Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day

Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day.

Am I going?  Maybe.  While I do have another commitment on Saturday (it's studio photos at the dance studio), none of this year's Free Comic Book Day offerings are really exciting me that much.  War of the Supermen?  Eh.  Not to mention, the local comic shop is, to me, a place dripping in awkwardness, and since nothing could add more to the awkwardness than me showing up in stage makeup right out of a photo shoot, I think I'm going to skip it.  Though if I did go, I'd probably be the only person on Earth who went right from wearing a tutu in a ballet studio to browsing through a comic shop.  I might just have to do it to break some sort of Guinness World Record or something.

Now, Free Comic Book day is, in my opinion, another missed opportunity by the comics industry to promote the medium.  Nobody knows about FCBD, at least where I live.  Though I had unwittingly participated in FCBD in 2002, I didn't know at the time what it was.  The first Spiderman movie premiered in May of 2002, and right after the movie was over, there were a few guys standing in the hallway handing out Spiderman comics saying, "Here, have a free comic!" (who, in retrospect, must've been from the local comic shop.  At the time I thought they worked for the theater or something.)  I honestly had no idea what was going on, but I gladly took a copy, and then when we got in the car, took all the copies my family members were handed out, too.

After I read my free Spiderman comic, I had no idea what to do with it or where to go from there.  I had no idea who had given me a comic, nor why it was free, nor how to get another one.  No label with the store's name, a brochure, nothing.  Handing out free comics right after a comic book-based movie could be a potential goldmine for drawing in new readers, but this local comic shop didn't capitalize on it at all.  Neither do the comics publishers.  Are there any ads on TV promoting FCBD?  Ads on the web?  Ads in the newspaper?  Not that I have seen.  Come on, guys!  Promote this!  Treat every recipient of a free comic as if it were their first.  Tell us how to get comics!  Explain the difference between single issues and trades.  Let us know which characters belong to which company (honestly--the average person doesn't know who owns Spiderman or who owns Batman.)  Put a little info--a post card, a sticker, a coupon--in with the comic so we know where it came from so we can return the favor and buy more.  And get the kids involved, too!

And above all, venture out into the general community and give away comics at malls, grocery stores, movie theaters, etc.  No one knows where the local comic shop is except the regulars.  (Or even that such a thing as a store devoted solely to comics exists.)  So take a little chance and go hunt for some newbies.  It just might turn out that they like comics afterall.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Even Mother Goose Knows Superman Is a Jerk

A student, who knows I like all things superheroes, pointed this out to me in today's newspaper:

Mother Goose & Grimm for 4-27-10

Superman just likes to rub it in, doesn't he?

What's even more amusing is when Clark has to carry Batman around when flying.  That I found greatly amusing.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Answer Is Out There...Maybe

One of my favorite parts about the magic of DVDs is all the special features, behind-the-scenes documentaries, and interviews with the movie's creators.  I'm a special features kinda gal.  I'll sit there and watch the entire director's commentary of a movie.  (Except maybe Justice League: New Frontier.  After Darwyn Cooke said "they did a great job making the movie look like the book" for about the fifth time, I had to turn it off.  You're great, Darwyn, and I love you and all, but I need a little something more than that.)


I like to hear about how things are made.  Even really silly questions like "How is baking soda made?" cross my mind and warrant research on my part.  So when I started reading up on one of my favorite comic book characters, the Martian Manhunter, and found very little information about the how's and why's of his creation, I started feeling a little downtrodden.

While Frank of the Idol-Head has put together an always-intelligent rundown of who created the Martian Manhunter, I'm really feeling the need to hear something directly from at least one of J'onn's creators.  I'm guessing that if a Martian Manhunter Archives volume was ever put out, DC might dig through their internal archives and put together at least a bio of Joe Samachson, Joe Certa, Jack Miller, and/or Mort Weisinger.

But I have this vision of a vertical file sitting in DC's offices filled with interviews from all sorts of Silver Age writers and artists, and maybe even some inter-office memos and notes on napkins detailing the creation of many a Silver Age hero.  Now, I have no idea about whether or not such records actually do exist, nor how meticulous DC was about documenting its history, nor whether they'd let anyone have access to it.  But if they do have that information, it would be the motherlode.

Now, considering that my line of work involves teaching other people how to research stuff, you'd think I'd come up with something.  Well, not yet.  Just a cursory search proved harder than I thought.  Part of the problem is not knowing what I'm looking for (a published interview, personal letters, etc.), and whether or not it actually exists and was archived somewhere.  Plus, it's my professional opinion that the archives world is just plain dumb for never developing a federated search infrastructure (i.e. something like Google or the Library of Congress), because I believe archivists are greedy little miscreants hiding away the great treasures of history from the public, and are definitely one notch above librarians on the Grand Scale O' Evilness.  I can't say any of this anywhere else because my best friend is, in fact, an archivist.  (Muahahaha.)

The second problem is that comics aren't really considered "academic" by many people, including universities, who are the main holders of archived materials, and therefore probably weren't collected, or not even donated in the first place.  A university is going to be a lot less interested in the private papers of Joe Samachson than they are the guy who invented the cotton gin.  Yes, I know, it's a great tragedy to all, but it's a sick world we live in.

So, I will keep looking.  There are university archives with historical comic book collections, but unless it was published in a magazine somewhere, there probably aren't any author interviews.  Searching archives is not difficult but accessing material is laborious, as it often takes a personal visit, or, remotely, a phone call or e-mail to an archivist to obtain photocopies of materials.  (That is, if they even allow them to be photocopied.)  Rarely are things digitized and made easily accessible online, becuase, again, archivists are evil.  So I find the odds stacked against my favor and coming up empty.  I had already tried to ascertain the exact fictionopolis of the Martian Manhunter (as anecdotally documented in a letters column) and come up with nothing after searching for weeks.

