Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Like 1992 All Over Again

Remember the "Death of Superman" frenzy (are you old enough to?). Although X-Men #1 spearheaded the speculation boom, it was Superman #75 that blew it mainstream, with coverage everywhere from every trade magazin to your local news to national news to Entertainment-friggin-Tonight.

Today sees the release of something that is creating a frenzy perhaps not as parallel in proportion to Death of Superman, but the craziest push of the public masses into comic book stores that we'll see this decade. While the death of Captain America was a small spike and the Watchmen trailers has been a steady boon for the stores, this... this is an honest-to-gosh comics phenomenon.

And I'm not talking about Final Crisis #6 (which, if you didn't know *SPOILER*is the real Batman RIP*/SPOILER*)

Nope, Barack Obama is appearing in an issue of Amazing Spider-Man. Apparently it's been all over the news, and on the Colbert Report and in the papers and stuff. Well, not apparently, I just say apparently because I was indeed in a cave for the past week (actually moving house, but same dif) and didn't hear about it until a friend asked the wife and I if we could use our clout at the LCS to obtain a copy as a birthday present for her mom, a big Obama supporter and a one-time Spidey fan.

I talked to my LCS on Monday (they were a little disappointed that my wife and I, non-Spidey readers, did wanted to reserve a copy, appearing like bandwagoneers), and they hemmed and hawed but said they'd see what they could do, after all they'd told the dozens upon dozens of people who called the shop every day that they weren't taking any holds, and that it was first come, first served when doors opened on Wednesday.

This Obama-mania was sort of thrust upon the shops, without advance warning, if I understand what I heard. I'm guessing it wasn't part of their Diamond solicits. Where my LCS could have sold, likely hundreds of copies, (and they put a call into Diamond to see if they could up their order the moment the news hit and the first call came in) they only managed to sell the few dozen that were part of their regular order. They put aside a few copies for their regular Amazing Spidey readers (as any good shop should) and a few more copies for, well, people like me who are both customers and store supporters who help out when help is needed. The rest were left for the people who, no word of a lie, waited outside in -20 degree celcius, -30 degrees with wind chill (works out to -4 F/-22 F wind chill) for up to two hours before the store opened.

Reports were many of the people in line weren't the plebs who are interested in the book, but instead those guys who are buying the book at cover and immediately turning it around on eBay for... whatever they can get for it (the highest I've seen now is just over $50 for the variant, some people were selling, and some were buying, it in advance of it even hitting the stands, so I'm betting that there's going to be a few eBay orders left unfulfilled). If eBay were around in 1992, I think it would have shown, pretty quickly, the sheer volume of Superman #75 that were printed and how over-valued it is (of course, I sold a copy of that book this past summer for $18 which surprised the hell out of me that it still could carry such a pricetag).

I've heard that many comic stores are taking all or most of the copies they received and putting them straight to eBay, rather than appeasing the people that come into their stores. Now, of course, it could be that the people who are coming into their stores are just those guys that are going to take it on-line and sell it for a 200 - 500% profit, but you're also missing out of satisfying a potential new customer. I can't tell you how to run your business, and the market is tough enough that philosophical retailing doesn't put food in your mouth, but I think that drawing new people into your store, and having them leave satisfied is probably the best result we can hope for out of this, and also the least likely result to happen.

Marvel, who no doubt pushed the media blitz, knew they had a hot commodity, and are banking on 2nd printing sales to really pad the coffers, as it would seem there wasn't much of an overprint on this first printing to satisfy even a portion of demand. While a 2nd printing may come quickly (next week? the week after) it's the people looking for it this week, making the effort to go into a store that are going to miss out, disappointed...and how many of those people will come back? Hopefully bowing to the collectible, resale market was worth it. Sometimes the short-sightedness of the big publishers in this industry is astounding.

