Last week's nuttiness, still ongoing, revolved around the apparent "dismissal" by Marvel of – what exactly was his title again? – Bill Jemas. (The week's true milestone may actually be that Mark Alessi must be genuinely grateful to Jemas for perhaps the first time, since the "firing" sucked all the attention away from Crossgen's recent difficulties.) Since the comics market never misses a chance for hysteria, all manner of speculation has been made about the length and nature of his contract (When is it up? Does it automatically renew? Does he leave rich as Croesus?) while many started singing "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" and rumors started flying about his replacement, with several in fandom who apparently stopped buying calendars in 1988, "announcing" that Marvel had hired defrocked editor-in-chief Jim Shooter to replace him. Marvel has cleared things up a little, revealing marketing expert and former Marvel employee Dan Buckley as "publisher" (apparently Marvel hasn't had a publisher recently, which explains a few things) with Jemas still on staff and laterally promoted to Chief Marketing Officer. (Buckley has various ties to editor-in-chief Joe Quesada; it's not a huge leap, nor suggestive of any evil scheme, to guess Joe brought him to Marvel's attention.)
What has been pretty much ignored in all the furor is that Bill Jemas has been the Invisible Man at Marvel since before the San Diego Con, which is surprising considering he made his reputation, as far as most fans are concerned, by being In Your Face about everything, raising smirks and hackles throughout fandom for various outrageous stunts and statements, some of which were designed just to get attention but many of which, I think, needed to be said. His early public career at Marvel consisted a lot of informing the comics market just what was idiotic about the way it did things and why Marvel wasn't going to play that game anymore. I know he pissed off a lot of retailers by cutting out second printings, etc.
So there's been a lot of discussion over the past few days over whether Jemas was a force for good or evil in comics. And that's half the problem with the comics business right there. Anyone who thinks Bill Jemas is good or evil is just nuts. The world doesn't break down to either Batman or the Joker, either Captain America or the Red Skull. Bill Jemas is just a guy, who has made some good decisions and some bad decisions, and, you know, that's all any of us really do. Despite the public image of being "in charge," he's a guy – like Joe – who had to deal with a lot of counterdecisions by others in the Marvel structure, as when Epic turned from an intended creator-owned line to a launchpad for new talent at bargain prices. Marvel's board of directors simply wasn't interested in publishing works they had no proprietary interest in, and no argument could persuade them. Was that a failure? Sure. Was that Jemas' failure, or Joe's? No.
More important than post-morteming Jemas' "reign" at Marvel is the question of what will happen without him there. Ascribing, as I've read more than a few do over the past week, the "good" ideas at Marvel (getting Grant Morrison to take over X-MEN et al.) of the past three years sprang from Joe while the "bad" ideas (ex.: throwing Mark Waid off FANTASTIC 4 and converting the book to a suburban dramedy, if that's what was actually planned) were all Jemas', seems simplistic. At least for awhile there, 'Jemsada' seemed to work like a well-oiled machine. But we'll find out soon enough. I've read some (the "ding-dongers," mostly) assuming a "return to greatness" for Marvel; that is, presumably, a return to the pre-Jemas version of Marvel. Only an idiot would expect such a thing.
Yet they'd almost be right. Not because Marvel is likely to "return" to anything, but because, in most important aspects, Marvel has never really changed.
I'm not trying to denigrate the achievements of the Jemas-Quesada era. Whether or not they were responsible in any way for pulling Marvel's collapsed stock up by its bootstraps, it happened on their watch, and there was no guarantee it would happen. Certainly they oversaw a general rise in the overall quality of the books, and imposed a look that immediately differentiated Marvels from other books on the stands. They explored new formats and marketing schemes.
But, creatively, Marvel's books have only changed cosmetically (with, arguably, one notable exception: Brian Bendis' DAREDEVIL, which has completely played out its own logic to daring extreme, resulting in rupture and the apparent destruction of its own apple cart, though, even with all that, the underlying "superhero" essence remains unchanged, and undoubtedly the whole thing will be retconned back to status quo at some point). Sure, they've pulled most of the characters kicking and screaming into "the modern age," but it's still all about good vs. evil. It's still Captain America vs. The Red Skull. For all its wild ideas, NEW X-MEN still comes down to the X-Men vs. Magneto. The comics are still continuity heavy, though reference to continuity has been reined in for the most part. (The Ultimate line was designed to be an "entry" point for Marvel, allowing new readers to approach popular characters without slogging through 40 years of continuity, but the Ultimate titles are now old enough to be bogging down in their own continuity; it's the curse of the shared universe.) Little bits of complexity have been added to characters here and there, but I'm not sure I'd call any Marvel characters "complex." (Maybe Jessica Jones.)
