Tagged: Image Comics

THE INFLUENCE FACTOR:  Dan DiDio, Andrew Rev, & Studio 54 Philosophy

THE INFLUENCE FACTOR: Dan DiDio, Andrew Rev, & Studio 54 Philosophy

“NO Bridge or Tunnel people.”

Steve Rubell, owner, Studio 54

That meant if you were not from Manhattan, you had little chance of ever getting into what is now known as the world’s most famous nightclub.

Studio 54.

Back then and even now, only the very rich or very poor live on the isle of Manhattan. I’m neither, although I’ve been poor and have had a bit of wealth.

Wealth, in this case, being able to afford a Manhattan residence. That by no means is a declaration of endless Benjamin’s. The thing about being from no money when you get some, you either blow it (done that) lose it (done that) or finally learn to make it work for you.

If you’re wondering what the difference between losing it and blowing it is, you’re blowing it.

(more…)

Joe Corallo: United Against Hysteria

I didn’t think I was going to write about Howard Chaykin, Image Comics, and The Divided States of Hysteria. When the first controversy sparked up the beginning of last month I had already committed to an interview with a team working on a Kickstarter project for my column that followed said controversy. While people still talked about it some after I thought people had basically covered the scope of the issue and I wouldn’t have anything constructive to add.

Then this happened followed by this apology from Image Comics and Howard Chaykin. I tend to discuss these sort of occurrences in the comics community and I really haven’t lately so it’s time for me to get back to that.

Full disclosure: I have met Howard Chaykin before at a few conventions, got a Lois Lane sketch from him some years ago, and attended a panel back at the first Special Edition NYC spotlighting him with fellow ComicMix columnist Martha Thomases in which he recommended we read the Tom De Haven novel It’s Superman which is actually quite good and one of the best things you’ll ever read that stars The Man Of Tomorrow.

I don’t want to rehash all the details you likely already know, and if you are somehow into comics enough to read columns on comic book news sites and are not aware of what’s been going on, it’s covered in the links provided. You can also type in keywords in a Twitter search and find plenty on this. So, rather than restate the information, I’ll tell you how I, someone that discusses diversity in comics and adjacent topics, read this situation.

First, nobody is ever obligated to purchase and enjoy a comic. Period. If people see a cover or an image from a comic that makes them not want to read it, they don’t have to. They’re allowed to voice their displeasure and tell their friends and the Internet they don’t want to read it and you shouldn’t either. People are allowed to look at a comic and decide against it without reading it.

It is not against the concept of free speech to openly discuss why you do not like or support something; it’s nearly the entire point of free speech. Nor is speaking out against this comic censorship. Howard Chaykin and Image Comics have every right to put out this material and you and anyone else have every right to actively not support it if you so desire.

It’s up to the marketing people and the publisher to convince people that their product is worth their time and to spend money on it. Part of the blunder that took place here is that Image had worked out getting The Divided States of Hysteria a Pride variant when the content inside didn’t fit for that audience. More eyes, including a lot more queer eyes, were on this book because of that variant and it being Pride month. Had this book come out without that variant and later on in the year I think it may have glided under the radar a bit and while their likely would have been some backlash, it wouldn’t have hit the same levels.

Another factor is that this is an Image comic. While Image does have some gruesome books like The Walking Dead, most of its line-up is pretty accessible to a wide comics audience. A publisher more well known for its over-the-top stories and graphic imagery like Avatar Press may have been able to take on The Divided States of Hysteria with less backlash.

The political and cultural environment is just not where this book is either. People are upset, depressed, and frightened by what we see coming out of the White House; I know I am. Had the results on November 9th, 2016 been different then maybe people would have been a little more open to the idea of a comic that’s talking about a horrible alternate reality. It hits a little too close to home for many right now.

The timing of this book was way off. Particularly with the portrayal of a trans sex worker being brutalized. What may have seemed edgy or even acceptable decades ago in terms of representing a trans character doesn’t fly anymore. At least fourteen trans women, mostly trans women of color, have been murdered just for being trans this year, and more trans women were killed in 2016 than in 2015. I encourage you to follow the link in the last sentence and to read the names of those we’ve lost. Audiences not only are demanding more from trans representation in all media, but it’s necessary and can save lives.

