Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Comic Book Ronin

These days, I feel more ronin than ever before.

This thing that I used to give my life over to is collapsing in upon itself. It's sad, really. I find myself nostalgic for yesterdays. I miss the excitement of firing up the laptop and seeing where our minds could go.

I had a routine back then. At the height of comics' Infinite Crisis/House of M/52/Civil War fervor, on any given day, I would, easily, check some two dozen comics blogs.

At the time, there were hundreds of comics-related blogs to choose from. My own personal litmus test for reading a blog was that you could entertain, find new spins on oft-discussed topics and post somewhat regularly. To me, it said something to certain folks' writing ability that they could rise to the occasion and land in your blogroll.

Today, I might check two and that's on a good day.

Yesterday, I went looking for new comics blogs to add to our blogroll and really didn't come up with much. It made me a bit nostalgic for the days when I had to remind myself not to overload my old blog, "Seven Hells!" for fear of it looking cluttered. I cannot lie, I miss the excitement of wondering what would come next from the minds of others.

Better yet, I miss the Big Two of DC and Marvel providing us with something to be excited about. I think the blogosphere feels it, as well.

For years, we have been followers of the adventures of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman. We read and I can only speak for myself, we read out of love. Love for a medium that could give birth to these avatars of our imagination.

In 2009, we've been told that this love will be returned by these characters by... sending them away.

Again.

This time around, Superman will be vanquished to space.

Wonder Woman will be broken.

Batman, R.I.P.

In the wake of Infinite Crisis, they went away again.

Some ten years before that, they were sent away in the interest of death, dishonor and disaster.

Over at Marvel, the villains won and Spider-Man, greatest foe The Green Goblin has been handed the keys to the Marvel Universe. Two weeks ago, I read a comic where the regal Doctor Doom and the son of a god, Loki sat in a room and took orders from a character barely qualified to hold their capes.

Meanwhile, the moral compass of the Marvel Universe, Captain America, lies dead.

Given these circumstances, anyone would find it hard to be inspired.

It's almost as if the Big Two are daring us to find some sort of inspiration in imagination's downturn.

I'll take that dare. I'll find some.*

Inspiration is out there.

Meet me back here Friday to see what I find.

*If you find it before I do, feel free to post here, as well.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Why 'The Spirit' Matters

If Frank Miller makes a movie, and no one goes to see it, does that matter? In short, yes... yes, it does. Now, there's enough Frank Miller hate floating around these here internets, so I will talk less about his most recent steaming pile of weird Freudian crap and focus more on why he matters, why 'The Spirit' matters, why comic book movies matter, and most importantly, why 'Watchmen' will probably not be any good.

Frank Miller is one of those guys even the non-geeks know. Everybody has that friend who 'doesn't read comics' but has read Dark Knight Returns. Lots of people saw and liked 'Sin City' (which, even I have to admit, was a well-done piece of film-making). But that's not why he matters. He matters because he has that carte blanche to make whatever project he sees fit and to mold it in his own warped image. 'Sin City' and '300' were his own work, transposed to the screen nearly panel for panel, but 'The Spirit' is something else entirely. 'The Spirit' is a revered text. That's not to say it isn't deeply flawed (I showed my girlfriend a picture of Ebony White and she damn near had a stroke), but it's important. It's influential. It was challenging the confines of comic books when the medium was still nascent.

It's not just that Miller's interpretation was his own. That is neither here nor there. The Spirit is not above interpretation. Darwyn Cooke's 12 issue 'Spirit' run was absolutely dynamite, but I'd hardly say it was completely true to Eisner's original vision. If anything, it poked fun at it. The problem is that Hollywood values comic books for style when their real offering is substance, and Frank Miller's cinematic carte blanche typifies that set of priorities. Frank Miller, as a storyteller, has mostly confined his writing to stories of determined struggle against irrevocable, and often fatalistic, circumstance. There is a looming sense of inevitability in his writing which has occasionally allowed him to be brilliant (i.e. Daredevil: Born Again) but mostly makes him drab and predictable. But his best known works are ultimately defined by their aesthetics, be it the ever-present red tones of '300' or the shadowy noir of 'Sin City'.* And it is in this regard that Hollywood has decided that his talents translate to film.

Hopefully, the poor box office showing of 'The Spirit' compared to the huge success of 'The Dark Knight' will shift this thinking. Hopefully, the powers that be in film will start to see that the best offering comics have to mass media is the rich well of character and conflict rather than the stylized imagery. The 'Spider-Man' and 'X-Men' films began with this in mind, but these trilogies both withered at the end under the weight of special effects as a substitute for real character development and intelligible plotlines, either of which they could've gotten by, you know, picking up a trade paperback or two.

So where does 'Watchmen' fit into this rant? Simply put: My prediction is that 'Watchmen' will be historically bad. My reason: Zack Snyder. 'Dawn of the Dead' was a fun, campy remake. '300' was so weird it made me squirm in my seat. '300', if run end to end without slow motion, would probably be about six minutes long. Plus, the source literature takes about 20 minutes to read. It simply isn't dense and complex like 'Watchmen'. Directing for style is not the same thing as directing for substance. It's why 'The Matrix' is a great movie and the sequels are a joke. 'Watchmen' simply wasn't recognized as a piece of literature. It was looked at like it was 'GI Joe' or 'Transformers', so that's the kind of director they got. I really hope I'm wrong, believe me, but the trailer looks... well... ridiculous.

I guess the point of this whole thing is say that, yes, I think Frank Miller mostly sucks, but he's not the reason great comics get turned into crappy movies.' He's a symptom of the problem. And honestly, I think the only cure is to only see these films in the theater once and pirate the ever living crap out of those DVDs.**

* Note: Dark Knight Strikes Again is best known for looking like it was drawn by an eight year old.
** Note: This is a joke. We here at Second Printing do not seriously condone piracy of any kind, be it of bad DVDs or Saudi oil tankers. No, we don't like pirates. Pirates can suck it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

2008 In Review: Devon's Take

2008 has been an interesting year for me, comics-wise.

This was the year the glamours came down and I saw ugly.

Personally, I developed alot and hoped that my comics would keep up with me. Instead, what the big two did was tell us of the wonders of the new places they were going to take us, the wonderful opportunities for us that lie ahead. Instead, our sense of wonder was taken away like a passport and we were given weekly comics that go nowhere, plots that went on forever along with event after event, in the hopes that we'd never have an opportunity to leave.

This was the year I soured on the superhero comic.

I read Batman R.I.P. and shrugged.

The best Superman comic in decades came to an end.

My favorite comics, Checkmate and Catwoman came to an end due to low sales and critical acclaim.

The comic that rejuvenated my love of comics, 100 Bullets comes to and end in 2009, along with my former golden children, Manhunter and Blue Beetle. The quality of comics production has never been higher while simultaneously enthusiasm has, seemingly, never been lower. With the way we spend we are wrestling with the realization we've enabled the creation of the current comics market.

Ummm... our bad?

And I haven't even mentioned that, in a recession, we're possibly looking at $4 price points for 22 pages of paper and ink.

Stay with me here, brothers and sisters. The news isn't all bad. In 2008, I saw things that gave me hope. And some things that 'til this day, make me cringe. Like any good child, I learned to share:

1. Jason Aaron

Last week, at 1:30 AM, I get an e-mail from a friend titled, "G-Damn, dude!" This friend of mine had just read volumes 1 through 3 of Aaron's Vertigo series Scalped. This book, like 100 Bullets, constantly surprises, taking the comics medium kicking and screaming into the world of "I-could- hand-this-to-someone-who's-never-read-a-comic-before." You know, something like... a book. With his Wolverine: Get Mystique and Black Panther: Secret Invasion arcs, he showed an absolute understanding and love of the superhero genre. With his Penguin one-shot at DC Comics he made me damn near cry over missed opportunity.

