Saturday, February 10, 2007

Separated at Birth: America--Heck Yeah!

Avengers #4 and Captain American #337

L: Avengers #4, March 1964, art by Jack Kirby and George Roussos (?)
R: Captain America #337, January 1988, art by Mike Zeck and Bob McLeod
(Click picture to embiggen)

Friday, February 09, 2007

Giant Green Star Wars Rabbit!

Giant green Star Wars rabbit?

Giant green Star Wars rabbit.

Giant green Star Wars rabbit!

Giant green Star Wars rabbit!

Giant green Star Wars rabbit!

Giant green Star Wars rabbit!

Giant green Star Wars rabbit!

Giant green Star Wars rabbit so important he got cover billing alongside Han, Chewie and Luke!

Giant green Star Wars rabbit!

Giant green Star Wars rabbit!




All panels are taken from Star Wars (Marvel) #8, 9, 10 and 16 (1978)
(The cover of Star Wars #16 was de-colorized by me to emphasize
Issues written by Roy Thomas, Howard Chaykin, Don Glut and Archie Goodwin;
Art by Howard Chaykin, Alan Kupperberg, Walt Simonson, Bob Wiacek,
Tom Palmer, Françoise Mouly and Bob Sharen.

Yes, that Françoise Mouly.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Welcome to Fawcett City, Gateway to Adventure

It occured to me last night...

You wanna talk about a gateway comic? Something that's tailor-made to appeal to new, young readers who may have never picked up a comic before (or an American comic)? Here's your gateway comic:

Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil

a Artist and storyteller already popular with teens and young adults? Check.

a User-friendly introduction of Captain Marvel without the baggage of complicated DC Universe continuity? Check.

a Finite story that will eventually be complete and not strung out over endless months to be occasionally derailed by changing creators and intrusive crossovers? Check.

a Scary, funny, high-adventure story? Check.

a Saga of a young orphan boy instituted into a wondrous world of magic, wizards, super powers, villains, and danger? Hmmm, that kinda sounds familiar, don't it? Check.

Shazam #1 panels

I therefore issue this challenge to every member of the comics blogosphere, blog writers and readers, to do this: if you liked Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil, pick up one extra copy this week or next and give it to a kid you know who likes Harry Potter, Eregon, A Series of Unfortunate Events, manga or just plain loves reading. Promise them that if they like it, you'll buy them every issue. And ask them to read it and tell you what they think. Do they want to read the next issue? And if they do, you have gotten them interested in comics. And, although it's a baby step to a massive world, superhero comics.

I'm giving this immediately to my 13-going-on-14 year-old niece Sara. Sara loves...make that adores...Harry Potter, Bone, Castle Waiting, the Batman animated series and the movie Batman Begins, but I'm pretty sure she's never read a superhero comic in her life. This one will probably be her first. And I can't imagine she won't love it, and I can't imagine she won't want to read the rest.

Make this happen, folks. Get the next generation interested in the medium that is our passion. Reward good comics by exposing them to appreciative new readers. Reward good readers by exposing them to great comics.

And if you do, tell me about it here. I'd love to hear the stories and pass them onto other readers. Despite what I said at the end of last night's review, it's not Judd Winick who we need reading this comic: it's the kids in your life.

The Shazam! Gateway Project

Solomon! Hercules! Atlas! And the rest!

Detective #828DETECTIVE COMICS #828: This comic is fun. Paul Dini's Detective stories are reminiscent of an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, right down to the faintly-reminiscent font used for Batman's narration-stories skewed for a slightly older audience, but you can still hear the definitive voice of Kevin Conroy behind each speech bubble. I'm really enjoying the done-in-one tales Dini is bringing to this Bat-book, with the added bonus of a running sub-plot: the Riddler as private detective. I'm, make that betting...that Dini has a great payoff for Eddie Nigma's storyline. For a bonus, there's a lovely quiet moment where Bruce admits his affection for Alfred, Dick and Tim. That alone is worth the price of admission: a Batman who realizes he needs a family. He does rather illogically pass up the possibility of help from Aquaman while investigating a shark-attack death...but that's all forgivable, as it leads Batman to be what, before Dini, he hasn't really been over the past couple decades: a Detective.

