Feb. Previews Part 2: Letting My Fingers Do the Walking

Feb-10-09

Continuing our tour through this month’s Previews. Let’s see what else I thought was interesting!

Fallen Angel Volume 6: Cities of Light and Dark: I just finished raving about this series a few posts ago, so we know I like it. It’s a great read. I’d recommend it.

Resurrection: I know nothing about this trade paperback, written by Marc Guggenheim. Well, I do know one thing, and that’s the price of this compilation: $6.00. That’s a great price, and it makes it awfully tempting to try this.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill return for this new series. Jason mentioned it below, and I’m quite excited. I was actually a little disappointed in The Black Dossier, but I love the first two series and I still enjoyed The Black Dossier; it just quite wasn’t quite what I was hoping (I’m not a huge fan of the text pieces. I normally don’t enjoy text pieces in my comics. I loved Starman, but the text pieces were always the weakest part of that story for me as well. It’s odd, since I read a ton of novels and non-fiction books (more non-fiction as I get older), but I think it’s just my mind-set. When I sit down to read a comic, I want comic, not text pieces. I’m a simple man). Anyway, my anticipation for this is still high.

The Batcave Companion: Twomorrows Publications has produced a lot of works that examine the history of various comics and their creators. I’ve read five or six of them, and some of them are really fascinating, and some of them are rather disappointing. For example, their second Teen Titans Companion was simply an entire book of interviews. While some of the interviews were very interesting, I was disappointed that there were no essays containing some critical thinking on the various incarnations of that group. The Blue Beetle companion, which did have some essays, was unfortunately not very well organized or written. Yet some of these are excellent; the All-Star Companion volumes are fascinating looks at these comics, and their descendants in the modern age. This is all a long way of my saying that, while this book looks really interesting, I can’t recommend it without perusing it first.

Books section: Previews isn’t just comics. They also sell books, and while I normally buy my prose reading material on Amazon (I support my local shop, but I will buy some things other places and Diamond really isn’t the best distributor for this sort of thing), I thought it might be interesting to note three titles in this section that seem worthy of consideration. One is Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen, which looks at the X-Men in all their incarnations, from comics to cartoons to movies. My only concern is that the author has set himself a mighty challenge; that’s a heck of a lot of material to cover. I can’t imagine they can get it all into one book, and I fear it may not be very in-depth.

I also noticed Disney’s Neglected Prince, which focuses on the men in the Disney films. I’m a huge Disney fan, and the men in their movies are often ignored. I think this looks like it could be quite interesting. Sure, some of the Disney heroes are pretty dull (does Snow White’s Prince Charming even have a line in that film?), but some of them are much more active. Heck, Prince Philip, in Sleeping Beauty, even gets to fight a dragon!

Finally, I see they’re soliciting Star Trek: A Comic Book History. I’d be very interested in this book, assuming it delves into some of the decisions that was made with this franchise. For example, why did Paramount yank the license from Marvel in the 90s? Marvel was publishing a few good comics, including one focusing on a class at Starfleet Academy, and one focusing on the early adventures of Christopher Pike. I’d also like to hear from some of the creators, to find out what it was like trying to create these comics under the watchful eye of Paramount.

Finally, there are some interesting Marvel trades on the schedule. Incredible Hercules: Smash of the Titans gives those of us who haven’t read this series a chance to catch up on what’s been going on since Hercules took over the book. I keep saying that I’m going to give this series a try, and maybe this is the time to do it. She-Hulk Volume 8: Secret Invasion sees this series dealing with all the changes it’s main character went through during Civil War. I’ll admit to liking Dan Slott’s issues of the series better than these by Peter David, but I think that’s mostly because of the circumstances that David found himself in with the character, who got pretty smacked around during the crossovers. That’s got to be hard as a writer. It’s not that these issues are bad at all, but Slott’s were just so darn fun.

Finally, we have Deadpool Classics Volume 2. It amazed me at the time these were published how much I enjoyed them, and I do recommend this. Joe Kelly doesn’t always knock me out, but when he’s on fire, he is hotter than a five alarm blaze. His scripts on these stories were full of adventure and humor, and Ed McGuinness’ artwork just exploded with energy. Also, they’ve collected the first ten issues of Spider-Man 2099. You know, the whole concept of the 2099 Universe had some potential, and I enjoyed a few of the books, but unfortunately, it seemed like the universe got out of control early on and the editors were never really able to rein it back in. It’s a shame, since this Peter David-Rick Leonardi series was a great read, and David seemed to strike the perfect balance between bringing in concepts from the original series, and introducing new concepts all his own.

So that’s the Previews for this month. I’m not sure I’d do this every month, but hopefully I’ve spotlighted a few things to watch out for and order. Don’t forget to support your local comics shop!

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Marvel Vs. DC: In Comics and in Movies

Jan-29-09

I know that things have been quiet around here. The beginning of this week was extremely busy for both Jason and I. Jason is still piled under work, while I have managed to clean my desk off, at least to some extent. Jason won’t be back until next week, and rather than allow the blog to continue to sit without any new content, I thought that I’d throw out something I’ve been thinking about lately. Sadly, you’ll just get an essay from me, rather than our usual back and forth, although perhaps, when Jason returns, he’ll want to throw some of his ideas on this topic onto my essay. In any case, I hope to post something tomorrow as well, and failing that, we should be back on track next week.

It’s Oscar time of year, and if you are someone who follows the Oscars at all, then you’ve no doubt been inundated with the talk about the possibilities of The Dark Knight being nominated for a best picture (which didn’t happen) and Heath Ledger being nominated for his performance as the Joker (which did happen). Many critics have posted The Dark Knight on their lists of the best movies of the year, and it was the top money-maker of the year in movies. Most comics fans have nothing but praise for the movie, and indeed, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and am thrilled that it seems to have given comic book movies the respect and mainstream recognition that they deserved.

The movie with the second largest box office take this year was Iron Man, which didn’t receive anything more than a smattering of technical Oscar nominations. While it did receive glowing reviews when it was released in May, it has not made many Best Of lists from the ranks of the critical elite. While it was undeniably popular, it wasn’t seen as a breakthrough movie, nor was it heralded by many as ushering in a new era of serious comic films. It invariably gets ranked behind The Dark Knight in most discussions of favorite movies of the year. Most discussions, except for mine, that is, as I will unequivocally say that I found Iron Man to be much more enjoyable than The Dark Knight. This actually makes perfect sense, since to me, 2008 became the year when DC and Marvel movies truly reflected the comics companies themselves.

Let’s start with the movies first. I saw both movies on opening weekend, although I was vacationing in Vermont when Iron Man opened, and didn’t get to see it with my normal, geek-culture savvy friends. Instead, I saw Iron Man with someone who doesn’t read comics, knows next to nothing about pop culture, and has no interest in superheroes. And he loved it. From beginning to end, he was absorbed, he was transported, and most of all, he was entertained. We both were, as was the entire theater, judging from the reactions of the crowd. As a movie, Iron Man is simply fun. The script is smart, the acting is engaging, and the pace is brisk. There are no egregious plot holes, and I don’t believe actions seemed forced. Characters behave logically, and the movie stays faithful to the spirit of the comic while making the necessary changes to appeal to a mass audience. Robert Downey Jr. gives a wonderful performance, one full of life and energy as the titular hero, and he’s quite ably supported by his fellow thespians (Jeff Bridges deserves special mention for simply disappearing into the role of Stane; I wouldn’t have realized it was him had I not recognized the voice after a short while).

I also enjoyed The Dark Knight when I saw it. It’s a great movie. I think the actors are all exceptional, although I am not sure that Ledger deserves an Oscar nomination. I believe his performance would have generated some heat in any circumstances, but his tragic death (and make no mistake; I do view his death as a tragedy. Ledger was phenomenally gifted, and while I may not be on the “Joker-Love Bus” that surrounds his performance in this movie, I’ve enjoyed him in every movie of his I’ve seen) has lifted a good performance far above its merits in the eyes of many people. To be honest, by the end of the movie, Ledger’s unique verbal style was beginning to seriously irritate me, and had he been without reach, I’d have been mightily tempted to smack him. Had I chosen the actor to be most rewarded for his work in the film, I may have singled out Gary Oldman, a supremely skilled actor who so often gets thrust into the role of villain (a role he performs remarkably well to be sure) that it becomes incredibly refreshing to see him here in the guise of a hero. If only we could see that more often.

I believe there are a few reasons that I didn’t enjoy The Dark Knight as much as many people. The first is its length; I’m a firm believer that most movies could stand editing, and The Dark Knight stretches out for 152 minutes, which I thought was a little long. Iron Man, for its part, is almost 30 minutes shorter, making for a more tightly paced experience. I also was very disappointed that Aaron Eckhart, who did a fantastic job as Harvey Dent, had his character’s entire arc told in this film. Harvey Dent is too interesting and complex to be completely explored in the space of one film, especially when he is not the main focus of the picture. They could have cut thirty minutes from the film, and had an excellent villain for the next picture, but not dealing with the Two-Face character in The Dark Knight. They could have allowed Eckhart to develop Dent fully in this film, turning him into a character that the audience truly cared for and was invested in, and then his fall in the next movie would have been that much more heartbreaking.

Again, I enjoyed The Dark Knight. But I realized that these movies reflected the way I read comics. I’ve always been more of a Marvel fan than a DC fan. There was a short time in my life when I read move DC than Marvel, but for almost my entire comics reading life, I’ve always enjoyed Marvel more. I believe that these movies are very reflective of the companies from which their characters sprang. Dark Knight is serious, dark and packed full of detail. It’s smart, and it knows it, and it prides itself on that. In the end, it takes itself a little too seriously. That is how I saw DC comics of the 60’s through the 80’s, and to an extent, I still think it’s true today. The comics, like the movie, are gorgeous, and they’re good, but there’s almost a clinical detachment to them.

Marvel, and Iron Man, on the other hand, are bright, colorful feasts for the eyes and imagination. Things happen fast and furiously and there is a light touch to the material; the movie (and comics) know that the events they’re depicting are larger than life, and they play it as real as possible, but they wink at their audience to let the audience know that the creators are indeed, in on the joke. There’s a life and energy in Marvel’s comics, again particularly zeroing in on those from the 60s to the 80s, but still continuing to today, that DC simply can’t match. I believe that the Iron Man movie captures that energy perfectly.

In the end, it’s not about trashing one movie to elevate another. Dark Knight is a wonderful piece of cinema, and everyone attached to it should be proud of their achievement. My point is simply that, in 2008, Marvel and DC finally managed to shine their unique brand onto the silver screen, and in that instant, my old comics buying habits came roaring back to me. I’m glad to have both types of movies available, just as glad as I was to have both types of comics to buy. I just know, in the end, where my true fondness lies.


