Um, Actually | November 29th, 2012

Um, Actually…

Missives from and to the internet, delivered by a series of tubes.

Welcome, dear readers, to our Thursday feature – a letter column of horrors culled from our inboxes. There will be things that are real and decidedly unreal – but hopefully all content presented here will be entertaining.

That said, WE ARE LOOKING FOR LETTERS! We are hiding in your bushes, metaphorical or otherwise. We crave your sweet correspondence. Contact us by clicking on that handy contact button right above the site banner to save yourself from our sweet lips on your power bills.

Letters might be edited for space, but not for intent.

Thank you, internet.

Podcast! The Comics, Episode 48 – Early Night with James and Brandon: The Show!

We're trouble.

Join us for a very special new episode!  One with an audience that we could actually see and thus judge right back!

This episode is brought to you by Wizard’s Comics, home of the best deal on comics in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  Check out their website for a list of the week’s new releases and information on upcoming Magic, The Gathering tournaments, and watch their Twitter account for news and announcements about the shop and its wares.

Episode 48 – Early Night with James and Brandon: The Show!

This week, the boys have an extra special episode ready: a recording of the first ever Comics! The Blog live show, recorded live at the PureSpec festival on November 17th.  Here at C!TB, we’re lifelong fans of late night talk shows, and when the opportunity to do a live show arose, there was only one clear option: grab the fake plants, write the site acronym on some mugs and interview some guests!  And thus, Comics! The Blog Presents: Early Night with James and Brandon: The Show! The Experience! The Ride! The Squeakquel! was born!

The first guests on the show are Brittney Le Blanc and Dana DiTomaso, organizers of the Edmonton Geek Girl Dinners, a local initiative designed to foster a community of smart, geeky girls and women.  Brittney is also undertaking a massive initiative to meet 5000 people in one year and Dana is a business owner.  Together, they and the hosts tackle topics like fake geek girls and what the wrong opinions about Batman are.

Finally, the show wraps up with a special Skype interview with friends of the show Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction, who… uh… we kinda talk about a lot here.  As usual, the conversation is fairly off-topic, stopping briefly at discussions of social media, how Kelly Sue’s Captain Marvel connects with its readership in a big way and how Matt steals ideas from his son.  Most of the conversation, however, is about penises, namely why they’re so hard to get across the border into Canada when they’re erect and in comics. It loosely relates to Matt’s upcoming series Satellite Sam and Sex Criminals, which was the exact point at which a man and his two sons walked in and then quickly out again.

Brittney described the show as containing more discussion of penises than the actual sex show she also attended that day, which we’re going to have on our matching side-by-side tombstones.

Thanks a lot to PureSpec for having us, our guests for tolerating us and Brittney in particular for bringing James a gift.  Why didn’t everyone else bring him one?  We may never know, but we’ll certainly judge them for it.

Download the episode here or subscribe through iTunes.  If you want to subscribe the old-fashioned way, insert the following text into your audio program of choice (in iTunes, click “Advanced,” then click “Subscribe to Podcast”):

http://comicstheblog.libsyn.com/rss

You can also find all the episodes to date on Libsyn’s site here.

As always, check us out on on Twitter at @blogaboutcomics@leask & @soupytoasterson!

You Read These With Your Eyes! | November 28th, 2012

Every week, Comics! The Blog goes through the list of new releases and we tell you which comics to plug into your mind hole. Your mileage may vary.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #2 (Marvel Comics)

The first issue of this comic where the present X-Men meet the time-traveling past versions of themselves ended right at the hook.  It worked because the rest of the book was well-done and built up very organically to that point, but it was a Part One story.  This week, we get Part 2, and hopefully the hook will get set in our lips and reel us in and okay this is getting away from me.

All-New X-Men has an incredible premise.  “What if they could see themselves now?” is a common theme in fiction, but for some reason despite having a whole bunch of famous stories involving time travel to the point that the X-Office at Marvel has a handful of books featuring the key players from them right now, I can’t remember this particular “what if” arising until this series.  Of course, it arrives at a very apropos time; the team is shattered like it hasn’t been in a very long while, and the most stalwart of the team, Cyclops, is a revolutionary fugitive who killed his mentor.  Things are dark, and as the latest chapter in a story that up until a month ago was “your favourite heroes are literally an endangered species who could be extinct at any moment,” that’s saying something.  Extinction was one kind of darkness, but the insidious fractures of Xavier’s Dream and the troubling of friendships we’re currently seeing is scary in an entirely different – more instantly relatable – way, and that’s what Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen are digging themselves into this week.

The final page of Issue #1 was a promise.  This is the follow-through.

ARROW #1 (DC Comics)

So… uh… yeah.  I am a dude that had some opinions about the Arrow premiere.  I won’t go in depth, because that’s not our jam here on the site, but the short answer is that I’m not going to buy this comic, but maybe you should.

I know enough to know that my taste isn’t a universal arbiter of objective quality, even though that is much to my ongoing dismay.  There are people who really enjoy Arrow, and for all of you, this is a comic you could probably really enjoy.  It’s about the same character you watch on TV every week and you don’t have to learn a whole new continuity or care about his sidekick who’s a member of the Outlaws.  It’s written by the show’s creators.  It’s got great art by Mike Grell.  If you don’t want physical copies, it comes out weekly in the digital marketplace.  If you’re an Arrow fan, and you want to dive into some comics, this is probably a great place to start.

FF #1 (Marvel Comics)

Okay, now this right here is my jam.  Matt Fraction and legendary Mike Allred team up to relaunch Jonathan Hickman‘s family-school-science-adventure comic with a different tone and premise.  In short: while the Fantastic Four are off gallivanting through time and space on special family fun time, the world still needs protecting, and that means there should always be an FF, so each of the adult family members picks a replacement: She-Hulk, picked by Ben Grimm, the Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing. Medusa, picked by Sue Richards.  Ant Man, picked by Reed Richards.  And… Miss Thing:

GENIUS.

Because Johnny Storm, being Johnny Storm, completely spaces on his selection and ends up picking his most recent girlfriend, a supposedly vapid celebrity whose sole inclusion criteria was that she is basically the last person Johnny sees before gettin’ crazy with the quantum cheez whiz.  And sure, she’ll be the human insight into the team and that suit is just license for Mike and Laura Allred to go nuts on the art, but let’s just stop and appreciate the fact that “Miss Thing” is maybe the most incredible character name of the last two decades of comics, minimum.  Let’s all appreciate that bit of genius right there.

Because hey, this FF is only supposed to stand guard for four minutes.  What could possibly go wrong?

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #1 (IDW Publishing)

Like Arrow, this is another one you’re gonna know right off the bat whether you want to buy it or not.  Maybe you’re a brony (shudder).  Maybe you’ve got a young person in your life who likes My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and getting into comics is something they or you are interested in.  Maybe you’re a fan of the talent or of the surprisingly entertaining, mass-appealing TV series yourself as a grown-ass adult.  Cool, cool.  I’m not judging; I’ve been known to watch the series myself from time to time (and maybe drive back to a McDonald’s to chastise them for accidentally giving me a Transformer instead of a pony), and I know like comics.

It certainly helps that it’s got an incredible creative team behind it.  Andy Price is incredibly well-suited for the job, as the preview materials have shown, and writer Katie Cook is known for her fantastic webcomic Gronk.  So with a great team and a great concept behind it, this is a no-brainer for anybody who knows what a Cutie Mark Crusader is.

I’m talking to you.

THOR: GOD OF THUNDER #2 (Marvel Comics)

The first issue of Thor: God of Thunder did something really amazing: it followed up on another creator’s long run while simultaneously breaking new ground and still remaining familiar enough to the issues immediately before it to not be jarring to old readers.  It will be thematically familiar to anyone who read any of Matt Fraction‘s four Thor: _____ issues from well before he took over the main book, and that balance between familiar and new was a big reason why the issue succeeded.

The story has a really interesting structure, following Thor in three different time periods of his life – his past, Marvel Universe present and future – investigating the same mystery behind a serial killer of gods.  The fact that each timeline still maintained tension and excitement is due to the incredible skill of writer Jason Aaron and artist Esad Ribic, and it’s a big reason why Issue #2 is going to be just as exciting, if not moreso, than the first.

Of course, it also helps that Ribic‘s painted art is lush, visceral and majestic in equal parts, and actually conveys the feeling of seeing a myth come to life on the page.  It’s good stuff.

These are five of the many great books being released this week! You can find the full list of comics being released here. If you have any other recommendations, let us know in the comments below.

