Sunday, April 10, 2016

What the...?

LOOK!

Yeah, that's right...  Marvel has introduced the $4.99 price point.

You might think "oh, it's just the special first issue of Poe Dameron and Black Panther", but then how do you explain the random $5 price of Uncanny X-Men #6?  Nope, this is just the start of the $4.99 book at Marvel.

I know Marvel’s justification is the books are now 30 pages, but are they really?  Uncanny X-Men does actually clock in at 30, but Black Panther, stripping out the title pages and backmatter is only 22 pages of story.  Poe Dameron likewise is only 22 pages of main story with a, how shall I say, aggressively needless BB-8 backup cartoon from Chris Eliopoulis.  The man is a fine cartoonist but I really don't want to pay an extra dollar for a cutesy short story. 

The average price of Marvel comic til now was $3.99 for 20 pages (occasionally a page or two more...averaging at 20 cents per page or less).
DC's books were $2.99 for 20 pages or $3.99 for 22 pages (15 cents a page for the former, 18 cents per page for the latter).
 
$4.99 for 30 pages is just under 17 cents per page and is a better deal than $3.99 for 20 (and up to 23) pages but the math only works if you're actually getting more of the story that you want (not some bullshit about BB-8 playing matchmaker).

I'm guessing Marvel is trying to suction the money in the comics marketplace in advance of DC's Rebirth at $2.99. Even though most of DC's books are going twice monthly it's still 15 cents per page (assuming they're not dropping the page per issue rate to 18 or something dumb like that).

The problem here is Marvel is clearly making a more desirable product in most cases and they know that people buy primarily on character and story.  DC still is having a hard time establishing its New 52 Universe and characters.  Their events just aren't catching on, and the hype has yet to sustain itself into any long term allegiances. Plus they don't have Star Wars.  All of DC's books could be $1 and I still don't think they could get people to drop a $4 Star Wars book for four DC books.  That's how poor the reputation of their product is.

If people truly bought on price point and value per page, this week's clear winner would be Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber's The Fix from.  It clocks in at 34 story pages for $3.99.  That's under 12 cents a page from the same team that brought you the awesome Superior Foes of Spider-Man booke you foolishly didn't buy.  So buy this one and make up for your mistake.

Anyway, the point here is I had a pretty big problem with thw $3.99 price point when it came in a couple years ago as Marvel’s standard, and while I resister for a while, the lure of the product was too strong.  But as the Canadian dollar weakens and a $4 book becomes a $5 book, and a $5 is thus $6.25, I have a hard time justifying my hobby.  As much as I enjoyed both Poe Dameron and Black Panther, I can't support them monthly... I have to wait for trade and probably buy them for a discount through other non-brick-and-mortar comic store channels.  That's right Marvel you're sacrificing both the viability of your titles and the longevity of the retailers whom you sell through for your greed.

Black Panther debuts with it a lot of positive media exposure, and I know a few people who wouldn't otherwise read the character (or comics in general) who are going to check it out... but how many people at $5 per issue are going to leave it on the stands?  Or buy only issue 1 and not return?  Or not contemplate picking up other comics because of the price?  Shoot one's self in the foot much?

As a guy who loves to read and share and talk about comics this bums me the hell out.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Perfect Pages: Nameless #3, Page 1

2015, Image
art - Chris Burnham
colour - Nathan Fairbairn


Just look at the depth on this page.  One of the hardest things to do as an artist is creating a real sense of depth and Burnham here has done it on so many levels.  I imagine some tweaking from Fairbairn puts the spaceship into crisp focus and giving the landscape the slightist bit of blur so that it's obvious that it's much higher up from the ground.  The obvious thing is the manipulation of the landscape, doubled with the position of the the ship, forming the image of the skull, which is utterly, utterly cool, but still not what attracts me to this page.  There's just a great texture here, the lack of solid blacks give the chasm even more detail and definition.  Just an impeccable piece of art.  I stared at this for 5 minutes before moving on with the story.

Another thing to note, though, is how the physical comic page compares to the digital.  I pulled the above image from a preview of Nameless #3 on line, while below is a quick picture I took...


