Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Detective: Comics

I have been first and second.

I wake up in the morning and I see red.

I have hunted the deadliest of game.

I have done things I never thought I'd do in the name of queen & country.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

R.I.P. Dick Giordano

Just heard of the passing of artist/editor Dick Giordano.

Regarded as one of comics greatest artists, he's also regarded by many as one of its greatest inkers.

Amongst the many who've had the tremendous advantage of seeing his inks applied to their pencils was artist Neal Adams. Together, they were regarded as one of comics' finest penciler/inker teams.

As an editor, he ushered in many of comics' most highly regarded works. Under Giordano, the Charlton Comics characters were brought to DC Comics and without that key acquisition, The Watchmen would never have come to pass.

He also played a hand in bringing about many more of the comics that have gone on to be considered classics such as Crisis On Infinite Earths, Who's Who, Superman: The Man of Steel, Camelot 3000, Batman: Year One and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

Amongst the many writers and artists who flourished under his editorship were Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, Grant Morrison, Keith Giffen, Cully Hamner, Kevin O'Neill and many, many more.

Without his foresight and innovation, there would be no Vertigo Comics.

He helped hold together and shape The DC Universe and beyond as we know it.

My condolences to his family, friends and all who came to know and respect him.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Detective: Comics

I have a secret.

I am at one with the source.

I was never that great with a sword but a gun? Yeah, I'm pretty good, actually.

I rarely play games but will happily take home the prize.

I used to jump at every window of opportunity.

Today, I claim self-reliance as an attribute.


Answer is: LOIS LANE (guessed by Jon Hex)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

If you want protection you can't hide behind this Shield

As comic fans, we've all have books cancelled from underneath us that we felt weren't given their fair dues. The 90's were particularly rife with short, often troubled runs. DC certainly had a plethora of them, most of them trying out new heroes (Morrison/Millar's Aztek; Chris Preist's Xero) or new iterations of old heroes (Black Condor) but even established heroes had books that just couldn't hold up (Black Lightning; the great Mike Parobeck-drawn Justice Society of America). It was the 90's though. Comics were at their sales apex and publishers were flooding the market trying to see if anything and everything would stick.

DC and Marvel are a lot more conservative these days and titles that don't have anchor characters or superstar writers attached are not likely to be successful, hence why they keep expanding their Superman/Batman/Green Lantern/Spider-Man/Avengers/Deadpool/X-titles lines. It's nice to see them get daring. I mean a Power Girl comic, who would have thought we'd ever see her headlining her own series, but how long is it really going to last? Captain Britain and MI13 was a curious little gem that was cut down just as it was ramping up. Kirkman's Irredeemable Ant-Man was something quite unique. Nextwave was a slice of Warren Ellis' mad genius.

In DC's June solicits, I see that their "Red Circle" titles, The Shield and The Web are coming to an end at issue ten. I'm not sure there are going to be many tears shed. I can't attest to the Web (as it's first issue left me wildly unimpressed and I notice it's been through a host of creative changes over its first six issues) but The Shield is currently one of the most underrated action-superhero books on the stands, and I'm deeply disappointed that I won't be getting any more of it. Eric Trautmann (currently also co-writing Action Comics) has crafted his own a unique slice of the superhero pie, and really approached the superhero-as-soldier idea from a fresh angle. Playing the concept straight, the Shield doesn't go freelance, he's a soldier and goes on missions and does his duty. He follows orders but not blindly, and Trautmann seems to really grasp what it means to be among the rank and file, super-soldier or not. On top of it, Marco Rudy and Mick Gray dish out some absolutely incredible artwork, dishing out some stunning action sequences and really inspired page layouts and visual techniques. Obviously inspired by J.H. Williams III (whom Gray used to regularly partner with), Rudy hasn't just copped his style, he's figured out his own way to do things. With the Shield kaput in the coming months, you can bet Rudy's going to move on to higher profile gigs. This kid's going to be big.

So, obviously it was low readership that tanked the book (side note: issue 7 came out last week, I discovered, and when I asked my store why I couldn't find it, they said they stopped ordering it because nobody was picking it up, and they've since had a handful of people asking after it), but if the creative team was so good then why is it getting cancelled, shouldn't word-of-mouth at least bought the title another half-dozen/dozen issues. Well, blame DC on that one.

Let me break it down:

1) DC's original intent with acquiring the "Archie"/"Red Circle" superheroes was to integrate them into the main DCU (alongside the Milestone heroes and Thunder Agents) so as to make them an indistinct part of the pantheon, much as they did with the Fawcett characters (Captain Marvel and family) and Charlton characters (Blue Beetle, Question, Captain Atom). Of course it took years to integrate both of them, and the DC Universe had to be completely rebuilt (via Crisis on Infinite Earths) to do so.

