The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Posts Tagged ‘DC Comex’

Posted by Matt on October 29, 2011

From my rather limited knowledge of the actual media involved:

The more I think about these days, the more I come to like the character of Superman. I have often heard people argue that he is “boring” for one reason or another; he’s too powerful, he’s too nice, etc. This may come from the many cases where the potential of Superman were squandered by lazy or small-minded creators; it may also come from a rather skewed sense of what constitutes an “interesting” character, one that has somehow had it been hammered into their skull that nice guys aren’t real, and that purplish angst and brooding and suffering are the signs of a developed personality. Of course, if you have ever talked to another human being in your life, you know that’s shit.

The most recent observation I’ve had about Superman’s character is one that not only makes him stand out among the legions of copycat superheroes (well, that might be going too far; Superman started the genre and all the associated elements, but it’s a pretty broad category), and one that has appeal to me and my own writing tics: Superman is one of the few characters I know of that chose his or her life, rather than having it imposed on them by events beyond their control. Now, you could argue that the cataclysmic event that put Superman on Earth was beyond his control, which is true. But for the most part, the destruction of Krypton has very little bearing on Superman/Clark Kent’s choices in life, a few plotlines involving bottled cities and the like excepted, and feels more like a convenient excuse to give him superpowers. For the most part, though, it went like this: Clark Kent found out he had superpowers, and decided to use them to help people. It’s simple. But it’s also effective.

Compare to that to most other comic superheroes: Batman has dead parents (and the absurdity of the whole origin story is often underplayed because of bat-favouritism, especially when you pile up all the Bruce Wayne exploits they’ve revealed over the years; it’s silly enough that a kid with dead parents decides to punch gangsters in a bat costume, but he also decided to become a word-class chemist and get ninja training in the Himalayas?), the Hulk and Fantastic Four are all blasted by made-up radiation (and the event being beyond Bruce Banner’s control is integral to the Hulk character, it must be said), the X-Men are all born in a world that hates them (turning what seems like every non-mutant person into a mini-Torquemada, a rather hilarious bit of melodrama), Iron Man got shrapnel in the heart, Thor is banished to earth for being a dick, etc. The closest thing to Superman’s situation in another comic character is probably Spider-Man; but even then, his powers are from an accident, and his decision to fight crime needs to be prompted by personal tragedy. All of them, to varying degrees, do what they do because of something that happened to them. It doesn’t feel like it was their decision.

That’s not the case for Superman. Despite being an alien, it’s only the powers he successfully keeps secret that separates him from normal people. There’s no prejudice keeping him down, no dead relatives inspiring him to do one thing or another (well, at leas that WAS the case), not even a big monstrous threat that needs smiting (initially). He simply made a rational decision (or at least as rational as it can be coming with a bright red cape and underpants) to become a vigilante hero using his powers (and also a journalist, something that a lot of people seem to overlook – he’s fighting the good fight on two fronts). This, to me, is rather refreshing. I think we need to appreciate it in these simple stories when they actually show someone actually being proactive and taking what they’re given and going with it, which is surprisingly rare.

Of course, that “simplicity” may be part of the reason people call Superman boring. But to me, it just opens up possibilities – and that’s one of the things I decided I like about Superman, the sheer number of possibilities. A character with that level of power, that kind of background, that kind of mindset? You could do anything with that. When it comes to these long-lived media properties, that’s a real boon, isn’t it?

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Because that’s not a topic I haven’t talked to death about

Posted by Matt on September 2, 2011

Hey, how about them digital comics?

I think Dustin Harbin brings some good points to the fore. At the very least, it’s a lot more considerate of what the stores and publishers want than people like me with our “it’s obvious, you dumb idiots!” diatribes. The fact is, Marvel and DC (and even the alternative publishers to a lesser extent) probably have every reason to be scared of losing the direct market, because it’s the only market they have right now. Until digital is a sure thing, and who knows what will convince them of that, they will be cautious, and make their digital offerings overpriced and out of date. I’m not saying they’re not stupid for being so hesitant, but there are rational reasons why they aren’t pursuing this avenue.

