Posts Tagged ‘archie comics

14
Jan
13

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 281: The 2012 Year in Review

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It’s finally here, friends… the Showcase crew goes through everything interesting in the world of comics and pop culture for the past 12 months! This mammoth podcast touches on Marvel Now!, the New 52, The Walking Dead, hit movies, not-so-hit movies, LEGO, Aquaman, Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, the Avengers, the X-Men, Hello Kitty and virtually everything else. And as always, the crew closes it out with their picks of the year. Go to the bathroom first, because this episode is a giant. Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 281: The 2012 Year in Review

07
Dec
11

Classic EBI #143: Christmas Comics From Riverdale to Strange’s Sanctum

There’s been some buzz lately about the possibility of a sequel or prequel to the classic Watchmen series from DC Comics. And honestly, I don’t know if it’s that great an idea…

Everything But Imaginary #426: The Problem With Watchmen 2

But moving back in time, let’s look at one of my favorite columns from Christmas past. Every year, I do a column looking back at some of my favorite Christmas comics, as well as the new releases from that year. Let’s head back to 2005, and some Christmas comics from a year where they were sorely needed.

Classic EBI: #143: Christmas Comics From Riverdale to Strange’s Sanctum

Continuing last week’s in-depth examination of this year’s crop of Christmas Comics (including a focus on Disney comics), we’re going to start this time in Marvel Comics’ New York, with two offerings that took me by surprise – one in a good way, one not so much.

First up was the Marvel Holiday Special. Marvel put out an oversized collection of Christmas comics every year for a while in the 90s and just brought the tradition back last year. I kinda wish there were more than just three stories per issue, but you take what you can get. This year’s issue, sporting a great cover by Stuart Immonen, opens up with “Mole Man’s Christmas.” In this story, written by Shaenon Garrity with art by Roger Langridge and Al Gordon, the humble Moloids have launched yet another attack on the surface world, this time kidnapping Santa Clauses right from the streets. The Fantastic Four, naturally, begin plans to launch their assault on their underground kingdom, only to discover that they’re trying to find their ruler, the missing Mole Man. As the rest of the team plans for a more direct approach, the Thing takes a different tack – trying to hunt down his old enemy using a mysterious clue. This is a fairly entertaining story – any spotlight on Ben Grimm is a good thing, and it’s rare to see a Citizen Kane parody in a Christmas comic.

This story is followed up by the unsuspected gem of the collection, “Yes Virginia, There is a Santron” by Jeff Parker with art by Reilly Brown. It’s Christmas Eve and Dr. Strange is throwing a party at his inner sanctum for the Avengers and their friends, including the Marvel Universe’s newest would-be superstar, Gravity. As the heroes enjoy celebrations of various yuletide holidays, including a particularly funny bit with Spider-Woman finding herself unable to escape the mistletoe, across the city a young woman is working on her masterpiece – a Santa Claus android, but the robot seems to have some preliminary programming that threatens our heroes.

The punchline is predictable and the story is full of plot holes, such as how the robot Santa managed to find Strange’s mystically-shielded sanctum, but you know what? It doesn’t matter. This story is much better than it has any right to be. I really enjoyed it, and I can see myself reading this story every Christmas.

Finally, Mike Carey and Mike Perkins give us “Christmas Day in Manhattan,” in which an old supervillain heads out on one last mission to give his kids a Merry Christmas – only to run afoul of some of New York’s heroes. Carey gives us the requisite Christmas poem and Perkins does the story in an intriguing style that mirrors an old woodcutting. It’s not great, but it’s good.

Another Christmas offering from Marvel didn’t score quite so highly with me – Punisher: Silent Night from Andy Diggle and Kyle Hotz. I got this because of my stated purpose of snagging every Christmas comic I could, but this really didn’t work for me. It’s basically a Punisher story with an excuse to get him in a Santa suit to set up a hit. Diggle writes a decent old-fashioned Punisher story, but as the only version of the character I’ve ever really enjoyed is Garth Ennis’s dark comedy, this isn’t a book that’s really for me.

Now Archie Comics, like Gemstone last week, gives us a whole slew of Christmas offerings, starting with their annual Archie’s Holiday Fun Digest. Like all Archie digests, this is a fun mix of new and old stories – 100 pages worth for just $2.39, making these comics still the most bang for your buck out of any comic books being published. The issue opens up with Archie in “The Job” – a simple, sweet little tale of Riverdale’s favorite redhead serving as a department store Santa Claus.

My favorite tale in this book, however, is Dilton in “Scientific Santa.” When Dilton’s cousin Dexter refuses to believe not only in Santa Claus, but in any Christmas tradition whatsoever, the boy genius and his girlfriend Danni set up a super-scientific workshop to give the kid a dose of the real holiday spirit. I’m a longtime fan of Archie Comics, and I was really happy to see this story using some favorite characters from the short-lived Dilton’s Strange Science series from the early 90s. Plus in the follow up, “Computer Chip Shot,” as Dilton and Danni try to pack up their equipment from the previous tale things go a little haywire, resulting in another fun story.

The comic is full of stories with Sabrina, Betty and Veronica, Cheryl Blossom and the whole gang, and it’s a lot of fun.

