Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Quick reviews: Children's Crusade, Detective Comics, Xombi

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #6 (of 9)
Written by Allan Heinberg; pencils by Jim Cheung; Inks by Mark Morales, John Livesay, Dave Meikis; colours by Justin Ponsor; Marvel.

So for several issues now the Avengers have been in pursuit of the Young Avengers, who disobeyed their orders and set off on a quest to find and rescue Wanda Maximoff, aka the Scarlet Witch. Halfway through this issue, there's a scene where all the big guns, including Iron Man, Captain America, Wolverine and a bunch of other very important and powerful and angry characters, are shown rushing toward the scene where Wanda and the Young Avengers are. Tony tells Hawkeye, who's there with the Witch and the kids, to "Make sure they stay there, you hear me? No one leaves the compound. Do whatever you have to do." You'd think this was all leading to some big confrontation, right? But no. Two pages later, we're in a completely different location, an unspecified amount of time has passed, and we have no idea how any of the characters got there, why Hawkey let them leave, or what happened when the Avengers showed up and realized they'd rushed there for no reason. Absolutely zero pay off for all that build-up.

Why am I reading this book? It's an incredibly convoluted story that relies heavily on the reader's knowledge of Marvel continuity over the past decade or so, referencing stories like Avengers Disassembled, House of M, and God knows what else, none of which I've read. I seem to have picked the worst possible series for a total Marvel noob to pick up. As a result, this barely makes any sense to me and it's very difficult for me to care about what happens. The art is very pretty, so that helps a little, but I'm having a very hard time justifying why I've stuck with it for six issues (over 12 months). It almost seems silly for me to drop it after having gotten that far, but whatever. This is obviously not written for me.



Detective Comics #878
Written by Scott Snyder; art by Jock; Colours by David Baron; DC.

I couldn't help but think of the old Adam West TV series as I was reading the opening scene of this comic. Batman is hanging upside down over a very angry killer whale, while the villains soliloquy about why they do what they do and what's going to happen to Batman now that he's tried to interfere with their plans. Classic (and a little ridiculous) superhero tropes, but thanks to Synder and Jock's perfect pacing and tone, it feels fresh and exciting. After the action-packed opener, which occupies the first 11 pages of the comic, we get a brief and quiet scene with James Gordon, then a visit to Sonia Branch (aka Zucco), and finally a two-page shocker that will send chills down your spine. I have to give a shout-out to colourist David Baron, who really captures the changing light as the day progresses - from the bright white backgrounds of the opening scene, to the warm sunset tones during Dick's meeting with James, to the purple night skies for the rooftop scene with Sonia - it really helps to show the passage of time, as well as to give each scene a distinct look and feel.



Xombi #4
Written by John Rozum; art by Frazer Irving; DC.

This whole issue, up until the last few pages, is one big exposition dump. Maybe this is the comic Dan DiDio and company had in mind when they said that starting in September DC Comics would not feature any talking heads going on for page after page. (And John Irving literally draws them as floating disembodied talking heads!) I certainly hope not, because this is still a damn good comic. We've just had three issues of pretty crazy action, and this slower paced issue where the characters actually all sit together and have bagels and talk about what just happened and what they're going to do next feels exactly right. Rozum keeps the dialogue interesting with his weird sense of humour and throwaway high concepts that make you stop and think about all the stories that could be written about them ("pearls of wisdom collected from oysters grown in the Sea of Tears"), while Irving  pretty much blows your mind on every page with his expressive faces and unconventional use of colours. This is the best comic book that DC is publishing right now and I'm incredibly sad that it's apparently getting cancelled after only six issues to make way for DC's relaunch. Xombi hasn't been solicited as one of the 52 books coming out in September. When I asked Frazer Irving if there was a chance of the book coming back at a later date, he said he couldn't comment, which I took as a hopeful maybe. Fingers crossed.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Is It Wednesday Yet?

Back issue frenzy

I bought a few fills for my collection of Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight back issues last weekend. I've been trying to roughly the first half of the series - skipping over the Knightsquest/Knightsend crossover issues (#59-63) and stopping just before No Man's Land (#116). That's a total of 110 issues, of which I already have more than half. Most of these back issues are relatively easy to find and they tend to go for pretty cheap. The nice thing about this series is that the stories are all pretty much stand-alone and by different creative teams, so as long as you have complete stories you don't really need to read it in sequence. Over the next few weeks, I plan to read all the full stories that I have so far and review them here. I expect that there'll probably be some stinkers in there, but hopefully there will also be a few gems.

Those are not the only back issues I need to read. Since I got kind of fed up with Tim Drake as a character after reading Fabian Nicieza's take on him in Red Robin, I've put my Tim Drake from the Beginning series on hiatus, but I still have the first 100 issues of Robin in a short box waiting for me. I'll get to them eventually.

And something else I'm collecting: Walter Simonson's 26-issue Orion series. Those issues are somewhat more difficult to find, but I'm pretty sure I'll get a complete set sooner or later. I still have a few tricks up my sleeve, including the Montreal convention in September.

DC no longer "writing for the trade"

Among the many confusing and sometimes contradictory bits and pieces of info trickling down to the common folk from DC's retailer roadshow, one interesting message is that DC writers will no longer be asked to "write for the trade". I had an interesting conversation about it with Darryl Ayo on Twitter a couple of days ago, at the end of which I realized that I didn't fully understand what the expression means in the comics world. It also highlighted just how disconnected I am from the majority of mainstream comics fans.

To me, "writing for the trade" sounds like a good thing, almost a no-brainer, since it's obvious that trade collections have a longer shelf-life than single issues in today's market. They also have the potential to reach a much wider audience, since they end up on Amazon and in bookstores. Keeping in mind that a story is going to get collected in a single book and be sold as a separate, more or less standalone entity, just seems like good practice.

When DC talks about wanting to attract new readers, I find it very hard to imagine that those new readers are going to jump right into monthly comics. Honestly, the likelihood of that happening seems almost nil to me. Readers need to be eased into that market, and as I see it there are two potential "gateway drugs" to achieve this: trade paperbacks and (cheap) digital comics. I got into it through the former, but more and more I suspect that people will get into it through the latter.

But when non-regular comic readers pick up a trade paperback at a bookstore, they don't necessarily see it as a random collection of single issues from an ongoing series. They tend to think of it as a "graphic novel," so they expect a story that has a beginning and an end. The last thing you want to do is make that book so impenetrable that your potential new readers will be turned off by it and give up rather than keep reading (and buying) your comics. And that's why I think it makes sense to "write for the trade."

But as Darryl pointed out to me on Twitter (and as covered in the Robot 6 piece I linked to earlier), this is not what "writing for the trade" usually implies. Readers usually think of it as stretching out stories that could be told in 3 issues to fill a 6-issue arc. As such, "writing for the trade" is tied to the notion of "decompression," and under this light I can see why the news that DC is abandoning this practice would be received with cheers from fans.

Obviously, padding out stories with boring dialogue to fill a trade paperback sounds like a terrible idea. Still, I can't help but feel that DC is approaching the issue from the wrong angle. They stubbornly cling to the idea that the monthly comic book is the most important aspect of their business and that this is the area where they need to bring those hypothetical new readers. There must be some economical reasons behind this business strategy that I don't fully grasp, because it doesn't make much sense to me.

New comics this week! 

  • American Vampire #16 (Vertigo)
  • Batman Inc #7 (DC)
  • Detective Comics #878 (DC)
  • Flashpoint: Project Superman #1 (DC)
  • Xombi #4 (DC)
  • Butcher Baker #4 (Image)
  • Super Dinosaur #3 (Image)
  • Amazing Spider-Man #644 (Marvel)
  • Avengers: Children's Crusade #6 (Mavel)
  • FF #5 (Marvel)
 Those are the items on my pull list this week. A bit on the heavy side. I'm most excited for Xombi and 'Tec.

    Thursday, June 23, 2011

    One-paragraph reviews: All Nighter, Flashpoint tie-ins, Gatest of Gotham, Silver Surfer

    All Nighter #1 (of 5)
    Created, written and drawn by David Hahn; Image.

    This is the first thing I've ever read by David Hahn. It was completely off my radar until I saw a link to the free PDF download of the first issue of this mini-series on Hahn's website. I downloaded it and only read a few pages before I knew this was something I wanted to get. The best comparison I can think of is Love and Rockets, or at least what I imagine Love and Rockets to be, since I've never actually read it. Instead of reading this review, you should probably just go download it and check it out yourself.



    Flashpoint: Kid Flash Lost #1 (of 3)
    Written by Sterling Gates; pencils by Oliver Nome; inks by Trevor Scott; colours by Brian Buccellato; DC.

    Kid Flash wakes up in a Matrix-style virtual reality prison in a nightmare futuristic version of Metropolis. He's lost his access to the speed force and needs to figure out what's going on and how to get back to the right timeline. There's not a whole lot to this, but it's enjoyable because Bart Allen is a character that I like and Sterling Gates writes him really well. Oliver Nome's style is functional more than it is impressive, but I really like the way he draws Bart's face (and especially his cute little button nose). I'm going to keep reading this, even if I'm not all that interested in Flashpoint anymore.



