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SuperMegaSpeed Reviews

Never has the refrain of "lots of issues to go through so lets keep this short" been more true...

Avengers vs. X-Men #12 - The expectations game on this one has been weird. This series has been crap, so obviously i didn't expect much of this issue. But then the reviews started coming out saying that this issue at least ended the series well and even made sense out of the previous issues. So ultimately i went in with higher expectations than i probably should have. There were some good moments here, but i'm sticking with "crap" as my overall assessment of the event. I'm not even sure what the turning point of the Avengers' strategy was... Tony Stark suddenly starts talking about "faith" and now the Scarlet Witch and Hope can do what they could have done all along and punch Cyclops in the face a lot? Ok, i guess there's the weird Iron Fist angle that was, well i don't want to say "developed" but i guess shoehorned into this series. As a direction-changing exercise (undoing "No more mutants" and setting up an Avengers team that is "a bit more... uncanny" (ugh!)) this was about 11 issues too long. I still think the problem for this series can be found in this post from The Hurting which was a bit of a revelation for me. Marvel is planning out their story arcs at the macro-macro level. And if you just read these events in their bullet-point form - House of M, the changes in Cyclops, the militarization of the Avengers due to Civil War, Secret Invasion, and Dark Reign - this works as a culmination. But to anyone reading the individual issues this has been poorly executed.

Uncanny X-Men #19 - As has been the case for the past few issues, Gillen adds some necessary characterization to the AvX storyline. Would have been better as part of the actual series, but this was still good. I'm sure the oblique reference to the "white hot room" got Tom Brevoort's formspring page frothing, but i've been staying away.

Astonishing X-Men #54 - I'm about ready to drop this.

Avengers #30 - Spider-Woman needs a revamp. Bendis brought her to prominence, which is a good thing, but then he turned her into Hawkeye's hysterical sort-of love interest, which has not been a fun move. I'm hoping her "This isn't me. This is not what I want to act like" moment actually goes somewhere. Oh, and this was not an AvX crossover despite what the cover said (which is fine with me).

Avengers Academy #37-38 - A nice ending to Final Exam and a GREAT downtime issue afterwards. Every panel of #38 had some wonderful character moment. The creative teams announced for Marvel NOW are such a disappointing shuffle of the same boring people; i really wish Gage was getting Avengers or something.

Captain Marvel #4-5 - It's so weird for this series to have started off with a time-travel romp that also seems to be leading into a revamp of Carol's origin. If the idea is to make Marvel a prominent super-hero both in the Marvel Universe and in real life, having her off in a time period where no one will ever know what she's up to is a very difficult way to do it. At least the art in issue #5 was more accessible than the previous four.

Daredevil #18-19 - I think it's hilarious that this has all been a build-up to a revamp of The Spot. This continues to be a good book.

Dark Avengers #181-182 - The whole name change to Dark Avengers clearly was a bait and switch since the book continued to be about the Thunderbolts, and the DA characters were essentially the bad guys. Not that i'm complaining. Even with all the Judge Dredd stuff, i really enjoyed this and again wish Parker was going to be somewhere more prominent after the Marvel NOW shuffle (how about Fantastic Four?). I was pleasantly surprised that this book was allowed to be the place where the Juggernaut's status quo is restored.

Thor #19-21 / Journey Into Mystery #644 - This is parts 2 and 4-6 of Everything Burns; we wound up getting this slightly out of order. It was a fun event. I loved Davis' art on the Thor issues. Might not be a great introduction to the complex scheming of Young Loki for new readers coming in from Thor, but that's moot anyway with the series getting replaced with Sif solo stories.

New Mutants #49 - I didn't really care, i have to say. Sorry Abnett & Lanning.

Spider-Men #5 - This was kinda over last issue, so this just had everyone standing around saying goodbye for 20 pages. Unless that fight with Mysterio was supposed to be an actual super-hero fight but it sure wasn't paced like one. And man, that Mysterio sure can take a bunch of spider-punches to the face without his completely not super-powered skull getting crushed, huh? This was a still a fun little series, and i'm happy with the implication that the Ultimate universe is just some stupid What If pocket-verse like i've known all along.

Winter Soldier #11 - Having Hawkeye in this story doesn't really add much. Hawkeye and Iceman were pretty fun together in Avengers Academy. Here Hawkeye is just another ultra-competent agent to fight alongside Bucky. Anyway, this is moving along fine but i've sort of lost any investment in it now that's it's cancelled. Even Guice isn't bothering me.