But also like Gemstone, in addition to their annual Christmas special, holiday tales bled into many of their regular titles, such as Tales From Riverdale Digest #7. While not all of the stories in this issue where Christmas tales, enough were to include it in this rundown. In “Wait Right Here,” Veronica is stunned to discover that good-natured Betty, of all people, is feeling a case of the humbugs as she is ignored by snooty store clerks who think because of her less-than glamorous appearance that she doesn’t have anything to spend. The girls star in this issue’s other major Christmas contributions as well. In “Some Things Never Change” their old friend, the fairy Sugar Plum, spice up Veronica’s dull Christmas party, then in “A Dreamy Teen Christmas,” the girls first put together a Christmas Tree for a charity auction, then plan to try to win it themselves. Finally, Sugar Plum makes a return appearance in “Veronica’s Wonderful Life,” in which the richest girl in Riverdale gets a taste of what the world would be like if she had never been born. “It’s a Wonderful Life” parodies are nothing new, but this one had a really amusing punchline that makes it stand out.

Archie had even more Christmas offerings, such as Betty and Veronica #213 – in “Keeping Up Traditions,” Veronica blows off her annual Christmas outing with Betty for a date with the new guy in town, but then her conscience starts to plague her. Sugar Plum shows up again in “Treed!” to help the girls decorate the enormous lodge mansion – but the well-meaning fairy, as she usually does, takes things too far. Finally we have “Spending Spree,” in which Veronica sees Betty scrimping for Christmas presents for everyone else while she goes out on her usual selfish shopping sprees. Suddenly, she comes up with the greatest Christmas present of all.

Betty and Veronica Spectacular underwent an interesting metamorphosis this year, adding fashion pieces and advice columns to its comics in an attempt to make it more of a “teen magazine.” I actually think this is a clever idea that, hopefully, will bring in more female readers – or at least help retain more that otherwise would have “outgrown” the comics. But with issue #72, this comic too adds some Christmas offerings. “What a Card” shows Veronica going overboard on her own attempt at a Christmas Card after Betty’s handwritten poem becomes a smash hit. (For best friends, these girls are extremely competitive.) Also, “The Nite Before X-Mas!” is a twist on the old Clement Moore poem that kind of serves as a roll call for the kids of Riverdale High School. The comic also includes a page of “Holiday Glitz” and a Holiday Trivia Quiz – fun stuff for the girls.

Last but not least, there’s Veronica #166, but don’t let the title of the comic fool you, Betty is all over this one too. In “A Dickens of a Tale,” a flurry of shopping greed from Veronica brings her a visit from three spirits that show her how she abuses her best friend, worries her parents, and how her greed will leave poor Archie torn between her and Betty for many Christmases to come. Clearly, this is Veronica’s year for spectral manifestations with amusing punchlines. She comes back in “Party Time,” in which she gets the idea to throw a big Christmas party and asks her dad to pay for it. Mr. Lodge agrees, but is put off by her frivolousness – until he arrives at the party for a big surprise. Veronica is a really schizophrenic character – one minute she’s as greedy as Ebenezer Scrooge, then a few pages later she’s got a heart as big as Tiny Tim.

At any rate, these Archie comics are a blast and well worth sharing with your kids on Christmas morning. I’d actually hoped to cover two more Christmas specials this week – the Image Comics Holiday Special and Dan Slott’s GLX-Mas, but thanks to the intricacies of December shipping, I haven’t gotten either of those yet. But I think I’ve made my point – there are a lot of great Christmas comics out there.

And I hope that you’ve enjoyed this little foray into some of the wonderful offerings we’ve got this Christmas. May you all have a wonderful, Merry holiday with your friends and family – I know I will. Don’t forget to vote in the 2005 Everything But Imaginary Awards — for a full list of rules and categories, follow this link to the Everything But Imaginary Awards Thread. And come back next week for our special year-end EBI, in which I put on my prognosticator cap and tell everyone what the comic book industry needs to do to thrive in 2006. MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!

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. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com.

02
Nov
11

Classic EBI #110: Second Stringers

In today’s new Everything But Imaginary, I think about the nature of superpowers. Sure, it’d be cool to be able to lift tanks or fly through outer space, but let’s be honest. Some minor-league powers could come in pretty handy too.

Everything But Imaginary #422: Practical Superpowers

And in today’s classic EBI, I head back to April 2005. We all know the a-list superheroes… Superman, Batman, the X-Men and so forth. But just because a hero may not be in the top tier doesn’t mean their stories aren’t worth telling. Today, we look at the second string.

Everything But Imaginary #110: Second Stringers

With the thousands of comic book characters that have been created since the artform was invented, it’s only natural that some will be more popular than others. For every Superman, there are a dozen Gladiators, for every Batman a Moon Knight, for every Richie Rich a Royal Roy. But does that mean these characters are actually bad, or does it mean that they just missed the train to stardom? The fact is, there are a ton of really good b-list characters out there, and it always puts a smile on my face to see some of them get the respect they deserve.

I’ve always believed that there are very few genuinely bad characters, that almost any character can be entertaining in the hands of a good enough writer. Fabian Nicieza proved that way back in the early 90s with the first incarnation of the New Warriors. He picked up a bunch of characters that nobody cared about in solo adventures and decided to throw them all into a book together – Nova, Namorita, Firestar, Marvel Boy and Speedball. A bunch of B-listers if ever there was one. (Actually, calling Speedball “B-list” at that period was probably being generous.)

But somehow, he mixed in a magic touch that made those characters that nobody liked… likable. And interesting. And one of the best superhero books on the market. Unfortunately, no other writer managed to bring that same magic to the book. It was cancelled 25 issues after his departure, and a relaunch a few years later only lasted 10 issues. A new miniseries is scheduled for this summer, but time will tell if Zeb Wells has what it takes to make us care about these guys again. [2011 Note: He didn't.]

