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Friday’s Marketing Survey, and Other Stuff

by  in Comic News Comment
Friday’s Marketing Survey, and Other Stuff

Another scattershot bits-and-pieces one this week. Mostly it’s things that piled up while I was frantically trying to get the class ready for the convention, and now I finally have a chance to take a deep breath and look at them.

The first one is kind of a fun little oddity from Marvel’s early days. I have been filling in my Captain Marvel collection for a while now — I mean Mar-Vell, the Kree warrior.

I’m not sure if Marvel’s Captain Marvel holds the record for the most hiccupy, stop-and-start career in superhero comics, but he’s gotta be one of the top five.

By #20 of his own book he’d had one revamp and a cancellation/reinstatement or two already, and the book would go through at least a couple more ‘changes in direction’ and one more cancellation-restart before stumbling to a halt in the late 70’s. And then… the guy got kicked over to headline a revamped Marvel Spotlight, that didn’t take, Jim Starlin killed him in a graphic novel, Monica Rambeau got the gig, then she got a name change that opened up the Captain Marvel name again, Kurt Busiek tied Rick Jones to a new Mar-Vell in Avengers Forever, then there were a couple of new series from Peter David, and last I heard they brought the original one back as part of the whole Civil War hullabaloo.

I am pretty sure I missed an iteration or two in there somewhere, and we won’t even get into the whole MS. Marvel thing. Nevertheless, I’ve always had a soft spot for the guy, particularly the years when he was bonded to Rick Jones in that faux-Shazam setup. I’ve been hunting those issues of the original run off-and-on for the last few months and finally plugged almost all the holes at the Emerald City show.

Wow, that was a bit of a digression, even for me. I really hadn’t intended to go on quite that long. Anyway, the point is, one of the eBay wins that arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago was a nice little two-dollar lot of four books covering the pre-Starlin Mar-Vell, including the aforementioned #20. In the back, on the Bullpen Bulletins page, was something of such quaint delight that I thought I’d share it with you all. Check it out!

That’s right — it’s an actual swingin’ SURVEY. I really wonder how many of these were ever filled out and sent in — because if one were to cut it out of the comic as Stan recommends here, it would destroy the last page of the story on the other side. In this particular book, that would be the cliffhanger in which it looks like the Hulk is about to stomp an unconscious Rick Jones to paste. I would never have done that, it would be sacrilegious… and it would never have occurred to me at the time to photocopy the thing. (Of course, Stan’s solution would have probably been, “So buy a SECOND one, pilgrim!”)

But I’m too cheap for that, so let’s just fill it out now. After all, we have the benefit of thirty-seven years of hindsight, and there’s always the chance Stan might still be interested.

AS FAR AS I’M CONCERNED, THESE ARE MARVEL’S BEST …

…PENCILLERS:

I have to pick three, right? Let’s see. I’m actually a really bad guy to answer this question because I’m not nearly as up on the current Marvel talent as some of my colleagues here at CSBG. But of what I’ve seen of the current crop, for straight-up superheroic storytelling I really like John Romita Jr. For the lighter side of things, Mike Wieringo.

I like his stuff more and more every time I look at it; he brings an infectious sense of fun to whatever project he’s on. Even that impending galactic apocalypse example up there has a feeling of hell-for-leather exuberance you don’t see from most Marvel books. And a sense of fun is something that Marvel could frankly use a little more of these days. Maybe Ben’s pose looks a little odd, but on the other hand the biker shorts made me laugh, not to mention that left foot squarely planted on what appears to be a roll of flab (“Fear the cellulite of DOOM!”) and anyway, who the hell knows what the right perspective and anatomy is on a big orange rock man-monster?

For third? Hmm… I guess John Cassaday, even if he does only manage to get out three or four books in a year. (Okay, that was mean. But really, brilliant as his work might be, Cassaday’s not the guy to assign to a regularly-scheduled serial publication.)

…INKERS:

Jeez. Who are the current good inkers at Marvel? I’m drawing a blank here. Karl Kesel, okay, his signature’s right up there and I do like his work but truthfully I like Kesel better as a writer than as an inker. All the names I can think of as being real A-list Marvel inkers are either doing work for DC or retired now. Is Tom Palmer still working for Marvel?

