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!


Character Revamp: Santa Claus

Dec-19-08

Marvel has long been known for taking characters from popular culture and making them stars of their very own comics. Marvel has published books focusing on Rom, GI Joe, the Transformers, Heathcliff, and if my memory serves, Barbie. They also had a hit with their long running series that starred Dracula. Well, Jason and I have heard rumors of their newest sensation, a popular character who is set to star in his very own mag: Santa Claus.

Some of you may have heard of Santa Claus, but for those who haven’t, he’s a powerful hero who maintains a base at the North Pole. From this base he monitors the world, seeking out the naughty and the nice, and distributing appropriate rewards or punishments, dependent on someone’s naughty level. He’s seen many evil beings rise up against him in the past, from everyday political adversaries, such as his original nemesis, the Burgermeister Meisterburger, to more powerful magical foes, such as the Winter Warlock, to even foes from other dimensions, such as the Boogie Man. Yet, still he soldiers on, doing his part for the people of Earth.

Now, we haven’t seen Marvel’s pitch for this series yet. I can’t say for sure how they’re going to play it. However, Jason and I….well, figuring out how to sell series like these and make them relevant to today’s audiences (or, at least, interesting to us) is what we do. So, we thought that we’d share our pitch for the new Santa Claus series, and then you can compare it with the eventual series that Marvel produces (the first issue of this series was supposed to ship this month, in time for the holidays, but it’s late, and will now ship in July).

So, we basically have to nail down three basic areas for our Santa proposal. First, we have to define Santa. Who is he? What powers does he have? Why is he doing what he does? Where does he live, and what sort of base does he have? Does he have a secret identity?

Second, we need to nail down his supporting cast. Who are his allies? Any family? Who helps him in his duties, and why?

Finally, we need to determine his villains. Who forms Santa’s Rogues’ Gallery?

Let’s start with Santa himself. The legends would have you believe that Santa is centuries old and has been waging his war on naughtiness for all that time. However, I posit that the man we know as Santa has actually been many men, who have passed the costume down over the years, somewhat like the Phantom. One of the main jobs of Santa is to locate a suitable replacement, bring that replacement into the fold, explain his secrets, and train the replacement. In this way, there is always a Santa, ready, willing and able to take over whenever he is needed.

Santa himself has no special powers, although all Santas are trained in various skills. Moreover, Santa carries certain technological and magical gadgets (provided by two of his allies; we’ll discuss those later) which aid him in his work. I believe we will keep his headquarters at the North Pole, but with the understanding that Santa can transport himself anywhere on Earth quite quickly, and would even be capable of covering the entire globe in the span of about four hours if necessary.

Before I get into detail, I’ll see if Jason has any concerns or wants to go in a different direction.

The biggest difficulty, and also the biggest resource, with this revamp are the various legends and attributes put upon “Santa Claus” by different countries and cultures. I would think, for the sake of appealing to the action/adventure aspect of the character, that we should eschew the whole “leaving candy for the kids” part of Santa’s lore. This action could show up as a final page wrap-up…almost like a calling card of sorts, but I wouldn’t want to base every storyarc around it. However, the reasoning for such behavior could play into his development. Santa Claus, in the comic book sense, stands for something more powerful and universal than seasonal gift satisfaction. He’s the ultimate protector of the innocent, the vanguard of an entire season, and the primary source of oversight for keeping everyone on the straight and narrow. Even when he isn’t in his prime period of activity, he still has to keep a vigilant watch over the easily swayed minds of the world’s wishful youth.

It’s a tough job and I like the concept of having a Santa succession schedule. I would guess that the average person behind the Santa costume would only last for a decade or so. The job is so draining, both physically and mentally, that an average person might go insane rather quickly. I would also like to put forward the notion that his support staff is made up of a line of legacy characters as well…almost like a solemn, dedicated branch of a religious group whose sole purpose is to aid this universal symbol. Their world is very insular and secretive, but abounds with joy, fulfillment and an inner peace brought on through their work.

Besides, a badass group of ninja monk elves would be awesome to witness in action.

I could also see Santa employing a multi-branched charity organization posing as a front for data collection. He needs to have an alter ego who can blend into normal day-to-day activities.

I do have an idea or two for villains and would like to offer at least one supporting cast member. However, it sounds like John already has some ideas brewing, so I’ll let him take the stage again…

I have a few ideas, and since there is interest in supporting cast and villains, let’s move that way first (we can always detail exactly what Santa can do later). Let’s start with supporting cast.

The original Santa’s origins are still somewhat shrouded in mystery and legend, which works well for all concerned. Honestly, no one in the know about who Santa really is wants the veil pulled away from Santa, since if someone knew much about the original Santa, they may start to realize that the current Santa isn’t that person. However, one thing we do know about the original Santa is that he met and fell in love with a remarkable woman, one who was the matriarch of an entire clan.

