I hate the concept of the gene for mutant powers, or "X-gene", in X-Men comics. It's stupid and it leads to bad stories and muddled meanings, but I specifically hate it for four reasons. The first is scientific, the second semantic, and both are pretty petty and pedantic, but they tie into the third, substantive reason, so I'll try to get through them quickly to get to the fourth.
1. The Mutant Gene Doesn't Act Like a Gene.
A gene is a specific sequence of DNA that codes for a particular physical characteristic. A particular gene might determine whether your eyes are blue or black, but that same gene in another person won't give him stronger back muscles. Even taken to the exaggerated superhero level, the same gene can't give one guy the ability to fire lasers out his eyes and another guy fully functional wings!*
2. An X-Gene Means "Mutants" Aren't Mutants.
A mutation is a change in a gene, a mutant is a changed gene or organism arising from that changed gene. The key here is change. A mutated gene is one you did NOT get from your parents, that you have and your siblings don't. If the "mutant" gene is shared among individuals, if it is inherited, then it is, by definition, no longer a mutant, and a person who exhibits traits associated with that gene is not a mutant either.
But both of those complaints are really nerdy. After all, when you're dealing with pulp science fiction, you have to put up with some bad science and mangled language as plot devices. But the reason the "mutant" gene bothers much more than does its DC equivalent the "meta-gene" is because it's a plot device that hurts the plot it's try to support:
3. The Mutant Gene Undermines the Metaphorical Power of X-Men.
At its core, X-Men is about individuals, shunned and rejected by society at large, alienated from everyone, who come together to form a new family of choice in order to survive, thrive and relate back to the larger world. Now, whether that's an allegory for racial politics, homosexuality, or teenage rebellion in general, who better to play the role of the outcast than a LITERAL mutant, someone who, on a genetic level, is cut off from his own family? And that the X-Men don't share DNA in common, that they are connected by their otherness from everyone in the world, including each other, makes their new family bond all the more meaningful, a celebration of our shared humanity over our superficial differences.
If Marvel "mutants" are not literal mutants, however, if they inherited their power from some rare recessive gene, then they would still have a family connection. Maybe not their parents, but an aunt or distant cousin should be a "mutant" too. If there is a mutant gene, then it doesn't make sense for it NOT to run in families. And if their "mutant" gene connects them to their family rather than dividing from their family, then the power of the metaphor is severely weakened.**
And if "mutants" share a specific gene, then it seriously weakens the idea of the X-Men as a family of choice. "Mutants" are a lot closer to being a new species, united by their shared genetic identity, rather than simply humans who have happened to have the odd quirk in their genetic structure. You lose the sense of people defying their genes to find each other, and gain an unheroic doom of a group giving into it's collective genetic destiny.
And then there's the fact that:
4. The Mutant Gene is Completely Unnecessary to Explain the X-Men.
Mutation is REAL thing. Mutants happen all the time and in fact you almost certainly have a few mutant genes in you. But only a very small percentage of mutations have any noticeable effect on the body at all, and 99% of those that do cause cancer or are pre-natally fatal.
BUT... in the Marvel Universe, things that would cause cancer or instant death in our world, like MASSIVE DOSES OF RADIATION, instead grant superpowers. So superpowered mutants would be the natural byproduct of such a world. So instead of having a "mutant gene" which 1. doesn't make scientific sense, 2. is a contradiction in terms, and 3. undermines the story you are trying to tell, you could just leave it at "They're mutants," AND BE DONE WITH IT!
*And don't give me Byrne's "they all DO have the same power, to 'warp reality,' they just warp it differently," because that still doesn't answer WHY one warps reality by controlling the weather and the other warps reality by being really fat. *
**The worst was a line in X-Men 2, where Pyro tells Iceman's mother that the X-gene is carried by the father, not the mother. The only way that can happen is if the X-gene is on the Y chromosome. This is doubly stupid, because a) it means only people with Y chromosomes could have mutant powers, and Rogue is sitting right there! And b) the Y chromosome cannot carry a gene without expressing it, so Iceman's father and brother should be "mutants" too, and they aren't.**
Thursday, August 31, 2006
I hate the concept of the gene for mutant powers, or "X-gene", in X-Men comics. It's stupid and it leads to bad stories and muddled meanings, but I specifically hate it for four reasons. The first is scientific, the second semantic, and both are pretty petty and pedantic, but they tie into the third, substantive reason, so I'll try to get through them quickly to get to the fourth.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
My "Why I Hate the Mutant Gene" post will have to wait until tomorrow, because tonight I just want to tell you about the greatest issue of Justice League I've read since 2001. No, not JLA Classified (though it was fun seeing what I guess is now the "Watchtower" League back in action.)
Nope, it was in Action Comics #842, which I'm declaring my new HANDS DOWN pick as best comic of the week! (Take that, All Star Superman!)
I mean, first look at that LINE-UP: Superman (of course), Nightwing (who comes across as brave, smart, experienced, funny, and the tightness of his ass is a plot point), Aquaman (the new one), Mr. Terrific (who's more than earned his place on the team), Firestorm (again, the new one, who learns that when his powers go down, his hair goes out), as well as the roguish woman of mystery Live Wire, newly introduced veteran solider The Veteran, Busiek's ego pick Skyrocket, and a character so obscure I have no idea who he is but his adventures sound damn exciting, Blue Jay.* That's a great mix of personalities, powers, icons and old favorites and new faces, enough variety to remind the reader that the DCU is big big place.
Secondly, there's the plot: ALIENS ARE STEALING OUR STUFF! Simple, direct, worldwide, panic inducing, black and white morality. Superhero gold.
Third, there's the pace, which is FAST! If your biggest complaint about Justice League of America #1 was that no one hit anyone, have I got the book for you. Superman fights a giant, almost every superhero in the world is captured, Nightwing and Firestorm fly to the rescue, and Live Wire makes an explosive escape from their plastic wrap like prison. And that's THE FIRST HALF!
Fourth, there's the dialogue. Nightwing's years of crawling through ducts and dating an alien come into play, the new Aquaman goes all fanboy, Blue Jay wants some respect, dammit. And in any other issue, Superman's final words before he leaps off the balcony, about his faith in his new, untested team, would have been the line of the week...
if there wasn't that line about how many Kryptonians there are on Earth.
