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Issue #147

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #147
  • Had a chat yesterday about movies and comics, springing off the huge success of SPIDER-MAN 2. My friend’s thesis, having nothing in particular to do with the movie, was that American culture, particularly movies, has been intentionally dumbed down over the past thirty years or so, and comics jumped into lockstep with the trend.

    Me, I’m not quite that cynical. By and large, I enjoy modern culture much more than I enjoyed things 30 years ago. Except movies and music, and even there there are plenty of things to enjoy. You just have to dig for them. (The main difference between music of “my” generation is that when our parents heard our music, they turned up their noses and tsked, “What on earth is that? That isn’t music!” When we hear this generation’s music, we just shrug and say, “Y’know, it was better the first time.” I listen to Latino pop music on the radio when driving and, language aside, the music’s indistinguishable from the ’80s station.)

    On the surface, it’s hard to say movies have dumbed down when the ’70s – this was the era when hokum auteur Roger Corman declared audiences done with trivialities like plot and character, they only wanted speed and movement – were rife with crap like SHAFT (I mean, sure, it’s a cultural icon, but it’s not a good movie) and GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS, except the movies that were made as filler junk in the ’70s (then known as “exploitation flicks,” largely due to the insertion of car chases, naked breasts and – shocking at the time – a focal character of non-white race) in the last ten years have been remade as the “A” films. Sure, there are still independent films being made, some schlock (one filmmaking manual I read suggested started out by writing an exploitation flick with as much action, as low a budget and as few works as possible so it will translate well to non-English speaking markets, then recruiting among dentists in your area for money, since dentistry is usually a profitable profession, and, spending their days inflicting pain on other people, dentists are often eager to show a sensitive, artistic side in their off-hours) and some “art,” but Hollywood, via outlets like the Sundance Festival (where all the big money distribution deals for independent films are made, and without distribution independent filmmaking is nothing), has colonized that market as well. The function of independent filmmaking these days is to be a feeder system, mainly of directors, for Hollywood. Sure, Christopher Nolan made an amazing movie in MEMENTO, but they really want him directing BATMAN BEGINS. You get to prove you’re creative in independent films, and dedicated enough to film to go through the pennypinching agony of the experience, then you get to be a good boy and prove you can work within the system for a lot of money, putting out the movies that feed the system. To prove you’re capable of making movies, you have to prove you’re creative. To prove you can be trusted to make a movie, you have to demonstrate you’re not. (Or, rather, demonstrate you can work within Hollywood’s narrow definition of the term.)

    (DC specifically has adopted a similar outlook on independent comics, perhaps encouraged by corporate parent Warner Studios, and many of DC’s recent talent acquisitions made their names and scored cred in the independents. Marvel has been considerably less effective in similarly tapping the independents. Then again, Marvel uses DC as a talent feeder system.)

    If that sounds like cynicism, it’s not. It’s just a statement of fact, no value judgment intended. We like to think of movies as “art,” but the function of the Hollywood movie has nothing to do with art.

    Movies, like alcohol, exist to be a social lubricant. That’s their main purpose. I had a professor in college who insisted that film was akin to ancient mystery cult rituals, where participants gathered in dark caves to be awed by images either painted or somehow projected on walls or acted out before them, and while we enter the theater in groups, at the moment the light goes down we become singular, not members of a group, each experiencing the moment as if only we and the film exist. Crap. The main difference between Hollywood of the last 30 years and Hollywood before that is they cast off their own illusions, and figured out what it was all about, why audiences are willing to go to the movies instead of sitting around waiting for films to show up on their TVs. Why teenagers and twenty-somethings are the main audience for films. Roger Ebert likes to chicken-and-egg it, insisting that Hollywood drove out adult audiences by pandering to youth, and there’s an argument for that. But there are “adult” films regularly released by Hollywood, like THE NOTEBOOK, and these sometimes do all right, but they’re there mainly to a) win Oscars and b) fill in those slack times when no blockbusters are hitting the theaters. (Those times are also when the blockbuster films studios have decided are dogs are likeliest to hit theaters.)