C!TB’s Best of the Week | November 26th, 2012

Dudes.  There were so.  Many.  Good.  Comics last week!  Let’s talk about some of them while our juices are still hot wait what no Brandon I don’t think that is inappropriate it was a metaphor and besides people really do have juices no no damn it stop trying to grab my laptop from me goddammit you fucker stop tickling me

NOTHING TO DO WITH BILLY CORGAN, EVERYTHING TO DO WITH ZWAN

 

On the surface, Mark Waid’s take on Daredevil should not have worked. Beyond the character’s swashbuckling silver age roots, Matt Murdock’s life has thrived (somewhat ironically) in a darker setting. The foundation for this darker world was placed by Frank Miller in direct response to the title’s status back in the day. From all accounts, Marvel could not make the character or book work within the framework of its original take, and by the time Miller came along, it was shipping once every two months, shuddering in death throes before getting cancelled. As a bit of a Hail Mary pass, the company handed complete creative control of the book to Miller, just to see what the young creator could do with the series, and… well, you know what happened next. The character and the book went from teetering on the cusp of cancellation to one of Marvel’s top performers. Moving away from the darkness that so defined him could have been disastrous for Matt Murdock.

And yet.

While Mark Waid’s take on Daredevil seems to be worlds away from the kinds of stories that have made the series successful, he’s managed to curry favour from fans and critics by accomplishing one simple thing: building something new without discounting all that has come before. While it certainly would have been easier to ignore much of the darkness within Matt Murdock, Waid is embracing the character’s past, and using it to inform his much brighter take. The darkness certainly hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s just being used as a fuel for something new and different. This is the reason why the new Daredevil book has been an unmitigated success. It’s also the reason why his new Indestructible Hulk book will follow in its footsteps.

This week’s opening salvo begins with Banner having an epiphany. In the wake of Avengers vs. X-Men, in which he played a very minor role as the Hulk, he’s begun to realize just how ineffective he’s become ever since he was hit by the gamma bomb. Banner realizes that he’s become so focused on curing the Hulk, he’s neglected the need to share his genius with the world at large, just like Tony Stark and Reed Richards do. After one last ditch attempt at curing himself of the “monster” so to speak, he resigns to the fact that the Hulk won’t go away – or at least won’t go away with what science currently has to offer – and by treating the condition as an inevitability, he can move forward, both as Banner, and as the Hulk. As Banner, without his focus diverted to a cure, he can change the world. As the Hulk, without being treated like some Big Terrible Thing, he could be used as an unstoppable force for good. A gun that can be pointed towards the worst of the worst. It’s an idea that doesn’t discount the book or the character’s past, but uses the various elements that have always been a part of it in new and exciting ways.

On this series, Waid is partnering with the very talented Leinil Yu, a man who just as adept at drawing conversations as he is with huge, powerful moments. A good chunk of this first issue takes place in a diner as a couple of characters talk out some terms and conditions. It could easily be a boring scene, but through expression and camera angles, Yu manages to ratchet tension right along with Waid’s script. Then later, when the Hulk shows up and makes with the smashing, you can feel it. The presence, the power, the fear – it’s all there on the page, and it’s pretty damn amazing. A great start deserving of our Indefatigable Award. (B)

HAWKGUY IS IN TROUBLE!  ASSEMBLE THE HAWKKIDS!

Right off the bat, it should be said that this right here is for the editorial staff as much as it is Matt Fraction, Javier Pulida or Matt Hollingsworth.  The first three issues of Hawkguy were gloriously illustrated by David Aja, and he brought such style and genuine innovation to the books that it was hard to imagine anyone else following him and coming off good in comparison.  It’s no secret that writers often get the lion’s share of the credit for comics, but Hawkguy #1-3 was so unmistakably Aja‘s work, and yet here comes Javier Pulido with Issue #4, doing a fantastic job and meshing so amazingly with the rest of the book’s creative team that you don’t even miss Aja‘s work, because Pulido‘s is so good and so consistent with the book’s feel.  That’s an editorial victory, and that’s Stephen Wacker and the rest of his office knocking it out of the park.  Artist transitions in a book can be jarring and disruptive to the reading experience, but not here; with Hawkguy #4, everything is beautifully smooth, and that’s a win for editorial that needs to be appreciated.

Of course, that doesn’t matter if the issue itself isn’t very good.  Luckily, in this case, editorial’s tricks helped Pulido‘s great art blend together with beautiful colouring (itself a big source of visual consistency) and a fantastic script.  It presents a topic that’s appropriate now that millions of people have seen Clint killing dudes in The Avengers movie but not necessarily the comics: if he’s got a weapon, if a big part of his job is shooting people… what would the effect be if an admired superhero was caught on tape committing a political assassination?  And in a world where there aren’t just regular criminals to consider, what would trying to get that tape back look like?  That’s what this issue is, and it’s fantastic.  it’s a shift from the New York setting of the first three issues, but unmistakably the same book, from the humour to the action.  It’s still within its purview – what Clint does when he’s not an Avenger – with the added wrinkle of the fact that it’s him dealing with the fallout from his other activities.  If Issue #3 was Bullitt, this is an action spy film, and it’s pulled off brilliantly.  Everybody involved does a great job, and it sets up the second half of the story with a killer reveal that even manages to combine a bit of humour and a bit of real emotional pathos.  If you haven’t read it already, do it, because this book just won the Oh, Clint Award.

Better than alllll the rest

With the crazy amount of good comics that are released every week, I usually find it really hard to stay on top of all the books I want to read. It becomes harder when you add to the pile all of the books that I read in order to sell comics at the store. Each and every week, before the store opens, I like to try and sample as many of the new books as I possibly can, starting with the new #1s and creative team changes, so that when people ask me about certain titles, I’ll be able to let them know whether or not they’ll enjoy the book. Because of all of this reading, I rarely have time to re-read old or new favourites. This week, I read Amazing Spider-Man #698 twice back to back, not because I had the time, but because I had to. Something happens in this book, and you better believe there are mild spoilers after we run the cover image.

For months, Dan Slott and Marvel have touted this as the book to get if you want to experience the full weight of the impending 700th issue of Amazing Spider-Man. Whether it was intended as an oblique homage to the first appearance of Venom (in the similarly numbered issue 298) or not, the implication was that something important to the future of the series was happening in the pages of the issue. They were not kidding.

The bulk of the issue spends much of its time catching old or lapsed readers up on what has happened lately. Between various plot developments like Pete working for Horizon or Mary Jane owning a swank dance club, we hit all the various key points of Parker’s life before some strange, unsettling news hits. Doc Ock, with his last shuddering moments, is requesting the presence of Peter Parker. When he shows up (dressed in full spider regalia), we’re treated to a twist that’s been in the making since… well, since issue #600 of the book, as penned by Slott himself. What occurs in those final pages paints the others with a completely different brush. Going back, you feel the moments playing out differently, and you discover that the wry recap of recent events is something even more. It’s a great trick that Slott has pulled off here, helped immeasurably by Rich Elson on art duties, who managed to attach a bit of retroactive smugness to Parker that’s only viewable upon re-reading. A great start to the story that will take us all the way to ASM #700 and possibly beyond, and this week’s best.

This is Comics! The Blog. We now commence our broadcast week.

Um, Actually | November 22nd, 2012

Um, Actually…

Missives from and to the internet, delivered by a series of tubes.

Welcome, dear readers, to our Thursday feature – a letter column of horrors culled from our inboxes. There will be things that are real and decidedly unreal – but hopefully all content presented here will be entertaining.

That said, WE ARE LOOKING FOR LETTERS! We are hiding in your bushes, metaphorical or otherwise. We crave your sweet correspondence. Contact us by clicking on that handy contact button right above the site banner to save yourself from our sweet lips on your power bills.

Letters might be edited for space, but not for intent.

Thank you, internet.

———-

Rebecca (@unknowingyou) asks: Why is there a words with friends board game? Don’t people know it’s scrabble?

James: The bullshit answer is that because the bonus tile placement is different, it presents a different gameplay experience.  The true answer is because it’s different enough from Scrabble legally that they can do it, and they undoubtedly see it as a way to make some easy money from people who go, “Oh man, it’s just like that game I play on my iPhone!”  And I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Zynga, the game’s publisher, needs some money.

Plus, there are a whole bunch of board games in the crossword vein; Scrabble wasn’t the first, and they haven’t been the last.  There are about a billion “roll the dice and move your piece to a square and do what it says” games, too, so it’s not like the family board game industry is this noble place that Zynga is sullying.  There are basically four “main” family board game categories:

1) Words;

B) Roll the dice and move your piece to a square and do what it says;

%) Charades/group guessing;

>) Balls and doing things with them;

And everybody is just trying to milk the month of December the best they can.  Zynga is just the clearest villain out of them all.

Brandon: Words with Friends made me feel stupid and hate my friends a little bit when I was playing it. Thanks, Obama.

———-

Marc (@dasnordlicht91) asks: Best way to start series: Self-contained first issue that sets up premise, or setting up premise, but is part of arc?

