Sunday, February 7, 2016

Deadpool, DC Rebirth and Suicide Squad

Here are some thoughts on some of the comic related news/media that popped up while I was looking back at 2015:



The Deadpool Movie

I got several emails asking about this movie - mostly from people who were excited about the trailers. On first pass, the trailers are refreshing in that they present a movie that looks to be quite a departure from the standard MCU formula (or perhaps it's more of a distillation of that formula.) Still, a couple more viewings of the trailer didn't show me anything that really needed to be seen on the big screen, so I'll probably wait until it's available for rental.

How do I think it will do? Hard to say, but early reviews of the movie are surprisingly good. However, I might suggest that most of the favorable reviews start with either a base of Not Your Typical Marvel Movie (like my reaction to the trailer) or True To the Character and build from there. That being said, it does look it will be a modest hit among its target demographic (Fans of the Deadpool comic and/or Van Wilder - which is probably a redundant statement.) I'm going to guess this makes something in the 40 - 50 million dollar range on the first weekend.

Pros: It may encourage movie studios to experiement with different types of superhero movies.

Cons: It will probably triple the number of annoying Deadpool cosplayers at conventions. As Sarah Fong said on Facebook:


Also, let's pray to hell Deadpool doesn't carry a boombox in the movie.

DC Rebirth

Back in December, I suggested 2016 could possibly be one of the worst years for Big Two comics and so far it looks like we are right on track for that to be true. First DC has announced a publishing realignment (or something) to tie their comics closer to their television/movie properties which is now sort of looking like an Ad Hoc Reboot according to Bleeding Cool.

Second, DC just had a horrible sales month with January 2016 presenting the widest gap between Marvel sales and DC sales the past decade. (Marvel's Marketshare was twice that of DC's)



I don't think Rebirth is going to change things short term. Based on emails I've gotten and talking to various comic shop owners, there aren't a lot of DC customers excited about Rebirth - just the opposite in fact. Many shop owners are reporting people coming in and cancelling all DC comics.

For me, I'm willing to wait and see what DC has planned. I think they need to stop chasing the short term big event money and concentrate more on creating stories that can become the new wave of trade paperback evergreens. (More New Frontiers and Fables and less Convergence and Trinity War)


I know that's sort of always the plan they hope for, but let's see if they get closer to the pin this time around.

The Suicide Squad Trailer

With its new, more fan aligned, portrayal of Harley Quinn and bombastic Queen accompaniment, the new Suicide Squad trailer seems to be doing quite a good job getting fans excited about the upcoming August movie.


Here's what's interesting - currently, the HD version of the trailer is up to 36 m(illion) views on YouTube after just two weeks. On the flipside, the HD version of Captain America 3: Civil War is only up to ~6 m views. That's after two months. Clearly, more people are interested in watching the Suicide Squad trailer. I think that may also something about either peoples interest in each movie OR how Warner Bros found a way to get the word out on their HD clip more effectively than Disney.

It also might be due to the order in which the clips were released as the non-HD version of CA:CW has ~44 m views. The non-HD Suicide Squad trailer which only had 12 m views after 4 days but seems to have been removed.

I also think the addition of more Joker and Harley scenes in the SS trailer may be driving more traffic. Also the write ups on various sites seem very enthusiastic which is a better inducement to clicking the video to watch it than the various "...here's a condensed version of how Civil War played out in the comics.." write ups the Cap trailer got on a lot of sites.

I like the trailer. On one hand, I think whoever put it together gets what made the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer so successful, but I think it's actually a good bit better than the GotG trailer. (I think I'm prejudiced because I like the song choice better.) I also like how they integrated the song with the trailer better, stopping and starting it at key points.

They also do a nice job with introducing each member of the movie (but here I would say GotG was a little more effective as the intro to each character was a bit clearer/direct. The voice over in the SS trailer seemed harder to follow.

