Issue #149

Over at Newsarama, there was briefly a new call for a ratings system for comics but it seems to have quickly died out without anyone being impressed or convinced. I can't believe anyone's still chomping at this bit. If history tells us anything about ratings and comics, it's this: no ratings system ever protected anyone. All it does it make it easier for adversaries to pick out comics to make a fuss over. Ask Jesus Castillo if having comics marked "For Adults Only" kept him from being prosecuted for not selling them to minors. What comics need isn't a ratings system but better marketing; it'll solve the problems far more effectively, and probably more cheaply. (Kurt Busiek, who worked in marketing at Marvel in the '80s, will explain it all to you in great depth if you buy him a piece of cake. But I won't. Buy him the cake, I mean.)

Let's go back to the dark days of 1980. DC Comics, having taken a terrible beating in the '70s that saw their oldest and formerly most popular titles, including all the Superman and Batman titles, either cancelled or teetering on the edge of cancellation. (Legend has it the only reasons SUPERMAN, BATMAN, ACTION COMICS and DETECTIVE COMICS were saved was that Paul Levitz convinced them canceling those would be the public equivalent of throwing in the towel.) Sales dropped something like 80% from 1970-1980. DC had helped Phil Seuling pioneer the direct market, but now it was Marvel reaping the benefits of it, and DC's one breakout hit of the '70s, LEGION OF SUPERHEROES was eclipsed by Marvel's ALL-NEW, ALL-DIFFERENT UNCANNY X-MEN, concocted by Len Wein and former LOSH artist Dave Cockrum. Marvel had the rep of the place where everything that was going to happen would happen, and DC had the rep of... well, not that. Things were bad enough that various personnel at Marvel were able to con talent into staying away from DC with "rumors" that Marvel was about to buy the rival company, and it sounded completely credible. DC was the home of the walking dead.

So what changed that? Five words: Marv Wolfman and George Perez. Marv had been writing FANTASTIC FOUR and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN at Marvel, George had penciled THE AVENGERS, both were phenomenally popular. They were names the direct market paid attention to. Then they did something a lot of people at the time thought was career suicide.

They jumped to DC to resurrect a book that had always been considered something of a joke: Teen Titans. I mean, who in their right mind goes from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and THE AVENGERS to Teen Titans? But Marv and George did, creating new characters to mix with the old, taking it seriously and generating NEW TEEN TITANS, which became a huge hit, certainly bigger than anything DC had seen in almost a decade.

Beyond that, it generated a new credibility for the company among talent. Marv, George and the book gave DC a refurbished image as a place where you could do interesting things, not only with the talent but with readers. For quite a while, NEW TEEN TITANS was the only hit they had. It was their "Marvel book."

I'm not sure about George, but today Marv Wolfman can't even get pitches read there.

This isn't a work-for-hire thing. This is something bigger than that.

This isn't a case of Marv and George creating some characters for the company and not getting properly recompensed for them. This is a case where DC probably would not even exist today had Marv and George not stepped in. Think about that: DC likely owes its existence to Marv and George. The people who work at DC, the freelancers who make their money doing DC comics, likely owe their livelihoods to Marv and George. There just aren't many times in comics history that can be said about anyone.

If there were ever a special case, this is it. And there's no conceivable reason in this world why DC isn't either publishing whatever Marv or George want published or at least giving them some type of pension. Just out of sheer gratitude. The only other instance I can think where that applies is Stan Lee and Steve Ditko at Marvel, and Ditko's arguable. (Most people would say Kirby, but while FF was the first official Marvel comic, I remember Ditko's AMAZING SPIDER-MAN as the comic that put the company, also teetering on oblivion in the early '60s, back on the cultural map.)

It's not likely to happen, but it deserves to be done.

There was something else I wanted to bring up, but now I can't remember what it was. Maybe for next week's post-con special...

