And for thoughtful discussion, I’ve been really enjoying John Siuntres’s Word Balloon Podcast. John’s an incredibly passionate interviewer with a deep knowledge of and respect for pop culture and comics. Each week, he sits down to have an extended conversation with a creator. John has the uncanny talents of getting people to open up (often a creator will say “I haven’t told anyone this before”) and for making the listener feel like he or she is part of it all too. When I listen to Word Balloon, I feel like I’m sitting right there with them, but just can’t get a word in edgewise.
Recent interviews have included:
Tom King – one of the industry’s hottest writers, talking about his recent work on the Vision and Batman, and all the while framing it against his real life as a husband a father of young kids.
Danny Fingeroth – talking about Spider-Man and Will Eisner Week. It was so compelling, that I’m now working with my local librarian on an Eisner Week event. (More on that soon!)
Rob Liefeld – a polarizing figure who provides great insight into his creation Deadpool and the box office success of the movie. No longer a “young punk creator,” Rob is now able to offer a unique perspective to his success and the marketplace’s wants and needs
Ryan Browne – on Image’s new Curse Words Normally, I have passed over this series, but the passionate discussion and insights on the Word Balloon Podcast got me excited enough to give it a try.
Paul Dini – providing great insights into his new animation work on Justice League Action and his Jingle Belle character.
I’ve been doing more writing, and I just finished my first article for TwoMorrow’s Back Issue! magazine. Editor Michael Eury asked me to write about the 80s comic series from DC called Thriller. Created by Robert Loren Fleming and Trevor Von Eeden, Thriller was one of those innovative series that DC launched during the excitement of non-traditional comics like Frank Miller’s The Dark KnightReturns & Ronin, Barr and Boland’s Camelot 3000, and Howard Chaykin’s The Shadow. During my research, it was amazing to find out how many fans fondly remember Thriller too.
Maybe it was the tagline. Fans vividly remember how the series announced, “She has seven seconds to save the world!” This actually had a double meaning. On one hand, Trevor Von Eeden’s innovative page layouts pushed the reader along the page with a real sense of urgency. And we were all soon to find out that the main character had seven agents, called “seconds” that she guided on her Mission: Impossible-like adventures.
Maybe it was characters. Robert Loren Fleming packed Thriller with so many unique characters. Most series would build a story around one fresh new protagonist. Fleming had eight heroes, two villains and another half-dozen supporting characters that the reader was dying to learn more about. And that was just in the first story arc.
Maybe it was the creative risks the creators took. Robert Loren Fleming and Trevor Von Eeden were trying something new and different. They took risks on a very public stage. They didn’t play it safe. They gave it 110% and left it all onstage. We all can applaud that. And even after all these years, that’s just so very impressive.
And I was able to dig up some fantastic insights and track down the startling truth behind a secret Thriller rumor. Back Issue! #98, focusing on DC in the 80s, will be on sale this July, just in time for San Diego Comic-Con. It should be a lot of fun.
After what seems like decades of waiting (oh wait: it was actually about 10 years!) the Deadpool movie finally opened in theaters this past weekend to the tune of a record-shattering $135 million at the box office; and it was everything I’d hoped for. It was exactly the Deadpool movie that we needed at this point to get the franchise rolling – a dynamic R film that pulls no punches about who Deadpool is and why he’s not a traditional hero, yet invests us in his unorthodox character and worldview and gets us rooting for him anyway. And as I walked out of the theater, despite any minor critiques I may have, I felt distinctly the warm, zen-like glow of happiness from having just experienced the fulfillment of longtime hopes I’ve cherished for the manifestation of just such a Deadpool film.
Well, friends and internets – My opinions: let me tell you them.
(Warning: spoilers ahead!)
Deadpool is a crazy, hilarious, action-packed, totally inappropriate, slightly heartwarming, somewhat horrifying, gleefully violent, fourth-wall-breaking, satisfyingly mixed-up bag of awesome that makes way more sense than that sounds. It’s a welcome addition to the universe of comic book movies, and one with the potential to add both more fun movies to its own franchise, and bring some levity to upcoming X-Men ensemble movies. It’s also a take on the early Joe Kelly issues of the Deadpool comic, issues I’ve always loved and that did a lot to define the character, including establishing his incessant, pop-culture heavy banter, his work as a mercenary for hire, his romance with Vanessa Carlysle, and his relationship with supporting characters Weasel and Blind Al. The movie pulls heavily and, despite some necessary screenplay alterations, pretty faithfully from Deadpool’s origins as told in Kelly’s 1998 Deadpool & Death Annual, which establishes the backstory of Wade Wilson getting cancer and being given Wolverine’s healing factor by a shady Canadian government program in an attempt to cure him so he could work for them, his manifesting his mutate powers and in the process the ugly cancer tumors and scars we know so well, and his creating the Deadpool persona after his transformation.
Deadpool is an origin story that makes you forget it’s an origin story; a uniquely off-kilter flash back-and-forth plotline that manages to interweave the frenetic fight scenes and scattered behavior and commentary of post-op Deadpool with the more straightforward backstory of Wade Wilson in a way that keeps both interesting and interlocked, and allows for a story beyond his origin. This fits the character to a T; and also makes it possible for a movie starring a character known for random comments and wacky unpredictability to include a lot of heart in the form of a sweet (and salty) love story (the Deadpool marketing people weren’t completely pulling your chain on that one) as well as moments of gravitas and even desperate sadness. And that’s important, because although you won’t often see Deadpool crying into his beer, his origin is a damn sad story, and the dark undercurrents beneath the wisecracking guy in the red-and-black suit are what make him so interesting.
To portray that character, they couldn’t have found a better actor than Ryan Reynolds. Not only has Reynolds got the physique and athleticism for the role, but he also is a master of quick, snarky or sardonic comedic timing and delivery. However, as with the comics character, the over-the-top action and comedy are only two facets of a subtly complex character. The success of Reynolds as Deadpool comes from his ability to marry the snarky persona believably to the darker aspects of Deadpool’s personality, and deftly convey both Deadpool’s genuinely bizarre sense of black humor, and the manner in which the character also uses humor as his armor and as a mask for his pain and despair. Reynolds moves seamlessly from sight gags to exuberantly violent fight scenes to tender moments to intense anger to desperate sadness, and the undercurrents of strong emotion he manages to convey beneath gags and lightning-quick comments are what keep this from being just another ultraviolent comedy. I don’t know that there is another actor out there who could break our hearts during the scene in which Wade cries quietly in the bedroom as he decides to leave Vanessa; and a few beats later, have us roaring with laughter along with Deadpool at the sheer absurdity of a man being murdered via a slow-moving Zamboni.
