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Grumpy Old Fan | Relaunch roundup, Part 1

After a year, I still don't quite get the knee-braces

Because it’s the first week of the New 52 Year Two, the time has come to review where I stand at the end of Year One. It also happens to be the week I’m away on a bidness trip, unable to react to whatever dern-fool thing DC did on Wednesday.

That would probably take a back seat anyway, because I’m a little curious myself to look back at these books. In terms of reading habits, it’s been a rather funky year. Some weeks I wouldn’t have time to read everything I bought, and sometimes that meant books just dropped off my radar. I caught up with a few of these, but a few I just didn’t miss — which, of course, is never a good thing.

You’ll remember that last year I bought all 52 first issues, and talked about each as September proceeded.  Of those which remain, I am reading 27: Action Comics, All-Star Western, Animal Man, Aquaman, Batgirl, Batman, Batman & Robin, Batwing, Batwoman, Blue Beetle, Catwoman, DC Universe Presents, Demon Knights, Detective Comics, Firestorm, Flash, Frankenstein, Green Lantern, GL Corps, I, Vampire, Justice League, Justice League Dark, Stormwatch, Supergirl, Superman, Swamp Thing and Wonder Woman.

Additionally, I was reading six titles that have since been canceled: Blackhawks, JLI, Men of War, OMAC, Resurrection Man and Static Shock. For a while I also read Grifter, Red Lanterns, and Superboy. Filling in some of those holes are second-wave titles Batman Incorporated, Earth 2, Worlds’ Finest and Dial H.

To keep your eyes as glaze-free as possible, this will be a two-part survey. Today we’ll look at the Superman and Batman families, the “historical” titles, the main-line Justice League books, and a few others.

Onward!

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Grumpy Old Fan | Feeling lucky? DC’s October solicits

Image Comics Presents Arkham Asylum

July’s a great time to anticipate October: football; temperatures on the brisk side; the crisp smell of falling leaves; the cold rains that somehow aren’t depressing. I also like that DC Comics seems to be settling into its own seasonal patterns, using the fall to set up a slew of new creative teams and launch big new storylines. Having all those #13 issues in the run-up to Halloween doesn’t hurt either.

Of course, now we get to judge them all harshly, based on a few sentences and a photo for each….

COMINGS AND GOINGS

John Layman and Jay Fabok come aboard Detective Comics, replacing Tony Daniel. Daniel leaves regular Bat-work after several years writing and penciling in various combinations. I was never really enthralled with his writing, which seemed content mostly to approximate what a Batman story should be; but if Detective’s sales are any indication, I am in the minority. Daniel moves over to Justice League for two issues, so that likely eases the pain.
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Grumpy Old Fan | Ed Brubaker isn’t walking through that door

Gotham Central #1

What does Ed Brubaker leaving Captain America have to do with New-52 storytelling? For me, the connection goes through Gotham Central.

Okay, that requires a bit more explanation. Mr. Brubaker isn’t leaving Captain America on bad terms, but apart from Winter Soldier he’s not especially interested in writing any more superhero comics. It’s not the same as Chris Roberson’s principled departure from DC, but it puts me in a similar mood.

Like Roberson, Brubaker is a good storyteller who can incorporate shared-universe lore effectively into his comics. For example, Winter Soldier’s first issue started out as a straightforward super-spy caper, but abruptly veered close to Silver-Age-Wacky territory with [SPOILER ALERT, I guess] the arrival of a gun-toting ape. The rest of the arc combined a couple of longtime Fantastic Four villains (one minor, one pretty major) with the threat of regional warfare. It never did get truly goofy, but it was rooted in a Marvel Universe where the former Soviet Union had some pretty odd operatives. Of course, the Winter Soldier concept itself is a retcon (Bucky was revived as Soviet covert agent) of a retcon (he died near the end of World War II).

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Grumpy Old Fan | The resurrection of Paul Kirk

He hunts the world's most dangerous game!

Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson’s “Manhunter” was the story of Paul Kirk, a big-game hunter, ex-superhero and retired covert operative who was killed by a rampaging elephant and revived by the mysterious Council. Dedicated to world domination, the Council also created enforcers out of Kirk’s clones, and trained them all to be unstoppable assassins. Kirk rebelled, of course, earning the Council’s wrath; and that’s where the main story picks up.

