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A few posts down i talked about how content seemed irrelevant to sales on the Spider-Man team-up book since the sales tripled based on the renumbering/retitling. In his monthly DC sales analysis (which i usually just read for the commenters mad at his negative remarks) Marc-Oliver Frisch talks about how irrelevant content seems to be over in the new 52:

If the direct market -- at least DC's corner of it -- were a content business, then I think publishers would focus on works that keep selling long-term and attract new readers; retailers would reward this type of product and steer their customers towards it; and most of those customers would be readers, rather than hardcore enthusiasts and collectors.

When DC relaunched its line of superhero titles in September 2011, there was quite a bit of mainstream-media attention. None of this attention -- none of it -- focused on the stories themselves. It was all about the logistics of the relaunch, and although DC managed to get these books under the noses of dozens of mainstream outlets, nothing in those books seemed noteworthy or relevant enough to constitute a hook. On the contrary: By the time all those new readers (who, it turns out, weren't new readers at all) had supposedly digested the content of the books, the hype died down. This was DC's major chance to make a splash and get its books into many more hands than usual, and it worked, and nobody cared about anything that happened in any of the stories, any more than before the relaunch. The hardcore readers and comics critics picked their favorites, as they always do, and within weeks, the media attention evaporated.

A content business?

More at the link, covering the Green Lantern rings and the all-villain one shot month. I'm not really qualified to talk about anything DC, but thanks to friend Wanyas, i did read OMAC and a few other non-traditional books at the beginning of the reboot. And of course, OMAC got cancelled even though it was getting good reviews by the six of us that were reading it.

I don't have any grand statement here. And i know people think Frisch is especially anti-DC. But i do again think the industry is in a weird place. I'm not sure anyone really thinks their #1s or variant covers, etc., are going to be worth something one day. But a good portion of the market seems more interested in stuff like that than the books themselves. So i think it's different in some ways than the 90s bubble, where people were buying this stuff because it was hot and was going to be "worth something". But there are similarities, too. It's interesting watching how it plays out.

By fnord12 | August 30, 2013, 2:45 PM | Comics | Link

Of course i'm going to link approvingly

John Seavey's latest Things I Love About Comics topic: Secret Wars.

By fnord12 | August 30, 2013, 12:44 PM | Comics | Link

Namor, cut that out!

In honor of what would be Jack Kirby's 96th Birthday, check out Tom Spurgeon's yearly Kirby tribute. Never a bad time to remember how important Kirby was, and for me it's cool to see scenes with Superman and other character i don't run into in my Marvel timeline project.

But going through the images, i thought this Sub-Mariner pin-up was funny, with Namor proudly displaying a prehistoric fish "thought to be extinct for millions of years" that, when Namor found it, he killed and hung on a wall.

By fnord12 | August 29, 2013, 10:15 AM | Comics | Link

What is wrong with us?

This is why Marvel thinks we're idiots (from Paul O'Brien's monthly sales analysis; link a few posts below).

Superior Team-Up monthly sales (i told you to stop looking for funny alt text).

Content-wise, literally nothing changed about this book between Avenging Spider-Man #22 and Superior Team-Up #1. And yet thanks to a re-numbering and variant covers, it triples in sales.

It's a good book, and if this is what it takes to keep it alive, so be it. But it really shows how little content matters.

And i guess i should again extend my thanks to whoever is buying all these variant covers for subsidizing my hobby.

By fnord12 | August 28, 2013, 12:53 PM | Comics | Link

Marvel Sales


By fnord12 | August 27, 2013, 6:47 PM | Comics | Link

Got to be another way

Daniel Way is writing a column for CBR now, and in his latest, he writes this:

Three or four years ago, I was writing two ongoing series for Marvel; "Wolverine: Origins" and "Deadpool." I was also co-writing (what would become) "Dark Wolverine" with Marjorie Liu. In addition, I was picking up random gigs here and there at the company -- things like my arc on "Astonishing X-Men." As is the case with almost every ongoing series at a mainstream publisher, I had at least two art teams for each series (sometimes, with "Deadpool," I had three). Having multiple art teams can be a real challenge, as not all artists work at the same pace and, even more challengingly, not all artists "maintain" a pace that can be accurately scheduled. Every day, five to six days a week, I'd wake up knowing only that I had to write at least five pages of "something" that day; I didn't know which series it had to be, which story arc or even which issue.

I never read Way's titles, but that sounds exactly like what's happening in Uncanny X-Force right now, among other books. And what's frustrating is that not only does it lead to disjointed stories, but it's not like we're getting great art to balance it out (as you can see from that Bishop scan halfway down the page).

Tom Brevoort has said the problems with artist timeliness are threefold (paraphrasing from various formspring/tumblr responses):

1) Modern readers demand better quality than we used to. (If so, i again wonder about the comparison between the Bishop and Wolverine panels below.)

2) Artists worry more about the fact that their art will live on forever (e.g. in trades) whereas older artists were willing to bang things out to meet a deadline.

3) Artists are paid more, obviously a good thing, but which means they don't have to meet deadlines to survive.

I absolutely don't want this to look like artist bashing. I'm not saying artists are perfectionists or lazy or anything like that. I think the business model is screwed up. Incentives should be based on meeting deadlines or series should be designed based on the artists' pace.

But the model is only "screwed up" based on my desired outcome. Marvel seems happy with it, and as long as they're meeting their numbers, they are not going to change anything. Never mind that it's really just die hard fans buying their books. Johanna Draper Carlson has a couple of posts showing that about 40% of the market is based on selling variant covers (as she acknowledges in the comments, the analysis is a bit off the cuff, but even if it's really 25% you'd think it would be alarming to publishers).

