Thursday, May 31, 2007

I Should Let This Go

Especially since the trolls have come out to play, but one or two things caught my attention about the Heroes for Hire cover.

The first is that some people seem to forget that a comic book cover is the first, last, and best advertisement for the comic within, especially for new readers. As such, the image that appears on the cover not only communicates what happens in a given story but also why a reader would want to read it. Which is why this cover is much more objectionable than a similar image would be if it appeared only within the book. Within the book, the image would suggest that a rape, horrible and cruel, might occur. As a cover, the image communicates that raped superheroines are something attractive to see, and that the value of female superheroes is entirely their sexuality.

Secondly was something I saw in the Beat:

Heroes for Hire... these sales are little short of atrocious.

This raises, in passing, the controversial topic of the cover for issue #13. There seems to a common assumption, both among publishers and among their detractors, that T&A sells comics. I wonder whether that’s really true. HEROES FOR HIRE has been distinguished by prominent cheesecake art from day one, and just look at its sales. The bad girl genre is virtually dead. MIGHTY AVENGERS, with Frank Cho’s art, is doing no better than NEW AVENGERS with Leinil Francis Yu - in fact, it’s actually the lowest selling of the three Avengers titles, although not by much. And when did you ever see Greg Horn’s covers on a high-selling title?

If this sort of thing is genuinely so popular, why doesn’t it sell better? Could it be that in fact, the audience for T&A comics (or at least comics which are quite so blatant about it) is actually quite small, and that chasing them is a waste of time on commercial grounds alone?
God, I hope so. I hope that treating female characters as more than just sex objects and saying that women can be heroes without needing to be wank material for men is also in line with better business practices.

And finally, I wanted to say kudos to Jason DeAngelis, President of Seven Seas publishing. Not specifically for canceling Nymphet per se, but for listening to the objections his fans and retailers had, re-examining the content he was planning on publishing, evaluating the audience he was planning on publishing to, and then taking full responsibility in an open letter. Things he did NOT do include deny that there was anything objectionable at all, hide behind the female creator of the sexist art, or explain that what we would find offensive in America is perfectly acceptable in Japan, as some other editor in chief did.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Catching Up

Sorry about that. I didn't actually intend to leave pseudo-pseudapod porn up for a week, but I left for my sister's wedding this weekend and found blogging in California surprisingly difficult.

So what did I miss?

Okay, so no one was exactly surprised that Joe Quesada's defense of the indefensible Heroes for Hire cover was a one-two punch of denial: "I don't see any rape here, so clearly there can be no rape here" and "A woman drew this picture, so how could it possibly be sexist?" As everyone else has pointed out, it doesn't matter how art is intended, it matters how art is read, and enough people have read that image as rape that Marvel needs to address the issue with something more that a "You're wrong! Now shut up and go away!"

Also, the defense that the objectifying aspect of the cover is necessitated by the plot falls apart fairly quickly once Lea Henandez demonstrates that, with relatively minor alterations (more assertive facial expressions, zip up Colleen's suit, remove the slime on Black Cat's breast), the Heroes for Hire can be tied up and menaced by slimy tentacles and still be portrayed as the "strong, lead female protagonists who kick major ass" Quesada seems to think we've forgotten they are.

It would be nice if Marvel actually made similar adjustments to the cover. They are not completely insensitive to cries of questionable content. When retailers objected to surprise Spider-Dingus in Spider-Man: Reign, Marvel took returns and offered a less objectionable variant edition. Perhaps if enough retailers, like Mike Sterling, explain to Diamond Distributors and Marvel that they'd be more comfortable stocking a less, um, rape-y cover, Marvel would actually take the time they have to produce a cover that won't actively offend a large portion of the comics reading audience.

Or am I pipe dreaming, because selling the rape of super-heroines isn't nearly as offensive to the average fan as a small sketch of a penis in a "Mature Readers" book?

On to other, happier matter:

I've been thinking for awhile that, now that the Vertigo imprint's biggest titles are no longer tied even tangentially to the DC Universe, it's time for the DC characters who helped launch the major mature comics publisher to "come home," especially Swamp Thing. It's just a shame Chris posted about it first.

Shane Bailey might be too modest to link to it in Blog@Newsarama, but his ode to the Hulk demands linkage and response.

Yes, I'm just as happy as everyone else that Supergirl is going to be written and drawn as a teen girl and not a tarted-up nymphet wearing a frilly belt, half a shirt, and no internal organs. Now comes the hard part: assuming the book's any good, you have to buy and get other people to buy the portrayal of Supergirl that we as a comics community demanded. If the sales tank, DC's marketing is going to learn the wrong lesson, and we'll see a lot less Birds of Prey and a lot more, well, Heroes for Hire.

Speaking of Nymphet... you know what? I'd rather not. Someone else can handle this one.

and finally:

Someone celebrated an anniversary! (image by Kevin)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Why the Cover for Heroes for Hire #13 is Wrong

I find it hard to believe that people actually don't understand what's wrong with this cover:

Those are our Heroes (for Hire) being threatened with rape on the cover.

The selling point of this comic is that you might see one of these busty women raped. By a tentacled beast. That's just repulsive.

If you don't object to this cover because you don't recognize it as rape, you're either blind or in denial. I mean, look at it. Red-eyed voyeurs watch while grotesque phalluses strip Colleen Wing on the right and drip white slime on Black Cat's exposed cleavage on the left. The image could not be more explicitly sexual and threatening while still being displayed with Amazing Spider-Man.

Maybe you do recognize it as rape, but say, "so what? There's racks and racks of tentacle porn manga being sold. Why is this cover wrong?" Because this isn't a porn comic! It's a superhero adventure comic, and the image doesn't even match the solicitation copy. Which means it's just false advertising, playing on the worst desires of fan boys.