The seven-part serial ran in Detective Comics #437-443 (October/November 1973-October/November 1974). Appearing initially as an eight-page backup feature, its final chapter was a full 20 pages, not coincidentally because it guest-starred Batman. As such, the whole thing would fit in an 80-Page Giant with room to spare, but it is full of tight, dense storytelling that encourages multiple readings. Among other things, it received a total of six Shazam awards from the Academy of Comic Book Arts: Best Short Story (“The Himalayan Incident,” 1973; “Cathedral Perilous,” 1974), Best Writer (Goodwin, 1973-74), Outstanding New Talent (Simonson, 1973), and Best Feature-Length Story (“Götterdämmerung,” 1974). It was one of Simonson’s first big projects, and his early work combines a raw, organic quality with energetic, propulsive layouts. Each short chapter packs a full issue’s worth of plot, character, and action into its eight pages, and the finale makes a regular-length issue feel like an annual. Even Batman’s potentially-distracting involvement helps distinguish Kirk from DC’s garden-variety masked men. You’ll want to read it slowly to catch all the details, but it’ll keep you turning pages to find out what happens next.

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Quote of the day | ‘Detective Comics’ is an oxymoron

“Batman is considered THE detective in comics (he first appeared in Detective Comics and has been there for 70+ years, after all) and the rest of the Bat-Family are right up there with him. But, the reputation, I’m sad to say, is undeserved. It’s HARD to write a detective in a comic book format. I know. I’ve been there. There’s only so much room for clues and for drawn out searches. Stories in comics have to move so fast that being a detective, even for Batman, usually comes down to a trail of muddy footprints, with a mud that comes ONLY from one certain place in an area of five square yards, where the murderer happens to be standing right now …”

Paul Tobin, killing my long-held dream that Detective Comics will ever live up to its name.

Is he right, though? I love Paul Tobin, but is it that tough to write a mystery comic? Seems like Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker might disagree. Or is it just tough to write a mystery comic featuring Batman or other superheroes? Tobin’s certainly correct that most Batman stories aren’t actually detective stories, but is that a problem with the comics medium, the superhero genre, or just the writers themselves?

Is it a problem at all? Am I the only one who’d really enjoy seeing Batman do some actual sleuthing? Or Lois Lane put some actual investigating into her journalism?

What Are You Reading? with Ed Piskor

G.I. Joe #60

This week our special guest is Ed Piskor, creator of Wizzywig and Brain Rot, and artist on the Harvey Pekar-written graphic novels Macedonia and The Beats.

To see what Ed and the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately, click below.

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Scott Snyder and Sara Pichelli dominate Stan Lee Awards

Sara Pichelli and Scott Snyder topped the second annual Stan Lee Awards, presented over the weekend at Kapow! Comic Convention in London. Pichelli won for Best Artist and Best Newcomer, while Snyder walked away with Best Writer and Man of the Year. Snyder’s run on Detective Comics with Jock and Francesco Francavilla was also named Best Ongoing Series.

The full list of winners:

Best Writer: Scott Snyder

Best Artist: Sara Pichelli

Best Superhero or Sci-Fi Movie: X-Men First Class

Best Game or Toy: Arkham City

Best TV Show: Game of Thrones

Best Publisher: DC Comics

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Conan artist Ernie Chan passes away at age 71

Veteran artist Ernie Chan, perhaps best remembered for his work in the 1970s on Batman and Conan the Barbarian, passed away Wednesday at age 71. According to cartoonist Gerry Alanguilan, Chan recently had been diagnosed with cancer. His death follows that of fellow Filipino artist Tony DeZuniga last week.

“It’s sad to lose one, but it’s truly crushing to lose so many in such a short amount of time,” Alanguilan wrote on his website. “But Mang Ernie lived a full life. He had accomplished a lot. There was a point in time that he was one of the hottest artists working comics. DC wouldn’t give you the honor of drawing so many cover on their mainstream titles if you weren’t so well regarded. He deserves to be remembered and recognized as someone who contributed positively to the image of Filipinos and their talents worldwide.”

Born July 27, 1940, as Ernesto Chua in the Philippines, he legally changed his last name to Chan after becoming a U.S. citizen in 1976. Chan broke into American comics in the early 1970s drawing short stories for DC Comics’ Ghosts mystery/suspense series before beginning a nearly two-year stint on Batman in 1975 while also penciling Claw the Unconquered and Detective Comics. Under the name Chua, he also served as the publisher’s primary cover artist from about 1975 to 1976.