2. Ed Benes on Justice League

I will never wish for someone to get fired but damn, ths man's art makes this comic almost impossible to read. My two favorite JLofA comics were decidedly Benes-free. His art shows no sense of "panel-flow." Each panel never seems to be as consistent as the previous and many pages seem done more done for the original art aftermarket than for the direct market. In last month's issue, the final page was so horribly rendered that along with the reappearance of the Milestone characters, I almost had to check the front cover for a 90's street date. It's simple, really. I'll come back when he's gone. Sorry if that sounds harsh but well... that's how I feel.

3. iVerse

This year, I got an iPhone and I decided to check out some comics. On my phone. The verdict? The intent and the technology are totally there but the content? No so much. Available for free download were some random issue of Shadowhawk (*meh*) and Proof #1. The iPhone allows you to scroll horizontally from panel to panel and for a suspenseful comic like Proof, this optimizes the comics effect. What it did do for me wasn't the intended effect. No, I wasn't interested in dropping a dollar on issue two. No, issue three is not available for iPhone. No, I'm gonna buy the trade.

The other thing that stood out was more of what iVerse could be. iVerse would be perfect for a smaller company like Archie Comics to get their product out to a larger audience. If I were a parent with a restless child, I would love to have the ability to download a comic, hand it to my kid a watch them do something quiet with an electronic hand-held device. iVerse tech could be a future saviour of our medium.

4. The Trade Paperback

Where I became somewhat disillusioned with the comics market, I became enthused by the trade. In reading comics in trade form, I experienced an enthusiasm I hadn't felt since my comics collecting height of two years ago. In one month, I read eight Brubaker Captain America trades and was astounded that I read EIGHT Brubaker Cap trades in one month, especially upon the realization that Brubaker was essentially telling one story and what a story it is.

Also, this year, Local was released as a trade even though I own every issue. The term "trade" truly isn't good enough for this thing. It is a beautifully bound hardcover with a nice thick, white paper stock. If it were a DVD it would be a Blu-Ray edition as it is packed with extras.

Sketches, guest art, commentary, scripts and all twelve covers reprinted in their entirety and all for less than thirty bucks!

This
is how you present a collection, folks. I proudly gave this book as a Christmas present to one of my best friends. Thanks to Oni Press for doing it right and giving me the opportunity to follow suit.

5. Ryan Kelly

If I had to point a finger at a "talent-to-watch-out-for" it would be this guy and for more reason than one. 2008 saw him wrap up Local, the series that defines him, right now. Mood is all about what this artist brings to his expressive body of work.

In the space of months he went from drawing the journey of a young woman in North America (Local) to chronicling the story of four young ladies lives amongst urban steel and fragile egos (The New Your Four) to inking the story of three British paranormal detectives (Vinyl Underground) to drawing the pseudo-historic tales of long-dead Vikings (Northlanders), every line perfectly fit the tone of each. Whatever he chooses to do next, I'm sure it will be well worth reading.

So there, you have it. A somewhat positive reflection of 2008. Though it may not seem so, there really is alot to look forward to.

It's just that right now, we have to look a little deeper for it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Detective: Comics. Who Am I? - Updated

I am not as you knew me then.

(Introduced as a "non-costume" this character has taken up the mantle of superhero.)

I took the long way of getting here.

(See above.)

I have been a member of an ensemble cast.

(Gotham Central)

I have been a loner.

(Their current role.)

I have been a partner in more ways than one.

(As a detective, her partners have included Harvey Bullock and Crispus Allen. As a partner, she has partnered with Daria Hernandez)

I have walked alleys and climbed mountains.

(Gotham has alleys and in in the maxi-series, 52, she was shown climbing the mountains of Nanda Parbat)

I have been shown one way in one place and unrevealed in another.

(In the DC Universe, she was outted. In the Batman: The Animated Series universe her sexuality was unrevealed)

I have questioned God and been answered by the devil.

(A former devout Catholic, she has wrestled with her sexuality and faith. As The Question, she has faced the wrath of God, her former partner and current Spectre, Crispus Allen. She is currently appearing in Final Crisis: Revelations fighting Cain who wants to bring about Hell on Earth.)

I may not have begun in the place you have found me.

(She was introduced as a character on the Batman: The Animated Series and later was introduced as a comic book character in the pages of Detective Comics.)


WHO AM I???


The answer is:


The Question II (Renee Montoya)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

2008: Big Mike's Take

My questions about comics right now are similar my questions about the economy: Are we ready for a recovery or should I brace myself for things to get worse? This time last year, my favorite comics were Robin and Blue Beetle. They got bad... then they got canceled.

I was also collecting and liking Teen Titans and JSA. What happened? Dropped and Dropped. X-Factor and Astonishing X-Men? Flailing and god-freaking-awful. Secret Invasion really let me down and Final Crisis isn't as good as I expect from Grant Morrison. And don't get me started on Spider-Man.

Look, I've been really down in the dumps about my Marvel and DC comics. I've fled to more adult comics, finding refuge in Scalped, Walking Dead, Fables, and The Boys. They give me consistently good writing. They give me drawn-out and well-developed plots instead of cheap stunts. They give me character development that makes me laugh, cry, and everything in between.

But they're not what I grew up reading. My head loves these books, but my heart longs for tights and capes. As the 90's were winding down, and people were fatigued from character stunts, fancy covers, and book inflation, someone got it into their heads that this wasn't the crap we read comics for. Someone figured out that if you take the 7 most recognizable characters (regardless of whether they are Blue or, you know, Kyle Rayner), put them in the Justice League, you're half way to a damn good book...

That if you explore the underlying mythos of a big name Marvel hero by outing him to the public in a way that drives the story forward (instead of just, you know, because we need good guys to be pro-registration), you can have compelling narrative, even if it's written by Bendis...

That if you ask simple questions, such as 'I wonder what it's like to be a Gotham City Police detective?', you can crank out some damn good comics.

It wasn't so long ago that we were at a place where the creative forces behind comics were ready to figure this stuff out. They were ready to abandon the hysteria of the extreme and the hype of the crossover and look into the past to revisit those pillars that have brought strength to the super-hero genre. Are we there again? If not, how much farther do we have to drop before we hit bottom? I'll tell you this much, though... I'll be there when they bounce back.

Monday, December 15, 2008

2008 In Review: Graig's Take

It's the most wonderful time of the year,
where the blog words start flowing
and hipsters start showing
their impeccable minds, eyes, and ears
it's the most wonderful time of the year.

Yes, it's "best of" season, where all across the metaphorical landscape of das interweb, geeks, nerds and wonks of all shapes and colours start culling through the previous 11.5 months of acquisitions, observances etc. and constructing the penultimate list of favourite whatevers, which means absolutely nothing and yet absolutely everything at the same time.

The "list" is the effete blogger's way of wading through all that they have consumed, and bloggers blog in part because they consume so much that they have to let it out somewhere. The "list" shows us what, in each mind's eye, what was most notable, if not technically, subjectively or even objectively the best. We here at Second Printing are not immune, for we wouldn't be here if we didn't have something to say and some opinions to share. We love comics, so, for the most part, our lists, as they appear over the next week-ish, will be about the medium we love, for better or worse. Of course, we're each unique voices, with unique experiences and unique things to say, so there's no guarantees that we're staying on topic here. But we'll try... starting with this guy [two thumbs raise and arch back, indicating myself]:

2008 for me was an interesting year. In a push to get myself out of debt, I decided to do a "buy nothing year" on all my entertainment vices (comics, DVDs, music), which didn't exactly work out as expected (I wound up buying very little, yet still acquiring much by trading in old for new and doing a little work-in-trade). In the process of paring back pull lists and making decisions about what to buy and what to leave behind, I've come out a new man, no longer obsessed with having to keep up on everything or being the first in line for anything. DC and Marvel have also made it easy to pare back on reading their titles, thanks to near-universally middling product and the scaling back of the distribution limits at Diamond has made smaller press more difficult to find (good for my pocket book, bad for obtaining a well-rounded comics-diet).