First off, as mentioned last week, I'm signing for Byron Preiss' iBooks in autograph area AA3 on Saturday from 1-2PM and Sunday from 11:30AM-12:30PM. I don't know where that is, but hopefully we'll both find it. I was explaining to someone yesterday that what being in the autograph area usually means is sitting around for an hour appearing pathetic because nobody's there to get your autograph (and, hey, if you want it or not, that's cool with me either way; I just go where I'm told) and spending the rest of the convention being asked by people where you're doing signings so they can get your autograph. There might be stuff for EDGE fans (though we're calling the forthcoming iBooks collection THE LAST HEROES for various reasons, don't forget that) but I'm not clear on that. Come over and find out.

I'll also be signing for We Want Your Autograph, in booth 5388, which is mysteriously at the end of row 4500. Perhaps "signing" isn't the right word, since the purpose of the booth is to encourage comics fans of appropriate age to sign up to vote. A slew of other talent will also be there:

Thursday, July 22:

Brent Anderson (10-11)

Johnny Lowe (10-11)

Mike Wellman (10:30-12)

Patric the Marvelous (11-12)

Duncan Rouleau (11-1)

Neil Cohn (12-1)

Maureen McTigue (1-2 & 4-5)

David Yurkovich (1-2)

Steve Goldman (1:30-3)

Trina Robbins (2-3)

Jeff Parker (2-4)

Lea Hernandez (3-4)

Dan Wickline (4-5)

Ron Marz (5-6)

Donna Barr (5-7)

A David Lewis (6-7)

Friday, July 23:

Neil Cohn (10-11)

Stuart Moore (10-12)

Dan Wickline (10:30-11)

Bwana Spoons (11-12)

Eric Shanower (11-12:30)

Chyna Clugston-Major (12-2)

Brian Wood (12-2)

Josh Krach (12:30-1:30)

Dan Goldman (1:30-3)

Scott Hampton (2-3)

Marie Croall (3-4)

Brad Meltzer (3-4)

Ande Parks (3-4)

Phil Hester (3-5)

B Clay Moore (4-5)

Steven Grant (5-6)

Porter McDonald (5-6:30)

Donna Barr (5-7)

A David Lewis (6:30-7)

Saturday, July 24:

Johnny Lowe (10-11)

Stuart Moore (10-12)

Mike Wellman (10:30-12)

Josh Krach (11-12)

Patric The Marvelous (12-2)

Chyna Clugston-Major (12-2)

Kurt Busiek (1-1:30)

Leslie Augenbraun (1:30-3)

Marie Croall (2-5)

Steven Grant (3-4)

Donna Barr (4-7)

Vito Delsante (5-6)

Joe Kelly (5-6:30)

Sunday, July 25:

Joshua Fialkov (10-12)

Jim Calafiore (10-1)

Mike Wellman (10:30-12)

Jeph Loeb (12-2)

Tim Sale (12-2)

Bob Tinnell (2-4)

Let's get that vote out!

Also, my friend and comrade Richard Starkings, who capitalized on the move to computer lettering by founding the company Comicraft while lettering gobs of comics (as well as starting up the very spiffy trade paperback publishing house Active Images, which has some wonderful books you should rush out and buy), has decided to hold yet another now annual San Diego Comic Con font sale, with everything going at 50% off. If you're looking for professional comics fonts for your project (and they don't get more professional than Rich's; I know, I use 'em), go to booth 5543 or take advantage at his website through Tuesday July 27. Normally I don't push products, but Comicraft fonts sing, man!

"We held FCBD inside the first two years. Same results. FCBD seems to be aimed at kids who then motivate their parents to go to the comic book stores. I believe the parents validate the stop through the word "free". The word "read" does not really figure into the equation.

I asked several parents as they arrived if they wanted know more about today's comic books(believe me, we had employees take new customers on store tours). The general response was "we're here to get some free comics and maybe look around".

The FCBD promotion should be aimed at the parents as a way to motivate their kids to cheaply enter the arena of light reading in the hopes that comic books will bridge the gap between no reading and reading at their age levels. I guess FCBD demonstrates the shortcomings of a larger US social problem - motivating people to read anything!"

Well, as Abbie Hoffman wrote in STEAL THIS BOOK, "My daddy always told me free means you don't have to pay." I like your proposed approach too, though making that too public might strike kids like their parents trying to get them to eat Life cereal or something. Though, in theory, giving kids free comic books WILL motivate them to read them, and motivating the parents is theoretically secondary to that. Though in a perfect world there'd be a way to suck the parents in as comics readers as well.

