Monday, June 30, 2008

Second Printing Dream Teams

There is no doubt that amongst the flotsam and jetsam there's a lot of really good things being done in comics.

If we ruled the comics world, I'm sure there'd be comics of characters currently in limbo that we'd love to see come back with certain creators attached.

That said, we all have favorite characters and creators. So, my question to you is this...

"What character or team, currently without their own series, would you bring back and with what dream team of creators?"

To get the ball rolling, I'll start:

HAWKMAN, written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Doug Mahnke

Your turn...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Seven Year Switch

Batman doesn't slap Robin around like he does in All-Star Batman and Robin. They're friends, after all.

It doesn't matter if Robin is Dick Grayson.

Green Lantern is one black man. (It's starting to really freak me out much I'm starting to look like this guy.)

The Flash has no kids and he's the funny guy in The Justice League.

These are the truths my seven-year old nephew knows about his superheroes.

I envy him this clarity.

To him, there are no Final Crisises.

It doesn't matter to him that Hal Jordan is The Green Lantern that most people in comics know. All he knows is that there is a Green Lantern.

It doesn't matter to him that for the majority of his short life, in the cartoon media, Robin was independent of Batman and the leader of The Teen Titans.

When they finally did put them together in The Batman cartoon, he was happily surprised someone put two of his favorite characters together in one place.

I've decided to read my comics as a seven year old would. With eyes wide open, not caring about continuity and what it all means. The rocket from Krypton will always arrive in Kansas. There is a Batman and a Robin and when they are together it's always a happy surprise.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On Stacking the Deck

I don't make much money, no - I have a more-or-less pretend degree that makes potential employers look at me like I am at a tremendous risk of spending my days tracing my hand and then making little cartoon turkeys out of the resulting shape, so I'm currently doomed to retail - and I'm faintly sure Marvel knows that.

This week, Marvel has an astounding thirty-seven books coming out. This includes, but is not limited to, both Avengers books (or "all the Avengers books" if you count The Initiative as an Avengers book. And that would be very nice of you); Brubaker's Cap, Uncanny and Daredevil; Immortal Iron Fist; Millar's FF and 1985; Red freaking Hulk; both First Class books (not to mention the other X-book, Legacy); Whedon's last Runaways and Ellis' last Thunderbolts.

If their goal was to make me look at the new comic rack, look down at the ground, sigh heavily while thinking of my bank account, look towards Final Crisis #2 and think "I actually don't really give a damn about the New Gods being dead" before picking up basically all the Marvel books I typically buy monthly EXCEPT ALL IN ONE GODDAMN WEEK, well, mission accomplished, you assholes.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Is Superman Fascist?

Despite the fact that many if not most super-hero comics are greatly influenced by the Jewish immigrant experience, there is always a looming sense that there’s something kind of fascist about them. Don’t believe me? Art Spiegelman once criticized Jack Kirby of all people for appropriating pagan images and overly glorifying the physical over the intellectual in his work, techniques that, according to Spiegelman, smack of fascism.

You can’t deny that the fundamentals of his criticism are sound. Super-hero comics do glorify the physical form, and the art is in many ways a stylized version of Greek, Roman, Norse and other mythologies where superhuman strength and will were akin to godhood.

Superman is the most obvious example and the most vulnerable to accusations of fascism. The mere appropriation of Neitzche’s term ‘Superman’, even if coincidental is enough to raise an eyebrow or two. In addition, the hallmark of Superman’s greatest adversaries is high intellect. They use reason and science to manipulate and destroy, whereas Superman, whose primary attributes are physical in nature always manages to stomp their nerdy asses.

‘Truth, Justice, and the American Way’ might sound harmless on the surface, but there’s some serious nationalism at work there. Frank Miller’s use of Superman as a tool for a corrupt government in ‘Dark Knight Returns’ is an example of many of these criticisms manifest in comics. Say what you will about ‘Dark Knight Returns’ but it’s an important piece, so you can’t just discount its portrayal of Superman out of hand.

And yet, despite all this, I’ve come to the conclusion that Superman and other heroes are not in the slightest bit fascist. There’s no smoking gun for totalitarian nationalism in these comics. What Spiegelman forgets, and what I sometimes forget, is that the fascists weren’t the first people to use classical images of physical greatness for their own means and they won’t be the last. The old pagan mythologies give us beautiful legends and images, and just because they were used by a bunch of racist, nationalist bastards in the 30’s doesn’t make them off limits for all time. If anything, super-hero comics reclaimed these images for the good guys.

In addition, Superman’s duels with Lex Luthor and Braniac aren’t about the dangers of intellect or any sort of demonization of thought or reason. Rather, they simply suggest the limits of reason. Superman reminds us that there is more to life than what can be rationally understood. There is love, friendship, and countless other inexplicable concepts that the likes of Luthor will never enjoy or understand because of their devotion to a strictly Machiavellian world-view.