Notice the difference in colour on the printed page (and washed out a little more by some artificial lighting and the extra layer of a camera), but it adds a bit more warmth to the image, a further roughness to the terrain.  The grain of the paper gives it added texture, and in my opinion it looks far, far better, even as a crappy photograph with light flare in the top corner.

There's a reason why I haven't gone digital.  It just doesn't resonate the same.  It like watching TV that auto converts programs to high def.  It still works, but it doesn't look as good somehow.  There is such a thing as too clean, too clear, too crisp an image.  Texture gives images and story more life.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Rebirth of... cool?

Much of the lineup for the latest of the seemingly annual soft relaunches of the DCU was announced at Wondercon today.  Unfortunately, for some of the things DC got right there's a whole lot they got wrong.

Let's start with the good:

Talent: Joe Orlando (Supergirl) , Tom King (Batman and Batman Rebirth), Scott Snyder (All-Star Batman), Gene Yang (New Superman), Tim Seeley (Nightwing), Peter J Tomasi and Patrick Gleason (Superman) are all sticking around.
New Talent: Hope Larson (Batgirl), Julie and Shawna Benson with Clare Roe (Batgirl and the Birds of Prey)
Returning Talent: Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott (Wonder Woman), Marcus To (Nightwing), Rafael Albuquerque (Batgirl), Phil Jimenez and artist Emanuela Lupacchino (Superwoman) and Christopher FUCKING PRIEST!!! (Deathstroke)

These are all exciting names of important and talented creators (though can you guess which one I`m most excited about).

Returning Characters with Returning Creators: Blue Beetle (Ted and Jaime as written by Keith Giffen, ok, I`m in)
Wonder Women by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott.  As it should be. From the early 90's through to the start of the New 52 there was exactly one essential run of Wonder Woman stories, and they were written by Rucka.  The Azzarello/Chiang run that launched the New 52 would be the next.  With Rucka back and Scott on board, I guess this means that Black Magic is on hiatus then?

Returning Numbering: Action Comics and Detective Comics will go back to its original numbering.  I like this. But at the same time I know it's because both are barrelling towards huge monumental numbers and they will get some big press when they do .  I think Action, returning at #957 and especially at a twice monthly rate will hit 1000 next year and Detective, returning at #934 the year after.

$2.99 price point: $3.99 has been a bitter pill and with the Canadian dollar sucking the average comic is now $5.  $2.99 makes their books genuinely more attractive.

And now the bad

Twice Monthly comics: either they weren't paying attention to Eric Stephenson's ComicsPRO speech, or they're actively giving him the finger.  With at least 16 titles reportedly going twice monthly, DC's looking to cannibalize the audience.  It's probably their means to justify the $2.99 price point... instead of making $4 once a month they're making $6 off the same person by going twice a month. To quote Stephenson about why this is bad:

And if you are a publisher trying to shore up your numbers by releasing more than one issue of a single title a month: Stop.

It makes it next to impossible for retailers to accurately track sales, it puts undue pressure on even your most loyal fans, and it deprives writers and artists of the ability to do their best work. In fact, it all but robs artists of the ability to establish the kind of multi-issue runs that define long and illustrious careers.
I want to see a Wonder Woman run by Rucka and Scott...not by Rucka, Scott and Liam Sharp.  Sharp is a fine illustrator, but there's no cohesiveness to having alternating artists on the same story.  It's a concession I'll hesitantly make for a weekly book, but just think about how messed up those trades are going to be.

The old DCU is still alive: Don't get me wrong, I think that the New 52 was a bomb... a huge misstep by the company.  It yielded huge short-term gains, and equally huge long-term losses.  But you know what, stick to your guns DC.  Fix what's wrong and move forward.  Don't flounder and start looking back again.  Convergence was a ruddy mess.  In theory it could have provided closure or a portal back to a beloved time/run, but it mucked that up.  And by bringing Superman and the Titans of old forward into the new DC Universe, you're undoing the entire conceit of making the New 52 a simpler place for new readers.  You already have a Superman.  If you want him to work like he used to, then guide the story that way.  Having multiple Supermen or Titans in the same world is problematic at best.

