Thursday, June 28, 2007

Clumsy music metaphor theater

I'm wary of drawing analogies between music and comics, but the recent discussion of the overall craptitude of Brad Meltzer's Justice League (and countless other terrible comics) has led me in this direction. So: what annoying musical trend/genre do contemporary superhero comics most resemble? Some suggestions:

-Nu Metal: I think there's a case to be made that all superheroes as a genre are more like heavy metal than any other musical genre. Both are frankly ridiculous, especially to outsiders. Even mature, not-stupid fans struggle to apologize for some of the dumber tropes in each genre. Ever tried to explain Spider-Man's origin to a regular person? Ever tried to explain Iron Maiden's mascot Eddie to a regular person? Both activities will make you feel dumber than you probably are. And yet even non-fans will recognize something primal and compelling in a Black Sabbath riff or a Jack Kirby splash page.

Given this, the Nu Metal comparison is obvious. Nu Metal lyrics definitely tend towards whiny self-focus (what some might call "emo" tendencies). This brings to mind Crying Superman and the pervading sense of gloom which clings to modern superhero comics. (Seriously, is this something that appeals exclusively to whatever weirdos comprise the majority of Marvel/DC fans these days? The general public voiced its opinion on Crying Superman through its apathy towards Superman Returns, so this isn't a larger cultural phenomenon.) Furthermore, Nu Metal privileges aggression over hooks; similarly, superhero comic writers increasingly rely on shocks and surprises rather than, well, all the things which one associates with writing as a craft. And then there's the misogyny thing.

This analogy falls apart, however, when we consider the role of influence. For all its faults, Nu Metal bands broadened the appeal of heavy metal by bringing in influences from other, disparate genres. Nu Metal is not wed to the past; it is (was?) an inherently forward-looking sub-genre. Contemporary superhero comics, conversely, are aggressively antiquarian (some asshole might even call them culturally necrophiliac). Fans of Nu Metal rewarded bands which took risks, pushing them further from the traditional definition of "heavy metal." Marvel/DC fans, obsessed with continuity, consider any break with the past as prima facie evidence of a comic sucking. Clearly, then, these similarities between Nu Metal and contemporary superhero comics are superficial; at their respective cores are contradictory views on the relationship between roots and fruits.

-Dixieland Jazz: Well, there's certainly a greater indebtedness to the past with Dixieland Revival, which was (to some extent) a counter-revolutionary assault on Free Jazz. This is a central pillar of many contemporary Marvel/DC comics: the past is better than the present. Thus, it is preferable to strip mine the old rather than to create new characters or concepts. There's no doubt that the comics industry is more Wilbur Cash than C. Vann Woodward--continuity always trumps change.

This mindset, however, is not prevalent for the entire superhero comics industry. Many prominent writers look to something other than the past for inspiration. Furthermore, at its most annoying, Dixieland Revival attempts to reconnect with a prelapsarian past, universally understood to be the 1920s (when "jazz culture"--speakeasies, flappers, unironically-worn straw boaters, etc.--was at its peak). In comics, there is no consensus on what represents the golden age, despite there being an era universally referred to as the Golden Age. I would venture to say that the 1960s are the most popular decade, but many comics writers and artist have shown great affection for other eras in their work (with the possible exception of the 90s, which are probably another five years away from being rehabilitated, Robert Kirkman notwithstanding). And so, the cacophony of comics nostalgia stands in stark contrast to the blandly mellifluous sounds of Dixieland Revival.

-Garage/Psychedelic Revival of the 80s: An entire generation of mildly talented Los Angelians heard the original Nuggets and proceeded to churn out scores of inoffensive albums intended to recapture the spirit of the original punk movement (yes, I'm one of those people who consider 60s garage to be basically punk rock). Unfortunately, these bands were insufferably self-conscious. The bands which they sought to emulate were legitimate folk/outsider artists; they (or their mothers) gave themselves names like Dr. Spec's Optical Illusion, the Barking Spyders, and the Botumless Pit. They were mostly guileless teenagers, honestly trying (and failing) to replicate the sound of the Rolling Stones or the Kinks. It's this irony which makes 60s garage so compelling: they're interesting because they failed. Would anybody care about the Mystics' cover of "Hang on Sloopy" if it had sounded more like the original? Hell, they couldn't even get the name right; they called their version "Snoopy."

The revivalists sought to mimic this ineptitude, and in doing so they sucked all the charm right out. The only one of these bands which deserves to stand alongside its influences is the Lyres.* The Lyres were heavily influenced by old garage songs; half their setlist was covers. But instead of slavishly recreating these songs, they sought to improve upon them; that they often succeeded is a testament to their awesomeness, I think. In that sense, the Lyres remind me of Grant Morrison. Morrison is heavily indebted to the past, the Silver Age in particular, but he seeks to take his writing beyond that of Lee, Fox, Broome, et. al. When he succeeds, as he did with Seven Soldiers #1, he succeeds spectacularly. As for other writers' attempts to recreate the past--well, we're all familiar with Meltzer's nostalgic run on Justice League by now.

But, alas, this one doesn't fit either. Garage revival is a fundamentally fun style of music. Today's superhero comics...well, you know.

*Who, before anyone corrects me, were from Boston. I believe they were initially on the same label as Mission of Burma, actually.

-Anyone else want to try this? I'm thinking there's probably a school of hip hop which might make for an interesting comparison. And I know nothing about contemporary rock music (I'm into Badfinger right now), so that's a whole vista of opportunity or something.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Take it from a guy who hasn't had to do any real math in well over a decade

-That poll from yesterday: Meltzer beat Bendis 73% to 11% (with about 16% unable to choose which writer's work they disliked more). I'm totally shocked, really; I thought Meltzer would win, but I didn't expect such a blowout. I don't know if this means Meltzer is at the zenith of his unpopularity (perhaps exacerbated by news of Dwayne McDuffie's impending run) or if readers of this blog don't think Bendis is so bad. Or maybe they're just indifferent to him.

In any event, I think this illustrates the difference between hating and not liking something. Clearly a lot of people like Meltzer on some level, or else his books wouldn't be bestsellers.* Popularity is obviously not a zero sum game. In fact, it sometimes seems that intensity of hatred is directly proportionate to intensity of popularity. If we were to plot it on a graph, it would resemble a parabola: the peaks are on the extremes, with a deep trough in the middle of the spectrum (which represents the feeling of indifference towards Meltzer's work). It's probably safe to say Meltzer would prefer this scenario to the inverse, where indifference dominates.

Of course, the parabola isn't the only possible representation. Let's assume that the x-axis runs from intense like to intense dislike. Chuck Austen's popularity would clearly be represented by a slowly rising line with a massive spike at the end (not the best illustration, but it's close). Grant Morrison would probably be more like a sine wave--rising towards mild like, peaking at indifference, bottoming out at mild dislike, and reaching another peak at strong dislike (this is the best representation I could find).

I'm sure there's some sort of pseudo-mathematical formula that I could derive to make some case about the relation between sales and apparent favoribility based on internet discussion (assuming that the latter could be quantified). Unfortunately, my background is in the humanities, so any mathematical formula I produce would be the equivalent of a four year old child's attempt to make a balloon animal. But still, I think I've got a couple of preliminary conclusions to make:

1. Popular writers spur a lot of heated discussion on the internet. This might seem like a "duh" sort of point, until we start considering those writers whose internet favoribility clearly trends high. Take Gail Simone, for example. Discussion of her on the internet is generally favorable; she seems to lack the vocal critics who hound Bendis, Meltzer, et. al. Yet sales figures indicate that her name is not a selling point for most fans. Peter David, Sean McKeever, Jeff Parker, and countless others seem to follow this same trend.

