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Issue #132

Marvel's had a cozy relationship with con parent WIZARD magazine for some time now, so it's no surprise that, at least the way the news sites presented it, Marvel news was the focus of the con. Marvel's been going through a strange metamorphosis lately, with mixed signals. On the one hand, company reports indicate the company's making money, even on its publishing, and certainly they've kept their profile fairly high via movies. (Among other things, SPIDER-MAN 3 is apparently already underway, largely on the strength of response to the trailer for SPIDER-MAN 2, which does make the film look pretty good, though there's barely a glimpse of Spider-Man in it.) On the other, there's the ongoing lineup scrambling that has left even sites as generally uncritical as Newsarama questioning the logic. (Check their initial coverage of Brian Bendis' forthcoming AVENGERS devamp.) The DC-Marvel sniping seems to be escalating. While a cyclical thing, the collapse of intercompany détente suggests a growing market uncertainty, also reflected in Marvel's recent announcements. Marvel and DC generally shake hands and make up when they're both in their market comfort zones, while hostilities understandably rise as they become more competitive for the same consumer dollar or press attention. Particularly with manga out there are a major force in the comics market now (certainly in bookstores if not quite as strongly in comics shops, though there are comics shops that now depend on manga rather than Marvel), these Marvel-DC conflicts take on the image of brush wars.

But some retailers have been talking to me lately about the decline of Marvel sales at their stores, with at least some Marvel maniacs switching to more upscale DC material to feed their jones as their Marvel buys wane. (Which is certainly preferable to Marvel readers growing tired of Marvel and giving up comics altogether, which was a major trend 10 years ago.) These specific dealers cater to college crowds, and I'd guess their results might not be statistically meaningful across the board; the decline in those particular stores may be a function of growing up. Marvel comics by and large skew toward mid-teens, and it's not surprising that a 22 year old would have different tastes. (It may be more surprising that so many of them don't.) DCU titles tend to skew late pre-adolesence/early teen (or, more often, 40 going on pre-adolescence/early teen) to the point it has become house style, so it's no surprise that you rarely hear of people abandoning Marvel to switch to, say, GREEN LANTERN. Vertigo and Wildstorm are the natural catchbaskets for Marvel refugees (with Humanoids on the horizon, as their new deal with DC kicks into gear). Which, given the sales of most Vertigo and Wildstorm books, either indicates there aren't that many Marvel refugees overall, they're abandoning at least "mainstream" comics if sticking with comics at all, or DC's doing a lousy job of marketing Vertigo and Wildstorm as a logical progression for Marvel readers. (Of course, given that DC failed miserably to capitalize during Marvel's darkest hour, when the company was slogging precariously through bankruptcy and sales of even AMAZING SPIDER-MAN were slumping dangerously, I wouldn't expect to see any major moves in that direction now; for better or worse, it's just not their style.)

At any rate, Marvel's clearly in a state of flux, and it seems like they're going through the tenth revamp in as many years. Sure, low-selling series like CAPTAIN MARVEL are being dumped, as low-selling series always are. (But, hey, from now on blame it on readers who don't buy the books, not the companies that cancel them – unless you think the book stunk and the companies could've done a lot better with them. Ain't it funny how nobody complains when bad books get cancelled – well, not so much funny as logical – but when "good books" get cancelled, it's always the company's fault, as far as the book's fans are concerned?) But the scent of desperation collects when revamps occur over and over again. We can use World Wrestling Entertainment as an illuminating example. A few years ago, having driven themselves to the heights of popularity on the shoulders of Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock in the wake of a war with their main competitor, World Championship Wrestling, they bought WCW, ran an "interpromotional feud" that went nowhere and eventually petered out, putting the WCW brand to rest where they'd originally planned to keep it going. Whatever creativity and excitement they'd generated during the war went straight down the tubes during the "feud," and the company's finances went into the doldrums. Having two main shows, RAW on Spike TV and SMACKDOWN on UPN, they decided to make those two rival "brands." Which renewed a certain level of interest, though nothing like the heyday of the late '90s. Problem was, wrestlers were bounced between the two brands for months, eliminating any sense the brands were separate. And the audience died off even more. In a desperate move to shore up interest, they finally did some real separation – this was about two years ago – with the talent pool separated into the two camps, the pay per view broadcasts split between them (with a handful still featuring both, though not usually in interbrand matches). It was theoretically a good idea, but splitting the roster limited the talent pool available to either brand, and it didn't take too long to run out all the potential big match combinations. Business rose to a respectable but not blockbuster level and has now pretty much stagnated again. Coincidentally, on Monday night, a new lottery was run to shake up the rosters, with mostly minor wrestlers being tossed around. After the excitement generated among wrestling fans when the lottery announcement was made, the actual changes met with disappointment and considerable disinterest. I doubt it's enough to get anyone who watches WWE to stop, but it's not getting them excited either. It just generates ennui, and the more of that there is the tougher it is to overcome.