    To a large extent, the “dumbing down” of movies was a recognition that the people who go to movies on a regular basis are out trying to score. Teenagers and young adults. (Older adults presumably are no longer interested in sex, have steady partners, or no longer have patience for the dance.) Movie buffs may want them for their artistic value, but there aren’t enough movie buffs out there to pay a studio head’s salary. Movies aren’t meant to be a private mystical experience, but a joint experience shared by two or more people. The true purpose of most movies – especially the blockbusters, and this is why they’re popular regardless of how often they’re pure crap and regardless of the story logic flaws that so often torment the rest of us – is to get the adrenaline flowing, in the hopes that’ll translate, post-film, into sexual excitement. That’s why you rarely see “pure” action films these days, which are largely aimed at adolescent boys and arrested adolescent boys and mainly appear on cable TV or direct-to-DVD where they can be experienced privately, and why so many action films (SPIDER-MAN 2, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, etc.) place much emphasis on romantic elements: they’re date films. You take your date there. You and your date have a good time, then you and your date have a good time. It may not always follow through – may not often follow through, depending on who you are – but that’s what Hollywood’s really selling. The dream of it.

    If my friend is correct that comics have chosen to follow the examples of movies, if they’re even thinking about it, then the comics industry is dumber than it thinks I think it is. (Thank you, Robert Towne.) That’s a serious miscalculation, for one major reason:

    Comics are not a social lubricant. Books aren’t a social lubricant. They aren’t communal experiences. The act of reading is solitary, experienced personally. You can discuss them afterward, sure, but there’s already a distancing built in, a loss of immediacy that movies don’t share. Dumbing movies down served a specific function, made acceptable by the bottom line. Entertainment is in the eye of the beholder, but, overall, dumbing them down may have increased their entertainment value.

    Dumbing comics down only makes comics dumber. Comics might generate sexual excitement, but only one person at a time. There’s an argument, with so many publishers eyeing Hollywood producers as their main market these days, that we should dumb comics down to make them more salable to that market, but, in my experience, producers aren’t interested in dumb ideas. They’re interested in ideas that make them sound smart and original. They can dumb ideas down without our help. (Just watch LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN if you doubt that. Or the forthcoming HELLBLAZER, if they follow the screenplay that’s circulating where Constantine has to stand in water before he shunts to Hell because, you know, there’s fire down there.)

    Dumb is an area where comics just can’t succeed as well as movies can, an area where they rarely succeed at all. If anyone’s intentionally dumbing down their comics, smarten up, because you’re not achieving anything.

    You can take all this with a grain of salt. After all, I’m a guy who believes people only went to church for so many centuries because it was the only cheap entertainment they had, and television fills that need now…

  • Mail, mail, mail. It’s been a few weeks so let’s catch up:

    “Stick to the comic news. If the Anwar al-islam brigade being stationed in Iraq was not connection enough for you between Al-Qaeda and Saddam, what about all the foreigners who are doing the fighting against us in Iraq. In a country of 30 million, 100,000 US soldiers would never be able to keep the peace if the grand majority of Iraqis were not with us. Write to some soldiers and find out what is going on. The day the New York Times sends a reporter to the Bronx to report on the good going on there I’ll believe their racist liberal trash.”

    Okay.

    “You wonder how Free Comic Book Day is going this year. Now this is from the view of a person who opened their store last summer, so I’ve not personally done a FCBD before, but I’ve seen and read many others. My partner has two other stores, and I have acquired a second store in the past year that participated in prior years.

    In the end, from my total sum of knowledge I think I can sum up my thoughts best as follows: FCBD is what each store makes it. The fact that you’re hearing fewer people talk about it is, in my opinion, not a bad thing at all.

    My store is located in the same shopping center as a movie theater with whom I have a good relationship. SPIDER-MAN 2 being moved back two days was a good thing for me, because it meant two more days of exposure to record numbers of people from the posters all over the theater that they put up for me. The cost was negligible. I also had small flyers I made on my computer handed out at three other shops in the center. In return, I use their products at my store, or I order from them whenever possible, as mentioned below. If all a store does is order the FCBD books and then hopes people come in, then by all means, it will be a non-event. If the store puts some advertising and effort behind it, they will see good results, as I did today.

