Thursday, January 31, 2008

Comic Formats

One of the debates that's been going through the comic industry lately has been "pamphlets vs. trades." There's been a growing market in trade paperback sales (largely noticeable in chain bookstores) and publishers have responded accordingly by increasing the volume of those types of books they produce. A number of comic fans, tired of dealing with constantly rotating creative teams, event-driven stories, and the often far-too-amateurish atmosphere of comic shops, have switched to getting their comic fixes in the comparatively cheaper TPB format.

Curiously, though, there's an aspect to this discussion that is largely absent (at least, from what I've seen). Namely, does the "main" published format make sense for the story?

Consider the newspaper strip for a moment. There was, once upon a time, a number of comic strips that contained serial adventures. Flash Gordon, Tarzan, Prince Valiant, Little Nemo in Slumberland... Over the years, they've largely been replaced by shorter gag cartoons with no real continuity, or ongoing story. The reason is because newspapers began cutting back on the amount of space devoted to any given comic, forcing artists to reduce the length of an individual day's story. The reduced story space meant that it was more difficult for anything significant to take place on any given day -- there just wasn't room for much. And, if the artist tried to do any sort of recap of previous events, they cut that limited space by 1/3 on top of it! Extended storytelling became extremely difficult to pull, and only a handful of masters were able to pull it off at all. Thus, we've seen the demise of the serial adventure comic strip, next to the rise of the gag cartoon precisely because of the format.

The same holds true for comic books. The serial pamphlet format allows for enough time to tell an extended story but, with a limit of 20-30 pages, longer epics need to be broken down into something equating chapters of roughly equal length. The format helps dictate the "beats" of a story.

Then we get into the decompressed storytelling that Brian Bendis has made popular. He (and many others, to be sure) have taken a more leisurely approach to comic storytelling, allowing for more "talking head" scenes where extended discussions can take place. But shunting that into the pamphlet format gives rise to complaints of "nothing" happening in any individual issue. To get the rise and fall of the full story, one has to read all of the chapters in close succession -- as one might in a trade paperback.

This is, though, something of hybrid approach to storytelling. Since many of these comics are still being written/read for a pamphlet format, many of the story beats are dictated by the shorter format. You wouldn't end an issue on a non-dramatic moment because you'd unnaturally interrupt the flow of the story, since there's physical break in the story because you've gotten to the end of an issue. But because you're in the larger story, the -- if you'll excuse the pun -- ultimate execution is directed more towards the longer trade paperback format.

So what?

DC and marvel have been tending towards longer stories suitable for easy TPB collection. The month-to-month continuity is being coerced into succinct story arcs and many writers, it seems, are then "forced" into hitting the beats of the monthly comic instead of letting stories flow organically to a final format. If they were writing with the monthly publication format top-of-mind, they still have to hit those 20-30 page dramatic points to end each issue on, but that doesn't mean that a particular story has to start and end exclusively on that beat. Many of the comics I grew up on in the 1980s were of this type, where sub-plots would be slowly ebbed into a title one or two pages at a time. Some of books had multi-page prologues to stories in the final pages of the comic a month before the "main" story began. The creators at that time were working towards the pamphlet format to, by and large, good effect.

Likewise, the graphic novel market of the 1980s worked well too (in terms of writing to the TPB format, at any rate). While I've heard editors from that period remark that some of the books produced at the time weren't high enough quality to warrant printing in that format, the fact is that they were designed to it. Can you imagine trying to break The Death of Captain Marvel down into some sort of serial format extended over several months? I'm sure Jim Starlin is talented enough that he could've done that, but I can guarantee the story would have read much differently.

Again, so what?

Comic creators today are being asked, often indirectly, to take on a more difficult job by writing to two formats simultaneously. Take Civil War for example. Regardless of what you thought of the execution of the story, or even the basic concept, the story itself was designed essentially as a single, continuous narrative like you'd find in a typical graphic novel. I think this can be seen pretty readily as some of the ending issue beats seemed forced (because, in many cases, they were due to the page limits) and some of the sequences seemed padded unnecessarily (because, in many cases, they were to try to end an individual issue on a natural story beat). The result -- again, whether you liked it or not -- is something less than what it could have been if the story was allowed to flow organically towards a single format. Instead, it was trying to serve two masters.

