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« Comics: August 2014 | Main | Comics: October 2014 »

Comics

How did you pass the time during 1989's Plague of Frogs?


By fnord12 | September 30, 2014, 10:13 AM | Comics | Comments (4)| Link



Isn't it called Twitter?

I give the latest SMBC five stars.


By fnord12 | September 26, 2014, 1:29 PM | Comics | Comments (0)| Link



Comics and the narratives of criminality

I confess i still like the Death of Jean DeWolff storyline, but Osvaldo Oyola points out a lot that is problematic with it, especially regarding how it handles the politics of crime.


By fnord12 | September 24, 2014, 1:58 PM | Comics | Comments (2)| Link



SuperMegaSpeed Reviews

Elektra #6 - This issue is missing the surreal art by Michael Del Mundo that was a big part of why i've been liking the series so far, but the art here, by Alex Sanchez, has its own unique style that is pretty good. Similar in tone to Del Mundo in some respects but not trying to imitate him, so he's a good pick. He seems pretty off-model when it comes to some of the pre-existing characters (Tiger Shark, Anaconda), but nowadays i never know if that's because the artist is really off model or because a character has been changed somewhere. But this issue does something that i really hate. It opens with a two page splash panel that shows that Elektra has been on the run keeping her current wards protected, and she's fought Blizzard, Whiplash, Shocker and Boomerang, Crossbones, Tiger Shark, Jack O'Lantern and Blackout, and Whirlwind and some other people i can't make out (Vermin? That can't be Misty Knight on the balcony?). And, like, why wouldn't you actually show those scenes? How do you montage your way through a ton of cool super-villains as if it's just like the boring junk we have to get out of the way? I also don't love the idea that all those guys are working for the Assassin's Guild. And there's possible continuity concerns, too, although i'll concede that stuff like this can work itself out in the long run. Crossbones seemed to be working for a larger cause in Black Widow so it seems odd to see him taking a freelance assignment here, but that's just a question of placement, i guess. My real annoyance is with Shocker and Boomerang, who have been in the process of trying to kill each other in the Superior Foes series (where, i'll note, their motives have been at the much more reasonable "heist" level; i definitely don't see Shocker working for an Assassin's Guild). So when does this take place? Before the entire SFoes series? During it? Can it possibly be after? I guess it'll depend on how SFoes ends. It just seems odd to use two characters starring in a currently ongoing series in a completely different way here. Finally, i smirk at the idea that Elektra considers none of these characters "worthy" of her and says (later) that the assassin's guild knows these characters won't actually succeed. Because sending actual super-powered villains (Tiger Shark!) against a non-powered ninja like Elektra is just stupid and bound to fail, right? Only Lady Bullseye is awesome enough to defeat her. So all of that put me in a bad mood, which is too bad because there is some cool stuff here, like Elektra's group hiding out in an abandoned Inhuman settlement and a fight with the Serpent Society (although i don't like the way Sidewinder is drawn, Anaconda is apparently very svelte these days, and i guess Death Adder talks now).

Savage Hulk #4 - I've enjoyed seeing Alan Davis draw the Neal Adams era X-Men (well, Sal Buscema era to be very accurate although not very clear) fighting the Hulk. And i should probably just leave it there. But i thought having the Hulk mutate into a telekinetic was a weird place to go. The Leader's observation that "the gamma potential is fluid -- shifting between an array of possibly physical manifestations" is an idea that the ramifications of won't be seen for decades after this story takes place, so it's odd for it to be brought up here (and in front of Xavier too), knowing that it can't go anywhere. It really would have been better for Davis to keeps things simpler and less psychological (last issue taking place entirely in people's minds wasn't a great move) and without the X-Men having been tied up for an issue and change. Oh well. I have to say i'm 49.99% intrigued by the next arc's story which will take place during the Hulk's Crossroads period, but it's not by Davis and i'm sure something will happen that will annoy me so i had better skip it for now.

Daredevil #8 - Interesting, creepy, and well done as always. The scenes about Kirsten and her dad had some good character work, too. I assume Waid is aware that the Purple Man already has a daughter born through the same type of circumstances as these kids, but it wasn't necessary to bring that up in this story (although he still might in a future part).


By fnord12 | September 23, 2014, 9:09 PM | Comics | Comments (1)| Link



Continuity is the selling point

I have just finished reading Rob Salkowitz's Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture, which was published in 2012 and takes a look at the comic industry (and related "geek culture") from a business press point of view. It's an interesting read that i recommend to people thinking about the comic industry and where it might go, but i don't really want to review the book per se. In addition to being a business "futurist", Salkowitz also happens to be a comics fan, and even a super-hero comic fan specifically, which is why he chose this particular topic for this book (Salkowitz's previous books have titles like Generation Blend: Managing Across the Technology Age Gap).