    I think it is perfectly ok that you don’t hear people talking about FCBD. The reason is simply because FCBD is not for the hardcore comics fan. It shouldn’t be. It never was, in my opinion. To me, FCBD is designed to get comics in the hands of people who have never seen them before, or are lapsed customers. Not to bulk up the collection of weekly customers. Maybe the reason you hear less chatter is because the internet community of hardcore fans has finally realized the event isn’t for them, and the successful retailers are too busy making the event a success for themselves to bother chattering. Honestly, like myself. I haven’t had time to respond to you because I’ve been putting in exceptionally long days all week preparing. I even went so far as to prepare s special party on Friday night for my regular customers to celebrate my store’s one-year anniversary. They came in, got their free comics before the crowds on Saturday, so Friday I didn’t have to split time between greeting brand new customers and long-time regulars. Everyone got the attention they needed. And my sales both days showed it worked very well. Will it lead to more long-term sales? Only time will tell, but other stores I have seen who put a genuine effort into it see improved results.

    Oh and as for college-town stores? My north store is in a college town. This weekend not only is it July 4th, but it is between summer semesters, the town is dead. So what do I do? Follow the lead of (I think) Atomic Comics in Phoenix! Last year they did their own FCBD in November. There’s no reason I cannot do the same once school is back in session. I ordered extra FCBD books to sit on until then, and then we’ll throw a bash for everyone up there, too.

    If stores expect to sit on their asses and have the rest of the industry deliver droves of customers to them, well they will get the results they warrant. Me, I love FCBD, and I hope that it keeps happening every year. It’s a great idea and I’m on board every year.

    I think FCBD is worthy. Would I like to get the comics for free myself? Sure! Are there improvements that can be made? Of course! Is it about a billion times better than any promotional effort that was around in the industry before it? Absolutely!.”

    Interestingly, some of the non-email feedback I’ve gotten on Free Comic Book Day indicates some stores found bringing in name talent to sign books is getting counterproductive, since it tends to bring in existing comics fans but rarely presents a lure for non-fans. Which is a point. One store I heard of just brought in local artists to draw Spider-Man pictures for free for kids who came in. That sort of thing has a lot of potential value. What would mean more to someone not familiar with comics, their own original drawing of a character they’re familiar with or the autograph of a talent they never heard of?

    “My business partner has written a couple of other articles on ICV2 and the CBIA in regards to what we feel are the failures of Free Comic Book Day. Just to let you know, we will be closed on the 3rd and are not fully participating in FCBD this year.

    First off, the selected date for FCBD was a horrible choice. Marvel was allowed to hijack this event for their own purposes. What really makes this a kick in the head is that Marvel’s offering for FCBD is one of the weakest of any of the publishers. Spidey vs. the Vulture? Okay, we’ve got Doc Ock as the villain, so let’s put out a book that doesn’t feature him! That’s just stupid if you ask me. But nobody did, or, if they did, they certainly didn’t listen. Back to the date though. We are a store in a college town. We are just over a mile from Notre Dame. Most of the college kids are indeed gone. Plus, the weekend of 4th is one of the most traveled holidays. When the date was announced I decided then that we would not be pushing FCBD as aggressively as we had the first two years.

    Second, also given the date, I would have been hard pressed to find adequate help to staff the store. We are in our third year and it is pretty much my partner and I that are the employees. We have some friends that help out when they can, but I wasn’t about to ask them to give up part of their holiday weekend, a weekend to be spent with family and friends, to help us out by working in the store all day long.

    Third, the cost to retailers of this program are really starting to get out of hand. The cost of the “free” books has escalated each year of the program. I understand that it costs money to print, but I can’t afford to shell out that much money for stuff to just give away. The books from most of the Gold level sponsors were affordable, but beyond those, cost per book was, in my opinion, prohibitive. I’m not going to pay almost a dollar per book just to give it away. And to put another spin on this; if the minimum buy in for FCBD is approaching $200, what is that very minimum getting you? Squat. Sorry Mr. Field, I disagree with you.

