DC Comics hasn’t had a particularly good run of things lately. To be frank, the publisher has done blown it a number of times over the past few years. But don’t worry, DC fans — I’m sure it’ll soon be Marvel’s turn, as the two rivals seem to trade off every five years or so.
I’ve been calling out DC for the past couple of weeks, but that doesn’t mean everything it does strikes me as wrong. It’s important to declare shenanigans, but it’s also important to recognize when a publisher does something that’s good for comics.
So here are six things DC is doing right:
1. Digital comics: Legends of the Dark Knight and Adventures of Superman are digital-first anthology series that feature some excellent creators (from Jeff Parker and Chris Samnee to J.M. DeMatteis and Jeff Lemire) producing completely accessible and entertaining stories that stand on their own; no college course on the New 52 or Crisis on Infinite Earths required. Yes, these stories are out of continuity — so for a percentage of readers, they don’t count. That’s a mistake, because there’s nothing wrong with a straight-up superhero tale that exists on its own terms. These two anthologies are the gems of DC’s digital-first line-up, but Batman ’66 and Batman: Li’l Gotham also offer fantastical takes on the iconic Caped Crusader that are bright and fun. For those exhausted by the angsty versions of serious stories, you owe it to yourself to check these out.
As Stan Lee sayings go, “Every comic book is someone’s first” isn’t quite as well-known as “With great power comes great responsibility,” but it’s nevertheless one that comics editors and creators should integrate and internalize just as thoroughly. It’s probably much less true today, now that comics are sold primarily through specialty shops (and, increasingly, online) instead of on newsstands and spinner racks, than whenever Lee first said it.
But regardless of whether Executive Assistant Assassins #13, Fearless Defenders #7 or Tarot Witch of the Black Rose #81 — to pick three titles from this week’s shipping list — will actually be anyone’s first comic book, as long as publishers continue to sell comics as serialized stories, then the thought that one of those could be someone’s introduction is a pretty good guiding principle for creating those comics.
With that in mind, this week I read a handful of second issues of some prominent new books from the biggest players in the direct market, with an eye toward how friendly the material might be toward a new reader starting the series — or comics in general — with that issue.
Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, Alex Ross and Alex Sinclair returned to Astro City this week, with a brand-new first issue published by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint. The creative team introduces us to several new characters, including the fourth wall-breaking Broken Man and the anime-inspired American Chibi. Old favorites are also still in residence, including Samaritan and Bill Pullam, one of the ordinary citizens we met earlier in Astro City’s history.
It’s a first issue that feels comfortably familiar but also refreshingly different, as we kick off what looks like a big event within the Astro City world. I definitely found it well worth my $3.99, but if you don’t believe me, here are a few more reviews that might convince you:
Several weeks ago when I interviewed Edison Rex co-creator Chris Roberson, we had hoped to include co-creator Dennis Culver in the discussion. Schedules didn’t work out at the time, but happily, on the eve of the deadline to pre-order the Edison Rex trade paperback (Diamond Code APR130377), Culver’s schedule freed up for an interview about his co-creation.
As if collecting the Edison Rex issues 1-6 isn’t enough to interest you in this IDW Publishing release, Roberson and Culver have scored an introduction by the great Kurt Busiek. The collection will hit shelves June 12.
Tim O’Shea: How did the IDW publishing deal come together?
Dennis Culver: That was all [Monkeybrain Comics co-publishers] Chris [Roberson] and Allison [Baker]. From what I understand, IDW had expressed an interest in print collections fairly early in the Monkeybrain launch, and I was on board as soon as I heard. They gave us a fair deal and they put out great looking books. I’m very happy to publish Rex through them!
Less than a month after DC Comics announced that Astro City will return in June as part of “DC proper,” the company has revealed the acclaimed superhero series by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson and Alex Ross will actually be released under the Vertigo banner.
While that will make little difference to fans of the long-running comic, the move helps to bolster the mature-readers imprint, which only recently lost the Hugo Award-nominated Saucer Country and its longtime flagship Hellblazer (relaunched as Constantine in the DC Universe). Astro City will certainly stand out as a rare example of a superhero title on the Vertigo stable.
Debuting in 1995 at Image Comics before ultimately moving to Wildstorm, Astro City centers on the denizens of a mecca for super-powered beings. The title has been on hiatus since DC shuttered the Wildstorm imprint in 2010. The new series continues from the previous arc, a Silver Agent two-parter that served as an epilogue to Astro City: The Dark Age.
