Thursday, April 23, 2009

Two Steps Forward Three Steps Back

Yeahhh...about that characters evolving and passing the torch to the next generation. I remember when I believed that, years and years ago.

Hal Jordan was dead, and the Last Ring was taken up by Kyle Rayner. "You will surpass him," the King of Dreams told Kyle, in Morrison's JLA.

Oliver Queen was dead, and the mantle of Green Arrow was taken up by his lost son Connor Hawke.

Barry Allen was dead, and Kid Flash had to live up to his legacy.

Jason Todd was dead, and Tim Drake was determined to prove himself a better partner for the Batman.

Superman was dead (briefly) and it took 4 people to fill in for him. I could go on.

Where are they now?

Kyle Rayner, off in space somewhere, while Hal Jordan, back from the dead, is the focal point of the GL mythos again.

Connor Hawke, no longer able to shoot an arrow but now gifted with a healing factor he got from being spliced with DNA from Plastic Man. Meanwhile, Oliver Queen, back from the grave, married the girlfriend he had in the 70s and is the one true Green Arrow.

Wally West, aka Kid Flash, had his book cancelled, was replaced by Bart Allen, who died, replaced by Wally again only to have his book cancelled a second time. Barry Allen, back from Speedster Heaven, is the one true Flash back in Central City.

Tim Drake was replaced by his girlfriend who was capriciously killed and later unkilled. Jason Todd, who was capriciously killed in the 80s, is now unkilled.

John Henry Irons spends less time as a superhero and more time as a replacement for Professor Emil Hamilton. Kon-El Kent was killed off and thanks to a lawsuit couldn't even be called Superboy when it happened, the Eradicator only shows up on Kryptonian High Holy Days, and the Cyborg Superman, something happened to him in the Sinestro Corps War but I can't be bothered to remember what.

I could bring up Thunderstrike, Ben Reilly, Danny Ketch, whatever the hell Rhodey is now, The Manhattan Guardian, the v3 and v4 Legions, and whichever Doom Patrol is in continuity this year, but it's late.

The shared universe of Marvel and DC have gotten very good at the illusion of change, but in the end it all boils down to what the writer liked reading when he was 12. Because that's what you're going to get on the page. Marvel's brought back every 70s character from Angar the Screamer to Zzaxx, and all the Superfriends killed off in the 80s and 90s are running around again. I can see the 90s revival coming on the horizon--Darkhawk has had TWO #1 issues this year and it's only April.

Darkhawk. Sheesh.

The "growth" you're talking about is nice while it lasts, but it doesn't stick. Only Dick Grayson seems immune, but the year's not over yet.

Meanwhile I eagerly await Charles McNider/Vic Sage/Karate Kid/Ted Kord: Rebirth, The Kraven Clone Saga, and the All New All Deadly Brother Power the Geek.

Oh shit they did that one.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Another Step in the right direction

This week DC released the second issue of Batman: Battle for the Cowl and reading it, I was reminded of why it is I thought this three issue mini series had such potential. For years many of us have been reading comics and trying to find ways to continually identify with the characters that brought us to the dance.

It doesn’t matter if it was Superman’s quest for Truth and Justice or Spiderman’s embodiment of the “Everyman Hero” to Captain America’s Man out of Time or Batman’s mission to eliminate injustice making him an iconic creature of the night.

The classic comic book characters of the Silver Age of comics contained something either significantly tragic or stunningly brilliant that attracted people like myself when I got into comic collecting.

Then one day, and I can almost pin point the day, something changed and possibly not for the better. Part of it was publishers missing the boat on opportunities to have their characters evolve and some other part was that I evolved enough to want to really be able to accept and want change.

I cheered when Tony Stark was deemed too drunk to be an effective Iron Man, passing his armor to his loyal buddy, James Rohdes. I was thrilled when Hal Jordan moved on (I won’t discuss how so Jordan’s fans can sit on their hands and keep reading) and his ring was passed to a much more contemporary Kyle Raynor. My favorite evolution of a character may be undone soon but with Barry Allen’s death back in the 80’s, the mantle of Scarlet Speedster was passed on to his nephew, Wally West, the former Kid Flash.

The beauty of these changes for me was that the new players had a chance to not just fill big shoes but to walk in directions that more established characters like Stark, Jordan and West really couldn’t because of who they were and the era they represented (Hence the freak out of Jordan fans when he…well…nevermind all that).

Currently the big deal is that Bruce Wayne is dead (or just not around anymore) and Gotham needs a protector against the likes of that which has threatened it like evil clowns, reptiles, thieves, former DAs, acts of God, and bus loads of crazy people. FINALLY, his cowl will not only be picked up by Dick Grayson, the first Robin, but it looks like the mantle of Robin will be handed down to Damien, Wayne’s loose cannon of a son (long story).

