Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tough job!

You know, I bet that there's people in the comic industry who miss the "good old days" when all they had to do was make and publish comic books. Now editors, writers and artists spend a lot of their time giving interviews, answering questions for comic book magazines & websites, not to mention dealing with fans and critics on the endless blogs and message boards. Fans are more involved in their comics than ever before and yet it seems that the heads of the companies listen to those fans less and less despite what they claim at conventions.

Still, I can't think of any other media (except maybe music) where so much time is spent on PR and talking about the work rather than doing it. Maybe that's why FINAL CRISIS is so late all the time.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What's worse??

In discussing the ending of SECRET INVASION with a few comic friends, I was stunned at the heated venom one of them expressed. To him, the appointment of Norman Osborne as head of HAMMER (is that what it's called?) and the resultant "Dark Reign" storyline was the "dumbest" thing Marvel could have done.

I understand his ire. After all, if I'm not mistaken, this is still the same Norman Osborne who was revealed to be the Green Goblin by a Daily Bugle expose (unless that's been reversed, I can't remember these things anymore). So putting ol' Normie in charge of this organization would be like putting Illinois Governor Blagojavich in charge of the National Treasury. Not to mention that the 'inner circle' that Normie puts together consists of two characters who are currently supposed to be 'good'. Unless that's the wrestling definition of 'good guy' in which case it doesn't really count. Last I knew, Namor and Emma Frost were in the 'good guy' camp although Namor is drawn looking as if he just staggered out of a bar at 2 in the morning. And including Doom in any group is a mistake cuz Doom doesn't play well with others.

So I agree that it doesn't make a whole lotta sense but neither does doing another blockbuster crossover right after another. Something DC is learning the hard way. But I have to disagree on one thing. It's not the dumbest thing Marvel has done because I still reserve that distinction for the "One More Day" storyline. That did more to turn me off to Marvel comics than anything before. Even the revival of Normie and the revelation that Gwen Stacy had borne "lil Green Goblins" due to an affair with Normie didn't sour me on Marvel's entire output like "OMD" did. I still find myself looking at Marvel comics with the same distaste as I do Dean Koontz novels.

And, do you know how hard it is to find images of Normie on the internet that AREN'T of him in supervillain garb? Pretty darn hard, lemme tell you.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Marvel: The House of DUMB Ideas

So the final issue of Marvel's SECRET INVASION series came out last week and I finally got a chance to sit down and read it this past weekend.

And I'm wondering what the point is.

This was Marvel's BIG event for the year, the one they'd been working on and counting down to. I admit that I was intrigued by the idea at the start. Skrulls have infiltrated the Earth and are orchestrating an invasion. Not bad. It set up a lot of possibilities for characters to return or, at the very least, to clear up a lot of confusion about why some characters have behaved as they did before. Then a Skrull ship crashes in the Savage Land, releasing all of the people who had been 'replaced' by Skrulls. Except they weren't. All of those people were Skrulls too. Then everyone runs back to New York for a final confrontation with the Skrulls.

Where the Skrull Queen, who had been impersonating Spider-Woman is killed. By Norman Osborn. With one shot from a gun.

Let's overlook the fact that she was killed by someone who SHOULDN'T BE ALIVE ANYMORE (and was never a Skrull operative) but she was taken out with about as much effort in this issue as it took to turn the page.

So, in the end, what happened in SI? Not very much. Tony Stark got his comeuppance for CIVIL WAR and his company is in ruins (again). SHIELD is no more. Norman Osborn is in charge of everything and is conspiring with other baddies to do something REALLY, REALLY BAD! The Wasp dies and another Skrull ship with the REAL captives lands so everyone is back to normal and the only significant return from the dead is Mockingbird. Mockingbird. Yup, that'll REALLY shake up the Marvel Universe! Steve Rogers missed the ship, I guess.

Well, at least Marvel did one thing that DC couldn't do... they ended the series in the title it was supposed to end in. Guess that's something at least.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Please, sir, can I have another?"