Of course, in real life, we wouldn’t think any of that violence so funny; but Deadpool’s moral compass is so far off that if we tried to follow it, we’d end up (knowing him) somewhere on Uranus. Reynolds gets that, and plays the character with a charismatic, exuberant energy that pulls us fully into Deadpool’s worldview and makes us forget we’re laughing at, e.g., someone being “skewered like a fucking kabob.” As a passionate fan of Deadpool, Reynolds is wholly invested in this character, and has been wanting to play him in a movie for years (and actually got to play Wade Wilson for a good 15 minutes of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but we won’t say any more about how that turned out). The Deadpool of the comics has, in fact, compared his appearance to “Ryan Reynolds crossed with a Shar-Pei” – and the movie cleverly acknowledges that (as well as Spider-Man’s origin) when Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool says he was “bitten by a radioactive Shar-Pei.” (Other fun facts: both Deadpool and Reynolds hail from Canada, and both have thrice alliterative names – Wade Winston Wilson and Ryan Rodney Reynolds. It’s like he was made for the part!)
Reynolds as Deadpool drives this movie; but it also succeeds in the realm of pulling the character’s look and fighting style from the comics onto the screen. The red and black costume is Deadpool to the last detail, including the inevitable pouches (which are sent up subtly in the movie when Deadpool puts a pamphlet from the cab into a pouch, then minutes later when it’s time to pay says he never carries a wallet when he’s working because it ruins the lines of the suit. There have been many jokes in the comics about what on Earth he keeps in all those pouches). And because the choreography of Deadpool’s completely badass fighting style (a parkour-like mix of elegance, economy, humorous distraction, efficiency, and brutality) was done so well that it was like seeing his comic book fight scenes come to life, Deadpool is the only action movie about which I’ve said, “I would have been happy to sit through more fight scenes.” I’ve always liked the mixture of fighting styles portrayed in the comics, and seeing them on the big screen reminded me of all the comics storylines that have established just what a powerhouse fighter Deadpool is. Sure, he’s not a tank like Colossus; but with his level of precision and skill, his unorthodox and unpredictable but successful tactics, and his healing powers, there’s a reason Deadpool stands above pretty much every melee fighter in the Marvel universe (bucking for first with Wolverine).
Although I say I’d be happy to see more fight scenes in theory (and in future Deadpool movies!), of course in reality too many fight scenes can overwhelm the story. The screenwriters struck the right balance here, devoting enough time to the establishment of Wade’s prior character and relationships to give them meaning alongside his transformation into Deadpool and into his action-heavy revenge scheme. They also did a good job introducing a roster of interesting character relationships without an excess of heavy-handed exposition; and when exposition was needed, cleverly used Deadpool’s fourth-wall-breaking trait to help things along. I do think that the main villains (Ajax and Angel Dust) are fairly opaque, and we don’t learn much about their motivations, but they are well acted and delineated enough to be effective in the story; and Ed Skrein’s Ajax, while he may not be the most horrifying villain I’ve ever seen on screen, is definitely one of the ones I’d most like to punch in the face.
Deadpool’s allies fare a bit better in the development category. T.J. Miller is excellent as Wade’s buddy Weasel, serving as a sort of loyal sidekick who prefers not to actually be around when the action goes down. In character, he’s very like the Weasel of the later comics (Cable & Deadpool era, because in the earlier comics Deadpool was much harsher to him), despite some differences in detail. Miller’s dry delivery makes him memorable, and Miller and Reynolds have a great rapport on-screen, which makes their friendship believable and their banter very amusing. Blind Al (Leslie Uggams) is great in her roommate role, and despite the movie losing some of the weirder, darker aspects of the Wade/Al friendship (see DeadpoolVolume 1 Issue 14), manages to nail the bickering but weirdly caring dynamic they have in the comics. (“Listen Al, if I never see you again, I want you to know that I love you very much,” says Wade as he leaves for the big showdown. “I also buried 1,600 kilos of cocaine somewhere in the apartment – right next to the cure for blindness. Good luck.”) Even the cabbie, Dopinder (who is not featured in the comics) has his moments and his own little difficult romance going on, which results in a pretty damn funny scene with “Mr. Pool.”
Although X-Men ally Colossus (voice, Stefan Kapicic; facial performance, Greg LaSalle) isn’t given much dimension, he does well as a moral foil for Deadpool, and is endearing in his patient attempts to convince Deadpool to be a hero. And his superhero speech and Deadpool’s ensuing choice at the climax of the movie make for the most morally thought-provoking moment of the film. Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), the other X-Men character and Colossus’s trainee, doesn’t get a ton of dialogue, but Hildebrand manages to do a lot with her screentime and I love what the writers have done with both Negasonic’s character and her powers thus far (which they’ve changed from the comics, but given she’s barely in the comics, I don’t foresee any fan rage). In outward character she is the quintessential moody teen (as per the hilarious opening credits), which Deadpool instantly calls her on; but that interaction establishes an immediate mocking rapport between the two, and by the final fight scene, they are working together as a better team than he and Colossus ever do. And of all the superpowered characters in the film, her powers are undoubtedly the most bombastically badass, as she can basically be a human bomb (slightly similar to Nitro). Negasonic is also a cool choice because she’s previously unexplored in the X-Men movie realm, and would make a good possible addition to the roster of characters that orbits Deadpool for a sequel, or could be explored further in other X-Men movies.
Of course, the driving force for much of the movie’s plot is Wade Wilson’s love story with Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin). And if Vanessa and that relationship had not been completely believable, the movie would have fallen apart. Kudos to the writers for penning one of the weirdest, but also possibly most human and authentic, big screen romances I can think of; and to Baccarin (and Reynolds) for making it feel entirely credible and natural. As the lovers note in the movie, they work not because they look like they should on paper, but because their individual quirks fit perfectly together, “like the weird curvy edges of jigsaw puzzle pieces” to form a whole picture. Although Baccarin unfortunately has to fill the damsel in distress role for a while in order to further the plot, there is enough substance built into her character and the romance prior to that point that she transcends that role because we already know her as a whole person, and their relationship as a solid, real thing. Plus, Vanessa does get to do a little ass-kicking of her own, getting in at least one solidly impressive blow on Ajax. And although I was slightly sad she’s not Copycat simply because I would have liked to see it, its canon and it works much better at this point in the movie franchise’s story to have her be a non-mutant. At least we got a little nod to Copycat in Vanessa’s white-streaked hair; and it’s possible that if she shows up again, we’ll get to see her in her full mutant glory.
Although we didn’t get to see Copycat, Deadpool gave us plenty of other references to the comic outside of, obviously, the main cancer and Ajax/Workshop storyline and key supporting characters Vanessa, Blind Al, and Weasel. Along with things I’ve mentioned like the pouches, Vanessa’s hair, and the Shar-Pei bit, other favorites of mine include:
Deadpool running into Bob amongst the faceless lackeys hired by Ajax (and although in the comics Bob’s wife is named Allison, I’m assuming in the movie she’s Gail for Gail Simone, a fantastic comics writer who wrote some great Deadpool comics);
The Hellhouse, a.k.a. Sister Margaret’s School for Wayward Children, in all its seedy glory;
A revenge plot flipped from the early Deadpool issues, in which Ajax is hunting down Deadpool via tracking his former Weapon X buddies (who did time with him in The Hospice/Workshop) and then killing them after they’ve given him the information he needs;
The heel-face turn plot point of Ajax telling Wade the “superhero” program was never meant to turn him into a hero, but was intended to turn him into a super slave (in the comics origin story, Wade did have a chance at being permitted to be Weapon X’s version of a superhero, but the cancer cure didn’t take, which is how he ended up in The Hospice). This echoes the Landau, Luckman, and Lake comics storyline wherein Deadpool signs on to save the world and then discovers that they never actually intended for him to be a hero in the sense he thought, because LL&L’s idea of “saving” the world is allowing an alien being to bring “peace and bliss” to Earth by robbing everyone of free will, leaving inhabitants in an inert stupor).
