The problem with superheroes is it’s not a personal taste so much as it just requires so much insider knowledge to read these things. They don’t stand on their own. There have been about three superhero comics, maybe two, in the past five years that stand on their own. That you can just read and not have to know what happened in issue #56 and ever since. It’s a real problem, I think, and it’s a problem for the industry. How do you get into this stuff if you’re not into it already?
— Jessica Abel, cartoonist and co-editor of the Best American Comics annual anthology series, explains why so few superhero comics have made it into their best-of collections in an interview with CBR’s Alex Dueben. (Though this isn’t through lack of trying — DC previously turned down their request to use Paul Pope’s Batman Year 100.) Her husband, fellow cartoonist, and co-editor Matt Madden agrees:
Supergods, his new prose book on the subject of superheroes, isn’t the least bit confusing. It is, however, slightly confused.
While the book eventually earns its self-help book-sounding subtitle of “What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human” in its closing chapters, that subtitle is a poor distillation of the actual contents of the book, which are a bit scattershot.
Supergods is partially a history of American superhero comics (and their British reflections). It’s partially a biography of Grant Morrison and his career in the comics industry, which naturally overlaps with the first concern at a certain point. And it’s partially a cultural history of the concept of the superhero in the 20th and 21st centuries, with the Promethean subject of what superheroes can teach humanity shining through here and there.
Morrison is an excellent writer, in prose as well as in comics-scripting it turns out, and the pages of the book are fiercely passionate, vibrating with authority and conviction on their subject, and thoroughly encrusted with often lyrical sentences and clever, even brilliant turns of phrase.
Despite these considerable virtues, the wandering mission makes it a frustrating read, as does the fact that Morrison’s many tics come to the fore almost immediately, and can make for a rather uncomfortable read (perhaps especially for those of us who have heard versions of many of these stories before, and from different perspectives).
Casting an eye over the expanse of superhero comics, you’ll find yourself looking at a number of heroes so popular that they’ve spawned spin-off characters that are either younger, pluckier or, more often than not, of the opposite sex. From DC’s Supergirl (tied to Superman) to Marvel’s Ms. Marvel (connected to Captain Marvel), this has been a trend going on longer than most of us have been around. But in this world of male heroes sharing their costume designs with women, I’ve always wondered why there isn’t much going the opposite way: heroes who base their costumes and names on heroines.
One of the key reasons is that by sheer number there are far more popular male superhero characters than female characters. By my unscientific estimation, the only female superheroes the general public could name would be Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Invisible Woman, Catwoman, Jean Grey and Storm. Compare that to the male heroes most people know, and you’ll get the picture. But even then, where are the male counterparts to those female heroes I mentioned?
The closest thing we have to that is DC’s Catman, the lone example of an in-continuity character borrowing his style from a female character — Catwoman. There’s also the rare alternative universe where all genders are switched, such as Earth-11 as seen in Teen Titans Spotlight #11, or other unique circumstances.
I’m not saying DC should bring back Wonder Man (or Captain Wonder) as a counterpart to Wonder Woman in the New 52, but she does have a pair of star-spangled pants she’s not using.
Legal | A Michigan judge on Monday denied a defense motion to dismiss the murder case against former retailer and convention organizer Michael George, who will now stand trial a second time in the 1990 shooting death of his first wife Barbara. His trial is set to begin Sept. 7. George, 51, was convicted in 2008 of killing his wife in their Clinton Township comic book store. However, later that year Macomb County Circuit Judge James M. Biernat set aside the conviction based on claims of prosecutorial misconduct and the emergence of new evidence that might have resulted in a different verdict. [The Detroit News]
Comic strips | On Sept. 11, the Sunday comics pages will mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11 as 93 strips from six syndicates participate in “Cartoonists Remember 9/11.” After publication, the strips will be collected at CartoonistsRemember911.com. [USA Today]
Education | Updating Monday’s report about rising waters in White River Junction, Vermont, imperiling The Center for Cartoon Studies’ Schulz Library, Director James Sturm says that while the building was seriously damaged, thanks to the efforts of students, staff and alumni, not a single book was lost. Cartoonist Jen Vaughn, meanwhile, details the rescue, with accompanying photos. [The Comics Reporter, The Beat]
I really, really enjoy Grant Morrison interviews, even if they tend to arrive in bunches, with one entertaining Q&A sometimes indistinguishable from the next. He’s immensely quotable, peppering his comments with humor, observations of the holy-cow-I’ve-never-thought-of-it-that-way variety and occasionally surprising honesty.