I’m not saying there isn’t some serious alpha male action in comics. Hal Jordan and his cult of pure will does smack a little of neo-conservative foreign policy, but the message that we are at our greatest when we can overcome our fears is an inherently decent and liberal sentiment, seen everywhere from ‘Defending Your Life’ (great film!) to Barack Obama. It isn’t the images and sentiments themselves. It’s how they’re used.

Friday, June 20, 2008

15 Questions And One Statment


1. Doesn't this issue make you wish the Teen Titans or Titans was this good?

2. Isn't Batman as "comedy relief" the greatest thing in the world?


3. I realize there's a plot and everything but dang it, shouldn't every issue of this comic end with a fight between Manhunter and Black Canary?


4. Holy crow, could this one have been any creepier?

5. Then again, isn't that what Hellblazer's all about?

6. Am I the only one who can't believe that this comic is up to issue 245?!?


7. I just noticed. Where's Tempest (Aqualad)?

8. Roy Harper, the voice of reason?!?


9. Who knew Batman standing around in a cave while giving others orders could be so legitimately thrilling?


10. You do know that NO ONE steals from Catwoman, right?

11. I'm gonna miss this comic so much.

12. Have there been any announcements as to what writer Will Pfeiffer will be doing once Catwoman wraps up?


13. Who'll be the first to ask if one of the reasons we all enjoyed the previous two issues of Justice League of America so much was that they were devoid of artist Ed Benes?

14. Does her name in the roll call mean that Zatanna is regular Justice League?


15. Wow, DC really gave Deadman top billing over Green Arrow on the cover?

16. WayneTech makes parachutes, too?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Fan’s Survival Guide in the Face of Comic Apocalypse

So recently, in case you haven’t noticed, this blog has been a bit down in the mouth about comics. It is not just we four either, I have noticed a general malaise settling over the blogosphere like fog in some bad horror film. Well, let the sunshine in because I have some quick, sure fire tips to get you through these dark days of four color printing.

Option One: Go for a company’s second tier titles.

There has been a lot of moaning about Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Justice League and other flagship titles and characters. I should know, I have been doing some of the complaining. The problem with the top billed is that they have too much editorial control, too many eyes watching, too many fingers in the pie. Didio wants Ras Al Ghul back. Quesada wants Spider-man single. As a result we get months, sometimes years, of crap.

Back in the day the term B-movie referred to the lower budget, less publicized film in a double feature. These films were basically created to fill screen time but no one expected them to have any importance or be any good. But you know what? Some of them were brilliant. In fact, it is the B-movie system that led to the creation of many the great film noirs that survive today. The studios paid less attention and therefore the directors were able to put out great, inventive pieces of cinema.

One should apply the same idea to a company’s roster of comics. Blue Beetle, Wisdom, Checkmate, the 2004 relaunch of Alpha Flight had the ability to be gems because it feels like editorial mandate is low. The writers just get to write good stories. Of course there is a danger in these B-side comics: sales will most likely be low. That will lead to either A) cancellation or B) forced tie-ins to hike up profits. Think of the “Sinestro War” issue of Blue Beetle or the “Amazon’s Attack” issues of Catwoman. They were terrible and just an example of forced plots messing up a good thing.

So if you are going to go with this option be careful because it can be just as unrewarding.

Option Two: Go outside of your comfort zone.

When I was a comic shop clerk, I always heard people complain about the state of the superhero genre. Sure. What surprised me was the flat out refusal of said people to read anything else. Sure some of them dabbled in Star Trek or Star Wars comics but you give them something, say Hellboy, and they look at you like you have handed them a dirty diaper. It’s weird and I never understood it. Why cut yourself off from significant portions of a genre you love?

That is like being an avid music fan and saying you just don’t listen to rap. That might not be your thing but if you ignore it you will never hear the wonders of “The Black Album.” That is like being a film buff and saying you just don’t watch romantic movies. That might not be you thing but if you ignore it you will never watch some truly moving flicks like Truly, Madly, Deeply. That is like being - you get the picture.

In this dread time take the opportunity and really branch out. Grab Polly and the Pirates, grab SCUD: The Disposable Assassin, grab Scott Pilgrim or Street Angel or the Popgun or Flight anthologies. Grab something out of the ordinary. There is a world of books out there that you might not have looked because you are capes and cowls only. I ask, what has capes and cowls done for you recently?

Option Three: Go back in time.

I do not mean this literally, although how awesome would that be? What I am saying is go back and read those books you loved before. I just got the Starman Omnibus and it has filled my last week or so with joy. When I am feeling down about what is coming out monthly I reread Planetary or the “Black Reign” story arc in JSA. It is like being away at camp and you are scared and unhappy but you have your lucky blanket to get you through the nights.

