Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Fantastic Four: "Ultimate Fantastic Four" is going to save the industry. No, really. Just ask Marvel and Diamond:

"Now just two days from its long-anticipated launch, Marvel wants to thank readers and retailers for making ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #1 the highest ordered new ongoing series debut this decade, with a print run of over 200k issues!

"'This is the first time in years that a new, ongoing series has launched so impressively,' said Diamond Comic Distributors President and CEO Steve Geppi. 'It's a win-win situation for everyone from Marvel to the retailers to the fans. Congratulations to Marvel and the creative team of Ultimate Fantastic Four on their achievement.'"

Okay, well maybe it's not going to save the industry. But it'll make Marvel and Diamond a lot of money.

High apple pie in the sky hopes ... I'm going to go out on a limb and guess Daniel Way ("Ant Man," "Gun Theory") wasn't crazy about writing "Ant Man," or about doing the interview with The Pulse:

The Pulse: "Hank Pym in the Ultimates universe seems a little 'Max' but the mainstream universe Hank Pym has never seemed that cutting edge or mature - at least before the Avengers 71 issue - so why was this Ant Man (as opposed to Scott Lange ) chosen for the Max series?"

Daniel Way: "I don't know (just like I don't know about this 'Avengers 71' thing). Marvel sent me this big book of old Ant-Man stories and said 'go.' I flipped through it--sometimes he got really small, sometimes he got really big ... I didn't know what the fuck was going on. So I just read the first 6 or 8 pages of the first story, got it and went off."

The Pulse: "What do you view as Hank's greatest assets?"

Way: "Well ... he can make himself really small. That's what we call his 'power'."

The Pulse: "What do you view as his greatest weaknesses?"

Way: "Insecurity. Egomania. Totally gay outfit."

The Pulse: "What are your goals with this series?"

Way: "Midget prostitute in a plush kangaroo costume."

The Pulse: "What are some of the elements that will make this comic have to be for Mature readers?"

Way: "The butt-fucking, mostly."

It gets better from there. It's made even more surreal by the disjointed nature of the Q&A, with Jennifer Contino forced into the unwitting "straight man" role because the interview, quite obviously, was conducted via email with no real interaction or follow-up.

Truly, truly bizarre.

Artblog sums it all up beautifully: "The Pulse's Interview-o-Matic 9000 malfunctions horribly and kills Daniel Way in a tragic avalanche of blindly prepared questions and punch cards."

Uh-oh. Trouble, again: The trade paperback of Mark Millar's "Trouble," originally set for February release, has been canceled. Newsarama takes note:

"From the start of Epic, 'Trouble,' given its teen romance angle, was lauded by Marvel as a book that was aimed directly at the bookstore market, where the trade would sell. Early discussions of Epic at the time by then President of publishing Bill Jemas explained that lower monthly numbers would be acceptable, because the bookstore sales would make up for the fewer monthly copies sold."

2003, the cover-up: At The Fourth Rail, Randy Lander runs down his favorite comics covers of the year. I'd considered doing something like this, but Randy beat me to it. Eh, just as well.

Many of his choices would've been mine; covers that don't necessarily showcase breathtaking comics-style pencils (although many of them do), but instead demonstrate a great sense of design. That's one of the things I've happily noticed in the past year or so: The rise of graphic design in comics covers. We'd begun to see it in the late '80s and even into the early '90s, but it had disappeared for most of the past decade.

Thankfully, though, a good sense of graphic design is back and flourishing in the cover work of Jock ("The Losers"), Dustin Nguyen and Rian Hughes ("Wildcats"), J.G. Jones ("Y: The Last Man"), Michael Avon Oeming ("Powers"), Cameron Stewart ("Catwoman"), Darwyn Cooke ("Catwoman," "Bad Girls"), Andi Watson ("Love Fights"), Dave Johnson ("100 Bullets," "Batman"), Tony Harris and Tom Feister ("The Legion"), Steve Griffen ("Hawaiian Dick"), James Jean ("Fables," "Batgirl") and others.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The old not-so-hotness: In perhaps the most painful of all the 2003 retrospectives -- yes, more painful than even Rich Johnston's -- Brandon Thomas recounts, in excrutiating detail, his Epic journey:

"Epic was a chance to begin firmly within one of the big two, but as the summer wound down, all the 'will' in the world wasn’t enough to quiet that sinking feeling in the back of my head. Progress was slowing to nothing, and the frustration built to that breaking point I swore to never reach. The fleeting light at the end of the tunnel had me writing 'A New Hope' with renewed faith, one final victory within reach, having made the decision to walk away if I couldn’t finally bring this home. Eight months of almost nonstop work dispensed into one last script. If I received the usual round of notes I’d become accustomed to, I’d walk away, sanity and spirit intact."

To Hellboy and back: Augie De Blieck professes his love for Mike Mignola's "Hellboy," although he doesn't really care for all the paranormal stuff:

"I've given up paying attention to every detail of the story. That isn't where my interests lie. I'm not well versed in mythology and paranormal history. (This might also explain my disfavor for SANDMAN.) So while my eyes occasionally roll back into my head at some of the more Out There moments of the book, they also remain fixated on Mignola's storytelling choices and sense of design. Even if you hated Disney's ATLANTIS, you stuck around to look at Mignola's designs lurking in the background."

Did you say you wanted more year-end awards? Closing out the year, ICv2 offers up its two-part 2003 Comic Awards. At least with a retailer-oriented website, there's no pretense about "artistic merit" or "contribution to the medium." No, they're looking at the dollars, baby. I like that.

Tokyopop, of course, gets the nod for Comic Company of the Year, while top-selling "Batman: Hush" is named Comic Product of the Year. (Let's face it, "Hush" was just a "product" -- a marketing product. Enough of the nonsense about it being a "good mystery" -- the story was not particularly good or a mystery -- and it didn't revitalize the Batman franchise. It sold books. Or, rather, Jim Lee's art sold books. And that was the intent.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah. The ICv2 awards. The few remaining recipients are equally predictable, if you look at it from a retailer perspective. They're the items and companies that performed well for them. Good enough.

And the Comic Flop of the Year? Well, no real shock there, either: Mark Millar's "Trouble," which was touted as turning the romance genre, and the industry, on its ear.

Says ICv2: "Perhaps a trade paperback edition will find favor with female readers in the bookstore market and reverse the fortunes of this title, but more likely 'Trouble' won't satisfy that audience any more than it did the hardcore Marvel fans."

Monday, December 29, 2003

Annus mirabilis or columnus horribilis? Why are Rich Johnston's year-end columns virtually unreadable, not to mention decidedly unfunny?

And I thought I was bad: The Pulse is really phoning things in today. Their top stories? A press release about a graphic novel I've never heard of, and another press release about "Fantastic Four." (Gasp! Will a member die? Gee, I don't know ...)

Frontier pioneer: If you had any doubts about picking up Darwyn Cooke's "New Frontier," check out the nine-page sneak peek of Issue 1 on the DC Comics website. Damn.

Lighthouse at the end of the tunnel: Ninth Art rolls out the third annual Lighthouse Awards for the best comics and most innovative creators of the year. I'm pleased to see that Ted Naifeh's "Courtney Crumrin" (Oni Press) was named Best Continuing Series:

"The sense of fun infused in this title is undeniable, and if there was one horror story we all wish we could be trapped in, it's one in which school bullies are eaten by goblins wearing hooded training tops."

Sunday, December 28, 2003

The Year in Mutants: At The X-Axis, Paul O'Brien accurately and hilariously sums up the year in X-books.

On Emma Frost: "And those Greg Horn covers - those godawful, embarrassing covers, which bear no resemblance to the content of the book at all. If Marvel really think there's such an audience out there for Horn's work, why not just launch a book called Tits Monthly and get him to do the covers for that? At least he'd be at home."

On Exiles: "You know those little machines you can buy for feeding your cat while you're away on holiday? The ones where you fill up all the little compartments with cat food, and then every day the machine opens another one for the cat to eat? ... Well, that's basically what Exiles was like in 2003."

On Soldier X: "Bet you'd forgotten about this one."