This clan was made of elves, elves who had been exiled/marooned/imprisoned on Earth centuries ago. These elves had tried to hide themselves from the outside world, but when their mistress met Santa, she broke their traditions and the two wed. When Santa began his calling of watching the world and doing good, his wife was in full agreement, and she brought her family inline with Santa’s goals, even convincing them to move to the North Pole, when Santa decided that they needed to be farther away from the people they watched over.

This clan of elves are not the long lived, virtually immortal elves that one reads about in The Lord of the Rings. Their lifespan is that of a mortal, and their numbers are not limitless. They obviously can’t continue to only mate among themselves without serious consequences, and Santa also realized that forcing them to spend their entire lives in the North Pole could be cruel. So, each elf is allowed a time in their life when they can go out into the world and seek a mate, living as normal humans do for a set period of time. The time period is indeed finite, and an elf (male or female) must find a mate within that window or they lose their chance. Complicating matters is the fact that the mate they find must be special, as the elf must tell their chosen one of their true nature before the time limit expires. If the mate agrees to return with the elf, they are made to appear to have suffered a fatal accident in their world, and can never return to it. If they do not agree to return with the elf, their minds are wiped of the information that was imparted to them, and the elf returns empty-handed.

Because of these strict restrictions, not every elf is able to find a mate, which is one of the reasons why their population does not expand beyond the capacity of their headquarters. Any children that a couple produces are raised by the entire elven clan, in a communal setting, which helps to placate those elves who never find a mate in the first place. Santa is not really the leader of these elves; instead the elves follow the descendent of that original matriarch, who may or may not be the current Santa’s mate.

These elves have a mastery of their own unique technology, which they use to help Santa in his mission. They perform the necessary maintanence around the headquarters, and provide Santa with numerous gadgets. They also count among their numbers experts at various fighting styles and they can train Santa in those arts as well.

Santa’s other ally is the Winter Warlock. Once a foe of the original Santa, he was eventually reformed, and became a steadfast ally of the man in red and white. As the Winter Warlock grew older, he began to investigate ways to prolong his life. He eventually realized that the cold of the North Pole seemed to have retarded his aging process, and he soon theorized that even deeper cold would stop his aging process completely. To that end, he used his magics to encase himself in a block of ice in the middle of the Claus compound. He is still conscious in that block, and can communicate with Santa, but he can never leave it. However, he still possesses power, and is quite helpful in providing magical aid to Santa in the form of information gathering and occasional magical trinkets for Santa to use. Most Santas would actually say that his most useful gift is his wisdom and willingness to listen. He now communicates telepathically, and is aware of what happens around him. He can see and hear in all areas of the compound, and were the compound to ever be attacked, he would be able to marshal his magic for a terrible defense.

That’s some of his supporting cast. Your thoughts Jason? Any you want to change or add?

Love it! I was trying to come up with a supporting character that could be a mentor of sorts to the incoming Santas, but I think you’ve handled it beautifully with the Winter Warlock idea. I see him as a version of DC’s Oracle character…someone who can offer advice and give direction to Santa during his adventures. There’s something interesting about having him be a former adversary too.

I think you nailed what I was going for with the elves. They’re old school. And their only purpose is to serve the mission of Santa Claus. However, they aren’t just cute little toy builders…these guys are a hardcore, focused “army” of assistants who have a multitude of skills. I can imagine elves with specialties…some are engineers, some are tech experts, some are trained in military operations (including intelligence and espionage). It’s the perfect scenario, almost like DC’s League of Assassins or a competent version of AIM from Marvel.

You’ve touched on the character of “Mrs. Claus” too. I like the notion that she may or may not actually be married to the current Santa. It could all just be a front to make them more acceptable in the public eye. That could offer a fun dynamic behind the scenes too. Maybe the two of them don’t get along at all!

The one thing that seems to be missing from the support side of things is an explanation of Santa’s abilities. How does he deliver goods to everyone on Earth all in one night? How can he be in so many places at once (I’m looking at you, mall Santas!)? How does he keep track of so much information? And how does he manifest the “holiday spirit” to affect emotions and generosity? I have a feeling you’re going to make a reference to the North Wind, and who knows what else, with that storyline.

As far as bad guys go, the first obvious choice would be Jack Frost (who may or may not be an elf himself). He’s the expected archenemy and I have no problem with that. However, I feel like he needs some sort of history and motivation. He could be the Lex Luthor to Santa’s Superman…a super smart foe who employs others to carry out his schemes. He uses fancy gadgets but doesn’t really have any powers of his own.

I’d also like to mention Black Pete. In Dutch and German folklore, Black Pete was Saint Nicholas’ assistant, but I think it would be cool to have him turn on Santa at some point…maybe he was persuaded away by something evil. This would make him similar to Marvel’s Winter Soldier or DC’s Tim Drake.