Finally, I want to talk a bit about Howard Chaykin himself. Some people have criticized him for being “an old white guy.” While there is some truth to that, it’s a bit more complicated. Howard Chaykin was born October 7th, 1950. He had a rough childhood moving many times as a kid across New York City, being raised on welfare, finding out later in life that who he thought was his biological father was in fact not and having a cruel adoptive father.

Despite all that, and despite the fact that many doors shut in front of him as he tried to develop his career early on because he’s Jewish, Howard was able to get his start in comics before branching out into other media. One of his early works, American Flagg!, was also a political satire and starred Reuben Flagg, an overtly Jewish lead at a time where that was far from common in mainstream comics. Hell, it’s uncommon now. That work, in particular, went on to inspire multiple generations of comic creators, including Warren Ellis, Matt Fraction, Frank Miller, and Brian Michael Bendis.

I’m not writing all this to make you change your mind on The Divided States of Hysteria. If you don’t want to read it, don’t. If you don’t like Howard Chaykin’s work, continue to not like it. If you want other people to know you feel that way, let them know.

What I am saying is that he is a person, he’s fought his own battles for decades to get where he is, he may have been through more than you know, he and Image Comics are in no way advocating bigotry, there is absolutely no need to make personal attacks towards Howard, and his entire body of work should not be summed up in one poorly timed and arguably poorly executed comic book.

Michael Davis: Welcome Black My Brother

Mail Attachment

Something good this way comes!

Not the first but perhaps the best black superhero, Brotherman is returning in 2016.

After more than 20 years the Brothers Sims will publish what has passed cult status to become full on legend. All over the comics world people are rejoicing as this beloved Black Universe of characters gives old and more important new fans of color something all too rare for us, stories about people who look like us.

Sound familiar? It should, Milestone 2.0 announced its return at the start of this year, and now at year’s end, Brotherman follows suit. This would be the first time Brotherman followed Milestone in anything. Brotherman has always been ahead of Milestone, they published first; found alternate distribution first (something Milestone never understood fully) and realized first the revenue being ignored by the big two, Marvel and DC, namely the black market.

Genius.

This in no way takes away from the vision and brilliance of Denys Cowan and his creation of Milestone. I’d say to think such would be stupid but I don’t want to insult the stupid. Denys’ idea was a black comic book company. That was a first in the modern day of comics as there have been black comic book companies before Milestone. The most notable, Golden Legacy, started in 1966 and still publishes material today.

The black market is so underserved is easy to tag someone as a copycat because there are so few black endeavors into certain areas like comics. When Image was formed I didn’t notice anyone pointing out that the founders were ripping off Marvel. Nor did anyone say Malibu was ripping off Image.  There were quite a few comic book companies that sprung up around the same time as Milestone, Image, and Malibu but nobody compared those other guys to Ania a comic book company that many mistook for Milestone. When asked to comment on each other’s companies and what was the difference, Milestone’s response was-‘they do what they do we do what we do. There’s room foreveryone.’Ania’s response?

“Them be some House Niggers.”

That’s not exactly how they said it, but they did say it and that’s how real niggers talk so I wrote it that way.

Black comic book content is always being compared to each other if its black people in control of the project-it’s a knee jerk reaction so it stands to reason Brotherman would get the “following Milestone” tag.

That’s not what they are doing but it certainly will look like that to a public brainwashed to think all black people follow one another in all things.

20 plus years ago Brotherman’s creators chose family over their publishing endeavors. 20 years later they return as family.  Despite hardships and outside pressure, they chose family. You can read about it here.

African Americans have faced challenges in America since we were brought here in chains. We are stronger by far when we stand as one. For many that’s hard to do. That’s one of many purposes of the song, slogan, or anthem within our culture, to strengthen resolve. Most preach courage hope and/or perseverance like these:

We shall overcome

Keep your eyes on the prize

Lift every voice and sing

Some are defiant:

Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud.

A few are hard truths:

Brothers gonna work it out

The hard truth is, we can be our own worst enemy.