A lot of writers see these second-string characters as a challenge, as real fodder for bizarre or unusual tales that they simply wouldn’t be allowed to tell with Superman or Captain America. Look at what happened when Grant Morrison took over Animal Man. A lame character with a lame power (he could duplicate the abilities of any animal in the vicinity) and managed to tell some of the most intelligent, thought-provoking comics ever published at the time. He found new, intelligent uses for the power, and beyond that, made the comic a bizarre, metafictional hit. Writing this comic pushed Morrison on his way to becoming one of the most respected writers in comics.

Now he’s doing it again with his Seven Soldiers series. He’s taken a B-list team and reimagined it with seven B-list superheroes: Shining Knight, Guardian, Zatanna, Klarion, Frankenstein, Mr. Miracle and Bulleteer (actually, I’d consider Zatanna A-list, but clearly Morrison doesn’t) and he’s again having some fun experimenting with seven independent stories that will theoretically weave together to create a larger whole. And people, for the most part, seem to be enjoying them.

Keith Giffen also had a lot of fun with the b-list, rounding up forgotten or cast-off characters like Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Fire, Ice, Rocket Red and third-string Green Lantern Guy Gardner and making them the Justice League. He made clever, hysterical comics, too, so much that even now, over a decade later, people are lining up for new material from this creative team (including J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire) with these characters.

And come on, folks – you’ve all read Countdown to Infinite Crisis by now, right? Were it not for the respect and notoriety Giffen gave the characters all that time ago, the events of this book would have been meaningless. Instead, although the title somewhat dampens a great deal of what he created back then, it makes for a powerful, heartbreaking story about a true hero – the Blue Beetle, trying to put things right when the “A-team” has completely abandoned him. There’s a moment in that book where Maxwell Lord tells the Beetle “You were never second-string.” And the events of that issue, to many readers, proved that Max was right.

And how about characters that are created, not just as second-stringers, but as nigh knock-offs of the A-list characters? Let’s look at Mr. Majestic. An alien comes to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Gee. Where have I heard this before? I was never interested in him, because I didn’t see the point in reading about a faux Superman when I could read about the real thing.

Then last year, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning took that ”fake” Superman and temporarily made him the real one, when Big Blue went missing in the timestream. All of a sudden… this guy was interesting. DnA (as they are sometimes collectively called) didn’t focus on what made Majestic similar to Superman, they focused on the differences, and how those differences made it difficult for him to truly replace the man of steel. He was an alien, yes, with similar powers, but he was raised on his homeworld and came to Earth as an adult, with different ideas and values than the Kansas-raised Superman. It wasn’t then that I saw the potential – Majestic isn’t a fake Superman, he’s what Superman could have been under other circumstances. Filtered through that perception, he’s a much more intriguing character. I followed that character, then, into his own miniseries and now into his ongoing, which I am enjoying quite a bit.

The same goes for Dan Slott’s new reimagining of the Great Lakes Avengers. I’m not sure what John Byrne was thinking when he created this team in the pages of West Coast Avengers, but they were never exactly played for the jokes that they really were. They wanted to take themselves seriously. It was the readers who couldn’t. Goofy characters like Mr. Immortal, Big Bertha and Flatman just didn’t have a place alongside Captain America and the She-Hulk. So what does Slott do in the new GLA miniseries? He plays it for laughs. Dark laughs, to be sure, but laughs nonetheless, and he tells the best story these characters have ever had. And in case the original team wasn’t lame enough, he’s decided to add even more loser superheroes, like Squirrel Girl, to the team.

Even a company like Archie Comics recognizes their second-string. They’ve just launched the new Tales From Riverdale Digest, which gives a spotlight to characters other than those who headline their own books – Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica. In this digest, their writers can have a little fun playing with Dilton or Moose or even Ms. Beazley, the Riverdale High Cafeteria Lady, should they be so inclined. (Look, you can’t rule it out. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I began writing this column, it’s that every character is somebody’s favorite).

I think it’s good – even important – to have a “second string” of characters in any attempt to create a shared universe. First of all – it only makes logical sense. If you’re going to have people like Superman leaping tall buildings in your hometown, it’s natural to imagine that there will be lesser characters hoping to snag some of that glory for themselves. As goofy as many of the B-list characters are, their very existence tends to add a small degree of realism to comics. Second, it helps flesh out a universe and make it more full. There are tiers of superheroes, just as there are tiers of actors, or politics, or authors or musicians. And everyone, no doubt, has their own opinions as to who belongs on each tier.

And third, this is where future characters are going to come from. It’s virtually impossible, at this point, for a new character to burst onto the scene and become the new Superman or Batman. Any character who isn’t currently A-list, almost by definition, will be B-list when he’s introduced. But that B-list isn’t really that bad a place to be. You can pick up fans slowly, experiment, gain in popularity. And if the character and writer are good enough, that B-lister can eventually graduate to the A-team.

Just ask Ted Kord.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: April 6, 2005

As nervous as I was about the whole premise behind Green Lantern: Rebirth, Geoff Johns has totally turned me around. Issue #5, out last week after something of a hiatus, was a total home-run, not just for the great writing and fantastic art (of which both fully met my expectations), but because in this issue, Johns did something that needed to be done. And I’m going to spoil the issue a bit here, so if you haven’t read it, jump to the italicized bit at the end of the column.

My biggest concern about this comic was that DC, in catering to the Hal Jordan fans, would dismiss all the fans of Kyle Rayner. This issue proved to me that this isn’t the case. As a resurrected Hal faces off against Sinestro, ol’ purple-puss makes a crack about how he’s going to kill the remaining Green Lanterns, leaving Kyle for last.

