Review: The Wolverine

July 26, 2013

Rating: B

Before I even begin the review of The Wolverine, I need to point out that the film you will see could not have been made possible without Len Wein, John Romita Sr. and Herb Trimpe (the creators of Wolverine) and specifically Chris Claremont and Frank Miller who wrote the 1982 four issue limited series this film is based on.

Overall it was not a bad film and there seems to be a level of quality control with this film that was not there with the first Wolverine film (see my review).  X-Men: First Class has become my favorite of the X franchise and the pendulum seems to be swinging towards quality.

That said, I did have issues with this film.

When this film followed the story laid out in the limited series, it was great, and that’s even with some of the subtle character changes (like with Yukio) that I thought worked and made sense.  I also liked the opening sequence which was extremely well done.  I am not someone who says that films need to be slavish to the source material.

But it is important to keep the spirit of the piece intact.

Where this film runs aground is when the screenwriters decided to grow a brain and add in things that just really didn’t make much sense.

For instance, the villain is both a copyright curiosity (does Fox own the rights to her?) and just took the film in directions that stunk of generic super hero movie.  There is also a huge part of the plot that deals with mutant powers that is a MacGuffin meant to create “manufactured danger”  that is extremely transparent (hint: if the actor’s name is the first billed on the poster, they’re not going to die).

Fox is trying to build a franchise out of the X-Men properties that they have the license to and that’s a good thing.  There’s even a great teaser in the credits for the next X film.

Typical of Hollywood however is that they learn the wrong lessons from their successes.

The lesson from X-Men: First Class was that if you build a great film first (in that case, a period spy piece) you win.

The lesson is not to build generic super hero films.  That’s X3 and it nearly killed the franchise it was such a mess.

Speaking of which, there is a heavy reliance on knowing what happened in X3.  So if you didn’t see that and aren’t familiar with the X-Men comic books, you might be scratching your head on a few scenes.  But more power to them for trying to build their universe.

The source material is not a super hero comic book.  It’s a samurai tale.  It’s very simple.  Very A-to-B.  And it works.  It’s stood the test of time.  Which is why, for instance, it is mind boggling that in addition to all of the crap they piled on the film they also made the decision to make it where Logan does not speak Japanese and has never lived in Japan.

It takes away a huge part of his cool factor and puts him in that generic super hero cookie cutter.

It’s also bizarre that so many of the divergence from the source material pull out some great set pieces (like running through Tokyo with Yukio).  That said, I found it interesting that they really tried to recreate some of the Frank Miller imagery in the film.  In some places they get close, but it really shows how different the mediums are where what you can do on the page doesn’t always work on the screen.

To that point, voice over almost never works in films, but works amazingly well in comics and I’m thankful they knew that and opted to not go with a voice over.

Overall, it’s not a bad film.  But it had so much potential.  Read the source material and you’ll understand what I mean where if they had stuck with the vision and the tone of the comic book the could have made a film that was better than Iron Man.

But like I said, they decided to try to get “clever” and “creative” and we all know that when it comes to Hollywood that’s usually not a good thing.

[Update: Sean Howe interviews Chris Claremont about his thoughts on the film on Vulture, and Claremont does a great job of articulating some of my issues with the film]

Wolverine #2, Page 27 by Frank Miller & Joe Rubinstein

Wolverine #2, Page 27 by Frank Miller & Joe Rubinstein

The Real 25 Essential Graphic Novels Of DC Entertainment

May 13, 2013

The “DC Entertainment Essential Graphic Novels and Chronology 2013” has published a list of what DC consider their “Top 25 Essential Graphic Novels.”

It’s a pretty good list, with a few edits.  Here’s the list as I would do it:

  1. Watchmen
  2. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
  3. The Sandman Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes
  4. Batman: Year One
  5. V For Vendetta there’s no doubt that V For Vendetta is an amazing book, but in my mind it’s #26 on a Top 25 list.  Instead, wouldn’t you really want to read the book that, along with Sandman, redefined comic book writing for the modern era?  That’s why I’d give this spot to the Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon classic Preacher Volume 1: Gone To Texas.
  6. Saga of the Swamp Thing Book One
  7. Fables Volume 1: Legends In Exile
  8. Batman: The Killing Joke The Deluxe Edition
  9. Y: The Last Man Volume 1: Unmanned
  10. All-Star Superman
  11. Kingdom Come
  12. Batman: The Long Halloween
  13. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 1
  14. Batman: Earth One Instead of another “Year One” style book, the better pick would be a compliment to the legacy and myth of the Batman, and one familiar to viewers of the DC animated films. Namely, Batman: Under The Red Hood.
  15. Green Lantern: Rebirth this, and Flash: Rebirth, are very “inside baseball.”  Both books were used as a mechanism for DC to bring two dead characters (the Silver Age Green Lantern and Flash) back to life.  They were powerful stories for older readers like me, but to new readers they fall short due to a lack of context.  Instead, I’d go with a great Green Arrow title.  Specifically the one that is defining some of the urban edge that the television show Arrow is trying to create; Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters.
  16. American Vampire Volume 1
  17. Blackest Night this was the culmination of a multi-year story across Green Lantern (that started, funny enough, with Green Lantern: Rebirth).  Instead of this “third act,” I’d recommend “backing up” and going with Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War.
  18. Final Crisis I loved Final Crisis.  Loved it!  But in a Top 25 list, it’s #26 (tied with V For Vendetta).  The better Grant Morrison selection would be the book that helped modernize super heroes in the late eighties; Animal Man Book 1: Animal Man.
  19. JLA Volume 1
  20. Identity Crisis
  21. Batman: Hush
  22. Joker (tie) I’m going to cheat here.  I can’t knock Joker off this list, because it’s a great book, and fans of the Batman film will like this book.  What I will do is compliment this with the Grant Morrison/Dave McKean Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth.
  23. The Flash: Rebirth (see #15)  I’d use this spot to recommend one of the best super hero series of the last few years, Ex Machina Volume 1: The First Hundred Days.
  24. Superman: Earth One Volume 1 If you have to pick a Superman “Year One” title, the better choice is the book that inspired the Smallville TV series, Superman: For All Seasons by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (who also did Batman: The Long Halloween).
  25. Planetary Volume 1: All Over The World And Other Stories

Review: Sucker Punch (Extended Cut)

June 16, 2012

Carl: According to the map, the cabin should be right here. Lenny: Hey, maybe there is no cabin. Maybe it’s one of them metaphorical things. Carl: Oh yeah, yeah… Like maybe the cabin is the place inside each of us, created by our goodwill and teamwork. Lenny: [in a flash of insight] Ohhh! Nah, they said there would be sandwiches. – The Simpsons, “Mountain of Madness

Sucker Punchfeels like it was written by a seventeen year-old boy; and that’s only a good thing some of the time.