These aren't La Blue Girl, who exists to be tentacle raped. These are supposedly superheroes, people who protect others from rape. To show them as potential victims, to make their (potential) rape a sales feature, denies them of their capability as heroes and their existence as developed characters, and makes them into sex toys, to be leered at.

You want to know how you know it's wrong? Because a cover like this would never grace a book about men. You just wouldn't see a cover where Danny Rand hangs naked from a chain while a tentacle wipes itself off on Luke Cage's bare chest.

I mean, take a look at these Marvel covers from last year (a few covers down, where Spencer Carnage presciently forecasts Marvel's turn to hentai). They all feature heroes being threatened by tentacles or snakes, but all of the men are fighting back! Are these women fighting back? No, of course not. They're passed out or frozen in terror or cowering in fear. And it doesn't help that Black Cat, the cowering woman, was recently revealed to be a rape survivor. I mean, that's just wrong.

Look, I'm not one who says rape flat out doesn't belong in superhero stories. I actually enjoyed Identity Crisis and the "Trial of Starfox" arc in She-Hulk. But I do feel it's a very emotional issue and should be used sparingly and carefully and most importantly, should never be a sales feature unless your comic actually is porn.

Dear Greg Horn,

God bless you, good man. God bless.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

50 Things

I've been complaining, lately, so I guess it's time for me to do the whole 50 things I love about superhero comics:

1. The Fantastic (four and otherwise)

2. Specifically, fantastic solutions to ordinary problems, ordinary solutions to fantastic problems

3. Such as Clark Kent beating a super man by doing research and giving a speech

4. Or Ralph dusting Dr. Fate's helmet for prints

5. Team-Ups

6. Random-ass, these nine characters exist in the same universe, let alone the same story?, team-ups

7. Truly evil bad guys

8. Truly evil bad guys, having their asses handed to them

9. Good guys forced to team up with truly evil bad guys to accomplish a larger good

10. Bad guys displaying hidden decency when given half a chance

11. Bad guys displaying their utter depravity, despite being given a chance

12. Spectacle

13. Being given a vision of a world beyond my own

14. Being told that other world is actually a lot closer than one would think

15. Time travel stories

16. Headache inducing time travel stories where cause and effect have completely lost their direction

17. That superheroes can be a metaphor for anything

18. But that they are mostly used to examine the role of authority in a lawful society

19. That Darkseid is the embodiment of Ultimate Order and Mr. Miracle is Ultimate Chaos

20. AND that Batman is Ultimate Order and the Joker is Ultimate Chaos

21. That DC can publish Frank Miller's Batman, Grant Morrison's Batman, Paul Dini's Batman, Paul Pope's Batman, Geoff Johns's Batman, Brad Meltzer's Batman, Matt Wagner's Batman... so on and so forth... and they are all still BATMAN

22. That a caterpillar is a credible Big Bad for two major series

23. That a psychic talking gorilla is a credible threat

24. That there is an entire city of talking gorillas, and some of them are also psychic

25. That superheroes occasionally meet their writers

26. That superheroes occasionally kick their asses

27. Mr. Mxyzptlk (and how to beat him)

28. That most superpowers, even the "scientific" ones, work on a mythic level

29. Like Superman being powered by yellow sun light, and other light or even red sun light doesn't work. Why? Because that's how the spell works

30. That Clark Kent would rather be a reporter than rule the world

31. That somehow he's only the second best reporter for the Daily Planet

32. That he married his greatest rival and best friend

33. Witty Banter

34. Witty banter used to distract and annoy opponents into making a mistake

35. Witty banter used to hide insecurities and cover fears

36. Witty banter used to express the simple idea that "Holy Crap, this is just BIZARRE!"

38. Bizarro, the bigger and dumber the better (which just makes it scarier and more tragic, people)

39. Bizarro Comics

40. That eight year olds can still be superheroes

41. That eighty year olds can still be superheroes

42. That, occasionally, Superman just enjoys flying

43. That Superman's greatest strength is that he believes there is good in everyone

44. That he's not necessarily wrong

45. That no matter WHAT a particular superhero's power or skill is, a superhero uses it to make the world a better place

46. That superheroes don't agree on what makes the world a better place

47. That they team up to save the world anyway

48. That every fan has a different idea of what Superman is like

49. That every fan is right

50. That, every now and then, Superman winks at the reader, letting us know he knows we're reading, that this is just a story, and that we're all in it...


The Point

I think most people understood what I meant with my "prediction" for how the Marvel Universe was going to change, but clearly not everyone did, as this comment shows:

Is your point that the Marvel Zombies would blindly buy books with the same titles as their favorites regardless of the actual content?
Yeah... no.

My point is that "shocking revelations" that "change the Marvel Universe" tend to neither be shocking nor change very much in the long run, so the only way Marvel could truly surprise me is to drop superhero stories altogether and strongly push comics set in other genres.

But they won't, of course. Despite being the largest American comics company, Marvel is also the most conservative. No matter how many times they threaten to "really shake things up," the stories will never really change because Marvel will never stray too far from their bread and butter: superheroes. I can tick off on one hand the number of comics they publish that DON'T, in some way, feature superheroes (and all of those are adaptations of established properties).

Even last year, when they ran tribute books to other genres Marvel used to publish (Romance, Western and "Monster"), the books all ALSO had to feature some established superhero. It couldn't just be Devil Dinosaur, it had to be a Devil Dinosaur vs. The Hulk.*

And this is a problem because Marvel dominates the American comics field and what they SAY is comics, is comics. And as long as Marvel refuses to change, then the medium and the audience for that medium stagnates. Even if superheroes are your biggest selller, publishing superheroes exclusively tells everyone not interested in men in tights that comics as a whole are not for them, and that's suicidal.