John and I spoke briefly about this topic before we posted and I told him about a vague idea I had for a villain that almost seemed to borrow themes from the supernatural (a la Swamp Thing or Sandman). I thought that Santa and his elves should be ever vigilant against a vast negative force called “The Never.” I see The Never as a network of evil, always evolving and adapting, a personification of children’s nightmares that draws its power from the darkness and the negativity of the general populace. This villain could look like anything really, but would most likely take forms similar to the Perchten of Germanic folklore…grotesque animal masks with horns and fangs, thick furs and pelts as a costume, almost like a version of a zombie viking. I could also see The Never as a group of shapechangers who taunt and harass Santa during his travels. They appear as a flock of ravens or a massive colony of rats. I could even see them spreading a sort of plague (of fear, of sickness, of darkness. etc.).

I dunno. Aside from the general nuisance villains who have their own schemes in mind to steal gifts or ruin the holidays, it seems like you’d need something that would pose a serious threat to the well-being of humankind without their knowledge. Santa is the secret defender. And The Never would be an excellent, yet nebulous, enemy for him to face off against.

Hopefully, John has some more follow-through for these ideas!

Okay, we seem to be on the same page as far as allies, and I think you’ve really nailed some neat villains. I couldn’t agree more with you that Santa needs a serious threat to combat, and I think The Never is a perfect one. The Never would be his Dr. Doom, his Dormammu, his Red Skull. I like that The Never isn’t defined and is somewhat nebulous, as it should be at this point. Perhaps, over the years of Santa’s run as a comics character, the Never may be fleshed out more and examined in detail, but that should be a slow process, taking many storylines. The Never wouldn’t appear in every plotline, but it would be a presence in the book almost constantly. Even when Santa is dealing with other villains, the Never would be a looming menace.

I like the idea of Jack Frost and I like that he doesn’t have any powers. If he doesn’t have powers, one must wonder why he took that name and what it is he does. One of the things that must be decided for every Santa villain is whether or not this threat has been a long term foe of Santa (and therefore has fought many different Santas over the years) or whether or not this is a more recent foe. It gives the villain a much different feel if he or she has been fighting the Santa organization, in some form, for centuries, or whether they just ran afoul of the current Santa much more recently. In this case, I’d like to cast Jack Frost as the former. In fact, I’d like to suggest that Frost did have powers at one point in time, and that he clashed with Santa in the early days, when the original Santa was fulfilling the role of protector. Here’s how I see it going down.

Frost was a rival of the Winter Warlock; they were both powerful supernatural beings, with Frost being an immortal of the same type that live in Asgard and Olympus, and the Warlock being a powerful mortal. When the Warlock fist clashed with Santa, and then began to reform, Frost saw his chance to eliminate his rival once and for all. Frost launched a devastating attack against the Warlock, wounding him deeply. Frost could probably have finished off his foe, when Santa intervened (perhaps it was this intervention that convinced the Warlock that Santa truly followed a path that appealed to the Warlock as well, leading to his final redemption and reformation). Thus did Santa earn Frost’s enmity. The two of them clashed repeatedly for the next few decades, with the Warlock joining the fray on a few occasions. Frost had nearly defeated Santa a few times, but the Warlock and Santa, working as a team, continually proved too much for him. Frost decided he needed to eliminate the Warlock as an ally of Santa, and conjured up a crystal which would drain the Warlock’s powers. He devised an elaborate plot to use the device (stories which will no doubt be told in the inevitable spin-off, Santa: Origins) but during the battle when the device was used, Santa inadvertently interfered with its operation, and Frost had his powers removed instead; everything except for his immortality.

That sets Frost up as more of a cross between DC’s Lex Luthor and Vandal Savage. Ever since that battle he’s been searching for ways to restore his lost power. To stay a credible threat, he’s also amassed as much power as he could in the physical world, studying science and the technology of the day, staying on the cutting edge of what is new and dangerous. This also gives him a motivation to continue to fight against Santa; he wants revenge for his powers being stripped from him and he wants to find a way to be powerful again.

That’s two great foes. Black Pete is a very interesting foe, who I think would also be aware of Santa’s true nature. And, obviously, Santa would fight much more conventional menaces too, as well as meeting some of the existing villains in the Marvel Universe (because, really, who wouldn’t pay good money to see Santa vs Dr. Doom? Or Santa vs the Kingpin: Battle of the Fat Men? I know I’d shell out $4 for some of that). Do we need to detail out any further villains? If not, then all we need to do is nail down his abilities. I’ll check in with you tomorrow to see what you think.

Again, kudos to you for all the inventive backstory stuff. I think we’ve detailed the essential supporting cast and supplied a solid inventory of villains. Of course, there will always be other characters (both good and bad) who pop up from time to time…but I think there’s a strong nucleus there to build a long-lasting title around.