Also, now is the perfect opportunity to read those books you have always been meaning to. I just read the whole run of Invincible, all fifty issues. It has blown my mind. Man, that book is good! For years people have been telling me to read it and for years I have just tap danced around reading it. Well, I am reading less monthlies and so Invincible it was. From it I got a few days of something I couldn’t complain about, something that renews my faith the quality of the genre.

Maybe it is time grab that copy of Batman: The Long Halloween you have been putting off or committing to Preacher. Take a trip back in time and pick up something good.

This is how I have been dealing with recent trends.

How Have You Been Surviving?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Devon's Fave Five Ditko Visuals


Wanna blow a kid's mind? Give a kid raised under blacklight posters of afro-ed chicks reclining against black panthers reprints of comics featuring a guy who looks like David Niven from that crappy James Bond flick, dressed in tights and a cape, doing weird sh*t with his fingers, while speaking in tongues while fighting a guy with his head on fire done while running through mouths and eyeballs and stuff.

That kid will go on to write in run-on sentences on this blog.


I mean, c'mon... just look at her. She's just so gosh darned cute with her little furry sweater vest, Dorothy Hamill cut and bucked teeth! She has a tail. She's bright-eyed. She's bright-eyed and bushy-tailed! She has the proportionate strength, speed and agility of a squirrel, as well. And a squirrel named Monkey Joe. If I woke up one morning in The Marvel Universe and saw her sitting on a branch, I'd know that it was going to be a great day.


You really don't want a sinewy, yellow man in a Speedo laughing maniacally your way in an alley. Trust me, Jon Carey's told me stories.

As a visual, The Creeper is just... well, downright creepy and inspired.


This costume shouldn't work at all. For one, it's sort of ugly, really. The color scheme doesn't scream "spider" or "man," yet, somehow, it's somehow elegant in its design. Under Ditko, it suggested an implied inhumanity that's never quite been duplicated. Today, whenever an artist wants to suggest how menacing Spider-Man can be, they reference the visuals Ditko laid down over 46 years ago!


He is, simply put, one of the most stunning visuals in the medium of comics.

Take a ordinary man, put him in a plain everyday single-breasted suit and fedora and then...


Allow no emotion to be shown, no questions answered from his facial features.

He becomes the epitome of "the element of surprise." He is the blank slate ready to be written.

as an element of design.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Shock And Aw, Sh**: The Comics Event Style Guide

When the four of us started this blog 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."

We've been drinking the Kool-Aid for a while now. Our bladders are set to overflowing so it's time to piss and moan a bit.

We launched this blog in the midst of Marvel's launch of Secret Invasion and DC's Final Crisis. We've had much to say about both and the underlying theme's been this:

They weren't terrible.

Since we've started this blog, I've personally written a mini-review of a Justice League of America issue where I was shocked... SHOCKED... I was enjoying an issue of Justice League of America.

When I personally started my former blog "Seven Hells!," comics fandom was going through a period of growth unlike any we'd ever seen. There we were, loking over the edge, watching the architects of the DC & Marvel universes building towards something. At the time, they were building the frameworks for what would eventually become Infinite Crisis and House of M. For nearly two years, we were strung along with the promise of an experience. We, as comics fans, donned our fedoras, threw our "press-passes" into our hat-bands, ran to our computers and began to communicate our thoughts and feelings about being embedded in essentially, Comics Ground Zero.

We were there to bear witness to change.

Four years on and here we stand, with Final Crisis and Secret Invasion, we're watching new additions being built onto the Houses of M and Crisis and we are not as impressed.

For four years now, we have watched the lines being held. With the DC "sort-of" sequel of 52, we were given 52 new worlds to explore. With Countdown, we were given 52 worlds to shrug our shoulders at. With Marvel's follow-up to House of M, Civil War, with the death of the man who came to symbolize what an Avenger should be, we were given a new reason to not care for Iron Man. With the additions of The Mighty Avengers and Avengers: The Initiative, we were given more opportunities to buy more comics. The results, for this fan, more more reasons not to read anymore Avengers.

Four years on and I think we're all a bit tired of having our worlds rocked. I think we're all tired of having our senses shattered due to senses-shattering events.

We're standing over the edge, looking over, watching the architects argue amongst one another. Grant Morrison complains that due to the "events" of Countdown and "Death of The New Gods," the universe left behind, isn't the one he had in mind for Final Crisis. He doesn't care and is gonna go on with the story he wanted to tell.

Robin and Batman and The Outsiders writer Chuck Dixon has called out the heads of DC Comics for being "directionless."

I, for one, am glad someone finally said this. Four years now, we've been promised "something" and no one seems quite able to tell us exactly what it is that they're promising us?

Is it a unified universe? Is it streamlined continuity? Is it a pony?