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when” John E. Lewis said that. Others have used different words to say the same but it took the great Mr. Lewis to make it short, simple, urgent and easy for those to understand how completely fucked up it would be not to work it out. Brotherman did it right.

Those brothers worked it out, that’s family. Family doesn’t stop at blood. Blood or not family doesn’t come to your mother’s funeral, stand in front of her casket and say; “we’re family” then crush you without a word to you months later. Funny, I’m still grateful he attended the service because I know at that moment we were family.

Then we weren’t for reasons still unexplained, some “brother” he turned out to be. Gary Byrd said every brother ain’t a brother. Sometimes every brother ain’t a brother or a man.

Guy, Dawud, Brian, well-done and welcome black.

 

Ed Catto: Delivering the Paper

paper_girls_teaser_883_500_90

Print sales for the debut issue of Paper Girls were 75,000. That’s impressive. This accomplishment is even more impressive when you realize this story includes no capes, superheroes or zombies and was not published by Marvel or DC. But the more you understand the discerning appetite of Geek Culture; the more it makes sense.

papergirls_2Although it’s one of the hottest comics right now, at first blush it’s an unlikely candidate for such strong sales. As a monthly comic that will soon be collected into a trade paperback, Paper Girls follows the exploits of four middle school girls in suburban Cleveland. Their part-time jobs are part of an old distribution model for an outdated form of mass media – delivery morning newspapers. The story is set in the wee hours after Halloween in 1988. But quickly it careens from the ordinary to a wildly intriguing thrill-ride.

Paper Girls is published by Image Comics, a publisher dedicated to helping creators bring their visions to life. Brian K. Vaughn is the writer and co-creator, and as his ongoing series Saga is such a huge hit, it makes sense that his fans would follow him to this new series.

But this series offers so much more – there’s 80s nostalgia, Matt Wilson’s brilliantly innovative coloring, unconventional protagonists (tough girls who smoke and swear) and this crazy, keep-the-reader-off-balance story. This is one of those stories where you kind of think you know where it’s going, but you quickly realize you have no idea. And then you think, “it’s ok not know what the hell is going on.” And maybe it’s even more fun that way too.

There’s something to that tried-and-true entrepreneurial idea of “offering value” too. The creators clearly are innovative small business people. The first issue had double the standard number of pages, but was still priced at $2.99, less than a standard Marvel or DC Comic.

But even beyond the moody story, the stark, deceivingly straightforward artwork from Cliff Chiang is a huge part of what makes this series enjoyable and masterful. Cliff’s a brilliant guy with an impressive background, but you need only enjoy his comics work – from Beware the Creeper to the more recent Wonder Woman – to know he’s a real pro at the peak of this game.

SO15_chiang_comics_2Even when he’s busy, Cliff is one of those guys who is affably professional – so much so that he almost seems like he’s a throwback to a more civilized age. As you have probably guessed, I recently caught up with Cliff Chiang to get his thoughts on the series.

Ed Catto: Paper Girls employs such a unique, fresh and clear voice, especially in contrast to not only other comics but other movies/books/TV Shows. Was that your intent and what are you, and writer Brian K. Vaughan, trying to accomplish?

Cliff Chiang: We wanted to tell a different kind of story, both personal and unpredictable (hopefully). The book definitely harkens to the ’80s adventure films we all loved as kids, but it’s not purely that. As the series progresses, we’ll show more of an adult perspective, too.

EC: It’s easy to tell that you push yourself with this book’s composition, characters and even jagged lifework. How do you approach new projects and did you approach this one differently?

CC: I try to imagine what the book needs visually and see what I can do to adapt to those needs. With Paper Girls, we’re seeing a lot of everyday life, which needs to be rendered in a style that’s a little looser and more evocative than usual. It needed a lot more personality, whereas in superhero books, you’re often just trying to make things look believable.

PaperGirls05_Cvr-593x800EC: There’s a real 80s nostalgia in this series. What was it like when you were growing up and what was your favorite part about the 80s?

CC: I think everyone’s somewhat nostalgic about his or her childhood, but I really wanted the book to feel authentic rather than a caricature of the ’80s. Being a latchkey kid, I remember having a lot of independence in those hours between the end of school and my mom coming home from work.