To be fair, you can't blame the creators. They're doing the best they can given the circumstances. And you can't entirely blame the editors and higher-ups at marvel and DC either -- they're in a position where they can't (at this point) financially afford moving entirely to a TPB-driven market without alienating a good portion of their existing customer-base who still want their monthly fix of Superman or Iron Man.

Personally, though, I think they're hedging their bets a little too much. After all, we've seen through any number of late books that those same customers, while they might complain, will still wait, in some cases, months on end for their stories. Think of the sales that would've been garnered from the initial hype if All-Star Batman had only been released as a single TPB once they'd actually finished writing/drawing the whole thing.

Personally, I would prefer seeing an approach where any given project is examined up front on a case-by-case basis and determined if it makes sense creatively to publish it in the pamphlet or paperback format. Granted, the financial side still needs to be considered, but it seems to me that you won't sell as much if your final output isn't as good as it could have been.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Comics? Misogynistic?

So I'm talking with this woman on eHarmony. I managed to pique her curiosity with my interest in pirates, but I noted that it was a somewhat less interesting subject to me than comic books. Part of her response, though, read...
I'm just being honest here! I never got into comics. The closest I came to like one was watching Sin City in the theatre. Even then it reminded me of the reasons why I couldn't stand comic books. A lot of misogyny and racism. Even as a kid I caught on to it. Maybe things have changed, but that ship has sailed for me.
Having spent decades reading comics and having to respond to people asking why I enjoy them, I'm usually pretty quick to defend the medium. And I can rattle off dozens of reasons why there are great things happening in comic books, and how they can really be sublime pieces of art.

This time, though, I was stumped. I could defend the industry a bit by saying that there's not much racism in comics per se, even if the industry is still dominated by white guys. But her claim on misogyny? I can't really even pretend to dispute that.

I defended myself a bit by saying that, generally speaking, I don't read those comics. In all honesty, though, I can't claim that I don't read them at all. Even though I buy Return to Wonderland for the updated twists on the Alice mythos, it's still a book from Zenescope, and it's hard not to notice the protagonist's clothes being ripped to shreds, "forcing" her to put on a French maid's outfit.

But citing some of the titles I read that have strong female leads isn't going to help because the books aren't that well-read in comic circles, let alone outside them. Show of hands: how many of you read Dorothy? Local? Bizenghast? Pirates of Coney Island? That's about what I thought.

The only other thing I felt I could do was to say that yes, it's an issue and it's actually been getting some attention lately thanks to some vocal feminists (for lack of a better word). But what else can I say? "Yeah, but comics aren't as bad as movies and TV?" Well, no, that's not really accurate, is it? I mean, sure, they put Hayden Panettiere in a cheerleader outfit, but that's nothing compared to the they-might-as-well-just-be-body-paint tight outfits in any given superhero comic. I mean, can you compare ANYTHING that ANY of the women on ANY of the CSI shows have ever worn with this...
(And don't give me any lip about just pulling one specific example. You know as well as I do that I could come up with hundreds of more gratuitous covers.)

Is it any wonder that our Occasional Superheroine recently discovered that 90% of all American comic readers are male? If it's obvious from a decidedly outside group that women aren't wanted in this little boys' club we call comics, of course there aren't going to be many women wanting to join! And if it's kept as a boys' club, why shouldn't the ringleaders cater to what that demographic wants to see? Especially when that very same set of visuals also serves to reinforce the notion that women aren't welcome! It's a self-perpetuating cycle.

Oh, I could've brought up the whole manga thing, but there's a danger there, too. While there are plenty of girl-friendly titles available, when you hit one that's not girl-friendly, it tends to be REALLY not girl-friendly!

So I'm left with, "I don't read those comics." And that is just sad! I shouldn't HAVE to defend the industry on this! I should be able to point to at least a couple dozen name titles that are actively promoting a consistently positive outlook towards women. But not only are those titles absent, but the name publishers almost revel in their "women in refrigerators" approach.

"I'm more interested in comics as a medium. I don't care about the adventures of Spandex-Man and She-Hostage."

Damn it, though! I shouldn't have to defend the whole, frickin' industry!