Maybe I'll find something.  If I do, I'll let you know.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Why Comics Are Not More Popular, Part 4A

I'm really not justified in making this a completely different topic, since it's pretty much along the lines of #4.  Hence, I numbered it "4A."  What compelled me to add a 4A to the list was that I actually saw my advice put into practice and therefore was able to judge my suggestion via a real example and not just as conjecture.

Here's #4A: Make characters and conflicts relatable.

Okay, now this, I think, is a fine line to walk, especially for DC.  I've read hardly any Marvel comics, but I get the impression that many conflicts residing in the Marvel Universe are of the "mundane" or "everyday" variety.  Which is why I think Marvel heroes have been stereotyped as being angsty/whiny/emo, I guess.

Anyway, one of the basic rules of storytelling is to make the main characters relatable, a.k.a. identifiable, a.k.a. empathetic.  Meaning, there's something about them that "rings true" to real life: they've undergone tragedy, they want the same things we want (justice), their personality type is similar to us or someone we know, they desire something despite great odds, they're in a situation we've been in before, they've made the same mistakes we have, etc.  The same rules of audience identification hold true for villains, as well, and in fact, a great villain needs to be relatable to be a great character.  If we understand his or her motivations, even if whatever he or she does is completely horrible, then we're invested in that character, no matter how evil they are.

One key, I think, to helping readers identify with characters is to keep motivations and situations small.  It was Josef Stalin who said, "one death is a tragedy.  A millions deaths is just a statistic."  The vast majority of us don't have experience (thank goodness) dealing with millions of people dying on an everyday basis.  And even if we were living in some region embroiled in a holocaust resulting in the deaths of millions, we couldn't process that many tragedies in our minds; what we probably would remember are the specific people affected.  Great storytellers know the power of the particular, which is why anyone who's seen Schindler's List can never forget the little girl in the red coat.

So, seguing awkwardly to the comics world: lots of people die in comics, probably on a weekly basis.  Insanely large groups of people also die, too, like the entire planet of Xanshi, which got obliterated in Jim Starlin's Cosmic Odyssey.  I read Cosmic Odyssey last summer, and remember feeling more frustration than sadness when the planet was destroyed.  (Much like Alderaan getting blown up.  Not feeling much there, either.)  The greatest comic book tragedy in a long time however, I mean, the kind of tragedy that literally made me say outloud, "Oh no!  I can't believe they did that!" (yes, I really do talk to myself when I read) was this panel, from last week's Booster Gold #31:

...where Booster, when recklessly pursuing a villain, accidentally killed a little girl's dog.  Yep.  I was pretty upset.  Few of us have seen a planet explode, but I'm sure many of you have experiences with the passing of a family pet.  See?  Instantly relatable.  Oh, and remember the end of I Am Legend or Old Yeller?  By finding the everyday and putting it in context of the fantastic, the writers have established an emotional tether to the reader.

Now, because this is an instant touchstone to reader reaction, it can be misused.  It wasn't misused in Booster Gold, becuase it served the purpose of the story.  The fact that it was accidental added even more to the pathos, and our hero learned a lesson from it.  However, you can't kill off innocents gratuitously like was done in Cry for Justice, or the only affect you will have on the reader will be to anger them.

I'm not saying that every comics writer should go out there and put a small animal in peril to engender audience sympathy.  I'm just using the example of a pet in danger because it's something most of us can relate to.  There's plenty of other things that writers can come up with to connect with readers.  And that's also not saying comics should be mundane, either.  "Small" conflicts--universal situations that we can all identify with--can be used in spectacular, epic stories as well, and in fact should be used, or else there's no soul.  That's why the original Star Wars worked and the prequels sucked.

Just a "little" food for thought for all you aspiring comic writers out there.

You know, for a guy who screws up all the time, you're awfully popular, Booster.  Hey...maybe that's part of the reason why we like you...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Saturday Comics

I'm still not quite sure how to incorporate reviews into this blog (if at all), but I decided to do a "live reading," kind of like what Sea-of-Green did for reviewing the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths DVD.

Okay, so I'm reading The Flash #1 by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul.  I know very little about Barry Allen, though I read Flash: Rebirth, other than he is a forensic scientist who runs fast and wears bowties.

--Not sure I like the cover.  Dynamic, but Tony Harris's figures are too angular for my taste.

--Wario wants me to create games.  Okay.

--You can put icons next to your name in text messages?  News to me.

--Nice car, Trickster.  Also, love the gloves.

--Flash can stop bullets?

--Neil Gaiman's promoting National Library Week.  Just what I need in the middle of my comic: something to remind me of work.

--Central City apparently doesn't have child labor laws in place for construction sites.  Good.  Make the kids earn their keep, I always say.

--The Flash saves a kid from falling debris and introduces himself using his logo.  See, now THIS is what comics should be all about.

--Barry Allen's late to work again.

--The Weather Wizard rains out baseball games just to be a jerk.  These are the kinds of villains I love.

--Who can turn your eyeballs into glass?

--Sigh.  Retconned childhood trauma to give Barry Allen more "edge."  This is NOT what comics should be all about.

--Barry seems to be looking younger and younger with each passing panel...the hoodie doesn't help.  Would it kill someone to draw a superhero as a mature adult?  He looks nineteen.

--Mirror Master?  Oh noes!  What happened?

--"Does anyone know how to adjust these chairs?"  Bwa-ha.  I have that problem at work all the time.

--Forensic scientist and inter-office politics talk.  It looks like this series might have a strong focus on Barry's secret identity and day job.  Normalcy!  In a comic!  I'm liking that.