Their initial impetus, which was the right one, was to have J. Michael Straczynski (freshly poached from Marvel) introduce and incorporate them into the DCU by way of teaming them up in the Brave and the Bold which he was taking over. Plans changed.

2) Instead, DC had JMS write four interconnected one-shots, released in the same month, under a unifying "Red Circle" banner. Kiss-of-death.

Seriously. If you want to incorporate other characters into your universe, don't keep them at arm's length, don't put them all under a group banner. What cache do these "Archie" heroes hold? Next to none. There are few living comic fans who will remember them when they were firt introduced in the 1940's, the 1980's line lasted about 2 years with the longest running title (The Mighty Crusaders) reaching 13 issues, and the previous stab at utilizing them, DC's "!mpact" imprint was a failure (a highly enjoyable one, but still a failure).

Next to nobody was looking forward to reading these characters based on character recognition alone (especially considering they were yet again redesigned, making them different from any previous iteration), and very few readers would be drawn base on the (extremely short lived) "Red Circle" banner (by the time the '80's The Mighty Crusaders was cancelled, it was operating under the "Archie Adventure Series" masthead, not Red Circle.

3) Both the Web and The Shield were introduced at the new-to-market $3.99 price point in the midst of an economic downturn. Back-up features help round out and justify the price, but if one Archie hero wasn't an immediate draw what made them think two would be? I believe that the back-ups (the Hangman was featured in The Web and Inferno backed-up The Shield) actually provided a deterrent to picking up the book. If DC *REALLY* wanted to incorporate the Red Circle heroes into the DCU, the back-up features (if absolutely necessary) should have featured semi-popular DC characters instead of introducing unestablished characters.

4) Efforts were made to show integration into the DCU in both books, but with The Shield it was Magog and The Great Ten. The stories with them were really well told, but what kind of draw are Magog and The Great Ten. Neither are solidly established characters with any real fan-base. Both of them have their own series (The Great Ten being a mini-series), and I doubt Magog is much longer for the world than these books.

5) The Mighty Crusaders. A one-shot solicited for May which brings the various Red Circle heroes (and their creative teams) together in super-team form. See point 2. If the "Watchmen" (and as much as I like some of the Archie characters, I really shouldn't be comparing The Mighty Crusaders to the Watchmen, alas) had actually been, as intended, the Charlton characters instead of Moore/Gibbins-created analogs, those characters would have been absolutely spoiled for the DCU. Bwa-ha-ha Blue Beetle from Giffen-era Justice League wouldn't have existed. Captain Atom, Suicide Squad's Nightshade, The Question... okay, well, the question might have been okay... but the point is it would have been a losing battle to incorporate the Watchmen into the DCU.


Is there a future for the Red Circle heroes at DC? It's doubtful. Who knows, there might be future plans after these cancellation notices (there were a few group interviews with the various creative teams in the past month discussing the future of the characters as if they had one... but then again Mark Guggenheim did the same thing when he was writing the Flash and Bart Allen was killed off a couple months later, so deceit has precedence), but chances are the licenses for these heroes will lapse, Archie will use them sporadically to maintain their copyrights, and in another 15 years someone will try to give them another go.

Even though I have little attachment to the characters themselves, I have a keen interest in dead-universes, so I've got an almost complete run of the !mpact line as well as a slowly growing collection of the 80's Red Circle books (all pulled out of quarter bins). Mostly I just hope Trautmann, Rudi and Gray find something else, and quick, because they're a really solid team.

First Wave fans, I'll likely see you back here next year for a similar conversation.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Versus: Hawkman (DC)/Archangel (Marvel)

The sound of metal clashing against metal fills the rain-soaked skies.

On the ground, bystanders look to the heavens, wiping away the droplets filling their eyes, trying their best to get a better view of the battle raging above their heads.

One has been forged in time & battle, the other through trial & transmogrification.

Suddenly, the skies roars and the rain above turns red, once again meeting the eyes below.

Just as suddenly, the sound of the rain is all there is.

A winged figure, quietly, hurtles to the ground below and above, there is a victor.

So, Second Printers, the question's a simply one: HAWKMAN or ARCHANGEL?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Big Show

In DC's June Solicitations there are 132 comic issues, hardcovers, trade paperbacks and original graphic novels listed. Of these, what has me most excited is a reprint of something 30 years old:

That, my friends, is "Superman vs. Muhammad Ali", a classic story written by Dennis O’Neil & Neal Adams with art by Adams (inks by Dick Giordano & Terry Austin) originally published in 1978 in oversized tabloid format

I still have a copy, with the Whitman logo in the top corner, so I really don't *need* this new $40 hardcover "Facsimile" edition, but I want one. If you're a Neal Adams fan, a Superman fan and/or a Muhammad Ali fan, this is a MUST HAVE! (Man, I feel like a QVC shill). It's an absolutely incredible and unique reading experience.

