Monday, May 23, 2016

Catching up on Comics with CGraig: Astonishing Ant-Man #7-8

2016, Marvel

A tremendously weak Canadian dollar meant the prices of comics were starting to skyrocket.  A $3.99 book was now over $5 which meant my monthly pull suddenly was costing 25% or more.  Changes had to be made.  Some books had to be dropped.  A cold hard assessment of what I actually wanted to read, and what I enjoyed had to be performed, and in the process the Astonishing Ant-Man fell victim to the chopping block, being put on the "going digital" list.  The problem with the "going digital" reality is that I don't have a good platform for reading digital comics, and, as I showed with the Nameless a few posts back, there's an actual tangible difference between physical and digital such that I prefer the former pretty much always.

I've never cared all that much for Ant-Man.  Being a DC kid, he just was a pale imitation of the Atom, like Namor was a nudist iteration of Aquaman and Hawkeye was just lame Green Arrow.  But with Marvel Studios bringing little dreams to big life on the silver screen, one can't help but be charmed by these cinematic iterations, and perhaps look at them in a different light.  The fact that they've gotten to the big screen, and successfully, well before their DC counterparts has given them a tremendous edge in cool factor, intrigue and bragging rights (especially given DC's otherwise general mismanagement of their characters in the comics over the past half decade).

I was particularly charmed by Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, as Paul Rudd tends to charm in any role he's in.  And with the Ant-Man film we also ventured into my favourite superhero terrritory: legacy.  Having Michael Douglas as Hank Pym trying to find a successor for the Ant-Man role, all the while his daughter Hope was vying for the part and his once-protege Darren Cross was attempting to figure out the whole shrinking thing on his's all kinds of legacy swirling about.  It's not a perfect film (there's a lot of "why would they do that?", or "what's the logic here?") but I loved it tremendously.

 Shortly after Ant-Man came out in the cinema Marvel launched The Astonishing Ant-Man comic, and of course I ignored it.  I don't read Ant-Man comics.  I read a trade of the Irredeemable Ant-Man by Robert Kirkman and Phil Hester quite some time ago, and I loathed it.  I pretty much swore off Kirkman after that (Phil Hester, meanwhile, is a tremendously underrated writer, and I tend to perk up when he's writing something...but he only drew that Ant-Man series).

Three months later though, I happened to notice while reading Marvel solicits that Nick Spencer was writing The Astonishing Ant-Man and that in the series Scott Lang was employing reformed (or supposedly reformed) supervillains in his new Miami-based security agency.  I knew immediately this was a book I had to read.

Anyone who read the Superior Foes of Spider-Man (and there were far too few of us for a book of such tremendous quality) knew that Spencer + D-level super-villains equals superhero comedy gold.  And I have an incredible soft spot for D-level super-villains.  It stems back to the Dark Side Bar from I think issues 43 and 44 of the Giffen-DeMatteis Justice League America with Wally Tortellini winning a bunch of gear off of super-villains in a poker game and downright shaming he JL.  Actually, it predates that even, with the introduction of the Injustice League, a group of lackluster villains (Major Disaster, Big Sir, The Cluemaster, Clock King, Multi-Man and the Mighty Bruce!) much earlier in the series.  Or maybe even before that with Suicide Squad.  Regardless, these were comics where the writers and artists were plumbing the depths of the DC pantheon and pulling out the dullest, most tarnished, impurest of nuggets and polishing them into gold.  Spencer did the same in Superior Foes, and continues to do so with the Astonishing Ant-Man.

Not only that but Spencer is dealing with Ant-Man legacy in a much different way than the Ant-Man film.  It's not so much about Hank Pym and Scott Lang, but rather about Scott Lang and his daughter Cassie, who was in the Young Avengers as the giant-lass Stature.  Darren Cross stole her heart, literally, and now she has no powers and has lost a tremendous sense of her identity, while Scott has the poorest of coping skills for all these events, and mishandles pretty much everything.  But then he always has... and he always faces the consequences... such as his short-lived relationship with Darla Deering, aka Miss Thing, in the pages of Matt Fraction and Mike Allred's run on FF (I thought I was missing something, as I read all of Jonathan Hickman's FF run, but did not carry forward with Fraction/Allred's) that has reared its head again in Spencer's book.

