Thursday, July 31, 2008

Art vs. the Artist

So... you guys have probably seen this. Well, I don't want to turn this into some grand political debate, but let's just say that I vehemently disagree with Orson Scott Card on this issue and many others. More than that, he subscribes to a world view that is so different from my own that it's hard for me to accept that he's not being satirical. I think his stances on homosexuality, family, and women are just downright wrong. That's my opinion. I respect his right to believe and say as he pleases, and I respect the opinions of those who disagree with me.

But I've granted Card a hell of a lot more than respect over the years. As a kid, the Ender series were among my favorite books. They spoke to me in a way that other fiction did not. It was a huge part of my adolescence, and, in many ways, those books got me into sci-fi, which got me into other geek stuff, which eventually got me into comics. I owe a lot to my love of Card's work.

I guess I don't really have a point here. I mean, it's not like I didn't know he felt this way, but to see it out there, so unequivocally, and in such an over-the-top tirade... it just has me wondering... as consumers of art, how obligated are we to evaluate the art on its own merits, regardless of the character of the artist? More importantly, is there a reverse obligation? One that requires us to consider who benefits when purchasing a piece or body of work?

Card is not the only example out there, I'm sure. So, second printers, I ask you... how do you reconcile the art with the artist?

The Most Beautifulest Thing In This World...

BLACK MANTA appropriately enough at San Diego Comic-Con.

You may, now, go about your day.

(Thanks to Ulie Campbell for the use of his photo.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

If A Superstar Tree Falls Exclusively Does Anybody Hear It?

Well, another Nerd Prom has come and gone. In previous years, I sat around all weekend staring blankly at the computer, waiting for the announcements, ready to be blown away. Nine times out of ten, I wouldn't be disappointed.

There it was some guy from some "reasonable hit" TV series would be announced as coming on to write something for someone and we would clap our little Cheese Doodle-stained hands in glee and wait... and wait... and wait...

Still waiting...No, I don't think Damon (Lost) Lindeloff's Ultimate Wolverine/Ultimate Hulk mini-series will ever be done. Give up, it's oddly freeing.

We got the announcements of writer and artists exclusives. And we jumped up and down and screamed over how awesome it is that "they" "stole" "so-and-so" from "whoever." And we waited... and waited...

Yeah, we got, like six Superman covers from Art Adams during Chuck Austen's Action Comics run. The Kubert Bros. were lured away from Marvel and the possibilities were mind-boggling, they could show up anywhere and they eventually were announced as showing up where it looked like they could soar: Andy on Batman with Grant Morrison and Adam with Geoff Johns on Action. What we got was delay after delay after delay, fill-in art after fill-in art and eventually DC threw up their hands and ultimately decided to make them their default big project cover artists.

"We" got Terry Dodson from Marvel fresh from working on Marvel Knights: Spider-Man following working with notorious deadline blower/writer Kevin Smith. DC, of course, was going to give this superstar artist a comic he could sink his teeth into, along with a superstar writer who could keep him enthused and help him hit deadlines, right?

No. He was teamed with the overcommited writer of Grey's Anatomy and his run on Wonder Woman sort of limped along. He got another writer Jodi Picoult who knew little about comics writing and was given the task of thrusting Wonder Woman into an ill-conceived crossover event. Gail Simone eventually took over as writer but by then, the damage was done and The Dodsons were gone. Three writers in two years. Back to Marvel.


You can't build readership that way, another consequence of the hype neither the company or the talent seems quite able to live up to.

Sean McKeever, fresh from building buzz with Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, was assigned what seemed like a no-brainer, Teen Titans and the results have been... *meh*

He takes on Birds of Prey and realized after five issues it wasn't for him. So after his "run," we get back the writer who was "filling-in" in for him. Umm... OK?

Thanks for playing, though.

This weekend was Nerd Prom and I fired up the internets, checked my e-mail, went to work, went on a date and went about my business.

Why? Because there was this revelation. Exclusives give the company a chance to crow in the short term and the talent a chance to, I guess, work on characters they've been wanting to work on for a while and I guess, get health insurance, which I applaud. In the long term, It does nothing for the characters. In twenty years, no one will think back and remember an awesome cover run.

Why should we get excited about the prospect of possibility when the reality of the thing has ultimately been disappointing?

What it comes down to is this: as Mike so eloquently put it yesterday, "The Big Two, DC in particular, got so burned by trying to bring in creative talent from other media, that they’re sticking with what they know. It’s the creative equivalent of exhausting your starting rotation because you don’t trust your bullpen."

This year's Nerd Prom found us with... not much. A few re-ups, a few additions to the bullpen and you know what...

I welcome it.