Deadpool seeking a fix for his ugly face. There are actually several stories in which Deadpool temporarily becomes handsome again/loses the ugly mug, but none of them end well (except, arguably, that thing with the One World Church, since it kicked off Cable & Deadpool, the most awesome reluctant buddy comic ever).
Deadpool bonding with Worm. Although not referred to as Worm in the movies, Deadpool’s Workshop friend David Cunningham has something subtly wrong with his right eye and side of his face, which echoes the cybernetic implant on Worm’s face in the comics, and Worm’s last name in the comics is Cunningham. The two become friends, and as in the comics, Cunningham dies near the time of Deadpool’s escape (although in the comics he’s lobotomized by Ajax, and Deadpool kills him in a mercy killing. This is itself likely an homage to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which Deadpool’s comics origin echoes in many ways).
Several references to Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld, creators of Deadpool, including Liefeld’s name on a coffee cup and one of the characters in the Hellhouse being named Liefeld; and both names appearing on freeway exit signs. There’s also a line in the credits that thanks Liefeld and Nicieza “(With Tongue).” Oh, and let’s not forget the waitress in the Hellhouse, Kelly, who I assume is a reference to writer Joe Kelly;
Deadpool with a knife in his skull, à la oh-so-many of Deadpool artist Reilly Brown’s awesome Deadpool sketches, in which he loves depicting the merc as a literal human pincushion stuck full of things, being gnawed by rats, or even on fire. (The scene also references Daniel Way’s Pool-o-Vision, but I hate that in the comics, so pffft. It’s excusable in the movie because of the knife in the brain, though. Speaking of Daniel Way, the pizza guy scene echoes one in his run on the comics.)
Wade’s Bea Arthur shirt (in the pizza scene). Deadpool in the comics has an obsession with Bea Arthur, who he thinks is uber sexy.
Deadpool breaks his limbs to escape shackles in Issue 9 of the Joe Kelly run, when he’s escaping from Deathtrap. (I love that issue so: “Die, Teddy Ruxpin, Dieee!”) The broken limbs he gets during the Colossus movie fight, and then sawing off his hand to escape the handcuff, both echo that scene. Also, the baby hand growing back in the movie echoes a plotline in Issue 3 in which his finger had been cut off, and he’s trying to grow it back but only grows back a tiny stub at first.
The Dead Pool. Although in the comics Wade names himself after the Dead Pool run by Worm in The Hospice, and in the movie it’s run by Weasel at the Hellhouse, the inspiration is at least similar. The reference to Captain Deadpool is also great.
The way Deadpool impales one of the guys on the freeway with two katanas echoes the cover of Wolverine Issue 88, the issue where Deadpool and Wolverine first meet.
The way Vanessa touches Wade’s face after seeing his scars for the first time is reminiscent of Siryn’s gesture in the comics when she first sees him without his mask.
Meta fourth wall-breakage. Deadpool references the fourth wall a number of times in the movie, as in the comics, but the Blind Al bit where he breaks “sixteen walls” was probably my favorite allusion to it.
When Wade and Vanessa are finally together again and about to kiss, he says, “And now, the moment I’ve all been waiting for.” I’d take that to be a subtle reference to the multiple voices/speech boxes he deals with in the comics.
The little Deadpool bust on the shelf in Wade and Al’s apartment is a nod to how into his own brand and merchandise Deadpool is. (I was honestly surprised not to see the Deadpool boxers and the boots with the Deadpool symbols on the soles!)
The flipped running joke about Deadpool joining the X-Men is great. For some time in the comics, Deadpool liked to refer to himself as part of the X-Men team, and the team continually told him with great exasperation that he’s not a part of the team. Of course, I assume this is also set-up for bringing him into the greater X-Men movie universe, as he eventually does work with the X-Men in the comics.
And speaking of the X-Men universe and the future of Deadpool, now that we have this movie in theaters and it’s doing so well, naturally everyone is speculating about what comes next (besides the release of the soundtrack with that hilarious Deadpool theme song. Of course Deadpool gets his own theme song, along with the best Stan Lee cameo to date). The sequel was greenlit a few days before Deadpool opened; and in the fantastic end credits scene, Deadpool confirms (if you can believe him) that we’ll be seeing Cable in the next film. Given I’ve been saying since the moment Deadpool was a reality that the next logical step is filming the best messed-up bromance ever, a.k.a. Cable & Deadpool, I’ll be overjoyed if that’s the case. And it makes so much sense. Now that the character in both tone and origin is established, it will be easy to introduce Deadpool, e.g. through an X-Force movie (which Ryan Reynolds wants to see happen), to the larger ensemble franchise; and then to roll from that into Cable & Deadpool, a storyline that again primarily focuses on Deadpool (and Cable), but also involves a number of other mutants and has a much grander scale, since Cable is literally trying to save the world before he dies.
Going next to Cable & Deadpool will allow for further development along the lines of the absolute funniest moments in the film, which are when Deadpool is mocking others (particularly Colossus, Negasonic, and “Agent Smith”), skewering the X-Men franchise and superhero movies (“McAvoy or Stewart!?” killed me, and his excitement at the “Superhero Landing!” was a riot) and engaging in or laughing to himself at gallows or black humor (the aforementioned Zamboni scene, spelling out FRANCIS, and the T-Rex joke being good examples of this). Yes, a surprising amount of the crass humor in this movie does land (and Deadpool’s creative cursing is pretty good, his reference to Ajax as a “shit-spackled Muppet fart” being the best), but I’d love to see the sequel really keep focus on the satire and the more complex humor; and bringing Deadpool into the larger X-Men universe or pairing him with Cable (a man who he grudgingly respects, even when he doesn’t always like him) will allow for that. (Side note: I’ve seen some speculation already that maybe other superhero movies should up their ratings to R, considering that Deadpool is doing so well; but I think that would be a mistake. The smartest move, for both future Deadpool movies and other superhero movies, is to stay true to the character(s), and base both content and choice of rating on that. Deadpool being what he is, I had no issue with this film being R, and think future R-rated Deadpool films would be perfectly appropriate – but I also hope the most important goal remains making movies that capture the tone and essence of the character.)