That seems to be the response to many of Marvel's recent announcements. It's not that the teams on the X-books are bad or no one's interested in them, it's that for many readers, it seemed Marvel just made a bunch of changes to the books, with the advent of Grant Morrison, the rehiring of Chris Claremont, etc. (Sure, it was, what, three years ago now, but that's still only a handful of issues from a reader's standpoint.) It may not be that even more changes are coming but that so many seem, on the surface, to be undoing earlier changes. (Which is the sort of thing most people expect from the DCU, not Marvel.) Many dealers are now murmuring about Marvel backtracking to 1997, with more X-related books, more Spider-related books, and either a diminution of or scattershot approach to the rest of the line. Many are leery of the proposed upcoming changes for THE AVENGERS, which apparently invokes the "Heroes Reborn" experiment for many of them. (I don't see it, myself, and certainly something had to be done with THE AVENGERS, which is logically a core Marvel book but hasn't really been one in years and years. I'm more puzzled about why Marvel's bothering with THE INVADERS again, a title that has never sold, but I suppose if they're bringing back ALPHA FLIGHT they might as well.) Especially in light of other recent changes, reassignments and expansions of AVENGERS-related titles, since most of that's obliterated. No doubt much of this is being driven by Marvel's Hollywood fetish, as they try to find concepts for existing properties that will tickle Tinseltown's fancy, but certainly Marvel hasn't been able to launch a truly successful new franchise since, what, The Punisher? (Which ran out its string after only a few years of overexposure.) This is another parallel to a problem plaguing the WWE, which has had grave trouble both creating new stars and protecting old ones, which periodically leaves them in a mess as the old ones leave with nothing to replace them in the fans' eyes (or, worse, stay long past their usefulness and "kill" new talent that could be the next stars before they have a chance). It's a problem that haunts any comics company that considers itself a franchise plant rather than a publishing house.

Not that DC's not up against the same wall, at least in the DCU. The company's current focus is on a) new directions for Superman; b) expansions of existing franchises, tying new or revamped properties into existing series like SUPERMAN and JLA; c) resurrection of old concepts like DOOM PATROL, RICHARD DRAGON and FIRESTORM. Notable in reports of DC news was no mention of their "superpeople who aren't superheroes" line, Focus, which suggests either DC has already lost interest in it or the comics press has. Yet there seems to be a perception among retailers that DC, which recently had successes with revamped TEEN TITANS and OUTSIDERS is now better at creating new successes than Marvel is, though I've no idea what the actual numbers on any of these books are. One retailer did mention that the recent case of whatever Superman title it was that sold out was a function not of resurging popularity, but of sales being so slow and orders so small that the unexpected desirability of that particular issue caught everyone off guard, and he doubted it would play for long or across the line.

