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…
Like a lot of North American comics enthusiasts, my introduction to Steve Dillon’s art was in the pages of DC’s Hellblazer in the mid 1990s. I had just finished with my post-secondary education, and I was emerging into full adulthood. Relocation, independence and a burgeoning career. A real paycheque meant my love for comics could be indulged further. I remained (and still do) a fan of super-hero comics, but my eyes had already been opened to more mature fare exploring other genres. I’d discovered Neil Gaiman’s Sandman during my university years. I think it was in 1994 that someone at the comic shop I was frequenting at the time insisted that I look at Hellblazer. I wasn’t all that familiar with or enthralled by John Constantine, as I hadn’t been a reader of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, which introduced the character.
I don’t specifically recall if it was the first Garth Ennis/Dillon issue I read or not, but the memory that sticks with me to this day was Constantine’s journey through a nightmarish American purgatory, guided by the grotesque, post-assassination form of John F. Kennedy. (A quick web search reveals it was the “Damnation’s Flame” storyline from Hellblazer #s 72-75). Though I’m not an American, I immediately recognized that the use of Kennedy, open head wound and all, as a key figure in the storyline would be practically blasphemous to my neighbors to the south. I was struck by the daring of it, by the sheer gall and bravery of the storytelling choice.
I managed to get out and see Captain America: Civil War in its second weekend of release, and as expected, it was quite entertaining. However, my Facebook feed was filled through the previous week with raves from the many comic-book enthusiasts and pros I follow on social media. Along with it was a fair bit of some familiar criticisms (even up to vitriol) — not for Civil War, but for Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The new Marvel movie isn’t nearly as polarizing as the DC/Warner Bros. foray into the super-hero genre earlier this year. I don’t understand why so many had such harsh words for the film (especially those who hadn’t seen it), but the comparisons between the DC flick and the Marvel movie were unavoidable.
Allow me to offer mine, sans spoilers (to the best of my ability).
Comparing BvS and Civil War is natural, and not just because of how closely together they clustered in theatres. It’s because there are some clear parallels to be drawn. Both movies are built on the premise of familiar, colorful heroes doing battle (before dealing with the real threat).
I didn’t see Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice until about six days after its initial release, so I wasn’t planning on writing a review of the flick. And I still don’t (though I fall squarely in the camp of those who loved it). There was a particularly flawed aspect of the movie that kept nagging at me, as it represents a professional itch that just wouldn’t go away. So I’ve decided to scratch it with a little rant.
While I feel BvS succeeds overall as an action movie, a character-driven drama and an effort to build a larger super-hero movie continuity, it fails in lesser aspects. Chief among them, how it handles the practice of journalism. I’m a newspaper reporter, so clunky depictions of my profession always irk me. And boy, did director Zack Snyder and screenwriters David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio bungle the day-to-day operations of The Daily Planet at just about every opportunity (though there are few of them).
We’re in a Golden Age of other-media adaptations of comics properties, with success after success leading movie producers to tap not only the A-list household names in comics fiction, but the B and C-lists as well. I had a great time when I went to Ant-Man this summer, each episode of The Flash is a viewing experience I relish and Jessica Jones has earned what seems like universal kudos. To think there are more live-action options available than animated ones is amazing.
Of all the upcoming TV and movie releases, one that has perhaps piqued my interest the most is director David Ayer’s vision of Suicide Squad. I was a huge fan of the John Ostrander-penned/Luke McDonnell-illustrated comic series of the 1980s (which was the second incarnation of the Suicide Squad, as it started out as a military/adventure property in the Silver Age). I own a couple of pages of McDonnell’s original art from Suicide Squad, and I’ve always checked out subsequent takes on the concept (though none of them boasted the same hook and skilled storytelling as Ostrander’s run).
It’s been 14 years since the first issue of Alias by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos was released in comics shops. I was taken with the book immediately, which came as no surprise, as I was hungry for anything Bendis penned at the time (and I continue to follow some of his mainstream Marvel work today). When an adaptation of that series was announced as one of the TV series to be developed by Marvel and Netflix, I was pumped and eager to see what would arise.
Jessica Jones, the said streaming TV show, was released a week ago, and like so many others, comics lovers and non-readers alike, I binge-watched my way through it fairly quickly. What I found was something that, in terms of plot, was quite different from the Bendis/Gaydos source material, but thematically and tonally, it was consistent and just as compelling. The story is different, but the subject matter is the same.
In recent years, schedules have emerged as vitally important cogs in my everyday life, personal and professional. Routine is key in childrearing, so we have a schedule to which my wife and I adhere pretty closely every day, every week. My boss laments the monthly scheduling of staff in the newsroom, but without that complicated labor, some of the myriad of tasks and assignments that need to be done daily would no doubt slip through the cracks. I have to keep an eye on the schedule to ensure my usual duties haven’t been trumped by a fill-in shift of some kind, covering for one editor or another.
In publishing, keeping to the schedule keeps the business going. Deadlines exist for a reason. There are penalties for missing press times at the printers. If one thing goes amiss, the whole endeavor can fall flat. But when it comes to scheduling, the release of the first volley in DC Comics’ latest rebranding and relaunch demonstrates the publisher has completely missed the point of the benefits of good timing and the pitfalls of bad timing.