The Most Wonderful Stories of the Year

Dec-18-08

Ah, do you smell the chestnuts roasting on the open fire? Is Jack Frost nipping at your nose? Do you hear yuletide carols being sung by a choir? Are folks near you dressed up like eskimos?

If you answered yes to those questions, then it must be Christmastime in your land! Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, there’s no denying that the holiday has a tremendous importance in much of the world, especially in America. It’s become the one day of the year where most of the country shuts down, so if you’re not out there celebrating Christmas, you’re probably pretty bored on December 25th. It’s also hard to avoid the decorations, the songs, and the Christmas episodes which air in so many television series. Comics, never an industry to pass up a trend, has also published Christmas stories, dating all the way back to Christmases in the Golden Age of Comics.

Yes, there’s Superman, trying to help Santa by shoving him down the chimney. It seems that, if Superman is successful, he’s likely to destroy this poor family’s chimney. Perhaps Santa’s bringing them a new Hydro-Thermal heating unit, so they don’t need that chimney anymore. I’m also thinking that Santa may end up with some broken bones. But, the point is, that Christmas has been showing up in comics since the medium was invented. Look, even that current comics curmudgeon Batman had the Christmas spirit back then!

Some readers may be confused by this cover, and the odd drawing of Batman’s face. What he’s doing is smiling. I know. I’ve never seen it before either. Apparently he’s amused by making the old man and the little kid lug around all those toys, while he gets to mosey along, completely unencumbered. And people said Superman was a dick.

Throughout the Golden Age and some of the Silver Age of comics, it wasn’t unusual to find at least one Christmas story in the titles of your favorite heroes during the holiday season. After all, many of these books had more than one story an issue, and continuity wasn’t very well maintained. However, when Marvel started tracking continuity in their comics during the 1960s, it became more difficult to do Christmas stories on a regular basis. After all, a year’s worth of comic stories might only take 2-3 weeks for the hero featured within them, if that long. If Marvel started printing Christmas stories every December, it would seem like their heroes were celebrating Christmas every month! DC soon encountered the same problem when they began to track continuity more closely. However, both companies realized that there was an audience for holiday stories, and if they couldn’t tell them in the regular books (which they would still do, just not that often), they’d publish special books just for that purpose. That is indeed what they did, and both have published Holiday Specials with some regularity ever since.

So, over the years, both companies have published a wide array of Christmas stories. Many of them have been quite good, and some have come from some unusual sources. In 1980, before he became the well known writer and artist that he is today, Frank Miller wrote and drew a Batman Christmas story for that year’s DC Christmas special. It’s a very short tale (as most of the Christmas tales were) and was entitled “Wanted: Santa Claus-Dead or Alive!” Sadly, while not a bad story, this one’s not nearly as exciting as the name suggested it might be. It mostly focuses on a department store Santa who has a checkered past and wants to go straight, but gets pulled into a heist on Christmas Eve. The story has a happy ending (as most Christmas tales do) and even includes the tease of a Christmas miracle. It’s nice to read it, just to see a time when Batman was portrayed as somewhat grim, but not a total psycho. It’s almost impossible to reconcile this portrayal of Batman with Miller’s later work on the character though.

Miller was obviously a fan of drawing people in Santa outfits, since he went back to that well in Daredevil, during his “Born Again” storyline. In that story, Turk, a minor punk that Miller had created for his run on the book, steals a Santa suit, hoping to get some money from strangers who would think he was collecting for charity. When an insane Matt Murdock sees this, he confronts Turk, only to be knifed by the punk and almost killed. Ah, now that’s the Frank Miller we all know and love!

The list of holiday stories is long and varied. Have any of them stayed in your memory?

Short answer? No. Not a single one. I mean, I have vague memories of Christmas-themed things, but I can’t place any of them or give specific details. I do know that this book is mixed in among my myriad longboxes:

It was an oversized issue that had a bunch of very short stories in it, some reprints of older material, lists of holiday stories from Marvel’s early days and even a page of Christmas carols rewritten with X-men-based lyrics. Exciting, no? There was a tale about Punisher redistributing drug money to the needy. Thor fighting some trolls while his dad lied about being Santa. And Captain Ultra (WTF?) fighting off Plantman in order to save everyone’s Christmas trees. LAME.


And I can’t believe that John didn’t mention the GLX-Mas Special that came out a few years ago and featured the Great Lakes Avengers a presented by Dan Slott. I know John is a big fan of the GLA. Sadly, there wasn’t anything aobut this comic that really stood out as “memorable” or even “good.” Wait, I take that back. MODOK makes an appearance. That’s always memorable (but not always good).

I know there are some others that I’m forgetting. Comics have a way of trying to drill home those “true meaning of the holiday” messages as often as they can. I’m sure there’s a Spider-Man story about helping out a little kid in a hospital or something about the Justice League helping an orphanage fight the evil utility man who keeps turning off their heat. And I know for a fact that there have been about four dozen modern comic interpretations of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Bah Humbug, J. Jonah Jameson!

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the Tick’s Big Yule Log Special. It’s a glorious flip book. One side features a story where Tick and Arthur are hired to play mall Santas and get caught up in an evil elf’s revenge plot. The other side of the book shows us how Arthur tries to teach the Tick the true meaning of Hanukkah. Brings a tear to my eye every time.

Of course, my favorite bit of holiday comics lore has no tie to the season or really any particular day for that matter. It’s something that has been around for decades and still shines as one of the greatest catchphrases in modern pop culture: Luke Cage’s “Sweet Christmas!” exclamation.

Sweet Christmas, indeed.



2009 Superhero Resolutions

Dec-17-08

When we’re not trying to save a forgotten character or rehabilitate one that seems to have fallen off-track, we (or at least I) always seem to end up taking the industry to task for one reason or another. I guess blogs wouldn’t exist if people didn’t have anything to complain about! As the clock winds down on 2008, it’s easy to look back and point fingers. At the same time, this joyous and comforting season provides the perfect opportunity to look ahead and resolve to make changes. While I promise to try to be funnier without being so caustic (except when it comes to Bendis), I figure some of our favorite Marvel and DC heroes and villains are also hoping to make some positive changes in their lives too.

With that in mind, here are our thoughts on what some of those New Year’s resolutions may look like:

Spider-Man: I resolve to find true love. I really think it’s time that I settle down, find a wife, and get into a solid domestic relationship. That’s the one thing in my life that seems to be missing. Seriously. Like, it was there and then it wasn’t. Weird, huh?

Kang: I resolve to go back in time and convince myself to never go back in time. It’s just too confusing. Of course, if I do that, would I cease to exist? Would I get caught in some sort of weird Moebius Strip where I kept meeting myself seconds after I just left myself? And wouldn’t it be cool if I just scrapped this whole idea and created a massive army of different time-stamped versions of myself…all one second apart? Man, that would really screw some stuff up. Totally rad.

Hulk: I resolve to be a better father. Kids learn from example. I can’t be leaping all over creation smashing stuff and speaking in broken English. What kind of precedent does that set for my little Skaar? Less mindless violence and more dedication to the arts, that’s my goal. Maybe I’ll even take up yoga.

Aquaman: I resolve to…hello? Is anyone listening to me? HELLO?!? Stupid fish aren’t even paying attention anymore.

Punisher: I resolve to only kill people who deserve it. And by “deserve it,” I mean “does something that falls within my broad and ever-changing definition of evil…from kiddie porn to jaywalking, on any given day.” Honestly, that guy driving that Miata the other day? He was just asking to be blown up into tiny pieces with a bazooka and about a half-dozen other high-explosive armaments. Should whack his family too. What kind of person drives a Miata?

Luke Cage: I resolve to never join a group called the Dark Avengers. Kinda sends the wrong message, ya know? Sweet Christmas!

Kang: I resolve to go back in time and convince myself to never go back in time. It’s just too confusing. Of course, if I do that, would I cease to exist? Would I get caught in some sort of weird Moebius Strip where I kept meeting myself seconds after I just left myself? And wouldn’t it be cool if I just scrapped this whole idea and created a massive army of different time-stamped versions of myself…all one second apart? Man, that would really screw some stuff up. Totally rad.

Iron Man: I resolve to start drinking again. Can you blame me?

Blue Beetle: I resolve to stay relevant regardless of losing my solo series and becoming a quasi-legacy to a character who was never all that fabulous to begin with. But hey, as long as I keep making appearances on a keen new Batman cartoon, everyone will love me! I mean, look at the headliners I’m appearing with…Plastic Man, Red Tornado, uh…Aquaman? Damn it. I’m screwed.

Madrox: I resolve to stop sending doubles in to deal with the crying baby. It’s not fair to them and it doesn’t really teach me anything. Although, on the bright side, at least I’m not the one who has to put up with all the screaming and crying. Considering half the kid’s genes are from Siryn, that’s probably a safe thing.

All-Star Batman: I resolve to stop talking like a goddamn retard.

Kang: I resolve to go back in time and convince myself to never go back in time. It’s just too…ah, crap.

Dr. Strange: I resolve to be the central character in a Bendis crossover this year, meaning I also resolve to act horribly out of character as long as that advances the plot, no matter how nonsensical that may be.

Cyclops: Now that my current honey, Emma Frost, looks to be going evil again, I resolve to find another skank to bring home to my bedroom. I wonder what Selene, the Black Queen, is up to. Jean would be so proud.

Wolverine: I resolve to only appear in fifteen books a month. Wouldn’t want to become overexposed.

Thor: Verily, I doth resolveth to speaketh in English most plain, so as not to confuseth those who doth find themselves arrayed around me.

Hercules: Verily, I doth resolveth….hey Odinson! Getith thine own resolution. Fine. I doth resolve to ne’er move from the fine publication in which I currently reside. It is mine now Hulk, you poor excuse for a hero! You shall ne’er move me from it!

She-Hulk: I doth resolve…sorry. It’s contagious. I resolve to get my own title again. I wonder who can relaunch me this time? Maybe I’ll give Byrne a call….it’s not like he’s doing anything important right now.

Sub-Mariner: I resolve to enter rehab this year. I mean, have you seen me lately? I look worse than Tony Stark did after a three month bender!

Dr. Light (female): I resolve to turn back the clock on my personality and act like I did in 1986 again. It may not make sense to anyone else, but there’s a reason I’m ignoring the last 20 years of my life and acting in this manner. Honest.

Obsidian: I resolve to go back to the JSA and fade into the woodwork again, since the only title to explore my character is now, <sigh>, cancelled.

Scarlet Witch: I resolve to return to comics to say what I should have said in 2005: “No more Bendis.”