As a film that switches between realities, this particular film only works when the characters are in the hyper-battle reality where they’re shooting and doing amazing wire work.

When they are there…holy shit, it’s nothing short of amazing.  The number of times I said, “Hot” during the film went into the triple digits (ask my friend Pansy, she was keeping count). All of the actresses are outstanding doing their fighting stunts, firearms sequences and fight choreography.

There’s a bit where Abbie Cornishis wearing a hoodie mixed with medieval shoulder pad armor (pictured above) that is fantastic.  The style of the characters and landscapes combined with the action are fantastic. I could have watched that part of the movie for hours.  Just that for an evening would have made this film an A+. The problem is they did not stay in that reality.  Instead, the “narrative thread” that strings together these amazing scenes is something out of a bad high school notebook.

Homer [while watching the movie]: I’ve heard how this ends, it turns out the secret code was the same nursery rhyme he told his daughter! – The Simpsons, “Colonel Homer

The entire movie is like this quote.  The metaphors are so heavy handed that it’s any wonder the actors could lift the scripts. Entire scenes and huge chunks of dialogue made absolutely no sense.  Metaphor or not.

In keeping with the metaphors, the film had this dark / goth tone across the A storyline (if one could call it that) and it was simply unnecessary. Speaking of which, I suspect the mascara budget on this film was in the high six figures (it would have been cheaper to just buy Lancome).

Back to the reality switching for a moment.  The bizarre irony of the film is that on the one hand it relies on the imagination of a woman in the 1950′s who is dreaming about things that did not exist sixty years ago, and on the other hand she lacks imagination to do certain fundamental things in the plot.

I also call a bit of dirty pool on the director for establishing a film that is following the POV of a specific character…then having entire sequences without that character in the room.  This was done a few times.  It’s just sloppy writing.

The other element of the film that was obtrusive was the music.  The opening sequence is little more than a music video (which, I have to ask the director if he had enough confidence in the scene that he should have just left it to stand by itself).  The music overall is done as a series of cover versions of classic songs that we know and love.  Except the Bjork song.  Which is the original.  To which I’d ask: pick one!  Do either all covers.  Or all originals.  Doing both just gets annoying.

But maybe my temper was running high because I wanted them to go back to the hyper-reality action stuff.

BTW, the music is used during the dance sequences where the main character zones out and shifts into the hyper-battle reality.  The most hilarious thing about the film is that when she finishes her “dance” the characters who have seen this are shown crying.  She’s such a good dancer that she makes people weep. Again.  The heavy hand combined with the music just make it…ugh.

Overall, I’d say that if you want a movie that you can mute for long periods of time to read comics and then unmute when some of the most insane action sequences come on than this is your movie!

If you are looking for a deep and meaningful movie that speaks to the human condition.

See the statement above. Rating: C-

Review: Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope

April 8, 2012

In my last blog about San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), I said, “Comic books are still at SDCC.  You just have to know where to look.”

Since I have been so hyper-critical about what San Diego Comic-Con has become, I was very skeptical when I sat down to watch the Morgan Spurlock documentary, “Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope.” (available for rental on Video On Demand and iTunes)

I am relieved to say that this film is squarely focused on comic books and the fan culture and what little emphasis is given to the movie and television stuff is done mostly in cutaway shots (speaking of which: I’m sure Olivia Wilde was relieved to see her credit as “Actress, Tron: Legacy” and not “Cowboys & Aliens”).

Spurlock understands what does (and does not) make a great and captivating story.

Nobody.  And I do mean nobody, not even the parents of the people involved.  Nobody cares about Warner Brothers trying to pump millions of dollars into their marketing machine to try to convince the world that Green Lantern was anything but a steaming pile of dog sh**.

But we do want to see a guy trying to propose to his girlfriend at a Kevin Smith panel.  We also want to see Holly the costume designer and her friends compete at the masquerade.

Specific to comics, We want to watch two unknown artists try to find work and break into the industry.

Most importantly, from a retail perspective, we want to see legendary retailer Chuck Rozanski  from Mile High Comics selling actual comic books.

All of these stories have weight to them.  They matter to the people that they are happening to and we as an audience are invested in their success.

Did I tear up during this movie?  Quite a bit.

It’s a happy movie.  It’s very positive.  It’s about comic books.  Which is why I liked it quite a bit.

That said, I can tell you that if you’re not into comic books you’ll still like it because at the end of the day these are stories about people who you “meet” and want to see succeed.

I have never played the game Mass Effect, but after watching the passion that Holly and her friends put into their costumes I was rooting (out loud) for them to win at the masquerade.

I’d have liked a comprehensive documentary about the history of the con, but I also know that I’m an audience of about 10 people who want such a thing so I’ll stick to finding that in interviews and online.

This is a fun movie and it brings you either closer to the experience of being at SDCC in the present day, or for people like me it reminds me of what I liked about attending back in the day.

Very much worth a rental.

Review: Comic Book Men (Rating: C-)

February 13, 2012

Rating: C-

I was only half-joking when I said on Twitter that Comic Book Men (AMC) will set the comic book community back by about 30 years.

