Friday, February 03, 2006

All in color for two dimes

It's a twenty cent piece, okay?If you remember this entry, I bought twenty comic books for two bucks at Forbidden Planet. That's a comic for twenty cents. Since most of 'em origi'nly cost $2.99, that''s a savings's a savings of a lot. (I'll get my baby sister to do the math for me later, 'kay?)

What's really important, like always, is whether or not these comics were fun! So I'm gonna review these toot-sweet, fast-fast, and grade 'em each on three points: could I follow the story even just buying one issue, were they fun or not, and were they worth 20¢. I don't wanna give away the startling shock ending of this blog entry but [SPOILER WARNING] some of these comics weren't even worth 20¢!!!

Let's get this party started!

  • Could I follow the story?: I've never read this series. I don't know much about the New Universe, which the characters visit. There's a good story synopsis on the first page, but I guess the question is more "do I care if I follow the story?" Answer: not really. I kinda just flipped through this one.
  • Was it fun?: Not really. It didn't seem to go anywhere. I think I missed the "glory years" of Exiles, if there were any. This doesn't look like it: it actually looks and reads more like the comics it's referencing, generic 1980s mid-list Marvel quickly-cancelled superhero titles.
  • Was it worth 20¢?: No.

    HAWKMAN #46
  • Could I follow the story?: Not too much problem. It's a prelude to Rann-Thanagar War so reading that helped. Lotsa weird stuff going on here and I'm sure I missed some plot points, though. Good summary of what's going on in a single dialogue bubble on page one, by the way.
  • Was it fun?: Sure. Big winged guy with a mace hittin' stuff, always decent fun to read! A little too much reference to Identity Crisis though, which is never fun. But I even liked the OMACs in this, and I haven't picked up a single OMAC Project issue.
  • Was it worth 20¢?: Yes.

    NYX #7
  • Could I follow the story?: Not really. Not for trying, though. There's a good summary of the first six issues on page one, but I think it was harder to follow because these are all characters I don't know.
  • Was it fun?: Not really. Sad, disillusioned teens having no fun at all with their superpowers. Nice art, though. Subtract points for that awful Nick Fury's Howling Commandos preview that really killed the book before it had even been published.
  • Was it worth 20¢?: Eh, just barely.

    MARVEL KNIGHTS 4 #19-22
  • Could I follow the story?: No problem at all. #19-20 was a two-part story. #21 and #22 were both done-in-ones.
  • Was it fun?: Ehhhh. Weird. To me there is at heart no more fun than the Fantastic Four, but all four of these comics seemed to have a kinda sharp, dull, very cynical edge which doesn't fit well with what I like best about the FF: the over-the-top adventure and wonder. Gorgon seems horribly out of character in the first storyline (although there's some nice bits with Franklin Richards), and Sue Richards' "girls' night out" storyline in #21 is just horribly creepy when it gets into her flashback temptations with the Black Panther. (Nothing against the Black Panther. But she loves Reed!) And there's no superhero I love more than the Thing, so #22 shoulda been a no brainer. Instead it's a sad and spooky golem story with no real satisfaction to the end. Only high spot in these four issues was a nice Kirby impression in the flashback of #21. Who drew it? Probably Ron Frenz, but who knows? There's no credits or title in the story! Bad Marvel! Bad! Bad!
  • Was it worth 20¢?: Nope. Even Stan and Jack would be bored by these four issues.

    CATWOMAN #43 and 45
  • Could I follow the story?: Sure, even though #43 was the last issue of a storyline and #45 part two of a new story. No summary page at the front, but Catwoman sums up what's goin' on so far in her internal monologue.
  • Was it fun?: I'm surprised to say yes. Together these issues had a lotta some things I don't really like in mainstream superhero comics: sexual innuendo, over-the-top brutal violence, pointless dream sequences, threatening helpless animals with violence, and most of all, Hush. (I really really don't like Hush.) But #43 had a nice "justice is served" ending and #45 had a great cliffhanger that act'lly makes me wanna seek out issue #46 and see what happened next.
  • Was it worth 20¢?: These two issues were purrrrfectly worth forty cents. Hee hee hee! That's a Catwoman pun. ... Oh, like you've never made one.