My list (soon to follow any sentence now) isn't going to stick to format. It's going everywhere and anywhere it wants. I'll explain it all when I get there. You don't have to agree with me, it is afterall a matter of opinion... my opinion. In no particular order, but numbered for the sake of delineation:

1) The Dark Knight and Iron Man (and to a lesser degree Watchmen) - we're fooling ourselves if we don't think that these two films have done more for comics than any single printed book that hit the stands this year. Hell, the Watchmen sold tens of thousands of trades based on a trailer alone. At this stage, who cares if the film is any good (well, I'm sure we're all hoping, but I digress)? It's nice that cinema is able to put together comic book stories that resemble their source inspiration and not something "tailered for a wider audience". TDK and IM are two films which have broke the mainstream wide open, and the unprecedented reception these movies have had, Oscar noms or no, is more than enough to make them groundbreaking and noteworthy for the simple fact that they're no longer just "genre" pictures but substantial motion pictures. Superheroes and their "BAM POW" reputation for being kiddie fare has officially changed in the public eye.

2) Disappointments:
2a) End of line: John Rogers and Greg Rucka finishing their runs on Blue Beetle and Checkmate. Both titles unceremoniously cancelled within the year afterwards. Rex Libris has also taken leave for which we're all the poorer for. I'll let Devon lament Catwoman. Though designed to be for teenaged girls, for what it's worth, I found the now-departed Minx line to be a refreshing voice in the testosterone fuelled market.

2b) Returner: Chuck Dixon made an almost triumphant return to the Bat-universe he nurtured so well years before, but undisclosed difficulties sent him packing only a few months in. James Robinson also returned to the DCU, but wow... totally not worth hyping over. Meanwhile, indie favourite Scud: The Disposable Assassin and cult TV series Serenity made a re-appearance to comics this year, both lacklustre and unmemorable.

2c) MIA: Kyle Baker's Special Forces and Gutsville by Si Spurrier and Frazier Irving both failed to finish their respective mini-series runs. Also, all hope for a conclusion to the Morrison/Ha Authority was abandoned.

3) Triumphs of the mainstream - these are the books you should've been reading from the big two this year that you might, for some reason, have missed:

3a) DC:
i) Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam - okay, sure it's only gotten two issues out in the past half-year but if you have kids (and even if you don't) you'll recognize there's something special in Mike Kunkel's interpretation of the legendary Captain Marvel. This is a character built to be a child's power fantasy, and Kunkel more than gets that. Hopefully his 2009 will be more productive.

ii) Secret Six - former Birds of Prey team Gail Simone and Nicola Scott have DC's only certifiable ongoing must-read right now. Slightly depraved, wildly chaotic, and darkly hilarious, the first storyline is like a super-villain rendition of "It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad World".

iii) Teen Titans: Year 1 - took a little longer than expected and the final issue of the six-issue mini was a bit of empty nothing, but Amy Wolfram and Karl Kerschl's early days of the sidekick collaboration was keenly entertaining and visually stunning... certainly the best the Titans have seen since the Wolfman/Perez heyday.

3b) Marvel
i) Captain America - who would have thought that a resurrected Bucky and a dead Steve Rogers would = the best Captain America comics I ever read? To be fair, I've barely read many Captain America comics until now, but that's a testament to Brubaker and company's storytelling, having made it must-reading every month.

4) Catching Up - two things I read this year for the first time and was crazy excited about afterward:
4a) Legion of Super-Heroes (vol 4? aka: 5 years Later) - coincidentally this was the Legion's 50th anniversary and I read well over 120 Legion comics this year, spanning the last 5 years of Paul Levitz's Legion through to the early Zero Hour reboot. But I have to say, for my money, (dug out of the discount bins) Tom and Mary Bierbaum and Keith Giffen crafted some of the most unique and audacious superhero/sci-fi/fantasy comics ever made in thier 50-issue Legion (14-issue Legionnaires) 5-year later run. The first 10 issues are a might confusing, but damn, it's a crazy ride 40+ issues afterwards which still seems way too short. I'm likely in a very small minority here in my appreciation.

4b) Daredevil - volumes 4 through 13 (apprx), the Brian Michael Bendis/Alex Maleev run on Daredevil is absolutely epic. You can forget Frank Miller's DD, compared to Bendis's grit that guy was a pantywaist crybaby. Brubaker's done a good run following, but I'll hold this massive run as up the quintessential DD for anyone that asks.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Wasp: A Remembrance by Jon Carey

Marvel's tribute to the Wasp is a reprint of Avengers 213 - AKA Hank Pym's defining character trait, wife-slapping - and I'm struggling to think of, well, anything the Wasp ever did besides that. Hit on Magneto? Hit on... everyone? Get turned into a bug? Inadvertently drive Scarlet Witch crazy? Name the Avengers, in spite of a grievous lack of avenging? She's one of the least-important Important characters I can think of. The Skrulls could've whacked Rick Jones and I would've cared more. At least that kid hung out with Rom, The Spaceknight.

BONUS REMEMBRANCE:

While I'm at it, when the Hell did the Skrull kidnap Mockingbird? That's some serious retcon work somebody's gonna have to do - actually, Hell, Dan Slott's probably banging out a story AS I TYPE about how that time Grim Reaper used the corpse of Bobbi Morse as a weapon it was actually a Space Phantom masquerading as a dead Mockingbird working on behalf of Immortus. And that time she was shown in Hell? Mephisto was just screwing around, because he's a wacky devil. And that other time she was shown in Hell? That Dead Girl/Dr Strange mini is completely out-of-continuity, you silly billy.

And this has been The Wasp: A Remembrance by Jon Carey.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The High Price To Pay

Top Cow is proclaiming that they're going to keep their monthly titles at $2.99 throughout 2009, while Marvel has basically stated that the economics have forced them to a $3.99 price point for their monthlies. No word from DC about what they're doing but once one publisher does something, the other usually follows suit (oligopolies are like that). Dark Horse, Image and the smaller presses have all been flirting with $3.50 and $3.99 price points for at least a year now, (sometimes in full color, sometimes in black and white), and I can't say I'm surprised. We kind of expect smaller press to be a bit more expensive than the mainstream. But if that's the case, then isn't a $1 price jump excessively drastic? I seem to recall books flirting with pennies and quarters during unstable boom-and-bust times in the 1990s, from $1.95 to $1.99, to $2.25, to $2.50 and $2.75 until ultimately where we are now. I also remember paying $0.60 for comics and realistically 25 years doesn't seem that long ago. Not for the inflation rate of comics to jump over 650%.

Let me say that again, in 25 years, the price of a 22 - 28 page comic has jumped over 650%. Very little in this world, save maybe housing costs in some cities (and public transit in Toronto), have climbed so steeply.

Rich Johnston created a handy table over at Lying in the Gutters about a month back showing that, had comics moved with the real CPI rate of inflation, they should cost today about $1.10.

Of course, there was the paper and coloring surges throughout the 80's and 90's which accounted for the steeper price jumps up until the mid-1990s when the quality of paper pretty much reached its peak and computer coloring became a mainstay. But, in rough numbers, since 1998, the inflation rate should have pushed comics another 30 to 50 cents or so up in price from the regular $1.75 to even a modest $2.25. So honestly where's the added value in the other $1.75.