Comic Book Predictions for 2009

Dec-15-08

Here at “Meanwhile…Comics!”, we’ve spent the past year talking about what we would do differently with the characters and titles found in the Marvel and DC universes. It’s been fun to play editor-after-the-fact. However, if we want to be true editors of a comic book world, we need to learn to plan ahead as well. So, John and I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a peek into the future and see what 2009 may hold for our favorite Marvel and DC characters. I’ll kick off the festivities and then John can comment on my thoughts and add some of his own (you guys know the drill). In 2009, I predict…

1. MODOK will make a comeback. Granted, this freak has been the butt of many jokes in the past year or two, but he used to be leader (many times over) of AIM and one of Captain America’s most visually interesting foes. The way Ed Brubaker is scrolling through the early Cap bad guys…Red Skull, Doctor Faustus, Arnim Zola…he’s bound to get to MODOK sooner than later. And then, we can expect dramatic comebacks from the likes of The Stranger, Solarr, Monster Ape, Yellow Claw, The Tumbler and The Alchemoid. Classics all.

2. DC will go through yet another crisis. And the Internet will weep. And no one will understand what’s going on. And the whole thing will center around an epic battle between Bat-Mite and Streaky the Super Cat. The plot will get leaked to someone’s blog and then Dan DiDio will spend four months rejiggering the whole thing so that Bat-Mite ends up either torn in half or stuffed in a refrigerator (or, in his case, a little Coleman cooler). Tears will fall. Heroes will rise up. No one will notice.

3. Wasp will come back from the dead. And so will Steve Rogers and Bruce Wayne and Martian Manhunter and Orion and everyone else who went down this year. Are you shocked yet? I’m even going to go out on a limb and say that Mockingbird will die again, just so Bendis can mess with Hawkeye a little bit more. Jerk.

4. Some second tier characters will get their own titles. And then get them cancelled. I’m looking at you, Dakota North! Oh, what’s that? You already had a title that no one bothered to read? Never mind then. Now I’m looking at you, Nth Man! What? Really?? Oh. Well, maybe She-Hulk will get her own title again. Fingers crossed.

5. Frank Miller and Rob Liefeld will collaborate. In the crossover, Batman and Shatterstar will carry really big guns, swear a lot, and constantly look like they’re in pain (either through their expressions or the fact that they have teeny, tiny ankles and ginormously huge upper body structure). Oh, and the whole thing will be presented in vivid black & white…because, you know, that never gets old.

That’s five things off the top of my head. I predict that John will inspire more sarcasm in me. What do you predict?

Well, it’s certainly hard to argue with the prediction that the dead in comics will rise again. I’d also go ahead and add Shadowcat to your list, as I’m sure she’ll return from her Joss Whedon-penned demise in short order (at least I’d hope so, as she’s one of the few truly interesting members of the X-Men). It’s also certainly hard to argue with DC having another Crisis. I know this one is called Final Crisis, but who really believes that?

Here are some other predictions:

1. Brian Michael Bendis will suffer fatigue from writing 75% of the titles Marvel produces and his scripts will show it: Oh, I’m sorry, that happened in 2006. I’m supposed to be looking to the future. I do, however, feel that he will continue to be one of the guiding lights behind the Marvel Universe, that his writing will continue to avoid hitting the heights it did back when he wrote only a few fringe books, and that I will continue to avoid purchasing most Marvel titles for this very reason.

2. Mark Millar will unveil his latest brainstorm: Ultimate Midnighter and Ultimate Apollo!: In an attempt to breathe life back into the Ultimate Universe, Mark Millar will introduce Ultimate Midnighter and Apollo into that world. Once there, they will become members of the Ultimates, leading that team to new heights of debauchery and pathetic attempts to incite readers with cheap sensationalistic antics. Ultimate Captain America will prove to be a giant homophobe and will fight with them both, eventually ending when Apollo sodomizes him at which point Cap will see the error of his ways and shack up with Ultimate Colossus.

3. Spider-Girl will be relaunched and then re-cancelled. Twice. Which is a pretty safe bet any year.

4. Dan Didio will make internet fandom arise against him in anger when he decides that the DC Universe needs to kill off Captain Marvel. “He’s really just another Superman, right? I’ve never seen the point of him. He’s redundant.”

5. Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction will launch a new title, “Raging Razorback”, will will become a huge critical darling. “We can make any previously unimportant D list hero relevant and exciting,” Brubaker will say in an interview on Newsarama. The book will indeed, launch to much critical and commercial success, which will last for eight months, when both creators will then leave the book to work on a relaunch of El Aguila. Some poor relative unknown will be tapped to replace them, and Razorback’s title will quickly fade from view. However, I declare 2010 to be the year of El Aguila!

Oh, snap! Those are some good ones. The Bendis point is so true it’s ridiculous. Everyone seems to hint that Bendis will be Quesada’s replacement as Editor-in-Chief eventually. What a horrible day that will be in the Marvel U. Everyone…will…yeah, but…well, you know…we can…we can all start, y’know, start…talking like…um…like, y’know, this? Or…yeah. Yes.

I’m not sure DiDio will get to Captain Marvel in 2009 though. He still has to do long division on the rest of the former Robins, a couple Green Arrows, three Flashes, at least two Atoms and a generous handful of Green Lanterns. Captain Marvel might get pushed to 2010.

I absolutely LOVE the Brubaker/Fraction reference. So true. And, so help me, I’d happily buy every issue of Raging Razorback. Y’know…until the scrub creative team takes over.

That reminds me of a few more things I can predict for 2009…

1. Someone will finally sell an Aquaman pitch. And that lucky devil will be Grant Morrison. The book will be described as “Lovecraft with sex pirates,” the art will be provided by Frank Quitely, and the first issue will come out 22 months after the book is announced. Critics will rejoice. Fans will scurry for their dictionaries. And, somehow, Morrison will win a Nobel Prize for literature. He’ll accept the award in a shiny suit and then disappear from the stage in a puff of smoke.

2. The TV-to-comics writer trend will continue. 2009 will see the debut of three titles that take place in a hospital, four that deal with scientist cops, one that features a law firm and one that has some sort of weird sci-fi vibe but just gets more convoluted and confusing as it progresses. Pretty soon, readers will give up on it all and start turning to the serialized versions of Survivor and The Amazing Race. The Comic Writers Strike of 2009 will come to a head with Deal or No Deal: The Comic Book (which will immediately be optioned by Sony for a three-picture deal).

3. All the superhero tropes will make an appearance. Someone will be resurrected. Someone will lose their memory. A plot will turn out to be a vividly bad dream. Another plot will turn out to have taken place in a different dimension. Time travel will solve someone’s problems. A bad guy will have his “lifeforce’ transferred to another body a split second before his current body is destroyed. Certain characters will die in one title, only to pop up in another as if nothing ever happened and nothing is explained. One hero will secretly wear the costume of another hero. There will be an evil twin…with a goatee and, preferably, an eyepatch. An older sister will turn out to be someone’s mother instead. Someone will cheat on someone else with their brother…and get pregnant! Wow…those last few went into soap opera territory, didn’t they?

4. Wolverine will get three more titles. And, right before his movie debuts, he’ll show up in crossovers with Hulk, Punisher, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Iron Man, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, Thunderbolts, Captain Britain, Anita Blake, Dark Tower and even the Marvel Illustrated version of The Man in the Iron Mask.

5. DC will slip to #3 in sales. This will happen when Dark Horse signs a licensing deal for a Harry Potter vs. Twilight series. Geeks worldwide will suddenly realize that Dark Horse publishes books featuring Hellboy, Star Wars, Buffy, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Serenity and pretty much every other popular genre-based character and Eliza Dushku role outside the superhero realm. The mainstream media will try to make a story out of the fact that comics exist that aren’t based around male power fantasies. A few people will take note, but aging fanboys will rally against the minimally perked popular interest, decrying these new books as “dumb” and the people who read them as “idiots.” The world will realize what socially repressed assholes the core comic readership is comprised of, the potential excitement will die away and superhero comics will continue to shrink in both quality and reach. Everyone will be happy. Hooray!

Have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy reading comics? Just wanted to reinforce that.

I would so read that Aquaman book.

I can’t wait to read more Wolverine titles. With his three monthlies, plus his appearances in multiple X-Men titles and Avengers affairs, I simply don’t feel that we’re seeing enough of him. With a major motion picture coming out next year, I don’t understand why Marvel doesn’t capitalize on this underused character. Perhaps the launch of Spectacular Wolverine, Wolverine: The Best There Is At What He Does and Superfluous Wolverine, will help to fill the gap and will help draw non-comics readers into comics shops after the movie is a hit. Oh wait. No, that won’t work, since all of those books will be cynical, angry books, mired in years of confusing continuity that would take ten years to understand. My bad.

My crystal ball is clouding over, but I do have a few more predictions for next year:

1. Usagi Yojimbo will continue to be an amazing comic, with spectacular writing, good art, and it will appear on a regular monthly schedule. It’s creator, writer and artist, Stan Sakai, with perform this feat, amazing in and of itself, while still finding time to do another few odd projects, such as lettering a Groo miniseries for Dark Horse. Comic book scientists will still be unable to distill and bottle this amazing man, and other comics creators will still be unable to duplicate his feats.

2. The third issue of Kevin Smith’s Batman book will not ship. Look for it in 2011. It will still suck.

3. Peter David will launch a new series starring Hawkeye, a popular character who has had his own series in the past, but never seems to be able to keep one long term. The series will be smartly written. It will have humor, but will also handle serious subjects. It will be popular with critics and get good reviews. It will have strong art, with clean storytelling and a sense of fun. It will be cancelled within the first two years.

4. Judd Winick will start writing another three titles in the DCU. Characters in those titles will note that instances of rape, general violence and needless slaughter increase by 150%.

5. The comics industry will continue to hemorrage readers, while the leaders in the industry refuse to consider alternate business strategies that would keep the artform alive in the longterm. Oh, how I wish I had a punchline for this one.

And, I’m spent.

Hey! Don’t throw Hawkeye under the bus like that! X-Factor hasn’t been cancelled (again) yet, has it? It’s funny that we assign certain traits to certain writers. If the characters were actually living and breathing members of a contained universe, do you think they’d be having water cooler conversations about who’s handling their writing duties?

Fade in on Hulk, Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel talking in the break room of a nondescript office building. Iron Man approaches with a casual saunter.

IRON MAN: What’s up, homeslices?

HULK: Have you seen Spidey?

IRON MAN: Nah. Kid’s a square. Too angsty for me.

MOON KNIGHT: Pfft. Not anymore. Bendis got a hold of him for some event comic. Poor Petey is talking like a fry cook with a head injury. Takes ten minutes to say hello.

MS. MARVEL: That’s so sad. Did you hear that Peter David is taking over my book?

IRON MAN: Well, it was nice knowing you!

Everyone laughs.

HULK: You’re lucky. I’ve got two titles right now. One with Slott and one with Claremont. I wake up in the morning and I don’t know if I’m supposed to be bashing stuff and throwing out clever quips or if I’m just supposed to be standing around delivering panel-cramping monologues about my feelings and every relationship I’ve ever had.