I'm reminded of the scene in ANIMAL HOUSE where the pledges are soundly paddled with a wooden board while asking to be paddled again.

Why am I reminded of this?

Because it's been announced that the TRUE ending to BATMAN R.I.P. wasn't in that issue of BATMAN that came out, lo, so many aeons ago. No, the real (honest to Morrison) ending will be in FINAL CRISIS #6... whenever that comes out.

"Please, sir, can you treat me like crap again?"
While this does solve some questions, like how Bruce Wayne/Batman could be in FINAL CRISIS when he's supposed to be dying in BATMAN R.I.P., it's a real punk-ass move. Now people who weren't interested in FC (which, apparently, is quite a few) will have to catch up on that series in order to get the actual ending that BATMAN R.I.P. was supposed to provide. Although, to be honest, there isn't that much to catch up on as Batman has been a prisoner of Darkseid for most of the series so far.

Still, it's the principle of the thing that offends most of us. It's like going to a movie you really wanted to see only to be told that the ending for YOUR movie is actually stuck in the middle of another movie you didn't want to see. Even though this cross-pollution hasn't really been a secret, it hasn't really been publicized all that much either. I doubt that any of the media who ran "BATMAN DIES!" headlines when BATMAN #681 came out knew about this little switcheroo.

I get the feeling that Didio got his Editorial Management skills as a Three Card Monty shill on the streets of New York. "Find the Batman, Find the Batman, He's here somewhere."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

That's Weird

So the dvd of DARK KNIGHT came out yesterday... and I didn't rush out to buy it.

That's pretty amazing to me because DARK KNIGHT was my must-see movie of 2008. I'd been getting stoked for it since the first previews and clips showed up. I made sure I was there on opening night and I truly did enjoy the movie. I consider DARK KNIGHT to probably be the best comic to movie adaptation yet made. (There's still the possibility that WATCHMEN might beat it next year.) Heath Ledger's performance was stunning but so was Aaron Eckhardt as Harvey Dent. I was thrilled to finally see my favorite Bat-villain (Two-Face) get the serious treatment he deserved. (Tommy Lee Jones version of it made me want to beat myself unconscious so I wouldn't have to watch any more of it.) Exciting. Explosive. Blockbuster.

And yet...

I didn't buy it yesterday. I probably will at some point but, strangely enough, I'm not in a hurry to do so.

I guess it all boils down to the fact that the DARK KNIGHT is depressing. It could truly be one of the most depressing movies I've ever seen. It's certainly right up there with the movie version of Pink Floyd's THE WALL and OLD YELLER. Dent and Bruce lose everything that's important to them. Batman loses his public image. Gotham loses two heroes in D.A. Dent and Batman. I've never left a superhero movie feeling so down and beaten.

Particularly in these rough economic times, I want to leave the theatre invigorated! And, if it's a superhero movie, I want to feel that desire to become a superhero! That feeling that good can triumph over evil! That power of taking control of one's life and righting wrongs and fighting the bad guys be they crazed super-villains or Illinois Governors. I don't want to feel like the last thing I want to be is a superhero. DARK KNIGHT makes my life look like a Frank Capra movie by comparison.

I certainly don't want a return to the horrible Batman movies of Joel Schumacher which I still cannot watch to this day. But I'd like something a little more uplifting and fun. Something that I don't have to take a Prozac after watching.

I miss Tim Burton's BATMAN. Sure, Nicholson was way too much as the Joker but the movie was fun and enjoyable. Not 2+ hours of sturm & drang.

Monday, December 8, 2008

How I Kicked Myself in the Nuts

I grew up wanting to be in the comics business.

From the earliest time I can remember, that was all I wanted to do. I didn't think I had the chops to be an artist but I definitely wanted to be a writer. In fact, during a session with my High School Guidance Counselor, I told him that fact. "I want to write for comics," I said. He stared at me as if I had said that I wanted to be a naked professional bull-rider. Needless to say, he had no advice for me and ended up suggesting that I become a English or History teacher.

