making the product we love (or love to hate).

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The continuity dustbin…

The new, if not improved Power Girl with Huntress

I find myself very surprised that there are still some negative reactions to the New 52. As expected, there were fans that left the books, using the newly coined phrase “52 jumping off points!”, but there are still people out on the web that are complaining 6 months on.
First of all, to those of you that complain for the “fun” of complaining: get over it. They are comics, and throughout the history of the medium, change has been constant. Not always consistent or in any way meaningful, but constant. More on that in a minute…
Next, find other books. If you are complaining and not reading, shut up until you know what you are talking about. Uninformed bitching is what the internet is all about, but this got old a while ago. If you don’t want to read them, don’t. Vote with your dollars. There are piles of worthy books out there. To those people that maybe were not all that thrilled, but gave the books a chance anyway, good for you. Even if you have since dropped all of them in disgust, you tried and that is all anyone can ask.
The people that have really gotten my goat are the ones with no memory, or at least very short memories. This is far from the first time a company has thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and it will not be the last.
The biggie is of course, the original Crisis. This was not popular in its day with the long time fans, but once it was over, things really took off. Once the plan to clean up the continuity was made, nothing from the old era, mostly Golden Age stuff was safe. They gutted the mess that was DC history, getting rid of complete areas of the universe. Without the first crisis, many of the best things in the DCU would not work or just not exist. Batman: Year One, the Superman reboot by John Byrne and much of what is now very popular in Green Lantern would be gone. Many characters were given the boot, mostly Earth-2, but major Earth-1 one heroes like the Barry Allen Flash and Wonder Woman were killed off. Some of the origins were made worse and more of a mess, but for the most part, it made the books more believable. DC has done several of these since to correct, clean up or otherwise hammer things into shape for stories they wanted to tell or stories they wanted to simply go away. Victims of this include the Legion of Superheroes, rebooted a few times since then, and much of Superman’s back-story and supporting cast.
Many small events have lead to merging continuities such as Captain Marvel and the Charlton characters like Blue Beetle and Captain Atom becoming part of the DCU. Some characters have had to vanish for other reasons…
ROM and the Micronauts at Marvel disappeared when Marvel lost the licensing rights. Despite the decent popularity of both at the time, these once in canon books are mostly gone. They are only hinted at for the most part, although the Miconaut Bug managed to exist beyond the death of the series and has shown up in the Marvel cosmic books by DnA recently.
What changes like this boil down to is that they will continue to happen. The New 52 cleared up some sticky issues that have been hampering DC for a while. The biggie for most fans is Lois Lane. She is no longer married to Superman. Done. Bam. HA! Suck it! Never really liked that marriage. Then there is all the history. The result of doing the “everyone has been around 5 years” that most of the books have done, is that you can keep the stuff you want to keep, without nailing down exactly what those things are. Barbara Gordon’s time as Oracle is still there, and that makes officially canon, The Killing Joke. All of the Robins are still around and can still be explored (it appears that Jason will have a very different origin though). Identity crisis appears to have been voided, which is a bummer as I quite liked it. This has all given the writers a chance to tell better stories, and isn’t that the whole point?
With the announcement that Power Girl and the Justice Society are coming back in some form with the release of World’s Finest and Earth-2, things are really shaping up and may eventually click together.
You should stick with them too. Or give books and characters you were less than thrilled with before a try. Maybe even the most cynical fan will find something to like.

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A Quick Format Update…

Just for those who might be interested in the reviews of the books and films without slogging through every last post, the Review Page has been updated with a list of and links to every complete review I have done.

Some of them make me cringe a little given that I was not always as diligent about proof reading as I should be, but I’m not changing them now, so deal.

Anyway, there they are.

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Übermensch

Probably the best alternate Superman

Having just finished the JMS Supreme Power books, I had been thinking about the many and varied Superman analogs out there in comics.  Of course, I will skip over the countless DC versions of this.