Then I remember what Warren Ellis said not too long ago, and he’s also right. Even if these publishers do get digital comics going, until they actually start commissioning original stories (that actually take advantage of being on electronic screens connected to the Internet) to be sold on them, they will be second-class, an afterthought. It makes me wonder why, if they are so afraid of making their direct market books available online and hurting the specialty stores, why not make your digital comics new ones instead? I mean, if the quality’s there (well, relative quality for some of them), then it won’t take as long for initial skepticism and brushing off as “silly experimental side projects” (which will inevitably happen) to subside. So you can try out the digital format, and won’t have to undercut DM until you have to (which will also inevitably happen).

I can see why they might scoff at this idea, though. Aside from that initial dismissal, there might be problems finding creatives to work on them, and it would really need some Grade A talent to make people really take notice (or it could take finding some new talent that could pull off something new and amazing, but that`s far less likely). Second, since these would be different books than the `main` lines, some readers might think they are superfluous. Even if DC published a Batman comic digitally, if it wasn’t THE Batman comic, then it might get ignored. This wouldn’t be a problem if the comics were really new, but readers probably would ignore them anyway, as they do with most new concepts in print. Neither of these are problems for publishers who aren’t reliant on established properties and hype, but those same publishers can’t buy New York Times headlines and get the idea out there. I want the alternative press to pursue this option too, but unfortunately they can’t quite get the blogs talking, and I think that’s something that needs to be done to get the rest of the pack to come out of their glossy paper shells.

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All this digital/print comics derpderp really makes me appreciate my webcomics to-read list. They may just be scraping by a lot of the time, but they get to keep their integrity and avoid all the dumb bullshit the rest of the industry spews.

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In related news, DC’s starting their new universe now. In the first issue of JLA: not a whole lot happens. Oh boy.

They also apparently set up some Dame-us Ex Machine in Flashpoint, who reset the universe for some reason and is now showing up in other comics. Like they’re preparing for something. Or making an exit strategy in case they have to. Real show of confidence for your big change-up in either case, guys. Either you’re going back into big crossover mode, or you think there’s a chance that you’ll need to go back to your old horrible universe if your new horrible universe doesn’t pan out. Neither option is terribly inviting to new readers, now, are they?

I’m honestly surprised by the number of people apparently upset by the new status quo. They really need to explain what it was they were getting out of the old one that makes it so sad if it goes away. I mean, the retconning nonsense DC is doing is utterly nonsensical patchwork, but again…how is that different than it was before?

They probably have a point when they say that this won’t really do much good to attract new readers, at least past the first three months or so (especially if JLA is indicative of anything, pacing and general quality-wise). It will almost certainly end up as just another short-term boost in sales before they plummet back to the same levels as a few months before, just like everything else DC and Marvel do. So what was the point of it, then? Well, there probably is no point, although it’s nice to see them acknowledge some of the problems that they aren’t going to do anything about. Pointless or no, though, is doing nothing really better than trying something slightly (very very slightly) different, even if they end up with the same results? At least one shows a little bit of thought on the publisher’s part. And really, who gets hurt here? A tiny cult of lingering carrion feeders? And even to them, how many amazing wonderful stories set in the old DC continuity are they going to be missing because of the reboot (recognizing that several books had to have certain runs and story ideas cut off because of it)?

I’ve heard a couple of people suggest that DC should have made an Ultimate-style line. This is a bad idea because (1) DC has tried that about two or three times now, and aside from getting an all-time great story and a curious relic of Frank Miller’s descent into insanity, nothing came of any of them, and (2) look at what actually happened to Ultimate Marvel: hot shit for a couple of years, and now…god, I don’t even know (I think the new Ultimate Spider-Man kid is a great idea, though: if you’re going to have two Spider-Man comics, might as well make them as different as possible. Plus, I’ve been convinced that a black kid being Spider-Man just makes sense). It’s pretty much verbatim what I said in the digital comics part of this post: once you start dividing it into “the REAL X” and “the other X”, it’s the latter that will get short shrift eventually. The Ultimate comics are pretty superfluous now (even more so because the ‘real’ Marvel universe began to look more and more like it over the last couple years), and would be the same deal for DC (again). Plus, this is far more headline-grabbing, no?