Anyway, my friend who received her copy of Amazing Spider-Man #583 was ecstatic. I personally haven't been that excited about a comic book since... I don't know when. That's something special, and I only hope that there are more stories of those people with gleeful expressions on their face as they see the first African American president standing next to a dork hanging upside down in spandex tights, rather than stories of gleeful expressions from basement-dwelling mouth-breathers selling them on-line for 1000% cover price.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

(Frontal) Loeb

Let me get this straight:

I just spent five whole minutes reading Ultimate Hulk Annual #1.

The crux of the story was...

Hulk want pancakes.

Hulk needs pants.*

Hulk wants sex?

Really, Jeph Loeb?




*God knows, I don't want to know where he pulled the money from.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Brian Azzarello's Batman: Broken City

Here I sit at the comic book store having done it again:

Defended the 100 Bullets team of writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso Batman: Broken City arc, creators of 100 Bullets.

100 Bullets is the ish! Densely written and richly illustrated with the twists and turns that have come to symbolize what has become the new comic book noir.

Of course, these two should have been perfect for the world of Batman.

When Broken City was released fans were up in arms over the "off-model" portrayals of nearly every character in the book.

"Hey, that doesn't look like Killer Croc!"

"Where's Alfred?"

"Where's Robin?"

"Where's The Batmobile?"

I've always wondered whether or not we were reading the same book. Probably not, because the bulk of us, we were never on the same page.

Do I think you're stupid? No, not all. I don't know you well enough to say that of you. All I can do is tell you what I got out of Broken City.

And here it is:

Batman: Broken City was, I believe, conceived as a "true" Batman story. Now, when I say true Batman, I mean The Batman that first appeared in 1939. The guy who would snap a man's damned neck just to get through a window. The man who would throw a man named Dr. Death back into a burning room just for the sheer sake of irony.

That guy was an effin hoot! That guy was a true dark knight. Crazy, unpredictable and the type of guy you now only see in reprints.

The Batman of 1939, an amazing SEVENTY years ago.

Someone a writer like Azzarello could sink his teeth into. The type of guy who bareknuckle brawled a man down and at the end of the night, wiggled the loose tooth out of his skull his own damn self.

The type of man who at the time had no need of an Alfred.

A man who looked like he could go toe-to-toe with a former crocodile wrestler turned gangster and not have to take him down with a well-tossed Batarang.

A man who silently dwells upon the rooftops, shunning the attention and bluster that something called a Batmobile may bring to his attention.

This is a man fit for a Broken City.

This was the Batman of 1939 and The Batman that Azzarello wanted to write. Nothing more, nothing less.

Taken as on its own, I believe that makes it a fine story. Was it dense?


Was it the story that it could have been?

Really. Who knows. It's the story that we got and I liked it.

Perhaps, Broken City's biggest sin was its scheduling.

Broken City never and I mean NEVER should have been the numerical follow-up story to writer Jeph Loeb and artist Jim Lee's ultra-superheroic/Bruckheimer-esque Batman:Hush.

The shift was just too jarring. In the space of one month, the Batman fan base was asked to shift their thinking from big to biting.

Broken City should have run in Detective Comics.

Lee and Loeb's run was very much like a wine tasting with nothing but big, powerful, colorful bolds.

"BOOM!" Here's Catwoman, drink up! Here's The Joker, feel the fruity notes! Hey, look, it's Superman! You didn't know box wine could be this good, huh? Is everybody happy?!?"

It was superhero comics at their absolute best and I was positively giddy from the head rush and did not want to come down.

Now, one month later, pallette cleansed, they ask me to do somthing different. Take a flight.

Still giddy from the wine tasting, I wanna just down it all but, no...

Whiskey is dark, cold and on the rocks.

Whiskey bites.

Whiskey burns.

Whiskey is for adults.

Whiskey... is best served straight.

Whiskey demands that you take your time and consider it.

Monday, January 5, 2009

2009: The Year in Review

Wherein I Vivisect the Beating Heart of the Nascent New Year.

