First, I don’t think it can be overstated what a tremendous impact Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison and Brian Bendis have on mainstream comics. Douglas Wolk points out that the 26 best-selling DC single issues were all written by Morrison or Johns, and if you look at the top of Marvel’s charts, Bendis rules the roost over there. In fact, taken as a group, Sean T. Collins points out that 65 of the top 75 best-selling comics of the year were written by one of three people.
I also don’t think it can be overstated how unhealthy this is, though I’m not sure who it says more about: the industry or the fan base. I’d like to believe that it isn’t the fault of the fans, that Marvel and DC are just shooting themselves in the foot here. Banking on three people for all of your output sounds like a bad creative decision and an even worse business model, and I don’t really believe that’s something fans want. Logic dictates that the more kinds of comics there are the better comics will be overall, and that the more people creating comics, collaborating with and challenging each other, the better the stories will be. If fans are that easy to please, that lazy, there’s nothing to stop companies from continuing that practice.
In my very first semester as a journalism student much of our focus was on working through the fundamentals of what makes a good journalist. We went through all kinds of drills: crime drills, courtroom drills, drills to help us make sense of statistics, drills that focused on education or politics. One of the drills that I really took to was the obituary drill. On the surface it seemed a little morbid– we were given a certain public figure, and told to write an obituary about this person, complete with fake quotes from real life people– but it ended up being really interesting. Good obituary writing is an art form: you have to hone in on that one element of a person’s life that was unique or interesting, something that defined that them, and you have to look at their life through the lens of that element.
A good obituary is powerful. It’s the last word on someone’s life. A great obit writer can make a tremendous career for himself, and the job of the obit writer involves a flourish of creativity that you don’t see in a lot of other reporting positions. I often turn to the obit section of the New York Times website just to see some of the worlds’ interesting stories and moments we often miss.
Daytripper focuses on those moments that make up the measure of a man’s life.
In a recent response to the Alan Moore/Jason Aaron non-controversy, Air writer G. Willow Wilson had a lot to say about Moore and the times in which he wrote his comics versus the times in which we live in now. Wilson’s point ostensibly seemed to be that Moore would never be able to get away with the comics he wrote now, because we live in a much more conservative society where views like his would be frowned upon and/or censored. I have my own thoughts on that topic, but that’s not really what I’m focusing on today. Wilson cited the V for Vendetta film as proof that, as a country, we don’t respond well to films in which leftist or counterculture views are portrayed prominently.
“Look at the reaction to the V for Vendetta movie, set against Bush-era issues,” Wilson tweeted. “It was a universal ‘meh’. We have no balls.” Wilson continued, saying “the box office returns were dismal, and the comics community at large pretty much abandoned the film.”
First, I completely disagree with her last point– I seem to remember a whole lot of comics people raving about the movie, and that’s one problem I want to touch on today. That leads to my second point, and what I think is the deeper issue here as it pertains to comics culture and films based on comics properties, and that’s the false equivalency Wilson places between American audiences’ feelings about the movie’s importance, and Americans’ politics as a whole. The problem with V for Vendetta was not that the American public is not ready for revolutionary politics on film, it’s that the film in question wasn’t very good.
I want to try and segue that into the topic of superhero films, because it got me thinking. Movies based on characters in superhero comics are, by and large, terrible. I would say the vast majority of films based on a Marvel or DC property are downright unwatchable. Fantastic Four, Wolverine, Superman Returns, Daredevil, Catwoman, both versions of Hulk, Ghost Rider– I’d venture a guess that for every good superhero movie there are at least two terrible ones that have come out or are coming out. Yet comic fans tend to be apologists for the genre, as if arguing the merits of the latest superhero blockbuster is equated with defending comics’ honor.
Comics don’t need that, and they don’t need bad superhero action flicks giving them a bad name. The superhero movie is an awful trend and, if 2011 pans out the way I think it will, it’s also a dying one.
My favorites of 2010 are not to be confused with what might be the “best” of 2010. It’s just some of the stuff I really liked that I thought I’d be able to add something to. I don’t think I have more to say about King City, for example, that David Brothers hasn’t already covered in one of his 12 Days of King City pieces at 4thletter!.