My older brother, whom I'll call "Bub" for the sake of this story, got me into comics. Being ten years older than me, he'd bought ALL of the Silver Age books off the stands since the beginning and let me read any of them that I wanted. It was his dream to work in comics too and, in 1972, he quit college and ran off to NYC (only about an hour away from us) to work for DC Comics. He started small as a proofreader and, at first, lived with future DC bigwig Paul Levitz who had been an early fanzine friend of Bub's. He eventually moved further up the ladder, working in different editorial capacities. Bub even got the chance to do some writing for DC. He would eventually become one of DC's busiest colorists until the switch to digital coloring and the resultant downsizing.

By 1980, I was getting ready to graduate from high school and had my eye on the prize: writing for comics. "Surely," I thought, "Bub can help". I didn't mean that he should get me a job or anything but that he could certainly introduce me to the right people and get me in the door.

Imagine my shock when Bub said he couldn't do anything to help me and that, in fact, being his brother would probably HURT me. I never knew the details about this other than the fact that there were people at DC (AND Marvel) who didn't like Bub. I mean, they REALLY didn't like Bub. To the point where he had been shut out of the creative aspect of the business because other people with more leverage had decreed that Bub's name be stricken from the active roles at comicdom. "So shall it be written, so shall it be done!"

In effect, being Bub's brother meant that any animosity directed towards him would get directed at me as well. I was guilty by association. Bub told me that he seriously doubted anyone would even look at my writing once my connection with him was known. A pen name was suggested but, Bub said, accounting would still know my real name and word gets around comicdom like the Flash with a bad case of the 'runs'.

So not only could Bub NOT help me but he had poisoned the well by getting there first. There was no one to be introduced to, no doors to open, nothing to do but think about getting that Teaching degree.

And, to my everlasting regret, I accepted that and went away.

Feeling that there was no sense in fighting a war that had already been lost, I surrendered. At first, though, I sent in a few blind submissions to both Marvel and DC. I got a polite form rejection back from Marvel but never heard anything from DC. At the time, I imagined them taking my proposal and using it for toilet paper or making it into a voodoo doll that they burned later.

(This was also during a time when the one specific name Bub told me had 'blacklisted' him was one of the major stars at DC so I fantasized that this star had crushed my comic career before it ever started. Now, I sincerely doubt if this fellow ever knew my name or even SAW my proposal.)

I never tried again.

Even after editorial departments had changed and Bub himself was no longer connected to comics in any way, I didn't try. At that point, I felt as if my time had passed. You don't break into comics at 35. You get kicked out of them by the new young bucks at 35.

And still... I wonder. What if I hadn't just accepted it all? What if I had focused every ounce of my will towards breaking in and had written in a white blaze of creativity, firing off a proposal every week? What if I had screwed up my courage and went to the offices of DC and Marvel once a month (or at all!) and kept hounding them and making connections and waiting for that breakthrough chance to come? What if that 'blacklisting' of Bub wasn't as bad as he said? Would it have worked? Would I be a famous comic writer today, looking back on 20 years of published material?

These are the questions that wake me up at 2 in the morning, sweating and staring at my ceiling.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost

Friday, December 5, 2008

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

The comic book industry is a very small community.

Everyone who works in it seems to know pretty much everyone else. But, because it's so compact, your reputation becomes very important. It's far too easy for a few people to effectively 'blacklist' someone they don't like for whatever reason. As such, it seems that comic book professionals are all very careful not to piss off certain people. Particularly in a bad economy and a shrinking industry, to do so could effectively end your current income and make sure you never get any in the future.

It's a difficult thing for those of us on the outside to comprehend. I guess we all grow up thinking that comic book publishers are all like Keebler Elf cookie companies and everything is happy and warm and people hug kittens and ride unicorns all day long. It's sad when you realize that the people who publish books featuring superheroes who fight injustice and stand up for the little guy don't always follow the same principles.