  • We bore witness to Libra's totally... uh... well, I guess, 1970s-ish origin! Which makes sense for the character, but in no way was worth four dollars, even with a slapdash sketchbook section at the back of the book and a one-page rundown of the Anti-Life Equation that may as well have said "ignore Countdown if you weren't doing so already and also pretend Death of the New Gods never happened."
  • Hank Pym quit a team he never actually joined AND Tigra's belly is full of evil green space-babies!
  • Ant-Man is inexplicably on the Thunderbolts now!
  • Bucky fought Batroc the Leaper and ran afoul of the Human Torch's oft-molested robot corpse!
  • I only read three books that came out on Friday!

Okay, fine, I was going to do a year in review for the year that just ended instead of the one that just started, but I work in a Goddamn toy store and the last month-and-a-half is a nightmarish mish-mash of old people treating me like a butler while their grandchildren run amuck like so many shrieking goblins. And so, here I sit, whiskey in hand, reminiscing some weeks late about a year gone by, now that I've had sufficient time to recover from actually having lived through it.


THINGS Y'ALL DID RIGHT: The Avengers feel like a real franchise for the first time in, well, Hell, probably since they were created. Which is nice - it moves the getting-progressively-more-tired-every-day X-books out of the universe's spotlight, and I love the notion of the Avengers perhaps more than anyone ever should. Especially now that the team has moved away from a core group of characters who have their own books hanging out together for no discernible reason to the much more Avenger-y model of a couple of popular central characters and a bunch of outliers who couldn't carry their own title in a million years. Like Hawkeye, on whom I will always crush.

  • While the end of Secret Invasion was a bit of a let-down (more on that in a second), Dark Reign sets up enough interesting stuff that I'll let it pass. Between Ellis' Thunderbolts, the one issue of Invincible Iron Man we've seen him in, and the Dark Reign one-shot, Norman Osborn is the most interesting he's been in an incredibly long time.

  • Invincible Iron Man, incidentally, is the best launched-just-in-time-for-the-movie tie-in in history.

  • Captain Britain and MI-13 is the best launched-mid-crossover book, while I'm at it. Unless you count Starman, which technically spun out of Zero Hour. But no one does that.

  • The whole universe feels much more universe-y than it has since the Silver Age, which is awesome. I think the problem I've always had with DC events is that their idea of a big catastrophe is somebody rolling in an mucking about with all of creation - which is, admittedly, a pretty freaking big catastrophe, but not one I can even begin to relate to. Especially since the consequences tend to be ridiculous things like all of history collapsing upon itself (but the only things that have changed are that Batman knows who killed his parents and Superman used to be Superboy at one point. And also maybe a Flash died). But this is a digression I'll get back to in a minute. Secret Invasion laid out a new status quo for a lot of books, but it's actually a workable one - SHIELD isn't around anymore, its replacement is run by a crazy person who employs assassins instead of Ms Marvel, all the stuff Iron Man tried to do after the Civil War blew up in his face, and there're still two wholly different Avengers teams - which is more than I can say for most summer crossovers.


  • Hardback trades. Marvel's trade division is still a million percent better than DC's, but there's no way I'm shelling out extra cash for a hardcover edition of, like, Ultimate Hulk vs Ultimate Iron Man.

  • Hawkeye's still dressed as a freaking ninja. This might be a personal gripe, I don't know, but if you do two separate scenes in eight issues where Clint Barton picks up a bow and royally effs shit up and I mark out like an eleven-year-old hearing John Cena's theme song both times, you really ought to consider making the guy actually Hawkeye again. I don't care that some kid in the Young Avengers took the name - there're eleventy Flashes in the DCU, like four Spider-Women floating around Marvel and, for a while back in the day, two different guys called themselves "the Shocker" - Hawkeye is freaking Hawkeye and Ronin is dumb.

  • The Ultimate universe is a debacle right now. Just an utter mess. Blob's actually eating people on-panel, Thor doesn't seem to know what universe he's in, the X-Men are hopped up on a magic drug made of Wolverine and there was just a Hulk annual about him wanting waffles and plowing a Squadron Supreme character in a motel.

  • Secret Invasion could very well have been seven issues long. Or four, really. I'm not sure when the eight-issue mini model became the standard, but I'm sure it was about ten minutes after somebody correctly guessed that people would be willing to pay for eight issues instead of four. Literally nothing happened in the last issue that couldn't have been shoehorned into the seventh.