For about four years now, writer Mark Waid and his artistic collaborators (mainly the amazing Chris Samnee, as of late) have been crafting what is almost universally hailed as Marvel Entertainment’s best (or one of its best) ongoing super-hero titles, Daredevil. Waid’s novel take on the title character’s sensory powers, his exploration of some more obscure Silver Age characters, the incorporation of the title character into the larger, more wondrous elements of the Marvel Universe and the various artists’ brighter approach to the character to match the fun tone in the writing have all combined to achieve something new and interesting that’s spiced with a love of the old. It’s a wonderful read, and I just finished reading the latest issue — another entertaining and surprising bit of fantastic fiction.
When it comes to other-media adaptations of comic-book properties, I think it’s safe to say we’re something of a Golden Age of quality entertainment, unrivalled and unseen since the days of the many movie serials of the 1940s. Technology has caught up with the imaginations of the men and women who crafted super-hero adventures for years, and movie producers have realized that not only is there a thirst for good super-hero adaptations, but they’re looking at comics for projects other than that genre for which the medium is best known (at least in Western markets).
The biggest movie blockbuster of the summer is the supremely entertaining Guardians of the Galaxy. The most watched show on television is The Walking Dead. Marvel owns super-hero genre adaptations on the big screen, while this fall, DC Entertainment is poised to reign supreme with a full slate of shows — Arrow, The Flash, Constantine and Gotham — on various networks. Fans who grew up with comics in the 20th century could never have imagined such an embarrassment of riches when it comes to seeing beloved characters brought to life.
But speaking of embarrassment and riches, this seemingly unyielding trend of comics adaptations has stoked the flames of controversy, at least among followers of the comic-book industry: respect (or a lack thereof) for the people who actually crafted the characters and concepts that Hollywood is using to harvest big bucks.
When I scanned this week’s list of new releases in comics shops, an item I hadn’t expected caught my eye. Among DC’s offerings this week was Showcase Presents: DC Comics Presents Superman Team-Ups Volume 2, a softcover, black-and-white reprint of a lengthy run of stories from DC Comics Presents from the Bronze Age of comics. As regular readers of Eye on Comics know, I’m a huge fan of the classic DC and Marvel team-up titles from that era, and while I own quite a few of those comics, I planned on adding Superman Team-Ups Vol. 2 to my library.
I was pleased to find a copy of the book for sale at my local comic-book shop, as I hadn’t pre-ordered it. But when I picked it up off the shelf and thumbed through the pages, there was something I didn’t find: the entirety of the contents of each issue included in the book.
Beginning in #25, DC Comics Presents featured regular backup stories entitled “Whatever Happened To…?”, explaining what became of Golden Age and Silver Age characters that hadn’t been seen for years. Now, this development started with the first volume of this particular edition of Showcase Presents, as it included #s 25 and 26, but I didn’t clue into the omission until this second volume hit stands this week.
One of the industry’s big super-hero comics publishers made another successful foray into mainstream-media public relations, with DC announcing Clark Kent is quitting his job as a news reporter at The Daily Planet in a soon-to-be-published Superman comic book. My immediate reaction to the news was simple: “So what?”
Since I’m working night shifts this week, I’m sitting at home today, waiting for a particular sound: the sound of the Internet breaking in half (again). In another well-executed public-relations move through the mainstream media (Good Morning America, Entertainment Weekly), DC has announced its central New 52 line of comics will feature a landmark relationship: Superman and Wonder Woman are going to be a couple.
Purists are going to lose their heads, arguing Superman is meant to be with Lois Lane. The argument ignores the fact the two characters spent years apart over the course of their histories in various media; I’m specifically reminded of the time in the 1980s in Superman and Action Comics when Clark Kent and Lana Lang were together as adults during Clark’s stint as a TV anchor.
Still, anything that purports to go against the status quo (or “tradition,” as it’s usually presented) always seems to elicit strong reactions among comics fans, especially when availing themselves of the immediacy of online communication. I doubt this time will be any exception. If Marvel hadn’t debuted a multi-racial Spider-Man last year and DC hadn’t reinterpreted one of its Green Lantern characters as gay this year, the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship would’ve had the potential to stand out as the a perfect example of how comics fans can overreact to something that “happens” to fictional characters.
I remember the first time I encountered Joe Kubert’s artwork. It was in DC Special Series #19, a “Secret Origins of the Super-Heroes” themed digest featuring one new story (a retelling of Wonder Woman’s origin) and a bunch of reprint stories. Among them was a reprint of The Brave and the Bold #43, featuring a Hawkman story by Gardner Fox and Kubert. I would’ve been eight years old when the 1979 digest was published. I hardly possessed the most refined eye or appreciation of comics storytelling at that early juncture in my almost-lifelong love of the medium, but I was immediately struck by Kubert’s distinct style, especially in the context of so many other super-hero stories by a diverse array of artists. For an eight-year-old kid to recognize the uniqueness of a super-hero artist’s work is a testament to the powerful visual “voice” Kubert had.