Tangentially related, Caleb at Every Day Is Like Wednesday points out a discrepancy in Marvel's ads for current issues. On one page they're advertising gritty, bloody novels to adults, and on another they are advertising the Hulk Smash cartoon show. Now, there isn't really a conflict there. I think Marvel knows that they are selling to adults, but adults watch those cartoons too (don't judge us!) and many have kids. In fact, Marvel has been running a Share Your Universe campaign that i think is really about telling their adult readers that, hey, your kids might like to read comic books too.

But i think kids would rather watch the cartoons than read comics that have scratchy art and incoherent stories. And, increasingly, so would i.

By fnord12 | August 23, 2013, 9:16 AM | Comics | Comments (6)| Link

The fan editor period

I wanted to bookmark John Seavey's Defense of Onslaught. It was this that caught my attention:

Back in the early Nineties, a group of superstar creators rose to prominence at Marvel. They practically reinvented storytelling in comics, breaking a lot of rules that the established writers, artists and editors at Marvel believed at the time were vitally important to telling good comic-book stories. Their art was, for the most part, totally different from the style that Neal Adams and Jim Aparo had popularized, and frequently broke rules of anatomy and perspective. Their stories shook up the established status quos of many series, introducing overt anti-heroes who grew to dominate the landscape of comics (like Cable and Venom, to name two quick examples.) The older guard of editors who ran the company didn't really understand why these younger creators were popular; they didn't even like the books they were publishing, in some cases. But they sold like hotcakes, they were incredibly popular with Marvel's target audience, and the young men seemed to know what they were doing.

I think there's a larger point to be made about the period after the likes of Roger Stern and John Byrne were gone from Marvel but while editors like Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio were still in charge. I want to go through those years before/while i formulate anything, but Seavey's post here dovetails nicely with my preliminary thoughts.

By fnord12 | August 21, 2013, 12:45 PM | Comics | Comments (5)| Link

SuperMegaSpeed Reviews

Secret Avengers #7 - It's probably thanks to my low expectations, but i found that i enjoyed this issue. I suspect i'll like this series more if i read it in story arcs instead of single issues, too. But it also helps that things are heating up here - Daisy Johnson getting relieved and Maria Hill shutting down her operation mid-mission, and the really cold act of abandoning Mockingbird. There's still something about the basic premise of this series that i think will be damaging long term, but at least with this issue it's really embracing the dark side of SHIELD that this series is meant to be demonstrating. I do sort of long for the days when the Avengers fighting Graviton would actually merit more than a couple of panels, though.

Uncanny X-Force #10 - Gah! So the rest of the team was literally sitting around in a dumpy room while Psylocke was off with Fantomex? I thought Psylocke actually called Storm at the X-Mansion during one of the Fantomex issues, so maybe that wasn't the case (i don't have the issue handy to check) but it's certainly the impression you get reading this issue. I guess the good news is that Puck (who is poorly written) and Storm were suffering right along with us during the Fantomex detour. As for this story, i've been waiting for the revelation that's been teased about the Demon Bear to come through but so far i'm not impressed. "Psychic demons that mirror us from birth and watch, waiting to cross into the material world" is both generic and unworkable as a Marvel universe concept, and the idea that the Demon Bear is one of them but is protecting Psylocke is going to need a lot more explanation before it helps in any way with the classic New Mutants story. To Sam Humphries' credit, i did think the character insight splash panels (with the demons trying to work down the characters' self-esteem) did a good job describing the characters. And again, maybe this reads better altogether (although i think the Fantomex detour is going to be a problem no matter what). Artwise... look, i give a lot of leeway for style. The artwork here is sketchy, scratchy, rough, whatever you want to call it. I don't like it. But i would normally say it's what the artist is going for. But it's harder to say that when you're recalling iconic images from the past. In other words, drawing this...

I've stopped thinking up 'funny' alt text because no one reads it.

...just invites comparison to this...

And mobile devices don't show it.

...and not only is that comparison not favorable, but it makes me look at the rest of the art in a different light, too.

Wolverine #8 - Alan Davis art.

Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #1-2 - Ok, i know that this isn't this issue's fault, but let me start with this.

See?  You didn't even read the alt text.

If you're gonna do this, i demand that Tyrone get the cutaway dagger on his chest.

Ok, that out of the way, i am enjoying these issues. Loved the set-up for issue #1 with Octo-Spidey going around punching the other heroes, and i loved the resolution. And i like the use of the Jackal and Carrion for this storyline, and the tie in with Kaine/Scarlet Spider and the handling of the fact that Kaine has killed Doc Ock in the past. I would have expected a scene of Octo-Spidey completely not reacting to the Gwen Stacy clone, to the surprise of the Jackal, but i guess not. Now here's hoping that we can track down the third part of this story, since we weren't prepared to pick up an issue of Scarlet Spider and of course the LCS doesn't exactly keep extra issues of that series around. We also had a problem where we had Avenging Spider-Man on the pull list but the comic shop dropped it when the book was rebooted/renamed, which is why i'm covering two issues at once here. This stuff is hurting you, Marvel!