EC: What’s next for Paper Girls?

CC: We’ll get a glimpse of the larger conflict surrounding Stony Stream, and the girls wind up in some very strange places.

EC: Thanks, Cliff.

Paper Girls is available at your local comic shop and issue #3 will be on sale this Wednesday. Give it a try and I’d love to hear what you think.

Martha Thomases: So This Is Thanksgiving

Bugs Bunny“When I’m worried and I can’t sleep

I count my blessings instead of sheep

And I fall asleep counting my blessings”

“Count Your Blessings” by Irving Berlin

Next week is Thanksgiving, and so I’m trying to remind myself that I have many reasons to be thankful. First, of course, I am grateful for my family and my friends (human and otherwise) who make my life so entertaining.

But you didn’t come here to read about how fabulous my life is. You want to read about comics. And so, I present to you, Constant Reader, those things about comics for which I am most grateful.

  • Image Comics. Back in the 1990s, I agreed with the founding principles of Image (creator ownership and control) but didn’t really like what they published, which to me looked like a lot of scratchy drawings of women with gigantic tits and tiny little ankles. Now, however, I find myself buying a few Image titles every week. Was I wrong in my original impression? Maybe. Are they publishing a more diverse list now? Definitely. In any case, they provide me with more joy.
  • Boom! Studios. I confess that I originally mostly picked up the Boom! titles when Mark Waid worked there, because I strive to be loyal. He is no longer editing their books, but they publish a lot of things I like. I told you how much I like Americatown. I started Last Sons of America and that looks promising, too. They publish lots of cool stuff, including Last Sons of America, Adventure Time, Lumberjanes, and Mouse Guard. You could do worse.
  • Forbidden Planet. I am fortunate enough to live in a place where there are many different comic book stores near my home, and a high percentage of them are excellent. However, for more than three decades, Forbidden Planet has been the one I go to most often. A lot of that is location (they are near the subway station that goes where I need to go on Wednesdays), but I also like the vibe. When I go, I’m greeted by name. The folks at the check-out know I want a paper bag, not plastic. They recommend books they think I’ll like. Some people have a favorite bar where everybody knows their names. I have Forbidden Planet. I hope you have a local comic shop that makes you feel just as special.
  • Kids. Every day, there are opportunities to turn kids on to the fun of comic books. After I get my stack on Wednesdays, I go to the hospital where I volunteer on the pediatric floor. I’m there to teach knitting, but there are some kids who don’t want to knit. If I have a Simpsons comic or another age-appropriate title with single-issue story, I’ll often give it away. Every child, even those without hair or with a port in his chest, lights up in beauty with a glorious smile at the sight of a new comic.
  • The revenge of the nerds. Sometimes I wonder if comics are really mainstream now, or if I simply live a life in which that can pass for truth. But, really, there is at least one television show based on a comic book on prime time just about every day. “Superhero” is now a movie genre, one taken (mostly) seriously by respected film critics. The New York Times Book Review publishes best-seller lists for graphic novels in hardcover, paperback and manga formats. Comics are now so respectable that parents try to make their kids read them.
  • Comics! Let’s not forget how great they are. Even when I’m irked by some current controversy and what it means about our sociopolitical climate, I still love the feeling of sitting down to a fresh stack of comics, with my cat purring next to me on the armrest.

And, as always, I’m thankful for you and your indulgent attention. Happy holidays, folks.

The Point Radio: Making Magic With Amber Benson

Like you, we first fell in love with Amber Benson during her days on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. The feelings only grew as we watch her evolve into a director, producer and most of all a successful author. Amber’s latest project is WITCHES OF ECHO PARK and she talks about why going “magical” seemed like the next step for her. Plus actor Jon Tenney, from MAJOR CRIMES and SCANDAL, talks about the great parts of being a working actor in todays’ exploding entertainment mediums.

THE POINT covers it 24/7! Take us ANYWHERE on ANY mobile device (Apple or Android). Just  get the free app, iNet Radio in The  iTunes App store – and it’s FREE!  The Point Radio  – 24 hours a day of pop culture fun. GO HERE and LISTEN FREE  – and follow us on Twitter @ThePointRadio.