    The question we have asked ourselves is this: Is it reasonable to spend as much in advertising on one day as we do for almost two months? The answer for us was no, and shall remain no as long as the program is focusing on current customers instead of promoting the hobby to potential customers.

    Fourth, is what we see as the “me first” mentality of both retailers and fans. It seemed that when Joe Field first started the ball rolling on this program, it was envisioned as a celebration of comics and a public outreach program. It has turned into anything but that. Last year it seemed that a good chunk of retailers were “Look at me! I’m giving away XXXXX thousand books!” That’s all well and good, but is it growing the hobby if your 50 or so regular customers come in and each of the grab one of everything? We’ve told some of our good regular customers that they should be embarrassed if they were coming in on FCBD, and weren’t bringing in someone who doesn’t currently read comics.

    This brings us to the issue of new repeat customers. From our very active participation in the first and second FCBDs we’ve seen maybe 5 new regular customers. Return on investment is practically nil. Both years we sent out the press releases, had interviews in the local paper and on TV, put it up on the shopping center’s marquee, had a live DJ last year, gave away books at the library as well. All we have to show for it is maybe 5 new customers.

    For this year I ordered some of the FCBD books for here in the store. I put these out yesterday and will have on the rack today and tomorrow as well. I ordered a large number of the Spider-man book that we labeled with our information and took those the movie theatre down the street and they were going to give those away at the first couple of showings of SPIDER-MAN 2. I’ll get more actual dollars out of that investment than I would have doing the “real” FCBD. Better ROI, better for me.

    I personally think the program as it currently exists is a failure. Also, I don’t know if it can be fixed. I would rather see Diamond work out something with the larger publishers to create some kind of ad council and start doing some national advertising of the comics field as a whole, not just a particular publisher or two. Given the haphazard job that Marvel and DC do of promoting their own “big” projects; I don’t see this happening.”

    I just don’t see a “comics ad council” working. If nothing else, both Marvel and DC have corporate masters to answer to, and, good as it might be for the business, I think the decision makers would have a hard time justifying to the boys upstairs spending promotional money on what’s essentially promoting competitors‘ books. Any “ad council” would quickly become a festival of jockeying for placement, just as The Comics Code quickly became a means of jockeying for control of distribution. (Which suggests it might not be the best idea to have Diamond coordinating anything along those lines either.

    “I’ve been a comics retailer for 32 years. I participated in the first two FCBD, but not this year. I never did like the idea to begin with. Ice cream and comics are two different animals. But, I can see why the idea was embraced by the publishers and distributors. The retailers are still carrying the burden.

    As I recall when the comics industry was going down the porcelain popper (mid ’90’s), the retailers felt it was an excellent time for the publishers and distributor(s) to help us out getting new people into our shops. At the San Diego Comic-Con many wonderful ideas were thrown out in a lively discussion (national ad campaign, etc.).

    All were dismissed by the powers that be for various reasons. But these same powers told us to keep trying and when we came up with a good idea they would run with it. That’s when Joe Fields began to confuse ice cream with comics. But the powers loved it, because once again the retailers would be taking nearly all the burden (and cost) and they could put their spin on it that sounds like they are really doing something for us. If the publishers and distributors were really going to do something for us retailers (especially a FCBD) should they not foot the bill and the headaches? My idea of a FCBD would be, pick a day, they advertise like crazy for it (nation-wide), send us the comics (not ask us if we want to participate), and we retailers give them out. Better yet, let’s think of a better project.

    I mean, free is as free does. My first two years as a participant in FCBD did not increase my sales one bit. All it did was bring in a majority of one-timers wanting to know what all they could get for free. I say let’s give Joe an award or maybe a gallon of ice cream and move on. Thanks for listening (I’m usually ignored and considered a dinosaur… in fact I’m usually labeled a lucky survivor).”

    Anyone else want to weigh in on Free Comic Book Day?