James: It depends on the series and what it’s trying to do.  If mystery/suspense/cliffhangers is going to be a main selling point of a series, it makes sense to have the first issue be one that sets up the premise, but is also part of an arc (or ongoing story).  Case in point: Morning Glories.  That series is all about mystery, so it was entirely appropriate for the first issue to end on such a big cliffhanger for the character of Casey.  If it was just, “Oh man, we’re at this crazy school and our RA is weird, I wonder what will happen tomorrow!” it would have been a pretty terrible first issue because that final page would have undone so much of the work of what came before it.  You still need to set up a premise, but making it self-contained defeats the point of the book because it’s trying to foster an environment where you’re always trying to make connections.

Now, with a series whose premise is less mystery-based and more adventure-or-what-have-you-based, it gets a little more difficult, because you need something to hook the readers for the next issue, and a great self-contained first issue might not do it.  In this case, I think it’s best to go with one of the most classic single issue tactics of all: the self-contained first issue with a final-page soap opera twist.  Call it the “Adventure… And Then” mechanic.  Spider-Man stops Doctor Octopus but then he gets a phone call where someone says, “It’s about your Aunt May…”  The ideal here is maybe the most recent Daredevil #1, from Mark WaidPaolo Rivera and Marcos Martin.  It was a great “Adventure… And Then” story that told a great single issue, but hooked you at the end with wondering what would happen next.  Hawkguy #1 is also a great example from more recently.

Of course, there are always exceptions.  The Invincible Iron Man had a phenomenal first issue, and it was most definitely the first issue of an arc, but what writer Matt Fraction did was set up the issue’s plot around the concept of the book so well that it worked as a great first issue and seemed a lot more self-contained than it actually was.  For those not in the know, the series begins with Tony Stark narrating about telling the reader about his five nightmares; as the events of the issue go on, he continues describing the five worst-case scenarios of his life, and at the end, the two meet on a page that sets up the next issue.  Now, it’s most certainly not a self-contained story, but the idea of the book is not only conveyed clearly, but it’s conveyed very efficiently and all in one issue.  This wasn’t a five-issue story where each issue was one nightmare; it was a single issue that described all five nightmares, wrapped up that idea even as the plot itself wasn’t, not entirely.  Later, we’d discover that the five nightmares seeded some huge plot elements for the entire series, but at it’s core, it’s a great single-issue story that isn’t actually one, and that’s really cool.

Brandon: As a basic rule of thumb, no matter WHAT format the first issue is, it should accomplish two very important things: give you a sense of what the book will be about, and provide a pleasurable amount of content. The reason why a lot of great series fail to hook readers comes down to the fact that the first issue was missing one of those key ingredients. If you’re opening salvo feels like a tiny morsel, the reader will feel as though they’ll starve when they’re reading this book month to month. Even if they’re interested in the feel, they’ll probably resort to collected editions, and more than ever, a book lives or dies off of their monthly sales. And then there are the series that don’t give you the ol “what this is all about” in the first issue. You can write a great single issue story, but if don’t articulate what you want to actually accomplish with the series, you are being disingenuous with your audience – and the inevitable shift later will leave them in the lurch. Above all, just be clear and concise. Get messy later, when there’s a foundation built. Without something to stand on like that, you’ll just end up knocking yourself, and your series over, and off you’ll go into the great abyss of cancelled comics.

———-

Scotty B (@scottybomb) asks: Which DC hero would you make an honourary Avenger, and which Marvel hero would you make an honourary member of the JLA?

James: Spider-Man and Batman, my two favourite superheroes.  

Brandon: I would love to see Moon Knight and Batman do a thing, as one is explicitly crazy, and one just doesn’t realize he is. Vise versa, I would move Jaime Rayes into the Marvel Universe. He’d fit quite perfectly there.

———-

Scotty B continues: Is moving John Constantine into the main DC continuity doing him a favour, or was he better off in his own little world?

James: Here’s the thing: the cancellation of Hellblazer isn’t actually DC moving Constantine into the main DCU; they did that a year ago with his membership in Justice League Dark.  Now, there’s a lot to be said whether the cancellation of Hellblazer is bad for DC as a company (and readers) because of what it potentially means for the fate of Vertigo and for the tradition of British writers getting a turn at the helm of the book (as we discussed in Episode 46 of the podcast), but from an immediate business point of view, keeping John Constantine in his own little world would be a terrible business decision.

Do you know how many copies Justice League Dark sold in September?  Thirty thousand [Ed. Note: Yes, the monthly sales figures don’t tell the entire story, since they’re based on retailer pre-ordering and nothing else, but they’re the best metric at the moment].  Do you know how many Hellblazer sold? A hair over 9,000; it didn’t even crack the top 200 issues on the monthly charts.  it’s been bleeding readers for years.  The lowest New 52 title sold 12,000 copies (unless you’re counting The Phantom Lady, which sold 10,500).  It’s fine and dandy to talk about tradition and roots, but if the goal is getting Constantine in front of eyeballs, this move is a smart one, and considering the ultimate goal of making money, it’s hard not to come to the same decision.

Further, I don’t really buy the idea that taking the character away from his roots makes him a lesser character; the superhero genre is based on characters through different lenses; there are more than five different versions (not continuities) of Batman on the shelves each month; Grant Morrison‘s is not Scott Snyder‘s, which is not John Layman‘s.  None of them are the movie, video game or television versions, either.  The superhero model – which, even if he’s not one, Constantine is now playing in that general sandbox – is built to handle multiple versions and aesthetics of characters.  Plus, for all its faults, the New 52 has genuinely tried to expand to different genres while still portraying one consistent world, which lets Constantine still be a very familiar character in the pages of Constantine even if he can’t cuss like he used to.

Plus, they can always just relaunch Hellblazer later if they want, which seems to be what a lot of people are forgetting.  There’s literally nothing actually preventing them from doing that, if they thought they could use it to make money.

Brandon: Hellblazer’s cancellation really articulates how much I think legacy numbering just does not work in the current market place. More than anything, DC and Vertigos insistence that Hellblazer continue with it’s numbering through various creative team changes and continuity shifts harmed the book and the character more than this relaunch. There are many readers out there who actively bemoan the fact that the big two comic book companies have seemed to all-but abandoned tradition, and have taken a model of relaunching, rather than continuation, but there are quantifiable reasons that the industry has moved in this direction, ranging from consumer buying habits, and retailing order habits.

Let’s take Jeff Lemire’supcoming run on Green Arrow as an example of why retaining numbering is just a terrible, no good idea. His run will begin in February, with the title’s 17th issue, and will be labelled as such. It will be on the shelf alongside anywhere from 60-80 plus other selections on the week that it comes out, all vying for attention and shelf space. Will there be markers as to the new creative team’s arrival? A quick look through various other New 52 books that went through a creative shift says “no”. Oh, and can you tell me which issue Gregg Hurwitz took over Batman: The Dark Knight? Or Dan Jurgens on Fury of Firestorm? Ann Nocenti on Catwoman or Green Arrow? I know the answer to all of these questions, because that’s what I do. That’s my job. But the average consumer can’t keep track of all of these things. Again, there are sometimes over 80 different single issue comics that come out in one single week, and that torrent of information is quite overwhelming. Having a big “first issue of a new direction” signifier on a book helps – and the best way to signify that? Slapping a big ol’ number one on the cover. After all, it’s not as though the ideas will remain the same, right? They won’t. They often didn’t over the course of Hellblazer

Now that’s just a very, very broad take on why having a new #1 is good for consumers. For retailers, the thinking is similar. Ordering comics can be difficult. In our latest order book, at the end of the comic book section, there were 1414 different order codes. That’s 1414 different pieces of data to consider. Naturally, some retailers are very lazy about this, and tend to let books do what they’ll do, without any increased effort on their part. They’ll look through the book and see a listing for Green Arrow #17 (or hell, let’s say Hellblazer #251, the start of Peter Milligan’s run) and they’ll input a number that resembles what they’ve ordered for the past several months, without adjusting a damn thing. They’ll do this because there is no creative team information in the order book. No signifiers to tell them that this is something new. There will be information about variants, information about whether or not a book will be available the same day digitally as it is in print, but nary a mention of creative team. A retailer would have to go through the big previews order book item by item and look at each book, making a guess at what to order for some 1400 plus different items, or (in this case) 340 plus pages of comic book solicitation information. So yeah – if a retailer is any good at what they do, they quickly read through over 340 pages of text and information a month, and then manually figure out what they need for their customers. Seriously you guys, it is not fun, and I honestly wouldn’t blame people for being the slightest bit lazy about it.

Now, let’s say that for whatever reason, you have an amazing retailer, and let’s say you’re also one of the relatively few people who are proactive about their pull list (most people are NOT) and you want to add a book to your file when a new creative team hits the book. Let’s say it’s Green Arrow #17. In between the announcement of that issue, and its arrival, there three more issues that have yet to ship. Even if your comic shop is diligent enough to note that there will be increased interest in the title, there will be extra work. If they have a system that will allow folks to start at any numerical point (and holy damn, congrats on that program of yours, you swank ass son of a bitch), it will be as easy as plugging in issue #17 as a start point. However, building such a program would be… problematic at best. At best. If you try and change the name of the book in your system, when you send it away to Diamond, they might not recognize the order or name and will slot you down for zero copies. Seriously, they are absolutely terrible, and I hate them.