The group nods their heads in agreement. Just then, Green Arrow walks into the room. He’s looking around confusedly.

GREEN ARROW: Anyone seen Batman?

HULK: Last I saw him, Kevin Smith had called him into his office. But that was six months ago.

MOON KNIGHT: Anyone know what Smith’s doing with that whole Daredevil/Bullseye thing? I swear he’s got bodies buried under the floorboards.

Hercules storms into the room. He whips his coffee mug across the room and imbeds it in the wall.

HERCULES: Goddamn, Millar! Even I don’t have enough muscles to keep up with these redundant fight scenes!

GREEN ARROW: Hey, just be glad you’re not part of the Legion! I hear Winick took over that book and now they only have four members left. Freakin’ bloodbath. Families. Friends. Pets. Raped and dismembered. I hear they only found chunks of some of the Substitute Heroes. I don’t know what refrigerators look like in the 31st century, but they must hold a lot.

Ms. Marvel starts crying. Moon Knight moves over to comfort her.

IRON MAN: I miss the good ol’ days. Stan Lee couldn’t write for crap, but at least we all got home in one piece.

HULK: And almost everyone’s name rhymed too. Big help.

HERCULES: Yeah. So…what do you guys think about Grant Morrison?

IRON MAN: I hear he turned Wonder Woman into a dude. And an astronaut. S/he can see into the future now.

MOON KNIGHT: Hmph. Lucky break. Sales ought to go through the roof on that one.

Fade out.

Sigh…I’d take one meticulous, thoughtful Stan Sakai over a hundred Judd Winicks any day.


Comic Cancellations and the Comics Industry

Dec-08-08

While Jason and I may have been slow in posting the past few weeks due to other commitments, the comics world has continued to move forward. One of the big recent announcements made by the Big Two was DC’s decision to cancel their mid-tier Bat-Books, including Robin, Nightwing and Birds of Prey. This may have come as a surprise to some readers, but it’s not an unusual move. None of those books had a buzz about them and sales had been mediocre for some time.


This tactic, of culling the weak from a herd of related books, is not unusual. Marvel, when it introduced its “Brand New Day” storyline into Amazing Spider-Man, used that as an opportunity to cancel all of its other monthly Spidey titles, although they then began publishing Amazing Spider-Man every week, so that may have been a wash. Throughout the past decade, Marvel has also taken the hatchet to its bloated X-Men family of titles on a few occasions, although such cancellations never seem to trim the line for long, with new books and relaunched versions of older books soon appearing.


In fact, that’s one of the questions that one must ask when confronted with news of this sort: does it matter, in any conceivable way? It’s possible we won’t see Birds of Prey again, but does anyone truly believe that there won’t be another Robin series popping up down the line? All it would require would be a hot artist or writer being brought on board and that title could easily be relaunched, with a new number one issue, and if we’re really lucky, variant covers (perhaps with special metals used on them)! Cancellations like these, while frustrating to those fans who follow those series on a monthly basis, are normally just speedbumps in the road for these established characters, who will either guest star regularly in their parent title, or will be back soon enough in their own title. Cancellations are only a concern when you’re a relatively new, untested property, like say, Blue Beetle.


Yes, DC has also announced the cancellation of their Blue Beetle title, and sadly, the titular hero has no other place to call his home. Cancelling a title such as Blue Beetle or the critically acclaimed Manhunter (or, on the Marvel side, the oft-cancelled Spider-Girl) often means that the characters who have lost their book will disappear, rarely, if ever, to be seen again. If the writer of that title is writing other titles for the company, they may be able to move some characters over into their non-cancelled titles, but that’s not always the case (and for a character like Spider-Girl, who’s in a different continuity, it’s not really even possible). Many people have attacked and lambasted DC over its decision to cancel Blue Beetle, as the character had just appeared on their new cartoon show The Brave and the Bold, and the cancellation was seen as a poor marketing move, which it might well have been, had DC ever marketed its comics towards the viewers of the show in question.


In any case, the comics blogosphere has been all abuzz the past few weeks as numerous armchair quarterbacks discuss these cancellations, and what sort of an effect they will have on the industry as a whole. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to inject my opinion into a topic that other’s have milked dry, I am going to jump into this fray, as is the lovely and talented Jason. I think we bring a unique perspective to this debate, in that we are not armchair quarterbacks of any sort; I, for one, sit in an office chair, with no armchairs in sight.


So, let me outline what we’ll be discussing, and then I’ll turn this over to Jason, who’s been hoping to rant for many days now. We’ve mentioned the different types of cancellations: mid-tier books that will likely be back soon; mid-tier books which are absorbed into the parent books in their line; and the third stringers who may disappear altogether with no other title to call home. The question is: are these sorts of cancellations wise business decisions? Do they help or hurt the comics industry as a whole? Are they a shortsighted decision or one that looks to the future? To begin the discussion, I turn this over to Jason, but I’ll be back with my own thoughts on the subject soon enough.


To begin, I would like to point out that my chair does have arms, but it is also on wheels…so I think that technically rules out any sort of “armchairing” on my part. You’re right to relate that I have been waiting to rant about this topic for a while now. I kept starting and stopping my own version of this post because I had just too many thoughts and opinions to blurt out. I didn’t want to tax anyone’s reading comprehension abilities as I vacillated wildly from topic to topic. I’m sure this response will meander into the realms of economic concerns, buying habits, related cultural industries, the counterintuition of the industry and a bunch of other things. However, first I’m going to try to address John’s questions straight on.


John asks if “these sorts of cancellations are wise business decisions” to which I respond: ANY sort of cancellation is usually a wise business decision. And, quite honestly, I wish the Big Two would do more pruning of their overgrown product lines. It’s all about curb appeal…and right now, neither Marvel or DC has much of that when it comes to attracting new readership. The mentality of the last decade or two, to be filed under “Lessons NOT Learned From the Mid-90s,” is this: if readers love Mr. Super in one book, they’re sure to love him in eight books! If they are willing to fork over $3 for one comic featuring Mega-Dude, imagine how much we can squeeze from them if we have Mega-Dude appear in a dozen titles this month! On its face, that sounds like a great supply-and-demand model, right? Unfortunately, comics are a different sort of beast. Maybe I read the monthly Mighty Mr. Super title because I like the writer or the artist, whereas Awesome Mr. Super, Mr. Super Adventures, and Mr. Super Hangs Around Outside Elementary Schools employ creators who don’t twirl my baton. Or, and this seems to be the one the big boys can’t seem to understand, maybe I only have $3 this month! Maybe, I buy a bunch of other books (including, ironically, some from the same publisher) and don’t want to make that commitment or be faced with that choice. Or let’s say I do make that commitment, but now I have to drop one of their other titles in order to read more about Mr. Super.


Extrapolating that kind of effect can be difficult, but I’ll try to explain it in small numbers. DC launches Blue Beetle to some critical success. It begins to build an audience. DC faithful like it enough to add it to their regular buy lists. However, then DC decides to launch an event comic that is destined to “change the DC Universe FOREVER.” Well, being a DC fan, you feel like you need to see this. You stretch your budget a bit to include this overpriced piece of garbage, but that’s pushing it. You like Blue Beetle and don’t want to give up on it yet…I mean, they’re going to introduce this new character, build a world around him and let him enjoy some adventures on his own before trying to force decades of unrelated continuity into the title, right? AHAHAHAHA. Don’t hold your breath. But, for argument’s sake, let’s just assume that everything is going swimmingly over in Beetle-burg. Now, DC decides that Batman is going to die. Oh no! Not one of the major comic icons of my lifetime! I need to follow that story desperately! Um…bye-bye Blue Beetle or big event comic or DC in general just for forcing me to choose. In fact, maybe I’ll just give up completely on comics. Granted, that may be pushing this example to the extreme, but it’s possible. The goodwill that was going to be built by Blue Beetle or Secret Six or Birds of Prey or The All-New Atom or Shadowpact or anything else, is now dribbled away by DC trying to do too much at once.


That’s an example of what can cause a new book to be cancelled, but what about a mid-tier book? Well, it’s a similar track. Companies forget that there is a limited audience out there and that that audience has a limited budget too. You can’t have the mentality that “everyone in the world wants to read every book I make” and hope to have great success in this business. I haven’t gone back and crunched years of data on the topic, but I can make a few educated guesses about those second-level titles. Let’s say The Supergroup sells 100,000 copies a month. The company decides this is a good time to take advantage of increased readership and introduce The Fabulous Supergroup as a companion title. For the sake of simplicity, readership on the first issue of Fabulous is also 100,000. Wow! Another hit on their hands! Of course, over the release of a few issues, the numbers adjust themselves to account for readers making a decision between the two titles or deciding the creators aren’t their favorites or the stories aren’t interesting or whatever. After issue #4 hits the stands, Fabulous is now attracting only 70,000 readers and the original title is down to about 90,000. In order to regain some flagging interest, the company decides to launch a solo title for their most popular character, Mega-Dude. Mega-Dude’s premiere issue flies off the racks at a pace of 120,000. Awesome! But now it’s decision time again. Do readers feel that Mega-Dude is better on his own (meaning an uptick in the solo series, but less interest in the team book)? The original series drops to 75,000…Fabulous now sits at 50,000 (and is on the bubble for cancellation now) and the solo series settles in around 80,000. Do they feel that three titles with Mega-Dude are way too many and decide to drop one or two of them? Do they get completely fed up with Mega-Dude’s overexposure and drop all the titles? Do they decide to stick with all three but now have to drop the Mr. Super title because of a limited budget? Or does a rival company take advantage of the diluted market and launch some new fan favorite title that attracts 150,000 purchases and shoots to number one on the sales chart?


Someone is going to lose.


And that’s just the economic semantics of the deal. Having the same character appear in a bunch of different books every month is a horrible way to keep characterization and tell fluid stories. Why can’t there be just one X-Men comic? You have great stories to tell? Perfect! Tell them in one book. Maybe increase the page count or put it out bi-weekly or something. Is there really any need to dilute the characters and their gravitas just to kill a few more trees and put more stress on your readers’ wallets? At the very least, combine the titles…if two books cost $6, you should be able to double the page count and produce a single title for $5. If every publisher would follow this model, readers could get more bang for their buck and the market would turn to one more similar to Japan’s booming market…with thicker monthly books that contain multiple stories. Less titles to fret over, but more stories in each book.