GO. BUY. NOW.
*Seriously, can someone help me out? Who IS Blue Jay?
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
I don't talk about him nearly enough, but it should be stated that my favorite superhero is Superman. I love that guy.
I was a superhero fan LONG before I was a comics fan. I VIVIDLY remember seeing Superman III in the theater, having no idea why or how Superman was fighting Clark Kent, but loving every minute of it. That may in fact be my first memory (I know I just made half of you feel really old, and the other half sort of young). I loved The Super-Friends, and the late '80s Superboy show. I waited forever for Superman IV to come out ("Superman was going to fight for peace! Hooray"). Looking back, I know all of that was terrible, but when you're young...
Anyway, it didn't matter, because it had Clark Kent, who's just great. To watch Christopher Reeves, particularly in the first movie, play it, was to instantly get it. Here was a schlub, the last nice guy in a town where nice gets eaten for breakfast, in painful love with the girl who wouldn't give him the time of day. Basically, he's you, he's me. It doesn't matter if you're a boy or a girl. We all know what it's like to be ignored.
But Clark has a secret! He jumps into a broom closet, puts on the bright blue and red costume, fixes his hair, and does amazing things! All eyes on him, everybody loves him, or envies him. He's free! Free from his job, free from the law, heck, he's free from the laws of physics! He can do whatever he wants... and all he wants to do is help. And he doesn't WANT to be loved for helping... he wants to be loved for being the last nice guy. He wants to be loved for being Clark. How can you NOT love that guy? How can you not want to be that guy?
But... though I followed him from lousy movie through lousy TV show and back, I wasn't reading the comics. I kind of knew they were still publishing comics, and I know I had an issue or two growing up, and even though I loved comic strips in the newspaper, I just wasn't walking into a comic book store to pick up the latest heroic tale about my favorite Kryptonian.
Until one day when I was thirteen my dad handed me this comic as a spur of the moment gift; he had no idea what he was unleashing on the world: (after the jump!)
Yeah, that's right. I became a comics fan because of The Death of Superman. So you can all just shut up about media friendly stunt storylines because they can Goddamn get new readers into the store.
You can also shut up about making comics more "new reader friendly" by simplifying continuity. Have you read this issue lately? It's got Matrix Supergirl, Chief Henderson, Cat Grant, Kismet, Blaze, Byrne's Kryptonian imagery, Gangbuster, NONE of which I had ever seen before, and it ends with the introduction of FOUR completely new characters. Was I scared off by entering in the middle of a story? Confused and discouraged by all the characters I didn't know and plots circling around?
HECK NO! I was hooked! I wanted to know more about these characters. Who they were. How they related to Clark and what it meant about his return. I made my parents take me to the local comic book shop (a now-defunct branch of Golden Apple, if you live in the LA area), and we picked up the readily available Death of Superman and Funeral for a Friend trades (also Panic in the Sky, because our local comic book dealer flat out lied to my parents, but that's okay, because Panic is a better intro to most of the DCU anyway, and the store's out of business now anyway). And I was definitely in until at least the end of The Reign of the Supermen, and the moment Superman shatters the genocidal Cyborg, looking bad-ass and strong, in retrospect my first F*$% Yeah moment, that was it. I was in.
Because the Superman books acted as a pseudo-weekly, I quickly developed the habit of going to the store every week. Because I'm borderline obsessive compulsive, I learned to go every Thursday morning (it was the summer) then every Wednesday afternoon. (I'm better now, I can usually hold out until Friday, sometimes even Saturday. Guess I'm an adult.) And while I was in the store there was this big Batman storyline going on too, so I started picking up that, and it spread from there...
But I always read the Superman titles. (Well, almost always, the Dominus storyline drove me away, but Luthor trading his baby to Brainiac 13 for power brought me right back.) So why am I NOW such a happy Superman fan? Because for the first time, in a long time, the Superman titles are actually GREAT. I mean, in the thirteen years I've been reading comics, they've usually been good, or good enough. Even when the storylines seemed more designed to get attention than tell a good story (the engagement, the death, the return, the break-up, the wedding, blue, blue and red) there was some really good writers and artists turning out decent work. Writers like Karl Kessel and artists like Stuart Immonen and others. And it was fun... but it was never really GREAT. I'd pick it up because it was available at the store and I'd be amused for 15 minutes, but I realized I wasn't dying to read it anymore. I mean, before November 16th, 2005, who was really LOOKING FORWARD to the next issue of ANY Superman comic?
Guess what comes out tomorrow?
No, no, not that. Or rather, not JUST that. Action Comics #842 is coming out, the second part of adventure where, well, Aliens Steal Our Stuff. Seriously, I've been looking forward to this issue since just seeing the cover by Dave. Freaking. Gibbons. And Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza and Pete Woods are knocking out of the park an old school crazy-ass Silver Age Superman adventure. It's funny to think this is from the same writer who wrote the last issue of Superman, which mostly had him sitting on a plane, reading a book and thinking about a conversation he had with Lana the other day, which was ALSO a great issue.
Three FANTASTIC ongoing comics starring my favorite, favorite, favorite character. Some of my favorite writers, great artists I'm only now beginning to appreciate, and an editorial staff devoted to making Superman, above and beyond anything else, FUN!
I'm just waiting for the wink.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Of the new line up, one is married, five are fathers. One mother.
Where did Clark get a Legion flight ring from? Oh, I know he probably got it from Conner (Kon-El) Kent, who was an honorary member of the Zero Hour Legion of Superheroes, or, failing that, from Supergirl, who's a "current" member. Heck, he might have even pulled it off Booster Gold's crispy fried finger. But I like to think the Legion of Superheroes gave him that ring when he himself was a member of the Legion as a teen. Infinite Crisis almost came out and stated that the adventures of Superman when he was boy are back in continuity, and this could be our first sign.
But the big mystery is who is the shadowy figure behind Felix Faust and Dr. Impossible who is going to such great lengths to keep the Red Tornado out of his robot body? If he was just looking for future tech, Dr. Impossible should have grabbed the Metal Men he disabled as well, so I'm thinking it's someone who actually wants to inhabit the Red Tornado's robot body. And since Brad Meltzer has said that Dr. Impossible is the only new villain, it's probably someone we know.