Please don't take any of this as complaint. I'm just saying.
Marvel is Marvel is Marvel, and that's all anyone can really expect it to be.
It's Marvel whether Stan Lee is in charge, or Jim Shooter, or Bob Harras, or Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas. It'll be Marvel with Joe Quesada and Dan Buckley in charge. There are people well above their heads who have a specific vision of what Marvel should be, and they're the ones, ultimately, that "Quesuckly" (hmmm... that didn't come out right... "Bucksada?") have to keep happy.
What will Marvel be with Dan Buckley as publisher, as opposed to Bill Jemas? It'll be Marvel. There may be a new coat or paint or two, a little mascara, but – say it with me – Marvel is Marvel is Marvel.
Any advice for the new publisher? Yeah. Learn to trust. As near as I can tell, Jemas fell victim to a disease that often afflicts people in the business end of comics (and movies, and TV, and advertising, and pretty much anywhere else people get recognized for creative achievements): he wanted to become known as The Creative One. Which, at its best, can be very helpful; anyone can come up with a great suggestion. The trick is to not automatically assume all your suggestions are great because you came up with one someone listened to once. At its worst, prevalent in corporate environments, it develops into the urge/compulsion to treat talent as functionaries, carrying out your masterful vision. Not being privy to Marvel story conferences, I can't even hazard a guess as to what great ideas Jemas added to other people's work. I have read MARVILLE, with the contagion in full bloom. I've read Jemas proposals for "reimaginings" of THOR and DAREDEVIL/ELEKTRA. Stories have abounded at both editors and talent in the new Epic line getting frustrated with contradictory input forcing revision after revision. It plays very much like Bill Jemas had become a man who had lost sight of his creative limitations.
So, to Dan, I'd simply say: don't do that. I hear you've got a pretty good editor-in-chief there. You might want to leave most of the creative management burden on his shoulders.
And let's hope Joe Quesada was responsible for most of the good ideas at Marvel these last three years.
Which, frankly, wouldn't have bothered me at all because the book still exists – no movie can hurt the book, though a really successful movie adaptation can jack up sales on a book – and I could've used the money. But that wasn't how my producer wanted to play it. He likes my book, he likes his take on it. So he's taking the project elsewhere now.
Got me thinking.
I've been watching a lot of anime lately. DRAGONBALL. RUROUNI KENSHIN. YUYU HAKUSHO. SHAMAN KING. FUSHIGI YUGI. HELLSING. (As well as DRAGONBALL GT, EL HAZARD and the complete GUNDAM WING, but those aren't really germane to the discussion.) One thing I've noticed, comparing anime to their originating manga, is that the anime are usually fairly faithful adaptations. If you read the manga then watch the anime, they're basically the same story.
Why is this? Is it because manga are created with eventually being transliterated to anime as one of the objectives? Or is it a cultural thing? Do animators in Japan simply choose to respect their source material?
Why doesn't this happen in America?
I'm not just talking about movies. What about TV shows? What about animation? What is it about American comics that makes them, well, unadaptable on the level of DRAGONBALL Z? Are they just too haphazard or incomprehensible? Are they plotted too badly to convert? It's true that most anime and their manga originals are long serialized stories (which shoots the hell out of a frequently cherished believe that American comics don't sell because whole stories aren't told in every single issue). Which you can't say about, oh, TEEN TITANS (now enjoying popularity on CARTOON NETWORK while bearing next to no resemblance to the comic, or any version of the comic there has ever been).
In the last couple years I've had a lot of conversations with companies, both in comics and in Hollywood, that envision a new "multi-tiered" approach to comics, working in the licensing from the ground up: media development, games, CDs and DVDs, toys, etc. It's interesting that with virtually every one of these schemes, comics are ultimately seen only as a means to establish a trademark, or as a "development" tool. No one seems to consider their nature as independent vehicles for stories or creativity important. No one concerns themselves with generating a storyline that will hold steady throughout media and applications. They're seen solely as marketing gimmicks, a necessary evil.
Clearly, if the current success of manga and anime can be taken seriously, the Japanese have figured out something we haven't.