--Um...should you be telling the press all that secret police stuff?  And Iris, way to use your man to get a scoop for your paper.  Sheesh.

--Dinner with the Hawks?  Awwz.

--Cliffhanger!!  Dun dun daaaaaa!

--Wait, what?  Is this another story?  I'm confused.  Oh, wait.  It's an ad.  For a story not happening for another year.  Like I'm going to remember.  Wait a second..."the Flash's world will change."  Greaaaat.  Just when I got used to the whole "business as usual" here comes another crisis.  And there's a White Lantern ring involved.

--Uncolored Zatanna preview.  My eyes hurt from all the backwards reading already...

--DC Universe: Legacies.  A history of the DCU.  I'm intrigued.  This could be good for newer fans.  But where's Dr. Mid-Nite in that JSA photo, or does he come in later?

--"Sworn to protect!  Born to kill!"  Wait, is that the guy's motto, or the dog's?  That's certainly my dog's personal motto.  That and "kill all pizza delivery men."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Just Some Things I Want

Now, I'll start things off by saying I'm not a huge toy collector or anything (because Toy Story 2 ingrained the moral that "toys are meant to be played with" into my brain), but every now and then I see something I want to buy that makes me want to level off the nearest end table, install some proper halogen lighting and pronounce it my Official Action Figure Shrine of Awesomeness.

This is one such item:

It's a little hard to see becuase it's a screen grab from a video, but it's a set of DC Infinite Heroes that recreates the cover of The Brave and the Bold #28, the first appearance of the Justice League:

Unfortunately for the figures, Starro's colored a bit differently, and J'onn's collar is approaching dangerously high levels, even though he never had a collar in the Silver Age.  (Which might make a certain Green Lantern fan happy, though.)  But still, how cool would walking around doing this be?

I could walk around work punching people I don't like and blaming it all on Starro...!

Now, there's also another cool Martian Manhunter toy-related item: J'onn is going to be included in DC Universe Classics Wave 15, as was leaked by  Fans have been waiting a long time for J'onn to make an appearance as a DCUC figure.  I haven't gone crazy collecting them yet--so far all I've got is Blue Beetle and Booster Gold.  A DCUC J'onn will look great next to the....two other action figures of J'onn which are already sitting on my Nerd Display Area, right next to the Darth Vader cookie jar wearing an Indiana Jones hat.  (That counts for double nerd points.)  Hopefully he'll be tall enough to look okay next to my DC Direct Adam Strange, who unfortunately is out of scale with every 6" figure and looks like a giant.  (Must've been an effect of the Zeta Beam...)

If you want to see the whole video about the San Diego Comic-Con exclusive toys, you can click here, becuase Blogger won't let me embed it.  Also, some extra coverage is here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Comics Are Not More Popular, Part 4

Here's something I wasn't expecting when I recently started reading comics: there is no "everyday" in comics anymore.

Looking at any Previews catalog and the descriptions of comics always take the form of "can so-and-so save the universe?"  Words and phrases like "shocking" and "devastation," and "new era," and "threatens the existence of everything!" seem to get thrown around a lot, and that's just looking at the description of a few books.

Before I started reading comics I thought Batman ran around and collared Arkham escapees, and Superman saved Lois Lane and cats stuck in trees.  Little did I know comics were laden with so many universe-threatening events on a constant basis.  This isn't to say those big crossover events are bad because they're big, I'm just saying there needs to be a few average days in Gotham or Metropolis to balance things out.  Why?

Well, let's digress with a True Story From My Childhood.

When I was twelve I read Jurassic Park when it first came out, and then saw it in the theater shortly thereafter.  Now, from the time I was seven and wanted to be a paleantologist, I loved dinosaurs, and I loved the movie.  Even more than the movie I loved John Williams's score to Jurassic Park, and if you don't know who John Williams is, if you know the themes to Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones, Jaws, and E.T., then you've heard his work.  Shortly after seeing the movie, I convinced my piano teacher to order the sheet music for Jurassic Park for me, even though it was above my level, and commenced to burn through that score like there was no tomorrow.  Except for the quiet intro, I played that thing at full tilt, loud all the way through, because it was a blast to play and it sounded good really loud.

One day my teacher stopped me when I was about to get to the crescendo and said, "Hold on.  You've got to play it more quietly there."

"But it's marked forte," I argued.  Forte means loud!  Loud loud loud!  And it was fun to play LOUD!

"Yes," she said, "but you've got to quiet down just a little bit, otherwise you can't get loudER.  There's nothing to build towards."

"Oh."  Well, a dim bulb brightened.  What's the point of the loud sections if you can't contrast it with semi-loud, or less-loud, or not-quite-loud?

So, when it comes to comics, if all the heroes constantly deal with is world-ending crises, or traumatic events that shake a character to his core and bring him in a "shocking new direction," well, it gets monotonous.  If there aren't some "smaller" stories out there to contrast the big ones, well, the big ones lose their punch, becuase if multiple Earths keep crashing into each other on a daily basis it doesn't become a crisis anymore, just Tuesday.

Not to mention the old writing maxim "don't write a story about Man.  Write a story about a man."  Giant, mind-blowing huge ensemble stories lack some punch because they are so epic, and therefore general, in scale.  There's never a chance to get to really know anyone or follow a single character arc.  (Though Blackest Night is and exception and did a pretty good job in its characterization.)  Stories which are smaller in scope have the benefit of allowing us to see how a character thinks, works, and who he or she truly is.  Smaller stories, counterintuitively, allow for more latitude in character choice than the big ones do.  Obviously if the world is ending or millions of zombies are coming back to life, there is no choice BUT to choose to save the world.  If you choose not to save the world, you're a jerk, and probably not a hero.  But a smaller story has the luxury of allowing the characters to seek different options and different directions while arriving at the endpoint of justice.  Should Barbara Gordon help Stephanie Brown become the next Batgirl or not?  Will Helena Bertinelli choose justice or revenge?  And so on.  A character's choices reveal the true essence of a character, and these choices are what the reader identifies with.

