Category Archives: Editorials

No Strike Zone

A big name in the world of comics publishing arose in the ongoing drama of the Writers Guild of America strike last week. Marvel Studios emerged as one of a few production companies that signed side deals with the WGA, ensuring its movie-production efforts in 2008 and beyond would continue uninterrupted. Given how popular opinion seems to be solidly behind the picketing writers, it’s likely a good move on Marvel’s part, not only from a business perspective but also in terms of public relations, both within and outside the industry.

The move by Marvel Studios was applauded by several comics-industry observers, and understandably so. I found the announcement to be rather intriguing not for what it means for the development of future Marvel film projects, but instead about how it could give rise to a philosophical conundrum within the Marvel corporate structure.

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Catch a Falling All-Star

The mercury has begun to drop, and in my neck of the woods, we’ve even been issued the occasional frost warning in the evenings from time to time. Summer’s over, so many of us bid adieu to barbecues, bathing suits and sunburns. This past summer was also significant in the world of comics — and specifically to DC Comics — because summer 2007 was the announced release date of a much-anticipated project designed to light the comics sales charts on fire: All-Star Wonder Woman.

[…] It seems someone missed her cue. A-hem. I said, “All-Star Wonder Woman!”

Hmm, apparently, she’s a no show.

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Settle Down

I read with some interest the details of the settlement agreement between Harlan Ellison and Fantagraphics Inc., bringing to an end the former’s defamation and “right-to-publicity” lawsuit against the publisher over two publications: The Comics Journal Library 6: The Writers and the forthcoming book Comics as Art: We Told You So. I’m not a lawyer; I defer to the assessments and judgments of legal matters to my barrister/solicitor girlfriend and law professor/scholar brother. However, I do spend some amount of time pouring over court documents in my capacity as a crime/courts reporter for a daily newspaper. It is from that perspective that I write the following about the Ellison/Fantagraphics settlement:

It’s weird.   

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Mike Wieringo, 1963-2007

For me, it all started with The Flash #80 in late 1993.

I was never much of a Flash fan despite my love for DC’s super-hero comics ever since the late 1970s. I hadn’t been reading Mark Waid’s much-lauded run on the Scarlet Speedster’s title. If memory serves, it was Alan Davis’s cover artwork that drew my attention to the book, but it was Mike Wieringo’s vision of the fleet-footed hero within that held it. His original, lantern-jawed interpretation of the Flash may not have been consistent with the sleekness inherent in a speedster character, but it was striking and attractive. Wieringo brought a mythic, larger-than-life quality to the character that was tempered by the grounded characterization Waid provided. Wieringo also did an amazing job of capturing the speed and energy of the title character. Both he and Waid brought a renewed sense of wonder and traditional comics storytelling to bear in a series that still had plenty of appeal for readers looking for a little more depth from the genre as well. Wieringo wasn’t on the title for that long, not really, but he left a mark on it that’s undeniable. His short stint earned him a place among the most favored artists to handle the character, and it quickly established him as a star talent in the comics industry.

One of Wieringo’s biggest claims to fame was co-creating Bart Allen, AKA Impulse. It’s actually a bit disconcerting how soon after Bart’s life as a character came to an end in a two-dimensional world that his co-creator followed suit in the real world. Sure, by the time Bart’s number was up, he’d become the Flash after a few years as Kid Flash, but the character was never more interesting or loved than when he was Impulse.

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Our Worlds at War

War, what is it good for? Well, selling comic books, apparently.

War is the new black for super-hero comics these days. Marvel earned its strongest sales this century with Civil War in 2006-2007, and the publisher has developed a new brand for its lesser-known cosmic characters with its Annihilation titles, featuring space-faring heroes embroiled in armed conflicts as well. Marvel’s also grabbed fan attention with the recent launch of its latest event-driven crossover, World War Hulk, and it has just wrapped up the story of the Inhumans’ retaliation against mankind in Silent War. Marvel’s chief competitor, DC Comics, has embraced war as a dominant motif in its super-hero line as well. It’s easy to see in such titles as World War III, Amazons Attack and last week’s Green Lantern Sinestro Corps Special #1. It’s hardly a brand-new phenomenon either. Alien civilizations rallied behind bitter planetary enemies Rann and Thanagar in 2005, the Fantastic Four usurped control of a Balkan nation in 2003 and the Authority overthrew the U.S. government with its 2004-2005 Revolution. War and invasion have proven to be vital themes in super-hero comics today. And it’s no wonder — the industry and the genre are just proving to be true to their roots. After all, one could argue that without war, the genre just wouldn’t have taken hold in pop culture when it first took off seven decades ago. But are the super-hero comics of today holding true to form, repeating a familiar pattern? Or is the incorporation of war in the genre today something different than we’ve seen before?