Valerie D'Orazio, who has blogged about her own struggles against sexual harassment during her time at DC Comics in her excellent blog, Occasional Superheroine, is a very brave person. She didn't set out blogging about her ordeal to be brave or to lead a crusade. Her speaking out came from a need to tell her story and hopefully save others from the same pain she suffered. Since then, she has become a spokesperson for women's rights in comics and, I am sure, a MAJOR pain in the ass to those who have reason to fear her posts.

And yet, still, she cannot tell her whole story because of:

A) Fear of reprisal against herself personally and/or professionally.
B) The difficulty in finding a publisher willing to publish such an uncensored story.
C) The fact that most major comic media news outlets would never announce, promote or even mention it.

That saddens me not because I want to read gossip about industry professionals but because such behavoir shouldn't exist today. And the only way to stop it from happening is to talk about it and bring it into the open.

I don't know anyone in the comic business. I am not going to get the call to write the next Batman mega-event or the newest Avengers incarnation. I only have one personal story to share which I'll do in my next post and, even still, it's not going to rip any tears in the fabric of the blogosphere. It will not, to use an infamous quote, "split the internet in two."

But I believe what Val has written and, worse still, I believe that such things still go on and are kept quiet by the companies and the workers themselves. Why do I believe this?

Because I've seen some myself.

I've worked in the private financial industry for nearly 20 years now and have worked for men who, though not practising sexual abuse, employed a great deal of emotional abuse. Men who thought it was perfectly acceptable to scream at their employees, call them all kinds of stupid, and even one who liked to know how much it took to make his female employees cry. But we all took it, men and women, because we considered it a cost of working at those places and we needed the money. If someone was getting it in a meeting or on the floor, we gave a sigh of relief because it wasn't us. When it was us, we'd grit our teeth and accept that it was our time on the block. But we shouldn't have taken it because it shouldn't have happened.

I'd like to believe that such things don't happen at comic book companies. I'd like to believe that the people running it are as honorable as Jack Kirby. But I can't. Because those companies are run by people and people aren't superheroes. They're flawed human beings, just like the rest of us. But the rest of us aren't publishing stories about superheroes fighting for "truth, justice and the American Way."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

And Another One Bites the Dust!

The cancellation of COMIC FOUNDRY as a print magazine was announced yesterday and I seem to be the only person who isn't surprised.

I'm a comic slut. I'll read pretty much anything related to comics be they books or magazines. As such, I've seen a lot of good comic magazines come and go through the years. (I still miss AMAZING HEROES.) But as a comic magazine, COMIC FOUNDRY didn't make much of an impact on me.

Wanna know why?

Cuz I could never find a copy. And I looked, believe me, I looked.

I live in Rhode Island. The smallest freaking state in the country. Still, we're pretty fortunate in that we have a few comic stores around here. Not to mention that I am little over an hour away from stores in Connecticut and Massachusetts. So what I'm about to describe wasn't an isolated incident.

My favorite LCBS carried the first issue but never ordered another. I was told that there was no interest and that, other than me, no one bought a copy of the first issue. I then traveled around to the other stores as I am wont to do. None of them had any copies either.

Surely, I thought, my ultimate LCBS in Massachusets, the one that orders practically EVERYTHING comic book related including local small press comics, would have one. Sadly, I was mistaken. So sure was I that an issue MUST be hiding from me that I even asked the assistant manager about it only to be met with a blank stare. "Is that a magazine about comics?", he asked. I replied that it not only was but that four issues had been published. He was stunned. He had never heard of the magazine. What makes this story worse is that this assistant manager was in charge of ordering magazines and related items for the store.

Yeah, I could have gone online but I'm an old fart. I like to actually GO to a store when I buy something. I like to look around and scout out new things. Most important, I like to have what I bought IN MY HANDS when I buy it! No waiting for someone to fill the order and get around to plopping it in the mail where Cthulhu knows what Deep One is waiting to shred the thing into confetti. And I hear your other question, "Why didn't you subscribe to it at your LCBS?"