Mike Gold:  Electronic Comics – The Next Generation

iPad ComicsThe distribution system that provided us with books, magazines, newspapers and comics started falling apart some 60 years ago. The term “newsstand” is no more relevant today than the term “buggy whip,” newspapers are folding so fast it’s affecting fish sales, and magazines are mostly sold at the bookstore chains that are going out of business faster than a speeding bullet. So it’s no surprise that I think the tablet computer is the greatest thing to happen to the publishing industry since Guttenberg learned how to spell.

The problem with comic books is that, while they look better and read better on tablets, for the past 20 years or so we’ve repositioned comic books into collectibles, with a half-dozen collectible covers and multiple printings and all sorts of folderol. Do people buy comics for the stories any more?

Well, yes we do, but more and more in the form of trade paperbacks, omnibus editions, and electronic downloads. The average sale of a traditional 32-page pamphlet comic book, even those featuring most major characters, is embarrassing. Sales have been growing lately, but a publisher wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning if he or she had to justify all that expense and lousy cash flow strictly by pamphlet sales.

History has shown us comic book readers like to keep their comics around. I don’t know why; the idea that you’ll want to refer to them in the future is enticing but impractical. Nonetheless, we usually keep our comics around for a while.

This is why I think last week the comic book medium quietly entered a critical new phase. ComiXology, the leading distributor of electronic comics, has entered into agreements to allow you do keep your downloads on your computers and sundry storage media. You will no longer be dependent upon access to decent Wi-Fi to get the comics you paid for, you will no longer live in fear that the electronic distribution service might go out of business and obliviate your collection.

In other words, you get to keep your comics. You pay for it, you keep it.

Initially, only a handful of publishers are allowing ComiXology to sell their comics DRM-free. That’s “digital rights management,” for those of you who are merely semi-nerds. The initial participating publishers are Image Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, Zenoscope Entertainment, Thrillbent, Top Shelf and MonkeyBrain. These are not outfits that publish out of their garages.

All of these outfits already have dabbled in DRM-free distribution, but in their brief existence ComiXology has sold upwards of a quarter-billion digital comics. That’s one powerful distribution service. So big, in fact, that Amazon bought the company last April.

Will Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, IDW, Archie and the rest join in? I’m dubious about Marvel and DC because their parent companies, Disney and Warner Bros (and maybe soon Rupert Murdoch) react to bootlegging the way slugs react to salt. They conflate electronic distribution with bootlegging. Of course, iTunes and the rest sell a hell of a lot of DRM-free stuff and it’s actually easier to bootleg it for free than it is to enter all that information. But people pay for millions of digital downloads every day. Why should comics be any different?

Of course, that tablet will change just like every other electronic toy. Smartphones are getting bigger, “laptop” computers are getting lighter and thinner, and it won’t be long before there’s another game-changer device that will be better and cooler. I’m thinking direct chip implants to the brain. So the question is, even if comics sales thrive on tablets and computers, will they adapt to whatever’s next?

I sure hope so.

 

Pay-what-you-want Humble Image Bundle to benefit CBLDF
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Pay-what-you-want Humble Image Bundle to benefit CBLDF

Marc Alan Fishman: WWE and A Future For Comics

Fishman Art 140118Last Wednesday, Vince McMahon announced the launching of the WWE Network. Suffice to say it was well received by his hardcore fans just as he’d hoped. To use a bit of hyperbole – which all things considered, seems apropos – the self-made millionaire stands to become a billionaire with the launch.

It’s many things, but above all else, it’s a stroke of genius in the modern era of content delivery. Comic companies might want to take note… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The WWE Network would appear to just be Netflix for hillbillies, but truly those who aren’t in-the-know, and quick-to-judge are missing out the insane deal the WWE is offering. For $9.95 a month (purchased in six month blocks, with a potential discount for year long subscriptions forthcoming), users get access to every pay-per-view since 1985 from the WWE, as well as rival companies WCW and ECW. They also get access to newly created content like countdown shows, reality shows, and plenty of documentaries and retrospectives.

Oh, there’s more. Users get every pay-per-view coming out. At present, purchasing a pay-per-view from VinnyMac sets you back 45-60 dollars, depending on the event, and the quality – SD or HD.