Hal’s response is what sealed the deal. “Kyle held the torch when no one else would. When no one else could,” he said. “You will respect him.”

Somehow, that’s all I needed to hear. That the people writing the comic know and understand that’s how the Kyle fans feel about the whole thing. That was the last niggling bit that was bothering me about this whole project, and now that it’s been dealt with, I’m ready to sit back and enjoy the finish.

Man – and what a last page, huh?

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. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com.

07
Sep
11

Classic EBI #107: The Next Great Crisis

It’s time to get nostalgic this week, friends. In the past 10 years, we’ve gotten comics about most of the great TV shows (and toy properties) of my childhood — G.I. Joe, TransFormers, Thundercats, He-Man, and so forth… most, but not all. Today I take a look at four 80s properties that have remained buried since the 80s, and rank their chances for a resurgence.

Everything But Imaginary #414: Lost Nostalgia

But in this week’s classic EBI, I’m drifting back to the great comic book crisis of of 2005: the decision to raise the prices of $2.25 comics to $2.50.

Heh. Ah, we were so young.

Everything But Imaginary #107: The Next Great Crisis

Those of you who, like myself, feverishly watch the world of comics for news learned this week that another great Crisis is about to be unfolded. Something that will leave us dumbfounded. Something that will leave us breathless. Something that will no doubt change the world of one of the two biggest comic book companies forever.

I refer, of course, to the announcement that Marvel Comics is raising the prices of all of its $2.25 books to $2.50. Not that there are that many $2.25 books left in the first place, but this does mark a major shift for Marvel and a major shift for people’s wallets. Sure, 25 cents doesn’t seem like much. Taken by itself, it isn’t much at all. But if you buy ten $2.25 books a month, that’s an increase of $2.50, and if you’ve got a strict budget for comics, that means one less comic you’re able to buy, which means decreased sales, which multiplies by the number of readers who will have to make that cut. And it’s worse, of course, the higher the pricepoint goes — $2.75, $2.99, $3.50, $3.99…

DC Comics isn’t blameless here, of course. This month they snuck in a much smaller increase that many fans didn’t even notice – all of their $2.95 books jumped to $2.99. But the company still has a few $2.25 books, including all of those comics aimed specifically at kids, which is a good thing. Pricing a comic book out of a child’s reach not only defeats the entire purpose of publishing a children’s comic in the first place, but even worse, cuts off a gate for the potential future comic book readers. If no kid can afford to buy comics, how will he grow up and become a regular reader with a pull list and a compulsion to hit the shop every Wednesday?

Now that the announcement is being made, however, I’m hearing from all quarters about readers planning to cut Marvel Comics from their pull folders. And in many cases, it’s not the books that don’t need their support, that will sell anyway like Astonishing X-Men or Amazing Spider-Man, it’s books that are critical winners but don’t have a huge following like District X.

What does this tell us? I’m no businessman, I’ll admit that right up front, but I can put two and two together and come up with four. Marvel is raising prices, one must assume, to recoup higher production costs. When the cost of making a comic goes up, the only ways to get the money back are to increase prices or sell more copies. I think we can all agree on that. However, a price increase (except on books with a hardcore fan base, like those mentioned above) will almost always be accompanied by a drop in sales. And there aren’t enough comic book fans to go around to begin with. Can any company really afford to price itself out of the reach of its audience?

Marvel is putting out a slew of new titles in the coming months as well – a revitalized New Warriors series, a new Thing ongoing, and a new miniseries called Gravity, all for example. But if comic fans can’t afford the books in their folder now, how do you convince them to start purchasing new comics at three dollars apiece?

I spent a good amount of time this weekend discussing this with a buddy of mine. Mark happens to manage a comic shop of his own, and was particularly taken aback by the news of the increase. “It’s just going to get the long time readers to stop buying the books they normally do because they can’t justify spending $30 a week on books they read once,” he said.

His solution to the problem? Well… it’s kind of a drastic one, so get ready for it.

Cut prices.

“If I have a $20 a week budget right now, I can buy say 7 books a week,” he said hypothetically. “Drop it to $2 a book, you can now buy 10 books a week, a net sales increase of 3 books, increasing circulation and advertisers.”

Now would the production costs of creating a comic book make this feasible? Well it’s obviously not impossible, because some companies do that very thing. Beckett Comics puts out books for $1.99 an issue. They’re a bit shorter than regular titles from Marvel or DC, but the quality of the paper stock is much better, and the quality of the story and art are top-notch.

And for those of us who don’t care as much about paper stock… why can’t that be cut to a less expensive stock? I realize some people, those who are more geared to the artistic end of comics as opposed to the story end as I am, would be upset by such a move. But there are many people that would gladly take a cut in paper quality if it meant their monthly comic book bill would no longer outstretch their car note.

Marvel and DC could take a note from Archie Comics, actually. Sure, laugh it up if you want, but Archie Comics are currently priced at a comfortable $2.19 a regular issue (and not much more for their 100-page digests). A weird number, perhaps, but other than Beckett it’s the most reasonably priced comic company on the market. And they have two things the Big Two don’t have – a more traditional paper stock, and a heck of a lot of readers. It doesn’t reflect on the Diamond sales chart, but if you factor in the number of Archie comics sold on newsstands – to kids, mind you, the same ones who are finding it harder to afford Marvel Adventures Starring Spider-Man – you’ve got a juggernaut that outstrips almost any X, Spider or Bat-comic you care to mention. Most comic fans don’t realize that, but it seems clear to me that Archie knows something the other publishers don’t.