Moving to Marvel in the late ’70s, he illustrated such titles as Conan the Barbarian, Kull the Destroyer, Power Man and Iron Fist, and inked Sal Buscema’s pencils on The Incredible Hulk.

Chan shifted into animation and the 1990s before retiring in 2002. Funeral services will be held Monday in Oakland, California.

Related: Greg Hatcher showcases some of Chan’s work at Comics Should Be Good.

Jack Kirby/Joe Sinnott Fantastic Four page fetches record $155,350

A panel from "Fantastic Four" #55, by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

A page of Silver Surfer original art by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott from 1966′s Fantastic Four #55 sold last week for $155,350 in an auction of vintage comics and comic art that included the very first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sketch. According to Heritage Auctions, that price for the Page 3 half-splash marks the most ever paid for a panel page of comic art.

Held in Dallas, the auction brought in a total of nearly $5.5 million, including $113,525 for a restored copy of Detective Comics #27, featuring the first appearance of Batman, $107,500 for a near-mint copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #1, and $101,575 for Detective Comics #29, the second-ever Batman cover.

Other items included a good copy of Pep Comics #22, featuring the first appearance of Archie ($35,850), and Archie Comics #2 ($31,070).

Titled “When Strikes the Silver Surfer,” Fantastic Four #55 was the fourth appearance of the Herald of Galactus. The page, which you can see in full below, was signed by Stan Lee during a 1983 convention appearance.

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Check that bought Superman rights sells for $160,000

The $412 check written in 1938 by Detective Comics to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for, among other things, the rights to Superman sold last night at auction for a whopping $160,000. The piece of paper has been described as “the most important $412 in comics history” and “possibly the most important pop-culture artifact known to exist.”

“The concept of the superhero was born with Superman,” Vincent Zurzolo, co-owner of auction website ComicConnect, told Reuters. “That $130 check essentially created a billion-dollar industry.”

Signed by Publisher Jack Liebowitz, it included $130 for the Man of Steel, with the remaining $282 serving as payment for stories contributed to Detective Comics, Adventure Comics and More Fun Comics. Liebowitz misspelled the last names of both Siegel and Shuster, leading them to endorse the check twice.

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Detective Comics back-up stories will star Two-Face

Detective Comics #8

Answering one of the questions raised by yesterday’s announcement the expansion of Batman and Detective Comics to 40 pages, DC Comics revealed this afternoon that April’s Detective #8 will kick off a multi-part backup story featuring Two-Face.

The 10-page stories reunite series writer Tony S. Daniel and artist Szymon Kudranski (Spawn, Penguin: Pain and Prejudice), who collaborated on the “Russian Roulette” one-shot in Detective Comics #5. The Two-Face spotlights are intended to reveal the history of a rogue who’s only appeared briefly since the launch in August of DC Comics: The New 52.

“I’m really looking forward to working with Szymon Kudraski, who’ll no doubt capture the dark mood and tone I’m reaching for in Detective Comics,” Daniel said on DC’s Source blog. “I’m going deep into the character of Harvey Dent and the inner conflicts and demons he must confront. I’m approaching the characters and story the way I would a multi-layered psychological thriller, one that covers a man at the losing end of a battle within himself.”

The same month that Two-Face spotlight debuts in Detective, Batman will launch back-up stories centering on the Court of Owls, the shadowy organization that has plagued the Dark Knight and Gotham City in the first arc of the relaunched comic. Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV will write the stories, with American Vampire artist Rafael Albuquerque providing the art.

Batman and Detective Comics expand to 40 pages in April

Batman #8, by Greg Capullo

Batman and Detective Comics will expand to 40 pages beginning in April, a move that brings with it back-up stories and a price increase from $2.99 to $3.99, DC Comics announced over the weekend.

Batman #8 will see writer Scott Snyder re-team with American Vampire artist Rafael Albuquerque for the first in a series of back-up stories examining the history of the Court of Owls, the shadowy organization that has plagued the Dark Knight and Gotham City in the first arc of the relaunched comic. Co-written by James Tynion IV, the stories also dovetail into “The Night of the Owls,” a crossover that will launch in May and run through all of DC’s Bat-books.