Narrow Focus: So how much of Rebirth is focusing on new characters?  Super Sons, Superwoman, New Superman
A few. 
How many new characters are not Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman related? 
None.  Even the new "Outlaws" in Red Hood and the Outlaws are Bizarro and Artemis.
"New Superman"?
Yep, another Superman.  So there's old DCU Superman, New DCU Superman, and now what looks like a Superman from China.  Not that there can't be a Chinese Superman, but having multiple Supermen, multiple, Super women, multiple Superboys on the same planet is massively diluting the brand.  Of course, Superwoman and New Superman could be set on an alternate Earth.  I could see Superwoman being a stab at Spider-Gwen-type knockoff (but with Jimenez and Luppacino on board it could be worthwhile).
I imagine a lot of this increased Super-focus is based off of wishful thinking and hopeful goodwill around Batman V Superman: DoJ but they obviously weren't paying attention to Warner Brothers completely throwing the Superman brand under the bus.

Dumb stories: Okay, I trust Steve Orlando is a good storyteller, but Cyborg Superman is Supergirl's father.  Oy.  Pass.

So much for not letting the movies dictate the comics: A while back Dan DiDio was making it a thing about how DC was going to lead the storytelling and not react to the movies and multimedia, and shape their publishing output as a result...like Marvel does.  Well, "Rebirth" takes a crap all over that idea.  Just look at Suicide Squad, with Jim Lee on rotating art duties, and a lineup that mirrors...oh, the cinematic version.  Yeah.

Tunnel Vision: There's nothing different here.  There are some intriguing titles and creators, but overall it's Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Justice League and associates and little outside that.  Reading down the list of announced titles a couple dozen times and it feels so homogeneous.  Where is the daring... where are the Squirrel Girls or Karnaks... the outthere takes on old things.  Where are the risks.  This is like when Marvel did everything Avengers back in 2011.  It was all Avengers all the time, and it was dull.  This is dull.

---

Bottom Line:

Some of these things do interest me.  The old fanboy is really, really keen to see Blue Beetle.  That Keith Giffen is writing a BB title that features (somehow) both Jaime Reyes (who I love) AND Ted Kord (who I also love) hits all the right notes.

I'm just giddy with the fact that Christopher Priest is back writing comics.  He is an incredible talent who has had a famously shit time getting his dues in the industry.  Deathstroke isn't my preferred character to see him write (nor a character I've given two poops about since the mid-90's) but knowing Priest he's going to deliver something different and meaningful for Slade, provide DC editorial get out of his way.

Do you get the sense that I'm excited for Rucka and Scott on Wonder Woman?  I really, really am.

These are probably the only three books I'm going to read from Rebirth.  I may poke around Superwoman and Birds of Prey.  I think Batman is in good hands but I'm giving him a rest.  The wife will be picking up Nightwing and is happy Tim Seeley is carrying over from Grayson (plus Marcus To on rotating art duty is a good match for the character). 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Catching up on comics with CGraig: Kanan #10-12

(Marvel, 2016)

I said much of what I want to say about Kanan in my "forgotten but not gone" Star Wars review posted on this site back in January, but at the same time, now that the series has come to a close, I have a few more thoughts.

Foremost, the Rebels framing sequence for the final storyline didn't work for me at all.  It felt altogether unnecessary and the forced connection between the now and the flashback didn't really have meaningful connection. 

"after Sohn"..do we know the source image
Mark Brooks references here? A striking piece
Though I imagine this was intended as a finite run (if not from the onset, then at least by the end of the first arc I'm sure the powers that be at Lucasfilm and Marvel thought their Star Wars comics effort was probably better spent elsewhere) it still felt like Weisman still had a more complex backstory for Kanan/Caleb that he had to concentrate and close out early. 

I like that this series acts as a bridge between the Clone Wars cartoon and Rebels, and does so quite effectively.  It feels more like Clone Wars than Rebels for sure.  My initial reservation that it wasn't enough like Rebels can actually be put aside, as I like the Clone Wars feel more, and would've appreciated further bridging between the two series.  Again, the idea of a Rebels anthology still strikes me as the more appropriate idea, showing the Clone Wars back story of each of the latter series' protagonists.