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #17FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN #17: This comic is fun. You know, I haven't the faintest idea why Spidey is "back in black" or where Mary Jane and Aunt May are or even if this is all s'posed to take place after Civil War has ended, but it don't really matter, because even without an explanatory intro text page, this comic hits the ground running with Spidey pursued by police and on the run from the law. That's all you really need to know, isn't it? But what tips that usual Spider-Man theme into fun overdrive for me is the portrayal of Flash Thompson, a man who once gave the word "bully" a bad name but who now seems intent on making up for past sins by befriending and helping out a down-on-his-lucky Pete. he? And bonus points for a fun and quirky "Franklin Richards" backup in which the son of the genius accidentally de-evolves the members of the FF into hilariously-downgraded heroes and ends on a silly moment with a happy Richards family. That's is the FF I like.

52 Week 4052 WEEK 40: This comic is fun. Now this is more like it! If you're like me, you've been twiddling your thumbs and ho-humming at the needlessly-extended John Irons/Natasha/Lex Luthor subplot bubbling away in 52 since week 1. Well, surprise! 'coz it explodes dramatically this week in all-out action as Doc irons storms LexCorps swinging that big-ass hammer and decked out in the old-style, Reign of the Supermen-era Steel suit, complete with S-shield. Aided by the Teen Titans—most of whom I didn't recognize, including Raven (hey, thinks I, is that Batgirl?), Steel takes down LexCorps, rescues Natasha, and Luthor? Whoo boy, he gets what's comin' to him. A stand-up-and-cheer victory here with a wonderful triumphant splash page towards the end. (But did we really need to hear about John Henry's fecal matter leaking? No, we did not.)

Justice League Unlimited #30JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED #30: This comic is sorta fun. Oh dear, oh dear, I do love this book, and it's so much more entertaining to me than Justice League of America, but why must so many of its stories involve self-doubting heroes learning a lesson at the end? Speedy's our reluctant Afterschool Special star this issue, and he's paired with a Booster Gold who seems oddly different than the Booster in previous issues or on the JLU cartoon: a Zen master of history is a great idea for a character; I'm just not certain that character should be Booster. Dynamic art and decent action against Polaris do salvage the issue, and as if anticipating my jokes a couple days ago about the uselessness of Hawkeye against Magneto, the Speedy versus Polaris battle addresses how an archer can overcome a master of magnetism. I do wish this book would go more in the direction of Batman Adventures or Superman Adventures and give us solid and fun adventures minus the moral lessons, but it seems to be the trend much, if not all, the time for this title.

Action Comics Annual #10ACTION COMICS ANNUAL #10: This comic is fun. This return to DC Annuals harks back to the era of the go-go checks and multiple stories, with a gorgeous Silver Age-homaging cover (even though they seem to have accidentally dropped the Monster Mash-fonted captions from two of the panels). There's only the sliver of a continuing story in this annual that features several short pieces illustrated by a lot of artists I really like: Art Adams, Joe Kubert, and Eric Wight are among the illustrators exploring an updated version of the Mon-El story, a Superman: The Motion Picture-esque retelling of the Phantom Zone Criminals' origins, and best yet, a two-page spread diagramming the Fortress of Solitude! It's light on substance but high on both fun and nostalgia factor, proving that yes, DC can recapture the magic and adventure of its heyday while still telling ultra-modern stories. If this sort of approach is the legacy of Infinite Crisis, then, well, I'll gladly gobble down this fine omelette made from those broken eggs.

Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil #1SHAZAM! THE MONSTER SOCIETY OF EVIL #1: This comic is fun. Oh. Oh my. Ohhhh, my. Jeff Smith gets it. Hello, Judd Winick? Read this. Because Jeff Smith gets Captain Marvel. I've been waiting for this for months and months until it could not possibly live up to the expectations I was putting on it, and guess what? Totally did! This is a wonderful intense, surprisingly dark, startlingly imaginative, and utterly respectful updating of the Captain Marvel origin story and myth, highlighted by Smith's bold and moody artwork, expressive lettering and sound effects (some of my favorite in the business after Dave Sim and John Workman), and a story of magic, wizards, heroes and an orphan kid that will appeal to long-time comics readers as well as fans of (natch) Bone and Harry Potter. Jeff Smith adds some different twists to the story I don't remember in earlier versions: Captain Marvel existing previously to Billy Batson, or a scene where both interact together (or the upcoming younger Mary Marvel)...but it's done with obvious affection and attention to the spirit of the original character without being a slavish copy. If I wanted to point to one part alone, I'd tell you the hot dog scene is worth the price of admission all by itself, but every page has beauties and terrors and the promise of adventure round the corner. I hereby speak the magic word: FUN! Because SHAZAM! THE MONSTER SOCIETY OF EVIL #1 is the most fun comic of the week!