  • Could I follow the story?: Oh, heck no. No idea what was going on here. Poison Ivy lost her powers or something. Who knows?
  • Was it fun?: Ick. More Hush. And looks like a major character died at the end, but I don't even have to bet that that character will be back in a few months at the most. Nice cover, though.
  • Was it worth 20¢?: No.

  • Could I follow the story?: Even tho' it was a #1 issue, not really! Too much depended on you having to have read the last Black Widow series.
  • Was it fun?: Not really. Too much sex talk and violence without any real forward movement of the story. (I blame Brian Michael Bendis for making stories popular in which nothing happens for several issues). Also, points subtracted for that awful, awful "Bod" ad popping up in my memory again.
  • Was it worth 20¢?: Heck no.

    THE HIRE #4
  • Could I follow the story?: Sure, no problem. It's a done-in-one story even though it's issue four. I guess this book is an anthology.
  • Was it fun?: Yes! Mysterious chauffeur in a souped-up BMW helps a tycoon evade his killers, with an escape twist at the end. It reminded me of the movie The Transporter, but no cute Shu Qi in this one! The cartoony art was an odd choice for this story, though. Bonus points for a great one-page Hellboy merchandise advertisment at the back.
  • Was it worth 20¢?: Yes. Not bad for a comic that's basically a commercial for a car company.

  • Could I follow the story?: I dunno...John wouldn't let me read it! (He said "yes; it's a done-in-one.")
  • Was it fun?: John says "Nope! None of the nano-anarchy of an Authority story, too many dirty and over-the-top Lobo jokes. And if you can't make Jenny Quantum look cute, there's something very wrong with the artwork."
  • Was it worth 20¢?: John says "NO!"

  • Could I follow the story?: No real problem, even though I missed the first issue and there were a million characters to keep track of. Five issues in a row helped.
  • Was it fun?: Actually, to my surprise, yes! I've been pretty much avoiding Infinite Crisis crossovers but this one was a lead-in so it didn't seem like it was dependent on a lotta the stuff I've hated seeing happen in IC (even tho' I'm not buying that series). Some cool moments, good visuals for sweeping galactic events and plenty of favorite characters in here including the Prince Gavyn Starman and a neat final issue defeat-the-villain plan. Points off for the non-conclusion at the end of issue #6: I really do think miniseries should have a definite end and not just trail off into another story. (That's the same problem I had with the Power Girl storyline in JSA Classified).
  • Was it worth 20¢?: Five-sixths of a trade paperback for a buck, and I enjoyed the story. Well worth a buck altogether.

  • Could I follow the story?: Boy howdy, I could not really figure out what was going on here at all...
  • Was it fun?: ...and yet it didn't really matter, 'coz yes, this was big, noisy, bonbastic fun. The origin of Detective Chimp? Sign me up! Big giant Captain Marvel fighting colossal Spectre throughout the landscape? I'm in the front seat for that one. Blue Devil and Rook? I'm, so there! I have no idea what's goin' on here, no idea what happened next, and I don't really care. This was sorta anarchic comics in the vein of Rob Liefeld, but hey, it was big loud dumb fun to me.
  • Was it worth 20¢?: Oooooh yeah.

  • Could I follow the story?: It's the kinda-end of a storyline that I didn't even know had been going on but it's easy to follow. Knowing all the characters always helps.
  • Was it fun?: Sorta. There's some really nice quiet characters bits in here I liked a lot, and the format is kinda clever and neat without being annoying: photographs, media reports, and surveillance of Superman takes up the top two-thirds of every page, and the ongoing storyline occupies a strip at the bottom. But the ending looks like something that's been building up a long time so coming in on the middle didn't have much impact for me, and the last page is kinda sour to me: definitely an un-fun revelation. (Doesn't the DCU have enough evil POTUSs?)
  • Was it worth 20¢?: Just barely.