Plus plus, who cares what happens to the DC universe, what with all its five billion Legion of Superheroes timelines.

So basically I point is that the old DCU was a wretched thing, and putting it down was the most humane thing DC could have done. But apparently they still think they should make sure they can dig up the corpse if they need to. If it comes to that, though, maybe they should fucking give up.

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The Legendary Hero is No More

Posted by Matt on August 23, 2011

Dear Mr. Morrison (or Grant, if you prefer),

I was a late bloomer, if you will, when it came to comics. I didn’t grow up with the modern mythos, the adventures of Marvel and DC’s line-up with costumed crime-fighters, like you and so many other people did. What I knew about them was gleaned from the licensed products: the television shows, the toys, and everything else. I didn’t know about all the things, great things, those comics contained.

I was given a huge load of comics in high school. Quite the variety, really. Classic Lee/Romita Spider-Man, Watchmen, Claremont/Byrne X-Men, Gaiman’s Sandman, at least one example of Kyle Baker…works both classic and modern. But none, none, affected me quite as much as your with Richard Case (and numerous other great artists!) on Doom Patrol.

When I first picked up Doom Patrol, I was taken in by the weirdness of the characters, the Scissormen, the Brotherhood of Dada, Danny the Street, et al. What delightful fun, I thought. My appreciation of your work only grew the more I read; it opened my imagination to all the possibilities comics had, the limitless number of images, the infusion of Burroughs, the rebellion against a world determined homogenize everything, and the way it can make you connect with its characters. Your characters were people I cared about, people whose adventures I wanted to read about. All of these things culminated in your last issue in that series, which is one the most sad, beautiful things I have ever read.

Doom Patrol, more than any other, has come to be my personal high-water mark for comics. It is the thing that inspires me the most. Part of my motivation for attempting a career as a writer is to give other people the kind of joy you gave me in those comics, and all the subsequent series of yours that I’ve read. I just want to thank you for that.

With that, I come to my main reason for writing this: I think we’re finished as artist and audience.

I haven’t read any of your recent Batman work (although I have read Arkham Asylum and Batman: Gothic, both of which I enjoyed), or Final Crisis for that matter; I’m simply not interested. I could gather in your early work that you really do love DC Comics and it’s characters; they seem to be as near and dear to you as your comics have been to me. You’ve probably dreamed for years of becoming the architect of some of the world’s best known fictional characters. I do not begrudge you for this; I simply skip that part of your output that does not interest me, and wait for the next Seaguy.

No, that’s not my problem. What my problem happens to be is the side of you that these last few years have brought out in you. This is has been especially troubling in the last few months, as you have been interviewed about your autobiography (which I have not yet read, and with all that has gone on, may never read now). To be honest, in a lot of these interviews, you’re come off as full of shit.

Let’s take your recent Rolling Stone interview, for example. Specifically, your controversial statement about Chris Ware. Now, I’m not a Ware reader (not out of indifference or antipathy, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet), and to be fair, I think you sort of have a point. I think the critical corners in the comics world have spent far too much time setting up the world as the superhero crowd-pleasers at Marvel/DC with versus the lonely white boy stories told by Ware and others, as if those are our only two choices. They’re not, and the sooner we exit that dichotomy, the better off we’ll be.

No, where I have a problem is your calling them out on being “privileged American college kids”, and that this comes from your “Scottish working class” background. Maybe that would actually have been true when you were writing Zenith, or Doom Patrol, or The Invisibles, or maybe even New X-Men. But not now. Not when you own a house in Hollywood, get preferential treatment from a large corporation to keep their multimillion dollar trademarks in circulation, and get paid god knows how much to write movies about aliens fighting dinosaurs. You have no fucking right to criticize anyone else for being “privileged”.