So why not at least try to appeal to both classes of reader? In the 90s, one of the few things Marvel did that I thought was a good policy was start releasing two editions of many of their top-selling (X-Men, Spider-Man) comics: one on regular newsprint for $1.50 and one on higher-quality glossy paper for $1.95. No other changes, no variant covers, no exclusives – just a lower-priced alternative for someone who’s in comics to read them and not to collect them.

Speaking of variant covers, that’s something else that’s getting increasingly disturbing to me. In the 90s, the comic book market was flooded, then abandoned and almost shattered by an influx of speculators, people who swarmed to buy thousands of copies of “hot” books like Youngblood #1 or Superman #75 in the hopes of filing them away for a few years and then using them to pay for their children’s college education. Eventually, though, it dawned on them that if thousands of people have millions of something, there will be no demand for it and the price will stagnate. Those Youngbloods were about as rare as Jefferson nickels. So the speculators left in the same droves that they arrived in.

That said, anything that feels like an effort to cater to the speculators is something that bothers me, and that’s what the new crop of variant covers feels like to me. I don’t mind a variant cover once in a while, for a really big issue that deserves it, but in recent months Marvel has been cranking them out at warp speed. Aside from the “Director’s Cut” issues, there have been variants on titles like Ultimate Fantastic Four #13 (not special except that it’s the first issue of a new story arc), Astonishing X-Men #4 (which was special in that it featured the surprise return of Colossus, but the variant cover featured him on it and ruined the ending of the book for anyone who hadn’t read it yet) and Ultimate Spider-Man #54 (which was special only because they recolored the “movie” Spider-Man in the issue and released it as the “Arachno-Man variant”).

Then there’s New Avengers. It’s a good title. It’s a solid seller. It’s a book that moves itself. So why is Marvel releasing each of the first six issues with at least one variant cover?

To promote their new artists, it would seem. Each of the artists doing a variant is part of what they’re calling their “Young Guns” program. While I don’t like variants in most cases, I can accept that they want to promote the new artists. But if that’s the case, to push these new talents to the forefront, why is it the variants will decrease in number with each of the six issues? Why is it going to be impossible for everyone who wants a complete set of the six variant covers to get them all, simply because there won’t be as many of #2 as there were of #1, or as many of #3 as there were of #2, and so on? Does that promote the artist, or does that simply drive up the value of the book on the back-issue market, which like the variant/hologram/foil cover craze of the 90s, is only driven by speculators, who never last and who deflate the market when they leave? And how many times can a speculator bubble burst before what remains is too small to sustain the artform?

Let me put it bluntly. What difference does it make how “hot” a new comic is right now if, 20 years from now, there’s nobody left buying comics at all?

I don’t mean to sound like I’m picking on Marvel – they’ve got some of the best characters and best talent in the business. And let’s be fair, DC does variant covers as well, but not nearly with the frequency that Marvel does, and when they do, those variants are usually a 50:50 ratio, meaning that neither cover will be worth more or harder to find than the other. The exceptions to this are when they put a variant cover on a second or third printing of a book. I don’t have a problem with that at all. Second or third printings simply ensure that everyone who wants a copy of a comic will be able to get one, and changing the cover, either by making it a black-and-white “sketch” cover or changing the artwork entirely, differentiates it from the first print. That way you know at a glance which printing of the comic you’re getting (compared to the old days where you had to search the tiny print on in the indica to find where it said “SECOND PRINT”) and if you’re the type who likes variant covers, hey, there’s a bonus for you. But even with a different cover, these second and third prints almost never appreciate in value the way a first print does, and therefore are of no use to the speculators, and don’t contribute to that dangerous bubble.

That brings me to another point – reprints. Some companies don’t do them at all. These companies, I think, are only hurting themselves. Granted, most of the time the books that sell out entirely wind up being collected in trade paperback form down the line, but that’s another thing entirely. Some people prefer the monthly books to paperbacks. Others may get used to waiting for the paperbacks and drop the magazines entirely, quashing the initial sales numbers, causing the books to fail and preventing the trade paperbacks from ever being printed.

If a book sells out and there’s enough demand for a second print, why not do it? It costs the same to print, it costs the same to the reader, and it puts that book in the hands of as many people who want it as possible. Which means that people who may have skipped issue #2 because they missed issue #1 now can come back, which translates to higher sales in the long run. Marvel is getting better on this point – they’ve been doing more reprints lately, and their “Must Haves” program (which collects three or four comics in a relatively inexpensive edition) is a really good thing. Getting those early issues in the hands of more people will translate into higher sales for future issues.

That brings us to something that Marvel does very well that other companies – DC in particular – could take note of. A while back, Marvel started prefacing almost every one of their comics with a “previously” page. It’s a quick introduction to the characters and a bit explaining how the story led up to the current point. It makes it easier for a reader to jump in on any issue and start to grasp what’s happening.

DC very rarely does this, and when they do, it’s usually because the writer works it into the comic book. The writers of Gotham Central are particularly clever about this, they usually start the issue with a one-page recap disguised as a news broadcast or a perp’s rap sheet, which just happens to give the reader everything he or she needs to know to get into the issue.