This is why so many characters are needlessly killed off during world-ending "crisis" stories.  Since the only moral choice in a world-ending crisis story is "to save the world," there is no room for smaller, character-illuminating choices or character centric story arcs.  Therefore, the only way to engender audience empathy is to kill off a character.  It's an easy route to audience sympathy in lieu of other means of characterization.  Yes, there may be choices involved in saving the world (do we contact the Indigo Tribe?, etc.), but they often have little to do with characterization and merely serve to move the plot forward.

I love how stretchy the cat's tail is.

In the right hands, even the smallest of stories can be entertaining, amusing, or dramatic.  One of my favorite Justice League International stories is JLI #37, in which the entire plot pretty much hinges on a feral cat wandering into the JLI Embassy and causing all sorts of trouble.  It's an issue I love to read and re-read, not only becuase it's hilarious, but because each character is so well-defined that you can easily figure out who's talking, even through lengthy off-panel conversations.  It's a small story, yes, but that only makes it that much better.

Let's have a few more nice, quiet stories to give us a breather in between all the world-saving, shall we?  With a little more quiet "normalcy," those big crossovers will be true crescendos.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why Comics Are Not More Popular, Part 3

Following along in my little "Comics Newbie Looks At Why Comics Aren't More Popular" series, I of course have to mention the obvious: price.

I once left out an invoice from my weekly comics shipment sitting on the kitchen table and got the reaction from someone of "You pay twenty dollars a week for that...?!"  To which my weak reply was, "Well, it's not twenty dollars EVERY week...."  I don't even want to do the math on what that equals per year (and don't any of you do the math for me and post it in the comments section), but it's a good chunk of dough.  And let's not even talk about the dozens upon dozens of trades and Showcase Presents that are overcrowding my bookshelf...

Anyway, the first crossover that happened when I was reading actual comics was Blackest Night.  Wanting not to miss anything I scooped up every tie-in series (except one issue).  Even though I had no idea who anyone was in Suicide Squad or Weird Western Tales, I bought those, too, becauase, well, they were on the checklist, and if I missed an issue, then I wouldn't understand what was going on, and I couldn't have that.  (I still don't completely understand it, anyway....)

Now, as overwhelming as it was to piece all of that together, especially for someone with a rough knowledge of DCU history, even more overwhelming was the price of all those comics, not to mention having to make room for them in my Tupperware O' Comics container.  In comparison to the multi-issue tie-in Blackest Night, there was this other "special event" during the Summer of '09 called Wednesday Comics.

Wednesday Comics was like getting a box of chocolate truffles in the mail every week: they looked good, I had no idea what was inside them, and when I found out, I was not disappointed.  At times, I was more psyched for the various stories in Wednesday Comics than I was the next issue of Green Lantern.

Looking at the description of Wednesday Comics in the catalog, I had no idea what I was in for, but I saw the words "Adam Strange" in the description, and I do like me some rocket packs, so I subscribed.  When it came in the mail, I unwrapped it and said, "Huh.  It's a little newspaper  Cute."  Then I opened it up and realized you had to unfold it.  "Wow.  It's a really big newspaper.  Full of comics.  Interesting."  And then I went out on the porch and read it and was very happy.  Almost as happy as I am when I eat a box of chocolate truffles.

Some guy, who is not me, reading Wednesday Comics.  But you get the idea.  He's on a porch.

I think Wednesday Comics was one of the biggest opportunities to introduce newbies to comics and DC completely missed out on captializing on it.  The format was different and yet familiar: it was like reading the funny pages in your Sunday paper, only with superheroes, so it piqued curiosity.  If you were reading it, there was no way anyone passing by could miss the gigantic word "COMICS" on the cover, and I was almost tempted to go read it in public to see if anyone would ask me what I was reading.  It was nostalgic, like an old daily newspaper Dick Tracy comic strip.  It was accessible: you didn't have to know who any of these characters were, becuase no assumptions of continuity were made upon the reader.  And it was far from overwhelming: a single page of each story was printed each week, and this left you wanting more.  Not only that, but any fan, newbie or otherwise, seeing the various art and writing styles side-by-side could have a little fun at armchair comics critiquing by comparing the different artists.  Because each style was so different, it was like a little kaliedascope peephole lens into the larger world of comics and it let the newbie understand that different art and writing styles exist in comics.

I would've liked to have seen Wednesday Comics in newsstands, bookstores, grocery stores, drug stores, gas stations, etc., and picked up and enjoyed by young and old, newbies and veterans, but unfortunately this was not to be.  The only non-newbie-friendly aspect of the whole thing was why it was called "Wednesday" Comics, because for a while there I didn't know comics were released on Wednesdays.  (But I figured it out.)  The price could've been a little lower; I would've liked to have seen it be $3 instead of $4.  But still, it's about the price of an average magazine, and I'm sure lots of people would've taken a chance on it, especially considering that parts were reprinted in USA Today.  Some might say the fact that it was printed in a newspaper is enough to initiate the non-initiated into the comics world, but that's not so: you're not really reading comics unless actively seek out an actual comic, not a newspaper.  It's a start, though.  (Unless you were out there buying USA Today for the comics, in which case, I'll give you some credit.)

Okay, so DC missed that opportunity to have an accessible weekly newsprint comics series in the hands of the general non-comics public.  Well, the trade is coming out soon.  Let's capitalize on that and introduce newbies to the medium!  Who-hoo!

So how much does DC charge for the Wednesday Comics trade?

