Friday, December 15, 2006

COMICS in 2006
a DC Comics heavy retrospective of the year in tights

Overall, this has been a good, if not watershed, year for fans of superhero comic books. Both DC and Marvel seem to be on the same page that they are now writing for an adult/ young adult audience. Big events occured which appear to have actually had an impact in the universes of the Big 2. Creators seem to be the driving force in a way which bodes well for the next generation of the industry. And superheroics seem to have crossed from the comic page into the American zeitgeist in a way we haven't seen in a long time.


I'd given up on Marvel in early 2006. As some may know, I don't pick up too many Marvel titles except in collected editions. I wasn't even able to pick up much in the way of Spider-Man early in the year as the Spidey Cross-over event "The Other" hasn't been collected in softcover. The "House of M" storyline, which was then wrapping up, didn't appeal to me, and I still can't get myself used to the idea that Cap's sidekick has been chilling in Russia for sixty years. I don't care who is writing it.

New Avengers has, honestly, left me cold since issue #1. I don't get it. I love Bendis, and I love the art. There was just something about the "All-Star Avengers" which didn't click. Especially since they had to include their Superman/Supreme/Mr. Majestic/Hyperion/Prime-sixth generation super-dude knock-off in the mix.

So, aside from BOTH Bendis and Brubaker's runs on "Daredevil", I didn't feel like I was getting much out of DC's Marvel-ous competition.

Luckily I picked up an issue of Civil War, and some additional issues of Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Black Panther. Whether I think the series has hit on all cylinders or not from a logical point of view, or whether I thought characters acted in character, the series is good, comicky reading. Tough questions (for the Marvel U) are asked, harsh lessons are learned and not everyone in a white hat ends up smelling like roses.

I understand Marvel readers are infuriated at late production from Marvel, and delayed shipping. Given the rate of delivery by Marvel during the Jemas-era, Marvel's books practically seem like they're coming out early.

What I can't envision is Marvel's ability to pull their universe back together in the aftermath. Should be a neat trick.

Looking to 2007, I am far more concerned about the rumored "Onslaught: Reborn!" series, when the original idea was so hokey, not to mention the "Heroes: Reborn!" fiasco to which it was tied, but which pre-saged the Ultimate line. Marvel also needs to learn to NOT have three "events" in a year. "Annihilation" and "Beyond" were completely forgotten amongst the "Civil War" hype.

Some Other stuff

Dark Horse rereleased all of the "Concrete" work to date in 7 volumes. It's no wonder I passed by the book at age 13 when I remember seeng it on the shelf, but it's also no wonder that as an adult, it's some darn-good reading.

Gemstone seems to be suffering some financial hardship with the cancellation of a good chunk of the Disney line of comics. Fortunately, Uncle Scrooge appears to have survived the first axe to fall. In 2006 I delved a little further into Uncle Scrooge and picked up both "The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck" and "The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck Companion". Some darn fine comics by Don Rosa, modestly priced, and truly all-ages fun, not just kid stuff. Highly recommended. the ongoing "Uncle Scrooge" collections are fairly fun, too, but at their best when Rosa or Bark's work is reprinted.

Image Comic's loveletter to Jack Kirby "GodLand" continues to surprise.

"The Mouse Guard" was fun to look at, if a little light on plot. Wish I could find the most recent issues. or figure out how to store them. Maybe it's a good item to wait for the trade.

And, technically, it's DC's Vertigo... but I'm glad to see Harvey Pekar with access to better distribution. I didn't start picking up his stuff until this year, and it's, as Harv would say "real interesting."


It's one year later in the world of comics, and, in fact, One Year Later at DC Comics.

Superman had a huge year this year, enjoying success in movies, DVD, video games and even in the pages of DC Comics. "Superman Returns" didn't meet industry expectations (which were insanely high), but made over $200 million at the domestic box-office, and came in as the top seller and renter in its home video release. Superman merchandise, both cheap and crummy, as well as high end and pricy not only hit the shelves, but seems to be selling at a fairly brisk pace.

In the comics, Superman dropped from 3 monthly-ongoing titles to 2, but picked up "All-Star Superman" and "Superman: Classified", as well as continuing with reprints of Silver-Age goodness through the Showcase Presents line. From a creative stand-point, Infinite Crisis provided Superman with a nice high point, resolved some fan complaints, all while the One Year Later event introduced a whole new bundle of questions and complaints from the Super-Fan community.