Margot Robbie looks like she's going to be a big hit as Harley Quinn. Jared Leto looks appropriately scary as the Joker. Hm...the Captain Boomerang character got a good bit of screen time, but I'm not sure I saw the hook for that character. Will Smith's Deadshot didn't wow me either because he mostly looked weary in the trailer. (I'm guessing that's sort of intentional and he's going to be the character arc of the movie.)

Overall, I was jazzed to see the movie before and this trailer just increased my eagerness.

- Jim

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Scooby Apocalypse Indeed

The universe has a wicked sense of humor. Just last week, I was saying how I'm trying to avoid having a negative reaction to seeing beloved childhood icons revamped in modern ways. Then this week, DC Announces a Hanna Barbera Revamp that looks like...well, I'll let you judge for yourself. (I've called out all the ways artist Jim Lee has used to reimagine the Scooby gang.)

Sigh. This is apparently art from something called Scooby Apocalypse.
I don't think they could have titled that project any better if they've tried.

I've seen quite a bit of negative commentary on this image from around the web, with the StevieB and Trex from Nerds of the Apocalypse pretty much summing up the general consensus in this exchange:


Now, I understand this version of Scooby isn't really aimed at my generation. (Or StevieB and Trex's for that matter) So, I asked Haigen, my daughter, what she thought.

Haigen: Uh...everyone looks okay, but what's up with Velma?
Jim: I think she's supposed to be a kid now.
Haigen: Huh?
Haigen: Also, what's up with Shaggy's beard. And the tattoo. And the moustache. And the purse.
Jim: Yeah. That's kind of what the internet is saying.
Jim: Would you buy this?
Haigen: Maybe.
Haigen: Daphne looks pretty awesome.
Jim: Yeah, I agree. I think they should have done something like that for Velma.
Haigen: What were they thinking with Shaggy?
Jim: I guess that tattooed guys with man purses want to buy Scooby Doo comics?

I will say the Future Quest images look pretty awesome:

...so I'm not going to write this project off entirely.

I guess we'll just have to wait and see how this turns out.

- Jim

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Comics 2015: The Ugly

So, I talked about some Good comics from 2015 and some Bad moves by comic companies.
Today I'll talk about some of the Ugly things in the comics industry and culture.



Comic Book Prices

Is $4.99 too much to pay?
Comics are starting to cost too damn much. Back in 2014, both Marvel and DC started testing the waters for a $4.99 price point for comics. At the time, there was a good bit of push back from the fan community on this with the guys at theOutHousers.com asking fans to Say No To Five Dollar Comics.

And while it seems we avoided the $4.99 weekly comic at the comic shops for the most part, DC did move to $4.99 on the newsstand. Also, I still see both Marvel and DC using that price point on comics they know are going to be big sellers (Vader Down, Old Man Logan, Batman Europa, ect...)

Check out this list of top sellers from November 2015. Look how many of them are $4.99 or more. (Numbers from www.comichron.com )

Rank Issue # Price
1 Dark Knight III Master Race 1 $5.99
2 Star Wars Vader Down 1 $4.99
3 Deadpool 1 $4.99
4 Secret Wars 7 $3.99
5 Extraordinary X-Men 1 $4.99
6 All New All Different Avengers 1 $4.99
7 Star Wars 11 $3.99
8 Uncanny X-Men 600 $5.99
9 Star Wars 12 $3.99
10 All New Wolverine 1 $4.99
11 Darth Vader 13 $3.99
12 Mighty Thor 1 $4.99
13 Batman 46 $3.99
14 Amazing Spider-Man 3 $3.99
15 Deadpool 2 $3.99
16 Darth Vader 12 $3.99
17 Batman Europa 1 $4.99
18 Ms. Marvel 1 $4.99
19 Carnage 1 $3.99
20 All New Hawkeye 1 $3.99

Note: November was a bit harsher than most preceding months with 10 out of 20 comics priced more than $3.99. September and October only had 4 and 5 comics in this range. However, December was second highest (8 out of 20) which makes me wonder if we aren't seeing an edging up by both companies. If both companies continue down this road, I think it's going to cause many fans to just feel like they can't afford the hobby anymore. Heck, DC may have already have done that with their weekly and soon bi-weekly publishing strategies.