Fifty bucks.

Yep.  FIFTY DOLLARS, plus tax, where applicable.  Now what non-comics reader is going to plunk down $50 for something called Wednesday Comics, even if Superman is on the cover?  (And I'm sure, like most expensive books, it's sealed in plastic, so one can't even flip through it.)  I'M not even going to buy it.  Hey, DC!  Wake up!  Stop catering to the collectors and start courting the noobs!  (Or better yet: make everyone happy: release a glossy expensive collector's edition, and also print a cheap newsprint trade for the newly-initiated.)

Opportunity missed.

So would comics sell if they were cheaper?  Heck yeah.  Did you hear what happened at Amazon about a month ago?  Comics trades were selling like crazy because of a pricing glitch.  No one knows how it happened, though there is semi-serious speculation that it was a hack has been raised.  Now, I know comics are expensive to produce.  You've got to pay the talent, plus all that paper adds up, and anyone who owns an inkjet printer knows ink is more expensive than Type O Negative blood.  But still...maybe there's a way to cheaply produce some "beginner-level" comics that aren't meant to be pretty, glossy collector's items.  You know, comics that are made to be read and enjoyed and borrowed and loaned and talked over with friends rather than be bagged and boarded.  You know, kinda like Showcase Presents, only current.

Just a thought.

Short Reviews That Are Over A Week Old

In lieu of an actual blog post, and since I didn't get any comics this week, I thought I'd post "reviews" on last's weeks reading.  Really, just a list of what I liked and didn't like, just to keep it brief.

Blackest Night #8

  • All the rings on the cover.
  • As soon as everyone started clutching their heads, I knew it was Black Lantern J'onn coming.
  • Larfleeze's little blob pet.
  • Hal's brother and family makes an appearnce.  Good to see that actual citizens DO exist in this whole Blackest Night thing.
  • Sensory overload splash pages work for the Green Lantern Corps, but no one else.
  • And on that note: foldout splash pages = even more fun.
  • Even though I'm not really a fan, seeing Aquaman sans beard/hook hand/long hair is a thing of beauty.
  • While all the resurrected heroes get to make out with their significant others, J'onn J'onzz is stuck with Superman.
  • Maxwell Lord gets a nosebleed.  Heh.
  • Deadman?  Alive?  Most emotional resurrection, but I'm not sure this will work for the character.
  • Black Hand's fate.
  • An open-mouthed Sinestro on the cover.  Reminds me of the Joker.
  • Osiris.
  • Where are the Dibnys?
  • Not sure I like Jade coming back.  I don't know enough about her to really judge, though.
  • Where the hell is Ted Kord?!
  • What exactly did Larfleeze do for Luthor?
  • Is Black Hand an Indigo Lantern now because of the Indigo symbol in his eyes?
  • Where'd the White Lantern Battery come from?  Where is it now?
  • Why does Deadman have a White Lantern ring?  (I wouldn't have noticed this is someone else pointed it out first.)
  • What exactly did Larfleeze and Luthor do, if anything?

Green Hornet #2

  • "Dragon Lady's" weaponized dress.
  • Monthly "lunch with son" consists of just French Fries.
  • Very clever uses of high heels during fight scenes.
  • Bad coloring that makes everyone's face look greasy.
  • Stereotyped Asian "family shame."  C'mon, Mr. Smith, you can do better than that.  I think.
  • Britt Reid, Jr. = Bruce Wayne.  Again, can't you do better, Mr. Smith?
  • Good-looking rich boy with daddy and relationship problems.  Hollywood, much?
  • Britt Reid's son is named Britt Reid, too?  Okay, now I need to re-read the first issue because I don't know who which Britt Reid it was about.
  • What's all this back room dealing with the mayorial candidate and should I care?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Why Comics Are Not More Popular, Part 2

Now, I may be going out on a limb by saying this, but I think comics may be a bit of anacronism.  Let's see if I can back that claim up with some facts...

A few weeks ago, during my lunch break, I was looking up some noir/hardboiled fiction authors since I felt the need to read a good detective story.  That of course wound up into me doing a little research about Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and so forth.  I added The Maltese Falcon to my list of Books to Read Which I Probably Won't Have Time To, and while reading up on it, noticed this:

With the following blurb underneath: "Cover of seminal hardboiled magazine Black Mask, September 1929, featuring part 1 of its serialization of The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. Illustration of private eye Sam Spade by Henry C. Murphy, Jr."

Whoa.  Stop the presses.  Wikipedia, are you telling me that The Maltese Falcon, one of THE most influential hardboiled detective novels ever, was originally published as serialized story in a magazine?

Raise your hand if you've ever read a serialized novel in your lifetime.  No one?  Didn't think so.

Now, I haven't done a lot of reading into the history of comics and pulps, but just from looking at this picture, I'm guessing both pulp magazines and comics where everywhere:

Pulp magazines seemed to be a part of daily life, just like buying milk and bread was.  Which is why you could get both at the same store.  It's a shame that they died out, really, becuase if you look at the list of authors who wrote for pulp magazines, it's staggering.

Now, no one reads serial novels anymore.  Why?  Well, maybe it's because we've all gotten impatient over the years.  Who wants to wait six months to finish reading a book?  I, mean, I'm too impatient to unplug the toaster oven before I start sticking a knife in it, and I have the attention span of an over-caffeinated mosquito.  But despite all that, I think I'd rather read a book in serial form than have to spend two weeks slodging through 400 pages of the same thing.  If anything, a magazine with multiple short exerpts of continuing stories would better fit our cultural ADD even better than our current method of novel reading.