So who is it? Well, let's narrow it down to the dead, or recently dead. Someone maybe with experience body hopping. Someone smart. Heck, it's Meltzer writing, and it'd be stupid at this point NOT to tie it to Identity Crisis, so maybe someone who had been mind-wiped by Zatanna as well. Someone who specifically wants the Tornado body because it's fast, strong, self-repairing...
Friday, August 25, 2006
Or, Why the Justice League Isn't the Fantastic Four.
With the release of Justice League of America #1, or more accurately, with the release of the variant cover to Justice League #1, there's been a lot of talk about Brad Meltzer's chosen line-up, who belongs in the League, and who doesn't. But I think that's missing the point. Because you know who I think should be in the League?
See, to me, the Justice League is what makes the DC Universe a universe, one world where all these separate stories take place (and you know how much I love having one universe). The fun of a Justice League story is that anyone could show up and fight or team up or just eat Thanksgiving dinner. In that way, the Justice League is a crossover event as ongoing series. In fact, its predecessor the Justice Society was the first inter-company crossover!
And unlike the Fantastic Four or the X-Men, there is no set line up or other common factor uniting the members. ANYONE could reasonably be in the League, from Dr. Fate to Robin, Superman to Odd Man, as long as they were committed to saving people. I mean, we all know who founded the League, but the League has grown and changed and completely turned over its membership in past 46 years. So why limit the team to just "big guns" or, in the opposite direction, just people who don't have their own book? Why limit the League at all?
Not only does a larger team give a writer the full gamut of characters to play with, it makes good internal logic as well. A bigger Justice League is better equipped and better organized to handle the big threats that come up. Really, why have only one Green Lantern or one Flash on the team, when you can three or four? Does it HURT to have Captain Marvel, Superman, and Wonder Woman on the same team? If Aquaman can help at all, who cares if his powers are lame?
For that matter, who needs powers at all? One of the most brilliant additions that Justice League Unlimited introduced to the League, the element that MOST needs to be added to the comics, is the large support staff of "civilians." Why should the League be exclusive to meta-humans and boy billionaires? If Oracle as character has any message, it's that one can save the world without necessarily being able to punch Despero in the face. The Justice League could be a giant volunteer organization devoted to saving lives all over the world, like the Red Cross with superior fire power. (How'd you like that on your resumé? "2004-2006, Saved world. Often.")
In contrast, any Justice League that has less than twelve members seems needlessly exclusionary and self-defeatingly handicapped. Not only is the League not as capable of doing good as it could be with more members, story opportunities get cut off as well. Isn't the fun of a superhero universe watching Metamorpho and Wildcat banter with each other? Or seeing Captain Atom fall before the might of Neron, only to have Zatanna pull a magic save out of her, um, hat? Or read about Superman giving his annual St Crispin's Day speech before an assembled crowd of gods, robots, knights and madmen, before they go off to fight yet another all consuming evil?
Isn't that what having a superhero universe is all about?
Thursday, August 24, 2006
I really enjoyed Justice League of America #1. Screw you guys, I don't care what you say, I like me Emo Red Tornado.
'Course, I also liked Identity Crisis.
I liked it for the same reasons I liked this issue;
great art (unless you're looking to be offended, this is some of Benes's best work yet) ,
a nice grasp of characters and their relationships,
a good mounting sense of dread,
and more good ideas in throwaway lines than some writers have in an entire run (A.I. grapevine and "Hush Tube").
That said, if it turns out Traya is behind the whole thing,
I WILL GRAB A GODDAMN BLACK DIAMOND AND SWEAR BLOODY VENGEANCE ON THEM ALL!
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Damn you people! I'm buying more and more comics because you keep recommending them, including Action Philosophers and Batman and the Mad Monk.
'Course, I couldn't read The Mad Monk without first reading Batman and the Monster Men, which just so happened to come out in a trade today, so I bought that too.
All in all, I bought 10 books this week, including the trade, and half of them I would never have picked up had I not started to seriously read comics blog.
I hope you're happy...
'cause I certainly am!
I have rarely had as high an enjoyment to total ratio as I did today.
The comic I enjoyed the least was Blue Beetle which still isn't living up to its very high potential, and even that was a lot of fun. (Though John Rogers, if you're somehow reading this, pick up the goddamn pace and chain Cully Hamner to a desk).
There's too many to review them all now, so I'll just hit one moment each that stood out.
Blue Beetle: The Phantom Stranger. Just seeing that guy's great.
Astonishing X-Men: Shadowcat-Fu.
Fell: Good old fashioned detective work
Wonder Woman: Twirling. Mother fucking twirling.
Justice League of America: The A.I. grapevine.
Action Philosophers: The Wandering Jew, which may be my next Halloween costume.
Batman and the Monster Men: The shadowy man training on the rings.
Batman and the Mad Monk: Good old fashioned Catwoman.
Batman: Andy Kubert cheeky use of Pop Art and a guest appearance by Sgt. Rock.
52: Montoya's prayer.
Yes, that is in ascending order of enjoyment. 52 was HANDS DOWN the best comic this week, with Joe Bennett bringing his A game to the art to support the head-on collision of two of the major plots, a genuinely tense sequence playing on both mystical fantasy and all-too-real violence, Talky Tawny and Uncle Dudley!!!, Black Adam getting nervous, The Question's role as a step ladder, the pay-off for the rat poison, and what a Marvel wedding looks like, the issue was great.
But what made it truly excellent was Renee Montoya's prayer. A lot has been said about her being a lesbian. Some people remember she's Hispanic (Dominican, to be exact). She's also a former cop and current alcoholic and, when it comes down to it, one of the baddest asses in Gotham.
But she's also Catholic, and her religion is very important to her. It's one of the reasons why she stayed in the closet. It is both a source of strength and of crippling guilt. And the juxtaposition of the Marvel Family wedding, where multiple gods are called upon to throw lightning around super beings flying through the air, and Montoya's quiet prayer to the mother of Jesus in the moment of her greatest need for personal strength, was genuinely moving.
So, what'd you think?
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Is a superhero musical a bad idea?
I can only think of one, and from what I've heard it's not very good.