THINGS Y'ALL DID RIGHT: Well, Final Crisis is pretty darned good.

Which leads me to...

THINGS Y'ALL DID BAD: Final Crisis would be one Hell of a lot better if DC editorial hadn't spent a year shitting on every single plot point they shouldn't have shat upon. Countdown was a disaster, especially knowing that Morrison had specifically requested that nobody touch the New Gods until FC started. Instead of, you know, doing that, we get New Gods dying all over the place and what should've been a shocking plot development - Orion dying in FC #1 - became a continuity clusterfuck.

When you have to effectively tell your reading audience to ignore fifty-two issues, plus their various and sundry utterly ridiculous tie-ins, you have done something incredibly wrong. Especially when your bread-and-butter is continuity. Every damned DC event is a cosmic plot-point circlejerk singularity based on the unfathomable opinion that people actually care if a story "happened" or not, and you can't transition from one of those stories into another with a bridge that you're going to throw out the window.

Morrison's given them the out that Darkseid's existence is screwing with time, plus there's absolutely going to be a giant Monitor-shaped reset button getting pushed at some point in the near future, but they knew full well that Countdown was cobbled-together guesswork at best and still went ahead with it.

Which is a dick move.

  • The Titans family of books is a gigantic trainwreck.
  • Good God, is the Gog story in JSA still going?
  • Oh, and one other thing - two minis in one year that boil down to three-panel fights over which character no one cares about sucks less? Awesome.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Comic Book Resolutions

[Industry] - we will not hike the prices on comics, in fact we will try to figure out ways to lower the cost of comics

[fans] - we will not continue to buy books which we no longer enjoy

[DC] - we will not have another crisis this year

[Marvel] - we will stop issuing every collected edition in hardcover first

[DC] - we will respect the fact that Watchmen does not need a sequel...or a prequel

[Si Spurrier and Frazier Irving] - we will finish Gutsville this year

[Warner Bros.] - we will not make a bad Green Lantern movie

[Ed Brubaker] - I will continue to be amazing

[DC] - we will put out trades of Chuck Dixon's Birds of Prey and John Ostrander's Suicide Squad

[Marvel} - we will put out trades of Gail Simone's Deadpool

[Frank Miller} - I will retreat from public life and live like a hermit, sparing the outside world my 'vision' and opinions

[John Byrne] - I'll follow Frank's lead

[Alan Moore] - I'll come out of hermitage and produce a work that will make people forget Zach Snyder's Watchmen and weep before its glory. It will net me a Pulitzer and change the world, if only a little bit.

[Barak Obama] - I'll lead America to new prosperity, reclaiming the esteem of the world and providing inspiration for a better life for all... also, I'll proclaim my love of comics whenever possible, mandate that libraries carry graphic novels, and supplant Kim Jong-Il as the most powerful geek on the planet.

[Image] - We will endeavour to solicit mini-series accurately, more often as quarterly, rather than monthly, setting proper expectations.

[Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt] - We will have more Damned this year

[Greg Rucka] - I'll give up on Batwoman and go back to Queen and Country

[Some HBO or FX or Showtime executive] - We will fill the void of TV mediocrity with a kick-ass Queen and Country adaptation.

[AMC] - We will acknowledge that we should never have attempted to remake the Prisoner, but promise fans will be pleasantly surprised.

[Boom Studios] - We will make Pixar comics that are so dang good and so incredibly affordable that they will draw tens of thousands of new, younger readers to comic books.

[DC/Marvel] - we will finally figure out this whole digital comic thing.

[tech industry] - we will make an affordable, portable digital comic book reader, like a color version of the Amazon Kindle.

[fans] - we will finally figure out if we prefer our comic books to arrive on-time but with fill-in art teams, or if we would rather have our stories done all by the same team whenever they get around to finishing it up.

[James Turner] - you will see my follow-up to Rex Libris this year and you will be amazed.