I can't say that I'll miss Kanan as a series, as I felt it did the job it needed to do, but I do hope there's more Rebels comics coming...so long as they have purpose as well.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Secret Wars Hardcover

(Marvel, 2016)

I don't think I could have done it.  I don't think I could have read Secret Wars as it came out over the past year, with all the delays and whatnot.  I absolutely absorbed this hardcover in two days (with a huge break to plow through Daredevil Season 2), so I don't think I really could have waited so patiently month (or months) between issues.  I admit though, I think having the month-by-month allowed the reader more time to invest in the Secret Wars Battleworld, and delve into all the various tie-in series that presented new and unique perspectives on familiar Marvel Universe characters and scenarios (I read and enjoyed Civil War, Thors, and Weirdworld quite immensely, thank you) and the same can't really be said about plowing through the consolidated hardcover.  When I had the break (in between issues 4 and 5, watching Daredevil Season 2 in one butt-numbing sitting) I did consider seeking out more of the Battleworld books, just to dive into things a bit more.  Particularly I was wondering if there was a Spider-Man one, since Miles Morales seemed to have some importance to the story, but in the end it was rather limited to making a place for him in the redefined Marvel U.

Ah, this Battleworld Checklist has the answers... or not...it's incomplete and definitely not updated. I need to read Ultimate End, methinks.  This is dangerous though, as now that I start poking, I start thinking about all the different tie-ins and whether I shouldn't just go read them all.  They trigger in me the whole "dead universe" fascination and make me want to go explore the Battleworld, a dead universe that lasted about 10 months but still managed to produce well over 100 issues of content.  Crazy bones.

Anyway.

I did indeed love Secret Wars, but then I've loved every ounce of Hickman's Marvel run.  From his Ultimates/Ultimate Hawkeye, to S.H.I.E.L.D. to Fantastic Four and FF to his dense Avengers/New Avengers run (plus Infinity), it's all freaking amazing.  And that it all loops back in on itself, without cannibalizing itself, is astounding.  Every piece fits, even if they aren't always essential.  I love this, it's what makes these long-term superhero universes so special, these type of unique storytelling opportunities.
Simone Bianchi's pencils for the image that was parsed across the variant covers for issues 1-8

The fact is, Secret Wars is the summation of both Hickman's Avengers run, which is where the universes colliding was happening, and his Fantastic Four run which built up the FF into a very large family indeed (not just a group of four).  What starts off as almost the Marvel version of Crisis on Infinite Earths ends in a mano-y-mano showdown between Reed Richards and Dr. Doom, and being a swansong for the Fantastic Four (for now at least, as the company needs to ride out its annoyance with Fox owning the film rights to the characters).  It seems so right that it goes from this massive scale to something so small as Doom's petty rivalry, and Hickman's resolution is both sweet and ingenious.  It's not the end of anything, really (except maybe the Ultimate Universe), and it's chalk full of new beginnings.

I've read almost all of Hickman's work for Marvel in trade (save for his Ultimates and S.H.I.E.L.D, the latter of which I'm still waiting for its completion), so it only made sense to wait for the Secret Wars trade.  As happened I could never wait for the actual paperback of any of the FF or Avengers stuff, so ditto for Secret Wars... all hardcover all the time.   I enjoyed this so much, I'm keen to dive back into the Hickman Ultimates and Fantastic Four again, and just plow right through all of it once more, but that would imply I didn't have other things stacked up to catch up on...

Catching up on comics with CGraig: Transformers Versus G.I. Joe #9-11

(IDW, 2015-2016)

More licensed comic book goodness to dive into.  Since I mentioned it in the Samurai Jack post, I thought I should catch up on it.

I've been wondering how long this series would (or could) last from day one.  I had suspected that with last year's full-length Free Comic Book Day zero-issue this would be a brief mini-series, of your typical four-issue variety.  Yet, issue four came and yet the story continued rolling on, each issue progressively tearing down sacred cows and pushing the story beyond safety and conventions.  With each issue writer/illustrator Tom Scioli and co-writer John Barber put together one of the wildest rides on the comic book stands, delivering a title that bathes in nostalgia but refuses to live there.  I mean, the depths of the history of these two toyline-derived universes that Scioli and Barber plumb is astounding, not just looking at toy shelves, but taking in decades of comic book and animation history to reference and coming out the other end with something that feels completely different, and yet true to what's come before... it's a remarkable feat.

