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RANDOM THOUGHTS

Bits on Bits…

I know that there’s a lot of views about getting comics via bit torrent. Some justify it by saying that they’re using it to sample things and expand their horizons on what they will (eventually) end up buying. Others just call it stealing not matter what.

I’m not here to judge, but one thing seems apparent: There’s still people that just want to read comics. These people are not interested in investment speculation or obsessive collecting. They want to read a good story and/or look at great illustration.

That seems to be what’s driving the cheap B&W reprint collections both DC & Marvel put out. They’re good deals for those who just want to read. However, there are some titles that will never be printed in those, or any other collected editions.

I’m talking about licensed titles that both companies have put out. Characters like Master of Kung Fu (featuring Fu Manchu and supporting players created by Sax Rohmer), Tarzan, John Carter of Mars, Pellucidar, Carson of Venus, The Shadow and Doc Savage all surfaced in the 70’s. Now, some of the DC Tarzan run has been put in collected editions by Dark Horse (who currently have the license) as well as Marvel’s run on Conan (ditto). And, as much as I enjoyed Joe Kubert’s take on Tarzan, the things I really remember from the ERB invasion of DC is appearance of the other characters. John Carter of Mars started as a back-up in Tarzan with great art by Murphy Anderson (with one chapter done by the fantastic and overlooked Gray Morrow). Pellucidar and Carson of Venus had art by Alan Weiss and Michael Kaluta respectively, and were back-ups originally in DC’s run of Korak, Son of Tarzan. Most of these graduated to a shared title called ERB’s Weird Worlds

The Shadow had a couple of fantastic runs (and one not so fantastic called The Shadow Strikes!) also at DC. The first run in the 70’s featured the definitive comic version of the pulp hero with Denny O’Neil writing and Michael Kaluta producing great artwork (again!). (As a matter of fact, Issue 4 has Berni Wrightson helping Kaluta out by inking what could be one of the great unsung single issues of the time period.) The second run of The Shadow began with a reinterpretation from Howard Chaykin, that displaced the pulp of the title and tried to make it fit in with the beginning of the deconstuctionist hero/SOB/dark-gritty period of the 80’s. The character was updated and it was somewhat interesting, more visually than anything else. (Chaykin was coming off of the heat of American Flagg and probably took the project on as more of a money maker than any real underlying attraction to the material.) It isn’t until Chaykin leaves and Andy Helfer with Kyle Baker on art come in that the title really picks up steam. Under this creative team the book is kind of the sister to the lunacy of the Justice League of the time. It’s a truly hysterical run, but no doubt the equivalent to the anti-christ to real hardcore fans of the character.

Over at Marvel, Doc Savage did double duty (as many others did in their heyday) as both a 4-color book and a B&W magazine. They were very effective at capturing the feel of the pulp adventures with the early issues of the comic sporting covers by Steranko and interiors by Mike Espisito and Tom Palmer. Meanwhile, hopping onto the Kung-Fu craze late, Marvel’s Master of Kung-Fu got off to an OK start, but nobody seemed to have a concrete direction to take the title in. That is, until Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy came in to give it a great big injection of Bond-like spy action melded with Bruce Lee in his prime performing in Enter the Dragon. This is must-have stuff, and you can trace how the stories and art have enventually effected Marvel style to this day. (Gulacy picked up the gauntlet left by Steranko innovative layouts and hyperreal-styled action, while Moench’s gritty spy plots go directly into writers like Bendis, Brubaker and Rucka.)

So, you will not be seeing an affordable collection to any of these titles and, depending on your comic retailer of choice, may have an extensive search process with applicable back issue pricing to put up with in order to view them.

I put it to you that you have little recourse, if you’re just looking to read these gems, but to bit torrent them. You’re missing out on some fine work otherwise.

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Ironies of Irony…

So this week we learned in the wake of Captain America’s death and apparent replacement by former Bucky, that Batman (Bruce Wayne) is to be killed in time for next year’s film and replaced by a former Robin. (Thanks to LiTG on CBR)

Nevermind that Cap cribbed from Batman in bringing back a believed dead sidekick; so to right the wrong Bats does the same by performing the above-mentioned plot? Nevermind that Batman has already played the replacement card before. (And even that started from a recycled plot Doug Moench stole from himself, and The Destroyer paperback series, among others.)

What is it that editors and the major comic companies hope to achieve by these stunt plots? A momentary spike in sales? What does that do for the title in the long run?

I’ve been through enough of these things with enough characters that it just seems like another in a worn-out cycle of tricks that get trotted out. (Notice that multiple covers are all over the place again?) It never satisfies anyone. Speculators usually take it in the shorts. (Remember Death of Superman? Even the Cap death issue isn’t going for that much.) Long-time readers just want a good story and usually get pissed over this. They’re not getting any younger and sometimes this is the last straw to cause the title getting dropped from their purchase pile. On the off-chance that this actually attracts new readers; when the inevitable return of the one true character occurs then they get pissed and drop the book.