"Do you know where a guy can dig up old marketing data on the comics industry?

I take MBA courses at night, and for my final project in Marketing Management, I am going to analyze the comics industry and try to develop some new marketing angles (which beats the heck out of working on my actual industry and should net me a better grade too). I had thought about using the Archives of Wizards Top 300 list and basically graphing changes over time using Excel, but: 1) I don't know if they have more than a few years of data, and 2) I want to do the analysis by genre, and that means I will have to go through and manually input the genres since the data isn't broken down that way. And that assumes that I will be familiar enough with most of the titles to actually guess the genres accurately. So before I go to that trouble, I was wondering if you knew of a place that might already have this data broken down to show changes in reader tastes over time.

Thanks for your help; of course I will be more than happy to share whatever research is created if you want to see it. The project is due on August 9th."

I'm not sure there is any marketing data on the comics industry. It's not something the business is famous for. You might want to try Diamond. If anyone knows where old marketing data can be found, send me the link or contact info and I'll forward it.

"I too fondly recall CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS, I think I still have some copies of that one lying around here some place. Anyway, I agree it was the series that broke ground on the 'everyone in the universe must band together to fight a cosmic menace in a limited series' idea. It crammed a lot of Marvel characters into one book while also introducing a bunch of more international characters.

Your mentioning of SUPERFRIENDS is interesting. The only real parallel to the multinational characters in CoC was DC Comics' Global Guardians who were introduced in the pages of SUPERFRIENDS. I like that cartoon a lot and feel they laid down some noteworthy riffs in the SUPERFRIENDS comic book. CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS presaged SECRET WARS but I don't recall if the Guardians appeared in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS (probably). "

Seems to me Dr. Mist, at least, was one of the sacrificial lambs who "vanished" (and like all the others except the Ten-Eyed Man and Prince Ra-Man – or Noodle Boy, as we used to call him – has since returned) in CRISIS but it's been so long since I looked at it I couldn't say for sure. Marv? Anyone?

"Always nice to get background on old stuff like CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS as you did in column #148.

A question though: at whose feet do we lay the major screw-up in that series. That is, the script said that the contest was a 2-to-2 tie, but all the readers knew that it went 3-to-1. Which kind of meant that the last half of the last issue was useless.

I presume that the dictate that some battles get won by more popular heroes was the cause, leaving the editor to blame for not rejuggling things to match the script. But I hate to presume when I can ask the expert.

On political things, if you didn't hear Baroness Symons on the BBC World Service on Wednesday, you might want to check out the recording (or just read about it here).

I was shocked (although not surprised). Or maybe I *was* surprised, to hear it admitted: "If we knew then what we know now, would the decision over what we did in Iraq be the same?" and the answer to that is "Yes."


I can't say I'm surprised, as it's known the decision to invade Iraq was made in the '90s. What was needed was to get the right administration in place and find a "cause" the American people would support. Funny how both those things worked out, innit? The rationales were irrelevant, as is now being admitted. They'd have gone with "Saddam Hussein is in league with the Mole Men to drill straight through the earth and steal our missiles right out of their silos" if they'd thought it would have flown.

As for CoC, I was well out of the loop by that point, so I couldn't tell you where the 2-2/3-1 screwup came from, except that Mark and I had put the 3-1 scheme into our version because this sort of thing always ended in a tie in comics and we wanted a clear winner for once. My guess is that, in shifting things around (always a messy prospect regardless of project) that got thought of early and overlooked late, and voila!

"I've been reading your article for about a year now. For the most part, I find it very informative. However, I notice that lately the article is driven more by your political views and less by actual comic news. It's your article, of course, and you can do whatever you want in it, (because this is America, people) but I visit sites like Comic Book Resources to get away from politics and concentrate on the ins and outs of comic books."

Sorry, didn't mean to distract you with anything important.

