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Over the past few years, Brad Meltzer has become one of the pinch hitters of comics.
Although his day job as a bestselling suspense novelist and TV host of History’s Decoded has kept him from taking on an extended comics project since 2006’s Justice League of America relaunch, Meltzer has stepped in for a number of comics projects over recent years, including an arc on Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 and a recent short in Art Baltazar and Franco’s Aw Yeah Comics.
Next up for the writer is a special contribution to DC Comics’ Detective Comics #27, arriving next week. The spiritual heir to the first appearance of Batman will clock in at more than 100 pages to kick off DC’s 75th anniversary celebration for the Dark Knight, with contributions by Scott Snyder, John Layman, Mike W. Barr and more creators from the character’s past and present. And for his part, Meltzer will team with artist Bryan Hitch to retell “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” the Bill Finger/Bob Kane short that began the Batman legend in 1939’s Detective Comics #27.
We spoke with Meltzer about the legacy of the original story and the challenges of bringing it into the modern era – and not for the first time – while DC shared an exclusive first look at Co-Publisher Jim Lee’s variant cover for the issue.
Welcome to “Report Card,” our week-in-review feature. If “Cheat Sheet” is your guide to the week ahead, “Report Card” is typically a look back at the top news stories of the previous week, as well as a look at the Robot 6 team’s favorite comics that we read.
So find out what we thought about The Bunker, Detective Comics, X-Factor and more.
The comic book annual has, in recent years, become an endangered species. Once an oversized, extra-length dose of the characters and concepts a reader could count on appearing once a year (or, you know, annually), the changing funny-book landscape has made them a less appealing proposition.
The rise of the graphic novel and trade paperback collections made “novel-length” adventures appearing in actual, off-the-rack comic books somewhat obsolete. The rising price of comics helped make annuals seem less practical; if a 20- or 22-page comic costs $2.99 or $3.99, a 48- or 56- or 64-page one would be prohibitively expensive. And with the shrunken market, it doesn’t make sense for a publisher to release an additional, extra-long issue of almost every title in its line.
We do love a good GIF here at Robot 6. I could make all sorts of bold claims for the format, like it’s one of the first great digital native art forms. I could quote the nerds at the Oxford American Dictionaries who, after making it their 2012 word of the year, announced “the GIF has evolved from a medium for pop-cultural memes into a tool with serious applications including research and journalism, and its lexical identity is transforming to keep pace.” Or I could just point you to the Tumblr blog of the pseudonymous GIF creator ABVH, clearly someone who loves comics.
In the last few weeks he’s posted animated versions of images by Kevin O’Neill and Yale Stewart, but the clear winner is this unsettling adaptation of Jock’s instant-classic cover to Detective Comics #880.
Last week’s announcement that BOOM! Studios had acquired Archaia Entertainment was big news, and with good reason. But long before that merger — decades before those two companies were even around — there was another publishing acquisition that changed the face of the comics industry, and it’s been echoing for the past 70 years. What I’m talking about is the conglomerate of companies that would become DC Comics.
You may not realize it, but DC Comics didn’t officially come into existence until 1977. Although the company had been known conversationally as DC and had used a “DC” logo in its comics, from 1946 until 1977 DC Comics was in fact National Comics. But that isn’t the end to this story; it’s only the beginning.
The origin of what would become DC Comics began in 1935 with the founding of National Allied Publications by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. It published two mid-selling titles but found itself on the brink of financial collapse just as it was putting together a title called Detective Comics. In debt to its printer, National Allied in 1937 took on that company’s owner, Harry Donenfeld, as a partner to fund the release of Detective Comics. Published under a new company named Detective Comics Inc. (after the title the partnership had convened for), Detective Comics had a fair amount of success but was, unbeknown to its owners, on the precipice of a major success with the debut of Batman in 1939’s Issue 27.
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With the end of Geoff Johns’ tenure on Green Lantern and Grant Morrison’s upcoming farewell to Batman, a fan’s thoughts turn naturally to other extended runs. Marv Wolfman wrote almost every issue of New (Teen) Titans from the title’s 1980 preview through its final issue in 1995. Cary Bates wrote The Flash fairly steadily from May 1971’s Issue 206 through October 1985’s first farewell to Barry Allen (Issue 350). Gerry Conway was Justice League of America’s regular writer for over seven years, taking only a few breaks from February 1978’s Issue 151 through October 1986’s Issue 255.
However, in these days of shorter stays, I wanted to examine some of the runs that, despite their abbreviated nature, left lasting impressions. At first this might sound rather simple. After all, there are plenty of influential miniseries-within-series, like “Batman: Year One” or “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?,” where a special creative team comes in to tell a particular story. Instead, sometimes a series’ regular creative team will burn brightly, but just too quickly, leaving behind a longing for what might have been.
A good example of this is found in Detective Comics #469-76, written by Steve Englehart, penciled by Marshall Rogers and inked by Terry Austin (after Walt Simonson penciled and Al Milgrom inked issues 469-70). Reprinted in the out-of-print Batman: Strange Apparitions paperback, and more recently (sans Simonson/Milgrom) in the hardcover Legends of the Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers, these issues introduced Silver St. Cloud, Rupert Thorne, Dr. Phosphorus and the “Laughing Fish,” featured classic interpretations of Hugo Strange, the Penguin and the Joker, and revamped Deadshot into the high-tech assassin he remains today. Tying all these threads together is Bruce Wayne’s romance with Silver, which for my money is the Bat-books’ version of Casablanca. It’s the kind of much-discussed run that seems like it should have been longer. Indeed, I suspect it’s one of the shorter runs in CSBG’s Top 100 list.