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Compound Words

As a news reporter and former public-relations professional, I have a special interest in the craft (or lack thereof) of marketing efforts in the comics industry. And as the producer/writer of a comics-related website, plenty of publishers’ news releases make their way into my e-mail inbox. An unusual but clever one found its way to me this afternoon, and I was impressed with the initiative demonstrated with this piece of comics marketing.

Earlier today, news broke of the scientific discovery in Serbia of a mineral that just happens to share the same chemical composition as Kryptonite (as suggested in the recent, Bryan-Singer directed film, Superman Returns). A mineral expert’s research uncovered the coincidental synchronicity between science and science-fiction. The Associated Press reported that the material — which will be named Jadarite — is white, powdery and definitely not radioactive. The AP story made the rounds throughout the day Tuesday and will no doubt grace the pages of many a newspaper around the world Wednesday.

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Gratuitous Insults

I pass the time during lulls at work with a good novel. There are a few TV series that I follow religiously every week, never wanting to miss a new episode. And there’s nothing like going to the movies and taking in a flick on the big screen. But my favorite storytelling medium, obviously, is the comic book/graphic novel. Unfortunately, fans of the medium are saddled with an unfortunate stigma. You’ve seen it on The Simpsons in the form of the Comic Book Guy. You’ve seen the extreme fans at comics conventions as well, and those whose battle with unfortunate personal hygiene is a Never-Ending Battle in and of itself. The stereotype of the pathetic Comic Geek stems, sadly, from a certain fragment of reality. It’s really frustrating, though, when a major player in the medium and industry contributes to the preconception of the comics consumer as a horny, sexually frustrated basement dweller.

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Other Casualties

As I type this, lots of both first-print covers of Captain America #25 are selling on eBay for 50 bucks or more. Say what you will about speculators and comics retailing, but the success of the “Death” of Captain America — both in terms of sales and publicity — is undeniable. And from a personal perspective, I’m pleased to see that the new storyline boasts glimmers of real strengths, of being sustainable beyond its connections to Civil War. Once the dust settles, it’s a safe bet Cap #25 — with its two first-print editions and already announced second printing — will clock in with impressive sales numbers, perhaps even topping 200,000 copies, I’ll wager.

Retailers should be celebrating, as Marvel ensured strong availability of this surprise event with a generous overprinting, and mainstream media coverage reportedly drove non-comics readers to direct-market specialty stores (rather than big-box bookstores) in search of the “landmark” issue. However, I wonder if Marvel’s timing and marketing of the Death of Cap wasn’t something of a misstep. The bullets that struck Cap down struck some other Marvel heroes as well.

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Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better…

Probably the biggest commercial success — in terms of risk, ambition and presentations — in the world of comics in 2006 had to be the Top Shelf Productions release of its hardcover, slipcase-edition of Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls. But in terms of satisfying retailers and the super-hero genre fanbase of the direct-market industry, Marvel’s Civil War probably reigned supreme, racking up strong sales and boosting sales of the publisher’s other ongoing titles significantly with crossover issues. However, Civil War has been plagued with problems over the past few months. At first, what bothered people, and especially retailers, were the repeatedly delays in its publishing schedule, which impacted some of the publisher’s strongest selling ongoing series. By the midway point of the event, though, complaints about those delays were eclipsed by another concern: inconsistent storytelling. Events in the Civil War limited series conflicted with information presented in key tie-in stories, and many feel that two of the most prominent players in the drama — Reed Richards and Iron Man — aren’t behaving in a manner that’s consistent with their personalities and history.

But there’s good news. There is a super-hero civil war that avoided many of the same pitfalls. There’s a story, released in the same timeframe as Civil War, that didn’t require crossovers, that didn’t require massive change and didn’t alter classic characters in implausible ways. In other words, DC did it better; you just didn’t realize it.

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Big-Screen Synergy

We comic readers always take notice when our four-color heroes make the leap from the pages of the medium we love to the big screen. DC and Marvel have had a lot of success in recent years, with comics flicks seeming to top the wish lists of movie producers. Obviously, one of the reasons the more iconic heroes connect so well with moviegoers is that they remember them fondly from their youth. From comics at camp to cartoons on Saturday morning, millions know these characters and are willing to plunk down cold, hard cash to reconnect with those imaginary friends from their youth. Given the power of that nostalgia, the new movie incarnations of those fondly remembered characters end up being simplified, adapted and sometimes reverted to forms they’d shed decades before. As a result, comics publishers often scramble to bring back old ideas and circumstances so the masses can find something they recognize in the comics of today.