Seriously, longtime readers of this column and MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS will note that they've always been heavy on political commentary. Since 2004 is a year when things can actually be done about politics, it's more urgent to comment now than otherwise. This is perhaps exacerbated by not an awful lot of interest happening on the comics front, and some weeks it's a real struggle to find anything in comics worth talking about that I haven't beaten into the ground already. But, you know, I do what I can...

"Fearing for my 1st Amendment Rights, I did a search of Richard Humphreys' name and the quote he made. While I couldn't find much (reports of the "burning Bush" incident are mainly in the archived sections of several internet newspapers), the one really informative site I did find indicated that the full quote was "If you hear that a man runs up and throws gasoline and a match to Bush you will know that God did speak through the burning Bush."

This was not only what Humphreys said to the man at the bar (as far as I can tell from the She-Net article), but also what he had posted in a message on an internet chatroom a month earlier. Humphreys himself had traveled into South Dakota and made the statement in the bar on March 8th, 2001 - the day before George Bush's March 9th visit to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The website gives more information, including Humphreys' earlier prediction (told in the form of a religious prophecy) that Bill and Hillary Clinton would commit suicide. This was during the Clinton Presidency, and is probably what first put him on the Secret Service's monitoring list. It also mentions Humphreys' history of schizophrenia and self-designated role as a religious Prophet.

Now, I despise George Bush as much as the next man (i.e.- You; my retired Air Force Captain brother; even my arch-conservative Born-Again Christian Aunt and Uncle!, but I have to say that, looking at the details of this one particular case, what at first appeared to be a miscarriage of justice starts to look more and more like a successful and fair prosecution of a man who made a genuine threat and took initial steps to carry it out (he was not prosecuted for making an "attempt", though)."

I'm not sure how predicting that someone will commit suicide constitutes a threat. I'm not a big fan of Humphreys, but merely making that joke doesn't constitute a threat either. Neither is merely being in very rough proximity of a president a crime, as far as I know. Did he ever actually threaten the president, beyond making the joke? Did they investigate and find he had a store of gasoline and matches or anything like that? Did he make any attempt to approach the president in Sioux Falls? These are important questions. I don't find Humphreys a particularly sympathetic character either, but, as you say, he wasn't prosecuted for attempting to assassinate or even harm the president. When you boil it down, he was still prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned for making a comment someone didn't like. I remember in Catholic school they made the impression on us that every sin was in fact two sins, and you commit the sin of thought whether you commit the sin of deed or not. But I wasn't aware it was the basis of American penal code now.

Despite a slew of bad reviews, Joel Silver's THE NEXT ACTION HERO (NBC, Wednesday 8P) has turned out to be oddly entertaining. This is another elimination style reality show where everyone lives in the same house together (the better to film afterhours shenanigans) and the big prize (one man, one woman, equally represented) is to star in a Joel Silver action movie – and don't forget, this is the guy who brought us DIE HARD and THE LAST BOY SCOUT. Contestants are thrust into awkward action movie scenes with little preparation and actually come off better than expected, at least in three minute segments. Ala THE APPRENTICE, contestants are eliminated not by vote but by a triumvirate of the producer, director and casting director of the impending film, and for once it's hard to second guess them. If the show's to be believed, turns out Hollywood's not quite the capricious mess it's cracked up to be. There are moments of inadvertent high comedy, as when a contestant rattles off a list of great talent their acting coach has coached, and concludes with Denise Richards. And it's interesting, for a change, to watch contestants literally crack under the strain. Early on, the Latino apparent psycho Viviana went into full diva mode to mask her terror that she wouldn't be able to hold her own against the competition, and, declaring everyone was out to get her (which, when you think about it, you'd expect on this sort of show if you had half a brain) when it was pretty obvious what everyone really wanted was a big group hug, abruptly up and quit rather than be ultimately dissed by the judges. Currently, early male star shoo-in Jared is self-destructing under the pressure with housemate-alienating mood swings and recitations he insists are serious (and great acting) but play like Bill Murray sketches on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, complete with more bizarre facial contortions than were previously believed humanly possible. There are only a couple weeks left of this show, and ratings were stillborn so there's not likely to be another season, but it's more than oddly entertaining, it's strangely educational.