I’ll skip John’s second question and go right to the “shortsighted decision” inquiry. Yes, I believe all of these cancellations are shortsighted. It has nothing to do with the titles themselves, but with the overall mentality of the comic industry. Everything they do is shortsighted. Switching creative lineups. Launching assorted miniseries. Killing off established characters. You name it, it’s a blindfolded dartboard mission. Even the things they think they have planned out ahead of time end up being retrofitted at the last second. Look at all the stories about DC’s big event books for the past two years…Dan DiDio has lorded over the titles, making adjustments, removing key plot points, changing characters and generally mucking about in the creators’ realm all in the name of “executive editing.” And how has that worked out for them so far? I’ll tell you: confusing, self-referencing, continuity-laden stories featuring third and fourth-tier characters that the average literate person doesn’t recognize and could care less about. You’d think they’d learn after one debacle, but instead they keep trying to adjust for each event, making them go further and further off track until the Final Final Final Crisis will be a one-shot featuring Bwana Beast playing a game of battleship against the head of Toyman. And someone is bound to say, “Wasn’t that one dude on the Super Friends cartoon?”


Now for John’s last question: “Do cancellations help or hurt the industry as a whole?” Well, personally, I think there’s some good and some bad. There have been titles that have bled readers without outside influence, proving they probably didn’t deserve the attention they were granted. There have been titles launched that had great buzz before they hit the stands and then just fell flat, whether from overblown expectations or suck-o creative output. And then there are books that really could have been something, but were given no promotion, overpopulated with ill-conceived crossovers, or hastily tossed on the chopping block to save the 14th useless and watered-down Cool-Man title. As a whole, I wish the industry would think a little before they launch the titles, take better care of them once they’ve launched and look across their entire line before they start cutting off noses to spite their faces, so to speak.


I have a lot more to say on the topic, but I’ll give it back to John to digest my rant and reply appropriately.

Well, before I delve into what you wrote too extensively, I have to completely agree with you that these choices are short-sighted, and that all the choices the Big Two make fall into that category. Sadly, I feel that’s a problem with much of the world today; we tend to live in a very short-sighted society, which can’t look more than a few weeks or months into the future. The comics industry is obviously not as strong as it could be, as it has been in the past, and indeed, as strong as it is in other countries. While there are numerous reasons for this, I believe that, to change this and to really turn the industry around, the leaders of this industry are going to have to look to the future and make some difficult choices. They need to completely change the way they do business, because the current business model? Not working out so well.

I agree with much of what Jason says, although I feel that you don’t hit a wall of diminishing returns in a financial realm only, when you publish multiple titles featuring the same character; you hit that same wall in a creative realm as well. Put simply, Batman may be one of the most interesting characters in creative fiction, but he’s not interesting enough to feature predominantly in six books a month. If you insist on publishing six books a month featuring this character, you are going to start running out of ideas, and you’re going to either recycle old ideas (changing little) or you’re going to get some really bad stories.

Understand that I am quite cognizant that bad stories can happen in the books of characters that only have one title. My point would be that, in the case of a character like Batman or Superman or Spider-Man, you should easily be able to get the top creators in the business to chronicle their adventures. If you restrict their adventures to one main title, you can have the top creators in the business telling their stories, and you don’t have to worry about trying to find others to pad the pages of the many ancillary titles that feature them. You would have creators who would be building on many years worth of stories, yes, but those years would only be filled with twelve or twenty four issues worth of stories, not sixty or seventy two issues, as we have now.

I also see how budgets are limited, and multiple series featuring a favorite character can really hurt a buyer’s wallet. I’m sure that, if this was suggested to the Powers That Be that run DC and Marvel (and I’m sure it has) they would counter that, if they drop two Superman titles a month, the consumer who was purchasing them wouldn’t then start picking up Manhunter and Blue Beetle; they’d simply save the money, or use it on another form of entertainment. Unfortunately, the Powers That Be could be right, and consumers might react that way. Still, I believe that it’s a chance that must be taken. I believe that, if given more choices, not only might current readers try something different, but that new readers might be brought into comics, since there would now be a better chance that the Big Two were publishing something that might interest them. This wouldn’t be a quick process, as there are decades of preconceptions built into our culture, but going back to making far sighted decisions, those preconceptions will never be broken down if steps aren’t taken to do so.

Okay, intermission is over. The rant may continue.

Right. I’ve gotten my breath back and I’m ready to sound off again! I like the point you raised at the end. I think there’s a general fear within the industry that they’re competing against video games and movies and all the other related disposable entertainment. However, you can’t ever succeed if all you do is operate on a fear-based model. Don’t take chances! Don’t do something that may alter the sales patterns of the last four years! Don’t make any changes to characters or continuity that can’t be explained and changed back at a moment’s notice! Don’t try to attract new readers in a new way! Don’t put any effort into cross-promotion outside your sheltered little industry!

Look, how simple could this be? Instead of putting the onus on the retailer to sell your product, why don’t you do something that could help out everyone? Pundits like to draw conclusions about comic books from comic-based movies. The new Batman flick did gangbusters, that must mean the comics are selling millions too, right? Um…no. The person who watches a movie isn’t necessarily the same person who has spent a decade following the adventures of his favorite hero. Sadly, while most comic book readers will flock to comic-based movies, most comic-based movie watchers don’t flock to comic shops. They go home and watch TV or go see another movie or go out in the sunshine and engage in sports or social events. It’s not a two-way street by any means of the imagination. Readers need to be cultivated and, in a way, bred into existence. I can’t think of one person I know these days who just decided one morning to be a comic book reader. And the industry does little to help. I always believed there was potential to cross-promote a movie into a visit to the comic shop. That is, until I actually owned a comic book store. When someone wanders in looking for a recommendation, sometimes you’re at a loss. Sure, if they just saw From Hell or V For Vendetta, you can recommend the source material verbatim. However, X-Men: The Last Stand came out while I had my store. Someone who knows nothing about the X-Men, aside from what they’ve seen in the theater, comes in looking for an X-Men comic book. How do you explain to them that there are about a dozen titles to choose from? Or that you could recommend another dozen or so collections and trades, all with different characters, plots and creative teams? Which do you think they’d like? Which ones do you personally think are fabulous, but could lose the person you’re showing it to? And if you make one bad recommendation, you risk losing that customer forever (not that there’s a guarantee that they would come back anyway).

Maybe I was just a bad salesman…I’ve heard from both sides of that argument already. I know that not all superhero movies can pull a revered plotline straight from the pages and slap it up on screen. Concessions need to be made in terms of pacing and costumes and special-effects abilities and even for the translation to viewers who aren’t familiar with comics in general. But imagine how much easier things would be at the retail level if there were only one Batman title on the shelves. Someone walks in, says they just saw the film and now they want a Batman comic and BOOM, instant sale. You don’t need to spend an hour explaining the story or the crossover or the extraneous characters popping in and out of every other panel. Just, here’s the monthly Batman title. I would also like to believe, and maybe I’m just an eternal optimist, that one title would mean better stories. You have a built-in filter. Let the top creators pitch their stories and pick the ones you think are tops. Don’t just settle for whatever because you have 150 pages to fill in a month and you think consumers are mindless sheep. KISS…Keep It Simple Stupid!

I’m old enough to remember the DC Implosion of 1978. Twenty titles were cancelled and a handful of other planned books were nixed due to low sales attributed to a couple winter blizzards (which points to an obvious flaw in your business plan). Granted, none of the titles were anything to write home about…with the exception, in my little world, of Mister Miracle and Secret Society of Super-Villains. However, DC was also on the verge of eliminating their flagship title and namesake of the company, Detective Comics. Only a last minute merger with the better-selling Batman Family kept Detective in print. It goes to show that a bloated line can be dangerous for even your most historic titles. Maybe Detective should’ve been sent packing? Nostalgia can only sell so many books, the rest need to be sold on story and characters…unless you count that brief span in the 90s and early 00s where sales were artist-based, which always baffled me.

Of course, once you start talking about cancelling titles, the fanboys start to freak out about cuts across the board and people losing jobs and companies going out of business. I recently read a post on the new version of Blog@Newsarama (which is horribly amateurish and, at times, just plain awful, compared to what they had before), in which the author tries to make a connection between a film studio cutting back on its staff and the time of the successful comic-based movie coming to pass. This point is crowbarred in right after he points out that The Dark Knight just made a billion dollars and that comic-based movies are more successful than ever. If comic-based movies are so successful, why then, in any sense of the definition of logical, would film companies stop making them? Just because they lay off part of their office staff in order to reduce overhead, doesn’t mean they’re suddenly going to wipe their upcoming slate and devote all their resources to making documentaries about churches and playing chess. They’re not going to suddenly stop producing the one film genre that is bringing in demonstrable cash. And, even if they did, there’s absolutely no correlation between a reduction in comic-based movies and the sudden and complete collapse of the comic book industry. Popular comics have been produced since the 1930s or earlier, and the first successful comic book movie was…Superman back in the late 70s. With a glowing track record like that, I’m pretty sure the industry will survive.

I’d also like to point out that comics more or less thrived during the Great Depression and, even though the popularity of superhero comics waned in the post-World War II world, other genres…crime, horror and romance…rose to outpace their flagging sales. Granted, comics back then were MUCH less expensive and usually appealed to a broader swath of the population, but the need for entertainment and an escape from reality are never stronger than in poor economic times. I don’t see this as a doom-and-gloom scenario. Rather, I see today’s market as a chance to correct problems, exploit opportunities and generally right a ship that has been lazily listing for the past decade, like a rowboat with only one oar…circling and circling until the rower can’t do it anymore and the boat just drifts off into the horizon. Build up a new readership! Limit your best characters to two titles AT MOST! Create some new, compelling characters that can stand the test of time (Marvel’s last wildly successful characters, Wolverine & Punisher, were both created 30 years ago)! Come up with stories that create a foundation for new worlds instead of just referring to things that happened 25 years ago in a book nobody remembers! Go forward! Stop looking back!

Whew. That’s enough for me right now. I’m going to slap my tag team partner’s hand and just slump down in the corner until I’m needed again.

Way to go Champ. You got ’em on the ropes. Now just take a swig of this water and take a minute to catch your breath.

It has become the sport du jour in the comics blogosphere to explain to all who will listen what the best way is to fix the current economic slump which has affected the comics field since the mid 90s. I don’t think either one of us claims to be experts, but honestly, it doesn’t take a genius to know that the current business model being used by Marvel and DC simply will not be effective in the long run. They may be able to squeeze out a few more dollars from loyal customers over the next decade, but after that? Unless they change the way they do business, I simply can’t imagine there will be much of a comics industry after that point in time.

The sad thing about this is that there are a LOT of truly good books being produced right now. Regrettably, not many of them are being produced by Marvel and DC for their flagship titles, but the well written and compelling stories, with strong artwork that serves the story well, are out there. Comics can be great, and we see evidence of that right now, but we need to communicate this information to the general public. It’s become quite common to have a newspaper, magazine or mainstream internet site do a story about how comics aren’t just for kids anymore, but that’s not true promotion, or at the very least, it shouldn’t be the beginning, middle and end of promotion. Events such as Free Comic Book Day is a grand idea, except that it begins and ends in the comic shop, a place that most people who aren’t comics fans already don’t visit. We need the comic shops to go out amongst the population and sell their wares, luring the unwary back to their place of business after distributing free samples of their wares.