So why no serial fiction?  I really don't know.  Maybe it's too much of a commitment for some folks to wait that long.  Maybe it's because people want the experience of browsing through an actual bookstore and holding one book in their hands instead of twelve magazines.  We seem to have no patience and yet most folks don't mind reading 800-page behemoths like Harry Potter--in fact, they feel like they are getting more for their money the longer the book is.  It just doesn't make sense.  In my mind, there's no reason for a book to be over 350 pages let alone over 500.  And most famous serial novels born in the pulps of the 30's and 40's (heck, even famous "regular" novels from that time period) are short.  Somewhere along the line we mistook depth of material for depth of quality, but that's a debate for a different post.  My point being: if you have the patience to read a gigantic novel (which I don't), then you should be able to handle a serialized novel.  Or maybe waiting a month between chapters really is just too much of a wait.

But think of the upside: a really good story lasts longer.  A novel stretched over months could make a story's timeline seem to unfold in real time.  It's more readable because it's in manageable sections which get their point across, then leave you wanting more, rather than current novels which, at least to me, seem to drag on forever to get to the point and make me want less.  No only that, but short stories could get some visibility in pulps that they can't get today.  And you can read more than one story at a time--how's that for multitasking?  You're always looking forward, wondering what's going to happen next, and because you stay with the story longer, the characters seem to be more alive.  Not to mention, having a month-long pause between chapters gives you a chance to think, and even better, talk about the story with other readers about what will happen next, which characters you liked/didn't like, and so on.  You know, kind of how the comics community operates today.  Wouldn't it be great if we could all talk about what's going to happen in the next chapter of a book?  I think that would be fun.

Why serialized prose isn't as popular as it was is a mystery to me.  Yes, there are a few stragglers like Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Asimov's Science Fiction, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (which just moved to bimonthly), but really, are those flying off the shelves?  Serial fiction is quite dead.  Yes, there are online markets for genre short stories, but hardly any of them would publish a serialized novel.  Serial stories are just dead or dying in any format: radio, movies, and print.

Except comics.  Though they have diverted from the days when "Detective Comics" actually meant a sizeable magazine of, well, detective comics, comics have hung on, in pretty much the same form as they did in the 1930's.  (Though shorter and without multiple stories, the fun ads for BB guns and seed packets, columns about unsolved mysteries and science "facts," and my personal favorite, Letters to the Editor.)  Why have comics hung on where prose died?  Maybe it's becuase comic book characters themselves never die, so an ongoing medium works well.  But guess what, comics aren't that popular with the general public from what I can see.  Certainly nothing like that old black-and-white photo.  If people today want to read comics they read "graphic novels."  No one besides the Library of Congress considers comics "magazines" anymore, but that's what they were: magazines with stories in them, that happened to be told via illustrations.

The general public gave up on serialized fiction for reasons unknown to me.  Though they are still hanging on, something happened to comics somewhere along the line where the idea of the average Joe casually picking up a copy of Action Comics or Detective Comics went by the wayside, perhaps because there are no "action" comics in Action Comics, just Superman, and no "detective" comics in Detective Comics, just Batman and/or Batwoman.  Maybe that's a key to the whole mystery.  I don't know.  I hate to conclude a lengthy post with "pulps died, I don't know why, and I think it's going to happen to comics somewhere down the line," but lacking any further insights, I'm left with no choice.

To be continued....

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why Comics Are Not More Popular, Part 1

As I look forward past my recent Martian Manhunter-themed posts, I'm trying to figure out where to go from here.  Some comments posted by Tom in the final installment of my Martian Manhunter countdown got me thinking.  Plus, a few things mentioned on DC's forums got me thinking as well.  See, I'm rather new to comics.  (Outside of reading The Long Halloween in 2005), I only started reading trades in the Fall of '08, and started subscribing to actual issues around May '09.  I covered a deal of ground in eighteen months, both reading-wise and research-wise (there is an upside to being obsessive-compulsive, let me tell you), but compared to people who've been reading comics their whole lives, my perspective on things is rather different.

Case in point: there was a conversation on DC's message boards about whether or not Dick Grayson is a househould name outside of comics fandom.  The majority of the fans were saying, "Of COURSE everyone knows who Dick Grayson is.  Duh!", with a small minority saying, "Um, no."  I shook my head and decided not to get involved, but let me tell you, a year and a half ago, I had no idea who the heck Dick Grayson was.  (Obviously I knew who (the original) Robin was, but I didn't know his name.) And no, I didn't know who Nightwing was, either.

Which lead me to the conclusion: at least half of what comic fans think non-comics fans know about comics is completely, utterly wrong.

Pre-Batman Begins, here's a list of all the comics characters I knew existed, in no particular order:

  1. Superman
  2. Batman
  3. Robin (though I didn't know his name)
  4. The Joker
  5. Catwoman
  6. The Penguin
  7. Two-Face
  8. The Riddler
  9. Jor-El
  10. General Zod and his two minions
  11. Lex Luthor
  12. The Hulk
  13. Wonder Woman
  14. Spiderman
  15. Wolverine
  16. Green Lantern (though I didn't know his name was Hal Jordan or that there was more than one, or even what he looked like)
  17. Bizzarro (only because of that "Seinfeld" episode.)
  18. Green Arrow (again, only becuase of "Seinfeld.")
  19. The Phantom
  20. Dick Tracy
  21. The Rocketeer
  22. And perhaps a vague notion of "Aquaman."  (I can't really remember for sure.)
The knowledge of all of these characters came from movies, TV, and pop culture.  Harley Quinn doesn't even make the list becuase I only have vague memories of watching the Batman Animated Series when it originally aired, though looking back I do remember her...I just didn't know her character's name.

I'd say up everybody up to number 15 are bona fide Household Names.  If my mother knows who a character is, then I consider him or her a household name.  (Amazingly she knows who Green Lantern is, which leads me to believe my uncle liked him when he was a kid in the 50's.)

