Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Ruination of The Big Two or Why Marvel and DC Comics Suck Part 2

Where I continue to bitch, whine and moan like the curmudgeon I have become.

Next up is the lack of continuity. This is related to no cohesive universe but also different. One example is what Marvel is doing now by playing fast and loose with what survives Secret Wars and what does not. Add in an eight month jump when restarting their books and you have the New DCU. Remember DC said they were not resetting everything after Flashpoint, but they did and were constantly adjusting things on the fly. Now Didio has stated continuity is not important only telling a good story. Which would be great if they were producing books like All Star Superman, New Frontier, Dark Knight Returns, Alan Moores’ Swamp Thing. Instead what this has come to mean is that when a new creative team comes on a book expect a restart of continuity. If doesn’t tie into what came before, don’t worry just enjoy the great story.  This may work at times, but for me it is too jarring.

When I read a series I get invested in the characters. Starting over and make jarring changes causes me to lose a sense of the character’s identity. If I lose interest that I stop caring about their continuing adventures. Maybe I’ll buy a trade of a good arc down the road, but why invest in the continuing series. DC really screwed up by introducing a lot of stuff in the back up stories during the Convergence disaster (or event). When I tried out a series or two I was already not starting at the beginning as eight pages had happened as a backup story.

It doesn’t help that the characters never grow older so the incredible weight of the amount of back stories is impossible to handle. The writers are forced to pick and choose what is important. So fifty plus years later Peter Parker matronly Aunt May is still around and had more adventures then Indiana Jones. Marvel writer’s supposedly have a sliding scale that everything happened in last ten years, but that means Captain (Steve Rogers) America was thawed out in 2005. It doesn’t work, the characters are not creations of 2005. They are creations of 1960’s. Worse even the replacements Marvel has shoved in the character roles are still old creations. Sam Wilson and Jane Foster are old as dirt. At least Ms. Marvel is a fresh face. With both companies  any investment you make into a character or a series will be unceremonious dumped at one point and what “made” the character for you may now be gone.

Another issue with many comic books is the casting of characters into roles as opposed to paying attention to established characteristics. It used to be that characters were so well defined that when a writer placed them in certain situations you would know how character “A” would react. The comics almost wrote themselves was what some writers said at that time. If a character reacted in a different manner then established some reasoning would be given. I think I first noticed the casting of characters into roles with Marvel’s Civil War. In order for a Civil War to occur you needed the characters to act a certain way. The characters were cast into roles to fit what story the writer wanted to tell. Characters acted less heroic and very out of character. No rhyme or reason was given.
This has led to more and more the writers coming in who wanted to tell their story. Often they will just use any character and ignore long standing characteristics and relationships. So Wolverine and Cyclops decide to hate each other. Wolverine becomes a professor at the mutant school. Hal Jordan loses his mind and kills the Green Lantern corps. Of course part of this problem is companies’ inability to allow characters to age and have a new generation under the mask. With a character that has been around for 50 years these are often the only way some writers can manage to introduce some drama and excitement. Or the dramatic retro-con, where we find out previously unknown relatives or revelations about a characters past. Still I feel that way too often a writer wants to tell his grand story (often a rehash of a Shakespearian play) or editorial mandate that Avengers will fight X-Men and then they cast the roles. So Juliet will be Sue Storm and Romeo will be Spider-Man, makes no sense, who cares.

In the same vein I believe way too many writers want to make some social or political point. Now we all have a world view (except maybe Kim Kardashian) so I get that you may try to slide in your POV here and there. That is all well and good, but it is like being beaten with a sledge hammer anymore. A recent example was in Thor, now a woman. She is Thor for five seconds and is being lauded as a better then the former Thor. Male bashing was in abundance in that book. I have no issue with trying to diversify and represent other groups but you don’t raise up anyone by beating down on someone else. I have worked with people who felt tearing down others was the best way to make themselves look good, I disagree. What gets lost in pushing your agenda in an overt manner is that the writers and companies are not writing stories for the characters. It seldom feels like writers are coming onto a book with a vision of who the character is and try to make that happen. Grant Morrison is perhaps the last writer that I can remember who really did that with X-Men and Batman. He actually cared about the characters and wrote stories to advance the characters. If he dropped in his world view here and there, that is fine, but the story should come first.