And thanks to his comics enthusiasm, Salkowitz is generally sympathetic to comics fans, even to the ones he categorizes as "aging fanboys". That said, as he describes various trends in the industry - the influx of a new generation of geek girls thanks to things like Twilight, the influx of mass acceptance and interest due to the successful movies, the attempts at expanding beyond the superhero genre by Japanese creators and alt.comics writers, the attempts at expanded outreach through digital comics, - it's the aging fanboys mired in their crusty continuity and, in a sort of symbiotic relationship, with the direct market retailers that represent one of the biggest challenges for a successful future for the comics industry. An interesting point that he makes is that when we say "mainstream" comics, we really mean the super-hero comics that are the opposite of mainstream in any larger sense, whereas most smaller publishers deal in genres that are much more mainstream to the general populace.

By the end of the book he describes four possible outcomes:

1) an "Expanding Multiverse" where digital comics helps the industry reach mass appeal. This is the most utopian, allowing all genres and publishers to thrive.

2) An "Endless Summer" where the Hollywood hits keep coming and the spectacle at Comic-Con keeps getting bigger and bigger, albeit by crowding out the indie publishers.

3) A "Ghost World" (a reference to the indie Daniel Clowes comic) where the Hollywood hits stop coming and Warner and Disney pull the plug on their comic publishing outfits but the vacuum is filled by indies.

And 4) An "Infinite Crisis" where again the Hollywood hits stop but the aging fanboys and retailers have their way and both indie and digital fail to expand in a significant way, leaving the industry basically an ever shrinking niche market for super-hero fans.

Ok, so that turned out to be, if not a review of the book, at least a summary. Again, i think Salkowitz takes a fair approach to the topic. "Fanboy super-hero continuity nerds are preventing the comics industry from growing" is hardly a new insight but he makes the point well (hostile reaction to the Twilight fans, hostile reaction to the influx of movies and video games at Comic-Con, hostile reaction to... etc.) while also making the counterbalancing point that fanboy super-hero continuity nerds in a sense are the comic industry.

But all of that is just background to what i really wanted to talk about, which is this section on continuity itself. I think Salkowitz sets up an interesting point but fails to actually make the point. Perhaps it's a point that only i, as a fanboy super-hero continuity nerd, can see. But here goes. He starts off by talking about how television shows including Smallville, Lost, Fringe, and Heroes had crossover appeal to comics fans, and says the connection was "much deeper" than subject matter. Specifically, it was:

...serialized storytelling with a core cast of characters who develop yet remain fundamentally unchanged. Each individual episode or issue must stand alone to provide a point of entry for newcomers, but form a part of a larger story line to keep people coming back week after week.

So basically, it's the continuity. Continuing directly:

Most prime-time TV programs weren't always like this. From the 1950s to the 1980s, very few shows had any kind of continuity story lines from episode to episode. Even heavily plotted dramas, police shows, or science fiction series like Star Trek (the original series), which may have had recurring characters or occasional cliffhangers, rarely referred to prior events or offered any coherent sense of their characters' histories or motivations.

The revolution that transformed episodic storytelling first took place in the pages of Marvel Comics in the 1960s, when Stan Lee and his collaborators (principally Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko) wove long story arcs over dozens of issues and multiple titles, each of which also provided a satisfying individual reading experience and usually wrapped up the primary plot points in a single issue. In case anyone wonders why Stan Lee, the kindly old charmer with his name on every licensing deal, is so famous and well regarded today, that's why. The bold artwork and wild flights of imagination and fantasy of the Marvel Silver Age gripped readers, but this sense of integrity to the entire comics universe (provided partly by Lee's consistent writing and editorial voice) kept them coming back for more and buying anything with a Marvel logo on the cover. Before he became a brand unto himself, Stan Lee was one of the most important brand innovators of the twentieth century.

Chris Claremont, who wrote the wildly successful X-Men books for Marvel starting in the late 1970s, elevated the continuity aspects of comics storytelling to rarefied heights under the universe-building stewardship of then-Marvel editor in chief Jim Shooter. X-Men was not just about good guys and bad guys, or mutants trying to fit into a world that was prejudiced against them; it was an ongoing soap opera with handfuls of overlapping subplots and long-simmering conflicts bubbling under the surface at any given moment. Like a soap opera, it sometimes got so tangled in its own mythology that casual readers couldn't make heads or tails of any given issue, but hard-core fans kept demanding more story, more X-titles, and greater complexities.