Then there are books like Lucifer, which leave new readers completely in the dark. This is one of the most dense, layered titles in DC’s Vertigo line, and has a very dedicated fan base. I think a rich, detailed, complex comic book is a great thing. But the problem with Lucifer is that it’s so detailed, so complex, that it’s almost impossible for a new reader to come in and start to enjoy the title. I’ve been reviewing the book in DC’s advance packs for about 16 issues now, and I’m still clueless half the time. Lucifer needs, at least, a previously page. Some fans of the title have told me that not every comic needs to be new-reader friendly. I’ve got to disagree. Let’s say your comic book starts the first issue with a readership of 50,000. Almost every comic takes a hit with issue #2, first of all. Then, naturally, a title loses readers to attrition – readers who grow bored or drop the title due to monetary concerns or just quit reading comics altogether. That readership will dwindle. And if there’s no place for new readers to join in, then the comic can’t grow, and eventually will dwindle to the point where it’s no longer economically feasible to keep producing it. Now writer Mike Carey has announced that the title will end relatively soon – with issue #75, I think – completing the story he set out to tell. Having that definite ending in sight will probably keep the fans on-board through to the finish line. But other titles without a clear-cut ending place and no way for new readers to join in won’t have that advantage.

So there you have it, friends. The biggest problems, in my opinion, facing comic books today, the things that are leading to the real crisis. And I don’t say this as a doomsayer. I’m not saying this to make anyone bail, I’m not saying this to quash all hope. I’m saying this because I love comic books, I love ‘em like oxygen, like water, like double-pepperoni and sausage pizza. And I want us all to look at these problems and fix them. Now. Before it’s too late.

I’ve offered some suggestions here. Some of them, for one reason or another, may not be possible. I’m no economist. But we have to start somewhere, and until some ideas are put forth, nothing will change. Like Scott McCloud said at the end of Understanding Comics, I’m not writing this to end the debate, I’m writing this to start one. Fans. Retailers. Creators. Publishers. All of us together need to be ready to talk about this, to shape the future, and to do what it takes to keep comic book around long enough for our children to hand them down to their children. Or even to throw them out while their children are at summer camp. That’s what parents tend to do, so I’m told.

So let’s talk about it. Now. All of us.

Let’s try to save comics together.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: March 16, 2005
My Uncle Todd threatened to disown me if I didn’t pick this as my “Favorite of the Week,” and while I refuse to bow to familial pressure, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Birds of Prey #80 was really, really good.

I almost gave the honor to Adventures of Superman #638, which was a surprisingly touching portrait of Lois and Clark’s relationship, but the conclusion of Birds of Prey simply blew all other comics from last week out of the water. There’s a major revelation in this issue, something I never saw coming but which makes perfect sense and drastically changes the way these characters will relate to each other for a long time to come. Gail Simone hit another home run this issue.

Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginnerand 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. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.comand visit him on the web atEvertime Realms.Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.
13
Jul
11

Classic EBI #98: From the Archives

The DC relaunch continues to keep people talking, myself included. In this week’s Everything But Imaginary, I look at one aspect of DC that isn’t — and shouldn’t — change… the Vertigo line.

Everything But Imaginary #406: What Purpose Vertigo?

And rolling back the clock, we’re going to January 19, 2005. I was thinking format this week, specifically hardcover, long-term format…

Everything But Imaginary #98: From the Archives

When Will Eisner passed away a few weeks ago, I got the urge to go back and re-read some of his classic Spirit comics, and the best way to do that is from the very beginning, with DC’s Spirit Archives Volume 1.

Although it has a different trade dress, the Spirit series is part of what I think deserves to be known as the best series of archival American comic books on the planet. And more and more these days, I’m thinking those archives are an invaluable thing.

I was stunned at how many people, how many current comic fans, knew little or nothing about Will Eisner. I felt the same way last year when Julius Schwartz died. The contributions men like this made to the comic book artform are immeasurable, but because comics aren’t quite considered “high” art, their names can be lost. Just about every high school student has to slag through at least one book by a Bronte sister, but how many of them recognize the works of Otto Binder, Joe Simon or Bill Everett? For that matter, how many of you reading this column, under the age of 25, can even tell me which characters these men created or revolutionized?

That’s what makes the DC Archives such a great project. Although I’d heard about the archives for years, I didn’t own any until a few years ago when DC re-offered the first Batman Archives at a severely reduced price ($20, as opposed to the usual $50). I figured this was worth picking up, and immediately realized how fantastic these archival series are. Quality reproductions of the classic DC comics, complete, in the order they were originally printed. That last bit is especially important — complete, in the order they were originally printed. These stories are no longer simply comic books, they are part of our heritage, and to abridge them in any way would be robbing ourselves.

Now DC is not the first company to put out an archival edition like this. I believe the Marvel Masterworks line preceeded it. But I believe the DC line is better, for several reasons. Marvel’s line has been halted and re-started again various times, whereas the DC line continues to expand. Marvel has changed its trade dress, while the DC books are all uniform (except for a few titles that aren’t technically DC Comics, but which DC is reprinting – we’ll get to those next). And most importantly, DC just has much, much more to offer. They’ve got all the characters you’d expect to see in archives, of course — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Justice League and so on, but DC doesn’t stop there. They constantly turn out archives for lesser-known characters like Blackhawk or Starman, different lines for Golden and Silver Age versions of the characters, and even include archival series for properties that they did not originally publish, but have earned a place in comic book history such as the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, ElfQuest and, of course, The Spirit.

The books are expensive, I know that. Fifty dollars for 200 pages of comic book is a hard price to justify. But it’s worth having the material in a higher-priced format for an archival project like this. It’s like buying a leather-bound edition of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, knowing full well you’ll never own an original.

Plus, I’ll be honest with you guys, I have never paid full-price for a DC Archive. Unless it’s a really rare volume, you’d be sort of foolish to do so. Thanks to auction sites like eBay and various other online booksellers, you can frequently find them much, much cheaper. I think the most I’ve ever paid for a DC Archive is $32, and I own about a dozen of them, although there are dozens more that I wish to get.