There's also 7x10 "Deluxe" HC edition with 16 pages of additional material which is crazily tempting, but essentially I'd be paying the $20 cover price for those 16 pages which isn't, in fact, all that enticing. Plus I think the reduced size diminishes the grand epic scale and uniqueness of the book. The bonus features should really be included in the

And then for $250 there's this:

Where do I place my order?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Houses of Ideas, Mystery and Secrets

A friend of mine walked into the comic shop.

Not a strange thing at all to see a friend of mine walk into the place where I've met a lot of my friends. The difference was, that I hadn't actually seen him inside the shop for a good long while. He did what he usually does; he looked around, looked at trades and asked how I was doing.

This time something was different. Very different. He was measured, subdued.
This time he was doing something different; he was quietly placing things back upon the shelves.

"Is everything cool," I asked.

"Yeah, I just don't do it anymore. I stopped reading comics."

I wish I could say that I was stunned. I wish I could say I was incredulous. I wish I could say I did everything within my power to show him what he was missing.

None of the above ever happened.

What I actually said and did actually made more sense to me than nearly anything I've said and done in awhile.

"I really can't blame you."

And that was it. We exchanged goodbyes and this friend of mine, one who taught me to appreciate the craft involved in comics, walked out, empty-handed. Done.

Done with something that had, for over thirty years, brought a smile to his face.

Not me.


It made me sad that there was nothing I could say or would want to say to convince him otherwise. He was done and I respected and fully understood why.

He was simply done.

Done with grinding it out, month after month, hoping the comics you adored would give you some reason to do so again.

Done with the monthly grind of "consequences that would rock (insert here) to his/her/its very foundations" only to have them not really amount to much at all.

Done with watching the companies who treated you with a bit of dignity when you were a kid, viewing you as nothing more than a demographic to bleed dry, in effect, creating a dying one at that.

Done with a hobby that seems to value nostalgia over creative innovation.

Done with companies who actually had enough respect for their readership that they would let loose upon your imagination the likes of Alan Moore, John Byrne, George Perez, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Chris Claremont, Marv Wolfman, Howard Chaykin, Art Adams and just let them create the comics they'd like to read.

Done with characters being veiwed as nothing more than intellectual property to be exploited in other media.

Done with how the companies who create the things we loved trying to find ways to take it out of our hands and put it on computer screens.

Done with being made to feel made to feel the time and love you invested in this hobby was simply your just gathering up colored paper.

It was the look of a man who grew up and realized it hadn't kept up and consequently, was left behind.

I have no answers on how to turn things around for my friend or the comics industry and I truly wish I did. This is STILL a great hobby. It is still want to be involved in.

I want to feel like an active participant in keeping this new mythology I've come to love, open and vibrant.

I want more from it than crossovers, incentive covers, colored rings and oneupsmanship.

We are being used up and we are the last generation who will allow for it.

I want comics to feel like a House of Ideas again.

What I don't want is for our Houses of Ideas, Mystery and Secrets to start feeling as though they were built on reservations. Ones we're more than willing to walk away from.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bullet Points

There I was, 11 years old and the DC Bullet was aimed square between my eyes.

Blue Devil in the chamber, Captain Carrot and The Amazing Zoo Crew, in the chamber. The New Teen Titans, in the chamber.

Batman and The Outsiders, in the chamber.

Who's Who... you know the drill.

Crisis On Infinite Earths, DC; fully loaded and I'm done for.

No place to run, a human target. In 1982, I was the target audience for what was, for me, my own personal comics Golden Age. These were my comics. It was like they came up to me and said, "Kid, you're our demo. you're the ass we want to put in our seats."

My response, "Man, you had me at "ass."

So my question to you is: "What was your particular comics Golden Age?'

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Justice League Of Their Own, Part Two

Monday, I wrote about The Justice League and why I wasn't overly impressed with some of the recent things put in motion. Today, let's talk about some of the things I believe could help turn things around:

Open Membership

Open The Justice League up to every available superhero from Doctor Occult to Damian, the current Robin. (More on this later.)

Founding Fathers (And Mothers)

Borrow liberally from the Justice League Unlimited cartoon and use the founder's clause that every Justice League team should have at least one founding member on it. One, because it provides the reader, new and old, with a sense of the familiar and two, it's just an awesome element for potential internal conflict with The League's young guns and who doesn't like seeing heroes working on a learning curve?