Hyperion from Supreme Power is foremost in my mind since I just read it.  As originally portrayed, I never really felt he was supposed to be Marvel’s Superman.  Just never occurred to me at the time.  With JMS revamping the character, the connection is clear.  In fact Marvel has never really had a Superman of their own.  A character that is the clear leader, someone who is the ideal in power and attitude.  Mostly that is a result of the modern company’s genesis.  The first Marvel heroes as we think of them today were the Fantastic Four, and even those that have come later, have never really filled the spot.  With the purchase of the Marvelman rights, I had hoped that he could be retconned in and become that person for Marvel.  There is a lot that could be done with him, despite Marvelman actually being a Captain Marvel rip off rather than a Superman one.  But alas, that appears dead in the water since Marvel has yet to get everything ironed out legally, and has made no new use of the character.

Also among the modern versions is Mark Waid’s Plutonian from Irredeemable.  This version is the nightmare.  The “what if Superman were bad?” vision that plays out in a mostly believable fashion.  Like Hyperion (JMS version only), he is dark and imposing and not really a friend to humanity.  the Plutonian is what Superman would be if DC could get away with a story like that, which they can’t.  While Irredeemable is a very good book, the fact that most of the characters are Captain Erzats version of more recognizable ones makes this never seem quite real.  Basically, all of the Übermensch archetypes in comics are compared to Superman, and often seem hollow by comparison.  As much as I like Irredeemable, that is always in the back of my mind.Here, all the characters were created ONLY for the purposes of this story.  With no emotional investment from prior knowledge, the book cannot help but suffer at times.  Not the fault of Mr Waid, just one of the pitfalls of playing in this particular sandbox.

Invincible by Robert Kirkman is another.  Cant say I have even been able to enjoy this book, but I can clearly see the similarities.

Marvel made another attempt, this time very obvious, with the Sentry.  This was a good try, but once multiple writers and editors got a chance to use the character, things got very muddled and the focus was lost.  There was huge potential here and they completely missed the chance.

The closest of the “sun-god” analogs (and, yes, all the Samson and other bible parallels aside, Superman is a modern sun God) is Apollo from the Wildstorm end of the DCU.  Another missed opportunity here, I feel.  The various writers have, for the most part focused on just one aspect of the guy, and missed other, more compelling aspects in the relationship between him and the Batman analog he is involved with, Midnighter.  Most gays and lesbian people will tell you, that while their sexuality is an important component in who they are, it is not the sole defining one.  Any person that is completely one thing to the exclusion of all else, is not much of a person.  Comics still fall back on the shallowest possible traits to define individuals much of the time.  This is very evident when the character in question COULD be interesting and complex.  Instead of  really giving a full multi-layered relationship between these two, they are just portrayed as the new gay stereotype, and that is no better than the OLD gay stereotypes. But, in mainstream comics, I may be asking too much.  For that kind of depth, there are lots of good indi books.  While under Wildstorm, nothing really improved, they were token gays.  I am hopeful, but not very, that DC can improve on this.

Still other Captain Erzats versions of Superman include Dr Manhattan from Watchmen, the Sameritan from Astro City, Captain Marvel of course, Alpha one from the Mighty, Gladiator of the Shi’ar over at Marvel,  Supreme, Atoman from  Top 10 and even the Saint from The Pro.

anyone have some others I may have not mentioned?

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Regailia by Eliza Frye

A few months ago I mentioned a book on Kickstarter by a young woman who I met briefly at Wizard World Chicago.  Regalia was a collection of her best work to date including her Eisner Award nominated short story called The Lady’s Murder.  I backed the project and was thrilled to see that it had been funded!  Well, I just received the book in the mail and have finished reading.  Wow.  Just wow.

