INTERVIEW: DiDio & Lee on "Dark Knight 3," Vertigo's Future & DC's Evolving Readership
I imagine that Dustin Nguyen’s cute, chibi-style drawings of the Batman cast in Batman: Li’l Gotham will weed out the segment of comics readers who truly don’t care for that kind of art. For those who like the style, though – or those who, like me, don’t have strong feelings one way or the other about it – the first issue of Li’l Gotham kicks off what promises to be a great all-ages series.
There’s a scarcity of DC and Marvel comics that are appropriate for kids, so I’m all for whatever new thing those companies want to try. Nguyen’s character designs for Li’l Gotham are so adorable though that when I first saw them, I expected a super-sweet tone that I wasn’t sure I’d respond to. I want comics that kids can enjoy, but I don’t want them to be slight or to change the characters’ personalities beyond all recognition. If Li’l Gotham was just going to be Batman’s Precious Moments, I wouldn’t be able to stay interested. But that’s not at all what it is.
Despite his shortened body and enlarged head, Li’l Gotham’s Batman is my Batman: overly serious and unswervingly dedicated to fighting crime. But his rogues gallery isn’t as homicidal or destructive as the current, canonized versions of those villains, so Batman’s able to be a little more relaxed about how he takes them down. They’re still lawbreakers, just not especially deadly ones. For example, Nguyen and co-writer Derek Fridolfs are able to get them together at an Italian restaurant for Halloween without murdering each other.
Things got a little unmanageable with the Hulk comics for a while: We had two Hulks running around, each with his own series (plus Son of Hulk) and I started losing track of the She-Hulks when Jennifer Walters was joined not only by Red She-Hulk, but also Thundra She-Hulk. It was too much and I checked out, even though Jeff Parker was writing some of those comics — and Jeff Parker comics are among my favorites.
In a roundabout way, his writing is why you should be reading Red She-Hulk (not that the gorgeous art by Carlo Pagulayan, Wellington Alves and Val Staples should be ignored), but I’m going to get more specific than that. My point is that I wouldn’t blame you for rolling your eyes at Red She-Hulk’s having her own series when the real She-Hulk doesn’t (not outside of FF anyway). I don’t think Parker would either, though. From the way Red She-Hulk is presented in the early issues of the series, it appears that Parker knows he has some work to do in making her a character that readers want to spend time with.
This is something that Red She-Hulk shares with Geoff Johns’ Aquaman, but Johns went meta with his story and all but included cameos of himself looking directly at the reader and screaming, “Aquaman doesn’t suck!” Parker uses more art. Specifically, he uses Machine Man, aka the Reason You Should Be Reading Red She-Hulk. Stay with me here, because I know Machine Man’s not usually much more of a draw than Red She-Hulk is.
Superman may have a reputation as a big pushover, but that’s because not enough people know Kerry Callen’s version. That Man of Steel screws with Batman for kicks, won’t put up with your sob stories and doesn’t care what kind of excuse you have for not wanting to do the dishes. Knowing that, you probably shouldn’t tease him about his costume.
But that’s what some jerk does in the latest installment of Callen’s hilarious Super Antics comic strip and, well, see what happens below. Following that: more about superman’s undies.
Animation and visual effects production company Blackmeal has created a 40-second video it calls “an homage to Marvel, which created most of the superheroes who entertained generations of children and adults for more than 80 years.” Using Captain America’s shield as a starting point, the cartoon sticks with the round shape and transforms it into iconography from various Marvel heroes, like Spider-Man, Wolverine, Cyclops and the Hulk. It’s an amazing, joyful piece of work that I’d love to see in front of every animated Marvel project from now until the end of time.
At least a couple of times over the course of the weekend, Bill Willingham talked about his goal for the Fabletown and Beyond convention he hosted in Rochester, Minnesota. He may not have actually used the term “bucket list,” but that’s essentially what the show seems to have been for him: an opportunity to throw the kind of comics convention he wanted to attend and to see if other creators and fans would enjoy it just as much. From the standing ovation he received at Sunday’s closing ceremony, it appears he was right.