I think the conclusion we can draw here is less about writers' popularity and more about how internet fans respond to popular writers. I suspect that popular writers get extra flack because their detractors see them as taking sales away from their favorites--in other words, "Why are you buying Superman/Batman when Manhunter is on the verge of cancellation?" This might seem like another "duh" type of moment, but I bet most message board types are not as self-conscious of this phenomenon as you might think.

2. I don't think this formula will apply to artists. I don't read Wizard, so I have no idea who comprises their current 10 Hottest Artists. But I'll pick a few artists who I think are pretty popular: Jim Lee, Alex Ross, Bryan Hitch, and John Romita Jr. None of these artists have the same parabola graph as Meltzer or Bendis, with the possible exception of Ross (and even then, I think the "hate" end would be considerably lower than the "love" end). Lee would probably have a flat line, dipping down somewhat on the "hate" end (like this, but with a milder decline at the end). Hitch would be more like a gradually rising line. Romita would peak at indifference, then decline towards "hate".

So there isn't really as well-defined a pattern, but I think most most artists would peak in the area of indifference then trail off considerably towards "hate." This reflects the general lack of interest in art on the internet, coupled with a fairly widespread fear of critiquing art. I've bemoaned these tendencies at considerable length, so I won't do so again here. In general, it seems that those who do comment on art tend to like it, or else claim a neutral reaction to it. One exception to this rule is for artists who are often late, such as Hitch; my impression is that they receive special criticism (along the lines of "I've been waiting five months for this?"). Lee, however, seems immune to this criticism for whatever reason; there's more of a sentiment of "let him take his time but don't solicit until he's finished." On the other end, artists with a reputation for timeliness (like Romita) seem to get an extra bonus, often expressed as "he's just as good as _______, but his books are never late."

If anyone can think of any useful application for this data conjecture, please let me know.

*Of course, the relaunch of Justice League and the Big Fucking Mystery You Can't Afford To Miss of Identity Crisis probably have a lot to do with Meltzer's impressive sales figures.

-I can't tell if the first item is funny, or just reflect my own prejudices. Actually, the last two items are pretty good too. Maybe I'm just in sync with Kevin Church today.

-Holy shit:

Online Dating

This is apparently due to the use of the words dick (can't be helped), porn, shit, zombie (?), death (??), and hell (???). Seems like there should be a "fuck" in there as well. (Via Comics Comics, who got a G--ahahahahaha.)

-Pro wrestling sure is fucked up, isn't it?

Monday, June 25, 2007


-The current winner for funniest unintentional statement made on a blog is this comment, left by one "Lt. Marvel" on Greg Burgas' review of Justice League #10:

"I guess the book isn’t written for whiny fanboys too lazy to bone up on DC history...."

Yes, Justice League is a serious business; one must sequester himself away from family and friends to study the great works of Fox, Levitz, and Shooter before he is worthy of contemplating the glory which is Brad Meltzer. What the FUCK is wrong with comics fans? And what makes it even better is the concluding statement:

"I haven’t seen a review this bad since the People magazines review of Mars Attacks!"

Holy shit, I think I just developed a mental image of this guy. Short, wispy mustache, huge wire rimmed glasses, lives with his grandmother, works in the software/video game department at Circuit City.

Anyway, Burgas' post inspired that Scipio dude to offer a post basically agreeing with him, only arguing that even a dedicated fan willing to "bone up on DC history" (hahahahaha) could find the story entirely execrable. But his main complaint is that the writing is too Marvel-ish, particularly too Bendisian. Scipio and Burgas both identify characters' insistence on using first names (instead of code names) as one of the Meltzer's most annoying affectations; Scipio associates this with Marvel. I associate it with Marv Wolfman's New Teen Titans, a book with absolutely ludicrous dialouge. Which, I suppose, hearkens back to Chris Claremont's X-Men. Which, in turn, reminds me of Jim Shooter/Cary Bates on...Legion of Super-Heroes. Is that the first team book where the characters called each other by real names?

But the Bendis comparison is what interests me. I've seen this criticism leveled against Meltzer repeatedly, but I'm not sure if I buy it. Bendis might not be your cup of tea, and he did struggle with whiz bang superheroics when he started writing Avengers. But at least his dialogue always made sense (even if was absolutely insufferable; I gave up on Powers about 10 pages in). Even at his worst, Bendis seemed like a competent writer struggling to adapt to a new sub-genre or format. And apparently he's really into annoying thought balloons.

Meltzer, on the other hand, is a confusing, frustrating, and flat-out icky writer. He's had, what, three major projects as a comics writer? The Green Arrow run was the best, partly because he could just bask in the glow of Green Arrow's incredible goateed awesomeness without having to bother with conflict or plot momentum or anything like that. Identity Crisis, as an ostensible mystery, couldn't replicate the same breezy pace. And so it was a narrative mess--the lurching narrative captions, the lame mystery, and the preposterous solemnity of the whole thing just wore me down. It sucked. I only read a few issues of the current Justice League series, but it seemed again quite a bit like the Green Arrow run--Meltzer was more interested in expounding upon the coolness of his characters rather than producing a compelling story--or any story at all, really. (That, Messrs. Cronin and Andrew, is what separate fan fiction from bad fiction, at least IMO--starstruck writing more concerned with telling the audience how cool the characters are, rather than taking the opportunity to fashion a story which could serve as an illustration of the characters' supposed coolness.)

So anyway, this all leads me to what you're about to see: another Hate Poll.

So, which is it?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Focused on a single issue for a change

-Probably won't have time on Monday to do a proper post, so (here's hoping) I'll do a long-ish, single-issue post on Sunday night instead.

Heidi McDonald (er, MacDonald) took up an issue I broached on Thursday: people are now browsing Marvel/DC solicitations for the express purpose of looking for offensive images of women. Now, this is not to say that there are still some folks who are offended by covers in the course of their typical monthly solicitation scanning. These people are probably still the majority, I would guess. But one would be hard pressed to convincingly argue that the act of looking at solicitations hasn't changed in the last two months, at least for those of us who care about these issues.

McDonald is troubled by this, in the sense that she seems to be worried that feminist bloggers aren't picking their battles wisely. To wit: the Mary Jane Marvel Zombies cover is not worthy of complaint, especially since this dilutes complaints about more serious offenses (like the Heroes For Hire cover). I agree with McDonald's take on the covers in question (Steven Grant had some especially compelling thoughts on the subject), but I'm not comfortable telling people what should offend them. Some blogging personalities seem to have been genuinely shocked and revolted by the zombie cover; who am I to tell them they're wrong and should shut up? (I mean, I'm perfectly willing to do so in other cases, but I find the issue of sexism/misogyny in comics somewhat more important than "Iron Man is a bigger nazi than fucking George Bush, maaaan" or "Aquaman is the linchpin of western civilization" or similar bullshit.)

Unfortunately, other cases aren't so cut and dried. One can see ulterior motives creeping into this discourse. The reaction to the covers surrounding the Arrow/Canary wedding is a good example--is there anything particularly offensive about any of these covers? You might find the marriage objectionable, even sexist or (stretching credulity a bit here) misogynistic, but that's a complaint about the writing, not the cover art. In other cases, I've seen people try to tie the debate over a particular cover to Marvel vs. DC cheerleading or anti-Marvel/DC polemic. There's probably a place for discussion of these issues in the larger debate, but we should be wary of people whose history suggests ax-grinding over considered debate.

