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Diamond’s 2013 Stats Show Comics Sales Growing

The Walking Dead #115 was the top-selling comic book of 2013.

Despite all the turmoil, 2013 turned out to be a fantastic year for the comics industry.

Diamond Comics Distributors just posted its year-end stats, revealing comic book sales were up more than 10 percent over 2012 and graphic novels up 6.5 percent. That’s an overall sales boost of just over 9 percent.

Both unit sales and dollar sales charts showed Marvel and DC collectively accounting for about two-thirds of the business, followed in dollar share by Image Comics, IDW, Dark Horse, Dynamite, Boom!, Eaglemoss, Valiant and Avatar Press.

The Walking Dead #115 turned out to be the top-selling single issue of the year — fueled no doubt by the ten connecting variant covers celebrating the series’ 10th anniversary— followed by DC relaunches Justice League of America #1 and Superman Unchained #1. Marvel dominated the rest of the top ten, with Guardians of the Galaxy #1, Superior Spider-Man #1, Infinity #1, X-Men #1, Age of Ultron #1 and Uncanny X-Men #1. Rounding out the list was Superman Unchained #2.

Graphic novels were dominated by Image, with volumes of Saga and Walking Dead taking the top six spots. Marvel’s sole title on the list was Hawkeye, Vol. 1, while Batman scored two for DC with The Court of Owls and The Killing Joke Special Edition.

The charts also show why publishers are constantly rebooting and relaunching titles: Those tactics sell lots of comics. So I expect we’ll see a lot more of that.

On the plus side, it’s great to see almost all the major publishers posting gains and also that each has forged for itself a strong identity in the market through publishing quality work. I can think of books I like from pretty much every one of the top publishers, which is saying something.

It’s also interesting to see Diamond list its account tally for comic book specialty shops at more than 3,500. That’s up from what I remember it being in the not-too-distant past, and an increase in this number likely has a lot to do with market growth considering these sales tallied here are sales to retailers, not sell-through numbers. I’ve long thought that more comics shops were important for the industry just to get the damn things out there and in front of people who’d buy comics and like them if they could actually see them for sale somewhere.

Heavy Lifting: DC Comics — The New 52 Omnibus

Getting back to DC’s New 52, there’s an interesting event element to the relaunch that is exemplified by the omnibus edition of DC Comics: The New 52.

This is a massive book — thicker than any comics collection I can think of. Even Dave Sim’s Cerebus collections of Church and State, which was told in 60 or so issues, took two super-thick paperback volumes to tell. According to Amazon.com, which is selling the book for $89.99, it weighs 7.7 pounds! Dimensions are 11.3 x 7.4 x 2.8 inches, and 1,216 pages. Compare that to Cerebus: Church & State Vol. 2 at 630 pages and 1.8 pounds, and Marvel’s The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Vol. 1 at 1,088 page and a whopping 8.8 pounds! 
This obviously indicates some advances in publishing technology, as it was only about 12 or so years ago that DC released a slipcased, hardcover edition of Crisis on Infinite Earths and said publicly that it was unlikely to be reprinted in that format because it was so difficult to manufacture so thick a volume. Of course, since then, there have been several reprintings of the series in different formats, including an Absolute edition.

I think this is a title that will not stay in print for a long time, because it’s such a strange collection. There’s no complete story here. It is simply a snapshot of this crucial month in which DC relaunched all its titles. That may make this in time a particularly pricey collector’s item, though at $150 new it’s already pretty pricey. 
The presentation on this book is nice, though it is so thick that copy and panels near the spine can be hard to read. I recall no double-page spreads in these issues, but this format would make such pages difficult to read at best. The design of the dust jacket is terrific, with a great spine design and a Jim Lee-drawn Justice League spread printed onto the actual hardcover underneath. 
And I can’t help but wonder if it would be at all feasible to do a volume two, and possibly make the entire DC Universe line available to die-hard fans in a single monthly book like this. That would be pretty cool if highly unlikely.
Next: More comments on The New 52, the anthology series Dark Horse Presents and a look at X-Men: Regenesis.

New 52 Notes: Green Lantern books, OMAC, Supergirl, Wonder Woman

Reading Green Lantern #3 and Green Lantern Corps #3, I’m impressed by the quality of the latter, technically second-tier title for delivering the kind of action and outer-spacey adventure I like to see from the title. Though it got quite cluttered in the second issue, the “Ring Slayers” story shines again in a very good third issue. The former also is very good, but I don’t recall Hal Jordan ever being this much of a hot-headed jerk. Reading these together, it almost feels like Hal and Guy Gardner swapped roles.
OMAC #3 delivers pretty much the same story as the first two issues did — Kevin Kho lands himself in an odd place where he has to fight a powerful and turns into OMAC to win the day. It’s still good, but overly serialized in a bad way and the overall plot is being pushed too far into the background. I still love the art, which has obvious Kirby roots but also a nice modern sheen to give it a contemporary look.