Probably the best thing to do now is to delineate just what it is that Santa does and exactly how he does it. Applying basic comic book physics to what we know from the Santa-based legends, I’m assuming he has gadgets or magic items that help him teleport/move at lightspeed/displace time. His ability to squeeze up and down chimneys indicates a level of shapeshifting. He has certain resistances to the elements. His reindeer and sleigh can fly somehow. And Santa’s sack of presents probably has origins in a pocket universe where he’s able to store vast amounts of product…like a Bag of Holding from D&D. Can you explain all of that?

We seem to be rolling along well. Let’s get this thing wrapped up in time for Christmas!

Hmmm. Detailing exactly what Santa can do could prove slightly challenging, simply because there’s so much to choose from. Santa seems to be able to do so much. Let’s break it down.

I agree that transportation is our first priority. Let’s face it; the guy lives at the North Pole, which is probably not very villain infested. He could potentially fight that polar bear that shills for Coke, but otherwise, he’s going to have to travel to defend the Earth. Teleporting would certainly be the quickest way for him to get from place to place, but it doesn’t really fit into his mythology and it can also be used as something of a cheat by writers. I prefer something that’s more traditionally Santa, and something that doesn’t enable him to arrive at the scene instantaneously. I think keeping the sleigh is the way to go, although I’m not sure that it should be pulled by reindeer, or at least, not all the time. I imagine that Santa used to use the reindeer, which the Warlock had enchanted, to pull his sleigh when he wanted to travel. However, while he still keeps reindeer for emergency sleigh-pulling, the simple fact is that they were sometimes unreliable, and they needed to be fed and taken care of, and when Santa had to travel halfway around the world and didn’t come back the same night as he left, they were problematic. So, sometime in the past few decades, the elf clan constructed a technological sleigh for him. This new sleigh can move at fantastic speeds (several times the speed of sound) and comes with a retractable canopy so that Santa doesn’t have to worry about breathing when it’s moving that fast (and it can also be used in low altitude orbit or underwater, although it’s design isn’t very efficient in those environments). The elves have loaded the new sleigh with all kinds of gadgets, much in the manner of Blue Beetle’s bug, and are constantly experimenting with more, in the manner of James Bond and his Q.

I like the idea of shapeshifting as a way to move up and down chimneys, but I’m wary of making Santa too superhero, because if that’s the case, how are powers passed on from Santa to Santa? There certainly could be a way to do that, probably involving a ceremony between the outgoing and incoming Santas and the Warlock, but then there’s also the case of what happens when a Santa falls in battle (although his powers could then be transferred automatically, kind of like a Vampire Slayer’s powers are in the Buffy universe). Actually, the more I think about it, the more I like that last parenthetical aside. It could be interesting to see the powers transferred, either by ceremony or by automatic transference. What makes the latter such an interesting proposition is the idea that perhaps a Santa could die without locating a suitable successor. Normally, the successor is training at the North Pole, so if a Santa would fall, they would already be in a position to take over the role. But what happens if there is no one ready to take over? I could see a plot where the powers choose someone when the current Santa falls unexpectedly, and the Warlock and Mrs. Claus and the elves have to figure out where the powers went, have to try and determine why that person got the powers, and then have to locate them, bring them in and train them. That could be fun.

So, what are these powers? I agree that shapeshifting has to be one of them. After all, moving up and down chimneys is difficult without shapeshifting, and Santa is also someone who’s depicted at vastly different weights. It’s going to be difficult to fight the Never or Jack Frost’s goons when you’re morbidly obese, so he’s going to need to be able to go from overweight to fit and ready to fight. Shapeshifting also gives him a lot more options in combat, and that’s important. Shapeshifting can also be useful for entering those houses without chimneys, as he could make himself thin as paper, and slide under doors or around windows, or he could turn a finger into a key to open the door; there are lots of options with this power. In fact, I’m wondering if he really needs any others, or if that power is enough for Santa to have? I think it is.

Santa does have a sack with an immense storage capacity; another gift from the Warlock. Santa fills that sack with gadgets from the elves, gadgets which give him a wide range of options, which often change. As I mentioned earlier, the elves can be seen as a clan of Q’s from James Bond. These guys provide him with a huge selection of technological edges, and it might be fun if they’re all constructed to look like toys. That keeps a theme going with him, and still enables him to kick some butt.

What do you think of that power set?

I hate to say it, but the “gadgets disguised as toys” idea is hilarious. Not only could it be a running joke that the elves don’t know how to build something that isn’t toylike, but it also opens up a story or two about mistakenly leaving the wrong item under a child’s tree. Oops! Santa accidentally gave Timmy a freeze ray instead of the BB gun he asked for!

