Professional curmudgeon and Real Time host Bill Maher enraged vast swaths of the comics community Saturday with a blog post that referenced the death of Stan Lee, arguing briefly that his cultural importance is over-inflated given the entertainment icon’s origins in a medium the comedian essentially deemed infantile. I suppose the kneejerk vitriol on social media spouted over Maher’s repudiation of a beloved, famed figure still being mourned and an entire entertainment medium is to be expected, but my reaction was thus:
When I discovered comic books in the late 1970s, I was immediately taken with DC titles. The reason might be quite simple: my favorite of my first three comics when recovering from a bad broken arm in hospital was Batman Family #19, probably because it was the thickest, offered more stories and featured more colorful characters than the other two (one of which was an issue of Amazing Spider-Man). I was squarely in the DC camp, and it would be a few years before a friend initiated me into Marvel and the House of Ideas.
When comics readers envision iconic characters, their definitive versions tend to be associated with specific artists. As someone who grew up reading comics in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, my Superman is the one drawn the late Curt Swan, for example. And when it came to Batman, for a long time, it was always the late Jim Aparo’s that came to mind. But then in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, someone else came along who offered such dynamic portrayals of the Dark Knight, he joined Aparo in my estimation of the perfect Batman artist.
Norm Breyfogle died Monday in Michigan, after a few years of forced retirement following a stroke in 2014. Stalwarts of the comic-book industry have already eulogized him online, and my thoughts on Breyfogle’s work will pale in comparison. I never had the chance to meet the artist, but his unique style really stuck with me over the years.
I had no idea writer Chelsea Cain was on the cusp of a comeback at Marvel Entertainment. I would imagine many others were likewise in the dark about it. Apparently, her Vision title was announced at Comic-Con International San Diego this summer, but I hadn’t heard about it. Of course, there’s such a deluge of pop-culture news and gossip that emerges from the annual event, I’m not surprised I missed it.
That Marvel was tapping Cain (and her husband, Marc Mohan, as co-writer) once again to craft a story featuring one of its characters was a smart move for the publisher, in light of the controversy that arose over her Mockingbird series a couple of years ago. A disgusting backlash of toxic masculinity and a gatekeeper mentality directed at a woman whom Marvel dared to hire and over a feminist message became emblematic of a culture clash within comics. We’re still dealing with it today in the form of the “Comicsgate” crowd, railing against diversity in characters, storytelling and talent.
DC’s move to launch its own streaming service, DC Universe, is both completely logical and rather surprising at the same time. Many corporations are scrambling to catch up with Netflix and other early-out-of-the-gate services, seeking to reap the huge rewards of producing original content and making its older material available online for fees. Furthermore, there’s money to be made from selling its original content later on to other media outfits and on home video. CBS jumped on board with its own effort, CBS All Access, last year, and Disney is reportedly developing its own streaming service. Whether these newer efforts will have staying power remains to be seen.
So when viewed in that context, it’s understandable that DC would embark upon a similar venture. It has a huge library of properties adapted for TV and movies upon which it can draw, and as Hollywood has known for years, its vast array of characters offers significant potential for new programming. Furthermore, DC knows there’s an online audience for its comics, and offering that reading experience as part of DC Universe is a logical extension of the digital content effort.
What’s surprising is that it’s DC, not its parent company Time Warner, that’s taking on such a project. It’s quiet ambitious for a comparatively small branch of the media giant to undertake such an endeavor.
“Fuck Batman,” indeed.
DC Entertainment dropped its first trailer Thursday for Titans, a new television series from DC’s upcoming online streaming service, DC Universe, and as is often the case when it comes to the adaptation of a comics property (especially one of DC’s), reaction has been polarized. Many are taking issue with the “grimdark” tone of the new show and its harsher take on some iconic (and not-so-iconic) teen-hero characters.
When it comes to other-media adaptations of notable (and more obscure) Marvel and DC characters, there’s a growing push toward providing creator credits with such movies and television shows. Marvel’s movie and television arms seem to have settled on an opening credit of “Based on the comics by XX and YY,” generally referring to the writer and penciller who worked on a titular character’s first appearance, with a “special thanks to…” closing credit for creators whose characters and/or stories were included or mined to construct the filmed fare. Those credits, while a positive step forward, nevertheless still fall short, given their non-specificity (and one could easily argue a real acknowledgement of such past creative efforts should come in a monetary form).
When it comes to DC Comics characters on the big and small screens, character-creation credits have definitely gone a bit further. The list of comics creator credits showing up in the closing credits of DC films, live-action TV shows and animated productions has been growing steadily in recent years. I recently watched the direct-to-video Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay animated movie, and I was struck by the creators listed in the closing credits, giving a nod to those who conceived of and introduced a dozen characters in DC (and even Charlton) comics in years past.
The comics industry — at least the one in North America — achieves a significant milestone this week with the release of Action Comics #1000. It’s not just that it’s the first title in this marketplace to achieve that long a run, but it’s also because of what that title represents. Action Comics #1 in 1938 introduced Superman and spawned an entire genre of fiction, one that now dominates pop culture. Sure, Superman wasn’t necessarily the first costumed hero — there were others in the pulps before him — but the Man of Steel resonated with an audience in a way no other adventure hero had before.