Meanwhile there are two competing smartphone apps for hiring supervillains at the touch of a button, not only that, but the creators of one of the apps is able to bestow superpowers upon willing new recruits.  Cassie herself enlists with one, gaining new Wasp-like powers, and the moniker "Stinger".  Her task is to infiltrate Darren Cross' organization and corrupt his competing super-villain app.  Scott's all too aware of the danger his daugher is in, and needs to enlist a group of super-villains himself to infiltrate Cross' org and get his daughter back.  (Spencer has carried the latest incarnation of the Spider-Man villain Beetle over to Ant-Man as a quasi-love interest for Scott).

I'm not sure why I dropped this from my pull, but I was so very wrong to do so.  Watching Civil War, my favourite part of the film was Scott Lang's transition into Giant-Man.  It's one of the most giddily delightful things I've ever seen.  It reminded me how much I liked the comic and I felt that I had made a huge mistake in dropping the title.  Thankfully, it was easy to catch up on and it's great.

io9 pointed out today one of the greatest highlights of the series so far: the group of Scott's super-villains showing the new guy the ropes, dropping knowledge on all the pain points of the Marvel U.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Catching up on Comics with CGraig: The Manhattan Projects

The Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond The Stars #2-4 (2015-2016)

I've noticed more than a few creator-owned books have gone from being regular series to mini-series format.  Think Tank, Life After, and The Manhattan Projects are all books I've read their full run but have been negligent in picking up their follow-up books.  I don't think this would have happened if they were still ongoing.  I would have made sure that I had the next issue of an ongoing I was reading.  It's long been stated in comics retail that mini-series don't sell as well as ongoing series which is why DC and Marvel tend to offer up left-of-center things like Prez and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur as ongoing rather than as minis.  But I wonder if there's a different attitude these days at the indie or smaller presses, where they can sell (and make money selling) 4000-8000 copies of a title regardless of whether it's an ongoing or regular series.  Is it the case when your likely selling as many copies of a series run in trade paperback that it's indistinguishable on the trade shelf wheter a book was the next volume of an ongoing or a subsequent mini?

If I look at the "unread" stack beside the bed (which isn't so much a pile anymore, but an easily flip-through-able row of books on a bookshelf beside the bed) I notice most of the titles remaining unread are either mini-series I'm waiting to finish or ongoing series I prefer to read in arcs rather than issue by issue.  I really should be trade waiting on most of these books but then I'm thoroughly entrenched in the Wednesday habit so it's kind of easier (if a tad more expensive) to do it this way. Plus I still get a charge out of buying floppies that I just don't get from trades.  I'm rarely as excited to dive into a trade as I am into a new floppy. And reading a run of floppies is so much better than reading a trade.  The ritual of getting to the end of one floppy, rebagging it, and unbagging the next one is kind of like a mini-Christmas.  It's certainly a more interesting process than just turning a page to continue a story.  It's just too bad floppies don't look as good on a shelf and aren't as easy to lend out.  Plus I'm much more protective of my floppies than my trades, the old collector mentality.

The Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond The Stars is a characteristically weird entry in the MP series.  It looks like Hickman and Pitarra are using the mini-series format to tell a concentrated story centered on a subset of the cast rather than continue the ongoing story of the entire cast. I'm not dissatisfied but I quite miss the more sprawling scope and erratic nature of the ongoing, not to mention the character glossary that each issue contained was a great part of its charm.  I'm in for pretty much anything Hickman does so lets just say I liked the mini-series format plenty, just not quite as much as when it was ongoing.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Catching up on Comics with CGraig: Nameless #1-6

(2015, Image)

After my disappointment with Annihilator, I was a bit worried that maybe Grant Morrison was becoming too "Grant Morrison", too into metafiction, too into self-reference or deep fictional reverence.  For a creator who so rarely disappointed me in the past, and was so frequently unique, Annihilator was like brushing every raw nerve the critics have exposed with a wire toothbrush.