[mainstream] - we will take more risks - which does not mean more death, swearing or nudity - making better stories, and increasing readership.

[on-line media] - we will pay equal attention to books that aren't produced by DC or Marvel, focussing on what's good, not hype.

[YOU] - will enter your Comic Book Resolutions in the comments

Friday, January 2, 2009

Comic Book Ronin - The Return

Someone once told me that the worst way to find something is by looking for it. No truer words were ever said.

Earlier this week, I went looking for inspiration out there in a comic book wasteland. So, what exactly did I find?

Not as much as I would have liked but I found some things that sparked me up a bit.

Last year, I lamented the loss of the Catwoman series and in that review, I praised the consistently beautiful artwork form that series' artist, David Lopez. In his two-plus years on the book, he never missed an issue, the book consistently shipped on time and the quality of the art never suffered for it. Immediately, I wondered where DC Comics would place him.
Green Arrow/Black Canary? His art was sort of in the same "school" as outgoing artist Cliff Chiang.

Batman and The Outsiders needs a regular artist, why not David Lopez?

Heck, why not "graduate" him and move him over to Batman.

A few months went by and we find him doing...

A Marvel book. Avengers: The Reunion, featuring two of my favorite Marvel characters, Hawkeye and Mockingbird.

One of my favorite artists with two of my favorite characters along with Buffy The Vampire Slayer cover artist, Jo Chen? Easy sell, Marvel.

So yeah, kudos to them for being smart enough to know what to do with a good artist when they see one.

One of the more egregious errors in comics has been the handling of one of my favorite characters, Hawkman.

In 2008, we saw him get ANOTHER twist to his already convoluted origin(s). One so bad, I was literally warned off of it by good samaritans at my local comic shop. Hawkman was, again, subjected to the machinations of The DC Universe and thrust into a sequel to the awful Rann-Thanagar War.

What did these two "events" have in common. The man who, I kid you not, created a Facebook page for Hawkman (and I wonder why I'm alone) didn't even bother with either.

With no hope in sight, I saw something in the internet's distance and all I need to see was this:

Yes! That is Aquaman, riding a seahorse, in the jungle, fighting a dinosaur, alongside Hawkman.

That's comic book Viagra, right there, man.

All brought to you in a new 2009 Hawkman series from the man who brought you "Why I Hate Saturn" and the criminally under-rated Plastic Man series, Kyle Baker.

This is what excitement looks like.

Writer Marc Andreyko showed a powerful understanding of Bat-continuity in his 2006 Nightwing Annual. On the other hand...

How many times has Manhunter been cancelled? Three? Not his fault, at all. When it comes to writing? The man's a beast.

The problem and appeal of Manhunter has always been that it was essentially a Marvel book set in the DC Universe. That type of thing could do well, just somewhere else.

Well, here's hoping DC has plans for him, otherwise...

As Ed Brubaker found out, there's always Marvel.

Speaking of Brubaker, in 2008 he got my money, eight times over. In 2008, I bought 8 Captain America trades and re-discovered just how good superhero comics could be, again.

2009 has this...

Brubaker and his Criminal collaborator Sean Phillips return to "supervillains gone wild/noir-ish" awesomeness they touched upon in Sleeper with their new creator owned series, Incognito.

An admission. I have never bought an Archie comic in my life. Nope.

Never. Especially as a kid in the 80's, moreso now as an adult.

Why would I have done that when there so many awesome Batman to buy, many of them drawn by the man who, to this day, defines what Batman is to my mind's eye, Norm Breyfogle.

2009 will find me buying Archie comics as it's just been announced that Breyfogle will be providing art for a new series set outside of its regular continuity and rooted more in "reality."

I'd always wanted see Archie Comics do this and treat it as something more than a novelty project i.e. Punisher vs. Archie.

And last but certainly not least, the follow-up to the only comic I that ever had me jump up and clap my hands together over its conclusion...


So, there you have it, what I'm looking forward to for '09.

Each as different and as individual as the next but then again, isn't that what what our little hobby is supposed to be all about?