What we seem to be getting lately are surprises such as "Hey, Action Comics was really good this month." or "Barry Allen's coming back? They've only been promising that for three years now."

I'm here to say this:

We should never be shocked when an issue of something issue is good. Do you know why, lately, we notice when something is good?

Usually, when it's not directly tied into with the "events" of the DC Universe or Marvel Universe.

Do you know why the last two issues of Justice League Of America were really good?

The League didn't have to jockey for position with the likes of "Salvation Run" or "Countdown." With Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, a Flash and a Green Lantern in the same room, Justice League should always be treated as it's own best "event."

A single issue of anything should be its own best event. I'm tired of looking over the edge. I'm tired of "events." I'm tired of "the big picture." I'm tired of "going forward." I'm tired of comics that have to fix continuity. I'm tired of this "Spider-Man: One More Day, Batman: R.I.P, we'll fix it in post." mentality the companies seem to have adopted of late. I'm tired of Skrulls explaining away a lack of direction. I'm tired of watching the books I like being canceled due to lack of interest from above. I'm tired of crossovers. I'm tired of not feeling excited anymore. I'm tired of being shocked when you get something right. I'm tired of "events."

I'm tired.

DC, Marvel, I just want my comics back.

Monday, June 16, 2008

I Find It Funny...

I find it funny that... you can love the direction that a week’s worth of titles are taking (Action Comics, Trinity, Green Lantern Corps) and be really pissed off about the direction the company that puts them out is taking (Grant Morrison’s Newsarama interview, the comments by Chuck Dixon in regards to his departure).

I find it funny...that you can feel bad that the first issue of a company’s big crossover wasn’t the month's big seller but also feel like they deserved it.

I find it funny...that you can be both annoyed with how one company has too many crossover tie-ins and another company doesn’t seem to have enough.

I find it funny...that one writer can really be knocking stories out of the park in a few titles (Action Comics, Green Lantern) and pitifully treading water with another title (Justice Society).

I find it funny...that books that should be staying around (Catwoman) are ending but who cares titles (El Diablo) are getting started.

I find it funny...that you can be super excited about the medium of comics and find gems that keep you going (Polly and the Pirates) and at the same time feel that the medium itself is being driven by people who really only care about the dollar signs.

What do you find funny?

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Return of 17 Questions And 1 Statement


1. If there's a cooler explanation for the Bottle City of Kandor, will you please let me know?

2. Dude, you do know that you don't mess with Superman's wife or brother-in-law, right?

3. Wanna see Clark Kent summed up in one page? (Page 11)

4. Was that General Zod being... heroic?

5. Would it be OK if artist Gary Frank stayed on Action Comics forever and ever and ever and ever and...?


6. All great thing have to eventually come to an end, right?

7. And didn't the ending just make so much sense?


8. With artist Kevin Maguire drawing nearly 22 pages of Batgirl and Catwoman fighting and 10 of them butt-naked, shouldn't we call this one the "Original Art For Sale" issue?


9. Why is Wonder Woman wearing metal underwear?

10. Why am I reading a Warlord comic in the pages of Wonder Woman and absolutely loving it?


11. Is everyone enjoying Kyle Rayner: Kick-Ass Green Lantern and The Green Lantern Corps as much as I am?

Don't you wish he didn't have to go through so much to have become such a bad-ass, though?


13. Can you imagine having to go through what Booster must be going through for a second time?

14. Doesn't the second-to-last page remind you of why we want him back so much?


15. "A Personal Best At Robot Smashing?"

16. Is Wonder Woman fighting The Sectaurs?

17. "No. I just wanted to finish it myself." Could Wonder Woman have possibly been a bigger bad-ass than in that one panel of Trinity #2?

18. "Alfred. I'm coming in by subway rocket. E.T.A. three minutes. Prepare The Cave. There's work to do." If I had one wish for my children it would be for them to have the opportunity to utter these words at least once in their lifetime.

On a sidenote:

The wind-up... THE PITCH!

I'd like to ask a small favor of you, do us a kindness Second Printing!! to your blogroll. We're kinda awesome (and cute) and I am unanimous in this, we're in this for the long haul.

On a personal note, writing with these guys has been a blast mainly because they're good people and secondly, I never know myself what Ben, Jon and Mike will come up with on any given day. They've come up golden every time and I want the word to get out that they're knocking it out of the park, day in, day out.

We're gonna stay awesome, we're gonna keep blowing your minds. We are, after all, men of experience. This is what we do.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I Have A Beef - Secret Invasion

See here is the thing - Alien scared the crap out of me. People kept telling me how scary it was, over and over. I was so freaked out that the first time I tried to watch it, I was eight or nine, I didn’t make it past the opening credits. It was just a few notes of that Jerry Goldsmith score and I was gone. To this day my parents and siblings give me a hard time about it.