On Uncanny X-Men: "There are two kinds of bad comic. First, there's the comics which had a passable idea, but blew it at the stage of execution. They may be dreadful, but at least you can understand why they were commissioned. Second, there are comics where the premise is to immediately and obviously awful that you can't imagine how they ever got approved in the first place. Much of Austen's work on Uncanny this year has been of that sort."

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Journey into backpedaling: Michael San Giacomo tries to make nice with Newsarama readers outraged by last week's column:

"I'm not going to try to answer everyone, but generally speaking, everyone is right.

"You see, that was the point I tried to make at the very beginning of the column, if you like the art, then it works. Keep in mind that people don't like the same thing; otherwise we'd all be fighting over the same woman."

The Seventh Seal has been broken: Is Alan David Doane filling in for Markisan Naso this week? Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Someone alert Laura Tegan: Will Pfeifer talks to The Pulse about taking on "Aquaman," DC's version of the Siege Perilous:

"Much of the series will focus on Aquaman and show us the world through his eyes. He's got a different perspective on life than any of the other DC superheroes, and that's going to be one of the unique aspects of the book Pat and I are doing. But we'll also show Aquaman through the eyes of the people he encounters, which will reveal another side of him. An impressive, sometimes imposing side."

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

$120 million? I somehow missed this sidebar to the Publishers Weekly story about graphic novel sales in the direct market (see entry below). Citing ICv2, PW reports that graphic novel sales could be more than $120 million by the end of the year (taking into account holiday sales):

"The site estimated the total graphic novel market at $75 million in 2001 ($43 million in comics stores; $32 million in bookstores), and at $100 million (evenly split between the two markets) in 2002. Its mid-2003 estimate for this year was $120 million ($65 million in bookstores; $55 million in comics stores—the first time bookstores have pulled ahead)."

Yes, take special note that book stores have begun to beat out speciality shops in graphic novel sales.

"Our life is March weather, savage and serene in one hour": March sees more of the same from IDW Publishing: Steve Niles books, and TV crime-show adaptations. Mind you, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Most interesting, perhaps, is the latest addition to the "30 Days of Night" franchise, "Return to Barrow." In case you've been under a rock for the past year or so, IDW lets you know this is the best thing since blood pudding:

"30 Days of Night is one of the undisputed success stories of modern comics, spawning a bestselling trade paperback, a major motion picture deal, and the attention of thousands of fans longing for an innovative tale of terror. Now the same creative team revisits Barrow, the town where it all began. Some things may have changed, but the horror remains ..."

"I've been down this road, walkin' the line ..." Dan Slott responds to all those groans over "She-Hulk" being pitched as "Ally McBeal meets Astro City":

"The term 'high concept' is Hollywood jargon. It just means you're coming up with a QUICK and EASY way to describe your idea. SPEED was pitched as 'DIE HARD on a bus.' MIAMI VICE was pitched as 'MTV cops.' Did Keanu Reeves hide in the bowels of the bus and cannibalize equipment to take out German bad guys? Did Don Johnson moonwalk while he was busting perps? No.

"So I can safely tell you that She-Hulk is not going to sing Al Green songs at her local bar while hallucinating about dancing babies. Yes, Ally McBeal is no longer on prime time. But there will ALWAYS be courtroom dramas: from PERRY MASON, to LA LAW, to THE PRACTICE, and shows that are still IMMENSELY POPULAR like LAW & ORDER and JAG. Using ALLY McBEAL in my pitch was just the fastest way to get the 'quirkiness' of what I wanted to do across."

Good times for the direct market? This week's edition of Publishers Weekly (subscription required) has a surprisingly upbeat story about rising graphic novel sales in the direct market:

"Mark Herr, director of the purchasing department at Diamond Distribution—by far the biggest distributor to the direct market—reports a steady growth in graphic novel sales to comics specialty stores in the last three years—they're up 14% over last year. Diamond now stocks 'easily five or 10 times' as many backlist comics trade paperbacks as it did a few years ago. Graphic novels currently make up about 20% of Diamond's business. DC Comics' publisher Paul Levitz said DC's direct-market book sales for this year will be up, 'north of 30%.'"

The article also makes curious note of book market-exclusive titles, and how comics retailers have reacted to them:

"The book market's exclusive titles—like the paperback editions of some Marvel Masterworks books for Barnes & Noble—don't yet seem to agitate comics stores. 'They increase awareness of comics,' [Iowa City's Daydreams Comics's Paul] Tobin told PW. 'New customers at Barnes & Noble eventually means new customers for Daydreams.' There are also some titles that are exclusive to comics stores, notably reprints of older material. Marvel Comics' manager of sales/administration, David Gabriel, cited the example of the recent paperback Essential Tomb of Dracula, collecting an early-1970s series: 'It's almost sold out in comics shops, and it didn't even really get to bookstores—if we're just going to see them in returns, it's not worth it.'"

I'm guessing PW didn't follow the online reaction to the proposed Marvel Manga exclusives ...

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

This image will haunt me: The latest in Dynamic Forces' long line of overpriced shit that nobody needs is just creepy. For $350, the Dr. Doom Full-Sized Head Bust can be yours:

"Standing close to 16" tall and almost 12" wide the Dr. Doom Full-Size Head Bust captures every detail of this classic Marvel Villains: the cold mask covering his scarred face the folds of his cape and hood and his calculating eyes! This high end collector's item will be yours to treasure for years to come!"

Did somebody say more manga? Also at ICv2, Viz confirms five new manga series: RahXephon, Imadoki, Mermaid Saga: Forest, Bleach, and Tenshi Na Konamiki (Cheeky Angel):

"A sharp-eyed contributor to Anime on spotted these titles on the Barnes & Noble database, along with Detective Conan, and Viz confirmed them all to ICv2 with the exception of Detective Conan. While Detective Conan is one of the most popular anime series in Japan (Funimation has acquired the US rights see, 'Funimation Acquires Detective Conan'), and the acquisition of the Detective Conan manga would be considered a 'coup,' the other five titles announced by Viz also have great prospects here in the States -- and of course just because Viz won't confirm Detective Conan now, doesn't necessarily mean that they won't publish it eventually."

A story for the Ages: Although various and sundry blogs were all over Marvel's solicitation for "Marvel Age: Spider-Man" #1, ICv2 is the only comics news site to take note of it:

"Back in Hollywood's golden era, the Warner Brothers studio (which now owns DC Comics) used to remake its hits periodically with new 'contemporary' casts and 'today's highest production values.' Sometimes it worked, as in the case of John Huston's film of The Maltese Falcon, which was the studio's third version of Dashiell Hammett's classic detective novel. But more often than not the subsequent versions turned out to be pretty weak tea -- Castle on the Hudson versus 20,000 Years in Sing-Sing. It will be interesting to see how Marvel reinterprets its past, and whether or not contemporary audiences will respond to updated versions of the comics that put Marvel on the map."

"Super-cool" conspiracy: Why has no one told me about Comics Conspiracy? Is it a conspiracy of silence? How can a publisher with this lineup be such a well-kept secret? Here's my favorite:

A secret global peacekeeping force, super knockout spy chicks, and futuristic technology all thrust into the midst of American pop culture... Can these sexy super-spies stop lotteries, fast food, and mind-numbing game shows from destroying us?

Based on the super-cool motion picture, now in production. For decades B.A.B.E. FORCE has battled corrupt dictators, mad scientists and evildoers everywhere. These modern day amazons have secretly upheld peace and justice around the globe.

At the dawn of the new millennium, the world faces a new kind of danger! From professional wrestlers gone bad, to the explosion of membership-only discount food superstores, consumers are under siege! Suburbia is the new battlefield.

Oddly, Doug Miers appears to write all the books in the Comics Conspiracy lineup.

Polishing Platinum: Joshua Elder, writer of Platinum Studios' "Love Bytes," interviews Platinum Studios executive editor Lee Nordling about, um, Platinum Studios:

"Our core business at Platinum is to adapt comics to film, and it doesn't make sense for us to acquire something if we don't think it could be the foundation of a film or TV concept that we could sell. And being able to sell something as a film or show is different from what we think would be good. There are some great films out there that wouldn't have made sense for us to try and set up ... because the nature of the material sometimes doesn't play to the strengths in our relationships with studios and networks."