Your sleigh idea could be taken a step further. Since you brought up Blue Beetle’s bug, why not have Santa’s “sleigh” actually be a ship of sorts? Perhaps he has an image inducer attached to it to make it look like a sleigh being pulled by reindeer to the average passer-by. The truth is, however, that Santa’s ship is the same thing people have been reporting seeing in the sky all across the Midwest and Southwest. All those assorted UFO sightings and things that look like tin pie pans floating in the sky with flashing lights are really Santa going about his evil-fighting business. I like how that ties the Santa legend into everyday pop culture. It would also be fun to have his sleigh resemble Doctor Who’s tardis…where the outside is a defined size, but the inside is disturbingly larger, with numerous cabins and compartments, massive storage areas and sleeping quarters for dozens of helpers. The power of magic!

I also agree that Santa should have some sort of super-ability. I’d hate for everything to rely on tricky gadgets and amorphous wizardry. I don’t want to lean to heavily on Winter Warlock though. The process of finding, training and passing on the Santa powers should be a function of the elven lore. Perhaps they’re actually aliens and have highly advanced technology to imbue these powers upon their selected target. Maybe it’s something they really have no control over, but are just there to monitor. Or, and this is kind of a twisted spin, maybe the machine/gizmo/process they use is extremely dangerous and some of the Santa recruits haven’t survived the transfer of power…or, in a way of explaining Black Pete’s origin, maybe one of the subjects was affected differently by the transfer. Maybe Black Pete had been selected as a Santa apprentice (like Robin to Batman), gone through the training and all that, and then the power transfer didn’t work or screwed him up somehow and he vowed revenge for eternity!

Too dramatic?

Shape-shifting as Santa’s sole power covers a lot of bases. It could also explain how he blends into the crowd so easily and how no one sees him throughout the rest of the year. This could also play into the earlier idea I had about having his alter ego be the head of some large charitable organization. He keeps tabs on the world in plain sight of the everyday populace!

Wow…I think we came up with some valid ways to make The Scintillating Santa Claus! an enjoyable comic book. Final thoughts?

Just that I agree with you on everything you mentioned.  I had originally thought of suggesting that the sleigh be an actual ship that shared some of the properties of the Tardis, so that’s amusing.  I also agree that having Santa’s power transfer be a function of the elves rather than the Warlock is a good idea, and does help to maintain a balance between the Warlock and the elves, so one side isn’t obviously more important than the other.

I think this works!  This could actually make a comic; it would be a huge hit!  After all, if kids don’t buy it, they’re going to find themselves on the naughty list!


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 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.


Young Justice: Where has all the justice gone?

Apr-22-08

In the long and storied history of the “Meanwhile….Comics!” blog, we have only really dealt with Marvel matters. This is not because we are not fans of DC, or of other comics companies. Partly it’s been because Jason and I are much more conversant in Marvel history than we are in DC history. Partly it’s been because Marvel seems to have issues which we had more of a passion to discuss than anything in DC. And, at least for me, partly it was because DC comics has, in my eyes, become a violent, unhappy, soulless entity over the past few years, and trying to discuss any character they currently publish is likely to be painful. While I’m not particularly stoked about the direction of the Marvel Comics line, it has me doing cartwheels compared to the direction of DC Comics, which has me often feeling somewhat nauseous.

Many people would point to Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis as the tipping point where DC Comics began to move away from telling stories about spandex clad do-gooders, and began telling stories about psychologically scarred arrested adolescents living out some sort of power fantasies by beating the living snot out of each other. And rape. That became an important part of many of these stories. Those people who look to Identity Crisis as the starting point of the degradation of these great heroes are not entirely wrong, but there is an event for me that predates this 2004 miniseries by some time….the cancellation of Young Justice in 2003. That was the beginning of the end for my close relationship with DC Comics.

Young Justice began life in 1998, during one of DC’s Fifth Week Events called “Girlfrenzy”, in a one shot written by Todd DeZago entitled Young Justice: The Secret. The team at that time consisted of three of DC’s hottest young heroes, all proteges of an established DC A List character: Robin, partner of Batman; Superboy, inspired by Superman; and Impulse, nephew of The Flash. The three of them joined forces again in a two issue prestige format miniseries called Justice League: World without Grown-Ups, again written by Todd DeZago. Apparently these issues were successful enough to merit a series of their own, and very soon, Young Justice #1 debuted in September of 1998.

The creative team for the first issue, and almost every single issue thereafter, was writer Peter David and artist Todd Nauck. The three young heroes spent the first few issues as the only members of the team, save for a recently resurrected Red Tornado, who served as their “adult” supervisor. However, David quickly expanded the group by introducing some female members; the Secret, who had appeared in their first adventure; Wonder Girl, who had worked with Wonder Woman; and Arrowette, who had appeared earlier in the comic Impulse and acted as a female Green Arrow-type.