Do the math, kiddos. If the WWE just offered you the pay-per-views at ten bucks a pop, you’re saving anywhere between $440 – $620 a year. But if someone were to offer you an 83% discount, and you were even just a normal fan, certainly you’d find that to be worth considering. Add that insane discount to an increase in content, somewhere around 1900%, and now you’re starting perhaps to see why this is a big deal.

Obviously there are plenty of folks scoffing at the financials of all of this. With an 83% discount on a product, WWE’s PPV buy-rate profits will appear to tank. Vince and family are of course looking for volume profits to achieve the balance. In addition, newly minted subscribers will now be marketed to (in essence) exponentially more than they ever have in the past. This of course creates new advertising revenue streams. Imagine having an audience with decades of trend data sitting in wait, where your product can be hocked to them every single time they decide they want to indulge in their vice. This is internet ads the way companies dreamed they’d exist. Paint me impressed, at very least.

In covering the announcement, Gizmodo said “…[T]hink about what you’d rather pay for: Netflix and its vast but unpredictable movie library and unproven original series? Or the entirety of [thing you love]?” Truly, as I’d said: this may very well be the way to save our always-in-a-state-of-dying medium of comics.

Marvel and DC have set to revolutionize content delivery in the digital realm many times over. They’ve offered subscription services in the past (and may still do) and never once have I heard from fellow comic fans “this is how it’s done!” Instead, too many apps produce access to the same material, forcing fans to choose a vehicle, and then commit to it. Same as iTunes vs. Amazon MP3 vs. Rhapsody, etc. Vince McMahon chose instead to Spotify his industry-leading content library. Could any of you imagine a service that for the price of your books perhaps for a single week… granting you access to decades worth of content, as well as keeping you current on your favorite titles for the month? Could you fathom a service that could be easily accessed on your tablet, desktop, laptop, and/or phone? And dare I dream… what if that service gave you Marvel, DC, Image, IDW, Boom!, Avatar, the works…?

A boy can dream, but a man faces reality. Warner Bros. and Disney have no need or desire to combine their libraries of printed materials. Nor could they ever negotiate a way to create a subscriber base, and split profits. And they certainly wouldn’t give a rat’s patootie about any smaller publisher, even if say they made The Walking Dead. Instead, our comic books (both in print and digital) will continue to be a publisher-to-publisher game. ComicXology, Graphic.ly and other providers will continue to create proprietary filetypes that prevent the average user from controlling their ala carte purchases in a single easy-to-manage collection. The key of course falls back on the broad shoulders of you-know-who.

When Vince McMahon created Wrestlemania in 1985, he officially buried the original independent scene of professional wrestling. Over the next 20 years he slowly but surely eliminated his only competition. Over the next 10 years after that, he spent his profits slowly building and secretly digitizing the libraries of not only his content, but that of his antagonists. Nearly a decade after that, he’s set to launch a single product to unite every fan he’s gained and lost throughout those 30 years.

I, for one, can’t wait to sign to up. While my recent return to the comic shop has proven that industry still trips over itself with the sins of the past I can at least enjoy one publicly mocked genre in peace, and personal profitability.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Jen Krueger

 

Mike Gold: Top Comics Pulls of 2013

Gold Art 131225You can tell when the year is coming to an end when media outlets start offering their various and sundry “best of” lists. We here at ComicMix are no exception, so for the third consecutive year, here’s mine.

I’ve changed from “Top 9” to my top comics pulls. This is because we no longer live in a world where any one character occupies only one title – yeah, I’m talking to you, Wolverine – and sometimes I want to note a series of character-related titles. Of the five I’m listing for 2013, three cover multiple titles. This doesn’t mean I won’t change back next year. Consistency is the hobgoblin on a small cerebral cortex.

I operate under the following self-imposed rules: I’m only listing series that either were ongoing or ran six or more issues. I’m not listing graphic novels or reprints as both compete under different criteria. I should do this as a separate piece, but I seem to have forgotten where I’ve put my memory pills. And, as always, I’m not covering Internet-only projects as I’d be yanking the rug out from under my pal Glenn Hauman, as you’ll see once again this March.