Chris Roberson pointed out to me that Fabletown and Beyond was a lot like fantasy and sci-fi literary conventions. It had that feel from the opening ceremony (an idea Willingham freely admits to stealing from fantasy/sci-fi shows) to the final farewell. It was completely focused on comics and storytelling, and it was a uniquely intimate experience. The show was only designed to accommodate a maximum of 500 attendees, and it got 505. That meant I kept seeing the same faces over and over again all weekend — creators and fans alike — so that by the third day, even people I never talked to were familiar. Instead of a hectic event where people rushed from place to place trying to see and do everything they wanted to, it was a relaxed environment that felt more like just hanging out with friends. Really smart, interesting friends.
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Following events like last year’s ImageCon and MorrisonCon, Fabletown and Beyond is the most recent comic convention devoted to serving a specific segment of readers: in this case, fans of what Fables creator Bill Willingham describes as “Mythic Fiction.” Fabletown and Beyond takes place this weekend in Willingham’s community of Rochester, Minnesota, and celebrates comics that include and update “fairytales, folklore, myth, legend, talking animals, and characters from literature.”
The festivities begin at 3 p.m. Friday and run practically non-stop until 6 p.m. Sunday. Programming is scheduled to go late into the evening on Friday and Saturday with the convention’s bar (an even more important element of this convention than most) staying open until 2 a.m.
The convention will take place in two locations, connected by skyways to allow attendees protection from the Minnesota weather. The dealers’ area, Artist
Alley Boulevard, and programming rooms will be located in in the Mayo Civic Center, with the opening ceremony and other special events held in the Kahler Grand Hotel. The hotel is also the location of the Elizabethan bar (re-named the Kill Shakespeare Bar for the weekend) that will be taken over for the exclusive use of the convention.
For as long as I’ve been following the comics industry I’ve heard creators say things along the lines of, “I’m not in it for the money,” and, “I’d be doing this even if I wasn’t getting paid.” Those are statements of passion that drive deep into the heart of a conversation that’s receiving more and more attention lately, and not just in comics. The question that’s been raised is: Should creators have to make comics for free just because they would? And if so, for how long?
When an unknown writer or artist is trying to make a name for herself in the comics industry, one way of doing that is to create work for free. Give away a webcomic. Contribute to an anthology that won’t make any money but may get seen by the right people (especially if you put it into their hands). Work for a small publisher who only pays if the project makes a profit. These are all accepted practices. What’s going on lately, however, is that people are starting to question how accepted they should be.
In response to that line of questioning, defenders of the current system argue from tradition. Alexis C. Madrigal, senior editor of The Atlantic, wrote a long piece on the realities of digital journalism and why it’s often tough to pay journalists anything, much less a fair wage. His basic argument is that funds are limited, even for a digital magazine that’s doing pretty well. “The economics of our business are terrible in some ways,” he writes. “And like everything else, the worst of it falls on the workers, the people making the widgets, doing the journalism, making the beds. The money gets sucked upwards and the work gets pushed down.” He continues, “[E]ven when you have a generous owner who is not trying to make a gazillion dollars and skim the cream, this game is still really, really hard. You still have limited funds. You still can’t pay freelancers a living wage.”
Conventional wisdom has it that free webcomics are supposed to be leading us to print versions that we’re willing to pay for. In the case of K. Lynn Smith and Plume, it’s worked the other way around for me. I was unaware of Smith’s webcomic until it was announced as a series for the reinvigorated Devil’s Due, but the concept – and the samples I saw of Smith’s art – grabbed me. After reading the two issues out so far, however, I got impatient for more and headed to the web version.
The title of the comic comes from something the main character’s father once told her: “Revenge is like a plume of black smoke. It seems tangible, but when you reach for it, you’re grasping nothing but air.” That – and the story’s opening on the main character’s holding a gun and surrounded by dead bodies – is a huge clue about where the story is headed, but it doesn’t reveal the most interesting part of this supernatural Western. Vesper Grey is the daughter of a treasure-hunting archeologist who’s given her a magic amulet he found. The amulet is attached to the soul of a young man name Corrick, who’s received supernatural powers along with the obligation to protect whomever wears the talisman. No spoilers, but it’s not hard to predict where the revenge element will come in, even though that hasn’t explicitly been revealed by the second issue.