We've lost letter column pages to ads, and sometimes the page count increases, but also only for ads. Is the quality of writing or art of a comic book better than it was in 1998? Not by much. Yes, writers and artist are getting paid better, which is a good thing, but does that make up the $1.75 difference? Perhaps, with flagging sales it might... but there's still a lot of mediocrity being pushed out the door and $3.99 makes it very, very difficult to justify buying any of it.

For me, a $3.50 or $3.99 comic tends to be a treat, a mini-series or one-shot put out by a preferred artist or writer from a non-mainstream company. It's not something I want to be plunking down per-book every week. Hell, $2.99 still seems excessive.

I don't know how Marvel (and if DC follows suit) can expect to maintain even today's tragic numbers with such a sharp price increase, nevermind attracting new readers (young reader... in these recessive times, teenagers are going to be vying with the unemployed for even part-time jobs, and thus having far less disposable income... as if there even really comics' target market anymore). Personally, I'm far more likely to wait for trade on most books I'm interested in than pay $3.99 per issue for the same story. I picked up X-Men: Noir #1 this week, not noticing the cover price, and thoroughly enjoyed it. But then, noticing it's price tag, I'm rethinking purchasing the remaining issues (but since I already invested the $4 bucks, I probably will, but will be far more wary of price tags in the future).

What $3.99 signifies to me is possibly the end of the monthly format as we know it. If you thought illegal file-sharing scans were a problem before, this will push even more people to them. As well, new series are going to have a far more difficult time making it, and collections of titles will be reduced because of it (if there's no perceived demand for the floppy, then there will be no perceived demand for the trade). Pretty much only the flagship books are going to be able to continue on unless there's something more there to attract the reader.

But what more could there be? What do I want out of a $3.99 monthly title?

Well, for starters, for $3.99, every month, I'd want more pages, at least a full 32... perhaps ad-free? If not all one story, then a main feature and a quality back-up. That's bare minimum.

Honestly, though, for $3.99 we should be getting 48 pages, aka double-sized issues (although in recent years, "double sized issues" have been more like 38 pages). Put them on a 9-issues a year schedule (every six weeks), and hold firm to schedules.

Also, for 3.99, do us the courtesy of at least adhering to schedule. Artists who can't support a monthly book should not be put on monthly books. Same for writers. Talent who continue to fail adhere to schedule should be restricted to mini-series and specials. And then those books should only be solicited when they're ready.

Another thing, for $3.99, a title should be able to be read without having to purchase books in another series. Forcing the reader to pay another $3.99 that they weren't intending to pay to complete a story is just slimy.

And finally, I think we should just avoid $3.99 in the first place. I'm more than willing to accept a drop in paper quality and coloring for a cheaper book. Look at the Johnny DC kids titles like Magic of Shazam or Tiny Titans. $2.25 on a lighter, less glossy paper and still perfectly readable. Most books that come out aren't worth the $3.99 price tag, and thus not worth the paper they're printed on... let the sales of $2.25 newsprint books dictate which books are worthy of glossy printing... IN TRADE FORMAT. If people think a book deserves a better look, then do it when reprinting it for the bookshelf. Let comics be fun and disposable again.

The initial reason comics went to Baxter and Deluxe printing was to showcase their more popular books (DC's Swamp Thing, New Teen Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes), but eventually, as the perceived collectability of comics increased, it was deemed that most titles needed this better printing and refined coloring to preserve their collectibleness. I think if the 1990's proved anything it's that most comics aren't collectible (anyone else trying to rid themselves of hundreds of X-Men and Image comics from the era, or just me? Shoulda bought a house with a fireplace...), and it holds true today. I don't need fantastic coloring reproduction or cardstock covers, I just want to read a story.

Let's move away from highlighting something in its first run, let's celebrate things only after they've proved they're worth celebrating. Let's keep the cost of comics low, and keep them accessible. If paper is what it takes, then let paper be our guide.

So, Second Printers, how do you feel about the price of comics today? If you're going to pay $3.99 for a comic, what do you expect from it? Would you be willing to have a visually less refined comic for a lower price?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Thanksgiving Thought

Funny where life takes you. Today, the day before Thanksgiving, I visited an 86 year old woman in an intensive care unit. 24 hours earlier, doctors were digging around inside her, removing a malignant tumor the size of a walnut, severing and remaking various connections as they went along.

This afternoon, she was smiling, making jokes, and reminding two generations of family and friends of the importance of living an interesting life. I'll compensate for the cheesiness here by keeping this post short, but this year, I'm thankful that not all super-heroes are fictional.

A Few Random Thoughts About Ex Machina

1) I just caught up on the latest story arc "Dirty Tricks", featuring a PVC-clad-daredevil-stalker-fangirl of "The Great Machine" staging 2004-specific protests against the Bush government while trying to gather the attention of her idol. It was, by Ex Machina standards, a little overblown, but also coyly tongue-in-cheek. It's interesting to see how Vaughan starts sliding in superhero clich├ęs over the course of this book, but doing so in a manner that fits with the a-step-away-from-reality Ex Machina universe.

2) I had only ever read Ex Machina on a month-by-month basis until now, reading the last five issues in one sitting. I can see why Vaughan was such a good fit for Lost, given his expert use of present day and flashback storytelling mix, driving two stories forward at once, presenting parallel themes if not a direct story correlation.

3) There was a moment there while reading issue #35 -- when Mitchell Hundred was talking about how cities are machines and how perhaps he can communicate with ghosts because of the part they play in the machine (yes it makes as much sense as it doesn't) -- that I thought... is Mitchell Hundred going to become, or father, or in some way/shape/form related to Jack Hawksmoor of the Authority? Seems absurd right? Think I need to check Vaughan's ownership of the title, make sure it's not work-for-hire at Wildstorm.

4) My brain want to a strange place for a while, and I began to ponder a story wherein in 1962 James Brown encounters a strange, alien-esqu microphone backstage before one of his concerts. He picks it up, sings into it with a "OWWWW" and it explodes, leaving JayBee unconscious on the floor. When he awakes he finds that electronics sing to him, and that he can sing back to them (with a "HUH" or "OW" or "HIT ME") and get them to do his bidding. He tours the country, and from city to city, town to town he dresses up as the bedazzled, jumpsuited Godfather of Soul, doing good deeds and saving lives and entertaining the masses. It's in Dallas when he stops an assassination attempt on JFK's life that his many brave actions puts him on the road to politics. The book follows his exploits climbing the political ladder, as well as flashing back his early hard-working showbiz days. I call it, naturally, Sex Machina. Tagline: "We never got the Big Payback, we got something better instead."

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Car Analogy

With the economy tanking around us, with the darkness coming earlier and earlier (thanks Daylight Savings Time), with the weather turning cold and bleak, and with our sunshine-oriented Vitamin D intake depleting, it feels like our SADs are already kicking in. It's hard to keep our heads up and remain posimistic (that's a combination of "positive" + "optimistic") about anything, never mind comics. Cynicism and snark is one thing, that's pretty much expected from the internet comic community, but generally just being down on comic books, the industry that produces them and how we feel about both, that there is a problem. Is it really us or is it really the industry that's to blame? Quite frankly, it's symbiotic. We're not victims here, we're enablers allowing ourselves to be victimized.