The only thing missing was a basement…but in their defense, this was the pilot and no need to blow everything in the first episode.

A Cold Open Like Clerks, But Not As Funny

In lieu of a basement, the cold open for the show has the staff of The Secret Stash talking about Robin and going over the same dumb jokes that have been said by any number of us…except not as funny.

And it just goes downhill from there.

I take that back.  I suppose this conversation might be funny for those that have not heard it before, but the conversation on tape played like a joke on Two And A Half Men, playing to existing stereotypes and firing right down the middle.

Which is sad since there are moments later in the show of both clarity and insight into comic books.  The problem is that they are so lightly peppered across the one hour broadcast that if you’re checking your Twitter feed for a second you might miss them.

Instead, the show reinforces every “Comic Book Store Guy” stereotype that people already have for us.

Welcome To The Android Dungeon

The reinforcement of the stereotype was the most surprising thing about the show given that  Kevin Smith, of all people, knows the pain of living with the image that has been placed on all of us who read (and love) comic books.

And yet, when given an opportunity to challenge and counter it, he and the producers of this show decided it would easier to just play to what is expected; three white guys (four if you count Smith) and one Asian guy who are all over 30.

No women. No younger people.

In January, Zoe Gulliksen wrote about not making it onto the show, and it still confuses me as to how she did not make it in.

Yes, these are his friends from childhood blah blah blah and one would argue that hiring a woman to the show, specifically for the purpose of casting her so the show would have a female “character” could be seen as sexist (or any number of other things).

But this is television.  It’s not real.  Even if they call it “reality television,” there are still writers and producers and it’s edited.

So, not having a female perspective is one of the most glaring things that hurts this show before they even got off the ground.  It distorts the reality of who the  people that create, read and sell comic books are.

Pawn Star For Nerds (and yes, please be offended by that title)

In so many of the conversations on the show about comic books, other perspectives would have been helpful.

But that said, they really don’t spend too much time talking about comics which again is a shame because the framing device of using the podcast recording sessions to talk comic books was one of the few things I liked about the show.

I can only guess that the studio note was that talking about comic books is too “high art” and too cerebral.  Instead, the producers want a cheap “Pawn Star for nerds” that they can let audiences laugh at the people coming into the store to sell items.

To that point, in this pilot I did not see a single customer actually buying a comic book.  Just people off the street trying to sell stuff (it’s not to say that we won’t see that in future episodes).  It was hinted that there was a “casting call” of sorts to line those people up.  I’m fine with that.  Like I said, it’s television.

Of all the sellers, the only one that was enjoyable came from outside of the core cast.  A very melodramatic man comes in with a case handcuffed to his wrist (seriously) wanting to sell lobby cards and a poster of one of the Romero zombie movies for $800 and $200 respectively.  Since it’s not comic book specific, they call in an expert.  And the expert they call in makes very short work of the melodramatic man.

That and some discussion over signatures being less valuable on a collectable (because they’re not able to certify them) were interesting but they were hidden beneath the “A story” of a  “forced challenge” that had the employees go to the flea market to sell excess merchandise.

Thank you once again, producers.  This “a story” seemed forced (studio note: “We must have conflict”); probably because it was and was utterly boring.

Back To Stereotypes

Of all the people in the store Bryan, who may or may not be an employee (I’m not quite sure), is clearly there to rub people the wrong way and to call comic book readers nerds. He’s quite annoying and while the show (and Kevin) try to paint him as a loveable jester, he came across to me as being a jerk.  I have stopped shopping at comic book stores for less, and if I had to deal with him I’d probably change stores or move to mail-order.

Limited Production When It’s Needed The Most

One of the other misses of this show is in the production.  There are a few moments of interesting discussion over comic books that you’d figure would lend themselves to seeing the panels that are being discussed  (example: confusion over what actually happens in the classic Green Arrow/Green Lantern issue with Speedy doing drugs) and yet they do not show anything other than covers of books being sold.

I don’t know if this is a money thing (can’t afford the rights) or they know how litigious DC and Marvel could be if they tried.  Not being a lawyer I would argue that usage of panels of a comic book in this particular case would fall under “fair use” that’s used for reviews.  But I suppose they’ve never picked up a Comics Journal or copy of Amazing Heroes…

In Summary

The ratings for Comic Book Men were simply OK.  According to Deadline.Com, the show’s lead-in (The Walking Dead) had it’s highest ratings ever at 8.1 million viewers but Comic Book Men lost 75% of that audience which left it with 2 million viewers.

That’s a significant drop off, and it will be interesting to see what the ratings settle into as we get into weeks 2 and beyond.

Overall, this could have been a great opportunity to change the way people see the stereotypes of the comic book community.  However, instead of Lisa Lionheart, we got another Malibu Stacy (but she’s got a new hat).

[Note: @ZeusComics in Dallas tweeted me to let me know about their show “Variants” which is a fiction web series that does have a lead female character.  I have not seen it yet, but will check it out]

Before Watchmen? Here’s Why…

February 3, 2012

In 2000,newly appointed Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada made a bold (and controversial) move to tell the origin of Wolverine.

Many pointed to the mysterious origin of the character as being his strength and that telling the origin would ruin the character.

…and yet, here we are in 2012.  One origin and a horrible movie later, and Wolverine is still quite popular.

Which brings me to the news that DC Entertainment will be publishing a series of “Before Watchmen” comic books, a move that I would argue is bolder (and more controversial) than their decision to reboot the DCU with the “New 52.”

The Watchmen: The 12 Issues And The Collected Edition

Consider that The Watchmen was published in 1986 as a 12 issue mini-series which was later collected and has been in print ever since.*

The Watchmen and its creators have a total of 5 Eisner Awards since it was first published and the collected edition remains one of the most successful comic book collections of all time.  (as of last year, it was still in the Top 100 graphic novels that DC Entertainment publishes)

Those 12 issues are some of my favorite comic books of all time.  I hold them up as ‘sacred’ (whatever that means) and read it every year as if it was the Talmud.

