Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Return (Again) of the MLJ Heroes

Sunday at The New York Times broke the news that Archie Comics is going to return to publishing their own Superhero.

From the NY Times:

In spring, the company will bring back its line of superhero characters in a subscription model that will offer an original six-page story and access to an archive of past adventures....

...Besides the possibility of reaching an audience beyond the comic book stores, there was a second advantage to this digital model. “Financially, it makes sense,” Mr. Goldwater [the co-chief executive of Archie Comics Publications] said. “We are not going to have any print costs. To be a slave to printing prices when you’re starting a new venture is a tremendous concern.”

For those of you new to old comics, this would be the a lot of the old MLJ heroes (Black Hood, The Shield, The Hangman) as well as some of the characters introduced by MLJ in the Silver Age (The Fly, Jaguar, etc..)

While I have some fond memories of reading Jack Kirby's Fly in the old Archie Digests I used to pick up as a kid, I don't have high hopes for this forthcoming incarnation. Mostly because this group of characters has been relaunched several times recently - most notably with the !mpact line at DC in the 90's

and just a year ago at DC

I have to think the dismal sales on this last relaunch is part of the reason that Archie is going with a Digital Subscription sales strategy with this new effort. Not sure how that subscription thing will work out for them, but it does sound like it might be a cheaper way to get access to a huge library of old comics. The only caveat is comic fans tend to like to own what they read.

Archie’s latest digital initiative will be similar to Netflix, Mr. Goldwater said. “It will be a nominal monthly charge with access to new comics and thousands and thousands of pages from the archive.”

What I think is interesting is that more and more, we are reading about small publishers who are going ONLY with digital sales. (Slave Labor Graphics just made the same switch.)

Which begs the question - which of the Front of Previews crowd (Boom, Dark Horse, Dynamite, DC, IDW or Marvel) would you pick as the first to also quit with the Paper Comics?)

Anyway, since this news is a bit of a repeat, I'm going to repeat today's Free Comic with this reposting of Pep Comics 1 


- Jim


MattComix said...

All the relaunches essentially have the same problem, they're trying too hard to grimdark the MLJ line. Even the Impact! version is guilty of this to some extent.

In another article the creators likened the tone of what they are doing with those heroes to The Incredibles and I think that fits rather well.

As for who I would pick to be the first to quit paper? I would say that DC and Marvel are gonna be the last in line for that if it ever goes totally that way. So it comes down to the others and out of those something in my gut says it'll be Boom.

Caine said...

I think there are problems with getting readers to buy into characters just as old as the MLJ line who've been in recent movies and games at the big two (which the MLJ characters haven't) so this new launch is sort of ice skating up hill.

As for which publisher would be first to go completely digital? I'd say Dynamite is surviving on just a few threads (one being the Kevin Smith movie script adaptions) if even one dries up they'll need to make drastic changes to stay profitable.

MattComix said...

It could be ice skating up hill but on the other hand it could be viewed as piggy-backing off their recent success with slightly modernizing the Archie line in order to launch a superhero series just in time for the upcoming Avengers hype.

nude0007 said...

I think they keep getting too far from the original concepts of the characters, and altering the costumes too much. Granted, several of the MLJ heroes were poorly defined, but still, building on what's there is crucial. Like The Shield, it was pretty much claimed that the process he went through made him virtually immortal, and very tough aside from the metal suit he wore.
I really liked the new female version of the Jaguar in the 90's, although the execution wasn't quite top notch, though pretty good.
The Fly and Fly-girl are both supposedly immortal from what I read. I think that is a cool concept to explore.
Archie will probably do a teen level comic with not much depth. Too bad.
AS for the digital comics, I have been ready for some time, but they still want to charge too much for them from what I've seen. I'd love to see a breakdown of the costs of doing a comic, and publishing it in paper, separated so we can see what they need to charge to make it fly. Digital is so much better. The comic "arrives" in pristine condition, never fades, and takes up no space. (I like .cbz files so I can play with the comic art and lettering if I want.)and NO DRM!

narfstar said...

I think Moonstone will soon go all digital. If you compare their pulls on comixology to the others they can not be surviving on much.

cash_gorman said...

Regarding the Fly, Archie only owns Fly-Girl (and possibly the trademark of the name Fly-man), but Simon owns the concept and character of the Fly. Anything done with those characters legally has to be new and I can respect that. Likewise, no Lancelot Strong Shield.

I know for me, at this point in time if it's not the original characters, I'm not going to bother. I can get legacy and retreads at other companies. I don't think you need to keep everything in continuity (never cared for the Wizard and Hangman being badguys) but be creative to explain why the GA ones are around and just pretend that the Jaguar's debut was just a year or two ago. Much like Marvel's silver-age heroes aren't collecting social security. Pretty much like they did with the team in the 80s. If they had only kept up the quality of the first couple of issues...

I'm all for creating some new heroes, especially in order to bring a little more diversity to the line-up. But, it doesn't have to be at the expense of sidelining all those that went before.

Pierre Villeneuve said...

That is great news... love those characters.

I first saw them in the early/mid 80s in The Mighty Crusaders (I think) by Rich Buckler.

Then we had the Impact comics by DC with the Fly by the late Mike Parobeck. :( Loved his work.

So I am curious to see what happens with them next.

narfstar: by pull... you mean comic sold?? could not find Moonstone on Comixology.

Cash; I am a little confused... I was led to believe that hose were public domain... unless there is some subtelties that I am not aware of??

JimShelley said...

@MattComix - Yeah, I'm with you, an Incredibles take would be a nice way to recast these characters I think.

JimShelley said...

