Thursday, September 29, 2005


Or: REALLY Un-fucking-believable

I was going to post a Season 4 review of "The Dead Zone", but just as I was wrapping it up, I discovered that the Image series "Small Gods" has been cancelled as of issue 12.

Right now? Every negative thought I have about this talent-forsaken industry feels justified. I've always taken the stance that there's enough good material out there to balance out the enormous amount of subpar crap we have to wade through. But when a quality book is cancelled while Marvel and DC flood the shelves with meaningless tie-ins to even more meaningless events, I can't help despairing.

Because, really, what does it take? What does it take for a good book to succeed these days? "Small Gods" was well-written, the art was great, it had a premise that allowed a lot of room to maneuver... so why did its sales plummet into the cancellation zone? Lack of advertising? Lack of reader interest?

What is WRONG with these people? Is this really the kind of market they want? Where any good idea that doesn't revolve around superheroes is rewarded with swift cancellation while Frank Miller writes meaningless drivel? Where an original concept and excellent execution of that concept gets axed while "Spawn" just goes on and on?

This is just not right. Not on any level. It's infuriating that no quality book can seem to stand without those crutches. Sure, said crutches have given us very good stories. But we are all rapidly running out of viable alternatives when we want to take a break from the spandex and try something different.

I'm not the Chicken Little type. Most of the time, I don't actually believe the comics industry is moving towards some apocalyptic collapse. But at times like these - when creativity is cut off at the knees while repetition earns moans of awe and delight - I almost wish it would. Because maybe if the whole thing came crashing down once and for all, the next incarnation would be a place where a series like "Small Gods" could thrive.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Mighty Thor Covers Madonna!

So funny I HAD to share. Courtesy of Comic Book Resources:

"Since thou hast departed
I mayest breathe once anon
I go onward hence, yea verily
Thanks to thee, now I hast my desire
Since thou hast departed"


"Did'st thou write the book of love
Dost thou have faith i' Odin above
If the fables tell thee so?
Now dost thou believe in good minstrels?
Can music save thy mortal soul?
And can thou teach me how to dance quite slow?"


"Mine Milkshake brings all the young lads to the yard
and they are known to say
tis better than yours
yea verily tis better than yours
I can educate ye on it
but I'd have to maketh thy pay"


"Smite me, infant, one more time!"


"Mine Midgard Serpent wantest not if thou doth not have buns, fair damsel."


"If thou wisheth to be with me
Young babe there be a price to be paid
I am an Aesir in a bottle
Thou hast to rubbeth me in a correct manner
If thou wisheth to be with me
I have the ability to make thine wishes become true
Thou hast to make a grand impression
I have to approve of ye."


"When thou call'st my name 'tis like a little prayer
Thou down on thine knees, I desire to take thou there
In the midnight hour I shalt feel thine power
Just like a prayer thou know I shalt take thee there

I hear your voice, it's like an valkyrie sighing
I have no choice, I hear thy voice
Feels like flying
I close mine eyes, oh Odin I think I'm falling
Out of the sky, I close mine eyes
Asgard help me."


"When the night falleth down
I lookst for thee, and thou comest around
And the world doth be alive
With the sound of younglings on the street beyond my window
When thou walkst into the room
Thou pull'st me close, and we doth start to move
And we turn with the cosmos above
And thou lifts me up in a wave of love

Ooh, mine beloved, knowest thou what that be worth?
Ooh, Valhalla art a place on Earth.
The minstrels sing that in Valhalla, love comes first
Thou makest Valhalla a place on Earth.
Ooh, Valhalla art a place on Earth."

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Infinite Financial Crisis

Or: "Money Money Money, It's So Funny, In DiDio's World"

Okay, let me get this straight.

First there was Identity Crisis. Then Identity Crisis tie-ins - not a lot, but they were there.

Then the Johns/Rucka/Winick "Countdown" special. Which launched four "Countdown" minis - Rann/Thanagar War, OMAC Project, Day of Vengeance and Villains United. All of which would set the stage for the seven-issue "Infinite Crisis" mini.

Seems simple, doesn't it? You'd think they'd leave well enough alone.

Then they added a fifth miniseries, "The Return of Donna Troy".

Then the "Countdown" miniseries started tying into other series, some with rather significant results (ie: the Superman/Wonder Woman crossover "Sacrifice", which Rucka conveniently forgot all about until it hit the stands).

Then DC announced that, post-Crisis, all books would be leaping forward a year, and if you wanted to know what happened in the interrim you'd need to buy the weekly "52" miniseries. They also cheerfully added that Grant Morrison's "Seven Soldiers" - in itself a thirty-part miniseries - ALSO tied into "Infinite Crisis".