    “I’d give the SIX FEET UNDER another chance, that first episode of the new season worked for me, how screwed up is Nate! Check out ep 2 or 3 that have a mix of humor (one word, 3 letters: poo) and drama that the show’s been known for. Ep 2 has a pretty novel opening/death sequence.”

    If you enjoy it, more power to you, but that ship’s sailed from these parts. The once glorious Brenda is now completely neutered as a character, the Fishers aren’t the slightest bit interesting to me, all the interesting secondary characters like Rico and Keith have likewise been systematically destroyed, and the one point of interest, the character played by Justin Theroux, has already started showing signs of psychopathy. I have enough else to fill my few TV watching hours with.

    “Great column about SPIDER-MAN 2. I think I liked it a lot more than you did, but I agree with most of your points.

    “The unpardonable sin of the super-hero movie”

    Yeah, why do the people who make these movies think that the villian must find out who the hero is? It doesn’t completely defeat the idea of putting the mask on to begin with, but it does take a lot of wind out of its sails. I am writing however to proudly reaffirm the death of the superhero movie’s previous unforgivable sin:

    “Losing their powers”

    For a long time, some Hollywood wisdom stated that audiences really wanted heroes to end their movies by losing their powers. This was considered a good idea. It is so fundamentally wrong that I can’t even express it properly. I don’t like the unmasking, but I’ll take it over de-powering.”

    You’ve got a point, I guess, but should we have to settle for either?

    “Nice review, though I’m wondering where you rank SUPERMAN I & II in the grand scheme of superhero movies? And for my money, the greatest “superhero” action sequence was Neo vs Agent Smith in MATRIX:REVOLUTIONS. If they can make the next super-flick look like that it’ll be sweeeeeeeeeeeeet!

    Also, you neglected to mention the introduction of Professor Connors as the future Lizard …”

    Aside from the daunting prospect of Harry Osborn as the new Green Goblin, they actually set up the possibility of three forthcoming villains for the third film: The Lizard (Dr. Conners, who I didn’t think had only one arm in the film but I guess does), The Man-Wolf (Jonah’s astronaut son John) and… The Big Man?

    I didn’t care for either SUPERMAN film (or #3 or 4) but I thought the second was superior to the first, which ended up being played for lame comedy. The second they at least took seriously. As for MATRIX: REVOLUTIONS: aren’t fight scenes supposed to be more exhilarating than exhausting? The best Neo-Smith fight comes in the second part (about the only worthwhile segment of that film). Subsequent fights in the third film just play as overkill, with nothing added but scale. After a point, it just gets ridiculous.

    “Just wondering if you saw the write up in the Wall Street Journal a couple of days ago. AOL flagged it as a big business news story. Hard to tell if the big shots are getting ready to jump ship, or just selling stock because they know something we don’t.”

    I didn’t see it but the Wall St. Journal’s probably jumping to conclusions. There are a couple things going on here. Marvel’s big stockholders traditionally cash out a few days before a major Marvel movie comes out, since the stock tends to rise before a movie release and drop afterward, regardless of the film’s failure or success. It doesn’t mean anyone’s trying to start a run on the stock. Furthermore, I’ve been told (though I haven’t bothered to get it verified, so it may be nonsense) that, in the dog days of the bankruptcy, some Marvel editors were offered stock options in lieu of full salary and those recently matured. Wouldn’t you cash out under those circumstances? At any rate, I doubt the recent stock sales suggest anything about Marvel’s corporate health or prospects.

    “It was good to see some credit given to Matt Howarth. Almost as good as news about new comics from Matt. Thanks for pointing it out!”

    No problem. I’m a huge Howarth fan, and think THOSE ANNOYING POST BROTHERS was probably the best superhero comic ever done. Those wanting to check out Matt’s work should visit his website, where a new POST BROTHERS issue is posted.

    “What are you opinions on the draft? I was just wondering if you see these kinds of things in the future or the obvious unlikeliness of it all. Is discussing this issue even worth it? Should the children of America be worried? Also, what do you see as a sign that the future is bleak/bright?”