But was that a matter of execution, or is there something inherently antithetical about the genre of superheroes and the medium of musicals?
My gut says yes, but trying to back it up with actual reasons is more difficult. After all, superheroes have succeeded in every other medium I can think of, so why not?
There's the technical questions, of course. Superheroes tend to play on big fields that would seem difficult to capture on a single stage, but Wicked is currently a hit, and that has flying monkeys, on-stage transformations and falling houses. And people have been performing Wagner operas for over a hundred years now.
There's the campiness of musicals, but come on. The nineties were six years ago, man. We embrace our campiness now. We adore our Superman Family collection. We LOVE the Adam West Batman! Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!
There's the music bit, but music's been a part of superheroes from their first adventures off the page. How many of you don't hear John Williams's score when see Superman swoop in? How many of you couldn't break into the Spider-Man theme on a moment's notice?
Besides, doesn't it seem like a genre where beautiful young men and women in bright, form fitting costumes get into athletic confrontations with each other when not engaging in melodramatic internal monologue or hyper-dramatic declarations of evil intent seem MADE for the Broadway stage?
But before you say anything, I leave you with five words:
Kiss of the Spider-Man.
So it wasn't in the solicitations, but using my super double secret sources, I have obtained a preview image of the villains that Manhunter Kate Spencer will be facing when her title returns in November. Having, unfortunately, killed or crippled most of the villains she's faced so far, she will have to face a new challenge.
Well, new to her. This gang of macho men, who revel in their misogyny, has been around since the 30s! Who could it be? Surely not...
Oh no! Not them! Not now!
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Y'know what I haven't done on this blog? Review the comics I buy every week.
Maybe it's time to start.
52 #15: First off, no, I don't think he's really dead. Everything about the death, from its (mostly) off-panel nature, to the hinky nature of the body (head skeletonized but the costume's intact?), to the hard-sell "he's dead, he's dead he's dead" copy of the cover, plus 52 has three established escape routes (time travel, cloning, and the resurrection cult), makes me think being fried in a nuclear explosion is a minor set back for Michael Jon Carter.
Otherwise, another solid issue of the most ambitious superhero comics project hitting the stands. Any issue with the Question gets the thumbs up. Any issue with the Question punching a guy in the face so hard he makes it concave goes right to the top of the list. And Booster Gold as loser superhero is a riot, even in death.
100 Bullets #75: The jazz of comics. This issue feels like vamping, varying a theme we've seen before without giving us the payoff, but nobody plays better than Azzarello and Risso. I feel like I should review issues like these five months later, because it's not until Azzarello brings back a character, a plot point, or even a painting at a crucial moment later that I realize how good a job he did of introducing it in the first place.
Manhunter #25: Good, but not as good as Manhunter #24. I think the cancelled/not cancelled events hurt this issue specifically. The Sweeney Todd plot is wrapped up without us ever knowing who he really is or how he came to be, as if Andreyko realized he only had one issue to tie up a major plotline, but changes made to set up the next 5 issues denied the sense of closure that a good last issue has. Thing #8, for example also seemed like Dan Slott was cramming a lot in because it was the last issue, but it ended with a satisfying sense of "that's that."
NextWave #7: Believe you me, I will be shouting "YES! I have a hundred of the Earth dollars" next time I'm at at the ATM.
Robin #153: Count me as on board the Beechen OYL Robin. It's been a fun title full of street level superhero action and interweaving plotlines. But I will say that Tim is massively dickish to Owen in this issue. True, Owen is the son of the man who killed Tim's dad, but he's also the son of the man whom Tim's dad killed, AND Owen has no idea that either of those things are true. I can't tell if that's bad writing (Tim's usually more level headed than this) or good (his dad, girlfriend, step-mom, and best friend all killed within a year, maybe Tim's not dealing with it as best he could).
And in an effort to expand my reading, I picked up three recommended titles I hadn't before:
The Boys #1: I learned nothing in this issue that I didn't get in the five-page preview up on the DC web-site. And in fact it looked better in the preview than it did on the page, particularly the coloring. So I can't recommend actually paying three bucks to get the same amount of enjoyment you could for free. However, I loved that preview, so I will be back for issue #2, where the story looks like it will actually start.
Casanova #3: It's interesting, as all double agent stories are, about where loyalties lie and what's the right move. But there might be too much going on as well, because there's also parallel worlds, evil twins, and this multi-face thing floating around. Will definitely be back for #4, though.
Checkmate #5: Maybe this wasn't the issue to jump on. It's a transitional issue, where characters literally stop to catch each other up on what happened in the last four issues and what they expect to happen in the next four. And the main recruitment plot, while well done, feels a little cliched (including having "terrorists" kidnap and torture recruits just to see who holds out the longest). So this may go back on the shelf.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Friday, August 18, 2006
God dammit, Dr. Obvious, stop making good points.
He said, and I quote:
if the lion's share of the revenue is going to be coming from licensing, going for fewer, high quality issues could well support that better than more, lower quality issues.I agree with that one hundred percent.
I really think that the future of comics publishing is a move away from periodical, serialized magazines and towards more original graphic novels. Not that the floppies will ever go away entirely, but there probably will be a lot less of them, particularly from the bigger companies.
And since original graphic novels will be a lot more self contained, telling complete stories in one volume with less reference to other works, missing the on-sale date because of production delays won't matter as much. Publishers will have more incentive to try to produce the best content possible rather than hit their own artificial deadlines.
Deadlines will still matter, from a marketing point of view, just like they do in print publishing. A book that will sell a ton before Christmas can't be delayed to January 1st, for example. But unlike today, the delay of one book will only hurt the sales of that book, so a publisher could afford to let one or two books release late for the sake of quality.
Today, however, superhero comics from the Big Two don't work like that. Instead, the work a lot more like network television shows: Ongoing, episodic fiction. Like TV shows, comics are meant to be enjoyed now. Entertain you this month (or this week) and there will be a new one to take its place next week. In this analogy, the publishers are the show producers, the retailers like the networks (I'm simplifying for the sake of analogy, don't slow me down with the facts).