Why “Before Watchmen?”

Corporations, like DC Entertainment, have to serve two audiences; the consumer who is buying the product and the stockholders who want to see profit every quarter.

It is not surprising that DC Entertainment feels that they are “leaving money on the table” by limiting The Watchmen to the collected edition.

Right or wrong, DC Entertainment looks at its library of characters as intellectual properties, and it needs to leverage these properties to both give customers what they want and appease the stockholders by turning a profit.

See the statement above about this being one of their most successful comic book collections of all time.

And yet, those characters are “trapped” inside those 12 issues whereas Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. are all quite “portable” and “travel” very well across any number of media.

My Perspective On “Before Watchmen”

Those 12 issues, as a collected edition, will be available forever in the same way they were when I first purchased them as a kid.**  Days, weeks, months, years  from now I can give that to friends to read and they’ll hopefully enjoy it just the same way that I did (and do).

One of the reasons The Watchmen has held its revered status is that it is one of the few super hero comic books that was not handed to a new creative team once it was completed.

Which is exactly the point.

The Watchmen has transcended its peer comic books.  It has moved beyond Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.  It’s moved into the realm of the works of Jane Austen or Shakespeare and become bulletproof in a sense.

Think about how many people have stolen (and continue to steal) from Austen and Shakespeare; and yet, the reputation and the quality of the originals are unharmed.

How about the number of derivatives that have been published based on the source materials?  Bridget Jones’s Diary, West Side Story, Pride Prejudice and Zombies.  Some of them are actually quite great, and yet none of them diminish the source material.  Quite the opposite, they often boost the appeal for the source material.

Exhibit A: the recent spike in The Watchmen collected edition sales was due to the run up to the film.  We know how the film turned out.  And yet, the collected edition remains a best seller long after the movie has faded away.

Whatever “Before Watchmen” brings, it will only help the original collection.  It can not, and will not diminish the original.

A Tale Of Two Franchises

My favorite quote from a retailer was in the Bleeding Cool article, “Retailers Talk Before Watchmen:”

I love DC. I love money. I approve this comic.

Ryan Higgins
Comics Conspiracy
Sunnyvale, CA

Think about Star Wars.  Many of us forget that before the Star Wars prequels, there was a limited amount of Star Wars to be had.

I’m currently watching The People Vs. George Lucas, and they try to explain this in the film but I think that it’s really lost on many people how little there was.

Comics, novelizations, toys and a few video games here and there.  And that’s about it. The scope of Star Wars was contained inside those 3 films.

Lucas Films is a corporation.  Privately held, but they are still a corporation who like to make money.

The Star Wars prequels did three things:

  1. They made a lot of money.
  2. They made a lot of money.
  3. They made a lot of money.

The Star Wars prequels built a franchise that has continued to grow into the multi-million dollar Star Wars industry that has pushed itself into the new millenium.

Would my nephews know what Star Wars was without the prequels?  Probably.  Do they know now what it is?  Of course.

Parents are able to share Star Wars with their kids in large part because there is more to share.  The cartoon series.  The video games.  The comic books.  The toys, etc.

It all feeds back to those original three movies.  The source material.

Or take Star Trek, where Paramount have had their ups and downs with maintaining the quality of their franchise.

They had some successes (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and some failures (Star Trek: Nemesis) but one of the biggest successes to date has been the re-imagining of the original series by JJ Abrams.

The 2009 film did more to open Star Trek up to new audiences than perhaps anything they’ve done since The Next Generation and yet the Trek faithful (like myself) love it all even more.

For the first time since watching Battlestar Galactica have I felt the desire to go back and watch some of the old series.

And let’s repeat after me: none of these things have diluted the original source material.**

That Said, Will They Be Good? 

We’ll see.

What I will say is that this is an opportunity for DC Entertainment and for retailers to expand the audience of the collected edition.

And, to their credit, DC Entertainment is treating this with more respect than many other projects.  The list of creators working on these titles are some of the top writers and artists in the industry.  Between the group of them they have over 15 Eisner awards and two of them are members of the Hall of Fame.

DC Entertainment is investing a lot of time/effort/talent to ensure the  intersection of giving consumers what they want and turning a profit for shareholders goes properly here.

Franchising characters, be it into more comic books or into merchandise is a part of the business.  It’s what often funds the comic books that I enjoy.

I buy what I like.  I don’t buy what I don’t like.  To that point, any sort of franchising/licensing that I don’t like…it doesn’t bother me.

I will pick these titles up.  I’ll either enjoy them.  Or I won’t.  But it won’t have any impact on my love for the collected edition.

There are plenty of things both in the world and in the industry to get upset about.  This is not one of them.

- 0 -

* for an expert analysis on the contract issues between DC and Moore/Gibbons, I would point you to Josh Flanagan’s blog post on iFanboy.  He also hits a number of the same points I made in this post.  My feeling on this is that there are two versions to this story, and then there’s the truth that we’ll never know.  

** colorist John Higgins updated the coloring of The Watchmen to take advantage of modern printing techniques and higher quality paper.  In Watching The Watchmen, he documents this process and the coloring remains true to the original.  It is akin to a painting restoration and helped make the trade paperbacks that many consumers purchased during the run up to the film look so good.  

***I’m not going to get into an argument about the recuts of the Star Wars prequel films.  That’s not the point…  But yes, Han shot first.

Welcome Rangers Of The Dork Forest

January 3, 2012

If you have reached my blog because you just heard me on Jackie Kashian‘s excellent “The Dork Forest” podcast, welcome!

I have not been updating my blog as much as I would like to, so probably the best way to follow me will be on Twitter (@NoahGK).  I always post a link for any new articles I write on my Twitter feed.  So you’re covered.

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, check out episode 92 of The Dork Forest where Jackie and I talk comics for an hour.  (here’s the iTunes link)

Occupy Other Comics

October 10, 2011

As per my previous blog posts, for the most part I’ve enjoyed a number of the DC “New 52″ titles.  Yes, a few titles dropped off my list, but overall I’m sticking with it.