I've not been shy about saying that I enjoyed the heck out of "Up, Up and Away" by Kurt Busiek and Johns, "Superman: This is Your Life" across all three Superman monthlies during IC, and the post IC work within both Busiek's "Superman" and Johns/Donner's "Action". Cooke and Sale's "Superman: Classified" has been off to a good start, although I, personally, am not surprised. Of this period, however, I believe "All Star Superman" by Morrison and Quitely will be the most enduring of the Super works.

Overall, a revitalizing year for DC's original franchise.

Unfortunately, the return of Kara Zor-El to the DCU has been an unmitigated disaster. Fans' calls to DC to return Supergirl ("the one, true" Supergirl, as many maintained as various substitutes were introduced) to the Super-titles resulted in a convoluted mess which, 12 issues into her series, has shown only the faintest signs of quality or coherence. As of a week and a half-ago, I officially gave up on the series, voting with my dollars and declining to purchase the latest issue. Simply, the character is unsympathetic and messy, and is being upstaged by other creator's portrayal of her in everything from "Supergirl and the Legion of Superheroes" to single-panels of her in IC, etc...

To the chagrin of black t-shirt wearing sixteen year old comic fans, Batman came out of IC as a character who, for the time in 15 years, isn't making his trademark simply by acting like a paranoid/psychotic loner. The post Dark Knight Returns misinterpretation of Batman's mentality was wiped away with a new editorial line-up and creative force. Curiously, "Robin" is actually very readable at the moment, Dini is tearing things up in a good way in "Detective", and Grant Morrison's "Batman" (although on an Ostrander/ Mandrake hiatus) is taking turns I didn't expect, but which I'm enjoying. The first issue of "Batman: Classified" was okay, but didn't blow me away.

I confess to not thinking too much of Bruce Jones' run on the final issues of "Legends of the Dark Knight". His Batman was fine, but the story felt like a vintage single-issue Batman mystery spread out over far too many pages. A waste of Olivetti's considerable talent.

I think that, in the long run, the decision to bring back Jason Todd will haunt DC far more than Jason Todd is haunting Batman. There are a dozen different ways they could have had a similar character to Todd running around, and I just can't get behind this decision or excited about "The Red Hood".

I have given up on Nightwing.

"Justice League of America" is the sort of team-book DC has traditionally struggled to produce. As most members of the team are from the offices of other editors (even Aquaman), the JLA has usually been all plot, no character. So it takes a special kind of writer to simply use the characters as they are, and not feel the need to radically alter or damage a character in order to explore that character. Does that make sense?

The first issue of "Justice Society of America" was very promising. I enjoyed about 65% of the final issues of the predeceding title, "JSA". I think this reinvigorated take is exactly what's needed for the team, if not the title, to receive the attention it deserves. Further, I'm enjoying the two-to-three issue character focused runs on "JSA: Classified".

"Teen Titans", meanwhile, feels as if it is headed somewhere good, but just hasn't touched down quite yet, post OYL. I don't think you can argue the quality of the art, and DC's new insistence on character as well as plot is being felt in this book as well. Glad there was no new #1.

The three big stories, of course, were "Infinite Crisis", "One Year Later" and "52".

"Infinite Crisis" was absolutely fascinating from a DC reader's perspective as the creative team essentially took ownership of the sins of the actual editorial choices DC has made not just in the past 20 years, but going back longer than some of the creators have been alive. The art, even by multiple artists, was top notch, and the story, itself, very good for a "big summer event" type-series. However, DC wasn't up front about all of the cross-over material you would have to read in order to follow the flow of the comic. The fall-out is painfully clear when returning to the collected edition, and see characters seemingly die on one page and then re-appear forty pages later. The future reader of collected editions will never know what happened to, say, Firestorm, which brought him back.

In addition, the four "Countdown" titles didn't appear to all have a similar effect on the outcome or the main plot. Further, the "Infinite Crisis Special"s, which were really the fifth issue of all four series WERE important to following the "Infinite Crisis", and should have been included as chapters in Infinite Crisis. I've spoken to folks at my comic shop who are unclear as to events in IC as they believed DC when they were told that reading the "countdown" titles wasn't necessary for following the mini-series.

My recommendation? Bite the bullet and have the "collected editions" department put together a few volumes which actually tell the whole story, as they did with "Our Worlds at War".

"One Year Later" was the literal jump in the DCU from the final panels of Infinite Crisis to One year Later for every character in the DCU. Senior VP and Executive Editor Dad DiDio recently candidly discussed successes and failures of the year in publishing at Newsarama. Among the "could'a done it better" items was the OYL editorial launch. While all of the DCU comics were given an opportunity at a fresh start, few editors seemed to embrace the idea as fully as they could have, instead treating OYL like a minor cold best forgotten after the first three issues post IC.