Avengers Arena #13 - Picked up this issue thanks to Gage coming back to write his Avengers Academy characters (actually, it's mainly Pym, Tigra, and the Runaways). And it's nice to see that there's thought behind why no one is looking for these missing kids (my jokey answer: because when you're relying on Henry Pym to help you, you might as well give up now. But the real answer is plausible enough.). Nothing here that would make me go back to the series, though. Not because i have a problem with the premise, and nothing wrong with this issue, which i enjoyed. But i dropped this book after issue #7 and it seems like six issues later the book hasn't changed a bit, judging by which characters are crossed out on the recap page (yes, yes, i see Chase is now Darkhawk) and the way Arcade is acting. This series just seems insanely slooooooow.

By fnord12 | August 19, 2013, 11:20 AM | Comics | Comments (1)| Link

Grist for my mill

Just preserving this for myself:

"This whole things of events/crossovers, when will stop it, I would like to see how books and characters grow in their own books / limited series and not see them again and again immersed in the same things, it is assumed that there are villains, why it is supposed that they (Heroes) have to fight among them again and again? - Anonymous"

We'll stop doing these big Event series when you guys stop doing them. A number of years back, when the chatter about "Event Fatigue" reached a certain point, we decided to go into THE HEROIC AGE without doing an Event that year. And our sales got clobbered as a result. Like it or not, what you guys choose to purchase and follow guides what we make, since we need and want to stay in business. - Tom Brevoort

By fnord12 | August 14, 2013, 3:36 PM | Comics | Link

SuperMegaSpeed Reviews

Captain Marvel #14 - The caveat that we're only reading the CM part of this crossover still applies, but i still don't feel like i'm missing anything. My concern about the ridiculous number of Kree sentries is allayed, at least, with the idea that Yon-Rogg has absorbed the powers of the Psyche-Magnitron, and that's a cool idea (although i'm at a minimum on the fence about Yon-Rogg returning after his death in 1969, and as a Carol Danvers villain). This is a conclusion so i can't expect much from a characterization angle and it does the job of finishing the story. I will say the impact of the conclusion is a bit ruined when you go from Carol Danvers sacrificing herself to defeat the bad guy and then immediately on the letters page an editorial note saying "No no! We didn't just kill Carol!". And then next issue is a tie-in with another crossover event that i'm not following. But forget all of that. Because really, the story here is irrelevant when you have this just atrociously ugly artwork. In one of the articles i linked to in my mad blogging spree today, it was mentioned how to Marvel's credit they really let the creative teams put their own imprint especially on the second-tier books, and this one was cited as an example. But the problem with that is that stylized art is by definition divisive. Min and i both liked the art by De Andrade prior to this crossover, but i know friend Wanyas hated it and he's not alone. And the people at that link liked Dexter Soy, who i hated. And i also really don't like the art by Scott Hepburn and Gerardo Sandoval in this issue. Ugly, messy looking panels. And inconsistent. How do you wind up with one artist drawing everything except pages 2, 12, 13, and 18? I keep hearing that Marvel wants Carol Danvers to be a top tier super-hero, and i totally support that. But you're not going to get that with art that drives away half your potential audience. A nice clean, even generic, house style would be much better than any of this (although i'd still like to see De Andrade somewhere).

Uncanny X-Force #9 - I have to be honest: i really just skimmed all of this until the last page when the rest of the team resurfaced. I don't know what the hell happened on this book. It went from me thinking it was ok although with a weird team composition to me actually deciding i liked it enough to try another book by the writer (Robot Avengers) to now wondering why the heck i'm still getting this.

Indestructible Hulk #11 - So plot, script, art for this issue - all good (actually the art is a bit weird in a few places - especially that scene where the Hulk's face is being pushed back by G-Force pressure, and also a few close-ups of Zarrko - but it's generally ok). But the implications of this story line are alarming. I didn't read Age of Ultron but i got the lowdown from friend Bob and friend Internet. And while i'm fairly certain if Marvel is using Age of Ultron to punch continuity it won't be happening in Hulk, i know Mark Waid wrote the epilogue to AU and if there are plans afoot (and it certainly seems like there could be), Waid probably know what they are and could be foreshadowing it here. But Zarrko talking about "the beginning of the end" and "chronarchists... taking advantage of broken-space-time, changing history where it shouldn't be changed -- and making those changes stick-- because now that time's unraveling they're powerful enough to reknit history to their whims" (all while showing the time-displaced Young X-Men) sure sounds like a description of Marvel editorial and "architects". As i've said before, what's alarming to me isn't that Marvel might do a reboot. It's the possibility of a stealth reboot that bothers me. In that link, i thought about it in the context of a third party farm out. But the idea that Marvel could use AU to just change history, affecting the canonicity of past stories, but (and especially) without saying exactly what changed, is a more dangerous possibility. This is also why i didn't like the Spidey Mephistoboot so much more than your garden variety retcon. Saying Alicia Masters was really a skrull for seven years sucks, but you can still read the stories and say ok, this is really a skrull, and maybe have to ignore a few thought balloons. Saying Spider-Man was never married means that many years of Spider-Man comics can't have happened as printed. And with this timestream manipulation, Marvel can basically say at any time that any story didn't happen as printed. I know i'm way overreacting to basically one issue of Hulk. We'll see where this goes. But it's definitely something i'm watching for.

FF #10 - Since i'm suspecting Marvel editorial + architects of shenanigans right now, seeing them as characters in a comic, especially acting dumbly about comics, is a lot less amusing than it was meant to be. And i never like these creator appearances anyway. Next we'll have the Impossible Man showing up (just kidding; i know he's gonna be in the next issue. *sigh*). If i can get over that, this was a fun issue. Glad to have Allred back. And of course this is exactly the sort of book where we should expect to see Marvel creators and the Impossible Man, so i signed up for this sort of thing when i started getting this book. I have seen a fuss online about the fact that Maximus is imprisoned here but out and about elsewhere in concurrently published books. Eddies in the timestream, my friends (and this is his couch).