In retrospect, I think the first two issues of Supergirl should have been one issue — either a condensed version of the two-part story or a double-size issue. It just reads that way to me. Supergirl #3 takes things in a different direction, as Supergirl tries to find out the truth about where she is and how she got here and acquires a new (at least I think he’s new) nemesis in Simon Tycho. So far, I like the writing on this book and the take writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson have on the character. The art takes a slight detour here, with Bill Reinhold’s inking and Paul Mounts’ coloring darkening the overall bright look of the first two issues. It’s not an improvement, but it’s definitely not the kind of bright and inviting look that seem to best suit this character.
Wonder Woman #3 was the best issue to date of the series, which itself is one of the best of The New 52. It’s hard to say too much about this without giving away rather significant origin-related spoilers. But just about everything in this comic book works, from Brian Azzarello’s plot and script to the art by Cliff Chiang and outstanding colors by  Matthew Wilson. Excellent stuff. 

DC New 52, 4th Wave, Pt. 2: I, Vampire and, yes, Teen Titans nail it

OK, I just finished reading the final six debut issues of the New 52. Reading them all has been fun, but it’s a lot of comics. I don’t know when I last read this many comics in one month, but it’s been a long while.

Onward:

The Savage Hawkman #1 is confusing for me because I don’t understand the idea of the Nth Metal. I thought Hawkman was from Hawkworld, but I guess it’s all been changed. This issue begins with Carter Hall trying to rid himself of the Nth Metal and any connection to Hawkman. He fails, of course, and goes missing while some of his colleagues dredge up a mystery object from the ocean floor. It eventually unleashes all kinds of nasty and Carter finds himself morphing back into Hawkman to fight it. As you can tell, the story, by Tony Daniel, is pretty average. What I really liked was the art by Philip Tan and the coloring by Sunny Gho. This is a nice looking book — it has a painted look, though close inspection reveals that to not be the case. I don’t have an emotional connection to Hawkman, so I doubt I’ll be back, but this is a decent comic.

After getting a lot of criticism last week for the portrayal of women in the New 52, we next come to Voodoo #1. Another Wildstorm refugee, this one sees the former member of Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.S. working as a stripper while being investigated for some reason by a couple of agents. Turns out, she’s an alien with telepathy who finds it easy to learn about men as a stripper because they’re guards are down while they watch her. It’s not much of an explanation, but it is one. The end also indicates that the stripper locale is a one-issue affair, and the plot will move on into some more interesting areas. The art by Sami Basri is, as you’d expect for a story set in a strip club, replete with women wearing skimpy clothes and in various levels of undress. The biggest problem with this issue is it doesn’t deliver enough of anything — mystery, character, suspense, plot — to make me want to stick around. It’s just thin, and hangs on a reveal that anyone familiar with the character had already figured out.

Justice League Dark #1 is a silly book that tries to jam together characters unsuited to a superhero into a superhero team. This should be called Justice League Vertigo, as it features Madame Xanadu, John Constantine and Shade: The Changing Man, as well as Deadman and Zatanna. Like Justice League International, there’s not much of a connection here to the main Justice League title save a short appearance by Batman. The story is pretty standard “assemble the team” stuff, but it hurts just a little bit to see characters like Constantine be forced into a costume story when they’re just not made for it.

Batman: The Dark Knight #1 has some really pretty artwork from David Finch, but otherwise feels completely superfluous. Batman and Detective Comics still feel like the “real” books, and this and Batman and Robin are spinoffs that will come and go while the others remain the center of the Bat-verse. This is still a decent Batman comic, but it’s the kind that’s aimed at the die-hard fan and completist. On a side note, there’s one really odd, prominent panel of a female Arkham inmate wearing a skimpy outfit that includes a thong with a bunny tail on it. I’ll wait to see what the reaction is to that.

I, Vampire #1 managed to overcome my longstanding dislike of vampires and I really enjoyed it. This may be the breakout original title of the New 52 — I really hope it is. It’s deftly written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and sports some really incredible artwork from Andrea Sorrentino. I don’t think any description of the plot will do it justice, just go read it — even if you can’t stand vampires.

And the final first issue of the New 52 is Teen Titans #1, from Red Hood and the Outlaws scribe Scott Lobdell and veteran artists Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund. Thankfully, this was a lot more like Lobdell’s script for Superboy than for Red Hood. It starts with the mistake-ridden, overconfident debut of Kid Flash, followed by Tim Drake — who has kept the Red Robin moniker — assembling a new team. It’s got the same sort of snappy pace and dialoge that Lobdell is known for, and he makes it work quite well with these characters. I expect the ret-con of Wonder Girl will prompt some outcries. It appears her previous connection to Wonder Woman is gone and her powers are quite different. But she has a personality — perhaps still at this point a stock personality, but she still has one — as does Red Robin and the cocky new Kid Flash. I have long found Booth’s figures to be a bit stiff, but this is a big improvement from his 1990s efforts with Wildstorm and the X-Men books at Marvel, so good for him. While I am not the biggest fan anymore of teen books, I still might give this shot based on the energy that this first issue delivers.