Think of it like this, in this topical context: the Detroit "Big Three" auto-makers have been making an inferior product for years, gas-chugging automobiles built for a obsolete society, cars and trucks built with planned obsolescence in mind, but still there's droves of car buyers who keep "buying American" because that's what they're used to, or what they've bought into for years and stubbornly refuse to give up. But eventually, people get wise, or they get angry. They either find alternatives or they abandon American altogether. Eventually, as we've come to know, there's not enough people buying American these days to make the Big Three viable in their current business and manufacturing models. The idea that "they'll keep buying whatever we sell them" has blown up in their faces, and a few major institutions are facing bankruptcy.

North American comics would be so lucky as to have a Big Three, but the Big Two are having the same problem. Their "if we make it, they're going to buy it anyway" model of comic book production is blowing up in their faces. The more they try and reach out to the same crowd, the more they give us what they expect we want, the more they're going to isolate, divide and lose customers. Event Comics are the gas-chugging SUVs of the comics world (they fun, but rarely practical) and while they will have their loyal buyers, they're turning everyone else away.

But comics are hardly stagnant, they're hardly unevolving. Like the auto industry, there's constant movement, just those of us that focus solely on what one spandex universe or the other is doing, we tend not to see it, we can't see the gridlock for the cars in front of us. If you look outside the DC and Marvel Universes, you will find all kinds of hybrids and hydrogen fuelled vehicles, you'll find bicycles and mopeds, public transportation and some things you wouldn't even think were thought of yet (and even some things everyone forgot about). There's a whole exciting world outside of the big makers to explore. Of course this does require you to step outside your comfort zone, but follow Big Mike's lead there's stuff out there that you will like. Just like your new Volvo may not feel like the last two or three Fords you've owned, there's an adjustment period. The pedals will feel a little different, the dashboard isn't going to look the same, it's going to handle much differently, and there's a lot to get used to. That Ford sensibility is going to have to be put aside as you get used to this new world of driving, but eventually you'll come around. Maybe not in the first Volvo you drive. Maybe you need to try a Toyota Matrix and a Volkswagen Jetta before you decide the Honda Civic is for you, but you will get into the spirit of trying out new things, of seeing the different and exciting alternatives that are out there.

But you know, sometimes it's really just the memories that you love, about your car or your comics. Sometimes what you're really fond of is attached to a specific place or time, and that too is okay. Cars these days just aren't built like they used to be, and comics certainly aren't made the same way. Go ahead, buy that run-down Charger and start tracking down the parts to restore it to life once again. Start amassing that run of Legion of Superheroes, filling in the gaps over the years. Let the memories bring you back. Sometimes all it takes is a look back, to see how far you've come. Sometimes looking back allows you reassess what you think you know and love about the things you think you know and love. You may find many of your perceptions have changed or you may find an even deeper appreciation for that which is no longer around. Does that mean you can't still buy a new car or read new comics? No, but it does mean that you understand that nostalgia has its place, and that it's not at the new car dealer or on the new release rack.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Undeadly

So... apparently people are all about vampires these days. If you're a second printer, you're a geek and thus have probably seen every episode of 'Buffy' and freaked out when you saw Anna Paquin naked on 'True Blood'.

I fancy myself pretty much in-the-know on geek stuff, but I totally missed the boat on this 'Twilight' business. Now, as much as I'd like to take up blog space talking about the merits of pale teenagers ogling each other and debating the merits of fluid exchange, I can't because I haven't read it nor have I seen the movie. But what I can do is ask: Where'd this recent vampire zeitgeist come from?

There's always been a steady stream of vampire-related material in pop culture. From 'Buffy' to 'Underworld' to '30 Days of Night', vampires have always tended towards ubiquity. But it seems to be in high gear at the moment. And I have a theory about why.

Vampires, in my estimation, are the recession-era undead. In times of economic uncertainty, vampires make good characters. They represent biological and economic elitism (ever notice how vampires are always loaded? I gotta get on that gravy train). And they choose who they bring into their fold. Everyone else is just food. Vampires are the ultimate 'other'... which makes sense considering that much of their mythology is probably rooted in peoples' attempts to assign logic to people or phenomena they couldn't understand. The vampire, in many popular formats, is often portrayed as an aristocrat who literally feasts on the working class. Since a lot of us have mortgages, 401(k) plans, and debts of all kinds, I don't have to explain the modern relevance of that metaphor.

A few years ago, it wasn't vampires everywhere... it was zombies. 'Dawn of the Dead', 'Land of the Dead', 'Shaun of the Dead' and '28 Days Later'* all came out around within a few years of eachother. We were all about zombies back then. And I have a theory about that too... I think zombies were appropriated as the post-9/11 undead.

Zombies represent the existential horror of terrorism. They are a nihilistic, undeterrable threat whose logical end is the destruction of society, and that is the perception (and in some cases the reality) of the modern terrorist. Zombies, like suicide bombers, are a foe beyond reason, which is why so many zombies films, either consciously or sub-consciously, seize upon our fear of the unreasonable.

I realize that these theories can't be applied uniformly, nor have I subjected them to any sort of academic rigor beyond movies that I've seen. But I'm a blogger, so I'll do as I damn well please. I do, however, believe that as consumers of pop-culture (in some cases, rabid consumers) we should do our best to put what consume in context to figure out what it says about us as a society.

Now it's your turn, fellow geeks. What other monsters or foes have a socially or politically charged significance?


* I've had a lot of arguments about whether '28 Days Later' is a zombie movie. While they are not strictly 'undead', they do have zombie-like characteristics, particularly the ones relevant to this blog post. Any application of the 'walks like a duck, talks like a duck, must be a duck' standard puts '28 Days Later' in the zombie genre. So, suck it Ben Hatton.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

About My Hero

I remember the news a couple years back. I mean it was not one of those “I was here when…” moments but I remember my reaction. I read the Newsarama article and was like, “This is bad news.” Was it the announcement of “Batman R.I.P?” No. Was it the fact that Captain Marvel was coming back? Nope. It was when Greg Rucka decided not to renew his exclusive contract with DC. In some ways it was a sign of things to come. Here was a fantastic creator who was beginning to cut ties with the company over creative differences. Now, Devon and Graig have done a good job this week in regards to talking about DC’s choices so I do not want to talk about the second half of the sentence. Instead, I want to talk about the first half – I want to talk about Greg Rucka the fantastic creator.

There are a lot of people out there who say that Greg Rucka is only really good at the procedural comics, the stories that revolve around ensemble casts doing the day-to-day tasks of being a hero. To those people I say bullshit. Not that Rucka is not really good at the procedural stories because he definitely is. While he was writing them Gotham Central and Checkmate were must reads for me and Devon turned me onto Queen & Country, which is simply a great nitty-gritty spy book. No, the reason I call bullshit is there are people who think Rucka is only really good at procedural comics. That is simply not true.

See the thing that makes me pick up anything with Rucka’s name on it is that he gets what is great about comics. He understands that sometimes the good guys have to lose and that sometimes you need those off moments, those down beats. He understands when to have those Bill Pullman “This is our Independence Day” type speeches and when to let Michael Holt and Sasha Bordeaux simply fall in love. He understands when to add to the mythos of a character and when to shake a character to its core. After all let us not forget that it was Rucka who penned the neck-snap-heard-round-the-world when Maxwell Lord met his end at the hands of Wonder Woman. Some people call this slow writing, I call it good a well-paced story. It is one of those potato/potato things. Which is not an example that works unless you can hear the pronunciation.

Basically what makes Rucka such an excellent comic writer is that he is a writer first and a comic writer second. Too often it feels like some writers go into writing comics because they are not good enough with a pen to draw comics. So their stories are less about plot and intrigue and mood and more about muscles and falling buildings and giant tits. They leave the planning to editors and their scripts are really about who swings an ax or who shoots a pistol. Rucka applies an author’s craft to comics and yet he understands that sequential art is a unique form of storytelling. You never get Tad Williams’ style panel exposition in his comics. As a result there is something sophisticated in his work, something that other writers do not quite do or do as well. Yes, I did use the word sophisticated in reference to a man who wrote Ultimate Elektra and Daredevil.