Monday, January 28, 2008

I Miss Not Being Hip

When I was in high school, I was pretty roundly ridiculed for being a geek. There was a group of about 6-8 of us that hung out together -- we were all pretty smart (most of my "clique" graduated in the top ten of our class) and socially awkward (Jeff was the only one to have a girlfriend, and that wasn't until late in our senior year). John ran his own BBS; Chris had a collection of calculators; Jeff was a Trekkie; I was into comic books... If we were just a tad older, we could've been cast en masse for Revenge of the Nerds. We were pretty well ostracized by just about everyone.

And I don't need to tell you that it absolutely sucked! I couldn't stand high school and all the crap that I had to put up with, just because I didn't really fit in with everybody else all the time.

BUT it did teach me how to be my own person. If I enjoyed something, I could enjoy it on my own terms, and I had the conviction to not be ashamed about it. It was an absolute nightmare to push through, and I wouldn't want to go through anything like that ever again, but it's a large part of what made me who I am today. I enjoy who I am and what I do, and I can enjoy that precisely because being pushed to the outskirts of society (or, rather, what passes for society in high school) taught me that I could actually live rather comfortably not knowing who was the most popular band that week or what the latest fashion trend was.

Of course, over the past two decades geeks have actually become rather trendy. TV shows like The Office and The Colbert Report celebrate geekdom. Guys like Quentin Taratino and Seth Rogen have made most of their careers out being a geek. It's not uncommon to see references to Star Wars or comic books or anime or whathaveyou in various forms of mass entertainment.

And it's becoming cross-referencial, too. Characters on a TV show might talk about a comic book, and the comic book references a cult movie, and the movie references the TV show. And then the geeks talking about that stuff online become celebrities in their own right. Do think that, 20 years ago, any movie executive would give a flying rat's patootie about Harry Knowles and what he thought about their film? Hardly.

"Blessed are the geek, for they shall inherit the earth."

... or, if you prefer something vaguely more contemporary...

"It's hip to be square."

Now what this all means, for me personally, is that my own geekdom has elevated my social status. Because of my long-standing interests in geeky things, I have an accumulated body of knowledge about them, and I'm now looked to as the local expert of "cool."

"Hey, Sean, what's the latest on the Iron Man movie?"

"Hey, Sean, how does an RSS feed work?"

"Hey, Sean, how's the writer's strike affecting production of Heroes?"

To some degree, I do appreciate the attention. It's something of a form of flattery that I am the "go to guy" for anything that anyone has any interest in. But my formative years repeatedly taught me that my interests are not valued by society at large, and that anyone showing the slightest interest in them must have an ulterior motive. Which would imply that my "friendships" with many people today are based almost exclusively on their obtaining geek-ish knowledge from me.

Yeah, I know. It's terribly cynical of me to think like that, but that's the type of thing I learned to expect from years of torture back in high school and it's what I grew to be comfortable with. I am a geek and, as such, am perfectly comfortable sitting at the fringes of society. Being dragged into the spotlight, even tangentally, doesn't feel right for me. I used to be the guy people actively tried to avoid, and now I'm getting invitations to Super Bowl parties? Something just ain't right!

Late (And Offensive) Five For Fridays

Tom Spurgeon's last Five For Fridays was to "Name Five Famous Comics Brothers." Let me first say that I'm deeply disappointed that not even Fred Hembeck cited Brother Voodoo. But when I thought of that, my mind went down a nasty path really quickly. So, for the sake of a bad joke, Sean Kleefeld Names Five Famous Comics Brothers...

1. Black Lightning
2. Black Goliath
3. Luke Cage, Power Man
4. Rocket Racer
5. Green Lantern John Stewart

We now return you to your regularly scheduled (and tasteful!) blog...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Wha-Huh?

I stopped by Half Price Books this afternoon & got The Rabbi's Cat in hardcover for $4.95. Curiously, the smaller, black & white Bleach vol. 17 was the same.

So am I to understand these books have the same value???

Friday, January 25, 2008

Legends Of The Dark Crystal

I got a chance to read Legends of the Dark Crystal volume 1 today, and thought I'd provide a review. Because I know you've all been eagerly anticipating one from me!