So, because nobody demanded it, I've got a few suggestions for those of us who are concerned about the portrayal of women in Marvel/DC comics, yet equally concerned that the debate is getting unfocused, too shrill, or just somehow vaguely off:

1. Don't treat those who disagree like children, no matter how much they might deserve it. I like a good put-down war as much as the next guy (yes, yes, probably more so), but I like my opponents to be fully-functioning adults. There's no sport in matching wits with your average Blogorama troll (though there is some fun in mocking them from afar, say at your own blog). Be polite, keep the high ground, don't make blanket generalizations that you can't support (again, unless you're doing it at your own blog).

1a. Maybe you should give the bingo thing a rest. Yes, we might find it funny, but I think it alienates people who might otherwise be sympathetic to complaints about sexism/misogyny. The post which explained the whole bingo concept (which I can't find right now) does a fairly good job in explaining everything, but I still think this is a fairly exclusionary rhetorical device--you're for us or against us! You get it or you don't! In the present landscape, I don't think this is a useful way to frame the argument. People are much more willing to consider your perspective if they think you're inviting them to do so, rather than telling them they're too stupid to understand.

2. Don't be afraid to moderate comments. This is a tricky one--nobody wants to look like a censor. But some people aren't interested in discussing issues in good faith; they're either intellectually incapable (hopefully due to youth) or just not interested in real debate. I wish the powers that be at Blogorama were a little quicker in deleting these sorts of comments, though I kind of understand why they aren't. For the rest of us, especially those whose blogs end up being the epicenter of a particular controversy: if the commenter feels slighted or oppressed, you might remind him or her that blogs are free. And if you have something interesting to say (or even if you don't, sometimes), people will eventually notice you.

2a. Don't feed trolls. I also wish that people who know better would just ignore the type of comment described above, especially those left on Blogorama. It's good to engage with people who have opposing viewpoints, but only if they're legitimately interested in honest intellectual debate. Arguing with trolls quickly turns into a screaming match. This might be somewhat amusing when discussing Civil War or something else that doesn't fucking matter--hell, I think there's some value to trolling in such a situation. But this is actually somewhat serious shit. Pick your words carefully; don't let something that matters to you devolve into a cable news talk show.

3. You don't have to address/link to every cover controversy. This obviously doesn't apply to When Fangirls Attack, whose raison d'etre is the accumulation of such links. But for the rest of us: if you think the outrage of the week is unjustified, you don't have to condemn it. If you think the cover is basically kosher, you can say so. Or you can choose to just say nothing. Nobody's going to deduct feminist street cred points for failing to condemn every subject of weekly outrage. I see a lot of posts which begin "I wasn't going to comment on this, but...." Consider sticking with your initial impulse.

4. Talk about things other than covers. When I asked a few months ago whether writing or art was more sexist/misogynist, everyone who commented said the art. I've always felt differently--the worst offenses originate in the writing, not the art. Women in Refrigerators--that's a writing problem, isn't it? The only recent example of a writing controversy (that I can remember) is the Daredevil's-wife-in-peril thing. And that hasn't even come out yet! Also, I don't see a lot of people complaining about the interior art in comics. There are a few reasons for that, I'm guessing: covers are the most prominent pieces of art in comics; you don't have to break out the scanner to talk about covers; people don't buy comics with interior art which offends them. Whatever the reason, it might help to talk about this stuff a little. If you don't want to spend money on an offensive comic, just illegally download it. Nobody will notice, and I guarantee the majority of bloggers are reading some sort of illegal/quasi-legal scans on a regular basis.

Just to be fair, I'll try to get a few words of wisdom for the "other side" up later this week. Assuming those virgin fanboy troglodytes can comprehend what I'm saying. BINGO!


I selected a few of the recent controversial covers (including one which has more to do with race than gender) and showed them to my wife. She has no interest in superhero comics, but knows a little about the genre because (a) she's seen a few of the recent Marvel/DC movies, and (b) she's married to me. She has read comics in the past--most recently Stagger Lee--and is a big Edward Gorey fan. Also, she's much smarter than 90% of comics bloggers and 99% of those who leave comments on comics blogs yet don't actually have blogs themselves. Also also, she knows a thing or two about gender studies. Here's what she had to say, with links to the images I showed her. My real-time comments in red:

Power Girl and Black Canary by Michael Turner: [Laugher] It seems like the boobs are just there for the sake of having them there. It doesn't even look even remotely anatomically correct, and the pose just seems to be...all she's doing is accentuating the boobs, she doesn't seem to have any purpose in standing like that. It's just a bizarre picture again because it's not even attractive-looking boobs, it's just huge enormous boobs for the sake of having boobs.

Would you call this misogynistic or sexist? Oh, well I mean it's obviously just objectifying women. What's interesting about the picture is that her boobs are about twice as big as her head, so it's kind of a woman who's all boob, essentially.

Mary Jane washing clothes statue: [Laughter] So barefoot in the kitchen, washing Spider-Man's....[I point out that her feet are not visible in this particular picture, but that she is in fact shoeless.] Well, that's the joke that always goes along with it. You can actually see her thong hanging out in the back. It's kind of weird cause her pose, and the way she's looking over her shoulder, it almost looks like pinup girls from the 40s, real cheesecake. You're not actually seeing a whole lot of flesh, at least in this shot. It's more kind of a real cheesy cheesecake kind of thing, like a 50s pinup girl.

Sexist, misogynistic, or just stupid? It bothers me. [Laughter] I'm just trying to figure out what the statement is. Mary Jane, I guess she's not pregnant. That's the other stereotype, right? What's the statement, that all Mary Jane has to do is washing Spider-Man's costume for him? It's really more just kind of stupid cheesecake stuff, although the whole element with her washing his costume is pretty...I don't know, it seems to have a sexist edge to it. Kind of stupid and cheesecake-y, at least to me.

Heroes For Hire Tentacle Rape: [Laughter] They're bound at the top? Yeah, there's kind of obviously a sadomasochist element to this. The women are bound, and being beaten with what looks like tentacles. Just an example of that whole tentacle...tradition, in Japan, but I know this is not Japanese. There's kind of also a homoerotic element, you see all this women with thrusting bosoms all up against each other. Who's arm is that up there? One of the male characters. Ah, so the male characters are there too. There's another female character, poking her boobs out on the side there. Yeah, it's...disturbing...I'm trying to take it all in. Women in peril, but the threat is clearly kind of sexual here, which is kind of disturbing. And the fact that I know a little about the tentacle thing makes it more disturbing, that there's some kind of tentacle rape.

What would you think if you didn't know about tentacle rape? I probably wouldn't...well, it's pretty clear there might be some kind of sexual peril here. The woman's [Misty Knight's] lower area is pretty exposed, due to her costume, but she's also been kind of ripped up there.

Bonus question: which ethnicity would you guess Misty Knight is? Um, maybe Latina...well, wait, she's got...I don't know, maybe Black, cause they're implying she has curly hair up there.

Falcon on Fire: [Laughter] So the idea is...which one is Captain America? [I explain that he's not on the cover, but a lot of his former sidekicks are.] It kind of looks, even though it's the Falcon character who's burning, it pretty much looks like a flag-burning. I'm not really sure what the reference there is. [I point out that the Falcon is Black.] Oh. Hmm. Yeah, that makes it more disturbing. I'm not really sure what to make of this one. Has there been meaning attributed to the fact that he's Black and burning in front of an American flag? It's been argued that it's implying lynching. Yeah, I didn't necessarily pick up on that, but maybe that's because I didn't read that he was supposed to be Black. But if you knew who the character was, even if it was representing that, it's a little bit more...The fact that it's done against the American flag background, it might be kind of undercutting that, it might be a more interesting statement.

