[Note: This post was written Wednesday night, before the latest round of announcements.]
I was barely into the back yard when the lawn mower exploded.
This mower was far from new. My wife had owned it since a few years before we met, and it may have been old when she got it. It had cut the grass of at least four different addresses in three different states, and had been maintained and serviced fairly faithfully throughout its life. This summer, however, its persistent little engine had been making ominous noises that my amateur care could not entirely mitigate. When it ran over that big limb, which it tried mightily to shred as it had so many others, the stresses proved to be too much. The next thing I knew, there was a puff of smoke, a spray of oil, and a silver-dollar-sized hole in the mower’s side.
I pointed that out to my wife, to drive home the extent of the damage. “See that in the hole? That’s the piston.”
“We’ll take it to Sears in the morning,” was her reply.
Well, needless to say, by this point we were talking about an ex-mower. The most the Sears mechanics could suggest was to order a part that would cost more than a new mower. This was the tipping point for my wife, when practicality superseded sentiment. Indeed, the new mower is remarkably efficient by comparison, atomizing clippings and leaving a uniform green carpet in its wake. It is cool and bloodless, like a Secret Service agent or an athlete in prime condition. With luck, it will serve us as long and as well as its predecessor.
Now, clearly I am not telling you about my lawn mower because this has turned into “Grumpy Old Garden.” Neither am I saying DC had a gaping hole in its superhero line and we readers thought it could be simply patched. There was, and is, no simple solution — not even starting over entirely — to DC’s array of small and large ailments. A few weeks ago I talked about the relationships we readers form with these characters over time, and I can see a couple of ways to roll back whatever Flashpoint facilitates.
Still, after a week’s worth of pondering September’s lineup, I have decided it is time to embrace the new.
Broadway | As of last night’s preview performance, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is officially “frozen,” meaning there will be no more script rewrites, new lyrics or altered choreography before the $70-million musical opens on Tuesday. In fact, the producers are confident enough to invite critics to attend previews over the next three nights, with their reviews to be published after the opening. “The show, in my opinion, is bulletproof at this point,” Reeve Carney, who stars as Peter Parker, told The New York Times. “I mean, as bulletproof as anything can be. And we want to do right by the people who stood by us, to help this show be seen for what it is.”
However, it’s not all good news for opening night. The New York Post reports that producers hoped the Empire State Building would be lit in red and blue on Tuesday, but the landmark’s owners would do it only if a change were made to the show: specifically, that the climactic battle between Spider-Man and Green Goblin be moved from the Chrysler Building to … the Empire State Building. [The New York Times]
Retailing | Najafi Cos., a Los Angeles-based private equity firm, is reportedly interested in buying at least half of the 405 bookstores operated by the bankrupt Borders Group. [Bloomberg]
[A quick note before we go too much farther: I started writing this post before DC’s big announcement about its September-and-beyond plans. In fact, I wanted this particular post to be about something other than Flashpoint and/or line-wide reboots -- so depending on your perspective, I picked exactly the right week, or exactly the wrong week, to draw that line. In any case, it’s probably not hard to tell, from the past few weeks’ worth of posts, where I stand on current events.
[So there you go. On with the business at hand.]
Since it’s pretty much summer, and time to think about catching up on reading, let’s revisit DC’s list of “30 Essential Graphic Novels” — “best-selling titles that you must read[, ]whether you are just beginning to discover graphic novels or you are an established fan looking to expand your collection.”
The list is almost four years old, and has had a few minor updates. (Pride Of Baghdad replaced The Quitter, and Crayon Shinchan replaced Sword Of The Dark Ones.) For the most part, though, it’s the same compilation — heavy on the Batman and the Jeph Loeb, a decent amount of Alan Moore (but no Swamp Thing), a couple of Sandman books and Hellblazer, but no Wonder Woman, no Joe Kubert, and no Jack Kirby. While there are at least a couple of representatives from each of DC’s imprints, there aren’t many hints at the real scope of DC’s diverse publishing history.
Saga of the Swamp Thing #34 (1985), page 17. Steve Bissette.