As far as teams go, I had never heard of The Justice League, the Justice Society, or the Teen Titans.  Let's not even think of Marvel's teams (besides the X-Men), becuase I still know next-to-nothing about them.

Where am I going with this?  Well, for one, assume that non-comics fans know nothing, becuase it's pretty much the truth.  Even if I did know who Superman was (I grew up with the Christopher Reeve films and watched the old George Reeves show on Nick at Nite), who Superman is on film is different than he is in the comics.  When I cracked open a Superman comic not too long ago and found out he doesn't go around fighting with General Zod in Metropolis and saving cats out of trees all the time and telling Lois how many s's are in "Mississippi," I realized I had some misconceptions.

Now, for the longest time (okay, only a year or so, not that long), I figured that in order to enjoy my comics, I better shape up and start conforming to a certain "comic book reading demographic."  If I wasn't understanding what was going on, or if I didn't like the book I was reading, it was my fault, and I would read synopses or reviews online to "tell" me whether or not I should like a book.  Hey, I figured, if the reviewer at IGN says it's good, and I don't like it, there's something wrong with me.  I'm not a Real Comics Fan if I don't like Hush, because everyone else seems to.  Tom's comments made me think that perhaps I should give my own opinions a little more credit, considering that being an outsider to comics isn't necessarily a bad thing.

To be continued...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter, Comics Style

Okay, I was sitting around watching the yearly broadcast of The Ten Commandments while dyeing Easter eggs, which is the closest thing I've got to an Easter family tradition.  (The egg-dyeing part is all me, however.)

So, I measure out three tablespoons of white vinegar and pour it into a set of thirty-year old free promotional coffee mugs that came from the A & P.  (Or was it Woolworth's?)  Watching the little dye tablets fizz (my favorite part, actually), I'm planning out my egg-dyeing strategy.  I always go with a purple egg first, and it never comes out looking good, ever, because the purple dye tablet is not actually purple but some weird red/blue hybrid, and I always wind up with a splotchy magenta-spotted-blue mess of an egg.  (Back in the day, you always had to use extra vinegar on the purple tablet.  I never knew why.)

Okay, the rubber band egg next.  My old standard, but still fun.  Then I start playing with the little invisible crayon I had hanging around from a previous kit.  (The good folks at Paas didn't provide one in the kit I just bought...they're getting cheap.)

Then it dawns on me.  Of course!  I'll do a comic-themed egg.

And what comic book character looks most like an egg?

Yep.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with Egg-o, the newest member of the Green Lantern Corps, and little brother to big planet Green Lantern Mogo:

My family isn't going to know what the heck that thing is when they open up the egg carton.  And I'm going to feel bad eating it, too.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Guide For Writing the Rebooted Martian Manhunter Part 10

Top Ten Things Writers Need to Consider When Writing the Martian Manhunter

Looking back: Number 10, Number 9, Number 8, Number 7, Number 6, Number 5, Number 4, Number 3, Number 2.  Whew, that's a lot of numbers.

Now, considering that the last chapter to Blackest Night just arrived yesterday, I realize this is all pretty irrelevant now.  But, oh well.  Here's the last installment in my "countdown."

1.  Figure out who the Martian Manhunter is.

Now, I don't mean what his powers are.  I don't mean how powerful of a telepath his is.  Or what his costume is like.  Or any of that superficial stuff.  (Though that is important as well.)  I mean, deep down, who is this character and what does he stand for?

Superman and Batman have instantly-recognizeable character premises: the ideal superhero, the avenging of a past wrong, respectively, and this is why readers connect to them, not because of X-ray vision or batarangs.

Now, it's no secret the character of J'onn J'onzz has suffered from a lack of focus.  Go back twenty years and you'll see at least three different versions of his character (including the I-don't-care-about-humans-anymore coneheader.)  Was Batman really all that different twenty years ago?  Sure, there were some differences, but the character was fundamentally the same as he is today.  (Well, the Bruce Wayne version, that is.)  Someone at DC needs to take the initiative the define the Manhunter from Mars, otherwise he's going to be a B-lister all his life.

All of this begs the question: who is the Martian Detective, anyway?  Well, I don't really know.  Sometimes I think I know, and then a few months (or even days) goes by, or someone offers a different viewpoint, and then I really don't know.  I'm not sure anyone knows.  Which is kind of a bad thing.

So far, J'onn J'onzz seems to be the inkblot character of the DCU, with each fan seeming to have his or her own conception of who he is.  Just take a look at the comments over on I-HoD and you'll see what I mean.  I mean, we can't even agree on costume, let alone villains, supporting cast, and such.

Perhaps it's because J'onn's most defining characterist is that he is the "alien" and we all have different ideas of what "alien" means to us.  Well, DC, I challenge you to develop him to be more than just a variation of "The Outsider" archetype.

I'll now digress into my first awareness of the character to show you at least how I see J'onn.  (Not that it really matters what I think--it's up to DC to fix this, not me.  Oh, and feel free to offer your own opinions on who you think the Martian Manhunter is.)

All right.  I'll make a confession: I came to comics really, really recently.  I mean, really recently.  Honestly, I don't deserve to have a comics blog, and without Google I'd know next to nothing.  So, I have a really skewed outsider's perspective on everything comics-related because, well, it's all pretty much new to me.  I started out with Batman, because, well, he was always my favorite, then I started reading Darwyn Cooke's The Spirit (do check that out, by the way) becuase I saw it at Borders, and the guy on the cover was wearing a hat.  (Yes, I really am that superficial.)  Then I heard Mr. Cooke won an award for DC: The New Frontier, and I really liked his style, so I picked up that.  I pretty much knew who no one was in that book at the time except the Big Three and The Flash.  Yep, not even Hal Jordan.