Both Marvel and DC, though, are caught up in mutually contradictory philosophies that have driven the business for at least the last few years. (And it's not just comics; all commercial media have suffered from this.) One say that the central audience consists of hardcore fans who don't want change, and comics publishing must aim for that core group. The other places high value on novelty, a continuous cycle of change and reinvention to manufacture interest in properties, and sales. Or, to put it more simply, in order to be profitable, comics have to appeal to a broad, casual audience attracted by novelty and at minimum the illusion of change, while in order to attain minimum sales they have to appeal to the hardcore that think Peter Parker should still be in high school or Hal Jordan should still be Green Lantern, etc., and scowl not only at changes in their old favorites but at any new concepts a company may try to introduce. (Then there's that pesky "work-for-hire" thing that keeps companies from gaining or, these days, even soliciting new concepts from writers or artists.) I don't know if these two beasts can't be fed at the same time, but if they can it won't happen by accident.

But there's a spreading perception out there – and if retailers are saying it, readers are almost certainly thinking it – that New York's Big Two are rudderless ships, floundering from short term plan to short term plan but having in the long term, not any game plan or even a visualized goal. Which isn't to say the companies don't have battle plans, just that, if they do, that impression's not getting out. That's okay. Such things have been enough to put the WWE in the toilet for the past couple years, and they've survived well enough. Haven't they?

"Regarding the trouble with Marvel, it's really interesting to hear people talk about this, especially the folks with retail experience. I credit New Marvel with bringing me back not just into Marvel comics, but into comics period – it was flipping through my boss's copy of WIZARD where they announced the details of Grant Morrison's X-MEN revamp that made me go to a comic shop for the first time in ages to buy something that wasn't by Frank Miller or Chris Ware (or SAVAGE DRAGON). I really enjoy a great deal of what Marvel has done over the past few years; I probably enjoy it more than most, actually. Meanwhile I've found it next to impossible to get into anything published by DC. A lot of the books I'd probably find most interesting – the Vertigo titles, for example – are burdened by that line's trademark lousy paper quality, boring art, and horrendous coloring. I like SLEEPER a lot but got on board late; I'm not really interested in the other Wildstorm books; and as for the main line, it's populated by a veritable who's who of writers I'm not interested in at all – Greg Rucka, Brad Meltzer, Ben Raab, Judd Winick, Peter David, Joes Kelly and Casey, weirdly-spelled "Jeffs" Loeb and Johns, etc. – coupled with concepts I'm not into at all – the Teen Titans/Outsiders/Young Justice/whatever, the revivified Ollie Queen Green Arrow, the crab-mask Green Lantern (I understand they got rid of the crab mask, but whatever, dude), any iteration of Superboy or Supergirl, the whole President Luthor storyline, etc. Keep in mind I'm a hardcore Bat-fan, and yet I'm not buying a single Batbook – that seems to be a problem, to me at least. I know there are books like GOTHAM CENTRAL that some folks consider to be good, and I know Rucka and Brubaker were writing Batbooks for a while, but I've got no interest in a Batman book that's a police procedural. To me that totally misses the point of doing a book that centers on a city in which freaking Batman lives.

So yeah, I have a hard time getting into DC. But the thing is, Marvel really has the stink of desperation around it these days – you can't help but notice it. I've been trying to pinpoint when this started, and I've got two guesses. The first is the petering-out of Tsunami and the complete implosion of Epic. These showed that Marvel knew it needed to do something new and different but had no idea how to actually go about it. They reinforced the notion that Marvel needs to pillage Vertigo, Wildstorm, Image, and Oni for new up-and-coming talent (your Vaughans and Watsons and McKeevers) and have no viable venue to grow such talent themselves. Moreover, they showed that, the Ultimate line to the contrary, Marvel really has no knack for creating successful new line-sized initiatives.