Emphasis mine, of course.

By the way, after reading that nice description of Stan Lee's contributions, i'm reminded that Tom Brevoort today trotted out again the idea that Stan Lee used to make continuity mistakes all the time. He doesn't give any examples but when pressed in the past he's cited things like calling Bruce Banner "Bob Banner" or calling Cyclops "Warren" or whatever. Those aren't continuity mistakes. And having been all through the Silver Age comics for my project, i can't think of any other continuity errors that Stan Lee made. It's sort of besides the point - errors can happen! - but it's been a regular claim of Brevoort's that continually annoys me, and i also wanted to link to that post because it's relevant to the larger point here.

Salkowitz then goes on to talk about how this continuity innovation influenced television, saying that "Well-executed shows in this style that have no connection to comics whatsoever are now discovering that they are attracting comics fans, who tend to be vocal advocates for stuff they like." Breaking Bad is cited as an example.

So the above quotes alone tells me that mainstream viewers can "handle" continuity and that it is even a selling point. I grant you that no television show has ever approached the "multiple titles" aspect to the degree that Marvel (and DC) comics have. But that doesn't say one way or another if that would be successful.

But my point here isn't to argue for more continuity on television. It's really about defending the need for it in comics, basically that far from being the thing that prevents the comic industry from growing, it's the glue that prevents it from crumbling. So let me continue. A little earlier in the book Salkowitz describes friends of his that are indie creators that produce a comic called Supernatural Law (aka Wolff and Byrd - Counselors of the Macabre). And he puts that comic in a category along with Bone, Finder, and Strangers in Paradise, that in the 1990s was dubbed the "new mainstream". This movement...

...attempted to stake out a space between the standard superheroics of DC, Marvel, and Image Comics and the artsy fringe of "alternative" comics... The concepts were varied, accessible, and usually well done. Typically involving some combination of fantasy, mystery, science fiction, adventure, and humor, the titles reflected the kind of genre mix you'd find in the mass-market paperback books or network television. The stories were rich without the crust of "continuity" and whiff of juvenilia that hovers over superhero comics...

However, Salkowitz goes on to say that in the early 2000s the "new mainstream" fell apart, partially due to production costs and Diamond dropping low selling indies from their catalog, but:

At the same time, the natural audience for "new mainstream" titles found its entertainment desires satisfied by dense new episodic genre shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lost, and Supernatural, which tap into the same kind of sensibilities and appeal as comics.

Salkowitz doesn't tie it all together, but i will. Readers abandoned the "new mainstream" titles that eschewed continuity when those genres became available in other formats and at the same time those formats were adding continuity. Meanwhile, the continuity-laden super-hero comics are the ones that survived. And it makes a kind of sense. If (true) mainstream genres are available in other formats (television, paperback books) why would people need to seek out this non-mainstream format for them? Even the super-hero genre, once notoriously difficult to transfer to the screen, is now gaining traction in movies and on television. If that happens; if, say, the "Defenders" line of Netflix shows kicks off an era of super-heroes on television, is Marvel prepared to pack in their publishing line?

I've always said i don't think it's super-heroes specifically that makes Marvel interesting. If i just wanted great super-hero stories, there are a lot of options out there. And if Science Fiction or Swords & Sorcery or anything else had been the genre fad when the Lee/Kirby era started, would things not have picked up in the same way? It's the shared universe that kept people engaged. When Tom Brevoort (in the link above) says the job and the goal is "not to maintain the continuity, it's to tell excellent and engaging stories that excite and involve the readers", i disagree. Sure, we want "excellent and engaging stories", but we can get that from a lot of places. The unique thing Marvel has to offer is its continuity. And multi-title continuity with a history that reaches back 50+ years is the one unique thing that comics can offer long after everything else is available in other formats. So how did it become the industry's boogyman?


By fnord12 | September 19, 2014, 4:23 PM | Comics | Comments (6)| Link



Marvel Sales

August.


By fnord12 | September 19, 2014, 4:04 PM | Comics | Comments (0)| Link



SuperMegaSpeed Reviews

Captain Marvel #7 - Well we all knew that an issue featuring Rocket Raccoon and Captain Marvel's cat was going to be well received in this household. And the guest art by Marcio Takara was unobtrusive and pretty good. My only question is if these flerken are in any way related to the space cats from Speedball #6.