...ok i have more to say about Maximus. I'm not reading New Avengers so i'm talking out of my ass here. But the standard response, and this goes back to like 1962 once the Human Torch had a solo series in Strange Tales, is that the books aren't taking place at the same time. Which is fine. But in 1962 (and 1982, etc.) you could be assured that eventually it would all fit together; you could figure out which appearance went where. Or the stories were inconsequential enough that it wouldn't matter. But take something like Maximus being in prison. He breaks out in this issue, and presumably it ends with him going back in. Probably never ties in to the fact that he's working as an advisor to Black Bolt in New Avengers. As i said, i'm talking out my ass in this particular case. But take the Punisher's recent crossover with the Avengers. It ended with him going to jail. At the same time, he's out and about in Thunderbolts #1 and gets recruited by the Red Hulk. Never any kind of tie-in or acknowledgement that he was in jail. So that's why there's a hubub out this and it's different than 1962. Sure we can assume that he escaped from jail and that's why he was free in Thunderbolts and the Red Hulk (an Avenger and agent of the government) decided to recruit him instead of sending him back. But we can assume anything! We could just sit here and make up our own stories and never have to buy any comics! I mean, the reason we're all in this is because we want to read stories about these characters, not make up our own!

Daredevil #29 - Just to use the word zeitgeist one more time today, i think this story is interesting in light of Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman. Nothing explicit. But a story about racists infiltrating a courtroom captures a certain zeitgeist in the air today. And i think Mark Waid handles it really well. I mean, it's still a comic book story. Obviously in real life the Ku Klux Klan isn't going to stage a mock trial and then have the judge shoot the defendant. Or subsequently get kicked in the face by a guy in spandex. And no, i don't think Waid is saying anything about the Zimmerman jury or even intentionally referencing that. But it's a story that takes advantage of stuff that is "out there". And it's well told, nicely drawn.

X-Factor #260 - I'm surprised to see an End Of book focusing solely on Polaris since she's a very recent addition to this incarnation of the team. I mean, it happened while i was reading! And i'm also surprised to see Peter David setting up a new X-Factor organization in this book. But i liked this. I mean, to be clear, i hate the idea that Polaris really is Magneto's daughter. And even if she is, she shouldn't really have any kind of familial bond with Quicksilver. Granted they were both teammates in a previous X-Factor incarnation, but i can't imagine that they think of themselves as being related. Which i guess is why they resolve their differences by punching each other. But i thought this was well written and enjoyable.

Iron Man #14 - Again, the Greg Land damage is minimized by the all robot/iron suit action. But i will not be lulled into a false sense of security to purchase the new Mighty Avengers book, no matter how much i love Monica Rambeau. Especially since it's being written by the relatively unknown Al Ewing. But we were talking about robots... Really enjoyed Death's Head and i hope that wasn't really the end of this incarnation of him. And Gillen has set up a nice scenario here. As long as we're not delving into (hopefully false) memories of Tony's father, this has been a relatively traditional (albeit slowly paced and with a heavy body count) story, and i'm enjoying it. Did i throw enough caveats into that? I am saying if the art wasn't by Greg Land, and the story moved a little faster, and it wasn't adding ridiculous retcons to Stark's past, and holy god did Tony Stark just fail to save the lives of an entire planet full of aliens?, this would be really enjoyable.

X-Men #3 - I have seen a lot of people that are unhappy with this. Paul O'Brien covers a lot of the complaints. And they're real. Certainly Karima Shapandar was given no introduction; i have no idea who she is and just understood that she was the innocent victim/host of Arkea; apparently knowing that she's a kind of cyborg was important. And i'm terrible with names so introducing both a Karima and an Arkea was confusing to me (can't these people have super-hero names?). And the conclusion, if that's what it was (Paul O'Brien speculates this is another "arc that isn't really an arc") was pretty anti-climactic. And there are smaller problems too, like apparently there's a conflict being set up between Rachel Summer's methods and Psylocke's that was barely developed. And inconsistencies about the baby, and a lack of acknowledgment of Jubilee's current vampire status. All true (although i'd be happy to see the vampire thing quickly swept under the rug). I'll also add the fact that Storm makes a really weird statement about how this random group of X-Men had better stick together until they are sure that Arkea is taken care of, which is just a weak justification for keeping these characters together. But even with all that taken into consideration, i'm just so happy to find a clearly written, nicely paced X-Men story with good characterization and great clean art. I'll accept all these other deficiencies if i can keep that. Not so sure if i can, though. Because i see Coipel is taking a break and then it's on to a tie-in with yet another event that i want nothing to do with (Battle of the Atom).

By fnord12 | August 12, 2013, 8:42 PM | Comics | Comments (3)| Link

Zeitgeist movement alert

Digby (quoting Marcy Wheeler) says terrorism is out, hackers are in. Maybe after Infinity, the next Marvel event should be reinventing the Lethal Legion as an Anonymous style hacker group? Although i think Marvel might have a hard time identifying the good guys and the bad guys in the story. Certainly "twentysomethings who haven't talked to the opposite sex in five or six years" sounds like a familiar stereotype. And the guy that Wheeler is quoting sounds like he is baiting these guys to attack, self-fulfilling prophecy style.