When you think about it, even the X-revamp that started it all (for me at least) was more a failure than a success – Casey's UNCANNY X-MEN was poorly thought out, Austen ran it into the ground; X-TREME X-MEN was, well, X-TREME X-MEN; X-FORCE/X-STATIX was never very popular even when it was at its best, and after that disastrous Princess Di storyline, it's not at its best by any stretch of the imagination; the SOLDIER X & AGENT X revamps were disasters; the smart decision to limit spin-offs, miniseries, and extraneous extra titles was never stuck to as strongly as it could have been, and now it's gone by the wayside entirely. Sadly, the "Reload" revamp seems destined to be an even bigger bust, ASTONISHING X-MEN excepted – unless, that is, people are really, really clamoring for the '90s revival that's in the offing. Speaking of which, launching all those fanboy-centric books all at once (CAP/FALCON, SHE-HULK, ALPHA FLIGHT, etc.) and incorporating sundry Axel Alonso titles into Marvel Knights is just more evidence that Marvel is just throwing **** at the wall in the (mostly vain) hopes that something sticks. (The Marvel Knights move may be excused by the fact that at least half of those books happen to be really good, and that Alonso seems to have been groomed as the go-to editor for Hollywood properties, but still.)

The second factor in Marvel losing its buzz is WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE syndrome, which started when they put Bendis on ULTIMATE X-MEN. Simply put, as good as Brian Bendis is, putting him on yet another book does not say "We really know what we're doing!" to the fans. A company as big and old as Marvel should have a better plan for reviving its fortunes than switching Bendis from book to book to book for one or two arcs at a time. Regardless of whether there's an actual drop in quality in his writing, and I doubt that there is, it just doesn't seem as special anymore when they announce that he's taking over a book, because they've done it so goddamn many times. In essence, "Brian Bendis takes over!" is no longer big news from Marvel – it's expected news. This goes double when he doesn't really do anything spectacularly different from his norm when he's handed a book – ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR reads pretty much exactly the way you'd think it would read after reading the first arc of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. (Think back on how differently USM, UXM, and ULTIMATES opened, for contrast.) (I think it's also a problem that, to many, it looks like he's watering himself down to please the suits – changing ALIAS to THE PULSE, for example.)

To a certain extent Marvel has begun MILLIONAIREing their big artists too, shuffling around JRJR, the Kuberts, Finch, Bagley, Deodato, and so forth. We already know what these artists look like on a Marvel book – we've seen it before. It's tough to get super-excited that they've been moved from one Marvel book to another, as if this constitutes some big new step forward.

I guess it should also be mentioned that a lot of the books that people once got excited about have now been around for a long, long time, and are either genuinely past the point of diminishing returns or are still good but suffering from audience overfamiliarity. I'm a lot less excited about Bruce Jones's HULK than I used to be; I've stopped buying X-STATIX and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN – well, I've stopped buying individual installments of most monthly comics, out of financial necessity, but what I mean is that I may not even be buying their trades anymore; I stopped being interested in Garth Ennis's goofy PUNISHER stuff ages ago and I wonder if the new serious tone has brought many people back to the fold; Rucka's WOLVERINE never seemed to gel the way it should have; despite being written by Bendis (who I feel like I should say is one of my favorite writers) ULTIMATE X-MEN has now lost that original cachet of being the product of one writer's vision, as is ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and THE ULTIMATES – now, like ULTIMATE FF, it's just another title that they'll be replacing the writer on every so often. Meanwhile the company has cancelled Bagge's HULK book, and for the life of me I can't imagine seeing anything like UNSTABLE MOLECULES or even Scott Morse's ELEKTRA miniseries coming out from them ever again. They've stopped experimenting, and the "sure-fire" stuff they've replaced that with isn't really so "sure-fire."

All in all it's been pretty painful to watch Marvel lately. I had a lot of faith in Joe Quesada – still do, actually – but it just seems that a lot of the innovations and ideas that made New Marvel a success have either been run right into the ground or abandoned altogether. They're certainly not setting the agenda anymore, that's for sure. I think DC has a long way to go before they can transmogrify the good buzz for a few of their books into a line-wide "we're the team to beat" feeling--they've got too goddamn many titles, just for starters--but if I were Marvel, I'd be wiping away the flop sweat right about now."

"Recently, I spoke to a couple of retailers regarding how they order their books. Both indicated the majority of orders come from holds which leads them to put, at best, five copies on the stands which wouldn't be too bad were it not for the fact that typically they never order more in the following months. The popular titles don't have a problem with that since the holds have already ordered them with fans coming to the racks for more. The racks then, almost come to resemble the facade of a building and are not really the meat of the business since the policy of non return is still firmly in place.