And while the specter of $4.99 comics may never emerge as a real threat to the industry, it's possible that $3.99 comics have already taken their toll. Personally speaking, I know that I'm very hard pressed to buy a comic that's priced at $3.99. Comics at the $2.99 price range seem to be getting rarer and rarer (especially among independent publishers which I find myself increasing drawn to.) There are some exceptions and Comixology is good about having sales on older titles, but my weekly purchases have definitely dropped dramatically over the years.

How about you?
Are you buying as many comics as you were a year ago?

Quickdraw Cancellations

Cancelled?
Pulling the plug on new series seems to be a trend that's gaining appalling speed among the big two. The recent quick cancellations among the DC You line wasn't just alarming, but embarrassing. Some of the series that might have caught on with a little more time and promotion were killed after just a few issues. Now, several months later, Marvel seems to be doing the same thing with many of the All New, All Different books as Bleeding Cool reports that listings on Amazon suggest that Marvel is cancelling some of the new series after just half a dozen issues.

As a fan of older comics, I think of all the old D and C-list comics that lasted more than a year and it's just sort of mind boggling how fast comics get cancelled these days. The days when an artist or writer could work for years on a title like DC Presents or Fantastic Four are just gone. That's gotta make making a living as a comics professional (among the big two) a hell of a lot tougher now.

Attacks Against Progress

Okay, confession time. Many years ago, Chris Sims wrote a well reasoned article on what he termed as Regressive Storytelling at DC and the negative effects it was having on diversity within the DC universe. The gist of the article was pretty simple. As DC catered to older fans (and writers) desire to see Silver/Bronze Age alias of characters like Atom or Firestorm restored in comics, they were unfortunately replacing the more culturally diverse current versions of the characters.

The DC Regression Path

At the time (2010), I was one of those fans who was happy to see characters like Barry Allen and Ray Palmer return, so I wasn't entirely on board with Chris' stance (though I fully recognized he had a point.)

What Warner Bros Should have made.
Fast forward a  year later and DC presents a Green Lantern movie with Hal Jordan instead of John Stewart. That's when the the real problem struck home for me. Considering that John Stewart's appearances in the Justice League cartoon series most likely made him the more recognizable among kids at the time, I thought The Green Lantern movie would have been the perfect time for DC to step up to the plate with a non-white hero. When it was decided to go with Hal Jordan instead of John Stewart, I was very disappointed. Since then, I've been a lot more sensitive to the need for comics and comic book movies to embrace diversity.

Now, as comics are starting to make strides toward better diversification, I see a lot of fans throwing stones at what they perceive as Social Justice Warriors. Some of these attacks against progress come under the guise of concern like this article from WhatCulture.com:

There’s nothing wrong with Captain America being black of course, but why isn’t making The Falcon a character who can carry his own series in the role he’s best known for a priority? The mantle of Thor being passed to a woman has actually made for a great tale, but the reveal again shows an unnecessary reliance on focusing more on recognisable brands than characters. ~WhatCulture.com
This view point is parodied in an issue of Thor with the Absorbing Man:

The Absorbing Man as the voice of jerky comic fans
Other protests are often more juvenile, sexist or racist in nature. This year, with its Lady Thor and Falcon Cap seemed to lead to a lot more of the protests than I've seen in previous years. When I compare that to the refreshing influx of new readers we are seeing with comics like Batgirl, it's a bit depressing.

Still, as older fan, it's hard not to get upset when we see characters we remember change. As a guy who remembers the old Guardians of the Galaxy, I wasn't happy with how the lineup of characters changed from my ancient Bronze Age memories. However, once I made my peace with it, I was able to enjoy the movie quite a bit. It's not like the old comics don't exist anymore.

So while I still may have an Old Man Comics knee-jerk reaction to some changes, I find if I keep an open mind, my old memories and new experiences can easily coexist.