By fnord12 | August 12, 2013, 4:15 PM | Comics & Liberal Outrage | Link

The Archer solution

You have to work with me here because i'm building off the last two posts, so you need to read them first. But thinking about the problem raised by the crime chart in my previous post, the obvious response is "Just ignore it and have them fighting crime anyway". One thing i don't like about that is it perpetuates the myth that we really do have a high crime rate and therefore need to continue the wasteful war on drugs, stop & frisk, the death penalty, etc.. The other point is that i think it would just have a lot less resonance; writers want to connect with what people are thinking about (don't make me use the word "zeitgeist" twice in one day).

And yet, and yet... this bounces around in my head and connects with something else i've been thinking about. Min and i have been re-watching Archer recently, just because. And one thing i really like is the deliberate anachronism of having the Soviet Union and the KGB and the 80s era computers along with modern cellphones and cultural references and everything else. It's funny if you think about but it's not a central part of the show and you could ignore it if you wanted to. And i was thinking about how this might have worked just as well or maybe better than Marvel's sliding timescale solution. I know Archer is a comedy show, but again, it's not a central premise of the show. And it's basically what people mean when they say that Marvel should have just ignored the time problems instead of constantly revising their starting point.

So basically the characters with Cold War origins do indeed have their Cold War roots and we just don't mention that fact. Not saying that we should still have Commie villains (although.. why not?) but we could certainly have 1980s level crime waves and stuff like that. Especially as comics get more post-modern it's easier for the current readership to just accept stuff like that. But you wouldn't really have anyone mention the discrepancy except the likes of Deadpool or Impossible Man or She-Hulk in the right circumstances.

It's really no less ridiculous than the sliding timescale. Which also leads to the occasional tongue-in-cheek scene like this.

Nowadays it's Obama who was president.

By fnord12 | August 12, 2013, 3:43 PM | Comics | Comments (5)| Link

Unleaded gas: the greatest super-hero of all

TPM's post today, which pivots off of Eric Holder's mostly symbolic announcement regarding drug sentencing reform (symbolic because the Federal government isn't doing the majority of drug prosecutions), reminded me of a topic related to my (surprise!) post below about Marvel comics. Whenever we're faced with these year-long uber plotlines in comics, one of us will say, only half-jokingly, "How come super-villains don't just rob banks anymore?". And the answer is in this chart:

And yes, yes: how come Batman doesn't dance anymore?

That's the murder rate, but you'll find it's the same for most kinds of violent and semi-violent (e.g. burglary) crime. Josh Marshall kind of brushes past it, but the one theory that really holds up in terms of why this is happening is the removal of lead from gasoline and paint. But regardless of why, the fact is that crime-fighting super-heroes seem a lot less necessary than they used to. Certainly since the height of the Frank Miller 80s. But rising and then high crime rates track pretty well to the explosion of Silver Age super-heroes. And since the 90s it's become less and less of a thing, and it's really plummeting, even in the face of some pretty bad economic downturns. So what's a crime-fighting genre to do?

Well the X-books specifically have gotten a lot of mileage from civil rights, but (while i certainly don't want to declare victory!) we've had some improvements on that front and we're at a point where it's a lot harder to imagine a future of minority-hunting killer robots. And with Civil War and Dark Reign, Marvel wrung a lot out of the post-911 world, which i think was a good move thematically even if it wasn't executed well. And the Avengers movie (and also the Iron Man movies, even more directly) got a lot out of 911/terrorism itself. But with all these things we're moving away from the core raison d'etre (to type a phrase i would never use in real life) for super-heroes. So there's a lot less of Spider-Man mostly fighting criminals and then getting pulled into Secret Wars on occasion. It's got to be mostly Secret Wars and villains with world-threatening schemes or at least personal vendetta schemes. And that leads to event fatigue and just this sense that Marvel has strayed from that classic comics feel. And there may be nothing that Marvel can do about it, except lurch from event to event hoping to glom on to the latest zeitgeist.

By fnord12 | August 12, 2013, 3:10 PM | Comics & Liberal Outrage | Link

I guess the good news is we can follow along at home just by reading plot outlines

A while back i talked about this post at The Hurting where Tim O'Neil made the eye-opening but obvious in retrospect point that Marvel's events nowadays are basically planned as "a set of bullet points put together to clear out eight years' worth of dead-wood continuity problems". At the time he was referring to AvX. I looked at that and thought it rang true and helped explain why so many of these events seem so bad - they are planned by committee and a lot of the development for the story really just happens in the editors and writers' heads and the stories are just pushed through with brute force.

About a month ago, O'Neil put out another post about Age of Ultron, and writes:

Now, I want to stress that this was a momentary feeling - really, only a few seconds hesitation - but I was nonetheless attracted to the idea of Bendis as a high-powered surgeon who comes in, performs a high-pressure operation, and then leaves before the nurses begin the actual process of cleaning up the mess. When you view these things less as stories (which they aren't, not really) and more like spearheads for publishing initiatives (which they are, truly), the metaphor makes a lot of sense: Age of Ultron is messy, yes, but the idea is that it spawns a couple series and changes the direction of a few more books. People get excited so maybe they order a few more copies than they otherwise would of whichever books are spinning out of the event. New series that don't have a blockbuster creative team or popular premise need all the help they can get in this market, after all. The stories at the heart of the events are moot. They need to exist because the company has a need to earn a certain amount of money every fiscal quarter and major events are a guaranteed draw, but the quality or lack thereof is really besides the point.