Once and again: Newsarama talks to longtime comics writer and editor Denny O'Neil about returning to "JLA" after a three-decade absence, and why he left the title in the first place:

"Everyone knows that, except in rare instances, superhero stories end with the good guy winning and that's okay. As director Baz Luhrmann said recently, in the history of storytelling the audience, until recently, always knew how the story would end. Think of opera, folk tales, religious parables, and mythology. What mostly matters is the manner of the telling and I imagine that was what I was worrying about back then. I questioned my ability to come up with interesting plots/conflicts using so many powerful characters."

Monday, December 22, 2003

Red light, green light: This week's "Lying in the Gutters" has a couple of items of particular interest (well, at least to me):

* Warren Ellis is planning to write a "manga-style" series for Tokyopop and Humanoids.

* Andy ("The Losers") Diggle is plumbing the depths of DC's sci-fi archives for characters to use in an Adam Strange series.

March Madness, part ... eh, whatever: Marvel releases its March solicitations. For some reason, I'm thinking there's a "Spider-Man" movie sequel coming up ...

Ultimate Spider-Man #54-55: The first two installments of a five-part(?) "Spider-Man: The Movie" story arc, guest starring (brace yourselves) Sam Raimi, Toby Maguire and Avi Arad: "A major movie studio is making an unauthorized summer blockbuster about Spider-Man, and the Ultimate wall-crawler swings by the set to give the producers a piece of his mind."

What's next, Impossible Man pops into the Marvel offices for 22 pages of mischief, guest-starring Stan Lee and the rest of the Marvel Bullpen?

The Pulse #2: Oh, look. It's Spider-Man.

Venom #12: Hey, it's Spider-Man. Again.

Marvel Age: Spider-Man #1: In what can only be described as grave-robbing, Marvel digs up old stories and gives them new dialogue. No, it's not an "Ultimate" title; it's worse:

"Plot by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, script by Daniel Quantz, cover and pencils by Mark Brooks.

"Not a 'retcon' ... Not a 'new universe.' Watch your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man battle his archfoe the Vulture for the very first time in this new, all ages, contemporary revisiting of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's classic story. Marvel Age: Spider-Man introduces new and young readers to some of the greatest stories of the legendary Marvel Universe with dynamic brand new art and a modern flair."

She-Hulk #1: I love Dan Slott's writing, but this is going to be really, really bad. Really:

"SGF (Single Green Female) -- outgoing, physically fit, intelligent, great sense of humor. Enjoys clubbing, dishing with gal-pals, and saving the universe. Ready to put old issues behind and make a fresh start. Contact Jen W. at Avengers Mansion."

Captain America and the Falcon #1: I actually have high hopes for this one. It's a team-up title whose premise doesn't seem too forced.

Human Torch #11: Art by Howard Porter. When did Skottie Young stop drawing this one?

Inhumans #12: The end.

Daredevil #58: Jesus. It's Spider-Man. Enough already. (On the plus side, Dr. Strange and Mr. Fatnastic make a cameo.)

1602 #8: Something finally happens. Really.

Alpha Flight #1: The story title says it all: "You Gotta Be Kidding Me."

New X-Men #154: In which Grant Morrison leaves, and so do the readers.

Cable & Deadpool #1: Uhhhh ...

Oh, the Inhumanity: As "Spider-Girl" fans rejoice, Sean McKeever fans mourn the loss of "Inhumans," whose cancellation quickly follows that of "Sentinel":

"Inhumans has been cancelled. March's #12 will be the final issue. If you've been reading the series, I hope you'll stick through to the end. This Wednesday's #8 (featuring Rob Teranishi's beautiful rendering) sets up "No Matter the Cost", the big four-part finish with artist Dave Ross, who is turning in some wonderful stuff."

November numbers: ICv2 comes through with Diamond's comics sales figures for November. In its analysis, the website notes that only six titles broke the 100,000 mark in November, versus 13 in October. Four of the top five comics were "special event" titles.

Although Marvel dominated the top 10 single-issue slots, Dark Horse and DC held to top spots for graphic novels and trades. (EDIT: A tip of the hat to John Jakala, who points out that the November GN figures are actually the ones from October. Someone might want to tell ICv2.)

ICv2's estimates typically are more conservative than those released by Newsarama.

Breaking with tradition: In a surprise move, Tom DeFalco announced that "Spider-Girl" isn't in danger of cancellation:

"I stopped in at Marvel last week and was told that SPIDER-GIRL has already been rewnewed. We have been extended to at least issue #81. (That means that #81 could be our last issue, just like #74 could have been the last issue and #67 could have been and the list goes on...)" (Link via The Pulse)

Sunday, December 21, 2003

God bless us everyone: At The X-Axis, Paul O'Brien takes note of a minor Christmas miracle:

"Let's kick off with Emma Frost. This issue wraps up the first storyline, 'Higher Learning'. Greg Horn has chosen to commemorate this event with a rare cover that isn't framed around Emma's tits, and indeed almost squeezes them out of the picture altogether. It must be a very special occasion indeed."

The Howie Mandell of the blogosphere: Sometimes, Alan David Doane is really funny. His response to Michael Sangiacomo's lecture on artistic style, the many miracles of Paul Gulacy and "what comics are all about" is one of those times:

"I believe that different styles of drawing have their place. I believe that every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings. I believe that children are the future. Treat them well and let them lead the way. A child could certainly have seen that Epic was going to go tits-up long before Phantom Jack ever saw the light of day. If only I listened to the goddamned, motherfucking children. Lead, you little bastards!"

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Arbiter elegantiae: Ray Tate really didn't like "Fantastic Four" #508. I mean, really, really didn't like it:

"While this issue of The Fantastic Four represents Howard Porter's best work on the title, we're still stuck with a tired story that lingers like a bad taste in the mouth. 'Authoritative Action' will be reassessed by its current champions, and they will I suspect eventually arrive at the same conclusion I immediately did. It's worth pig's vomit!

"Pretentious, icky and plagued with characterization that ill fits Reed Richards and Victor von Doom, the thank the cosmos it's over last chapter adds to the malaise. Deus ex machina, the god in the machine, the hack who wrote this drivel, can be seen in the convenience of U.N. Peacekeepers wielding weapons capable of destroying the FF. Logic, this is window. Window, this is logic."

And here we were worried about the state of comics criticism.

Phantom jacked: In a puzzling move, Mike Sangiacomo leaps into the fire by proclaiming his love for Paul Gulacy's art on "Catwoman" over that of Cameron Stewart, Darwyn Cooke and Javier Pulido, and by telling us what comics are all about. (I'll quote a huge chunk to avoid taking his comments out of context):

"I believe that different styles of drawing have their place.

"For example, we have 'regular' artists on comics and then we have artists on comics meant for kids like 'Powerpuff Girls' and the Justice League and Batman books based on the cartoon shows.

"It is less detailed, features exaggerated physical characteristics and is simply, simpler.

"This is not a bad thing, just a different thing.

"We are saying that the art based on the cartoon shows is less than the 'regular' work.

"So, if we agree that these comics based on cartoons are simpler than we have established an art level. Up here, the 'regular' artists are for more discerning readers and down here, the animated stuff is for ... others.

"That being said, I hope the Brubaker-Gulacy team stays around on Catwoman through the release of the Halle Berry Catwoman movie. I would prefer people who enjoy the film picking up a copy of the Gulacy illustrated work so they can get a truer picture of what comics are all about."

Had he simply said he prefers Gulacy's style -- I won't say "realistic," because Gulacy's art is anything but that -- over Stewart's more cartoonish lines, he'd have been fine. You like what you like. Instead, he attempts to rationalize his tastes by creating a stylistic caste system of "regular" artists and "others," and by trying to define what "comics are all about."

Needless to say, the folks on the Newsarama message board are in revolt:

"Man, that sucks, really really sucks ..."

"Putting Cameron Stewart, Darwyn Cooke, Brad Rader, -- and essentially Bruce Timm as well, and Alex Toth as being the inspiration that all of these artists draw from -- 'beneath' 'regular' comics artists is frankly ignorant."

"This has to be the worst thing I've ever read on Newsarama."

