Archive for April 20th, 2011

20
Apr
11

Classic EBI #87: The Shock of the New

In this week’s brand-new Everything But Imaginary column, I’m taking a long look at the divide between American, European, and Asian comics, and wondering if the digital frontier might not be the place where such divisions disappear.

Everything But Imaginary #395: The Cultural Divide

In this week’s Classic EBI, though, we’re going back to November of 2004, when I was sadly bemoaning the trouble new characters have finding an audience. Some things never change.

Everything But Imaginary #87: The Shock of the New

One complaint you can hear coming from virtually any comic book store is that there isn’t enough new product on the market. Everything is just another endless retread or another X-Men or Batman spin off or something that’s been seen a thousand times before. This is a legitimate complaint, one that I completely agree with, and one that is only midly diminished by the fact that whenever somebody does try something new, nobody buys it and it’s cancelled within 12 issues.

It seems a bit pointless to even dredge it up at this point, but that’s exactly what happened to CrossGen comics. They burst onto the scene in 2000 with a wave of fresh, original comic books, new characters, new styles, stories in nearly every imaginable genre… and then the whole thing fell apart because not enough people were willing to give something new a chance. Excellent comics like Abadazad, Route 666 and The Crossovers are lost to us now. We may never find out how Negation War would have ended. I may weep.

I have to give DC Comics the most credit, out of the Big Two, for being willing to try new properties these days, and for trying to let them find their audience, but sometimes it’s just not enough. It was announced with a whimper a few weeks ago that Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Phil Winslade’s The Monolith will end with issue #12. This is incredibly disappointing to me. It really was, in a way, the perfect “bridge” property — it took place in the DC Universe, so it wasn’t completely divorced from the familiar, but it wasn’t tied or linked to any preexisting DC character or concept, so it was easy enough for someone who’d never read a comic before to get into it.

The concept was smart and simple — a Hebrew golem, a good spirit given life in a body of clay — is found after decades of imprisonment and becomes a personal guardian for a down-on-her luck young woman in New York City. Maybe that’s what killed the book — the protagonist wasn’t really the Monolith himself, but Alice Cohen, the girl he protected.

Whatever the reason, this was a smart, well-done series, and its impending demise is really sad for me. If you can still hunt it down, do so. At only 12 issues for the entire run, it won’t break your bank, and it’s a title worth reading.

Other comics still have a chance. Bloodhound is another new DC property with no evident ties to existing comics. Written by Dan Jolley with art by the ex-Supergirl team of Leonard Kirk and Robin Riggs, this book follows Travis Clevenger, a cop who was sent to prison for killing his partner. Cleve is released from jail to help track down a superhuman killer.

Like The Monolith, Bloodhound takes place in the DCU (characters use LexCorp computer systems and Cleve is going to meet Firestorm soon), but it isn’t linked to any old property. Plus, it’s not a superhero comic, even tangentially. This is more of an action drama about a good cop gone bad trying to atone for his sins. It just happens to take place in a superhero world. Fans of Powers and Alias might find something to their liking if they give this one a try.

DC has had better luck, of course, with its Vertigo line. Quriky books like Preacher and Transmetropolitan were allowed to flourish, grow and tell the course of their stories, a trend that continues today with incredible titles like Fables and Y: The Last Man. Even books with tangential links to the Vertigo corner of the DC Universe, like The Witching, are given room to grow. [2011 Update: The cancellation of The Witching was announced shortly after this column was written.]

Over at Devil’s Due comics, the company best known for breathing new life into the 80s nostalgia genre with G.I. Joe and Voltron, they’ve got a few original projects of their own as well. Misplaced, a sci-fi romp, has been around for a while, and last week they launched their new superhero line, Aftermath. (There is a rule in comics that every company has to attempt its own superhero line within the first five years. This is why CrossGen heroically folded after four.)

Now the comic book industry needed another superhero line as badly as I need another Double Quarter Pounder With Cheese, but if they’re going to do one anyway, they got off to a pretty good start. Chuck Dixon (an old favorite writer of mine) kicked things off with Breakdown, an examination of a superhero whose life is falling apart.

Jeff Carey, a.k.a. Paragon, was one of those bright, shining superheroes that beat up on the bad guys and was a media darling, before his high profile and public identity exacted a terrible price on his wife and son. Shattered, he pieces himself back together. Although the first issue doesn’t explicitly say so, one gets the impression that this title will be Jeff’s quest for revenge. Not the happy-go-lucky superhero he once was, is he? In truth, the premise sounds an awful lot like The Punisher, only with superpowers, but the difference here is that Jeff was once a good, decent, likeable man, whereas Frank Castle was pretty much always a sociopath.

So what about Marvel? They’ve got young titles, right? They must have some new properties in there. Let’s see, what’s been around less than a year or two? Excalibur, She-Hulk, Astonishing X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four, New X-Men: Academy X, Gambit, X-Men Unlimited, Marvel Age Spider-Man, X-Men Go Hawaiian… ooh, here it is! Runaways.

Here’s a product with no overt ties to any preexisting Marvel property — a bunch of teenagers who find out their parents are supervillains and go on the run. A simple concept, one well-loved, well-executed and well on its way to being cancelled.

Or is it?

In an uncharacteristic show of good sense, Marvel is giving this struggling remnant of the Tsunami line another chance as a “Season Two,” the same trick Wildstorm is playing with Sleeper. Now if only someone could persuade them to do a Sentinel Season Two (it’s loosely connected to the X-Men corner of the Marvel Universe, but it’s really a strong standalone comic), I would start giving Marvel a lot more credit for creativity.

I know we’re reluctant to drop money on an untested property. There are a lot of comics, after all. But next time you’re at the comic shop, look over your pull folder and see what you’ve got in there. Look at those 17 X-Men comics, nine of which suck. Then look at some of these new titles you’ve never tried, never heard of and don’t have an opinion about… yet.

And give something new a try.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: October 27, 2004

Solo #1 actually kind of fits into the discussion of new titles, which is what got me thinking along those lines in the first place. While it’s not exactly a new property, it is a new concept, an anthology title that DC Comics deserves a lot of credit for giving a chance. Each issue of this comic will feature a single artist given free reign to tell stories, alone or with writers, with established characters or with worlds of their own. Tim Sale took the challenge first, giving us really good takes on Catwoman, Batman, Supergirl and Superman, along with a few other stories, helped out by the likes of Jeph Loeb, Diana Schutz and Brian Azzarello. The quality of each issue of this title will no doubt depend on how good each featured artist is, but this opening installment was flat-out excellent. Fans of Batman: The Long Halloween and Superman For All Seasons should definitely give this book a shot.

Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page, and check out his new experiment in serial fiction at Tales of the Curtain.




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