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“What makes [Superman] interesting other than that he’s really, really strong? That question led me to want to redefine Clark in ways that made him more interesting and more flawed as a person. Not in a dark, mean, cynical way, because that’s way too easy. But as a true outsider whose heart is vulnerable. I wanted to emphasize the loneliness of a kid growing up knowing just how different he was from everyone else, who had to keep his distance for their protection and his own.”
– J. Michael Straczynski, on his approach to Superman: Earth One
That’s from a couple of months back, but it’s stuck with me. In the shadow of Man of Steel and questions like the one Gail Simone posed a while ago, I’ve been thinking lately about Superman and what it is audiences want from him.
I enjoyed Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s Lex Luthor: Man of Steel for its fascinating take on Luthor and why he opposes Superman so much. From Luthor’s point of view, Superman is just one bad day away from being the worst threat the world has ever seen. The problem is that perspective has become the way all of humanity sees Superman in the DC Universe, especially in the New 52. People just don’t trust the guy.
Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at the comics, books and other things we’ve been perusing of late. Our guest today is Tyler James (@tylerjamescomic), the publisher of ComixTribe, which is both an online resources for comic creators and a new creator-owned imprint. Tyler is also the writer of the superhero murder mystery The Red Ten, which goes on sale Dec. 19, and the organizer of the annual 30 Characters Challenge, in which writers and artists attempt to create 30 characters in just 30 days, one for every day in November (it’s under way now at 30characters.com).
Here’s what Tyler and the Robot 6 crew are reading this week:
Creators | Although he almost missed the anniversary, Mark Waid celebrates 25 years as a comics professional by recalling his first day of work at the DC Comics offices: “If you’re wondering what an Associate Editor does – or did in 1987 – I’ll list my job duties those first two days. Ready? Here we go: I erased Green Arrow pages. Eight hours a day for two days.” [MarkWaid.com]
Publishing | DC Comics’ Senior Vice President of Sales Bob Wayne and Vice President of Marketing John Cunningham are pretty upbeat about DC’s most recent graphic novels — with some justification, as a number have made The New York Times graphic books best-seller list. “Batman: Earth One has been a runaway bestseller for us, even better than Superman: Earth One,” Wayne said. “People are familiar with the Superman: Earth One title and we don’t have explain what the new book is about.” [Publishers Weekly]
Different interpretations aren’t a problem for Batman, who’s taken on everything from Adam West and Bat-Mite to Frank Miller and Kelley Jones. Same goes for Wonder Woman (the original Marston/Peter crusader, Gail Simone’s steely warrior, and the current Brian Azzarello/Cliff Chiang monster-killer) and Aquaman (Ramona Fradon, Jim Aparo, Peter David). Likewise, each new Robin, Flash and Green Lantern puts a different spin on the core concept.
And yet, among all the elasticity of DC’s superhero line, Superman stands out as somewhat inflexible. More and more I am becoming convinced that there can be only one valid interpretation of Superman. That interpretation might work for a variety of storytelling styles, but the character at its core must fundamentally be the same.
For starters, let’s run down the list of everything the main-line Superman — the character, not necessarily the stories in which he appears — is not. Superman is not arrogant, manipulative, cruel, boastful … well, you get the idea. I’m not rewording 1 Corinthians 13 here, but that’s not a bad place to start when thinking about Superman’s motivations. “Love never fails,” begins the New International Version translation of verse 8, and that’s pretty much the idealist at the heart of Superman, isn’t it? Superman never fails, not because of invulnerability or super-strength or heat vision, but because his indomitable faith in the goodness of humanity keeps him going.
To celebrate its Superman Facebook page surpassing 2 million “likes,” DC Comics has revealed two more pages from the second volume of Superman: Earth One, the bestselling 2010 graphic novel by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis. Set for release Nov. 6, the original graphic novel will introduce a new Parasite as the primary antagonist, and focus on the Man of Steel attempting to determine his place in the world — all while the world does the same.
“How far can he push his power before he becomes something other than what he intended to become?” Straczynski said in January. “In the midst of all this Clark gets his first apartment, becoming entangled with a beautiful woman next door, Lois starts trying to figure out what it is about Clark that doesn’t add up, and a new and terrifyingly strong version of the Parasite is born from what was previously a serial killer … and now Superman has to confront someone who is not only as strong as he is, but can drain his power completely. In the aftermath of one of the massive battles that threatens to tear apart Metropolis, Clark for the first time feels what it’s like to be normal, to be mortal, to be vulnerable … to be us. In the end, Volume Two is about power: its use and abuse, and its place in the world, to be used for good or for evil.”