Some titles seemed to arrive stillborn, including the much hyped "Wonder Woman" relaunch by Allan Heinberg and the Dodsons. Almost eight months after the initial launch, we're only 3 issues in, and still know nothing more today than we did in the time before issue 1 of this new series hit the stands. Further, Wonder Woman has been appearing in titles from Justice League America to Manhunter, without missing a beat. There have been hints that Wonder Woman would NOT be Diana (or Diana Prince), but those plans have either been scrapped or are taking an unfortunate amount of time in coming to fruition, while these other comics seem to suggest that the change isn't permanent, anyway.

The Bart Allen "Flash: Fastest Man Alive" relaunch has been met with deservedly harsh criticism. It's not that readers would have been completely unwilling to accept Bart as The Flash, but... man, the series reads like an 80's time bomb. Plus, I still can't get over the idea that Bart is something like 6 or 7 years-old in reality, no matter what they want to push on us with VR and the Speed Force. Bart's immaturity was, after all, the whole point of Bart's original series, "Impulse". I don't care what happened in one or two issues of Teen Titans.

"Aquaman" is interesting, to a point. I'm still not sure what Busiek hopes to gain by not only introducing a new Aquaman, but keeping the former Aquaman nearby, looking like an oxygen deprived Davey Jones. We're several issues in, and there's been no pay-off.

In short, DC needs to seriously reconsider it's post-Lost concept of stringing the reader along. Unlike TV, the comics aren't free. While I appreciate a little mystery, I also appreciate a little resolution. I also liek to know who it is I'm supposed to be reading about.

I am two issues shy of the end of the "Martian Manhunter" limited series. That will be all the Martian Manhunter I can take from that creative team, thanks. I probably won't even finish the actual 8 issue run. I don't know who is floating what ideas at DC for limited series, but this thing is just deadly dull.

"OMAC" is, uhmmm... it's not horrible, but it should have been a 4-issue series. It's great to have a continuing plot-thread with the OMACs, but... yeah.

"The All-New Atom" is, conversely, a good all-ages read (I think). The main character's greatest power may be his completely unbelievable level of Americanization when fresh off the plane from Hong Kong, but the story is so weird and fun and funny, that I'm able to forgive some of the elements that don't really work. Also, while a mystery remains re: Ray Palmer, it doesn't feel like the core of the story is empty.

Another surprise came in the form of "Mystery in Space", which is beautiful to look at, and is surprisingly energetic for a Jim Starlin book.

As I mentioned either here or at the now-defunct "", I gave up on "IC Aftermath: Bludhaven whatever". I am told I missed the re-entry of Captain Atom to the DCU. The series was bad. I am disappointed that I missed one of my favorite C-Lister's shining moments, but...

"Hawkman"'s titular (he he) change and focal change to "Hawkgirl" was an amazing misfire. I've never been a huge Walt Simonson fan (oh, crap... Thor fans will hate me), but his story seemed mired in unfocused, 80's style, low-level nonsensical villainy. Chaykin seemed mostly interested in drawing a chilly Hawkgirl, which should have been okay... but was just sort of boring with no story behind it.

"52" stands out as a narrative and commercial success. It goes against any workable model I thought I'd ever see for a comic (I always thought a singular, monthly Bat Phone-book of comics would be great), and has kept readers engaged for months without ever showing its hand. Following a TV-style, multi-character arc, featuring soem of my OTHER favorite B and C-Listers, "52" will be missed in week 53. I can't wait to see how DC follows it up. Hopefully not by skipping a year ahead and filling us in on the missing 52 weeks again.

In the meantime, I'm getting regular doses of The Question, Steel, Natasha Irons, Animal Man, Adam Strange, Black Adam, Dr. Fate and others. They tell me it will all tie together. Eventually. I guess in week 51 or 52. I'm a sucker for a good magic trick, so I'm on board.

I do feel like DC's OYL plan was probably a misfire due in large part to the fact that only the barest of details of "52" could be revealed across the board, and so charatcers basically had to come out of the year-long ordeal behaving as if nothing were wrong. Obviously a catch-22 when trying to drum up a high level of importance for the drama of "52". Meanwhile, hints about the events of 52 have been littered across DC titles from Green Lantern to "Mystery in Space". Chronologically, it's odd to have a build-up of drama occur, knowing there's a few months in there that don't translate to much of anything.


DC has done a phenomenal job with stepping up the "collections" side of the business.