Beyond that, a retailer could just try to remember your request, and plug it in before issue 17… but again, 1400 plus order codes means that something might go wrong, and your order might not get remembered. Which is bad. On the other hand, they can add you to Green Arrow prematurely, and just have you put whatever copies arrive in the interim back on the shelf between now and then… which means they have copies of Green Arrow that they don’t need and might not sell sitting on the shelf, sucking out revenue. Which is bad. What I’m saying is, legacy numbering is just a god awful, terrible idea, and could only work in a market where

a) Everyone who read comics knew exactly what they wanted, and let their shop know months in advance (because, you know, we have to order things months in advance).

2) All retailers were super diligent about reading previews, and had a workable system in place to start a person on a very specific issue.

#) Publishers clearly marked each and every “issue 17s” will big, bold, cover enveloping “new direction begins here” wording.

?) Diamond wasn’t just the worst.

These things aren’t ever going to change. So: renumbering.

And beyond that, I’d honestly like to argue with someone as to what content done in Hellblazer could not be done in Constantine. Because I’ve seen some harrowing shit in the pages of DC Comics lately. I saw an undead villain character turn a guy’s girlfriend into salt, only to have another undead villain (who straight up raped a women in a previous series of comics) lick the salt statue and make sexually inappropriate comments to the hero. That’s a thing that happened in a DC SUPERHERO comic. So don’t even talk to me about taboo content. The worst you’re getting, is the replacement of FUCK with @#^$, and maybe the appearance of a superhero or two, maybeSometimes.

Which is to say, I’m okay with this change, and I’m okay with the re-numbering, and hey, one day, when sales trickle back down to where the book needs to be cancelled or renumbered, there stands a BIG chance that a Vertigo book might rise again. With a new number one. So there’s that.

———-

 Jimmy (@JimmyWahl) asks: What is the appeal of John Romita, Jr.’s art?  I just don’t get it.

James: Short answer: it’s very overtly Jack Kirby-esque, especially in how he draws faces, and to a lot of people, looking like the King ain’t bad.  Of course, different inkers and colourists can change the overall tone and effect of Romita, Jr.‘s art and make it stand out more or less.  Ultimately though, it’s all a matter of taste.

Brandon: He’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Personally, I like when he’s drawing superheroes fighting, because he can be kinetic as hell when he’s doing that. His people, I’m just mostly okay with. Also, the dude is a workhorse, and sometimes, his workload affects the way his books look. He can do more than 12 issues a year, and will gladly fill in when needed – but his work will become rushed as a result because… well, there’s only so much time he can spend on a page, right? And I don’t think that’s his fault. That’s the way the industry works. It is not designed to work like the french comic book market, with their lush albums that take years and years to make sometimes. The monthly serialized format places an emphasis on expedience, rather than detail, and as a man who has consistently hit his non Mark Millar deadlines for decades now, John Romita Jr. is one of the best in the industry. (And really, the Mark Millar thing isn’t so much Romita’s fault as it is Millar’s. Seriously, find a book of his that’s remotely on time. I dare you.)

———-

Scott (@scottowilliams) asks: Do the clothes make the man? If so, who makes the clothes?

James: Well, they certainly affect how the man is perceived and treated, which is more or less the same thing.  I’m generally a guy who wears jeans and a t-shirt when not dressed in business casual for work, but I’ve also grown a lot more comfortable in formal wear over the years, and it’s hard to deny that not only does dressing nicely have an effect on how people treat me, it also affects, in a subtle way, how I act.  If I’m in a suit, I act like I’m a man who should be wearing a suit, more or less.  So yes, the clothes do make the man.

But children still make the clothes.

Brandon: Trolls or goblins probably.

———-

Scott continues: If you could name a current MVP for each of the major comic publishers, who would be in the running?

James: This is a hard one, if only because there are so many different types of things to look at here, and they could lead you to different types of profession, from writer to colourist to letterer.  For DC, it’s a fairly easy answer for me: Scott Snyder.  Even as I’ve become less enthusiastic about the New 52 and have started reading fewer and fewer of their series, his have been ones that I still pounce on reading.  The classic definition of an MVP isn’t based on an individual metric of talent, but on what a person brings to their environment and what it would be without them, and without SnyderDC would be a company whose books I didn’t really rush to read.  There are certainly other amazing talents at the company – like Grant Morrison or Gail Simone – but Batman Inc is off in its own playground, his run on Action Comics is ending and Batgirl isn’t a flagship title the way Batman is, for better or worse.

For Marvel, though, it’s really difficult to pick an MVP, not just because I read more of their books currently and have a greater knowledge of their stable, but because determining value can be such a different thing.  Stephen Wacker oversees a tremendous amount of talent in his editorial office, and he’s a big reason the company is putting out as many good books as it is right now.  However, look at a creator like Brian Bendis, who has been arguably the biggest driving creative force in the Marvel Universe for about a decade.  Then you’ve got someone like Mark Waid, who can reinvent a book like Daredevil as the Platonic Ideal of what a superhero book should be and then basically do the same thing – if this week’s #1 issue is indicative of what will come next – with The Indestructible Hulk.

So, yeah… one of those dudes.

Brandon: At Marvel, it’s definitely Wacker. All of his books are amazing. All of them. And at DC, it would have to be Scott Snyder, because again, all of his books are amazing.

———-

Scott goes on: What is the best season?

James: Autumn, if only because it combines what’s good about summer – being able to do stuff outside comfortably – without the bugs and uncomfortable heat (keep in mind I hate anything above 25 degrees Celsius) at its beginning while combining what’s best about the winter – beauty and snow – towards its end.  Plus, it’s got an amazing sweet spot in the middle where things are crisp and you can wear a jacket without overheating, the leaves have changed and everything is pretty, and then you get two great holidays in the form of Real Thanksgiving and Halloween.

Spring has elements of climate, but with a sloppiness as things start to melt, not to mention a bunch of holidays that aren’t as rad as eating a giant turkey or eating a cray-cray amount of candy.

Truly, autumn has it all.  Technically, it even has my birthday at its very tail end, aka the Christmas in December.

Wait, what?

[Update: I should point out that autumn also has the baseball playoffs, which are the best playoffs.]

Brandon: I’m a big fan of autumn. I was going to say “a warm winter”, but that qualifier really means “fall”, doesn’t it? I just like the occasional snowfall, in manageable temperatures, is all.

———-

Scott won’t give it a rest: What are your thoughts on Chevy Chase’s departure from Community?

James: Basically, unsurprised and kind of relieved, honestly.  Not only is Chase a massive dick on the set of the show or when talking about it, but he’s spent the last thirty years basically being hated by almost anyone who has met or worked with him.  In terms of getting rid of a toxic presence on set, it’s a no-brainer, and considering that the series only has two episodes left to film and has already filmed its season (probably series, if we’re gonna be honest) finale, it’s not like missing him is a giant loss.  While there have been some standout episodes based around him (“Digital Estate Planning” being the most recent), the show has had trouble utilizing a character (and actor) who basically only know how to be massive pricks.  Creatively, he’s an interesting character to have be part of a scene, but they’ve had trouble making him the emotional focal point of one effectively.  So he’s not in two episodes, people are generally happier on set and then the season/series ends as it would have anyway.  Hard to see a downside.

Of course, literally the stupidest thing imaginable to come away from this with is literally the first one I heard, which was a snarky request to have Dan Harmon back on the show now that Chase is gone and the two wouldn’t be bickering on the set all the time.  Ignoring the fact that there are only two episodes left to film, ones that have been presumably had their scripts broken already if not written outright, meaning he’d basically not be able to contribute anything anyway, there’s the fact that Harmon isn’t exactly a bunch of roses, either.  His troubles with Chase were undoubtedly part of the reason he was fired from the show, but even besides that, Harmon is a guy with a reputation for being hard to work with – he airs dirty laundry publicly and dickishly and there are stories abound of him demanding numerous last-minute script rewrites (i.e. during filming), forcing the staff to go on 24-hour writing sessions and terrorizing writers until they cried.  He’s spoken about the fact that he’s not a very good manager, which is the entire job of a producer and showrunnner.  Plus, the exit letter he published on his Tumblr after he was fired wasn’t exactly a bridge-retaining one, you know?  He basically called the studio liars and idiots.  Would you rehire that dude?  Would you hire him at all?  Well, maybe if he made you a ton of money, which Community doesn’t.

So don’t ask for him back just because Chevy Chase is gone, too.  It’s not going to happen and it might not even be a good idea if it did.  Just relax, wait for the season to premiere in February and hope it’s as good as we expect it to be.