All of which means, on a profound level, that the events in and of themselves don't really matter that much anymore. Sure, some events have had more lasting consequences than others, and to Marvel's "credit" they've done a good job of actually making these events "count." I put both of those words in the operational scare quotes for a good reason. House of M, Civil War, and Secret Invasion all had long-lasting consequences, and successfully changed the direction of the line for years to come. Everyone knows, everyone always knows, that everything will revert back to normal eventually, but Marvel has done a good job of playing these events in such a way that they actually do have consequences. The problem is that they've done too good a job here, in such a way as to alienate those readers who don't care about line-wide continuity repercussions and don't like their favorite characters having to participate in rolling crossovers every other month. ("Rolling crossovers" is roughly analogous to "rolling blackouts" in this context.) Dark Reign actually inspired a handful of fun stories, but woe betide any reader who was uninterested in Norman Osborne ruling the world and just wanted to read, say, a normal Avengers story during that period.

The bit about the surgeon comes from here, where Carla Hoffman at CBR writes:

Brian Michael Bendis is an incredible surgeon of event storytelling, and Age of Ultron #10 leaves stitches and scissors all over the reader's chest. I can't even say I'm surprised, nor can I really confirm that this is a "bad thing." There's no value judgment here: Age of Ultron needed to get to point B, it got there after 10 issues, and point C is going to be handled by a variety of folks (including Bendis himself, but we'll get to that).


In Avengers Disassembled, we had a problem of a stagnant Avengers comic; the book wasn't selling well, it had fallen into something of a rut creatively... Bendis grabbed a pen and introduced a major shake-up to Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the repercussions of which still last to this day. Too many mutants around thanks to Grant Morrison's wild ride? Bendis surgically struck with House of M, and "No more mutants" continues to anger our heroes (despite that edict being rewritten in a semi-Bendis-directed AvX). We needed a common enemy, old characters back on the playing field and another big shake-up to the Marvel Universe. Bam, Secret Invasion, which led to Dark Reign and beyond. Each time there's a problem, Bendis will solve it in an eight- to 10-issue story arc, and then he's out of there.

Rarely has an event book under his steady hand had a clear, definitive ending. The Avengers disassembled because the Scarlet Witch went crazy. Why? That was left for nurse Allan Heinberg to flesh out more in Avengers: Children's Crusade. Now that there's no more mutants, what happens to the X-Men? Welcome to the entire direction of the X-titles handled by everyone but Bendis at the time. Secret Invasion just ended with Norman Osborn slaying the Skrull Queen. What's after that? Dark Reign, where more characters were just pushed into place until Siege, where they were pushed back out of place and Heroic Age could begin. It's like there's no period at the end of Bendis' event sentences; they just keep going and going, running one into the other until someone else gets their hands in there and puts in that full stop.

Age of Ultron #10 is the best example yet of this strange, never-ending story phenomenon... Just when the day is saved, there's ... I don't know. A time quake? A big two-page spread of time fracturing and a variety of characters shouting out while history or the future plays out in shaky cam behind them? Reed Richards, Tony Stark and Beast all get together to stroke their chins and not really know what happened either. Apparently, Wolverine's fool move was the last straw and time is officially pissed off at the Marvel Universe.

And that's the end. Yes, there are more pages, but those are short ads for the miniseries Hunger (where 616-Galactus will invade the Ultimate Universe), Avengers A.I. (as Hank Pym now knows what he did wrong and what he has to do) and Guardians of the Galaxy (where Angela and the reader will figure out how she got into the Marvel Universe).

So putting it all together, not only are these events just hitting bullet points decided upon by committee and without the development necessary to get them there, but they are not even complete stories in their own right, just setting up the next new status quo. And not even fully explaining that status quo, and leaving it for the writers of the regular issues to deal with in whatever way they see fit until the next event, which will ignore all that to hit the next planned bullet point. When this started, it all felt pretty cool. I'm interested in the bigger picture of the Marvel universe, so seeing these events like House of M and Civil War, and the Norman Osborn takeover after Secret Invasion all have dramatic medium term effects on the larger Marvel universe, instead of, say, everyone defeats the Beyonder/Thanos/Apocalypse/Whoever and then goes home and back to their regular business, was exactly the sort of thing that i wanted to see.

Except... it never went anywhere, it just sort of weirdly jumped to the next big thing, and all of the books in between felt like they weren't coordinated with the big story. It's all been a confusing mess. And as O'Neil and Hoffman are saying, it's really by design. Let's eliminate most of the mutants. No planned resolution to that. Let's have a schism among the heroes. Ok, enough of that, let's have Norman Osborn take over SHIELD. Ok, wrap that up and now let's bring back the mutants. And that all sounds really good at the bulletpoint level but the individual stories start off enthusiastically with each new status quo, but with no real plans (and the inability to make plans since the direction comes from the top), they then meander for a while and then suddenly jerk to the next thing.

So while O'Neil says the problem is that Marvel is forgetting the readers that don't care about line-wide continuity, weirdly (for me at least) it's not working at that level either. In fact, it's gotten to the point where i've retreated from the line-wide events and i'm mainly picking up the fringe titles that stay out of this stuff - Young Avengers, FF, Daredevil, Hulk (actually the most recent Hulk deals directly with the Age of Ultron fallout in away that is really alarming to me, but more on that in today's Speed Review). And that's not where i want to be. I want to be reading the mainstream Avengers and X titles and all the big events, but they've just gotten so awful that i'm not able to. And per these posts i'm quoting, it's less the "Bendis can't write team books" and "Hickman is tediously boring" type stuff and more that the books are actually designed to be this way right now.

By fnord12 | August 12, 2013, 12:46 PM | Comics | Link

The "Operators" of Captain "O"

Here's Captain "O".