So I suppose you are wondering why am I on this Greg Rucka love fest? Why did I take the time out of my grading (sophomore papers are keeping me from writing more posts) just so I could get my swoon on? It is because Rucka wrote the last two mainstream comics that reminded me of why I collect monthlies. I am not about to spoil Final Crisis: Revelations or Final Crisis: Resist because that is not my way, but simply they have been blowing me away. Rarely as a seasoned comic reader does something surprise me, does something make me stop and pull a Data at the end of Star Trek: Generations (I know, sweet nerd reference), does something make me throw my hands in the air and say, “Hell yeah!” If a writer can consistently do that – I think he deserves a moment of pure adoration.

Now, I think Grant Morrison is a fine writer who has told some fine stories, same thing with Brian Michael Bendis, but the writer I would really like to see get carte blanche with a major comic universe is Greg Rucka.

Internet Killed The Comic Book Story

It's doom and gloom week here at Second Printing, and while I would like to turn the tide and uplift our readers (and ourselves), instead I'm going to sally forth and add my two dollars and twenty-two cents worth of grousing to the pot(man, inflation is a real bitch).

I just came over from reading this week's Lying in the Gutters where the rumour is Dan DiDio is on a Darkseid-esque bender, vying for total control of the DC Universe. Final Crisis is looking to be further delayed and potentially out of Morrison's hands (and Morrison potentially washing his hands of DC), the DC Universe that is supposed to result at the end of FC is also on hold until the Crisis finale is finalized, and James Robinson's triumphant return to DC looks to be short-lived as well following a blow-out with DiDio. No word on what Morrison and Robinson's co-conspirator Geoff Johns is going to do, but all bets are the non-UK-import amongst them is going to keep his head down and keep cashing paycheques.

Now, this is all unsubstantiated, unconfirmed by any of the parties involved (today at least) but it's enough to annoy me. Given the time and money I've invested into things like Final Crisis (not to mention the "five-year plan" that started back with Identity Crisis), knowing that the creator's vision will be disrupted and therefore compromising the entire intent of the series, doesn't sit very well. These editorial interferences, Chuck Dixon's runs on Robin and Batman and the Outsiders another example from earlier this year, is frustrating as a fan.

It's a fact of the business that the creators aren't ultimately in control of their work. They're dealing with proprietary characters, and business concerns (which fall under editorial/DiDio's domain) are the overriding principle. DiDio's prime concerns seem to be, somewhat confusingly, the DCU continuity... where it's been and where it's going. Change isn't in the air under DiDio's reign, reminiscence and restoration seems to be more flavour of the day (erm, decade). Continuity is a story killer as much as it's a story enhancer. Final Crisis started by having to relate itself, however briefly, to Countdown and Death of the New Gods. It's legendary how poorly the three series intersected with one another (in that they really didn't), and now the finale of Final Crisis is supposed to lead the way to a brand new DCU... just not the way Morrison originally designed.

Now I don't know much about Countdown or DOTNG, but I have to wonder if they were failures because of editorial interference or for lack of (or were they just ill-conceived and capitalistic from the start?). In my opinion, editorial interference, like studio interference with movies, rarely leads to a better end product. I'd rather read a Final Crisis that was solely Morrison's vision and then the DCU ignore it altogether afterward (wouldn't be the first time) than have a watered down or compromised version of the story. Either way, you're getting a continuity that doesn't ultimately make sense and years later is still being explained At least in the former instance there's some artistic integrity involved. I'm starting to think that maybe Kirkman's right... but that's me.

Out of all of this, I see two big problems with mainstream comics readers (not comics, themselves) today. The first is we're too informed. We have unprecedented access to creators and publishers, editors and distributors, to the point where we know pretty much what's going to happen before it happens. With Previews giving us a 2 to 3 month look ahead, we're always on top of things. DiDio and Quesada and nearly every other publisher gets out there and shills to us, the regular reader, vying for our money by tantalizing us with big announcements and getting us excited by hypothetical situations. When the announcements or stories don't pan out as we've been told we're doubtlessly disappointed, until we get the apology and the new shill. "Yes, we fucked that up, but wait 'til you see what happens next..." That can only go on for so long before we're all exhausted by it.

We have daily access to information and interviews, we get teasers and teases from all around, but when nearly every comic is hyped to the point where it can't really live up to all the talk that surrounds it, where does that leave the reader? Back in the day, these decisions happened behind closed doors, and most of the readers would see the stories unfold, free of the behind-the-scenes drama and the non-stop pitches. Welcome to the internet age, the information age, where it's all-access all the time. Creators and publishers want people to read their books, so they're not going to stop schilling them, but if you find your level of enjoyment doesn't live up to your initial excitement (or hell, if you're failing to get excited about anything at all), perhaps you need to step away from the internet, from the great white noise hype machine, and go back to just discovering things at random off the stands or through recommendations. Read what you enjoy, not what's been sold to you. Is it possible? I don't know.

Point number two finds another, if lesser problem with today's mainstream comic readers... we're "have your cake and eat it too" kind of people. We want our mainstream comic creators to have their voice, but we also want them to have the unified voice of their shared universe, and I don't think the two work well together. So I guess we need to ask, are we willing to sacrifice one for the other. Which would you prefer, tighter continuity or more creator-driven stories?

I'll be back next week with bright lights, and things that make me cheerful about comic books and being a comic book fan. Like a "thanksgiving" themed post-kinda thing.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Event Horizon Tells Me Otherwise

Lately, I don't quite know what's going on with my comics and I.

I know that I love them. I know this much is true.

It's just that I don't treat like I used to. I still look forward to the next issue of 100 Bullets like no one's business but as I was reading the latest issue, it dawned on me...

The comics that made me a fan all over again is coming to an end.

And likely, I won't ever find anything that good ever again. Better yet, I probably won't find that book that blows my mind, makes me reconsider what the comics format can do and has me hold it up in the air like a infant Kunta Kinte anytime some asks me, "What's good?"

The fact of it is that lately I just don't look forward to my comics like I used to. I am sitting here, typing and wrestling with the realization that the belief "that a man can fly" ain't what it used to be.

Today's comics market is filled with flying men and women talking loudly and not really saying anything. What it comes down to is this:

We should not be shocked when our superhero comics are actually, you know... good.

As I sit here typing this I realize my comics, overall, haven't been that great, much less that good, in a loooooong time. The exceptions usually a critically acclaimed and reader-shunned. For every Blue Beetle or Manhunter, there will be four more unnecessary X-titles and mini-series that will outsell it by the tens of thousands. This is and always has been the state of this industry.

It's not going to get any better any time soon. As DC Comics continually trips and stumbles towards Final Crisis, we've been promised... something. No one knows what it is, though and really, I just don't care. If it's has any of the promise of a Countdown or a Trinity, no thanks.

On the Marvel side of things, for the first time since Secret Wars II, I did not bother with their big "event" book, Secret Invasion. I'm just over events that will rock universes down to their very foundation being done once a year and over multiple $3.99 books.

As for Secret Invasion's sequel, Dark Reign?

To Marvel, again, no thanks.

I miss having something to look forward to in my comics. I am tired of being shocked when I put a comic down and thinking, "That was good." We should not be shocked when our comics are good. This should be our standard.

Individual comics storylines are continuously being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the "event" and the spirit of "the good comic" is the unintended victim.