And that keeps the hobby fun for me.

Have a great day!

- Jim

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Comics 2015 - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Part 2

Last week, I talked about some good comics I enjoyed during 2015. Today, I'm going to talk about some bad things from 2015. This is going to be less about specific comics and more about general industry trends and happenstance.



The Bad:

The Secret Wars/Convergence Spin Offs - Back in June, I talked a little about these two events. While the dismal sales of DC's Convergence event were discovered pretty quickly, the failure of the Secret Wars tie ins took more time to register.  I believe part of the problem was Marvel tried too hard to integrate tie ins into the main event. There were a lot of titles under this umbrella with 3 branches that a title could fall into: Last Days, Warzones and Battleworld,


Reflect on that for a second. Let's say you're a lapsed comic reader who remembers the classic Secret Wars event, and you've heard about this new Secret Wars. So you walk into the comics stores to check out what's going on. Waiting for you is a wall of titles like: Battleworld: Ghost Racers or Warzones: MODOK: Assassin. Are you really enticed by the Secret Wars subtitle banner preceding the title's name? Or is it just more marketing strata you have to dig through to decide if a book is for you or not? While it's hard to gauge the effectiveness of subtitles here without a control group, the sales data isn't good: the number of Marvel titles in the Top 100 decreased by 13% during this period.

If the goal was to get readers to buy more comics than they had bought when Marvel was just publishing their regular lineup, then that part of the Secret Wars event failed. This was doubly unfortunate as a lot of these titles were going to be later spun off into the All New All Different relaunch. As you might expect, many of those titles are now struggling after just two or three issues with several of the new titles (Web Warriors, Spider-Woman, Squadron Supreme, ect...) already clocking in at or below the 30K mark by issue 2.

Also bad in 2015: No Supergirl Synergy - The complete lack of a Supergirl series or collection to capitalize on the television show. Both my daughter and wife enjoy the new Supergirl series, so this Christmas, I thought I  might try to find a nice collection of Supergirl stories for them. You would think with the new wave of 75th and 50th Anniversary collections DC is putting out, there might be something similar featuring Supergirl.

Nope.
Well, that's sort of understandable because her first appearance was 1959, which doesn't really lend itself to a nice anniversary number (though there are ways to fudge these things...)

How about an Earth One hardcover featuring Supergirl?

Nope.
For whatever reason, the Earth One collections come out slower than Game of Thrones novels. As it is, the only heroes covered by the Earth One line so far are Batman, Superman and Teen Titans. Grant Morrison's Wonder Woman is due later this year. A Supergirl Earth One graphic novel is no where on the map.

How about a cool hardcover collection of classic Silver Age/Bronze Age Supergirl stories?

Nope. The only thing close to this is the DC Presents collection of Silver Age stories in black and white.

As it stands now, the best Supergirl collections available on Amazon are the Peter David stories (which come with a lot of post-Crisis baggage) or the New-52 Supergirl trades (which have baggage of a different sort.)

We won't see anything like a real Supergirl Omnibus until June 2016 according to Amazon.

Here's the most puzzling thing about all this: Look at the DC You publishing initiative. It was by all accounts inspired by the success of the new Batgirl comic, right? So, if you were a publisher, trying to duplicate said success AND you had a major television series featuring a female hero coming out in the Fall, wouldn't it behoove you to include that character as part of your DC You initiative?

So yeah, as corporate synergy goes, that's pretty bad.

Next week, I'll look at what I consider the Ugly things from 2015.

- Jim

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Comics 2015 - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Part 1

Note: I was going to call this 5 Books I like and what it says about the current comics industry, but I realized that wouldn't be as click worthy as they title I'm using. I mention this as a sort of disclaimer for the last bit at the end of this post.  - Jim



Okay, without going into a lot of details, 2015 was a difficult time for me but I got through it. One of the few upshots was that I had a lot of time to read old and new comics.