My enjoyment clouded my better judgement and I did a very stupid thing, I decided to go to the message boards, read a few blogs and their comments sections.

Mistakes Were Made

What I read got me angry and depressed.

From what I was reading, DC titles are apparently the only titles available for purchase.  There are no alternatives and you would think that there was a law stating people must purchase DC Comics by penalty of imprisonment.

Page after page of people reading titles they don’t like.  Talking about what they didn’t like.  Reading titles to “punish” themselves and then complaining about them to hear themselves talk.

What To Do?

First off, I have the Constitution app on my iPhone and it makes no mention of such a law (to be fair, I’m unclear on state laws outside of Texas).

But here’s my response to this type of behavior: Leave!  If you are not happy with the current DC New 52 titles, stop buying them and stop reading them and read titles you do enjoy.

Why Do I Care?

Comics “journalism” barely exists, and it’s a pain in the neck to have to read through this type of stuff to get to even halfway decent conversations about titles I do enjoy.

Why Voting With Your Dollars Works

I personally like many of these titles.  Which is why I purchase them.  If you don’t like them.  My advice, as above, is to not purchase them.

There has been a lot written about “voting with your dollars,” and all of it is true.

Opinions on Tumblr, blogs, message boards, etc. are the least effective way to tell DC Comics how you feel about their titles.  The most effective way to show them what you like, the one that they will always see, is when you give them your money (or in this case, withhold it). 

It’s simple.  Either you purchase their product.  Or you don’t.  Your opinion as to like or dislike of a company’s product is secondary to whether you are spending your money with them.

Period.

If you have seen the movie Private Parts, Howard Stern in the 1980′s and 1990′s had as many haters as he did fans.  When WNBC dug into it they found that the haters listened longer than the fans.  The haters were unknowingly keeping Stern on the air by boosting his ratings.  Had they not listened, they might have dumped him.

Opinions expressed online, as I’ve mentioned in the past, do not count for much.  The best way to be heard is to vote with your dollars.

Time Is Short, Enjoy It

If your idea of a good time is spending money on things you don’t enjoy and complaining about how much you didn’t enjoy it; go ahead.  It’s an odd way to spend your free time, but that is your choice.

But if you agree that life is too short.  If you agree that you want to spend your free time (and your money) enjoying yourself, than pay attention: buy other comic books.

What To Buy

As I was compiling this list, it just kept getting bigger and bigger.  Which was kind of cool.

This list is a document that provides a number of alternatives so that you can “safely” transition out of the DC New 52 titles you don’t like and supplement them into any number of things you’ll like as much…or maybe more.

One of the most common complaints for sticking with DC titles is the enjoyment of the super hero genre, so this list is focused primarily on super heroes, fantasy and science fiction; all the core elements of the DC Universe.

It’s true.  There is an entire world of comic book reading that is outside of the DC New 52.

DC Comics

Yes.  This is the same company putting out the titles you don’t like.  However, outside of the New 52 is a back catalog of 70+ years worth of comic book stories that even readers of 30+ years (such as myself) have not yet really cracked into.  DC is doing a tremendous job of publishing Showcases, Archives and hardcover collections of much of this work.  Not to mention the work being done with digital publishing.  The archives range from the mainstream (Superman) to the obscure and niche (Secret Society of Super Villains).  In addition, back issues are easy to find on the Internet or in good local comic book shops like Austin Books (they sell pre-bagged sets of story-arcs and mini-series on a regular basis).  There are thousands of hours of comic books waiting to be read.  And re-read.  And publications like Back Issue, Alter Ego and any number of blogs extensively cover this time period.  Are these titles old?  Yes, but if you have never read them, than they’re new to you.

Vertigo

As of late, Vertigo’s publishing strategy has been…confusing.  But they still have a few core “world building” titles focused on fantasy.  iZombie, for instance, is one of the best titles being published by DC Comics and both the Unwritten and Fables have similar loyal fan bases.

Marvel

With Marvel, there are a number of options:

  • New Marvel: for every DC title, there are at least 2 Marvel titles :-P  In all seriousness, there are a number of Marvel writers who write in the “DC style.”  Marvel has done a great job of dividing up their universe into “imprints” (X-titles, Spider-titles, Avengers, cosmic, etc.).  Pick your imprint and run with it.  While there’s overlap, for the most part you can find the titles you like and stay inside that imprint.  Spider-Man is a good example.  That title is in the middle of its own event (Spider Island) that doesn’t crossover into the other imprints but is creating a very rich and interesting story within the core title and crossovers under the Spider-titles.
  • Marvel All Ages: these titles (a number of which are written by Paul Tobin) are the closest thing to Golden Age DC you’ll find on the shelves, but done with a very modern sensibility.
  • Ultimate Comics: Marvel is breaking the rule of “don’t let the genie out of the bottle” and has been constantly changing the Ultimate universe.  Starting with the stories from Ultimate Spider-Man #1 and working forward to today it’s quite exciting and the new titles under Jonathan Hickman are unlike anything DC is publishing.  (as a side note, Ultimate Spider-Man is consistently the best super hero comic book being published today).
  • Marvel Comic Book Archives: like DC, Marvel is moving like a freight train to put it’s archives back into print and available digitally.  If you like Jim Lee’s artwork, Marvel is doing an Omnibus series of X-Men collections with the classic Chris Claremont/Jim Lee run.  Do you like Captain America?  They’ve got a metric ton of Essentials, Masterworks and hardcovers/trade paperbacks collecting his adventures going all the way back to Captain America #1 and all parts in between.  Never read the Walt Simonson Thor?  They just put it in Omnibus form.  Like the DC archives, there’s enough here to keep you entertained for years.  And it’s all new to you.
  • Icon: top writers like Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker and Mark Millar are putting out some of the best titles in the medium under this imprint.