In all of this, my good will is spent. Squandered by the companies I counted on to entertain me. I want no more crossovers. I don't feel like going on any more journeys with you. I should not have to work so hard to enjoy my comics. I simply want more good in my comics and I'm just not getting it like I used to.

I want comics I can recommend. I wish there were more coming. The event horizon tells me otherwise.

Friday, November 14, 2008

On Needing Fresh Air…

So I’ve been making some changes recently… no, I’m not trying to make myself a better person or anything crazy like that. I’ve been changing the comics I read. At first, I thought it had started with the issue of ‘Scalped’ I read for the Second Printing 2.99 Challenge. But I think it started before that.

I look at my apartment and I see stacks of Marvel and DC super-hero comics, historically my favorite kind of book, sitting in piles, unread. For a while, I thought I’d just lost the energy to get interested in comics. I thought maybe that little geek in me was withering away and that I was going to sell my comics on eBay and turn into one of those ‘cool’ guys that plays kickball and watches ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’.

But, as we all know, a geek is a geek. I can’t change my inner geek any more than Graig can stop being Canadian or Ben can stop loving Miley Cyrus. I just needed to something else to make my little geek heart flutter.

I should’ve seen it coming. For close to a year, my favorite book has been ‘The Boys’. And I’m no Garth Ennis fan, to be sure. I just know good storytelling when I see it, and ‘The Boys’ simply rocks. So when that issue of ‘Scalped’ showed up, with its sex, violence, unpredictability, and refreshing character complexity, I shouldn’t have been surprised that I was sucked in. So I got curious…

I’d been hearing good things about ‘Walking Dead’ for a long time, so I figured I’d give it a try on the side. I mean, there are eight trades out right now, so I figured I could slowly read them over time. I read them all in one week. And then I tracked down the floppies I was missing.

I didn’t need to shut my inner geek down. My inner geek just got a little cynical. Most super-hero comics sort of suck right now. Sure, there’s a lot of shameless ploys and silly short cuts designed to make us keep buying, but when is that ever NOT the case? No, my problem is that super-hero comics are just too dark, gritty, violent, and overly sexualized. At least the dark, gritty, adult comics I’m getting into now admit what they are. They don’t call a comic ‘Teen Titans’ and then fill it with torture porn and cheesecake. I feel okay about reading a dark and violent comic when I know it’s supposed to be that way, and when it’s a legitimate part of the storytelling process and not just some man-child creator getting a good page rate for shitty slash fiction.

I won’t go cold turkey. Some super-hero comics will always be in my pull-list. You will pry that last issue of ‘Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane’ from my cold dead hands. But I’m willing to drop JLA and JSA to branch out a little… to see what else the medium has to offer… to get that much needed breath of creative fresh air. And this is where YOU come in, loyal Second Printer. Help me answer this simple question:

When Marvel and DC super-hero comics leave me cold, what should I be reading instead?

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Second Printing $2.25 Challenge: Sonic the Hedgehog #192

Yes, that's right: $2.25. Also, yes, that's right, number one hundred and ninety-two. This issue marks sixteen years of continuous Sonic the Hedgehog monthly comic-book action. That's, I don't know, more issues than every She-Hulk run put together. Hell, it's longer than the last four Captain America volumes combined. But, as ever, I digress. Which isn't to say that I'll stop digressing. I'll just digress into a segue into the point and then redigress later, probably.

A) In your assessment, could a non-comics reader pick this up cold and enjoy it? Why or why not?

Okay, so, we open on Sonic, a nude-except-for-gloves-and-sneakers blue hedgehog designed originally entirely without relevant reference material fighting no less than three evil twins of himself. I know, I know, it's stupid to call three distinct entities "twins" but the book does it and it's a trope so we will, too. We've got a green version of Sonic from what I can only presume is an evil mirror dimension where Sonic is evil - we know this because he is green, wears a leather jacket and sunglasses and is named "Scourge" instead of "Sonic" - an evil robot duplicate of Sonic named, for reals, "Metal Sonic," as he is made of metal instead of animal and a presumably even eviler yet robot duplicate of Scourge named, yes, for reals again, "Metal Scourge." The closest thing we get to a recap is Sonic's narration informing us that these four things are going to fight each other, coupled with a little Cast of Characters thing on the title page (which also tells me that there is a robot head in a jar named "Dimitri" who is "bound to Doctor Robotnik." Okay).

Basically, what I'm saying is, all you need to know is that there are four of more-or-less the same guy beating on each other while various concerned parties look on. I have absolutely no idea if a non-comics reader would, you know, enjoy such a thing, really, though I have a sneaking suspicion that it's what a non-comics reader half-expects when pressed to guess the plot of a given book. I mean, look at Captain America - Bucky killed Nomad, who was effectively his evil twin (except, at that point, Nomad was the good twin), became Captain America, fought the Red Skull (who, for a while, was a clone of the original Captain America), then fought the evil 1950s version of Captain America. And that's one of the best monthly books on the stands.

B) What age group(s) would it be appropriate for?

Seven on up. If you can read, you can read this. The violence is limited to cartoon hedgehogs ramming into each other at speed and threatened "smashing." Really nothing you wouldn't see on a Saturday morning cartoon.

C) Are there any aspects that don't make sense to the new reader (or, conversely, are there any that do?)

There are THREE EVIL TWINS. I can't even attempt to express the noise my brain made when I tried to wrap it around that. There's no onomatopoeia for that, man. I mean, there was a part of me thinking "but if the robot doubles are, like, Bizarros, wouldn't the evil robot double of the alternate universe good guy be a good guy?" Granted, I brought up the evil twin situation in Cap, but that ends up playing out substantially less ridiculously.

D) What is your overall perceived quality of the book, and could you see the quality being perceived differently if read long-term?

The art's a little screwy - the fight scene (which takes up a solid half the issue) is really weirdly blocked; characters end up in places that make no sense given their locations in prior panels and suchlike. But it's serviceable for what it is - a kid's book. Hell, the whole thing's not so bad if you figure the target audience is, hopefully, reading this while it's secreted within a third-grade math textbook. Which brings me to...

E) What was your overall enjoyment of the single issue?

I freaking ate up the old Archie Ninja Turtles book when I was a wee lad. I don't know when I switched over to Spider-Man and Batman, but, at some point, I did, and I never really looked back. Taken as a gateway book, I suppose this isn't any better or any worse than the innumerable liscenced bits on nonsense I read in my misspent youth.

I grabbed this book because I have a nasty habit of reading up on comics I don't actually read, chiefly to cover myself on the off chance I end up stuck in a conversation about said unread comics. I haven't read, say, Amazing Spider-Man in lo unto a decade now, but I still have a pretty okay working knowledge of what's going on in the book. But Sonic? All I know is that he's a video game character who had two different Saturday morning cartoons at the same time in spite of the source material's plot being "run to the right, hop on things, continue running." So props to Archie for stretching that out for sixteen years, anyway. They must be doing something right, I guess.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Second Printing $2.99 Challenge: Ms. Marvel #32

Ben has been raving about Ms. Marvel for nearly three years now and with Graig's $2.99 Challenge going out, I thought, "What better time than now than with Ms. Marvel #32?"

Should I have waited until The Afghani put down the sledgehammer? Let's find out... together!

A) In your assessment, could a non-comics reader pick this up cold and enjoy it? Why or why not?

Um, yeah, sure. This issue is very much of a "jumping-on" point. Tony Stark shows up and is his usual charming (womanizing) self. The lead character Major Linda Danvers (the future Ms. Marvel) is easily likable, showing a sense of cockiness not usually shown in a female lead. She's a spitfire, that's for sure. I like her.

B) What age group(s) would it be appropriate for?