X-Factor #244-245 - I don't know what i think about turning Siryn into a Celtic goddess, but i'm glad to see that Lorna isn't going to remain a vegetable. I definitely like PAD's issues when there's no adventure plot, like in these two. He's great at characterization and humor and he makes all the interactions a lot of fun. And i really appreciate him doing his best to plausibly set up Havoc for leaving the book and totally changing his MO and costume after his plans in this book were derailed by AvX.

X-Men Legacy #274 - I know it goes back to Claremont but the Rogue/Magneto relationship thing is really weird to me. But getting past that, i thought this was a well written character issue. Too bad, again, the book is effectively cancelled. I've enjoyed David Baldeon's art on these issues as well.

Avengers Assemble #8 - Oh whatever. I can't believe i'm going to be reading a Guardians of the Galaxy book by Bendis when there's a perfectly good Abnett and Lanning floundering on a soon-to-be-cancelled New Mutants book. I'm not sure what the significance of the Cosmic Cube in this story being man-made was supposed to be; wasn't the original Cube also man-made (by AIM)? At least this issue acknowledges that Thanos and Starlord were in the Cancerverse. I guess the Stranger and In-Betweener are officially Elders of the Universe... i wonder when that happened. And where's the Gardener??!?

Avengers #31 - This was good. I hope Bendis restores Wonder Man to sanity before this is all over. Looking forward to a Microverse romp if that's where things are going.

New Avengers #31 - This is me doing my best not to complain about the lack of coordination on the use of Hellstorm between here and in JiM. Beyond that, this seemed fine. Lately i've been fooled at the start of each new Bendis arc; starts off promising but never goes anywhere. Hopefully since these are also going to be his series finales, we'll go out with a bang.

AvX Consequences #1-2 - Gillen's basically continuing here what he was doing in Uncanny X-Men during the AvX crossover, and it's just as good. Captain America's new costume is just ridiculous, though. Hilariously stupid looking. It's like his costume was in the wash so he had to go to a Halloween store to buy a replacement.

Avenging Spider-Man #13 - An improvement over last issue. Silly fun stuff.

Captain America #18 - This all seemed to wrap up a bit too easily but i still enjoyed it.

Red She-Hulk #58 - Parker has a nice pro-feminist statement of direction for this book so i was a bit disappointed in having an attempted rape scene in this first issue. Beyond that, we'll see where it goes. I had no interest in a Red Hulk but Parker more than made it work so i'm hoping to see the same magic worked on Red She-Hulk.

Wolverine and the X-Men #17 - Allred and Doop! This was a fun, crazy, totally "end times" book.

Uncanny Avengers #1 - I thought the Havok recruitment scene was done well enough. Havok's new costume isn't looking good either though, guys. Just go with the original; it's comics! But the Scarlet Witch/Rogue scene was pretty bad; it would have been better to have it come to some sort of reasonable resolution instead of getting interrupted by an attack by the Red Skull's Lamest Minions EverTM. Not sure i love the Scarlet Witch's costume either but i appreciate that the change here was probably about giving her some pants. It sure is convenient for an Avengers-side villain to be engaging in a plot involving mutants right at a time that Cap is forming this integrated team, but we'll see how this goes.

By fnord12 | October 28, 2012, 12:54 PM | Comics | Comments (16)| Link

Book Review: Marvel Comics - the Untold Story

So when Sean Howe's Marvel Comics - the Untold Story was announced, my first thought was "Man, all i do in my spare time is read comics and write about comics. I don't want to also read about comics." Then, of course, i bought and read the book.

And it's really great. In many ways it's sort of a compendium of every unsourced tidbit from every fanzine on the subject of Marvel comics, and i missed out on all of that so i was really glad to have it all collected for me. It's a fascinating read and it gives me a lot of fodder with which to go back and update my Timeline project with some behind-the-scenes trivia. From that perspective alone, it's a useful book.

But it also becomes pretty clear early on that the agenda of the book is to highlight the creator rights problems inherent in a shared universe and work-for-hire situation. And it does a great job of building that case, unfortunately too late for Jack Kirby. Along with that the book contrasts the creative vs. business sides of Marvel and how both change over time with changes in popular and business culture. And it shows that the real goal from nearly the beginning has been to turn Marvel intellectual property into Hollywood movies, and it's interesting to see how that languished for so long.

I do have some quibbles, of course...