And with that, the pile of New 52 comics sitting on top of a longbox in my office is complete. I’d love to know what anyone else thinks of these books. Do you agree with my take, disagree, partially agree? Send me links, comments or emails if you’re so inclined. I’ll be taking a look at others’ reviews and expect to post some kind of wrapup before the second issues hit starting next week.

DC New 52, 4th Wave, Pt. 1: Aquaman, Flash, Superman outshine the rest

The finish line is in sight for DC’s New 52. Look for a post that kind of sums up a take on the overall project in the next day or so. Obviously, it’s been a big hit for DC, which announced yesterday that all 52 books have sold out of their first printings and going back to press. Three titles have shipped 200,000 or more and eight more have shipped more than 100,000. That’s a huge boost for the direct market, where the 100k mark has been a tough one for any book to crack.

I still have a few books in the final batch to read, but in the meantime, here’s my thoughts on the books I’ve read so far.

There should be more books like Aquaman #1, which I found to be a very entertaining and action-packed comic book. This is another very slick entry, with some terrific artwork from Ivan Reis and Joe Prado. Writer Geoff Johns tries very hard to make Aquaman a convincing action hero and mostly succeeds. I expected that having everyone think of him as a joke would not work at all, but it turned out to be fairly amusing in the end. I also think it’s funny that the logo imitates the one invented for the fake Aquaman movie from the Entourage TV show. At the very least, this is the best Aquaman comic in a long time, if not ever. It’s up to you to decide if that’s a significant achievement or not.

Next is yet another The Flash #1, this one from co-writer and artist Francis Manapul and co-writer Brian Buccellato. This was much improved from the rather ponderous take Johns had on the character in the previous reboot, or even the previous short-lived version before that I have trouble remembering anything about at this point. I found this to be a solid, nice-looking Flash comic. It doesn’t invent the wheel, but it’s pretty much spot on for what an average issue of this title should read like. If Manapul can keep it up, will be a consistently entertaining title.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Men #1 appears to be a full reboot of the character, and is a straight-forward origin story that shows how the Firestorms got their powers and introduces a big, scary villain for them to fight in the next issue. We meet Ronnie Raymond, star high school quarterback, and Jason Rusch, student journalist. They clash and very quickly develop a dislike of each other — so of course they are bound together as the new Firestorms. The art by Yildiray Cinar has a slightly funky, retro feel to it that, combined with the very traditional origin story, makes this a bit of a throwback. It’s not bad, but nothing about this is interesting enough to make me stick around for another issue.

I’ve enjoyed the occasional issue of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti’s Jonah Hex series, though I was not a regular reader of that series. They continue with the re-titled All-Star Western, which brings Hex into the new local of Old West Gotham City. That means there’s folks like Amadeus Arkham around as Hex investigates a gruesome crime of a more urban nature as a kind of a proto-Batman. The art by Moritat, who drew some great issues of Elephantmen, is muddied by a dull, overwhelming color palette. To be honest, I preferred the previous take on Jonah Hex, and the changes that seem to by trying to make this more interesting to superhero fans only make it less so.

Blackhawks #1 feels like it was created about 1995 for WildStorm and somehow never saw print until now. That means it’s sometimes a confusing book, but the crazy energy and slick art carry it through the rough patches. This is a new take on the Blackhawk concept, with the team now being some kind of super-secret government strike team. The plot part is the confusing part, so I’ll just skip over it and talk about the cool art, which has Graham Nolan of 1980s Detective Comics on layouts and Ken Lashley on finishes. Beyond that, I can’t really cite any specific reasons for liking this, so maybe it’s just a bit of nostalgia for those old-time ’90s comic books. I’ll give it another shot.

I didn’t know what to expect from Green Lantern: New Guardians #1, but went in with some trepidation because the cover includes one member from all the different-colored Lantern Corps and therefore be related in some way to the confusing Blackest Night and Brightest Day storylines. That was not the case here, which is a full reboot and retelling of the origin for the Kyle Rayner version of Green Lantern. This book also is an assembling of the heroes, as we meet the other six Lantern folks who will come together to join the New Guardians. This works better as a single issue than most attempts at this type of story, but it still feels like a tertiary book in the Green Lantern franchise.

I will be very interested to see what other folks think of Superman #1, which I thought was a terrific comic book. Written and with layouts by George Perez and finishes by Jesus Merino, this is an action-packed superhero book in the best 1980s tradition. There’s a lot going on in this book, both with Superman and the world he lives in. It may not all make perfect sense, but there is an admirable economy this story as it introduces so many characters, concepts and tweaks to Superman lore while also giving some crazy old-school action. I expect some will find it overwritten and cluttered, but I prefer a comic that throws a lot at the reader and picks up the pieces that work later on to the  decompressed storytelling of recent years. I’ll definitely stick with this one.

Only six more first issues to go …

DC’s New 52, Wave 3, plays it safe except when it comes to sex

The final batch of first issues in DC’s New 52 arrived Monday this week instead of Wednesday. I’ve already read a few that I quite like, but I have to wait until tomorrow because of the embargo. That leaves me with today to catch up and go through all of last week’s books, which contained more than its fair share of bombshells.