Screw it. Palmer three times. What the hell, I’m thirty-seven years late anyway.

Why no category for writers? Because it was pretty much Stan and Roy then, I think. Mostly Stan. So instead we go straight to the writing advice. Hard to believe, considering this kind of advice is ALL fans talk about any more, that there was a time a Marvel editor actually invited this. But I’m certainly not going to pass up the opportunity, so let us forge ahead, Marvelites!

HEY, MAN, THESE ARE MY FAVORITE TYPES OF PLOTS:

My favorite kind of plot is the kind that you hardly ever see from Marvel any more, at least not in the main superhero line of books. I don’t know if I’ve ever really thought it through item-by-item like this before, but I know that if I buy a Marvel comic I am hoping for these things, at minimum, from the reading experience:

I want to read an adventure. Something bigger than life. Something with a little swash in its buckle.

I’d like it to involve the characters I know acting the way they should, but preferably reacting to a situation I haven’t seen them in before, or at least haven’t seen in quite this way.

But at the same time, I’d like that situation to be something that won’t irrevocably change the nature of the characters I bought the book for in the first place, leaving a huge mess for the next writer to clean up. (I.E., Reed Richards suddenly acting like a fascist prick for no reason, just for the sake of moving the plot forward.) In other words, don’t screw with the interior logic of your series just for a one-time shock effect, particularly when it comes to the emotional core of your heroes.

I’d like the plot to be dense enough and self-contained enough that I feel like I got a complete episode of something. I’m not averse to a continued story or a serial format — but I want to at least feel like I got a real chapter of the novel and not just a couple of long paragraphs out of it. And I won’t put up with serialization forever — you better have a real ending at some point.

Apart from that? I’m pretty easygoing. I’m old-fashioned enough to prefer a happy ending of sorts, but I don’t insist on it. Show me what you’ve got. Be serious, be funny, be adventurous, you can even be sappily romantic and I’d probably still be okay with it as long as the other basic stuff’s in there. Just try to remember that it’s supposed to be an entertaining adventure starring super people, and not, you know, a thinly-disguised political screed or a hate letter to your ex or something.

You want an example of what I think is a terrific Marvel comic? Spider-Man #50. That had action, emotion, a cool character arc, it was new-reader-friendly, it introduced a cool new villain, set up future issues and made me want to come back next month, and it was an interesting idea that, at the time, I hadn’t ever seen before: the hero got so fed up with the way his super-heroing screwed up his life that he actually QUIT. For real.

The fact that the idea’s been stolen a zillion times SINCE then doesn’t negate how cool it was that first time. In fact, it was an idea so cool that they used it in the second Spider-Man movie. And hey, it was handled in one issue. These days… well, we’ll cover that gripe in the answer to the next one.

THESE ARE THE KIND OF YARNS THAT TURN ME OFF:

There’s a pretty long list but I’ll spare you. But if I have one pet peeve above all others, it’s this: Needlessly padded yarns. At three bucks a pop, I expect actual content. Stuff that happens. Forward motion. I don’t really give a good goddamn if it’s going to be a chapter in a trade paperback six months from now: I’m not buying the book then. I’m buying it NOW. And I’d like to not feel ripped off after doing so.

Ranking a close second to that one in my big complaints about the current crop of Marvel mainstream books is that I’d like to understand what the hell’s going on in the book I’ve got in my hand, without having to go out and buy half a dozen others or look it up on the internet. Quit assuming that I’m some kind of OCD geek who remembers every comic book he’s ever read. (Even if it’s true in my case. It’s still really annoying when writers assume it, especially if some major point hinges on that one book that I HAVEN’T actually read.)

WOW! THESE ARE THE TYPE OF MAGS YOU SHOULD DO MORE OF:

I have two thoughts here. Not to be a crotchety old man, but you know, I kind of miss the days when comics were a MASS medium. Something that could be an impulse buy for someone who just wanted something fun to read. Now, I’ve gone on about this at length before and I won’t flog it too much here again… but why not really look at doing some kind of magazine line again?