    Flashpoint: The Outsider #1 (of 3)
    Written by James Robinson; art by Javi Fernandez; colours by The Hories; DC.

    As far as I can tell, The Outsider is one of the few totally new characters in Flashpoint. His name suggests a connection to the team formerly known as the Outsiders, but I really don't know enough about them to see any connection beyond that. Like with the Kid Flash issue, there's not a lot to go on in this issue. It mostly just establishes the character and his origin within the Flashpoint universe, then there's a fight that goes on for several pages. But it works because I like the character and want to find out more about him. James Robinson seems to have found the right voice for him and I can see how, outside the confines of a major comic book event tie-in, he could take him to some really interesting places. I hope this character will survive Flashpoint and that there's an ongoing by Robinson that has yet to be announced post-relaunch, as some have been speculating, because it's something that I would definitely read (in trades, probably).



    Batman: Gates of Gotham #2 (of 5)
    Story by Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins; written by Kyle Higgins; art by Trevor McCarthy; colours by Guy Major; DC.

    I liked this more than the first issue. Either the art has improved or I'm starting to warm up to McCarthy's style. But what really won me over was the way Kyle Higgins writes the scenes between the different bat kids. He nailed the interaction between Cassandra Cain and Damian Wayne. Damian tries to prove his superiority while pretending not to be impressed by Cass, but really it's clear that he's a little bit in awe of her or he wouldn't be so desperate for her approval. It's basically the same dynamic he had with Dick before they became BFFs, except that Cass is even more unfazed by him than Dick was. But while these two were my favourite, I just love the way Higgins has them all working together as a team. He writes these characters so well that it makes me wish he was working on a Bat Family title instead of Nightwing solo book in September. Although, based on this interview, it sounds like there'll be lots of guest appearances by the other kids in that book, so I'm hopeful. It's a shame that everyone's going to have super-ugly 90s retro costumes, though. Blargh.



    Silver Surfer #5 (of 5)
    Written by Greg Pak; pencils by Harvey Tolibao; inks by Sandu Florea; colours by Wil Quintana; Marvel.

    This was a good, satisfying conclusion to a story that I've enjoyed tremendously, in spite of what I consider to be very ugly art. It's not technically incompetent art. It's just a style that I personally really dislike - way too busy for my tastes - and part of that might come from the colouring as well. Still worth reading for the story, though.

    AWESOME (script) / POOR (art)

    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    If I'd been in charge of the DC relaunch...

    I've seen quite a few posts from bloggers trying to imagine what they would have done differently if they had been in charge of relaunching the entire DC line of books. In most of them, the author propose 52 titles they'd like to read (or think would sell well) with their dream creative teams.

    I've give this a lot of thought myself, and I'd like to suggest something different. Had I been in charge of this relaunch, I wouldn't have done 52 new ongoings. Here's what I would have done:

    1. Cancel every book except Action and Detective!

    I still think it was a big mistake to renumber these two books. The appeal of these two classic titles is that they are a part of comic book history. There's something kind of magical about the fact that the book that featured the first-ever appearance of a superhero back in 1938 was still coming out on a monthly basis. The numbers approaching 1,000 was proof of that and a pretty big deal. The new #1s might boost the sales briefly, but not for long. In the end, it just doesn't seem worth it.

    I would have kept Scott Snyder on Detective Comics. Snyder's current run is critically acclaimed and has just started, so it had the potential to build into an epic and classic run. I think he's actually the first writer to find the right tone for Dick as Batman, and his collaboration with artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla seemed like a match made in heaven, so I basically wouldn't have changed anything. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    And I would have gone with team of Morrison and Morales on Action Comics. If they have a bold new vision for the character, then let them go for it. I don't believe that the number on the cover makes that much of a difference - not with this creative team. People would've gone for it anyway.

    2. Launch all the other new books as mini-series!

    That's right. Every single new book would be a mini-series. With a beginning and an end. Similar to the way Hellboy or Atomic Robo get published. Hellboy doesn't follow any real pattern. Every issue is either a one-shot or a short mini-series. So new readers always know exactly where they can start picking it up. That's how I got on board. Atomic Robo does it a little differently. Each six-issue series is considered a "volume." You could also call it a "season" or whatever. Again, there's a sense of continuity from one mini-series to the next, but also a clear sense of where a story begins and ends, so new readers are always invited to come onboard.

    The obvious advantage of this is the clear jump-on point for new readers, but the other more subtle advantage is that DC would NEVER HAVE TO CANCEL A BOOK AGAIN! If a series sells well, then they do another one with the same creative team or the same characters or whatever. If it doesn't sell, then they it just ends as planned and nobody ever speaks of it again. Cancelling books is bad publicity. It says: "We failed." It pisses off the fans who were buying it, because they feel like they made a commitment to a book that didn't go anywhere. None of this is even a consideration with mini-series.

    3. Promise to stick to the same creative team for the duration of each mini-series!

    There have been several reports that DC intends to keep the books on schedule and if necessary they plan to crack down on writers and artists who don't meet deadlines. THAT'S THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF WHAT I WANT TO HEAR! I know that late books are a pain in the ass. That's true for retailers and it's true for readers. But there's a very simple way to avoid delays: Give your creative teams enough lead time to get several issues in the can before you launch it.

    This is another reason why the mini-series format makes sense, because for continuing books, it allows the team to take a break between "seasons." For example, if you solicit a six-issue mini-series, you simply wait for however many issues to be completed before it's safe to start putting them out monthly. Meanwhile, you either have the next creative team already planning the next mini-series, or you take a break after it's done until you have something ready for the next one. With enough mini-series being launched each month on a rotating basis, you'd always have enough books coming out. Everything would be on schedule and you wouldn't have to rely on fill-in artists.

    Collecting these min-series in trades would also make more sense. People would know exactly which issues will end up in which collection. And in the end, you'd have collected books featuring self-contained stories, done by a single creative team, and which you can put in a bookstore for non-regular comics readers to pick up and feel like they're buying a "graphic novel." (Which is what most people think they're getting when they walk into a non-specialized comics store and head over to the "graphic novel" section.)

    4. Don't launch 52 new title at the same time!

    Yeah, I know it's a magic number in the DCU and it sounds impressive and radical and bold and important to launch all those books in the same month. But by doing so, DC is just setting up all the "little guys" to fail. It's great that characters like Mister Terrific and Static Shock are getting their own titles. A lot of us have been asking for this kind of diversity, and these are two characters who probably have enough of a fan following for a successful run. But when you're launching them in the same month as new Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Justice League #1's, these books have no chance of winning. Most readers - new and old - will go for the big titles, especially since those tend to be the ones that feature superstar artists and writers, and the rest will get cancelled due to disappointing sales. And then the next time someone asks, "Why don't you have more black superhero solo books?" DC will say, "Well, we tried, but nobody bought them." Stupid.

    5. Fuck continuity!

    You want to have a new Batgirl title with Barbara Gordon? Fine. Have one. It's only a mini-series, right? Just set it in the pre-Killing Joke days. Have it be self-contained. With Gail Simone writing it, fans of Barbara Gordon would have been ALL OVER THAT SHIT. Nobody would have felt like Oracle was being shelved. Everybody wins.

    There's no reason why every series that comes out needs to be set in the present. We already have the Batman Beyond books that are set in the near future, and the Legion of Super-Hero books that are set in the distant future. Why not also have a line of books set in the recent past? Instead of replacing legacy heroes with the originals, why not just put out books that are set in the past and that feature the original characters? Are comic book fans so obsessed with the current status quo that they would refuse to buy books because they're set in a different time period? (Don't answer that. I don't want to know.)


    I'm sure there are a million reasons why those suggestions don't make sense for DC's marketing point of view. Maybe none of my suggestions make any sense because they know something about the market that I don't know. Maybe I have too much faith in comic book fans in assuming that they'd be open to this different way of doing things.

    I'd like to know what others think.

    Is It Wednesday Yet?

    My blog is experiencing a modest little boost in popularity right now, which I find very flattering and gratifying. Not that I'm reaching thousands of hits a day or anything (not even close), but it's nice to know that some people are reading, responding and linking to my posts.

    So to all my new readers: welcome. And thank you. And please, keep posting comments. Also, consider following me on Twitter, where I also engage in a lot of comics-related discussions, with creators, fans and fellow bloggers alike. That's pretty much what the internet was made for, so you don't want to miss out, do you?

    I wonder if it's going to be possible to keep the momentum when I shift my reading habits (and therefore also the focus of this blog) away from monthly superhero comics and toward indie and creator-owned comics in September. As a consumer, somehow who pays money for comic books, I'm pretty confident in my decision to jump off this bandwagon, but as a blogger/reviewer/writer-about-comics, I really wish that I could continue to be this involved in the serialized aspect of it all. Is this weekly  "Is It Wednesday Yet?" column even going to make sense anymore without all the super-hero comics on my pull list?

    I also have to confess that I feel very intimidated by the idea of reviewing almost exclusively non-superhero comics. I keep wondering if I'll have anything smart to say about them. But that's probably just me being silly.

    New comics this week!

    • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Lost Adventures TPB (Dark Horse)
    • Batman: Gates of Gotham #2 (of 5) (DC)
    • Flashpoint: Kid Flash Lost #1 (of 3) (DC)
    • Flashpoint: The Outsider #1 (of 3) (DC)
    • All Nighter #1 (of 5) (Image)
    • Sigil #4 (of 4) (Marvel)
    • Silver Surfer #5 (of 5) (Marvel)
    I'm a huge fan of the Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series, and aside from the free comic book in May, I haven't read any of the comics inspired by it, so I look forward to this collection. It might end up being a little too kid-oriented for my tastes, but I figure if that's the case I can probably just give it to my nephew in a few years when he's old enough to appreciate it.

    I wasn't that excited by the first issue of the Gates of Gotham mini-series, and now that we know the DCU is going to implode in September, I have a hard time understanding how this is supposed to "set the stage for a bold new direction in the Bat books," as the August solicitation text claims. I know that most comic fans only seem to care about stories that "matter" in the overall continuity of the shared universe, but I'm the opposite: I want stories to be able to stand on their own and be satisfying without simply serving to "set the stage" for whatever comes next. (This is all part of my reasoning for why I'm dropping these books in September.) So now I don't really know if I should even bother reading this. I guess I'll give it another issue to convince me.

    I wonder also why anybody would bother reading Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing, the first issue of which comes out on Wednesday. I didn't put it on my list, because it already seemed like pointless filler and even more so now that we know about the relaunch. I know DC keeps saying old stories are still in continuity, somehow, but I just can't wrap my head around how it's possible to have it both ways!

    The two Flashpoint tie-ins I'm mostly just getting out of curiosity and because I decided to stick with this ridiculous event all the way to the end. Bart is one of my favourite characters, so that explains the Kid Flash book. I wasn't going to pick up the Outsider one at first, but based on Graeme McMillan's review at Savage Critics, it sounds like this is one of the better tie-ins, so I guess I'll give it a shot.

    All Nighter #1 is available as a free PDF download on David Hahn's website. You should check it out, and then pick it up on Wednesday if you like it.

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    "You can't fire me because I quit"

    In September, I'm going to stop buying monthly comic books from Marvel and DC. Yes, this decision was in part influenced by the DC relaunch. But there's more to it than that.

    This is not a boycott

    First, I want to make it clear that this is not a boycott. I'm not doing this out of spite or to punish DC or the direct market as a whole. I'm not angry or hurt or depressed about the recent announcements. I'm pretty sure that in September some of DC's new books will be good and some will be terrible. The majority of them will probably just be kind of mediocre. This is the way it has been since I started reading monthly comics (not that long ago) and I see no indication that it's about to change.

    The one thing that is abundantly clear about the DC relaunch is that it's not all that it's cracked up to be. Underneath the superficial change (new costumes, younger characters, shuffled creative teams), it's going to be pretty much business as usual. There hasn't been a fundamental shift in the way DC approaches characters or stories. There's a lot of talk about attracting new readers, but I don't buy it. Putting Barbara Gordon in the Batgirl uniform, unmarrying Lois and Clark, putting a #1 on Action Comics, or trying to recreate the style and fashion sense of 1990s Image comics - nobody at DC (unless they are fucking idiots) can possibly believe that these things are going to attract new readers. Oh, sales might go up slightly, but it's going to be a blip on the radar as people who are already part of the Wednesday crowd decide to check things out, then quickly lose interest.

    I think the problem with the way mainstream comics are conceived, produced and marketed is that DC and Marvel only ever seem to think about short-term sales boost. Everything they do, all their PR, all their event comics, all their big announcements, it's all designed to generate interest in what they are doing now, but there isn't really a sense that any thought going into building a long-term plan for that audience. And it also seems to rely on fans having a very short memory, because they keep using the same tricks over and over again and expect people to keep falling for them. But since the audience is shrinking rather than growing, one has to come to the conclusion that it's not working. People do, in fact, get tired of the same shit, and they move on to something else.

    Existential crisis

    This DC relaunch gave me a perfect opportunity for me to rethink my relationship with monthly comics. As a reader and as a consumer. And I came to the disturbing conclusion that I wasn't getting a lot of value for my money.

    Think of it this way. I bought Chester Brown's graphic novel Paying for It last week. It's a nice little hardcover book, almost 300 pages, elegantly designed. It's written and drawn by a single author. It's about one thing. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. I knew exactly what I was getting when I decided to purchase it, and when I got home and sat down to read it, it was exactly what I expected.

    I'm not saying anything about the quality of the book, whether I liked it or not, whether it was "good" or "bad." I'm just saying it is what it is. Nobody came to Chester Brown halfway through his book and said: "The next issue is going to be part of a crossover event with this and that comic. Try to fit that into your story somehow." The style of the drawings doesn't randomly change in the last chapters because they had to bring in a fill-in artist to finish it. No, this is the work of a single writer/artist, who had a vision, a story to tell, and he did it, and I bought it, and I read it.

    This also happens with collaborations and books that are serialized. I have on my bookshelf Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth's Stumptown, for example, or Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson's Beasts of Burden. These books are satisfying to me. I don't get pissed off halfway through them because of stupid editorial decisions or unexpected shifts in creative teams. So it's not about having a single author, but about having a consistent creative team who share a vision and see it through to the end.

    But superheroes are awesome!

    On the other hand, superhero comics do have something that these other books don't have - namely, these characters that I know and love, who live in this vast shared universe and have been in publication for decades. That's true. And I do get something out of that that is different from what I get from other genres. But I never said I would stop reading superhero comics. I said I would stop buying monthly comic books from those companies.

    There's a wealth of back issues available for me to explore. Some of them get collected in very nice hard cover editions and trade paperbacks. The ones that aren't are still usually available in back issues if you look for them hard enough. I have no intention to stop buying and reading those comics. I feel like it's easier to pick out the good stuff from the back catalogue. Because it's already finished and out there, so when you pick it up you know exactly what you're getting. No surprise, unsollicited fill-in artists.

    Teen Titans #96 (consider this a review)

    Consistency of creative teams is very important to me. Apparently, DC and Marvel think that this doesn't matter to most readers, and maybe they're right. But it matters to me and I just can't understand how people can put up with it. I've already complained about the train wreck that was the latest volume of Birds of Prey. Last week, I got another example of it when I picked up the latest issue of Teen Titans. I've been buying this book since the beginning of this creative team: J.T. Krul writing and Nicola Scott pencilling. I buy it for two reasons:

    1. J.T. Krul has introduced a new character that I'm interested in - an Indian girl named Solstice.

    2. Nicola Scott's art is beautiful.

    We are currently right in the middle of a story arc. The Teen Titans are stuck in some kind of netherworld, trying to fight their way out of it. There are only two issues left (after last week's) and then not only does the story conclude but the series gets relaunched along with the rest of the DC Universe.

    It's worth noting that Solstice, the character I am most interested in, and Nicola Scott, the artist whose art I love, are nowhere to be seen in September's relaunch. In spite of all the talk about diversity, somehow this young Indian woman who we were led to believe would be joining the Teen Titans got lost in the shuffle. And Nicola Scott's gorgeous art was replaced by the atrocious, painful-to-the-eyes ridiculousness of Brett Booth's 1990s Image-style craptacular costume redesigns, with all the superfluous straps, pouches, tattoos, and feathers you'd expect. How this makes ANY FUCKING SENSE WHATSOEVER is beyond me, but whatever. At least we have the last few issues of this story to look forward to, right?


    Even though her name is on the cover of Teen Titans #96, Nicola Scott's art is absent from this comic book. I bought it thinking that I was going to get the next chapter in the story I've been following for several months by the same creative team, but that's not what I got. What I got was noticeably inferior art by a fill-in penciller and two fill-in inkers, whose names I won't bother mentioning because DC didn't even think they were worth putting on the cover.

    Oh, was it a mistake? They forgot to update the cover? Was the cover already typeset by the time they realized that, in fact, Nicola Scott had not drawn and submited the 20 pages of art for this issue and they had to hire a new creative team and it all happened so fast nobody had time to change the cover? Or did they just let it slide knowing that a lot of people are buying this for Nicola Scott's art and that putting someone else's name on the cover might hurt the sales?

    It doesn't matter. I don't care what the reasoning was. I don't care whose fault it is. The fact remains: I paid for something that I didn't want. I'm not interested in what they're doing with the Teen Titans in September. All I wanted was to get to the end of this story and have a few more issues of Nicola Scott's beautiful art to look at. Was that too much to ask?

    Moving on

    This kind of thing happens to me every week. Every single week, on Wednesday, I make my way over to the comic book store and I spend on average $30 on comic books. And every single time, at least one of those books pisses me off because of some unexpected fill-in artist or some other bullshit.

    With that money, I could buy one or two graphic novels or collections. Wouldn't that make more sense? Wouldn't that be a better use of my money?

    UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Since I posted this, I've noticed a few people seemed to miss an important nuance. When I say I won't be buying monthly comics in September, I'm talking about mainline Marvel and DC only. I don't think the same problems apply to creator-owned works. Sweet Tooth, for example, doesn't get subjected to cross-over events or fill-in artists... unless Jeff Lemire specifically wants to let other people contribute to his story, as he did with the issues that featured Matt Kindt and others doing short stories. So with comics on Vertigo, Image, etc., there's less chances of being screwed over by editorial decisions.