    The main sign is that we’re still here. There’s nothing so far that indicates we can’t prevent a bad future if we want to. As for the draft, I don’t see it coming back anytime soon, but the reasoning behind it’s idiotic. The argument of the Congressmen pushing it is that a draft would ensure rich as well as poor would have to join the military and fight for their country, but if they believe that they’re idiots. The rich have always been able to get out of the draft if they wanted, and I don’t believe Congress would seriously approach the issue unless there were liberal exemption provisions for the middle class. Which means the main point of the draft would be to ensure the poor would be forced to go into the army. American wars considered “just” rarely have much trouble signing up recruits. It’s when the perception shifts to a widespread believe that a war (or occupation) is serving special interests rather than the general interests of America that recruits become hard to come by. Barring some major catastrophe, I don’t see the draft as a winning issue for any politician, so unless some president wants to take dictatorial power and put it into effect (I’m not suggesting the Hand Puppet would, since his administration has come out against it) I don’t see it happening. I’d be more concerned with a mercenary army composed of foreigners, and I don’t see that happening either.

  • So John Edwards is John Kerry’s choice for running mate. Good. I like Edwards. I was amused by a Republican pundit’s comment after the announcement: “[Kerry]’s just playing politics.” No kidding. Gosh, we’d never expect that of a politician, would we? Apparently the fear is that Edwards will appeal to swing voters and moderate Republicans disgruntled with the current administration. (Disgruntlement with the current administration in unexpected places is growing. Recently a council of Christian churches voted to stay out of politics this year so as not to suggest the religions favor one party or another. No doubt Pat Robertson will continue to back the Hand Puppet whole hog, but there’s certainly a level of disillusionment with the administration for basically ignoring the interests of the Christian right then telling them, “So who else are you going to vote for?” If the answer’s nobody, it brings trouble for a re-election.) I haven’t seen it yet but the Republicans are supposedly trotting out a commercial starring John McCain (who a few days ago introduced Edwards as “Vice President Edwards”) endorsing the Hand Puppet and chastising Kerry for “flipflopping” on a VP, claiming McCain was asked first. Assuming that’s accurate (we know Kerry spoke with McCain, we don’t know if he actually asked him to be running mate), how exactly does that hurt Kerry? It paints him as a man willing to reach out to Republicans, something Democratic candidates rarely do with any gusto, and if McCain was asked and turned him down, how is going to Edwards a “flipflop”? What’s he supposed to do, leave the post unfilled because his first choice turned him down?

    Edwards is energetic, relatively young, likable, and, unlike Kerry, is a good public speaker. He has national security experience. Those are the upsides. A possible downside is his history as a trial lawyer, but that didn’t hurt him in North Carolina. Rich guys and corporations hate trial lawyers, who commonly champion “the common men.” That puts him one up in my book, but I can understand where some people wouldn’t like that.

    And so it goes…

  • Quick Review City:

    THE WATCH: CASUS BELLI three-issue miniseries (Phosphorescent Comics; $3.25@). Christian Read remains one of my favorite unsung writers, and this superhero comic holds together nicely for the most part, as a team of mercenary heroes keep a superhuman rights activist attacking Beijing busy until a sanctioned team of superheroes shows up. Other characters with ties to the Watch’s past and the world’s unpleasant future also show up, and things quickly get catastrophically out of control. The series could easily have been stretched out another issue. Things start happening a little too fast and furiously, and the characters start jumbling as a result; the story also looks forward enough that it starts to feel a bit like a long prologue for a forthcoming main event. The other small flaw is Stewart McKenny’s art, which gets a little shaky toward the end. But it’s got great energy and style, and comics companies could do a lot worse than seeking out Read to handle superhero books.

    THE MERCY KILLING is a well-done mini-comic by Justin Giampaoli and Tim Goodyear (no price given), a tight dark comedy crime comic about a loser offered a way out by a mobster friend of his. Nice little unexpected twist ending that’s not really a twist. I dug it.

    I liked the first issue of the new demi-comic HERO CAMP (Atomic Chimp Press, and #2’s just as good. The 8.5×5.5″ format seems to be gaining popularity among the small press. This chapter deviates to introduce the villains of the story, focusing on a master villain fallen from grace and looking for revenge. It’s pretty funny. Greg Thompson handles dialogue and character very well, and Robby Rodriguez’s art reminds me of young Steve Rude’s. A title and talent to watch.