The grid, in one form or another, is such a ubiquity in comics art that it’s hard to think of logic to apply or standard rules to serve as guidelines for breaking out of it. Even when panels of the strangest shapes are used, even when the lines they follow are counter-intuitive and asymmetrical, the basic look of the comics page is a rectangle filled up with smaller pictures that have been neatly arranged to fit inside it like puzzle pieces. Pulling the grid off the page is like pulling the cloth off a table — the space is large, and bare, and it can be daunting to figure out how to go about setting it. The great comics artists have worked in grids, period. One has to go far afield, typically to the medium’s forgotten psychedelicists, names like Greg Irons or Philippe Druillet or Alex Nino, before encountering comics art that attempts to make grid-less pages work as anything more than cheap novelty. Without a grid, the artist is truly alone — no automatic compositional axis to base the page around, no storytelling rhythm in place, and few canonical works to draw inspiration from.
Steve Bissette went “off the grid” at an almost feverish rate in his mid-’80s work with Alan Moore on Swamp Thing. Though Moore’s scripts have drawn (at least) hundreds of times as many praise, Bissette’s artwork isn’t just the aspect of the comics that’s aged best — it’s what makes them work at all. This page is a prime example of why: Moore’s captions are poesy rather than narration, verse and not prose. They swirl around in blatant disregard of the idea that an artist must put direct action of some sort or other on the page, calling up flashes of color and shadowy half-forms instead. Gridding a sequence in which “clusters of insect eggs burn like nebulae, suspended in their unique and vine-wrought cosmos,” and things only go on like that too, would border on the ridiculous. These words are not intended to produce an exact counterpoint in the art. They’re flights of fancy. Bissette understands this, and does the same thing: this page is anything but literal, vague in its depiction of both progression through time and movement through space. Instead, it gives us multiple, somewhat interconnected views into one scene, leaving plenty of space for Moore’s image-rich writing. Rather than simply act as an echo to the words, Bissette finds their purpose and creates a complementary piece of art.
The above cover by Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes’ is the book’s final cover, with John Constantine and Zatanna appearing where big blobs of black once dwelled. And after the jump is J.G. Jones’ variant cover, featuring Batman, Swamp Thing and Constantine.
Once dead, twelve heroes and villains were resurrected by a white light expelled from deep within the center of the Earth. The reason behind their rebirth remains a mystery. But it will not be a mystery for long. This is the Brightest Day.
So reads the mission statement which began each issue of the year-long, twice-monthly, just-concluded Brightest Day miniseries (written by Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi, drawn by various artists). One might therefore be forgiven for thinking that BD would have used this premise to mold those characters into an imperfect ensemble, in order to explore collectively what “life after death” meant in a superhero context.
Instead, BD farmed out almost half its potential cast to other titles, thereby transforming itself (rather quickly) into a multi-headed Rebirth-style rejuvenation. From there it reintroduced readers to Aquaman, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Firestorm, J’Onn J’Onzz, and Deadman, and used them in turn to reintroduce … well, you probably know by now, but let’s wait a while to talk about that.
As the drama in Japan continues, we are reminded that comics are everywhere. Tokyopop CEO Stu Levy has been ferrying food and supplies to the victims, charting his progress on Twitter as he goes.
On this side of the ocean, the response is less dramatic but no less heartfelt: Creative types are coming up with all sorts of benefits for Japan. Comics Alliance has a nice roundup of events and art sales, and Daniella Orihuela-Gruber and Michael Huang have set up Anime and Manga Bloggers For Japan, a site where blogger can direct their readers, with links to Doctors Without Borders and Shelterbox. The fan-run One PIece Podcast is planning a 24-hour podcast marathon this weekend that will feature many bloggers and voice actors and hopefully raise $25,000 for the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund. At the Otaku USA site, editor Patrick Macias explains why he is endorsing the Japan Society Earthquake Relief Fund. Dane Ault, of Monkey Minion Press, is auctioning off an original Swamp Thing cover on eBay. And Pinguino Kolb updated me on the We Heart Japan art auction, which happens tomorrow at Meltdown Comics in LA, saying that they are flooded with art and expect lots of celebrities to stop by, so if you’re in LA right now, that’s the place to be—and if you’re not, stay tuned, because they expect to do several more fund-raisers later this month.
Now that I have an iPad, I have been paying more attention to digital comics releases, particularly to comiXology’s weekly e-mail blast. I sampled some of their recent offerings and found them to be a mixed bag—three very good single issues and a graphic novel that was kind of mediocre. The lower price made digital a good deal for all of these, and with comiXology’s web app, they are available to anyone with a browser and a few dollars.