Remember you can buy the single issues of this column and also get the variant covers. We have the A, B, C and D covers that were all produced at the same rate. Next are the E, F & G covers that are rare, rarer and rarest. Of course we also have the retailer incentive cover, which is the same cover where we just drop the coloring and made it black and white. This is even more rarest and we call it the Virgin Art cover, because it sounds sexy. Coming soon Part 3!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Ruination of The Big Two or Why Marvel and DC Comics Suck Part 1

It is becoming harder and harder for me to be able to actually be critical of Marvel and DC because I read less and less of their books. I’m only getting one Marvel comic. That is the Jeff Lemire Hawkeye books scheduled for only eight issues I believe. With DC I have dropped so many books recently and find it hard to even read what I get. I know I’m sticking with JLA by Johns because he has ignored the newest DC reset. I can also say that I get zero books under the Batman family or Superman family. In total I might be getting six or seven books from the big two.

There are a number of reasons for this and it has lead me to conclude that Marvel and DC are currently at a creative nadir.

One of the major reasons is the editorial mandates that are controlling way too many books. Dan Didio at DC has been notorious for changing direction on the fly and making one decision and then another. Re-writes being called for and not paid for was a persistent rumor about DC as creators fled in what seemed like droves at one point. Didio finally get complete control of things at DC after Levitz and Jeanette Kahn left management. One of his first things he did was the new DCU. Those in one fell swoop he mandated the destruction of all the past history of the company. One of the core elements of DC was its legacy and now it was gone. He also hired Bob Harras as his EIC, who by all accounts failed at Marvel in the same role years ago.  We are already on a second revamp with the DC You crap. I personally can’t read 90% of what DC produces because none of it has any staying power as Dan and Bob will force a change in direction in a New York minute.

Marvel is just as bad since Disney has taken over more and more I feel like the stories are being given a strong push by management in the direction they are going. Death of Wolverine was a prime example of something the company decided they wanted to do and therefore Wolverine died. Now with the mandated eight month jump in time as Marvel does their half ass reboot after Secret Money Grab, eer War – we have odd variations of characters being advertised as All New All Different, yet just the same (or so Marvel tries to promise). There has always been editorial interference and direction being pushed from above in comics. The difference was before I felt like a lot more was allowed to occur a little more organically. At least some of the ideas percolated up to management for approval as opposed to being mandated strictly from above.  It takes the heart out of the books as you can feel the stories have no impact and the characters are serving only to advance some plot that does not always fit them or what has gone before.

Another reason that the big two are dying is a lack of a cohesive universe. One can make the argument that this happened a long time ago and that is true to a large degree. It is worse now. Even going back to Morrison’s run on JLA, he had to acknowledge the shifts that occurred to major characters. When Superman was Superman Blue, he was in JLA. Now Johns JL has Superman and Batman like we know them to be for the most part. Yet in their books Superman is depowered and has a buzz cut and Batman is Jim Gordon with a robot body. 

Marvel does a little better as changes to Captain America and Thor were recognized rather quickly in the Avengers while I was still reading their books. Again though the cohesion is not really there with Marvel. This is most evident with the Avengers books. There is no way I have ever seen how Remender’s Uncanny Avengers ever tied into to the Hickman Magnum Opus. Trying to make the X-Men books fit into that mess is even more of fool’s errand. I don’t need all of this stuff to tie 100% together like Marvel did in the beginning, but I like to think I’m reading about one universe. At this point I was often taken out of stories when internal logic fell apart. Hell even within titles that star the same characters there is no rhyme or reason as to what is going on in another title until a cross-over and then we get a jam sandwich.

I’m planning this as a multipart post (maybe 3) and then of course we will do a collected hardcover version, then release a trade paperback version and in three years if it sold well a deluxe version with previous pieces of scrap paper we found on the floor. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My Open Letter to DC Comics

Dear DC Comics,

The new half page ad in your comics is destroying any enjoyment I was getting out of your books. I have had issues with enjoying the books since the New 52, but this is even worse. I have never enjoyed the ads through out the comics, but have come to accept those. Half page ads are annoying, but often in older books it was at the end of the story or one page full art and one page half ad/art. This two page half ad double page spread absolutely destroys the flow of the story.