I’ve come to the point where I simply don’t read the amount of mainstream superheroes that I used to, which I find rather depressing. I love superheroes. I understand that they can be considered gaudily dressed symbols of a stunted adolescence, or brightly colored avatars of a power fantasy, but I don’t care. They’re neat, and when done well, they can be as deep and meaningful as any other type of story. When done well, they can also just be a heck of a lot of fun, and there’s no shame in that either. Unfortunately, so many of them aren’t done well anymore, and while I still read scads of comics (and keep up with developments occurring in both DC and Marvel), more and more what I’m reading comes from DC’s Vertigo line, from Dark Horse, from IDW, from Oni or Fantagraphics or from various and sundry other independent publishers. I enjoy their books, and I enjoy the opportunity to explore their worlds, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really miss reading the adventures of my favorite superheroes, particularly the Avengers, Fantastic Four, JLA and Titans, all of which I’ve found all but unreadable lately.

Perhaps the best way to end this thought would be through the following story. I have been trying to trade my single issue comics in for trade paperbacks for years now, as I find the trades easier to read and easier to loan to people. I also regularly go through my trades and single issues, purging those where I have duplicates of the story in another format, or those where I realize that the story isn’t very good, or doesn’t appeal to me. I never sell my old trades or single issues, but instead I try to give them to people, and many of my friends who don’t regularly read comics, but know of them, are the recipients of many of these. Nine times out of ten, the trades that they love, and the ones that they remark on, are the older ones, from the 70s and 80s. Usually I’m told that these stories were easier to follow, that they made more sense, and that they weren’t as violent or profane, which some of them find offputting (particularly those with children). If my friends and their families are indicative of the general, non-comics reading public, might we not want to consider the ramifications of their opinion?

Well, we’ve wandered all over the field on this one. Are we ready to draw some conclusions and move on?

Wait a second, you’re giving away comics? Why wasn’t I told about this? What’s going on?!?!

I kid. John actually gave me an entire longbox full of comics once. He’s quite the generous sort and always eager to spread the comic gospel to the uninitiated. I guess my past ownership of a store and our continued blathering about comics on this here internet page qualify as missionary work too. We’re like Mormons, but without all that nonsense about finding gold plates buried in the woods (and the polygamy too). I’ve been to Utah. It’s nothing special. Go Team Comics!

I have no conclusions to draw about what we’ve said. I feel like, at times, we’ve argued both ends against the middle…with the middle being rational thought and the ends being “everything is fine” and “everything is falling apart.” The industry needs to change somehow. Everyone knows it. This “circle the wagons” mentality just further insulates an already shrinking fan base while doing nothing to attract new readership. The ones inside the fortified castle are either dying off or trying desperately to break out by pounding their heads on the walls. The ones outside our little fantasyland have no idea what’s going on and just go about their business with a faint recollection that Superman is Clark Kent…or something.

At the same time, the industry isn’t going anywhere. I don’t want to say comics are bulletproof when it comes to the economy, because we all know how the industry is so very capable of shooting itself in the foot on a regular basis, but being on the low end of the entertainment radar can sometimes be a boon. Ignorance is bliss, right?

We could make a list of things the industry should at least TRY to do, but no one would listen anyway. And we’ll just keep reading whatever they put out, in one format or another. Who’s worse…the executives and editors or the readers themselves? During the recent presidential campaign, Barack Obama often used a quote by Albert Einstein to explain the need for change and I think it’s appropriate here too: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

Maybe it’s all our fault.


Moon Knight: Brought into the Light of Day

Nov-06-08

Moon Knight, oft described as a Batman clone, has had a long but relatively undistinguished career at Marvel Comics. Personally, I’ve always felt the Batman clone comment was unfair; yes, they’re both superheroes who are millionaires and mostly fight at night, but otherwise, the similarities are pretty nonexistent. I mean, Wayne’s loyal butler is English and Moon Knight’s is French; I don’t see how their lives could be more different.

Moon Knight is Marc Spector, a mercenary and soldier-of-fortune who fights another mercenary named Bushman, and loses badly. Left for dead in the Egyptian desert, he is rescued by devotees of Khonshu, the Egyptian God of the Moon and Vengeance. Unconscious and near death, Spector has a vision in which Khonshu appears to him and offers him a new chance at life if Spector will be Khonshu’s avatar on Earth. Spector agrees, his life is saved and, when he returns to the United States, he creates the Moon Knight identity.

Not a bad origin, although, as mentioned, it hasn’t led him to much success in the Marvel Universe. Perhaps he should have surmised times would be tough when his first appearance was in Werewolf by Night, one of Marvel’s titles in the 1970’s which tapped into the horror market. This was in 1975, and after that appearance Moon Knight jumped around the Marvel Universe a little (even joining the Defenders for a few issues), until finally securing his own series in 1980. Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz chronicled these adventures and, while the book was critically lauded, it didn’t do wonders in sales, and was cancelled in 1984. Since then the character has appeared in numerous one-shots and limited series, and has also received other chances to carry an ongoing series; he’s currently on his fourth.

None of these series have been spectacularly successful, although all have had brief flashes of fame. Normally, it is the artist that seems to make the public take notice of a Moon Knight comic; Bill Sienkiewicz was in the beginning of his career when he pencilled Moon Knight, and it helped to push him into the spotlight; Stephen Platt was his penciller in the mid-90s and was quite a hit with those who enjoyed his very Image-esque art style; and his current series started off strong with pencils by fan-favorite David Finch. Oddly, while Doug Moench, his co-creator and original writer, gets some credit for his early stories, most other writers are rarely thought of in connection to the character.

Perhaps one of the reasons for that is Moon Knight’s striking visuals. His costume is distinctive and jumps off the page at the reader; the flowing cape and the contrast between the white of the costume and the dead of night work together to make Moon Knight a character to remember. However, his personality often seems to be ignored in the rush to focus on his visual representation, and I’m not sure that’s wise. The character actually could be quite interesting, if properly developed. So, the question before us for the next few days is: How do we make Moon Knight the interesting and successful character he has always had the potential to be?

Nail on the head with that last paragraph. Sienkiewicz set the tone for every Moon Knight story that will ever be published. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. At the time, his style was quirky and gritty and maintained a certain level of darkness and chaos. The art had a quasi-supernatural feel to it which fit the character’s design and his backstory well. I think Finch did a nice job in capturing that roughness in both his posing and his costume design.

The only problem (and it’s a big one) is that Moench’s ideas were a bit ahead of their time. See, Marc Spector was a mercenary and he realized that he was no Clark Kent…meaning that it may be obvious to the fine folks of Chicago that Spector and Moon Knight are one in the same. So, he takes the blood money he has earned and invests it, becoming a millionaire. He then creates the identity of Steven Grant to rub elbows with the upper crust folks. To keep up with what’s going on at the ground level, he also creates the identity of cab driver Jake Lockley. Let’s recap that. We have Marc Spector the mercenary, Moon Knight the superhero, Steven Grant the rich dude and Jake Lockley the common man…all in the same body. Helping him with this marvelous charade are his pilot/butler Frenchie and Marlene, the daughter of an archaeologist he tried to save from Bushman’s greed. It was a brilliant concept that allowed Moon Knight to mingle in different social classes without anyone suspecting his true alter ego. Imagine the long sleepless hours, the precise yet hectic schedule and the general confusion this kind of lifestyle would create. The story potential was limitless.

Unfortunately, the series was cancelled after only 38 issues.

And here’s where the problem of Moench’s ideas comes in. See, no one else knew how to handle the multiple personality thing. So instead of trying to use the concept creatively, Marvel’s editorial department allowed it to just be shoved aside and retconned away. When the Fist of Khonshu miniseries was released (with an all-new creative team), all of the established bits of Moon Knight’s background were stripped off. Alan Zelenetz, who had taken over writing chores on the last few issues of the ongoing series, was tapped to “reinvigorate” the Moon Knight concept. So what did he do? Well, let me break it down for you: Marc Spector abandons the identities he has created, including Moon Knight (bad move). He gets telepathically summoned to Egypt by the Khonshu followers (huh?). They give him a bunch of “mystical” weapons…some of which were created by Hawkeye that one time the Avengers got sucked back to ancient times (…speechless…). He absorbs the Spirit of Khonshu which gives him limited superhuman strength based on the phases of the moon (which is kind of cool, except when he has to say “I can’t fight this week. The moon’s in a waxing gibbous. Sorry.”). And he turns his back on his supporting cast to go hang out with the West Coast Avengers (and later finds out that it was actually Khonshu who wanted to join the team because he was always picked last for dodgeball or something). About the only really cool thing to come out of that miniseries was this Sienkiewicz cover:

So that’s the first reason behind the character’s continued wading in the bottom-feeding realm of Marvel’s cast. But I’ve got another pretty valid reason too: his rogues gallery. Check out this short list of villains that he has faced throughout his adventures: Bora, Bushman, Coachwhip, Commodore Donny Planet, Conquer-Lord, Flag-Smasher, Grand Bois, Hatchet-Man (his brother Randall), Hobgoblin, Jester, Karg, Killer Shrike, Master Sniper, Midnight Man, Morpheus, Phantom Rider, Ringer, Secret Empire, Sons of the Jackals, Stained Glass Scarlet and Werewolf by Night. Not exactly any Ali-Frazier matchup in the bunch, huh?

And let’s not forget that he’s been killed at least three times during his career too. I don’t want to make it sound like that’s a unique thing in the comics world, but when your character isn’t in a top tier book a needless death/resurrection thing can really throw off sales.

Basically, it comes back to the tenets John and I espouse for every revamp we detail. 1. You need a unique selling point. In this case, Moon Knight had it with the multiple personalities. 2. You need a strong supporting cast and some relevant foes to fight. The former was taken from him while the latter never developed. And finally, 3. You need some consistency. Stick with it. Make something of it.

In Moon Knight’s latest ongoing series, writer Charlie Huston brought the character out of a self-induced exile and revealed his waning faith in Khonshu, his apparent addiction to prescription painkillers and the trouble he’s having rebuilding past friendships. That’s all a great start. He’s even hallucinating from time to time. Great! The only thing I wanted to see more of was some sort of mental imbalance from trying to play so many different characters throughout his career. Unfortunately, the later issues of Huston’s run have turned into a stream of brooding heroes and punching contests. He did re-introduce Midnight, the poorly-conceived sidekick that was foisted upon us all during the second Moon Knight ongoing title, but that whole plot turned into a watered down version of the Miracleman/Kid Miracleman dynamic.

There’s more to say here about direction and mistakes and missed opportunities, but I’ll turn it back over to John for now. What can be done to re-energize this property? Can Moon Knight be made into a top player in the Marvel Universe? Should he be?