    Tuesday, June 14, 2011

    Is It Wednesday Yet?

    Okay, I have a lot of stuff I want to talk about right but very little time to get into any of it. So I'm just going to dump this list here and hopefully have time this evening to write a bit more about the DC relaunch and a few other things that have been on my mind lately.

    New comics this week!

    • Batgirl #22 (DC)
    • Supergirl #65 (DC)
    • Teen Titans #96 (DC)
    • Northlanders #41 (Vertigo)
    • Godzilla: Gangsters & Goliaths #1 (of 5) (IDW)
    • Gladstone's School for World Conquerors #2 (Image)
    These are the last few issues of Batgirl as we know it by Bryan Q. Miller. So sad.

    Supergirl is the start of a three-issue arc written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. Like everything else at DC, this title gets rebooted in September, but that doesn't mean this can't be a good stand-alone arc worth reading.

    Teen Titans is continuing J.T. Krul and Nicola Scott's story, and this is another title that will definitely become unreadable in September, so enjoy it while it lasts. I wonder what the point of introducing Solstice as a new character in this story was if she gets erased at the end of it.

    Northlanders is getting cancelled with #50, so that's another "enjoy it while it lasts" recommendation.

    Sunday, June 12, 2011

    Birds of Prey #13 or, How DC is convincing me to stop buying their monthly books

    Birds of Prey #13
    Gail Simone (w); Diego Olmos (a); DC

    I've bitched and bitched and bitched about the inconsistent art in this series. And when Jesus Saiz, who did the art on the last issue, was announced as the new regular artist, everyone was ecstatic, but I couldn't help but be skeptical about it. I felt like a jerk at the time for raining on everyone's parade, but I just had to ask: "How many issues before we get an unsolicited fill-in artist?" Turns out the answer was: one. One single lousy  issue of 20 pages and the new "regular" artist is already off the book. Couldn't even make it to the end of a two-issue story arc.

    Since this is Gail Simone's last issue on the book (the last two issues before the DCU implodes in September will be by a fill-in creative team) we can pretty much consider this the conclusion of this volume. So let's take a look back at the issues that have come out over the past year or so. For each issue, I'm going to list the solicited art team, followed by the actual art team that ended up working on the book.

    1. Ed Benes // same
    2. Ed Benes, Adriana Melo, Mariah Benes // same
    3. Ed Benes // Ed Benes, Adriana Melo, Mariah Benes
    4. Ed Benes, Adriana Melo, Mariah Benes // Ed Benes, Adriana Benes, J.P. Mayer
    5. Alvin Lee // Alvin Lee, Adriana melo, Jack Purcell, J.P. Mayer
    6. Alvin Lee // Alvin Lee, Adriana melo, Jack Purcell, J.P. Mayer
    7. Ardian Syaf, Vincente Cifuentes // same
    8. Ardian Syaf, Vincente Cifuentes // Guillem March
    9. Ardian Syaf, Vincente Cifuentes // Inaki Miranda
    10. Inaki Miranda // same
    11. Pere Perez // same
    12. Jesus Saiz // same
    13. Jesus Saiz // Diego Olmos

    That's a total of 10 different art teams in only 13 issues. Seven out of 13 issues shipped with a creative team that was different from the solicited one. And five issues included multiple pencillers, meaning different art styles within a single issue.

    This is a downright shameful track record. And for me, this completely destroyed any enjoyment I might have gotten out of Gail Simone's remarkable efforts to tell a fucking story.

    What happened?! I know that Ed Benes had some health problems around the time that this series started and that's what prevented him from staying on the book. But that doesn't explain what followed. Obviously we can't blame anyone specifically for this because we don't know what happened and probably never will. But in my eyes, this is totally unacceptable.

    When I see that Ardian Syaf and Vincente Cifuentes are the announced art team on Batgirl in September, I don't know how anybody can look at those solicits and take them seriously for one minute. Does anybody really believe that these artists are going to stay on the book long enough to complete the first story arc? You'd have to be incredibly naive to think so.

    When I picked up this last issue, #13, of which this rant is supposed to be a review, I didn't notice the names on the cover, so when I sat down to read I immediately realized something was off with the art. When I got to the credit page and saw the name, I got so angry I almost threw the comic right in the garbage can. I had to wait another day before I was calm enough to finish reading it.

    And what did I think of it? It's fucking mediocre is what I thought. Weak sauce. This is a terrible conclusion to a 13-issue run that couldn't have gone worse if it had been intentionally sabotaged by the editors. Gail Simone does her best and her writing is as sharp as always, but this is ultimately unsatisfying. I couldn't care less about the villain in this two-issue arc. As a middle of the series filler arc, this would have been great. Nice to see The Question guest starring and interacting with Huntress. It's fun. There's a good chance Simone was building to something bigger with this and intended to revisit this plot and tie up loose ends at a later date. But we'll never get that.

    As a conclusion? Doesn't work for me. And the schizophrenic art changes between (and sometimes within) issues that have plagued this series have been so distracting that I kind of dropped out of it emotionally at least six issues ago.

    These characters deserved a better conclusion. Gail Simone deserved better. And so did her readers.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011

    DC relaunch: the good, the bad and the ugly

    This is the first of two posts I plan on writing about the DC relaunch. In this one, I look at individual details. In the second one (which I will post tomorrow or Monday), I will talk about the overall initiative and what it means to me, personally.

    What I'm going to do now is pick the top titles in each of these three categories: the Good (books I am genuinely excited about and that I think will be worth reading), the Bad (books that sound like terrible ideas) and the Ugly (books judged purely by their covers, with art or costume designs so remarkably ugly that it's hard to imagine how anyone could possibly want to buy them).

    Because I'm such a positive guy, I'm going to pick 10 books for the first category and only 5 for the second and third. Obviously, that still leaves 32 books that I am not commenting on directly. These are mostly books that I am indifferent about, although some of them might be good or bad or ugly, just not worthy of these lists.

    For a list of all 52 books with creative teams, go here

    (The books in each category below are listed in no particular order.)


    Wonder Woman
    Brian Azzarello (w) + Cliff Chiang (a)

    Cliff Chiang is a great artist and an excellent choice for this book. While I'm not a huge fan of this new costume, which has more in common with the recent costume from JMS's Odyssey story than with the original, classic one, Chiang shows here that he can make it look stylish. Brian Azzarello as the writer is a weird choice that nobody saw coming. Some people are concerned that because he's known mostly for his edgy or dark writing style this doesn't bode well for Wonder Woman. She definitely looks pissed off on the cover and she's wielding a bloody sword, which seems to support the idea that this will be yet another version of the character as a belligerent warrior rather than a peaceful hero. But honestly, there is no way in hell this could possibly be worse than what JMS has been doing with the character for the past year, or what Geoff Johns is doing with her in Flashpoint. If nothing else, the big-name writer and artist show that DC is serious about wanting this to work, and that's enough to give me hope that this will probably be worth reading.

    Mister Terrific
    Eric Wallace (w) + Roger Robinson (a)

    I'm going to be honest and say that I don't know much about Mister Terrific and I don't remember having read any book he appeared in. (Give me a break - I haven't been reading comics for that long.) But a lot of people are really excited that he's getting his own book and I can't help but share that enthusiasm. Overall, I'm not super-impressed by DC's much touted commitment to diversity with this relaunch, but I also don't want to poop on anyone's parade. It's great that three black males are getting solo books. I only wish that this concern with diversity would extend to other minorities. (It's difficult to understand, for example, why Cassandra Cain, who is an Asian woman, doesn't get a book, considering how vocal her fanbase can be.) The solicit describes Mister Terrific as "the world's third-smartest man - and one of its most eligible bachelors," which sounds both fun and intriguing. I'm not very familiar with the creative team of Eric Wallace and J.G. Jones, so I have no comment on that.

    J.H. Williams III (w/a) + Haden Blackman (w) + Amy Reeder (a)

    Finally! We've all be anxiously waiting for this book for what seems like forever now. All things considered, I'm glad they waited until after the relaunch, as I would have hated to see this broken up in the middle of its run or, worse, like Xombi, simply get lost int he shuffle after barely having started. The weird thing about this title is that it obviously has nothing to do with the relaunch. It was announced months ago - hell, it was supposed to come out months ago - and it sounds like they had the first couple of issues in the can before anyone had even heard of the renumbering. So this is one of the very few books announced for September where we pretty much know exactly what to expect.

    Swamp Thing
    Scott Snyder (w) + Yanick Paquette (a) + Franco Francavilla (fill-in artist)

    I am not a fan of the changes Geoff Johns made to the character when he brought him back into the DCU at the end of Brightest Day. I am tempted to hope that the relaunch/reboot will erase that from continuity and return the character to his original status, as established by Alan Moore, which is that Swamp Thing is a plant who thought it was human - not a human who was turned into a plant. But I'm not really holding my breath for that, as that would make the end of Brightest Day completely redundant. I know Geoff Johns loves to retcon shit, but he doesn't usually retcon his own work.