FYI, due to some of the topics that came up in this week’s books, the language used below may not be suitable for all ages. Proceed at your own risk.

Top book on the pile is Wonder Woman #1, by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. As you might expect from Chiang, the book looks great and is well colored with an appropriately moody palette by Matthew Wilson. The story is a pretty significant deviation from the typical Wonder Woman story, getting into an area I think you could call occult, except it deals with Greek mythology so maybe that’s a better way to describe it. But it is darker in tone and look that the shiny, bright take on Wonder Woman that has prevailed over the years at DC. I’m not sure how effective this is as a first issue, however, because not much is explained. Diana doesn’t even appear until halfway through the issue, where she’s found sleeping naked (though covered) in a London flat. It’s not clear what the set up is, who she’s supposed to be or how she’s intended to fit into the world. I think Azzarello and Chiang have a bit more leeway based on their reputation to get things going in the next couple of issues, and this was much better than the Odyssey revamp of last year. So, this is promising.
Dick Grayson gets his old costume and book back with Nightwing #1, which was a competent if completely average superhero comic. The art by Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer is nice, and I enjoyed the scenes where Dick returns to the circus he grew up in to say hi to his friends. I don’t know if anyone has ever done that idea before, but I thought it was a nice touch here. The superhero-ing part of the book was less thrilling, and I really wish the industry would institute a ban on the hero narrating the story in captions. That was interesting and effective in 1982 when Chris Claremont popularized it on the first Wolverine miniseries, but it’s been overused to death. How about having characters talk to each other once in a while? It might be a good trend to start.
I really wanted to like DC Universe Presents #1, featuring the first part of a new Deadman story by Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang. It almost completely won me over, too, because this is a good character and Jenkins does some interesting things with it. But somehow it just didn’t cross the finish line and I’m not entirely sure why. The art’s well done, though not as stylish as I remember Chang’s art being in the past. Maybe it’s just that a character called Deadman is a bit of a downer, and this needed a bit of brightness in it to keep it from just being dim.
Batman #1 is one of the slickest releases so far, and I mean that in a good way. Scott Snyder writes a really good Batman, and this debut pulls in a lot of elements and kicks off a pretty good mystery. It also looks fantastic, with Greg Capullo on pencils bringing just a hint of Todd McFarlane-style cartoonyness that recalls, for me, the much-beloved Batman: Year Two arc of 25 years ago. It’s slickly polished by inker Jonathan Glapion and the result is a book that any Batman fan, old or new, should be able to get behind. 
Green Lantern Corps #1 was surprisingly violent, which is not something I expect from this particular franchise. It’s all in service to the buildup of the story to introduce a very serious and grave threat to the Corps that should make a nice backdrop for the lead characters of Guy Gardner, John Stewart and Kilowog to tackle. It was the character stuff that I most liked about this issue, even though it didn’t make much sense to me. I don’t see why Guy wants a full-time coaching job, when he seems too busy as a Green Lantern to even begin to fulfill that role well. I have a soft spot for both Guy and John, so this may turn out to be the GL series for me if they can keep it up. 
Blue Beetle #1 is a complete reboot of the most-recent version of the character, the Jaime Reyes one. This is a typical origin story, that establishes where the Blue Beetle power comes from, how it gets to Earth and how it ends up affecting Jaime. Not having read the previous Blue Beetle series, I don’t know how different this is from what was done there. It’s OK, kind of the typical high school stuff comics readers have known and loved since Peter Parker was a lonely student at Midtown High, though with a Latino flavor and set in Texas. The art by Ig Guara is solid, and it works OK as a comic book but does nothing to really elevate it past pure middle-of-the-road mediocre to must-read level. 
Captain Atom #1 is at about the same level as Blue Beetle. It’s a competent setup for a series, but offers nothing really new to set it apart. The script by J.T. Krul takes no real risks with a character that you could do just about anything with. And Freddie Williams III’s art is surprisingly sketchy, which I think is the wrong style for this character, who I think would work better with a clean, technical look. I can’t help but compare this to the recent Dark Horse run of Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom, as the good Doc and Captain Atom are very similar characters, and while neither sets the world on fire Captain Atom seems the lesser of the two.
OK, now things get interesting with the awful Red Hood and the Outlaws #1, by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort. This was another of those titles that, being brand now, I hoped would offer something surprising and different. Instead, we get the most juvenile, pandering book of the bunch. The book starts with Red Hood, a.k.a. the former Robin known as Jason Todd, breaking out Red Arrow from a prison. Hood’s aided by Starfire, formerly of the New Teen Titans, and the three of them sit on a beach, have sex and agree to team up for some outlaw-ish “jobs,” the first of which goes wrong. This book got a lot of deserved criticism for its portrayal of Starfire as a super-hot amnesiac who’ll fuck anyone who asks, while Red Hood and Red Arrow act like Jersey Shore castoffs who are drinking and high-fiving each other over getting to fuck Starfire like they’re on spring break. Now, I get that there are a lot of young men and boys in the DC target range who act like this or would like to act like this. And there’s no denying that a lot of this kind of skeevy behavior on the part of the guys and the girls goes on in frat houses and at spring break bashes every year. But the appropriateness of this in a DC Comic rated “T for Teen” is at least questionable. But the biggest problem by far is the degradation of Starfire. This is a character who, in the original New Teen Titans comics, was certainly a bit voluptuous, but also was far from stupid or casual. Her romance with Dick Grayson developed convincingly over time and turned out to be quite sweet, normal and responsible for folks in their late teens. I remember what a scandal it was when a single panel implied Dick and Starfire shared a bed, and how much smoothing of ruffled feathers writer Marv Wolfman had to do to defend that idea. The other thing that strikes me is that the best-known version of Starfire would be from the animated Teen Titans series, in which she was a skinny, sweet, kind of shy girl. Anyone who likes or expects either version of the character is going to be horrified to see Starfire so blatantly turned into a walking, talking fuck toy for a pair of quite unlikable characters for whom it’s apparently OK to be assholes because they’re “outlaws.” I don’t know how much blame to lay at the feet of Rocafort, who is a terrific artist, because I don’t know how much of a say he had in the story. The book does look nice and he draws a very sexy fantasy girl. But the overall package is just one that makes me think there’s no point to this title than to be shocking, stupid and quite insulting to readers of all ages and genders.