    So, in summary, Marshall has done the math: $54.50 worth of comics for two bucks. Out of twenty, eleven were well worth the twenty cents I paid for 'em. There's some kind of chart and graph Marshall is working up with my colored pencils and markers, but in the meantime I'll just say this: it was a great way to try a lot of different comics and get interested in some of them for just a little money. The biggest disappointment: four Fantastic Four stories that left a sour taste in my mouth. The biggest surprise: the Infinite Crisis books actually tickled me sense of fun.

    Or, to put it another way:
  • Detective Chimp sitting on a sofa: 20¢.
  • Scary giant space villain trying to enslave Thanagar: 20¢.
  • The return of Tigorr: 20¢.
  • Blackfire being as villainous as she was the first time I saw her in New Teen Titans: 20¢.
  • Learning that the Infinite Crisis lead-in comics were a lot more fun that I ever expected? Priceless.
  • Wednesday, February 01, 2006

    No lessons have been learned in the reading of these comic books.

    Futurama #23FUTURAMA #23: This comic is fun. There's nothin' like a comic book story about evil twins! And this is nothing like a comic book story about evil twins! (Ha! Ha! Did you enjoy my little joke! Hmmm? ......................Didja? ............Hmmm? Hmmm?..........Oh, like you could do better!) Seriously, this may look like evil twins, but there's a twist even I didn't see coming! And I'm pretty savvy about comic plotlines in advance: f'rinstance, I knew, months before it happened, that Avengers: Disassembled was gonna stink. (Ha! That was another one. I'm tot'lly on a roll.) Anyway, more fun with Fry, Leela, Bender and company (with a big in-your-face Bender cover!), makin' me miss the cancelled TV series yet again, but fillin' a nice void with this story. What's more, FUTURAMA #23 features The Best Line of the Week: "Once Joss Whedon reads my online Buffy fan fiction novel, I know he'll want to go camping with me!"

    Simpsons Super Spectacular #2SIMPSONS SUPER SPECTACULAR #2: This comic is fun. Here's more fun from the House of Bongo. This issue of the Simpsons-universe superhero title isn't as much fun as the first one, but it's still a highlight of this week. The first story is a kinda pedestrian Crisis on Three Earths crossover called "The League of Extraordinary Barts," but where this issue really shines is in the second story, Batton Lash's "Bongos," a parody of the comic series Marvels. Sure, Marvels is not the most fresh of parody topics, but nobody's done this in this way, and it's especially fun to see the Radioactive Man universe in a pseudo-photographic style. Fun stuff, even if a non-comics fan won't get a word of it.

    Fury #1FURY: PEACEMAKER #1: This comic is fun. Nick Fury: before S.H.I.E.L.D.*! Before the eye-patch! And, apparently, before the Howling Commandos! Garth Ennis has made a name for himself writing some fairly realistic and pretty darn good war comics in the last couple years. Now he puts Marvel's Sgt. Fury in the middle of one. Rather than fighting Baron Strucker and the Red Skull, Nick's heading a platoon in Tunisia in 1943 as the Afrika Corp bears down on them. There's a neat framing sequence that shows the foolproof plans the platoon trained for being shattered left and right, and I guess it's a good thing this book doesn't feature Dum-Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones and Pinky Pinkerton, 'coz Nick's platoon has about the same chance as a snowball in Tunisia. There's a great scene at the end of the issue where Nick faces off against a German Lieutenant General and we...and he...can't see how he's going to escape. The answer may, as Stan Lee used to say when he wrote Fury's adventures, shock and astound you! Seriously, this is good war comics in the vein of Joe Kubert and Robert Kanigher. It does kinda seem like one of Ellis's Vertigo war comics with Nick Fury shoehorned in, but I'll definitely be around for issue two to see what happens next. I bought this book because of my New Year's Resolution to Try Each Week to Pick Up One New Comic Title I Haven't Been Reading, and this week's choice of FURY #1 was definitely a good impulse.