    This difference might seem like a pretty minor detail to nitpick about, but it's actually central to the character and it's really hard to understand why they felt the need to change it. Still, if anybody can make it work, it's probably Scott Snyder, who's the best choice for a writer on this series that I could ever have imagined. Yanick Paquette on art seemed like a weird choice to me - I like his art, but I don't know if his style is what I would have imagined for this. But his cover looks nice. And Francesco Fancavilla will be doing special fill-in issues (like he's been doing on Snyder's Detective Comics run) so that's a nice added bonus. Check out the awesome Swamp Thing piece he teased on his blog, which I like even better then Paquette's cover.

    Animal Man
    Jeff Lemire (w) + Travel Foreman + Dan Green (a)

    After the latest issue of Superboy, I had some pretty harsh things to say about Jeff Lemire's superhero comics (i.e., that they're not very good). But his Sweet Tooth remains my favourite comic currently being published and I thought the first issue of the Frankenstein mini-series he's doing for Flashpoint was all right. So there's still hope for him as a mainstream DC writer. Honestly, I think some of the awkwardness of the Superboy book is due to editorial interference, like the fact that the story was hijacked for a stupid pointless Doomsday crossover right in the middle of its first (and, as it turns out, last) big story arc. Lemire seemed to feel the need to recap every plot point in the dialogue, which might have been for the benefit of new readers but came across as spoonfeeding very obvious details to the regular readers.

    In any case, hopefully there won't be too much interference on this title and he'll be able to tell a story in his own pace. (But then again, is there really any reason to believe that DC will stop making stupid editorial decisions? There's no guarantee that this won't also get hijacked by a stupid crossover three issues in.) Lemire's take on Animal Man sounds like a pretty good one, with a focus on family and particularly on Buddy's daughter. I think this could work.

    Legion Lost
    Fabian Nicieza (w) + Pete Woods (a)

    I'm being very generous by including this title in this list. There are a few reasons for it. First, Pete Woods really impressed me with his latest run on Action Comics and I think he's a great choice of artist for a Legion book. Second, I like the concept of a small group of Legionnaires stuck in the present. It sounds more accessible than the overwhelming cast of most Legion books and grounds it in a more familiar setting. The very big caveat for me, though, is that Fabian Nicieza is writing this, and after his truly horrible scripting and plotting on Red Robin, I don't know if I can ever give him another chance on a book. Inexplicably, though, he seems to have a lot of fans, so this at least gives me hope that the book might be a (modest) commercial success.

    Static Shock
    John Rozum (w) + Scott McDaniel (w/a) + Jonathan Glapion (a)

    Another black male character I'm not very familiar with but who seems to show a lot of potential. Like Mister Terrific (and unlike Batwing, the third black male hero who gets a solo book in this relaunch), he also seems to have a bit of a fan following, so I hop it works out. John Rozum is writing, which is bittersweet for me, as I was really hoping that he would continue his awesome run on Xombi with Frazer Irving. I have hated most of the art from Scott McDaniel that I've seen so far, but that cover is all right and this book seems like a good fit for his style. He's also co-writing this, and I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

    Paul Cornell (w) + Miguel Sepulveda (a)

    I have some reservations about bringing these Wildstorm characters into the DCU, and putting Martian Manhunter on the team is weird. But on the other hand, I'm glad to see Apollo and Midnighter in a book. (The solicit doesn't mention their sexuality, but so they are the only openly gay male characters in this relaunch that we know about so far.) I'm not stoked on the redesigns, but they're not totally awful either. And Paul Cornell is writing. That's a big plus.

    Blue Beetle
    Tony Bedard (w) + Ig Guara (a)

    I'm very happy that Jaime Reyes wasn't left behind in this relaunch. I don't have much to say about this title except that I'm glad it exists. Writer Tony Bedard is all right and I'm not familiar with the art team.

    Action Comics
    Grant Morrison (w) + Rags Morales (a)

    The good news is: Grant Morrison is writing Superman again. The neutral news is: Rags Morales is drawing it. The potentially bad news is: Another origin story. That's potentially bad because I don't understand how you could possibly change Superman's origin story. What part of it would you change that doesn't completely change what the character is all about? And if there aren't any drastic changes, then what's the point? How many Superman origin stories do we need? Recently we've had Birthright and Secret Origins. (Not to mention 10 seasons of Smallville and, apparently, another origin story coming up in the next Superman movie in 2012.) Couldn't we just skip the origin and go straight to the part where Superman is NOT WALKING ACROSS AMERICA and doing something awesome instead? Like saving the world and fighting super-villains? Grant Morrison famously handled Superman's origin story in a single page in All-Star Superman. Four panels, each with a simple caption: "Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple." That's all you need. Let's hope he keeps it brief here as well. Probably not a single page, but maybe a single issue? Aside from that, I'm looking forward to this.


    Red Lanterns
    Peter Milligan (w) + Ed Benes (a) + Rob Hunter (a)

    Out of all the multi-coloured lantern corps that could get their own book, you're telling me that people most want to read about aliens who rage-vomit blood?

    Gail Simone (w) + Ardian Syaf (a) + Vincente Cifuentes (a)

    Nothing Gail Simone or anyone else says about this title will ever justify regressing Barbara Gordon to her Batgirl origin. One of her most unconvincing arguments defending this move is that "characters are not supposed to be preserved in amber," by which I'm assuming she means that they should be allowed to change and evolve. That's what great storytelling does. And I agree completely with that. But how the fuck is it not preserving this character in amber to erase 20 years of character development (during which Barbara Gordon became Oracle and continuously evolved in that role) and to bring her back to her original and supposedly most iconic role of Batgirl? Not keeping a character static means moving them forward. Bringing a character back to a previous status quo is the very opposite of that.

    Out of all the questionable ideas in the DCU relaunch, this book is by far the worst one. Gail Simone keeps telling her followers on Twitter and on her message board that we don't have all the information yet and there are things she can't talk about that will supposedly make this all better. Honestly, I can't imagine what those things could possibly be, unless it's that the first arc of this book will end with Barbara Gordon waking up from a dream to find that she's still Oracle and Stephanie Brown is still Batgirl. Actually, no, that would also be terrible.

    Since we supposedly don't have all the information, I will allow for the possibility that there's a real wildcard hidden in there somewhere that will completely change the way I feel about this, even if it's incredibly difficult to imagine. When I mentioned that fans are disappointed that Oracle has been wiped out of continuity, Gail Simone answered: "Are you sure that she has?" To which I would answer that all signs point to yes. The fact that the writer of the new Batgirl title is suggesting that may not be the case but is either unwilling or not allowed to confirm it either way is infuriating, from a fan's perspective. Presumably, Gail Simone knows the answer to that question. If it's true that Oracle is no more (as all the information we have been given so far overwhelmingly supports), then why is she going around asking people if they know that for a fact? If it's not true, then... well, I don't know what to think about that, because (a) I can't figure out how Barbara can regress to being Batgirl again while Oracle simultaneously continues to exist (unless we're talking multiverse, I suppose... ugh!) and (b) it doesn't make up for the exploitation of fans' worst fears and emotional reactions to this news.

    And that fan exploitation is what really bothers me about all this. I know that every character is somebody's favourite, and every time a character dies or is retconned out of existence or goes into limbo, there will be some fans who are upset. But it's different with Barbara Gordon as Oracle, because of what she stands for and what she represents to a lot of people. I know that part of the problem is that all the weight of representation of disabled people has been put on her shoulders, which made her untouchable. But if DC wants to fix that, then they need to start creating more characters to fill those shoes. All this talk about diversity and we haven't seen a single hint of any character stepping up to fill the big whole Oracle's disappearance has left in the DCU.

    (I want to make it clear that I don't think this "fan exploitation" is coming from Gail Simone at all. I'm talking about the way DC is handling the PR and releasing information in a way that will get fans talking, even if that means a lot of people being really upset by it. I also know that Gail Simone genuinely cares about her fans and fans of Barbara Gordon as Oracle. I apologize for being so hard on her, because I think her enthusiasm for her new series is sincere and there's no reason to doubt that she'll write an amazing book. I just personally can't get behind it.)

    Birds of Prey
    Duane Swierczynski (w) + Jesus Saiz (a)

    This is kind of related to the above, but I don't really understand what this new Birds of Prey book has to do with the original concept. It's not Birds of Prey without Oracle, Huntress and Black Canary at the center of the team. And Poison Ivy? What the fuck?! Nothing about this makes me want to pick up this book. And Black Canary's costume really deserves to be listed under "The Ugly" as well.

    Batman: The Dark Knight
    David Finch (w/a)

    There's nothing inherently bad about the concept behind this book. But considering the original book never made it past the second issue, after ridiculous delays, why would anybody be stupid enough to pick up this new #1. Seriously. If you buy this book, I have lost all respect for you.

    All the missing characters...

    This is not a book, but rather a lament for all the characters we haven't heard anything about, like Xombi, Huntress, Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown, and many others. There's still a chance some of them will show up as supporting characters in other books, or get their own books at a later date. (DC has said that more books will be launched in the months following the relaunch.) But for now, a moment of silence for all the absentees.