Finally keeping pace with Marvel, DC now makes most story-arcs available in a Trade Paperback Format (tpb) from their comics within a short time of their initial release. Fans wishing to follow Seven Soldiers or IC were able to do so within a few months of the floppy comic's publication. And that ain't all bad.

The Archives format continues to cause me woe and sorrow. I simply can't afford to buy $50 collections when there are up to 20 volumes (see: The Spirit). Sure, it's great to see comics printed on this quality of paper, hardbound, etc... but I also haven't had an opportunity to learn whether I like, say, THUNDER Agents, and $50 is a pretty steep entry fee. Unfortunately, this is also the only way to currently pick up "Enemy Ace" and "The Spirit" collections.

I think DC is trying to give us an "Archives for Dummies" (or tightwads) format with the Chronicles series. Unlike "Showcase", which is 500+ pages of black and white reprints on newsprint of Silver-Age goodness (for around $16), the "Chronicles" format uses better paper and color. But has only released a few volumes, so it's tough to get too excited.

Nonetheless, I hope DC considers those of us who have to choose what falls within a certain budget and can find a way to offer some of their more obscure back-catalog to those of us who will try anything once. After all, I was a huge fan of DC's recent release of "The Best of the Spirit". Mayhaps sales didn't dictate this was a huge success.

The "Absolute Edition"s from DC are an attempt to provide fans with the equivalent of a DVD Criterion Edition, with oversized pages, re-coloring when necessary, extra notes, well-bound hardcovers, a slip case and entire compendiums when the spirit moves them. At their MSRP, the books outpace even the Archive editions on price, ranging all the way to $100. Deeply discounted at places like, the comics are a little more attractive, but still steeply priced. For the time being, DC is only putting material in the format which deserves such high-end treatment. My concern for the line is that the list of books I'm willing to pay that chunk of change for has already been largely delved into, including "Watchmen", "Dark Knight" and Kingdom Come". Not too many more where those came from if Absolute will continue as a meaningful (and not merely pricey) imprint.

That said, we'll see what 2007 brings. Already we know of "New Gods Omnibus Vol. 1" (yes, I am picking that one up). We'll see what else DC has up it's sleeve. They've already put out the first 20 issues of "Sandman" in the format, and immediately priced it out of my range at the high-end. The idea of collecting the next two volumes at that price, and most likely Gaiman's "Death" limited series, quickly aids you in making these sorts of decisions, no matter how much you like the work.

Alternative Comics Media:

Back in January I got into an online tussel with comic creator Lea Hernandez when I made several absolutely brilliant points (over at about how I didn't see online comics being a viable business model or medium.

Well, since that time I haven't seen a sea-change in the current industry's approach to the possibilities, but DC's Vertigo line is posting whole 1st issues online to build reader interest in collected material, etc... I never could get my credit card to work with PayPal, so I can't say word one about Girl-a-Matic online comics, which proves nothing but that PayPal and I have never gotten along.

2007 may be a better year for online comics, depending on marketing schemes, etc... Lea and Kurt's (from Return to Comics) comments made me hopeful for the future of online comics, and it would be nice to see the idea grow.

Superheroes appeared in a few movies, including "Superman Returns", "X3", both of which did fairly well (even if X3 was, let's be honest, a pretty bad movie). However, "Zoom's Academy" not only received a law suit from Marvel, but failed at the box office and was voted a nominee for "worst movie" on one list I saw. "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" put an unnecessary nail in the coffin of Luke Wilson's acting career.

The "Donner Cut" of Superman II saw the light of day and went from being a Supermanhomepage late night speculative fantasy to something you could buy at Target. Which is kind of weird when you think about it.

NBC's prime-time drama "Heroes" is the big break-out hit. And although only the Cheerleader ever did anything remotely heroic, people seem suckered into the mystery of the whole thing. I tried it. It's all right.

"Marvel: Ultimate Alliance" for console video games looked really neat. I don't play video games, so...

The Conclusion:

There is no conclusion. It was a big year for a few companies. I still didn't feel like I managed to branch out to enough indie stuff, partially due to lack of access, and then the harsh price-point when I did have the access.

DC seems to be learning some tough-love lessons on the editorial side. I say "seems to be" as I think 2007 will see how it really plays out.

The new status quo at the big two publishers seems to be that it's okay for books to be late, as long as they're going to sell like crazy (see: All-Star Batman on issue 4 in year 2). And if it's going to be really late, have a fill in story by your B-List guys ready.

I hope you picked up a comic or two this year. I hope I didn't succeed in only making comics sound like an impenetrable morass of primary colors and steroid-freaks that one must obsess over to enjoy.

If you read this far, RHPT will send you an iPod.

Here's to 2007.

No comments: