Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Gems of the 90's: Sidekicks

This is not a gem of the 90's

Gold, silver, and bronze… the ages of comic books. We invoke them with fondness, nostalgia, and sometimes ridicule but always with reverence. We talk about the things that characterize each age: The odd combination of noir and jingoism of the Golden Age; the unbridled craziness and outlandish science of the Silver Age; the progressive political activism of the Bronze Age. And then we talk about the 90’s, and we tend to do so in extremes. First, there are the 90’s haters:

“The 90’s sucked.”

“I cannot believe how much X-Force I have in my long box.”

“Kyle who?”

Then you have the 90’s nostalgics:

“I have EVERY issue of Hitman.”

“Kyle Rayner has a cute bottom.”

“Dude, what ever happened to Shatterstar?”

So why do we live at these extremes when it comes to one of the many decades in comics? There was most certainly a realignment in the creative energy behind comics. In the quest to be ‘not just for kids’, some comics became graphically violent to the extent that it became their main selling point. Comics became art driven, rather than writing driven, and the defection of creators to upstarts like Image and Dark Horse loosened the editorial control that, for better or worse, had at least given us our books on time. There’s a lot to be pissed about from the 90’s, and most 90’s apologists look back at X-Cutioner’s Song and The Infinity Gauntlet with fondness because, like it or not, it’s part of their youth.

But for a moment let’s set aside the view of the 90’s haters who shudder at the thought of one more X-Book and the 90’s generation who cut their teeth on Cable’s giant shoulder pads. Periodically on this blog, I’m going to give readers my two cents about the gems of the 1990’s, and why, in my opinion, it may be just as important as the silver age in influencing the comics we pull off the rack nowadays.

My first gem of the 90’s is one near and dear to my heart:

One of the hallmarks of the 90’s was book inflation. Name a character, and chances are he or she had at least a mini during the 1990’s, and one of the few areas where this was actually successful was with sidekicks for major characters. Tim Drake took over the mantle of Robin at the end of the 1980’s, and after a few successful minis, he starred in the first ongoing Robin series. The 1990’s also saw the creation of Impulse, a new and beloved sidekick for the Flash who, after falling out of favor with his mentor, would have his own popular ongoing series. The 1990’s had some big and annoying publicity stunts, the most famous of which is the Death of Superman, but out of that overblown marketing ploy was born Conner Kent, who had a reasonably popular ongoing series and was part of a highly successful Teen Titans relaunch.

What is compelling about the 90’s generation of sidekick, which began with Tim Drake, is their independence from their mentors and their ability to capture the interest of readers in their own right. In fact, many of these 'sidekicks' spent large stretches of time in full separation from their mentors, which, in many ways, allowed them to more fully cement their positions in their respective heroic traditions. While much of the superhero genre toiled away trying to become edgy and more adult, a few characters stood out as vibrant and deeply human heroes that readers young and old could identify with and root for. It’s no coincidence that these characters have all played major parts in the big crossovers of the past several years. It’s just a shame they keep dying.

I will periodically chime in with more gems of the 90's, but for now I pose the question:

What characters, sidekick or otherwise, is your favorite from the 90's, and is he or she still with us today?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Ones That Got Away: Part Two

In the music industry, they have what is called the A&R department. The A&R department sole responsibility is to groom and polish the artist.

Does the the artist have a really thick Boston accent and you're sending him on tour in the South? A&R'll have him sounding like Matt Damon in no time.

A&R is there to not only make the artists it works with shine but to also help the artist present the image the company wants to get across.

Vertigo Comics have been, edgy, well-written and for the most part, innovative.

Who wouldn't want a piece of that?

Seemingly, Vertigo's sister company, DC Comics.

Although, Vertigo has been one HELL of an A&R department for Marvel.

For the record, I have never even stepped foot in inside of DC or Vertigo's offices but I imagine it to be somewhat like this:

When I worked in the comics shop, random persons would come in and put things on hold. Mind you, it cost nothing to the random person to ask for something to be held for a week. Us, not so much.

Now, let's say,the thing that's being held is a "buzz book" that is sold-out at the distribution level and we're on Day 8, one day past the hold point and someone walks into the store wanting to buy the held book. Do you:

A: Tell the customer the book is being held and you're hoping the person comes in to pick it up later.