And if the Japanese can do it, why can't we?
But that doesn't really seem to be it either.
It's not particularly surprising that neither Arnold's allegedly youthful Hitler flirtation nor his ongoing sexual harassment of numbers of women damaged his political aspirations. Yelling "Hitler" is now something of a joke suggesting pure desperation (if a recent photo of naked Arnold proudly seig heiling a portrait of Hitler while wrapped solely in the Nazi flag had surfaced, that might have had an affect, but, as far as I know, no such picture exists, and any overt Nazi sympathies Arnold may have had evaporated long ago) and, while some may accuse Republicans of hypocrisy for supporting Arnold despite sexual harassment charges while excoriating former Democratic president Bill Clinton for having consensual sex, we might perhaps want to take the electorate's deaf ear to such charges as yet another sign that nobody really gives a rat's ass about politicians' sex lives anymore. Republicans were adamant that was not the case during the Clinton years, even while poll after poll indicated nobody gave a rat's ass, but if Arnold's election can help reinforce in Republican minds in particular that nobody gives a rat's ass, at least something good will come out of all this.
What really troubles Republicans – particularly those back in Washington DC (there's growing evidence the entire recall was, despite denials, orchestrated from within the White House, just as evidence is growing that the Texas jerrymandering that continually upsets politics in that state is also being orchestrated from within the White House) – is that Arnold's election, not to mention the deposing of Gray Davis, seems to represent a general outrage by the electorate against all current elected officials. Why would such a thing be? A cash-guzzling war sold via flat out lies that traps many loved ones in basically hostile territory at the same time widespread Federal tax cuts have forced most state governments to the brink of bankruptcy as services are being gouged right and left may have something to do with it. Whatever the exact cause, there's definitely a widespread and perhaps widening perception that Things Have Gone Wrong, and the populace wants things set right again. That isn't a message most politicians seem willing to accept, and, in any case, it's not one most of them have it within their power to do anything about. Certainly we'll see no lead on the subject from the White House, since addressing most issues would require upending most of their policies, from taxes to the War In Iraq, (I love the headline in this morning's paper, by the way: SADDAM MAY BE IN TIKRIT, U.S. SAYS. Or he may be in Boca Raton. Or not. When all else fails, mention Saddam Hussein.) and they seem to have settled on a policy, not unlike Bush Pere's policies of 1992, of simply not acknowledging complaints and believing it will all go away before Election Day. What other choice do they have? All they can do is pump up the propaganda machine and clumsily try to win hearts and minds, as with last week's spate of fraudulent "letters from soldiers," form letters sent from some anonymous military operation to local newspapers around the country supposedly written by local boys serving in Iraq, who, it turned out, knew nothing about it. The message of the letters: we are accomplishing wonderful things in Iraq. It's a message the White House wants out there, even if there isn't much real evidence to support it, because they don't want the general public turning against the war. Too late. There's still some confusion out there about whether supporting the troops is synonymous with supporting the war, but the daily slaughter of U.S. troops in Iraq is clearing up that confusion in a hurry. The letters were so clumsy it took almost no time at all to expose the propaganda push, but right wing pundits are still citing those letters as examples of what good things we're doing in Iraq and how the soldiers over there are 100% behind the effort. So it doesn't really matter whether the letters are frauds or not because the legend is already in play, much the same way the legend of WMDs was put into play before the invasion and played back and forth until it was widely accepted without question. Their problem is that the electorate has been made aware of the manipulations, and cynicism is on the rise, and cynicism about the glory of administration policy is the last thing they want to see.
The question is whether Arnold Schwarzenegger, rather than being a Republican boon, is an expression of electorate cynicism about "government as usual." If Arnold is a successful governor, it doesn't necessarily rub toward re-electing the President, or any other current office holder. It could just as easily rub toward a top to bottom housecleaning, and it wouldn't be the first time in recent decades we've seen it. There are a lot of pissed off people in this country, and they're tired of seeing whoever they vote in, Republican or Democrat, suck up to their own version of "special interests" and ignore what's generally thought of as "the common man." Of course, Arnold could turn out to be the best thing that happened to the Hand Puppet, if he fails miserably to effect any change in California. There's still plenty of time for him to be the "outsider candidate" who can't do the job, which often sends voters back to traditional candidates or despair. (It's one of the reasons people stop voting at all; why vote if it doesn't accomplish anything worth accomplishing?) In that kind of climate, incumbents get re-elected; better to bear those ills you know than flee to those you know not of. In the current climate, they don't.