Why is it so difficult to do a decent story with established characters that editors and companies feel that they need to resort to this? It’s a form of creative bankruptcy. They just can’t finally give in and say that any major title just needs to go to a one title rotating creative team per story arc format. There is no continuity, just do whatever needs to be done to make a good story. The characters are all open to personal interpretation anyway, so if you don’t like the current storyline – check back in three or four issues and a new one will start with a new writer and artist. Use oversized anthology titles to include new and/or secondary characters. There isn’t enough really good talent going around to sustain a character supporting 2-3 titles anyway. This is the only way I see to prolong monthly books. Otherwise just give up the ghost and produce all the stories as trades and premium HC editions.

Witness the manga format. This is where the new readers are going to. They are different kind of stories/characters and they are not monthly. (Unless it’s already got a backlog of material from Japan just making its way over here.) Marvel and DC need to stop wasting time and money pretending that they’re doing anything that recruits new readers. The best reaction either of them has achieved is Marvel’s presentation of Stephen King characters in the Dark Tower prequel. That’s just plain cross pollination from an established cash cow and it could have easily have bypassed the monthly phase and went directly to a trade and HC edition.

What it comes down to is that there are core competencies that the major comic publishers have. Dark Horse, sometimes Image, and the indies is where you go for new/interesting characters and stories. Marvel and DC have their Superhero cash cows. The fact that these titles now power major Hollywood blockbusters guarantee that they will continue publishing them to maintain visibility to the public and entertainment producers. Just come out with good stories and everybody is happy. The public and Hollywood (judging by the way the storylines are liberally stolen for screenplay fodder).

Look at what can be done with characters (You’re telling me with all of the stuff happening in this country that you can’t make an interesting and relevant Captain America story??!!) and quit relying on cheap, lazy, worn out tricks. (Unless of course you intend to actually follow through on one by handing the character down to the next generation ala’ The Phantom. But that means no backpeddling. Dead is dead.)

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A Series of Unfortunate Events…

The big two publishers continue to rely on universe impacting crossover events to pump up interest/sales in their lines. When they first began they were fun (even when they weren’t always the best stories). Later from epics, like DC’s original Crisis, the publishers went from rewarding fanboy dreams to cashing in at the same time. Something that changes an entire publisher’s universe, well you just have to buy that to keep up, right?

Well, those don’t always work out for the best either, but sometimes things can actually click, and Marvel especially doesn’t seem to be able to schedule accordingly to allow these things to have their proper impact. (Yes, I know, ironic considering the drawn out way books are written now. One Stan Lee or Roy Thomas scripted issue is drawn out through four in order to have a new trade to put out.)

Marvel ran into problems right away with the success of Civil War. Whether you loved it or hated it, you were buying it to see what would happen. At least until production problems caused the ending of the series to not show up until crossover titles had already shipped and given away plot points. Eventually, some of those books were delayed as well to keep from totally ruining things, but retailers and readers were not happy. (Neither was Marvel as some weeks were getting pretty light on product coming out.) Nevertheless, Marvel stuck by its guns to try to give everyone the package they had promised.

Now, they seem to have decided that the show must go on regardless. People barely caught their breath over the Civil War when Cap was killed. (Not bad really, and was always meant to be a coda to the whole thing as I understand it.) The restructuring of the MU was going on when World War Hulk hit. That’s not over with yet, but many books have already made allusions to its end. (Which is not good as they all seem to be the same, even though Marvel promises changes.) Now there’s a Secret Invasion happening (which has already started in the Avengers titles even though the New Avengers seem to be ahead of the Mighty Avengers, neither of which has referenced WWH) that seems to tie into most of the chaos that has recently happened.

This is the trouble with trying to run a tight universe that’s continuity heavy when your production is all over the place. It’s like watching three timelines running at differing speeds, with the added problem of retconning the fastest of the three when the events of the other two finally drop. (Yes, this is why Joey Q gets testy at those Con Q&A sessions. People call him on it.)
 

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5 Responses to “RANDOM THOUGHTS”

  1. Ah man, reading that stuff makes me wish I continued drawing comics! Hey, how about you write and I draw? Let’s start a comic book!

  2. You got a deal. You want the Marvel-style script or an Alan Moore opus-in-one-book full script to start with? (hah!)

  3. Big Willie, you are a comic book artist whore!!!!

    I feel a bit used…

    I do agree though though…reading this makes me want to CREATE!!!

  4. Anything that will get my ass drawing again!

  5. This is awesome! Im bookmarking this to share with my son! Thank you thank you thank you!


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