B: Tell the person, that if the person doesn't pick it up soon, they can have it.

C: Sell the damned thing to the person standing in front of you with the interest and the cash in hand.

I always went with C. I'd much rather explain to someone why I did something than why I

With DC, they always seem to have something on hold. As long as there's been a DC/Vertigo, the only time I can point out DC/Vertigo taking someone off "hold" and using them in both DC & Vertigo was Garth Ennis.

While Ennis burned down the house with Preacher, DC hired him to write a book set within they're universe. That title was the critically acclaimed series, Hitman. Since then, it seems to me that, in the interest of DC not wanting to give the assumption that Vertigo is their farm club has taken a kind of hand-off approach in hiring Vertigo writers.

DC, Vertigo writers have not for the holding. They're usually rabid dogs that need to be unleashed and creating buzz. We need more of that in the DC Universe.

Now this has changed somewhat, not too long ago, we say Fables' Bill Willingham come to The DCU and write Robin but too much in the way of editorial mandates made his run less than memorable.

Later, he was given Shadowpact. A team comprised of DC's C to D list characters and the book, on buzz alone, managed to stick around a couple of years.

His successor on Shadowpact, Matt Sturges also writes Vertigo's Jack of Fables and House of Mystery and is due to take over writing duties on DC's Blue Beetle.

These seem to be exceptions rather than rules. While DC doles out lower tier assignments to Vertigo writers, Marvel looks at say, an Ed Brubaker and says, "Wanna follow Bendis' run on Dardevil and then take over Uncanny X-Men?"

Now, I'm all for A&R but man, looking at the cover for The Joker's Asylum:The Penguin, written by Jason Aaron of Scalped fame, just makes me want to shake my head in disbelief rather than rejoice. DC, did you really want to give a taste of what could have been? Was this really all there was to offer him?

DC, may I offer you advice:

Look at yourselves.

Where was that company that hired Geoff Johns, fresh from having written nothing, to write their big "event" book, Day of Judgment? Yeah, it bombed but didn't it lay the groundwork for returning Green Lantern to prominence? And, how did that happen? You watched him.

Did you toss the guy after his series "Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E." was canceled after only 15 issues? No, you gave him a chance and gave him JSA to write.

A few years back, when you had him do fill-in work on Superman, did you go, "Well, he's done here." No, it was laying a foundation for his return to Superman in Action Comics.

Remember when Mark Waid left The Flash and you hired Johns to fill in following his work on Day of Judgment? How'd that work out for you?

Or were you smart enough to see that once he went Marvel and started work on The Avengers that maybe, just maybe, you'd actually groomed a talent worth keeping.

Don't be afraid to groom your shared writers. Trust me, I know about inter-office chaos and the hate "stealing" people form other departments brings but dammit, Marvel's doing it to you anyway. Find a way to make it work for you amicably.

Look at what's there. I know it's been a while since you've heard it, that was "buzz."

Marvel's heard it lately.

Come back later this week for PART THREE of "The Ones That Got Away." Wherein I speak of Greg Rucka and more of what I'd like to see from Vertigo.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Nostalgia In The New Millenium

When you get it right, you get it right.

Above is the cover to the upcoming Marvel: 1985 mini by Mark Millar and Tommy Lee Edwards.

If cover artist Jim Cheung's intent was to put you in the place of the kid in the foreground, job well done then.

Geez, I remember the year 1985 well. I'm a sophomore in junior high and absolutely hating it. I was going through a growth spurt and was literally having growing pains. My once high voice was on the way to becoming the rich, silken smooth thing it is today. Before that happened though, I and everyone else had to contend with a voice that alternated between rabid chipmunk and garbage disposal.

Through it all there was one thing that I could count on...


Marvel Comics had a freshness at that time and at this point, the comics they were producing were aimed right at my over-large head.

Whether it was Marvel's first mega-crossover Secret Wars, Roger Stern's truly Amazing Spider-Man run, John Byrne's Fantastic Four or The Uncanny X-Men (Believe it or not kids, there was only ONE "X" book once upon a time), for me, Marvel Comics was it and for nearly 15 years after, I almost exclusively made mine Marvel.

And Marvel: 1985 seems to want to cash in on that.

I don't know if you can do that, cash in on a time and place, a feeling. This, to me, was my Golden Age of comics discovery. Of caring so much about who was under The Hobgoblin's mask that I risked suspension to smuggle the comic into school.

It was where I developed a huge love for the character She-Hulk.

It was where I learned to appreciate a writer/artist operating at the height of his abilities with Walt Simonson on Thor.

This was where I really started to appreciate art and storytelling. Where I learned that Marvel Comics truly shared a complete universe and felt utter incredulity at Daredevil's exclusion in the Secret War.

Most importantly, it was where I learned to collect comics in sequence thanks to Larry Hama's gateway comic for a whole generation, G.I. Joe.

At this time, Marvel truly seemed like a "House of Ideas."

It was my favorite time, comics-wise and I don't know if it can be recreated.

That said, I will be picking up, at least, the first issue of Marvel: 1985, simply for the above cover alone.

As much as I love that era, I believe it's one best left behind. I honestly believe today's publishers increasingly gear everything towards those of us who stuck around. In today's comics market, the focus is way too much on what came before and nothing fresh seems to be emerging.

I don't know if it can be 1985 again.

So, my question is two-fold (Feel free to answer one or both) :



Friday, April 25, 2008

Being True Blue – A Musing

Last weekend I attended the New York Comic Convention. I got some stuff signed, picked up some back issues – Con stuff. On Tuesday, I was talking to the office guy at the school I substitute at and he started asking me about what panels I saw.

“I went to the Final Crisis panel, saw the DC Nation-”

“That’s all DC stuff. What about Marvel?” he interrupted.

“Marvel sucks,” I responded.

First off, Marvel doesn’t suck. Yet, every time someone asks me about Marvel over DC that response is my gut reaction. I would say the reason behind this reply can be summed up in one word:


There are many words I would use to describe comic readers (I am including myself in this group), some complimentary and some not so complimentary. High on that list would be the word loyal. A comic fan is one of the most loyal beings on this planet. It is almost like we swear fealty to writers, to artists, to titles, to characters, etc. How many times have you said or heard someone say, “As long as ______________ is in/writing/drawing a comic I’ll keep reading it.” I have said many times, when DC killed off Green Arrow I gave up on the company until they brought him back.

At their most basic many comic companies are very similar. Yet, we pledge ourselves to being a Marvel Zombie or a member of the DC Nation and we stand firmly behind those pledges. Recently a Red Sox fan tried to jinx the new Yankee stadium by burying a David Ortiz jersey in the building’s foundation. I laughed at the ridiculousness of the rivalry. However, I got to thinking and I know there people out there who, if given the chance, would lay crazy voodoo down to make sure certain writers or artists never touched the books they cared about again. Hell, if given the opportunity I would slip a copy of Final Crisis #1 under Joe Quesada’s desk. You know, just to see what would happen.

If you think I am off base here think about how getting your comics fits into your schedule. We do not go out of our way; create a weekly trip – a trip that has to be done, for something we are only so-so interested in. We do it for things we care about. We do it for things we are attached to.

Better yet think of those instances when you drop a book that you have been following for a long time. Think of the emotional reaction you have. It is hard to get rid of a title that you have read for years. Even if it has become the most atrocious book on the market, where the writing, art and editorial guidance are so bad you open the comic and go, “Why are they doing this?” You still bite your lip and grit your teeth and when you finally give up the book you feel like you have to apologize for it.

“I just couldn’t keep reading the Justice League of America,” you say, shaking your head.

It’s in tone that is equivalent to when you end a bad friendship or stop following the orders of your general. I have seen many customers say that and I could tell they felt like they were betraying someone. Furthermore, I would say if you can drop a book you are only moderately loyal to it. I would say that there are books that no matter how bad they get you just cannot give them up. Your pledge to support those titles or characters is too strong. So I ask you Internetland:

What title or titles are you still loyal to even though you know you shouldn’t be?

My answer: Gen13.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Ones That Got Away: Part One

It felt familiar.

April 2008. Vertigo Version 3.0 is, in my opinion, a failure.

July 2002. I run the comic shop.

Neil Gaiman long ago ended Vertigo's Version One era (Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol & Animal Man) with the gold standard of Sandman. Six years on, Vertigo offered us Vertigo "ghosts" such as Merv Pumpkinhead, Agent of Dream.

Also, Mike Carey's acclaimed Lucifer run is nearing its end.

July 2002. The Books of Magic, Preacher and The Invisibles have come to their respective ends. Their writers, John Ney Reiber, Garth Ennis & Grant Morrison have moved on to Marvel.

July 2002, Vertigo hasn't had a true "hit" since the 1999 launch of 100 Bullets. (And
Transmetropolitan doesn't count. It was a transplant from DC's failed Helix imprint.)

July 2002. Vertigo offers me Y: The Last Man by writer Brian K. Vaughan, fresh from closing out a failed Swamp Thing re-launch.

May 2002, I look out upon the comics and see the corpses of the failed and failing.

American Century. Outlaw Nation. Codename: Knockout. Flinch. Crusades.

At this point, Fables had yet to arrive.

May 2002, I order 12 copies of Y #1.

Smartest decision I ever made comics-wise.

I'd followed Brian K. Vaughan's work. I loved his two-issue stint on Wonder Woman. I still believe, that while still a bit "green," his work on Swamp Thing was pretty good. I loved his "fill-in" work on Batman. Do you know who he was filling in for?

Ed Brubaker, writer of the soon-to-be-canceled Vertigo series, Deadenders.

I bought the first issue of Y for no other reason than the nifty JG Jones cover.

And then, I read the comic. And, then I told people about the comic. And, then I recommended the comic so then, I had to re-order the comic. Others did the same and the next thing you know, with Fables, 100 Bullets & Y: The Last Man drawing rave reviews and more than respectable trade sales, Vertigo was on the map again.

Let's look at those three series I just mentioned. Fables. 100 Bullets. Y: The Last Man.

What does one have that the others don't? No end in sight.

Fables is ongoing. 100 Bullets and Y are finite series.

After a five-year, sixty issue run, Y is finished and with 100 Bullets reaching issue 90, it is rounding the corner to its planned ending with its 100th issue.

Of the V2 group, The Losers, with its slick art and gritty dialogue, looked to be the clear choice to pick up the 100 Bullets mantle but alas, it seemed no one bothered to ask the writer whether or not it was an ongoing series. Its story came to a close long before Bullets' did.

April 2008. And much like July 2002, Vertigo is, again, left without "definitive" Vertigo.

Vertigo Version 3.0 has been less than stellar. Vertigo, knowing that their "definitives" were coming to their respective ends, let loose with a sea of new titles. Titles that, thematically, bore some striking resemblance to its some Vertigo 2.0 brethren.

American Virgin, let's face it, was Y: That Other Man.

Army @ Love is satire and is the province of the beast or MAD Magazine.

Testament, while interesting, had too much going on.

Brian Wood's DMZ & Northlanders are good but don't pack the wallop of his earlier works such as Channel Zero.

Loveless written by Bullets' Brian Azzarello looked to have the most promise but due to delays and slow pacing lost its momentum.

Deadman had two knocks against it out of the box. One: It didn't feature DC Comics' unliving trapeze artist Deadman, Boston Brand. It featured some guy who was a... dead... man.

Two: it was written by a man known for not knowing what story he wants to tell.

The clever Exterminators, Crossing Midnight and Un-Men are all soon to be canceled.

Vinyl Underground has that early old Vertigo "Brit" feel to it but, if possible, feels almost "too Vertigo."

Of the V3 lot, there is one contender for "definitive" Vertigo status and it comes in the form of the wonderfully written and well-paced series Scalped by current Wolverine writer and Marvel exclusive Jason Aaron.

Marvel. Exclusive. Jason Aaron.


Damn, DC/Vertigo, why'd you let this one get away.

I've had this feeling before. It feels like deja vu and much like in June 2002, it sees Vertigo at a crossroads and an emerging talent gone to the other side.

What DC work have we seen from this man? In July, we get a one-off Penguin story.

It resembles when Brian K. Vaughan wasn't offered Batman full-time and instead went to Marvel and created Runaways?

It feels like when Brubaker went Marvel and became a breakout star.

Vertigo develops writers and has inadvertently become a farm team for Marvel, where they go off and sell comics in the tens of thousands.

That old feeling? Oh yeah, I know what it is.

It feels like Vertigo.