Shonen Jump-sized, say. A nice squarebound package for, oh, five or six bucks. Pick one of the Marvel movie successes to anchor it and have some rotating features in the back. And then get it on actual magazine stands where people other than us committed nerds can see it.

Secondly, my wife wants to see the Country Joe and the Fish project you were teasing us with in that Bullpen Bulletins page. I haven’t got the heart to tell her that this promised rock-and-roll Marvel adventure ended … well, rather badly. Although, who knows? Maybe Country Joe and the boys might have made something of it…

IF I WERE YOU, STAN, (UGH!) THESE ARE THE CHANGES I’D MAKE AT MARVEL:

Honestly? I’d do more of the diversification thing. DC is kicking your ass here, with Vertigo, Minx, the Cartoon Network stuff. If I were in charge at Marvel, I’d quit obsessing over finding new ways to make people buy Spider-Man stories, and instead concentrate on opening up new markets for comics, period. I know there’s a way you guys could be getting some of those teenage girl dollars if you really tried. Hiring Tamora Pierce was a good start, but why not give her a new title instead of a distaff revival of an old superhero?

What I’m really wondering is where Marvel’s Harry Potter comic is. Once upon a time you guys would have been after that license like a house afire — and if you couldn’t get it then you’d have found some other way to do a boy-magician book. Nowadays we get… revivals of spin-offs, retellings of origins, Ultimate versions of superhero stories we already know. What the hell’s that all about? Jesus, why not show some guts? You already own all us nerds, we’re on board for the long haul. Quit worrying about us and see if you can’t get some other people interested in your stuff.

So there you go, Stan. I understand you’re not as plugged into the day-to-day comics production as you used to be, but maybe you could pass this on to Mr. Quesada. He’s probably sick of hearing all this from bloggers, but one hopes he’d listen to you.

*

Okay, after all that sneering about how lame it is to just retell a superhero story we all know, I have to own up. One of the books that arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago is, well… basically an origin revamping. But oh, my God, it’s so amazingly good.

I really don’t know why I haven’t seen more comics fans talking about this one. Maybe I just missed it, or, more likely, it’s a bit too lit’ry and fan-unfriendly for most superhero comics readers to get excited about it. But really, this is an extraordinary novel. The basic conceit of the story is — if there really WAS a Superman that appeared in public in 1938, well, it probably happened something like this. It is meticulously researched and feels authentic in a way that no other superhero novel ever has in my experience. It’s deliberately unspectacular, almost introspective.

Which is not to say that it isn’t great fun. It’s still got Ma and Pa Kent, Lois Lane, the Daily Planet, Lex Luthor, the cape and costume…. but all shown through a completely different perspective than you would expect. And reading it, you find yourself looking at the original Superman story in a way you might not have before, as something very much of its time — a 1930’s period piece, a Depression-era coming-of-age story.

There are some cutesy literary conceits that I could have lived without — DeHaven tends to use present-tense narrative more than I’d like, a trick that most writers grow out of in college after sitting through through their first dreary creative-writing seminar. But to give him his due, he makes it work. Fair warning: if you’re looking for spectacular superheroics, this isn’t the book for you — most of the Superman stuff happens off-stage. But I found it a compelling read and I think most other superhero fans would too. Recommended.

*

Catching up on my regular comics reading, I note that Renee Montoya has indeed assumed the identity of the Question.

Turns out I didn’t hate it quite as much as I thought I would, and I’d even be interested in a new Question book with that premise… but hey, if DC’s going to do it, then they should really DO it. Isolate it from the DCU, put it in Hub City and make it a real down-and-dirty crime book. I always thought the O’Neil-Cowan Question book was basically John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee done for comics: the guy who took on the really hopeless, quixotic cases nobody else wanted, driven by sheer moral outrage. (It becomes really obvious when you consider that Rodor essentially is playing the same role as McGee’s friend Meyer.)

I’d love to see a new Question book jumping off that idea. Use MacDonald’s concept of the cynical knight in slightly tarnished armor, someone who’s the court of last resort for powerless victims of smug urban crime… only it’s Renee Montoya in a Question mask. I’d buy it. (Hell, I’d love a shot at writing it. As long as I’m daydreaming.)

*

And I guess that’s all I’ve got, this time around. See you next week.

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