I have tried to remain a fan as I enjoyed the characters for decades now, but I think that time has come to end. Even with a better price point that Marvel or most independent comics the story flow is now horrendous. I have tried and cancelled after one issue 8 of the 10 re-launched series.

I have been a long time fan, a comic book retailer in the nineties and ran a blog for awhile (Comics And...). So it is with a heavy heart that I have to say the New 52 and now this recent slate of books and the ad stuff is all becoming too much.

I have dropped Marvel comics (except for the odd collection) and feel like I may drop all DC for now soon. I know as an older fan (59) I'm not the target market but I do think the line needs a course correction and an up and down re-evaluation to build a long term success and not a constant mode of re-launches and gimmicks.

Thanks for your attention.

PS - Please reschedule the Captain Comet Archives - I always wanted to read that material. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Marvel Comics Rapes Their Fans and They Like It – An Outsider’s View

Okay I’m not a 100% outsider. Still since I just recently declared myself Marvel free a little while ago maybe I can claim an outsider status. So I finally jump ship and then I read the BIG news out of Marvel. It made me sick to my stomach. All New All Different WE Want All Your Money Marvel. At least Marvel has made my decision to zero out any books from them a lot easier and they even cancelled the only title I was getting from them with issue #8 I believe (the Lemire written Hawkeye).

So the All New All Different Marvel Universe is talking about launching around 60 new #1 issues. It all starts after the end of Secret Wars and has an eight month time jump. A total reboot, right? No, not at all.  Alex Alonso, Marvel’s Editor in Chief, states “This is not a reboot. We are not erasing our history, or throwing away any old stories; we are building on our history. The Marvel Universe that greets readers in "All-New, All-Different Marvel" is going to be the Marvel Universe that you know and love -- and recognize -- but it's also going to include some new stuff -- new characters, new places, new things, new artifacts of great importance -- that should make it even more interesting.” Good try Mr. Alonso, good try.

Marvel is desperately trying to do a re-launch of their entire line up of comics, as DC did a few years back. They are also trying to avoid the calamity that befell DC as DC threw away the legacy aspect of the DCU. A major strength of DC was flushed down the toilet in a grab to shake things up. Change just to change is never a good idea. Marvel is being smart by campaigning that even though Secret Wars will have an impact on some characters and may make some continuity changes they are not wiping out their history. Yes the All New All Different Marvel Universe is all bright shining and new, but it is still the same Marvel Universe you love. Selling these two points at the same time is creating some of the greatest cognitive dissonance in comic book history. Yes Bruce Banner is now Catilyn Banner, but she is still the Hulk. Yes Old Man Logan is now in present day, but he is still the original Wolverine. Yes Iron Man is now Pepper Potts, but she is still the armored Avenger. It is a clever marketing ploy, but one, that for me, is a stinking heap of cow dung.

Where all this becomes egregious is when you realize what type of impact this will have on the actual business of selling comics to the fan base that still exists. First and foremost you are making comic books stores bet the house. My guess is there will be some heavy promotion discounts if you order enough books. My worry for the retailers is there will not be returns allowed.  If, as I suspect, most of these #1s are $5 price points that means an increased risk for a retailer. Granted there is increased reward in more profit. Still many stores are small operations that could go under with a few bad months or even one bad month. If a retailer orders 100 issues of every new number one (use 60) that is an investment (at 50% discount) of $15,000. Meaning to just break even on his invoice from Marvel he will need to move 3,000 books. Too often a retailer will get caught up in the hype from Marvel and not look at their overall sales to realize those type of numbers have never happened for their store; so why should it happen now. Another hidden cost of this type of launch is unsold copies of books from other companies. If a customer can only spend $50 and goes all Marvel, that means anything else he was normally buying goes unsold on the retailer’s shelf. It is a dangerous game that the retailer has to play and I hope Marvel gives support in the way of a return program of some sort.