I had amassed all of Nameless before I got to reading Annihilator, but had I actually read it beforehand I likely would have passed on this Image series.
I'm both glad I didn't, but also wishing I did.

Nameless starts off in a very cinematic fashion, opening with our titular hero -- a very British, Constantine-esque mage -- en media res, finishing up a case where he's making an escape through Inception-like layers of surreality.  It's weird, but also speaking some familiar enough language to not make it too off-putting.

By the end of the first issue Nameless has taken on his new assignment and is off to the moon.  In the second issue he meets the boss (virtually) and the team he's to join.  Their objective is to destroy or divert a giant asteroid with a trajectory towards Earth.  Nameless' role is to ward off the negative mojo the rock is emanating, a particular sigil emblazoned on its face a signal that it's not just an errant piece of rock.

As the crew takes off, its revealed that the face of the boss in the virtual console is a facade, masking a room of horrors about him.  Prometheus --or Alien before it-- as Nameless deduces the origin of the structure as an ancient prison for a mad god, and he's worried they've just freed it.  What happens next is a literal horror show as the crew is attacked by an ancient evil and rapidly succumbing to it in horrific ways. 
The crew has a daring mission of exploration and destruction before them, and issue 3 is a wonder, an absolute awe-inspiring visual feast from Chris Burnham (see the preceding post).  There some of the better elements of Ridley Scott's

The third issue ends with the reality of the entire series called into question, doubly, with a two page spread taking place with Nameless on Earth, and the final page showing Nameless horrifically mutilated yet kept alive in a nightmare world.  The fourth issue expands upon all these, weaving between the three realities of space, Earth, and nightmare, and Nameless (and the audience with him) completely unsure of what is real.

The fifth issue features, presumably, a flashback showing Nameless has not been as in control of any situation as he thinks he has (as most of the situations he's been involved with haven't been working out very well), while the story starts looping back to the beginning, bringing back the veiled lady and the angler fish men from whom he tried to steal a key in the opening pages. 

What went from being straightforward through to most of issue three (well, as straightforward as far as Morrison goes) descends into one of Morrison's lesser used traits of total insane mindfuckery.  This is comparable, if not even more confounding than The Invisibles, but, coupled with Burnham's terrifying imagination, far more unsettling.  (About halfway through issue 3 I was convinced that Nameless would make a great movie, and then it takes its turn and I uttered aloud "Nonono, I don't want to see that.")

There was a point where I thought I understood what was going on in the book, a point when I thought I got the story, but this is one of those Morrison-mind-trips where really only he gets all the connections.  They're so mired in his research and knowledge of arcane topics and horror fables well beyond Lovecraft, that deciphering these six issues would be a full time job for at least a year.  This isn't to say that the book isn't worth reading (I hesitate to recommend it because it is so damn weird and gross, but at the same time it's very fascinating and engaging) but it's not wholly satisfying either.  Then again, its structure is one that demands you loop back and give it another pass, or two, or three...if you can stomach it.  

Some of Morrison's works are like Mensa puzzles, only for the truly gifted to solve, but that doesn't mean the non-gifted can't give it a go themselves, nor appreciate its complexity.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What the...?


Yeah, that's right...  Marvel has introduced the $4.99 price point.

You might think "oh, it's just the special first issue of Poe Dameron and Black Panther", but then how do you explain the random $5 price of Uncanny X-Men #6?  Nope, this is just the start of the $4.99 book at Marvel.

I know Marvel’s justification is the books are now 30 pages, but are they really?  Uncanny X-Men does actually clock in at 30, but Black Panther, stripping out the title pages and backmatter is only 22 pages of story.  Poe Dameron likewise is only 22 pages of main story with a, how shall I say, aggressively needless BB-8 backup cartoon from Chris Eliopoulis.  The man is a fine cartoonist but I really don't want to pay an extra dollar for a cutesy short story. 