For example, "Spider-Man 3" is going to be Sony's biggest movie this year, but that doesn't mean Sony is going to do just Spider-Man movies, or even just superhero movies. That would be insane! Most people would stop seeing Sony films, and if Sony made up half the movie industry by itself, most people would stop seeing movies altogether!

Even DC Comics, which admittedly publishes mostly superhero stuff, has in the last year alone published two western on-goings, a war comic or two, a bunch of fantasy/horror through their Vertigo imprint, a Looney Tunes comic, distributed the CMX line of manga, and launched MINX, which feature teenage girl protagonists.

So there's at least one major publisher pushing different genres, giving top writers and artists the chance to tell stories about anything else to an audience that likes the medium but might not be that into superhero stories. Where's Marvel's Pride of Bagdad? Their Plain Janes? Heck, it's been over twenty years, where's their Sandman?

As for actually turning Amazing Spider-Man into Picture Perfect, I guess I had a second point. I believe Marvel Zombies AREN'T actually that interested in superheroes. They're interested in specific characters and relationships. Which is why Marvel books sell fifty thousand copies and other companies' superhero books maybe sell ten, regardless of perceived quality. And by stripping away the flashy costumes and superpowers, Marvel might be able to prove to their audience that, not only could they enjoy a romantic comedy book, they're already reading one!

It's just been hiding behind a mask.

*The book itself was extremely good, I should say. I was just using it as an example.

Monday, May 21, 2007

When is a Superhero Not a Superhero?

Justice League of America #12: Brad's Meltzer's fantastic run on the JLA concludes with a shocking cliffhanger! “Monitor Duty" is an amazing day in the lives of the world's greatest heroes, as only the League’s artist Ed Benes could envision!

This solicitation neatly sums up what's wrong with Brad Meltzer's Justice League of America, careless typo included.

First, "concludes... with a cliffhanger"? Does someone need to teach Brad (or whoever's writing DC solicitations) what "concludes" means?

Second, and more to the point, the big concluding issue is a Day in the Life story?

It's not that I have a problem with Day in the Life issues, they can be great. The first issue of Astro City is a Day in the Life of the Samaritan. Joe Kelly's first issue on JLA was a fun Day in the Life story. It's a good way to show what superheroes are like when they're not on a life and death mission, when they're just hanging out or dealing with more mundane problems. Day in the Life issues can display hidden depths to characters and humanize superhumans. They are great sources of exposition and as such belong at the beginning of the run!

But Meltzer's entire run has been day in the life stories. What superheroes are like when they aren't acting like superheroes. And it just doesn't work.

It doesn't work because most of the characters in the Justice League already have their own book (or two) to get character work done (and the ones that don't don't belong in the League).

It doesn't work because dwelling on the character stuff needlessly decompresses the story, spreading a two issue plot over six issues, losing narrative drive and reader interest at the same time.

And it doesn't work because the low stakes interpersonal drama ("uh oh, Power Girl wants to kiss Hawkman") looks pretty petty in comparison to the high-stakes superhero drama ("A giant moth is eating Earths' history!").*

I should say I actually enjoy Meltzer's take on superheroes, that the battles are vicious but extremely fast, leaving a lot of time to stand around, talking about books or playing capture the flag, in the right books. I liked his run on Green Arrow, about a man putting his life back together, and even appreciated how Identity Crisis focused on the emotional cost of a single murder; in stark contrast to way casualties in the thousands are usually forgotten by the end of most crossovers. So I might check out whatever he does next.

But Justice League is just not the book for him. It's the crossover action book of the DC Universe about heroes coming together to save lives, and if they are NOT actively engaged in saving lives most of the time, then I don't want to read about it.

I am eager to hear who the new writer for the Justice League will be, what his or (please please please please please) her plans for the team are, and how quickly they'll drop Geo-Force, Vixen, and Red Arrow from the team.

*I have a similar complaint with "24", where people keep wanting to interrupt Jack's search for today's nuclear weapon to talk about their feelings.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Siegel and Shuster's Greatest Creation!

Ever wonder where Batman learned to do that thing where he hits thugs with other thugs?

SAM "SLAM" BRADLEY: Cracking Skulls With Skells since 1937!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

What's This?

The advance solicitations for DC's August books have a few things that caught my eye. For example:

ACTION COMICS #854, it’s a desperate battle for Superman, a turning point for Jimmy Olsen, and a deadly radioactive threat for Metropolis! Will Mr. Action live or die? And what will the future hold for Krypto? Plus: giant monkey!

THE ALL-NEW ATOM #14, Ryan Choi, Donna Troy, Jason Todd and Bob the Monitor continue to search the Nanoverse for Ray Palmer.

Written by Duncan Rouleau
Art and cover by Rouleau
... But the greatest threat lies in Le Cabinet Noir and its bid to control the natural order using dangerous lieutenants like the Nameless, an armored being that feeds off the blood of the innocent and controls the Gogoloth, giant stone Golems made of Granite, Bizmuth, Onyx and Lime.

Giant monkey? Bob the Monitor? And an all new Metal Men series featuring Evil Metal Men?

Did someone at DC miss the memo? Superheroes aren't supposed to be fun!

"Fun" doesn't sell. Superhero comics are supposed to be set in the real world and feature shocking revelations that change everything forever.

Who wants to read about giant radioactive monkeys? Or cosmic beings with surprisingly mundane names? Or personable robots on insane adventures fighting giant monstrous beings?

Besides me, I mean.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Not Comics-- But AWESOME

Just to prove the point about how fiction brings cities to life, here's an excellent short story my friend wrote about the last days of Venice.