Brandon: My thoughts were along the lines of “whelp, whatever, I guess” because yeah. The dude’ll just be missing for two episodes at this point. Had this happened, say, before a season (let’s say, a hypothetical and nigh impossible 5th) then I’d be interested in exploring the changed dynamic. After all, the show really did go to great lengths to suggest that the group only works because they have someone to unite against.

———-

Scott is unstoppable: What’s the first website you check daily?

James: ComicsAlliance.

Brandon: After Twitter and my e-mail, probably CBR.

———-

Scott cackles: Do they know it’s Christmas time at all… yet?

James: Aw jeez man, if that song ain’t problematic as all hell.  Namely, that it’s based around currying pity for an area of the world by focusing on the fact that they don’t celebrate Christmas, even though they’re predominantly non-Christian, raising one religion, however indirectly, as the “right” one above the others.  It manages to be profoundly insulting on two different levels – the smarmy pity and the ethnocentrism – and I wish I’d made it to at least December before being reminded of it.

Thanks, asshole.

Brandon: What exactly would telling them accomplish? Unless you arrived with a bunch of swag for them, you’d just be some asshole telling them about this holiday where other people – not them – get stuff. Not cool.

———-

Scott strokes a white cat and inquires: What is the correct religion?

James: Listen, all of my talk about the problematic aspects of putting one religion above others aside, there is absolutely a correct religion.  Would you mind if I asked you a few questions about your Lord and Saviour, The Boss, Bruce Springsteen?

Think about it, because it’s perfect: all the messages of the best parts of religion, with none of the troubles of raising one deity above others, because it’s perfectly fine to worship The Boss as a man.  These messages include:

-Treating your fellow man well, subtype: despair (“The Streets of Philadelphia”);

-Treating your fellow man well, subtype: anger (“Born in the USA”, “We Take Care of Our Own”);

-Treating your fellow man well, subtype: celebration (“The Rising;” “The Land of Hopes and Dreams”);

-Depression (NebraskaThe Ghost of Tom JoadDevils and Dust);

-Righteous fury and indignation, subtype: political (Wrecking Ball, “Wrecking Ball”);

-Righteous fury and indignation, subtype: personal (“She’s the One”)

-Community (The RisingMagicWorking on a Dream, “We Take Care of Our Own”);

-Youth (“Born to Run”, “Jungleland”)

-Toughing it out (“Rocky Ground”);

-Overcoming despair (“Dancing in the Dark”);

-Personal relationships and making them work through introspection and hard work (“Tunnel of Love”).

Even further, all this is couched in entrenched cultural shorthand, making it easily understood, it uses the language of religion (due to Springsteen’s Catholic background) and even some of its trappings (gospel choirs and Sacred Harp recordings), all to create a united community who come together for celebration/communion in the form of three-plus-hour concerts.  Plus, he’s a tireless advocate for doing good and taking care of the people around you.  Basically, he combines the best parts of religion with some amazing music and you don’t actually have to deny the existence of Jesus, Ganesh or any other religion’s prophet.

So, if you haven’t accepted Bruce Springsteen as your Lord and Saviour, I’d highly encourage it.  Go in peace, Boss be with you. 

Brandon: No.

———-

Scott coughs:  What is the correct breakfast cereal?

James: It doesn’t doesn’t get any better than the purest one of all: oatmeal.  Healthy, delicious and great with any variety of toppings (I like making it with some banana or some apple and cinnamon stewing in with the oats).  Plus, it’s great in a number of other foodstuffs, from granola to baked goods to the great chieftain o’ the pudding race, it’s cheap and I’m pretty sure once it hardens it could be an effective mortar in construction.

Brandon: Is that because you’re Scottish, or were those commercials I’m remembering a bit racist?  I choose Cheerios, in whatever variety. 

———-

Scott mutters before collapsing: Do you use the end pieces of the bread? Do you use them in their natural order or wait to make an all-crust sandwich?

James: I use the end pieces of the bread, because I try not to waste food if at all possible.  I’ll usually just use it along with the next piece of bread because all the crust makes an all-crust sandwich too tough sometimes, but sometimes the crust comes presliced into a usable crust and a wafer-thin little nub, which isn’t usable for toast or sandwiches.  In this situation, I generally just put a ton of peanut butter on it and have it as an after-work snack.

Brandon:  I like to eat the end pieces, when the bread is super fresh. Otherwise, it’s a little too dry, and I’ll end up throwing them out.

———-

That’s it for the thirty-fifth installment of Um, Actually!  Check in every Thursday for a new batch of questions.  If you have anything you’d like answered, hit up our Contact page!  If you submit anything via Twitter – to @blogaboutcomics@leask or @soupytoasterson – remember to include the hashtag #UMACTUALLY so that we don’t lose it.  Remember: you can ask us anything.

Podcast! The Comics, Episode 47 – Sex Art Talk with Steven Sanders

We're trouble.

It’s a new podcast episode!  WIth a guest!  Now you won’t be the only people frustrated by our insufferableness!

This episode is brought to you by Wizard’s Comics, home of the best deal on comics in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  Check out their website for a list of the week’s new releases and information on upcoming Magic, The Gathering tournaments, and watch their Twitter account for news and announcements about the shop and its wares.

Episode 47 – Sex Art Talk with Steven Sanders

This week, the boys welcome Steven Sanders to the show.  Steven is an incredibly talented artist and illustrator who has illustrated books like Our Love is RealThe Five Fists of Science, the dearly missed S.W.O.R.D., and most recently Wolverine and the X-Men #20.   They talk about everything from drawing the best version of Beast to the state of comics criticism, and Steven opens up about an in-the-works project called Symbiosis, which has to be heard to be appreciated and which James is already earmarking a lot of money towards supporting.

Find Steven online at:

Twitter: @StevenSanders

Tumblr: Unparalleled Self-Aggrandizement 

Web: Studio Sputnik

Download the episode here or subscribe through iTunes.  If you want to subscribe the old-fashioned way, insert the following text into your audio program of choice (in iTunes, click “Advanced,” then click “Subscribe to Podcast”):

http://comicstheblog.libsyn.com/rss

You can also find all the episodes to date on Libsyn’s site here.

As always, check us out on on Twitter at @blogaboutcomics@leask & @soupytoasterson!

Double Double Team | Growin’ Up Andrews (Part 2)

The Eiffel Tower of comics criticism!

Sometimes when a topic is too big for just one of us, we take two and make a thing go write, and form the mystical and elusive Double Team!

Today is the big Graphic Content screening of Josie and the Pussycatsand to celebrate, Matt Bowes and Erin E. Fraser, of Graphic Content fame, are sharing their own Archie memories (well, if you squint really hard when you read Matt’s, that is).  We hope to see you at the screening tonight!

———-

“Inside Baseball Archie”

by Matt Bowes

Potentially contentious statement ahead: I have never purchased an issue of Archie.

The other rabbits weren't so luckyWhile I’ve certainly read my fair share of Archie over the years, especially while I managed a comic book store, I’ve never bought one. It’s not that I don’t like reading them, or don’t think they’re worth the money. As has been mentioned on this fair website numerous times over the years, Archie comics have been at the forefront of new publishing initiatives, interesting and groundbreaking storylines and more for at least the past decadeIn fact, they’ve actually perfected a distribution method that I don’t think gets nearly enough credit in the industry, and is the source of my potentially contentious first sentence: the Double Digest is the single greatest way to read comics ever invented. So yeah, I buried the lede somewhat. While I’ve never bought a single Archie comic, I’ve definitely bought innumerable Double Digests.

Sidebar: I don’t know why I prefer the Double to the Single, I think it’s the alliteration that appeals to me, as does the value per dollar. My infatuation actually stems back to my father, who must have been buying them back in the mid ’80s, or so the copyright information and relative state of decay once I got to them would indicate. I think everyone has a version of this story in their background, but, yeah. I found many Double Digests in car seat pockets, bookshelves and toy boxes all through my childhood. Even then, I was a quick reader, so it would take me longer blow through my ever-increasing collection day after day with DDs.

Reasons why the DD is the greatest format:

1. 256 pages long, with a mix of old stories and new. I liked seeing the evolution of Archie’s Jalopy over the years, along with cashing in on fads like RC cars, breakdancing, etc. I probably learned about punk music for the first time when Jughead went punk and started calling himself “Captain Thrash.” In fact, I still think punk rockers would be more legit if they walked around wearing large chains around their necks. It was equally interesting for a prepubescent boy to learn a bit about girls from Archie, even if it didn’t really translate the way I’d hoped it would to the real world. I always liked to look at the reader costume designs, too.