Meanwhile, HBO has quietly popped out another terrific show: ENTOURAGE (Sunday 10P), a sitcom about a young actor from New York just starting to get the Hollywood treatment. It begins inauspiciously enough, with the actor, Vince Chase (Adrian Grenier) hanging out with his posse, two high school friends and Vince's older brother (Kevin Dillon), a no-talent would-be actor there ostensibly to get his own career but really to live off the fat of Vince's land. The first scene is typical quasi-frat boy nonsense, but the show takes a weird turn. One of the friends, Eric, played really well by Kevin Connally (mainly known before this as the dip son on the WB's MARRIED WITH CHILDREN knockoff UNHAPPILY EVER AFTER), turns out to be a very smart guy seriously concerned about Vince's career. (The other friend is a party boy who doubles as driver and gopher.) And Vince, portrayed early on as a dimwit breezing through it, turns out to be smart and serious enough to know what he's not capable of handling himself, and wanting to know who he can trust. The problem is that neither of them (and certainly not the other two; they all live together on Vince's Hollywood Hills estate) is that savvy yet about Hollywood, something Vince's agent – Jeremy Piven in possibly the role he was born for – delights in reminding them, though he'd be more delighted if Eric (who actually reads and critiques scripts sent to Vince) would just evaporate. It's funny, and a lot more subtle than you'd expect. Good stuff.

James Hudnall's 2 TO THE CHEST (Dark Planet Productions; $2.99) continues on with its third issue, more overtly shifting from a crime comic to a horror comic. It's good, but it's also unfortunately not much different from the second issue, as we really don't learn anything new about either who's chasing outsider cop hero Troy Geist or the nature of the secret they're chasing him for. It's still pretty good – Jose Aviles' art, good to start with, is getting better, though there's the odd shot that doesn't seem to make sense in context – but that's the problem with mini-series. They're difficult to pace without generating a certain amount of mid-term impatience. I like the story, but I want to get to the part where I find out what it really is.

Interestingly, B.A.B.E. FORCE has developed to the point where they might as well change the name. It originally started out as basically just a T&A joke book with the vaguest lip service to plot and character as impossibly busty, scantily clad women jumped and gyrated through "adventures" designed to do nothing more than let them show their scantily clad busts. Now, with Diego Baretto turning in some really nice, expressive art, B.A.B.E. FORCE: JURASSIC TRAILER PARK #1 (Forceworks Productions; $2.50), they've all but abandoned the women, a group of action hero spies working to save the world from mass consumerism, altogether. This series focuses mainly on their much-beleaguered "sidekick" (AKA the guy who actually does the work) Edison Jones, and on their ostensible ultimate enemy, Dr. Chaos (who runs a megacorporation called Chaosco, geddit?), a befuddled mastermind who only wants to deliver value for money to the masses while his evil sister turns all his ideas into world-conquering schemes. The humor, once nothing more than fratboy slapstick, has become more sophisticated and restrained; writer Kirk Kushin has nicely balanced out the humor and the action. It's not bad.

I remember French comics albums. Hardcovers. There was a time in the early '70s when they were thought to be the ideal, and I went through gobs of them: ASTERIX, LUCKY LUKE, VALERIAN, LONE SLOANE, LT. BLUEBERRY, etc. The format, roughly the size of a large, skinny children's book, never caught on her. Now Reney Editions Inc. has issued THE BLUE TUNICS ($12.45), a Civil War quasi-comedy that's apparently very popular in Europe. Artist Willy Lambil comes from the school of comedy drawing pioneered in ASTERIX, and the humor's mostly slapstick physical. Raoul Calvin's story is pretty entertaining, though: the gung-ho Union sergeant Chesterfield has a cats-and-dogs relationship with antiwar corporal Blutch, who eternally contemplates desertion; it's basically Beetle Bailey stuff, except these characters are more likable. Against Chesterfield's wishes, they get teamed to protect war photographer Matthew Brady, and hilarity ensues. Of particular interest are the unexpected bits of verisimilitude, as when bleachers are built so spectators can sit comfortably and watch a battle of Blue and Gray like they were watching a football game. The ending is very strange as well, but it's pretty amusing, finding fresh gold in territory American comics never even really entered.

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.


: 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.


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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