Friday, December 19, 2003

Getting some respect: The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports on the slow-but-steady movement of graphic novels into bookstores. (Link via Artblog)

The article points to the recent (relative) success of works like Craig Thompson's "Blankets" and Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman: Endless Nights":

"What these books have in common, aside from enjoying brisk sales and critical raves, is a sophistication of artwork, text and emotional content that may even appeal to adults who think they don't like comics. Put another way, you don't have to know the first thing about 'Spider-Man' to find something to enjoy in this realm."

The best of Time, the worst of Time: I hate that's comics columnist, Andrew Arnold, spells comics with an "x." It drives me absolutely crazy. It's more than a little bit pretentious, to say nothing of unnecessary. But that's neither here nor there, I suppose.

What's a little interesting is his list of 10 Best Comics (I refuse to spell it with an "x") of 2003. Okay, it's not really interesting, because if you read his column with any regularity, you pretty much know his tastes: "Blankets," "Persepolis," "The Yellow Jar," etc.

The interesting part comes in at the end, when he names "The Worst" of 2003: Neil Gaiman's "1602."

"Writer Gaiman, who helped propel DC comics into the adult market with his 'Sandman' series, and penciler Kubert re-imagine the likes of Spiderman, Daredevil and Dr. Doom in the Elizabethan age. But the change of scenery breathes no new life into these once-exciting characters that have ossified into little more than corporate icons."

Now, I don't know that I'd consider "1602" the worst of the year (I can think of many titles and many writers who deserve that honor), but I agree with Arnold's assessment. "1602" is dull as dishwater. I read the first three -- or was it four? -- issues, and was bored senseless. I realize I may have had some lofty expectations from Gaiman, but ... damn, "1602" is lifeless.

What fate befell the Fantastick four? I'm guessing they grew tired of waiting for something -- anything -- to happen, and just drifted off-course.

My "Courtney" crusade continues: At iComics, Greg McElhatton praises the first issue of "Courtney Crumrin in the Twilight Kingdom":

"Courtney Crumrin in the Twilight Kingdom #1 is another outstanding success for Naifeh. There's absolutely nothing for me to quibble about here, save my impatience for the next issue. If you've never read any of the Courtney Crumrin comics before, this is a great place to begin. Just understand that when you're done, you'll want to buy the first two collected volumes as well. Yep, it's that much fun."

Yeah, I guess you can add "Courtney Crumrin" to my obsessive list, right next to the "Games" graphic novel.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Here, little boy ... Want an Emma Frost bookmark? I know I probably should think this is a good move, but something about it creeps me out: Marvel Enterprises has bought Cover Concepts, a company that "distributes materials such as textbook covers, coloring books, posters, bookmarks and other educational materials" to some 43,000 public schools.

While I have reservations, Marvel's Gui Karyo thinks it's brilliant: "From a financial perspective, we believe this accretive acquisition should provide an exceptional return on investment and more importantly, provide us with a means for expanding the demographic reach of Marvel publishing as well as provide relationships with advertisers that were not previously Marvel Comics customers."

It looks like Greg Horn will be busy next year ...

A tale of two prices: Now here's how to attract new readers. ICv2 has discovered that Marvel is charging $2.99 for many of its comics at newsstand outlets, while selling the same titles for $2.25 in the direct market.

It's, of course, a matter of profitability -- figuring printing costs and rate of return -- but I can't help but think Marvel may be shooting itself in the foot (again) by putting comics even further out of the reach of potential new readers. As slaves to the direct market over the past couple of decades, we've resigned ourselves to paying outrageous prices for a 32-page comic. But that's not the case for the potential new reader ("impulse buyer") passing by the magazine shelves at, say, Wal-Mart. That cover price undoubtedly will make him flinch. For $2.99, he can buy a magazine -- or lunch at McDonald's (conveniently located at the front of the store).

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Keeping it brief: This may be it for today's blogging. I have a deadline today, so I doubt I'll be able to do much poking around on the internet. If you're still interested, check back in later this afternoon or early this evening.

Games without frontiers: At Newsarama, CSN's Cliff Biggers talks to Darwyn Cooke about "New Frontier," Cooke's high-concept, six-issue trip through the 1950s DC Universe:

“For me it’s is all about the same thing that I always run into when I’m writing and drawing a project: what is going to make for the absolutely best story? The original Justice League belongs in the era it was created for; it’s the place where they are most vital and pure as characters.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

The medium is the message: At his blog, Christopher Butcher writes a thought-provoking preface to the new Previews Review, lamenting the sorry state of the comics industry but praising the amazing potential of the comics medium:

"The medium of comics art is truly astounding. It grows bigger and better every year, and every year the North American comics industry, specifically the Direct Market and the ‘mainstream’ superhero publishers in particular tend to slip further into obscurity, further into irrelevance, further into obsolescence, despite still dominating the North American medium."

Annus mirabilis? ComiX-Fan offers its Top Ten Comic Events of 2003. Most of the entries are predictable: "Batman: Hush," "JLA/Avengers," "X-2," blah, blah. But the list is most noteworthy for its glaring omissions. The launch and subsequent crash of Epic isn't there. Neither is CrossGen's ongoing problems. Manga's inroads onto store shelves doesn't make it, either. The list goes on.

But what's No. 1, you ask? "Endless Nights" is a "sleeper hit." Can a book written by one of the biggest names in the industry and promoted with the full resources of DC Comics really be considered a "sleeper hit"?

Star man: ComiXtreme talks to Tony Harris about the evolution of "Starman," the creation of "JSA: The Liberty File" and "Unholy Three," and, far too briefly, his upcoming project for WildStorm called "Ex-Machina":

"Brian K. Vaughn, me, Tom Feister, and JD. Mettler; Jolly Roger Studio and it premiers April of next year for Wildstorm. It's a creator owned series, Brian (K. Vaughn) conceived of it, brought me in to do the character designs. The series in a nutshell is West Wing meets Unbreakable, it's political thriller with a little splash of superhero lore taking a back seat. We're going to suggest that it's a book for readers of voting age."

Fabled agreement: At long last, I've found someone else who doesn't think "Fables" lives up to the hype. Take it away, Christopher Butcher:

"Bill Willingham takes over Robin! I guess I’m the only person who finds FABLES really mediocre (with some hideous art and colouring…). I haven’t really commented on it because Christ, I really don’t need to go picking any more fights, but the covers are easily the best thing about this series. I say this having read both trade paperbacks, a smattering of single issues, and the LAST CASTLE one shot. I read these reviews of the series that tell me how it affected the reviewer, and I read the book and yeah, I can see how plot-point-A is meant to generate emotional reaction-B in preparation for pay-off-C, but…? Leaves me entirely cold. So, yeah, sorry. Not my thing, but it’s not like I don’t recommend 10 other good books in this column…"

Our little group meets the second Tuesday of each month. You bring the chips and dip.

Monday, December 15, 2003

March solicitations: DC Comics' March solicitations are up, a few hours ahead of the midnight embargo for "news" sites (as usual). Here are a few titles that caught my eye:

"Gotham Central" #17: Greg Scott ("Sword of Dracula," "Strange Magic") continues to fill in for Michael Lark as Gotham deals with the aftermath of the "Soft Targets" storyline.

"DC: The New Frontier" #3: More of Darwyn Cooke's take on DC's Silver Age heroes (this time, the Challengers of the Unknown).

"Swamp Thing" #1: Andy Diggle ("The Losers") takes a crack at the elemental in the first issue of the new ongoing series. I like Diggle's writing, so I'll give this a shot.

"The Losers" #10: Speaking of Diggle ... I love this series.

"Hellblazer" #194: I just recently got back into this series, thanks to some not-so-gentle prodding from Rick Geerling. I'm glad I did.

"Midnight, Mass: Here There Be Monsters" #3: I missed the first series, but the second looks like a fun read. Plus, I love Tomer Hanuka's cover art.

"Planetary" #19: Never a disappointment, and well worth the wait.

Tales of the "Teen Titans": Ah, now this should make me feel better: The Pulse reminisces with Marv Wolfman about "The New Teen Titans," and discovers what went into creating the classic '80s series.