Exclusives do nothing but make me weary. Of talent. They usually aren't given the proper venue in which to work. As much as the idea of a Dodsons' Wonder Woman is exciting, the reality of it is that, let's be honest, it's only short-term. The company uses them for their name and the ability to put certain asses in seats, meaning guys who like the way he draws the pretty girls. The appropriate writer seemingly was an afterthought. We should celebrate talent, never become wary of talent.

Exclusives don't excite me anymore. Exclusives seem to me, to be the comics equivalent of speed dating. Names gets out there. There's some face time. Everyone moves on in too short a time and ultimately, everyone's time was wasted but somehow someone figured out a way to make money. Really, how the hell could anyone possibly build any sort of exclusivity in so sort a time?

That said, the lack of exclusive announcements may have been the best news I heard coming out of San Diego and it sounded pretty danged sweet.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Feeling... Uninspired?

What is it about super-hero comics right now? As I have previous mentioned, I am enjoying a lot of comics at the moment. They’re really solid. And yet, why do I feel so uninspired? Why is it that even the comics that entertain me aren’t tickling my brain like they have in the past?

Maybe I just have crossover fatigue. We’ve gone over how draining it can be to be constantly building towards something ‘huge’ and ‘extreme’ rather than just getting a decent story. Now that Secret Invasion and Final Crisis are here, I guess I’m just stuck waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Maybe it’s the relative dearth of fresh creative energy. Let’s be honest: Our super-hero comics are written by the same group of 20 or so guys (and a few gals). Each creator has a voice, and, after a while, it gets pretty easy to guess what you’re going to get.

‘By Kurt Busiek’ usually means ‘Slow moving and cerebral story in which the conflict between hero and villain is incidental to the hero’s internal struggle to discover or overcome something within him or herself.’

‘By Geoff Johns’ usually means ‘Continuity heavy story that gives the fanboys a refreshing look at past stories, while also moving the story and characters forward. This story will show you your hero in his or her most quintessential portrayal. If you haven’t read Kingdom Come, you should probably put this comic down.’

‘By Gail Simone’ usually means ‘Like Geoff Johns, only better. Less continuity, more silver-age style craziness and witty dialogue. Plus, this comic will feature women who actually act like women.’

‘By Greg Rucka’ usually means ‘Procedural comic. People will talk in abbreviations, because that’s how official business is done when you’re a cop or a spy or Alan Scott with an eye patch.’

‘By Grant Morrison’ usually means ‘Do not read this comic sober.’

‘By Mark Millar’ usually means ‘This comic takes an otherwise sound basis for a story and devolves it into ULTIMATE EXTREME ACTION!”

So you get the picture. Even Morrison and Ellis, writers who tend towards innovation, are feeling a little predictable these days. I guess the big two, DC in particular, got so burned by trying to bring in creative talent from other media that they’re sticking with what they know. It’s the creative equivalent of exhausting your starting rotation because you don’t trust your bullpen.

But maybe, just maybe, after we get all of our crises, invasions, and numbers of the beast out of our collective system, the big two will get smart about how to inject fresh talent into the game. Devon has already talked about the relative under-use of up-and-comers like Jason Aaron. I think we need more of these guys on the big stage. It’s a shame that Brian K. Vaughan, one of the best innovators in mainstream comics over the past decade, wants out of the biz. Whatever happened to the days when being on the Real World could get you a lucrative gig writing super-hero comics?

I realize that we’re just as likely to find the next Rob Leifeld as we are the next Brian K. Vaughan. I realize that the devil you know is sometimes better than the one you don’t. But since when is super-hero comics the medium for playing it safe? And besides, even a grandiose creative flop has the benefit of giving us all something else to blog about, right?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Who is the Man Who Laughs?

I thought about writing a review of the Dark Knight… but what’s left to be said? It’s really really good. Go see it if you haven’t. But seeing the film sparked an interesting conversation among some of my friends about the ‘essential’ nature of the Joker as a villain and which portrayals are true, iconic, or just plain good.

Since the Joker’s been around for 70 years, it’s kind of hard to debate whether or not a portrayal is ‘true’. Like most characters with a long history, he’s been touched by so many creators in so many eras that it’s safe to say that it’s almost all been done before. The Joker’s been a bank robber, a sniper, the guy who interrupts the broadcast to announce his latest threat, and even an emperor. All of these portrayals are true. But what are the pieces that are essential to the literary value he brings to the stories of the Batman? Why is it that, since 1940s, most of the best Batman stories involve going toe-to-toe with a killer clown?

I believe that what separates the Joker from the pack is that he can be simultaneously similar and different to his ultimate foil. On the surface, the Joker is nothing like our Dark Knight. He seeks neither vengeance, nor retribution, nor justice. His reward is the anarchy, the existential terror he brings down on the people of Gotham. He takes a life without thinking twice. He feels no regret, no remorse, no guilt. He does not question himself. He is the quintessential sociopath… but then again…

The Joker is a lot like Batman. He’s always in control and always a step ahead. How many times have we seen him be arrested, only to wreak havoc from the inside? The best Joker stories are the ones where we discover that finding his hideout or defusing the bomb was really all part of his plan. The Joker doesn’t just know information. He knows you. He knows how you will react, and his best laid plans hinge on using that reaction to his advantage.