Let me start off by saying that Jim Henson was one of the good ones. He was a guy who really and truly wanted to make the world a better place, and just loved what he did. Do you remember his show Fraggle Rock? It came about because Jim said to his crew, "Let's make a show to bring peace to the world." He wasn't naive enough to think that he could literally accomplish that, but that was still his honest goal.

I have a lot of respect for Jim's sincerity and integrity. He had this uncanny ability to tap into an almost Jungian collective mythology, and create stories that were timeless and touched people in powerful ways. What's more, he was able to see that in other people and help bring it out to present to the world. And, existentially speaking, that's where Dark Crystal came from.

In part, because of his design work on Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, I'm also something of a fan of Brian Froud's artwork. (Although his Pressed Fairies book was what really put him over the top in my mind.) He has a gift for making fantastical creatures, both the beautiful and the ugly. So between Henson's ability to tell a wonderful story and Froud's incredible designs, Legends of the Dark Crystal had an absolutely amazing starting point.

Which, of course, is a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing in that there's plenty of rich depths to draw out more great stories, but it's a curse in that there's a high standard to live up to. Jim himself saw exactly that in making the various sequels to The Muppet Movie. I had heard of problems with Tokyopop's extension of Labyrinth and avoided that, but I gave veteran writer Barbara Kesel the benefit of the doubt here in picking up Legends of the Dark Crystal.

The story takes place years before the movie. The Dark Crystal has already shattered, but the Skeksis have only just begun capturing Gelflings for their life-perpetuating "essence." Lahr and Neffi managed to escape from raids on their respective villages, and are able to make it another settlement before it, too, is attacked. After some debate, the villagers opt to hold their ground and fight off the intruders.

Kesel knows how to write; she's proven that several times over before now. Legends is no exception. Solid characterization across the board. Good dialogue that moves the story along without unnecessary exposition. It's clear she's well-versed and comfortable in the Dark Crystal universe. Heidi Arnhold and Max Kim's artwork is good, too. Very clear storytelling -- even during some potentially tricky spots -- and good use of grey tones to bring out some of the linework. There's also a great consistency of character designs -- I'm never at a loss for who is being portrayed in any given panel, despite seeing whole villages of Gelflings. The new creature designs, too, are clever and blend in quite well with previous Henson/Froud material. In fact, the only real complaint I can muster against them is that some of the illustrations of Gelflings look a tad off-model, with their heads looking more rounded than elliptical. Given, though, that there are thousands of drawings of Gelflings throughout the book and only a few of them stand out as "off", it's a really minor grievance.

There are only two things that really strike me about the book that might prevent me from giving it a completely unconditional recommendation. First is that the Gelflings are forced into a physical battle with the Garthim. As a fan of the original story, this just seemed very wrong at some deep, emotional level. The movie was dark, certainly, and had it's share of violence, but the Gelflings (and the Podlings) were shown to be incredibly peaceful creatures. At some emotional level, seeing them in battle here didn't sit well with me. To Kesel's credit, she brings up this very point within the story and makes it clear that the battle is a last resort, but it still didn't sit well with me. (I'm certain that would be a complete non-issue for folks who hadn't seen the film since it was originally released.)

The other issue I have is with Tokyopop itself. Specifically, that they're selling this as manga. They've got their "Leading the Manga Revolution" stamp on the back cover and the whole bit. Now I'll grant that, on the whole, people (well, Americans at any rate) don't use the term "manga" very accurately. It's just the Japanese word for "comic books" and I've actually heard it used exactly that way in conversations held in Japanese. I can forgive a little confusion here, as one can't generally tell where a comic originates just from looking at it. So lumping manhua and manhwa in with manga is, though somewhat condescending, understandable. I can even see OEL manga where there's clearly a strong influence from Japanese artists. But I've got to say, with Legends of the Dark Crystal, there's very little Japanese influence to it. It could just as easily have been printed in a pamphlet format -- indeed, each chapter is exactly 26 pages -- and sold for three bucks an issue. What about a larger format TPB for $16? The only reason this is getting racked as "manga" is because Tokyopop is printing it the same size as their other manga books.

Why do I care? It's graphic storytelling, and it shouldn't matter what format it takes so long as it works for the story, right? For me, personally, it doesn't really matter that much. I've got enough other manga books at this point that I've got space set aside for the more compact format. But it seems to me that some of the people picking this up are going to be folks who just enjoy Henson material. And those people are likely NOT going to have space set aside for something like this, and it further seems unlikely to me that they're going to be so enthralled by the format that they're going to pick up other manga series.