The book feels intensely personal.  It is a tricky needle to thread with stories like these.  All too easily they can become very much like the ramblings found scribbled in the notebook or diary of a teenage girl.  Personal, but trite and self-indulgent.  That is not the case here.  While personal stories can often feel trite, these all have a polish about them that really captures the powerful level of craft on display in these pages.  She has a set of skills unlike anything I have seen in many years, and there is never a point that the craft overwhelms the work.  I easily put this up with works like Craig Thompson’s Blankets or I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura.  Deeply emotional and resonant, and still very entertaining.  I would be lying if I said that all of the stories had an effect on me.  Realistically, only about half were going to be of the type that would speak to me, and I think that is all most of us could hope for, people are too different to be touched by everything we read.  But for every person that reads this book, there will be people who think that stories like The Lady’s Murder are amazing, and others that wont even finish it.  This kind of work is like that.  Personally, I prefer it when some of the stories are there for someone else to enjoy.  If I like every story in a collection, the chances are that the book is not very deep or strongly written.  The fact that there are stories I didn’t feel strongly about means that there are bits of this book that WILL strike a chord across a wider spectrum or readers.

The design and presentation of this book deserves some mention too.  This does not feel at all like some crappy small-press first collection from someone you have probably never heard of.  While it is likely that Ms Frye’s name and work will be new to the majority of readers, I would wager that a lot of the people who pick up this collection will wonder why they have not heard of her.  The style of the collection, as much as the selections in it, are first-rate.  This package feels like the result of having done this before.  From the binding to the books overall design, this is a nice book to hold and look at.  Visually, this book is amazing.  The varied approaches to the art and design of the stories is really something to look at.  A fine mix of medium used and a very different eye feel to each selection.  Color selection and even line weight add to each story to give them a feel and look completely independent of each other even while some of the themes explored carry over from one to the other.

The rewards I got by being a kickstarter backer were also very nice.  A simple elegant personal inscription and original sketchplate in the book, as well as a few other extras for the backers mean this book was a real treat to get.

This book is available at Amazon, or better yet, directly from Ms Frye at this link.  I believe that most will find this a good read, or at the very least, a beautiful work of creativity, and real eye candy for the visually minded.

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OMF-ing G!! Detective Comics #1-review

Detective Comics #1

September 7th 2011

$2.99

Like many, I was not going to pick this up.  My experience with Tony Daniel’s Batman work has been a bit average.  I have never found the stories all that interesting and certainly not as compelling as Grant Morrison or even the classics by Denny O’Neil.  They never really lacked for atmosphere, but the actual story was usually two dimensional, even by modern comic standards.   Not that they were ever bad, just that they never stood out and really made you remember them.  What made me decide to pick this one up was a spoiler I saw online.  I’m not going to say where, as it will affect the overall enjoyment of the story.  But the spoiler was enough to get my hopes up that this might be more than just another average Batman story.  It was.  In a BIG way!

The basic plot is conventional enough, the Batman is trying to hunt down the Joker.  From there, the reboot takes over.  Batman has only been doing this for a few years and the Joker has been around even less.  He is a unpredicatble serial killer that no one can seem to catch.  Batman is once again working without the aid of the police.  Only Jim Gordon is on his side, and even that alliance seems a bit shaky.  The storytelling device of the internal monologue is ever-present, much more than it has been in recent years.  The Batman that I have grown tired of is gone though.  The attitude in the last few years has been “Batman knows all”, and to be honest, it has gotten old.  He should not be perfect and while he probably IS the smartest guy in the room most of the time, does he have to be such a prick about it?  Not here, it would seem.  While I would not call him humble, he is certainly not the Bruce Wayne we have gotten used to lately.  I have liked the idea that he is, and will always be the most experienced in the DCU, but I also would really like to see a human in that suit.  That is definitely something that was not there in Justice League #1.  Score one for the New 52!

The spoiler that grabbed me was the last page, and it is a doozy.  It is my hope that this signals the start of the “something really different” I have hoped for from the reboot.  I don’t want, and I think many people out there might feel the same, the same tired old stories with a new number.  Now that they have thrown the baby and the bath water out, make it worth something.  Take chances.  Shake up the franchises.  With the exception of Batman and Green Lantern, what have they really got to lose?  And even there, not much.  This change, assuming it is real, substantive and far-reaching, could make all the difference in both saving DC and the industry as a whole.  The tried and true trademarks of the big 3 will always be there, but the month to month storytelling in the comics needs help, and if DC get it right, every other company out there could well be playing catch up for a while.