2. Portability/Durability. While you can roll up a comic if you’re some sort of Philistine, the DD fits exactly into the back pocket of one’s jeans like it was designed to, probably because it was. You don’t need a special box to hold DDs, nor do you need plastic and backing boards. This is why I think other publishers have been reluctant to use the form, it’s too much in between the ephemeral nature of an issue and the relative permanence of a tpb. The price, just a bit more than a regular issue, is not enough to warrant the extra work involved in its creation, is what I figure they’d say. Then again, Archie’s market penetration is huge, way beyond the reach of even the biggest publishers, who have to reboot the universe or murder someone in increasingly awful ways if they want to goose up some sales. You think they’d have noticed that by now, right?

Archie Comics have got to be part of the care and upbringing of most of the people I know. And I think the DD provides a really important link to the past. They’ve only been published for the past thirty years or so, but they are some of the most durable cultural artifacts if you treat them well. While the curated “Best of” each decade series trade paperbacks are okay, I find the melange of stories and eras in a DD much more indicative of how we remember our childhoods.

———-

“I Wanted the Dress”

by Erin E. Fraser

Being the youngest of five, I grew up with a lot of hand-me-downs. Clothing, toys, books – ultimately these hand-me-downs amounted to the passing down and succession of pop culture consumption. While many of the things that were handed off to me, like Masters of The UniverseBeverly Hills, 90210 and Jem and The Holograms, eventually faded from contemporary relevance (though they are never forgotten), comics continued. As a young girl I consumed the entire nine-volume collection of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (as a result my knowledge and opinions of Marvel will forever be based in the early 80s) and developed a strong appreciation for all things Batman. But superheroes weren’t the only comics that littered the bunk beds in our kids’ cabin at Crane Lake. Alongside the fantastic crime fighting adventures I also read my way through a massive pile of Archie digests.

We do not like one of these women and Erin is wrong but oh wellReading Archie didn’t just give me a mutual point of reference with my older siblings, it also invited me into their world – that of teenagers. The various concerns and love triangles of the Archie gang gave me insight in to the mysterious terrain of high school. Through the comics I learnt the principals of courtship, social events and fashion. Betty and Veronica, who were of course my favourites of the gang, parade the pages of Archie in countless chic ensembles: casual wear, skimpy bathing suits, and dresses, so many dresses. One of my favourite aspects of the digest and double digest packaging, which is how I have read 100% of my Archie comics, is that you would get stories from all different eras of Archie mixed together. So a Double Digest of Betty and Veronica would contain both modern stories from the 90’s, as well as those drawn by Dan DeCarlo in the late 50’s. Ultimately I believe I owe much of my modern love for the aesthetics of the 1950s and 60s, especially the fashion, to the pages of Archie comics. The nipped waists, banged hair, and flirty eyes of B&V stuck with me as the ultimate in feminine beauty. Is it any wonder that today, when I am not at the cinema or reading comics, I devote my time to expanding my extensive vintage dress collection?

My favourite Archie comic centers around one such lovely dress. While out shopping, Betty and Veronica both spot the same dress in a shop window. A New Look Dior-inspired piece – yellow with red polka dots and a large full skirt – and the picture of the fun and flirty late 50s. Because they both can’t possibly own the same dress, they agree that neither one will buy it so they can maintain their friendship and not arouse jealousy. Betty, who couldn’t have afforded it to begin with, disregards the past and takes it upon herself to sew a replica to wear on a date with Archie. Meanwhile, Veronica, similarly reneges on her word, and purchases the dress. When Betty shows up at Veronica’s house – sorry, mansion – to show off her handiwork, Veronica demands she tear it up as Betty’s broken her promise. With nothing to wear, Betty is forced to cancel her date with Archie, and he takes out Veronica instead, who, obviously, wears the dress.

Now, I’d always been firmly in camp Betty. She is the sweeter of the two, and I admired her resourcefulness. But upon reading this comic, and rereading it until the Betty and Veronica Double Digest literally gave away at the spine, I had an epiphany. Betty didn’t get the boy, and even more, Betty didn’t get the dress. I wanted the boy, and moreso, I wanted the dress! I realized that, despite all of her charms, Betty was the loser, and that it Veronica, with her greedy and manipulative ways, who was the winner.

Ultimately, I recognized that Veronica was clearly the better of the two, and if I wanted to have my cake and eat it, too I’d have to embrace the raven-haired beauty (is it any wonder that I later became obsessed with Bettie Page?). And so I did, until an entirely new minx came on the scene and stole my wish-fulfillment desires – Cheryl Blossom.

———-

Well, let’s just say that Brandon and James have… um… opinions… about Erin’s stance on the women of Archie Comics.  Either way, remember to come out tonight to see Josie and the Pussycats and meet us all!

You Read These With Your Eyes! | November 21st, 2012

Every week, Comics! The Blog goes through the list of new releases and we tell you which comics to plug into your mind hole. Your mileage may vary.

MARVEL, YOU GUYS

And the hits just keep coming. November is probably the heaviest month for big Marvel premieres as part of the Marvel Now! initiative, and this week is filled with some big beginnings. And on top of that? They’ve got a few big issues of some of their other ongoing books. So many, that’s we’re doing this, lightning round style.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #698 

If the rumours are true, this would be the beginning of the end for the Amazing Spider-Man title. After years of battling Spidey, Doctor Octopus is nearing the end of the line. His time is almost up, and he’s planning to go out with one big bang. And wait, has he figured out Spider-Man’s secret identity? He is one of the smartest men in the Marvel Universe, after all…

CAPTAIN AMERICA #1 

With Ed Brubaker’s landmark run now completed, it’s time for something new – and Rick Remender is just the man to shake things up. Whereas Bru’s stories are always tinged with a certain darkness, Remender generally likes to focus on craziness, and with this first story arc, he’s going to take things to a whole different dimension. Cap is going to head straight off into Dimension Z, and it will all have to do with Arnim Zola – who is a dude that’s nothing more than a giant, super smart head in the torso of some kind of mandroid body. Which is rad. Remender has even said that despite this opening arc being something like 10 parts long, this story will include elements of “hyper compression” – which means it should move pretty damn fast. It will be interesting to see this new direction after such a long run with Bru, and I can’t wait!

HAWKEYE #4

Not a relaunch, but a book you need to read regardless. The first three issues of Hawkguy were pitch perfect comics. Nice, tight stories told in a single issue with immeasurable style and flair. This issue sees the first break for regular series artist David Aja, as Javier Pulido steps in to tell a two parter that’s going to shift things in the book a little. Not much is known about this two-parter, but the covers of the series even turn with the shift, steering away from purple and going straight into red. It just goes to show how much this creative team things about this series, that they even match curves with the flavours of their covers. A phenomenal series.

INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK #1

With Mark Waid doing such an amazing job on Daredevil, it was only a matter of time before his influence spread a little further across the Marvel universe. Sure, he’s worked for the company many times before, but lately he seems to be dipping into the magic jar, and hitting balls right out of the park with his books – and his Hulk pitch seems like another sure fire hit. The crux of the book features Banner and the Hulk really working together for the first time ever. They aren’t just flip sides of a coin, they’re matching one of the strongest minds in the world with one of the biggest guns in the world, and their firing it at evil doers, all with some fantastic, big images from Leinil Yu. Can’t wait to get my hands on this one.

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #646

One last Marvel premiere – it’s an old title with a new spin! With Kieron Gillen and Kid Loki off to cause havoc in the pages of Young Avengers, the Journey Into Mystery title is heading off somewhere new with Lady Sif as the spotlight character. The great Katheryn Immonen is on board to spin the tales, which are said to feature giant monsters and heavy punching.

JUDGE DREDD #1 (IDW Publishing)

Moving away from Marvel finally, there’s the premiere of IDW’s new Judge Dredd series! Done with the blessing of 2000 AD (of course), this new series will feature writing from Birds of Prey writer and crime novelist Duane Swiercynski, who will be bringing the law back to Mega-City One along with Judge Dredd himself. I’m pretty excited for this series, because I’ve really yet to read any Judge Dredd before. This is a bit of laziness on my part – I could very easily bring copies of 2000 AD into the store, but I’m already woefully behind on my books, let alone adding a weekly series into the mix. Anyhow, this will be rad.

These are more than five of the many great books being released this week! You can find the full list of comics being released here. If you have any other recommendations, let us know in the comments below.

Double Double Team | Growin’ Up Andrews (Part 1)

Sometimes when a topic is too big for just one of us, we take two and make a thing go write, and form the mystical and elusive Double Team!

Tomorrow is the big Graphic Content screening of Josie and the Pussycats, and to celebrate, James and Brandon are sharing some fond (probably) memories of Archie Comics!  Tune in tomorrow to read some more memories from Matt Bowes and Erin E. Fraser, of Graphic Content fame!

———-

“How to be Good”

by Brandon Schatz

Archie Andrews introduced me to the world of juvenile delinquency.