The average price of Marvel comic til now was $3.99 for 20 pages (occasionally a page or two more...averaging at 20 cents per page or less).
DC's books were $2.99 for 20 pages or $3.99 for 22 pages (15 cents a page for the former, 18 cents per page for the latter).
$4.99 for 30 pages is just under 17 cents per page and is a better deal than $3.99 for 20 (and up to 23) pages but the math only works if you're actually getting more of the story that you want (not some bullshit about BB-8 playing matchmaker).

I'm guessing Marvel is trying to suction the money in the comics marketplace in advance of DC's Rebirth at $2.99. Even though most of DC's books are going twice monthly it's still 15 cents per page (assuming they're not dropping the page per issue rate to 18 or something dumb like that).

The problem here is Marvel is clearly making a more desirable product in most cases and they know that people buy primarily on character and story.  DC still is having a hard time establishing its New 52 Universe and characters.  Their events just aren't catching on, and the hype has yet to sustain itself into any long term allegiances. Plus they don't have Star Wars.  All of DC's books could be $1 and I still don't think they could get people to drop a $4 Star Wars book for four DC books.  That's how poor the reputation of their product is.

If people truly bought on price point and value per page, this week's clear winner would be Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber's The Fix from.  It clocks in at 34 story pages for $3.99.  That's under 12 cents a page from the same team that brought you the awesome Superior Foes of Spider-Man booke you foolishly didn't buy.  So buy this one and make up for your mistake.

Anyway, the point here is I had a pretty big problem with thw $3.99 price point when it came in a couple years ago as Marvel’s standard, and while I resister for a while, the lure of the product was too strong.  But as the Canadian dollar weakens and a $4 book becomes a $5 book, and a $5 is thus $6.25, I have a hard time justifying my hobby.  As much as I enjoyed both Poe Dameron and Black Panther, I can't support them monthly... I have to wait for trade and probably buy them for a discount through other non-brick-and-mortar comic store channels.  That's right Marvel you're sacrificing both the viability of your titles and the longevity of the retailers whom you sell through for your greed.

Black Panther debuts with it a lot of positive media exposure, and I know a few people who wouldn't otherwise read the character (or comics in general) who are going to check it out... but how many people at $5 per issue are going to leave it on the stands?  Or buy only issue 1 and not return?  Or not contemplate picking up other comics because of the price?  Shoot one's self in the foot much?

As a guy who loves to read and share and talk about comics this bums me the hell out.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Perfect Pages: Nameless #3, Page 1

2015, Image
art - Chris Burnham
colour - Nathan Fairbairn

Just look at the depth on this page.  One of the hardest things to do as an artist is creating a real sense of depth and Burnham here has done it on so many levels.  I imagine some tweaking from Fairbairn puts the spaceship into crisp focus and giving the landscape the slightist bit of blur so that it's obvious that it's much higher up from the ground.  The obvious thing is the manipulation of the landscape, doubled with the position of the the ship, forming the image of the skull, which is utterly, utterly cool, but still not what attracts me to this page.  There's just a great texture here, the lack of solid blacks give the chasm even more detail and definition.  Just an impeccable piece of art.  I stared at this for 5 minutes before moving on with the story.

Another thing to note, though, is how the physical comic page compares to the digital.  I pulled the above image from a preview of Nameless #3 on line, while below is a quick picture I took...

Notice the difference in colour on the printed page (and washed out a little more by some artificial lighting and the extra layer of a camera), but it adds a bit more warmth to the image, a further roughness to the terrain.  The grain of the paper gives it added texture, and in my opinion it looks far, far better, even as a crappy photograph with light flare in the top corner.

There's a reason why I haven't gone digital.  It just doesn't resonate the same.  It like watching TV that auto converts programs to high def.  It still works, but it doesn't look as good somehow.  There is such a thing as too clean, too clear, too crisp an image.  Texture gives images and story more life.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Rebirth of... cool?