Now, I I like sci-fi.  I like aliens.  I watch the cheesy UFO-sightings shows on The History Channel.  Space fascinates me.  As I was reading New Frontier, there was this little Martian guy running around who I found simultaneously fascinating and amusing.  And if something amuses me, well, I'll be hooked for life.  (Never mind the fact that I thought Darwyn Cooke made him up.  I didn't know he was an established superhero till later.)

Now, this Martian guy had kind of a sad story.  He got beamed to Earth against his will by some scientist in Gotham City.  (Which really ticked me off that there was an observatory in Gotham, because I'm sure the seeing is terrible there.  Worst place ever for astronomy.  Anywho.)  Then the scientist guy dies in his arms and our little Martian friend (who's kind of scary looking) is stranded on Earth.  In addition to being a fan of things which amuse me, I'm also a fan of tragedy.  So, score two points for this Martian guy.

Turns out this Martian guy can shapeshift, and while he's watching an old detective movie, he decides he's just going to be one.  How cool is that?  This guy is naive enough to believe that movie heroes actually exist in the real world, and he decides he's going to go out and be one.  There's such a sweet little wide-eyed innocence in that premise that it melted my cynical little heart.  This was a guy who wanted to be good for the sake of being good, despite being given a raw deal.  Not because his parents got murdered or some such.  That's the true essence of hero in my book: someone who puts his or her personal needs aside for the betterment of humanity.  Score three points for the Martian.

Oh, and he wears a Fedora.

Four points!

So the Martian decides to be a cop, and he acts and talks like a movie cop, which is simultaneously amusing and endearing, much to the chagrin of his hard-boiled partner.  Now, I failed to mention that I love buddy cop stories, so we're now up to five points:

John with his partner Slam Bradley, as portrayed by Robert Mitchum

Oh, and I like secret identities.  Six points.

He also has this strange hypnotic weakness to fire, which I found intriguing.  A superhero stricken to his knees by flame?  This guy can't get a break.  Again, kind of tragic.  I liked it.  Meanwhile, Detective Jones (oh, I like detectives, too: seven points) is investigating some weird goings on in the world, complete with a conspiracy board, and takes a lot of ribbing from his fellow cops because of it.  Two bonus points for the conspiracy board.

What are we up to, like a million points or something?

Anyway.  I became an instant fan of the innocent-outsider-Martian-as-human "John Jones."  Later in the book, he winds up getting the crap scared out of him by Batman (welcome to Gotham City!) and then is captured by a government agent, King Faraday.  They play chess.  (Board games: ten points.)  And when a threat arrives J'onn decides he'll be a hero and join the fight, despite it nearly costing his life.  Again, true hero.

After reading New Frontier I started looking for that Martian guy and found out he was a bona fide superhero.  News to me.  Fast forward a little bit to me watching the Justice League: Unlimited cartoon, which I enjoyed, and then Alex Ross's: Justice, and Gerard Jones's American Secrets, Justice League International, and I was hooked.

What conclusions had I come to about the character?  In my own opinion, I thought at heart J'onn J'onzz was the "incorruptible one."  Meaning no matter what he always does the right thing.  Because he's a tad naive, he still believes in heroics and saving lives and goodness all that "corny comic book stuff" like Slam Bradley said.  He's kind of innocent, but very principled: he knows where his morals are.  Later on I realized he's the most patient member of the Justice League: he always could see things from each opposing viewpoint, and despite being an alien, he seemed accessible to any Leaguer who had a concern.  (One reason why his ignoring of Blue Beetle in Infinite Crisis bugged me...)  He's wise and mature and the elegant simplicity of just wanting to do good things is what drives him.  He seemed to be more passive than Superman, and willing to stop and think before acting, and much more humble than other League members.  (*coughHalJordancough*)  He carried around a lot of tragedy but didn't go whining about it or engage in self-punishing survivor's guilt like Batman.  To me, he was completely unique.  Plus he just seemed like a really nice, decent guy, and it's nice to see pleasant heroes for a change.  Like many heroes he was selfless, even though there was more working against him than other heroes: Superman was lauded, he was not (well, in modern continuity anyway) and he still decided to help us out.  Yeah, if my planet got wiped out and people were scared of me, do you know where I'd be?  Hiding out behind a rock somewhere.

Now, a lot of people see J'onn as just the outsider.  That's okay.  But looking back now at New Frontier, it was very clever of Darwyn Cooke to make J'onn the outsider not because of custom or culture, but because of morals.  In other words, J'onn's otherworldliness didn't come from pained observations on "your strange human custom of (fill in the blank with some everyday task)," but from believing that one could easily choose to do good and then put that into action without a second thought. I don't think we, as humans, really engage in that.  I mean, how many people wake up and say, "I'll do so such-and-such with my life" and then actually live it?  Not me, anyway.  We're all works in progress, we're all imperfect, we all hang on to the past, we hold grudges, we second guess ourselves, we're cynical, we're petty, and the Manhunter from Mars transcends all that self-serving behavior that tends to pull us down.

That's why I think the Martian Manhunter is a hero.  Your view may differ.  Deep down, I think we all agree on something about the character, though I'm not sure what, and I really wish DC would articulate even half of what the fans believe about J'onn J'onzz.  I hope Brightest Day delivers.

This wound up being endlessly long.  I hope you enjoyed it, and the rest of the countdown.  Because it went on forever, here's a little silliness.  No lie, this was my original reaction when J'onn first changed into his superhero duds:

Oh my God, that's the WORST costume ever!  Ha ha!  What great comic relief!  Now change into your REAL costume, J'onn!

(Ten seconds later....)

Crap.  That IS his real costume.