The first, and probably least important, is a "balance" issue. This was probably inevitable since it's sometimes anonymously unsourced and since the book couldn't be 30,000 pages. But some of the stories told, like the story of how Roger Stern and John Byrne quit Captain America, follows the John Byrne version (that it was because they wanted to do a two part story at a time when Shooter had declared all stories must be one-and-done) which has been contradicted by Stern and Shooter. There's a few others like that (including some details on the return of Kirby's art). I know i'm just reinforcing my Shooter-Booster reputation, but it's the fact that Shooter had a blog addressing these issues that made me aware of them and therefore wonder what else has been left out or written based on an interview with one off-the-record person.

On to more substantive concerns... One of the book's blindspots is the lack of correlation between the independence of the creator and the success of the characters. Without seemingly realizing it Sean Howe repeatedly contrasts the relative success of Marvel characters with the obscurity of independently owned creations, be it the Carl Burgos/Joe Simon/Myron Fass' attempt at some competition with Marvel in the mid-60s, Image's mere flash-in-the-pan success, or Marvel's own experiments with creator-owned books with Epic and Icon. This is relevant when looking at the ownership disputes raised in the book around characters like Blade and Ghost Rider. Would those characters even be worth disputing if it wasn't for the fact that they were incorporated into a shared universe and built upon by multiple creators? Howe doesn't address it.

The question is an important one because it points to the Catch-22 in these creator ownership issues. If the creators own the characters, they'll never be developed into icons popular enough for mass media (obviously there are exceptions to this, like Kick Ass and Walking Dead; not covered in the book). But if creators don't own them, they reap almost nothing of the benefits when the characters do achieve popularity. So how to solve that problem? Well, the solution for Stan Lee was for Marvel to effectively adopt him as a mascot. He didn't own the characters and didn't directly benefit from the exploitation of the characters and universe he co-created, but he was well compensated (including royalties) and kept on in various roles throughout Marvel's various incarnations. But obviously that's not sustainable. I'd argue something similar should have been done for Kirby and Ditko, but even that is a slippery slope. Solving this problem is outside the scope of this review but i was a little disappointed in the way these issues weren't addressed.

My other main complaint starts with the fact that about 3/4ths of the book cover everything up to the end of the Shooter years, and from there it's all kind of a blur as the business side of things starts to get much more directly involved in the creative side and the focus changes more on the financial dealings and ownerships and bankruptcy negotiations and away from the creative behind-the-scenes (beyond "we had to publish lots and lots of books regardless of quality to meet financial goals" which is admittedly a key takeaway). And that's unfortunate because buried in there is an important seeming blocker to success that's hinted at but never really covered satisfactorily, and that is (of course!) the question of continuity. A little earlier on there's a complaint about how the word "fan" comes from "fanatic" and the disappointment of some older creators that they aren't creating books for kids anymore (although that shift was Stan Lee's stated goal), and then there's this line:

Marvel knew that their core flagship properties were ill... The properties that they had, had just failed over and over again to sell to Hollywood... The idea that Captain America was frozen in ice for 50 years was laughable in Hollywood... asking the Talmudic continuity scholars in Marvel editorial to throw away the holy litany of Stan and Jack to satisfy Hollywood was having no effect at all, they just weren't getting anywhere.

Then there's Bill Jemas' quest to make the Marvel comics accessible to readers coming in from the X-Men movies and how that led him to want to throw away all Marvel continuity, which he instead backed away from in favor of creating the Ultimate line. Before that there was Heroes Reborn, also aborted. And there's the back-and-forth on Spider-Man's almost-reboot through the Clone Saga and then the real reboot through Mephisto. And this idea that the writers were held hostage to the fanbase:

Coordinating [promotion and tie-ins with the movies] with the comic books was easier said than done. Although the X-Men titles remained at the top of the charts, they were as much a creative battleground as ever, as a half-dozen succession writers complained of editorial micromanaging and rewriting. The editors, meanwhile insisted they were only listening to the fans, that letter-writing campaigns determined which characters stayed or departed. "What do the fans want?" one writer grumbled. "They want change. What happens when you give them change? It's not the change they wanted, and everybody wants things back the way they were?"