Here are the Good:

Sandman Overture: If there was any doubt about whether a book like Neil Gaiman's Sandman would work in the modern comics market, this sure took the wind out of those sails. Not only did the series sell well, but the story with its historical settings and inventive worlds  seemed to be perfectly suited for fans of Dr. Who or Steampunk who may have never read Sandman. (Though I did wonder how "new reader friendly" it was at times.)

Still, even if the story had been phoned in, I probably would have included this comic on my list simply because of the fantastic J. H. Williams III artwork:


While Frank Miller's Dark Knight III seems to be getting a lot more attention, THIS is the type of 80's/90's comics revivals I would really like to see more of.

Kings And Canvas: This MonkeyBrains comic is a story of a fantasy world where Boxing, not swordsmanship, is featured as the dominant combat method. Introducing us to this world is a grizzled ex-champion boxer who has escaped from an island prison and is training a young mentor in the arts of boxing. I'm almost reluctant to call this a Fantasy comic as that tends to conjure up dull World of Warcraft knockoffs in my mind. This is more like a Fantastic World. Writer Neil Kleid has done a good job creating a world that has is more Frank L. Baum than Tolkien. I would also have to compliment Kleid on the fine work he's done in crafting distinct dialogue patterns for some of the anthropomorphic races in the series.

One of the tricks to selling a fantasy world is to have it look different. Artist Jake Allen succeeds here by coming up with clothing and scenery that feels like a mashup of old world European and Greco-Roman.


The above artwork is a good example of the clean and clever artwork in this book.  The series is just up to issue two, but the story has moved pretty quickly. I'm eager to see where this team goes with this world.

Star Trek - New Visions: This is probably going to be one of the most controversial picks on my Good list. I say that because I've heard other comic creators openly diss this series because (I suspect) of its photoshop assisted artwork. (There is probably a bit of John Byrne hate in the equation as well, though you don't really hear a lot about that now days.) So far, the stories have been pretty good, but even if they were just so-so, I'd get this comic simply because I'm dazzled by the amazing photoshop skills Byrne is displaying.

And while I completely understand the photonovel feel isn't for everybody, for an old TOS Star Trek fan like myself, this series has been a lot of fun. Where else am I going to see the return of Robert Lansing as Gary Seven and Ted Cassidy as Ruk?

Another good thing about this series is the stories are all done-in-ones. Not only does this replicate the weekly episode feel of the television series, it also makes it easy to read the comics in any order. In many ways, it's a perfect New Reader Friendly comic book.

The Vision: So far, there haven't been a lot of comics released in this latest All-New, All-Different Marvel initiative that have in fact felt All New or All Different. However there are two notable exceptions. The Vision and Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat (which which failed to make this list because it's only had one issue so far)

Where the rest of the ANAD Marvel books seems mired in a world of fan driven continuity and corporate agendas, The Vision stands out as a unique story that combines family drama with science fiction in a way that I haven't seen done in a big two comic before. And while I know a lot of old school fans have said they would rather see the Vision in a traditional superhero comic, I've gotta call bull-shit on that because nobody would support such a book even if it did get published.

At a time when companies are trying to duplicate the success of the new Batgirl series (and mostly failing) writer Tom King and artist  Gabriel Hernandez Walta have actually come the closest by giving us a very different perspective on the superhero story.

I'd be hard pressed to put a label on this book. At times the atmosphere of looming violence and darkness make this comic feel  closer to a Horror comic than a Science Fiction or Superhero comic. Whenever Marvel continuity is evoked, there is a sense of dread and menace to it:


If I had to pick a comic that could eventually evolve into Marvel's answer to Sandman, this would be it.

The Imperium: I read a lot of Valiant comics last year. That company is doing a good job putting out superhero comics that don't feel like boring superhero comics. Imperium with its Anything Goes attitude my favorite at the moment (though I do like XO Manowar a lot too...) Written by Joshua Dysart and illustrated by Cafu, this book combines sentient mechanical men, alien warriors, extra dimensional beings and psionic despots to create a story that's as much driven by dramatic plot points as it is grand scale super-heroics.