    X-Factor #3X-FACTOR #3: This comic is fun. First off: when's the last time you saw an orange comic book cover? Pretty cool, huh? Well, I thought so. I like orange. Anyway, the fallout from a couple stories I didn't really wanna read ("House of M" and "Decimation") continues, with most of Mutant Town having lost their powers and bands of rampaging normal humans rioting in the streets. Time for Strong Guy to cut loose, M to dance in her bathrobe, and Layla Miller to do her thing, whatever the heck that is. I'm diggin' Peter David's new series: he clearly knows and enjoys these characters, his dialogue is sharp, realistic, and funny, and the ongoing storyline is compelling and makes me wanna come back for more, but I just have to say this: Enough with Layla Miller, already. The "I'm Layla Miller, I know things" joke is already pounded into the ground too many times, and she shows every sign of being plopped there as the series' resident deus ex machina. More to the point, PAD's trying to give her this whole River Tam spooky power chick vibe, and does the universe really need more than one River Tam? No, it does not.

    JLU #18JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED #18: This comic is fun. Superman meets Space Cabby. Let me repeat that. Superman meets Space Cabby. This is not only fun, it's so brilliant I don't know why it hasn't been done before. This is a comic chock-full of oh, yeah! moments (amazing comics blogger Dave Campbell calls these moments something different, but I'm a little stuffed bull so I'll keep to "oh, yeah!"): Superman uses his super-breath; "It tickles!", and, oh yeah!: the cavalry arrives just in the nick of time! What's more, this comic avoids one of the problems I've had with previous issues of JLU: it doesn't end with a moral or a lesson learned of the sort that sometimes makes JLU read like an episode of G.I. Joe. No moral? No lessons? That's why JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED #18 is the most fun comic of the week!

    *Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage and Law-Enforcement Division.

    Monday, January 30, 2006

    Inspirational Comics Retailers 2006, Part 1

    Two dimes

    Remember when I wrote about Delusional Comic Book Retailers? Well, as opposed to buying comics from that guy and his card table, there's still definitely some bargains to be found in expensive, expensive Manhattan for a little stuffed bull who loves comics but only gets a small handful of dimes each week for his allowance. And here's the best part: I learned a business lesson that was worth much, much more than even the best comic book (even one at full price).

    I stepped into Forbidden Planet down off Union Square earlier this month to get my week's worth of comic books, and was very pleasantly surprised to find that in addition to their usual shelf of very-well-worn but frequently great-priced hurt bargain books they also were stocking several shelves of recent comic books, each stickered 25¢. Twenty-five cents! You should have seen me perk up and get all excited at that bargain. Why, I don't know if I could ever imagine a comic book only costing 25¢! These were all very recent books too that it looked like they had overstocked: Marvels including House of M, Hulk, Marvel Knights 4, Daredevil, Exiles, Araña and more, lots of DCs with many of the Infinite Crisis crossover miniseries, Batgirl, Birds of Prey, Detective, Flash, Catwoman, Hawkman, plus a whole lotta independents: all from within the past few months, every floppy four-colored one of 'em two bits.

    I gathered up a big stack of 'em and carted them off to the front register to pay for them with my weekly comics, where the very helpful guy at the counter pointed out to me I'd missed the sign above the comics: these were twenty for two dollars: so 20¢ each, not a quarter! He very kindly counted mine out and found I was one short of getting twenty, so I ran back, grabbed one more issue, and got out my two bucks to pay for 'em.

    Now, I'm jus' a little stuffed bull filled with fluff, but even I know that Forbidden Planet isn't doing this just out of the goodness of their Doctor Who-lovin' hearts. As I think I have said before, I have helped John a lot with his job selling books to trade bookstores, and that's an industry where the books are returnable: if the bookstores don't sell 'em they can return them to the warehouse for credit, so there's very little risk in trying out a new title or a stack of 'em except that you tie up your capital for a while. The comic book industry is not like this.

    (Bear with me here, folks: this is going to be kinda Comics Retailing 101--I know many of the people who read and write comics blogs already know this stuff, but I also know it's new to some Bully-fans out there.)