While the dearth of superhero comics worth talking about that I mentioned last week in my cry-like-a-baby post is troubling, and the creative output by mainstream publishers downright offensive, it also helps bring to light some of the stuff that’s worth discussion.
Irredeemable started in 2009, a year I thought brought a lot of quality mainstream comics. Detective Comics, Scalped, Batman & Robin and Chew, all produced by mainstream publishers, each made it onto I Love Rob Liefeld’s Best of 2009 meta-list. Twelve others cracked the top 50. While that’s a crappy percentage compared to the amount of comics these companies produce, it’s a pretty impressive to see a book starring Batwoman placed among the ranks of David Mazzuchelli and Darwyn Cooke. Irredeemable didn’t make my top 10 last year, but I listed it as an honorable mention. In 2010 it makes my list in a heartbeat.
I remember starting Wednesday’s Child in the early hours of 2009, and the kind of content I imagined I would produce here.
Initially, I remember thinking that there needed to be more intelligent criticism of comics on the web. Music, film, literature, even television: all media with an extensive and impressive critical history, all featured prominently on arts and culture sites the web over. There is no dearth of thoughtful examination on the films of Hitchcock, or Kurosawa, or even Uwe Boll. People have intelligent opinions on everything from Faulkner to Palhaniuk. If I hear another LOST theory, I’m going to fucking shoot somebody. Why do I not get this kind of talk about comics? You know: that old argument.
I discovered soon after that there were a bunch of people worth reading. When Abhay Khosla or Tucker Stone talk about something you should probably listen, even if on the surface it doesn’t sound very serious. I found out that Tom Spurgeon was a person who existed. I read that Douglas Wolk book, and despite a few glaring problems I’m not going to get into here, it’s probably the best collection of comics analysis around. There’s very few people worth reading, mind you, but they’re there, and although it’s a crime that they aren’t read by more people, that probably says more about the squares of the world than the quality of critical comics analysis available. I always thought I could contribute to that, if not in sheer quality of content, then at least in approach. If I wanted more criticism, better criticism, it should start with me, probably.
I soon realized this was a stupid idea. Maybe it was true, I don’t know– maybe the lack of thoughtful comics criticism is a serious problem to some people, but not to me. Not really, because it’s not something I feel is necessary. And it’s part of the reason why I hated comics this year, why I got so sick of them. I know Serious Comics Journalism™ is probably a good thing in theory but I don’t know how it can work when the people making the comics– and I’m talking about mainstream, superhero comics here– when they don’t care about what they say or mean or look like.
I wrote a review of Wilson, and I liked it, and I even got into a little debate about it in the comment section of Tim Hodler’s post, which is cool because, hey, I sometimes like Tim Hodler’s writing as much as those other guys up there. What a fun time. That was really great. Books like Wilson get a lot of recognition from people, and a lot of thoughtfulness goes into making it, talking about it, and putting it on our super-duper top 10 lists. That is a comic a lot of people thought was great that I thought was only mediocre, and had specific analysis as to why I thought that was. The world is better for having talked about Wilson.
Do you know how difficult it is to do that with an issue of Superman? Or how pointless?
You’ve got to hand it to Marvel and DC: they certainly know their audience.
In April of 2010, Marvel Comics started a comic called Hit-Monkey. It’s about a monkey assassin who wears a suit, and it’s a spinoff of Deadpool, a comic about a wise-ass prone to getting into wacky scenarios while spouting off sitcom dialogue and breaking the fourth wall. Hit-Monkey, the character, is a ridiculous concept, seemingly building off of the “Marvel Apes” initiative the company tried in 2008.
That concept – “Marvel Apes”—was itself brought to light by a suggestion from a fan at a convention. The plot of that book was that there was an alternate universe that was just like the normal Marvel Universe, except populated by simians: Ape Captain America, Ape Iron Man, Ape Wolverine, etc.
Every week in OUT OF THE BOX I’m pulling one comic at random from my library and writing about it. This week: 1992′s Quasar #39.