Visually, this is a great book.  Lots of instances where Daniel is borrowing from Frank Miller and Neal Adams and many other artist, but unlike so many cheap homages, this works very well.  Large, dramatic splash pages and small, tight extreme close-ups.  There are pages that feel like everything else is shut out.  You are very much pulled into this book in a way that I have not felt in many years.  As I was reading this, the world around me really did fade into the background.  I don’t mean to say the story and art were that much of a revelation, just that the way it was put together was that effectively done.  The book was that well structured.  The art was clean, crisp and consistent through the whole thing.  It has been a gripe of mine in the last few years as far as the art has been concerned.  Some pages in a book may well be great, while others either look rushed or are done by a fill in artist, both of which can pull you right out of a story if there is no narrative reason for the change.

I grade on a pretty tough scale when I think of these things, so I wont be that specific here.  But this book is probably sitting at #2 of the current bunch from the New 52.  I have several others to review, including the one at the top of that list for me, all of which I will get to in the next few days.   Stay tuned…

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Holy Terror! and the “new” realism in comics.

With the official announcement of Holy Terror by Frank Miller coming in September from Legendary Comics, I was wondering if this isn’t a little creepy now.

First off, for anybody not in the loop on this one, Holy Terror started out as Holy Terror, Batman!, a response to what Miller was experiencing in the aftermath of 9/11 from his perspective as a New Yorker living in the middle of it all.  I think just about everyone that heard about it was immediately creeped out by the idea.  The way it was talked about it would be a Batman more like the 60’s TV show than what we have come to expect from Miller.  That against the backdrop of very real terror, seemed to make us all a little uncomfortable.  It seemed, and still seems, that this is Miller’s own personal catharsis.  Well DC never officially signed off on it and it has morphed into an independent creature free of any interference from an editor or a corporation, it is now a hero of Miller’s own creation and done in his own unique style.  Speaking of that style, things are looking very loose.  I know this is the way his stuff has been for a while, but this is really hard to look at…

I'm not even sure what I am looking at here. I see a couple of faces...

 

Don’t get me wrong, I will most likely buy this when it comes out, I alway give Miller the benefit of the doubt.  I don’t always like the stuff (DK2 and most of the Sin City stuff) but for every one of those, there is a Dark Knight Returns or a Daredevil, so it is always worth the look.  I just find this newest step in his art style hard on the eyes.  It is not easy to look at, and that may well be the point.  He has prided himself on fully creating the world his characters live in, and the feel of the book goes a long way toward that.  Maybe that is just another part of the feeling of discomfort he is trying for.  Result!

The preview image, presumably the cover.

 The creepy factor comes in here for me at least, with the idea of costumed heroes combatting realistic terrorism.  I am having trouble putting my finger on exactly what it is…

Maybe the fact that I, like many out there, look at comics as escapism?  Or that the idea of something so brash and colorful fits correctly in that kind of world?  Comics have been trying to grow up now for nearly 3 decades, and I have been watching it happen all that time.  It has failed in as many ways as it has succeeded.  The problem is that the medium still views itself as juvenile entertainment in many ways.  You can only grow up so much when you are still aiming for the teenage audience.  And what change you get is likely to be superficial.  Growth has more often than not taken the form of sex, violence and harsh language.  For examples of this, see most of the Mark Millar Ultimates work.  While not bad comics, some of them are quite good, it is only mature in that it is louder in its approach and more graphic in its depiction of the same subjects.  It is true there is piles of genuinely mature comics and OGNs out there, but Frank Miller has not been associated with it like, say Daniel Clowes or Los Bros. Hernandez and the like.  Maybe that is what I’m afraid of, that he will not have the touch needed to make this more than just another violent comic?  This is a book that COULD be something very special.  It COULD be something akin to Maus or In the Shadow of No Towers.  Something that elevates the level of play and the quality of the discourse on the subject.  He certainly has the skills as a storyteller to pull it off.  Miller has managed to surprise me in the past with unexpected subtlety and a willingness to go places that many would not have attempted.

That is what I hope will be the case here.  Otherwise, it will be just another superficial stab at maturity in comics, and we have far too much of that now.

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