The other retailer problem is how you order for a new #1 issue of a comic. Maybe a book like the All New All Different Spider-Man you can base on sales of the prior ASM books, but the All New All Different Red Wolf (or whatever) is a major crap shoot. Of course Marvel will push as hard as they can to make fans feel like they have to try all the titles and the first couple months could be a great success. The problem is having a new toy immediately ends the next day as it is no longer new. I’m sure there will be variant covers all over the place and the “rare” ones will be on Ebay as soon as the store gets them from Diamond or even before as a pre-order. As an ex-retailer the idea of relying on Ebay to make my store profitable is a scary proposition. If my store is stable and doing well, Ebay as supplemental income is great, as a source to make it work, it is like going to Vegas. Remember only the winners’ brag about how they did. When the speculators wake up and realize they have wasted their money that variant market could disappear in a heartbeat. None of this is made easier when DC has just crapped out 24 new #1s or something close to it and Image is rolling out #1s like hotcakes at an IHOP. Strong stores will survive and many will even thrive, the smaller stores are going to possibly go under trying to guess what to order. It can be just as deadly to not have the book your customers want as it is to have too many.

Of course there is the actual fans themselves. Now a fool and his money is soon parted, so Marvel is hoping to find around 50,000 fools per book would be my guess. Marvel has always pushed the price point of books depending on the inelasticity of demand that comic books have often demonstrated. If Marvel moves all of their books to five dollars, even for just the first issue, I think that could be the final straw. For me the five dollar price point is the line in the sand, we will only go this far and no further and other statements to that effect. The supposed inflation rate over the last few years has been relatively insignificant if you believe government reporting. Even if you don’t a jump from $4 to $5 is a 25% increase in price. For $11 bucks or less I can see a 2 hour movie, buy two on demand movies and purchase at least one digital book. All of these alternatives give me way more than the maximum 10 or 15 minutes entertainment that two comic books may give me. The bang for the buck is not there when a comic cost $5. Sure you might be able to re-sell some of the books on Ebay or elsewhere, but that is just normally recouping some of your cost and never a guarantee. Also I believe there is only a certain level of spending that the fans will make towards comic books. So any success that Marvel has could well come via reduction of sales for other companies. Let’s face it that is what competition is all about. It may seem unfair, but it is the nature of the beast. The stores have to invest in Marvel for fear of missing out and therefore may order less of other books in some cases. That means that the books from other companies will not be on the stands. Of course an aggressive play by another publisher to push lower discounts on their books while the re-launch of Marvel happens could offset that disadvantage.

Sadly Marvel seems to have an unshakeable hold on the market and they can generate excitement for the All Retread All Marketing Ploy Marvel Comics Now. I’m just glad to be out of the picture and have no desire to jump back in. I guess the fan base is recycling faster than ever. Personally I would find it hard to truly get invested in a character who is going to be reset every year or two or gendered or race swapped at the drop of a hat. New times, new market, it will be interesting to watch from the sidelines.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Why Marvel Comics Lost Me

As a 59 year old white heterosexual male I understand that I am no longer a target market. Heck at this point I’m sure my opinion means less to a major corporation then almost any other point in my lifetime. Still why Marvel lost me is at least an intellectual exercise for me to put a rationale on what is at the end of the day an emotion decision. The emotion is due to a parting of ways from characters that inspired my love of comics.

I think first and foremost it is price point. Every Marvel book is now at least $4. The trend to making more and more titles $5 is frightening. Due to a discount structure and the way I buy my books I have never felt the full force of the $4 price tag. I have felt the creep in overall cost. I make a good wage and have an indulgent wife, so how much disposable income I can drop on comics is for the most part at my discretion. A $100 a week in books is not too much. Still I want a bang for my buck and Marvel no longer delivers. The $4 price point “gives me” a “free” digital version of the comic. Problem is I don’t like digital comics and could care less about having a free digital version. I gave away my digital books to a friend of mine. So the extra $1 is a total waste of money. As Marvel is the highest price point of the bigger publishers dropping 5 Marvel books coming out next week reduced the retail price by $20. Image has some $3 and many $3.50 books and DC still has many $3 books. Plus Marvel is pushing that $5 envelope very hard with Secret Wars and Old Man Logan clocking in at $5. So if those five books are a savings of $25. That means I could try 8 DC $3 books for the same price of 5 Marvel books or 6 $4 books from an independent company. Pure dollar and cents make Marvel the easiest to drop.