This new interview with Rolling Stone is little different, with the writer discussing Supergods, the Action Comics relaunch, Alan Moore, Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis, and his strained relationship with former protege Mark Millar. While it may feel like we’ve read some of Morrison’s remarks before, others feel fresh, and even a bit brutal. Some highlights:
On his chances of encountering Millar in Glasgow: “There’s a very good chance of running into him, and I hope I’m going 100 miles an hour when it happens.”
On Meltzer’s divisive Identity Crisis: “He’s a nice guy. I have a lot of interesting conversations with him so I tried to focus on what I thought was good about it and there was actually quite a lot when I read it again. The first time I read it I was kind of outraged. I thought this was just … why? What the fuck is this, really? It wasn’t even normal. It was outrageous. It was preposterous because of the Elongated Man with his arms wrapped several times around the corpse of his wife. I thought something is broken. Something has gone so wrong in this image. [...] It’s hard for me to believe that a shy bespectacled college graduate like Brad Meltzer who’s a novelist and a father is a really setting out to be weirdly misogynistic. But unfortunately when you’re looking at this beloved character who’s obviously been ass-raped on the Justice League satellite, even saying it kind of takes you to that dot dot dot where you don’t know what else to say.”
On sexism in DC Comics: “There’s been lots of things, the sexism in DC because it’s mostly men who work in these places. Nobody should be trying to say we’re taking up a specifically anti-woman stance. I think it would be ignorance or stupidity or some God knows what. I was reading some Alan Moore Marvelman for some reason today. I found one in the back there and I couldn’t believe. I pick it up and there are fucking two rapes in it and I suddenly think how many times has somebody been raped in an Alan Moore story? And I couldn’t find a single one where someone wasn’t raped except for Tom Strong, which I believe was a pastiche. We know Alan Moore isn’t a misogynist but fuck, he’s obsessed with rape. I managed to do thirty years in comics without any rape!”
Comics fans, as a whole, despise spoilers, from the death of Captain America and the revelation of Angel as Twilight to the death of the Human Torch and the unmasking of Miles Morales as the new (Ultimate) Spider-Man. As publishers like Marvel and DC Comics turn more frequently to the mainstream press to generate publicity for major plot developments, spoilers naturally become much more common; national newspapers don’t usually hide their exclusives from the eyes of sensitive comics fans.
But after the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments subside, it turns out that spoilers may not be a bad thing. Really! A new study by the University of California, San Diego found that, “contrary to popular wisdom,” they seem to actually enhance the enjoyment of stories.
The study, which will be published in the journal Psychological Science, focused on three types of short stories — ironic-twist, mystery and literary — from such authors as John Updike, Roald Dahl and Agatha Christie. Research subjects were presented with each story in three forms: as it originally appeared, with a spoiler paragraph before the story, and with that same paragraph incorporated into the text.
Movies | National Public Radio commentator John Ridley critiques Hollywood for being even less diverse than the Big Two when it comes to diversity in lead characters, and demolishes their blame-the-audience theory that white people won’t go to see a movie with a black lead by pointing to a study by Indiana University professor Andrew Weaver: “Weaver found that white audiences tended to be racially selective with regard to romantic movies, but not necessarily when it came to other genres. So, sorry, Hollywood. You can’t blame it on the ticket buyers.” [NPR]
Creators | Becky Cloonan talks about the joys and the hardships of being a full-time comics creator: “Comics are hard work. Comics are relentless. Comics will break your heart. Comics are monetarily unsatisfying. Comics don’t offer much in terms of fortune and glory, but comics will give you complete freedom to tell the stories you want to tell, in ways unlike any other medium. Comics will pick you up after it knocks you down. Comics will dust you off and tell you it loves you. And you will look into its eyes and know it’s true, that you love comics back.” [Becky Cloonan: Comics or STFU]
Retailing | Borders Group, the second-largest book chain in the United States, reported a loss of $132.3 million in April, its second full month in bankruptcy. That figure follows on the $52.6 million loss reported in February and March as the bookseller sought Chapter 11 protection and began liquidating 226 locations. [Detroit Free Press]
Publishing | Ira Rubenstein, executive vice president of Marvel’s Global Digital Media Group, has left the company to become executive vice president of digital marketing for 20th Century Fox. He begins the new job in Los Angeles on Monday. Rubenstein joined Marvel in 2008 after 12 years at Sony, and oversaw the launch of the publisher’s digital subscription service. His departure comes less than two weeks after news surfaced that Ron Perazza is resigning as DC Entertainment’s vice president of online. [Variety]
Publishing | Ada Price surveys the graphic novel exhibitors at this year’s BookExpo America, which opens today in New York City. [Publishers Weekly]
Amid the flurry of media coverage of the death in this week’s Fantastic Four #587 — Has it been spoiled for everyone yet? No? — comes two brief but solid pieces that lay out the great circle of life (and death, and life) of mainstream superhero comics.