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Dark Towering Inferno

All hail Stephen King, Marvel Comics proclaims, urging readers and retailers to get excited about the upcoming release of its comic-book adaptation of King’s Dark Tower novels. The problem is that recently, many are crying foul, feeling as though Marvel promised a King-written comic book featuring new content, not adapted material. It turns out comics writer Peter David is penning the scripts, with art by Jae Lee. Thanks to the magic of Google, it’s easy to determine if those bait-and-switch allegations have any real basis. I dug up the original news release (issued in the fall of 2005), as well as various websites’ coverage of the initial announcement.

Other versions of the initial news release online note that the first issue of this landmark project was originally slated for release in April 2006. With Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born #1 slated for release Feb. 7, that puts the project almost a full year behind schedule. That’s another black eye for the project from a publisher with an unfortunate reputation for lateness when it comes to high-profile projects.

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Wow, No Lump of Coal

It was a great Christmas this year. Though I missed not getting home to see my parents and brothers, I had a lovely time with my girlfriend’s family, and the holiday held a number of wonderful surprises. I have a variety of wonderful new toys to play with, such as a great new, larger, flat monitor for my computer (thanks, honey!) and satellite radio for the car. When it comes to comics gifts, I’m not easy to shop for from my loved ones’ perspective, as they’re not into comics, and just about every peripheral, comics-related item that I really want, I tend to get for myself anyway. My girlfriend did well with picking up the DVD box set of the various Superman movies. But my parents — who at one time really wanted me to cast off comics as a relic of my childhood — really surprised me this year with an unusual, inexpensive little gift: a grab bag of old DC and Marvel comics from the 1970s and ’80s.

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Missed Opportunity – Selling Sale

This week marked the release of a new ongoing Superman title, one that merits the attention of fans of the medium, not just fans of the super-hero genre. Penned by Darwyn (DC: The New Frontier) Cooke and illustrated by Tim Sale, Superman Confidential is the result of a collaboration between two of the most respected talents in the industry today. That, combined with the fact that the book features the most recognized icon of comic books in history, should add up to a sales success for DC Comics.

Of course, by “sales success,” I mean the book should fare well in comparison to other comics. No doubt, it’ll land in the top 20 on the Diamond Comic Distributors sales list for November (which we won’t see until December). I’m betting it’ll sell in the neighborhood of 70,000 to 80,000 copies — respectable in the 21st century comics market. But I think the numbers could have been oh-so-much better had DC not missed out on a real marketing opportunity that could have reached a mainstream pop-culture audience.

The key to greater success and a wider audience for Superman Confidential is Tim Sale, but it’s not his reputation in the industry that could have boosted sales. Sure, his work on Batman: The Long Halloween, Dark Victory and Marvel’s various “color” books (Daredevil: Yellow, Spider-Man: Blue and Hulk: Gray) stands out as edgy and unique, but at the moment, his artwork is the industry’s ambassador to the masses who don’t read comics.

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Challenge of the Super-Friends

DC’s year-long super-hero epic, 52, is a significant exercise in myth-building on the publisher’s part. The weekly schedule and the effort to incorporate continuity elements from DC’s entire super-hero line must be daunting for the series’s four writers, several editors and many artists. It’s a massive undertaking, but one that’s clearly paying off for the publisher, as is evident in the monthly sales charts from Diamond Comic Distributors.

One of the reasons the book is proving to be such fun is that writers Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid have included such a diverse (even odd) array of characters from throughout DC’s publishing history. The most recent issue features not only such well-known characters as Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter and Firestorm, but Ambush Bug and the Bulleteer.

After reading 52 Week Twenty-Four, it struck me that this title reminded me a lot of a guilty-pleasure comic book from my youth: DC Challenge. The brainchild of writer Mark Evanier, the notion was to tell an unpredictable, epic super-hero story, with each issue being penned and illustrated by different creators. Now, while, 52 reportedly has clear plans and plots to guide it from beginning to end, the challenge of DC Challenge was that each writer would have no idea what the previous issue’s scribe had planned. Each issue also ended with a cliffhanger intended by the writer to be seemingly impossible to resolve for the man at the helm of the next issue.

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Follow the Loss Leader

TV could learn a thing or two from the business of comics.

A few years ago, I was immersed in television. There were innumerable sitcoms I followed, both in prime time and in syndication, and there were plenty of game shows and hour-long dramas on my list of favorites as well. But a couple of years ago, I found I was whittling down my TV viewing, with only four or five programs on my must-see-every-week list.

In recent years, it seems as though TV producers have realized that new ideas — and more importantly, smarter writing — can make for hit shows, and never has that attitude been more apparent with the slew of new shows that debuted this fall. But some of those shows are already in danger of cancellation, and NBC has announced that the intriguing Kidnapped is already kaput, and it had just barely begun telling its story. CBS has announced it’s turfing Smith as well.

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