And now they tell us that, during the actual Crisis, specials based on the four "Countdown" miniseries will be released, concluding the various plotlines. So for those of you wondering why the minis themselves don't have very conclusive endings... well, there you go. This in spite of initial assurances that the "Countdown" minis would constitute complete, self-contained stories.

Well, they've lost the point just a bit, haven't they? I mean, as much as I despise Marvel's sleazy antics, it's times like this I'm glad I prefer them to DC. Because at least when Marvel broke down the "House of M" tie-ins, they stuck to that number. DC, by contrast, seems to take great pleasure in jerking its readers around, constantly adding more and more books to the tie-in list, while addendums and epilogues and interludes are tacked on ad nauseum. I'd be damned impressed with anyone who could keep up with it.

I wonder if at this stage DiDio has just lost control of his pet project. It's certainly looking like his much-vaunted "Two-Year Plan" was a lot more vague than he'd like us to believe; how else can we reconcile the fact that the crossover just keeps expanding, with no end in sight? Has "Infinite Crisis" become the heir apparent to those pointless, costly, sprawling and redundant crossovers of the '90s we all thought we'd left behind?

Whatever the actual merits of "Infinite Crisis", I don't think anything justifies this blatant manipulation. It's a shameless milking of the audience. Does DC seriously expect its readers to put second mortgages on their houses to follow this bloody thing (as opposed to dropping it completely and saving a bundle)?

There's no "T.V." in "I-R-O-N-M-A-N"

Or: "Honey, where's the remote?"

Marvel has issued the following press release:

"MARVEL TAPS CARNIVALE CREATOR DANIEL KNAUF TO PEN SIX ISSUES OF IRON MAN: Emanating from his explosive imagination, Knauf will pen six issues of the monthly Iron Man title. The exhilarating storyline will feature a string of high-visibility assassinations, prompting an intense investigation by Tony Stark (Iron Man’s alter ego), as the killer appears to be employing the armor and weapons of Iron Man. Stark is shocked and horrified by the truth he uncovers, as a far deeper game of death and deceit is being played – with Stark himself as one of the pawns!"

Let's get the joke out of the way first: "Iron Man is a monthly title? Someone should really tell Adi Granov and Warren Ellis."

Okay, so this Knauf guy has joined the likes of Damon Lindelof, Joss Whedon and Allan Heinberg, TV writers migrating (some more temporarily than others) to comics. Specifically, to Marvel comics.

Superficially, you'd think this would be a good thing. After all, the more Marvel draws from a larger pool of talent, the more diverse and potentially interesting their product. And it's likely that, since these guys come from outside the comics industry, they might actually bring some fresh ideas to the mix.

But the problem with this exercise is that Marvel isn't quite thinking things through. They're so desperate to snatch up ANYONE with a career in movies, books or television that they aren't necessarily asking themselves the most important question: "Can they write comics?" Sure, the gamble has paid off twice so far, with Whedon and Heinberg putting out some rather high-quality work at Marvel (certainly topping anything the old-timers like Claremont or Miller are putting out at the moment).

However, Whedon and Heinberg were perfectly suited for their respective books. The former is a self-professed X-geek, the latter excels at teen-centric drama, with an emphasis on characterization - an essential tool when you're basically asking your readers to embrace a whole bunch of brand-new characters sight unseen. That's not always going to be the case.

The expectation is clearly that readers will associate the upcoming comics with the quality of the corresponding television show, and the books practically hype themselves: "Lost writer does Ultimate Hulk vs. Ultimate Wolverine in an Ultimate Limited Series, ULTIMATELY!" This does ignore a rather hard-to-miss fact about TV shows, though: they rarely have just one writer. So Damon Lindelof MIGHT be the guy who keeps "Lost" going, or he could be the guy who wrote that one episode everyone hated.

Nobody really stops to think about stylistic incompatibility anymore: it was a given that if Brad Meltzer could write mystery novels he could write "Identity Crisis". Of course, that kind of thinking also gave us Ron Zimmerman, which just goes to show you: those that can, do. Those that can't, also do.

It's different when you're talking about Stephen King doing a horror book for Marvel - that's his genre, his area of expertise. No one was particularly skeptical when Denise Mina, noted crime author, was announced as Mike Carey's successor on "Hellblazer". But "Iron Man" as written by the creator of "Carnivale"? Tchaa, you know what? Uh-uh.