Sorry. Bit of an aside there that doesn't really have much to do with Legends itself.

Legends of the Dark Crystal is a really good read. It plays off the movie well without re-treading familiar ground. Anyone who enjoyed the movie will almost undoubtably enjoy this. If you're a fan of fantasy stories generally, I think you'll enjoy this as well. Good stuff, and I'm eager to see volume two.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bell In Newsweek

Just a quick link to a short Q&A between Newsweek's Tony Dokoupil and cartoonist Darrin Bell about the upcoming minority demonstration in his and others' comic strips. Nothing insightful or new to those who follow comic strip news, but it's some "mainstream" press on the subject.

LCS Marketing

Let's say you run a comic book shop. It's been going well for a few years, and you've made enough extra money that you'd like to try making a TV commercial. You clean up the shop as best as you can, and mention to your regular customers that you'll be filming at a specific time/date and that, if they stop by during that time, there's a good chance they'll be able to appear in the spot.

This is what's going on at my Local Comic Shop today. (Theoretically, they're finishing up as I write this in fact.)

I have two problems with this. First, I have to question the effectiveness of a TV commercial for the narrow target audience that would respond to it. Maybe if you're able to ensure that it airs during Star Trek re-runs, I could see some justification for it but broadcasting is not the best approach for most products/services in today's world. The second problem is one that I honestly don't know if I would have anticipated prior to actually seeing the shop prep for the camera today: namely, the customers who did show up for the cattle call.

There were four guys hanging out at the shop today, a few hours in advance of shooting the commercial. All four of them were pretty stereotypical in what you'd expect comic shop patrons to look like: scruffy, overweight 20/30-something males wearing t-shirts sporting the logo of their favorite superhero. (One of them had a nasty case of B.O. as well, but that at least won't transmit over a television. Two of them were arguing about some obscure semantics of "Countdown" but I daresay that their actual dialogue, even if it continued during filming, wouldn't be used.)

Now let's think about this for a minute. You want to promote your shop to a wider audience, right? You've probably already got a pretty good lock on the local fanboy community because they're the ones most likely to actively seek out stores just like yours. So you're going to want to get your name out there to people who might not otherwise come into your store. Like, say, children. Or relatives of comic geeks. Or maybe the occasional comic reader who's usually content to pick up trade paperbacks at Barnes and Noble.

Is a store full of Comic Book Guy look-a-likes going to speak to any of those people? Seems unlikely to me. In fact, I'd bet that it would turn people off, as it would look like a clubhouse for emotionally stunted man-boys.

The shop went wrong on two fronts, as I see it. By opening the filming up to a cattle call approach, that removes a lot of control from the people who should maintain it. They're not selecting which customers appear, and therefore aren't guaranteed to get a reasonable mix of people. That leaves a significant portion of the shop's image (i.e. the type of people who frequent the shop) up to chance.

The other issue is that they chose to film in the middle of a weekday afternoon. I'm sure this was largely dictated by when they traditionally have the least amount of business that might get disrupted, but that also means that they're inherently limiting the types of customers that might even be available to appear in the commercial. All but the youngest children will be in school. Business professionals will be stuck in their cubicles. Stay-at-home parents will be in the process of picking up kids or finishing the day's shopping. Your pool of potential "actors" will be limited to retired individuals and lower-end wage earners who work an unusual schedule. I certainly don't want to demean either of those groups, but that's going to result in a relatively homogeneous-looking clientele.

You ever watch any of the commercials for Flying Colors? They almost always have a diverse mix of people showing up in the store. Different ages, races, genders, financial statuses... The store looks clean and tidy and all, but more significantly, it looks like a comfortable place to shop that doesn't only cater to a specific type of person.

Now it's possible that, as a shop owner, you might want to market yourself to the smaller niche of stereotypical fanboys, but I think that'd be an extremely risky proposition, given the state of the comic industry as a whole. Also, given that this particular LCS sells a decent number of independent books, I'm fairly certain they're not looking to narrowcast themselves quite that much.