Much of the lineup for the latest of the seemingly annual soft relaunches of the DCU was announced at Wondercon today.  Unfortunately, for some of the things DC got right there's a whole lot they got wrong.

Let's start with the good:

Talent: Joe Orlando (Supergirl) , Tom King (Batman and Batman Rebirth), Scott Snyder (All-Star Batman), Gene Yang (New Superman), Tim Seeley (Nightwing), Peter J Tomasi and Patrick Gleason (Superman) are all sticking around.
New Talent: Hope Larson (Batgirl), Julie and Shawna Benson with Clare Roe (Batgirl and the Birds of Prey)
Returning Talent: Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott (Wonder Woman), Marcus To (Nightwing), Rafael Albuquerque (Batgirl), Phil Jimenez and artist Emanuela Lupacchino (Superwoman) and Christopher FUCKING PRIEST!!! (Deathstroke)

These are all exciting names of important and talented creators (though can you guess which one I`m most excited about).

Returning Characters with Returning Creators: Blue Beetle (Ted and Jaime as written by Keith Giffen, ok, I`m in)
Wonder Women by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott.  As it should be. From the early 90's through to the start of the New 52 there was exactly one essential run of Wonder Woman stories, and they were written by Rucka.  The Azzarello/Chiang run that launched the New 52 would be the next.  With Rucka back and Scott on board, I guess this means that Black Magic is on hiatus then?

Returning Numbering: Action Comics and Detective Comics will go back to its original numbering.  I like this. But at the same time I know it's because both are barrelling towards huge monumental numbers and they will get some big press when they do .  I think Action, returning at #957 and especially at a twice monthly rate will hit 1000 next year and Detective, returning at #934 the year after.

$2.99 price point: $3.99 has been a bitter pill and with the Canadian dollar sucking the average comic is now $5.  $2.99 makes their books genuinely more attractive.

And now the bad

Twice Monthly comics: either they weren't paying attention to Eric Stephenson's ComicsPRO speech, or they're actively giving him the finger.  With at least 16 titles reportedly going twice monthly, DC's looking to cannibalize the audience.  It's probably their means to justify the $2.99 price point... instead of making $4 once a month they're making $6 off the same person by going twice a month. To quote Stephenson about why this is bad:

And if you are a publisher trying to shore up your numbers by releasing more than one issue of a single title a month: Stop.

It makes it next to impossible for retailers to accurately track sales, it puts undue pressure on even your most loyal fans, and it deprives writers and artists of the ability to do their best work. In fact, it all but robs artists of the ability to establish the kind of multi-issue runs that define long and illustrious careers.
I want to see a Wonder Woman run by Rucka and Scott...not by Rucka, Scott and Liam Sharp.  Sharp is a fine illustrator, but there's no cohesiveness to having alternating artists on the same story.  It's a concession I'll hesitantly make for a weekly book, but just think about how messed up those trades are going to be.

The old DCU is still alive: Don't get me wrong, I think that the New 52 was a bomb... a huge misstep by the company.  It yielded huge short-term gains, and equally huge long-term losses.  But you know what, stick to your guns DC.  Fix what's wrong and move forward.  Don't flounder and start looking back again.  Convergence was a ruddy mess.  In theory it could have provided closure or a portal back to a beloved time/run, but it mucked that up.  And by bringing Superman and the Titans of old forward into the new DC Universe, you're undoing the entire conceit of making the New 52 a simpler place for new readers.  You already have a Superman.  If you want him to work like he used to, then guide the story that way.  Having multiple Supermen or Titans in the same world is problematic at best.