Saturday at the New York Comic Con brought news for the Avengers, Superman, Legendary Comics and … Disney’s Prep & Landing? Here’s a round-up of announcements from the show today.
• With a big, blockbuster Avengers movie scheduled for next May, Marvel announced a new ongoing series, Avengers Assemble, by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley. The book will launch next March and will feature most of the Avengers featured in the movie — Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye and the Hulk. The first arc will feature the villainous group the Zodiac.
• Marvel also announced that writer Rick Remender and artist Gabriel Hardman will take over Secret Avengers with issue #21.1, adding new members and pitting them against a new Masters of Evil.
• At the Cup O’ Joe panel today, Marvel also announced a Disney/Marvel crossover — Prep & Landing: Mansion: Impossible. It features the elves from the Disney television special who prepare homes for the arrival of Santa Claus every Christmas eve — only this time they’re trying to break into Avengers Mansion to get it ready for Santa. Written by director Kevin Deters and drawn by story artist Joe Mateo, the story will run in the back of the Marvel Adventures books as well as Avengers #19 in November.
Just ahead of its “DC All Access: Superman” panel at New York Comic Con, DC Comics debuted the cover of the second volume of Superman: Earth One, the bestselling 2010 graphic novel by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis. Presumably the publisher will announce a tentative release date during the presentation.
See the full cover below, and check back with Comic Book Resources for a report from “DC All Access: Superman.”
“Fun fact! NINE of the TOP TEN graphic novels in 2010 were creator-owned books! Walking Dead, Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim among them.”
–Savage Dragon cartoonist Erik Larsen, speaking the truth. Of course, the flip side of this is that NINE of the TOP TEN graphic novels in 2010 had major Hollywood properties to thank for much of their notoriety, Walking Dead, Kick-Ass, and Scott Pilgrim among them. (The tenth was a Superman book that got over with mass audiences largely on the strength of a fortuitous press comparison to Twilight.) I don’t mean to short-change the success of Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard, Mark Millar, John Romita Jr., and Bryan Lee O’Malley, but proponents of creator ownership and creators’ rights probably ought not break out the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner just yet.
Diamond Comic Book Distributors announced its 2010 numbers yesterday, and the results were mixed: Sales of comics, graphic novels, and magazines in comics stores were down 3.5% for the year, but they moved up a bit in the last three months of the year, which is a hopeful sign.
In terms of market share, Marvel won the year with 38% of the dollar share and 43% of units sold (I’m rounding here). DC was second with 30 and 34%, respectively, and tagging along after them were Dark Horse, Image, IDW, Dynamite, and Boom! Studios. Viz, the top manga publisher, had 1.4% of the dollars and less than 1% of the unit share, which is about where they have been in previous years.
And what comics were we reading this year? Well, we weren’t exactly breaking new ground. Individual volumes of Scott Pilgrim and The Walking Dead dominated the graphic novel list, which is not surprising given that both had strong media tie-ins. The comics list had a bit more variety, and it’s interesting that the last two issues of Blackest Night outsold the first two issues of Brightest Day.
Here’s the list of the top ten periodical comics for the year:
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The Walking Dead and Scott Pilgrim dominated graphic novel sales in bookstores in December, claiming nine of the Top 10 spots on the Nielsen BookScan chart.
Buoyed by the record-setting first season of the AMC television adaptation, zombie comic landed the top spot with The Walking Dead: Compendium One, the $60, 1,088-page collection of the first 48 issues of the Robert Kirkman-Tony Moore-Charlie Adlard series. Three volumes of The Walking Dead, including new editions of the first two collections, appeared in the Top 10, and five in the Top 15.
All six volumes of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim made the Top 10, which could be attributed to the November release of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World on DVD and Blu-ray — or a sign that the series is on its way to becoming a perennial bestseller.
Meanwhile, Superman: Earth One, the hardcover graphic novel whose blockbuster sales led J. Michael Straczynski to abandon the Superman and Wonder Woman monthly series so DC Comics could fast-track a sequel, plummeted from No. 1 on the chart to No. 15. The retail news and analysis site ICv2.com suggests the book may be a victim of availability — there may not be enough additional copies to replenish what’s been sold — rather than a decrease in interest. Indeed, Superman: Earth One is No. 5 after nine weeks on The New York Times hardcover graphic books list.