But most importantly, the thing that Batman and the Joker have in common is that they seek to impose their will on the world. In fact, Batman has this in common with most of his important villains. Batman’s desire is justice, and he seeks to bring justice to the world. The Penguin is corrupt, thus he sews corruption. Two-Face has surrendered his morality to chance, and thus the lives of those in his path are granted or taken by the flip of a coin.

And the Joker? Well, the Joker is, at his core, a nihilist. Where we see structure and institutions, he sees chaos clouded by the constructs of the collective imaginations of the supposedly sane. There’s no such thing as justice or law. We invented those ideas so we could sleep soundly in a dangerous world. The Joker sees it. And his only true motive is to make us see it too. He and Batman both see a world that is insane, corrupted, and lawless. Where Batman seeks to extinguish those fires, the Joker says ‘let the motherfucker burn’.

In that sense, though they may be sides of the same coin, it’s easier to believe that the Joker could exist than it is to believe that there could ever be a Batman. And that scares me shitless.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight Breaks Box Office Records, DC Comics Fearful, Perplexed

"Aw, man."

These are the words heard emanating from the offices of New York-based DC Comics.

"The California boys (Warner Bros.) are gonna start wanting things again. They're (the suits) gonna want changes.

They're gonna want us to put Katie Holmes in the comics. We can't do that. We already gave Batman a girlfriend, a black one."

"Warner Bros. is already sneaking around the office. They keep touching my stuff, holding up my action figures, asking "Who is this?"

"It's Superman, noob."

"Man, it's coming. This guy over here, he keeps asking us what happened to that "Jack Black Green Lantern vehicle."

"Geez, man, it's coming."

When reached for comment, Warner Bros. issued this brief statement:

"We at Warner Bros. couldn't be happier with the performance of The Dark Knight. It did Iron Man-type numbers."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Color of Politics

I love what Geoff Johns is doing with the set up of the Blackest Night and the whole “War of Light” thing. I love the idea of seven corps. It is more than kind of awesome. The other day I was talking about the splash page from DC Universe, you know the one where we see the spectrum of rings, and talking about the Blue panel. This one:

One of the mysteries around the “War of Light” that has intrigued me the most is who is the “he” they are talking about? I keep hoping that the “he” will be Superman – I mean who else inspires such hope? Well the other day, I posed that question to a buddy. His response?

Barack Obama. You know what? He’s right. I mean whether you are a Democrat, Republican or whatever you can’t deny the fact that Obama has the power to inspire great hope. Voter turn out is higher than ever and there is a whiff in air that maybe – just maybe – something is going to change. That is more hope than I, as a voter, have ever felt in the few elections I have participated in. For that ability I would agree with my buddy and grant Obama a Blue Ring. What about the other rings?

Red Ring

Those who possess the Red Ring are powered by rage. In fact they have so much rage that the power literally pours out of their mouths. These are angry people here. Known for his moments of rage, for losing his cool (type in Angry McCain into YouTube and see what comes up), for loving the hell out of some war, I grant the Red Ring to Republican nominee John McCain.

Orange Ring
The orange rings are those of Avarice – they go to beings whose greed overwhelms them. Who are so driven by want and need that they will stop at nothing to obtain it. Hilary Clinton, I grant this ring to you. I believe that Clinton felt she was the right person for the job but her truth stretching (she was called out by Sinbad) and bizarre comments (Kennedy Assassination) made me feel that she what she wanted, lusted after, was the title “Madam President” more than anything else. It was all hers as is were. Her precious.

Yellow Ring

Sinestro and his Corps traveled the universe with one goal – to spread Fear. They would kill, kidnap, torture, whatever just to make a galaxy shake in their proverbial boots. I think one should be obvious – the Yellow Ring goes to President Bush. His presidency has been about planning on worries about the unknown. Anywhere could have a terrorist. Anyone could have a dirty bomb. I can just see the sickly, yellow glow illuminating the Oval Office. For the ability to inspire great fear, Bush is Sinestro’s man.

Violet Ring

The ring of Love. Not day trips to the beach, puppies and butterflies, soft focus sort of love. No the violet rings are the sort of love that drives you crazy, that makes you lust after someone, that takes over your mind. With the number of scandals out there in the dozens there was a virtual plethora of people to choose from. However, one man truly stood out in my mind, mostly because of the amount of money he spent on a single woman, I give the Violet Ring to Eliot Spitzer. Go sex the crap out of something now, former Governor.

