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Annual report: Reviews of DC’s 2013 summer annuals

annuals

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.

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Every issue is someone’s first: short reviews of four #2’s

astro cityAs 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.

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Talking Comics with Tim | Matt D. Wilson on ‘The Supervillain Field Manual’

The Supervillain Field Manual

The Supervillain Field Manual

If you’re shopping for a gift for that special evil family member or friend, I have the deal for you: The latest and greatest self-help book for supervillains goes on sale today in the form of The Supervillain Field Manual: How to Conquer (Super) Friends and Incinerate People by King Oblivion, who had a little help from ghost writer Matt D. Wilson and illustrator Adam Wallenta.

Because I didn’t trust King enough to give him my my email address, I contacted Wilson to see if he was forced to do the book against his will or simply embarked on the marginally evil project of his own free will. Fortunately, Wilson seemed to have enjoyed himself and was more than willing to share insight on the guidebook to becoming an effective supervillain. He wasn’t all about enabling evil, by the way; toward the end of the interview he shares tips on comics he’s currently enjoying.

Tim O’Shea: Let’s go back to your first self-help supervillain book (2012’s The Supervillain Handbook). How did you come to decide there might be a market for evil-comedy instruction books?

Matt D. Wilson: You’re probably giving me a little too much credit there in terms of business sense. It’s not so much that I thought there was a market; I just kind of felt compelled and figured it’d be a fun thing to do. I actually wrote that first book back in 2009 or so, and it took three-plus years to get it published anywhere.

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Comics A.M. | ‘Superman Unchained’ #1 locks in $1.25M at retail

Superman Unchained #1

Superman Unchained #1

Comics sales | ICv2 reckons that at $4.99 a copy and more than 250,000 copies sold, Scott Snyder and Jim Lee’s Superman Unchained #1 brought in $1.25 million at retail. John Mayo has additional sales analysis at Comic Book Resources. [ICv2]

Creators | Stan Lee shows off his office, which is pretty darn nice. [CNN iReport]

Creators | Writer Steven T. Seagle talks about the genesis of his new graphic novel, Genius, which started with his wife’s revelation that her father was in on one of the secrets of the century. [Hero Complex]

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Snyder Week wrap-up: ‘Unchained’ and ‘Man of Steel’

Henry Cavill as Superman

Henry Cavill as Superman

One big potential problem with any Superman incarnation is his relationship with the audience. Even if the story centers around a credible moral dilemma, it risks having him make a choice with which the audience disagrees. Put another way, you can start with a Superman with a definite code of ethics, who always tries to do the right thing, and who puts others’ welfare above his own, and you might still end up with the Injustice comic, the pure-Straczynski issues of “Grounded,” or Superman Returns. For a significant group of fans, these are cautionary examples of How Not To Do Superman (although apparently those Injustice comics sell reasonably well…).

Accordingly, it helps if the audience trusts the particular Superman writer, which is where Scott Snyder, David Goyer, and Christopher Nolan come in. Snyder is already a big deal at DC thanks to his Batman work. Likewise, last year Goyer (screenwriter) and Nolan (producer/director) wrapped up a wildly successful Batman film trilogy.

Still, it’s easy to do Batman. For one thing, Batman doesn’t need to be a nice guy. Like James Bond or Don Draper, his main focus is the work, and the style with which he gets the particular job done. If Bats gets to make a hard moral choice, as he did at the conclusion of The Dark Knight, that’s just gravy.

With that in mind, we turn to the week’s two newest Superman vehicles, one an ongoing comic book, and the other a new film incarnation, to see what choices they present to our hero.

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‘Man of Steel’ broke Mark Waid’s heart (and other Super-tidbits)

ew-superman coverWith director Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel opening today nationwide (many theaters had screenings as early as 12:01 a.m.), it’s impossible to swing a dead Kent without hitting a dozen Superman-related items online or in print. Although most of them are directly related to the Warner Bros. franchise reboot, there are plenty with clear comic-book ties. Here are just a handful of them:

• Superman gets the cover of this week’s Entertainment Weekly, on which Neal Adams and Murphy Anderson’s rendition of the Last Son of Krypton (from December 1972’s Action Comics #419) is given prominence over the movie and TV versions — possibly because Man of Steel star Henry Cavill was featured in April, but hey, we’ll take it. But poor, poor Brandon Routh …

• Mark Waid, whose 2003-2004 miniseries Superman: Birthright (with Leinil Francis Yu) influenced Man of Steel, saw the movie last night and tweeted, “That thunder you heard at around 9:15 EST was the sound of my heart breaking in two.” He followed that with a review on his Thrillbent website that he prefaced with, “It’s a good science-fiction movie, but it’s very cold. It’s not a very satisfying super-hero movie. That said, if your favorite part of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE was Superman standing in the Fortress while Jor-El lectured him, you’re gonna love MAN OF STEEL.”

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Unchained Reactions to this week’s ‘Superman Unchained’ #1

june10-superman unchained1

Yesterday brought several first issues, new storylines and creative teams to the various comics that came out, so I figured instead of doing one Chain Reaction thsi week, I’d do several over the next few days. A chain of Chain Reactions, if you will. Or maybe more appropriately for this first post, Unchained Reactions. Because yes, we’re talking about Superman: Unchained #1.