Anyone old enough to have seen Saw 1 through 87, would probably be able to handle this one. It wasn't bad just not I'd expect from a Marvel superhero comic. Who put the torture porn in my comic? The torture scenes, I felt were a bit unnecessary. I think the reader could have understood just how tough she is and how tough she came to be without some random Arab guy (who you just know's gonna die because what he's doing is EVIL) torturing her in her underwear for FIVE PAGES!

"Marvel: We won't show Nick Fury smoking a cigar but we will show Ms. Marvel getting tortured in her Vicky's."


C) Are there any aspects that don't make sense to the new reader (or, conversely, are there any that do?) and...

D) What is your overall perceived quality of the book, and could you see the quality being perceived differently if read long-term?

Yeah, though, Ms. Marvel is nowhere to be found in this comic. From thirty-plus years of comics reading, I know who she will be.

If I didn't know any better I would have picked this one up thinking it was some sort of war comic. I don't know how I'd feel coming into this thing "blind" and a few months later, she's tossing around Winnebagos and Wendigos.

E) What was your overall enjoyment of the single issue?

This is a really pretty book. From artist David Yardin's cover to Paulo Siqueira's slick interiors, this book practically screams to be bought. On that alone, I would look for more next month. Not so much for the writing. That, I found just sort of OK, there no real moments of "Wow!"

Ms. Marvel is a good comic. I can't lie I was a bit underwhelmed but I could see why it has it's following.

Although I don't think it's for the over-the-top characterizations and/or torture scenes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Challengers of The Unknown

Anything we do today is going to be absolutely lost in something greater than any of us:

History.

The Second Printing $2.99 Challenge will return Thursday.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Second Printing $2.99 Challenge: Scalped #21

Up front, I’ll be honest: I had been dying to read this book. For one, Devon had spoken very highly of it, but even more importantly, Jason Aaron once commented on this blog, which is pretty freaking cool.

So here goes…

a) In your assessment, could a non-comics reader pick this up cold and enjoy it? Why or why not?

Honestly, for this issue, knowledge or love of comics is less important than a love of crime stories. Though the visual aspects of the medium are well-leveraged, this is definitely a dialogue-driven comic, which I find are the easiest ones for non-comic fans to digest.

Additionally, issue 21 seems to be kicking off a new plot arc and introducing some new threads. I definitely understood enough to want to keep reading. Of course, I did keep reading and soon discovered that the main character doesn’t even appear in issue 21, so it speaks to the creative ability behind this book that I was still drawn in.
b) What age group(s) would it be appropriate for?

Adults only. Sex and graphic violence abound… which I suppose could describe an issue of Teen Titans these days… but still, this is definitely a book for grownups.

c) Are there any aspects that don't make sense to the new reader (or, conversely, are there any that do?)

This book, like a lot of crime stories, has a specific lexicon. Prior to reading Scalped, I just assumed it took place in the old west, so it took me a few pages to get my bearings. But I picked up enough that by the end a lot of the narrative dynamics had some clarity around them. Though I will say that it does help to know that this story takes place on an Indian reservation… once I figured that out, it all made a lot more sense.

It also seems that this issue is potentially introducing some new plot threads, so from that perspective, the things that don’t make sense fall into the category of things that will be revealed rather than things that a reader should already know.
d) What is your overall perceived quality of the book, and could you see the quality being perceived differently if read long-term?

As I hinted at earlier, this is a great read. The harshness of the dialogue is poignant, but it doesn’t feel forced. R.M. Guera’s art is fairly minimalist, but also fairly visceral when the pace of the action demands it. Characters are often in shadow, which I think is a good effect given the complexities at play in a crime story.

This issue seems dense enough that my guess is the trades (the first and second of which I have already purchased) would probably be a good long read, unlike some other more ‘adult’ comics where reading the series in monthlies could just be maddening (i.e. Y: The Last Man, Walking Dead). I am going to start reading this book on the regular, and my plan is to get the trades of the issues I missed and then start collecting the monthlies rather than waiting for the trades.

e) What was your overall enjoyment of the single issue?

Obviously, I enjoyed it, but it’s not self-contained. My enjoyment was certainly enough to get me interested in the series. I put down issue 21 and said out loud, ‘That was like ‘The Wire’ on an Indian Reservation,’ and I consider that pretty high praise.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Second Printing $2.99(ish) challenge: Fear Agent #24

Q: What is the Second Printing $2.99 Challenge?
A: It's a test of a comic's accessibility. Criteria were simple for taking up the challenge: the book had to be an ongoing title the challenger was unfamiliar with; it had to be in publication for more than two years and it's issue number had to be greater than 18.

Today: Graig Challenges Fear Agent #24 (cover price $2.99)

[Preamble:] I've never had much luck with Rick Remender titles, finding titles like The End League and Sea of Red appealing in concept, but failing to wow me in their execution. The guy's had a pretty solid career, forged primarily on creator-owned titles, which I've got to respect, but after a few lacklustre reads, I kind of wrote the guy off. Fear Agent is his longest running book, of which I know absolutely nothing about. The most I can say is I'd seen ads that make it look like pulpy sci-fi with a beer-swilling twist. Here's hoping:

a) In your assessment, could a non-comics reader pick this up cold and enjoy it? Why or why not?
Well, Fear Agent #24 proves extra challenging for this challenge as it's not just another issue, but the 3rd chapter (of six) in the current storyline. There's a "previously" box on the interior front cover which catches you up (kinda, but it certainly helps more than it hinders, more books should have these... I'm looking at you DC Comics) on who's who and what the haps is. The first page is a flashback sequence which seemed obvious to me, so that's good, and the main thrust of the story - the hero thrust into a planet that's like the Old West but with aliens, where everything isn't what it seems - is easy enough to grab hold of. Oh, and the story is only half the book, where a stand-alone story by not-Rick Remender finds the hero in a gunfight, which is pretty disposable.

b) What age group(s) would it be appropriate for?

Hrm... early teens and up. There's violence, sexual innuendo, mild expletives, nothing too harsh in any respect. Target audience is probably college-age/20-somethings.

c) Are there any aspects that don't make sense to the new reader (or, conversely, are there any that do?)
The recap is the only place that mentions how things aren't what they seem (the fact that the hero has encountered his ex-wife and an old girlfriend on an alien planet does seem weird), and they seem a relevant and ominous part of the story, however it doesn't exactly factor into this issue. I'm also not sure if the book is usually divided into two stories or not. This is a story about the hero, an alcoholic adventurer who seems to be going through a bit of a crisis, and that comes across fairly straightforward.

d) What is your overall perceived quality of the book, and could you see the quality being perceived differently if read long-term?
The art by Tony Moore (Exterminators, Walking Dead) is awesome and I didn't really have any problems with Remender's side of things either. I think following the book from earlier on, following the hero around on his various adventures would give the character aspects of this issue more impact and relevance. There's certainly questions left hanging by the end of its 12 pages, so following longer-term is kind of essential for getting the full impact of this story. It's pretty solid stuff overall, but at 12 pages of main story with a somewhat uneventful back-up/filler, and I think a full issue would serve new readers better (for all Remender gets across in 12 pages, imagine what it'd be like in 24?)

e) What was your overall enjoyment of the single issue?
Not bad at all. I don't think I'll stick the rest of this story out (especially if each issue is only presenting 12 pages of it), but I may pick up a trade of a complete story in the future just to get a better sense of the series and characters. Intrigued, if only slightly.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bucky Barnes Is A Bad-Ass

Remember the "happy-go-lucky" bastard who rode a bomb into the sunset and probably died with this look on his face?

Revisionist Bad-Ass Bucky: NOW with 100% more "ISWEARTOGODIWILLSHOOTYOURASS!"