[Later, with the tape recorder off, I tell my wife that Ed Brubaker argues that burning does not suggest "racial insensitivity," but a noose and/or burning cross would. She reminds me that burning at the stake was not an uncommon form of death for victims of lynching in the 19th century. It's true, I'm afraid.]

Zombie Mary Jane: [I explain the concept of Marvel Zombies] Well, this is obviously mixing the themes of sex and death together, which is a very common trope. What's kind of interesting here is that the only part of Mary Jane that isn't decaying or disgusting are her boobs. [Laughter] Boobs are the only thing that isn't rotting or decaying, and that's because they're trying to draw the male viewership that doesn't really want to see rotting Mary Jane boobs. Yeah, and what's also kind of disturbing too is that you kind of see the sexualization of young teenage girls here, because she's carrying kind of a schoolbook on her hip, like she's kind of a high school girl.

[I explain that it's an homage to the teenage girl-targeted Mary Jane comic, which my wife actually read, mostly to humor me, I think. I swear I wasn't serious about her reading it, but she called my bluff and claims that she actually liked it.] It kind of reminds me of...complaints these days about what young women are wearing, what's become de rigeur for young women's fashion--tight fitting sleeveless tops, low rise jeans....

Sexist, misogynistic, offensive in some other way, or just stupid? It's pretty stupid--it's Mary Jane as a zombie. The whole zombie alternate universe or whatever sounds pretty dumb. The image is disturbing to me, sexist I think. Sexualizing young women in a way that's pretty disturbing, especially when you mix that sexualization with decaying corpse, it's even more disturbing to me, I guess.

[This reaction wasn't exactly what I expected--she seemed more fixated on Mary Jane as an adolescent, rather than Mary Jane as a zombie. So I show her the original cover which inspired the Zombies homage.] This looks like a much younger Mary Jane, actually. Of the two, which do you find more offensive? Oh, probably the zombie one. This one is more...cute looking. The other one looks more seductive. I don't think it's exactly the same pose. The original one is done in such a cutesy style. This one looks more like, well, zombie woman, but also more mature woman. [The original] strikes me as less sexual, she's kind of clearly younger looking, kind of cute, young Mary Jane. I don't know. I don't know if that makes it more disturbing, wearing these tight little clothes. But that's kind of become de rigeur for young women to wear, stuff like that, so.... Maybe the sexualization of young women has just become built into the fashion industry, it's become kind of a fact of life. There's something kind of sleazy about [the zombie cover]. More suggestive looking.

[I then show her the covers to the original Marvel Zombies series.] Looks pretty dumb. When is this from? Do people actually read this stuff? It was a big hit. You didn't read it, did you? No. Doesn't this defeat the point of having superheroes, if they're all zombies? [Looking at cover to issue 3, the McFarlane Wolverine vs. Hulk homage:] Why is his eyeball coming off? So Hulk's got a bunch of eyes in his mouth, and Woverine's got a bunch of eyes in his mouth? Like they've been eating people's eyes or something? Yeah. Hmm. [Laughter.] Doesn't really interest me. Are you offended more by the violence or... I just think it's more stupid than anything. I'm not especially offended by the violence. With zombies, it's hard to be offended by violence. I think you can actually do a lot more than you could with living, human characters. Given all that, is the Mary Jane cover appropriate in that context? Or does this one seem a little different than the other ones? Huh. Yeah, because the others are all action-related. This one is weird to me, cause it doesn't even look like the other ones. The others are all zombies torn apart; this one is stranger, cause there isn't a whole lot of overt violence going on in it.

Green Arrow and Black Canary wedding cake: So they're finally tying the knot? [This is intended as a joke at my expense, I think--the implication being that normal people don't care about superheroes getting married.] That's Black Canary? She wears a white costume from time to time? Just for her wedding, I guess. She typically wears this black leather and fishnet ensemble. The joke being here that she's the man, carrying him over the threshold. Or, that she finally got her man, although he doesn't seem upset about it, really. What's kind of interesting about it is that she's actually strong enough to pick him up. Now she's like him in that she doesn't have real super powers? She has a super-voice. So she's got the Cupid's arrow in her butt...oh, now I see, I didn't catch that he's got the leash to Cupid's arrow in his hand. Implying that he's actually the one who hit her with it and reeled her in. So there's kind of an implication there that maybe he's the one who shot her with the arrow of love. And they're actually standing on top of the wedding cake, it looks like.

I find this probably the least offensive of all the images. It's obviously trying to make some kind of statement about Green Lantern's masculinity. Arrow. Sorry. [Laughter.] Green Arrow's masculinity, or her femininity. Unless it's suggesting that the desperate Black Canary finally managed to catch her man, but this doesn't seem to be the case, since he's the one who shot her. I guess her butt showing is probably what people are somewhat concerned about, but that seems kind of tame compared to the rest.

[I then inform her that two covers were drawn/designed by women, and ask her to guess which ones. She picks the MJ statue and, upon additional reflection, the zombie cover. 0 for 2! I don't know if this is a moment of pride for Adam Hughes and Arthur Suydam, or a moment of shame for Amanda Conner and whatshername what did the Heroes for Hire cover.]

(I would like to add that I used Ask Cerebra extensively when writing this post. Thanks, Kevin Church.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hope you like rhetorical questions

-I've been contemplating the currently popular pastime of searching for potentially offensive images in DC/Marvel solicitations, and it occurs to me that this is now an active type of process for a lot of folks. In the past, we looked at solicitations mostly just to check out all the new covers; if one of them stood out as particularly stupid or offensive, then people would comment. At some point, perhaps after noticing that there were always a few questionable covers in any given month, the possibility of offensive covers became a more prominent concern. Solicitation browsing thus became something done with an air of anticipation, as we dreaded our first look at the inevitable Michael Turner covers. But now I'm starting to get the sense that some folks are primarily searching for offensive cover art when they browse solicitation art; any consideration of impending stories or the actual quality of the compositions are increasingly secondary.

This is kind of an interesting phenomenon in and of itself, but I wonder what the eventual impact will be on future covers. We're at the point where there's an interminable parade of outrages, a new one every week. Surely cover artists and editors have noticed this. How will they react? Will the stakes be raised? Will tentacles become a staple of Marvel/DC covers, to the point where we grow numb to their presence? If so, what will replace them? Giant metal phalli? Erotic gas masks? Erotic cannibalism? (Someone at Marvel/DC needs to rent some Ruggero Deodato.) Or, against all odds, will cover artists and their editors try to take things down a notch? I'm betting on the former. Legal experts--is it possible to trademark the concept of erotic eye trauma? I'm trying to seek out tomorrow's trends today.

-Am I the only blogger on earth who kind of likes Green Arrow? Maybe I just haven't read enough Mike Grell-era stuff or something, but when I think of GA, I think of the version in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, or in Denny O'Neill's Justice League. Yes, the Green Lantern/Green Arrow version is kind of stupid, but anyone who actually reads the word balloons in those comics is just asking for trouble.

(And now I see that there's a new counter-backlash against the anti-Arrow/Canary wedding backlash. It's hard to keep up these days. I still get the sense, however, that nobody else likes Green Arrow for some reason.)

-"I wonder if anyone will notice we replaced Al Capp with a government surplus robot programmed to hunt Communists."

-Holy fuck, a new Jim Woodring story? Related #1: I bought my first issue of MOME last week, but I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. I finally decided that I couldn't pass up a new Trondheim story. Related #2: Is it worth picking up any of the Woodring DVDs? I'm guessing yes, but I thought I'd pose the question here.