I might also note that I was in the store a couple hours before they began work on the actual commercial itself, so it's entirely possible that a greater variety of people were scheduled to show up more immediately prior to filming. The store employees, as I noted above, were pretty busy so I didn't bother them with too many questions. But I do know that there definitely was a cattle call approach taken, as the small stack of flyers still sitting on the counter indicated, and that at least four of the folks who showed up were not exactly what I would consider prime examples of the store's customer base.

But, hey, what do I know? I've only got an MBA with a concentration in marketing and have spent years studying the comic book industry; I clearly have no justification to rant about this kind of thing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Nothing Will Ever Be The Same!

This is my "event comics" rant. If you're sick of those, feel free to move on; I'll completely understand.

I'm sure you've read by now any number of diatribes about how marvel and DC have largely shifted to the event comics format. You know, where there's one line-wide concept that ties dozens of titles together in a larger story? Civil War, Sinestro Corps War, World War Hulk, Secret Invasion, Countdown, etc. A lot of the discussion seems to center around the notions that A) the content is editorially driven, and B) there's a blatant attempt on the part of the publishers to coerce you into buying comics you wouldn't normally buy, just to get the "complete" story of the event. Those are certainly fair targets for attack, but I'm going to hit another one that isn't spoken of much. (Well, I don't recall seeing it at any rate.) In point of fact, the publishers are lying to their audience.

One of the reasons these events have begun happening with greater regularity is that publishers have been continuing to up the ante on their stories for several decades now. At first, a hero's biggest concern was that his secret identity might be uncovered. Then, there was the possibility of a loved one getting hurt. Next, the whole city was in peril. Soon, it was the planet. The galaxy. The time-space continuum. And so on. Part of that increasing level of threat, if following a logical progression, would involve more and more people. Sure, the Fantastic Four were able to fend off Galactus, but you have to call in the whole roster of Avengers to get rid of a Kree invasion. That continued escalation has continued to the point where the next natural extension is to involve EVERYONE. Not just the heroes, but everyone. Paul Jenkins' various "Front Line" books are premised on the fact that the lead protagonists are normal folks who, until then, barely had been named.

Coupled with the increased level of threats to the characters, publishers then find themselves in the unenviable position of having to ramp up the hyperbole surrounding the event as well. It's not just affecting Captain America anymore, but the whole universe. Every character is touched in a profound way. "Nothing will ever be the same!"

Except, of course, that's a lie.

DC and marvel both have large a caches of characters that have achieved a certain level of popularity. They achieved that popularity because of a certain mix of character traits that were given to them in their creation and that mix proved to resonate with readers. To maintain that popularity (and the associated cash flow) the publishers ideally would keep the characters from changing as little as possible to continue to appeal to readers in the same way. They have a vested interest in ensuring that "Nothing will ever be the same" never happens. Batman needs to keep being Batman in order to keep selling.

There's the not-infrequently-cited "illusion of change" with new costumes or new powers or whatever, but the reason those work at all is because the changes made are superficial. John Byrne somewhat famously did exactly back on his Fantastic Four by replacing the Thing with She-Hulk, and having the Human Torch date Thing's girlfriend. The dynamic was virtually identical -- whereas Ben felt apart from his friends and humanity because of his appearance, Jen felt like a fifth-wheel with regard to how comfortable she was being a part of the FF's family. The other characters all interacted with her in almost the exact same way that they would've interacted with Ben.

But here's the thing: Life is constant. Whatever happens on the planet today, it's the same shit, different day. Despite the popularity of the refrain, the world did NOT change after 9/11. People are people, and there will always be fights over land and money and power. There will always be leaders who seek to take personal advantage of political crises. There will always be a struggle between individuals' rights and the rights of the state. People will always hate and fear what they don't understand. People will always shout loudly in protest, but not act on it. People will always try to leave their mark on the planet in whatever way they can.

Yeah, we've got cars and planes and rockets now that weren't here 100 years ago. And we've got television and computers and cell phones. But that's all fluff. It's superficial. The basic elements that make us human are no different than they were 5,000 years ago.

So, for a publisher to claim that their stories will change everything forever is, in fact, a double-lie. Because if they're reflecting real life (which they claim to) then there shouldn't be an effective changes, and they've also got that vested financial interest in perpetuating the status quo.

So, do two lies make a truth?