Moving to the Cable & Deadpool storyline will also create an opportunity for another story that will hold together underneath all the jokes, and a more thorough exploration of morality through Deadpool’s eyes. In this film, Colossus’s speech as Deadpool is about to shoot Ajax in the head, and Deadpool’s reaction, which is hilariously and typically Deadpoolian, are also a pointed commentary on the superhero world and the way superheroes’ choices to rise above the villains they fight can be seen as noble and heroic, but could also be viewed simply as an unwillingness to be the one to rid the world of their evil. Of course, taking that final step is also problematic, as it gives rise to the concerns that started Marvel’s Civil War storyline, about having superpowered beings running around accountable to no one. The majority of the superpowered need to walk the line to remain in the good graces of the public; whereas Wade simply does not care and follows his own skewed code.
But examining that code, and Deadpool’s struggles in the comics with making the right choices and being a hero, could make for a great and complex movie sequel, and the Cable & Deadpool storyline has the moral questions and hard decisions built right in. Now that Deadpool has been established, I want to see the sequel delve even deeper into what’s underneath the wisecracks and the crazy now that he’s post-op Deadpool. I want to see Cable developed into a three-dimensional and perfect foil for Deadpool, and I want to see Deadpool forced to make hard choices in his own unique way. And, of course, I want them to showcase more of that crazy elegant fighting style, because it is badass. And, and, and…is there anything else I want? Well I would say a Deadpool unicorn, but I already have one. So I guess all that’s left to say is, OMG Deadpool was super awesome and I want to see it again; and…
Greetings, past-dwellers. Tis I, Marc Alan Fishman, the sage of the future! I traveled here to the past, via my patented DC Direct TimeSphere. It was only $299.99 at my local comic retailer (which in the future is just Amazon Prime…)! I come to you, this random Saturday morning, on a mission from ComicMix 8.0. I’ve come to give you hope that in 2013, everything changes. Hold on to your bow ties, time lords. Let me give you the glimpse of what will become of your industry.
In 2013, the rumblings began. You see every time a creator got uppity in the past, they dropped those immortal words: “Creator-owned is the future, man.” And every time those creations (not of Marvel or DC, mind you) became one with the zeitgeist, the word revolution spread across the artist alleys of convention floors like a plague. Ah, I know. I know. You say “but that means nothing, FutureBeard… no one will ever take down the Man!” And, in a sense, you are right. The Man, thanks to lucrative movie franchises only made the big two stronger. Much like Coke and Pepsi, so too grew Disney and Warner Bros. until they were simply entertainment forces of nature. But therein lies the seeds of change.
It will all happen so slowly, you may not notice it. DC’s New52 and Marvel Now continued to polarize the ever-aging fanbase. The movies and TV series connected to them (both live action and cartoon) never lead to direct increases in comic book sales. They were, in essence, two distinct media with distinct audiences. It took a while to figure out ourselves… but our NerdVerse Historian, King Alan Kistler decried it, and it was written; while there will always be crossover, there wasn’t (and will never be) a movie or comic to unite them all.
And with that knowledge, spreading like primordial ooze across the vast lands of Nerdtopia, came with it the paradigm shift.
Through careful and meticulous planning and the support of the not-as-big-as-you’d-hope-but-still-pretty-big fan base… established creators turned towards indie-or-self-publishing outlets. Crowd-sourced, and then sold for profit directly towards their bottom line, these creators proved that even without a corporate overlord signing a check… a meager living could be made. And this is how the pebble begins to roll down the mountain.
When those small books became big hits, their creators soon became corporations unto themselves. And then, those same creators, backed by their cultivated fan base, combined into local studios to consolidate their power. No longer mere islands adrift in freelance work, these micro-states began dictating what they published on their own terms. And yes, even on the outskirts of these creator-states… smaller unknown (cough… cough… unshaven…) studios took to the same open road and formed bonds that could not be broken. And now, from the future where I come to you, I’m proud to say that the industry has never been stronger, where creators are no longer afraid to present their own ideas… and take home enough to support continuing doing it again.
Now, don’t cry for Marvel or DC. They still have a large foothold of the rack-space. But their talent pool is a wide berth of only the young unknowns, and the old guard who chose never to leave. The young, lured in by the shiny opportunity. The old, still fearing the unknown, and clinging to the terrible contracts that deny them anything more than pittance while their creations bring in countless millions in other mediums.
And yes, occasionally some of the Indie Nation takes on an old favorite. And they sell magnificently. But here in the future… after that tale has been told, they are reenergized to return to their own pocket universes. It’s a glorious time for sequential fiction. It happened in dribs and drabs over the aughts. Image’s old image (heh) of splashy pastiche universes gave way to intelligent, and brilliantly crafted mini-series. Dark Horse, IDW, Boom!, Avatar, Dynamite, and others began looking towards those self-sustaining garage bands in the artist alley and gave them a powerful ally to help build their brands.
The Internet, social media, and most important, peer-to-peer connections via conventions spread the word of the DIY-revolution. Indie comic creation became the new rock-and-roll. And 2013 my friends… was where those faint rumblings began to move the needle towards the utopia I live in now. Suffice to say: keep your eyes and ears open. More importantly: keep supporting your favorite creators when they make the leap away from the dark side.
I should also note, in case you’re curious:
Superman ditched the Nehru collar. Grant Morrison’s consciousness was transferred to a super-computer. Rob Liefeld eventually got his eyesight checked, and realized the error in his proportions. He redrew every ounce of work he produced up until 2015. Afterwards, his wrist looked like Cable’s, circa 1996. Unshaven Comics optioned the rights to the Samurnauts to Sony Pictures. Brad Bird directed the first of 17 successful films. Subsequently, Unshaven Comics erected a 75 foot golden beard in the heart of downtown Chicago.
And, finally, Alan Moore eventually forgave DC. Shortly after, he ascended to Snake Mountain and has since lived as the NecroLord of Fourth Realm. He still puts out books every year, and they are still amazing.
I’m tempted to be cheeky. I was considering writing this whole article in a faux-eulogy for our newly departed (departing …) series from the New 52. But, let’s be honest, I’ve done it before. So, how about we cut through the pretense and figure out why – beyond the obvious – these series are headed back to the scrap pile.
For those not in-the-know, Blue Beetle, Grifter, and Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E have been given the axe. Ask Bob Wayne, Sales Guru of DCNew, and he’ll proudly produce the following PRSpeak:
“There’s always going to be some pressure on whether or not the new idea being pitched is maybe more exciting than another series we have that may have already told its story,” he said. “That might mean it’s maybe time to put that title on the shelf for a while or have the characters migrate into some other title. So there’s not really a hard and fast rule where there’s a line in the sand where if it falls below this point on the Diamond chart or doesn’t make this percentage of X, it’s gone. It’s really very story driven.”
So, there you have it kiddos. Blue Beetle, Grifter, and Frankenstein simply told their story. And they needed to sit out for a while so some new books can grace the shelf. Well, that’s sort of true. As ComicBookResources properly reported, all three of the titular characters here will all show up in new books. Consider then, if you will, the following conundrum: If a title is canceled in the forest, and no one cares, can you just move the important pieces into another book and call it a day?