“The first backup, in issue eight will give a sense of the terrifying scope of the Court of Owls’ attack on Gotham. This really will be the first shot in a war for the soul of Gotham City,” Snyder wrote this morning on DC’s Source blog. “And then, starting in issue nine, we’ll begin a three part story called ‘The Fall of the House of Wayne’ that will investigate the secret history of the Court of Owls and its relationship to the Wayne family – particularly to Thomas and Martha Wayne, Bruce’s parents. The story will be told from the point of view of Jarvis Pennyworth, Alfred’s father, and offer some big surprises and shocks about the forces that shaped the bat-mythology as we know it. Can’t wait for you all to see these stories!”

In a pair of interviews with Newsarama and ICv2, DC’s Executive Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Business Development John Rood and Senior Vice President of Sales Bob Wayne also revealed Detective and Green Lantern will join Action Comics, Batman and Justice League as “combo pack” titles, meaning that for $1 more, readers receive a redemption code allowing them to download a digital version of the comics, leaving the print editions “pristine.”

Check out Albuquerque’s Batman sketches below.

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First look at Tony Daniel’s cover for Detective Comics #8

Detective Comics #8

To celebrate the 2 millionth “like” of its Batman Facebook page, DC Comics has debuted the cover for April’s Detective Comics #8, by Tony S. Daniel and Sandu Florea.

“More than 2 million people have signaled that they are fans of the Caped Crusader, a sentiment we whole-heartedly agree with,” Brandy Phillips, DC Entertainment’s director of publicity, wrote this morning on The Source. “It’s no surprise that so many people feel this way. Batman continues to be one of the most popular comic characters ever created, with top-selling and popular books Batman, Detective Comics, Batman: The Dark Knight and Batman and Robin leading the way. And with Catwoman, Batwing, Batgirl and Batwoman rounding out the Batman family – the whole line is really on a tear, backed by some of the best creative talent in the industry including Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Tony Daniel, and David Finch, among many others.”

Check out the full cover below.

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Carl Barks’ classic painting ‘The Sport of Tycoons’ fetches $262,900

"The Sport of Tycoons," by Carl Barks

Carl Barks’ 1974 painting “The Sport of Tycoons,” which features the iconic image of Scrooge McDuck swimming in his gold-filled vault, sold at auction last week for a record $262,900.

The painting is based on Barks’ often-reprinted 1952 tale “Only a Poor Old Man,” the first story in which Scrooge was the main character (in which, while swimming in his money bin, he says, “I love to dive around in it like a porpoise, and burrow through it like a gopher, and toss it up and let it hit me on the head!”). “The Sport of Tycoons” debuted in print in 1981′s The Fine Art of Walt Disney’s Donald Duck by Carl Barks.

The piece, part of the Kerby Confer Collection, was accompanied by the Heritage Auctions sales of two other Barks originals — “Sheriff of Bullet Valley” ($107,550), and “McDuck of Duckburg” ($101,575).

The auction also saw Jerry Robinson’s original cover art for 1942′s Detective Comics #67, the first Penguin cover, fetch $239,000, which Heritage dubs the second-highest price for a piece of American comic-book art.

Comics A.M. | Jerry Robinson Detective Comics #67 cover up for sale

Detective Comics #67

Art | Jerry Robinson’s cover artwork from Detective Comics #67 is expected to bring in more than $300,000 when it goes up for auction Nov. 15. “Robinson penciled and inked this cover and the detail of his art is amazing close-up,” said Todd Hignite, consignment director for Comic Art at Heritage Auctions, “particularly his shading lines on Batman and Robin, and on the feathery details of the ostrich being straddled by that bird-of-prey, the Penguin.” [Art Daily]

Business | Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment Inc. and Vuguru, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s independent studio, are partnering to produce “original digital content.” [press release]

Comics | Darryl Ayo has a small manifesto about comics that makes a lot of sense: “Things that don’t make sense in North American comics: 1) comics that exist after their creators have ceased to. 2) these comics’ existence continues despite minimal effort to applicable to contemporary culture. Things that make perfect sense in North American comics: people’s general lack of interest in comics.” He points out a number of reasons why the comics audience is small and challenges creators and publishers to “Do better.” One point he makes that is rarely mentioned: The critical importance of editors. [Comix Cube]

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