Next up is the convoluted never ending stories. I love a great epic storyline. Born Again by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli is the best Daredevil story ever done and one of the top ten storylines ever done. I have the Artist Edition of the story and recently re-read it. It still holds up as one of the best stories ever done. What we have gotten to in many modern comics is the never ending epic and a cast of characters to make Game of Thrones seem like a small cast. The biggest offender is Jonathan Hickman and his Avengers / New Avengers run. These two books both had around 40 plus issues meandering all over the place with a cast of at least 100 different people. This all lead up to the highly convoluted Secret Wars, which after two issues I gave up. I have a decent IQ, my retention for comics is decent, but the story was not even making any coherent comic book sense. Worse is all the run up to get us to Secret Wars seem to have no ending or basis of impacting anything. I understand that trying to comprehend the Rise and Fall of The Roman Empire can take a lot of time, study and reading to just begin to comprehend all the elemnets. The same with the rise of Nazism in Germany. There are myriad amount of elements that allowed this to happen in a country of rationale people. I should not have to be that involved to try and understand this story line. Worse is that many elements are left on the wayside and scattered like so many Chris Claremont X-Men sub plots. I just ask that Marvel entertain me. What they are doing instead if expecting some cool concepts and pretty art to make it work. It doesn’t work. As educated and literate as many of today’s writers are, the stories told my Miller, Byrne, Shooter and Claremont were far superior.

Another element that has pushed me over the edge is the seeming progressive liberal agenda being pushed in comic books. My personal politics are libertarian with probably a slight left tilt, as I’m very liberal on social issues, fiscal conservative, less government when possible and for getting us the heck out of the Middle East. That is a preamble to the fact that if you want a transgendered hero, more female heroes, more racial differences in your heroes, that is all well and good, but do not do at the expense and denigration of the heroes that had been there before. I think Thor might have been the one that drove me over the edge. Female Thor shows up and she is better than the old Thor. Not only that but it was a lot of male bashing. You do not build yourself up by dragging others down. I for one have always wanted change, so change is good, but change just to change is crap. I think DC, prior to New 52 had the right idea. Mr. Terrific from the golden age had been replaced by a new black Mr. Terrific in the modern age. Michael Holt had a great back story, was a genius and was every bit of the hero. In other words the next generation of the hero. Batman letting Dick Grayson take over and his son be the new Robin was a great change. In fact Batman had a great history and having female iterations of the characters and did a bang up job with a lot of those characters. Heck the FF could have done a great job by letting Valeria grow up and run the next generation of the FF. Iceman could have had a son and he could have been gay. But artificially making Thor unworthy and obviously trying to force fit retroactive personalities on characters who have decades of back story does not work for me. I feel like it is an agenda to diversify. Making the characters look different, but all have the same voice is not diversification. Diversify the voices telling the stories, bring in other writers with different viewpoints and let the stories be more organic. I know from reading a lot of different articles that the color of the writers and editors is lily white and the voices inside would make USC Berkley proud. So whether there is a true agenda or not, who knows, but I feel like who I am is not valued as a customer.
Finally, and perhaps this is the most telling the characters are dead. By never allowing characters to age and move on, the million stories told about the characters have made them dried up worthless husks. Stories are told with no regards for who the characters are, they are told to tell some story either the writer or editorial staff comes up with. The lack of imagination is astounding as writers are apparently unable to writer older heroes, married heroes or whatever the case maybe. Instead gimmicks and time jumps are used to artificially make an event or story. The Cyclops, Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Tony Stark, Storm of today are unrecognizable after the many stories have been told about them over the years. In fact most of the characters have few defining characteristics that are stable. No one is who they were and often it changes from comic to comic. There was a time where I felt the characters were so strong that no matter what writer was telling a story you knew how a character would react to a situation because you knew them. Now, it feels like this are just exactly what they are drawings on a piece of paper with words inserted into their mouths by whoever is the current writer.