I’ll be honest. Out of those three books, I’ve only read one. I purchased the first 10 issues of Blue Beetle. I gave up after one too many crossovers and false starts. This is after I reviewed the book, positively, over at MichaelDavisWorld. Simply put? The series has yet to find solid ground to stand on. Akin largely to the now defunct Static Shock series, I felt the editorially mandated ‘must-see-teevee’ issue drive has tanked the series. Over the course of just a year in publication, Blue Beetle has received his super powers, fought his best friend (who became a villain Beetle), moved to New York, got in the way of the DEO and Director Bones, fought his best friend again, fought Kyle Rayner’s rainbow brigade, and will end his series fighting the Reach, creators of his bug-suit. I’m pretty sure before the end of this volume, he may fight his best friend again. Is it any wonder the story is ending? It never started!
Over at Frankie and the Slim Shadies? Different song, same dance. On paper, it’s actually a bit baffling. The series has enjoyed a nearly consistent creative team – and a cursory look over several review sites even show that the book was consistently entertaining. But as I glazed over the 13 available covers, I saw a schizophrenic book. One week, the mean green machine is slaying the rot. Another week? An underwater monster. Then some insects. Then OMAC. Obviously, Jeff Lemire knows how to write well. And it appears he tried to breath as much life into the book as the lightening bolts would let him. But what I didn’t see there in all the reviews … consistency of story. I guess when you have to change gears like Frank swaps limbs, it’s not an easy task to stay alive. Heh.
And how about Grifter. Much has been written about the Rob Liefeld production. Suffering from the same repeated editorial mandates, and shoehorning of the Wildstorm Universe into the DCU … is it any wonder that all of the WU books are tanking on the sales sheets? Ooops. Sorry. I mean “story sheets.” Because all of this is really story driven, folks. Keep the simple facts in mind. They had a team in place at launch. Nathan Edmondson and CAFU. It didn’t take even six issues for the carousel of artists to fill in and out of the book. Then at issue nine, enter Liefeld’s typewriter. And three issues later? Another new penciler. Is it any shock to you that when a book changes artists this much, it’s circling the drain? Go look on your shelves right now, and count for me the number of creative team shifts that occurred in the best runs of your favorite books. Yeah. I thought so.
Ultimately, these three series each have had high points and low. By their very nature of being DC titles, they see sales indy guys like me and my kin would kill for. They are distributed far and wide. They are reviewed on countless sites. They are picked apart and debated for their merits. At the end of the day though … the powers that be want to see success. And put any spin on it you want … if the book isn’t banking beaucoup bucks (or I surmise … banking enough to be above water, or carrying the possibility of future licensing deals), the grave is dug in the ditch next to the road. Let’s not be unrealistic; we knew that the New52 was not going to deliver 52 critically-acclaimed sales-powerhouses. The zeitgeist would never have been able to sustain that much hype, love, and attention. What this is … is what it’s always been; the nature of the comic industry is to die and be reborn at the right place and the right time.
Mourn not for Grifter, Blue Beetle, or Frankenstein, kiddos. They’ll all be back, and be canceled just as quickly, when we cover the New52 NOW next year.
Back in the mid-70s the astonishingly gifted Neal Adams pointed out – in context of something else – that the issues of Detective Comics he drew outsold those Frank Robbins drew. Let me state: Neal was not putting Frank’s work down.
Nonetheless, I felt that comment lacked veracity, so – being an honest-to-Crom obnoxious brat hotshot at DC Comics at the time – I looked up the sales figures. It turns out Frank’s issues actually sold slightly better than Neal’s on average. But in those days of newsstand-only comics, the all-important sell-through percentages – that is, the percentage of comics sold out of the total print run – was a couple points higher. And each point over breakeven is pure profit, each point significant to the publisher and to the success of the title.
I am not putting Neal down; I think most people would have suspected his work would outsell Frank’s. But, really, the marginal victories contributed by the artists are less significant than the mere fact that ever since Adam West donned the cowl, Batman is Batman. It’s possible that really bad talent could torpedo the character, but it would take a while and management would notice and hit teams would be assembled.
I mention this by way of Marc Alan Fishman’s discussion in this space last Saturday of the recent brouhaha between Rob Liefeld and Scott Snyder. Scott went on about how his Batman (which, in my opinion, is one of the best monthlies DC Comics publishes these days) sells 80,000 copies and how it outsells Rob’s work at DC, from which Rob recently resigned.
Rob’s position is that such stellar sales are not due to the craft of the talent within as much as the fact that the book is called Batman and that Batman would be a top-seller even if Jason Todd wrote it. Scott said horse hockey (I paraphrase), and lots of folks agreed, including our own Marc Alan Fishman – the son I never had and if there were any hint he was he’d demand a blood test.
At this point, I need to point out the following: It was Marc who turned me on to Scott’s Batman. As he has repeatedly made clear, Marc’s not a big fan of The New 52. Yet he personally took every opportunity to inform me that Batman was an exception. I read the first three issues and told him I agreed.
I also need point out that I have never met Scott. I’ve met Rob, although I haven’t seen him since a San Diego show about a decade ago and I don’t think we’ve ever had a real conversation. I personally do not find his work of late to be compelling, but that’s my taste. There’s a reason why DC gave him all that work this past year, and he’ll always be a hero for creating Deadpool. Rob’s managed to make an impressive number of not-friends during his career, but that can be a positive mark of distinction depending upon the individuals and circumstances involved. I, on the other hand, am well-known as the sweetheart of the donut shop. I have no axe to grind against any anybody.
Batman receives much wider distribution than Savage Hawkman or Deathstroke. The latter titles are pretty much restricted to the comics shops and to e-comics sales; you can buy Scott’s Batman at a great many convenient stores, truck stops and the more enlightened supermarkets. This is because Batman is Batman.
His Batman outsells Rob’s New 52 titles in the comics shops, to be sure. Quality is in the mind of the reader and, unfortunately, when you’re dealing with Batman or X-Men or Oreo cookies, who’s got the better stuff simply is not as important as the brand itself.
Rob Leifeld is absolutely correct when he says Batman is Batman.
But bringing rational thought to a flame-fight is a buzz-kill.
Mike Gold, Marc Alan Fishman, and our fellow ComicMixers Emily S. Whitten, Glenn Hauman and Adriane Nash will be at this weekend’s Baltimore Comic-Con, mostly hanging around the Insight Studios and Unshaven Comics booths, annoying the innocent. Drop by and say hello.
In case you don’t follow the Twitterverse, allow me to succinctly sum up the “happening” that occurred this past week. Rob Liefeld, stalwart artist and writer, melted down. After months of being jerked around by his nebbishy editor, he waved the white flag and left his position at DC. He took to Twitter to vent a bit. Creators around the industry came to bat for the editor he trashed. He lashed back. First to Marvel’s First Hat Honcho, Tom Brevoort. Then, Scott Snyder, in a private communication, reached out to the champion of anatomy himself. After a bit of back and forth, the private conversation became not-so-private. Seems Liefeld took it upon himself to imply that Scott’s success at DC lies with the character Snyder writes, not his prowess of prose.