Other companies, to their credit, are making an effort. Gladstone Comics spent many years on several series reprinting the work of the brilliant Carl Barks, including a Carl Barks Library series for his Uncle Scrooge comics, one for his stories from the Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories title, and even a line that just reprinted his one-page gags. The line was paperback, though, and the volumes were slim and pricey, and are now extremely difficult to find with Gladstone out of business.

Archie Comics has several archival series as well, most noteably the Archie Americana series. These trade paperbacks select the best comics from each decade and reprint them. Archie has also started doing trade paperbacks of their old superhero titles, such as the Shield, the Fly and the Mighty Crusaders.

The problem with this line, though, is that these are “best of” comics, stories carefully chrerry-picked from hundreds of comics produced. It makes for good reading, but it doesn’t make for a good archive if you leave stuff out.

Marvel’s Essential line doesn’t leave anything out, and it comes at a much more affordable price — about $15 for a phone book-sized volume of comics. It’s great for a reading copy, but again, it loses something. In this case, the artwork is reproduced in black-and-white, helping to keep the price down. That’s fine for the purpose of the book, but even though I’m no artist myself, I can tell that color artwork and black and white artwork is constructed differently. When you’re drawing something that will be colored, you use different techniques than something that stops at the inking stage, and as a result, color comics never look as good in black and white reprints as comics that were originally drawn in black and white.

Except for the DC Archives and the sporadic Marvel Masterworks, I really think that the best project currently in the works to really archive a comic is Fantagraphics’ The Complete Peanuts. In 25 volumes, this series is intended to reprint every Peanuts comic strip ever drawn, presented in their original order. That’s remarkable. Now naturally, most of us have read several Peanuts books, probably even own several. But not like this. Previous books were always selections of strips from a certain time period, Charles Schulz’s favorites, or perhaps grouped by a theme (Christmas strips, back-to-school strips, etc.). This is the first time every strip will be reprinted in order. Some of the strips, in fact, have never been reprinted before at all.

Now archives are not a way to snare new readers. No one who hasn’t read comics before is going to think to themselves, “$50 for a Plastic Man comic book? Sign me up!” And archives won’t even really help to educate the younger readers on the great comics of the past. Hopefully books like the Essential line will help with that. And personally, I long for the days when a new comic would give a few pages in the back for a reprint of a classic story. (Marvel tried this a few years ago with their “100-Page Monster” comics, but that’s another experiment that has gone defunct.)

But for people who already love classic comic book and want to study and preserve the gems of the past, these archives are priceless.

Well, technically they have a $50 tag, so they aren’t priceless. But you get the picture. So let me ask you… what series do you want to see as an archive?

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: January 12, 2005

Fables #33 very nearly took this spot, but only a mystery that was too easy to solve held it back, making way for a comic even better. JSA #69. The work Geoff Johns is doing with this comic is phenomenal. Several Justice Society members have been hurled into the past, charged with convincing their own mentors to become heroes again, knowing that the fate of the world hangs in the balance. This is a crazy, classic superhero formula. And it still works, because it’s smart, well-written, and most of all, fun. JSA was my choice for best superhero comic of 2004. Books like this one are the reason why.

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. 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.

 

09
Jan
11

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 204: 2010-The Year in Review

A little later than they would have liked, but Blake and Kenny are coming at you this week with their look back at 2010 in comics and geek culture. In this mammoth episode, the guys dish on big events for the publishers, the characters, the multimedia properties, and take a look ahead into 2011. It’s the biggest Showcase of the year! Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!

Music provided by the Music Alley from Mevio.

Episode 204: 2010-The Year in Review

05
Jan
11

Classic EBI #71: Good Things Come in Small Packages

DC Comics is turning Green Lantern from a character into a franchise, but this isn’t the first time that trick has been tried. This week in EBI, I look back at past attempts…

Everything But Imaginary #381: Green Lantern-The Franchise

But in this week’s classic EBI, we’re going back to July 15, 2004, when we talked about tiny comics that were big readin’…

Everything But Imaginary #71: Good Things Come in Small Packages

Good Things Come in Small Packages

Once upon a time, comics came in all shapes and sizes. Marvel and DC did the giant treasury formats, there were black-and-white magazine-sized comics, comics would get reprinted in paperback books and everywhere you looked, there was the digest. As companies these days are looking for new ways to get comics in the hands of new readers, these alternative formats are coming back in a big way.

Even when I started reading comic books in the mid-80s, digests were ubiquitous. DC had its Blue Ribbon Digest series, Marvel reprinted the best comics of its Star imprint in digest form and Gladstone had a line of digests for its Disney comics. Then, of course, there was the king of the medium, Archie. Even as the digest seemed to die out from all other publishers, Archie, Jughead and Betty and Veronica remained a staple at supermarkets and drugstores, and are still huge sellers today.

Why did Archie digests last while the others fell by the wayside? I think a lot of it has to do with the art style. Archie — and most humor comics in general — is drawn in a much simpler style, less detailed, and easier to reduce in size to fit the digest page. If you look at DC digests of the era, the action scenes look cramped and the dialogue starts to get muddied up together. You could get eyestrain trying to read that tiny print.

The other alternative with action-oriented comics was done by both Marvel and DC — cut up the panels and rearrange them so they’ll fit on a page of a standard-size paperback book. They weren’t reduced that way, but it often jumbled up the storytelling, especially with longer panels that would literally get cut in half, making you scratch your head as you read them trying to figure out what the characters were looking at. DC recently reissued some of the paperbacks in this line, including the Untold Legend of the Batman — if you see a copy in the store, it’s worth at least flipping through so you can see what I’m talking about.