    Teen Titans
    Scott Lobdell (w) + Brett Booth (a) + Norm Rapmund (a)

    This is by far the ugliest character designs I have seen on a DC book since I started picking up monthly comics over a year ago. I cannot believe that this thing is real. Feathers on Red Robin's costume? Pouches? A tattoo on Superboy? What is going on with Kid Flash's headgear? Who is that character crawling in the bottom left corner? Is the post-Flashpoint DCU a nightmare world in which the 1990s never ended? DC should be ashamed of this. There's nothing modern or hip or young or appealing about this at all. I have no idea who the target audience for this book might be.

    George Perez (w) + Jesus Merino (a)

    I have nothing against George Perez as an artist (he drew this cover, although he's only writing this title and Jesus Merino will be the regular artist on interiors), but I have big problems with this costume redesign (which I'm assuming is coming from Jim Lee). What's with the utility belt? What's with the armoured boots and knee pads? Why does the Man of Steel need an armour? I don't mind that the red briefs on top of the pants are gone, but everything else about this redesign, like the Teen Titans redesigns,  screams 1990s in all the worst possible ways.

    Suicide Squad
    Adam Glass (w) + Marco Rudy (a)

    What the fuck have they done to Harley Quinn's costume? This is repulsive.

    Kyle Higgins (w) + Joe Bennett (a) + Art Thibert (a)

    The official cover is ugly, but at least it's not as ugly as this character sketch from Jim Lee. This man should not be allowed to design costumes for DC.

    Hawk and Dove
    Sterling Gates (w) + Rob Liefeld (a)

    Illustrated by Rob Liefeld. I have nothing more to say.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    Is It Wednesday Yet?

    I tried to write a post about the Batman books announcements yesterday, but I couldn't even be bothered.

    If you don't know what I'm talking about, just go to any comics news site on the internet. I'm sure they're talking about it. The important part is that Barbara Gordon is going to be Batgirl again in September, and I can't even begin to tell you how stupid that is.

    We're only halfway through the 52 new books, so I'm going to wait until that's done and then I'll have something to say about this whole idiotic relaunch. And it's probably not going to be pretty.

    Expect more bombshells from DC throughout the day and week.

    New comics this week!

    It's a little bit hard to get excited about what's going on right now when everyone is so focused on what's going to happen in September, but apparently life goes on and comics continue to hit the shelf every Wednesday. This is what my pull list looks like this week:

    • American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #1 (Vertigo)
    • Birds of Prey #13 (DC)
    • Booster Gold #45 (DC)
    • Journey into Mystery #624 (Marvel)
    • Magus #5 (12-Gauge)
    This is probably going to be the last issue of Birds of Prey that I ever buy, since the last two issues before the whole DCU implodes are going to be by a fill-in creative team. This book along with The Flash are probably the two biggest disappointments I've experienced since I started reading regular monthly comics a little over a year ago. I'll have more to say about that later.

    I'm half-tempted to not even bother picking up Booster Gold. I started reading it last month because it ties into Flashpoint, but it's safe to say my interest in that crossover has diminished considerably after some of the recent announcements from DC. I'll probably get it anyway, just because it's a light week.

    Survival of the Fittest is a new mini-series by regular American Vampire writer Scott Snyder with art by the amazing Sean Murphy. This should be very good and a great companion to the main series.

    Magus #5 is the last issue of that mini-series. Issue #4 is still sitting in my to-read pile.

    Saturday, June 4, 2011

    Which characters (and fans) will be most affected by the DC relaunch?

    Wow. It's been a crazy week. Whatever we may be feeling about DC's relaunch plans, one thing is certain - it got people talking, and it's far from over. Only 15 of the 52 new books have been officially announced so far. I'm keeping track of them here. I'm assuming more titles will be announced next week, leading up to their full September solicitations the following week.

    My initial reaction to the news was cautiously optimistic. A lot of questions (and fears) about how exactly it's going to work, but keeping an open mind. Then, as the days passed, I found that the excitement waned and gave way to a kind of sadness. Even if there will almost undoubtedly be some good comics coming out of it, I can't help but feel like it's a big exercise in futility.

    For one thing, it doesn't look like "everything changes" the way we were originally led to believe they would. The four Green Lantern titles that were announced are basically continuing everything that Geoff Johns has been setting up over the past few years. No big surprise, since this is one of their more successful lines. The "new" Justice League, despite some minor costume tweaks and younger looking characters, is really just the same group of classic heroes everybody is familiar with.

    So which characters are going to be most affected by the changes? Here are a couple of big rumours going around:

    • Superman and Lois Lane won't be married anymore (so Superman and Wonder Woman can flirt with each other?)
    • Barbara Gordon goes back to being Batgirl (and where does that leave Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain?)
    I'm trying really hard not to jump to conclusions at this point in the game, but I get the very disturbing impression that if any characters are going to be thrown under the bus for the sake of the A-list characters ("A list" being code for "straight white male"), it's going to be mostly female characters. Lois Lane, an already underused and undervalued female character, gets demoted, and by restoring Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, they not only get rid of the most prominent disabled character in the DCU (Oracle) but also jeopardize the status of two other female characters who followed in her footsteps.

    Of course, maybe DC will prove us wrong. Maybe they also have big plans for all those secondary characters. A Lois Lane Reporter solo book would be amazing. And maybe they'll have completely new identities for Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain. Change doesn't necessarily mean these characters have to disappear or become less important.

    by Jamie Noguchi

    DC Women Kicking Ass commented on this image of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl walking away from the wheelchair and the Oracle identity with a big smile on her face. Like many others, she was upset by it. (The artist, Jamie Noguchi of Yellow Peril, has apologized for it, saying he didn't think of the implications for fans who see her as an inspiration and that he should have known better.)

    I've seen a lot of comments from people online who are excited by the rumours that Barbara will be Batgirl again. A lot of older fans who haven't been reading Batgirl for a while are saying, "Sign me up!" or, "I'll buy it!" Which makes me wonder who this relaunch is really meant to appeal to. Is this really for "new readers" or is this just another way to reach out to the older, nostalgic readers? There's no reason why new readers should be more interested in Barbara Gordon as Batgirl than in Stephanie Brown as Batgirl. The only people who are going to care about this are the old fans (a predominantly male demographic). And the ones who are going to be the most hurt and disappointed by the change are current fans of Stephanie Brown as Batgirl and Barbara Gordon as Oracle. In other words, a predominantly female demographic.

    As for me, apparently I care about these characters a lot more than I previously realized. Bryan Q. Miller's Batgirl was a unique and tremendously entertaining book, and I've become really attached Stephanie Brown. As for Barbara Gordon, I still find it hard to believe that DC is really going to get rid of their only prominent wheelchair user. Even during the "Death of Oracle" arc in Birds of Prey, I was pretty sure Gail Simone wouldn't really kill her. And when Grant Morrison started suggesting that she would act as a virtual Batgirl on the internet in Batman Inc, it just seemed silly and ridiculous and I didn't think it would stick.

    But now, I'm really scared. And surprisingly upset. And in a weird way, whether or not I can get behind this whole relaunch kind of hinges on the fate of Barbara Gordon for me. Because I honestly don't know if I'm going to be able to keep buying these monthly books if it turns out that she's Batgirl again. That may seem like a dramatic overreaction to some, but it's just a gut feeling. It's not a rational argument, it's an emotional reaction.

    Friday, June 3, 2011

    One-paragraph reviews: Flashpoint, Flashpoint tie-in, Superboy and Sweet Tooth

    (Reviews are spoilery.)

    Flashpoint #2
    Written by Geoff Johns; art by Andy Kubert and Sandra Hope; DC

    Four things happen in this issue: 1. Deathstroke sails into Atlantean territory and meets a very pissed off Aquaman. 2. A very pissed off Batman beats up Barry Allen until Barry manages to convince him that he's telling the truth. 3. Steve Trevor, who's a member of the resistance, gets ambushed by a group of Amazons led by a very pissed off Wonder Woman. And 4. Barry Allen tries to recreate the accident that initially gave him his powers and apparently gets fried in the process. None of this is very exciting or interesting or pleasant to read, though some of the art's nice. I'm getting really sick of seeing characters with clenched teeth, though. I kind of wish all these people would just lighten the fuck up. The variant cover for this issue shows Wonder Woman holding the decapitated head of Mera. Since this doesn't happen in this issue and, in fact, Mera does not even appear in it, I can only assume that the cover was produced for the specific purpose of pissing people off. Basically, that's the theme here. All the characters are angry and clenching their teeth, and DC seems to expect fans to do the same. Pissed off fans vent on the internet and apparently that gets people to buy more comics. I don't understand how any of this works.



    Flashpoint: Batman: Knight of Vengeance #1
    Written by Brian Azzarello; art by Eduardo Risso; DC

    There's Batman with his clenched teeth on the cover. But otherwise, I have to say this was a lot better than the main series. Maybe these mini-series are where all the good stuff is going to happen in this crossover event after all. Still, this feels a bit empty. Solid script and nice art, but I'm not sure yet where it's going.