If this turns into a marketing gimmick, the bigger threat is that Marvel won't be able to launch ANYTHING without a "TV name" attached to it. Good books like "Gravity" go down the drain because they're just thrown out there with no support. The unfortunate fact is that there's only one spotlight, and if it's not shining on the Crossover du jour, it's putting a divine halo around whatever TV shmuck Quesada manages to reel in, regardless of whether he can actually do the job.

But I guess you don't really need talent to sell books, as long as you're a "name". Just look at how well Sam Clemens is doing on "Worldwatch".

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Passion of the Purist

Or: "Decimate THIS!"

When I came back to comics after eight years (having been, at the time, a casual reader) in late 2002, I found that, contrary to my fears, being selective was actually rather easy. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for the ones who have the time on their hands to read EVERYTHING, but that wasn't going to happen for me. I had to be picky. The good news was that, generally speaking, comics were actually allowing me that possibility, after years where it seemed like you had to read eight books for one story on a regular basis. Where, if you were a fan of Daredevil, you'd suddenly find yourself reading Thor, Spider-Man and Hulk whether you particularly cared to or not.

I should probably pause here and explain that, insofar as the big Marvel/DC schism goes, I've generally been more of a Marvel Girl. I love DC's imprints (Wildstorm and Vertigo) but when it comes to the main DC universe, I always found the characters to be a little too cold, a little too perfect, and pretty much not what I'm looking for. As a result, I don't really keep up with the DCU at all, which is why this discussion is going to veer a little more towards familiar waters.

If, at the time I got back into comics, I wanted to read Peter Milligan's "X-Force", I could do so without being dragged by the tits towards some other corner of the Marvel Universe I had no interest in visiting. I'd long since made the shift from following characters to following writers, and in time I'd built myself a little list of writers who'd really impressed me - there was Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Judd Winick, Brian Michael Bendis (remember, this was long before the Avengers fiasco), and many more, (including, of course, "Papa" himself, Alan Moore).

The point is, it was pretty easy to maneuver between subpar books I wanted nothing to do with (see: Chuck Austen's "Uncanny X-Men", Bruce Jones' "Hulk") and what I perceived to be the best of the best, the stuff I really wanted and enjoyed. Continuity was pretty out of fashion at the time - it was pretty easy to just step in when a new writer came aboard without worrying about the four decades of baggage behind him. There were no giant crossover events forcing themselves down your throats.

That isn't the case anymore, not by a long-shot. Witness the dilemma of a writer-centric purist: when "House of M" reached its third issue, it became clear to me that it wasn't working. So I dropped it. None of its tie-ins affected books I read (except for Exiles, which kind of avoids the problem of influence by its very nature). That should be the end of it, right? Didn't like it, don't have to read anything about it.

Except it has now become fashionable again to take the choice out of the reader's hand. Following writers is now that much more difficult, because it might lead you somewhere you don't want to go. Case in point:

I like David Hine. The problems with "District X" had everything to do with mandated pacing and nothing to do with Hine's writing. So I should just pick up his next book and see what he does, right?

Wrong. Because his next projects are "Son of M" and "X-Men: The 198", labeled "Decimation" books and spinning out of "House of M".

Peter David's one of my favorite writers. Not that I accept all his work evenly - quite frankly, I thought his recent return to Hulk was abominable. But he pulled off a "Madrox" miniseries very nicely earlier in the year, and when he announced an "X-Factor" ongoing following that mini up, I should have been thrilled. Right?

Wrong. Because it's labeled a "Decimation" book and spins out of "House of M", featuring Layla Fucking Miller the walking plot device.

I went into the "X-23" miniseries expecting tawdry garbage and discovering a rather nice origin story for what had to be one of Marvel's most transparently gimmicked characters. The writing team of Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost was set to take over "New X-Men", a book I'd always wanted to read but never quite clicked with me under Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis. Clearly, I should be reading this.

Wrong. Have a guess as to why.

I think what I resent the most is precisely that Marvel forces readers into that position, choosing between writers they want to read and Event fallout they don't. Morrison's "New X-Men" never forced you to acknowledge Austen's "The Draco". And if your tastes went the other way, Claremont never tried to cram Cassandra Nova down your throat. All we had to do was pick and choose what we wanted, content that context and accessibility weren't a cause for concern.

So what's a selective purist to do? Do I grit my teeth and read follow-up after follow-up to an event I don't care about, just because it's by writers I happen to like? Or do I just cross off anything with "DECIMATION tie-in!" on the cover, and shut myself out completely from entire scores of books?

Mandates and policies come and go. Characters die and pop back up none worse for wear. Writers leave and return and quit and come out of retirement.

It's the choice I miss.