Many people attempt to pigeonhole Peter David as a comedy writer, and coupled with Todd Nauck’s artwork, which had a lighter, more cartoony feel, these people may have written Young Justiceoff as a silly book for kids. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Yes, Peter David can be quite amusing, but his humor is always in service to the story, and he can handle serious storylines with the best of writers. Alternating between lighter issues with those that handled very serious subject matter, David kept the series always enjoyable (and proved that adult topics could be handled with indulging in the sort of hysterical melodrama and violent power fantasies that now seem to characterize so much of DC Comics’ output). Todd Nauck’s artwork was likewise a joy, and while it may have seemed cartoony to some, he was able to handle drama and tension very well.

I could go on raving about the series, and may in follow up posts, but for now let’s move on to it’s tragic resolution. In 2003, Warner Brothers debuted a new cartoon series called Teen Titans, which was going to star the characters from DC’s long running comic series of the same name. Unfortunately, DC didn’t currently have a Teen Titans series, as most of those characters (and the niche that series filled in the DC Universe) was being filled by Young Justice. DC became convinced that they needed a Teen Titans comics series to match the new cartoon, so they cancelled Young Justice (whose sales did not warrant such a cancellation). They then published the execrable Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day miniseries, which served as the launching point for the new Teen Titans and Outsiders series.

Unfortunately, rather than bringing Peter David and Todd Nauck over to the new Teen Titans series to continue their stellar work, DC decided to bring in Geoff Johns and Mike McKone. Now, I’m personally quite a big fan of both Johns and McKone, and gave the new series a try. Unfortunately, within a few issues they had already begun the task of dismantling the character development and relationships which had been cultivated in Young Justice, and by the third issue they had changed Impulse into Kid Flash, showing a complete misunderstanding of who Bart Allen really was. I left the series as a reader in disgust.

The purpose of our blog is not just to point our problems in continuity or in publishing, but to try and fix them. Sadly, I’m not sure if this is fixable. Besides trying to reunite David and Nauck on a book, the characters that were once a part of Young Justicehave been scattered since the end of the series. Both Superboy and Impulse are now dead and Secret has been depowered. Of course, this would all be a moot point anyway, as it does not seem that DC’s editorial policy would allow a series with the sort of sensibility that Young Justice possessed to be be published. I’d like to come up with something and I’m open to suggestions.

First of all, I agree that we need to dip into the DC end of the pool every now and then just to be fair. Unfortunately, just like you (and even though I owned a comic book store for a while) I don’t have the same deep knowledge of DC’s history. I can cover the Justice League, Flash and Green Arrow pretty well, but other than that I only know the names of characters and not much else.

That said, let me start my response to your post with the information I gleaned from last week’s New York Comic Con. During one of DC’s many panels, the question of collecting Young Justice into trades came up and was pretty quickly brushed aside by the higher-ups at DC Comics. So, I think that raises some questions that our website was designed to tackle. This might not be along the lines of “how can we fix it?”, but it does cover the ground of “what went wrong?”

You were obviously a dedicated reader of the title and my experience with it consists of seeing a few covers here and there. Therefore, I defer to you to explain the appeal to me a little more in depth. For instance, what were the circumstances that brought the group together? What villains did they face during the title’s run? What were the relationships that were built? How was the strength of the supporting cast?

I think by studying some of these points, we may be able to do a re-pitch of the series (or at least convince the editors that releasing the trades would be beneficial). I’m encouraged by the fact that the main series kept a consistent creative team, that usually helps with a book’s quality and direction. So let’s start there and see what builds.

What went wrong? With the title itself, I’d say precious little. Let’s start at the beginning. The original three members of Young Justice were Robin, Superboy and Impulse. Each of them had worked with the others once or twice, but the trio first worked as team to save a young girl called Secret from the D.E.O., who were keeping her under lock and key and trying to determine the extent of her powers. The boys managed to free her and found they worked well together. They next met when an ancient Atlantean force called Bedlam transported all the adults of the DC Universe to a parallel world. With only children and teens left, the three young men found themselves elevated to the status of senior heroes, and teamed to defeat Bedlam.

After this adventure, the three of them decided to stay together as a team. Why? Mostly because they simply needed the friendship and comraderie of being with other people their own age, who understood the pressures of being the next generation of a superhero legacy. Although they were a super-team, they were also friends; it was almost more of a club in those early days. Soon, Red Tornado, who had lain inactive in the old JLA Secret Sanctuary, awoke from his stasis, and he became the mentor for the group. It was inevitable that the group would not remain a “boys club” and sure enough, shortly after they formed their group, they became embroiled again with The Secret, as well as Wonder Girl and Arrowette. The girls joined the team, and the full roster of Young Justice was formed.

Again, the series was somewhat lighthearted, but there were also some very serious stories. One of their early villains was named Harm, a young man who seemed completely evil. His parents knew their son was a monster, but were afraid of him. While Young Justice battled Harm, the true meat of the story was the psychological battle within the mind of Harm’s father, who wrestled with the question of whether, if you knew your son was an evil person, totally devoid of merit, could you take the necessary steps to stop him?

