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As the reviews editor for Comic Book Resources, I accumulate a lot of collected editions. For better or worse, trade-waiting has become a part of the comics landscape, but it’s easy to tell when a collection rises above the pack. Whether it’s through superior craftsmanship, incredible bonus material, attention to the little details or a combination of all three, there are always a few trades that rise to the top, and make for an enjoyable reading experience and a fantastic display piece.
Thus, here are a few of my favorite collected editions of 2014, factoring in the strength of the original material, and what makes the collection worth picking up for those that might already own the single issues — ranging from budget-conscious trades up through the incredibly pricey omnibus editions.
Readers and, especially, retailers may have plenty of reasons to be annoyed by Superman Unchained, the now-complete series available this week in a fancy-schmancy 350-page, slightly oversized hardcover “Deluxe Edition.”
DC Comics announced the awkwardly titled series — please note, there are no literal or metaphorical chains either going on or coming off in the story — as an ongoing, promoted with seemingly countless variant covers (more on these later). In theory, it sounded like a can’t-miss comic, featuring as it did the work of Scott Snyder, one of (if not the) most popular writers in the direct market and Jim Lee, one of (if not the) most popular artists in the direct market, working on DC’s flagship (and second-most popular) character.
In reality, the book turned out to just an nine-issue miniseries, rather important information a retailer would have taken into consideration when ordering. Whether or not it was always intended to be a miniseries, I don’t know; it reads as a complete story with a beginning, middle and end, and it fits into the New 52 continuity, but loosely enough that one need not have any idea what’s going on in any other book to follow it easily (Snyder really pulled off some great line-straddling here, as this reads equally well as part of the New 52 and as a standalone book for a new or lapsed Superman fan). The plan might have originally been for it to be ongoing, until the reality of a Lee drawing a monthly series set in.
Even at just nine issues, Superman Unchained was plagued with delays that made reading it serially something of a chump’s game. It took 15 months to publish those nine issues. That averages out to a bimonthly-ish schedule, but the delays were random and erratic: Issues 4 and 5 shipped in consecutive months, for example, and then there was a two-month delay before Issue 6, and a three-month delay before Issue 7. If there’s a more perfect argument for waiting for the trade than Superman Unchained, I’ve yet to hear it (you even get all 58 covers in this collection, some process stuff and no ads, and at $29.99 it’s cheaper than the buying all nine single issues at $3.99).
So, yes, if you’re in the business of trying to sell comics to people, you may have some ill will toward this book. And if you tried reading it “monthly,” you may also not feel great about it. I can’t defend DC’s production or marketing of the book, but I would argue in favor of forgiving Superman Unchained. Because the thing is, it’s actually a pretty great Superman story.
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What’s more, “all the same” isn’t much of an exaggeration. The 41 New 52 titles that are getting Futures End one-off tie-ins bear the same prices, release dates and copy as they did in the July solicits. The September listings do add cover art and credits, which are important details; but they don’t change the gist or tone of the previewed plots. More on this later.
Otherwise, these solicits contain only a handful of additional main-line superhero titles. These include the second Multiversity issue (with the awesomely alliterative subtitle Society of Super-Heroes: Conquerors of the Counter-World), the final issue of Superman Unchained, four issues each of Futures End and Batman Eternal, and the first Teen Titans: Earth One hardcover.
Therefore, this month’s solicitation roundup might get a little weird.
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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.
Creators | Dark Horse announced that legendary Lone Wolf and Cub writer Kazuo Koike will be its guest of honor at Comic-Con International in San Diego, where he’ll sign July 18-19 at the publisher’s booth (#2615). In 2014, Dark Horse will debut New Lone Wolf and Club, the 11-volume series by Koike and Hideki Mori (original artist Goseki Kojima passed away in 2000) that picks up where the initial saga ended. [Dark Horse]
Awards | The Judging Panel for the British Comic Awards has been announced. This panel will choose the final winners from a shortlist sent to them by the Judging Committee, which screens nominations from the public. [Forbidden Planet]
Commentary | Steve Morris pens a thoughtful essay on cost versus content in comics and what exactly you are paying for with your $2.99 (or, more frequently these days, $3.99). [The Beat]
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]
Publishing | ICv2 posts a three-part interview with IDW Publishing CEO Ted Adams that covers a multitude of subjects, including the company’s digital strategy, the Artists Editions, news that Scholastic has picked up its My Little Pony comics, and that the publisher’s book sales are up, even though Borders is gone: “The book market used to make me crazy on this returnable basis basically forever. That was never a sustainable business model. Where we are today is we are able to sell product in a reasonable way so that the bookstores get a chance to sell the product and we don’t get these giant returns. ” [ICv2]
Piracy | Earlier this year, the Chinese Internet company Tencent inked a deal with Shueisha, the publisher of Shonen Jump and thus the licensor of some of the most popular manga in the world. One consequence of this deal has just hit home with the Chinese reading public: Scanlations are disappearing from the web, and fans are not happy. [Kotaku]
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.
As part of the big push for the opening of Man of Steel, and the 75th anniversary of Superman, DC Comics Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee appeared this morning on Bloomberg Television to discuss the evolution of the character, the new series Superman Unchained, digital comics, and what trickle-down effect the film might have on the company’s comics.
Lee on Superman Unchained: ““I was working with Scott Snyder and we said if we could only tell one Superman story, this is what we would tell. If you only have one shot you want to do all the classic element of superman. We have lots in there. We have Lois. We have Lex Luther doing diabolical things. There is a new villain named Rathe. I think we can reveal that now. That is an exclusive. Scott will hate me for that [Laugher]. We are adding things to his mythology and that’s how you keep him fresh and relevant.”
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:
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]
With Warner Bros.’ Man of Steel opening Friday, DC Entertainment has moved Superman front and center in the next phase of its “We Can Be Heroes” campaign to fight hunger in the Horn of Africa.
The “Superman Edition” on Indiegogo features an array of perks for contributors, ranging from an exclusive Superman Unchained #1 variant cover ($25) and a Jim Lee Superman lithograph ($75) to a Man of Steel poster signed by director Zack Snyder ($100) and a portfolio review with Jim Lee ($1,250).
The press release teases “once-in-a lifetime opportunities for $25,000″ and “a hometown visit by legendary DC Entertainment artist Jim Lee, who will paint larger than life, custom artwork on a 10×10 wall” — maybe they’re one and the same? — so expect many more perks to be added before the campaign’s end on July 8.
“The generosity from the fans of DC Comics during the Batman wave was outstanding and challenged us to create another wave of unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities,” DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson said in a statement. “The first wave of the campaign eclipsed its initial goal of $50,000 in just three days and ultimately raised more than $150,000 in less than six weeks. We continue to be overwhelmed and appreciative of our fans who are helping to make a difference in millions of lives.”
Welcome to “Cheat Sheet,” ROBOT 6′s guide to the week ahead. While some of you may be scrambling to find that perfect Father’s Day gift, many others are chomping at the bit for the Friday premiere of director Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel — or, the perfectly timed debut of Scott Snyder and Jim Lee’s Superman Unchained.
Or perhaps you’re packing your bags for Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con, or simply plotting your weekly visit to the local comic book store. If that’s the case, do we have some recommendations for you …
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).
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.