It's good readin'!

Bat-Mite Vs. The '90s!

As long as I'm on this kick, let me just enter my favorite moment from World's Funnest into The Ring:

The set-up, omnipotent loser fan boy and physical embodiment of the silliness of the Silver Age, the Bat-Mite, fleeing a cosmicidal Mr. Mxyzptlk, crashes into the DC Universe, circa 1999, as over-rendered by Doug Mahnke:

To say he's displeased with the state of superheroes is perhaps a gross understatement:

Really, Lobo never stood a chance:


This just in:


Here, let me take a crack at guessing the "shocking revelation" that "everything has been leading to" but at the same time "you never saw coming":

Wanda "Deus Ex Machina" Maximoff reappears, mutters "No more...


and everything goes white!


Amazing Spider-Man is now "Picture Perfect," rom-com about struggling photographer and model/actress wife!

New Avengers is now "Avengers," police procedural about an elite F.B.I. squad!

Wolverine is now "Logan's Run," Keuroac-ian stories about a surly tough who rides across America, living and loving!

Uncanny X-Men is now "Gifted," high-school dramedy about students at a boarding school for troubled geniuses!

Captain America is now "Captain Rogers," 80 year old World War II veteran solves murders in small town!

Fantastic Four is now "Weird Chemistry," work place comedy about a science lab!

The Incredible Hulk is now "Banner," dark drama of man dealing with his violent tendencies!

Iron Man is now "Gears of Industry," political drama of weapons manufacturer with a conscience set in today's high tension climate!

and so on and so forth...

For six straight months, Marvel will truly change their universe by publishing NO SUPERHERO BOOKS, forcing the retailers who buy only DC and Marvel books to stock something different and making Marvel Zombies discover how many other types of stories can be told in the comics format, and hopefully getting those same readers to admit they can enjoy a comic book, even if it doesn't involve someone in tights shooting lasers out their eyes!

Oh, if only...

The Character of New York City

One of the tropes of superhero comics is that the hero and his city reflect each other.

Scipio Garling at the Absorbascon has written extensively about the fictionopolises of the DC Comics world, the imaginary cities that, over time, have established themselves as architectural echoes of their protectors: the neo-futurist Metropolis is home to the Man of Tomorrow; cloud enshrouded gothic Gotham is haunted by Dark Knight; Central City has the wide open spaces needed for a hero who can encircle the Earth in under a second; even the quiet and pastoral Smallville reflects the hopeful and nostalgic Adventures of Superman when he was a Boy.

This theme is an updating of the more classic trope that the king embodied the country he ruled, and as he faired, so faired the kingdom. L'√Čtat, c'est moi, as King Louis once said.

But what of the Marvel heroes, the ones who work a) in real places and b) almost entirely in New York. How can New York BE Spider-Man AND Iron Man, Daredevil AND Dr. Strange, and each member of the Fantastic Four as well?

Well, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko did something very clever: they carved up New York and placed their heroes in the neighborhoods that fit best:

Industrialist Iron Man is a leader of Wall Street;

Dr. Strange has the sweetest Greenwich Village bachelor pad and lifestyle ever;

Daredevil fights on the side of the angels in Hell’s Kitchen;

And Spider-Man’s at his very best as the hero of Queens.

And the Fantastic Four, well that’s extra clever. While the Baxter Building fits neatly into the Mid-Town collection of art deco skyscrapers, the members of the team reflect New York's four boroughs.* Ben Grimm is Brooklyn-born and bred; hot-head Johnny Storm is a Yankees fan and ladies man like any Bronx boy aspires to be, motherly Sue Storm fits into the more residential Queens (and I'm guessing is a Mets fan, just to annoy her brother), and is there a better name for a Manhattan-ite than “Mr. Fantastic”?

Later writers would add Luke Cage, Hero for Hire of Harlem, and the Punisher, scourge of Sheepshead Bay. And with each story, with each issue, the city would gain more and more personality, more and more character, until it seemed to breathe.

Which is why I think it’s kind of silly when fans and Joe Quesada insist Marvel Comics take place in “the real world.” The Marvel Universe just isn’t real. Not just that super-powered soldiers and alien invasions would warp the course of history, but by their very legendary nature, superheroes imbue any city they exist in with mythic qualities.

When seen through the mask of Spider-Man, New York becomes a fictionopolis, a place as alive, as full of personality and absurdity and horror and hope as any Metropolis, as any Gotham.

When Spider-Man swings through Manhattan, New York lives!

* “Jon, everyone knows Staten Island doesn’t count.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Page One...

That's how far into this year's issue of All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder I got before I found something that When Fangirls Attack will be bitching complaining talking about for the next week or so. (sorry to beg, again, but does someone have a scan? Thank you, Sleestak. May Haley Mills fill all your dreams!)

It's Frank Miller's Wonder Woman, angry at "Man's World," angry at "Man's Dreams", angry at "Man" and yelling at "Sperm Banks" to get out of her way.

And it just does NOT let up! She wants to kill Batman. She wants the Justice League to kill Batman. She wants to take over the world. And she is angry! ANG! REE!

But, SURPRISE! All she really wants is a good humping from Superman!

I mean, WOW!

Frank Miller is either brilliant or insane and I'm not sure I care. It's just so... so so AWFUL that it has gone around to becoming spectacularly entertaining, then terrible again, than ridiculously entertaining again!

It's obviously an enormous practical joke at this point, right? Since the rest of the issue is just Batman running around, thinking about how awesome it is to be, and I quote, "the goddamn Batman," Alfred hitting the gym, and Dick Grayson picking up an axe. And that's it! That's what we've been waiting a full year for! Andy Kaufman, in his prime, couldn't have figured out a more surreal product to unleash on the market.