Well, making Moon Knight a top player in the Marvel Universe suggests making him front and center in the Marvel Universe, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I enjoyed the issues when Moon Knight was in the West Coast Avengers, but it never truly fit the character, and he always looked out of place with the team. In addition, because the Avengers rarely run around during the evening, he was forced to fight a lot during the day, and amongst the rest of the team, he just became another costumed hero. I don’t have a problem with him being an associate of the hero community, but I think he should be on the edges, and if he gets involved in things, he should be allowed to do things his way. I’d recommend few guest stars in his book, at least from the heroes and those that do drop by should expect to be dragged into Moon Knight’s world, rather than vice versa.

That being said, I truly do like the character. I’ve perused a few issues of the current run, and honestly, I thought they were practically unreadable. I found them to be full of mopey, over rendered characters speaking in tortured prose that made absolutely no sense. I read three issues in a row, and never really knew what was going on or what the character’s motivations were. The art was, I believe, attempting to be dark and moody, but sadly was simply dark and ugly (this was after Finch left the title). I was very disappointed, because I did enjoy Moon Knight and thought that a lot more could have been done with him.

The multiple personality bit was brilliant, and I enjoyed the fact that it could serve almost like a superpower in some cases (at one point during Moon Knight’s tenure as a West Coast Avenger, the villain Dominus paralyzes the Avengers by affecting their minds; Moon Knight is immune, because every time Dominus hit him with the ray, it just knocked out one personality, and another was always there to take over). However, I never saw the downside to the multiple personality really explored, and it needs to be. The man is at least three different people and there are literally hundreds of issues worth of stories that could be written on that premise alone.

I also believe that the visual style of the character is very important. The demands of it are not easy for any one artist to draw, especially if you play up the multiple personality aspect of the character. The world of Moon Knight is a dark place, and it needs to be drawn dark, but still readable, straddling that fine line between a horror book and a superhero book. Steven Grant’s world is that of high society; it’s bright and well lit and needs a different feel. Jake Lockley is more of a dark, noir feeling, since he’s on the streets with the people. Finally, Marc Spector is a straight up action mercenary, so a cleaner action style works best for him. To really emphasize the different personalities, you really want to portray their lives in distinct styles of art, which is going to be difficult for a lot of artists. There are some who could do it, although it might be best to hire two or three different pencillers, or to have different inkers working over one penciller to really make the book look unique. The differing artistic styles could seem jarring, but I think they’re necessary to really get across the fact that there are so many different people in Moon Knight’s head.

Even with that being said, we still have to work on his supporting cast and his rogues gallery. I think his supporting cast has potential. Marlene is a gorgeous woman who’s been shown to be strong as well. The interesting thing to explore there is how does Marlene love a man who is actually four different men. Does she love them all? Just some of them? How can she help him integrate his four personalities into one? (For that matter, does he even want to integrate his personalities?) What kind of woman can live like this? I also think that Frenchie could be used more. He’s run quite the gauntlet, and has been beaten up and paralyzed numerous times over the years. They’ve also recently decided that he’s gay. He’s Marc’s oldest and only true friend, and he needs to have a place in the series. He’s not just an “Alfred”, but a very involved participant in Moon Knight’s activities, with a long history of experience as a mercenary and the mechanical expertise to keep Moon Knight’s gadgets working.

The rogues gallery though? Yeah, that’s going to take a bit more work.

The thought of having more than one artist on an ongoing Moon Knight title is not only brilliant, it’s practical. Sure, setting the right mood is important for the book. What may be even more important to the success of the book though is its schedule. Marvel is notorious for its lateness. Having multiple artists means less pages for each and could (if everything is planned well) result in a shorter completion time. Of course, if one of the artists falls behind, then it could also spell certain disaster. It’s tricky.

I agree that Moon Knight needs to stay on the fringe. And the idea of visiting heroes adopting his tone is crucial. It’s like what we talked about with the horror setting. You need consistency to pull that stuff off correctly. Spider-Man is a good fit. Punisher may have his place. And Daredevil seems to work on the same outskirts of the Marvel Universe. Hulk? Not so much. Iron Man? Too techy. And the team thing is right out the window.

The multiple personality aspect HAS to be brought back. That’s what made him different from Batman. He actually played different roles all the time and it didn’t seem silly (Matches Malone, anyone?). Plus, it gives the opportunity to wonder which one is the REAL character. So many ways to play that theme out.

His supporting cast is small but important. Frenchie gives support and Marlene grounds him somewhat. I think there’s a big opportunity to expand the cast though…add some tension.

The rogues gallery has me stumped right now. One would think that his archenemy should be Bushman, but there’s absolutely nothing interesting about the character. He’s just an angrier version of Marc Spector. No, Moon Knight should be dealing with the more shadowy types. Conspiracy theorists. Twisted religious causes. Human trafficking. Back alley genetic experiments. The kind of overtly creepy stuff that the other heroes don’t want to get their hands in, let alone acknowledge.

We’ve established a general tone and at least one or two things to explore. You want to take a stab at the rogues thing? Maybe throw some names out and I can see if I can make them fit? Other ideas for expanding the supporting cast? And didn’t we make mention, during our Go West musings, that we would relocate him back to Chicago? Is there something we can do with that?

I’m going to start by discussing the rogues, since I think we agree that a hero stands or falls on the strength of their Rogues Gallery. You mentioned some of the people he has fought in the past above, and I’ll start with them. I should make sure I agree with you on Bushman first though. Bushman is, quite simply, dull and uninspired. The only reason he’s stuck around is because he was part of Moon Knight’s origin, but that ship has sailed. Time to use a better class of villain.

My first pick for a member of his Rogues Gallery would be Killer Shrike. I’m well aware that Shrike has never had a large role in the Marvel Universe, and this has puzzled me for some time. First of all, I like his visual look, and in the Moon Knight title, that’s important. He has a neat, streamlined look, with a nifty cape. The colors of his costume are dark, and he’d fit in quite well in a darker, moodier comic. Killer Shrike may need an attitude adjustment, or perhaps we simply need a new Shrike, which should be easily accomplished. Visually, I think Shrike is as close to Moon Knight’s opposite number as currently exists.

Another possible villain for him would be Hobgoblin. I fully understand that Hobgoblin is seen as a Spider-Man villain, but with the Green Goblin back among the living, Hobgoblin has faded from the scene in the Spidey titles. Let’s give him a new lease on life with Moon Knight. Again, Hobgoblin has a great visual look and is actually a rather scary looking bad guy; I’ve always felt he was a much more menacing villain than the Green Goblin. There have been quite a few men behind the mask of the Hobgoblin, and we could use any of them, or create our own Hobgoblin. Or, if we simply must keep Bushman in the picture, make him the new Hobgoblin. He wouldn’t be the first mercenary to don the costume, and you can retain the connection he has with Moon Knight and reinvent Bushman as a more interesting villain at the same time.

Sadly, Moon Knight’s past foes are really rather pathetic (although this could be a place to use the Ringer I mentioned in our “Building Better Villains” posts over Halloween), but I did notice Coachwhip. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Serpent Society, and perhaps we could gather a few of their former members (including Coachwhip) into a smaller Serpent Squad to bedevil our heroes. Most of them are fairly freaky and would work in an edgier story.

After that, I fear we’ll be creating villains for Moon Knight. It might be interesting to create at least one villain that’s seen more often for one of the other identities. For example, a corporate bigwig who runs in the same circles as Stephen Grant could be interesting. He could either be a true villain who simply likes to run with the jetset or he could be more of a weak man, who does bad things because he needs to in order to maintain his lifestyle. The interest would be in seeing how Moon Knight handles him when this guy stumbles into that area of Spector’s life. It could be even more interesting as Moon Knight’s personalities begin to overlap; he can normally keep them separate because their worlds are so different. What happens when those worlds touch? How do his personalities interact when someone crosses from one life to the next?

That’s a start at a Rogues Gallery. I’m sure we could find some other villains being underused in other areas of the Marvel Universe, dust them off, and give them Moon Knight as a sparring partner. I think Xemnu the Titan is free…

After your “time to use a better class of villain” comment, I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this, but the selection of Killer Shrike as a main foe is brilliant! I feel dirty inside. To tell the truth, Shrike and Moon Knight have a lot in common. Both were mercenaries before they became costumed types. Both have generally succeeded on their own skills, with the exception being Shrike’s powered armor. And both have pretended to be something they’re not…Shrike has actually posed undercover in a number of criminal organizations. To take it a step further, there’s the topic of vengeance. In one of his earlier adventures, Moon Knight faced Shrike (with Ringer and Coachwhip) who managed to shoot down the Mooncopter (don’t laugh) and nearly kill Frenchie. Shrike was never punished for that daring act.

Now pardon me for a minute as I digress into another revamp, but I think we need to update Killer Shrike as well. I don’t mind the guy in the suit. He has that military background and extensive experience working in the underworld with various unsavory types. However, he has a few faults too. First of all, I don’t know about the cape (or the goofy plume on his head…if he still wears it). I could picture some sort of wing-like thing similar to Black Bolt’s costume. Secondly, his name is just silly. Can we drop the “Killer” part and just call him Shrike? I mean, from a scientific stance, all shrikes are killers. They’re creepy little birds (also referred to as “butcher birds”) that like to impale their prey on thorns or sticks. Why can’t we adopt some of that nastiness in his characterization? If Marvel wants to have a more visceral, ground-level title, this could definitely be it.

Your next pick was Hobgoblin and I have to disagree with you. As much as I like his look (even with its similarities to Moon Knight), in my mind he is inexorably tied to Spider-Man. Each man behind the mask had some sort of tie to the Spider titles and most of Hobgoblin’s encounters took place with Spidey. If we took the character and put Bushman or another meaningless person under the cowl it really wouldn’t make sense or be an original story. That’s a dead end to me. I would suggest we could use Demogoblin, because he had a previous run-in with Moon Knight too. However, I think his demonic origin may be a bit too “out there” for a grounded title. Let’s just skip the whole goblin subset.

Coachwhip is an interesting possibility. And she would add a villainous female to the ranks. I would absolutely LOVE to construct a new Serpent Society and the Moon Knight ongoing series is the perfect place to present a darker, dirtier lineup that could become involved in some of the less-flashy types of crime I mentioned earlier in the post. I’d include some of the members with interesting names and powers like Boomslang (which is actually one of the most venomous snakes in the world), Puff Adder and either Sidewinder (useful powers) or Cobra (creepy powers), plus create a couple new ones perhaps based on snakes like the Keelback, Lancehead and/or Pit Viper.