    Speaking of talent to watch, I’d never heard of Daniel Merlin Goodbrey, but his demi-comics I BLEED SCORPIONS ($1 + s&h) and MR. NILE ($3 + s&h) (where Goodbrey channels the spirit of Spider Jerusalem without the sense of decorum) are terrific. The first is a surreal slice of life, the second a funny collection of dry, violent vignettes. It’s like reading entire runs of Grant Morrison series compressed into a handful of panels. Get them, though you’ll have to contact him for prices.

    Steve Lieber teams with author Sean Stewart for a demi-comic called FAMILY REUNION (Small Beer Press; no price given), adapting a chapter from Stewart’s novel PERFECT CIRCLE (also from Small Bear; $15 pbk). It’s a touching, low key vignette of a soldier’s ghost checking in on his family. The story’s good, but what’s striking is how much Lieber has turned into a master of the medium; beyond being beautifully drawn, all his stories these days are literate. And I remember when he was a newcomer who put too many wrinkles in character’s clothes. I feel old. Get this one too, if you can.

    Don’t think things are all rosy in these parts this week. DEAD@17: BLOOD OF SAINTS (Viper Comics; $2.95) has the same flaw the first DEAD@17 series did. I like the characters, Josh Howard’s art has grown on me, and I generally like the story, but #3 feels like treading water until the big finale. Little things are pushed along, one of the heroine’s is tortured, a new character just as mysterious as the rest of them is introduced, and nothing much happens. By this point in a series, I want to know a whole lot more about what’s going on. DEAD@17 is good, but it’s this sort of thing than killed THE X-FILES.

    THE CONFESSIONAL (Warpton Comics; doesn’t anyone but Josh Howard put prices on their comics anymore?) makes me wish Neil Gaiman territory was declared off-limits for the next century or so. Not that it’s bad; Chris McCay’s writing and Lee O’Conner’s art are actually pretty good. What’s bad is the subject matter: another story about the devil wanting to quit his job. (You might recall the riff from SANDMAN.) I wish starting comics talent didn’t feel quite so compelled to reveal all the secrets of heaven and hell the first time out. Despite a fairly entertaining meditation on the nature of the devil’s original sin, the climax to THE CONFESSIONAL depends on an extremely shallow grasp of theology that just killed it for me; the twist ending requires one character to be a meatheaded moron. Nice try, but it falls way short. Aim a little closer to home next time.

    Just in time, Shannon Wheeler has published TOO MUCH COFFEE MAN #20 (Adhesive Press; $4.95). Besides the usual slew of comic strips, media reviews and humorous essays, there are a slew of funny travel stories, as well as a comedic piece about Superman and Lois Lane. Reminiscent of NATIONAL LAMPOON in its glory days, TOO MUCH COFFEE MAN remains a great comedy bang for the bucks. (If I add “And it will make you think too?”, is that worth extra, Shannon? Say yes; I have bills to pay.) (That’s a joke, son.)

    Beckett Comics makes a strong second showing with THE BALLAD OF SLEEPING BEAUTY, which, in the hands of writer Gabriel Benson and artist Mike Hawthorne, effectively reimagines the fairy tale as a horror western centering around an Indian curse. Unlike most, it focuses more on the western setting than the horror aspects. This first issue appears to be an abbreviated Free Comic Book Day edition, but it’s steady and sharp with enough story, well-sketched characters and hook to give you the taste for the rest of it. Good job. I want more.

  • No TWO HEADS TALK today, since I’m still catching up after my weekend at the Anime Expo, but it’ll be back next week. If you want to hear about the Expo, though, you’ll have to buy the Comics Journal coming out later this month – the Alex Toth issue – where my new regular column begins. Amazing how strange life gets sometimes, isn’t it?