Most interesting, perhaps, is Wolfman's reflection on the series' legacy, and his place in the comics industry:

"THE PULSE: How does it feel to have so many current creators cite New Teen Titans as having such a great influence on their career?

"WOLFMAN: Mixed emotions. Obviously, I love it. It validates so much of the work I did. On the other hand, it is sometimes awkward when editors tell me how much they loved the book and how much my writing meant to them, but when I ask about new work, it's always, 'Well, we don't have anything.'

"I know they are under pressure to keep finding new talent so I don't have a personal problem, but it is frustrating as I think I could be doing the same kind of work today. But it is great when some writer or artist I really admire today tells me how much Titans or Dracula or Nova or some book meant to them. I also feel the same when I get email from fans who never wrote to the letter columns but who find my email on my website and tell me how much my work meant to them and how it might have gotten them through a tough spot. Those are the letters I truly cherish and I write to back every one of them, even if it's only a line or so saying thanks. Writers, more than artists, tend to sit very much alone in our rooms typing away our stories and we don't really know if we have any effect on anyone. The email I've been getting for the past four or five years from former fans is life-sustaining."

Blog blahs: My apologies for the lackluster blogging. I haven't been feeling well most of the day, and now I'm in a medicated netherworld -- which makes things interesting.

Today Wal-Mart, tomorrow the world: reports on Tokyopop's Wal-Mart experiment:

"Tokyopop is the first manga publisher to get its product into mega-merchant Wal-Mart with a 100-store test."

"Twilight" of the ghouls: At The Fourth Rail, Don and Randy give glowing reviews to the first issue of Ted Naifeh's "Courtney Crumrin in the Twilight Kingdom." (How many links can I cram into one paragraph?)

As I've written before, I love this series, and have been eagerly awaiting the third volume. I doubt that I'm the target market, but I don't care. It's just clever and fun. And it makes me smile.

Once more, with feeling: Ninth Art marches onto the blood-soaked battlefield left by the bloggerati to take up the call for the year's best comic book covers. Among them, covers for "Love Fights," "100 Bullets," "1602," "The Losers" and, yes, even "Rawhide Kid."

I'm a little disappointed that nothing by Tony Harris made the cut. But I'm too busy hammering my swords into plowshares to argue the point.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Taking one for the team: Ever the glutton for punishment, Paul O'Brien re-reads the entire "Draco" storyline before reviewing "Uncanny X-Men" #434:

"Root canal surgery doesn't become any more pleasant just because you know it'll be over soon. Similarly, the knowledge that Chuck Austen will be gone from Uncanny X-Men in a few months doesn't make me any more keen to read his remaining issues."

Message bore: What would Markisan Naso do without the Millarworld message boards and Rob Liefeld? The mind boggles.

"Man, I have so much stuff on Rob Liefeld this week I think he should pay me to develop a fucking newsletter..."

I was thinking the same thing.

But Millarworld didn't receive all of Markisan's attention this week. He also spent a few minutes at ComiX-Fan.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Ben Templesmith talks to Digital Webbing about his work process, the upcoming "Singularity 7," and being pigeon-holed as a "horror artist":

"... I'm probably typecast as 'that vampire guy' already...if people even know my name that is. But I'll be coming out with some diverse stuff soon enough. I just like good stories. In a mainstream context. don't mean 'good superhero stuff'. I'd just like to comics with 'good stories' that anyone in the public could pick up."

"Babies like -- iron": How did I miss this when I was running down Dark Horse's list of March releases?

The 40-page reprint of "Hellboy: The Corpse" -- complete with behind-the-scenes art from the film -- is just 25 cents. Smart marketing.

What would be even smarter is a plan to distribute the book beyond comics shops. I know it's likely too late to strike deals with book and magazine distributors, but "The Corpse" reprint is ideal for the book market and newsstand sales (grocery stores, etc.).

Better yet, what about shipping copies to theaters in major markets for the first few weeks of the film's release (either to sell or to give away)? I can remember as a kid buying some sort of slick magazine/programs at the showing of "Superman II" and, very possibly, "Return of the Jedi." Do they still do things like that? (Jesus, I sound old. Wait. Maybe I am.)

Gah! I had a whole essay about cross-promotions and comics retailers taking some cues from the book market. Then BlogSpot freaked out and ate it. Maybe I'll piece it together and post it later. Curse you, Blogspot!

Friday, December 12, 2003

Stick (to) it: At (yeah, I'm done with the underground cracks), Rich Watson uses his recent review of "The Gift," and subsequent exchange with its writer, as a springboard for this question: How long should you stick with a comic you don't like before dumping it?

"'Hot' titles with lots of buzz around it are all too common. We are told a given book is popular by other people, and we are convinced that we would like it too. However, if we read it and don't like it, yet are constantly told to stick with it, to give it a chance, it can make us wonder what exactly it is we're missing. We may feel compelled to continue if for no other reason than to not miss out on a supposedly hot title. (Conversely, it can also make us think everybody else has bad taste, but I digress.) This same principle can also apply to those of us who grow attached to a character or a creator. The more attached we are, the more convinced we become that neither can do any wrong. Inevitably, though, there comes a story where we feel the character's written or drawn 'wrong' in some way, or the creator starts a new title that we think deviates much too far from his more familiar work. However, because of our attachment, we sometimes convince ourselves, or are convinced, that things will straighten themselves out and the book will get better. We just need to stick with it and give it a chance."

Why didn't I take French in college? At Artbomb's new blog, fittingly named Artblog, Peter teases us with some beautiful pages from "Canardo" (scroll down), a series of graphic novels by French cartoonist Sokal. Pretty to look at, even if I can't read a word of it.

You can find out more about "Canardo," as well as other European comics, at Casterman's website. At least I think you can. For all I know, the site could be nothing but souffle recipes and driving directions.

Note to Artblog: Get permalinks. (Yes, I can say that now that my permalinks work.)

Old Young One (No. That's not it ...): Newsarama talks to Rob Worley about the poorly named "Young Ancient One," now part of the ill-fated "Epic Anthology":

"If you’re still unsure what YAO is all about, imagine an action-packed kung fu movie. And Jackie Chan."

Sweet Jesus, no. I have a soft spot for Dr. Strange (though I'm no NeilAlien). Hell, during one sleepless and obsessive night, I even came up with three years' worth of Dr. Strange story ideas (just in case I'd ever get the call). But the kung-fu adventures of a Young Ancient One -- isn't that like jumbo shrimp, or Giant-Size Ant Man? -- just never crossed my mind. Probably with good reason.

Still, I wish Worley & Co. luck. And that brings me to this comment by a Newsarama reader: "Sounds good to me, but I regret that some good stories end drowned in the Epic anthology while they could stand on their own. Maybe I will wait for the trade... if any Epic merchandise ever comes up..." (Emphasis added.)

Bulletin to Newsarama poster: There isn't going to be a trade. Hell, they'll be lucky if there's an "Epic Anthology" #2. The wait-for-the-trade mentality is only going to seal the fates of the three stories involved. If you're interested in "Young Ancient One," buy the damn book. It's $5.99 for 72 pages, a pretty good price by American comics standards. Skip "Superman/Batman" and "Emma Frost" this month and squirrel that money away for the anthology. Seriously.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Tokyo poop: John Jakala doesn't like all manga. And to prove it, he gives a rundown of some of the stories that didn't work for him.

Balder-dashed: I'm reminded that I forgot to link to something on Tuesday: The first installment of Jeffery Stevenson and Seth Damoose's "Brat-halla" at Movie Poop Shoot. My earlier assessment of the comic, which follows the misadventures of the Norse godlings, holds true. It is "cute" (although not very kind to Balder's, um, godhood).

"Runaway" comments: Newsarama pimps the upcoming guest appearance of Cloak & Dagger in "Runaways," and shows artist Takeshi Miyazawanew's character sketches, triggering an odd reaction from one reader -- and a hilarious post from writer Brian Vaughan.

Poster: "Gah! This doof has obviously never heard of double-sided costume tape. He needs to take a damn theater costuming class before he tries to redesign a costume that doesn't need fixing."

Vaughan: "I'm the 'doof' who suggested a costume tweaking, so I deserve your ire, not Takeshi. If our mail is to be believed, Runaways is read by many more young female readers than dirty old men, so I didn't think our audience would mind two extra strips of fabric. Sorry I didn't attend theater costuming class. I think I was getting laid that day."