All of that has led me to leave Marvel behind. My wallet thanks me and I have my collection of great stories to re-read at some future time. As Disney moves to make Marvel more of a licensing publisher operation I’m sure financial success will continue. For me the fun and desire to read the current stories is dead. Sadly something of my love for these characters has died also. I guess we will always have Amazing Spider-Man 31-33, as opposed to Paris.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

I'm Back

Well I will be in a day or so.

Not going to be publishing regular at all and I get that this blog almost does not exist, but I wanted to put my thoughts out there is why I have dropped Marvel comics.

Need to do an edit and should be good to go in a day or so.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Infinity by Hickman vs Uncanny Avengers #14 by Remender

Marvel has become the king of the epic story telling. No longer are they content with decompressed six part stories and writing for the trade, Hickman now writes stories for the Omnibus. The Game of Thrones success has probably emboldened writers to go for the epic. The Odyssey is now the standard for short stories. The difference is that as I read Game of Thrones (on book 4 at this point) characters die and they are not coming back in the next issue. Once Ned Stark is beheaded his story is over. In comic books a death is just something to mark the occasion as it were. It can be a big climax scene, a precursor to future stories, but we know in a year or three when the character is needed they will be revived in some way shape or form.

This week Hickman’s Infinity mini-series came to a close, bringing to a conclusion parts of some story lines and in the same week in Uncanny Avengers #14 three old time Marvel characters bit the dust. In my view the single issue of Uncanny Avengers #14 was a lot better then Hickman magus opus.

Infinity ends and the Avengers and many others beat back the Builders who were destroying the Universe. They then come home to Earth and are being beaten by Thanos. That is of course until his son beats him and then flies off to be the next generation of Thanos; his son Thane. Thane (sound like saying Shane with a lisp) apparently will be worse then his Dad. After 10 issues or more of Avengers, about 6 issues of New Avengers and six issues of the actual mini-series what exactly happened. Well the characters Hickman introduced when he took over Avengers are now defeated and some are back to work rebuilding all the worlds destroyed. All the former Empires in the Galaxy are back up and running and Earth is saved. Except in New Avengers Earth is still in danger of being wiped out as Black Swan laughs off what the Avengers accomplished as next to nothing. And wait, the Inhumans have loosed the Terrigen Mist on earth.

Okay so for about $100 retail, essentially nothing happened and it is all setting up the Inhumans. Apparenty they are the next set of mutants because Marvel does not own the X-Men for the movies and need a franchise to use as surrogate X-Men for the movies. No explanation that I picked up (and granted I’m reading a ton of stuff and do not follow the Avengers in great detail) made sense for why all of a sudden we have branches of Inhumans all over the Earth or why Black Bolt decided to loose the mists worldwide. Also the entire battle against the builders is already been shown to be a thing of the past and no repercussions even in comic book terms happened. Worse the real menace is still building as Hickman drones on and on in New Avengers. I can’t follow this guy anymore at Marvel. I was unable to hang on to Secret Warriors, Fantastic Four and now have to kick Avengers to the curb. Hickman has some great ideas, some very cool moments and is now being blessed with top tier artists, but the books are a mile wide and an inch deep. What happened that changed anything? All stories do not have to have some game changing moment, but a $100 epic should.

On the other hand Remender, who is guilty of the long long story form also, manages to make a single issue in his epic stand out as a great stand alone issue. Oh the deaths are not super important as they will be fixed down the road or next issue, but it was about Wanda, Wonder Man and Rouge. The characters and the way they feel were front and center in the midst of telling a greater story. Hickman never builds his characters as it is about the ideas and not the people. All stories have to be about the people and Remender made me feel like he actually cared about the characters.

A small side bar to end this column, back Remender with Black Science and Hickman with East of West are doing their best stuff with creator owned books at Image. I get that the Marvel check is important and a great job for these guys, but for my money these books are more fun.