A longtime showbiz journalist and fan's thoughts on comic books, movies and other cool stuff.

Tag: Joe Quesada

New Comics! And a Look at X-O Manowar #1

A couple quick notes:

First, an apology to all the folks who commented on the last few posts I put up. I had the settings emailing the wrong address for moderation, so I was unaware they were waiting for me to OK. I’ve updated the settings, so that shouldn’t happen again.

Second, for someone who’s kicked the superhero habit, I sure have a big pile of books on my desk. Take a look:

Some of these are comp copies, some are more indie-style comics that I’ve bought. I have bought a few superhero comics to sample, as well. The real difference is that it took about three months for the stack to get this big, when it used to take two or three weeks’ worth.

X-O Manowar #1

Anyway, there’s some interesting stuff in here. Let’s start with X-O Manowar from the revived Valiant Entertainment. This is the first release from a publisher with ambitions toward making a dent in the superhero audience dominated by Marvel and DC. It’s a polished comic book, but it also is aggravating in that it’s a great example of everything I think superhero comics are doing wrong these days.

This is an extra-size issue, with 29 pages of story in it. The story, by Robert Venditti of The Surrogates fame, is done well but it’s awfully decompressed. It’s an origin story, of course, that is essentially the same as it was in the original X-O series, though with a lot more details added in.

For those who didn’t read the original Valiant series, this series follows a barbarian from 402 AD named Aric who is abducted by these spider-like aliens and held in suspended animation for centuries before escaping to present-day Earth with possession of the aliens’ greatest weapon, a living suit of armor.

The biggest problem is not enough happens in this issue. We get lots of backstory on Aric and the problems he has in the fifth century, but we get barely a glimpse of the alien suit and we never get to see Aric wear it, use it or any hint that the action will move to the present day. In short, we get almost no idea what the series is going to be about or even what its style will be once we get out of the origin. Plus, I’m not certain what the story gains from all the extra info about Aric’s past. He’s essentially supposed to be Conan in Iron Man’s armor, and a historically accurate portrayal of the fifth century seems unnecessary.

The art by Cary Nord and Stefano Gaudiano is clear and well-drafted, with good coloring from Moose Baumann. But it also doesn’t stand out as particularly stylish or energetic, and that is perhaps a function of the pacing of the story itself.  

In contrast, the original X-O Manowar #1 (Feb. 1992) begins with Aric’s escape from the spider aliens, and shows his arrival on Earth, his first encounters with modern people and technology, and he gets to use the suit a lot to kick some alien ass. That issue also was drawn by the outstanding Barry Windsor-Smith, so it has some real flair to the art and drama to the storytelling that a lot of the contemporary Valiant titles lacked.  Even looking at X-O Manowar #0 (Aug. 1993), it manages to tell in a single issue the story that this new series only gets started on, with a lot more action. It boasts some early Joe Quesada art, and also is a particularly nice-looking book. The hardcover edition that came out a few years back is a great way to check these stories out. It also includes an early issue of the series penciled by Steve Ditko.

I doubt I’ll be back for another installment of this book — it’s just easier to wait and pick up the trade if I hear this turns out well. I am interested in Harbinger #1, as that was my favorite of the original Valiant titles and I’m curious to see if it’s any good. I do hope Valiant does well — it would be good to have another solid publisher in the business, especially if they are successful enough to eventually branch out with some new characters, titles and series.

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 …

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