Now I’m not really looking at this as just another costume change or something like that. I’m looking at this as a way to actually see Batman grow for a change. Grayson has long avoided the issue of someday becoming Batman but let’s face it. It’s his job to take over the family business and if this is done right, this can be some of the best comics work since Jack Knight reluctantly became Starman back in the 90’s. The reluctant heir to the thrown can be a great vehicle as long as there isn’t too much whining. It’s not like Grayson is a rookie or anything but no one can really what it’s like to be Batman until they’ve worn the suit and tried to do what Batman did. We’ll also have the benefit of watching Grayson grow into the role as opposed to reading Batman for the past 10 years and have the realization that no matter who or what the obstacle was, Batman was well prepared and all the stuff between preamble and conclusion is just a formality.

I’m hoping that I get a change that makes me feel like I felt when I no longer had to watch Pierce Brosnan’s 007 and could enjoy the flawed but deeply emotional and dangerous Daniel Craig’s 007.

If you want to read something else like it then I recommend the Current run of Captain America by Ed Brubaker, in which former sidekick Bucky Barnes is found to be alive, (again long story) and has now taken over for the assassinated Steve Rogers. Essentially you get a real sense of just how heavy that shield is when carried by Barnes, who has to overcome his own programming and a personal agenda that may at times get in the way or representing the same ideals Rogers did.

I still call these changes, steps in the right direction. If comics readership is getting older then it’s a safe bet that we have seen all we need to really see of whatever fit is the Silver Age was taking us on a tour of. If there is a younger comics audience to tap and indoctrinate then writers and publishers may need to find ways to make older concepts new and not just by changing the characters outfits and methods. We can see right through that. Sometimes the best thing to do is put someone else in the driver’s seat and let him take the wheel and keep it for a long time.

This isn’t really a new idea and it’s the way life is supposed to work anyway. You had your living at home for cheap and listening to the bullshit your parent tossed your way because you were living under their roof yadda yadda yadda right? Then you moved out, got some cool roommates, learned that they sucked and either were too neat or were pigs and moved out again, borrowing money from the bullshit parent to do it or working that extra gig for the cash to make rent or to pay those loans back.

Now you have you shit together (or close enough not to be like that sibling or friend from high school or college who still hasn’t leaned shit) and WOW, you may now even be a shit talking parent or are headed that way.

This is just how it goes for many of us and I’m still reading comics and wondering about how now that I don’t really need to see my own angst and rebellion reflected in my favorite characters, how can I see the growth that I notice in myself and my peers reflected in my favorite concepts?

Well I’ve been enjoying the hell out of watching Bucky Barnes go through it as Captain America and I’m hoping I get the same from Dick Grayson and crazy little Damien as Batman and Robin.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Vertigo gets it!

I've been saying for some time when asked about whether I thought floppy monthly would ever go the way of the 8 track tape (no) and cellphones that don't do anything but make calls (yes).

There are a tone of comic book titles out there and many do well by today's standards. When I hear someone lamenting modern sales compared to the sales of bygone eras, I snicker. We aren't guaranteed to always make the money we made in the past and IMO publishers spent a good amount of effort giving us substandard product to make that money and retailers should have known it.

Personally this period in comics is the most diverse the market has seen in a long time and if retailers do their job and attract the appropriate market while publishers listen to that same market, then the medium with survive and thrive.

Vertigo gets it.

In August they are releasing 2 new titles under the banner of Vertigo Crime but instead of making 2 new monthly titles which will enjoy healthy 1st issue sales that will have dropped off like a major league split finger fastball, they are releasing them both as Graphic Novels and bypassing monthlies altogether.

Filthy Rich by Brian Azzarello and Victor Santos isn't about a character fans already have a measure of loyalty to and loyalty is one thing that helps sales of monthlies as well as well known creators. I have no doubt that I could move this comic if it were a monthly but I'm kinda glad I don't have to. Instead I can devote that one spot on my shelf to some indie title that needs the exposure more than a DC/Vertigo title. In this case, I could make space (hypothetically) for a title like Four Eyes (Once upon a Time in America with Dragons). Instead of making shelf space for Dark Entries by Ian Rankin and Werther Dell'edera, I can give that space (Hypothetically) to Terry Moore's Echo, which is simply a well done Terry Moore property with an interesting female lead but with super powers (unlike Strangers in Paradise which had well developed characters and more drama than day time TV).

The main point is that major publishers would do well to consider introducing new properties in GN format for a while and save the monthly comics for that which already works. It could prevent them from having to cancel a series by issue #32 even when the title, characters and creators are well regarded.

I think a lot of indie creators pushing new titles could benefit from this too. I've only got so much space in my shop and I am pretty picky about what mothlies I'll add to the rotation based on what I perceive to be the tastes of my clientele and my abilty to sustain interest in it.

One doesn't have to be overly picky in order to consider the strain on their comics budget put there largely by Marvel and DC comics. Many of my customers will avoid unknown properties in order to still afford the old stand by titles but would support a well done indie original graphic novel in a heartbeat.

A step in the right direction by DC.