I could actually argue on the side of Robbie Jordache about the editorial mandate issue. Seriously. It’d be brilliantly positive. The single time in my life I wouldn’t take every chance I get to dump pot shot after pot shot on the man whose most famous creation is the thigh pouch. This however, is not that sunshiny post. Rob? You done went and got me pissed.
The tweets in question:
“It’s not you (referring to Snyder). It never has been. It’s Batman.”
“I’d like to think that if your going to wave your ego around on Batman you’d remember all that came before you. Holeee crap.”
“One word. Haunt. Two words. Swamp Thing. Not all creations equal”
Where do I even begin? OK, Rob, if you’re paying attention (which shouldn’t be hard since you’ve got an abundance of free time right now…), here’s the skinny: Scott Snyder’s Batman is selling amazingly, well, because he’s writing it brilliantly. Yes, Batman will sell tons of books because he’s in it. Certainly all the other Bat-titles being produced right now are enjoying that fact; they’re not as good (save perhaps for Batman Incorporated). Snyder’s run, first for a year on Detective, and now on Batman’s flagship title, has proven time and again what a talent Scott happens to be. For one year, he thrust Dick Grayson into the cowl, and delivered a series I personally hold up as being one of the most deftly written in the last decade. And when he transitioned to the main book? He created an original epic story and villain (in the entire Court of Owls) that takes all the gravitas Hush falsely earned, and did it without relying on the crutch of every single rogue in the Bat-gallery. To imply that the consistent sales Snyder’s run is bringing in is due to the nameplate alone is not only short-sighted… it’s insulting to me as a fan.
Rob’s next pec-pulsating punch to the gut implies that Snyder takes credit for his success without denoting all those great creators that came before him. Given Liefeld’s inability to draw a straight line, a proper foot, or a plausible gun has perhaps caused him to not be able to read. Because when I read Snyder’s run on Detective Comics, I saw that he brought back James Gordon Jr, a character who‘d long been forgotten since his introduction in Frank Miller’s acclaimed “Batman: Year One.” And in his tenure as Bat-plotter, Snyder has paid homage to nearly every other writer before him, including working with Grant Morrison to tie-in several pieces of “The Return of Bruce Wayne” with his “Gates of Gotham.”
If Rob’s beef was that Snyder took credit for the work he’s done? Well, that steak ain’t for dinner. Snyder is allowed to revel in his limelight. He’s earned it. And while Rob’s runs on several books saw increases in sales… it seems it wasn’t enough for the powers that be. And so, we end up in this one-sided squabble.
Snyder’s ultimate response to the fans: “…I’ll echo what my brother @GregCapullo said before. All of us on team Batman are extremely proud of the success, and that success is due to your support. But as the team on the book, if we didn’t believe that your incredible and humbling support was due at least a little to us doing a somewhat decent job – if we sat back and said – Batman sells Batman – what sort of book would that engender? We have to think the sales are because you guys like what we’re doing on the book. It fuels us to continue to do stories that matter to us, knowing that you’re telling us you like what we’re giving you, on a character that means everything to us both. That’s it. I will not fight or post another negative tweet about Rob or anyone. And, I want to say sorry to you all and no one else– to you, the fans of comics, not just me or Rob – for bothering with this. It’s a waste and we should be pushing the good not attacking each other. And I’m guilty of that too. So I’m sorry to you for going negative. Thx to those of you who reminded me of that.”
See? Snyder certainly isn’t waving his ego around now, is he?
And let’s not leave the table before we discuss Haunt versus Swamp Thing. First off, I tried Googling to see where or how Liefeld is tied to Haunt. Couldn’t find one. But suffice to say, even if he had anything to do with it, I’ve read it. It doesn’t hold a candle to Swamp Thing. And again, I cite the books themselves to combat this idea that “all creations aren’t equal.” Well, Robbie? You’re damned right. All creations are not created equal. Swamp Thing has decades of material from which to draw from. To expect Haunt would be on the same level is asinine. And for the record, I didn’t give two poops about Swamp Thing before Snyder was on it. And I say this knowing full well Alan Moore wrote the character. Snyder’s prose and ability to craft truly creepy tales helped Swamp Thing rise to the top of my pull list every month. I got through two issues of Haunt. And the second one was read during a long night in the loo, where no other reading was available, and my phone was dead. I’ll leave it at that.
At the end of the day, I want to give Liefeld a pass. I really do. He was exasperated, like so many others these days, at DC’s whirlwind editor machine. Since the New 52, it would seem that unless you’re on the top of the heap in sales, the Brothers Warner are pushing down on the middle management to keep shaking the tree until money falls out. By doing this though, it inevitably leads to creator burn out. And through the lens of his exasperated state, Rob lashed out at those defending the editor in question. What good did it do you, Rob? Where you could have once just waved that white flag and retreated back to the land of your creator-owned crud, you instead decided to pick a fight with Batman.
And Robbie, in case you never got the memo: Don’t ever pick a fight with Batman.
Marc Alan Fishman and fellow ComicMixers Emily S. Whitten, Mike Gold, Glenn Hauman and Adriane Nash will be at this weekend’s Baltimore Comic-Con, mostly hanging around the Unshaven Comics booth hawking his wares. Drop by and say hello.
In my daily perusing of the Internets, I came across this post. A short post, it says (with one little snip):
“Dear Old People (and this includes me), the kids today are not hip to your cultural references. This is not a failure of education. Things change. The end.”
It’s not about comics or the movies or television. If anything it’s about Baby Boomers and how insufferable we can be. The popular art that moved us must move you, or you’re ignorant.
This is not a new attitude. My mother, for example, loved E. Nesbitt and J. D. Salinger, so she thought I should read them. My high school English teacher thought that Fitzgerald and Hemingway were the greatest writers of the 20th Century, and skewed their curricula accordingly.
None of this was as insufferable as my generation has been.
We also made smug jokes. Do you know Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings? These days, if someone tells that joke, that person must explain what Wings was.
In comics, the insidious influence of the Boomers is even worse. Every attempt to reboot a character for a modern audience is eventually derailed by continuity geeks who insist that everything fall in line with the way it was when they were kids. Sometimes, I’m like this myself. I liked the Supergirl who hid her robot in a tree. I liked super pets. I think they made the world a better place.
You know what else made the world a better place? Me, being young and cute and hopeful.
We need to get over ourselves. The Flash doesn’t have to be Barry Allen (that re-reboot robbed my adult son of the Flash he grew up with). Superman doesn’t have to be in love with Lois Lane, nor Peter Parker with either Mary Jane or Gwen Stacy. Those stories exist, and we can read them whenever we like.
In the meantime, there’s lots of terrific new entertainment that us old farts could learn from. Off the top of my head, there’s Sherlock, a brilliant new way to look at a classic character. There’s Copper on BBC America, a blueprint for the way the GOP wants to rebuild American society. There’s Cosmopolis, a movie that analyzes modern life from the interior of a stretch limo. And, love him or hate him, Mark Millar is taking major risks as he creates his media empire.