OK, but if business strategy was to get ready for an influx of new readers from the movies, why were the editors instead supposedly reacting to letter-writing campaigns from current readers? Why all these failed or contrived attempts at simplifying or wiping out continuity? The answer, not given in the book, is that the drastically reduced direct market fan base was all that Marvel could rely on at this point, and they were sticking around because of their attachment to the existing continuity. In reality no matter how popular the movies would be, that wasn't going to translate into an influx of new readers and Marvel couldn't afford to alienate their current customer base. It's literally THE story of the past 15 years or so at Marvel but it's not covered directly in Marvel Comics - the Untold Story.

Complaints aside - and even the fact that i can have these types of substantive complaints - the book is an engaging read. It ends on the relative high note of Marvel finally being successful with its movie attempts (although for me it doesn't make enough of the fact that the Cap movie does indeed use the "frozen in ice" origin" or that the Avengers movie was directed by Joss Whedon, who was quoted earlier in the book as saying he was leaving Astonishing X-Men because he had no idea if the characters he liked were going to be "dead, rebooted, Ultimated or wearing a black costume by the time I get to them") and it's a nice attempt at laying out a historical review of Marvel. I guess with my complaints i'm really saying i can't wait for the sequel so that Howe can expand on all these topics and the later years generally.

By fnord12 | October 26, 2012, 5:09 PM | Boooooks & Comics | Link

He's kidding, right?

Todd Allen at The Beat puts forth the idea that the inspiration for Marvel NOW! comes from the Dynamite Invaders series Invaders Now! "Replete with that exclamation point", he says.

I have to assume he's just mocking Marvel somehow. Tacking NOW! on the end of something is just a way of signaling that you can't afford a Marketing department. It doesn't exactly require an origin story. So this must be a rare humor post for The Beat. But judging by Allen's response to the first comment, i'm not so sure.

By fnord12 | October 23, 2012, 2:55 PM | Comics | Link

Marvel Sales


Update: 35k sales for Fantastic Four seems particularly sad.

By fnord12 | October 23, 2012, 2:38 PM | Comics | Link

Virtuous Circle

Since, thanks to my previous proposal i've been put in charge of Marvel's move to online distribution and i'm nominating all my imaginary blog readers to be my editors and VPs, i'd like to ask you all to read this. We're going to have to start thinking about these kind of problems now.

By fnord12 | October 23, 2012, 1:59 PM | Comics | Comments (1)| Link

Origin Of

By fnord12 | October 23, 2012, 1:08 PM | Comics | Link

Taking Marvel to the digital age

Newsweek has announced that they're going "all digital". Obviously i'm going to use this as an opportunity to talk about Marvel comics.

As i mentioned previously, i'm working my way through Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. More on that in a few days, but when i got to the part where Jim Shooter (with Chuck Rozanski and others) starts accelerating the trend from mass market to comic specialty shops it got me thinking about how the industry today could use a similar paradigm shift. Obviously the answer is "all digital" but the reason i put that in quotes above is because what Newsweek is doing is going with a true web-based approach, albeit with a paywall. Right now the strategy in comics seems to be about allowing the download of digital files.

I think that's a decidedly primitive approach that fails to take advantage of the interactivity and inter-connectivity that the web offers, which coincidentally complements the inter-connectivity of stories that is Marvel's most unique asset. It's kind of like finally converting your VHS tapes to DVDs (without creating menus or chapters) in 2012 where pretty soon you're going to want your movies stored on the cloud anyway. Digital downloads are also vulnerable to privacy. And once you download your file, your interaction with Marvel is done, and you're off to the CBR forums to complain about the issue.

It defies every collector's instinct in my soul, but i really think a better approach is a purely web-based solution (with, obviously, optimization for mobile devices). Spitballing a bit here: it could be a subscription service where you purchase a package that allows you to read X number of issues per month. Instead of buying a subscription to, say, Captain America, Avengers, Amazing Spider-Man, and X-Men, you buy a subscription that says you can read 4 stories a month, and then you can choose to read Cap or Hulk or whatever you want. Kind of like how the New York Times site works ("You have 5 of your remaining 10 articles left"). And for comics that you've read (or maybe it happens by default), you have the option of putting it in your "collection" where you can go back and read it as many times as you want. The subscription prices should be subsidized by ad sales, same as it is for comics today. There's also got to be a discounted option for unlimited access.

And that's the key, because for me the real value-add here is the ability to link to other comics. Every time there's a reference to an older event, link to the relevant comic. With every character that appears, have the ability to click on them and get their past appearances. When i first encountered Ai Apaec, i went to Google, which brought me to Wikipedia, and then a couple of fan sites. Wouldn't Marvel rather i click directly on the character and read Osborn #1?