@Caine - I think you are on to something. It's a problem that's more epidemic to the whole publishing system, not just the MLJ characters.

JimShelley said...

@nude0007 - I didn't know that about the original Shield (about him being immortal) that is sort of a neat idea. I wonder if they will use that in the new stories (look how he's older looking in the promo art.)

JimShelley said...

@narfstar - I totally can't believe I forgot Moonstone! And I really like a lot of their output too! I think maybe because I don't see them as just relying on comics (because I've bought more books from them than comics)

I think you might be right though.

JimShelley said...

@Cash_gorman - does that mean I can post old issues of the Fly here? Because I almost did that today, but I wasn't sure what the deal was.

JimShelley said...

@Pierre. Glad to see you were able to break away from causing trouble at Bleeding Cool long enough to read one of my posts! ;D

And yeah, Moonstone is on Comixology.

You know who would be good for a Fly comic? YOU! Your style is perfect for it! We MUST find a way to make one!

Reno said...

Judging from the promo art, it looks like these will be younger, legacy heroes, right?

And I agree with MattComix, maybe it's time to "lighten up" superheroes, instead of making them "grimdark." Although you can argue that the Golden Age Hangman was a bit bloodthirsty, but that's why he's called the Hangman, right?

Like Pierre, I first discovered the MLJ heroes through the Red Circle imprint during the 80s, and I thought (at that time) "Cool! New superheroes!" Shows how much I know. :)

Anyway, I hope it succeeds this time around.

JimShelley said...

@Reno - yeah, there is no denying that some of the Golden Age heroes are indeed every bit as bloodthirsty as their grimdark counterparts.

Now I wonder just how bright and happy the Golden Age really was. Is that just something we think or was it really a happier time in comics?

MattComix said...


I think when people try to have a conversation about comics being excessively dark, fans have a real paranoid tendency to think of it only in two extremes.

Almost as if there is no middle ground between the 60's Batman show and Dark Knight Returns. So if you want comics to ease off the darkness you're viewed as wanting comics to revert to a particular era or retard the medium or something.

I rail pretty hard against superhero comics being excessively dark but that doesn't mean I want Superman to be Mort Weisnger era again. Though I do think some fans over demonize the Silver Age almost equally as much as it is over worshiped.

Myself I lean more Bronze Age and early modern. A big part of the reason why is not even so much because that's what I grew up with but also because there was what I felt to be an equilibrium.

I don't think anybody is trying to argue the Golden Age was all happy joy joy but it sure as hell wasn't the Ultimates or the Authority.

Making the Thunder Agents or Red Cicle characters play by those wannabe Watchmen rules doesn't work for them anymore than it works for the Justice League.

cash_gorman said...

The 1940s characters are public domain. MLJ/Archie did not start renewing their comics until shortly after a certain red-headed teenager started appearing. By that time, most of the heroes had come and gone.

However, this does NOT apply to the 1960 comics. There was a much publicized lawsuit concerning Simon getting back the rights to the characters that he and Kirby created for them in the 1960s. The result allowed Simon to get the rights back for the work that he and Kirby did, but what came later (Fly-girl, Fly-man) would remain as property of Archie.

A lot of the silver-age comics were post-1964 where they would have had automatic registration given proper procedure was followed for notation in the comics themselves. Titles pre-1964 like Adventures of the Fly and Adventures of the Jaguar, would have required registration and renewal so best to check on those before making assumptions.

cash_gorman said...

I wouldn't say the golden-age Hangman was bloodthirsty, no more so than most other heroes of the time. I think he's a victim of his name and people confusing the nature of his stories for his character which aren't the same thing. His stories tended to be on the bizarre and grotesque side, but he didn't set out to intentionally kill his foes. Most were done in by their own traps or wrong-doings, not at the hands of the hero. But, he was no more a killer than the Web, Black Hood or Batman.

The Comet on the other hand had a deadly power and willfully used it on the bad guys and was a killer vigilante.

nude0007 said...

Dear Jim, I don't remember where I read that about the Shield being immortal or effectively immortal. Like you , my intro to these guys were the 80's red circle comics, which I thought were fantastic. It would seem to me that the shield, steel sterling, the fly and possibly even the jaguar were supposed to be ageless, being transformed into superior beings. What's the point of having a super being if he's gonna be too arthritic in a decade to do anything? Still pretty sure it was mentioned or hinted at. In the fly's case, I thought it was stated outright that the fly body was a mystical, immortal construct, and that it was implied that the time troy spent in the body was not subtracted from his age, so his "normal" self would age a bit slower.
I drew up a plan to update them if u wanna see it.

JimShelley said...

@nude0007 - Yeah! I would love to see your proposed relaunch of those characters!

Calum Carlyle said...

Well, i have to disagree with your article ands some of your commenters.

Archie is now finally doing their own relaunch of the characters. It looks to me to be as good in quality as !mpact (which was great, but which expanded too fast for the market) - it's fashionable to criticise !mpact but it's usually only people that never bothered to read the comics that do this.

And to anyone who thinks the Archie relaunch (NOT a reboot, i might add, UNlike DC, Archie are manning up and accepting the back histyory of their characters) is too "grimdark" again, clearly you never even opened an issue.

And as for "why is this digital only?" i am pleased to say i now own the first four issues in print and look forward to continuing to receive them. I never even knew it was out digitally till i searched online.

All the naysayers and haters, maybe you want to waste your money on endless mutant books and annual reboots, but personally i like comics that are enjoyable to read, which is why Archie's Red Circle line has always interested me. I suggest you give it an uncynical non-jaundiced honest try and see what you think.


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