Birds of Prey is a title that I’ve tried and read for short stints a number of times in its long run. The idea is great, the title is great, but I’ve always found it never quite achieved the scale it needs to be the megahit it could and probably should be. Birds of Prey #1 does nothing to change that assessment, though it definitely rises above the middle of the crop. This is a new version of the Birds team, with Black Canary still in charge but, with Oracle now back in the Batgirl costume, the team now includes Poison Ivy, Katana and what appears to be a new character called Starling. Not every team member appears in this first issue from writer Duane Swierczynski, but Black Canary’s character and the intro of Starling are compelling enough to hold the center. There’s some good action in here too. And I like the art, by Jesus Saiz, though I would like a little more detail and coloring that’s less dark. 
Supergirl #1 is one of my favorites from this week. It offers a compelling introduction for Kara from writers Michael Green (of the Green Lantern movie) and Mike Johnston, and some very stylish art from Mahmud Asrar and Dan Green. Most of this issue is a big fight scene, with Supergirl discovering her powers and kicking some serious ass, and it’s quite well done and a lot of fun to read. The finale, in which Superman arrives, makes me think it was a mistake for DC to publish Superman #1 in the final week of September, as he’s appeared as a cameo in a number of other issues now without his new status quo having really been established. Either way, this was a fun one.
Legion of Super-Heroes #1 is very much standard-issue Legion. I’ve tried a couple times to get into the Legion, but either I’m not finding the good stuff or it’s just not my cup of tea. The stuff I have read that I like is very similar to this story, from Legion veteran Paul Levitz and artist Francis Portella. I don’t know if this has any appeal to new readers, but I imagine it’ll make the Legion’s many fans happy.
Lastly, we have the other bombshell of the week in Catwoman #1, the climactic scene of which caused a huge outcry because, well, it shows Batman and Catwoman rather explicitly having sex. Thankfully, DC upped the rating on this one to Teen +, so those 12-15 year olds won’t be exposed to it. Before I talk about the sex scene, I’ll talk about the rest of the issue, which I thought was decent. Catwoman has always been a sexualized character, from the old comics to the 1960s TV show to Batman Returns and, I’m sure, in the upcoming movie The Dark Knight Rises. It’s part of her appeal, that she’s a villain who’s also so tempting in many different ways to Batman. She’s often been shown as willing to use her sex appeal to get what she wants, again it’s part of the modus operandi. I think a non-sexy Catwoman would be a boring Catwoman. 
The specifics of the way writer Judd Winick and artist Guillem March try convey that she’s sexy are questionable. Laura Hudson at Comics Alliance wrote an excellent piece and explained why she had a problem with the character’s face not appearing until the third page while the first two were full of closeups of her cleavage and butt. I get the point but I don’t think there was any malice in it — it’s a common technique that only becomes an especially notable backfire when you get to the end of this issue. 
The final scene consists of Batman showing up at Catwoman’s place, they fight and the fight slowly turns to stripping off gloves and clothes and a particularly creepy final splash page of them seemingly in coitus. This crosses a whole bunch of lines that it would have been best to not cross, and there’s a lot of reasons for disliking it from the general distaste of having to think about things like Batman’s erect penis penetrating Catwoman (a sentence no one with taste ever wanted to hear uttered) to what it says about how DC’s creators view women. 
I think the relationship between Batman and Catwoman should remain a kind of tense, will they or won’t they thing. The conflict for Batman is that he’s attracted to her but she’s a thief, and for him to give in on this and either let himself be seduced or use his costume and cape and resources for the mundane purpose of getting laid is beneath him. I think it’s less problematic for Catwoman, who always has used sex and has a more flexible morality than other characters. I know Catwoman has been recast from being a straight villain to a kind of anti-hero in the past 25 years, but it’s that conflict and that ability she has to operate in these murky areas that define the character. Which doesn’t mean I think it’s good for her character to be portrayed having sex with Batman in such detail. It’s just gross, and I thought so just as much a few years ago when Frank Miller and Jim Lee did a scene in All-Star Batman where the Caped Crusader has sex with Black Canary on a rainy pier at the Gotham harbor. I also remember hearing morning zoo deejays making fun of the scene in the 1989 Batman movie where Bruce and Vicki have sex. The joke was something along the line of what kind of sound effect will appear on the screen (a la the 1960s TV show’s infamous “Biff!” “Pow!” “Pop!”) and thinking they weren’t wrong. They were assholes, and one of them may have been Glen Beck, but they weren’t entirely wrong. And the X-Force: Sex and Violence miniseries of a few years back in which Domino made explicit references about wanting to or having given Logan a blowjob were not sexy, just icky. 
It’s OK to imply sex — even casual sex — between characters if it works for the characters and the story, but this kind of explicitness with these two characters violates all common sense and good taste, and denigrates all the work involved. And it’s a shame, because I think without the sex scene, this was shaping up to be an OK comic book. But instead it’s something to denounce and decry and get upset about. 
 