One little-mentioned aspect of the California recall: Cruz Bustamante (sorry if I'm misspelling that; I don't have reference on it right at hand. I'd hate to be the guy who proofreads government publications with the governor and lt. governor's name on it now), Arnold's chief rival for the throne, is still lieutenant governor of California. Could make things interesting...
Idea+Design Works continues a fairly strong run with three recent titles: DARK DAYS #3 ($3.99), WAKE THE DEAD #1 ($3.99), and CSI: BAD RAP #1. Like DARK DAYS, the Steve Niles-Ben Templesmith tale of vampire hunters facing a savage retailiation, WAKE THE DEAD mines old horror classics for new life, in this case the Frankenstein myth. It's an odd mix of the predictable (The main protagonist is named Victor; the main "action" scene in the first chapter is telegraphed) and the unexpected. So far it's not bad (though the art's a bit uneven, bopping from pseudo-Mike Zulli to a more solid style and back again). DARK DAYS, while reading nicely, is halfway through its run already and is still little more than set-up, but Ben Templesmith's art remains amazing. There seems to be an awful lot building in both these books, but I wouldn't mind if things really started kicking in.
CSI: BAD RAP ($3.99) is also the first of a five parter. With Max Allan Collins back at the helm (not to mention Gabriel Rodriguez and Ashley Wood), it sounds much more like the TV show than the last CSI project did, and the story chugs along nicely, but the dialogue gets a little embarrassing when dealing with the "punk rappers" who figure at the center of a case. There isn't so much a cliffhanger here as expectations working for book: when a story seems to more or less wrap up in #1 of a five part series, you have to figure there's a lot more going on. Still, in Collins' hands, C.S.I. is the best adaptation of a media property going today. (If you don't count FRANK MILLER'S ROBOCOP, haha.)
There's also IDW's adaptation of the film UNDERWORLD ($6.99) by Kris Oprisko, Nick Postik and Nick Marinkovich. Given they're under the restraint of having to stay close to the film, I'd say the adaptation's as good as can be hoped for. But the book looks fabulous. If there's one thing that confuses me about IDW, it's that. More than any other new company in the business, they've successfully bred a "house look," and when you get that house look, as in DARK DAYS and UNDERWORLD, whether you like the look or not you're automatically swept into a presumption that this is something other than a "mere" comic book. So when Marv Wolfman and Len Wein's upcoming GENE POOL is previewed in the back of DARK DAYS, it doesn't do anyone any good. Not that the GENE POOL art by Steven Cummings is bad, it just comes off as truly ordinary, modern generic, especially when contrasted with Templesmith's. I'm not keen on the concept of CVO: COVERT VAMPIRIC OPERATIONS (the first outing was reviewed here some months ago) but the art in the preview wrapping up WAKE THE DEAD#1 does fit the IDW "house style" and it looks terrific. Not sure what IDW can do about this, but it's something I'd keep a watch on if I were them.
IDW also sent a couple prose trade paperbacks: Jeff Marriott's horror novel THE SLAB ($16.99) and Steve Niles' "sidequel" to the Cal McDonald detective-horror novel GUNS DRUGS AND MONSTERS, a collection of Cal McDonald short stories called DIAL M FOR MONSTER ($16.99). With everything that's going on, it'll be ages before I get the time to read them, but I figured the least I could do was mention them.
Viper Comics is looking to launch two titles in November: Josh Howard's DEAD@17 ($2.95) and the scifi thriller MOONRUSH ($2.95) by Jaime Mendoza, Jeff Dickens, Jim Daly, Erik Reeves & Sebastian Lamirand. The former is sort of TWIN PEAKS meets NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as a teenage girl is mysteriously murdered while her best friend dreams of it, then learns how much she didn't know about the dead girl. And then all hell breaks loose. A little lighter than most horror comics are, it's not bad at all. MOONRUSH, about a human woman leading a band of alien warriors, isn't either, but it fumbles on earnestness and clichés. Captions that say "*Translated from the Ghorn" and "The Beginning". (I mean, come on, "The beginning" is so '80s X-MENese it's like ending a horror story "The End... or is it?") This is why you have to be very careful writing comics; the slightest thing can throw the reader right out of it. That was my problem with MOONRUSH: overall, I liked it okay, but it kept resorting to familiar enough bits that it kept throwing me out of material. That's a bad habit for any comic to get into, and it's a bigger problem with science fiction comics, especially future space stories, than with most other genres. DEAD@17 didn't do that.