Except for Corrick and some magical artifacts, the world of Plume appears to be the Wild West that readers are familiar with. Smith gives it a touch of magic to help it stand out from other Westerns, but the comic’s real draw is Smith’s skill at creating memorable characters and making readers care about them. She hooked me with humor, often just by way of expressions and body language, and that’s what kept me going through the two, printed issues. There was so much foreshadowing around the revenge plot though that I got anxious waiting to see it start and hit the Internet.
Penny Arcade creators Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik had a great idea when they came up with Lookouts. If youth scouting existed in fantasy worlds, earning badges would be a lot more dangerous than just making fires and spotting raccoon tracks. It’s a clever concept that includes an ensemble cast of diverse characters and an endless supply of situations in which our heroes can find themselves. Getting Ben McCool to join the writing team is also a good thing. But the reason I most look forward to a new issue of Lookouts is the art by Robb Mommaerts and colorist Rainer Petter.
Mommaerts does several things exceedingly well, and he (and Lookouts as a whole) deserve to be talked about more than they are. First are the creature designs. Lookouts puts more thought into creatures than just sticking in a dragon or unicorn every once in a while, and even when the monsters are familiar, their looks are new and refreshing. Take, for instance, the sphinx that serves as the antagonist for most of the first story.
A few months ago, I wrote about how much I was enjoying Jamie S. Rich and Mike Norton’s It Girl and the Atomics. I dinged it on characterization, but now that I’ve had a couple of more issues with the characters, I need to walk that back a little. I still want to know more about It Girl, but Rich and Norton are working on that each month. I was hasty in wanting to know everything about her in the first four issues. Guess that’s just how much I dig her.
I’m not here to talk about character development, though; I’m here to talk about fill-in issues, specifically It Girl #6. Fill-in issues are a fact of life with monthly comics, especially these days as artists work more meticulously than they used to. But even back in the day you’d run into an issue where the regular story would take a break while the editor ran something out of his rainy-day files. Now, fill-ins are better planned. And if they’re planned well enough, they’re just as enjoyable as the main series.
I admit that I wasn’t looking forward to It Girl #6. My impatience with getting to know the characters was showing and I didn’t want to zoom out into space to see what was up with the drummer of Madman’s space band. I wanted the next It Girl adventure, damn it, and Rich and guest-artist Chynna Clugston Flores were going to have to convince me that they weren’t wasting my time. If you read the title of this post, you know that they weren’t. I loved the issue and here’s why.
The ugly truth is that I can’t afford Dark Horse Presents. Not without making cuts to my pull list that I just don’t want to make. Fortunately, publisher seems to understand this, and is making it easy for me with its zero-issue program, collecting stories from DHP into one-shots that may or may not lead into ongoing series. I’m able to keep up with some of my favorite creators and characters this way in a format I enjoy, while also discovering some new stuff like Steve Horton and Michael Dialynas’ steampunk/fantasy comic Amala’s Blade.
A couple of things attracted me to the one-shot right away: its sword-wielding heroine, and Dialynas’ art. The look of the comic combines the expressive designs of someone like Faith Erin Hicks with the European-influenced grittiness of maybe Simon Roy. There are also cyborg pirates and a monkey in a derby, but I never know how much I can trust those things. Besides the derby-wearing primate that ripped me off in St. Augustine that one time, it’s easy for writers to throw gimmicky concepts into a story just to elevate the Awesomeness Quotient. It’s a whole other thing to be able to integrate those concepts into the world in a believable way and make them work for the story. Horton’s script does that not just with the crazier story elements, but with the genre itself.
More often than not, steampunk is a setting, not a genre. Most “steampunk” stories I read are that way only because someone decided to throw in some goggles, gears and maybe an airship or two. In Amala’s Blade, Horton and Dialynas explore the very idea of steampunk, and in the process call into question its relevance. It’s tough to tell after one issue, but I think this doubting is intentional.