    Superboy #8
    Written by Jeff Lemire; art by Pier Gallo; DC

    It really pains me to admit this, but I don't think Jeff Lemire writes very good super-hero comics. I've been very lenient on this title since it started, because I like Lemire's work so much that I managed to convince myself that this would get good. But I think I have to finally accept that it's not good and it's probably not going to get any better before it ends in a couple of months. Every story beat feels artificial and calculated. The exposition is incredibly clumsy and all of the dialogue sounds awkward. I don't get it. There's no sign of the grace and seemingly effortless storytelling and quiet, reflective beauty found in Lemire's work outside of the super-hero genre. There are two possibilities: either he's not feeling comfortable in this format or he's phoning it in. There are only two issues left, and I'm not even sure I'm going to bother picking them up.



    Sweet Tooth #22
    Written and drawn by Jeff Lemire; Vertigo

    See? This is what I'm talking about.


    Thursday, June 2, 2011

    DC's 52 new books - full list now available

    I'm just going to keep updating this list as information gets confirmed by DC's The Source. I'm doing this for my own convenience more than anything else. I want to have a place listing all confirmed titles with creative teams.

    I'm numbering them in the order that they are announced.

    I'm not including rumours. Only confirmed announcements.

    1. Justice League: Geoff Johns (w) + Jim Lee (a)
    2. Wonder Woman: Brian Azzarello (w) + Cliff Chiang (a)
    3. Aquaman: Geoff Johns (w) + Ivan Reis (a) + Joe Prado (a)
    4. Flash: Francis Manapul (w/a) + Brian Buccellato (w/a)
    5. Fury of Firestorm: Ethan Van Sciver (w) + Gail Simone (w) + Yildiray Cinar (a)
    6. The Savage Hawkman: Tony Daniel (w) + Philip Tan (a)
    7. Green Arrow: J.T. Krul (w) + Dan Jurgens (a)
    8. Justice League International: Dan Jurgens (w) + Aron Lopresti (a)
    9. Mister Terrific: Eric Wallace (w) + Roger Robinson (a)
    10. Captain Atom: J.T. Krul (w) + Freddie Williams II (a)
    11. DC Universe Presents: first story featuring Deadman, by Paul Jenkins (w) + Bernard Chang (a)
    12. Green Lantern: Geoff Johns (w) + Doug Mahnke (a) + Christian Alamy (a)
    13. Green Lantern Corps: Peter Tomasi (w) + Fernando Pasarin (a) + Scott Hanna (a)
    14. Green Lantern: The New Guardians: Tony Bedard (w) + Tyler Kirkham (a) + Batt (a)
    15. Red Lanterns: Peter Milligan (w) + Ed Benes (a) + Rob Hunter (a)
    16. Batman: Scott Snyder (w) + Greg Capullo (a)
    17. Detective Comics: Tony Daniel (w/a)
    18. Batman and Robin: Peter Tomasi (w) + Patrick Gleason (a)
    19. Batman: The Dark Knight: David Finch (w/a)
    20. Batwoman: J.H. Williams III (w/a) + Haden Blackman (w) + Amy Reeder (a)
    21. Batgirl: Gail Simone (w) + Ardian Syaf (a) + Vincente Cifuentes (a)
    22. Catwoman: Judd Winnick (w) + Guillem March (a)
    23. Birds of Prey: Duane Swierczynski (w) + Jesus Saiz (a)
    24. Nightwing: Kyle Higgins (w) + Eddy Barrows (a)
    25. Red Hood and the Outlaws: Scott Lobdell (w) + Kenneth Rocafort (a)
    26. Batwing: Judd Winnick (w) + Ben Oliver (a)
    27. Swamp Thing: Scott Snyder (w) + Yanick Paquette (a) + Franco Francavilla (fill-in artist)
    28. Animal Man: Jeff Lemire (w) + Travel Foreman + Dan Green (a)
    29. Justice League Dark: Peter Milligan (w) + Mikel Janin (a)
    30. Demon Knights: Paul Cornell (w) + Diogenes Neves (a) + Oclair Albert (a)
    31. Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE: Jeff Lemire (w) + Alberto Ponticelli (a)
    32. Resurrection Man: Dan Abnett (w) + Andy Lanning (w) + Fernando Dagnino (a)
    33. I, Vampire: Josh Fialkov (w) + Andrea Sorrentino (a)
    34. Voodoo: Ron Marz (w) + Sami Basri (a)
    35. Legion Lost: Fabian Nicieza (w) + Pete Woods (a)
    36. Legion of Superheroes: Paul Levitz (w) + Francis Portela (a)
    37. Teen Titans: Scott Lobdell (w) + Brett Booth (a) + Norm Rapmund (a)
    38. Static Shock: John Rozum (w) + Scott McDaniel (w/a) + Jonathan Glapion (a)
    39. Hawk and Dove: Sterling Gates (w) + Rob Liefeld (a)
    40. Stormwatch: Paul Cornell (w) + Miguel Sepulveda (a)
    41. Blackhawks: Mike Costa (w) + Ken Lashley (a)
    42. Sgt. Rock and the Men of War: Ivan Brandon (w) + Tom Derenick (a)
    43. All-Star Western: Justin Gray (w) + Jimmy Palmiotti (w) + Moritat (a)
    44. Deathstroke: Kyle Higgins (w) + Joe Bennett (a) + Art Thibert (a)
    45. Grifter: Nathan Edmonson (w) + CAFU (a) + BIT (a)
    46. OMAC: Dan DiDio (w) + Keith Giffen (w/a) + Scott Koblish (w/a)
    47. Suicide Squad: Adam Glass (w) + Marco Rudy (a)
    48. Blue Beetle: Tony Bedard (w) + Ig Guara (a)
    49. Action Comics: Grant Morrison (w) + Rags Morales (a)
    50. Superman: George Perez (w) + Jesus Merino (a)
    51. Supergirl: Michael Green (w) + Mike Johnson (w) + Mahmud Asrar (a)
    52. Superboy: Scott Lobdell (w) + R.B. Silva (a) + Rob Lean (a)

    + Batman Incorporated: relaunching in 2012, by Grant Morrison (w) and Chris Burnham (a)

    J. Michael Straczynski confirms he never gave a shit about Superman or Wonder Woman

    On Facebook, in response to the announcement that DC is rebooting it's entire line of comics in September:

    When Dan DiDio comes out to the West Coast, we tend to get a bite for dinner to discuss projects, ideas, books and just hang. Dan is a great guy and an energetic speaker, chockful of ideas and aspirations for DC. As part of that, he shared repeatedly on and off for really more than a year his dream of rebooting the DCU and starting over.

    So I felt confident that it was coming soon (which is one reason why I felt there wouldn't be a problem in the long run leaving the monthly books, since most of the things done in Superman and Wonder Woman would be erased by the reboot anyway, so ultimately it didn't matter whether I stayed or left. I just couldn't say anything at the time because I wanted to respect Dan's privacy and his desire to do what he thought was right when he thought it was right to do it.
    (Sorry, he left that parenthesis open, not me.)

    What I take from this is that he's confirming what most people already suspected when he announced he was quitting both books mid-story: that he never really gave a shit about them in the first place. This explains both why they weren't very good to begin with and why he could unceremoniously give up before even reaching their conclusions.

    I think it's actually pretty shocking that he admits it so openly. Many people suspected it, but writers usually at least pretend that they care about the stories they write. I don't know he can expet to be taken seriously by fans again after this big "fuck you" to everyone who bought the books.

    I always feel that when a fan starts picking up a book, especially at the beginning of a run by a new creative team, it's like signing an unwritten contract with the writer: "I agree to actually pay money for this book with the understanding that everyone involved is trying their best to tell a good story." The contract doesn't guarantee that I as a reader will like it, but it should guarantee that the writer will at least give it their best shot.

    When a writer admits that none of it mattered, that he couldn't be bothered to finish what he started because he knew it would all be erased in less than a year, it violates that implicit arrangement. It's cynical. I know that the comic book companies are in the business of selling comics and their job is to do everything they can to boost sales, not to be honest with the fans. But that's the publishers. I expect more from writers. I expect them to at least believe in the stories they are telling. Even if it "doesn't matter" (come on, none of it ever really matters) they're still getting paid to tell a good story.

    JMS knew the reboot was coming. Fans didn't. The books were promoted as bold new directions for the two characters. Nobody said: "Here, give us your money in exchange for this half-assed story we're going to erase from continuity as soon as it ends."

    This is the kind of thing that really makes it hard to be enthusiastic about anything DC announces. It took less than a year for them to give up on the bold new direction in a Superman and Wonder Woman and start planning something else that would make it all irrelevant. What guarantee is there that the same won't be true for this new reboot? If six months into this line-wide relaunch, everyone involved starts looking forward to the next big thing and stops caring about the stories they're telling, it's going to suck. And the fans will get burned. Again.

    A quote that changed my understanding of Wonder Woman

    Here's a quote about Wonder Woman from Ragnell at her blog, Written World:

    Because they don't get Wonder Woman. They don't understand how women can withdraw from men and not spend all of their time thinking about men, holding a grudge against men, and plotting to come out and hurt/maim/kill men. They don't get that women might spend their lives away from men and be perfectly happy and not obsessed with men in some way.