Almost every day after school when I was eight years old, I would walk from school to my parent’s work – a pharmacy in rural Alberta – where I would have to bide my time until 5, when my mom would clock out and take us home or to my grandparent’s house or to piano lessons or dance or band or whatever. To pass the time (and to ensure my relative silence) I was allowed to read all the comics that they brought in, a selection that included a fair amount of Archie books, a smattering of superhero stuff, and Disney Adventures (which I bought each month using whatever meager savings I could drum up from grandparents and bottle money).

Anyway, one day, in a flurry of movement at the end of a long workday, in a rush to get us to whatever engagement we had that night, my parent whisked my sister and I out of her workplace and into the car, without noticing an Archie’s Double Digest still clenched firmly in my hand. We had been in such a rush that I hadn’t even noticed that I was still carrying the book. Much later in the back seat of the car, once everything died down a little, my eyes drifted down to my hands, where I noticed with horror, what I had done. I had stolen a book from my mom’s work.

Instantly, my stomach clenched, and my breath caught in my through. My heart began pounding a million miles an hour, and my eyes began to water. This was bad, I thought. Unforgivable. I had taken something that wasn’t mine, and now I was a criminal, a fugitive. And worse: it was from my parent’s workplace, so she would probably have to take me to jail myself. My own mother! How it would break her heart.

I looked to the front seat of the car, eyes welling up, mind intently focused on trying to sob quietly, I contemplated what my next move should be. Should I confess? Or should I keep quiet. There were pros and cons to both, of course. If I kept quiet, I might be able to avoid jail time, which was good. But, if my mom caught me – and I knew deep down that she surely would, because it is impossible to hide anything from that woman – the punishment would be much more severe.

So it was with a heavy heart that I made a weak noise from the backseat, to try and get my mother’s attention. Once I caught her eyes looking back at me in the rearview mirror, I told her what had happened, and hoped against hope that the fact that it had been an accident and that I was coming clean would count for something. After I spilled my guts, there was silence. Then a curse. And then… then…

“I’ll just take it back tomorrow,” she said.

“You’ll just…” I muttered weakly.

“Just don’t wreck it, and it will be fine,” she said, “But don’t. Don’t ever. Do that again.”

I exhaled. I was safe. I had been yelled at, but I wasn’t going to go to jail. Everything was – relatively speaking – pretty great.

And I looked down at the book. It was stained with tears.

“Oh no.”

———-

Despite having been an unwitting accomplice in the start of my criminal career, Archie Andrews also introduced me to the concept of morality. My parents had begun that learning process of course, instilling me with the basic brickwork of “how to be good” – but the crystallization of that idea came much, much later when I was better able to understand concepts and internalize them when they were presented before me.

Despite his flaws (the biggest being his treatment of women), at his core, Archie Andrews is a kind soul. He is not a malicious person, and when he’s confronted with the mistakes that he’s made, he will try his hardest to make things right every time. In fact, the majority of the population of Riverdale is filled with the kind of people you wish you knew in your life. People who are kind and accepting, who push you to follow your dreams, to be whoever you want to be. Discounting the odd token villain and about half of the stories about Reggie and Veronica being jerks, you know that when push comes to shove, these people will be there for you.

When I was a young kid reading Archie Comics, these were all ideas that I keyed into. When one or all of the gang were facing some kind of failure, their friends and family helped them out. More over, they always found the resolve to believe in themselves and follow their dreams. When one of the gang was facing prejudice, their friends would band together to help fight it. Archie and the people of Riverdale were the best people, and remain that way today. A few short years ago, the company added an openly gay character, Kevin Keller, to their stories, and both within the realm of fiction and outside in the real world, the company has taken a stance of acceptance in the face of prejudice. When large protests were mounting over the fact that Kevin was to get married in the pages of Life with Archie, the company did not back down stating that Riverdale, and the company, was always, and would always be an accepting, ideal place. There was, and continues to be no place for blind hatred in Riverdale, and dammit, in this day and age, when companies still shy away from the depiction of interracial couples due to the pressures of so-called “good parents”, I am happy that Archie Comics exists.

They’ve taught me so much, and they have so much to teach future generations. Here’s hoping for many more years.

———-

“Bags”

by James Leask

I’ll be honest with you guys, I didn’t really learn anything from Archie comics, at least not in the same way that Brandon did.  That in itself is probably a testament to the cultural penetration and versatility of Riverdale, that it could be two very different things to two very similar people.

As similar as we are now, Brandon and I had very different childhoods, and one thing it’s safe to say is that he read a lot more superhero comics than I did; I had exactly six superhero comic issues when I was a kid; four Spider-Man comics that ranged from 70s-play-along-records to super-gritty-90s excess to giant crossovers (Lethal Foes of Spider-Man and Infinity Gauntlet), an Iron Fist comic where he first met the Steel Serpent and a Captain America comic introducing the Best Puerto Rican in Comics, the Battling Bantam, a guy who took super science laser steroids to be better at boxing, killed a man in the ring accidentally  and then decided to atone for his sins by dressing up like a chicken and punching dudes.

It was pretty awesome.  It also came with a special Bantam trading card, which is exactly what I craved as a small child.

These issues stand out so individually for me because I had so few of them.  As a kid, these weren’t what I thought of when I thought of comics.  I’ve been a comics reader all my life, though, because when I was a kid, the word “comics” meant newspaper strips like Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes, European comics like Tintin and Asterix, and Archie Comics Double Digests.

I cut out Calvin and Hobbes strips from the newspaper until I started receiving the collected editions as gifts.  One of the first books I ever took out from the library was Asterix the Gladiator.  I never owned an Archie comic, however, until the age of twenty-six, even though they’ve been some of the most defining comics of my life.

When I was a boy, comics didn’t come from a comic book store, even though those places had long since taken over from spinner racks.  Comics came from my mom and dad and, very specifically, they came from the Wee Book Inn.

The Wee Book Inn is a small chain of locally-owned used book stores.  Each one has its own cat that lives in the store, the aisles are full of surprising finds and I have never lived more than five or ten minutes away from one.  But as a kid, I knew the one closest to me because of three things: the cat, it was where my mother exchanged bags of used books she’d read for used ones she hadn’t and finally, it was where Archie came from.

Just like I didn’t own an Archie comic until just over a year ago, it was only then that I actually ever owned a new Archie comic.  I’ve still never bought a digest from the grocery store, which is still the best distribution system the industry has ever figured out.  Back when I was a kid and Archie comprised a third of my comics world, the only way I’d ever held one was after picking it up out of a plastic grocery bag full of twenty or more that my mum had brought home from the Wee Book Inn.

I say I didn’t own them because they were technically my little sister’s; I don’t think my mum ever quite picked up on the fact that I, a boy, liked Archie too.  I had stuff to read, like The Snoopy Festival and the fantasy novels I was learning how to devour, but those grocery bags were never far away.  Even if we didn’t get along particularly well at the time, we were still siblings close to each other in age, and that meant that our Lego and books tended to be easily borrowed as long as you didn’t draw on something that belonged to the other person in marker (ahem), so Archie was never that far away.

I read them constantly, learning the characters and the stories and never quite understanding why Betty and Veronica put up with Archie, but never more than on vacation.  As a kid, a vacation meant one thing: piling into the family’s RV and driving around the province and the western half of the country.  One year, we went down through the Western United States, from Idaho down as far south as Nevada and Southern California before coming back up through Oregon and Washington and back into the country.  That meant days – sometimes entire ones with stops only to buy supplies at a time – on the road, and the options were generally either:

a) Fight;

2) Read.

With the first one easily exhausted, that left the latter, and once I’d quickly exhausted my own reading supply by the time we got into either a new province or the US, that left the bag – or bags, if we were lucky – of Archie Comics that invariably came along.  I remember just about every inch of that RV, from the terrible upholstery and ugly curtains to the terrifying bunk I slept in where I was constantly afraid of rolling off and dying in the night (after being murdered by my parents, who I would have landed on and woken up), but almost nothing is as vivid as that bag of Archie Comics never much farther than a few steps away.

I remember reading those books in the mountains and in the Bonneville Salt Flats.  I remember reading them in the campsite next to Candlestick Park in San Francisco while my mom made the best chicken I’ve ever had in my life, crisp and garlicky, and which she never remembered how to make again.  I remember reading them on the beach in Oregon, after getting drenched (and crying about it) at Sea World in Victoria and as we crept down the alley to finally get home.  Those trips remain some of the best memories of my life, and wrapped up with them are the dogeared Jughead Double Digests and Betty & Veronica fashion spreads that I read and reread for hours and hours and miles and miles.  They were as part of the trip as anything I saw was, and that’s how I remember them to this day.