Written by Scott Snyder (Batman, Swamp Thing) and drawn by co-publisher Jim Lee (heck, what hasn’t he drawn?), Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair and, in a back-up, Dustin Nguyen, this new comic arrives not coincidentally the same week that Man of Steel opens in theater and once again pivots into the minds of the mainstream.

So while Superman is popping up everywhere right now, how is the actual comic? Here are a few reactions from around the web:

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Comics A.M. | Malaysian cartoonist appeals arrest ruling

Cartoon by Zunar

Cartoon by Zunar

Legal | The Malaysian cartoonist Zunar has appealed a court decision upholding his 2010 arrest and detention, claiming police acted in bad faith when they arrested him under the Sedition Act because of his book Cartoon-O-Phobia, which had not yet been released at the time of his arrest. No charges were ever filed, as the police could not identify any actual seditious content in the books. A court ruled in July 2012 that Zunar’s arrest was lawful but ordered the police to return the books they had confiscated and pay him damages. An appellate court will hear the case next week. [The Comics Reporter]

Publishing | Heidi MacDonald takes a look at Marvel’s new graphic novel line, which will launch in October with Warren Ellis and Mike McKone’s Avengers: Endless Wartime. [Publishers Weekly]

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DC Entertainment declares June 12 Man of Steel Day

all-star superman

In anticipation of the June 14 release of the new Superman movie, DC Entertainment has declared Wednesday, June 12, Man of Steel Day.

Sponsored by Sears, the event will see comic shops and bookstores give away copies of All-Star Superman Special Edition #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Not so coincidentally, June 12 also marks the debut of Superman Unchained, the new DC Comics series by Scott Snyder and Jim Lee launched to coincide with director Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. That first issue you’ll have to pay $4.99 for (it comes with a two-sided poster).

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Sneak peek at ‘American Vampire: The Long Road to Hell’

american-vampire3-cropped

Vertigo has unveiled a preview of American Vampire: The Long Road to Hell #1, a one-shot co-written by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque, with art (naturally) by Albuquerque. It sports a variant cover by Tony Moore.

Arriving June 12, the special features the return of fan-favorite vampire hunter Travis Kidd (introduced in the series’ “Death Race” arc) as he tracks a pair of newly turned young lovers — the “Heartbreak Killers” — across the American heartland.

“This is my first time writing for Vertigo and it’s a big honor,” Albuquerque said in March. “Once it was decided we would go on hiatus, I approached Mark (our editor) with the idea of doing this special, so the fans could have a ‘taste of blood’ while waiting for the book’s return. He liked the idea and we (Scott Snyder, Mark and I) began talking about it.”

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What Are You Reading? with Allison Baker

nursenursecover-tease

Happy Mother’s Day and welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at the comics, books and what have you we’ve been checking out lately. Joining us today is Allison Baker, co-publisher of Bandette, Edison Rex and all the other Monkeybrain Comics you can find on comiXology.

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

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Comics A.M. | Moulinsart launches Tintin app; Jesse Santos dies

The Adventures of Tintin

The Adventures of Tintin

Digital comics | Moulinsart, the company that holds the rights to Herge’s works, has released the complete Tintin comics in digital form. The iOS app is free, and it looks like the comics are $5.99 each, which is pretty reasonable. The catch is that they are all in the original French; it doesn’t appear as if translations are available yet. [Idboox]

Passings | Filipino komiks creator Jesse Santos died April 27 at the age of 83. Santos began his career in 1946 as an artist for the first serialized comic in the Philippines, Halakhak, and moved to the U.S. in the 1960s. He drew the sword-and-sorcery character Dragar the Invincible and took over from Dan Spiegle as artist for The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor. [Komikero Dot Com]

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What Are You Reading? with James Hornsby

rocket-raccoon-and-groot-tease

Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look into the reading habits of the Robot 6 gang. Today’s special guest is James Hornsby, the cartoonist behind Botched Spot and Over Like Olav.

To see what James and the Robot 6 crew are reading, click below …

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Beware the Court of Owls masks — again!

court of owls

I’d only just begun to recover from those haunting images of Comic-Con International attendees wearing those giveaway Court of Owls masks when I opened DC Comics’ July solicitations to find the publisher is offering the nightmare-inducing featureless disguises packaged with the trade paperback of Batman: The Court of Owls, by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion.

Arriving Oct. 2, the $24.99 Batman: The Court of Owls Book and Mask Set offers you the chance to introduce a friend or loved one to the first arc of the relaunched Batman — and then scare the bejeezus out of them by wearing the mask. That is, if you’re willing diminish its potential value by opening the box. Oh, go ahead, it’ll be worth it …

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‘Batman Incorporated’ ends in July, with Morrison variant cover

batman-incorporated13-cropp

“Batman Incorporated” #13, by Chris Burnham

Rather than continue Batman Incorporated following Grant Morrison’s announced departure, DC Comics will end the series with July’s Issue 13.

The news, revealed in IGN.com’s preview of the Batman solicitations, comes as little surprise, as the title was a vehicle for Morrison and artist Chris Burnham to tell the story of Bruce Wayne’s global team of heroes the writer began in 2010. The first arc volume ended in December 2011, following DC’s New 52 relaunch, with the second volume debuting in May 2012.

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