I get the people who are offended by this book. I understand the people who are amused by it ironically. But is there someone, and I mean anyone, out there who loves this book AND takes it at face value? Is there really a reader who digs on Wonder Woman hating the Patriarchy, Superman blindly following orders, and Batman being a sadistic psychopath?

And is Frank Miller playing to that reader, or pissing in their soup?

And how weird is it that DC releases this absurd collection of adolescent male fantasies on the same day it releases The Plain Janes, their first book specifically aimed at teenage girls? And the same day they release Batman #665, which, with its hard-boiled narration, hookers with hearts of gold, uber-corrupt monster cops, and Andy Kubert's Jim Lee-esque art, reads like a knowing parody of All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, like Grant Morrison's trying desperately to out-Miller Miller, which, apparently, he just can't?

Because, let's face it, you cannot out-crazy crazy. You can't reason with it either. You can only try to contain it.

p.s. In the name of total honesty, I didn't actually buy All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, I skimmed it in the store. No, I saved my money to buy Satan's $@#%* Baby.

God help me.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

This Way to the Exposition

Mark Waid is a comic book writer that, if nothing else, I respect. I enjoy a lot of his work, and while I can't say he's my favorite writer, he's certainly one of the best at the technical craft of serialized, sequential art. So it's interesting to hear him engage in self-criticism in the same interview at Comic Book Resources that launched yesterday's post:

Robert Taylor: Biggest weakness?

...Mark Waid: dialogue comes off as being a little too expository sometimes.

RT: Can you explain that a little more for me?

MW: Har de har har.
I've heard criticism of Waid's over-explanatory dialogue before and I understand it. In The Brave and the Bold #3, for example, the villain takes a page to explain who exactly each member of the Fatal Five is to a room of hostages who really don't care.

And while it does sound a little unnatural to hear the villain rattle off player stats, at least Waid understands one important fact: Exposition is Necessary. Sometimes it's a necessary evil, but it is always needed.

Remember, every comic is someone's first comic, especially an intentionally new reader friendly book like The Brave and the Bold. So some readers just won't know who the Fatal Five are. Probably even less are familiar with the new Blue Beetle. Heck, it's conceivably someone's first time reading about Batman. (okay, not really...)

It may give "the fans" a thrill to catch something that the casual reader just can't, but if someone who hasn't read comics for the past ten years is constantly left in the dark, then they're also going to be left in the cold, and just walk. The Fuck. Away.

You can't just throw, say, the Ultra-Humanite at the heroes and expect the reader to care without somehow explaining who he is and why he's a threat. When Dolores Winters pops up in the poorly-written Justice League of America #8, the casual reader has no reason to care at all because Brad Meltzer doesn't stop to explain that Winters is the Ultra-Humanite. And that the Ultra-Humanite is a body-hopping evil genius, who is also sometimes a giant white ape, as John Rogers explains in just one (1) word balloon in the much, much better Blue Beetle. (Really, why aren't more people reading that book?)

It used to be, comics had narrators who flat out told the reader what he or she needed to know to enjoy a particular issue, usually the writer/editor, who provided backstory and pointed to the issues in which those stories took place. Every Marvel Comic was (still is?) supposedly being told to you by Stan Lee himself, in his own inimitable style. Or if not the writer, than a host like the Crypt Keeper or the protagonist like Wally West in Waid's run on The Flash told the story directly to the reader.

In the wake of Watchmen, as superhero comics became more self-consciously filmic, narrators were more or less discarded as distracting artifice. Which is an acceptable artistic choice but it meant the thankless job of exposition fell to dialogue between characters.

Done well, and the reader never notices he learned something. Often, however, it's either Authority Figure explaining the plot to the Plucky Hero ("We believe Hitler is looking for the Arc of the Covenant. Here's why that's a bad thing..."), or it's Character A reminding Character B about something that Character B knows all too well ("Wow, you must be really angry that your girlfriend was brutally murdered yesterday by a gang of robot ninjas.")

But, and this is important, badly done exposition is better than no exposition at all.

Yes, the pleasure of ongoing stories is building on what came before, but not everyone read what came before and it's silly to expect them to have. So unless you want to just give up on new readers (and those without exceptional memories for details), you need some way to let readers know what's going on. Serial television shows employ "Previously on BLANK" segments before each episode to catch viewers up. Following that example, Marvel's been using title pages to re-cap the plot, to some good effect. And if you're not going to use a narrator to explain who and what everything is, then you're going to need to have characters speak in Waid's expository style now and then.

Or you could just have The Phantom Stranger explain everything. He's good at that.

Monday, May 14, 2007

What's Wrong With "Fun"?

Everything that's wrong with the current market for superhero comics, in one sentence:

“Fun” automatically kills off a lot of your sales.
says Mark Waid in this interview at Comic Book Resources (hat tip, Graeme McMillan at Blog@Newsarama).

Geez, that's depressing. I really love FUN superhero stories (including Waid and George Perez's The Brave and the Bold) and to hear that fun books aren't viable because the general comics buying audience isn't interested, is in fact repulsed by fun, is just baffling and disheartening.

I can't imagine NOT wanting to read a book my friends tell me is enjoyable, saying "Oh, I don't want to read Marvel Adventures: Avengers. I might be entertained!"

It seems "fun" and "interesting" are not the same thing to most comics fans. Judging from sales charts, the comics buying audience wants books about familiar superheroes, preferably acting in large groups, in stories that will have "repercussions" on later books. And since a "fun" book sounds like the opposite of a "serious" book that has "serious consequences", I guess most buyers don't feel "fun" books are worth spending money on.

But what's the point, then? Why buy crossover books that feature your favorite characters if you're not actually enjoying the books you're reading? If it's just to catch up with the characters, well, that's what the internet is for! And the internet is free!