Indigo Ring
So far the Corps we know the least about. They have weird looking staves and weird looking tattoos. They are powered by Compassion and the want to spread said feeling around the universe. They seem a little crunchy with a sort of hippie vibe. Oh, and they have their own language that no one understands. There really is only one person who really screams Indigo Ring of Compassion – Dennis “I’d Make A Department of Peace” Kucinich. I mean, for real, when the Representative form Ohio starts talking about veganism does anyone understand the words that are coming out of his mouth?

I guess by this point you noticed that I left out the Green Lanterns in my list. The idea of a Corp of people somewhere in politics who are powered by Will, whose sole purpose is to stop evil in the world, yeah I am not sure that shit exists in politics. What about you?

Who Would Be Your Green Lantern Corps of Politics?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Comics Economics

The market principles behind the comics trade are endlessly fascinating to me. Think about it… comics used to sell tens of millions of copies each month. But, due to a variety of factors, they’ve migrated out of convenient stores and into novelty shops, transforming what was once a widely consumed form of mass media into a niche market. Comic books still contain some of the most recognized fictional characters in history, and yet the medium survives by selling to an insular group of collectors. Seriously… how the hell does that happen?

Devon and I had a chat the other night about the death of the Martian Manhunter and why it needed to happen. No one in DC can seem to get his or her mind around what to do with a character like that. He seems so rooted in the era of his creation. Same with Aquaman. No one can seem to find a good use for these characters, despite the fact that they remain fan favorites. We saw good uses of these characters in JLU, but the comics have just flopped in recent memory.

Other characters seem less affected in this way. I guess the market imperative of keeping Superman and Batman up-to-date is greater than for Aquaman and Martian Manhunter. Or is it? Aquaman is among the most recognized properties in the business. Hell, the show Entourage spends a lot of its extremely limited plot development on an Aquaman movie, and that show’s target demographic has an average IQ of somewhere in the 60s.

Now, I’m not saying this because I have great affection for Aquaman. But as a fan of super-hero comics, I think the publishers have to do more to protect their prized properties and put them front and center. It makes good business sense. I know a lot of people complain about Quesada and Didio for a wide variety of reasons, and I have tended to dismiss a lot of those criticisms as fanboy entitlement. But I think their greatest weakness is that they’re not business minded. Sure, they can manufacture hype with the best of them. But hype is not a strategy. Hype is not a long-term tactic for new market penetration and market development. Hype is fleeting, and hype only works so many times, even with loyal comic book geeks.

When I read comics, I want good art and good stories. But when I look at my pull list each week and each month, I also want to get the sense that there’s a clear understanding that comics are both a consumable and a collectible, not just a commodity to pile up in long boxes. I want to know that there’s a drive to push the creative envelope, re-invent concepts, and introduce new ones that might drive growth instead of just slow contraction.

Why aren’t the big two trying out recognizable properties as web-comics? Sure, we like to collect issues and trades, but increasing cover prices are driving even loyal collectors to downloading and piracy. This might be a good tactic to try out with comics that are acclaimed by readers and bloggers but have lackluster sales.

I’m not saying some of these ideas don’t have pitfalls. ‘Trying new concepts’ has bombed in the past, and I’m sure there’s one big distributer and more than a few retailers out there who are dreading the day mainstream comics start to pop up online. And just because a recognizable property is put front and center by a publisher doesn’t mean it will be well received (see: Justice League of America). But I’m tired of living in the past. I love sequential art, but the economic prospects for its survival are grim. It’s been great that the big two have taken us back in time over the past decade. Hell, we needed it after the 90’s. But we need this medium to grow and change. We need it to reach out and join the 21st century, or it will die.

In short, the best thing for the big two might be to put folks in charge who aren’t fanboys. And, as readers, we have to be willing to change with the times. We have to be willing to invite changes that might seem painful at the time. Imagine if the entire Ultimate line of comics had always been exclusively available online. Imagine if DC kept Catwoman going as a web-comic. Imagine if Mark Waid or a similar talent wrote Aquaman and tapped into the current zeitgeist of protecting our planet and preventing environmental catastrophe. Do any of these ideas sound perfect? Hell no. But I would applaud the vision. I would respect the effort, and I would understand that the medium was trying to survive. And I think I could get down with that.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Wherein Jon Chronicles the Unthinkable

As I have a faintly ridiculous job, I find myself with Mondays off. Some might find that a blessing, but they're wrong and stupid and I hate them - Mondays are some kind of horrible purgatory where all of your friends are working at their real people grown-up jobs and you are left to your own devices until Jeopardy! comes on at seven-thirty. I've tried watching TV prior to that point, but TV saves its absolute worst for the middle of the day, foisting a non-stop buffet of men overjoyed to find that they are not the father and History Channel specials about Jesus' magic hidden bloodline being carted off by UFOs that we would have known about if only we had understood the impenetrable medieval poetry Nostradamus hid Scooby-Doo-like clues in. I've tried aimlessly wandering the streets, but the only people out there are other people in the same boat; all of us floating from place to place like so many ennui-fueled ghosts.