Advance advertising then becomes crucial as well as the ability to survive while you're building an audience. If you don't whet their appetite (the Pavlov's dogs theory) the retailers blink and miss you while looking through the phone book sized Previews catalogue or they order two or three copies and throw you into the back row. I also suspect the reason self-publishing is such a burden these days is the necessity of running the business while writing and drawing on a monthly basis. Dave Sim has long maintained that if he didn't come out on a monthly basis, he couldn't have survived. My feeling is that creators pour all their money into printing the book while doing very little advertising. The lesson in all this is that if you don't advertise you might as well stay home."

Speaking of which, THE SOPRANOS (9PM Sundays, HBO) is finally back for the, what, fifth season? Unfortunately, it's back in sitcom territory, with the big plot thrust of the season being old timers back on the street after long stretches upstate. Three episodes in, you can start placing odds on who'll get whacked down the road, but it's really the same old with a few new players. Women are now officially peripheral to this world: judges and vultures, waiting to dismiss or prey on it. Still, Drea DeMatteo, who I used to think was just awful, has turned into the show's hidden gem, as her character continues to inform to the FBI while waiting to marry family heir apparent and screwup Christopher (finally explained to not actually be Tony's nephew, something that's been puzzling me for years now) and constantly trying to engage her baffled government handler in girl talk. There was a scene a few seasons back where Tony's wife Carmilla uses her name to subtly threaten a university into admitting their daughter, and you finally knew in that moment why she was a Soprano. DeMatteo gets a similar moment this season, ratting out her slutty bridesmaid to the Feds in a moment of inspiration. The other high point of the season is Steve Buscemi, playing Tony's ex-con cousin, who wants now to go straight and become a masseur. Buscemi's great and the storyline, so far, touches new ground for the show. Everything else is tough guy sitcom, though. After awhile, it's just tiring.

HBO has also started a western series, DEADWOOD (10PM Sundays), set in the famed South Dakota hellhole of 1876 where Wild Bill Hickok (a character in the show) died. Haven't had the chance to watch more than half of the first episode, but so far, created and written by NYPD BLUE's David Milch and directed by Walter Hill (not to mention starring Ian McShane and the very underrated Timothy Olyphant), it may be the darkest western ever made, both visually and spiritually. This is the frontier as a canticle of hell. I wouldn't it's done anything all that new with the western, at least so far, but it's done it really well. It's got my attention.

The wackiest new show has to be Fox's reality game PLAYING IT STRAIGHT (8PM Fridays) which has a premise that initially made me roll my eyes: a girl is on a dude ranch with something like 20 guys, and has to choose one of them as her guy. Same as a dozen other "reality" shows so far. The twist here is that some of the guys are gay. If she ultimately chooses a straight guy, he and she split a million. But if she chooses a gay guy, he gets the whole mil. The premise made it sound embarrassing, but it's actually a fairly intriguing social experiment, as these things go. How do you know who's gay and who isn't? That's really the foundation of the show, and so far it's been a barrel of little surprises, and more fun than these things usually are, a real send-up of America's attitude toward gays, starting with all the Marlboro Man imagery. So far the woman has managed to bump three straight guys off the show, and only one gay, not that anyone knows what the ratio is. It's a good show to read through but I have to say it's kind of fun.

Also managed to catch up with THE MISSING, a Ron Howard-directed western starring Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett that tripped briefly through theaters last year. It starts out all right, pitting Blanchett against her father, Jones, who abandoned the family decades earlier to go live as an Indian. When her daughter's kidnapped by renegades who plan to sell her in Mexico, Blanchett enlists Jones and they set off in pursuit, and the film quickly deteriorates into an abbreviated SEARCHERS clone. It's got its moments, as when Val Kilmer cameos as a Army lieutenant unable to keep his men from looting murdered settlers, but the film seems to be struggling to say something meaningful about Caucasian-Indian relations but ends up regurgitating cutesy myths and stereotypes. Watchable, but eh.