Each One, Teach One or It Takes A Child To Raze A Village

Have The Justice League become the epicenter of the superteam universe. Have them form partnerships and mentoring with their contemporaries The Justice Society of America and The Teen Titans. Have JSA'ers as "special guests" and if Jay Garrick, the original Flash, is on the squad, give it the same gravity of watching Vince Lombardi coaching a Brett Favre (Barry Allen) would have while a Damian (Peyton Manning) looks on.

Clothing Optional

You don't need a cape to be a hero. That said, those same courtesies should be opened up to some of the more periphreal DC teams such as The Doom Patrol, The Challengers of The Unknown and The Metal Men. It would help shine a spotlight on them and elevate their status in the reading public eye and quite frankly, each of these teams has three of the DCU's brightest minds in The Chief, Prof. Haley and Doc Magnus.

This next one, for me, has always been one of those things that even as a kid I could never quite wrap my head around. As an adult, I have given it a name.

The Firestorm Principle

If The League is working a locked room mystery case, why is Firestorm, THE NUCLEAR MAN on your active roster. Common sense would have the team comprised of Batman, Dick Grayson, The Martian Manhunter and The Elongated Man. (Well, at one time it would have.) Why's a living nuclear reactor getting page time. Usually, Firestorm is there so that a member of The League can go, "Firestorm, shed some light over here, please." That's what flashlights are for, man, not a nuclear man. Don't get me wrong, I like Firestorm but let's face it. Smarts aren't his wheelhouse. Extinction level events should be. Firestorm's appearance in a League story should be shorthand for "the villain shit has officially hit the superhero fan." That brings me to my next point.

Inner Conflict

Stop allowing writers to build teams as if they were building a fantasy football team. It's not. It's the premiere supergroup of comics. I don't care if you really, really like Guardian, most don't. He's not going to go down as a JLA legend. Use him and lose him and let's all move on to telling stories that someone other than your inner child might actually want to read.

Build-A-Bear (Team)

Tailor teams accordingly with the level of the threat. If Despero comes around, make sure Guy Gardner, Fire, Booster Gold and The Martian Manhunter are there to get some payback. Also, make sure they have the backing of League powerhouses such as Orion, Superman, Captain Atom and Wonder Woman to send a statement to every building throwing, world conquerering villain north, south, east and west of Earth, that The Justice League, like Wu-Tang, ain't nothin' to f*** with.

The League should be a glimpse into the DC Universe. You should be able to pick up an issue and be blown away by sheer awesomeness.

Sooner, rather than later, hopefully.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Justice League Of Their Own, Part One

Let's face it; The Justice League, the place where the immortals shine, is dying.

Deader than Batman, as far away as Superman on a distant planet and like Wonder Woman, currently a cipher for whatever whim a writer has at the moment:

When I was at the height of my League fandom, the team consisted of the greats: Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman were there but the focus was more on the lesser known to the American public heroes such as Green Lantern, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Green Arrow, The Flash and Black Canary. The notion that these characters stood side-by-side with The Big Three was enough to make them special in my eyes and in many others.

Nearly two decades later, Grant Morrison stepped in and gave us the ultimate Justice League, a team where the founding members of Superman, Batman, Aquaman, The Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman were joined by the heirs to the Flash and Green Lantern legacies. The stories were epic and showed a League going at all cylinders fighting threats to humanity and sometimes, beyond.

Following that, DC rebooted The League under superstar writer Brad Meltzer and while the intentions were the best, The League, to me, seemed to lack spark. Threats were thrown their way but they, like the team itself, just didn't seem Justice-worthy.

As the stories wore on, due to one editorial edict or another, The Big Three were removed as was the League leader Black Canary, herself another victim of creative whims and what you were left with were the characters left over from Meltzer's run such as Red Tornado, Black Lightning and Vixen. Fine characters but to be honest, I don't think anyone truly saw them as A-listers. This League felt empty almost from the get-go.

It left you wondering how something so painstakingly manufactured could be so devoid of forethought.

Now, The League is comprised of League mainstays, current leader Green Lantern, The Atom and Green Arrow along with new writer James Robinson's "projects," The Guardian, Mon-El and Congorilla. What's interesting is that the current incarnation of The League is comprised of Teen Titans graduates, Cyborg, Starfire, Donna Troy and the new Batman, Dick Grayson. I'll be every interested in seeing whether a "League-within-a-League" will form around a League wanting leadership from longtime JLAer Green Lantern while The Titans are used to following orders from the former Boy/Teen Wonder, Grayson.

While this team is interesting it very much feels like filler with Mon-El, Grayson and Dona Troy simply filling in the roles of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, respectively.

I'm reading but currently it does not feel "essential." They do not feel like true JLA. They are simply within the writer's moment just as Firestorm will ever be.

The League, as we knew it, with a Big Three, is an eventuality. We simply have to wait and it will return.

Come back later and I'll share some of the things I believe are needed to make The League "must read."