And so it's come to this - I am so incredibly bored I just played Heroclix against myself.

I picked up the Fantastic Four starter the other day but hadn't had a chance to bust the poor thing out as yet, see, and... well, Hell, there's really no good way to rationalize such a shamefully nerdy endeavor, is there? May as well give you an after-action report.

The set's made up of the FF, two Doombots and Doctor Doom. There's a new map - a four-player one, which kind've surprised me - and your standard tokens, too, as well as the newest iterations of the Powers and Abilities card and rulebook. I think the biggest changes are that Flight is now Outwittable (and Carry is a seperate ability, as near as I can tell) and Perplex now works 'til the beginning of your next turn. Which is how I've been playing Perplex at home for, like, a year. Oh, and Feat cards can now only make up ten percent of your build total.

For reasons I cannot begin to fathom, the starter pack completely fails to break down into two even teams. This is in spite of the fact that each member of the FF weighs in at a hundred points apiece and Doom's two hundred on his own. The Doombots are thirty and forty points, so I'd hoped there'd be a feat card or something to drag Team Doom up to at least 300 points total, but no dice. I tossed Brilliant Tactician and Dissent onto Doom and had him team up with yellow-ring Kang from the Supernova set - those two occasionally think they're the same person because Stan Lee is effing crazy*, plus their color schemes work out pretty well.

Anyway, I played on the Baxter Building map. The FF went first - Johnny carried Ben and Sue carried Reed, which marked the exact last point where they weren't getting their asses kicked. Some of you have played this stupid game with me before, and I think, if you have, you may have noticed that I have the least-lucky dice in the history of freaking ever. This, apparently, only holds true if I'm playing as good guys. Villains get the hot dice. Or, at least, they did today.

One of the Doombots has first-click Enhancement. Doom has one of those ridiculous I Can Use Either Outwit Or Perplex special powers (and also has a fifty-percent chance to Outwit a power on someone located, oh, anywhere on the map). Kang has a stupid high attack value to begin with. The other Doombot has... well, he has Willpower, I guess, and that's... good for him.

Thing missed an attack that should've utterly laid out Kang, thanks to Reed's crazy plus-two Perplex upping Ben's damage to something retarded like six. The FF burned one of their theme-team-bonus Probability Controls on that little disaster, but to no avail. Johnny critically missed a Running Shot because my dice are filled with tiny demons that hate heroism, but at least bought that click back on the next turn when the FF team ability kicked in after the Thing's brutal murder. That TA, incidentally, never came into play again - after the first time, Doom'd just Outwit the stupid thing with Dissent and have his cronies kill people dead with no consequences.

Torch ain't a bad ranged guy, but Kang and that Enhancement-bot coupled with Johnny's defense powers getting Outwitted by a half-a-fucking-mile-away Doom meant that he was getting shot in the face by magic time bullets every other turn.

Mr Fantastic's super-Perplex is solid, but the fact that there's no room to toss Brilliant Tactician on him in a 400 point game meant that he was stuck upping one guy's stats at a time while Doom was feeding his whole team horse growth hormones and the finest drugs villainy can buy.

Invisible Woman's impossible to target at range, unless she's facing Doom's super-outwit and the occassional ability to roll dice for values higher than three. That power kills Sue's Barriers and Invisibility dead, at which time she's down to an okay-to-high defense value.

Kang's the only guy on Team Doom to take any damage, which isn't shocking - he was the one running out front to shoot at people while Doom hid behind two robots, after all. Doom's got an amazing first click, but he still feels a little bit overpriced.

So, in summation: things went bad for the FF. The new Heroclix starter's okay. I'm still bored. The end.

*Seriously, the first time Doom and Rama-Tut meet, Doom pulls a gun and Rama-Tut (which is to say, Kang in a Pharaoh Costume) basically goes "well, what if we're the same guy? You'd be killing yourself!" Doom considers this for a minute and totally buys it. This is in spite of the fact that Kang's not wearing a mask. So, either Kang looks and sounds exactly like Doctor Doom to the point at which Doom thinks he's looking at and speaking to himself in a slightly gayer outfit or Doctor Doom is stupid as Hell. Beautiful.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Exploring The Classics

One of my big projects of late has been "grown-ass-manning" up my apartment. I've lived in the space I write from for just over a decade and a few things stood out:

One: With the exception of a truly boss vintage Foxy Brown poster, my walls are really white and boring.

Two: My apartment looks like a dorm room with it's plastic blinds, torchier lamps and futon. (And no, a grown ass man DOES NOT sleep on a futon!)

Three: I have too much stuff! My apartment looked like the comic book store I used to run.

Action figures, comics and statues were displayed on shelves everywhere. In my room, the closets, the kitchen, EVERYWHERE!!!!