-Semi-reviews of Ignatz comics: Delphine #2 was better than the first issue, partly because the original gray tones have been replaced with more of a sepia. Plus Richard Sala seems to be getting better accustomed to the larger format. I didn't think he had fully made that adjustment with the first issue; it looked like his regular art, only blown up to a larger size. Now there's more detail, and Sala seems to be playing with the extra space a little more. I'm also enjoying the story more than some of his more recent work. For me, Mad Night lacked the interesting set pieces and imagery which made The Chuckling Whatsit such a pleasure. Delphine holds the promise of a return to form: so far we've seen winding narrow streets, strange stores, dark forests, cemeteries, and rustic shacks. The mirror/picture sequence was clever and creepy, while the design of the woodsman (particularly the cape) underlined the theme of medieval imagery intersecting with the modern world (a theme also emphasized by the protagonists' struggle to find a car or phone). This is Sala at his best, which is very good indeed.

And having said all that, I thought Zak Sally's Sammy the Mouse #1 was even better. This is doubly shocking considering the concept sounded absolutely horrible: ugly versions of Disney characters wander aimlessly, drink to excess, vomit, and argue. Sounds as unappealing as another "adult" superhero book filled with analogues for DC and Marvel's intellectual properties. The difference here is execution; as Jog mentioned, the dialogue is completely credible and serves to distinguish Sammy, Feekes, and Puppy Boy as compelling characters, rather than one-note jokes. The scenes where these characters interact, especially in the bar, soar--Sally's sense of timing is just as sharp as his dialogue. It's really wonderful stuff, which makes it even more surprising that the introduction of larger plot devices (involving mysterious off-panel voices and hulking creatures) don't detract from the overall experience. In similar, lesser works, one might long for the author to concentrate on the smaller, more charming moments. Here, they work in absolute harmony. It's similar to Bone in that respect (and in a few others as well.)

As for the art, I'll again echo Jog in saying the blue and gray tones are crucial. Sally draws his characters in a very sketchy, off-the-cuff style; at times they look almost like doodles. This would be overbearing if not for the presence of the tones, which add a lighter, almost whimsical touch to the proceedings. Sally generally limits the tones to the background, leaving the characters unshaded (and thus brighter and more prominent on the page). It's a very effective technique. If Sally's art were more polished, it would emphasize the derivative nature of the characters. Instead, the loose, expressive linework gives the characters their own life apart from the intellectual properties which inspired them.*

This, in turn, begs the question of why Sally chose to use Disney analogues to tell his story. It's probably too early to say, but the most obvious effect is to emphasize the bleakness of Sally's characters. Mickey, Donald, and Goofy (or is that Pluto?) are smiling, friendly characters who have adventures together; Sammy, Feekes, and Puppy Boy are alcoholic wastrels who only assemble for the purposes of alcohol consumption (at least in this volume). There might be something deeper to this, but I can't really say yet. I can say, however, that it's not anarchistic, fuck-the-man bullshit. At the very least, it adds an unease to the proceedings; we'll see if it's intended to do any more than that.

*Unfortunately, I don't think this effect worked on the cover; the rich reds and yellows make Sally's drawing of Sammy look shabby. Plus his pose obscures the fact that he's a Mickey Mouse analogue. It's a cover which would actually deter me from buying the book, if I weren't already inclined to buy it.)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Rip Van Winkle wakes up

-I am hopelessly behind on my blog reading; if your blog starts with a letter from the second half of the alphabet, chances are I haven't even looked at it in over a week. So please, dear readers, send along anything which might be grist for this mill. I would greatly appreciate it.

-Public service announcement: Delphine #2 is out this week. Assuming you don't live someplace with a really shitty store, you should definitely buy it instead of Flash, Justice League, Hulk, and/or Amazing Spider-Man this week. If you do live someplace with a shitty store, you should consider moving so you can buy comics like Delphine every week (or, failing that, there's always mailorder).

-This weekend, while I wasn't paying attention, DC finally entered the 21st century. Consider the following:

  • There's a new webcomics initiative in the offing, and it's apparently pretty ambitious in scope.
  • DC has invested in a new Japanese publisher, Flex Comics, which will distribute in both traditional and digital formats.
  • The above is tied into an effort to establish an office located in Japan.
  • Dwayne McDuffie, whose version of JLA is the definitive one for an entire generation of teens and tweens, will be succeeding Brad Meltzer (whose version of JLA was written exclusively for people over the age of 30, and younger folk who have made an effort to be well versed in DC history) on Justice League.

This is all very encouraging stuff, and gives one some hope of DC moving beyond its current "caregiving institution for assorted intellectual properties" status. DC has always been better than Marvel at keeping non-superhero titles alive. Let's hope they embrace the spirit of diversity when they're considering which titles to include in their new digital publishing plans.

-As for Marvel, I'm not sure yet whether the weekly Amazing Spider-Man format is a good or bad idea. It's not a new idea; most of us probably remember when the Superman titles were doing basically the same thing. I have to say, that sort of thing probably discouraged me from ever picking up one of these comics, even though I was kind of fond of Jon Bogdanove's art on Man of Steel. Maybe Marvel has something a bit more like DC's 52 in mind. Still too early to tell, especially with no word on the creative teams (my money's on Dan Slott, Peter David, Matt Fraction, and Terry Moore writing, with JRJr, Mike Wieringo, Mark Bagely, and someone else on art).

Marvel Comics Presents, however, might be an interesting experiment. The old MCP, for those of you who wisely avoided it, could have been called Assistant Editor Showcase, Also Featuring Don McGregor on Occasion. It wasn't always so--the first issue had a pretty impressive lineup of creators, including Claremont/Buscema, Gerber/Sutton, and Moench/Grindberg. And there was the occasional surprise contributor, like Steve Ditko or Bruce Jones. But get a few months in, and suddenly you start seeing Bobbie Chase, Dwight Jon Zimmerman, and Glenn Herdling in the credits. Hopefully this won't happen with the new version--I'd like to see a mix of popular "mainstream" creators with people more along the line of Bendis and Brubaker, c. 10 years ago. Don't know if that's realistic, but it's probably worth keeping an eye on.

-ADD argues (not specifically) against a point I made whenever it was I last posted; Mr. Doane says that Marvel/DC fans, jonesing for a Johns/Millar speedball, would find comics wherever they were shelved in the store. Probably true, but I don't think it's good policy--the superhero fans would be tripping all over each other, fiendishly tearing into anything standing between them and the latest issue of whatever the fuck it is they're buying that week. I think there is a case to be made that retailers could better display comics that would appeal to a truly mainstream audience (Persepolis, Fun Home, etc.), but those superhero comics better be easy to find and navigate, or we'll all suffer in the end.

Another point that bears repeating: voting with your wallet isn't an option when there's only one store in town (as is the case when I visit my parents). That money's either going to the one shop in town or to, I don't know, Barnes & Noble. Or else I wait until I'm back home to buy my comics. But I actually like the store in my parents' town. (It definitely passes the Tom Spurgeon "would I send my mother there?" test; she's been, and has only nice things to say about the staff. Also, I was able to buy volumes of Dragon Head there after getting hooked on that series.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Call me Monstah Lobstah (as I whimper in pain while applying aloe to my arms)

-That Newsarama comments section I mentioned yesterday has since turned into a David Brothers showcase. Again, I think he's absolutely correct: company cheerleading has no part in this argument. Lisa Fortuner did clarify her position: it's not an issue of editorial direction so much as fan response. I guess I can get behind that--Marvel certainly has a tradition of trying to convince its readers that they're fellow conspirators or fraternity brothers or something. I think it's a legacy of Marvel's history as a crappy little publisher that struck gold with Lee/Kirby/Ditko, whereas DC was the man in the gray flannel suit. Marvel kept this identity long after it surpassed DC as the industry leader--long after it was in any way justified--and I think this bumptiousness has rubbed off on its fans. Or to use a sports analogy: Marvel zombies are the Cowboys fans of the comics world.* If DC had published a comic featuring a seductively posed zombie Lois Lane, its hardcore partisans would just want to know which Earth it was taking place on.