Arrowette also had a fasincating story arc. Relatively early in the series’ run, one of her favorite teachers at school was killed by a jealous ex-boyfriend. Arrowette was enraged, and hunted down the killer. She soon had him at her mercy, and would have killed him if not for the intervention of Superboy. Later, after her emotions were calmer, Arrowette realized what she had done, and was scared to learn she was capable of murder. She vowed to give up being Arrowette, which she did. One would have thought that she would have either disappeared from the comic, or she would have eventually reclaimed her mantle. She did neither. She remained true to her vow, never donning the costume again, but still staying an important character in the further adventures of Young Justice.

Red Tornado, as the group’s mentor, could have been ignored. However, he was given some strong plots, as he tried to reclaim his humanity and make a life for himself with his estranged family. Eventually, he realized that his family needed him, and was more important to him than the team, so he resigned as their mentor. In his place, the group found a new mentor in Snapper Carr. Of course, Snapper has been knocking around the DC Universe for over four decades, but he often doesn’t seem to fit. Putting him in an adult role, mentoring kids who were experiencing some of the same things that he had experienced as a teenager, gave Peter David the chance to explore Snapper Carr’s personality in ways that it had not really been explored.

The interactions between the six main members of the team were also interesting. Robin acted as the leader, but was often challenged by Superboy and the developing relationship between the two of them, as Superboy came to respect Robin, despite Robin’s lack of powers, kept the team dynamics fresh. Wonder Girl began the series as an inexperienced and unsure heroine, but matured throughout the series’ run, eventually winning election as the new leader toward the end of the series. The mysteries surrounding Secret continued to be explored. Members became romantically involved (as teenagers do) and some new members joined the team, including the Ray, who finally found a place on a team with members closer to his own age.

In essence, it was a dynamic series, not taking itself too seriously, but willing to tackle adult subject matter when it was a natural outgrowth of the story being told. It never went for sensationalism, but instead contented itself to tell strong, solid stories that you could enjoy reading.

Okay, so from what I understand – and from a quick blast of Wikipedia knowledge – two of the team members are dead (Superboy, Impulse), one has decided not to be a hero anymore (Arrowette) and another is depowered (Secret). Not only that, but their initial mentor (Red Tornado) is possessed by Amazo while their later mentor Snapper Carr is working as some sort of spy for Checkmate. I have no idea how you could put this all back together again. And would it be worthwhile anyway? After all that these characters have been through, the innocence and youth is gone from them (as it is from 98% of the DC Universe).

From your description and from what I’ve been able to deduce online, the series sounded like an unofficial version of the original Teen Titans…formed out of a kinship based on being “sidekicks” or younger versions of their inspirations. Add in the world-weary mentor role and you could almost say it was a Fagin and the orphans scenario played out in comic style (without all the stealing and such).

There’s three trains of thought that I can come up with on this one. The first one is the most realistic: DC puts out collections of the 55 issues plus all the one-shots and miniseries, somewhere between 6-8 trades and it’s done. The second path is kind of a cop-out but ultimately makes sense with what’s going on in the DC Universe right now: make one of the 52 Earths a “World Without Grown-Ups” planet. This would give the team a chance to play out their adventures in a unique setting. They’d be THE heroes of the world yet would still embody all the insecurities and angst of their age and maturity level. Could be a fun way to play with all the toys in the sandbox. The third way is probably the most difficult: find new youthful characters in the DC-verse and bring them together logically to form a new Young Justice team. I don’t know which young heroes remain unblemished by the current goings-on at DC nor do I understand how they could be coaxed into befriending each other anymore, but that is one way to make the magic happen again.

There’s also the problem of who would handle the title? Peter David is exclusive to Marvel, as of February 2006. And the last I knew, Todd Nauck was at Marvel too, drawing Spider-Man. You and I both approve of the writing of Geoff Johns and his handling of superhero types, but I wonder if he’s too steeped in the current DC malaise to properly infuse this proposed title with the jolt of youth it needs.

While I may not have an immediate solution to the writing, I think Karl Kerschl would be an excellent choice for the art. His Teen Titans: Year One and All-Flash #1 work is both quirky and beautiful at the same time.

Writers and artists aside (though I think it’s interesting to discuss), which of the three solutions I offered do you think is best for Young Justice?

At this time, I’d just like to see them acknowledge that the team existed, and issue trades containing the entire series. I think it deserves that much. Let those of us who were fans of the series have the opportunity to enjoy it again, and perhaps they can draw in some new readers at the same time. I don’t see any point in trying to recapture the series with the same characters, as that would require so much continuity twisting that my head hurts just thinking about it. I also don’t see a point in putting them in another world in the multiverse. I’m not usually a fan of that sort of thing, since it never seems like the stories matter much when it’s not the mainstream universe that the rest of the comics line is based in. That being said, I’d like to choose both your first and third options. Let’s see them replace this group with something akin to Young Justice in tone. DC needs a book like that.