I looked around and with fresh eyes realized that I was going through something, some sort of arrested development. My apartment looked like a headquarters for pedophiles is what it looked like. Amidst the plastic, pulp and cold-cast porcelain, I'd become lost and found identity in these things and for the first time ever, my comics seemed sort of silly to me.

It made me a little sad. Changes were made.

Curtains were hung, framed art went up, the G.I. Joe lunchbox stayed in the picture, though.

I started to put things in some kind of order. I went through my many piles of comics and found that maybe only half of what I had was worth keeping or even meant anything to me.

Since then, I've given away thousands of comics and the karma I've gotten from that small act has been priceless. The statues sit on one shelf. The action figures sit in boxes waiting for a seven-year old nephew to come play with them. Superman is as he was meant to be, soaring again in the hands of a child.


The other day I was going through my trade paperbacks and picked up my copy of Watchmen and I had a thought, "What makes this comic more of a true classic than say, Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?"

Quite frankly, I think in it's narrative, "Man of Tomorrow" is the stronger work and oddly enough, when others talk of Moore's DC work, this tale is often not even spoken of in the same breath with V For Vendetta, Batman: The Killing Joke and Swamp Thing.

I mean, this comic has it all! Gorgeous artwork by THE Superman artist, Curt Swan, who is masterfully inked under the pens of George Perez and Kurt Schaffenberger. Not only is this comic significant for those reason but also because when DC wanted to close the door on 50-years of Superman history, they chose these men to do so. MoT was, literally, history in the making and yet, it is largely overlooked.

We walk into any LCS and there it is: standing there, flexing its muscles, the "RECOMMENDED" rack or table, filled with Watchmen, Y: The Last Man, some Marvel and Dark Horse stuff and it's... there. It's the stuff of ideas. These are the classics and we've been living with many of them for decades now.

So, my questions to you is this:



By the way, when the hell are we getting an Essential Power Pack? :)

Friday, July 11, 2008

I Love My Comics

I love my comics. I really do. I know there’s been a lot of complaining recently. I know I am guilty of it. But seriously. I love my comics.

I love Guardians of the Galaxy. Annihilation and Annihilation: Conquest were both awesome, and Guardians of the Galaxy is the perfect ongoing to follow them up. Starlord is the perfect guy to lead this team because he’s an everyman in a team full of weirdos. Rocket Raccoon is hilarious. Adam Warlock just kind of makes you uncomfortable. Plus, a psychic dog? Comic book gold. Even if you didn’t read the Annihilation series, you can pick up Guardians and enjoy it.

I love Final Crisis. Yeah I know, we spent money on Countdown and what about Death of the New Gods and nothing is in continuity and so on… but screw that. The book rocks. You want to spite DC for making you waste hundreds of bucks the last few years, fine. I get that. That’s your choice. But if you’re looking to stick it do DC, I recommend you drop JLA, JSA, or Trinity. Read Final Crisis. The page layouts are beautiful and the pacing is cinematic in a good way. Final Crisis is everything that is good about the past decade in the evolution of sequential art.

I love Batman R.I.P. I admit, I was kind of on the fence until last week. But Batman whacked out of his skull bumming around with a homeless mentor… it’s like Grant Morrison is taking Batman and putting him through the ringer in the style of Daredevil: Born Again but drawing on his own style and narrative devices from the Invisibles. If that doesn’t sound good to you, I worry that you may not have a soul.

I love Uncanny X-Men. We’ve been waiting for the X-books to do something fresh for a long time. We got close with Messiah Complex, but I think we’re finally there. Let the rest of the Marvel universe go to hell in a handbasket. The X-Men are taking it up a notch, and I like it. The rest of the X-Books are beginning to emulate the model set forth by X-Factor, leveraging the right combination of action, drama, and silliness. I for one am excited about Manifest Destiny.

I love the Boys. I love love love the Boys. Garth Ennis has always been good at being offensive and controversial. Somewhere along the way, amidst the sex and violence, he also put together a cast of characters, led by Hughie, that I’ve grown to care about. Ennis could always write dark comedy and misery. With the Boys he’s proven he can write dark comedy and tragedy. Who would’ve thunk it?

I love Catwoman. My only regret is that I got on the bandwagon a little late. I will miss this series. It has been a great ride with a great character. The guys at Marvel could learn a thing or two from this series about writing the ‘in the streets’ hero.

I love Legion. I love Blue Beetle. I love Superman and Action Comics. I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lost Boys: Reign of the Frogs. I love everything featuring characters from Hellboy.