Warning: If you don’t want to know which member of Marvel’s First Family bites the dust, don’t click on any of these links!
The first is by George Gene Gustines, The New York Times’ go-to guy for comic books, who delves into the newspaper’s archives for Frank Rich’s coverage of the frenzy sparked by 1992′s “Death of Superman”: “The teen-agers who lined up at the nation’s newsstands and comic book stores on Wednesday had dollar signs, not tears, in their eyes. The issue of Superman in which the superhero from Krypton is killed by Doomsday, a villainous escapee from a cosmic insane asylum, was bound to be worth more than its face value of $1.25 someday. Or so its publishers would have young consumers believe.”
The second is by comics critic Douglas Wolk, who narrows his focus from the history of superhero deaths to just those involving members of the Fantastic Four. (Spoiler alert! There have been several.)
Retailing | As the financially troubled Borders Group met Tuesday with publishers in hopes of converting delayed payments into interest-bearing debt, the bookseller’s larger rival Barnes & Noble expressed concerns that could complicate negotiations. “We think the playing field should be even,” B&N spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating said in a statement. “We expect publishers to offer same terms to all other booksellers, including Barnes & Noble and independent booksellers. We fully expect publisher’s will require Borders to pay their bills on the same basis upon which all other booksellers pay theirs. Any changes in publishers terms should be made available to all.” Meanwhile, Reuters considers what the closing of Borders’ 600 stores would mean to the book industry. [The New York Times, Publishers Weekly]
I’ll tell you what else… I’m actually seeing things in [work for hire] comics now that I was doing seven or eight years ago. Not just techniques, but actual ideas. I love me some Fraction, but seeing that Tony Stark wants to “change the world” by manufacturing a car that isn’t dependent on gasoline and runs on a possibly limitless energy source that only he can provide… where have I seen that before? Grant Morrison, of all people, had the confidence and the grace to name check me in a Wired magazine interview when it comes to whatever minor contribution I’ve made to the “corporate” angle in modern comics, but he seems to be the only one. And there are other little things I see here and there that I recognize as having done myself, ten years ago. Things that are so specific, I know where they came from, I know it’s not just coincidence. Now before certain people go crazy because I dared say that… no one should read this as me being at all bitter, because I actually think it’s fine. Let ‘em all pick at the bones of the carcasses I chased down and slaughtered in the field… I’m on to the next kill. I certainly did it with the creators that I dug when I was a newbie. It’s just weird to be on the other side of it. Any creators out there who don’t think we all share the same ideaspace are deluding themselves.
Legal | A federal judge has lifted the delay in the ferocious legal battle over the rights to Superman, allowing attorneys for Warner Bros. to proceed with deposition of the families of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright issued the stay last month while he considered an appeal on a procedural ruling, but on Tuesday he modified the order, permitting the studio to “proceed with full discovery of [heirs] Joanne Siegel, Laura Siegel Larson, Jean Peavy and Mark Peavy.” The depositions are expected to begin immediately. [THR, Esq.]
Retailing | Bookstores had their worst month of the year in September as sales slipped 7.7 percent, to $1.51 billion. [Publishers Weekly]
Piracy | Colleen Doran argues that it’s the middle-class artist, not the rich corporations, who are the real victims of digital piracy. [The Hill]
Crime | Houston police have arrested two people believed to be responsible for stealing thousands of dollars worth of comics from stores around the city. Bedrock City Comic Company was hit at least four times. [My Fox Houston]
Legal | The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund joined a coalition of booksellers and other organizations in a federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday to challenge an expansion of Massachusetts’ obscenity law to include distribution via the Internet of material “harmful to minors.”
The new law, which went into effect on Monday, is intended to close a loophole that led the state Supreme Court to overturn the conviction of a man accused of sending sexually explicit instant messages to someone he thought was a 13-year-old girl. Following the February ruling, the state Legislature swiftly to add IMs, text messages, email and other electronic communications to the existing obscenity law.
But the coalition, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and the Association of American Publishers, argues that the law is too broad, and “bans constitutionally protected speech on the Internet for topics including contraception and pregnancy, sexual health, literature, and art.” Under the statute, violators can be fined $10,000 or sentenced up to five years in prison, or both, which the group asserts will cause “a chilling effect” or online booksellers. [The Associated Press, CBLDF press release]