Tomorrow: The beginning of the end of the New 52 launch month! Superman! Aquaman! Blackhawks! 

The New 52, Wave 2, Pt. 2: Green Trumps Red, Superboy and Deathstroke Surprise

Sorry about the long delay in New 52 reviews and other series. I had a lot of assignments come in that I had to get off my plate, which is great news for any freelancer but it means the blog gets delayed.

One story I wrote is of note to folks here, which is my article on Sam Register’s running of Warner Bros. Animation and the studio’s surge in production and success in brand building. One of the big examples is the upcoming DC Nation show, which is still hard to peg down in terms of content, but it will include some sweet-sounding animated shorts that I think fans will get a real kick out of. DC Nation is due to start airing on Cartoon Network next summer. The story ran in Variety and, if you’re a subscriber and can get past the paywall, you can read it here.

A couple other stories I’ve done for the current issue of Animation Magazine that may be of interest include my story on the making of Batman: Year One, which I think is really good; and this story on MTV Animation, including the return of Beavis and Butt-head, as well as a new toon called Good Vibes that turned out to be a nice surprise.

I continue to be lucky enough for DC publicity to still be sending me all the New 52 issues, as I have had no time to even hit the comic shop for the past few weeks. I’ve had to refresh my memory on the rest of the releases from the second week of the New 52, and changed my initial opinion in a few cases.

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1 was a bit of a disappointment even though there’s nothing wrong with it. I love the title, but expected a little more crazy and a lot more fun. Instead, we have a fairly standard setup as Frankenstein is now working for the Super Human Advanced Defense Executive and is sent on a mission to save a town where monsters are stripping the skin off people. Also, Frankenstein’s wife went in on the mission first and has gone missing. He’s joined by a quartet of new, monster-like agents and there’s a some nice fighting scenes. The art by Alberto Ponticelli is solid, though somewhat generic for a monster-themed title, and Jeff Lemire’s script lacks the wit, characterization, or the kind of just plain weirdness that would have set this apart. I think the Wachowski Bros.’ Doc Frankenstein series of a few years back was a much more fun take on a very similar idea.

A number of reviews of Green Lantern #1 say it’s very much a continuation of the previous Green Lantern run. I don’t know because I wasn’t reading it before now. This impressed me, however, as one of the most new-reader friendly books so far. Written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy, this issue finds Hal Jordan no longer a Green Lantern and living jobless and in need of cash on Earth. Meanwhile, Sinestro somehow is once again a member of the Corps and would like to change that, leading to him approaching Jordan about some kind of deal. I think you could give this comic to anyone who saw the Green Lantern movie and they’d be able to follow it no problem. It features Hal, Carol Ferris and Sinestro, all pretty much as they were in the movie and easy to identify. The art is clear and I think the story has enough interest for such folks to enjoy it and want to read more. For die-hard fans, it’s probably little different from reading Green Lantern #68.

Red Lanterns #1, on the other hand, was a colossal mess and one of my least favorite books in the New 52. I had a hard time following this one at all as none of the characters were introduced or given any kind of sympathetic characterization. I know the Red Lanterns use the power of rage, and that explains the overall nasty tone and dark imagery of the book. But without some kind of clarity to the story or a character through which to latch on to, this was just an unpleasant experience that I have no interest in revisiting.

Resurrection Man #1 feels like a book out of time, reminding me very much of something DC or Wildstorm would have put out in the 1990s. Which is not a bad thing, per se. I know this was a cult hit series from the late 1990s and the original writers, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, are back. I still felt a little lost here, that I would better understand everything going on here if I’d read the original series. Basically, the hero comes back to life each time he’s killed with a new power. Here, he comes back, boards a flight to Portland that goes wrong in a lot of ways. I liked that this had action and some nice art from Fernando Dagnino that evokes the feel of early Vertigo titles. But it still didn’t grab me. I don’t see the reason for this title, but I could be convinced. That’s a maybe on issue 2.