And let readers sort their comics by chronological timeline (which could be crowd-sourced by subscribers), or publication timeline, or by creator, or character, or series. And every comic should have the ability for users to leave comments (with modern self-regulation features, so that readers can vote down spammers and assholes) and rate the issue.

There is such a passion out there for the Marvel Universe, and this approach would pull all those passionate readers from all the various sites and message boards and bring them all directly to Marvel, where the interactivity would generate so much activity (and page views) that i think the ad revenue would be HUGE, meaning that subscription costs could be very low, or even not necessary (they're on a much smaller scale, obviously, but most web comics are entirely ad & merch supported).

If the model i'm describing sounds somewhat familiar, that's not a coincidence, and clearly any solution i come up with is going to emphasize Marvel's continuity. Not only would it be more important - profitable! - to promote older stories and ensure that current stories gel with them, but the site also becomes a great resource for writers and editors to keep things accurate. But mainly i think it's really a great way for Marvel to recapitalize all of the older works they've generated over the years while shifting away from the dying print industry and drawing in both casual and hardcore fans. People don't read much anymore, and there's a million forms of entertainment competing for their time. But they're on the web all day long. So put your damn comics on the web, and design a site that keeps people clicking around.

And if Marvel needs a software Product Manager with something resembling experience with this sort of thing, i have someone to recommend.

By fnord12 | October 18, 2012, 9:20 AM | Comics | Link

Where's fnord12?

This is mainly an update for anyone waiting for new entries on my timeline project. First of all, i'm working my way through Essential Sgt. Fury right now, and while it's actually pretty enjoyable, i can only get through like one or two issues of a Silver Age book like that, especially when they're in black & white, before i get a little sleepy and have to put it down.

But then things are going to get totally derailed. Because i pre-ordered Marvel Comics: the Untold Story when it was first announced, and it arrived today. And i have yet to open the book to any random page and not found something of interest that filled me with nerd-glee. I imagine it won't take me long to get through, but between these things and real life, progress on the timeline has been and will probably be a little slow for a couple of weeks.

By fnord12 | October 10, 2012, 3:22 PM | Comics | Link

Marvel Sales


By fnord12 | October 8, 2012, 2:54 PM | Comics | Link

Upselling your existing client base

Two related items in the world of Marvel publishing. The first is a follow-up to the variant cover conversation started by Brian Hibbs a while back. The latest is by Rich Johnston, which is significant because as both he and the Beat point out, Johnston used to be (and to a degree, still is) a booster of variant covers. But Johnston draws parallels to the boom/bust in the 90s and suggests that we're close to another tipping point. Beyond that prediction i don't think he says much that Hibbs hasn't already said, but i do note that Johnston says quite explicitly the same thing that i mentioned in my previous post, which is that the market is being (artificially?) propped up by those poor schmucks people whose interest are different than mine that buy every variant.

The second topic is related to this thing that we're now calling double-shipping (in the late 80s and 90s, the X-Books just proudly shipped on a bi-weekly basis in the summers and we thanked them for it, by gum). In order to make bi-weekly status, artist are, well, cutting some corners, as this Beat article points out, showing Mike Perkins cribbing directly from Alan Davis (hey, might as well copy from the best), and of course mentioning Greg Land as well. Marvel owns the rights to those pencils so there's no legal issue here, but people are understandably upset. I'm a big fan of Godzilla movies, which re-use footage like nobody's business, and i would never have noticed the copying if it wasn't pointed out to me, so i don't feel like this is an egregious harm, but it certainly shows the conundrum Marvel is in. As the fan base continues to dwindle they need to get more and more money out of those of us who are left. Variant covers are one way but the people interested in that are a subset of an already small group (The Loyal 100,000). Double-shipping popular titles is another way, but it can result in an inferior product. Both strategies have risk.

It's actually kind of interesting being here during the End Times and watching the industry die its slow death.

By fnord12 | October 3, 2012, 12:55 PM | Comics | Link

A word on SpeedReviews

Just a note that i'm behind on getting current comics so it'll be a few weeks before i put up a new speed review, and then it'll be another mega-blast that i'll go through quickly.

I actually have read the latest Winter Soldier but don't have a lot to say about it (Guice is back on art but i thought it was actually OK). And i have a Journey Into Mystery but we missed the Thor that precedes it in the Everything Burns crossover, so i'm holding out till we get that.

By fnord12 | October 1, 2012, 11:51 AM | Comics | Link

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