Part Two of "The Ones That Got Away" and how DC Comics and Geoff Johns plays into all of this next week...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Tale of Two Johns

Actually… I’m only going to talk about one Johns… one Geoff Johns to be exact. More to the point, I’m going to talk about why his writing confuses the hell out of me. His writing is good, prolific, consistent, generally in character, and it might just be indicative of the very trends that are killing superhero comics.

On the one hand, Johns gives the readers and collectors so much of what they want. Lately, he tends to write characters that are in sync with their mainstream tradition and continuity. Whether or not you like his stories, you rarely read a Johns story and have those obnoxious fanboy thoughts like, ‘wow, Superman would not do that.’

His run on Green Lantern has been incredible, and the whole Sinestro War saga was one giant orgy of awesomeness that made fanboys and fangirls scream ‘Holy geez, this is what I’ve been waiting years to read!’ His run on JSA appeals to fans of all the JSA mainstays as well as to anyone who likes the fan-favorite Elsewords tale ‘Kingdom Come’. The ‘Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes’ arc in Action Comics was a nice breath of fresh air for fans of the pre-Zero Hour Legion, and didn’t bore people to tears like ‘The Lightning Saga’.

Yes, fellow fanboys, Geoff Johns gives us everything we want. And that’s the biggest problem with Geoff Johns. He represents everything that makes superhero comics continuity heavy, inaccessible, and fundamentally alienating to the new or casual reader.

Let’s be honest: Comics are a huge frakkin commitment. Even if you only pick up a few books a week, you know deep down that you spend time on Wikipedia trying to piece together the bits of minutiae and continuity that are piled high in the monthly superhero book. And while the average geek, myself included, actually enjoys that kind of stuff, it annoys most people. Even the most convoluted of serialized fiction in other media doesn’t require the depth of historical background it takes to understand the ‘Sinestro Corps War.’ Even a child could explain the finer points of ‘Lost’ in a few minutes. It’ll take a bit longer to explain why that Daxamite has a huge glowing green worm inside him… or to explain what a Daxamite is for that matter.

The greatest threat to superhero comics is their relegation to status as collectors’ items rather than literature. Sure, the characters live on in TV, film, and cartoons, but I believe that superhero comics could once again be a bastion of mainstream all-ages entertainment and myth-building. But at present, most of them are, at worst, publicity stunt crossovers and events that get stuck in collectors’ long boxes while they wait for money day. At best, they’re Geoff Johns style fan fiction. And neither of those things is something a casual or new reader could pick up and enjoy without completely geeking out.

I’m picking on Johns at the moment, but we all know that even our favorite writers, from Simone to Morrison, are guilty of the great sin of superhero comics: They write books for themselves. They write the comics they’d want to read, full of sex, violence, and nigh incomprehensible references to ages-old continuity. DC and Marvel shouldn’t need to keep launching separate imprints to market to new readers and kids. The whole genre needs to be accessible to these groups, because the 20, 30, and 40 somethings stuffing bagged and boarded copies of ‘One More Day’ and ‘Secret Invasion’ into their long-boxes won’t be around forever.

Monday, April 21, 2008


It was a time of great peril. Blackest Night has fallen on the Blogverse. People armed with anger, dissatisfaction and annoyance fly the digital skies preying on the anger , dissatisfaction and annoyance of others. Into this tumultuous setting comes three heroes, beacons of..

Wait, hold on. This is ridiculous. That's what I get for asking Don LaFontaine to write the opening. Let's try this again.

A few months back Devon of Seven Hells, Mike P. formerly of Are You Feelin' Big Mike, Jon Carey of Facedown in the Gutters, and I were sitting around lamenting how stagnant our blogs were getting. I mean, I left a post with just the cover of Countdown Arena #3 up for three months and never quite recovered. So after many rounds of Miller High Life (it's the champagne of beers) we decided that a new blog, one that combined the power of our minds was a perfect idea.

"Just think," I yelled. "With my Crazy 88s, Devon's Seven Hellolics, all those people living in gutters, and the three people who read Mike P.'s blog we will already have a brilliant readership."

And so joining hands over the platter of soft tacos on the table before us (this part is totally true) we pledged to write a blog that didn't piss and moan, that expressed our love for the wonderful medium of comics, to call foul when a book deserves it and praise a book when it is awesome.

Thus Second Printing was born.

To celebrate this momentous occasion I ask all you new Second Printing readers:

What is your top five favorite comic moments of all time?