Now, if Lost was delayed suddenly, because J.J. Abrams got writer's block, or a hurricane hit Hawaii and destroyed the set, or Evangeline Lilly got sick, ABC would be in trouble. To be deprived of the revenue from the advertising on their BIGGEST show AND to lose the platform to promote and launch other shows would really hurt the network, and they would have every right to demand Bad Robot a) get a new writer, b)build a new set as quickly as possible and c)write around Kate for a few episodes. And that's just equivalent to Superman/Batman being late.
Civil War is much worse. Civil War is a Law and Order sweeps three-parter spanning the main show and the two spin-offs in which Jack McCoy is shot, Det. Munch moves back to Baltimore, and Det. Goran is promoted to Captain. If that three parter was delayed by two months, NBC would be in a world of shit. That's THREE major shows indefinitely postponed, at something like the last minute. So that's three hours they have to fill on three different nights. There is no way, NO WAY, NBC would allow Dick Wolf to get away with a problem like that.
Television shows are, however, already set up to hit their deadlines. They have multiple writers, huge teams of ten or sometimes twenty, who work together to pump out scripts, and multiple directors who take turns guiding episodes from script to stage to screen. There's large enough cast of characters that some weeks you can focus on B because character A (or actor A) needs to be off screen for a bit. And multiple ongoing plots and sub-plots so that you can resolve some one week and leave others open to keep viewers interested. There maybe one executive producer/head writer to keep everything together and a consistent tone, but basically they get a lot of people working together so that they can guarantee their retailer, the network, that there will be 22 products a year, rain or shine.*
And as long a comics are going to be produced and sold in episodic installments like they are, that is, as long as they are going to mimic the television plan rather than the book publishing plan, then they are going to need to be able to make a similar guarantee. Maybe in the future they can have a little more freedom, but for now, deadlines mean everything.
hmmm... team of writers, rotating directors, large cast with interweaving plotlines. Why does that sound familiar...?
*This is, by the way, how almost EVERY show on television operates from The Sopranos on down, so don't tell me this hurts the quality of a television show.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
The goal of a comic book company is still to sell comic books (even if the majority of their revenue comes from licenses and toy sales).
In response to my last post on the comic book business, Dr. Obvious makes the, um, obvious point:
True, Marvel makes most of its money from licensing and toys, that's been true since the early '80s at least.
Sadly though, Marvel doesn't make its money off selling books. It makes its money from license deals. See my post here to see exactly why book sales really don't matter to them. Sadly, this isn't true for retailers, like you said.
But publishing is still a large chunk of their revenue, so it still matters.
Just looking at the report Dr. Obvious linked to, Marvel made $25.1 million off publishing alone last quarter. Toys and licensing combined equal $65.3 million, so publishing is still over 27% of their total revenue.
That's a lot to endanger with a blown deadline like this, especially at a time when licensing revenue is down.
I am not trying to be chicken little. I really don't think anyone is going to lose their store over this, though it may be tight for some.
But if this isn't a one time thing, or if Marvel AND DC had both allowed their entire lines to slip due to one book coming out late, then a lot of stores would be in trouble, and Marvel today cannot survive without them.
The retail sales alone make Marvel a lot of money. Additionally, the single issue sales support the trades sold in (regular) book stores. No periodical sales, no trade sales. And there goes 25% of their revenue right there. That's deadly.
Even if they could somehow survive a 25% drop in revenue, they can't just fold up the publishing wing and become a storehouse for intellectual property. The comics still provide the ideas for future licensing opportunities and toy designs. No direct market, no new comics. No new comics, no new toys, no new movies, and no new TV shows.
The comics on the retailers' shelves, at least for now, are still the foundation of Marvel Comics as a business. They may not be the majority of the building, but take away those sales and the whole business falls.
Clark Kent is the second best reporter at the Daily Planet.
Just to be clear, Clark Kent
--whose superpowers include the ability to see through walls and listen to world leaders make battle plans in their secret rooms, who is the biggest news maker on Earth and regularly hangs out in a clubhouse with all of the others--
is the second best reporter at the Planet.
In fact, the only way Clark ever beats Lois to a story is if he cheats like crazy and Lois manages to break both her arms.
(Thanks, Bully, for alerting me to Vintage ToonCast. You truly are a little stuffed bull amongst leggy supermodels.)
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
The goal of a comic book company is to sell comic books.
The goal isn't to make art, or even tell a good story. It certainly isn't to keep your imaginary friends alive.
A comic book publisher wants to, nay, needs to, sell books.
If that means putting subjectively bad but objectively popular artists on covers because more people will buy it, fine.
If that means occasionally pandering to immature fanboy sensibilities, fine.
If that means cosmetically changing a character to better match their more popular movie or TV incarnation, fine.
Even if that means canceling a much loved, well reviewed book because it isn't selling and is therefore losing money, fine.
Does that mean they shouldn't even try to put out a good comic? Of course not, because the long term goals of selling books and making money depend on making art, telling a good story, and, yes, keeping your imaginary friends alive. But in the short term, compromises sometimes have to be made.
If only there was a good example, some bit of news that hit today that could best illustrate my point...
Ah yes, Civil War is going to ship one month and two months late, and take four or five popular titles with it, so as not to spoil events in the main book.
Compare that to Infinite Crisis, which went to multiple artists and, by issue 7, un-inked art, in order to have the books ship on time. (Or close to on-time, I'm not sure. I think it slipped but I'm not sure by how much). What was important was that, like Civil War, Infinite Crisis tied into a lot of books, and if it had missed its ship dates, it would have thrown off the One Year Later launch and 52, which were both successes.
The publishers at Marvel chose quality art over business concerns. Those at DC chose to place the sales of the rest of their line over the quality of their flagship book. Which was the right choice?
As a fan, of course, I hope for nothing but the finest quality in the comics I buy. And as any fan of Astonishing X-Men knows, sometimes you just gotta wait. I'm pretty sure I'll be waiting for Seven Soldiers #1 for the next five years. And it will be worth it. And though I enjoyed the series overall, I was honestly disappointed with Infinite Crisis #7.
However, Brian Hibbs and every retailer who is pissed off right now are absolutely right! Some books you wait for. Your MASSIVE company-wide crossover is not one of them. It must ship, rain or shine, because too many other books depend on it. Even if you're sure you'll get the sales later, comic book stores operating on thin profit margins may not be able to wait for later. Deny them sales too often, and they go out of business, then you don't have a place to sell your late-ass but perfect books, and then you go out of business. And then all my imaginary friends die with you.