(Seriously, Judd. Read this comic.)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

My favorite dead horse, beaten again.

And now for something completely diff'rent...

Dave Carter over at Yet Another Comics Blog has an insightful and thought-provoking commentary on the niche industry aspect of our favorite hobby: he cannily points out that the bestselling book of comics right now is merely a drop in the bucket of other media and our market is dramatically shrinking...not merely from forty or fifty years ago but even from seven to ten years ago.

It's a good, solid analysis and it got me thinkin' (which is always a dangerous thing). Dave's post is a twist on a question that I often muse (and sometimes blog) about: where is the new generation of comic book readers coming from? Because we're all gonna die out sooner or later and if the market/publishers don't make increases in a new customer base that hasn't picked up comics before, we're all standing around lookin' shocked in the same way Henry McCoy was when he announced the extinction of homo sapiens: only a handful of generations left before comics die.
New X-Men #116 panels
Panels from New X-Men #116 (September 2001),
written by Grant Morrison, art by Frank Quitely, Mark Morales and Dan Green

Incubus DreamsI work in publishing so I see things from the view of the trade (rather than direct) market and one of the major problems is the circular argument of the existence of the floppy as direct market exclusive. They don't sell well in general bookstores to a new audience that has never bought them for a few reasons or combination of them, among them being perceived as poor value for money and the stores' reluctance to devote a section of the magazine department to low-profit items. But the publishers' reluctance or incompetence to draw new fans into the hobby confuses me as well. I probably make no fans among comic book store retailers with this view, but I wring my hands (er, hooves) over the recent Anita Blake and Stephen King programs from Marvel as floppies eventually collected into trade. Although they are genre works, with such a faithful and strong built-in audience for these series, there must be a considerable contingent of 'em who have never set foot in a comics store. And possibly never will, even tonight when King's comic debuts. But s'pose an original paperback graphic novel of these stories was released at the same time to trade bookstores and comic book shops—heck, even ship it a couple weeks early to comic book shops than to bookstores—and pay for co-op placement or marketing that would position the books physically or thematically where the customers for the series usually go—an Anita Blake graphic novel shelved with the Laurell K. Hamilton books, a Dark Tower GN shelved in the horror section next to King, not (or at least not only) in the GN section. Use that as the launch for a new floppy series and promote it in the back: "Coming in August 2007: a new monthly comic book series continuing the illustrated adventures of Anita Blake!" With instructions on how to look up your local comic book store (1-800-COMICBOOK).

Anita Blake comic bookI might be being naïve and I know I don't have the economics chops to work this out all completely, but I do think you'd sell a heck of a lot of GNs to a wider and more diverse audience that has never set foot inside a comic book store...and now you're giving them incentive to check one out. And a savvy store will market that movement to their advantage: Anita Blake endcaps or displays featuring the GN, new issues of the comic, PLUS other monthly series the audience might like. An informed hand-selling staff: "Hey, if you like Anita Blake, you might enjoy this Vertigo comic." The conversion rate is hard to predict but it will be quantifiable, and I believe this benefits the publishers, the direct market, and the trade bookstores.

Halo Graphic NovelThe closest thing I have to an example of this—and it fails my idea because it had no monthly follow-up to drive customers into comic book the summer 2006 Halo original graphic novel from Marvel. No, it didn't sell 300,000+ copies, but a quick peek at BookScan, the Nielsen sales reporting system for bookstore sales, tells me Halo has sold over 35,000 copies in trade bookstores to date. BookScan numbers are actual out-the-door sales that results in cash in the register, by the way, not sales to the stores that may result in unsold copies sitting on the shelves. Baker & Taylor, one of the industry's largest bookstore wholesales and definitely the largest library wholesalers, does not report to BookScan so add their sales—6,200 copies—to the total*. I haven't any idea of how many sold through the comics direct market, but I'd guesstimate it pushes the total sell-through at over 50,000 copies. So, that's a $25 book that probably is sold to bookstores at $12.50 or possibly a wee bit high (depending on the distributor: most publishers seldom sell books to bookstores at discounts higher than 50% except for exceptionally massive quantities like those to accounts with centralized distribution centers or price clubs; I don't know enough about Marvel's distribution to bookstores or Diamond's arcane discounting schedule to be more accurate). Leaving aside royalties, production, marketing costs that are of course present, that means this book's profit is more than half a million dollars...not massive at all, but not chickenfeed in the general book industry either.