Dark Horse

  • Star Wars: the Star Wars “universe” of titles is overlooked by many readers, but there’s a lot going on over there.  Former DC writer John Ostrander is one of the writers building that world and there are numerous titles for the various eras (past, present, future) with all sorts of crossovers and events happening.  I even saw a new title that’s a secret agent/spy title set in the Star Wars universe.  Not to mention, they have been reprinting all the Marvel Star Wars work as well as the previous Dark Horse work dating back to the 90′s available in Omnibus and trade paperbacks.
  • Conan: Dark Horse is also the current license owner of Robert E Howard’s Conan.  In addition to new stories  (including some by Roy Thomas), they are also reprinting some of the classic hard-to-find Marvel stories.
  • Whedonverse: Buffy, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse are all being published by Dark Horse.  And these titles have some of the top writers in comic books working on them.
  • Hellboy and BPRD: Mike Mignola has been working on Hellboy universe stories since the 90′s.  Dark Horse has all of these (and the BPRD stories) available in trade paperbacks.  In my discussions with readers in the comic store, I have found that Hellboy fans are “super fans.”  They love this title.  Why not try it out?

Image

Every month, I am always amazed at how much product is being published by Image.  Image 2.0 (post-founding 7) has amazing titles like Chew.  The Sword (which recently completed).  Walking Dead and Invincible from Robert Kirkman.  The Intrepids (a “Fantastic Four”-style super hero title).  Paul Grist’s Jack Staff is a perfect example of an amazing super hero title that few are reading.  Image is still a great alternative to the big two and there’s always something around the corner.  There are a lot of titles in the Image catalog and I will mention an additional one by name that’s not a super hero title.  Heart by Blair Butler and Kevin Mellon is set in the world of mixed martial arts fighting and looks to be well worth your time and money.

Top Cow (Image)

While Top Cow publishes under Image, they have their own rich universe with titles like The Darkness and Witchblade.  Both titles are undergoing revamps after their Artifacts event and will be perfect jumping on points for new readers.  As a point of interest, these titles were previously by DC writers Phil Hester and Ron Marz and those story-arcs are available in trade paperback.  Top Cow is a very nice fantasty-based alternative to DC super heroes.

IDW

Locke & Key is a title that everybody should be reading.  Period.  Why you would waste your time on titles you don’t like and not read this amazing book is beyond me.  But what about the rest of IDW?  They’ve got 30 Days of Night coming as a monthly with Steve Niles writing.  Former DC mainstay John Byrne has his Next Men here as well as a new title (Cold War) coming in the next month.  And, IDW has licensing rights to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (with Kevin Eastman writing), G.I. Joe, Transformers and Star Trek; both classic and the J.J. Abrams version.

2000 AD

For as many American comic book readers that know of Judge Dredd, I’d wager that fewer have actually read a Judge Dredd comic book.  In the past, 2000 AD (the anthology Judge Dredd appears in) was difficult to obtain in the US (and a bit expensive).  Some of the most notable writers and artists in comic books started their careers working on Judge Dredd and 2000 AD characters.  In the past few years, they’ve stepped up their American presence significantly with “Case Files” collections reprinting Dredd’s adventures in chronological order along with special collections showcasing some of the celebrity talent.  If you’ve ever wondered what Mark Millar, Brian Bolland, Grant Morrison, etc. were like when they started, these books are a goldmine.  In addition, 2000 AD is also publishing some of the other titles like Rouge Trooper, ABC Warriors, etc. and even publishing some of the more obscure (and never before seen in America) work like the British war comics that inspired Garth Ennis’ work.

Dynamite Comic Books

Yes, Dynamite has The Boys by Garth Ennis, which is the polar opposite of DC Comics.  But they’ve also created a nice catalog of titles based on licensing Green Hornet, Lone Ranger, Zorro, Vampirella and more recently Flash Gordon.  And, of course they are now home to the Kirbyverse; characters that Jack Kirby created after he left DC Comics (and Marvel).  This new line of titles is being developed under the watchful eyes of former DC creators Alex Ross andKurt Busiek.

Boom Studios

Former DC Comics writer Mark Waid is writing modern day Superman and DC Comics in the form of Irremediable and Incorruptible.  They don’t have the DC bullet on them, but they channel the Bronze and Modern Age era of the comics that they are inspired by.  Also at Boom are the Stan Lee line of titles written by current and former DC Comics writers Paul Cornell, Chris Roberson and Mark Waid.

Archie

While Archie comics are not super hero titles, they are putting out some great material; and it’s former DC Comics creators who are behind some of that work.  Paul Kupperberg and Norm Breyfogle are two of the creators currently working at Archie.  Both of them instrumental in the creation of DC Comics in the 80′s and 90′s.  And today Archie announced that they will be relaunching their super hero titles (aka “The Red Circle”) for digital distribution.

Self-Published Independent Press Titles

Terry Moore wrote one of the best super hero comic books in the form of Echo, but you might not have read it because it was self-published.  He’s part of a group of self publishers who are producing some amazing work on their own and should be supported.

Manga

Manga is one of my weak spots, but there are hundreds of titles that Americans have not read that are being enjoyed by millions of readers overseas.

In Conclusion

I am perfectly happy with the DC New 52 and will continue to read them and supplement my reading with some of the titles above.

But if your’e one of those people who don’t like the titles being given to you by DC, you have a number of options outside of the New 52.  Stop reading titles that you don’t like.  Start reading titles that you will enjoy.  Vote with your dollars.

Occupy other comics.