Now, excuse me. I have to go and watch Nashville again.
SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman, Rob Liefeld, Scoot Snyder, and Burning Down The House
Good morning, DC! Please, have a seat. Why yes, this is a new office. Thank you for noticing. Would you like a mint? Oh go ahead, pocket a few to take home with you. Are you nice and settled in? Excellent.
I wanted to stop today – just a bit shy of your one year anniversary as the “DCnU” – and give you an evaluation. And let’s be honest… this time last year? You were phoning it in something fierce. Anyways… I’ve assembled some thoughts about this leaner-meaner-DC you’ve tried to become. How about we take a little time now to go over my thoughts.
I’d like to start with something positive. Frankly, it took balls to announce to the world you were resetting things. Or rebooting them. But not ret-conning them. However you want to phrase it. To take your entire line back to #1 certainly got you the attention you wanted. Suddenly all the Internet was ablaze with rumors and opinions. You even got TV, newspapers, and traditional magazines interested in you again. I bet you hadn’t seen this kind of love since you killed Superman. For a few months. But not really. How is the Eradicator doing these days anyways? Ha ha ha! But I digress. If nothing else, you like to look like you’re a risk-taker. Frankly, we both know you’re not, but that’s a lengthy discussion we’ll have at another time.
Looking over your line, I can’t help but feel like you couldn’t stop yourself from playing favorites. For every amazing Batman you put out, you matched it on the shelf with less-than-stellar clones like Detective Comics and The Dark Knight. Action Comics got the world talking about Superman again. Superman reminded us why we stopped reading his book somewhere between Electric Blue and New Krypton. And four Green Lantern books? I mean, I know you were trying to suck up to me with giving Kyle Rayner his own book… But did you actually read what you put out?
Justice League was your pride and joy. Justice League International was made with scraps from the bottom of the fridge. And for all the love you gave Animal Man and Swamp Thing, you couldn’t match the complexity and depth in Resurrection Man or the abysmal Suicide Squad. I just kept getting the sense that you unnecessarily spread yourself too thin, DC. You published fewer books per month than you had prior… but in getting leaner, you didn’t realize it would make each effort you put out that much more important.
I feel like I’m being a bit harsh on you. Here… stop crying for a second. You did good things too. I mean, let’s talk about Batman, Action Comics, Animal Man, and Swamp Thing, OK? Here you were able to really play with people’s expectations. Your gamble paid off in spades. Grant Morrison proved (well, I should say is continually proving) that he can marry his love of the golden/silver age while still spinning modern yarn for the lynchpin of your universe. Scott Snyder’s pair of books were decidedly different, and elegant in separate ways. In Batman he was able to prove his deft hand at writing a plausible difference between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, when under the cowl. And while I didn’t have the patience or wallet to enjoy the entirety of “The Court Of Owls,” just keeping to the main Bat-Book proved all the epicness I needed to thoroughly enjoy the event. And over in the “The Dark”? Well, all I can say is you’re finding the perfect way to release Vertigo books with a different logo on them. And I mean that in the best way.
See… Don’t you feel better? And hey, also keep in mind that for the first time Aquaman was really selling well. And the core Green Lantern title has never been sharper. Now, of course we both know you slapped a #1 on it, but it never really “reset” after flashpoint. Very smart of you. Well, it doesn’t hurt that Geoff Johns is the one writing it, so he didn’t have to apply his whole “make the universe over” rule to his own book. When you have that many letters in your title, I guess the rules don’t apply. Say, how did OMAC sell, anyways? Cough, cough! Excuse me. Nervous tic.
As I sat to prepare your report card, it became increasingly taxing to determine a final grade. I mean, if I were to be harsh about it? I would just give you a D, and call it a day. The greatness achieved from the top talent you employed just can’t hold up those who only tread water. For all the interest you garnered from the mainstream media, you never figured out a way to hold on to their attention, lest you revert back to the old days of just throwing anything out there in hopes of someone paying attention.
Who did you decide to make gay this week? Whose backstory did you change, just to get the message boards flustered? And don’t even get me started about your “girls should wear pants” fiasco. The continual desire to turn amazing artists into mediocre writers, and your desire to employ Rob Liefeld even after his one book was basically universally jeered. And of course, your commitment to force needless crossovers throughout the line, to bump up sales. All of these things pull your GPA (Geek Projected Approval) down into the gutters.
I could go on, but I see you’ve stopped paying attention to me, DC. I know you want to focus on the future – by raping the past. Batman is about to enter “Nightfall.” There’s all that “Before Watchman” stuff you keep cramming down our throats. Oh, and I’m pretty certain I heard you muttering something about more Justice League teams and the resurrection of WildCATS. I can only hope you learn from your mistakes, in going forward. So for now, I’m ready to give you a final grade for your first year, you get an Incomplete.
Once again, my Facebook friend Jim Engel tipped me off to another jumping-on point for a rant. I think I owe him a Coke. Seems someone at the Wall Street Journal perked up at the news that the Avengers crossed the bajillion bucks meter, and it stemmed a very obvious question: If the movie is that popular, shouldn’t there be some kind of carry-over to the parent media? And the simple answer is one we comic fans hate to admit: Ain’t no carry-over cash coming through the doors of the local comic shop over this (or any other) movie. So the WSJ writer, one Tim Marchman, decided to take his book review of “Leaping Tall Buildings” and turn it into a tirade on the industry I want so badly to call home. Now don’t get me wrong, Marchman makes a few solid points. OK, he makes a lot of them. But I know you guys like me when I’m pissy… And one point in particular boils my blood faster than Wally West got eliminated from the New 52:
“If no cultural barrier prevents a public that clearly loves its superheroes from picking up a new Avengers comic, why don’t more people do so? The main reasons are obvious: It is for sale not in a real bookstore but in a specialty shop, and it is clumsily drawn, poorly written and incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in years of arcane mythology.”
First off? On behalf of the industry as a whole? Fuck you. And normally I refrain from the potty mouth, but here is one occasion I feel damned correct in using it. Second, let me clarify where my anger lies. I agree with him about location. The local comic shop is indeed a specialty store. One that carries a stigma of exclusivity that can’t be broken, except on very rare occasion. Most comic shops try hard to throw open their doors to the general public in hopes of enticing them in with their fictiony wares, but the general public doesn’t look to consume their books off the shelf anymore. Ask Borders. But I digress.
I won’t even argue his point about continuity. I could easily argue that, mind you, and if people respond violently enough to this article I may talk about it in a few weeks. Suffice to say, yes, it’s a big barrier to entry. Anyone walking in, fresh out of the theater, would be hard pressed to know where exactly to start reading an Avengers comic. The movie-roster tie-in isn’t well-liked by any reviewer, and the modern Bendis epic-arcs (Disassembled, Civil War, Dark Reign, etc.) are amazingly dense with history. Enough at least to perhaps scare off someone from really taking a leap of literary faith. Again, I digress.
The jab Marchman takes specifically toward the “Clumsily Drawn” aspect of modern comics. Frankly, I don’t get where he’s coming from.