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If the DC Comics New 52 reboot hadn’t happened, Detective Comics would have reached its 900th issue this month. That wasn’t lost on DC, which celebrated the milestone this week with the release of an 80-page, $7.99 anniversary issue. The issue sports the New 52 debut of an old favorite, and a tribute to the number 900 in a story that ties into the larger ‘Emperor Penguin’ arc running through the comic. It also features back-up tales starring Bane, Man-Bat and the Gotham City Police Department, as well as a gallery of art by various artists.
So does this oversized issue do justice to its 900-issue legacy? Here are a few opinions from around the web …
Passings | French cartoonist Theodor Friedrich Otto Aristidès, aka Fred, passed away Tuesday in a Paris hospital at age 82. He was best known for Philémon, his surrealistic comic about a French farm boy who fell down a well into a fantasy world akin to Wonderland. Fred was awarded the Grand Prix de la ville d’Angoulême in 1980, and had been the oldest living recipient. [L’Observateu de Beauvais]
Creators | John Layman, who’s writing the 900th issue of Detective Comics (No. 19 in the New 52 continuity) talks about his plans for that and his creator-owned series Chew, and contrasts the two: “Well, the cases are weirder in Chew. There is an element that’s the same – you introduce a conflict, and then you have a detective with a certain skill set resolving it. … Batman’s just happen to be gadgets and fists. I guess if there’s a formula in the skeletal layer, it’s probably the same.” [Hero Complex]
Vintage comics and original comic art brought in $4.4 million over the weekend during a Heritage auction in New York City, Artinfo reports. Among the bigger sales were a CGC-graded 6.5 copy of Detective Comics #27, for $567,625, and John Romita Sr.’s original cover for The Amazing Spider-Man #121, which fetched $286,800.
As we noted on Friday, Dave Gibbons’ original cover art for Watchmen #1 sold for $155,350, with the first three covers going for a combined $216,892.50. John Higgins’ color guide for the first cover was bought for $7,767.50. The remaining covers for the 12-issue landmark series are expected to go up for auction later this year.
Wired.com delves into the history of the 12 covers, which were purchased at a Sotheby’s auction in 1993 by former Wizard Publisher Gareb Shamus for what’s been reported to be in the neighborhood of $26,000. The article doesn’t repeat that figure, but it does say what was paid was “a bargain price” (for instance, Higgins’ color guide for the cover of Watchmen #1 was picked up for $50, which was then five to 10 times the usual price).
You may recall the story of Anthony Chiofalo, a corporate attorney accused of embezzling $9.3 million from his Texas employer and then spending a sizable chunk of that money on high-priced collectibles, including a copy of Detective Comics #27 worth $900,000.
Well, now that story has another chapter — one starring a former investigator for the Harris County District Attorney’s office who appeared today in federal court on charges that he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Chiofalo’s seized comic books and attempted to sell them.
The Houston Chronicle reports Lonnie Blevins was arrested following a lengthy federal investigation into accusations into items that disappeared following a raid on Chiofalo’s home and storage units. Blevins is accused of stealing dozens of the vintage comic books, possibly worth more than $1 million.
“There were so many, they just decided to take a few,” Chiofalo’s attorney Paul Doyle told the newspaper. “Talk about a breach of trust.” He plans to file a motion to dismiss based on misconduct.
Chiofalo’s other collectibles included a boxing robe worn by Muhammad Ali, a signed first edition of The Godfather and a baseball helmet signed by Pete Rose. Presumably they’re safe and sound.
Digital comics | ComiXology, which earlier this week announced the opening of a European branch, has revealed its first big score: a digital-distribution agreement with Delcourt, the top independent publisher in France. And comiXology kicked off the agreement by updating its dedicated Walking Dead app to include a French interface and the French editions of the comic. The company also plans a dedicated Lanfeust of Troy app, and of course it will roll out Delcourt titles on its regular app as well. [ComiXology]
Auctions | A copy of Detective Comics #27, which contains the first appearance of Batman (or, as he was called in 1939, “the Bat-Man”), will go on the auction block later this month. The comic, which is CGC rated 6.5, is expected to fetch $500,000, but there’s no reserve, so this might be an opportunity to pick up a bargain. [Art Daily]
Occasionally I talk about how perfunctory the monthly solicitation ritual can be … but not so for April!
On the same day the solicitations were released, Comic Book Resources launched its new “B&B” column, featuring editors Bob Harras and Bobbie Chase, and chock-full o’ factoids about various books. Moreover, the solicits were themselves packed with new story arcs, new creative teams, and an even more heightened feeling of coyness.
A big part of this coyness comes from April’s cover gimmick. Actually, we readers can only see half of the gimmick — because while every New 52 book will sport a fold-out cover, the solicits only show the left side. (Makes me wish there were a retailers-only edition of Previews, as this is just the kind of thing which surely irritates them.) To add to the anticipation, every New 52 solicitation ends with a question. Accordingly, this month more than usual, the solicits are structured precisely to set up dire consequences and leave them unresolved. Suspenseful!
Ah, but that sort of thing only encourages me. Let’s dive in, shall we?
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Texas authorities are trying to track down comic books worth hundreds of thousands of dollars purchased by an attorney accused of embezzling more than $9 million from his employer.
Anthony Chiofalo, 51, appeared Monday in a Houston courtroom after spending seven months fleeing felony theft charges with at least $150,000 in cash he’d allegedly siphoned from Tadano America. An attorney who had been disbarred in New York, Chiofalo was hired by the company in 2009 as head of legal affairs; within a year, prosecutors say he began setting up dummy law firms that charged his employer for litigation work — to the tune of $9.3 million.
The Houston Chronicle reports Chiofalo is said to have spent a significant chunk of that money of comic books and sports memorabilia: When his home and storage units were raided, authorities found a baseball signed by Babe Ruth, a first-edition Playboy, and a copy of Detective Comics #27 worth about $900,000.