Civil War comic bookAt the heart of it I can see the point of Marvel's program for something superhero related like Civil War. In just the main series alone, it's a floppy that sells approximately 200,000-300,000 copies of each of seven issues: by my admittedly spotty and inexpert economics that's over five million dollars, plus spin-offs, tie-ins, merchandising (t-shirts, posters, toys) and yes, the eventual trade paperback market. It makes sense for those superhero comics to debut in this format inside a comic book store because that's where the audience for 'em is: already in the comic book store. But is the main audience for Anita Blake or Stephen King inside a comic book store? I've gotta guess that only a slice of the Venn pie of their fans are also comics fans.

Dark Tower Comic BookYou can argue—and I do realize and understand—that Marvel's in business to make money, not new customers. They can publish the comic and put out a graphic novel later, and yes, in some ways that does serve the same purpose I'm proposing by getting the Anita Blake fans on board after the trade hardcover collection comes out in May 2007 (although I'll be interested to see if there's a back ad in that collection that points readers to the ongoing series in comic book stores). It's naïve of me to suggest Marvel needs to be "socially responsible" to their business. But there's a saying in business and it's a very simple one: "Start where the money is." Although there's some of it there now, the Anita Blake and Stephen King money started not in the comic book stores but in Barnes and Noble. And Borders. And Books-a-Million. And Elliott Bay. And Tattered Cover. And Shakespeare and Co. And Olsson's. And Barbara's. And And CostCo. And Sam's Clubs. And Target. And that little indie bookstore down the street from you. And your local library. And hundreds of other places filled with customers who have never, would never set foot in a comic book store. Even if they see on that a Dark Tower comic is coming, how many of them say, "I love King but I don't read comics." Put the comics where they spend their money, in forms that are reasonable for their purchasing habits, in locations that will leap out at them rather than hidden away, and the money will follow.

Or, I might be completely wrong and right now at a few minutes after midnight, a sizeable percentage of King fans are stepping into comic book stores across the country, stores they've never been in to buy something they also never have: a comic book. And they'll return and buy other stuff. And get hooked on that. And become comics fans for life.

Hey, it could happen.

*I'm aware there may be some overlap here: B&T's numbers are to both libraries and bookstores, so in some cases Halo may have been sold by B&T to a bookstore reporting to BookScan, which means those copies would have been counted twice. It's hard to quantify that number but I mention the possibility for accuracy and fairness's sake.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

T'Challa, Master Strategist

Okay, you'll remember last night that Magneto had captured the Avengers in Avengers #111 (and hopefully you don't remember anything else about that scene). He holds enslaved under his mental command some of the biggest powerhouses of Earth's Mightiest: The Invincible Iron Man! The Star-Spangled Avenger from World War II, Captain America! The light-on-her-dance-feet and certain-never-to-go-insane Scarlet Witch! And some X-Men.

Whoa. Magneto's taken out some of the big guns of the Avengers. Luckily, Thor, the Vision, and the Black Panther remain free to plot their rescue and attack against Magneto. But there's power in numbers against such a dangerous supervillain, so our three heroes discuss recruiting some ringers to help:

Daredevil #99 panel
All panels are from Daredevil and the Black Widow #99, May 1973;
script by Steve Gerber, art by Sam Kweskin and Syd Shores

Well, that sounds logica...huh? Rewind that by us one more time, Black Panther...?
Daredevil #99 panel

N-n-n-no, T'Challa, I think I'm going to vote against you on this one. The man we need is Reed Richards, maybe, or Ben Grimm, or if you wanna fight magnetic with magic, Doc Strange. But...Daredevil? Only thing he's got going for him is that maybe he doesn't have a huge amount of metal in his billy club.

The Vision ain't helpin' matters either, though. Oh yes, Spider-Man. He'd be useful against Magneto, what with those metal wristbands Spidey wears and everything. And Luke Cage's big chain. And Falcon's mechanical wings. I'm certain none of those would be a liability fighting against a man who can control freakin' magnetism.

Sheesh. Why don't you just invite Hawkeye, for Stan's sake?


