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Tag: digital comics

‘Avengers’ Shows Superheroes No Longer Need Comics

Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) soars through the New York skyline in Avengers.
Since I’m writing about the visual effects on Avengers for an upcoming issue of Animation Magazine, I got to see the movie last week at the Disney lot and found the movie to be very, very entertaining. Avengers is a huge movie, with nearly every cent of its reported $220 million budget up there on the big screen, and the deft handling of the story will earn it a huge audience and huge box office to go with it. 
Not only does Avengers successfully adapt the comic book series to the big screen, it actually improves on it. There’s no way that even the the best issue of Avengers ever published can really compete with the movie for the time and money of a modern audience. This poses a problem for those who make, publish, sell and read comics because it removes one of the few great selling points of the medium: That comics can tell stories on a scale and scope that movies cannot. And that is no longer true.
It’s also hard to argue with the math. According to data presented at the 2011 ICV2.com Graphic Novel Conference, the entire comic book industry posted combined sales of single issues and graphic novels in 2010 of $635 million. (This was the last year for which I could find info for — and that revenue was down from 2009. If anyone has more current info, send me the link.) By contrast, Avengers is now expected to cross the $500 million mark by the end of its first weekend playing here in the United States (it opened last week in a number of international markets to huge impact), and seems destined to easily become a billion-dollar grosser just at the box office. That doesn’t include ancillary revenues such as merchandise and licensing, and the long life the movie will have in home video formats from now until the copyright expires under current law in 2107. 
Basically, this one movie will likely generate more than double what the entire comics industry did in 2010. Add in what The Dark Knight Rises is likely to make, as well as The Amazing Spider-Man, and these three movies will lap the comics biz many times over in a single year. 
In the 1980s and 1990s, fans often said that good comic book movies would put the world on notice that the comics they were based on were good enough to check out, and the new readers — and respect — would just roll on in. With the former now reality, the latter looks less and less likely. 
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) fight on in Avengers
After Avengers, what’s left for superhero comics to do? Will anyone who likes this big, bold and fun superhero flick be at all impressed by the latest $4 an issue yak-fest from Brian Michael Bendis? Or want to dig through endless crossovers and convoluted back story? I doubt it. 
Just as I also doubt that Marvel or Disney will in any way alter the way they go about publishing comics these days. It seems that, as long as publishing keeps making money and keeps viable Marvel’s many copyrights and trademarks in the marketplace, they’ll keep publishing comics. 
I’m more concerned about the state of the former, though. I don’t see the market for print comics increasing in any significant way any time soon. The distribution is way too spotty, the cost of a comic too high, and the content of the superhero comics put out by Marvel and DC too narrowly focused on the niche that is the direct market. 
Captain America (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) confer on the SHIELD Helicarrier in Avengers.
Digital distribution is the obvious future for pretty much any medium that has not already embraced it. I myself don’t care to read comics on my phone or computer, though I would like to try it on an iPad some day. And while publishers have done a much better job getting comics out there for sale digitally, I think the content is going to remain a big stumbling block for all the reasons I cited above. Just porting over the niche-oriented direct market content won’t attract a mainstream audience. The content must be tailored to the format and the medium, and it appears most comics companies are barely even acknowledging this question, let alone dealing with it.
The comics must be better, much better, than they are now, and tailored to the audience that a movie like Avengers appeals to in order to have the first chance of expanding readership.

Reviewing DC’s Justice League #1 in print and in digital

I haven’t reviewed new comics in a while, though I’ve had a few requests and will get some comments on those books up in the next day or so.

In the interim, DC’s New 52 kicked off yesterday with the release of Justice League #1. I got a copy from DC, and found it to have some good points and some bad. I also tried the digital edition on my iPhone and that spurred lots of ideas on what works and what doesn’t about that format.

But first, the comic itself is good but not great.

Jim Lee and Scott Williams deliver some fantastic looking art. It’s attractive and highly detailed and colored well by Alex Sinclair. And while Lee’s never been the very best storyteller in comics, he’s also much better than he used to be and the book is an attractive and easy read.

As usual, Lee’s designs for Batman, Green Lantern and Superman are powerful and modern. I especially like the intense detail Lee and Williams give to Green Lantern’s powers.

I almost think the art is too detailed, though that may just be my middle-aging eyesight speaking. When this gets collected into a slightly larger format like a hardcover, I think it’ll look even better because there will be a bit more room for these details to shine.

The script by Geoff Johns is a bit more mixed. This issue takes an approach similar to that of the first episode of a TV series. We start knowing nothing, get a big splash of action with Batman, and then introduce some conflict as Green Lantern shows up and the pair head straight for a confrontation with Superman. There’s also a sub plot introducing Vic Stone, who eventually will become Cyborg. The issue is quickly paced and reads well, though some of the dialog is a bit stiff.

And that’s it. That’s all that happens. There’s some decent action, some decent characterization and a solid finish, but there’s just not quite enough story here to build the anticipation that I think would make readers truly excited to come back for issue two. It’s close, but if this was a double size issue that featured at least a glimpse of all the characters on the cover and conveyed a sense of where this was going, it would have been a much stronger read.

I expect reactions to this book will be all over the place. Something like this brings so many pre-conceived notions and inflated expectations with it, that there is no way it will play the same way to any two readers.

So the copy I received from DC was the digital combo pack version, which costs a dollar more than the regular version and includes a code for downloading the digital version of the comic.

I have not been a regular reader of digital comics. Part of it is just that I prefer to read comics in print and part that I haven’t really enjoyed my attempts to read comics on a computer screen. I don’t have an iPad, which seems to be the ideal device for reading digital comics, and my iPhone is great but I just can’t see myself reading many comics on so tiny a screen.

Still, I tried it out on my iPhone and it worked quite well. The code, which is printed on the inside back cover, is a fairly long 32-character alpha-numeric code. I can imagine some folks might get frustrated at having to type in such a long code for each digital comic, but it worked for me on the first time. I entered the code at the website on my laptop and Justice League #1 was assigned to my ComiXology account and available to read on my iPhone instantly.

Reading the comic on the iPhone was a good but not perfect experience. The art looked good and the way the phone transitioned from panel to panel was intuitive and easy. I kind of liked turning the phone every so often to get the displayed panels to fill the screen. What things got problematic was on the larger images — panels that take up half a page or more. It was just not easy to see what I was looking at in those panels. I expect the iPad would not have the same issue.

What this digital experience left me wondering, though, is why DC is packaging its comics in two editions. Why charge an extra dollar for the digital code instead of just making them packaging them together in a single product? I think comics are expensive already without having the option of paying even more for another edition of the same thing. When I buy music, either on CD or digitally, I have the right to listen to it on my computer, my iPod, my car stereo, my living room, etc., for no extra cost. I’d be far more likely to read digital comics if they came with the print comics I’m already buying at no extra charge.

Similarly, I would think anyone who pays the full price for a digital comic should have the option to get a print copy if they want it. And It’s not at all clear to me if DC (or anyone else) is offering digital subscriptions similar to the way iTunes sells a Season Pass for TV shows. A reasonably priced digital subscription plan that included print copies is something I would think hard for people to pass up, while at the same time having the potential to boost readership in both print and digital.

With the first huge wave of first issues set to arrive next week, I find myself hoping for surprises. Everyone’s going to read Grant Morrison’s Action Comics #1, but what I would really like to find is a few hidden gems from further down the list. I’m playing wait-and-see on these books and want to look at them before I decide which ones to pick up. But I really hope this experiment makes room for the kind of fun, strange and interesting mainstream comics that the major publishers have had trouble making a go of in recent years.

Beyond that, we’ll see.  

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