If there is not a single thing in this blog post that doesn’t provide you with a satisfying alternative for the DC New 52, you’re on your own and I tried…

Week 4 Of DC: The New 52

September 30, 2011

The “Did Not Buy” Category

  • The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men
  • Green Lantern: New Guardians
  • The Savage Hawkman
  • Teen Titans
  • Voodoo

Gold Medal Winners

The Flash: I will admit that I was hesitant when I heard that the writing on this title was going to be done by the artist (Francis Manapul) and the colorist (Brian Bucelleto); only because I”d never read anything they’d written previously.  Some of the best writers in comic books started as artists, and artists tend to have a different perspective on writing and the good news is that this title is in extremely good hands with these two.  It was a great read.  What’s more interesting though is how Manapul has been translating “time” with his sequential storytelling techniques.  He’d begun doing this on the previous Flash title and he’s continuing it here.  Honestly, if you want to show someone how the narrative of comic books is different from any other medium, this is a title does that.  This is the type of title that gets used in college courses to show effective sequential art storytelling.  Manupal was already producing some of his best art on Flash and now it’s great to see him and Brian Bucelleto take “full” ownership of the title.

I, Vampire: please forgive me while I indulge in breaking my arm patting myself on the back.  Dan, my friend and creator of Red Light Properties, brought Joshua Fialkov to my attention over the summer when he told me to pick up Echoes.  So, when I saw that he was slated to write a title in the New 52, I was telling everyone I could that this would be the sleeper hit of the line.  And, it’s up there.  He setup a great “world” in which to play in with the vampire lore (and an excellent protagonist and conflict).  Most surprising was the artwork from Andrea Sorrentino, who is using a Jae Lee-style approach to this title.

Silver Medal Winners

All-Star Western: Justin Grey and Jimmy Palmiotti Jonah Hex stories have always been good,but the change they made with this title completely refreshes the character for older readers and provides a nice point of accessibility for the new.  The most shocking thing about this title was when I looked up artist Moritat and was presented with the knowledge that he’s not a French or Italian comic book artist, but rather a young American dude.  And to be clear, this guy can draw.  This title has some of the most inspired artwork of the new line.  Speaking of which, I honestly think that DC is missing something by not publishing All-Star Western in a quarterly graphic album format (pre-packaged for overseas sales).

Aquaman: so, Katy at the comic shop loves Aquaman, and this title let her down.  I only “like” Aquaman, and this title let me down too.  Had it not been for two thing, this would have been a gold winner.

  1. A scene with a hipster d-bag that was clearly supposed to be “meta” in terms of how comic book readers on the internet have no tact or manners (which, I do agree with, but there’s a time and place).  It was used to give character backstory, but it came across as extremely forced and extremely annoying.  This could have been done in other ways without the annoying aspects (like, he could have talked to the waitress about it).
  2. In the New 52, civilians think of Aquaman as a doofus.  Why call attention to that when the whole point is to reinvent characters with the reboot?  The mission statement is to make Aquaman cool again, so by saying it, Johns makes readers think it to be true.  And yet, it’s not true.  But the trap is that if you say something enough times, people think it to be true.  Which is why I wish that Johns would have played the character with the respect he deserves instead of the butt of jokes.  This completely distracted from all of the other good character moments in the title.

Because it’s Johns, I’m sticking with this title in the hopes that he pulls away from that and gives Aquaman his proper standing in the New 52.

Blackhawks: this title is G.I. Joe in the DC Universe (further compounded by the fact that the writer, Mike Costa writes G.I. Joe comics over at IDW).  And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  It’s a fine read.  Not great.  It’s good. It’s what I was expecting.

Justice League Dark: Peter Milligan is one of the best writers in comic books.  He wrote one of my favorite comic books of all time, Skin.  A comic that moved me like few others have.  He was one of the foundation writers that built Vertigo comic books in the 90′s and combined with his work on X-Statix, he can be considered one of the godfathers of modern comic book storytelling.  That said, I didn’t love this title out of the gate, but I did see enough ideas and concepts that Milligan was setting up where I feel that he’ll pay it off soon enough and I would like to stick around to see it happen.

Third Place

Batman: The Dark Knight

DC Universe Presents (Deadman): I gave this title a shot based on the writer, Paul Jenkins, but didn’t find much here.  I’ll sit this one out until the next character-arc in this anthology

Superman: I fear for the new reader who starts with this title, in that it is a very text heavy and quite dense.  I suppose one way to look at it is that the reader is getting their money’s worth…but I don’t see it that way.  George Perez is the writer and breakdown artist and this is the second time he has “rebooted” a core DC character (the first being Wonder Woman, post-Crisis).  He is one of the few writers working on the New 52 with this level of experience in “redefining” a character for a new age.

While the conflict that Perez establishes in the first issue is interesting, it’s not a direction that I personally care to read more about.  It’s similar to my review of Green Arrow.  I get enough of this type of content in other places and don’t care to read about it in yet another place.  That’s just me.  I’m sure that other readers will find the situations being presented to be exciting and it feels quite a bit like a modern take on the “Bronze Age” Superman stories.

I’d point you to The Signal Watch blog’s review of this issue for a great alternative take on this issue (he quite liked it).  What’s interesting is that I was going to stick with this title.  Ride it out to see if it could channel some of the Bronze Age goodness and get me interested.  The announcement on Friday that Perez is leaving the title with issue 7 made me reconsider this and I will be dropping the title.

Week 3 Of DC: The New 52

September 23, 2011

Big week, and in my haste I forgot to ask for DC Universe Presents to be pulled for me (so that will come when I get that book).

As a side note, for later in the post I need to explain that the way I read my comics is by stacking my pile starting with the titles I’m trying out and have no expectations for.  Than, I go based on past performance – ordering them from silver down to gold.  So for example, this week Avengers is the last title in my stack because it’s the title I’m most looking forward to reading.  My biggest crisis is when there are multiple Bendis titles in a week and I’m forced to determine which goes last.   

The “Did Not Buy” Category

  • Blue Beetle
  • Green Lantern Corps

Gold Medal Winners

Batman: everyone has their favorite Batman, and it usually is the interpretation that they were first exposed to (a moment of silence to pray for the children who first saw Batman in “The New Adventures of Batman” Filmation cartoon).

Batman as a character is fully formed, but it’s interesting to watch writers over the era pull in certain character traits and push back on others.  It’s a combination of the writer and the era in which they write him.  An interesting visualization would be to map Batman’s character traits in a “SWOT analysis” type of chart and then plot out the different eras and writers over the past 70+ years.