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.
It’s time once again for our monthly trip through Previews looking for cool, new comics. We’ve each picked the five comics we’re most anticipating in order to create a list of the best new stuff coming out two months from now.
As usual, please feel free to play along in the comments. Tell us what we missed that you’re looking forward to or – if you’re a comics creator – mention your own stuff.
Comic Book Creator #1 (TwoMorrows, $8.95): I still fondly remember the now-defunct Comic Book Artist magazine from years ago, and now the creator of that magazine, Jon Cooke returns with a new 80-page offering to take its place. With a first issue filled with Jack Kirby, Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, this is a must-read for me.
Mark Waid’s The Green Hornet #1 (Dynamite, $3.99): Waid has been having a career renaissance, in terms of recognition at least, and that led to getting his name on the title of this new revamp of Dynamite’s Green Hornet line (art is by Daniel Indero). I dig the creator, I dig the character, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when the two collide.
The Secret History of Marvel Comics HC (Fantagraphics, $35.00): I’ve been looking forward to this one since I first heard about it. Blake Bell looks at the non-comics material being published by the company that would one day become Marvel Comics, including pulp and girlie mag work by Jack Kirby, Bill Everett and Dan DeCarlo. It’s like the perfect companion for Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story!
Star Wars: Legacy — Prisoner of the Floating World #1 (Dark Horse, $2.99): As if the Brian Wood series wasn’t enough to get me back into Star Wars comics, now we get a new series from the Planet of the Apes team of Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman? If these are the final days of Dark Horse’s Star Wars license as many are rumoring, then they’re definitely going out with a bang.
Wake Up, Percy Gloom HC (Fantagraphics, $24.99): I fell madly in love with Cathy Malkasian’s beautiful Percy Gloom graphic novel a few years back, which was as beautiful as it was unexpected, so there is little to no way that I am not eagerly anticipating this follow-up. For those who like gorgeously-illustrated, melancholy and touching books: This is for you.
Travis Clevinger, the lead character in Dan Jolley’s Bloodhound, is a convicted murderer with no superpowers who is released from prison at the request of the FBI so he can track down a serial killer. First published in 2004 by DC Comics, the DC Universe series, which featured art by Leonard Kirk and Robin Riggs, received good reviews but never quite found its audience and was never collected. That is, until now.
Bloodhound has found a new home at Dark Horse, which in June will publish issues 1-4 and 6-10 as a collected edition, titled Bloodhound, Vol. 1: Brass Knuckle Psychology, with 198 pages of comics plus an introduction by Kurt Busiek, an afterword by Ivan Cohen, and standalone art by Jamal Igle, Mike Norton, Tim Seeley and others. Where is Issue 5? Read our exclusive interview with Jolley to find out, and to get the backstory on Bloodhound.
Robot 6: Since it’s been a while, can you refresh us about what Bloodhound is about?
Dan Jolley: Bloodhound is about Travis “Clev” Clevenger, a huge, brutal, ex-Atlanta police detective who specializes in tracking down superhuman criminals. Clev had the city’s best record for finding and dealing with superhumans, thanks to a knack for understanding their thought processes. Unfortunately, he had also been having an on-again-off-again affair with his partner Vince’s wife, Trish, for a number of years, and when Vince found out, he attacked Clev with a crowbar. Clev killed Vince and got sentenced to prison.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back for another round of Robot Roulette. It’s kind of like Vegas, without the mob connections or chances of actually winning money–comic creators spin the virtual wheel and get six questions thrown at them to answer.
Today Kurt Busiek takes his six questions and turns them into gold. Kurt, of course, is the award-winning writer of Astro City, Liberty Project, Untold Tales of Spider-Man, Marvels, Avengers, Arrowsmith, Shockrockets, Thunderbolts, Iron Man, Kirby: Genesis, JLA/Avengers, Trinity, Superman: Secret Identity, Conan, Power Company and many, many more comics. You can find out more about him on his website.
My thanks to Kurt for agreeing to answer our questions. Now let’s get to it …
Every week, hard as it may be to believe, I try honestly to offer something I think might interest the larger group of DC Domics superhero readers. However, this week I am invoking a personal privilege. For one thing, with Halloween on a Wednesday (when I usually end up writing these essays), the holiday will more than likely take priority.