So with the exception of Archie, digest comics were essentially dead. So what happened? How did they come back? People tried different things… black-and-white reprints like the failed “Backpack Marvels,” repackaging things in “manga” sized books… but things didn’t quite take off.

DC’s Paradox Press tried a smaller line of mainly crime comics, but it quickly went under. Only one title, Road to Perdition found new life, and that was primarily because it got snapped up by Dreamworks to make a pretty good (and Academy Award-nominated) movie out of it.

So how did digests go from Archie and other niche projects to becoming a viable format again?

I’m giving the credit to CrossGen.

I was an unabashed fan of CrossGen Comics. I still am. I hope against hope that somehow we’ll at least get the last few issues of Negation War. But even if that never happens, I’m going to take the chance to point out some of the cool things they did introduce to the industry. A while back, CrossGen launched their “Traveler” line (I actually did an “Everything But Imaginary” about it, back in the day — Born in a Wagon in a Traveler Show).With the advancement of computers, CrossGen proved it was now possible to shrink down artwork and text without dirtying it up or losing quality in the reduction. While the Travelers may not have caught the world of comic books on fire in a sales perspective, I do not believe it was a coincidence that Marvel, DC and everyone else started putting out smaller paperbacks, in color, not long afterwards.

Right now, the majority of these digests (like Archie) are geared towards newer readers. DC uses the format mainly for its Cartoon Network titles like Justice League, Powerpuff Girls and Scooby Doo. Gemstone comics prints one digest in addition to its regular Disney comics, Donald Duck Adventures, which takes advantage of the format to reprint some of the longer European Disney comics that wouldn’t fit into the regular titles without being chopped up and serialized.

Marvel, as is often the case, has taken the most aggressive stance in pushing its new digest line — conveniently titled Marvel Age. Taking the name from their old magazine title that filled you in on all the cool stuff Marvel had coming up (this was before magazines like Wizard), the Marvel Age line has two prongs. First, it takes classic stories of characters like Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and The Hulk, re-tells the stories with a new script and artwork but keeping the basic feel, and aims them at new and younger readers. I admit, I was skeptical about this idea at first, but when I read the Marvel Age Spider-Man giveaway from Free Comic Book Day, I’ve got to admit, I was pretty impressed. I don’t know if I could read this title on a regular basis — unlike stuff like Gemstone’s Disney comics, this title was aiming directly at kids instead of telling a story that is fun for kids and adults. The dialogue felt a bit simplistic, and if I read too much of it I’d feel like I was being patronized. But for a brand-new reader trying to get into the superhero universe, I think it would be a great entry-level title. In fact, talking to the manager of my local comic shop last week, he told me that the only title to see a significant sales spike due to Spider-Man 2 is Marvel Age Spider-Man.

But back to the digests — that’s the second prong of the Marvel Age experiment. The reprints of these comics are in the smaller, digest form, with the artwork perfectly intact, and they come out lightning-quick. In fact, the first Marvel Age Spider-Man digest actually collected an issue from the regular series that hadn’t been released yet.

In addition to just reprinting the Marvel Age titles, though, Marvel is reprinting other comics that could appeal to a younger demographic in this format: Spider-Girl and the fan-favorite Sentinel, for example. After hearing for years how great a comic book Spider-Girl was, I finally picked up the first Marvel Age digest, and I really enjoyed it. So much so, in fact, that I read issue #75 of the title and wound up adding it to my monthly pull-list. Granted, I’m not the sort of “new reader” this sort of thing is necessarily geared towards, but they at least got one more monthly sale out of it.

I know a lot of purists don’t like the digests. They like their individual issues, which is fine (I do too). If they must purchase a paperback, they want one where the artwork is presented as “originally intended,” i.e., its regular publication size.

But the way I feel about it is this — I’m getting the same story with the same quality artwork, it’s taking up less storage space and it’s cheaper, usually anywhere from 25 to 50 percent less than a full-sized trade. Hell yeah, I’ll take a digest! You wouldn’t hear me complain if I never had to buy another full-sized trade paperback again!

When you get right down to it, this is another format, another choice in how you get your comics. I’m of the opinion that the more options there are available, the more people we’ll be able to get to join us on our four color adventures. And if you ask me, that’s the most important thing we could do for comics as a whole.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: July 8, 2004

This choice is probably going to surprise you guys. It surprised me too. I don’t normally get this title at all, and in fact, I only picked it up this week because of the “Avengers Disassembled” stamp on the cover, but friends, Thor #82 blew me away. Asgard is in ruins. The Warriors Three are down to one. Ragnarok is finally upon the Aesir! Mythology buff that I am, I’m tickled to see how much classic mythology the writers are managing to inject into this story. Plus the art by Andrea DiVito is simply superb. It was a dark horse candidate, but Thor narrowly edged out DC Comics Presents: Batman to take the top spot last week.

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.

 

26
Aug
10

Everything But Imaginary #364: What If… DC Comics Merged With Archie?

Comixtreme is back! Kind of! You can find it at Comixtreme.net for the time being, while we try to sort out the .com issue. But this week’s Everything But Imaginary column is waiting for your scrutiny. This week’s column is based on what happens when my mind starts wandering. What If?-style questions get asked. And we’re looking at a big What If this time… what if DC Comics merged with Archie Comics?

Everything But Imaginary #364: What If… DC Comics Merged With Archie?

Oh, and don’t worry, Other People’s Heroes fans. This post isn’t replacing that one for today. I’ll be up a little later. I’m editing even now.




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