Then there’s your statements about Siegel & Shuster in your book. You know, the guys who created the character you seem to think is so important, and are going to be writing about starting next month. You apparently don’t think their side of the story is very important, and that the half-century struggle for proper recognition and compensation for creating one of the best known fictional characters of the 20th and 21st centuries is trivial. Despite your attempts to convince everyone that superheroes are the modern mythology, you can’t make us overlook that Superman, Batman, and the rest were created by very specific people, and are now the property of another group of people who see them simply as a brand for them to sell. You can’t make them go away. The creator rights battle is a major part of the history of the so-called supergods, and I think people are beginning to realize that they may be the most important part.

You know, I don’t like to armchair analyze other people’s motivations, I really don’t, but all these things: the dismissal of people like Ware who aren’t big fans of superheroes, the dismissal of critical circles like The Comics Journal, the dismissal of the creators of the characters you write for, the dismissal of Alan Moore because he realized what a raw deal the superhero industry is and makes sure everyone knows it…it really sounds like your are trying to protect yourself from all the people that make you feel guilty for wanting so bad to be where you are today, the guy who gets to direct a superhero universe (under the auspices of the money men at Warner Bros). You probably need to make sure Alan Moore and all those other voices never get to you, because if they ever do, you’ll realize that, not long ago, you were one of them. Fighting corporate tyranny and it’s sadistic enslavement of imagination. You were once the solution to the problem. Now, you’re the problem’s willing servant.

But again, good for you for getting to live out your dream. I hope you enjoy it. I know I will continue to read and enjoy Doom Patrol, Animal Man, We3, The Filth, and all the rest. But I just don’t think I can take anything you write from now on seriously. Not like I used to. You’ve been compromised by the allure of the corporate superhero.

Thank you so much for all you’ve given me.

Now take your Batman comics and go to hell, old man.

Additional reading:

Dan Nadel at The Comics Journal
David Brothers at 4thletter!
Abhay on the Siegel & Shuster Thing
Comics Commentary

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Posted by Matt on July 31, 2011

Hey, that gender diversity in comics topic is still pretty hot right now, isn’t it? Better hop on the train while the hoppin’s good.

In short, hiring writers and artists of diverse gender, race, sexuality, and background is not simply that old affirmative action canard. It’s a about getting a wide variety of styles into the mix that could then appeal to a wide variety of people. Plus, it opens up the hiring prospects quite a bit, so not only are you not just getting white guys to make everything, but you’re also not getting THE SAME white guys to make everything. This isn’t some draconian feel-good rainbow concept; this is intelligent business for anyone in a creative industry, one that doesn’t plan on stagnating any time soon.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like that includes the biggest names in the comics industry right now.

Of course, I also buy into the counterargument that while there are quite a few female talents in comics (and there really are), there might not be as many female talents in comics who want to play in some big corporation’s multimillion dollar sandbox, where there every idea will be absorbed and exploited for profit by others, with the only credit they get being a ‘Created by’ sidebar on Wikipedia. It’s not like creator’s rights at the big comics companies hasn’t been in the news lately. Same goes for the black creators, or the gay creators, and all the others. So there’s that to consider, as well.

It’s one of those things in comics. A lot of people, myself included, would like to see Marvel and DC improve their publishing outfit, and that includes hiring more and better talent. However, we also have to recognize that the work-for-hire scenario they offer is pretty rotten, so unless someone is either (a) absolutely in love with Marvel/DC’s universes and characters and doesn’t care about the downside of working for them, (b) like Warren Ellis and Joe Casey, who take on books for mainstream publishers solely as a self-imposed creative challenge, or (c) really like money (but not a substantial amount of money, albeit probably more than the average independent will get on their own), why should we expect said people to WANT to work for them? There’s a hell of a lot more avenues to get your work out there now, so really, why bother? It’s not like being a Spider-Man writer or artist or inker or colorist will be much of an status upgrade; it’s going from a niche to a slightly larger niche.

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On a related note, here’s another observation culled from an addiction to trolling comment sections.