It’s rare that a completely new character is my main reason for reading a comic, but here we are. I was hooked from the moment Matt Fraction and Mike Allred’s FF team was announced. I haven’t traditionally cared so much about Ant-Man, but She-Hulk has always been one of my favorite characters, and Medusa’s powers are so kooky I can’t help but dig her. What pushed the comic into my pre-order list, though, was the idea of a woman wearing a Thing costume and calling herself “Miss Thing.” And now that I know something about her, I love her even more.
Darla Deering is a pop superstar and Johnny Storm’s latest girlfriend. All you really have to know is the last half of that description, because that’s how she accidentally ends up a member of the Fantastic Four. In FF #1, the real team is headed out on a journey beyond time and space. and needs stand-ins to oversee the Future Foundation for the four minutes of Earth time they’ll be gone. Or longer, if something goes wrong. Reed picks Ant-Man, Sue picks Medusa, and Ben picks She-Hulk. Johnny, of course, completely forgets about the whole thing.
At some point I heard Joe Grahn and Carl Yonder’s Pirate Eye described as “pirate noir,” and for me, the words suggested a mash-up of Pirates of the Caribbean and The Maltese Falcon. I figured it must take place in a fantasy world where fedoras and jazz lived side by side with cutlasses and lace. That would be fun concept, appropriate to the silly title, but I’m grateful to have been wrong about it.
Despite the pun, Pirate Eye is a comic that deserves to be taken seriously. It’s set in the real world during the historical age of piracy, and there’s nothing goofy about it. The main character Smitty is a former buccaneer who now uses his talents for good – or at least, legal – purposes. As he explains it, there’s not a lot of difference between seeking out treasure to take it from someone, and finding it on that person’s behalf. The big distinction is that Smitty gets paid for the latter instead of risking the gallows. Using that premise, Grahn and Yonder will be able to tell all sorts of noir-ish detective stories in the seedy streets of a Caribbean town.
Warning: Spoilers for Batman Inc. #8, The Dark Knight Rises, and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus follow.
Grant Morrison’s reflection on his Batman run is interesting, in that it offers insight into what the writer thinks makes the character tick, but the part that jumps out at me was the very end where he brings up Robin and asks, “What son could ever hope to replace a father like Batman, who never dies?”
It’s something I’ve been thinking about since seeing Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. As flawed as that film is, it has some intriguing ideas about the relationship between creator and creation, whether that’s alien and human, inventor and android, or parent and child. On that last dynamic, Charlize Theron’s character Vickers observes, “A king has his reign, and then he dies. It’s inevitable.” That’s a horrible thing to say about your father. It is, however, true.
Welcome to the very last Food or Comics. Next week our new-release picks will take a different format, but this week we’re still talking about what comics we’d buy at our local shop based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a splurge item.
Let’s be honest, if I had $15, I’d make sure that Batman Incorporated #8 (DC Comics, $2.99) was first on my list. Not because of any controversy — I’ve been enjoying the series all along — but because I’d be worried it’d sell out if I waited. I’d also grab two Dynamite books: Jennifer Blood #23 and Masks #4 (both $3.99); Al Ewing has done just insane, amazing things on the former, and the Chris Roberson/Dennis Calero team on the latter is just killing it.
If I had $30, I’d find myself time traveling to all the weeks prior in which I didn’t use all $30 to borrow a dollar from past-me, just so that I could get Showcase Presents Justice League of America, Vol. 6 (DC Comics, $19.99), which takes the series firmly into the 1970s and brings the team face to face with villains including the Shaggy Man, Amazo and countless other favorites of my childhood.
Should I have some splurging left in me after that nostalgia-fest, I’d likely go for the Judge Anderson: PSI Files, Vol. 3 collection (Rebellion, $32.99), which picks the series up just after I’d dropped off the 2000AD radar for awhile, and hopefully gives me the chance to get back into the character, now that I am firmly into Thrill Power again.