When I was finally able to sit back down and watch the movie I was still freaked out. I was still terrified. I loved every minute of it, though. It’s dark, there are heavy shadows, and what minimal light is present is a dingy, washed out florescent. It was so much more than just than visuals - it was the characters’ ignorance. They weren’t fighters, they had no idea where the alien was and, most importantly, they had no idea what they were dealing with. That unknowing was what made the movie so great. Holy crap, it’s popped out of his chest! Holy crap, it has acid blood! Every minute there was something new.

Secret Invasion #1 had that same vibe, which is why it was such a great first issue. Dum-Dum Dugan is a Skrull! They blew up S.W.O.R.D.! Jarvis is a Skrull! Jarvis! Any and everyone could be a Skrull, we just didn’t know what was going to happen next. There was a tension in the universe and in the story-line - especially after that final reveal. The “secret” part of Secret Invasion was at full blast because the heroes, as well as the readers, had no idea what was going on or on what scale.

See here is the thing - Aliens is only o.k. I mean it has good parts: more aliens, some good action, a cute little girl and a sweet ass exo-frame at the end. In comparison to the first one though, it is a pale reflection. I was not as scared or as on edge as I was when watching Alien. Maybe it was the presence of Paul Reiser. It’s no longer about dark ducts but motion scanners and machine guns.

Secret Invasion #2 and #3 basically have the same problem. There was no Hank Pym blasting Reed Richards. No top of the Baxter Building being sucked into the Negative Zone. Instead you just have Ares going all Bill Paxton and yelling, “Game over, man.” You have Vision biting it ala Bishop and some who cares Initiative dame dying like some who cares space marine. There is no nuance any more, just one big fight and one big fights are boring. I have found myself flipping pages going, “punch, kick, blast, oooh, Jarvis is back!” There is no more Secret - merely Invasion and we know how well that worked out for DC. In that seen in issue two when Luke Cage was debating about fighting or not, was I the only one who felt like it was Bendis speaking? Almost like he was going, “I know I should be playing this mellower, maybe a little scarier...but I...can’t...resist the urge to FIGHT!!” Then a dinosaur shows up.

The thing is Marvel knows better. Iron Man might be the best superhero movie made in a decade and it was almost all talk. In a two hour movie there was fifteen or twenty minutes of fighting. The rest was character development and world building and that was why it rocked. Marvel should be taking a page from their cinematic endeavors. Some of the tie-ins have been, Ms. Marvel and Captain Britain and MI: 13 have been the MVP of the series. When Ms. Marvel loses her mini-carrier and then sleeps with Wonder Man out of grief - that is how you tell a story. Action and mood all in one. The two Avengers books have been good but are really just exposition and back story for the main title.

One time in my grad program I had a writing teacher who said, “Ben, I would rather have a story that attempted a triple axel and fails than sticks a double.” So far, it feels like Secret Invasion was setting up for a triple axel, it had the speed, the body position, the crowd was stoked, but then decided to go the safe route of a double instead. Bendis knows he can write a fight and so we have two issues of it. In the end I expect Tony Stark to show up in a bigger and better Iron Man suit and yell, “Get away from my planet, bitch.” and that will be that. Which will still be fine, but it won't keep me remembering that feeling forever.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Online Mail-Order Comics: The Rogues!

With summer crossover season in full effect and all sorts of minis, maxis, and new number ones hitting the shelf, I’ve come to realize that this is my first summer using an online service. There’s a lot of debate on the geek blogsphere these days about a brick and mortar store vs. an online mail-order service. A lot of people have stated their opinions, but, like all complex and nuanced issues, getting your comics each week is a complex universe, full of upsides and downsides. So today, second printers, I will present the first of two segments detailing the heroes and villains that I face each week when I order my comics online and receiving them by mail.. Today, I present the rogues gallery of online comic book ordering:


Two-Face is one of the most dangerous villains you face as mail-order comic book customer. The mail-order customer has to make his/her orders based solely upon the information available in the previews. When we only see that brief glimpse of our comics, we always think that they’re going to be good. Titans #1? Looks great! Cable #1? Gotta have it! But when we receive our books and see their true face, we see an ugliness that we had thought impossible. Without the aid of the community in a comic shop and the ability to leave a comic on the shelf after flipping through it, the quality of the comics that end up in our long box is often as random as the flip of a coin.

The Time Trapper

This guy really knows how to kick you in the gut, particularly during crossover season. All the local comic shop customers have their comics on Wednesday, and many of them write their thoughts and reactions on the Internet almost immediately (thankfully, they’re almost uniformly excellent about putting up spoiler alerts). But we have to wait. I usually get my comics on Friday and sometimes not until the following week due to the fact that my company doesn’t ship on Sunday. This delay probably doesn’t seem like much to a civilian, but my fellow geeks out there who have spent Wednesday afternoon counting down until quitting time so that they can run out and get their comics understand how painful this can be.