One of the frequent wrong ideas perpetrated by the masses in the world of fanservice-based fighting games (yes, I’ve seen it used for every. single. one.) is to lay the blame for the lack of diversity in gender/race (not sexual orientation, though. Gamers aren’t demanding proper homosexual representation. What a shock) on the developers of the game. Basically, if the game doesn’t meet some arbitrary quota of female characters, it’s a sausage fest. I mean, it’s clearly just the individual commentators trying to find the game’s character picks guilty of some social injustice so they can justify their whining about whatever characters THEY wanted not getting in, but let’s address another reason why it doesn’t hold up.

You see, the people behind games like Marvel vs Capcom 3, or Super Smash Bros. or Street Fighter x Tekken, are limited in their material. They set out to make a game that uses previously established characters, and like all fighting game developers, try to make the cast as diverse gameplay-wise as possible. Basically, they want to make the game interesting and fun, but can only use other people’s creations. So, that’s what they do: out of those creations, they choose the bunch that would include the greatest variety of gameplay styles, factoring in aesthetics and fanbases as well. This means that, unless they think it fills a particularly important gameplay or aesthetic niche, they will not consider that character’s gender or race or whatever, because that becomes secondary or tertiary when you bring in gameplay and giving the greatest number of different fans what they want. They’re just trying to do what’s best for the game with the material they set out. As some other commentators in the same arenas point out, there is no point in adding a character to these games if it’s just because they’re female.

Besides, the anger is completely misaimed. You want to see more women or black people showing up in these games? Ask the people who make the games these games pull their material from to create more diverse sets of characters. The world would be so much better if more games had a greater variety of protagonists and antagonists, anyway. So not only do the fanservice games get a wider variety of characters to use, but the games themselves would be more interesting. Everybody wins!

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Posted by Matt on June 11, 2011

Remember that time where I said Marvel and DC weren’t really that important? I stand by that, but I’m going to talk about one of them right now. A little armchair publisher can be fun every once in a while.

Well, we now know all 52 new comics DC is launching in September. There’s a bit to talk about, most of which has already been addressed by more capable bloggers. Even so, I’ve formulated a lot of my own thoughts on the matter since the whole process began a week ago. Chances are many of them are extended from sheer ignorance of DC’s publishing situation, but when has that stopped anyone before?

Now, let’s get some things out of the way: publishing 52 new debut issues in one month is a dumb idea. At that level, DC is competing against itself for shelf space just as much as it’s competing with other publishers. Plus, unless they have a real diversity of titles that will be able to build their own individual audiences without much bleeding into each other, then we all know what will happen: the devoted fans will pick up the titles with the biggest name creators or that seem the most ‘important’, and leave everything else to rot. You don’t need to be any sort of market genius to figure out most of these titles won’t make it past a dozen issues (by about 3 or 4, we’ll probably know how many “were really mini-series this whole time, guys”). Marginal books will become even more marginal with a lot of sexier friends sitting beside them, you know?

So, to do it right, they’d have to cut down a lot of titles. First things first, it would be wise to amputate the consistent low-performers: Flash, Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, stuff like that. I know many of them are supposed to be important characters, but as long as they’re on the Justice League, there’s no point in providing them extra adventures that no one is interested in, right? Besides, going a few years without comics devoted to those characters might actually mean there could be a demand for them sometime in the future. But that’s long-term thinking, and what’s the point of thinking in the long term?

Secondly, there needs to be fewer spin-off titles. How many people really want to read about Nightwing and Supergirl without Batman and Superman? Completists, and no one else. It might work better to instead use those long-running series like Action and Detective Comics to serve as an outlet for spin-off stories about the supporting casts of those major characters, either an anthology book or a series of mini-series under one banner like the Classified books (and another one of the 52 launches, DC Universe Presents). That way, not only do you save shelf space, but you could also gauge the actual interest of people in these characters or creative teams. I’d say that this could apply to the Green Lantern titles as well, but those are inexplicably popular at the moment, so nothing I say would likely persuade the money men not to milk that motherfucker bone dry. The same format could definitely apply to the marginal characters as well…so why they decided to publish books about Animal Man and Swamp Thing and Firestorm, even with talent like Jeff Lemire and Gail Simone behind them, instead of testing them out in a DC Universe Presents-type book is beyond me.