What I saw in Scott Snyder’s interoperation was something that I love about Batman; focusing on his detective skills.  My favorite Batman stories are where he is less a guy in a costume punching dudes and more “the world’s greatest detective.”  Snyder was practicing with Dick Grayson in Detective Comics recently, and he’s really ratcheted it up for this title.

Combining that with balancing Bruce Wayne as an approachable business and family man (and not the guy who comes across as a jerk), and this is a winner.

The title reads exceptionally well, so much so that I’d hold this up to anyone who watches television shows like “Bones,” “Criminal Minds” or “CSI” and say that this is far more fulfilling and far more compelling.  It’s got action.  The murder mystery.  Strong character development.  Snyder is hitting on all cylinders with this one.  His Batman goes strongly onto that SWOT chart along with the other great Batmans (Batmen?) of the past 70 years.

Catwoman: per my review of Batwing, I am biased since the author is a friend of mine.  That said, this is a remarkably strong issue for both story and art.  The character voice is firmly established and there are nice hints to her background/past provided in the first issue.  There’s action, humor and an ending that works as a story element for both plot and character in upcoming issues.  The art on this title by Guillem March is spectacular.  He does this thing where he draws everything hyper-realistic, but the cats are cartoony; and it totally works.  I should also mention the colorist Tomeu Morey added a tremendous amount of energy and depth to this book.  It’s lush and one of the most beautiful and skillfully colored titles out this week.  If you want an example of how a good colorist can make an issue better, study this issue.

Since it is being discussed online, I would ask people to read the issue for themselves and form their own opinion on the title, and not just rely on reviews (which I’ve found don’t always provide proper context).  Read the issue for yourself, move away from the echo chamber and you’ll see that there are both positive and negative responses to this issue.  It’s ok to like it.  It’s ok not to like it.  But read it and make your own decisions and participate in the thoughtful and meaningful debate happening online and in comic stores (and avoid the pitchfork/torch wielding mob mentality of the forums).

As always, everyone is entitled to their opinions and two things I think that have been sorely minimized in this discussion:

  1. This is a T+ (16 years-old and up) rated title.  Just like The Dark Knight film is PG-13, this is a title that has an appropriate age attached to it as well.  Our culture treats sex as taboo and yet we are unfazed by violence (This Film Is Not Yet Rated does a better job of explaining this than I can here).
  2. The other thing I would point out is that this is just the first issue.  We’re only 20 pages into this story and everything is connected when you think about serialized fiction.  It will be interesting to see where the conversations move to in 6 issues.  12 issues.

Supergirl: Michael Green (the co-writer for this title) wrote on Jack & Bobby.  At the very least that gets him $2.99 and 20 pages of my time.  I wasn’t expecting much from this title and at the end I liked it quite a bit.  The writers gave a good sense of the voice for the new Kara and while the setup is similar to Supergirl origins of the past (Loeb/Turner Superman/Batman comes to mind), I suspect we haven’t seen it in this way, so I’m in.

Wonder Woman: there were a few pages of this title where I kind of didn’t know what was going on (it felt disjointed in the middle with a setup that was confusing, at least to me), but it pulled together towards the end and the cliffhanger was both shocking and got a bit of a laugh from me because of the nature of what Azzarello is doing.  The Cliff Chiang art is perfect, and you wonder how nobody ever tapped him to draw Diana before this.  I see this title getting stronger with the next issue and really building a nice foundation for some good Diana stories.

Silver Medal Winners

Birds of Prey:the original Chuck Dixon Birds of Prey was a “meat and potatoes” mercenary action/adventure comic book.  Gail Simone added her personality to the book and certainly gave it a tone that was unique to the title (and to her).  I commend Swierczynski for not trying to mimic Simone, but attempting to write his own version of this book.  His version leans more towards Dixon than Simone.  Which is not to say that there’s not humor in this issue.  There is, and there’s a character who might become a fan favorite if Swierczynski plays his cards right.  This feels like a standard “top of the stack” read for me.  Some people watch CSI, NCIS or Law & Order reruns.  I have my “top of the stack” titles…

Legion of Super Heroes: everything that a new reader would need to start on this title is there, but it means paying attention.  We’re talking the difference between the pilot to CSI and the pilot to Battlestar Galactica.  Paying attention is rewarded for both new and old readers.  But you gotta work at it.  That said, Paul Levitz is a master storyteller.  He’s got a lot going on with the relationships (a staple for Legion titles) and he’s got some good plot points established in the first issue.  Good action, nice cliffhanger but like Birds of Prey, this title has always received placement at the “top of the stack.”

Nightwing: this title felt a lot like Supergirl in that it spent a lot of time giving the reader a sense of who the “new” Dick Grayson is.  His voice.  His background.  Where he is at in his life.  It’s all there and done very well.  The mystery that’s being setup feels much like something from the Chuck Dixon run (two Dixon references in one blog. A record?), but I feel like Kyle Higgins knows where he’s going with this title and has a good sense of the character.

Red Hood and the Outlaws: I do not find Scott Lobdell all that funny (my personal opinion), and yet he feels the need to continue to put jokes in his titles.  It was enough to knock this from a gold to a silver.  Lobdell is a good writer when he can get out of his own way and there was enough there to bring me back for another issue.  Like Birds of Prey, it’s a “meat and potatoes” action/adventure title.  Editorial would do right by themselves to maybe space this and Birds of Prey out so they don’t ship together (so as to get new readers who might be picking up both titles to come in 2x a month as opposed to once).

The Drop List

Captain Atom: this was a well-written title and the art was unique and some of the best stuff I’ve seen come from the talented Freddie Williams II and colorist  Jose Villarrubia.  It’s just not for me.  The subject matter and the character didn’t interest me, but it’s a heck of a title and it might find its way to the bottom of someone else’s stack in a few months.


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