I've often said that one of the keys to the Walking Dead's success (besides zombies) is that at anytime, something big can happen to a character and the impact will have real effects. When you read Avengers or Justice League, you know no dire consequence will have a long term effect on the story because that's just the nature of corporate comics. The Imperium doesn't play by those rules though. Like The Walking Dead, characters can do things and have things done to them that actually mean something.

The intense story line is supported by some great artwork by Cafu:


I don't know how this book sells (I'm afraid to look because so many of my favorite books end up getting cancelled now days...) but I encouraged by the news that Valiant is going to start making movies soon as that may help support what I think is an amazing title.

I'm going to end this post here and will return with Part 2 next time wherein I will examine The Bad and The Ugly of 2015.

- Jim


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Free Christmas Comic from the FBU


Today, I'm happy to present this downloadable holiday comic which was created for the Woolworth's stores in 1953. (Click on the link under the cover.)

 

Download Woolworth's 1953 Christmas Comic

Season's Greetings!

- Jim

Monday, December 21, 2015

Will 2016 Be The Worst Year for Comics Ever?

I once predicted that 2015 would be the year the paper comic industry collapsed. 
I was quite wrong about that.
And while there were a number of factors that contributed to my faulty prediction, there are also some signs that I may be more right than it seems.

One of the many things I didn't think about was that digital would help comic sales more than it cannibalized them. I don't believe anyone saw that coming so I don't feel too bad. It is interesting as this boost has not been seen in the traditional publishing world. I suspect it's because comic fans are more inclined to want a physical object than just regular book readers. (Romance fans, who make up a large portion of the traditional book market have migrated to digital in huge numbers.)

Also, I didn't foresee the dramatic influx of fans that cosplay has brought in. 

That's been a great thing to see. In talking with Noelle Stevenson this weekend at Punk Monkey comics, we both agreed that the vibe at conventions is definitely a more open environment than it was 10 or 20 years ago. That openness has brought in an audience for books like Lumberjanes, Princeless and Batgirl.  Where Castle Waiting struggled to find a sustainable readership 10 years ago, I suspect now such a book would be quite successful

Also, while the movies and shows may not have a  one to one effect on sales, (excluding Walking Dead) they have definitely raised the cool cachet of comics that any nerd factor sales barriers have been virtually erased. I bet that has helped first time walk in sales at local comic shops a lot.

With that said what will the next year bring? 
Well despite all the things I've just mentioned, I think the big two are actually in for a rocky year.

DC has already seen one new sales initiative fail (and fast) with no exciting plan B in the wings. Attempts to duplicate Batgirl's success didn't take hold (mostly I believe because duplicating such things is always difficult - how many Harry Potter clones failed?)

And Marvel's All New All Different sales relaunch after Secret Wars isn't looking too good. And I hear a lot of fans saying the core titles have the narrative weight of a Marvel coloring book as the stories don't seem connected to a shared continuity. 

And just last week, two articles that laid suggested this latest initiative has been a bit of a failure:



We've already seen one big sales dip this year. Was that a fluke or the real base of sales when there's no Secret Wars or Marvel Now 3.0  raising sales? How much will Dark Knight III and Civil War 2 really help both companies?

In discussing this topic with friend Trey Causey, we sort of agreed that part of the problem is the industry is chasing the ghost of a marketplace that may not exist anymore. That is to say that when you look at independent comics from Image, the success threshold is much lower. Image comics are allowed more time to try to find an audience. Conversely, DC seemed to throw in the towel on their DC You initiative too quickly. It was only due to a good bit of fan outcry that this latest version of Omega Men didn't get cancelled.
 
Trey suggested that small creative industry solutions to DC's and Marvel's woes (like lowering expectations ) are stymied by the fact they are both owned by big corporations who (perhaps unrealistically) expect certain levels of performance. If so, then both companies are sort of trapped in a death spiral.

I'm looking forward to seeing how 2016 plays out.

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