Narrow Focus: So how much of Rebirth is focusing on new characters?  Super Sons, Superwoman, New Superman
A few. 
How many new characters are not Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman related? 
None.  Even the new "Outlaws" in Red Hood and the Outlaws are Bizarro and Artemis.
"New Superman"?
Yep, another Superman.  So there's old DCU Superman, New DCU Superman, and now what looks like a Superman from China.  Not that there can't be a Chinese Superman, but having multiple Supermen, multiple, Super women, multiple Superboys on the same planet is massively diluting the brand.  Of course, Superwoman and New Superman could be set on an alternate Earth.  I could see Superwoman being a stab at Spider-Gwen-type knockoff (but with Jimenez and Luppacino on board it could be worthwhile).
I imagine a lot of this increased Super-focus is based off of wishful thinking and hopeful goodwill around Batman V Superman: DoJ but they obviously weren't paying attention to Warner Brothers completely throwing the Superman brand under the bus.

Dumb stories: Okay, I trust Steve Orlando is a good storyteller, but Cyborg Superman is Supergirl's father.  Oy.  Pass.

So much for not letting the movies dictate the comics: A while back Dan DiDio was making it a thing about how DC was going to lead the storytelling and not react to the movies and multimedia, and shape their publishing output as a Marvel does.  Well, "Rebirth" takes a crap all over that idea.  Just look at Suicide Squad, with Jim Lee on rotating art duties, and a lineup that mirrors...oh, the cinematic version.  Yeah.

Tunnel Vision: There's nothing different here.  There are some intriguing titles and creators, but overall it's Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Justice League and associates and little outside that.  Reading down the list of announced titles a couple dozen times and it feels so homogeneous.  Where is the daring... where are the Squirrel Girls or Karnaks... the outthere takes on old things.  Where are the risks.  This is like when Marvel did everything Avengers back in 2011.  It was all Avengers all the time, and it was dull.  This is dull.


Bottom Line:

Some of these things do interest me.  The old fanboy is really, really keen to see Blue Beetle.  That Keith Giffen is writing a BB title that features (somehow) both Jaime Reyes (who I love) AND Ted Kord (who I also love) hits all the right notes.

I'm just giddy with the fact that Christopher Priest is back writing comics.  He is an incredible talent who has had a famously shit time getting his dues in the industry.  Deathstroke isn't my preferred character to see him write (nor a character I've given two poops about since the mid-90's) but knowing Priest he's going to deliver something different and meaningful for Slade, provide DC editorial get out of his way.

Do you get the sense that I'm excited for Rucka and Scott on Wonder Woman?  I really, really am.

These are probably the only three books I'm going to read from Rebirth.  I may poke around Superwoman and Birds of Prey.  I think Batman is in good hands but I'm giving him a rest.  The wife will be picking up Nightwing and is happy Tim Seeley is carrying over from Grayson (plus Marcus To on rotating art duty is a good match for the character). 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Catching up on comics with CGraig: Kanan #10-12

(Marvel, 2016)

I said much of what I want to say about Kanan in my "forgotten but not gone" Star Wars review posted on this site back in January, but at the same time, now that the series has come to a close, I have a few more thoughts.

Foremost, the Rebels framing sequence for the final storyline didn't work for me at all.  It felt altogether unnecessary and the forced connection between the now and the flashback didn't really have meaningful connection. 

"after Sohn" we know the source image
Mark Brooks references here? A striking piece
Though I imagine this was intended as a finite run (if not from the onset, then at least by the end of the first arc I'm sure the powers that be at Lucasfilm and Marvel thought their Star Wars comics effort was probably better spent elsewhere) it still felt like Weisman still had a more complex backstory for Kanan/Caleb that he had to concentrate and close out early. 

I like that this series acts as a bridge between the Clone Wars cartoon and Rebels, and does so quite effectively.  It feels more like Clone Wars than Rebels for sure.  My initial reservation that it wasn't enough like Rebels can actually be put aside, as I like the Clone Wars feel more, and would've appreciated further bridging between the two series.  Again, the idea of a Rebels anthology still strikes me as the more appropriate idea, showing the Clone Wars back story of each of the latter series' protagonists.

I can't say that I'll miss Kanan as a series, as I felt it did the job it needed to do, but I do hope there's more Rebels comics long as they have purpose as well.