Don't bother squinting.  You don't want any of that crap.

When the accident that transformed Oliver Olympic into Captain "O" also killed his wife Ruth, he used his newly gained power to manipulate children into extorting money from their parents and their parents' friends to create clones of Ruth to become his "Operators".

Here is the only surviving photo of Ruth. Note the lack of a crown or lightning bolt shirt. She can be considered the "Eve" of Captain "O"'s cloned operator entourage.

She seems to be giving us the thumbs up.  'It's ok, honey.  You can clone me.  I know you will only use the clones to trick children into your little ponzi scheme or whatever, and not in any deviant ways that will betray my memory.'

And here are the "Operator" clones.

Captain! Oh!

Why i felt the need to share this with you is known only to me, but if you would like to know more, leave a comment and ask for fnord. He or another SuperMegaMonkey operator is waiting to respond.

By fnord12 | August 1, 2013, 1:44 PM | Comics | Comments (1)| Link

Binge Consuming

Just wanted to note these comments from Tom Brevoort in light of my mention of the missing Ron Garney, Alan Davis, and Mike Allred in my Speed Review.

The first is about Age of Ultron and the upcoming Infinity having multiple artists:

I prefer to have a single consistent creative team. But given what we've learned about how much more successful Event series are when they ship more often than once a month, there simply aren't many artists who can work at that speed and still maintain the kind of quality that you'd want. So it's a necessity...

And the second about regular books:

The art matters to us a great deal, the whole package matters to us. But the manner in which the audience likes to consume entertainment is changing--what's come to be known as "binge consuming." That means that we do better if the books ship more often than once a month, and that's an almost impossible schedule for any artist to handle.

There have always been fill-ins. And one good thing about Marvel NOW! is that they acknowledge that there are going to be fill-ins and so they plan for it, dividing the artist switches into arcs (although in the cases of both Uncanny X-Force and Wolverine, those "arcs" are very artificial). But this idea of "binge consuming" sounds a lot more like "get as many books out as possible before the reviews come in" and it doesn't seem like it bodes well for the long term.

By fnord12 | August 1, 2013, 1:20 PM | Comics | Link

SuperMegaSpeed Reviews

Uncanny Avengers #10 - At least there was some fighting in this issue. But we've already made the decision to drop this, and opening with Rogue's complaints about Captain America didn't help convince me otherwise. Nor did Wonder Man comparing himself to Gandhi. Or Thor hitting someone on the head while saying "I have a priority delivery for you... *grok!* Get up. You need to sign that you received it." I still hold out hope that this will all read better when it's read in a single sitting, so all this protracted mutant/non-mutant griping is resolved and everybody makes nicey nicey in a single day instead of over this interminable period of months and months.

Is this what we're doing with Wolverine's claws now? All that blood? I'm hoping this isn't a nod to what's going on in the Wolverine book where he's lost his powers. So i assume the idea is that because when Wolverine pops his claws it breaks the skin so there should be lots of blood. Funny how we never saw it before.

Apparently every time he popped his claws in the X-Mansion someone had to break out the Resolve to clean the carpet.

Uncanny X-Force #8 - What happened here? There was a story about the Demon Bear, and there were characters like Puck and Spiral, and there was art by Ron Garney. And now that's all just been... discarded in favor of this Psylocke/Fantomex story that keeps jumping around between the past and the present with no warning? I'm still not sure how Psylocke gets from being in prison with Cluster to sitting and having champagne with Weapon XIII. It's interruptions within interruptions. This whole series seems to have been designed with an overambitious structure in mind that the artist (at least) isn't capable of pulling off. I don't know if it's writing for the trade mentality or what but with stories already decompressed you can't just leave them dangling for months and months. Very strange.

X-Factor #259 - Cute resolution to the question of Longshot and Shatterstar's origins. I'll have to defer the analysis on whether it really fits. But this was more satisfying than the previous End Of installments.

Iron Man #13 - Grah! Greg Land is back! I thought we were safe at least until the end of the Secret Origin of Tony Stark storyline. Actually, though, since this is mostly a story with robots, Land's damage is limited to those shots of Iron Man with his faceplate pulled up. Beyond that, the fact that this story focused on Death's Head and didn't add any more revisions to Tony's parents made it more enjoyable.

Wolverine #7 - Man, Wolverine sinks into a depression right quick, huh? We know he hasn't been that long without his powers because he has his first drink here. But he's already become terrified of shaving, cars, etc.. I think it's an interesting thing to explore (and i appreciate the acknowledgement that it's been done before); it just happens super quick. I guess i shouldn't complain about a compressed story after some of my previous comments today. And anyway, Alan Davis is back next issue (for a new "arc"; same as the old arc). Paul Cornell writes a much better Thor than Rick Remender, that's for sure.

FF #9 - Honestly, this is a comic that should be delayed instead of having fill-in artists. Especially a pool party issue. But if you're going to have a fill-in artist, let him draw in his own style. A fill-in artist attempting to mimic Mike Allred, with colors by Laura Allred, and you're just begging for negative comparisons.

Young Avengers #8 - Great stuff. Innovative art. Nice character interactions. Hilarious scripting. Fun plot. In the interest of promoting the book, i'd screenshot Loki shouting "I hate you, inevitable horrible!" and the Demiurge, but i don't want to spoil anything for min.