As far as creating new villains goes, there are a lot of options. The one you mentioned seems like a sort of Kingpin/Norman Osborn thing…which is an expected, though not altogether horrible, direction. Although I must say that “The Committee” sort of serves that kind of purpose for him right now (without the personality involvement you mentioned). It would be intriguing to have a bad guy who Moon Knight encounters in his various personas…a ruthless tycoon that gladhands with Steven Grant then badmouths Jake Lockley as the lowly driver. It would be kind of cool to demonstrate how someone like that acts when they have to interact with those they deem below them. Of course, this same guy might look up to Marc Spector and need to hire him for some nefarious scheme.

I could also see us creating a sort of anti-Moon Knight character as perhaps the champion of another Egyptian God, one that is in conflict with Khonshu (and, as an aside, didn’t the Serpent Society pal around with a version of Set – the Egyptian God of chaos?). Or perhaps we could set up an underground group that worships a different interpretation of Khonshu and is at odds with Moon Knight (sort of like radical Islam versus traditional Islam). That’s one direction.

I’m all for making Killer Shrike simply Shrike, since that’s less typing. Let it be done! Actually, I agree with everything you mentioned about him, and truly believe that he could be a first class villain for our hero.

I could disagree with a lot of your Hobgoblin comments, and while I agree that he’s tied to Spider-Man now, I don’t think it has to stay that way. After all, Sandman was another villain tied to Spider-Man, who moved over to become a Fantastic Four villain, and of course, the Kingpin was every inch (and he has many inches) a Spidey villain, who’s now more universally thought of in connection to Daredevil. These seem odd at first, while a reader’s mind adjusts, but soon the villain becomes associated with their new antagonist. I’d also point out that Jason Phillip Macendale, one of the Hobgoblins, was very pragmatic and I think he’d be happy to continue his criminal career avoiding Spider-Man. I could make these arguments, but I won’t. I’m more than willing to concede the Hobgoblin, mostly because you like the idea of a new Serpent Society!

I like the concept of keeping it smaller, with more like 5 or 6 members, rather than the 15 or 20 they had at one time. I think the character of Sidewinder is a fascinating one; he had gone straight, I believe, to be able to spend time with his child, but there are many ways to bring him back to the bad side of the street. That being said, I’ve also learned to like Cobra, a character that I never thought much of. Mark Gruenwald really fleshed him out during his Captain America run, and I think the Cobra would be very interesting; combining him in a group with Sidewinder could lead to some clashes, since both of them led the Serpent Society at times, and the two of them aren’t getting along right now.

While I recognize the cliche of the evil businessman, I think a character that can interact with all of Specter’s personalities is too valuable to dismiss. Besides, we don’t have to make this character a ruthless planner, which does tend to be the stereotype. Instead, he could simply be a weak willed man, who is desperate to hold onto what he has and will do reprehensible things to retain his wealth, his power, or maybe even his wife. Perhaps his wife is shallow and vain, and will leave him if she doesn’t get the jewels and valuables she covets. Perhaps the man is a city politician who had a skeleton in his closet, and was determined to hide it during a re-election campaign. He was forced to associate with less than reputable people to accomplish this goal, and unfortunately, he opened a door that he has not been able to close, as these people continue to force him into other actions or risk losing his political clout under a scandal. Perhaps he’s a young man who’s running his parents’ business, and not doing a very good job of it, and is willing to do anything to keep the business solvent so his parents won’t be disappointed. My point is, we don’t have to use the Norman Osborn archetype for this character if we don’t want to.

As for a secret organization, like the Committee or the Secret Empire, I like the thought of one, but the reality always seems to fall far short. In the end, they seem to either have no personality and/or very nebulous goals. If we were to use such an organization, we’d have to know exactly why they were formed and what their motivation is, and I’d want to detail out at least a few prominent members so that we had some personality we could infuse into their appearances. I think one of the main problems with the Secret Empire is that everyone has their identity hidden by those bloody faux Ku Klux Klan robes they wear. Normally the identities of the important members is a secret to the reader, as they’re someone the writer wants to reveal down the road, so they aren’t given personalities, in the fear that this could clue the reader into their true identity. Phooey! I say give them individual personalities; it makes the organization so much more interesting than any minor mystery about who’s actually hiding behind the hood.

A counterpart to Moon Knight, embodied in the avatar of another Egyptian deity? I can see that. The only other Egyptian deity that ever regularly appears in Marvel comics (and certainly the only evil one) is Set or Seth, depending on who’s writing him. You mentioned tying him into the Serpent Squad, which would make sense, because of the snake motif. However, we could also go with Sekhmet, a lion god that has fought the Avengers and the Black Panther. Even more interesting could be using an avatar of Anubis, the Egyptian god of funerals and mummification. In fact, Moon Knight had a run in with one of his priests already. A modern day priest of Anubis, Sheikh Ahmad Azis declared himself the reincarnation of Aram-Set and named himself Anubis the Jackal. He was killed in a confrontation with Moon Knight, way back in the first issue of his second series. Perhaps this Sheikh actually was connected to Anubis, and Anubis annoints someone else as his avatar to get revenge for the Sheikh’s defeat?

So, we have Shrike, a new Serpent Society, an unscrupulous businessman, a new Committee or Secret Empire (choose your favorite) and an avatar of a rival deity. That should keep Moon Knight busy, and the other heroes won’t laugh at his Rogues Gallery anymore. What about his supporting cast? Do we stick with just Marlene and Frenchie?

Your idea of having a Set-based avatar running alongside the Serpent Society makes me chuckle. Not because it’s a bad idea, but because it reminds me of Cobra and their dealings with Serpentor. Ridiculous. There are, however, some interesting paths to explore in the Egyptian pantheon. And I think that stuff could be mined to great effect. Also, I think one way to expand his supporting cast would be to introduce some sort of native guide or foreign professor steeped in the mythologies. If it were a guide, it could be someone who is determined to serve at Moon Knight’s side, in honor of Khonshu, and that would lead to some funny encounters with Frenchie as they both try to help Moon Knight. Perhaps the professor type could be female and Steven Grant could meet her at a museum fundraiser…the two of them hit it off and he uses her as a resource. I think we have to be careful to build up his alternate identities and make at least one of them strong enough to stand on its own. That’s another Batman trap we don’t want to fall into, where the costumed character is a bigger presence than the man under the mask.

Frenchie and Marlene should be the all-time core of the series. Building up both of their personalities apart from Moon Knight will help strengthen the storylines overall. And we can have supporting cast members bloom out of those characters too…Frenchie’s new boyfriend or a new love interest for Marlene that ends up being part of our new Secret Empire. The multiple personalities give us a lot of chances to introduce new characters, both useful and disposable.

I’m interested in the move to Chicago. There’s already an established image of political corruption there, which would lend itself to some sort of evil underworld. Crime has been up in the city recently as well. The Serpent Society might set up house there, seeing it as ripe pickings and new stomping grounds away from a gaggle of heroes. The Windy City backdrop gives us an easy in for pretty much everything we’ve talked about so far.

I’m certainly all for moving him to Chicago; think how cool his cape will look in the wind out there! I also like your idea of an expert in the Egyptian pantheon. One thing to consider about his supporting cast touches on something you mentioned, which was that we wanted to make sure his secret identities are all strong characters in their own right. By doing that (and I agree that it’s essential that we do it) we create a situation where Moon Knight almost is his own supporting cast. We now have a book tracking seven characters, if we include Frenchie, Marlene, our new expert, and all of the four Moon Knight personas. It also would probably be wise to introduced a few supporting characters for each personality who don’t deal with any of the other sections of Spector’s psyche. For example, Jake Lockley might have a few informants who only ever deal with him; Spector would have a few mercenary contacts and Grant would have some high society friends. We’d need a few recurring characters for each of these personalities if we’re going to sell them as independent of each other.

I would see the structure of the book being similar to the Green Lantern title that DC produced back in the early 90s; one story arc would deal with Hal Jordan, then one with John Stewart, and then one with Guy Gardner, with occassional stories involving them all. Of course, Moon Knight would always dominate the book, but I could see one story arc putting more focus on his Jake Lockley persona, and then another spending more time with his Steven Grant side….that sort of thing. The first story arc would have to introduce all of the personalities to the reader, but there would be plenty of time to flesh them out down the road.

Hmmm. We covered supporting cast and villains; we’ve discussed how to structure the series, and what we think the important beats are….did we forget anything?

Well, I don’t know if you have any opinion on it or not, but I think we should do a quick examination of Moon Knight himself and see what works and what doesn’t. As things stand, he’s pretty much Batman in white. We’ve talked about increasing the presence of his various identities, but we haven’t discussed what we might change about the guy in the fancy outfit. Does he have any sort of powers? What are his limitations? Does he rely on painkillers to get through his adventures? Is he a gadget hound? Does he have a Mooncycle and a Moonmobile and a pair of Moonskates? Let’s do a quick inventory of what makes Moon Knight tick.

I would like to see his “lunar-reliant” abilities make a return, not necessarily in reference to the various phases (though it would be cool to remove any additional powers during a new moon and have his powers go overboard during a full moon) but more in the “better at night than in the daytime” sense. He could be similar to a werewolf but without the creepy transformation. Honestly, he looks ridiculous fighting in broad daylight but the full whiteout effect would be pretty effective at night.

I think his painkiller addiction should be front and center in dealing with all of his various identities. The drugs will color his entire life, but each alter ego will handle it differently.

And the gadgets have to go. I don’t mind him having some sort of staff or a couple bladed weapons that may have been given to him by followers of Khonshu. However, the mass-produced throwing weapons and the helicopters and submarines and dirigibles have to go. I don’t like the “funded by a millionaire” quality of the character. It makes him too much like Batman. He should be more of a ground-level hero…relying on his skills and his environment to take out the bad guys.

I agree that returning to him his Khonshu derived might is a good idea.  If he’s Khonshu’s avatar, he really should get something out of the deal, and I love the idea that these abilities are dependent on the phases of the moon.  Ditto your feelings about the powers perhaps getting a little too strong and out of control during the full moon.

As for gadgets, I think he has to have some.  I mean, he is a millionaire, and surely he does something with his money.  I wouldn’t give him a utility belt and a submarine, but I’ve always liked his flying Moonjet (or whatever he calls it) and it does provide him with transportation, which every hero needs.  However, maintaining that would probably be expensive enough; certainly I think he should fight with his traditional weapons, like the ankh. 

I will admit that the painkiller addiction seems a little too Desperate Housewives to me.  I’m not fond of it.  That being said, it makes perfect sense; how would a human who gets beat on as much as he does, with no real powers to speak of, survive that sort of pain.  Of course, if we’re returning a measure of superstrength to him with his Khonshu given powers, would he still need the painkillers?  I’m thinking that, when the moon is waning, he would need them, since his powers are at their weakest.  However, for much of the rest of the month they wouldn’t be as necessary; of course, he’s addicted to them, so he’s taking them all the time.  Do they interact with his powers?  If he breaks the addiction, what does he do at those time when his powers aren’t strong enough, and he needs relief from the pain?  There is some potential in this concept.