The Royal Historian of Oz #1 Andy Hirsch’s expressive art really lights up this story of an L. Frank Baum wannabe who makes it to the real Land of Oz—and steals a bunch of their stuff. His hapless son, who has barely been keeping things together, is less than thrilled to learn that his house is now home to an assortment of (mostly living) Oz artifacts, and the ruler of Oz isn’t happy with the situation either. Writer Tommy Kovac makes the characters grounded and convincing despite the fantastic circumstances, and Hirsch does a great job of bringing Baum’s lesser-known creations to life, filling the panels with quirky details. It’s in glorious black and white, with a bit of an underground comics vibe, and at 99 cents (a penny less than the print edition!), it’s a solid bargain.
Happy Halloween! We round out our series of posts on what comics from the past or present left various creators shivering under the blanket until the sun came up. To see the previous posts, go here and here.
Fred Van Lente
I had the oversized MARVEL TREASURY EDITION of MARVEL TEAM-UP when I was a kid. The panel in the Spider-Man & Ghost Rider story in which the Orb removes his helmet and shows how hideously scarred he is scared me so bad I actually cut out a square of black construction paper big enough to tape over the panel to cover it so I could read the rest of the comic without looking at it. I couldn’t have been much older than seven.
Fred Van Lente is the co-writer of Marvel’s current event series Chaos War. He’s also written Action Philosophers!, Iron Man: Legacy and Shadowland: Power Man, among other titles. If you’re looking for something in the spirit of the season, check out his Marvel Zombies work.
Like I said yesterday, we reached out to several comic creators this year to see what comics from the past or present left them with nightmares. Check some more responses out below, and check back tomorrow for another round.
When I was a child the comic books I bought came in four varieties; Disney comics, Turok: Son of Stone, Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth and what passed for horror comics in the early 1970s. These consisted mostly of the Marvel giant monster titles like Where Monsters Dwell, but also extended to anything that was the least bit spooky looking such as a copy of Marvel Team-Up that featured Brother Voodoo alongside Spider-Man, or pretty much any copy of Batman, or Mighty Samson.
I also read other horror titles such as Tomb of Dracula and lots of the anthology comics. No single story really leaps out to me as scaring me in particular, but some of the covers were things I had a hard enough time looking at during the day, let alone at bedtime. The covers were far stronger to me than anything inside the comic books. I think buying some of these comics was almost like a dare, to prove to myself that I could handle it, that I wasn’t too scared to take this image home with me. having it in my bedroom was like inviting the monster out from the closet, or under the bed where you could see it, and it could see you as well.
Last year for Robot 666 Week we had a lot of fun putting together our list of six comics that scared the $#!@% out of us. So this year, we thought we’d broaden our scope and ask a few comic creators what comics scared them. Here’s the first batch; check back tomorrow and on Halloween for more!
That’s an easy one.
In 1973, I read a short story in the black and white Monsters Unleashed magazine by Thomas Disch, adapted and illustrated by Ralph Reese called “The Roaches,” about a bug-infested apartment and the woman in it…all I remember was it was illustrated in such a creepy style and all those bugs…
At the time I was living in a basement of a house that had some of the little critters from time to time, and the story freaked me out to the point I couldn’t sleep, knowing the bugs were out there ready for me to fall asleep and crawl into my ears, mouth and nose. Now that I’m talking about it, it’s creeping me out all over again.
Jimmy Palmiotti is the co-writer, with Justin Gray, of a ton of comics — Jonah Hex, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, Time Bomb and many more. If you’re looking for a comic to read this Halloween, The Last Resort is a fun, over-the-top zombie comic.
CBR’s interview with DC Co-Publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio is the gift that keeps on giving. And while their tandem answers to questions about the role of the Vertigo imprint will be playing under their reign — specifically, the rumor that Vertigo characters like Swamp Thing are on the verge of reintegration into the main DC Universe — leave lots of room for interpretation, they do paint a picture of the pair’s working relationship with both the line’s creators and its leader, DC Vice President – Executive Editor Karen Berger.
Shifting focus to talk about Vertigo for a minute. Recently, you’ve had two well-received launches with “American Vampire” and with “Greendale,” both of which represent in their own way the two things that Vertigo is most known for: long-running series with a definite shape and scope to them and stand alone volumes build for a general audience to jump right into. Neither of you had worked much with the Vertigo staff or on those kinds of properties before becoming co-publishers. Do you foresee that Vertigo will continue to present projects in those two veins, or do you think that you’ll change things up in terms of the kind of material and formats we see?