The Mad Hatter

Retailers are nothing if not consistent. Unless Diamond really screws the pooch (which has happened to be sure), there are always comics available for purchase in a store. With an individual mail-order service, there are a variety of variables at work, including user error, lost order forms, shipping to the wrong address, etc. One time, I skipped a whole month in my ordering just because it was all so damned confusing. Online services have the ability to really confuse and mind-fuck the user, so beware.


My most hated nemesis is Inertia. My online service takes orders well in advance, which means that I order my comics for July in May and so on. This means that by the time you find out a series is completely unreadable (see: Cable), you’ve already ordered the first three issues. The only upside of inertia is that sometimes you end up giving a series more of a chance than you might otherwise and realize that a slow first issue doesn’t a bad series make (see: Abe Sapien: The Drowning). But mostly, you just end up with a bunch of extraneous crappy books that you’re ashamed to own (see: Kick Ass).

It’s not exactly the Injustice League Unlimited, but the rogues gallery of mail-order comics is dangerous indeed. But for every villain, a hero will rise! Come back next week for the heroic pantheon of online mail-order comic

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Problem With... Writing The Riddler.

The Penguin is a fat guy who looks like a penguin. He has a thing for trick umbrellas. He also happens to be a crime boss who also runs a "legit" business from his club, "The Iceberg Lounge."

Writer writes a story.

The Joker is a colorfully dressed, homicidal maniac who looks like a clown or the joker in a deck of playing cards. He's completely without ethics, morals and is totally devoid of order. He's nearly an exact opposite of his arch-enemy, The Batman.

Writer writes a story.

Catwoman is a woman dressed like a black cat so she rarely brings anyone good luck. Like a cat, she'll let you get only so close before she tires of you. She flirts with Batman. She's is a cat burglar.

Writer writes a story.

The Riddler is a master criminal with a genius IQ who uses riddles to try and stump the world's greatest detective.

Writer writes a story... and may not do that great of a job.

The Penguin, The Joker and Catwoman are all pretty much straightforward in their motivations, they are creatures of want. The Riddler is unique in his. He is a entirely a creature of need. His sole need in life is to upstage one of, if the smartest player in the comics universe, The Batman. He needs to know that he is better than you.

The problem with writing The Riddler is that, as a writer, one should be smart, one should be clever. Sometimes smarter and more clever than the main character, Batman, you've been hired to write. While you can be the cleverest of writers, in the actual writing The Riddler, you run the risk of exposing your weaknesses as a plotter.

If the biggest clue you have The Riddler drop is something along the lines of "What gets bigger the more you take away," to this reader, the deal's been broken.

The Riddler works best when you can't see him coming and as much as I generally dislike most of Jeph Loeb's Batman work, I truly did like the end of his Batman:Hush saga. He had The Riddler remove himself from the equation early on and proceeded to watch The Batman run himself ragged over the identity of the man who'd turned his world inside out. In doing so, The Riddler manipulated the likes of The Joker, Ra's al Ghul, Poison Ivy and even Superman, into breaking Batman down, piece by piece. While I still have issues with Loeb's execution, his having Batman believe he'd taken The Riddler out so early on was an inspired bit of storytelling. It showed a conceit on Batman's part we'd rarely seen before. We'd seen this side of Batman a bit in Mark Waid's JLA run but Hush laid it out there for stories such as Identity Crisis and The OMAC Project to pick up on.

In having The Riddler solve the ultimate riddle of "Who is Batman," Loeb inadvertently changed the character, spoiling him for every other writer after him. Really, who'd want to write the character after he'd bested the ultimate?

Well, Judd Winick could have him go to Green Arrow's city with a nuke and threaten to detonate it unless he gets $100,000,000. You could go that way but you shouldn't. Having The Riddler go against Green Arrow is like bringing a sword to a switchblade fight.

Paul Dini in his Detective Comics run has done a superb job in grasping The Riddler's own conceits, having him "reform" as Gotham's newest and greatest detective for hire, not remembering his former victory and attempting anew to best Batman at every turn. In Dini's having The Riddler attempting do so 100% legally, we get a welcome, fresh configuration of The Batman/Riddler dynamic we've been stuck on for so many years.

Long story short, The Riddler, as a character is smarter than you. If a writer is bright enough to realize this, one of two things could happen: the reader gets a good story or the writer is exposed as not very good.

The Riddler is id, ego & super ego born and like all three, hard as hell to figure out.

Godspeed to the person who can put their own ego aside and write up to The Riddler's level.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Devon Vs. His Comics


I'm intrigued. Superman, Wonder Woman & Batman hugging it out on a weekly basis, while a trinity of super-villains tries to kill them, sounds like it could be fun. While I wasn't blown away, I can easily see where this is headed and well... it's enough to make me wanna stay. Under Busiek and Bagley, the guys who brought you the highly under-rated Thunderbolts series, I really don't see how this book could go wrong.