Truth be told, I don’t even remember many of the actual Archie comics I read on those long trips.  I think at one point Archie got in trouble with Mr. Weatherbee and Moose thought someone was trying to hit on Midge, but that happened any number of dozens of times.  It all bleeds together with the pavement, and that’s a good thing.  Every time I’m in a grocery store lineup, I look over at the Archie digests and all it takes it to pick one up for those sights and smells to come back, the salt and the musty upholstery and the giant rat we saw in Nehalum Bay.  I remember what my sister looked like back then, and how loudly my dad cussed when he bumped his head on the metal mooring as you entered the RV cockpit.  Other books remind me of other times, but Archie is forever tied to those summers where I first saw the world with the people I loved most, and to those Safeway bags full of the friends I never forgot.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

C!TB’s Best of the Week | November 19th, 2012

Hey y’all!  We’re still decompressing from C!TB Presents: Early Night with James and Brandon: The Show! The Experience! The Ride! The Squeakquel! on Saturday, so we’re pretty tuckered out.  Thanks to everyone who showed up!  It was a lot of fun and unfortunately you’ve doomed yourself to more of James’ ego in the future.  But in the meantime, how about we talk about some comics that were great?

MARCELINE AND THE DRAMA SOMETHING SOMETHINGS

Coming towards the end of an already fantastic series, Marceline and the Scream Queens #5 might in fact be the best issue yet.  It does so by playing to the strong suits of both the original television series and cartoonist Meredith Gran.

Gran was always an obvious choice to captain Marceline; her art style is bold and expressive, and it has enough similarities to the Adventure Time cartoon’s art style to be familiar to fans while still being utterly her own.  More than that, she’s an expert at balancing humour and serious emotion, something that’s important not just for the needs of the issue, but because the show itself is so skilled at combining silliness with surprisingly complex and understated emotion.

This is the issue of a series where things fall apart, where they’re at their worst, and it’s here that Gran is at her best.  The Scream Queens’ tour has been emotionally draining for both Marceline and Princess Bubblegum, and their show in her home town of the Nightosphere offers a potential chance for things to calm down or get worse, and Gran moves excellently between the two.  Marceline’s quiet relief during her acoustic show is palpable and moving – which is a great feat for any comic – and Gran sticks the reversal to insecurity, anger and regret afterward.  She’s skilled and confident enough to express different emotions in such a sophisticated manner, in different combinations of type and volume, and contribute wonderful depth to two characters whose inner psychologies haven’t always been explored in the cartoon.  The devastating quiet of the final page is a perfect cap to a series that highlights all-ages entertainment at its best, and both the series and Gran have earned this week’s Slow Jam Award.(J)

ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING GODKILLING

There’s a very small part of me that wants to be that guy with the van. You know the one. It’s a piece of shit, but it’s got this swank as fuck looking painting on the side with at least one babe in a bikini and a dude straight up wrecking something with a giant whatever. But here’s the thing. I’m not that guy. I’ll never be that guy. Being that guy takes a certain conviction. You have to sleep, breathe and eat the life of a guy with that van or you have to chew irony as though it gives you sustenance, and I’m not a strong enough person to do either of those things. Also: I’m not really that into metal. Like, at all. So I think that having a van like that would probably get me beat up whenever I’d come across another dude who owns a van like that, and is not a skinny hipster kid. Anyway.

This week, Thor: God of Thunder #1 came out from Marvel, featuring a new creative team for the titular god, and holy fuck is this book metal as hell. Jason Aaron’s writing here is some kind of phenomenal, taking a character that I don’t normally care for, and spinning it into a direction that is endlessly fascinating. Over the years, Thor has faced quite a lot, and has come close to death several times over. And yes, he’s even straight up “died” once or twice. Despite my general ambivilance for the character, I’ve actually read quite a bit of Thor, and while he’s always placed in some kind of peril, I’ve never quite felt afraid for him. And now, I do.

In three different time periods, Thor is facing a creature known as The God Butcher. In this first issue, we are shown the affects this creature has, first in physical ways, and then in psychological ways. The results of his butchery are harrowing to say the least, and Thor’s reaction in every era tells you that you need to be worried. The God of Thunder himself is uneasy about this thing – and his unease is pushed outward with such force that you can’t help but feel it yourself. It’s a tough bit of writing, but Aaron does it beautifully, even going so far as to not show the villain just yet, allowing the tension to ratchet even further.

Aaron’s skill in writing is matched quite handily by Esad Ribic and Dean White’s art. Everything that happens on the pages feels far bigger than life, which is exactly how a book staring Thor should feel. While there’s not a lot of pure action in this first issue (although there are a few amazing fights in this issue), the visuals remain captivating enough that time where the characters are merely chatting still feel kinetic somehow. Ribic also includes a lot of action sound effects within the art itself, causing the page to read a whole lot nicer – and White’s colours work splendidly with the penciled art to make everything pop even more. You can absolutely tell when White is colouring a book, because whatever technique he is using (usually something shot straight from pencils) is completely unique, and it gives his books a cohesive look, even when artists change. A fantastic effort by the all of the creators involved, and well deserving of the Hammer Time Award. (B)

Better than alllll the rest

The Avengers can be a tough nut to crack.  It’s the tentpole of not one but two of Marvel‘s media universes, and the two don’t always play nicely with each other.  The movie universe has its own canon and history, explored over numerous different movies, and the comics have their own as well, crafted over a half century and especially the last decade under Brian Michael Bendis.  So what is someone who likes comics and The Avengers movie to do when they want to cross the streams?  If my own history is any indication, the answer is “make Wikipedia earn their annual $20 donation.”  Luckily, Marvel has been doing their best to ease the transition in the form of Avengers Assemble, a series set in the comics universe that still has enough of the trappings of the movie aesthetic and a focus on shorter stories to be easy on new readers.  After Bendis‘ start, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Stefano Caselli took over with last week’s Issue #9, and the result was one of the most delightful single issues I’ve seen all year.

These hands were made for warmin'

It starts off with a great premise.  One of the most surprisingly great aspects of The Avengers was the chemistry between Robert Downey Jr.‘s Iron Man and Mark Ruffalo‘s Hulk, and that’s where DeConnick and Caselli pick up the story.   However, more than just the “They’re science bros!” approach that would have been delightful in its own right, DeConnick‘s instead focuses on their differences as much as their friendship.  The issue starts off with dueling speeches between Tony and Bruce where each lays out his view of the future – Tony is optimistic and Bruce is pessimistic, to put it glibly – and sets up their rivalry that takes over the rest of the issue as they compete to find out who’s better via the admittedly dubious measure of “who can find a missing scientist first.”  Speeches are hard to pull off in serialized fiction like comics or television; the amount of time available for the audience is limited, and speeches, when not pulled off well, can seem self-indulgent.  In this issue, DeConnick actually includes not one but two speeches in the opening, but succeeds by breaking them up into chunks and recasting them as a dialogue, where they’re not just manageable but organic and entertaining.

After this opening, the issue becomes one of my favourite things to see in a comic – and, again, one of The Avengers‘ best traits – namely, a workplace comedy between friends.  DeConnick has been proving herself over the last two years to be one of the best conversation writers in superhero comics, so what follows, where Tony teases Bruce, the other characters quip and Jessica Drew uses her pheromones to convince the Hulk to make her a pretty awful-looking sandwich, is more than welcome.  One reason I think good superhero comics, and good superhero team comics especially, succeed is because they create a social environment not unlike the best sitcoms; the reader wants to see the people they like seeing every month hanging out as much as they want to see them stop M.O.D.O.K. or Flag Smasher or whomever.  Avengers Assemble #9 is full of those little moments and exchanges, from “Razzle dazzle” to Spider-Man and Captain Marvel’s whiteboard tally of Tony and Bruce’s competition to a Princess Bride-inspired scene where the Hulk uses his Andre the Giant-esque hands to warm Spider-Woman/Robin Wright’s cold head.  There are easily a half dozen of those perfect little moments in the issue, each coming at a great moment during the action.

The one genuine risk the book takes is its diversion from only prominent Avengers familiar to movie audiences to include characters movie-goers might not recognize (Spider-Woman and Captain Marvel), but it’s paced well enough to give each of those characters a great, subtle “who are they?” moment and, I believe, enough character in their voices to define them and keep new readers from becoming confused.  Man cannot live on Downey Jr., Hemsworth, Ruffalo and Evans alone.

DeConnick does a beautiful job capturing the voice of the movie actors, but don’t count out the incredible contributions of Stefano Caselli, one of the best parts of the last two years’ Avenging Spider-Man issues.  Caselli is a gifted choreographer of action and excitement, but he’s also skilled with faces and cartooning.  He does maybe the most notable job in the issue of balancing the movie and comics Avengers – the characters as he draws them are recognizable to members of either medium’s audience, without being slavish to either.  This isn’t Downey Jr.’s Tony, but it’s not Larroca or Romita Jr.‘s, either.  It’s a remarkably universal-looking cast that could play well with any audience’s familiarity and that takes a lot of skill.  Between this and DeConnick‘s exceptional dialogue, Avengers Assemble #9 was a comic that was fun, exciting and absolutely hilarious, which is exactly what the Avengers franchise needs, period. (J)

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