Let’s talk about those clumsy drawings he’s obviously so urped by. Take a look across the racks of your local comic store. Do you see what I see? I see a breadth of styles more diverse than any other period of comic book publishing. Do you think, even for a nano-second, that years ago you’d see Travel Foreman’s sketchy macabre style sharing shelf space with Mobius-inspired types like Frank Quitely and Chris Burnham? Or the crisp and clean lines of the Dodsons bunked-up nice and cosy next to the loose and energetic John Romita, Jr.? No. You’d get 17 Rob Liefeld clones boasting whips, chains, impossible guns, and thigh pouches. Go back to the 80’s? You’d get a sea of house-styled Neal Adams / Dave Gibbons / George Pérez wanna-bees and an occasional Bill Sienkiewicz or Frank Miller thrown in.
I truly believe we are in an amazing time for comic book art. Artists and editors are finding a real balance between new styles, and composition to tell a story. Not every book is perfect mind you (and yes, there is still a house style to both Marvel and DC… but assuredly not as rigid as it once was). On the whole, a comic off the rack today has more chance of being an original artistic statement than a commanded tracing of “something that sells.” While comic sales have plummeted from the false peaks of the 90’s… I truly doubt it is the fault of the art on hand. Well, except for Scott McDaniels’ stuff. Yeesh.
Now, I know that there’s some debate amongst my ComicMix brethren about this point-in-question. I openly beg for some of that debate to happen in the comments below. I’m hard-pressed to believe that on an industry level that the artwork is to blame for comics’ dwindling sales. As I look across the smattering of books I’ve been reading these days – Daredevil, Invincible Iron Man, Batman, The Boys, The Manhattan Projects… and flip through the pages of artists truly giving their all to every panel – I get a little verklempt. I want all of you to go on with out me. I think about this Marchman, and all I can think is “Ver es kon kain pulver nit shmeken, der zol in der malchumeh nit gaien!”
Once upon a time there was a powerful Wizard who had evil in his heart. He saw the comic world as a place he could bend to his will. And for a time, publishing companies flocked to him as loyal lap-dogs. Their best artists and writers were doled out to him to make appearances at his traveling circus. He was gloriously powerful, but feared his mortality. Soon, his spells… terrible fluff charms with no bite or news illusions presented way past their prime… weakened his power. The Wizard flailed madly to stay relevant. The people of the comic world simply stopped paying attention. His power dwindled. His traveling circus became a geek show of tired acts. He was left with no choice. He took the few followers he’d kept a grasp on, and sucked their life force… and ran into the forest. And there he stayed, seething, and cursing the public for abandoning him. When a court jester dared make fun of him, he shot from the darkness! But the shot was less than even a first year spellcaster’s magic missile. It fizzled, and died before it could even hit. He-who-everyone-knows has quit magic altogether.
There was a time when the word “Wizard” was synonymous amongst comic book fans as a glorious thing. Wizard Magazine was the zeitgeist of the comic community. Wizard also put on amazing shows featuring top talent, insightful panels, and legitimately helpful workshops. And then the Internet became a thing.
Slowly Wizard became more and more out of touch. As comic book news was published more frequently, its articles became old hat by the time they reached print. The helpful price guide that anchored the last third of the magazine ceased to be of any value. And their shows? I think anyone who has long frequented my writings here know all to well that a Wizard Convention fell from grace harder than Lucifer. Most recently, Wizard shut down its publication arm. It took subscribers’ cash, refused to refund it, and started publishing an e-magazine. No one read it. It shut down too. And should the Internet be believed… the now resigned CEO, Gareb Shamus, perhaps attempted to get an artist fired from his day job for making a scathing webcomic about him.
Shamus reportedly attempted to get an artist fired from his day job for a webcomic published on The Gutters. No other details aside from the strip’s writer (and Gutter EIC Ryan Sohmer) are available, aside from his post on the subject. As he said:
“Should you find yourself the subject matter of a Gutters page, and take offense to it, don’t go after my artists. Should you be so offended that you attempt to get someone fired from their day job, don’t be a coward.
“Come after me.”
Let’s pontificate on this, shall we? If this is to be true, Gareb needs his head checked. Last time I looked, the Internet is a place built on the idea that anyone can say anything they want about anyone else short of legal slander or accusation of murder or rape. I don’t actually know if that’s true, but it sounds right, doesn’t it?
Perhaps Shamus forgot he once ran a magazine that sent quite a few barbs towards Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, and anyone else in the pop culture arena. Half the fun of Wizard, in its hey-day, were its jokes crammed in the margins and in word balloons to article’s pictures. And not once did I read of them getting reamed by Rob Liefeld for drawing pretty man boobs… let alone have an artist potentially fired for drawing a commissioned strip. It’s mind-numbing if this indeed happened.
It’s a sad tailspin the Wizard corporation seems to be in these days. I’ll be honest. I subscribed to their e-mailed magazine when it came out. I gave it three issues. And then it was junked, I unsubscribed, and moved on with my life. For all the good they used to represent, they simply never figured out a way to make their content current. Suffice to say with the utter glut of talent around the edge of this industry just waiting for a chance to write a nice op-ed piece, or jam on a funny strip… Shamus and company truly can’t see the forest for the trees. Well, I’m a nice guy.
And Steven Shamus was immensely helpful in getting Unshaven Comics into two very excellent conventions this year. So, here’s my good deed of the season; Wizard (are you paying attention?), here’s how you can fix your tattered reputation:
1. Have Gareb Shamus post an honest-to-Rao apology to the comic fans around the world. We need to know, in detail, why money was taken for subscriptions not filled, and nothing was done to even things up. We need an apology for promising content, and never delivering. If there’s a pool of people’s money sitting somewhere, you need to make it right. Take it, commission some jam pieces from the artists who still may like you. Better yet, get young, up and coming talent and commission them to do some great pieces. Then send that artwork to the former subscribers, with a big fat I’m sorry written on them.
2. Take the conventions you own and put them back in the hands of those who make the industry work. Ditch the aging wrestlers, and D-List sci-fi extras, and find a way to get back the creators who make these shows what they are meant to be… comic book shows. Not pop culture festivals. Mend fences with those you lost over the years. Comp them. Get them back into the buildings by any means necessary (like groveling)… so they can see their fans. Get them to interact in sketch-offs, trivia contests, and wicked debates. Make the conventions a place to be, and be seen; Not just an overgrown flea market, and autograph zone.
3. Take what resources you do have, and create timely content for other people’s more successful sites. The industry doesn’t need another Newsarama, Comic Alliance, Comic Book Resources, Bleeding Cool, or ComicMix. But all of those sites sure like a good article, a snappy comic, or relevant video. Create the content, release it for free, and excite the fans again. Earn back the goodwill you once had by doing what you should have done a while ago; Apologize. Work hard to earn back the trust and respect from the industry you took for granted, and produce something that stimulates the fan base… instead of pandering to your stock holders in an attempt to appear profitable.
We see through the spells, Wizard… and we know all your tricks already.