I realize that this post probably makes it seem like I am rabidly anti-DC and that’s honestly not true. While I admit that my early comic experiences were overwhelmingly of the Marvel variety (I found most of DC’s output in the early 80s to be rather dull and stodgy, while Marvel seemed cool and hip), I did soon begin to branch out to many other companies, DC among them. During the late 80s I came to like a lot of DC comics, and for some years during the 90s, I was reading more DC than I was Marvel, thanks to both a plethora of strong DC series, and Marvel taking a huge downswing in quality (teenage Tony Stark? Was that really necessary? A clone saga in Spider-Man that lasted for years? The Invisible Woman wearing a bikini top on her Fantastic Four outfit?). I have always loved the Justice League (thanks probably to the Superfriends cartoons of my childhood) and I think DC has some great characters and books. They also, as a company, understand the concept of a legacy much better than Marvel, and I love the way some identities (Flash, Green Lantern, Starman, Dr. Mid-Nite and others) have been handed down from hero to hero.

That being said, I’ve become quite disillusioned with DC over the past few years, and it’s not just because I’m not a huge fan of this dark turn they’ve taken. It should not come as news to anyone who follows comics that it isn’t the strongest business in the world. Many articles have been written on how one brings new readers into the fold. I don’t believe that most of DC’s current output, mired in continuity and dripping in death, dismemberment and rape, really reach out to a new audience. I think it plays to the same aging audience that has been reading the book for years, and it sure as hell isn’t going to draw in any children. Young Justice had the potential to appeal to a younger audience. Please note that it wasn’t written for a younger audience; Peter David wrote mature stories. However, his stories were accessible to people of any age, and I would argue they were appropriate for readers of all but the youngest ages (and truly, some of the sexual innuendo would have passed right over the heads of the really young anyway). Moreover, Nauck’s artwork was the sort of pleasant, happy artwork that would catch the eye of a younger reader, and he was such a strong storyteller, that no one would have trouble following the story. While we may not be able to use David and Nauck, surely we could find some creators who could do the job, and perhaps provide a safe haven for some younger readers (and older readers who don’t want to read about rape, death and decapitation on a monthly basis) in the DC Universe.

You mention Geoff Johns, and while I was very disappointed by his Teen Titans series, I do think he’s a very good writer. Moreover, he did a book with a similar theme in his very entertaining Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. series, so I think he could handle it. Another writer who does a lot of work for DC and can handle anything she’s given is Gail Simone. She certainly has a lighter side, and her books always rise above the norm. A writer who I haven’t seen anything from for awhile, but who has an excellent eye for character is Devin Grayson. She worked on a previous Titans series and really did a nice job bringing the characters together and bouncing them off each other. As for artists, I’m somewhat familiar with Karl Kerschl’s stylized art, and while it’s taken me some time to adjust to it (you could take an eye out with his pointy knees and elbows), I think he would fit the style. I know he’s working for Marvel (and I’ve heard rumors he’s retiring), but I’d also recommend Mark Bagley, one of the strongest, most reliable, and perhaps most underrated pencillers around, who’s proved he’s good with teenagers in Ultimate Spider-Man. Sadly, Mike Weiringo would have been perfect; his death was such a loss to the comics community.

As for characters, I’m afraid I may not be as familiar with who would work as I once was either, and I’m also not sure who’s been spoken for other places. I think you could use Robin and Wonder Girl, and the Ray joined in later issues, and I believe he’s available. I also believe Empress, who joined in later issues is available, and perhaps they could use Supergirl. I also think it would be cool if they used Mia Deardon, the current Speedy. There’s six characters, and all of them except Empress have a heroic legacy to live up to. We’d just need a new mentor. Hmmmm…someone who hasn’t been used in awhile. How about Major Disaster? He’s tried to be a hero many times…when last seen he was an alcoholic, but if he got over that and acted more like he did as a leader of Justice League Antartica, he might fit in. There was also a group called Old Justice in the original series, comprised of sidekicks from previous decades, and included Doiby Dickles. He’d be perfect! He’d be more like a grandfather, but it could be an interesting direction; he’s certainly seen his fair share of odd stuff, and doesn’t seem fazed by anything. Do you have other suggestions?

The first character that came to mind for me was the new Blue Beetle, but I believe he’s tied up in the new Titans series somehow (again my lack of current DC lore comes to light). There’s also the newly rediscovered Traci Thirteen who’s started a relationship with Jaime Reyes (Blue Beetle)…her father could be a pretty wacky mentor too. Maybe Klarion the Witch Boy…wasn’t he briefly in Young Justice?

Regardless of membership, I’m still not convinced that a lighthearted, youthful team like this has a place in the current DC Universe. Perhaps it is best to just release some trades and let this one shuffle off the mortal comics coil.