To be honest, I wasn't THAT interested in it. The first issue was nice but nothing that overwhelmed me. It seemed to me to be a weird, hermaphroditic spawn of MAXIM and WIZARD, intent upon making upscale geeks feel cool. All well and good but not going to light my 46 yr old, overweight heart on fire. Perhaps if I were a young, 20-something I might have enjoyed it more and gotten more out of the articles. As it was the issue made me feel old and, although still geeky, not anywhere near cool.

Even stranger is publisher/founder Tim Leong's announcement of the cancellation coming because "my career no longer allows enough time to do the magazine". He doesn't say it's canceled because of low sales or ad revenue. He just doesn't have the time to do it the way he thinks it deserves which is an honorable admission. But this is the guy who campaigned SO HARD when Diamond first rejected COMIC FOUNDRY as a magazine. Tim Leong convinced Diamond to accept it amidst much media hoopla and a lot of work on his part. And now, after 5 issues, he's stepping away from it. I'm sure I'm not the only person shaking their head at this turn-around.

But I feel bad anytime a comic related magazine ceases publication. And if I could have found those other issues on the stand, I would have bought them. Because I'm a comic slut and that's what I do.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Did I Miss Something?

And so BATMAN R.I.P. draws to a close and, I hope, so does all the hype about it.

With the release of BATMAN #681 last week, Grant Morrison brought his bat-saga to a close to the confusion of many. Batman meets his demise in a typically superhero fashion (very similar to that once faced by Green Arrow and you all know what happened to him after that!) and one that doesn't feel a body. In comic book jargon, "No body, no death." So, like I postulated in my last missive here, we'll see Bruce back in tights sooner or later.

But what seems to be the big bugaboo about this ending is, in fact, it's NON-ending. That is, for issue upon issue the theme of BATMAN R.I.P. has rested on the question of "WHO is the Black Glove?" Just who was this mysterious person who called himself Dr. Hurt and who was not only dedicated to destroyed the Dark Knight but knew all of Batman's secrets? Fans and critics alike played a guessing game running down a list of suspects. Was he Alfred? Tim Drake? The continuity displaced older brother, Thomas Wayne Jr.? Or Bruce's father, Thomas Wayne himself? Or maybe The Devil?

Ya got me!

Because the final issue doesn't give that answer. Dr. Hurt taunts Batman by claiming to be Thomas Wayne who faked his own death so many years ago. Bruce was supposed to die along with his mother in Crime Alley but Joe Chill botched the job. And yet the taunts ring empty and hollow. Some fans cling to that solution and use it to basically decry Morrison for defaming the Batman myth.

In the end, The Devil ends up being the most likely candidate but even this fails to satisfy. Maybe if we hadn't been treated to Marvel's version of the Devil being used so poorly in the vomit-inducing Spider-Man story, "One More Day", it wouldn't be so disappointing.

However, I'm reminded of another DC 'event' that didn't work out as planned and wonder if the same thing has happened here.

Back in 1991, DC's company wide crossover event, ARMAGEDDON 2001, was built around the secret identity of main baddie, Monarch. In this series, a survivor from the future comes back in time to warn Earth that one of its heroes will go insane, kill all the other heroes and take over the planet. Originally, Captain Atom was slated to be the hero who would become Monarch but because the secret was leaked too early, Hawk (of the superhero team Hawk & Dove) was substituted in his place. This was widely regarded as a STUPID idea (on the level of Marvel's "Spider-Clone" series) and many fans felt that DC had not played fair.

I get that feeling here. For some reason, and I have nothing to prove it, I have the impression that Morrison had always MEANT for Dr. Hurt to be Bruce's father and that was the solution he had left all the clues for. After all, Morrison had said in interviews that the identity of Dr. Hurt would be "the most shocking revelation in Batman history in 70 years." But, somewhere along the way, someone stopped and said, "Whoa, no way that's going to happen" and put the kibosh on it.

Not that I disagree. Thomas Wayne being the head of the Black Glove is an awesomely BAD idea. It doesn't add anything to Batman's myth and actually detracts a great deal from it. Thankfully, no future writers will have to spend time fixing that conceptual error.

And I still think Dr. Hurt being The Devil is a boring answer. It's certainly nowhere near "the most shocking revelation".