I was interested to see what Scott Lobdell, best known for being one of the most prolific Marvel writers of the 1990s and a longtime writer on X-Men, would do at DC. Superboy #1 is definitely on the good end of the Lobdell spectrum, which means it’s a pretty fun book, with light, breezy and fun dialog. The art by R.B. Silva and Rob Lean is not what I expected from the cover, which is by Eric Canete. It’s got a bright, open-line approach and works very well with the story. Oh, yeah, the story: Superboy is being grown in a test-tube from some kind of Kryptonian biological sample. We’ve seen that before, from the 1994 version of Superboy. I also liked that this series slips in Caitlin Fairchild from Gen 13, even though she’s only partly confirmed as being that character. This looks like it will be an entertaining book about young superheroes, which Lobdell did quite will on early Generation X. I don’t know if this will hold up and still be that interesting after 12 issues, but I did dig this first issue.

And the final book in this week’s New 52 releases is Deathstroke #1, which threw me for a loop that I liked quite a bit. This starts out kind of slowly, with the sort of story you’d expect about the character as he was introduced so many years ago in The New Teen Titans. This time, his employer saddles him with a team and Deathstroke goes along with, until he doesn’t. And that twist took me by surprise, in a good way. Writer Kyle Higgins in one fell swoop makes this the most ruthless book in the DC Universe, and he does it by keeping the character of Deathstroke intact. The art by Joe Bennett and Art Thibert is quite nice, but the thing that really works for me was that this book really took my by surprise. Obviously, they can’t pull off this kind of twist every issue, but I’m intrigued enough to try another.

Next week: Wonder Woman! Batman! Supergirl! And more! 

P.S.: I’m not dead, a.k.a., I’m back and have some stuff to say about comics

As you can tell by the time stamps, I’ve been otherwise occupied for a while. I’ve been immersed in animation, writing news for Animation Magazine Online and long-features for The Hollywood Reporter on the making of some of the year’s biggest hits. I’ve also had some personal developments, namely preparing to become a father when my wife and I welcome our daughter later this spring.

And while I’ve been keeping up somewhat with today’s comics, the quality of what I’m reading has failed to inspire the kind of excitement that would compel me to rush to the keyboard.

But since comics have co-opted a large portion of my brain for most of my life, I just can’t give them up and find myself constantly drawn back to them.

These are interesting times for comics and 2011 promises to be one of the most volatile years for the business side since the not-so-fun days of the mid-1990s. This past week alone saw a few news events of note:

  1. The death rattle of the Comics Code Authority. The code has long been irrelevant to comics. The last time I recall it even being worth mentioning was in the early 1990s when Milestone Media announced it would submit all its books to the code but would publish them with or without approval. Once their books came out, the seal seemed to appear at random — one issue, gone the next, then back again — and proved its irrelevance. Marvel dropped it almost 10 years ago, with the rest of the publishers slowly dropping it until only DC and Archie were left — and they both dropped it last week. It seems DC stuck with the code for so long because Paul Levitz, now departed as publisher, wanted to keep it. Now, with a new cost-conscious regime in place at DC, the fees DC paid to keep the code are obviously better spent elsewhere. More on the new DC (and Marvel) later. 
  2. The end of Wizard Magazine’s print edition, to be replaced shortly by yet another online iteration. This should surprise no one, but I think a lot of people were shocked enough to lose Wizard as a punching bag for the ills of the industry to reflect on how influential this magazine once was and how few people seemed to be reading it at this point. In the 1990s, it was required reading, and it remained a good bathroom or airplane read for quite a while afterward. Wizard would have stood a better chance of survival had it treated its employees and relationships with the rest of the industry with a bit more respect. I find it kind of funny that the Comics Buyer’s Guide, which in the past 10 years adopted a cost-effective take on the Wizard format, is still standing. 
  3. The comic book movie train continues to roll along at full speed. Three Marvel films are on the way this summer: Thor, Captain America and X-Men: First Class. DC has Green Lantern, with a big 2012 in the works with Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and Zack Snyder’s new Superman movie. How long this will continue, I don’t know, but that’s a lot of superhero movies and all show potential from what little we’ve seen so far. 
  4. There has been a lot of chairs and titles shifting hands. Former Marvel editor in chief Bob Harras takes over the same job at DC after more than a year working in other parts of the business. At Marvel, Joe Quesada rises to chief creative officer, holding the editor in chief’s chair out for Axel Alonso, who will be ably assisted by new VP of something or other Tom Brevoort. L.A.-based Top Cow reorganizes a bit, handing off some of its business operations to the central office at Image Comics. 

And yet none of these changes have been able to keep the major publishers’ superhero lines from getting noticeably more stale from month to month — with decreases in sales to match.