    I repeat: The comic book industry is not like this. And I have to admit, I'm astonished that comic book stores stand for it sometimes. They must deal with one distributor: Diamond Comics, which is a monopoly in the comics industry. If Diamond doesn't ship what they need then there's no other place the comic book store can go to (unlike a trade book store, which can try the publisher or several different wholesalers in an attempt to get the books they want). Diamond sells their product non-returnable, so there's a lot greater risk on behalf of the comic book store owners and managers, especially on monthly products that they may have to have pre-bought the first several months before the first issue ever hits the stores. Why not order cautiously and re-order later? Because Diamond runs out of stock, the comic book companies seldom reprint, and Diamond charges 2% more for re-orders after your initial buy.

    What does this mean for you and me, the comics fans and consumers? In a market that's not as large as New York, it could mean you're not seeing certain comics at all, especially small-press ones, because while the comic book shop might have customers for a small-press comic, they're much more likely to have copies leftover after that new comics week is over. Unsold, non-returnable comics means money lost for comic book stores, so they are less likely to order something different or unusual.

    How does Diamond respond to this? In the trade book industry, you've got all sorts of incentives to buy and keep stock up, including backlist and frontlist discounted offers, extended dating (a longer period of time before you have to pay your bill), and marketing and co-op money made available for stores to promote or publicize books they like or feel they can sell. I'm not certain if Diamond has those options open, but I do know this: if Diamond does not receive pre-orders for a certain number of a comic book, they will not carry that book or make it available to comic book stores. Yikes! Talk about killing off small publishers in one swell foop! Not only is a small publisher lumbered with a wholesaler that makes it difficult and potentially dangerous for a store to risk trying their product, now Diamond actually makes it impossible for stores to buy certain small-press items, even if the store wants them!

    So (you're asking) in what way, shape, 'n' form can this possibly qualify as an "inspirational comics retailer," as I titled this post. No, I'm not talking about Diamond (the Galactic Empire of book distributors), but about shops like Forbidden Planet that make lemons out of lemonade:

    I told the clerk as he rang up my twenty comics for two buck that it was a great bargain, and thanks, but that I realized the section was made up on comic books Forbidden Planet had overordered on and were now stuck with (non-returnable, remember?) and that they could hardly make back their money sellin' 'em twenty for two bucks.

    The clerk smiled and laughed, and said that sure, they were loss leaders...but better to get back a few bucks on a stack of comics than have them be worthless and not sell at all. And anyway, lots of people pick up the twenty cent comics, get hooked on the series, and come back to buy the regular, monthly series. We can convert some dead stock into potential future repeat business...

    (And then he said...wait for it...)

    Everybody wins.

    "Everybody wins." Wow...that is an approach I would not have considered a comic book store to be considering when marking down useless stock and taking a loss on it. "Everybody wins." In a business where Diamond pretty much serves lemons with each and every shipment of comics, this store has taken them and not only made lemonade, they've made lemon Slushees and lemon meringue pie and lemondrops all in one.

    "Everybody wins." Now, I realize this may have been a clerk talkin' through his hat--maybe in the back room the owner and manager are wringing their hands over the red ink in their balance books when they had to mark down their inventory to twenty cents an issue--but wow, that's a brilliant way to think about a deep-discount sale. Because I certainly do win: look at my stack of twenty cent comics! They win too, 'coz I'm certainly going to continue to shop there, spending my money on four dollar as well as twenty cent comics. And in that batch of twenty cent comics there were a few titles that I said to myself, "Self? This is a fun comic. You ought to read more issues of it." So I'll go back and spend more money. Next week. Week after that. Week after that.

    I hope that game plan works out well for Forbidden Planet. I know all across the country there's some great comic book stores that are struggling to make ends meet in a tough market dealing with a tough distributor. Selling comics at a loss is no easy fix. You can even be cynical and say, sure, that’s easy for a big city store like Forbidden Planet to do: take the loss and smile about it, but it’s not so easy for a store in Topeka or Wayzata or Grover’s Mills. But my point is (and I do have one), that the good will and enthusiasm of that clerk, his helpfulness and cheer, make me wanna go back to Forbidden Planet week after week.

    And that, folks, is an Inspirational Comics Retailer.