By the way, anyone want to hazard a guess what percentage of all comics readers are militant DC or Marvel partisans? I would guess well over half of regular Direct Market customers favor one over the other, and maybe 10% will only buy from one of the two. Of that latter group, I'm guessing at least a quarter used to favor the other side, but joined the opposition after a favorite creator/character (probably the latter) was mistreated.

Hey, I think I'll spend this weekend hanging out at the refrigerator case of my local convenience store, telling anyone within earshot that Pepsi induces diabetes at a slower rate than Coke. Coke's just a fundamentally mismanaged company, you see.

*You should have seen all the people trying to spin the Wade Phillips hire as a positive. Most fans of other NFL teams would have greeted this news with pronouncements of the end of days; Eagles fans would have started plotting Phillips' assassination. If fans of other NFL teams are Star Trek geeks, Eagles followers are more like the type who really, really like Jodie Foster. And yes, I'm a longtime Eagles fan.

-Related: You've probably seen Brothers' panegyric to Joe Quesada already, but if not, here it is. I don't really agree with the central theme that Quesada's watch has been a grand experiment in unconventional storytelling--Marvel's been running away from Morrison's X-Men run from the moment he left the company, after all. Even putting that aside, it's hardly been a permanent revolution--in the end, I think he's replaced the old status quo (assuming chaotic shitpiles can have a "status quo") with a new, equally conservative status quo. I mean, I'd take him over Didio any day of the week, but I'd hesitate to call him a unique visionary or anything like that. I'm reminded, though, of a post I made a couple months back suggesting that Didio would be primarily remembered for botched sales initiatives and the terrible portrayal of women in DC's comics.* The latter is true of Quesada as well, but I think he's been successful enough that it won't loom so large in his obituary. Or maybe he'll be remembered as the guy who made Marvel interesting when Bill Jemas was around, and boring when he wasn't.

*In retrospect, I would probably change these categories to (a) a failure to capitalize on successful "event" comics, and (b) an overall darkening of tone, making DC a much more dreary, monotonous company.

-Also related: Ed Brubaker shows up on the post that started it all, and he's not amused. I'm conflicted on this one. I trust Brubaker enough that I give him the benefit of the doubt with both the flaming Falcon thing and whatever is going to happen to Daredevil's wife. But this is kind of like reverse profiling--Brubaker's one of the good mainstream writers, thus he's exempt from criticism (or at least gets criticism deferred until his books actually comes out). On the other hand, I'm no cop, so maybe it's okay to treat Brubaker differently. Tell you what, I'll give Meltzer and Turner the same courtesy once they produce something that doesn't make me feel like an asshole for bothering to read it.

-ADD has another piece on comics stores up. One of the central themes of this essay is that one shouldn't be able to guess the store owner/manager's preferences by the layout of the store. I think this is maybe a bit naive. I'll use my LCS as an example again. Most of his business comes from the DC/Marvel types, so those comics get the most display space. The owner doesn't read most of these books, but it's entirely logical that they would be displayed in such a way to make them accessible to his customers. And again, this is a store where one could buy Prince Valiant, The End, Carl Barks' Donald Duck, and Essential Iron Fist on the same trip.

I also might add that retailers are starting to struggle with the issue of Where Am I Going to Put All This Shit? I mean, Marvel and DC look like they're going to publish these Essential/Showcase volumes until the end of time (or until they go all digital!), and those suckers are big. Hmm--wasn't that their strategy in the 70s? To publish so many titles that there wasn't rack space for any competitors?

-Okay, I've seen it twice now. What is up with that ice cream cone? Do I need to read The Three Paradoxes to understand? (BTW, how late was that book? I swear my brother's been talking about it for the better part of this decade.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

You maniacs! You blew it up!

-So I managed to avoid spoilers on the final Sopranos episode yesterday Monday, which was no mean feat. My wife managed to get spoilered (spoilerized?) despite precautions. I was more paranoid--I avoided the busy parts of the internet, concentrating instead on browsing sites about old SNES games. (Related: I tried playing the translated ROM for Shin Megami Tensei, and I think there's a bug. Googling for info led me to THIS VERY BLOG, which is when I knew I was basically boned. So if there are any intrepid Googlenauts who have been directed here in hope of finding info on the SMT ROM, sorry and good luck.)

I really liked the final episode, and I'm glad I didn't read anything about it beforehand. Unfortunately, a day of avoiding the internet has left me woefully behind on my blog reading. (And so has installing our air conditioner, which I did yesterday. I hate the summer.) So some of my commentary about certain blogs might be a little tardy this week. Sorry about that.

-Like so many of you (I'm guessing), I decided to order some of those 80% off books from Amazon last week. I ended up with the 1961-2 volume of Peanuts, Terr'ble Thompson, An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Late Bloomer, Amphigorey Again, and Shenzen, all for about $30. All of these except An Anthology and Amphigorey Again had been on my wish list (and the latter was actually for my wife), so I was pretty happy overall.

Unfortunately, the books all arrived somewhat damaged. The worst was probably Terr'ble Thompson, which had an indentation on every page and a loose cover (which has since fallen off completely). The latter is probably due to glue melting in a hot delivery truck, but it's still irritating. All the others had small tears of some type on the corners. It's not such a big deal, given the steep discount, but I'd be a little put off if I'd been paying the regular Amazon price. The only other time I've had a similar problem was with the Blood and Black Lace DVD I bought for my brother a few Christmases ago--and I think that was Barnes & Noble, actually. Anyone else have similar problems with Amazon lately?

I'll probably lower myself* by posting an actual review of Terr'ble Thompson, and maybe An Anthology of Graphic Fiction. We'll see.

*Criticism is the lowest form of (comics) blogging. The highest form? Taking other bloggers' words out of context and adding snide commentary.

-Alan David Doane emailed me directly to point out the (I think) revised version of his essay on comics retailing. I thought this was the famous "mini-comics and manga" essay, but that's actually here. My thoughts on the new essay:

1. It reminds me that my LCS is really awesome. I'm never at a loss for great stuff to buy when I go in there, and the proprietor is most interested in non-Marvel/DC comics--which is not to say that he doesn't know where his bread is buttered. I might be terribly wrong, but I can't imagine he would be able to stay in business if he had to rely on non-superhero comics exclusively. But still, he's clearly got a great enthusiasm for a wide, wide variety of comics. That's really what makes the store such a great place to shop. He doesn't read comics because they feature superheroes; he reads (a select few) superhero titles because they're good comics.

Related: ADD's brief history of the direct market is interesting, because it seems that this store is exceptional in a number of ways. It's a very, very old business by the standards of the market, but I don't get the sense that it was a superhero fanboy operation in its early days. I need to get around to conducting an interview with my local retailer, partly just because I really want to hear how he would narrate the history of his store and the DM in general.

2. I'm not looking forward to the inevitable boom in 90s nostalgia, but I do think it's time we reevaluate that decade--or at least the first half of it. I actually have a lot more to say about this, now that I think about it, so I'll probably save those thoughts until later in the week (or month, given my current rate of production).