And, once you've freed your wallet from the shackles of continuity porn, you can spend your hard-earned money on truly rewarding reading experiences, like Manhunter, The All-New Atom, Blue Beetle and, for the love of God, The Brave and the Bold. And if you're worried that "fun" isn't for you, well, a wise little bull said it best:
One thing I noticed is that the comics I like best are fun. That doesn't mean that they're funny (tho' they can be) or all have happy endings or are all written 'specially for kids (or even little stuffed bulls), but just that they are fun to read and when you turn the last page you can't wait to get next month's issue! John once described this as a comic that has a "sense of awe and wonder" and I guess that is as good a way as any to describe it. But I would describe it this way: COMICS OUGHTA BE FUN!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Some Say the World Will End in Fire...

I've been entering the Friday Night Fights for two weeks now, but last time Bully up'd the ante by throwing the nigh-omnipotent Dark Phoenix into the ring—then challenging us to come up with anyone, and I mean anyone, who could make her even sweat.

But let's face it, the best she managed to destroy was the Earth. Whereas for Mr. Mxyzptlk:


What's this fight doing over here?

Remember last month when I was bitching about not actually seeing the Batman/Karate Kid fight in Justice League #8? Well, look what shows up, just in time for Friday Night Fights!

Those are from the preview of Countdown #50. And as sweet as it looks, I kind of wish I had seen this fight in the book I actually paid money for to see it in, not in a separate book I didn't even know was related. That's dirty pool, DC!

Monitoring the Set

So now I've actually read Countdown #1, erm, #51 and I'm just not sure I'm on for the ride, which seems to be the general consensus.

I mean, I liked 52. I like Paul Dini. The art's pretty good. So what's wrong?

I think the problem is the Monitors.

As a concept, I've never liked the Monitor. Not only did he have a name that might as well have been "Not-the-Watcher", but DC Comics already had an omniscient expositor, and he's got better fashion sense. Furthermore, while I like continuity, I don't like stories that are about continuity, and the Monitor was entirely about was protecting continuity (or, as he called it, "reality").

So I wasn't exactly thrilled to see that the new multi-verse comes with a complete set of Nu-Monitors.

Yes, as Diamondrock points out, the Monitors act as continuity cops, correcting confusing continuity errors... "with EXTREME PREJUDICE!" < wailing guitars > But they won't, as he hopes, reduce the "porousness" of the multi-verse since any story with the Monitors will feature someone jumping between worlds, if only to get shot. By their very existence, the Monitors will only increase the porousness. Similarly, stories with the Monitors will increase the number of stories that are about the existence of the multi-verse, rather than simply set in it.

And Countdown looks like it's going to follow the same pattern. Andrew Hickey, at his new Countdown Blog, points out that the characters featured in the first issue, and those slated to appear, are the stress points of DC continuity: characters that are "supposed" to be dead, like Jason Todd and those whose histories contradict "official" canon, like Duela Dent, which implies the story will be about their status as continuity question marks.

Which could not interest me less. Stories intended to solve continuity problems, turning editorial errors into story engines, also turn compelling characters into walking plot points. Donna Troy is not interesting because her origin got screwed up by constant re-writes. She's interesting in spite of it (if she's interesting at all). So centering a plot on how much her background doesn't make sense is like...

It's like seeing a play with an amazing, intricate set. Something truly spectacular to look at. But the play itself is just characters talking about the set, either how pretty it is or how bizarre or just detailing how each piece fits together. As a guy who built sets in college, sure, I might find it interesting to know how it was built, but I'm not sure I could stand the characters in the play just gabbing about it and nothing else for two hours, with a fifteen minute intermission.

And all the Monitors seem to do is walk onto sets, shout "That tree is made out of cardboard!" then shoot the first character who knocks down the 2-D tree.

Maybe it's too soon to make the call, and I will pick up the next issue (especially since it looks like it features Jimmy Olsen vs. Dini's take on the Joker). But I know that 52 wow'ed me AND set up its theme of change in its first issue; and Countdown just didn't. So before I can commit another $150 dollars and a year's time to this thing, I need to know it's about more than just cardboard cut-outs.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Plain Janes—It's "Mean Girls" meets "V for Vendetta"

And I'm only half joking about that.

Yes, though nefarious means (i.e. someone in DC Publicity handed it to me), I obtained a galley copy of The Plain Janes, the first graphic novel from DC Comics' new imprint for teen girls, MINX.

Personally, I think that MINX as a concept is a very good idea. Expanding the comic book reading audience to be as inclusive as possible, with as much variety of content as possible, is critical to the long term success of the medium, AND only DC Comics really has the resources and commitment to successfully back such a venture. Of course, actually attracting a new audience depends entirely on the quality of the content produced.

Fortunately, if this book is indicative of what's to come, I think they are off to a good start.

Right away, it's clear that this book is not another superhero book or even another Vertigo book, shrunk down and repackaged. And it's not American manga, either. It's its own animal.

Cecil Castellucci writes a compelling and charming story about Jane, the new girl at school, and how her crazy scheme of guerilla artwork unites the other outcasts, coincidentally also named Jane, and eventually the entire school. Though it is her first graphic novel, Castellucci is not over wordy but allows Jim Rugg's simple and expressive art do most of the storytelling. Rugg is particularly apt at drawing teen girls that actually look like teen girls, while remaining visually interesting and distinct from one another, particular the Janes.

And though the general plot is a little bit cliched, it's clear from page one that there is more going on than just high school melodrama. Layered into the story are questions about the value and purpose of art and the compromises between freedom and security we deal with in a time of terrorism (handled much better and more complexly than some other comics series I know).