Daredevil #99 panel

I swear. I luvs the Avengers. But sometimes...bag of hammers.

You've come a long way, Nancy

Nancy Drew and the Brass-Bound Trunk I don't usually post about Wednesday shipping lists, but...


Whoa. Guess all the clues of the old clocks and mysteries of the leaning lighthouses are too dull for you modern kids of the twenty-first century, huh?

I should be so lucky/Lucky lucky lucky

This isn't about comics. Comics post tonight. In the meantime...

Remember what I said about how much I love London's Victoria & Albert Museum as one of my favorites in the world, not merely for the cavernous Raphael Cartoons room but also for their amazing collection of fashion designs?

Well, to steal a line from Spurge, if I were in London (and oh how I wish I were), I would go to this:
Kylie at the V&A

Focusing on the evolving image of Kylie Minogue, this exhibition features performance costumes, accessories, album covers and photographs, set against a backdrop of music and video. The exhibition shows Kylie's continually changing image, from 1988 onwards, starting with the overalls she wore as Charlene in Neighbours. It also includes the infamous gold lamé hotpants worn in the video for "Spinning Around" and the white hooded jumpsuit featured in the "Can't Get You Out of My Head" video.

This morning on the BBC Breakfast Takeaway podcast, they discussed whether or not Kylie's fashions were an appropriate exhibition for the staid V&A. This little bull says, bloody heck, yes! The Victoria and Albert has always been England's national museum of art and design, and that definition doesn't end at 1945 or 1961 or 1979. The V&A is in the middle of a major reconstruction and transformation to its layout and galleries that will open up the spaces much more fully (including many gallery areas that have been closed for decades), and one of its purposes is to cement the definition of England as a modern European nation and the V&A as central to its design sensibilities. From the V&A website:
One of the fundamental principles of the plan is to re-order the Museum by thinking of it as a city with a series of quarters. There will be two major cultural quarters, Asia and Europe. Asia brings together the V&A's unrivalled collections of Indian, South-East Asian, Islamic and Far Eastern art. Europe includes the already completed British Galleries as well as the new galleries of Medieval and Renaissance art. In these new presentations of the collections, breaking with traditional museum display, different types of object will be grouped together to evoke the culture of their particular time and place.
And what better way to evoke a culture than Kylie's shiny gold hotpants!:
Kylie's hotpants

The exhibition only runs through 10 June 2007, so sadly I won't be able to get to London during the show. But, if like me, you're stuck in a Kylie-less world, you can at least design Kylie's next fabulous fashion look at the Kylie Paper Doll Webpage!

Oh sure. I can hear the giggles. You people don't make fun of Kevin Church when he gushes about Pet Shop Boys, do you? Hmmph.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Who's your daddy? Oh, wait....

Scene: Magneto has captured the Avengers! (And the X-Men too, but that's just another Tuesday for them.) And as the curtain goes up on the splash page of Avengers #111, Magneto holds Earth's Mightiest Heroes (and the Strangest Teens of All) captive and hyp-mo-tized to do his evil bidding, as explained in some page two expositionisming about how iron particles that flow through the blood in the brain can be chemically altered by his magnetic powers to...oh, go along with it or the whole story falls to pieces, okay?

So what's the first thing Earth's premiere mutant terrorist does with his newfound thralls? Uses them to take over the government? Forcibly enact a pro-mutant agenda across the globe? Help him replace all those Betamax tapes he accidently magnetically erased? No. He does not do that. Instead, he forces the Scarlet Witch to go-go dance for him.

Splash page from Avengers #111, May 1973, script by Steve Englehart,
art by Don Heck and Mike Esposito

Oh, ick. That's your daughter, Magneto.

To be fair to ol' helmet-hair, he didn't know that at the time. Neither did she. Even Snazzy Steve Englehart didn't know. Actually it wasn't until six years later, in X-Men #125 (1979), that we all started to put the pieces together of why Quicksilver's funky hair looked so familiar (although it would take until 1983, another four years, until Vision and the Scarlet Witch #4, for a proper Magnetic Family Reunion).

Still. Ick. You gotta know Marvel was hoping no one would remember that panel ten years later. As Joey the Q likes to say: "Read that again, knowing what you now know about Wanda." Aiyyyyiii! No thank you!

I hereby summon the power of Magneto's blood-brain warping thingee magno-powers to wipe it all out of our memories! (Please?)

Magneto commands you!

Sunday, February 04, 2007