3. I think I fundamentally disagree with ADD's central argument. I don't think that the well-stocked, diverse store will be the model of the future, simply because I don't think people are going to be reading physical copies of their books for that much longer. We're probably less than five years away from a viable digital reader--probably a lot less than five years, actually. The existence of such a device would not necessarily be enough to effect wholesale changes in the way people read, but this is part of a much larger change. We all know it's already here for music; most of us know that it's coming soon for video (which is the best reason to avoid the current high def format war). It's illogical to think books won't be affected. Lots of people say they won't read comics on a monitor, but I'm convinced they'll change their minds with (a) better technology, (b) cheaper prices, (c) immediate gratification, and (d) unlimited selection. I don't think that the bookstores will completely disappear, but they'll be increasingly dependent on two types: collector scum and luddites.

The former are better served by the existing direct market than the one ADD proposes. The latter might prefer better stocked stores, but their numbers will be too small to matter much, in the greater scheme of things. No sane person would launch a new business (or extensively modify an existing business) to appeal this sort of clientèle, especially if their existence is predicated on their refusal to adopt a widespread technology. Actually, this kind of sea change will probably inspire a much more conservative reaction among comics shop owners: a greater emphasis on used stock and special orders. I certainly wouldn't expect them to look to Fantagraphics, Top Shelf, or even Viz for the answer.

Of course, it's easy to say an argument will be rendered moot by changes in technology--it's almost a deus ex machina sort of reasoning. But I'm convinced I'm right. We'll never see a better Direct Market than the one we have right now (except maybe the one we had in the late 80s). Plus the new digital market will be more democratic, more eco-friendly, etc., etc. And it should last about five years before we hit our inevitable Mad Max-style future.

-Can we please quit complaining about grammar? I mean, it's much more important to complain about style. I'm actually quite serious about this--grammar is really just a luxury of the elite. If you don't have a handle on style, you run the risk of confusing (or even misleading) your readers. A document riddled with grammar errors is usually still comprehensible. The same is not true for a document marred by confusing syntax, poor word choice, or excess verbiage. These are words to live by, fellow bloggers. (Please note that I'm not pointing fingers at anyone in particular here. And I'm ready to be hoisted by this rather conspicuous petard.)

-Related: I'm actually not offended by the comment Church cites. It sounds like the words of some immature kid. If I'm right, it's a good thing. We need more immature kids buying comics. More on this whenever I get around to talking about the 90s. If it isn't an immature kid...well, we are only a few years away from the digital comics renaissance. Then the apes take over, I guess.

EDIT: Okay, I finally got around to looking at the comments, and there are WAY more annoying people than Bedlam66 (or whatever his name is). Like this Brad Morris fellow, who I'm thinking is the type of fan who threatens comics more than some kid who doesn't understand capitalization rules. Also, WHAT THE FUCK WAS WITH THE MARVEL VS. DC SHIT? David Brothers was the only one of you who evinced even a smattering of common sense, re: this non-issue. Seriously, this was embarrassing, people. Come on.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Ballroom of Mars

-Depressing Blogorama Comments Field of the Day: Responses to Graeme McMillan's post about Countdown fill me with sadness. One commenter sums up the appeal of the book very succinctly:

"You just know big things are going to happen in Countdown, whether you’re liking it this minute or not."

This isn't exactly continuity porn, and there's no snappy name for it that I can remember. Maybe I should think of one. NWEBTSism? Geoff Johns' Complaint? Dan Jurgens' Complaint? Hmm. Anyway, this is not a new phenomenon by any means--it certainly explains the disconnect between sales and online reaction* to Civil War. But is this a wise choice for a weekly title, where limited budgets and even more limited attention spans could spell doom? It's obviously too soon to tell, given how contradictory the evidence is so far (Brian Hibbs is already seeing a decline, but my local retailer says it's doing the same business as 52). I guess we'll see soon enough.

Oh, and somebody else said they were a "sucker" for Monitors. I found that a bit strange, but then again I'm always amazed at how well regarded Crisis on Infinite Earths is, even in the 21st cenutry--when will Zero Hour have its moment in the sun? Most depressing of all, at least for DC, is that only five seven people have commented in the five eight hours the entry has been up. Good God, Civil War would have tripled that in the first two hours!

*To be fair, there's always an enormous disconnect between online reaction and actual sales. See also: Manhunter and Jeph Loeb's career over the last four years.

-Related: this. For those annoyed at the outrage over the "new" Mary Marvel, consider DC's track record over the past three or four years. Is this a company you trust? Would you trust DC or Marvel to allow Dini tell his story without excessive editorial interference?

-One last Countdown note: Tom Spurgeon's review is as funny as I would have expected. Best line, in reference to the series' leads:

"They feel more like actors happy to be given a plotline on a long-running TV show than larger than life good guys and bad guys."

Does DC actually send this stuff to Spurgeon? If so, I guess they're more committed to entertaining me than I'd realized.

-Okay, just to be sure, is Simon Jones suggesting that China's crackdown on (pirated copies of) Death Note is more or less tantamount to Seven Seas' decision to pull Nymphet due to reaction to its rather nauseating (IMPO!!*) content? Or is he making some broader geopolitical statement, perhaps in light of the G8 summit? The latter would make more sense.

A lot of people seem to be framing their approval of Seven Seas' decision in terms of "well, it was ill-suited to the American market" or "it might have had a negative impact on other manga sold in America." Personally, I'm glad the title has been pulled simply its very existence makes me question the superiority of humans over, say, certain species of fungus. The fact that Seven Seas has opted not to publish it makes matters a little better, though. And I'm totally unconvinced by the slippery slope argument--that Seven Seas' quick capitulation bodes ill for publishers standing up to anti-gay moralists. I don't buy it. Yes, some fringe-dwellers equate homosexuality with pedophilia, or see them as equally reprehensible. Thankfully, these people don't have as much influence in the United States (and most of the Western world) as those who dare to draw a distinction between consensual gay sex and child molestation. Some people are unfortunate enough to live in areas where this fringe is the mainstream, but I'm sure they'll tell you that the Nymphet case will have little impact on local acceptance of gay-themed comics.

*The "p" is for "puritanical." What can I say? I kind of admire the Puritans, at least the ones who lived in areas other than colonial New England (and a lot of those folks were pretty cool, too).

-Trader Joe's Department: Tried the vegetarian gyoza, which are apparently prepared in a "Thai" style, last night. There are probably about 20 of these little potstickers in a bag, and they're stuffed with carrot, radish, and cabbage. I thought they were okay; they're really reliant on sauce (which YOU provide) as far as flavor. The texture was fine in the ones I managed to cook properly. As for the others, it wasn't my fault, really--you cook them by frying them (causing the gyoza to stick to the pot), then adding water to finish them off via steaming. My pan, however, is pretty uneven. So there was a bit of a puddle in one quadrant, causing a few of them to get a little soggy. The non-soggy ones were nice and crispy though. And they're just as hot as you've seen in the pages of Cromartie High School, so watch out. In any event, your enjoyment of these things will probably be directly proportionate to the quality of your dipping sauce. I'm guessing anyone with a really awesome homemade dipping sauce is probably not buying factory-made gyoza, though.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I can't quite bring myself to abbreviate All-Star Superman

-Via Comics Comics: A possible photo of Jack Chick! Man, that is not how I pictured Mr. Chick. I don't know if I expected someone wearing, I don't know, chain mail and a shirt emblazoned with a giant red cross, but I really didn't expect Chick to look so much like, well, a cartoonist. And a wacky cartoonist at that!

-This month's DC sales analysis at the Beat yields a couple of point of interest. First, in his analysis of the surprisingly low sales on All-Star Superman, Marc-Oliver Frisch takes criticism of the All-Star line to a new level:

"...All Star titles garner respectable sales and trigger the occasional rave review or outrage whenever they happen to come out. But they seem to be forgotten immediately after, carrying no impact whatsoever on the rest of DC’s line-up. In retrospect, the publisher seems to have abandoned the All Star line before it was even launched."