Castellucci's best writing is in the narrator, "Main" Jane. Jane's struggle to find her identity in the wake of a traumatic event makes her entirely sympathetic, but she never comes across as self-pitying or morose. And though she shows a lot of maturity about the world, she remains at all times a teenager, impulsive, passionate, and sometimes overwhelmed by her emotions.

The supporting characters, however, are more two-dimensional (the other Janes, for example, refer to themselves as "BrainJayne," "TheatreJane," and "SportyJane," like Spice Girls). They remain fun and empathetic, but we never really get to know them outside of what Main Jane thinks about them.

Two characters that stand out are Jane's overprotective mother and James, "president, secretary and treasurer of the Queer Club" and the only openly gay boy in school. Jane's Mom (who's never given a real name) may be irrational in her fears and a hindrance to Jane's social life, but we know why her mother is so scared and understand that her concerns come from her love for her daughter, making Jane's Mom tragically poignant. And while I thought I was going to hate James as a token and stereotypical character, he surprised me with his bravery, honestly, and lovability. He steals every scene he's in.

My only real complaint about the book is that it kind of ends abruptly. It feels like there's a lot of story left to tell when The Plain Janes finishes, even if it does climax with a fairly strong resolution. I guess I just didn't want it to end, which isn't that bad at all.

All in all, I think The Plain Janes is a great kick off book that firmly establishes MINX as an imprint for girls looking for meaning in art, looking to improve the world, and, maybe, looking for a little bit of anarchy.

I think this could work.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Is it 2008 yet?

Grant Morrison does an exit interview for 52 and lets a few cats out of the bag:

The same pitch also introduced two new Japanese pop-culture inspired superteams - the venerable monster-huntin' crew of Big Science Action and the Super Young Team (whose members include Most Excellent SuperBat, Big Atomic Lantern Boy and Shy Crazy Lolita Canary) - both of which will appear in my next big DCU project in 2008....

...Doc Magnus' Plutonium Man will probably turn up again in the forthcoming Metal Men series....

...If you miss Vic Sage as the Question, you should be able to follow the adventures of Vic's counterpart on the Charlton/Watchmen world of Earth 4...

That's right, the mother-f@#$ing WATCHMEN WORLD

There's also something about sex with a jellyfish. Oh just go read it.

Psycho-Changer, Qu'est Que C'est

One of the greatest advantages of long form, episodic storytelling is that characters develop over time as a natural reaction to their experiences. Rather than the sudden epiphany required in a two hour movie, a comic book character can, issue by issue, over years, progress through stages of growth.

Catwoman, for example, moved from thief with little conscience to someone who robs only from the rich to Robin Hood in black leather to out-and-out vigilante superhero—not over the course of one story but over two series running over 15 years! Such a well mapped progression gives a sense of character growth earned, an arc rewarded and a hero in the place she ought to be!

Which is why I really hate "psycho-changers," those plot devices that explain personality change as the sudden result of some external influence. Instead of personality changing as a natural reaction to personal experience, characters are bonked on the head with a coconut or exposed to "evil radiation" and suddenly they're jerks, murderous and wearing stupid emo haircuts. (Why yes, I did see Spider-Man 3 this weekend. Why do you ask?)

One of the many reasons I stopped watching Smallville was that the only times the characters changed at all was when they were hit with Kryptonite-infused pollen (or Kryptonite-infused bugs, or red Kryptonite, or black Kryptonite, or...) and suddenly they were adrenaline-seeking bad girls who dressed skankily or wanted to kill Clark. Why should the writers take the time to come up with a good, compelling reason teenagers would want to have sex or Lex Luthor would want to be evil, when there's Plotdevise-inite just lying around everywhere?

I mean, "psycho-changers" are okay for one-shot stories where they set-up otherwise impossible situations ("Oh no, Superman thinks he's Darkseid's son!") or are used as metaphors for internal struggles (one of fantasy's great strengths is that internal demons become external, where they are easier to punch in the nose). But when they are over-used or are used in place of real development, where the metaphor is dropped entirely, they become a major problem.

Particularly when the "psycho-changer" actually REPLACES real development (that some other writer took the time to create) with arbitrary excuses for new behavior. God forbid the loss of his entire city and almost everyone he knows drove Hal Jordan to try change history, no matter what the cost. That would, you know, make sense. Nope, he had to be infected with an alien parasite no one knew about before. (Also, all the people he killed are not actually dead.)

Or Cassandra Cain. Daughter of assassins. Trained from birth to be an assassin. Used by Batman more as a weapon than as a person. Never discovered her human side, no matter how hard she tried. Forced to fight her mother, over and over again, until she finally kills her. Disappears for a year. But what explains her trying to kill Robin?

Evil Serum!

But more annoying to me than the "psycho-changers" explaining why good characters went bad are the "psycho-changers" that explain why villains reformed. I watched Catwoman grow a conscience over a very long period of time. To say that her growth was not her own, but imposed on her by a meddling Zatanna, is to say that Catwoman couldn't have changed on her own.

The problem is that "psycho-changers" define personality as something constant and inert unless arbitrarily acted upon by fantastic forces. That rehabilitation is just as impossible as falls from grace. That some people are just born evil, and some are born good, and nothing short of alien intervention can change that.

In fact, personality is something that's constantly in flux. Are you the same person you were five years ago? Have you grown in anyway? Are you better? Are you worse? And is any of this change a result of brainwashing?

Friday, May 04, 2007

A Question of Violence

Vic Sage, what makes you such a badass?

Really? I never would have guessed.

(For answers to more burning questions, check here!)

Guess Who's Back. Back Again.

My MySpace account finally pays off and I get a preview of DC's new weekly, Countdown.