See? This is what I want more of from Spidey. Tight plotting, new villains, old friends and more writing from Dan Slott and gorgeous art from Marcos Martin. Give me that and I'm picking this book up on the regular.


It's like Detective Comics writer Paul Dini is making comics specifically with me in mind.

Paul: "Hey, Devon! Wanna read a detective story with Batman, a chimp and The Riddler in a chatroom?"

Me: "Hell, yeah!"

Paul: "Done."


I'd been thinking of dropping this book. I don't know where it happened but this book just became downright ugly. The thing that worked in Jonah Hex's favor was that, at heart, he was a good man. Not so much these days. Lately, he's been blind-stinking drunk and killing whoever shows up in a cheesy mustache. This issue had all of that but it was a welcome return to earlier form. This issue finds Hex in Mexico, where beautiful women fall in love with matadors and pay a high price for doing so. Tons of dark humour in this issue written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray and the art by semi-regular artist Jordi Bernet is simply stunning in its deceptive simplicity.


If there's anything more fun in a comic panel of Batman, Robin & Nightwing running towards The Batmobile while Alfred looks on, I haven't seen it. Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra's and mother of Batman's son, Damien is systematically trying to build an army of super-powered assassins, like all mothers in blended families do. Standing in her way, Nightwing, the adopted son of her ex-lover. God, don't you just love DCU family dynamics?


Put this image in your head: Ben, in the background singing falsetto, "Baby, I love you..."

Me, in my rich baritone: "Girl, where you been?"

Ben: "Baby, I missed you..." (Does a little twirl)

Me: "You've been gone way too long. There've been others but no one could take the place of you."

Ben: "Whoooo-OOOOOOW!!!! OOOOoooo...."

Me: "Other men tried (Dan DiDio) to take your love from me, but a love like this is eternal..."

Ben: "Eternal, baby. Eternal. Wanna do it all night long..."

Me: "and only gets better when you showed up with that little Latin kid."

Ben: "I... can't be here." (Walks off)

Me (Chasing after Ben) : "Dammit, Ben. I... I... was talking about the last page of Manhunter #31. Read it. Seriously."

It smartly starts you off with a recap of who she is and what she does, who she knows within The DC Universe and jumps right into a plot involving the disappearances of young girls on the Mexican border. Writer Marc Andreyko provides whip-smart dialogue and the promise of kick-ass with a severed head and a note in a box. The last page will make the internet squeal with glee. Artist Michael Gaydos is the perfect choice for the Manhunter, providing dark moody artwork that flows flawlessly in whichever direction, quiet moments or action sequences, the story goes.

Manhunter #31 makes me happy to be a reader of comics. How else would I have found you, girl?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Age Old Concerns

Not too long ago, I had a debate with a former customer about which "age" of comics are currently in:

Here's what we know, so far:

The Golden Age of Comics truly begins with the publication of Action Comics #1 featuring Superman whose popularity soon begot Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Plastic Man and a host of other often two-fisted four-color champions.

The Silver Age is widely accepted to have begun with the first appearance of Barry Allen as the all-new, re-imagined Flash in the pages of Showcase #4. The Silver Age is mainly remembered for the replacing and re-branding of Golden Age characters with newer science based counterparts such as Ray Palmer, The Atom & Hal Jordan, The Green Lantern. The Silver Age is also fondly remembered for ushering in the Marvel Age of comics were old favorites such as Captain America and The Sub-Mariner were dusted off and re-introduced to audiences, new and old. It may be better known for Marvel's introduction of young heroes forged in the science of their time such as Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and The X-Men.

Many believe that The Bronze Age of Comics began with the 1971 relaxation of The Comics Code that allowed for the publication of horror titles such as Tomb of Dracula & Swamp Thing. Many more believe it may have begun with Jack Kirby's exit from Marvel Comics, the death of Gwen Stacy, the re-emergence of The Batman as The Dark Knight by Denny O'Neil & Neal Adams or the introduction of "relevancy" to comics such as Green Arrow's sidekick, Speedy's drug dependency.

The current argument is just what age are we currently in?

The Bronze Age is clearly over as we've moved beyond the things that categorize it. Are we in The Modern Age of Comics, as my friend suggests?

My buddy says The Bronze Age ended when Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee left comics for Hollywood and left his name to become a banner used to identify a Marvel comic, ushering in the first generation of writers and artists who grew up reading comics.