Lee: Karen Berger is fairly synonymous with Vertigo, so it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for us to walk in and say, “Hey, by the way…this is how Vertigo should run.” We certainly sat down with her and went over all the titles and how the publishing plan should run. And fortunately, we had a great dialogue, and through that dialogue we’ve really come to lay down some stuff we think will best represent Vertigo as a line and will create more hits like “American Vampire” and “Greendale” that we think will make an impact with the readers. Part of the trick is that they do a lot of one-offs, so you don’t have projects dealing with well-known characters with established histories. It’s not just about finding diverse material. It’s about pushing the marketing to find new audiences for this material. It’s a great challenge, and that’s how Dan and I helped Karen – in pushing Vertigo as a line. And that’s where I think we’ll be more helpful than necessarily deciding “it’ll be this book and these creators,” because that’s what she and her team are so good at.
Publishing | D.C. Thomson & Co., publisher of long-running comics like The Beano and The Dandy, is closing a printing plant in Dundee, Scotland, eliminating up to 350 jobs. The facility is used to print magazines and books. The company, which also owns The Evening Telegraph and Sunday Post newspapers, employs more than 2,000 people. [BBC News]
Publishing | Lori Henderson returns to the question of what led to the failure of the CMX manga imprint: “Its parent company, DC didn’t do anything to market that line. Putting a solicitation in Previews is not marketing. DC claimed they would bridge the manga and comic store gap, yet did nothing to help retailers or promote the books to bloggers, bookstores or librarians, their three strongest advocates. You can’t buy or recommend books you don’t know about. While there were other factors that contributed to its ultimate end, the mishandling of the imprint in its first year, and then being completely ignored for the rest was the main factor in its lack of sales.” [Manga Xanadu]
Acclaimed “weird fiction” author China Miéville has confirmed the cancellation of his planned Swamp Thing reboot for Vertigo, the apparent result of an editorial decree to return the character to the DC Universe.
“My feelings at the moment can doubtless be intuited,” Miéville wrote in an email to the Roots of the Swamp Thing fansite, “though I have nothing but gratitude and respect for the people I worked directly with at DC, who were consummately professional and helpful.”
Created in 1971 by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, Swamp Thing starred in his own comic from 1972 to 1976. The title was relaunched in 1982 as The Saga of the Swamp Thing, which rose to critical acclaim in the hands of the (then) relatively unknown writer Alan Moore. The series moved under the Vertigo banner with the imprint’s founding in 1993, and it’s remained there ever since. Swamp Thing hasn’t been published since 2006, when the fourth volume was canceled.
Miéville, who’s known for such award-winning novels as Perdido Street Station, Iron Council and The City & The City, told the fansite he had planned “an ‘epic’ arc, in terms of scale and stakes,” for his Swamp Thing series. That 15- to 18-issue arc would’ve been “pretty political,” but not “entirely straightforwardly traditional ‘green’ politics.”
“It was conceived of, at least in part, as a respectful argument with some of Alan Moore’s formulations,” he wrote. He provides more “vague” details in his response to the fansite.
There’s no indication yet as to what creators might relaunch Swamp Thing under the DCU bullet. It’s likely any announcements will be held until Comic-Con International in July.
Miéville’s latest novel Kraken will be published this month by Del Rey.
A rumor snaking its way through the blogosphere has Swamp Thing leading a migration of characters from Vertigo back to the DC Universe, ending for some properties nearly two decades of imprint isolation.
In a brief post on Tuesday, Rich Johnston reported that new DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio “decreed” a new Swamp Thing title be released under the DC bullet, where it last appeared in February 1993. (That decision apparently meant the cancellation of a reboot in the works from acclaimed science fiction author China Miéville.) What’s more, Johnston contends a “new policy” would permit any character that originated in the DC Universe to again be used by that imprint.
None of that has been confirmed, but if it’s true it certainly signals a significant shift in editorial policy at the recently restructured DC Comics. With few exceptions, once a property moved from the publisher’s superhero line to its “mature readers” imprint, it typically remained. That’s not to say it never happened: In recent years, Animal Man and Doom Patrol were reclaimed by the DCU, and Zatanna and The Phantom Stranger have little difficulty traveling between the two imprints, even if their visits to Vertigo are only for the occasional cameo or one-shot.
However, when was the last time John Constantine, Swamp Thing or the Sandman cast popped up in a superhero title? (Probably 1997, in JLA, for the latter; Neil Gaiman has final say on their use. For the other two, I have no idea.)