Business HAS TO come first. HAS TO. Nobody likes to put out a bad book but it's sometimes put out a bad book now or lose your opportunity to put out a good book later. That means hitting your deadlines, even if you think the book isn't perfect. That means selling to the audience that already exists. That means putting out stories like everybody else is doing because that's what sells. BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT SELLS and in the short term that's how you stay alive.
BUT... that only keeps you alive for today. If you still want to be around tomorrow, you ALSO have to try new and different stories, experimenting with genre, structure, style, tone. You also have to try to expand or create new audiences. You also have to give some artists a little more creative freedom because they just aren't going to make deadline. You have to try to create good art.
Because that's how you make the real money!
[Edit: Declarative Rabbit says in one sentence what I tried to get across in the whole long post.]
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Wow, double plugged by Ragnell and Kalinara (by way of Blog at Newsarama). My hit count went high tonight.
So I thought I'd try to restart a feature: THE TUESDAY NIGHT RECOMMENDATION. This is where I suggest to you, my (faithful? new?) readers a title you can pick up tomorrow that may take you a bit off the beaten path and save comics that need to be talked up.
Previous recommendations include:
SO... looking at the Diamond Distributor list (via Kevin), I see that two of my previous recommendations are coming out tomorrow, Manhunter and NextWave, and of course you are instructed to buy both. But tomorrow's recommendation is something else, something new for me too:
Why should you buy it?
1. It's cheap. Only 2 bucks!
2. Great reviews from reviewers you trust
3. It's DENSE! Like Essential Fantastic Four dense! And when you're getting it in 16 page chunks, instead of 500 page chunks, it's a little easier to digest.
4. It's ONLY two bucks!
5. Because I said so.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Supergirl needs a new writer. One who understands how to write teenagers, particularly teenage girls. One with a proven track record of characters who were young and eager to help, maybe confused and over-come with hormones and distrust of adults. One who gets crushes and is more powerful than they realize.
I nominate Chuck Dixon.
In the pro-column:
He launched Robin and wrote it for 100 issues.
He launched Nightwing and made him cool.
He created Connor Hawke and wrote Ollie's best moment of the '90s, blowing up over Metropolis.
He created the comic and team Birds of Prey.
He created Stephanie Brown, a.k.a. The Spoiler.
In the negative column:
Um, Dorian? Do you want to take this one?
He's made some offensive statements about homosexuality not belonging in comics. (Though, I will say that his particular objection was in reaction to a miniseries that was going to reveal the Rawhide Kid was gay. A miniseries that, in retrospect, turned out to be a horrible immature run of wink wink sex jokes that NO ONE liked, so, just maybe, he might have had a point.)
He also has some pretty conservative politics, it seems. So I'm not sure I'd like to have dinner with him.
I don't care. I like the books he writes. He writes fantastic action scenes, and more bad-ass panels per page than should be allowable by law.
More importantly, I like the characters he writes. To take an example chosen completely at random, let's look at, I don't know, Stephanie Brown?
Stephanie could have been a girl completely defined the men in her life. Daughter of supervillain, girlfriend of superhero. Completely reactive to the world around her.
But she wasn't. She had a life of her own. A relationship with her mother that was probably the most important in her life. A desire to be a superhero, that may have started as rebellion against her father and infatuation with Robin, but it grew into an honest need to save people and be a better person. She trained, with Batman and with the Birds. She was smart and funny, but she was also flawed, impulsive and emotional. In short, she was a teenager.
And she was also a mother. Stephanie found out she was pregnant from an ex-boyfriend, refused to have an abortion, and then gave up the baby for adoption. And everyone of those choices were made by HER.
A lot of writers would give a girl an unexpected pregnancy. It's easy drama. And it would take a very brave writer indeed who would have a character have an abortion (name one!). But other writers would have employed the miraculous miscarriage or just saddled her with a baby, where she would suddenly learn to love and cherish it. Dixon went further, and wrote the scene where she gives up her child with enough emotion that the reader understood there was no good option, that any choice she made was painful, deeply painful. (Then, in true superhero fashion, she solves her problems with violence, by beating the ever-loving crap out of her no good dead-beat ex!)
And Dixon wrote all that. Stephanie's greatest moments, her most private pain, her obvious crushes and awkward attempts to become a trusted member of the Bat-team, basically every reason women were PISSED OFF that Stephanie was killed was because Dixon knew how to write her.
And that's what Supergirl needs now. RIGHT NOW. Less "more powerful than Superman," and more trying to be human and fit in and stand out at the same time. Less "where do I come from and am I evil," and more dumb crushes and bone-head plays for attention. Oh, and more butt-kicking, and less butt-grabbing.
In other words, more teenage girl, and more Chuck Dixon.
At least that's my opinion.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
In the DCU Green Room...
I don't know about everyone else, but I'm still checking out Keith Giffen's sketch's every week. Not only do I get further insights into the story of 52, (for example, in the sketch it's clearer that Devem intentionally started the fire), but it's also fun to see how a book is put together, and how artistic choices down to rendering and inking stage effect the story telling.
And as for the comic itself, I'm going to go on record as saying what I'm enjoying most is what most reviewers seem to hate (no, not the History of the DC Universe, starring Donna Troy. THAT was awful).
I'm enjoying the inconsistency. The fact that one week you'll get the Question, but then you might not see him again for a month while we focus on people entirely unlike him. Reviewers who like street level crime fiction are disappointed when an issue focuses on Isis, reviewers who like heroes LOST IN OUTER SPAAAAACE are disappointed when an issue focuses on a more traditional story of superhero secret identities and foolishly brave reporters.
But I'm really digging the cross-genre action. The idea that the DC Universe is a heterogeneous place; where a tragically doomed romance of the gods might be interrupted by a sci-fi gang armed with Kirby-tech weapons crashing the joint; a celebrity fall from grace and a timeline gone haywire are in fact the SAME story; and that the only person who can solve the disappearance of mad scientists from around the world is a mourning detective who may or may not have discovered the secret to bringing back the dead; gets me pretty danged excited.