It's about time ... DC Comics finally gets in step by hiring a vice president-creative service to shepherd properties to film and television.

"Squadron" supreme: The Comic Treadmill continues its look back at "All-Star Squadron" with an excellent analysis of Issues 17-20 of the '80s series:

"As a super-hero Tarantula was as fascinating as rabbit turds, but he was one of the most fleshed-out personalities in the series. I have a theory on this - when Roy wrote the Tarantula into the series he was scripting a character that was Roy if he had been alive on Earth-2 in the 1940s. Like Roy, Tarantula was an author who wrote about super-heroes. And Tarantula was far more interested in finding out what made the heroes tick then he was in becoming a top-notch crime fighter. Tarantula's Golden Age costume was nearly identical to Sandman's Kirby version. Roy quickly changed it (dropping the cape after it got caught in a door and he realized how dumb it was to have a cape - instantly making Tarantula smarter than any other caped hero)."

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Red, white and bleh: Newsarama talks to R.A. Jones and Tom Derenick about the upcoming "Wolverine/Captain America" miniseries.

Newsarama: "So, what brings these two characters together?"

Derenick: "This is in the solicitation so I'm not giving anything big away here but something has happened to a chip of Shi'ar technology at the X-mansion. It's creating an ungodly amount of power on a very weird frequency. Charles Xavier and the Beast have been unable to determine what has happened to it. Beast remembers that the Avengers Mansion has equipment to study the bioenergy that Warbird puts out since she had become Binary. This chip is giving off similar patterns and he feels the Avengers might have a better chance of figuring out what has happened to it.

"Anyway, in the process of transporting it, it gets hijacked by a group of rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Shi'ar technology on earth is very rare and highly prized under normal conditions but this chip is very special and dangerous because of it's altered structure so Cap, Warbird and Wolvie are sent to track it down and bring it back."

So, alien technology that can create "an ungodly amount of power" is missing, and it's up to Captain America, Wolverine and Warbird to find it? Nevermind that there are three teams of X-Men, the full roster of the Avengers and the globe-spanning resources of S.H.I.E.L.D. And nevermind that the X-Mansion is chock-full of Shi'ar technology that could probably come in handy.

Instead, we'll skip over to Avengers Mansion, then only send Captain America, Wolverine and freakin' Warbird.

Looking mainstream: I like the premise of Michael Diaz's "What Looks Good" at SBC. It's a little different from the numerous other columns devoted to combing through Diamond's weekly shipping lists in that these are titles Michael actually intends to buy. So, you're not likely to see a $49.95 deluxe, leather-bound edition of whatever in the column. He'll accept reader recommendations, but only when he can afford to pick them up.

The down side is that Michael's tastes don't vary much. "NYX." "Ultimate" everything. Even Millar's "Wanted." The rare curve ball comes in the form of "Dark Days" or "Scooter Girl."

Hey, he likes what he likes. He shouldn't apologize for enjoying "Emma Frost" or "Punisher." I enjoy a good superhero story myself. But it would be nice if there were a less mainstream, less superhero-oriented counter-balance to Michael's middle-of-the-road tastes.

Maybe then, SBC would actually move toward becoming "the internet's most diverse comics webzine."

Diamond in the rough: Steven Grant suggests a 21st century alternative to Diamond's byzantine Previews catalog by creating an online version, complete with five-page samples and a searchable database. I liked this paragraph:

"The main tool of promotion in comics is the Diamond Comics PREVIEWS catalog, a headache-inducing monthly 'phone book,' where, as Lemmy Caution put it in ALPHAVILLE 'many philosophers had gone astray, where even a secret agent could get lost.' Particularly once you get past the DC and Marvel sections at the front of PREVIEWS, finding a comic unless you're already specifically looking for it is like finding a precisely shaped snowflake in a blizzard."

His plan calls for Diamond to operate the database, and for most comics shops to have Internet access and, most likely, a computer station available for customer use.

It's an intriguing idea that, in the long run, might help retailers and publishers. But I can see it hobbled by a number of problems, namely the industry's resistance to change, from top to bottom. I wonder, too, how much money Diamond makes from sales of the "phone book," and how many "Talk Back" responses ICv2 would receive from retailers outraged by the mere suggestion that they should have Internet access in their stores.

Ah, well. It's an interesting thought, though.

Ah, March! We know thou art kind-hearted ... In stark and welcome contrast to Marvel's March Madness -- Necromancy Month, as I like to call it -- Dark Horse trots out its offerings.

Among them, Mike Mignola's return to the Hellboy franchise (at least as writer) with "BPRD: A Plague of Frogs" #1 with Guy Davis; "Hellboy: The Corpse," reissued and repackaged just in time for the movie; Linda Medley's "Castle Waiting, Vol. 1: The Lucky Road," part of a series I've heard good things about but never checked out; Niles Inc.'s "Criminal Macabre: A Cal McDonald Mystery," trade, "Freaks of the Heartland" #2 and "Fused: Think Like a Machine" #4 (hey, it's Steve Niles Month!); "Michael Chabon Presents ... The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist" #2; and the Eisner/Miller trade.

Plus there's a bunch of "Star Wars" stuff, manga and faux manga. The Pulse has the press release goodness.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

"I wish I was special ..." Rob Zombie and Steve Niles are taking their comics collaboration a step further by forming a horror-themed production company called CREEP Entertainment International.

Comic Book Resources reports: "The plan is to have the comics worked produced under the CREEP brand to be published by both Dark Horse Comics, publishers of the first CREEP product 'The Nail,' and IDW Publishing, publishers of the next CREEP product, 'Bigfoot.' Niles told CBR News that pre-existing projects will remain in their current place with projects the duo came up with together falling under the CREEP banner."

By the numbers: Comic Book Resources posts Diamond sales figures for October. Well, they aren't really figures, because CBR doesn't give any hard numbers; they just do Top 300 rankings. ICv2 and Newsarama will follow with widely varying estimates.

Come on in and cover me: I refuse to wade into the debate over comic book covers. But for those dying to find out what's burning up the blogosphere, John Jakala knows the score.

Going to print: John Jakala touches on the sorry state of online comics interviews, and looks at new magazines, Back Issue and Comic Book Artist. He also feeds my "Games" fixation. (Thanks, John.)

I haven't read either magazine, so I can't comment on John's assessment. I can, however, attest that Andy Mangels is capable of more than just softball questions. I've read interviews by Mangels, and even interviewed him myself; he can pose some solid questions. Maybe he succumbed to the effects of fanboyism.

John makes some good points, though, about the limitations faced by print magazines that try to cover the comics industry. They struggle with timeliness and sense of place in an era of free online "news" sites such as The Pulse and Newsarama, who can, theoretically, operate on an endless news cycle. It's the same battle that's waged by the likes of Time and Newsweek in the age of CNN and MSNBC.

Humdrum, starstruck Q&A's with comics pros won't help to carve out a niche; readers can get that every day for free online. And Wizard is the only print outlet with the clout to demand important "exclusives," whether they be previews or major announcements.

So, what can other publications with less pull than Shamus & Co. do to set themselves apart from the pack? The obvious answers would be to play to the strengths of print, and to identify a niche readership (avoiding the scattershot approach of most of the other print and online sources).

Give us depth. Give us beautifully reproduced art (not an overabundance of "creative whitespace"). In short, give us something we can't find online. I'd pay $5.95 for that.

Awards, with a shot of Absolut: The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has announced the nominees for its 15th annual Media Awards. In the Outstanding Comic Book category, the nominees are: "The Authority" (Wildstorm/DC); "Catwoman" (DC); "Gotham Central" (DC); "How Loathsome" (NBM); and "Strangers in Paradise" (Abstract Studio).

Axis and Allies: The Comic Treadmill responds to David Fiore's "All Star-Squadron" nostalgia by launching a year-by-year review of Roy Thomas' '80s comics series.

I'm afraid I may have started the chain of events, but I'll gladly accept the blame.

Monday, December 08, 2003

We have the technology: Faithful readers may have noticed two continuing themes in "Thought Balloons": 1. My frequent bitching about my abysmal local comics shop; and 2. My problems with permalinks.

Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, one of those themes comes to an end. NeilAlien has fixed my permalinks! Many before him had tried and failed. But Neil is no ordinary man. He is a master of the mystic arts.

Bungled web: Marvel issues a press release apologizing to Capcom and Japanese artist Shinkiro for releasing an incomplete version of Shinkiro's cover for "Spider-Man Unlimited" #1. Watch as C.B. Cebulski falls on his sword:

"I feel terrible about this. We've done a great disservice to Shinkiro, his art and his reputation by releasing a piece of his unfinished art. Marvel is going to do everything in its power to correct the mistake and see that the actual finished Spider-Man Unlimited #1 cover is distributed through the proper channels and give it the exposure it so rightfully deserves. Again, Marvel's apologies for this error go out to Capcom Co., Ltd. and Shinkiro. ..."

Compare and contrast the images (the wrong one is on the left):

Frankly, I think it looked better before it was finished. What's going on in the background, Armageddon?

Bird of prey: On his blog, Christopher Priest explains the concept behind "Captain America and the Falcon," which places it heads and shoulders above the other titles debuting during Marvel's March Madness:

"The foundation of CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON is the unshakeable friendship between these two men. The friendship is non-negotiable and the trust between them is implicit, despite the rather damming evidence that, in issue #1, The Falcon has violated National Security, and the government has given Cap just 24 hours to bring Falcon in before they go after Falcon with guns blazing. If you use the trust these two men have as a compass, it makes negotiating the many twists and turns of 'Two Americas,' CAF's inaugural story arc, much easier."

And he throws in a couple of promising twists:

"The Falcon is given asylum at the Wakandan embassy by The Black Panther, which is where the Falcon's new aerie will be located. Falcon's flying rig and costume will be updated and Falcon will operate as a vigilante, somewhat outside the law (much like Spider-Man in the old days).

"This process causes The Falcon to emerge from this crucible as much more his own man. Redefined more towards the center, much more of an equal to Cap, with a kind of wily Andre Braugher (Homicide, City of Angels, Hack) arrogance as he evolves into more of a Green Arrow to Cap's Green Lantern. Two men, two Americas, two different approaches and perspectives, two different expressions of the same ideal. Both right. Only, now occasionally in conflict."

Winning with "The Losers": Ninth Art talks to Andy Diggle about "2000AD," "The Losers," "Swamp Thing" and "genre diversification":

"I'd like to see more comics aimed at people like me. People who are aware of comics but don't obsess over them, people who go to the movies and watch TV and want to be entertained without having to memorise 50 years of continuity. In other words, 'the general public'. There's too much of a gulf in comics between cheesy pulp on the one hand and worthy-but-dull, highbrow 'indie' stuff on the other. I'm all for reaching a wider audience, and that means giving people stuff that's smart, accessible, entertaining and immediate. I think the crossover success of stuff like SANDMAN, PREACHER, TRANSMET, 100 BULLETS, Y and FABLES shows there's a market for it."

When March goes on forever ... Newsarama highlights Marvel's six new series set to debut in March. Well, they're not so much new as they are, well, the resurrection of old characters and gone-and-buried concepts.

Yes, faithful readers, March is Necromancy Month at Marvel; the dead are walking and talking.

So, anyway, we're getting "Iron Fist" by Jim Mullaney and Kevin Lau; "She-Hulk" by Dan Slott (whom I liked on DC's "Arkham Asylum: Living Hell") and Juan Bobillo; "Captain America and the Falcon" by Christopher Priest and an unnanounced artist; "Alpha Flight" by Scott Lobdell and Clayton Henry; "Cable/Deadpool" by Fabian Fabian Nicieza and Mark Brooks; and the "Avengers vs. Thunderbolts" miniseries by Nicieza, Kurt Busiek and Barry Kitson.

De mortuis nil nisi bonum. Speak no ill of the dead.

UPDATE: Priest confirms that Bart Sears will be the artist on "Captain America and the Falcon."

We stand on guard for thee: Scott Lobdell talks to The Pulse about his return to "Alpha Flight":

"The goal was originally 'Come work on some X-MEN projects with us ...' but when I said 'Woo hoo!' it turned out that the departure of Grant Morrison had thrown the X-world into something of a work in progress. Because of the status of the characters are all up in the air at this moment, it was decided I should concentrate on a perifpheral peripheral 'ghetto' of the X-verse. I had submitted two pretty developed proposals ... one for ALPHA FLIGHT and one for a European based team of young mutants, THE HELLIONS. Joe Quesada read both and said 'I like the characters in ALPHA FLIGHT and the tone of HELLIONS -- can you combine them?' It has been a hoot."

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Playing catch-up: The regular installment of "All The Rage" returns this week, with Markisan finally taking note of the Christopher Priest-Rich Johnston conflict. Okay, to be fair, last week's column was devoted to Tony Isabella, so Markisan is a little behind ...

But, at the risk of sounding like Rich Johnston, I had it first. (The permalink undoubtedly doesn't work, so you'll have to search for my Nov. 27 entry.)

Markisan does, however, have a couple of mildly interesting tidbits: The first is a shaky report that Mark Millar will write a resurrected "X-Force," which will feature the return of Rob Liefeld. The other is that Keith Giffen is working on a new title with Steve Niles for IDW called "Gut Wrencher."

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Say my name, say my name: Now here's an odd request:

At the John Byrne Message Board, forum owner Dave Pruitt posts: "Rich Johnston emailed me and asked me to ask all of you to refrain from mentioning him on this board. Since he's barred from posting here, and can't respond to any comments about him, his column, etc., he'd rather not be a topic of discussion, at all. Whataya say?"

Byrne wonders: "Would this be reciprocal?"

For goodness sake: Is The Pulse really going to drag out its "X-Mas Past" feature for another couple of weeks?

It makes me long for the days of endless Halloween stories.

Weekends aren't made for blogging: I've not been the best blogger this week. Usually, I obsessively check the comics sites looking for "news" and announcements, and post five or six items a day.

This week, however, I've been caught up in writing a short-story script (which I finished, thankyouverymuch) and working on a free-lance design project that's due next week. So, forgive me for my lackluster posting.

I get up this morning, ready to post before diving into real work, and find nothing. There's not a damned thing going on in comics. Most of the other comics bloggers realized that long ago, so they take weekends off.

But not me. I'm a little slow on the uptake.

Which brings me to "Courtney Crumrin." Really, it does. Bear with me.

I'd read scattered praise for Ted Naifeh's stories about an odd little girl who's sent to live with her warlock uncle, and encounters those Things That Go Bump in the Night. But because my local comics shop sucks, I hadn't been able to lay my hands on any of the books.

That all changed last weekend at Mid-Ohio Con, where I found the "Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics" collected digest (volume two in the series), and a stray single issue of "Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things."

What great, fun reads. Few books make me just smile, but that one did. I even forced it upon my sister, who doesn't read comics, and she had a similar reaction.

I just wish more comics triggered that same feeling in me, and in "non-readers."

The third series, "Courtney Crumrin in the Twilight Kingdom," is set to debut Dec. 17. I'm going to buy it. I suggest you do, too.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Reset! Reset! That stomach-churning jolt you just felt was the world being hurled back in time 10 years with the announcement that Scott Lobdell will write Marvel's relaunched "Alpha Flight."

Yes, that Scott Lobdell. The one who did such a swell job last time. It's officially the early '90s all over again, my friends. Enjoy your stay.

Clayton Henry and Mark Morales will handle the art.

Defining Image: Jim Valentino talks studio departures, branding and the state of Image Comics:

"... If I must put a fine point on it, let's look at the big picture: Some guys come into Image and use us as a launch pad to start their own companies. Some of them are still with us; some of them have gone by the wayside. The latter is in the minority.