The comic companies ask a lot of us. They ask us to weather the storms of convoluted continuity and wacky creative whims. They ask us to collect tie-ins and variant covers. Sometimes, they ask us to read complete and utter crap, and then they reward us for our loyalty by pretending that crap never happened. But I’ll be damned. I still love my comics.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Five Weeks of The Big Three

So we have just passed the one month mark of DC’s most recent weekly series - Trinity. Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman have just defeated the first arc’s Big Bad. The troubles surrounding Tarot has just started heating up. We have seen new villains and old heroes. Ultimately, we have seen Busiek and Bagley start exploring the idea of what make the Big Three the Big Three.

However, I am hearing a lot of people starting to go, “I’m not sure about Trinity.” I am hearing a lot of hemming and hawing. I am hearing a lot of people considering dropping it. Heck, I am considering dropping it. The question is why? Why can’t Trinity seem to keep me interested.

It is not the writing. Busiek is turning out a pretty good tale. I mean gone is the plodding slowness of both 52 and Countdown. In the first page of the first issue you have the big mystery introduced - this force in space. Yet, the characters are not dealing or searching or talking about said mystery. No, they are out fighting rampaging aliens. At the same time we see lurking villains starting to plot and scheme. There is a lot going on. It is solid comic storytelling, for the first half at least. This follow-up plot of Tarot and what not is only so-so. As my fellow Second Printer Devon said, “Who really cares about Gangbuster?”

It’s not the art. Bagley, for his first real foray out of Marvel, is doing a really good job. All his characters, especially his Superman, feel like how superheroes should feel on the page. It’s a pose or an expression or something but it really works. Backing him are personal favorites of mine Scott McDaniel and Mike Norton. Again, these guys are doing solid art. I mean, hell, they make Whiteout look almost menacing and he might have the stupidest character design out there.

So what is it? What is keeping the comic from really taking root in our heart as a must have title? It is because it is a weekly and it should not be. Say what you will about 52 and Countdown but their ultimate goal was to show or lead up to a change in the DCU as a whole. An in continuity, universe level threat or shift - that is weekly worthy. They stumbled along the way, but the original concept warranted fifty-two issues.

However, Trinity is exploring a theme and exploring it in a way that will not be affecting any other titles. It does not feel big enough, it doesn’t have the gravitas, to make me want to go out and get four or five issue each month. It would make a great maxi-series or a great essay or thesis just not a weekly. It is the same reason the weekly Superman failed and why weekly Spider-Man has been dragging. It is not just putting big names into a comic that earns it the right to be a weekly, it is the story itself.

Think about it this way. I like Kyle Orton, the third strong quarterback from the Bears. I like his Dave Grohl mustache, I like how he stepped up when Grossman and Griese faltered. He is certainly not A-list, superstar QB though. I like Trinity. I like its idea, how it is kicking off in a better way than 52 and Countdown. It is certainly not a weekly though.

How Do You Feel About It?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Lana Lang's Blues

I can't remember where or when I read it but I saw somewhere that new Supergirl writer Sterling Gates has plans to use Lana Lang as a supporting member of the supporting cast.

Quite frankly, I think it's brilliant move.

Lana Lang, since the Superman reboot of nearly twenty-five years ago, hasn't been given much to do. Sure, she was given the role of the lovelorn to Lois' go-getter but with every character firmly established as being well into their twenties, her role worn thin pretty quickly.

What she was given was Pete Ross, Clark & Lana's best friend from their days in Smallville. Pete simply was what he was: a good man. A good man who even went on to become President of The United States. While a good man, Pete Ross could never be Clark Kent, a Superman and ultimately, Lana left him in Smallville to raise their son named Clark by Lana.

Oh, yeah! Did I mention that she was once a Manhunter?

What we've gotten since the reboot of Superman was a character continuously in crisis, living with the fact the love of her life had moved on to greater heights, becoming virtually unreachable. Lana Lang had become a visual symbol a "flashback." That makes me sad.

So, why then am I so excited about Lana's becoming a member of Supergirl's cast of characters?

Supergirl's getting a cast of characters.

For over three years now, the problem with Supergirl has been... Supergirl. There's been no one in her life to bounce things off of. Her stories read more like monologues full of self-doubt, teen angst and insecurity. In short, her stories read like a diary. One I particulary don't want to read. Supergirl is sorta like Jessica Simpson lately. Completely gorgeous and should have everything going for her but what it comes down to is this: She's got more problems than a little bit and at the end of the day, I don't think I'd want to get inside her head.

I have no idea how Gates is planning to use Lana but I sincerely hope it's in a true supporting character capacity.

At Supergirl's core, she is simply a girl. Disconnected from everything she's ever known. Can you imagine being a pre-teen from another planet, waking up naked on another and the first human contact you have is with The Batman?!?

Can you imagine finding out everything and everone you knew is dead and gone except for the baby cousin you once held? Can you imagine the shock you must feel when that baby you once held is now a grown man and trying to tell you how to live your life? Can you imagine the feeling of being left behind, knowing that no place will ever be home again? That's Supergirl. That has been her lone inner monologue.