Certainly I'm not saying the book is without its flaws. Inconsistent art styles I don't mind. Inconsistencies within a book are more annoying. I KNOW deadlines can be tough and for a book like this I'd rather have it on-time than highly detailed, but for the next nine months or so 52 is going to be DC's big book so you'd kind of hope they'd put just a little more effort into it. Some of the dialogue has been superb, but some has been kind of clanky and the last issue has some foreshadowing so heavy-handed I'm kind of hoping it's actually a red herring. And the less said about a certain terrible (and disappointing) back up feature, the better.
On the whole, however, I so enjoy the concept of 52 that I'd pick it up with even a half-way decent execution, and for all the complaints, the execution has been good, sometimes great! So unless it goes completely off the rails soon (and dear God don't let that happen), I'm in for the long haul.
To me, one of the greatest beneficiaries of Hypertime has got to be be The Question.
While everybody has a different favorite part of 52, everybody seems to agree that The Question is awesome. Whether he's mentoring Montoya with koans, rifling through barely organized files in his rusted out old van, cracking a Gauntlet joke, or casually breaking the fourth wall, everything he's done so far has been HIGHLY amusing. And that's not even getting into the kung fu.
But who IS The Question? Or rather, which Question is that? Is he Steve Ditko's Objectivist crusader? Denny O'Neil's "Zen Master of Crime Fighting"? Bruce Timm's paranoid conspiracy theorist? Even Rick Veitch's urban shaman?
And thanks to the wonders of Hypertime, the answer is "All of them." The Question is "comics' only Zen Objectivist conspiracy theorist." From wildly different authors' visions of who The Question is, we get some basic truths about him from where his different philosophies overlap. There's a fundamental belief that perceived reality and objective reality are very different, that our flawed faculties cannot passively understand the world and that truth must be actively sought by asking the right questions.
In short, "Things are never as they seem."*
So basically, any writer going forward, as long as he keeps that core, can go forth and write a great Question story, picking and choosing from all the earlier versions across time and media the parts he likes, jettisoning that which doesn't, and adding something of his own. Add in a bit of Mr. A. and Rorschach, The Question's creative doppelgängers, and one of the greatest character designs in comics, mix well, and you've got the character of the year.
*Of course, the philosophies diverge as to why reality can't be seen, whether it's because humans aren't rational enough, or whether they are too caught up in themselves, or whether They are hiding the truth from the world.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
Right, so Text Books in the DCU are named after crossovers and major storylines. Makes sense:
Bloodlines: A genetics book focusing on meta-gene detection and activation.
Our Worlds at War: A military history of intergalactic and pan-dimensional conflicts.
Genesis: Comparative theology (important in a world with old and new gods and angels who occasionally join the Justice League).
Thursday, August 10, 2006
I have arrived. I've been tagged by my first meme by Ragnell (and placed in some pretty good company to boot). This is going to be a pretty boring and obvious list, but then I thought honesty was better than an attempt at impressing all y'all.
1. One book that changed your life
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (my favorite book, and I could probably answer a lot of the following questions with the same answer, but I'll hold off for now).
2. One book you have read more than once
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
3. One book you would want on a desert island
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
4. One book that made you laugh
Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett (it's a long way to go for it, but it ends with a 40 foot tall woman climbing up a tower clutching a helpless ape.)
5. One book that made you cry
I don't cry when reading, because I tend not to react viscerally to art.
Oh man, you're going to make me say it, aren't you?
Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
I cried, okay? You read about all those little spiders flying away and see if you still have a dry eye.
6. One book you wish had been written
1,001 Brilliant Story Ideas Which No One Else Has Ever Thought Of by GOD (and I would have the only copy)
7. One book you wish had never been written
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (literary crack cocaine)
8. One book you are currently reading
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
9. One book you have been meaning to read
1776 by David McCullough, though I'll probably end up reading Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman first.
10. Now tag five people!
Crap. Okay, Brandon, Bully, Kaitlin, Steve, Steve, and Aaron, if you had a blog, I'd be tagging you as well.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
In a rare occurrence, I actually got my comics on a Wednesday, which means I can get the ball rolling on this.
In today's Green Arrow, noted lefty blowhard and sexist hypocrite Oliver Queen, mayor of Star City, admits to performing gay marriages NOT because he particularly believes love between two men or two women is just as real as love between a man and a woman, but instead he did it in order to court controversy and attention for his recently destroyed city (think Katrina).
Later he blackmails a businessman with the threat of prison rape. In his words, "Sadie Hawkins Dance, and the-worst-part-of-Deliverance prison."
Yeah, so on the one hand he's explicitly exploiting an under-served minority just to get national publicity, and on the other revealing his latent homophobia by claiming the worst part of prison is the gay sex (and not, y'know, the murder, the violent abuse, the lack of freedom...).
And to me, that's good writing. Yeah, Oliver's being massively dickish, but it's perfectly in character for him. He talks a good game, but he's NEVER lived up to the values he espouses. It's a nasty and accurate swipe at the national media, that will get bored of human tragedy after a month or two, but can't stay away from the gay. (See: Brokeback Mountain, Lance Bass, Batwoman...)
And, if I'm reading it right and I might not be, it's also a funny self satire, because if there's anyone who has exploited homosexuality in order to attract attention (and sell books), it's Judd Winick.
But, I'm not gay, so while I might not be offended by the material and attribute the homophobia on display to the character and not the writer, bloggers who are gay might be, and I'd like to hear what you think.
(In non-controversial news, Conner Hawke is fine, training, and waiting for his miniseries, Deathstroke has teamed up with the world's second most deadly assassin, and Mia Dearden is in fine fighting form, kicking ass, taking names, and talking back! So that's good.)
Crisis on Infinte Earths did not fail in its goal of creating a simpler universe that new readers could understand.
Crisis on Infinite Earths succeeded in its goal of creating a more complicated universe that took better advantage of all the toys that DC had to play with.
Consider, if the purpose of the book was to simplify the universe, they should have just wiped out everything and started over from the beginning. Said THIS is the first appearance of Batman, everything that came before doesn't matter. (With Superman, they kind of did do that, but with the Man of Steel miniseries, not COIE, and it didn't take).