So, without further ado, my top comics pulls of the year.

Sex: Writer – Joe Casey, Artist – Piotr Kowalski, Publisher – Image Comics. I like Sex. I know lots of people who like Sex. Sex is good. Sex is great. O.K., I’m done now. This is a somewhat futuristic story about a rich semi-has-been living in Saturn City, and it’s another architecturally-driven series (hello, Mister X!). The protagonist is driven by his past who’s trying to get his act together and deal with a society that is quite unlike anything we’ve seen on this Earth. His antagonist is an ancient mobster with an unending sex life, one that gets our hero in trouble. Sitting squarely in the middle is the madam of a sex club that would have put the real Hellfire Club to shame. It’s a great journey, with the creators letting out the plot on a need-to-know basis. Ambitious stuff that actually pays off.

Hawkeye: Writer – Matt Fraction, Artists – David Aja and Annie Wu, Publisher – Marvel Comics. Our returning champion, this is about as far from a Marvel superhero title as one gets. It’s all about Clint Barton when he’s not working as an Avenger. It turns out his life is as screwed up as anybody’s in the Marvel Universe, but he’s not quite mature or grounded enough to pull his ashes out of the fire. He’s also got something of an estranged relationship with the female Hawkeye, a former Young Avenger. There’s plenty of action here, but this series is all about the characters and the issue of what, when he’s not on duty, is “normal” for a superhero.

Archie: Various writers and artists, Publisher – Archie Comics. While Marvel and DC are boring us to tears with endless reboots and mindless universe-changing highly contrived “events,” Archie Comics has been quietly taking their well-known characters on an evolutionary trip that, I think, would frighten the company’s founders. Archie Andrews is less interested in Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge and has been spending a lot of time with Valerie Smith of Josie and the Pussycats. That’s a very big deal; for the better part of 75 years the Archie-Betty-Veronica triangle has been as sacrosanct as the Clark Kent-Lois Lane-Superman triangle. Jughead left home for about a year’s worth of issues. The cast continues to expand… and they continue to launch new titles, including Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla’s Afterlife With Archie, which may very well be the only storyline involving zombies that I enjoy any more.

Sex Criminals: Writer – Matt Fraction, Artist – Chip Zdarsky, Publisher – Image Comics. Well, lookie here. Another Image Comic with the word SEX in the title. And, damn, another good one too. This one is actually sexier than Sex, probably a bit funnier, and exceptionally compelling. Great character work, science fictiony in the classic sense, and pretty much capeless. Plus, it’s got the best recap page ever.

The Shadow: Various writers and artists, Publisher – Dynamite Comics. When I learned how much this license was going for, I figured whomever got it would have to publish multiple titles each month in order to pay the freight. I was right, but I didn’t predict most of them would be really damn good. My favorite of the bunch is Shadow Year One, by Matt Wagner and Wilfredo Torres. There is also Chris Roberson and Andrea Mutti’s The Shadow, offering traditional 1930s-era stories, and The Shadow Now by David Liss and Colton Worley and set in contemporary times.  These books do not contradict each other. There’s also a mini-series or two that usually involves other pulp heroes, legendary and original, which dominate Dynamite’s expanding line.

Batman Li’l Gotham: Story and art – Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs, Publisher – DC Comics. I’ve waxed on and on about how much I like DC’s original online comics, and most of them are quickly reprinted in traditional comic book format. Batman Li’l Gotham is my favorite of the bunch. Unlike what one might expect from the name of the book and from the artist approach, my friends at Aw Yeah! Comics have no fear of competition here. The characters are… little… and the approach is kid-friendly, but the stories are clever, entertaining and involving, and the stories aren’t padded out like most superhero books these days. The whole BatCast is featured, as are plenty of other DC Universe characters. All are unburdened by whichever version of the Official Continuity that DC may or may not be following these days.

There are plenty of other titles I would recommend, but these are the ones I pick as the ones you should check out tomorrow. Of course, your mileage may vary but, damn, finding good new stuff is why we’re comics fans in the first place.

THURSDAY AFTERNOON: The Tweeks!

FRIDAY MORNING: Martha Thomases