In Lana, I hope the character finds some sort common ground. Some kind of ease. Some sort of bond.

Throughout the misuse of Lana Lang as a character, one thing stands out in my mind. She is quietly one of DC's most ferocious of characters.

If you want to know who Lana Lang is, look no further than Superman #2.

Lex Luthor
wants to know the identity of the mysterious woman constantly showing up at Superman's every appearance. This woman is Lana Lang and Luthor kidnaps her and has her tortured so as to find a connection between her and the newly arrived Superman. This is a woman, who though fragile, would not give up his secret, she would not give up her best friend's name. Even though, in a sense, left her behind, she could never do that to him.

That, to me, makes her a soldier. Someone you want on your side. While Superman can carry worlds on his shoulders, this woman carries something greater every single day: his secret identity.

She has no superpowers or bulletproof bracelets or above-average skills to help her keep the secret, no, she's just a woman raised on a Kansas farm who does so out of love and respect for a friend.

More importantly, Lana Lang is a strong woman and mother and there's a lone girl who can outrace a comet who could really use someone like that.

Someone who, in many ways, is stronger than Superman.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

My Girlfriend Rules

Unlike some other second printers, I love my girlfriend enough not to make her read crappy summer crossover comics that she won’t understand. But, unfortunately, I don’t love her enough not to tell her about everything that’s going on in my comics each week. All this time, I had just assumed that she hadn’t been listening. But the other night, when we saw this little furry fella hanging around outside our window…

… she giggles and says, ‘Hey, isn’t that Rocket Raccoon?’ Needless to say, I was aroused. When was the last time your significant other made your little geek heart jump for joy?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

An Amazing Journey vs. A Fabulous Finish

So we stand on the cusp of prime crossover season. I know some of you might think we already there but I think we have to wait for the Final Crisis tie-ins before we pop some champagne, set off a firework or two and yell, “Happy Crossover 2008.” As we approach, as the hype builds, my mind turns to the one thing that it always does during this time. My mind turns to writing.

In an ideal world every crossover would be perfectly written, with amazing tie-ins and fulfilled promise. Heck, in an ideal world every comic, not just crossovers, would be perfectly written. The characterization would be spot on, the plot/crisis (lower case here) would build logically and be well-paced, the story’s ultimate theme would be moving. It isn’t an ideal world though. Writing is hard and even the best creators fumble every now and then. There biggest pitfall for a crossover, arc, whatever, is that writers seem to be able to only craft either an Amazing Journey or a Fabulous Finish. Meaning we have great middles or great endings but not both.

The Amazing Journey

We have all had those comics where the story has been going along and it is awesome. Superman takes it to General Zod. Batman investigates the death of Orca while Harvey Dent wrestles with his halves, a new mutant baby was born. It is great to be a member of the comic community during an Amazing Journey: everyone is happy and this buzz, this expectation, fills the air. We, as a collective, can’t wait to see what happens next. We are provided with months and months of enjoyment, with things to talk and blog about, with things to get excited about in comics.

Until the ending hits. Chris Kent is lost in the Phantom Zone (yes, I know production schedule really screwed this pooch), Great White Shark is the big bad, and Bishop shoots Professor X in the head. Maybe it is because we were riding so high, maybe because the journey was so amazing, that when the it wraps up poorly, we are irate. We forget the months of wonder, the months of ups and downs, of bitten nails and churned stomachs. We are left with nothing. It is like eating a wonderful meal, savoring every bite, and then getting the runs.

The Fabulous Finish

We have all had those comics where story has been going along and it is not very good. It’s not terrible, it just isn’t that good. Freddy Freeman undergoes twelve issues of trials, the Runaways slip back in time thanks to Joss Whedon, Scarlet Witch changes reality. It meanders, it stumbles, whole issues bomb. It is not so great to be a member of the comic community during the time leading up to a Fabulous Finish. We complain and moan, we feel betrayed and feel like we are wasting our money. We wonder about out place in comics.

Until the ending hits. When a Fabulous Finish happens it changes everything. It takes those strands of dirty straw and turns them into gold. Freddy becomes Captain Marvel, the Runaways make sacrifices as they head back into the future, the mutant population drops to just below two hundred. The themes come out beautifully, we have heroic acts, moving decisions, and cathartic releases. We realize that everything is all worth it. We feel renewed in our love of the medium.

Now I know there are stories out there that don’t have Amazing Journeys or Fabulous Finishes. Sometimes you only have a Beautiful Beginning or none of the three. I am not talking about those crossovers, those arcs. I am talking about the stories that are good enough to be remembered, good enough to stay with you but still have a big flaw. I am torn on the issue. Sometimes I think a great ending makes a teeth grinding half a year worth it. Sometimes I think I would rather have good times and just be disappointed.

What Would You Rather Have: an Amazing Journey or a Fabulous Finish?