Then of course there’s the random Wildstorm relaunches, which are just baffling. Especially Stormwatch. Why would you put intentional Superman/Batman analogues/parodies in the same universe as Superman and Batman? That’s just silly.

The one observation about the relaunch I keep going back to, though, is what a missed opportunity it is for DC to try to diversify their line. They say they want to attract new readers? All well and good, but eventually they’re going to have to realize that not everyone wants to read about their superheroes, and there could be a fertile audience in this new arena of overpriced digital comics for new genres and creators. It’s not like DC has never had any success outside the tights genre, either; many books manage to find ways to reference DC’s genre-spanning history, and even cartoons like Justice League and Batman: The Brave and the Bold have gotten in on the action.

What have they got now? One western (because the minority readership of Jonah Hex would have been pissed if it got cancelled, and minorities are the only thing DC has at the moment), one book about vampires, one high-tech super spy book, and a few hybrids like Sgt. Rock and Demon Knights. The Grifter and Voodoo books are high-concept enough that they could go either way. That’s it. Why not throw in some straight-up fantasy books, like an Amethyst or a Warlord (or, *gasp*, an original idea!)? A mystery or cop series like Gotham Central? Something more science-fiction-y? Hell, how about a comedy book or two? (the fact that Dan Didio went out of his way to say they won’t be using Ambush Bug anytime soon may say a lot about that) Even Marvel publishes a few mainstream books that try to do something a little different. If DC is really serious about wanting to look attractive to new readers, why not try to attract people who would never think to pick up a superhero comic? You wouldn’t even need to go outside the DC universe to do it, plus it certainly would help your potential licensing options (the only reason the mainstream comics publishers do anything anymore). But alas, it is not to be.

It just seems a little odd that they’d be willing to go so far, yet get cold feet when it comes to one of the most obvious ways to make your books more attractive to a wider audience (not that it was their actual goal to do that, obviously, but one can dream). So instead, they’re just going to tweak costumes and origins in unnecessary ways (and finally give Wonder Woman pants, which is the best thing to come out of this, yes even better than another Grant Morrison Superman comic) and hope that everyone with an iPad will download them because it will be the trendy thing to do. Whatever. Your loss, dudes.

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Posted by Matt on May 11, 2010

An interview with Joe Casey on CBR. Apparently, a story he did for DC was altered after the fact, and he gets some pretty good analysis of the industry out in the open. Read it, dammit.

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Posted by Matt on April 27, 2010

I know a lot of comics blogs probably have at least one post where they describe what they would do if they were in charge of Marvel and/or DC, and I’m likely the least-informed out of the lot of them. Even so, I have ideas, and I can post whatever I want, so fuck off.

So, here’s the pitch:

Marvel and DC stop publication of all monthly comics. All of them.

Creators seeking to use their copyrighted characters would pitch their story ideas to the company. Those stories would published as complete graphic novels, or would be released as a serial story via either a monthly anthology magazine which could contain those stories, excerpts from already-published graphic novels, reprints, and original short comics; or, periodically online on either the company’s website or through devices like the iPad. In both cases, the collected edition would be published a short time after the serial story is completed. This way, characters can be kept in circulation, creators who desire to do so will still get a chance to work with those characters, and comic shops will still have things they can sell.

Rewrite the publishing polices to allow for the publishing of more creator-owned series. While they may not be able to control or financially benefit from those properties, the chance of getting a wider variety of stories published would allow them to pursue new demographics and venues, increasing their reach.

Of course, the chance of any ideas like these being pursued any time soon is slim. For both companies, comics publishing is just something they do on the side. Both have licensing to bring in the money, and now both have large corporations backing them. Despite the ruckus they might raise whenever a new big direction in their comics is coming up, they don’t seem to be that interested in how many people actually read them.

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