But as we celebrate this moment 80 years in the making, it’s worthy to note Superman didn’t lead us on this cultural journey alone. Action Comics #1 also introduced Zatara the Magician, and that character’s legacy lives on in Zatanna, who’s broken through in pop culture as well, albeit to a lesser degree than Superman. Other characters joined them in the initial anthology issue: Chuck Dawson; Pep Morgan; Sticky-Mitt Stimson; Scoop Scanlon, five-star reporter; and Tex Thomson (later Mr. America and the Americommando) among them.
As I looked back on my four decades of memories of Action (half of its unprecedented run), it occurred to me my favorite stints weren’t linked exclusively to Superman stories, but rather to issues that included and involved a diverse array of DC characters.
Warner Bros. Animation has announced its next direct-to-movie film will be The Death of Superman, an adaptation of the classic comic-book story from late 1992 that saw the Man of Steel “killed” by the monstrous Doomsday. The followup will be an adaptation of the “Reign of the Supermen” storyline, which saw four replacement Supermen arise and the “real” Man of Tomorrow restored to life.
In a genre in which super-hero deaths were commonplace and quickly reversed, it was nevertheless historic. While comics are much more mainstream today, in 1992, they were still maligned black sheep of pop culture, but despite that, the notion of Superman’s death captured the imaginations of people all over the globe, sending droves of people, those interested in comics and those who weren’t, in droves to comic shops. Some were curious, some were speculating, but it was undeniably a cultural phenomenon.
During my junior year of university, the above image adorned one wall of my small dorm room. The massive piece of art, the noted Marvel Universe poster with art by penciller Ed Hannigan and inker Joe Rubenstein, was actually a collage of his cover artwork from the first 12 issues of the original Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe limited series, over the course of 1982 to 1984 (the total run was 15 issues, with the last three focusing on dead characters and weapons)..
The poster, measuring 50 inches by 50 inches (more than 16 square feet), would’ve been released in 1988 — oddly enough, after the followup index series, Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition had wrapped up. Of course, since different artists ultimately contributed cover artwork for that second series while Hannigan handled all of the covers for the original series, I suppose it made more sense to release his work as a poster (albeit updated to reflect some additions and costume changes).
Alas, sometime during my university days, or perhaps as they came to an end, I misplaced the poster, packed up safely in its original hard cardboard tube. I left it behind somewhere after one of my many moves.
While Marvel Studios didn’t invent the post-credits scene in movies, it certainly embraced it to the point that it’s a signature of its brand now. Whenever I go to see a Marvel movie in theatres, I’m always shocked at the number of people who get up and leave as soon as the end credits begin. When the Marvel brand first started, most people left, with a handful of us remaining for the bonus. Now, I’d say almost half of the audience splits, and given how much fun those post-credits scenes can be and how well known the Marvel brand is for them, I find it incredibly puzzling.
You know what’s even more befuddling? Marvel Entertainment’s new attempt to adopt the post-credit scene in its comics. As of last week, the comics publisher has begun branding a handful of its titles with a “Where is Wolverine?” icon and promising the comic in question has such a bonus scene at the end of the book.
The news broke Tuesday that Brian Michael Bendis, a writer whose name has been synonymous with the Marvel brand for almost two decades, is wrapping up his tenure and creating new work for its Distinguished Competition. It’s a huge development in the American comics industry. I’ve been a big fan of a lot of Bendis’s work at Marvel — mainly the solo titles as opposed to team books — and as a guy who started out reading only DC comics as a kid, I’m excited to see what Bendis will do with some of my cherished childhood icons.
Marvel announced this week, through a spin-heavy puff piece in Forbes, it was altering its value-added digital code program in its printed comics. Instead of receiving a free digital download code for the comic one purchased, Marvel will now include a code that’s good for downloads for two other, previously released and unrelated comics. The shift begins in February.
The Rob Salkowitz-penned Forbes piece is headlined as “Marvel Sweetens Its Retail Value With New Digital Bonuses For Comic Buyers,” and in the article, Marvel reports it’s changing its digital-code program to benefit brick-and-mortar comics retailers, the folks who sell the tangible comic books that it says is the cornerstone of the industry. At best, it’s a naive endeavor. At worst, it’s a lie. A possible motive for the change in approach is to curb the grey-market sale of the digital codes under the original program and to redirect that business to Marvel’s digital-comics sales avenues.
The premiere of Season 7 of The Walking Dead TV show on AMC has evoked some extreme reactions, as social media exploded Sunday night and into Monday with people talking about not just what happened, but how vividly and gruesomely it was depicted. I spent a good chunk of the day Monday discussing the episode with some colleagues at work, and I also spent some time actively not discussing it in front of others who hadn’t had a chance to see it. In that spirit, I should note there will be some spoilers in this essay, but they’re all contained after the front-page break. Please consider this fair warning for anyone who hasn’t viewed the episode in question — or even for those who might be way behind on their reading of the original comic-book incarnation of The Walking Dead or viewing of past seasons. Also, there are a couple of images (and some language) found after the break that will definitely prove to be too intense for some…