Here's a good one. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the case to force Vice President Dick Cheney (whose Halliburton Corporation managed to make around $75 million off Saddam Hussein over the years despite sanctions) to open the records of his energy task force (exclusively composed of representatives from the oil and nuclear power industries) is going before the Supreme Court. No one yet knows what's in the meeting minutes, but given that Enron was one of those consulted and subsequently, among other financial cuteness, fixed energy prices in western states, particularly California (not that Nevada wasn't also hit bad), causing brownouts and shortages that lined their pockets and almost put some states into bankruptcy (and not in small part fueled the recall of California Gov. Gray Davis, who was pushing for a full investigation into the price fixing... which now won't happen under Republican Gov. Schwarzenegger, who, coincidentally, was very chummy with Enron execs prior to his election), and given that Iraq's oil supplies were a focal point of discussions of the invasion of Iraq, they could have all manner of embarrassing things in them. What's clear is that in the wake of the discussions, the administration pushed an "energy policy" of non-conservation, new funding for nuclear power plants, full exploitation of fossil fuels, billions in corporate welfare to Big Oil, and a virtual banning of the concept of alternative energy sources. (The Department Of Defense subsequently tried to put out of business a wind farm here in Nevada that had been started up during the Clinton administration to provide cheap power to rural regions in the state.) On the Supreme Court is Antonin Scalia, close friend of Dick Cheney, who went duck hunting with him after the court agreed to take the case. A duck hunt maybe isn't that big a deal on the surface of it, but it does smack of collusion between a defendant before the court and a judge on the case. The common word for it is "corruption." Does this mean Scalia is corrupt? Not necessarily. Does it give the appearance of corruption? Absolutely. Is it important to protect the Supreme Court from, at minimum, the appearance of corruption, given that it's theoretically the last resort of justice for every American? One would think. So is Scalia recusing himself from the case? Of course not. Why not? Because the press has said he should, and it would undermine the integrity of the court if it were seen to be taking orders from the press! Plus: since actions against the government often result in embarrassment to the government, recusing himself from the case would give the impression the vice president and the government were guilty. It wouldn't, but any excuse in a storm, right?

I've generally enjoyed Patrick Neighly's work so far, but I'm iffy about BLACK-EYED SUSAN #1 (Mad Yak Press; $3.50). It's not that this "War Of The Worlds by way of Mad Max" is bad – in both tone and art, some of it reminds me of George Metzger's best work (and I'm still waiting for a collection of Metzger's stories, somebody; he deserves it), and artist Donny Hadiwidjaja is a real find – but the structure leaves the story feeling lopsidedly underwritten, with all the information (such as it is) packed into the last quarter. I like the story, and the production's really nice, but so far it reads like it could've been more profitably told in half the space.

If you like superheroes and you haven't checked it out, this is the time to go buy THE WATCH, an Aussie production by a good writer named Christian Read, whose company, Phosphorescent Comics, produces it. Unlike most independent comics, it's nicely produced in color. Unlike most superhero books, it's got an interesting premise and good characters. Unfortunately, it's also crunch time for the book and the company; if Read can't get more people buying it, both are out of business. Christian's looking to dig into the American market more – Diamond already distributes the book – so I'd suggest everyone try to get a copy, either from their local shops, Diamond or directly from Phosphorescent, and if anyone has any good, very cheap promotional ideas for Christian that he can run from Down Under, email them to me and I'll forward them to Christian. (And I know there are a lot of companies out there in more or less the same situation, but I'm only doing this because I like the book and Christian's writing.)

A nice review of Avatar's current Frank Miller's ROBOCOP series can be found at Popthought.

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.

And, once again cribbing from last week (because, frankly, I'm running out of time):

Remember that the final issue of the first MY FLESH IS COOL miniseries is now out, with lovely art by Sebastian Fiumara. Next up: a little thing I like to call SACRILEGE, but more about that later.

You can also hit up your local comics retailer for:

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.

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.

See you next week in a brand new show. If you've got any comics you want reviewed, get them to me now.

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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