Scioli channels the masters of the 60's - Kirby, Steranko, Ditko, Kane and more - though doesn't rest there.  He frequently pulls from cinema but even more relies upon his imagination to construct just epic pages and panels.  All the while the storytelling is the most eclectically paced I've seen.  It's rather staccato in nature, little snippets of scenes, characters flow in and out, sometimes disappearing for multiple issues before returning, plus Scioli and Barber are not afraid to kill anyone off...anyone at all.  When the first batch of Joes are gunned down early on, one wasn't quite ready for that...it had to be a dream, just as the Autobots, the good guys of the Transformers world, were still the bad guys to the Joes for quite some time.  It all felt wrong, and yet Barber and Scioli persisted.  Eventually the Autobots and Joes had their unifying moment, but not in time to stop the nefarious Cobra/Decepticon plan which resulted in the annihilation of Earth! (No shit!)  It's not played for a dream or anything other than the final fate of mankind, and it'd be deliciously bleak if it weren't so excessively over-the-top.

Issue #9 is the best issue of the series, if only because it's the most cohesive and coherent.  It takes place in humanity's deep past where the Gaels were at odds with the Vikings, looking for any edge.  A Transformers ship had crash landed on Earth centuries prior, and in this historic land, their remains are worshipped as gods by a snake clan.  The Gaels steal from these gods to help them in their war against the Vikings, their anachronistic technology giving them and edge up on their enemies, but also cursing them.  This story is largely that of Destro's ancestry but touches upon many things Joe, Cobra, and Transformer in brilliant ways.  It's also a solo effort from Scioli, though Barber still joins him for the post-issue commentary.  It's a side-step from the regular story, adding little to the actual onging story, but it pads out Joe history with epic storytelling in such a manner it never actually gets.

Issues 10 and 11 return to the ongoing form, but as it gets deeper into the series, Scioli seems to be more focused on pushing his limits, creating some utterly daft sequences that just look remarkable, and sometimes utterly ridiculous, though never anything less than entertaining.

There's only two issues left in run it's been announced this week, just as I was beginning to think this could go on without any apparent end.  As Scioli and Barber thin out the herd of characters on all sides, they delve deeper into character-focused storytelling (like issue 11's focus on Falcon), and there's still so much more to tell.  I'm curious as to how all this will pan out...annihilation I imagine, but I guess we'll see.

Parenting 101: Spider-Woman #5

Adding a baby/child to a superhero comic book series is always problematic.  Superhero stories are meant to be timeless, in a sense, as the heroes don't age, or they age very slowly.  But throw a child into the mix and suddenly you have a benchmark against which events happen.  Invariably a child ages (because babies tend to offer limited storytelling possibilities) thus so too does the hero.  The drama in child rearing is largely one of the progression of parenting.  As a baby develops into a proper little person, they develop personality, quirks and ticks, mannerisms sometimes adopted from the parent and sometimes manifesting on their own.  As entertainment, watching a child grow, and how a parent responds to its growth is a natural source of drama and comedy, sometimes even terror and suspense, stories that TV and movies, novels and plays have been utilizing for years.  Comic books, particularly mainstream superhero ones, largely avoid it for the reasons above, but Spider-Woman is braving these waters, and issue 5 is perhaps the most on-the-nose tribute to being a new parent.  The first three pages find Jessica Drew spouting off about the challenges, emotional fatigue and trauma that come with being a new parent.  Dennis Hopeless nails it so completely and concisely... and brilliantly I might add. Javier Rodriguez nails the details, the way Jess holds the baby, the mess, the spit-up on her shirt, the unkempt, bleary-eyed appearance...picking things up with your toes....  Yup.  Parenthood.  It kind of sucks.  But it gets better.




But I absolutely connected with what Jess says in the first panel of the third page:
My wife can surely tell you about how often I would wake her up in the middle of the night in a cold panic rifling through the sheets looking for our daughter.  We never once even co-slept with her and yet this was a recurring panic dream of mine.  The fact that Hopeless (via Jess) is mentioning it makes me wonder if this is a common phenomenon.  I look forward to the letter column in a couple issues to see if there are others who had similar experiences.

Just brilliant stuff.