New Warriors #9 - What to say at this point? It continues to be a great book but even if i convinced anyone new of that, it's already cancelled. This issue featured Justice and Scarlet Spider fighting a giant bear sports mascot, but that was really just a disguise for some nice character development, and it was a downtime issue for the rest of the cast, although it's still moving a plot forward for Hummingbird that i'm wondering if there will be time to get to. And speaking of unresolved plots, what happened to Phobos, Helio, and Gronk?

Ms. Marvel #8 - Ok guys, i've been convinced to take this book seriously because i think it's really good. But now that you've got my attention, that also means you get my nerdy niggling questions. Like, she recognizes this giant teleporting dog as Lockjaw, but she doesn't seem to question at all why he's been sent to her? She's just sort of adopted it and is using it to teleport her around. And that's cute and cool and all, but it makes her look overly naive, especially for someone that is supposed to be a knowledgeable fangirl. She doesn't wonder if it relates to her origin, or at least consider trying to send the dog back home? Anyway, still a very fun book.


By fnord12 | September 17, 2014, 6:12 PM | Comics | Comments (1)| Link



Whale of sale

If Namor seems a little out of character, not getting too mad about potentially being called "fishy" and making bad sea puns, it's probably because this is meant to be a young Namor, since at the time (1988-1989) the only Namor comic being published was the Saga of the Sub-Mariner book that retold his history. That series wasn't even available for subscription (being a limited series), making the use of him to advertise subscriptions the thing that was really fishy.


By fnord12 | September 11, 2014, 5:43 PM | Comics | Comments (1)| Link



SuperMegaSpeed Reviews

Savage Hulk #3 - I find myself literally without comment on this, actually.

She-Hulk #8 - Honestly, i knew that Nick Fury had been aged recently but i didn't know the same thing had happened to Captain America (i knew the Falcon was replacing him but i didn't know why). So with last issue's cliffhanger i thought the story was going to be about some old guy that was going to hire She-Hulk to prove that he was really Captain America. Then when Min got outraged about it i looked it up online and it does seem to really have happened. Once again i say unto thee: footnotes would be nice. of course it's just a story and it'll all get reset to status quo at some point in the future, and in the meantime this is a funny story, and i'm still liking Pulido's art.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #15 - Another great, funny, interesting issue. It would be fitting (but unorthodox) if the series ends with the characters all having betrayed each other to the point where they can't work together anymore and having gained nothing, and it does seem like that's where we're going.


By fnord12 | September 10, 2014, 2:13 PM | Comics | Comments (1)| Link



Not my Marvel Action Hour

There have been a lot of Marvel cartoons, but it was pretty sparse for actual Marvel characters in 1989, apparently. Prior to this there was of course Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends and the Hulk, and there were also Fantastic Four cartoons and even a Spider-Woman cartoon. But in 1989 poor Spider-Man had to contend with Robocop and the Dino-Riders, the latter of whom are admittedly almost by definition cool, but i've never heard of them (and who is that dude in the "rear view mirror"? He looks like Dr. Demonicus.).

It seems the Pryde of the X-Men pilot would occasionally run during this slot as well, so that's something.

A few years after this Marvel gets back into the swing of things with the X-Men cartoon and a new Spider-Man cartoon and then Hulk, Fantastic Four and Iron Man shows, all of which were, relatively speaking, more faithful to the comics than anything that had come before (except when they literally cut images out of the comics and had them talk to us), but it seems for a brief period your Marvel cartoon options were limited.


By fnord12 | September 6, 2014, 9:45 PM | Comics | Comments (5)| Link



Lurkers Beyond Bathtime

I considered just posting these first two panels without context:

But i couldn't ignore the unknowable horror of Mr. Bubble himself.

Marvel had obviously realized by 1989 that its audience was getting older, since it's clearly advertising to parents here. Can't get your kids to take a bath? Put them under the thrall of an amorphous elder god!

Also, i'm hoping this is a two tub household. Because the younger sister is clearly running to take a bath in the first two panels, and she comes out clean in the fourth...

...but she's not visible in the third panel at all. Unless she IS Mr. Bubble, perhaps having allowed herself to be possessed so that the entity may take corporeal form on the Material Plane.

And why is some of the boy's dialogue in quotes? He's reciting from some unholy arcane text, that's why.


By fnord12 | September 6, 2014, 12:42 PM | Comics | Comments (2)| Link



Mary Worth gets weird(er)

Yay! Second brain in my belly!

Click the image for a bigger version and commentary at the always funny Comics Curmudgeon.


By fnord12 | September 5, 2014, 9:27 AM | Comics | Comments (0)| Link



Marry up

Pretty sure Min told me it says the same thing in Piketty's book.


By fnord12 | September 4, 2014, 2:08 PM | Comics | Comments (1)| Link



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