And it looks like Darkseid's back, still playing with his HeroClix:

I mean, it's cool and all that Paul Dini and Co. are not being coy about who the bad guys are, and Darkseid's desire to be the architect of the new universe nicely ties this series into the underlying theme of 52, but it's hard to look at an Evil Space Tyrant looming over detailed models of his enemies and not think of this:

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Tales of Earth-1

This post contains spoilers about 52 52, in case anyone cares anymore.

Anyway, the multiverse is back, as we all knew it would be since at least last November. A lot of folks are happy about the return of Earth 4, the Charlton Heroes, and Earth 5/S, the Captain Marvel-verse, Devon's excited about the Wildstorm books officially being incorporated as Earth-50, and Kalinara is excited about her proposed, gender-reversed Earth-25.

But the world I'm eager to see is Earth-1.

Rip Hunter explicitly states that there is "New Earth", the composite Earth most of the DC line are set in, and then there is "Earths 1-51". New Earth is the world we know; Earth-1 is something... else.

Presumably, it's the Silver-Age DC Earth. The world where the first superheroes were Batman and the Martian Manhunter. Where Hal Jordan was the first human called Green Lantern, and Jay Garrick is nothing but a beloved comic book character. It's a world where the Crisis on Infinite Earths never happened; where perhaps even Crisis on Two Earths never happened.

It would be a more stream-lined setting; almost entirely science fiction influenced, with most of its heroes receiving power from either lab accidents or alien sources. It would jettison a lot of confusing character history, so that Hawkman would finally MAKE SENSE! (also: Wonder Girl).

It wouldn't necessarily be a better place to set most of the stories. I prefer the crazy, mixed up jumble that is the Post Crisis universe, but Earth-1 would still be a fun place to visit, I think, for two main reasons:

1) Earth-1 would be far less shackled to the real world than even the normal DCU. This means you could explore how the world would be changed if an Atlantean, an Amazon, a Martian, a Space Cop, and a man who re-writes the laws of physics with every step have been policing the world since 1960.

and 2) It means that crazy, god-like bastard the Earth-1 Superman is still out there, playing tricks on his best friends to teach them lessons and winking at an audience that only he sees. I wonder what HE's been up to the last twenty years.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Two Views of Ms. Marvel

Most of what I know about Ms. Marvel I picked up from the blogs. I gather that she's a super-strong powerhouse and leader of one of Marvel's premier super teams with a confusing back story and, um, a generous endowment. Basically, she's Marvel's Power Girl. But nevertheless, I'd like to take a moment to consider how Marvel is presenting their blonde bombshell to the potential comics buyer (as taken from their July Solicitations):

First up is the cover of Ms. Marvel #17 by Greg Horn. I know Horn mostly as the cover artist on She-Hulk, where a reputation for bad cheesecake poses didn't stop him from producing some really awesome covers.

First off, I like that after photo-referencing the face, Horn went ahead and photo referenced the hair too, giving the finished image a more natural look (rather than looking like a real person wearing a yellow foam wig). I also like how the lighting and speed lines emphasize her smile and the flaming bits of debris suggest how powerfully she broke through. The head seems maybe too big for her body, but the rest of her seems reasonably well proportioned. Over all, this is a very good representation of a strong woman who really, really enjoys beating the crap out of doors.

And then we have Frank Cho's cover for Mighty Avengers #5:


I don't mind that Ms. Marvel is shown getting shot in the back; I assume that's a scene in the comic itself and seeing the leader and strongest member of the team taken out on the cover shows the seriousness of the threat. It's that she's shot off to the side, facing away from the viewer, while Ant-Man--Ant-Man?--gets to look badass front and center.

Okay, we get it. Frank Cho likes to draw women's butts. But this is getting ridiculous, especially after the ass-tastic covers for Mighty Avengers #3 AND Mighty Avengers #4. Why can't Ms. Marvel face the viewer, so we can see her reaction to the attack? Why can't we empathize with her, rather than gaze at her?

Is she a character, or is she an object?

Greg Horn has his answer, Mr. Cho. What's yours?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Uh Oh...

This post is only going to be relevant for the next 24 hours but it contains a heck of possible spoiler, so if you care, turn away now, otherwise join me after the jump:

Update: Well, that gets a big nevermind. It might still be relevant for a future storyline though, so I'm leaving it up.

Read more

Remember when Justice League of America #1 came out, and it was implied that Buddy "Animal Man" Baker didn't survive 52, and then he did die, and everyone was sad, and then he was brought back to life, and everyone was happy again?

Yeah about that...

This is a sketch of a deleted page from 52 #47:

Those are the Yellow Aliens who operate outside the DC Universe that gave Buddy his powers and saved his life, just after redirecting him through time and space to, basically, last week's issue. And at the bottom of the page one reassures the other by saying "Believe in Her"...

... which is the mantra of 52's new space tyrant, Lady Styx.

On the one hand, this is good. It elevates Lady Styx to the level of reality-threatening villain, putting her on par with Mr. Mind and the (surprisingly still) unnamed backer of Intergang. If she controls such Fourth Wall violating entities as the Yellow Aliens, then she could re-write the entire DC Universe. Hopefully that means 52 #52 will wrap up her storyline in a slightly more satisfying way than having Lobo chucking her into a Sun-Eater.

On the other hand, it also means Buddy got back to Earth where and when he did because Lady Styx wanted him to, which can't be good for him or any of the Bakers.

Now maybe I'm wrong, and maybe it was cut because it wasn't actually relevant, but the sketches revealed that Egg Fu was behind the missing scientists, so maybe I'm not.

I'm just saying, just because Buddy made it back to Earth, doesn't mean he necessarily gets a happy ending...

... then again, this is comics. No one gets an ending...