I went on one of my famous hiatuses! Yeah, sorry about that. It’s a really hectic time for me. I quit my job! I’m starting graduate school! I went to Greece? That was fun! I’ve read roughly zero comics since my Wilson review. I started a Tumblr about politics and music and generally just whatever I find interesting. I wrote two joke-y pieces, one about Toy Story 3 and one about Lady Gaga that I’m more proud of every time I read it. Over at Stereo Subversion I wrote up the new Black Sheep album that wasn’t very good.
I’ve felt really terrible about not posting here. Beyond the fact that Wednesday’s Child is something that’s really important to me, I made a promise to blog about all of these shitty Batman comics, and I like to keep promises, and I think maybe I also am a masochist? So I’m going to continue reading these shitty Batman comics and write about them.
The story so far: Gotham’s Devils Square has been taken over by the Black Mask, and has inexplicably turned it into a war zone. How did Black Mask get so powerful? Why can’t the police or National Guard raid the area? I’m not sure that’s really sussed out. There’s an “urban youth” who becomes an informant for Batman — and who gets shot and hospitalized for his troubles — so maybe this is a story about how the government doesn’t care about black neighborhoods? That’s not explicit, but it kind of makes some sense, and it works with my “Batman as white savior” theory from last time.
There’s also some drug on the loose, which is different than the drug that’s on the loose in Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin. As Batman… investigates?… the situation, the Black Mask unfreezes some holocaust survivor and turns him into a murderer, the Riddler gets all nineties edgy, and the urban youth dies in the Emergency Room, which causes Tony Daniel to draw Batman in this pose for whatever reason.
That was in Batman #694. After the jump: spoilers for the last three issues of “Life After Death.”
Just be cool about it, okay guys? It’s probably just going to be me making fun of Tony Daniel again anyway.
NEW YORK / BURBANK, Calif., June 23, 2010 – DC Comics, publisher of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and Fables, is partnering with comiXology and PlayStation®Network for two separate digital comics distribution deals launching today, Wednesday, June 23. In addition, a DC Comics App for the iPhone®, iPad® and iPod® Touch is available allowing consumers an easy way to access DC Comics’ content. The announcement was made jointly today by DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Digital Distribution.
Bonus: Now we can finally read Zuda comics without that horrible Flash interface, since Flash is to Apple mobile devices what garlic is to vampires.
DC has gotten a lot of flack for not throwing their hat into the iPod/iPhone/iPad ring along with… well, every other publisher under the sun. Comixology paved the way with the debut of their comics reading app last July and even created an app specifically for Marvel. The stakes got a bit higher recently with Marvel going day and date with one of their comics, albeit for a markup. But now that DC has launched its app they’ve also taken the full plunge, putting day and date comics on the app at shelf price, as well as making a more competitive pricing structure: prices range from free, to $0.99, and up.
Anyway, I’m sure you can find plenty of talk about the impact this will have on the publishers online, but my initial thought is that ComiXology has now officially and completely changed the game. A few years ago comic reading interfaces on the iPhone/iPod were counterintuitive, and the selection was grim. Marvel and DC had no presence, and the only Image book available to download was Elephantmen in its own app. I remember seeing the Comixology Comics app before it hit the store and thinking it was unbelievable, and an incredibly easy and fun way to read comics. Fast forward a little over a year later the app was so successful that now Marvel and DC (that’s Disney and Time Warner) have reached out to the company in order to build their officially branded apps. That’s an incredible leap, and add that to the hundreds of other comics on the official ComiXology app that are available to read and what you’ve got is a legitimate stranglehold on the market. That’s huge.
Think about it this way: Diamond was/is the number one source of distribution for comics in this country. The big two comic companies no longer show any faith in Diamond. (DC for quite some time.) Both have latched onto ComiXology as a form of digital distribution. If there needed to be some impetus for the “digital revolution” in comics I think we may have just seen it.
UPDATE: And for all the retailers out there…
“Staying true to comiXology’s support of comic retailers, DC’s partnership with comiXology also includes a first-of-its-kind Retailer Affiliate Program, which will collect a portion of digital revenues to be invested back to and on behalf of comic book retailers in a variety of initiatives.”