"The guys who are far more important are the ones who chose Image because we're the only company that's gonna do 100% right by their creation. Brian Bendis, David Mack, John Romita, Jr., Joe Linsner, Mike Oeming, Frank Cho, Scott Kurtz, Matt Wagner and so many more have chosen to work with Image, chosen Image to be their partners in taking care of the creations they invented and that they care about. "

Going global: Warren Ellis announces he's fulfilled the terms of his agreement with DC, so ending his exclusive contract:

"This is no slight on DC. This isn't the usual mainstream comics thing of Fuck these guys, I'm going across the street to work with the other guys, until I get bored with them and go back to DC again. This has been the standard dance in commercial comics for thirty years, people shuttling between DC and Marvel like they're the only two games in the world. DC is the only New York publisher I'm interested in working with, because they're the only ones supporting original creator-owned work. And I will continue to work with them until they're sick of me."

Finding "Namor": J. Torres talks to Andi Watson about "Love Fights," working for Marvel, and the cancellation of "Namor":

"Bill told me the book was cancelled a few months back and the reason was sales. There are other theories but once a book dips into the 20K realm it's fair game. It's part of the nickel and dime of mainstream comics, books are launched, books are cancelled. The only constants are Batman, Superman, Spidey and the X-Men."

Watson also considers Marvel's attempts at cracking the book market, and its attempts to reach the manga crowd:

"Y'know, I'm not privy to Marvel's motives. If they're not in the bookstores it means there's more shelf space for 'Love Fights,' 'Slow News Day,' 'Breakfast After Noon' and the rest. I can live with a marginal presence in the direct market when the hypothetical book store pay off is so much bigger.

"As far as the Big Two and bookstores go I don't see why they don't let creators write and draw OGNs in black and white for that market. Costs would be lower because it's a one person job, there's no color and the 'talent' costs are less because Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb mean nothing outside of the direct market, so why employ them for this kind of job?"

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Gail force: DC has added Gail Simone ("Birds of Prey," "Rose and Thorn") to its stable of exclusive talent.

The agreement allows the writer to continue working on Bongo Comics projects.

Newsarama shuns the official press release in favor of a full-fledge interview with Simone.

Ask me no (good) questions ... Chris Allen chimes in about The Pulse's interview with Grant Morrison, if only to point out how wretched many of the questions were:

"Whether you like Morrison or not, he’s inarguably an interesting personality and a popular, unique comics writer with varied interests and recognizable themes in his work. But what you get in this interview is at least half generic questions like 'If you weren't in comics, what would you be doing?' followed by almost the same question. I got a laugh by how Morrison goes on for several paragraphs about his views on religion, and the next question is just talk show 'tell us about your new projects' stuff."

Unfortunately, today's Peter Milligan interview is only slightly better.

Like Chris, I realize most of these comics interviews are conducted via email. But where are the follow-up questions? Hell, where are the questions tailored to a specific creator? As I've said before, many of these Q&A's are so generic that they could be lifted from the "Small-Business Spotlight" column of my local newspaper.

Oddly enough, the best, most consistent online comics interviews are Rich Johnston's "Waiting for Tommy" series. (Sure, you have to stomach Rich's ego and bravado, but the occasional jabs by the interviewees make it worthwhile.)

So, as Steven Grant bemoans the state of online comics criticism, I mourn the fate of online comics interview.

I won't pause to ponder comics journalism. That passed the way of the dodo long ago.

One man's trash ... Sometimes, what comes from the quarter bin should stay in the quarter bin. But try telling that to Ryan McLelland, who found "The Secret Defenders" #1:

"With a great story, shiny red cover, and Darkhawk fighting alongside Wolverine, what more could you ask for?"

The only way I could've enjoyed that book is if Dr. Strange had been forced to destroy Wolverine, Nomad, Darkhawk and Spider-Woman in an attempt to save the world from the '90s.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Meanwhile, back at the ranch: Let's see, what happened yesterday while I was busy with other things?

Oh, yeah. The comics sites caught wind of the "official announcement" that Chris Claremont and Alan Davis will take over "Uncanny X-Men." Davis broke the news last weekend during Mid-Ohio Con, which I attended. However, I didn't make it to any of the panels because, frankly, they looked dull as hell.

Rich Johnston, of course, gleefully points out that he had the scoop on Claremont and Davis more than a month ago.

I always enjoy Davis' art, but Claremont's body of work can be a bit ... uneven. His run with John Byrne on "Uncanny X-Men" is, jusifiably, considered "classic," despite criticisms that the dialogue was verbose and melodramatic (even by early '80s standards), and the plots often were meandering and undefined. Two decades later, his efforts on "X-Treme X-Men" are plagued by many of the same problems.

As we all know, I'm not immune to the effects of nostalgia (witness the many entries devoted to Wolfman/Perez's upcoming "Games"). But the other, more logical part of my brain wonders whether Marvel wouldn't be better off looking forward instead of trying to recapture the "glory days" of the '80s and '90s (the latter, of course, weren't all that glorious).

Claremont and Davis on "Uncanny X-Men." Nicieza on "Thunderbolts." Liefeld on "Cable and Deadpool" covers. Who hit the reset button at Marvel?

I'm not suggesting these creators be put out to pasture, by any means. But wouldn't Marvel, and the industry in general, be better served by putting talented creators on new or different titles instead of trying futilely to rebottle a formula that worked at a specific time (specifically, 10 or 20 years ago)?

Put Claremont on, say, "Elektra" (he likes to write "strong" women). Or let Davis launch a new series that might, just might appeal to Davis devotees and newer fans alike. I'd throw out more vague suggestions, but you already get the point.

I don't mean to pick on Marvel, because DC can be guilty of the same thing. It's just that the most recent spate of Marvel announcements makes me feel as if I've just stepped out of the Wayback Machine.

And that's a pretty queasy feeling.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

It lives! Well, Blogspot finally is back among the living. The timing's not so great, though; I'm on a creative roll with a script, so I probably won't do any real blogging until later this afternoon.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Perfect timing: How's this for a nice coincidence? This weekend, I picked up "Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics" collected digest, and "Nightmares & Fairy Tales" #3-6. Today, lo and behold, the December edition of Sequential Tart goes up, complete with interviews with Ted Naifeh and Foo Swee Chin!

"Titans" talk: In this week's SBC column, Marv Wolfman plugs the long-rumored "New Teen Titans" graphic novel, "Games." (You didn't think I could let a week pass without a "Games" link, did you?)

Interestingly, Wolfman acknowledges the weaknesses of his '80s work, but wonders whether more contemporary writing trends have lost something vital:

"Both George and my styles have changed a lot since those days. I know back then I tended to write lots of dialogue and many, many captions, often with lots and lots of purple prose, whereas these days I try to be a lot more concise in my writing. Fact is, today’s comics eschew captions as well as lots of dialogue. I am, of course, aware that styles change; old ones go away and new ones replace them, but I find a lot of the dialogue today is so short and to the point that the rambling nature of fun dialogue is lost. Yes, today’s craft is unquestionably better than much of what was done back in the 70s and 80s, but in making the dialogue more realistic, more movie-driven and less melodramatic, I think some of the, dare I say it, corny fun used back then is gone, too."

The Con Report (sort of): Where was I? Oh, right: Mid-Ohio Con. Despite the Columbus sniper shootings, threat of bad weather and my generally screwed up sleep schedule, the convention (my first) was a fun time.

We gave out literally thousands of "Digital Webbing Presents" special issues, I spent far too much money on comics, and I got to meet a lot of people, some of whom I'd only known from online.

Definitely check out "Possum at Large," "Shades of Blue" and "Super Hero Happy Hour." Chad Lambert, Jim Harris and Dan Taylor are nice guys, and their books are great.

I had a chance to speak briefly with Christopher Golden and Beau Smith (and gave them copies of my story), as well Brian Michael Bendis (and daughter) and Michael Avon Oeming.

I also looked over a couple of promising artist portfolios, so I may have some more potential collaborators lined up. That's always nice.

Now, on to the purchases:

"Nightmares & Fairy Tales" #3-6; "Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics" collected digest; "Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things" #3; "Super Hero Happy Hour" #1-4; "Shades of Blue" collected edition, Vol. 1, and issues #7-10; "B.P.R.D.: Hollow Earth & Other Stories" (25% off); "Hellboy: The Chained Coffin and Others" and "Hellboy: The Right Hand of Doom" (25% off); "Hellblazer" #190; "The Legion" #27; and "The Losers" #6.

I'm not really sure how much I spent, and I'm trying to keep it that way.