There are a few interesting signs of life out there, but it’s the need to put on my critical hat and chime in with my two cents here and there on the creative and commercial problems facing comics. To avoid boring people to death, I’ll space it out into multiple posts, hopefully bringing some life back to the blog once again.

I’m not sure if I’ll continue the Fantastic Four Re-Read Project. I’d like to, but accessing those books is a little tough right now and I would like to see if there’s another way to build some blogging momentum before I try to go back to that pool. I have one unfinished post that I’ll take a look and then we’ll see …

Off the Shelf: Saga of the Swamp Thing, Vol. 1

This is the first in a series of hardcover books reprinting Alan Moore’s seminal run on the title. Amazingly, Moore also wrote Watchmen, which is coming to movie screens in just a couple weeks now! Coincidence, surely. I have to confess to never having read any of Moore’s Swamp Thing until now. And in some ways I’m glad I waited, because it’s always great to find a great comic that you’ve never read before even when it’s 25 years old. The book reprints Saga #20-27, and features a bunch of very cool bits. The coolest is the way Moore completely transforms the hero by revealing Swamp Thing to not be the transformed body of Alec Holland, but the transferred consciousness — meaning there is no chance Swamp Thing can ever become human again. This throws the series’ very premise into doubt and runs counter to the conventions that ruled comic book storytelling and character motivation for the previous, say, two decades. That opens the door for this book to go somewhere completely different, and made for a tremendously interesting read. That not much is immediately done with it is OK — we know there’s more volumes to come. But there’s also a lot of craft in this book, from Moore and artists Stephen Bissette and John Totleben. For one, everything is deliberate and with purpose — every caption and every panel seems to have been thought through rather well and there’s little if any fat in the story telling. The things that for me didn’t work quite as well were the introduction of various DC Universe characters. The Justice League cameo was strange and thankfully short. The appearance of The Demon, however, was more annoying and seemed more gratuitous. Maybe some of that is every horror/mature reader series DC launched in these pre-Vertigo days seemed to have The Demon show up. (Even Neil Gaiman’s Sandman had both the Justice League and The Demon show up in its early issues.) Plus, the only Demon comics I’ve ever read that I liked were the first few by Jack Kirby. Pretty much everything since has seemed contrived or just plain silly, so that part fell short. These are minor complaints, however, since the overall experience of reading the book is a very pleasurable and intimate one. It’s also a good reminder of what you can do with a comic book when you’ve got a writer with a vision and they’re left largely to their own devices — no crossovers, no mega events, no storytelling by committee. As a latecomer to these stories, I think I like them more than I would have had I read them 10 or 20 years ago. Grade: A-

Comic du jour: Detective Comics #437 (Nov. 1973)

I was visiting flea markets again this past weekend and came across a good deal on this classic issue of Detective Comics.

Was there ever a better time to be a Batman fan that the early 1970s? You had Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams doing their classic thing. And then there was this issue, the first edited and written by Archie Goodwin and featuring art by Jim Aparo and the first installment of “Manhunter” with art from then-newcomer Walt Simonson.

The lead story is a solid Batman detective story in which the Caped Crusader stumbles across and foils an elaborate criminal blackmail plan revolving around a mysterious artifact in a Gotham museum. (I’d like to know how often the Gotham museum cliche has been used in Batman stories over the years – I’d guess it’s in the top five.) But this is a solid, complete story told in a mere 12 pages. Aparo is one of those workman-like artists who never got the acclaim that guys like Adams or Simonson did, but he should have. Looking at the quality of both his storytelling and his illustrations, this is top-notch stuff. There’s even a stellar “silent” action sequence on page 2, in which Batman dispatches a group of rooftop thieves in an economical and compelling eight-panel layout. And Aparo still was a top-notch Batman artist more than 16 years later, when I first started reading his work on such seminal 1980s Batman stories as “10 Nights of the Beast,” “A Death in the Family” and “A Lonely Place of Dying.”

The backup story is known as a tried and true classic. I have a trade collecting the Goodwin-Simonson “Manhunter” stories, and they are definitive of the best comics of this era. Simonson remains one of my all-time favorite comics artists, mostly for his work on Thor, X-Factor, Star Wars and even Marvel’s old Battlestar Galactica series, (which I believe gave him his first credits as a writer). Seeing these stories from early in his career, it’s remarkable to see how consistent his distinctive art style has been, even as he improved his storytelling and drawing abilities in quite significant ways over the years.

Even more interesting is the letters page in this issue, in which Goodwin introduces himself as the successor to Julie Schwartz and outlines his plans for reviving Detective. (At the time, the book’s sales were slumping and the series was being published bimonthly! I don’t know how long this lasted, but I’m sure the quality of issues like this one helped turn that around.)

The weakest point of the whole package is, surprisingly, the cover. It looks like Aparo to me, but the illustration is poorly composed and completely overwhelmed by a design that overemphasizes the logo and trade dress. Even so, with regular comics today about to reach en masse the $3.99 price mark, this comic was a tremendously entertaining bargain, even at the princely sum (in 1973) of 20 cents.

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