I believe we're in The Platinum Age of Comics, starting with the "Big Bang" of DC Comics' Crisis On Infinite Earths, an event that forever undid or re-positioned parts of their Golden and Silver Age histories, allowing for out-of-continuity comics landmarks such as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen. I also believe that The Platinum Age of Comics began when a creator's name (superstar creators as marquee talent) on a comic became a comic's selling point starting with former Marvel mainstay John Byrne's exit to DC Comics to take on Superman, tangentially, leading to the formation of creator owned Image Comics by some of comics' hottest artists.

There's a very valid argument that the formation of Image may have kickstarted a whole new age, in and of itself but that is another fight for another day.

So, here's my question to you reading this:

What COMICS AGE do you currently think we're in and why?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Staying Power

O.k. so I was getting a post ready about the meaning underneath the symbol that Anthro was drawing at the end of Final Crisis #1. You know, this one.

When Kamandi shows up and is all, “Metron gave you the knowledge to kill a god,” it led me to think that perhaps that symbol had something to do with said comment. You know, maybe it was a schematic or something that suggested how to kill the gods. So I did my Internet snooping thing and came up the circle within the circle meaning a celestial body around a sun – or a universe. The line vertically bisecting the circle has stood for lightning, but this line doesn’t go all the way through. So perhaps it is lightning striking, and then stopping, in our universe. Perhaps The Flash is the only thing that can stop the evil.

If you flip it over the symbol, I realized resembled something.

Almost like a balanced scale over a universe. Perhaps Libra was the god killer. However, then I realized that the symbol was just Anthro drawing what he saw on Metron’s chest and it would be ridiculous to sport the key to your demise on your clothing. That would be me like wearing a shirt with red circles all over it that signified where to stab in order for a definite kill. So that kind of ended the post.

So onto something else, something that has been rattling around in my brain since Devon put up the ‘Taking a Wiz” post a while back. It was a comment that Martin made when talking about Wolverine:

Once you get past the initial Siegel/Shuster/Kane/Finger/Marston and Lee/Kirby/Heck/Ditko creations, there're very few comic characters who have broken out of the ghetto of comics fandom and achieved serious mainstream prominence.

This raises a big question in my mind, one that goes beyond Wolverine, and that question is why? Why do some characters hit the A-list, Batman, and others languish until the fondness of some creator rescues them from comic limbo, Libra? Why can some comic characters support two, three or four monthlies, Spider-man, while others have struggled for years to keep one title going, Black Panther? I really can’t tell you what it is. I can tell you what it is not.

It is not simply age.

Yes, it is true that the majority of the characters that we know and love today have been around for some fifty plus years. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Black Canary, Captain American, Iron Man, Cyclops, all have put in decades of service in the medium. Hell, even Nightcrawler has been BAMFing for over thirty years at this point. However, this is certainly not the rule by any means. It was the case, characters like Aquaman and Martian Manhunter, created in 1941 and 1955 respectively, would have some of the best selling books out there while Deadpool, created in 1991, would not have had 117 issues devoted to him over the last eight years. Yet, the reverse is true. Hell, Aquaman is nowhere to be seen, Martian Manhunter is dead and Deadpool is getting a new #1 soon.

It is not simply power or weapon.

There was a time where it felt like if a character had a blade or an improbably big gun or guns that character was destined for firm footing in the realm of comics. Like that was the recipe for success so we wound up with a ton of these characters. I bring up almost every character from Image: Stryker, Warblade, Chapel, Sentinel, Killrazor. Even the Indies jumped on the love of the sword. Ninjak, I am looking in your direction.

It’s not simply powers either. It used to be costume/personality as well. Short and caustic, rakish with a trench coat or a goatee, sometimes both, a past filled with mysterious government programs that left the character tortured and alone, I could go on. How many of these characters that I have alluded to or named still remain today? Very few.

It is not how well the comic is written.

Will Pfiefer on Aquaman, Will Pfiefer on Catwoman, Will Pfiefer on HERO, these three titles show that no matter how well a comic is being done, how great a character is, it can still wind up on the chopping block. Well that, and the collective apathy that the comic community shows an awesome writer like Pfeifer. But I could keep the list going, I bring up comics like Hourman, WildCats Vol. 3, Chase, Batgirl, Firestorm (three times). One of the things that killed me at one of the panels at NYCC this year was when Didio mentioned that Blue Beetle was selling low.

It just goes to show you that every great character might not have the energy keep up the monthly marathon.

But you know what?

I don’t think the comic companies/writers/artists have any idea about staying power either. I don’t think there is a formula; the characters that have made it have simply made it. That is why you have so many relaunches and revitalizations. It’s like they are throwing darts at a board hoping one of them hits the bull’s-eye. Now Aquaman has a hook hand, now Hourman is a robot, now Speedball is Penance, now Superman is blue, now Spider-man is going to sell his love to the devil. The characters that stick around are malleable enough to be stretched like silly putty but firm enough to retain that which makes them them. How it works though is anyone’s guess. Know what I mean?