    They don't get that the point of Wonder Woman is that sexism in our society was holding women back, and that Diana is what a woman who had never suffered institutionalized sexism can be. Instead, Wonder Woman only makes sense if she's lopping off heads and ranting about how terrible men are.
    (emphasis mine)

    I don't really have anything to add, except that it kind of blew my mind. I haven't read a lot of Wonder Woman, but I like the character and have always sided with the fans who are upset when she's portrayed as a raging anti-man "feminist." But until I read this, I'm not sure I really grasped exactly why this was so wrong, how it's a fundamental misunderstanding of the character and not just something that happens to offend my sensibilities.

    It's such a simple yet profound idea, and I'd never seen it expressed so succinctly and eloquently before.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    DC's line-wide reboot: Some questions and first impressions

    I'm sure I don't need to tell anyone who reads this blog the big news. The comics internet exploded this afternoon when Bleeding Cool leaked the story that DC was relaunching their entire line in September, including a new Justice League written by Geoff Johns with art by Jim Lee.

    Shortly after, DC confirmed it on their blog and through a couple of USA Today stories (here and here). Additional details included the number of new books (52) and the fact that all of them (!!!) would be simultaneously available digitally.

    Then everyone lost their shit! 

    Overwhelmingly, the first reactions I encountered on Twitter and in comments in response to blog posts were cynical and/or alarmist. As comic book fans tend to do, they assumed the worst. DC was going to fuck this up. Our favourite books or characters would be ruined. New books would suck and lack originality. All this despite the fact that aside from the Justice League title, not a single detail has been announced or confirmed by DC yet.

    There are plenty of rumours and opinions based on nothing going around the internet right now. I'm not going to help spread them here. CBR has a pretty good post about it. Bleeding Cool continues to post leaks and unconfirmed scoops.

    What follows are a few first impressions and questions that I have about the reboot.

    Number ones across the line

    For the most part, I couldn't really care less about the number that appears on the cover of the comics I read. All I ever care about is getting a good story from a strong creative team. Beyond that, it's all marketing and packaging.

    I understand that in order to convince people that they're serious about how Flashpoint completely and permanently alters the DC Universe, they can't be half-assed about the reboots. It wouldn't make any sense for them to relaunch most of their books but make a few exceptions here and there. That would defeat the purpose of this stunt. The reason this is working and gets people talking is that it's such a bold move. There have been rumours about a line-wide renumbering for weeks, but most of us (myself included) didn't really believe that they would go that far.

    So it makes sense that they approached it as an all-or-nothing type of thing.

    Still, I can't help but think that there are individual cases where going back to #1 sounds like a very bad idea. And first on that list, of course, are Action Comics and Detective Comics, DC's two longest-running titles with a 75-year publishing history. It seems crazy - I want to say blasphemous! - to publish a comic book called Action Comics #1 in 2011. There should only be one Action Comics #1. That's why copies of it are worth a million dollars!

    But if we don't get a new #1 for those two, what's the alternative? We know they're not going to keep the original numbering, so that only leaves one option: end them. That also brings a tear to my eye, but honestly I would prefer to see them end than to see them relaunched with a new #1. There aren't a lot of publications I think deserve that kind of respect, but these two titles do. Relaunch Batman and Superman, I don't care, but not Action and 'Tec. Please.

    The renumbering will also have an unfortunate side effect on very recent new series, the best example of which is Xombi. We're only three issues into it and so far it has been absolutely fantastic. I know that sales haven't been that high, but word-of-mouth was spreading and I was hoping it would survive at least a year before getting the axe. In September, it will either be relaunched with a new #1 after only 6 issues, which seems pretty ridiculous, especially considering how disconnected it is from everything else that's going on in the DCU, or it'll be quietly cancelled, which is terrible given how much potential it had (quality-wise, if not sales-wise). But I guess from a marketing point of view, Xombi is little more than collateral damage when weighted against the expected overall sales boost.

    Same-day digital release across the line

    I don't want to speculate too much about how this is going to affect the market, because I don't pretend to be an "industry analyst," but it seems pretty obvious that this is a big deal. In a way, it's surprising that it took this long for it to happen. And yet, it still feels like a jolt. There can be little doubt that Marvel will soon follow suit, and eventually most of the smaller publishers as well. In other words, shit just got real for digital comics distribution.

    Does it signal the beginning of the end of paper comics? Probably not. It's hard to say what kind of impact it will have on the direct market, but it will certainly have one. I'll let others speculate.

    The big question on everybody's mind right now is how much are those digital issues going to cost. I'm afraid that DC is going to choose to sell them for the same price as their paper comics, which seems like it would be a big mistake. I can't imagine why anybody would pay for a digital file when they can get an actual physical book for the same price. Not to mention that most regular readers get discounts at their stores, so they would in effect be paying more for the digital versions.

    On the other hand, my impression is that these digital comics are largely aimed at people outside of the direct market. I mean, that's the whole point, isn't it? To tap into the fast-growing market of all those people who bought iPads and are looking for fun ways to use them. People who have never even set foot in a comic book store. I have no idea whether $2.99 for a digital version of a 20-page comic book sounds like a good deal to those people. It's very hard for me to put myself into their shoes, because (a) if they own an iPad, they obviously have more disposable income than I do, and (b) I'm biased because I already spend $30 a week on comics. Presumably DC has a team of professionals who are paid to figure these things out.

    From my perspective, digital comics remain an interesting option for stuff that I'm kind of curious about but don't really care enough to invest in and collect. But that might change with time, depending on how the market evolves. In any case, this remains the most "significant" part of today's announcement, I think, in a big picture kind of way.

    Mixed messages: focus on diversity vs. (mostly) white and male Justice League

    DC's announcement on their blog doesn't mention diversity, but the first article at USA Today suggested the change would reflect "a more modern and diverse 21st century." Fans who give a shit about diversity were quick to point out the new Justice League seemed to feature a bunch of white dudes and a white woman, so where was the diversity?

    Then as more details became available, it was revealed that Cyborg (a black man) would also be part of the League, in addition to the characters first announced (Batman, Superman, Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern/Hal Jordan and Wonder Woman).

    There's also this quote from the second USA Today piece:

    The recent emphasis on diverse characters such as lesbian superheroine Batwoman, Hispanic hero Blue Beetle and African-American adventurer Cyborg (who will be a core member of Johns and Lee's new Justice League) also will continue.
    To be perfectly honest, that's a big crock of shit. I'm glad that DC is even talking about diversity, a topic that they tend to avoid or dismiss whenever it's brought up by the fans online or at conventions. So if they're making efforts, great. I sincerely applaud them for that.

    But don't pretend that there's been a "recent emphasis on diverse characters." You can't pick three characters who happen not to be straight white males and call that "emphasis." These characters are the exceptions, not the rule.

    It's easy for them to say there's been a focus on this issue recently, but all evidence points to the contrary.  Where is the Batwoman book that was supposed to launch months ago? It's been pushed back numerous times already. (Presumably it will be one of the 52 new titles in September. I'll believe it when I see it.) It's worth pointing out that none of these characters mentioned in the examples have their own book.

    So if DC merely intends to "continue" this "emphasis" on diversity, I guess we shouldn't hold our breath. We'll have a better idea once the other books are confirmed, but if the Justice League is any indication, it doesn't look very promising. Sure, Cyborg's on the team. But he wasn't even in the cropped picture that ran with the original announcement, and in the second article we're told that although there will be 14 members of the League, the focus will be on the six (white) characters mentioned above.

    Well, at least they're not trying to pass Martian Manhunter as an example of diversity.

    And what about Grant Morrison's Batman?

    The last thing I want to comment on is something that we have absolutely no confirmed information on for now: How the hell does this fit in with Grant Morrison's plans for Batman? Will they wrap up before September? Are they going to continue in the post-Flashpoint universe? Or has he just given up on those?

    After Bruce Wayne came back, a new status quo was established with Batman Incorporated. We were told this was all going to lead to something big. Now it seems doubtful that much of this status quo will remain in place in September. So either Grant Morrison's story is abandoned (which basically amounts to a big FUCK YOU to everyone who's stuck through all the ups and downs of his very inconsistent Batman work the past several years) or it will continue in this changed universe, though I have a very hard time understanding how that could possibly work. So at worst, the story will never conclude. At best, it's been hijacked. It seems like a lose-lose situation.

    I really have a hard time believing that DC would have so little regard for their customers that they would just drop it. After all, the goal of this big stunt is presumably to attract new readers, not piss off the few that you have left. I'm sure this will be addressed in the coming days or weeks.


    I'm keeping an open mind. I find all the pessimism from the fans kind of disheartening. Sometimes I wonder why some of the more cynical ones even bother reading comics anymore if they hate the industry so passionately.

    DC still has a ton of really talented people writing and drawing for them. For me, that's going to be the most important determining factor when I decide which books to put on my pull list for September. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be reading whatever Scott Snyder is writing. And I'm hoping that some of the books I currently like will survive relatively unchanged (Bryan Q. Miller's Batgirl, for example). And who knows, maybe I'll even start reading Superman and Wonder Woman. It's hard to imagine that whatever they have in store for these two characters could be any worse than what they've put them through for the past year.

    So in spite of some reservations and a lot of questions, I have to admit that I'm pretty excited to find out what's going to happen in September. It's almost inevitable that there are going to be some major disappointments. But with any luck, the good might outweigh the bad. Maybe?

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