Instead, Marv Wolfman basically said, "You know the past 50 years of comics, spread out over three companies and innumerable separate titles? Yeah, almost all of those stories happened, but all in the same place and over a period of about 10 years." Does that sound like he was even trying to make things simpler?
No, what he was trying to do was create a world where THIS was possible:
Now, you can either start each issue explaining why Dr. Fate and Captain Marvel are on Earth 1 and just which Batman that is, exactly, or you can just accept that they are all from the same Earth and just go from there. Which would you prefer?
Then there's the fact that ongoing books sell better when they are tied to other, more successful ongoing books. It's one thing to read about Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters. But interest is peaked and sales are higher if you know that, at any moment, Wonder Woman might stop by. That's the main reason the Charlton characters were brought into the DC Universe, rather than be relaunched with Watchmen. (On the other hand, somewhere in Hypertime there's a 20 year old ongoing series set in the Watchmen universe, still written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons).
Besides, there's a lot of arrogance that goes into the thought that the DC U needed to be simplified, or still needs to be simplified, for new readers. Remember, we were all new readers, once, and unless you've been collecting since Action Comics #1, there was some piece of backstory you didn't know when you first sat down. Somehow it didn't stop you from having fun, why should it stop someone else? Anyone could understand parallel earths, anyone could understand unified earth, I'm pretty sure everyone will be able to grasp Earth-New.
No, if there's a problem with getting new readers to enjoy current comics, it lies not with the rich, confusing history created by Crisis on Infinte Earths, but with current comic not using that history properly. Comics too worried about correcting, contradicting, clarifying, or simply copying the comics of the past, and not worried enough about creating new stories, new histories, for the comics of the future.
There, it had to be said.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
(If I had a scanner, I'd scanner in the evening...)
Thanks to the suggestion of Philip Looney, I picked up the Essential Fantastic Four, v. 3 last Thursday at my regular stop to Midtown Comics.
I'm having a blast, but it's slow going. They wrote 'em dense in the old days. Not a lot actually happens (the Inhumans plot, which I'm still in the middle of, moves at an Ellis-ian pace,) but it's still a slog to get through all that verbiage. Everybody talks. And talks. And talks.
But when the action kicks in, hoo boy! It's not like I'm the first person to say this, but wow, Kirby is just awesome. The wedding issue (which I now see as the proto-type for EVERY superhero slugfest) is just a bacchanalia of absurdity, villain beaten by hero beaten by new villain beaten by new hero beaten by new new villain.
The best moment, BY FAR, is the rise of Attuma from the depths, complete with an entire Atlantean fleet. Kirby takes an entire page to ratchet up the dread, making sure you, the reader, know that these guys mean business, and Stan, the Man, Lee's over-over the top narration tells you that it... IS... ON!
Turn the page.
The entire fleet is wiped out in three panels when Daredevil drives an armed ATOMIC BOMB into the ocean. The best part about it is that it's a COMPLETE ACCIDENT. He didn't even SEE the fleet (of course), he was just trying to get rid of the bomb!.
I couldn't go on. I was laughing too hard. I literally dropped the book (on to my foot, which hurt cause it's a thick tome, but I didn't stop laughing.)
When was the last time you saw an entire invading army wiped out because a blind man carelessly threw an atomic bomb into the ocean?
I tell you, it's GLORIOUS.
Monday, August 07, 2006
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Greg Horn has gotten a lot of flack for drawing cheesecake covers on She-Hulk which misrepresent the actual content of the book and drive off women who would otherwise enjoy the book.
So I wanted to give a shout out to Mr. Horn for this cover:
That's some good work right there. You immediately get the spy thriller genre of the issue. Jen Walters, the She-Hulk, looks strong and confident, even a little bored, as she glides through the air on seemingly insubstantial wings. Plus all the black and white swirls immediately recall Jim Steranko's trippy covers for Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. All in all, it's nice to see Horn get away from his "boobs sell" mentality and deliver a solid cover that really tells the reader what the book's about...
... what's this? In the corner? Can we get a close up?
Yeah. Uh huh... could you zoom in a little more? Enhance that a bit?
Saturday, August 05, 2006
So in Detective Comics #822, Batman reveals that the Riddler has spent the year since Infinite Crisis in a coma, and has no memory of figuring out that Bruce Wayne is Batman.
That's right: Shining Knight clobbered the Riddler so hard she knocked the Hush out of him.
Anyway, that seems to be the only thing he's forgotten. Things Eddie Nigma remembers include, but are not limited to, how to dress, morse code, where he hired his former hench-wenches, the name of the masked bouncer at an S & M club and all of the secret tunnels that lead to said club, how many times he's been in the Batmobile and that he's never been conscious while being so, and hasn't seemed to lose a bit of his puzzle solving abilities.
Well, isn't that convenient. Not for Bruce. The Riddler knew his real name for about three years now and it didn't impact Batman's life one iota. No, it's pretty convenient for the Riddler. Batman threatened to feed him to Ra's Al Ghul if Nigma ever told anyone what he knew. Now the one secret that Batman would have had the Riddler killed over has just "slipped his mind".
Or has it? Even if the Riddler really had suffered brain damage and memory loss, he's clearly recovered his mental abilities and seems even more observant than before, knowing Bruce's height to the inch and his weight to the pound. He certainly knows Batman's height as well, and seems to recognize Bruce's chin from... somewhere.
And what was that scene at Wayne Manor about? Dini makes it a point that no one, not Gordon, nor the police, not even Nigma, who lead them all there, really suspected Bruce Wayne of the murder. Nigma seemed to just be wasting time.
Unless... the Riddler was trying to get Batman's attention. Batman knew about the murder before, but doesn't get involved until after the Riddler comes knocking on his door. The Riddler even calls him on having a personal stake in the case, though Batman shrugs him off. And the Riddler clearly wants Batman there, to show off for and to take credit when Batman solves the case.
The Riddler also demonstrates that at any time, quite brazenly, he could lead a team of photographers and reporters into Wayne Manor with Gordon following close behind. Even at times it would be... inconvenient for Bruce not to be there.
So tell me, Bruce, do you really think the Riddler forgot the small fact that you're Batman?
Oh, Bruce, you idiot.
*Renee Montoya (2006)