The main reason, though, is that today is my birthday, and as you might have guessed from the headline, this year is my 43rd birthday. Therefore, this week I have pulled together an especially memorable DC story and/or issue from each of those years, 1969 through 2012. (Note: They may not always line up with the actual year, but just for simplicity’s sake, all dates are cover dates.) These aren’t necessarily the best or most noteworthy stories of their particular years, but they’ve stuck with me. Besides, while I’ve read a lot of comics from a lot of sources, for whatever reason DC has been the constant. Maybe when I’m 50 I’ll have something more comprehensive.
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It’s impossible not to be moved by the story of longtime comics writer and inker Karl Kesel and his wife Myrna, who less than four months ago adopted baby Isaac, the child of a heroin user who began life battling methadone withdrawal. Facing $67,000 in medical bills, in addition to the $25,000 for the adoption itself, and uncertain of how much would be covered by Myrna’s health insurance, Karl decided to sell the Silver Age Marvel collection he’d amassed over four decades.
Reading about the Kesels’ situation, a Reddit member named Razorsheldon rallied the troops to help the family while simultaneously attempting to save Karl’s comics. “Why not start a fundraising campaign to buy as many of his comics as we could so we could give them right back to him?” he wrote earlier this week. “I have no lofty expectations for this endeavor, but I thought even purchasing one comic would send the right message that there are people out there that are grateful that people like Karl and his wife Myrna exist to make this world a better place.”
Our informal poll last week about whether it’s a familiar creator or a familiar character that draws readers to a new title received more than 100 responses. That makes it about as accurate as some of the regular polls tracking the U.S. presidential race these days.
In case you missed it, in extrapolating from Kurt Busiek’s similar poll, I asked for people to chime in on what primarily gets them to throw down their money for a comic: creators or characters. Of course, I laid out my bias right away, and not everyone’s answers were completely clear cut, so we’ve probably got a pretty significant margin of error. But I was pleased to see that the majority of commenters either put creators first, or considered both when making a decision.
Of the 112 responses at the time of this writing, 85 said they either put creators first or relied on some kind of mix of creators and characters. Of that group, it was evenly split on creators (43) and a mix (42). Just 25 said characters held more weight than creators. While a third option wasn’t given in my original post, it was good to read about other factors that influence comics purchasing. A handful mentioned concept, theme, genre and, I guess, marketing. And two said story, which I guess means they read comics in the store before paying for them.
I can’t deny the appeal of crowdfunding. I’ve contributed to a handful of projects, including the Stripped documentary, the new Steve Rude sketchbook and a guide to Star Wars’ domestic filming locations. I’m also planning to pledge to Leaving Megalopolis, the new graphic novel by Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore.
Like many of you, I’m predisposed to like Simone and Calafiore’s work based on their issues of Secret Six. I also enjoyed the way Simone and her collaborators brought a little town of superheroes to life in Welcome to Tranquility. Heck, I just like Simone’s writing generally, and as it’s within my budget, I don’t mind spending the money.
However, while responding to Tom Spurgeon’s call for crowdfunding thoughts, I had a crazy idea: What if a license fee were part of the crowdfunding proposal? In other words, what if one item in a project’s budget were earmarked for licensing particular characters from DC or Marvel?
While there is a fine line between stupid and clever, I’m not sure upon which side this post lies. That’s probably not so good — but it hasn’t stopped me yet. …
Is a familiar creator enough to bring you to a new book, or do you only pick up a new title with familiar characters? The ongoing creator-owned debate is interesting in theory, but eventually it has to come down to practical application. And Kurt Busiek seriously wants to know.
Busiek posted an informal poll on his Facebook page on Tuesday after someone on Twitter said he wanted to read The Savage Land by Kurt Busiek and Steve Lieber. As that Marvel series doesn’t exist, Busiek wondered whether “a comic about a lost land full of dinosaurs and primitive tribes” would necessarily have to set within the Marvel Universe for readers to buy it, or would another dinosaur-filled lost land work just as well.
“If Steve and I wanted to do a comic about a lost land full of dinosaurs and primitive tribes, would it need to be the Savage Land?” Busiek wrote. “Would Ka-Zar, Garokk, Sauron and the ability to have Spider-Man and Nick Fury show up need to be part of the deal?”
He also pointed out the availability of such lands and his experience with creating one recently: “After all, Pellucidar and The Lost World are both in the public domain at present, and it’s easy to make up a new setting like that. In fact, the last time I wrote a place like that, it was The Phantom Continent, in Kirby: Genesis.”