    In a couple weeks, of course, I’ll be at the San Diego Convention (AKA Comic-Con International), courtesy of Byron Preiss’ IBooks, which, of course, will be releasing (and continuing) THE LAST HEROES in August, collecting the EDGE series Gil Kane and I did at Malibu/Bravura in the ’90s, including the never published fourth issue and other treats. Don’t miss it. Currently, I’m scheduled to be signing at the Ibooks booth from 1-2 Saturday July 24, but other times will be added.

    I’ll also be pitching in to get out the vote at We Want Your Autograph booth throughout the con, so check with them for the schedule when you get there. (Other comics pros will be guesting there as well.)

    Don’t forget there’s a CATWOMAN trade this month to coincide with the Halle Berry movie, collecting a number of Catwoman stories including the one I did with Brad Rader in CATWOMAN #11. As for stuff I didn’t write, get in on the action with Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips SLEEPER SEASON 2 from Wildstorm. It’s a book so badass good I wish I’d written it.

    While you’re at it, order:

    DAMNED: trade paperback from Cyberosia, art by Mike Zeck and Denis Rodier, coloring by Kurt Goldzung

    Crime. A parolee jumps parole to fulfill a promise to a dead cellmate, and finds himself hunted by mobsters looking for missing money he knows nothing about, in a city where he has no friends.

    MORTAL SOULS: trade paperback from Avatar Press, art by Philip Xavier

    Crime/horror. A police detective tracks and kills a female serial killer, only to gain her gift of seeing her targets for what they really are: the dead, who run the world, and who hate the living.

    MY FLESH IS COOL

    : still available in three issues from Avatar Press, art by Sebastian Fiumara.

    Crime/science fiction/horror. A hitman earns his living by throwing his mind into other people’s bodies, but civilization threatens to crumble when his secrets get into the wrong hands.

    BADLANDS: trade paperback from AiT/PlanetLar Books, art by Vince Giarrano

    Crime story, set in 1963 and starring the man who really killed John Kennedy.

    BADLANDS: THE UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY: text from AiT/PlanetLar

    Screenplay version of BADLANDS, designed to ward off anyone who wants to make a movie of it.

    PUNISHER:CIRCLE OF BLOOD: trade paperback from Marvel Comics, art by Mike Zeck and John Beatty

    Crime. The original mini-series that transformed The Punisher from a minor character into a movie-franchise spawning star. Imprisoned for his killings, the Punisher fights to survive and escape, but the war he declares on organized crime once he’s out takes an unexpected turn.

    HATED AND FEARED: Best Of X-MEN UNLIMITED: trade paperback from Marvel Comics collecting a number of short X-Men stories, including two by me: a “Blob” story with art by Sean Phillips, and a “Lockheed The Dragon” story drawn by Paul Smith.

    GREEN LANTERN: TRAITOR: trade paperback from DC Comics, art by Mike Zeck, Gil Kane, Scott Kolins and Klaus Janson

    Superhero action. Three generations of Green Lanterns – the alien Abin Sur in the old west, Hal Jordan joined by the Atom in the Silver Age, and the modern Green Lantern Kyle Raynor – battle an unstoppable cyborg powered by the stars and driven by a religious calling to snuff out all life in the universe.

    FRANK MILLER’S ROBOCOP, monthly comic from Avatar Press, art by Juan Jose Ryp

    Science fiction action. The most faithful adaptation of a screenplay in history. From the version of ROBOCOP 2 that was never filmed, Frank Miller’s vision of the decaying future city of Detroit is realized for the first time, as Robocop crosses swords with a demented squadron of military police and a program-altering self-proclaimed moral watchdog, while the real police go on strike and OCP readies an even more powerful Robocop to replace him.

    I encourage the patronage of local comics shops where applicable, but don’t forget that if you can’t find what you want there, you can always shop the fine online retailers Khepri and Mars Import. Lately I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails from people wanting to know what address to send review copies to. If you continue reading down to the bottom of the column, it’s right there.

    Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it’s not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They’re no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don’t really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don’t ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.

    Those wanting to subscribe to the WHISPER e-mail newsletter should click here.

    I’m reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I’ll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send ’em if you want ’em mentioned, since I can’t review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can’t do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.

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