The online site rehab25.net has released a mini-comic, WHISP ($2), about, in their words, "a designer drug that can let you see the future, chemically addictive from the first injection" – basic Philip K. Dick territory. The story's hero is going through withdrawal, which explains the semi-incoherence of the storyline, but it's still a little too incoherent, not merely in part due to fairly inexpressive artwork. Interestingly, they use layout to get the story across more than either dialogue or art, so they get points for that. WHISP isn't great but it's at least ambitious...
If John Layman and Dave Crosland had told me they could get a good comic out of a man trapped in a pseudo-Barney The Dinosaur suit, I'd have suggested they were crazy. Maybe they are, but they did it with the three-issue PUFFED mini-series (Image Comics; $2.95@). Through the vagaries of fate, an amusement park worker with a stuck zipper gets abandoned in the most dangerous area of town, and has to find his way back, not to mention a way out of the suit before he has to go to the bathroom. It's like Charles Bukowski by way of Hunter S. Thompson. With a lizard suit. Now this is funny as hell. Don't miss it.
KILLER STUNTS INCORPORATED#1 (Pulp Mag Press; $2.95) looks like it's going for a market regularly sought by HOT WHEELS and properties like that, and it's very nicely done. Understated dialogue, nice open art. Very attractive. Not bad characters, though there are unnecessary soap opera inflections. Then it just takes this weird swerve, and suddenly it feels less like a comic book and more like a movie pitch. It's interesting enough to take a look at, but whether it's any good or not really depends on what they do next. I'm interested (though I sort of wish they'd stuck with the apparent initial concept). I'm not convinced. Nice Matt Haley bonus drawing, though.
So if you're working in comics, drop me an e-mail with a short, pithy write-up on your project(s). Bear in mind this isn't a PREVIEWS catalog; I'm not interested in dumb blurbs. Just mention the title, the publisher, format, any collaborators you might care to identify, and the basic idea behind it. If you don't have a publisher yet, just say "publisher to be determined." If it gets over six lines, you're probably running too long. In former columns, this has only been open to individual talents doing print comics work, but I've decided: 1) editors can also use the opportunity to pimp projects they particularly want to pimp; 2) yes, I'll include online comics. I don't usually look at online comics – I'm still on dial-up – so I don't usually review them, but, thinking on it, why shouldn't they make the list?
Don't be shy. Don't assume you have all the time in the world. Pimp away.
Hours of fun for the whole family.
In the meantime, if you're looking for home entertainment, pick up the DVD of Michael Winterbottom's 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, a great docudrama about the rise and fall of Factory Records, home to '80s groups like Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays. It's one of the few docudramas that truly lives up to its subject, it's told in a lively, funny and unorthodox style with terrific acting, script and direction, it covers a really important moment in modern pop music (if such a thing can be said to exist) and any film that features both Shirley Henderson and Howard Devoto – how can you go wrong? You probably missed it in theaters. Don't miss it on DVD. (It's also currently playing on Sundance Channel, if you get that.)
Atomik Pop, Norman OK
Underworld, Ann Arbor MI
Alternate Reality Comics, Las Vegas NV
Comic Relief, Berkeley CA
Lee's Comics, Mountain View CA
Dragon's Lair, Austin TX
Dragon's Lair, Round Rock TX
Generation X, Arlington TX
Dr. No's Comics & Games, Marietta GA
Comicaze, San Diego CA
Zanadu Comics, Seattle WA (both locations)
Staffar's Serier, Stockholm Sweden
I know there have to be more retailers than that (and those mentioned in last week's column) carrying DAMNEDand I won't rest until every single one of them is rewarded with a mention here. So if your shop carries the book and hasn't been listed, e-mail me the shop name and town.
If your shop refuses to carry DAMNED for some reason, a) order it from Khepri or Mars Import, because they'll be thrilled to sell it to you, and b) find yourself a better comics shop, because you deserve better, don't you?
Now: which comics shops have ordered are ordering my new thriller from Avatar, MY FLESH IS COOL, which I believe is being solicited now, for December release. If you're a shop owner and you're getting the book, send your name over so we can give your customers a heads up. Thanks.
Not sure if there'll be time to get it together, but hopefully we'll have something a little different next week. Be 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.
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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.