It turns out that it doesn't matter, because they're lying a third time anyway. We've seen time and time again that any time a comic creator at the Big Two does try to make a substantive change, it's over-ridden a few years later. Spider-Man's had this done I-don't-know-how-many times. "No, he's not married to MJ any longer. And he never was married in the first place." "No, Aunt May isn't dead. Again." "No, the clone that we told you was the real Peter Parker really wasn't." "Yes, even though he swore he'd hang up his tights, Spider-Man is back in action. Again."

Let me ask you this: how many of you really believe that we'll never see Steve Rogers in the Captain America uniform again?

You're being lied to.

Don't get me wrong, I expect any degree of marketing or advertising is going to have some measure of falsehood to it. And for as much as I try to tell the truth all the time, I'll admit that there are occasions when a lie is warranted for "higher" reasons. But that I'm being lied to three-times-over in one claim strikes me as a bit over-the-top, and is yet another reason why the event comic stories are really wearing thin for me (even though I don't buy them in the first place).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Snow

I woke up this morning to a dusting of snow that occurred overnight here in southwest Ohio, so it seemed like a fine opportunity to read and review a book called Snow by Morgan Luthi.

The basic story is that a group of giant creatures called Warmongers are bent on destroying all life in the galaxy one planet at a time. They impart great powers on an individual, then called the Ghost of Destruction, and send him off to do their dirty work. In the midst of this, a boy calling himself Snow finds himself in Refuge City, unceremoniously nicknamed the "Ass End of the Universe." He stumbles his way into a local gang, the Crows, who're working to help the down-trodden as best they can while fending off the Space Syndicate of Crooks, Assassins, and Bandits (SSCAB). He helps save some kidnapped Crows only to find himself face to face with a pair of Warmongers.

The themes of the story are redemption and free will. Snow and his love interest, Kat, are both trying to make up for mistakes earlier in their lives by defying their supposed destinies and trying to help as many people as possible. Both choose a more classically honorable path, in effect, taking on the mantle of futuristic Robin Hoods. However, while the reasons Snow is looking for redemption are made clear, those for Kat are decidedly more ambiguous. She does say she was an assassin, but never goes into detail beyond that, nor does she seem to harbor any baggage or demeanor from her previous life. In fact, she comes across as a genuinely good, kind, and gentle person not unlike Edith Keeler from Star Trek's "City on the Edge of Forever."

The artwork didn't help matters any either. Luthi's certainly talented enough a storyteller, but his style here is decidedly light and cartoony, and doesn't seem to carry the weight necessary for a story with this gravity. The Warmongers, for example, look more like villains from a Mario Brothers game -- by rights, they should be the most imposing-looking figures in the book, but Luthi's airy style of illustration contains no real gravity despite the cleverness of the designs. The SSCAB members, too, look more silly than threatening.

I liked the general concept, and think there's some potential there with the proper execution. That said, though, I also had trouble getting past some obvious (to me) analogies to Galactus and the Silver Surfer. Like Galactus, the Warmongers physically tower over other civilizations and use a herald that they've given seemingly unlimited power to head to a planet in advance of them. Snow, like the Surfer, recognized that he was helping contribute to the destruction of thousands of lives, and rebelled against his masters, culminating in a physical confrontation. The Warmongers also sport funky headgear, while the Ghost of Destruction is largely unadorned. It's almost impossible for me to think that "The Galactus Trilogy" wasn't floating around in the back of Luthi's head somewhere when he created Snow. And, no disrespect to Luthi here, but no one can out-Kirby Jack Kirby.

It wasn't really a bad book by any means, but I don't think all of the elements gelled together in the best way possible for the story. And when you're so blatantly following in the footsteps of someone like Kirby, it seems to me that you've got to do something really outstanding to set yourself apart from him. I believe Luthi will be a good comic artisan down the road, but I think he's still a bit green here; I trust that's already changed somewhat since Snow was first published, and he might be a name to keep a look-out for.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Another MLK Comic

This issue of Golden Legacy was first published in 1972, after Dr. King's death. Written by Bertram A. Fitzgerald and drawn by Don Perlin.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr. Comic

This comic, about Dr. King and his involvement in the Montgomery Story, was most likely published in late 1957, not long after the incident.