I think this is about as negative as I've seen anyone go: Frisch is arguing the line was stillborn, rather than simply mismanaged. I think it's a meaningful distinction, in that indicates that there was no hope of success from the get-go. I'm not sure I entirely agree--the Wildstorm re-launch (which Frisch is even more critical of), was undeniably an abortion. You could look at the schedule and see (a) the entire line was dependent on the buzz which Grant Morrison's two titles would generate, and (b) there was no way these books would ship on time. All-Star, however, had some hope of succeeding; in fact, I would go so far as to say that the incredibly stupid decision to schedule Jim Lee on WildCats, and the ensuing havoc wrought on All-Star Batman's schedule, is really what crippled the All-Star line.

But what if there were no All-Star Batman and we were only talking about All-Star Superman? How different would the conversation be? I suspect that we would still be viewing the line as a failure, in that the relatively light delays on All-Star Superman would have been immensely magnified if it were the only title for the entire line. In retrospect, it really makes DC's decision not to slap the All-Star label on Alex Ross' Justice all the more baffling. That book has shipped pretty much on time (right?), sold well, and generally reflects the spirit of the line. I wonder if Alex Ross was unwilling to adopt the All-Star branding, or if DC thought three titles would be too many for an imprint dedicated to prestige products.

What about future All-Star books? Titles for Batgirl (Geoff Johns and JG Jones) and Wonder Woman (Adam Hughes) have already been announced, but (as Firsch notes), have all but fallen off the radar. I thought I remembered hearing that Neal Adams would be drawing the next round of All-Star Batman, with Frank Miller writing again, but that was a loooong time ago so I might be wrong. Assuming the lack of news reflects a lack of progress on these projects, DC really needs another All-Star series in the interim, or else it runs the risk of fans forgetting about the line altogether. One wonders which appropriately prestigious talents could be relied upon to churn out a mini within the next 9 months. Remember when DC was trying to steal John Romita, Jr. away from Marvel? Boy, I bet Dan DiDio wishes he would have landed that fish. Or maybe kept some of those Seven Soldiers artists who Marvel signed to exclusives--Simone Bianchi and Pasqual Ferry both seem to be able to hit their deadlines, and have distinctive enough styles that DC could probably convince fans of their prestigiousness (if they were paired with the right writers and characters).

In any event, I'll be disappointed if the All-Star line fails. I think it's DC's best chance to insure themselves against event fatigue, and it gives them a chance to reach bookstore readers with attractive, distinctive, and accessible products featuring their most valuable intellectual properties. Hopefully the next wave of titles will launch more smoothly--unfortunately, in order to get a sufficient backlog of issues, DC might have to wait until late next year before resurrecting the line.

-Also worth noting from Frisch's analysis: There aren't a whole lot of books selling in the 75,000-90,000 range. I assume that this partly reflects a talent/money drain, as both Marvel and DC are funneling more resources (talent and marketing) toward the big event comics. This seems like a poor decision in the long run. Event comics bring in the big dough in the short term, but are they big backlist sellers in TPB form? Which do you think sells better right now--Bendis' Secret War or his Daredevil? Furthermore, investing in a (relatively) creator-driven run is essentially an investment in the intellectual property. It strengthens the character as an independent entity, expands its mythos/backstory, and provides material that might later be recycled in other media.* I'm not in any position to make these decisions, but I would certainly take two consistent 80K sellers over a five issue mini averaging 200K.

*I think this will be increasingly important in the realm of video games. We're already seeing some crossover--I was kind of amazed at how much Ultimate Marvel Alliance referenced recent plot developments like the Winter Soldier. I mean, it did so in an incredibly clumsy way, but I expect this sort of thing to get more sophisticated in the very near future.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Mostly Newsarama-related

-Oh, awesome, Matt Brady (Newsarama version) has again expressed his disdain for critics of tentacle-enhanced covers.* How long before Brady starts addressing Quesada as "my liege" or "your worship?" (Similar thoughts, only more diplomatic, here.)

Not-so-quick question: Do you think the ever-growing comics blogosphere countervails Newsarama, or is there just too much noise for the average reader? Or are Newsarama readers just not interested in blogs? I do think Newsarama is an improvement over Wizard, but I fully mean that as faint praise. When Matt Brady (NV) asks "tough" questions, they usually reflect fanboy concerns above all else--ie, how does this fit into established continuity? There's not nearly enough concern with aesthetics, let alone the ugly intrusion of the "real world," where it doesn't take a hardcore otaku to recognize a tentacle as a phallic object. ** (Quick, what's the most persistent, seemingly non-solipsistic controversy to rage on Joe Fridays? My guess would be Quesada's ban on smoking in Marvel comics, which is controversial only to the extent to which fanboys consider the cigar a mandatory accessory for Nick Fury, the Thing, and Wolverine.) On the other hand, many blogs either wallow in nostalgia (in both ironic and non-ironic flavors) or share the same fanboyish concerns as Brady's readers. Others (including this one) are openly antagonistic to superhero fans, thus discouraging these prospective readers.

What I'm asking, basically, is (a) if we need an alternative to Newsarama, and (b) if such a thing would have any hope of succeeding without the stream of exclusive news and interviews that have made Newsarama (and to a lesser extent CBR) such a juggernaut in the comics-related internet. Not that I'm looking to start such a thing--you should all know that I'm too modest (read: lazy) to even consider it--but I'd definitely support an undertaking of this sort. But when I imagine this hypothetical news site, it basically looks like a consolidated, less schizophrenic version of the blogosphere. So would there be a point to such a site?

*That would be a good gimmick cover--die-cut tentacles that pop out. Or take it a step further and produce a pop-up book, one that allows the reader to control the boob-caressing motions of the tentacles. I will have to ask for a percentage of any profits from this deal, Mr. Quesada.

**I mean, holy fuck people, just because the average American is (thankfully) not familiar with this sub-sub-genre doesn't excuse the cover. Let's not substitute willful obtuseness for cleverness, please. Also, is the specter of Team Comics returning to the online comics discourse? I wasn't reading too many comics and even fewer comics-related websites when this was a prominent issue--I think I bought the first issue of Atlas and maybe a Magic Whistle during the period from 2001 to 2003--but it always seemed like a really fucking annoying concept.

-Couldn't figure out how to fit it into the above, so I'll do it as a separate item: I don't want to overstate the notion that Newsarama is a complete corporate shill. The Blogoramists seem to have a good deal of autonomy, and some of them (most notably Lisa Fortuner) are quite critical of Marvel/DC. And Brian Hibbs' columns are always a welcome sight. The diversity of opinion at Newsarama is comforting, but the recent trend towards naked toadying is rather worrying.

-Chris Mautner (who, BTW, is probably the best reason to read Blogarama right now) rips at some length on the "where are the comics for children?" crowd. It's a must-read piece, and one that hopefully will change the current discourse on this issue. I especially like the entry because Mautner addresses the issue going through my mind the entire time: how will this affect Marvel and DC, whose attempts to draw in a young readership are half-assed at best? One of the comments left at Blogorama suggests that maybe DC should try to get some "big guns" drawing these books. This would probably help from a sales perspective, but I wonder if the same effect might not be reached by incorporating art by lesser names drawing in the same style as the "big guns." This would help eliminate the "kiddie" image apparently haunting these books. On the other hand, I can't imagine parents being comfortable with buying their kids comics featuring Michael Turner-esque women.

-The first post I think I've made re: Nymphet: I think I agree with this, basically.