By fnord12 | August 1, 2013, 12:31 PM | Comics | Comments (3)| Link

Waiting for Quasar

John Seavey at MightyGodKing has a nice regular feature called Things I Love About Comics that is meant as a balance to his natural impulse to complain about comics (sounds familiar). His subject for this installment is Quasar. And it's nicely timed because now that i am on the home stretch of my back issue add, i'm looking forward to adding new years again, and one of the books i am anticipating is Quasar. But it'll still be a while before i get to Quasar (which begins in 1989), so that's why i'm writing this here and now.

It's actually surprising to me that i'm looking forward to Quasar. I do own nearly the entire series already (and i'll fill in whatever i'm missing before i get to the applicable years), but it was never a favorite of mine. Not even close. I dislike Quasar the character. His powers are too derivative of the Green Lantern, and his personality is (deliberately) a whitebread by-the-books stuffed shirt. Works well in a group situation, but not very interesting as a solo character. And i already have Captain America for that. I'm also not a big fan of Mark Gruenwald's writing. I think as an editor, or as a sort of plot inspiration guy, there was no one better. But i find his writing very flat and often marred by his goofy appreciation for DC Silver Age stuff.

That said, i love his appreciation for the continuity of Marvel's shared universe. And as John Seavey notes, Quasar was the book where he really went crazy exploring that continuity:

I loved the series because Gruenwald looked at the Marvel Universe, the grand patchwork creation of hundreds if not thousands of hands, and saw infinite vistas to explore. Tiny little loose ends that most other fans forgot about... he saw as a chance to tell a story that was waiting for someone to do it justice. Forgotten characters like the Stranger or Maelstrom were interesting and compelling when seen through his eyes, and he couldn't wait to show you why.

All sorts of weird, crazy, goofy concepts that went to the forgotten corners of the Marvel Universe and brought back all sorts of treasures to share.


For all that pedantry can (and does) devolve into pointless point-scoring and petty bitching over "getting it wrong", there's a flipside to it. There's a way of caring about these things that's positive, that uses the questions of how the Marvel Universe works as a springboard to inspiration. Mark Gruenwald wrote from his passions as a fan his whole career, and 'Quasar' showed exactly why that was something to love.

Now, as i said, i already own, and have read, most of the series. But the way it went was i probably bought the first dozen or so issues in real time, and then just bought any issues that crossed-over into "events", and then filled in the gaps from the bargain bins much later. And more to the point, i was coming in from the perspective that i got into comics reading Roger Stern's Avengers and John Byrne's FF and other books from that period and so i obviously knew everything there was to know about the Marvel universe, and all the loose ends and weird corners Gruenwald was exploring were unknown to me and so that aspect of the series would have been over my head. Which would have made Gruenwald's plots just seem weird to me instead of explaining past weirdness.

But what's happened since then is that almost every time i'll review a comic that features a dangling plotline or a strange seemingly one-off character, someone will leave a comment saying "That gets wrapped up in Quasar" or "This guy appears again in Quasar". And that's really built up my anticipation. In some cases i already knew it, but often not because with my backissue adds i'm reading the source stories for the first time. The point is that a scene like the one below is going to have a lot more impact on me now after my work on the Timeline than it would have in 1990.

Only guy i'm still not sure sure about is that orange dude in the tank top and no pants.  Is that the Dark Messiah?  Soulfather?

Now i still don't expect to love the series from a "craft" point of view for the reasons i mentioned above. And this is where i wish that Gruenwald was editing/guiding the series and Roger Stern had been writing it (of course, i'd read Roger Stern writing the Blue Shield and love it). But this is where we get into that weird distinction i make between a comic being "good" and a comic being a fun addition to the Marvel universe.

Thinking about my other objection - to the character of Quasar - i started wondering if basically a series like this had to have a straight-laced character as the lead. Someone has to play the straight man in the world of weird. When Dan Slott did something vaguely along these lines in She-Hulk, for example, it came across as pure satire and was more dismissive than reverential about continuity, and that's not what i'm looking for. So maybe it had to be a character like Quasar.

But then i thought... why not do this with the Fantastic Four? You've got a great combination of characters there - Mr. Fantastic can be completely straight-laced while the Thing can goof on everything, with the Invisible Woman and Human Torch playing more moderate roles. And it plays right into their theme of being Imaginauts. And the Fantastic Four book has really been directionless for a loooooong time. Now i know past writers have attempted the "explorers" route or brought in random elements of the Marvel universe (i'm thinking of Hickman's use of Dire Wraiths and Kymellians and such), but it's usually in a way that's superficial, and more to the point, as a means to create new stories. And as weird as it may sound, i'm looking for something more subtractive. Tie up loose ends. Explain other stories that didn't make a lot of sense (Bendis' Secret Wars II retcon?). Basically turn Fantastic Four into what Quasar was - the Marvel Continuity Clean-up book.

Now before you say that it wouldn't sell, consider that "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine" is already sitting at an embarrassing #60 on the sales charts. This is a book that used to be Marvel's flagship title but it's been in the doldrums for years; decades, even. Marvel can't cancel the title because of its significance, but at the same time it's perceived as being a traditional, old fogey sort of title. So why not just embrace that and do it whole hog? There are still enough of us traditional, old fogey sort of fans out there (in fact, it's probably a larger part of Marvel's audience than they'd care to admit) that would buy the book and if it created a positive buzz from us cranks it might even climb up the charts a bit. If not, you haven't lost anything. And include copious annotations that refer to trades people can buy to see what original stories the FF are "investigating" and you've got an instant sales tool.

Anyway, don't know how i got off on the Fantastic Four. Looking forward to reading Quasar is the point.

By fnord12 | August 1, 2013, 10:46 AM | Comics | Comments (6)| Link

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